It was twenty years ago, and I was new to Madera. As I was setting up my new house, I managed to damage the frame on a painting that I had purchased thirty years earlier in Bakersfield where I had taught at Bakersfield College. I didn’t know the Madera community, but I received a phone book when my telephone was installed, and I found an advertisement for Creative Frames on Howard Road. I took the painting there and Gina Parrino told me that it would be ready in a week.
I didn’t know Gina, and of course I had no idea that getting work back from her in anything less than a season was nearly impossible. However, one week later, I was back at her shop and Gina had the artwork ready for me. Later on, people would call it a miracle.
Gina asked if I had been to the Madera County Arts Council. I hadn’t, but I followed her instructions to Bethard Square and met Nancy Clute, founder and executive director of the MCAC. I joined that day. A few months later, she asked if I’d consider serving on the Board of Directors, and I’ve done that for most of the past two decades.
I began teaching at the Madera Center, and — because of my experience at Bakersfield College — I was asked to be on a committee to select the new dean of students. As we committee members introduced ourselves around the table, people gave their names and the various titles that they held. However, one member simply introduced himself as “Duane Furman, resident of Madera.”
The committee convened several times over the next few weeks, and Duane and I learned that we lived across the street from each other. We also shared an interest in golf and a limited set of skills in playing the game. By the time we were able to get together for a round, I had learned that he was the founder of the Madera Unified School District and the retired Superintendent. As we searched through the trees for the golf balls that we’d hit into them, I mentioned that I had written occasional opinion pieces for the Bakersfield Californian, at the request of the newspaper’s opinion page editor.
It was only a few days later when my friend, the late Dr. Duane Furman, took me to an office on East Seventh Street to meet the editor of The Madera Tribune. I was asked if I’d write a weekly opinion column. I hadn’t written for a newspaper on a deadline since my college days, but I decided to give it a shot. The editor asked what I’d like to call the piece, and I had to think about that for a few minutes.
I still had met only a few people in Madera because everyone who taught at the Madera Center lived in Fresno or Clovis. However, I had become acquainted with Gail McIntyre, who lived around the corner from me and served on the county Board of Supervisors at the time. It was she who told me that Madera was known as the “heart” of California because of its geographic location. It occurred to me that animals have a pulse because of their heart beats. So, I put the two facts together and decided to call the column “Pulse of the Heartland.”
About the same time, I met Rochelle Noblett (now executive director of the arts council) who was involved in a number of community activities, including the Kiwanis Club. She invited me to one of the club meetings, and I enjoyed it so much that I joined. I maintained my membership until the club finally folded a few months ago because of an aging population of people willing to perform community services and a dearth of young people who have the time or resources to replace them.
Through my acquaintance with Nancy Clute and Gail McIntyre, I came to know Debi Bray, executive director of the Madera Chamber of Commerce. The three women had formed an action group, called Community Pride Renaissance (CPR). They asked me to join them in organizing a number of community meetings that year and the following year. I agreed, and my participation gave me the opportunity to meet many active residents of our city.
CPR turned out to be the threshold to myriad other community groups and activities, and almost before I realized what was happening, I was immersed in my new home town.
Truly, I’ve enjoyed every moment of my participation, from Lions Club raffles to Rotary Club costume parties, from Madera Community Hospital fund raisers to proctoring the Scholastic Decathlon, and from judging art shows for the County Superintendent of Schools to interviewing children who give the annual speeches on behalf of the Martin Luther King Jr. Local Host Committee.
I’ve found Madera to be warm, inviting, inclusive, and unique. As an example of the latter, I’ll relate this story about our late Chief of Police Jerry Noblett.
About 16 or 17 years ago, a professor from California State University in Bakersfield was my overnight guest on his way to San Francisco. As I drove him around town, he pointed out the unusual number of motorcyclists. I told him that a motorcycle club was staying at the fairgrounds, but the members were on their way to Bass Lake.
“Aren’t they dangerous?” he asked. I told him that they’d come the year before, were good customers, and presented no problems. He pointed to a biker who was headed north on Gateway Drive. “Look at him,” he said. “That guy in all the black leather on that big Harley. Don’t you think he can be trouble?” I responded, “Yes, I guess he can. He’s our Chief of Police.” Of course, he was not a member of the club. But, that’s Madera. Ya’ gotta love it. And I do.
But, it’s time to move on.
I’ll be moving to a small community on the edge of Modesto, close to Oakdale. I’ve always wanted to live near water, but coastal property has always been beyond my economic reach. However, my new house is on a manufactured lake and, because of my age, this will be my last home. So, I’ll be taking a break from this column for a while to complete the transition.
I don’t want to sever my many ties to the wonderful people of Madera. Mr. Doud has offered to continue the publication of this column, and I can file it via email. While I’m resettling, please just keep on being Madera. I hope to be back on this page soon.
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I can be contacted at email@example.com for the next few weeks. If I get a new email address, it will be published with my next column.