Arts

Growing up in Pleasanton in the 1950s

'Cruising Down Memory Lane' interviewees share importance of documenting their history

From left to right: Judy Clark Engelken, Donna Kamp McMillion, Tom Jorgensen and Tom Orloff, all descendants of some of the founders of Pleasanton, sit in front of the Pleasanton Pioneer Founders Mural on Main Street. (Photo by Chuck Deckert)

Imagine walking down Santa Rita Road after school just ended and seeing kids riding their horses to the pool rather than their cars.

Or seeing 13-year-olds driving their moms to the grocery store with no driver's license and waiving to the police as they do so.

A rendition of the front cover for the book, which is set to come out early next spring. (Design courtesy of Debbie Wardrope)

Well, for people like Ray Calija who grew up in Pleasanton in the 1950s, that was life on a daily basis.

"I'd be driving that Main Street and they'd be coming the other way in their police cars and stuff and they'd waved and I'd wave to them," Calija told the Weekly. "They knew I wasn't old enough to drive, but they'd see my mother in the car and they knew my dad was on the farm working so they really didn't care."

Calija, a former agricultural harvester, was one of 38 people interviewed whose stories about growing up in the small town will be featured in an upcoming book "Cruising Down Memory Lane: Stories of Pleasanton in the 1950s."

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

Donna Kamp McMillion, a former director at Hope Hospice and longtime author, has been one of the masterminds behind the project as she interviewed everyone featured in the book such as former Pleasanton mayor Bob Philcox, former police chief Walt McCloud and former Alameda County district attorney Tom Orloff.

McMillion said the book is set to come out early next spring with the main goal of supporting the Pleasanton Museum on Main by providing oral accounts and family photos of what life was like back then.

Former Mayor Bob Philcox, who recently passed away, sitting down next to Joyce LeClaire and the rest of the 1976 Pleasanton City Council. (Photo courtesy Donna McMillion)

"This is a minor piece, obviously, of overall history, but I think it's just important to document history," Orloff told the Weekly. "Where would we be if we paid no attention to our history?"

McMillion said that the book of stories was first tossed around as an idea when Judy Wheeler from Towne Center Books encouraged her to write it because of people who came into the bookstore asking about stories from those times.

"She said so many people come into the bookstore and they want to know stories and what it was like to grow up here," McMillion said.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

As a fourth-generation Pleasanton resident and great-granddaughter of Henry Mohr, one of the founders of the town, McMillion said it was easier to interview people like Calija and Orloff because she grew up with most of them.

She reminisced on the times when she would take her horse to the pool at Amador Valley High School after school and it would escape from one of the school neighbor's chicken coops where she left the horse while she went to cool off.

"He ran from Amador, down Santa Rita, across Santa Rita down Mohr Avenue, over Martin Avenue, back to our corral and there he was munching grass when I walked home," McMillion said.

She said that because so many of her sources were getting up in age, she knew it was crucial to share these stories before they were lost forever.

"These stories are too important," McMillion told the Weekly. "Bob Philcox, our mayor during that time ... he's already passed away. One other person I interviewed is now in hospice. I want a top-notch book, but I want their stories captured. That's how they will live on."

One year has passed since she first started the process of reaching out to everyone -- not just people like Philcox, but also people like Calija who played just as much of an important role in Pleasanton's history -- and now the book is in the final writing stages.

Fomer Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff holding hands with his father who he talks about in his story of growing up in Pleasanton in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy Donna McMillion)

Two retired Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory writers are ghostwriting the book and McMillion is also bringing in people to help with page layout and front cover design -- all for free.

"They were so excited about contributing to the community and they wanted to be involved," McMillion said.

She said the fact that all of the work has been done on volunteer time goes to show how important it is for those who lived the stories, and she wants to do everything she can do to promote the book so that it doesn't just gather dust.

Some of the tales that will be featured in the book are stories like that of Calija who lived on the Busch Brothers Ranch on Mohr Avenue with his nine siblings.

His father was a head laborer and sharecropper on the farm, and even though Calija said he never had things like toys for Christmas, he wouldn't trade his time growing up for anything.

"I really didn't know how much I miss living in Pleasanton and growing up on a farm until I left and once I left, I couldn't wait to get back home," Calija said as he talked about his time leaving Pleasanton to join the Marines.

He said he felt privileged to be able to share his family's story with his community and couldn't wait to read the other stories of people who lived during that same time.

Orloff working on his family's dairy farm fields picking cucumbers in the '50s. (Photo courtesy Donna McMillion)

Stories of people like Orloff who, before going on to become a district attorney, used to spend his time cruising around town when he wasn't picking cucumbers from his dad's farms during the summers in high school.

"I still remember the first year I had the car, my sister's car ... The Coasters had a song called 'Poison Ivy'. I can hear that playing on the radio," Orloff said. "It was just a slower pace and a lot more innocent."

He said that he was glad to be a part of the book and that even though the stories might not seem historically significant, they are still stories about Pleasanton's residents and the city's history.

"I hope they will enjoy it," Orloff said, regarding the book. "If they enjoy it, then it will have some effect on the way they think and the way they look at things."

A front row seat to local high school sports.

Check out our new newsletter, the Playbook.

Christian Trujano
 
Christian Trujano, a Bay Area native and San Jose State alum, joined Embarcadero Media in May 2022 following his graduation. He is an award-winning student journalist who has covered stories in San Jose ranging from crime to higher education. Read more >>

Follow DanvilleSanRamon.com on Twitter @DanvilleSanRamo, Facebook and on Instagram @ for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Growing up in Pleasanton in the 1950s

'Cruising Down Memory Lane' interviewees share importance of documenting their history

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Oct 20, 2022, 5:29 pm

Imagine walking down Santa Rita Road after school just ended and seeing kids riding their horses to the pool rather than their cars.

Or seeing 13-year-olds driving their moms to the grocery store with no driver's license and waiving to the police as they do so.

Well, for people like Ray Calija who grew up in Pleasanton in the 1950s, that was life on a daily basis.

"I'd be driving that Main Street and they'd be coming the other way in their police cars and stuff and they'd waved and I'd wave to them," Calija told the Weekly. "They knew I wasn't old enough to drive, but they'd see my mother in the car and they knew my dad was on the farm working so they really didn't care."

Calija, a former agricultural harvester, was one of 38 people interviewed whose stories about growing up in the small town will be featured in an upcoming book "Cruising Down Memory Lane: Stories of Pleasanton in the 1950s."

Donna Kamp McMillion, a former director at Hope Hospice and longtime author, has been one of the masterminds behind the project as she interviewed everyone featured in the book such as former Pleasanton mayor Bob Philcox, former police chief Walt McCloud and former Alameda County district attorney Tom Orloff.

McMillion said the book is set to come out early next spring with the main goal of supporting the Pleasanton Museum on Main by providing oral accounts and family photos of what life was like back then.

"This is a minor piece, obviously, of overall history, but I think it's just important to document history," Orloff told the Weekly. "Where would we be if we paid no attention to our history?"

McMillion said that the book of stories was first tossed around as an idea when Judy Wheeler from Towne Center Books encouraged her to write it because of people who came into the bookstore asking about stories from those times.

"She said so many people come into the bookstore and they want to know stories and what it was like to grow up here," McMillion said.

As a fourth-generation Pleasanton resident and great-granddaughter of Henry Mohr, one of the founders of the town, McMillion said it was easier to interview people like Calija and Orloff because she grew up with most of them.

She reminisced on the times when she would take her horse to the pool at Amador Valley High School after school and it would escape from one of the school neighbor's chicken coops where she left the horse while she went to cool off.

"He ran from Amador, down Santa Rita, across Santa Rita down Mohr Avenue, over Martin Avenue, back to our corral and there he was munching grass when I walked home," McMillion said.

She said that because so many of her sources were getting up in age, she knew it was crucial to share these stories before they were lost forever.

"These stories are too important," McMillion told the Weekly. "Bob Philcox, our mayor during that time ... he's already passed away. One other person I interviewed is now in hospice. I want a top-notch book, but I want their stories captured. That's how they will live on."

One year has passed since she first started the process of reaching out to everyone -- not just people like Philcox, but also people like Calija who played just as much of an important role in Pleasanton's history -- and now the book is in the final writing stages.

Two retired Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory writers are ghostwriting the book and McMillion is also bringing in people to help with page layout and front cover design -- all for free.

"They were so excited about contributing to the community and they wanted to be involved," McMillion said.

She said the fact that all of the work has been done on volunteer time goes to show how important it is for those who lived the stories, and she wants to do everything she can do to promote the book so that it doesn't just gather dust.

Some of the tales that will be featured in the book are stories like that of Calija who lived on the Busch Brothers Ranch on Mohr Avenue with his nine siblings.

His father was a head laborer and sharecropper on the farm, and even though Calija said he never had things like toys for Christmas, he wouldn't trade his time growing up for anything.

"I really didn't know how much I miss living in Pleasanton and growing up on a farm until I left and once I left, I couldn't wait to get back home," Calija said as he talked about his time leaving Pleasanton to join the Marines.

He said he felt privileged to be able to share his family's story with his community and couldn't wait to read the other stories of people who lived during that same time.

Stories of people like Orloff who, before going on to become a district attorney, used to spend his time cruising around town when he wasn't picking cucumbers from his dad's farms during the summers in high school.

"I still remember the first year I had the car, my sister's car ... The Coasters had a song called 'Poison Ivy'. I can hear that playing on the radio," Orloff said. "It was just a slower pace and a lot more innocent."

He said that he was glad to be a part of the book and that even though the stories might not seem historically significant, they are still stories about Pleasanton's residents and the city's history.

"I hope they will enjoy it," Orloff said, regarding the book. "If they enjoy it, then it will have some effect on the way they think and the way they look at things."

Comments

There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.