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July 8, 2009 > History: Pathfinder Days

History: Pathfinder Days

John C. Fremont was sometimes called "The Pathfinder" so it was logical that the City of Fremont would have a pathfinder event. There was a small Memorial Day service at Irvington Cemetery in 1964. Several men who attended, including Homer Townsend, James Perley and Mayor Don Dillon, discussed the idea of a city celebration. Planning by these men led to the development of Pathfinder Day.

The City Council approved of the idea and funding was secured from the Chamber of Commerce and Fremont Hub merchants. Mayor Dillon appointed the first Pathfinder Committee; the event was set for October 17, 1964.

This first celebration included a parade of 200 entries led by Grand Marshal James Perley and Miss California, Sherri Rapp. Matt Whitfield led the barbecue committee, Phil Van Swoll coordinated the talent show, and 40,000 people came to enjoy the games, movies, fireworks, art show and dance.

The 1965 event was expanded to a four-day city-wide celebration termed "the biggest fete in history." Gold Coast Air Shows staged an air show at the Fremont Drag Strip, West Coast Shows provided both adult and kiddie rides at Central Park and some 50,000 people watched the parade led by Grand Marshal T.V. star Jerry Van Dyke. A local article gave credit to volunteers including Mayor Don Dillon, Homer Townsend, Jim Perley, Chet DiGiulio, Matt Whitfield, Burt Harper, G. Ruiz, Jerry Todd, Adele McHale, Warren Townsend, George Johnson, Harry Heyen, and Paul Marshall.

Work on the third annual Pathfinder Days began about a week after the 1965 event was completed and termed a gigantic success. Event supporters were encouraged and Pathfinder Days was on its way to becoming "a permanent annual event." Valerie Argent, who had been crowned Miss Elizabeth of Fremont's sister city in Australia, was the 1967 Parade Grand Marshal. The parade was called "the biggest and best ever."

Al Gregor drew a map of the Central Park area for the l969 celebration and a sailing regatta was added to the program. John C. Fremont, a great grandson of the city's namesake, was the Parade Grand Marshal.

Organizers decided that they would sponsor a rock concert to help "show off the city's good points." They engaged singer Ray Stevens as the top name entertainer for Pathfinder '70, advertised his selection, drained the swim lagoon to form an amphitheater, fenced the area, and set up seats, but sold only a few tickets.

Stevens began the concert as scheduled, but a big crowd gathered outside, stormed over the fence and crashed the concert. The other events were all successful, but the concert was a financial disaster. Volunteers struggled to pay off the debt, yet they were able to continue the annual celebration the next year.

A "Pathfinder '71 Special" featured a photo of Michele Ford, Miss Fremont, posed in front of Mission San Jose. The booklet included several historical articles and six large car ads. The festival was called the "Mardi Gras of South County." A later "Pathfinder Days Souvenir Edition" featured articles written by John Sandoval about John C. Fremont. The pie-eating contest and bike races were dropped in 1978 and attendance fell from 40,000 to 27,000.

Fremont Pathfinders, Inc. was formed in 1974 to rescue festival. The "Argus Brightside" suggested that fun-seekers "Hop on the nearest BART and you're off for an adventure in yester land. For once you step off BART at Fremont's station, it's goodbye modern-ania and hello good old-fashioned fun." Valerie Bishop was "Miss Pathfinder 75."

Wendy Peterson was crowned Miss Liberty Bell in 1976 as part of the bicentennial theme. Laurie Lee Schaefer, Miss America for l972, was the Parade Grand Marshal. Three standbys - the women's cross country race, the queen contest and the tug-of-war - were missing in 1977, but 20,000 people turned out for the parade. The theme for 1978 was "Fremont Unified" with a nostalgic look at days past. A talent show and soccer tournament were featured. Estelle Hirsch, 97 years old, was the Honorary Grand Marshal

A few years later it became clear that Pathfinder Days would soon end. Given the varying points of view involved, interests being diverted elsewhere, decline in participation and funding, it was determined that Pathfinder Days would be discontinued. The event helped develop great community spirit and provided much fun and entertainment for participants. We think its namesake would be proud.

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