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Snapshots of Madera's Yesteryears for July 17

Twenty-five years ago, Madera police officer Joe Garza celebrated “Fun Day with Policeman Joe” with 5-year-old Maria Gonzalez. The “Fun Days” were part of a program to spend time with kids and to show them that police officers are people too. (Courtesy of The Madera County Historical Society)


25 Years Ago Week of July 17, 1991

POLICE ARE PEOPLE TOO — The Madera Housing Authority and Madera police officer Joe Garza have been holding regular “Fun Day with Officer Joe.” Garza, who serves as the authority’s police officer, spends time interacting as a role model on fun days. Garza, who shared a meal with 5-year-old Maria Gonzalez at one of the recent events, said he likes to spend time with kids to make them aware that police officers are people too. The kids find him easy to talk to, and “they are not afraid of me and treat me like their own personal friend, and that’s very important,” he said.

COUNTY JUGGLES FUNDS FOR CHOWCHILLA LIBRARY — Chowchilla residents are one step closer to getting a new branch library, thanks to a financial juggling act by the Board of Supervisors. The board agreed to put up $319,000 in matching funds in order for the county librarian to apply for almost $795,000 in state bond money. To date, the Friends of the Chowchilla Library have raised $57,000. The City of Chowchilla has committed $30,000 and the Seramur estate has earmarked $10,000 for the project. In order to come up with its $319,000 commitment, Supervisor Al Ginsburg suggested the board borrow money from the county’s worker compensation fund and pay it back with the county’s share of the Chowchilla sales tax agreement.

JUDGE DENIES MOTION TO OVERTURN SENTENCE — Superior Court Judge Paul Martin denied a motion to overturn a jury’s recommendation that a Madera man die in the gas chamber for murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend and her brother-in-law. Reading from a prepared statement, Judge Martin used harsh words — “despicable, deplorable, and evidencing extreme depravity” — to describe convicted murderer Anthony Townsel’s slaying of Martha Diaz and Mauricio Martinez Jr. Martin emphasized that Diaz was pregnant with Townsel’s baby. Testing showed that Townsel was “slightly retarded,” with an I.Q. of about 75. Normal is 100.

PITMAN DONATES $10,000 FOR MADERA METHOD PROJECTS — The Madera Method has gained a much-needed source of income thanks to a $10,000 donation from Carolyn Pitman to the Madera County Historical Society to run the program. Pitman said she and her late husband, Don, had been impressed with the program since its inception six years ago. “Being a retired high school English teacher, I can really appreciate the effort that goes into it and have seen the tremendous results achieved by the students involved,” she said. The Madera Method is a teaching style where students research local historical figures and publish their biographies at the end of the school year.

DARK CLOUDS HANG OVER MADERA HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS — What is the current status of athletics in Madera? What does the future hold for sports at Madera High? Ask those questions, and the responses may be rather grim. According to some school officials, a rapidly growing student population, a reduced budget, poor morale among coaches, antiquated facilities, and a high percentage of academically ineligible students are the biggest problems. MUSD Trustee Joe Flores agrees that the commitment to the athletic program is not what it should be. “I don’t think it is the board that doesn’t have the commitment,” said Flores, “I don’t believe the emphasis is being placed on athletics by the district’s administration,” he said.

50 Years Ago Week of July 17, 1966

2 YOUTHS BURNED IN WESTGATE FIRE — Two youths were badly burned in a fire this afternoon in a backyard shed at 2801 Winter Way. The boys, Steven Croom and Ted Wilson, barely escaped from the blackened structure, with their bodies severely burned. Bruno Lattanzio was among those who rescued the boys from the blaze. Lattanzio said that the boys could be heard screaming inside the burning shed as he and neighbors shot water and CO-2 into the flames. “The CO-2 must have brought them to,” said Lattanzio, “They were silent in there for awhile, and we think the CO-2 made them conscious.” Details of the fire were scant at the time of this printing, as firemen were still fighting the blaze.

1,000 SIGN MADERA’S VIETNAM LETTER — A letter expressing Madera County’s support and appreciation of U.S. forces in Vietnam was signed by Mayor D.R. (Bud) Stephenson Wednesday afternoon at the City Hall. The letter had been signed by 1,000 persons since it was placed on display at the Fruit Basket Restaurant following Independence Day. Mrs. H. Dewitt Smith, wife of the Episcopal Rev. Smith, sponsored the letter and will mail it to American forces in Vietnam later this week. “We have signatures from all over the United States,” said Mrs. Smith in reference to the many travelers who signed the letter while stopping at the Fruit Basket. The letter reads: “To all our boys in Vietnam from the residents of Madera County. Thank you. God bless you. Hurry home.

LOCAL YOUNGSTER DIES OF BURNS IN SHED FIRE — Ten-year-old George (Ted) Wilson, severely burned in an explosion and fire Thursday, died Saturday morning in Valley Children’s Hospital in Fresno. The boy reportedly succumbed to burns that covered 70 percent of his body. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. George Wilson of 118 South J Street. Hospital authorities today reported that Steven Croom, 16, also burned in the blaze, remains in critical condition. Young Wilson was a student at James Madison School. The boys were burned Thursday when a tool shed in which they were playing exploded and burned. The boys were trapped in the flaming structure until neighbors turned a fire extinguisher on the blaze allowing them to escape.

COBWEBS, WEEDS TAKE OVER MADERA BASE — Cobwebs crisscross empty hallways, brown lawns are choked by weeds, and trees turn brown for lack of water in what once was a small city east of Madera. These are the sights that greet visitors to the Madera Air Force Station, once bustling with 250 men, now a virtual ghost town since the government decided to close the installation. One military man has been left on the post. Lt. Edward Lansdale will become detachment commander at the end of August and will be in complete charge of the U.S. Air Force ghost town and a crew of five civilian maintenance men. The young lieutenant doesn’t know how long he will be in charge of the deactivated base, but he is slated to remain until the government decides its fate.

JAYWALKERS BEWARE! CRACKDOWN ORDERED — A crackdown on jaywalkers in downtown Madera was announced this morning by Police Chief W. Horace Dowell. Dowell said that officers patrolling the downtown area will call down offenders through outside speakers mounted on patrol cars. Many pedestrians are violating the jaywalking ordinance, so we are asking them to discontinue crossing in the middle of the block. Most jaywalking takes place between B and C streets; C and D streets, and D and E streets, Dowell said. “Most of the offenders are women,” the police chief observed.

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