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Cover "Off the Record" Chico ER magazine, featuring Charlie Pressuer  

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Ad for Tom Ryder's Band in the same issue.


Pioneering a new spring celebration

By Paul Harrar

Staff Writer

May 4, 1988

For more than 70 years, the tradition included a big parade, Quad projects, Sweepstakes, Sheriffs and Lit Neils, town-gown cooperation and a festive atmosphere.

This year, its all back. Sort of.

Rancho Chico Days, according to organizers, is an effort to uphold the tradition of Pioneer Days. that celebration abruptly ended last year when university and city officials canceled it following a rock- and bottle-throwing confrontation between students and night stick-wielding city police.

Old traditions never die. They just change names.

And, in this case, sponsors too. Rancho Chico Days Inc., the non-profit organization rebuilding a community pioneer-honoring tradition that died last year, has created a new celebration. Significantly, it retains much of the flavor of Pioneer Days without the bitter aftertaste.

Organizers say that what’s missing from Rancho Chico Days is what distinguishes it from P-Days, what gives It credibility, what may be the key to its future success.

What Rancho Chico Days isn’t:

This not a campus-oriented celebration.

Rancho Chico Days is completely under the auspices of Rancho Chico Days Inc. and a 14-member board of directors that includes community leaders and local merchants, but also several representatives of participating student organizations.

Rancho Chico Days was born when community leaders — led by Chico City Councilwoman Mary Andrews — protested last years cancellation of Pioneer Days, and specifically the parade.

“I felt our community was robbed of a tradition that has been going for over 70 years’ says Rancho Chico Days committee member and aarly supporter Jim White. This sentiment, he says, is shared by all of the event’s organizers.

It is not a contest or competition to recognize any community or campus organization.

Missing from the new celebration is the all-consuming goal to win Sweepstakes by the campus organizations. The huge amount of time and money spent by Greeks and others to compete for an ultimately meaningless prize has long been a complaint by both the campus organizations and the university administration.

Arguably the true Pioneer Days spirit of Greeks trying to win Sweepstakes was revealed last year when the celebration was snatched from them like Christmas stolen by Grinch. While many participating students admitted the whole Sweepstakes concept was far too great a burden on their scholastics and their pocketbooks, others were threatening to hold a Sweepstakes with or without the university administration’s permission.

Rancho Chico Days does, however, retain the tradition of Sweepstakes by offering prizes for outstanding float and “Project” (Quad) entries, and competitions for Sheriff and Lit’ Nell.

It is not a celebration that might attract a large number of out-of-towners.

Last year, Chico State University students blamed non-resident students and other out-of -towners for inciting the riot. Though no one can predict if a large number of non-residents will come to town, Andrews says Rancho Chico Days Inc. has not advertised outside of Butte County to attract crowds to their events.

But even If out-of -towners do come to town, the events — not parties, as was the tradition — will focus their attention.

Says White, “In the past, a lot of people were coming to town during Pioneer Days

with nothing to do. We want people coming to town to celebrate our history with members of the community. There will be things for them to do.”

‘There is no motivation for people to come here unless for the parade,” says David Klbourne, president of the Downtown Chico Business Association and a member of the Rancho Chico Days Committee. “There won’t be that freefiowing ambiance.”

It is not an alcoholic celebration.

Beer won’t be free-flowing, either. All the “official” events are non-alcoholic, and rules for involvement by community groups specifically stress non-alcoholic participation.

According to student leaders, including Billy Berry, president of the Interfraternity Council, Rancho Chico Days won’t be an excuse for students to hold their traditional spring “blow-out” partying because Greeks and other student groups scheduled a full “social calendar” two weeks ago during Spring End ‘88, the university’s new alternative to Pioneer Days for students.

It is not disorganized.

In many ways, Rancho Chico Days is the community celebration that should

have been especially from an organizational standpoint. Unlike the university’s Pioneer Days Committee, which suffered from a lack of continuity because committee members changed each school year (and went to school), the 14-member Rancho Chico Days board of directors will likely be permanent. Andrews says, as Rancho Chico Days grows in coming years, the organizing committee will seek a paid professional to spearhead the organization of the celebration.

The Rancho Chico Days Committee also appears to have control over the celebration Its created. Its energy has been controlled, says KlIbourne. By contrast, the university was losing control over Pioneer Days, which its organizers frequently admitted had become larger than the sum of its parts.

Pioneer Days was a half-bridled, wild, unbroken show horse whose passengers (some of them unwilling) were barely hanging on for their lives. Even when not on parade, it kicked in its stall.

Rancho Chico Days, in comparison is a soft-stepping pony ride. It resembles the original animal, sure. But it’s going to be a slow ride that’s over quickly and a lot of people are waiting in line to get on.

It’s the only attraction at the carnival right now.

  Committee chairwoman Andrews insists Rancho Chico Days is a completely new celebration with no ties or resemblance to Pioneer Days.

“I’m acting like Pioneer Days didn’t exist,” she states. “It’s not Pioneer Days re-done”

But the fact remains: The community tradition died last year and is being revived this year. Rancho Chico Days distinguishes itself, say participants and organizers, by being a vast Improvement over its predecessor.


A New Sense of History

is a feeling among participants and organizers of retaining all that was good about Pioneer Days.

“Our main concept is rejoicing in the history of the community — who we are and how we got here,” Andrews explains. The theme of this year’s celebration is “The Bidwell Era — 1848-1923.”

But like Pioneer Days, the new celebration is not purely a “historical” celebration. Rancho Chico Days, say organizers, will be good for business.

“Our first priority is to maintain this tradition (of a a community-wide celebration) and perpetuate it,” says Kilbourre. “But it goes without saying that any major community tradition will have some positive effect on tourism.” But Kilbourne says the new event will “not be any more economically stimulating than Pioneer Days.”

In fact, it may be much less, According to committee member and local businessman Jim Davis, the economic fallout of canceling the much larger Pioneer Days celebration may be felt for the first time this year.

“Nobody lost much money last year,” he says. “The test will be this year to see how much money is really lost. Last year, everyone was already in town for the parade when it was canceled. Motel rooms were booked and businesses did well up until the cancellation.”

It’s the money traditionally spent by students that Davis sees as being lost this year from the local economy. An adviser to the Alpha Chi sorority, Davis says the group spent almost $20,000 on Quad project lumber, paint, costumes and more last year gearing up for Pioneer Days.

‘The costumes were $125 each times 80 girls, all bought here. Multiply that by all the Greeks. That’s a lot of money that won’t be spent this year. It could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.”


A New Philanthropic Spirit

Unlike Pioneer Days, whose participants were mostly motivated by the goal of winning Sweepstakes, Rancho Chico Days heavily emphasizes fund-raising and publicity for local non-profit agencies.

“This is a very giving community who helps our organizations, and this (celebration) is a very good vehicle to continue this,” states Andrews. “We have patterned Rancho Chico Days after the Gilroy Garlic Festival in as much as the

Fueling the spirit of renewal and rebirth


activity allows various community groups to use the event as their fund-raiser.”

The centerpiece of the parade will be a float depicting The Old Mother in the Shoe” nursery rhyme built cooperatively by the Delta Chi fraternity and Project Child, a new non-profit child abuse prevention organization holding a fund-raiser during the celebration.

Granted, the parade has its share of tacky, purely commercial entries led by the local radio and TV stations’ inevitable parade of personalities in convertibles, but a new mood of philanthropy with the student groups leading the way is more the theme of Rancho Chico Days.

Says Project Child fund-raising chairwoman Lynn Robertson, “I was involved in Pioneer Days 10 years ago when I went to Chico State. I used to think, all this energy and the end result was just this trophy? I thought fraternities and sororities should compete to see who could raise money (for charity). Before, it was just a big ego trip.

Many charity organizations will have food or craft items for sale at the celebration’s events.

Delta Cbi president Sean McGee says his 3-year-old Chico State fraternity wasn’t thrilled about getting caught up in the winner-take-all atmosphere of Pioneer Days Sweepstakes when it entered Sweepstakes for the first time last year.

“We just wanted to get involved,’ he says. This year. he says Delta Chi  helping to lead student participation away from the competitive spirit.

“The past was so centered around the competition. For us, this was the perfect chance to change the format of these events. This gives us a chance to work with the community. It’s a chance to get a very worthy cause publicized. Our emphasis is on getting the word out about Project Child. We think this is the beginning of a long-term relationship (with Project Child).”

Away from their Rancho Chico Days involvement, Delta Chi has donated the manpower during refurbishing efforts on an old house that Project Child hopes to turn into a center for abused children.


Better Town-Gown Relations

McGee hopes Delta Chi’s involvement in Rancho Chico Days will help break down community stereotypes of Greek organizations blamed they say unfairly  for the alcohol-related riot last year.

“The community has a total stereotype of Greeks as being ‘Animal House’ crazies. The only way we can change that is by working together. There is no established relationship between us and them, They don’t know us and we don’t know them. This is a step in the right direction.”

But despite the new cooperation. relations between Rancho Chico Days organizers and some campus organizations remain strained.

Students’ nonparticipation has frustrated organizers. especially Andrews, who had high perhaps too high —

expectations that students would jump on the bandwagon. That she has publicly expressed her disappointment hasn’t exactly helped ease tensions either.

Though billed as a community event. close scrutiny of Rancho Chico Days reveals that organizers went out of their way to retain aspects of Pioneer Days that appealed most to students. There is a Sheriff and Lil’ Nell, a Sweepstakes trophy, and specific awards for best projects and best parade float. Currently there is only one candidate each for Sheriff and Lil’ Nell, two “projects” and a handful of float entries.

Both students and celebration organizers are well aware that students were the creative energy and muscle behind the events most popular with the community. Students feel there never was enough appreciation for their past efforts, and it was only reinforced when the city canceled the parade last year

But appreciation of the students seems to be rising.


“We always talked about Pioneer Days being a community celebration, but the fraternities and sororities put all the work into it.” says committee member White. “I don’t think the city really appreciated what they did and how much work they put into it. Nobody knew how it worked.”

That no community organization has erected a “project” or major parade float is proof the community has much to learn about such endeavors the students produced spectacularly. White says.

Andrews hopes the community can learn from the students and has provided an opportunity to do so. A public parade float building event early Friday evening will allow community volunteers to help add the finishing touches to this year’s entries. It’s never been done before. The sharing of ideas, organizers hope, will stimulate community float building for future parades.


Wilson Gives His Blessings

Publicly, the university administration Es behind the community’s new celebration. Says Chico State President Robin Wilson, “I have very explicitly instructed people with student affairs in writing not to interfere with student participation.

“We don’t want to stand in the way. I fervently hope Rancho Chico Days is a booming success and that there’s not an ounce of trouble. I think that would be just wonderful.”


Though there clearly is no threat of repercussions for student groups participating in Rancho Chico Days. both students and event organizers say they know Wilson isn’t entirely pleased that the celebration he took in the backyard and shot in the head (to rephrase Wilson’s memorable vow last year) has been reincarnated.

Weather notwithstanding, this possibly is the only black cloud hanging over what otherwise promises to be a successful event with a bright future.



Celebration missing one thing: Greeks

Chico ER May 4, 1988

Working in the student acclivities office, Chico State Panheflenic Council president Debbie Bateman recently ran across some old files containing Pioneer Days memorabilia, and her thoughts flooded with memories of past P-Days.

“It hurt to look at them,” she says. A year ago. we were tuning up our instruments and ready to go on the stage. Canceling Pioneer Days hit everyone En the stomach.”

Student groups are still aching from last year’s disastrous and disappointing end to Pioneer Days, she says, after Greeks and other organizations spent months preparing for their cherished spring celebration.

Lingering painful memories, according to Bateman, are among the many reasons why Greeks have been almost unanimously reluctant to participate in this year’s Rancho Chico Days celebration, despite many invitations from organizers to join in.

This year, she says, “I think we need to catch our breath.”

Instead, the Greeks are putting their spring energy into alternative events and competitions.

Despite statements made earlier this year by Greek leaders that campus organizations were “99 percent” against participating in Pancho Chico Days, Bateman says each organization has its own reasons for not participating in the new celebration. There is no boycott.

According to lnterfraternity Council president Billy Berry, Greeks this year mostly want to take a step back and reevaluate their involvement” in a large-scale spring celebraton.

Participation in Chico State’s alternative events to Pioneer Days — Spring End ‘88, held two weeks ago —ranged from poor to good, depending on the event, according to organizers. Berry says the events were satisfying.”

Yet the new event did not erase the memories of fun, competition and spirit of P-Days many students hold.

Spring End was fun and there was no stress, but I miss Pioneer Days,” says Bateman. “(Greeks) want that spirit back and that feeling of accomplishment.”

However, like most students involved in Pioneer

Days, she admits that celebration was due for a change. She cites the competitiveness of trying to win Sweepstakes and the financial burden as being destructive, but, she adds, “It brought out better Quads and parade entries.’

Greeks have not remained idle during the spring. According to Berry, official Spring End activities on campus such as a “Wimpee Olympee,” a dance and a softball tournament were just a part of this year’s replacement celebration. A full Greek social schedule has long been a tradition, and it was not abandoned this year.

During Spring End ‘88, says Berry, “There were tons of blow-out socials. There wasn’t a real kick-off party, but a lot of fraternities had two to four socials in that four-day period (April 23.26). We usually have that many in a month.”

Another Pioneer Days tradition was competition for recognition. Though Sweepstakes is dead, Berry says competition among fraternities for recognition is alive and well due to revived interest in the Greek Cup.

Organized last year by fraternity brother Phil Devitt of Beta Theta Pi, the Greek Cup is a trophy honoring the fraternity who wins interfraternity competition in six sports — soccer, football, floor hockey, softball, five-on-five basketball and three-on-three basketball.

Berry says the Greek Cup competition last year was weak. But this year, with fraternities not working feverishly on Quad projects. Presents dance steps and parade floats, there’s an all-out war for ownership of the Greek Cup.

“It’s become a very big event,” he says. “Almost all the fraternities are participating. It’s a great time.’ The trophy will be awarded next week after softball competition winds up.

Despite the presence in alternative P-Days activities, Berry and Bateman say interest among Greeks does exist for participating in Ranco Chico Days. Both agree with members of the two fraternities and one sorority participating in Rancho Chico Days who say the student organizations will probably participate in the new celebration in the future.

“I think we’ll see how it goes this year,” says Bateman. “I’m sure groups will look at the Quads and the parade, and maybe something will pull them from inside and they’ll participate in it next year. We want the tradition to continue.”

  Berry says Greeks admire those organizations who have found the time and resources to participate this year. “They should be commended,” he says.

But Bateman says Greeks are also cautious about becoming involved. She says assurances offered by the Pancho Chico Days organizers that community groups sponsoring student participation would help defray expenses is a positive step toward mending the rift between the community and student groups wary of repeating past problems.

“But there’s still the time involved,” she says. “Also we have to feel the university is supportive of us.”