Nobody has ever served as an employee of the city of Ceres longer than Mary Fenton.
As she finished up her 52 years of employment with the city and entered retirement during coronavirus restrictions, the city celebrated with a surprise Wednesday, Aug. 5 drive-by parade. Driving down Dale Avenue in front of her home were numerous fire engines, the Ceres Police SWAT vehicle, patrol cars and motorcycles and others. Vice Mayor Linda Ryno dropped by to present Fenton with a plaque recognizing her time given to the city for over half a century, with Councilman Mike Kline looking on.
“She was very surprised because we didn’t tell her what we were doing,” said city of Ceres Finance Director Leticia Dias. “She was overwhelmed with it all.”
Dias and other city employees that included Shirley Ventura of Human Resources, only told Mary they would be coming over to visit – socially distanced and masked – but within minutes the noon parade started.
The occasion gave the Finance Department – the last place Mary worked when she went out on medical issues in March – a chance to catch up. Her official last day with the city was July 10.
In August 2018 Fenton was honored with a 50th anniversary of employment party at the Community Center.
Mary was hired as a police clerk-dispatcher by then Police Chief Leroy Cunningham in August 1, 1968 when she was just 21. It was her first – and only – full-time job. She read about the job in the Ceres Courier and applied, beating out about 30 other applicants. Mary said she was favored because of the way she answered questions about filing and because she had no prior work as a police clerk.
“They wanted somebody that they could train from scratch because the one I took over for was acting as a matron and they didn’t want that,” said Fenton. She replaced Mary Jo Chubbuck.
Fenton was the only dispatcher for the department, which operated then in a small cinder block building at the northwest corner of Third and North streets, now site of Ceres Fire Station #1. When she went home Mary flipped a switch and phones were answered by Sheriff’s Department dispatchers.
She remembers the time she dispatched Gene Fowler over to an apartment complex where a woman was in labor. Fowler arrived as the baby was crowning and Mary heard the desperate plea to get the ambulance “real fast because he was afraid he was going to have to deliver it.”
Chief Cunningham, she remembered, “wanted to handle everything himself.”
Other bosses included Chief Pete Peterson and Chief Art deWerk.
Mary remembers working with City Clerk Leona Garrison. Courier publisher and editor Lee Roddy, she said, took her photo a number of times for the newspaper.
After spending 40 years in the Police Department, Mary worked for the city manager’s office and then City Attorney Mike Lyions and helped out the city clerk. She then moved over to the city of Ceres Finance Department where she serves as an administrative secretary under Finance Director Leticia Dias.
Dean said Fenton takes care of little things like the copier, FAX and orders supplies as well as accounts payable and posts journal entries.
Two years ago when asked in 2018 when she was going to retire, Mary said: “I love my job. I’ll retire when I get ready. I just enjoy my job. I like the variety and the people I work with are really good to work with.”
Mary grew up in the Hughson and Denair areas and came to Ceres right after her December 1967 wedding. She graduated from Hughson High School in 1965.
Now that she is retired, Mary will have more time to visit her favorite casinos, particularly Table Mountain in Madera and Chukchansi Gold Resort in Coarsegold.
Other employees with longevity of over 32 years include Olga Mendoza, Fleet Supervisor Tim Palecek, Sally Estrada and John Damon.