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1933 Madera grad celebrates 104 years

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Velma Hansen watches a parade go by at Cedar Creek in celebration of her 104th birthday.


In 1933, Madera High seniors marched onto the school’s athletic field to receive their high school diplomas, and for the first time in Madera’s history, its graduating class wore caps and gowns.

Eighty-seven years later, the valedictorian of the class of 1933, Velma Hansen, was honored on her 104th birthday celebration at the Cedar Creek Senior Living complex in Madera.

The festivities began on Thursday when Velma was brought out to the sidewalk entrance to Cedar Creek, accompanied by her family (all practicing social distancing). Suddenly the siren from a Pistoresi ambulance gave out a short blast, and leading a parade of 25 automobiles, drove past a very surprised centenarian, wishing her a “Happy 104th.”

Of the 112 members of that Class of 1933, none had worked harder, and none was more proud than Velma. The 17-year-old Nebraska native had earned the highest academic honors, and now she was ready to face what the graduation speaker called the “greatest crisis in the world’s history,” the Great Depression.

On Thursday, while Velma’s family and friends helped her celebrate her birthday, this year’s MHS seniors, facing a crisis of their own, continued the 87-year-old tradition of caps and gowns but had to receive theirs in a drive thru exercise because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Velma graduated from Dixieland School in 1929, and in 1933, there she was, sitting with her classmates in the athletic field, donned in the academic regalia of graduating seniors. Cars parked on the perimeter of the field, and families and friends filled the remainder of the makeshift arena.

The commencement speaker, Walter Dexter, president of Whittier College, likened the graduates to a spider he observed in his home, trying to free itself from the wash basin. Continued attempts to climb out of the blazed basin resulted in repeated failures until Dexter fashioned a paper “ladder” and placed it in the bowl. Taking advantage of the improvised ladder, the spider found freedom.

Drawing an analogy between the ladder and education, Dexter congratulated the seniors on acquiring the tools necessary to escape anything that might hinder them in life.

Following the invocation by the Rev. H.F. Truscott, the high school orchestra and chorus gave several numbers, and after Dexter’s speech, principal L.C. Thompson presented the class, and Thomas Warburton, school board member, presented the diplomas.

One by one, for the first time in Madera High’s history the graduates marched out dressed in caps and gowns. Velma was joined by many whose names are familiar today: Ernest Yamaguchi, Arnold Bertozzl, Dwight Birch, Albert Cereghino, Jack Desmond, William Hughes, Fred Massetti, Nancy Sciacqua, and Bill Seabury.

Velma had come to Madera County from Nebraska on the train in 1924 to live with her grandfather. Her father had recently died, so her mother brought her and her three siblings to stay with her father-in-law in Dixieland.

In 1934, the year after her graduation from Madera High, Velma married Carl Hansen. Together they farmed very successfully in the Dairyland district. They became the parents of four sons: Robert, Ronald, Dennis, and Marvin.

Carl and Velma Hansen traveled all over the world, and she often went on trips with other members of the Farm Bureau and groups from the Danish Creamery. After Carl’s death in 1999, Velma remained active, continuing her travels with her sisters and visiting every continent except Antarctica.

According to a family member, Velma was touched by Thursday’s celebration, shedding a few tears of joy, but retaining a keen sense of humor. After all of the celebrants had departed, she asked the Cedar Creek staff, “Well, now what are you going to do for my 105th?

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