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Early-day Ceres woman was a cornerstone of the community
Allura E. Averill Ulch was church clerk, town library, postmistress, storekeeper, newspaper reporter
Allura Ulch lived from 1852 to 1936 and is buried in the Ceres cemetery. She was an early store owner, church clerk, first librarian, postmistress, seamstress and town newspaper reporter. Despite her legacy, her name does not grace any library, building or street name. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Allura E. Averill Ulch was born on Sept. 13, 1852 in East Machias, Maine. Her parents were also Maine natives. Her ancesters were from England but several generations had been pioneers in Maine and Massachusetts, helping to establish colonies and developing friendly relations with the Native Americans. In Barre, Mass., there still stands a monument to the memory of ancestor Hannah Dustin (1657-1737) who personified mercy and charity.

Allura she lived and got her education. She was a graduate of the Washington Academy of East Machias, which was then a preparatory school for Harvard University.
After completing her teacher training course, Allura taught school in Maine for five years, three years in Kansas and one year in Nebraska.

When she as 16, her father died and left her mother to care for eight children. Thus, Allura left to stay with sister Lavina Rollins in Kansas.

While in Kansas, she married Wesley W. Ulch in 1872 and they had three children. The oldest died a child and the youngest died in infancy. Mr. Ulch also died there so in 1880 she and her sole surviving daughter, Florence Bernice, came to Ceres to be there the rest of her family. Her mother, Hannah W. Averill, her brothers George and Jesse O. Averill (1846-1906), her sisters Viola (Mrs. Robert Craig), Susan W (Mrs. George B. Hall), Lavina (Mrs. Rollins) and Angie Averill (Mrs. Hall) had all been living in Ceres for some time.

The Averill homestead was at the northeast corner of Fourth and Lawrence streets on the spot that is now Delhart's Home Furnishings store.

When she came to Ceres she started a millinery, sewing and fancy workshop in a building next to the Averill home. An ad in the local newspaper said: "The headquarters for old Santa Claus is at the little store of Mrs. A.E. Ulch. There you will find a good assortment of toys and fancy articles for gifts. You had better call and see her stock. Anyone having purchased presents from any other place can leave them at her store if they so desire and she will see that they are properly labeled and sent to the church in time."

Mrs. Ulch was known as the town dress maker, making fancy dresses for all the ladies.

She closed her store and went off to live in Oakland for a while. She returned and was made postmistress of Ceres by President William McKinley in 1900.

She operated both the post office and library in her home on the northwest corner of Lawrence and Fourth streets in Ceres. It is recorded that she liked to plant lemon verbena along her garden fence as well as pepper trees which were later toppled by soaking rain and wind.

Loren E. McGee purchased the property and built a drug store there and Mrs. Ulch moved her entire house to the northwest corner of Sixth and Lawrence streets where she lived until her death in 1936. The house still stands at this location.

It was through her leadership and the combined efforts of members of the Farmer's Club that Ceres, in 1904, obtained the "Traveling Library" (from the State Traveling Library Association) which was housed in her home. In 1910 the traveling collection was replaced by the County Free Library system.

She raised her one remaining daughter, Florence, and gave her a good education as she graduated from San Jose Normal College (or San Jose Teacher's College, later San Jose State University), in 1898 and became a teacher in Ceres for three years and in Newman for a year. Florence returned to Ceres to help her mother run the post office and the little store. In 1904 Florence married Mr. Richard and they lived in Ceres a while.

Allura was the first librarian (1901) when the library association was formed, and remained in that post for many years.

Mrs. Ulch was elected clerk of the Ceres Baptist Church in 1888 and held that position for 35 years continuously.

She was active in the Ceres Garden Club, the Ceres Women's Club and the Ceres Rebekah Lodge. She was very active in the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), serving as president of the Ceres chapter for 15 years.

She wrote for the Ceres Courier since it began about 1911, and was writing for the paper when she died, some of her items being published after her death as she died after a short illness. In 1890 Allure gathered the Ceres news for the Modesto Morning Herald (later named the Modesto Bee) for many years. Mrs. Ulch mainly wrote about the activities of everyday Ceres residents, their visitors and their trips out of town. It is said that she would walk neighborhoods door to door and ask "Have you any news for me today?" It was said her job got a lot easier when the telephone system came to Ceres.

One such item she reported on read: "On Monday evening we were entertained by a man with a phonograph, who exhibited in the Ceres Hall. The audience was small but all there were interested in Mr. Edison's invention."

She had poetry published, which she wrote under the names of "Olga" and "Uno."

It has been reported she also clipped newspaper articles of interest to Ceres which were glued into a scrapbook. It's unknown if the book is still in the possession of the library.

How she got all this done in one lifetime we'll never know. She must have been a real busy woman.

Mrs. Ulch passed away in Ceres on May 23, 1936, at the age of 83. She is buried in the Ceres Memorial Park with the rest of her family members. The last of the Averill siblings to live was Angie C. Averill Hall who died in 1938.