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Kids fought to find Madera’s fountain

Courtesy of Madera County Historical Society

This water fountain, built through the fund raising efforts of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, went missing for a couple of years until some elementary students teamed up with some local political leaders to track it down.


Some time back, as I drove past that old Women’s Christian Temperance Union water fountain on the corner of Yosemite and D Street, a memory from our past came to mind. It included a couple of kids from Sierra Vista School, both of whom must be around 30 years old by now. One was Zach Pruitt, and the other was Antonio Ramirez.


Thanks to their curiosity and persistence and some help from some local politicians, Madera’s landmark water fountain was found and finally brought home.


The WCTU monument, which looms large in the memories of many long-time Maderans, was reinstalled on its original site at the corner of Yosemite Avenue and D Street after being missing for quite a spell.


A crown gathered on the day it was set in place, and looking on with satisfaction were some of the students who were responsible for raising the issue of the missing water fountain in the first place. Joining them were some of the politicians and civic leaders who heard their plea and took up their cause.


“I’m glad that they are putting the water fountain back. It took a long time, but it is worth it,” said Zach Pruitt, one of the students who petitioned local politicians back in July 2002, to find the missing Fountain.


“It’s neat to see that kids can get things done too,” added Antonio Ramirez.


The students, who at the time were sixth graders at Sierra Vista School, learned of the missing fountain while doing research on the history of Madera. Numerous old photographs showed the majestic monument dominating the intersection of Yosemite Avenue and D Street. When told that the fountain was no longer there, the kids, with curiosity piqued, went to their classroom newspaper morgue to investigate.


Their research led them to a 1908 issue of the Madera Tribune that told how the WCTU, in its attempt to fight the influence of Madera’s saloon crowd, conducted a community fundraiser and built the water fountain in that year. Spearheading the drive was Mrs. Harmon Bigelow, present-day Assemblyman Frank Bigelow’s great-grandmother.


For 92 years, Maderans enjoyed their fountain. It became a landmark, and when Cal Trans decided it needed to be moved to facilitate some street repairs, anxiety among local historians was assuaged by promises that the fountain would be temporarily removed, cleaned up, and then reinstalled.


The street repairs were finally completed without any sign of a refurbished WCTU fountain on the corner in front of William Carol’s clothing store. Weeks turned into months, and months turned into almost two years. It appeared to the kids that apparently Madera’s landmark water fountain had not only been put on the back burner, it had been taken off the stove. That’s when they really rolled up their sleeves.


On July 9, 2002, the class, led by Pruitt and Ramirez, came to a meeting of the Madera County Board of Supervisors and the next week attended a meeting of the Madera City Council. They were assured by members of both groups that the matter would receive official attention.


Content that they had done their homework and their civic duty, the kids returned to class and awaited some demonstration of democracy in action. That’s when they got their second civics lesson — the wheels of democracy grind very slowly.


Initial word from Jim Taubert, executive director of Madera’s Redevelopment Agency at the time, indicated that the appeal from the kids had had its effect, and the fountain would be restored in August 2002.


Unbeknownst to the students, however, and perhaps to Taubert, was the fact that resetting a working fountain in the same location would be an engineering nightmare. Some sympathetic resistance developed but was finally put aside, and a pleased Taubert called to invite the kids to come watch the fruits of their labor.


Among local dignitaries who joined the kids were District Three Supervisor Ronn Dominici, City Councilman Gary Savanda, and Taubert, all of whom helped carry the students cause to its final resolution.