California Dreaming

To Lodi & Clements for Alpha Sig Fraternity Reunion

 

September 17 – 22, 2009

 

 

Part I:  Flights from Memphis to Sacramento

Part 5: Santa Cruz

Part 2: Sutter Lawn Swim Team Reunion

Part 6: Monterey and Pacific Grove

Part 3: East Sacto Neighborhood and Cemetery

Part 7: To Sacramento and Flights Home

Part 4: Lodi-Clements for Sac State Fraternity Reunion

Link to 2005 Sig Bust Reunion

 

Updated Oct. 20, 2009

 

About 85 photos of 2009 trip stops listed in above chart mainly taken by Betty Nolan are posted at www.ritzpix.com in five separate albums under member name of Lewis “Buzz” Nolan’s email address. Email lewis_nolan@yahoo.com for instructions on how to access.

 

The 25 photos taken by Betty Nolan at the Sig Bust reunion of the Gamma Nu Chapter at Sacramento State’s Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity at a ranch in the California foothills are in an album labeled “2009 – Sig Bust.”

 

Buzz Nolan’s earlier account - including comments from many Brothers about the 2005 Sig Bust reunion picnic April 2, 2005 at the Joe and Ann Mehrton ranch at Clements, CA and also about  the fancy dinner the previous night at a nearby winery - are posted at update3030/siggyraider.html. That posting includes many photos of the Alpha Sig Brothers plus “Statements” summing up their current activities and memories of the fraternity. A companion photo gallery is posted at update3030/sigpix.html.

 

Regrettably, more than 400 photos taken by Truman Holtzclaw, Buzz Nolan and Jack Schafer at the 2005 Sig Bust Reunion attended by nearly 100 Brothers and guests were originally posted in a Yahoo website that later disappeared when Yahoo withdrew from that business. However, Truman sent out much-applauded CDs containing  356 event photos to Alpha Sigs who had contributed $5 each to help cover his costs. His telephone is 805-647-2977.

 

Also, Tommy Morris produced and sent out DVDs to nearly 50 brothers containing photos taken at the 2005 events and other places, including commentary plus pictures scanned in from four Sac State yearbooks. Early reactions gave his work rave reviews. His telephone number is 805-647-2977.     

 

By LEWIS NOLAN

 

LODI, Calif. – Sept. 18-19, 2009, Friday and Saturday   To Lodi and Clements for Fraternity Reunion

 

Betty and I drove our rented Hyundai car from Sacramento down U.S. Highway 99 South to Lodi, Calif. We checked into a recently built, four-story Hampton Inn motel on the outskirts of town at mid-afternoon. The trip in fairly busy traffic took less than one hour and was thru generally scenic farmland.

 

The Lodi area doesn’t get anywhere near the favorable publicity that the Napa area to the north receives, but is just as an important a region for growing grapes and distilling good wine as Napa. Tourism information says more than 200 wines are made in and near Lodi.

 

Our large room at the Hampton provided a king size bed, comfortable chairs with a large desk, LTV television with a lot of channels and an Internet connection for Betty’s portable netbook computer. The motel also threw in a free, hot breakfast that was the biggest and nicest of its type that we have seen.

 

It turned out that this weekend happened to fall on Lodi’s fall grape festival. We decided to pass on the carnival as well as several dozen wineries that opened their doors to taste testing for the festivities. My focus was on the upcoming reunion of more than 30 brothers of the old Alpha Sigma Phi’s Gamma Nu chapter, which flourished at Sacramento State College during my time there in the early 1960s. In all, 58 guests are expected.

 

The brothers – many accompanied by wives – gathered the next day at former chapter President Joe Mehrton and wife Ann’s big farm at the nearby community of Clements, set in the rolling hills outside Lodi where the grass is seasonally straw-brown and dotted with oak trees. I had last seen many of the Alpha Sigs at a similar gathering four years ago. A few had passed on. But for me, and I’m sure other fraternity Brothers, it was great seeing so many guys who were no longer the very trim and hard-muscled athletes in what was known as the “jock house.” We were given that somewhat pejorative name because of the many members who participated in the college football, basketball, baseball, track and swimming teams. (I was one of the few swimmers in the rowdy fraternity, which was kicked off campus several years later following a food fight in the college cafeteria.)

 

On this Friday evening, Betty and I followed the advice of a motel clerk and drove into downtown and the Lodi Beer Co. for dinner. It is located on the main drag, which has been attractively redeveloped with broad, brick sidewalks and sculptures of grape vines made of cast iron. My big salad of greens and grilled chicken was OK, but Betty wasn’t too fond of her undercooked breast of chicken dish; she sent it back to be heated some more. I thought a lager beer brewed on the premises as well as a glass of local Talus chardonnay were pretty good.

 

A classy tourism brochure published by Lodi Wine Country (telephone 209-365-0621) includes a map that spots 37 locations for wine tastings, with some facilities having as many as six wineries represented on their premises. There are several vintners in the area, including Woodbridge, with national distribution but most are mainly local and regional vintners. 

 

With no comment about my own sagging body and gray hair, I must say it was a little strange to see so many guys the next morning looking to be something other than the athletes I had known and partied with in their physical primes long ago. We are all in our 60s and beyond now when many of us no longer have full heads of healthy hair. And it was obvious that like me, most of my college fraternity brothers are now far more health-conscious than they were during our fun-loving days and nights together. Few are drinking much more than a polite beer or two or maybe a glass of wine these days – a major departure from when copious quantities of  alcohol and junk food were part of our daily lives 40 or more years ago.

 

Toni Bramon, wife of Gary Bramon and one of the primary organizers of the Alpha Sig gathering,  had emailed me a precise map showing the driving directions to the Mehrton farm. Following an excellent breakfast at the Hampton – scrambled eggs, a little sausage and fruit for me – Betty and I drove by a couple of auto dealerships in Lodi which had been closed  because of the economic downturn. A local newspaper reported the unemployment rate had reached a 70-year high, 12 percent.

 

We drove near the turnoff for the Vino Piazio complex featuring a beautiful, European-style villa where a half-dozen or so growers use cooperative facilities to process, bottle and sell their fine wines. My fraternity had a wonderful dinner there four years ago. Clements and the “Mehr-ton Rancho” were about 20 miles away through a series of mostly young vineyards and the beginning of California’s rolling foothills.

 

We arrived shortly after 11 a.m. and were pleased to see most of the expected guests were already there – and had driven in style. Several had opted to stay at the Mehrton’s “Grand Oak Inn,” a B&B the long-married couple manages on their property at 21941 E Buena Vista Rd, telephone 866-759-3713. The usual charge are rates at $110-175 for use of modern facilities that include a nice swimming pool. A gorgeous Rolls Royce, built in 1981 and later purchased in Beverly Hills, CA and restored by Brother Bill Kasler, was parked outside the B&B. He said he has eight restored classic cars); his Rolls was a beauty, as was wife Annette.  

 

Thanks to the very good organizational and planning work by the charming and tireless Toni Bramon of Novota, CA, wife of “Old Gal” stalwart Gary Bramon who is a financial planner with a national clientele, following is her list of expected attendees of Sig Bust by name. (There were several additional names on the exhaustive list, but either I didn’t spot them or don’t know them by name so apologies to any whose names are missing and also to any spouses who are mentioned but who missed the event):

  • John and Linda Alexander of Atascadero, CA
  • Dan Barber of Auburn, CA
  • Gary and Toni Bramon of Novata, CA
  • Milt and Janet Briggs (he provided entertainment and played electronic keyboards and a guitar) of Carmichael, CA
  • Art and Kim Derby of Citrus Heights, CA
  • Jerry and Sue Dron of Stockton, CA
  • Tim and Sarah Fitzer of Fair Oaks, CA
  • Stephen and Marie Foy of McKinleyville, CA
  • Truman and Sandy Holtzclaw of Fair Oaks, CA. He is a professional photographer who took many pictures he plans to post on the Internet.
  • Sharon Howell of Carmichael, CA, former wife of Dewey Howell; he has since remarried and relocated to Melissa, Texas.
  • Jack and Rosalie Jenkins of Stockton CA. He is a former president of the chapter.
  • Bill and Annette Kaslar of Santa Rosa, CA
  • Robert and Carolyn Manassero of Jackson, CA
  • George and Joyce Max of Davis, CA
  • Joe and Ann Mehrton, who served as hosts at the Clements, CA ranch they own.
  • Sam Miller of Santa Rosa, CA
  • Buzz and Betty Nolan of Memphis, TN. They traveled the farthest to attend (but were awarded no prize).
  • Raul Quezada of Modesto, CA
  • Gary Rempel of Vista, CA
  • Dennis Sartini of Riverside, CA
  • Gary and Pam Toombs of Turlock, CA
  • Gary and Caron Warddrip, who traveled from their home in Vancouver, WA.
  • Mary Wudel of Gold River, CA, a widow whose husband Ron died some months previously.
  • Dick Zarzana of Elk Grove, CA, a retired Secret Service agent who has his own security business.

 

Joe Mehrton, with help from wife Ann and others, barbequed Beef Tri-Tip, a cut of marinated steak. A self-serve variety of side dishes were offered on a table including broccoli salad, pasta salad, grilled red peppers, baked beans, Cole slaw, fresh bread, tortilla chips and a dessert of peaches grown in the Mehrton’s orchard and served with ice cream. Several bottles of local wine plus beer, water and soft drinks were available. I noticed that many of the onetime big drinkers back in our college days elected to limit their liquid intake to chilled water poured from a pitcher.

 

Catching up with my old fraternity brothers – some of whom I last saw at the Sig Bust of 2005 but some I hadn’t seen in over 40 years – was an immense pleasure from me, and I’m sure others. I also enjoyed showing off my wonderful wife of 41 years, Betty, and meeting the women in the lives of my longtime fraternity brothers. In a few cases, the brothers were still married to the fraternity’s Little Sisters or other women they were dating during our years together. Nearly all the couples live in California. (In actuality, only a few of us in the fraternity during the early 1960s were Sacramento locals.)

 

I was pleased to spend a little time with Sam Miller of Santa Rosa, CA. He was an outstanding diver on the swimming team at Sacramento State at a time I was just barely fast enough to make the team and swim in several distance events. Sam is now swimming competitively and recently was at a big Senior Olympics meet also attended by our former brothers Steve Sipes and Dewey Howell, who both live in Texas and also did well. I was interested to learn that Sam, a math whiz in college who became an aeronautical design engineer, is now pretty much of a complete vegetarian and has lost 60 pounds; his wife is also a vegetarian.

 

Also fun to talk to was my roommate for a brief time in the old, off-campus Alpha Sig fraternity house on T Street, Raul Quezada. He had been a star football player and was an absolute “chick magnet.” Fairly often he’d politely invite me to make myself scarce so he could entertain his dates (on some evenings he had as many as three at staggered - and staggering - times) in the house bedroom on the first floor we shared.

 

Quezada drove a white, Ford El Camino with a mattress in the back, back then in season. But at the Sig Bust this year, I was surprised to see that the always charming, fit and gregarious Ruly was without female company. He has had a successful career in golf course management and once had PGA great Loren Roberts now of Memphis working for him.

 

I also enjoyed visiting with Jack Jenkins, among others. Jack’s once red hair is now snow white. But he’s as likeable and expressive as ever, always quick to shake hands and hug Brothers he hasn’t seen in a good while and though at a distance, is up-to-date on the inevitable ups-and-downs we all go through. I met his new wife, Rosalie, whom Jack had recently married after 13 years as a single man following a painful divorce. The onetime baseball player at Sac State continues to take much pride in his son, a standout slugger for the Milwaukee Brewers who had recently been signed as a free agent by the Washington Nationals. Jack and a few of his old friends sometimes travel to watch his son play professional baseball.

 

Jack was one of several onetime fraternity leaders who spoke to attendees gathered in lawn chairs on the Mehrton backyard lawn following the meal. Others included Master of Ceremonies Joe Mehrton, who cracked a few lame jokes lifted from the Internet; Gary Bramon; and Dick Zarzana. Dick majored in Law Enforcement at Sac State and went on to work for the Secret Service. He knows one of the security services sales executives I worked with during my brief time at Guardsmark in the late 1990s, Jim Antonelli of Chicago.

                                                                                     

Dick related as how he and Joe Mehrton were in the U.S. Coast Guard long ago and Joe was selected to be Master of Arms for their basic training group of new enlistees. Dick was rewarded by friend Joe by being put in charge of making sure that the bunks in the barracks were perfectly aligned.

 

Another good conversation I hugely enjoyed was with Steve Foy, who has the same quick-thinking mind that made him one of the fraternity’s intellectuals back in our college days. Now with gold teeth in front and without any hair on his head, Steve introduced me to his wife of 44 years, Marie.

 

Later, after reviewing old Sig Bust photos I had posted on the Internet (at www.ritzpix.com, under my email name, lewis_nolan@yahoo.com) and other material, Steve was kind to write me that, “I strolled slowly, very slowly, down memory lane.

 

“I stopped frequently to deeply smell the roses and try to fill in the blanks – I guess I did not fully participate in fraternity life (a reaction to my attempt at humor by asserting that “anybody who remembered everything we did in our liquor-filled activities did not fully participate.”) I found myself experiencing the full spectrum of my emotions, from full laughter to tears running down my cheeks as I read your poignant comments/tribute to Peter – what a great guy.” (Peter was our fraternity brother who joined the Marines and was killed in Vietnam in 1968. The referenced “tribute” is posted toward the bottom at update3030/siggyraider.html.)

 

That evening, Betty and I enjoyed a good dinner at the Applebee’s Restaurant in Lodi following a nap at the Hampton Inn. I had shrimp and Betty had chicken, both served with huge salads.

 

Continue with Part 5, two nights in Santa Cruz  /  Return to Nolan Travels