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Floyd & Helen Sneed met in a bank over 66 years ago
Floyd and Helen Sneed
Floyd and Helen Sneed have spent the past 55 years of their 66 years together in this 1920s house on Fowler Road. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Trimmed in blue, the white clapboard-sided home of Floyd and Helen Sneed differs from anything along Fowler Road. An expansive lawn sprawls in front of the house, crafted of 1920's architecture, and featuring second-floor railed balconies - the largest over a carport - which are only for looks since no doors lead out to them.

There's likely a storied past in the house for it once sat on Magnolia Street at 99 before its rescue from freeway widening. The house has character, a fitting abode for the two characters living inside, Floyd Sneed and his wife Helen.

Shaky start
In seconds I can see that Floyd is a bona fide character and Helen is probably eligible for sainthood for putting up with him since they were married in 1950.

"Almost didn't," deadpans Helen.
I pressed for an explanation but Floyd cuts in, saying that his wife is a "comedian" like him. Later, the truth drips out in bits. The two met while working at the same bank and during their first official date at the company Christmas party, Floyd refused to pay for Helen's cost to attend. He was a cheapskate - Helen's word - because the Anglo California National Bank in Modesto, only paid him $160 per month.

"I didn't go with him but guess what, he brought me home," said Helen.

The pair developed a romantic interest and decided to get married in Carson City, Nev., when she was standing in for a best friend, Carol Amerine to get married to Dick Amerine. Floyd sprung for the $10 to pay a justice of the peace to officiate their wedding. Floyd didn't even offer Helen a honeymoon 66 years ago.

"He dropped me off in Pinecrest and I stayed there with my friend," said Helen.

Another explanation please.

"The reason we didn't have a honeymoon is because in those days you couldn't be married and both work at the bank," Floyd said. "One of you would have to quit and neither one of us could afford to quit and so we kept it a secret."

Fearing that the truth would come out with an eventual pregnancy, the couple told management they were married but both got to stay employed. The rules had changed.

The couple's first child, Mike, came along in 1952, prompting Helen to quit work and become a stay-at-home mom. Two years later she gave birth to daughter Michelle. Michelle grew up, married a pilot and worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines. Helen brings out a copy of a signed photo of Michelle standing outside an airplane with former President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara and President George W. Bush.

Floyd has been a lifelong Ceres resident. He was born Aug. 13, 1928 "across the tracks," more specifically in a house that once occupied a vacant lot on Pine Street west of Country Market. His parents were Bennie and Agnes Sneed, natives of Big Piney, Missouri, who came to California independently as children. They were married at the First Baptist Church around 1927 when his mom was just 15.

"She was 16 when I was born," said Floyd. "My dad was 10 years older than my mom."

Bennie Sneed was a foreman at a ranch owned by J.B. Tupper.

Floyd's brother Bud Sneed died last year.

In those days, the 99 highway was but a low-speed rural highway. Fourth Street crossed the highway and the railroad tracks and went in a southwesterly direction where it connected to Central Avenue. Downtown is pretty much the same today as he remembers back then, with the exception of a loss of buildings at the southern end.

Floyd started out attending the Ceres Grammar School on Lawrence Street as a first-grader as there was no kindergarten back then. Walter White was the principal.

"I'm a sports nut. I love to play ball. I used to go to Mr. White's office so many times. He'd just turn the radio on and we'd listen to the World Series."

Cemetery link
While a member of the Boy Scouts, Floyd earned his merit badge by helping to clean up the Ceres Cemetery and hoe the weeds around the graves. His father later became a member of the cemetery Board of Directors. When he grew ill, his dad asked Floyd to step in and fill his seat.

"I'm still on the board. I'm still the dang treasurer. I kind of enjoy it. It's once a month, that's all. You only go there and listen to the problems they have. The manager over there, Clay (Guzman) is a good manager and doing a heck of a good job. The cemetery is in good shape."

Loud pipes
His nemesis while attending Ceres High School was the town's police officer, the one-armed J.M. McGuffey who was said to have shot at a motorist who blew through a police roadblock near Whitmore Park.

"When I was in high school I had a '40 Chevy with pipes and he was always trying to catch me to give me a ticket because they were so noisy," said Floyd. "The guys from school would be walking home for lunch or something and they would say, ‘Hey, McGuffey's hiding in the alley' and I'd go around the other way. Those pipes were real loud. We lived on Ninth Street over here and my Mom could hear me from high school. He never did catch me."

When a coach borrowed Floyd's car for lunch, McGuffey nailed the driver of the loud car.

"I had to pay for it," Floyd laughed.

Some of his classmates were Dick Ramsey, Hank Thurman, Jim Chipponeri, Jim Morrow and Leroy Cunningham. Floyd remembered Leroy from first grade on and of course became Ceres police chief for many years.

"He was kind of a sissy as a kid. He was little and I was big. He was the water boy at the football games. We were surprised when he became a police officer. You'd shoot a firecracker and he'd run. He went into the service and became an MP and all of sudden here he is chief of police. He straightened it out. He was a good chief."

Sneed became friends with Mary Ellen Martinez (now Mary Ellen Pitts) and her brother and recalled they were from the only Hispanic family in Ceres.

"She was smart because she used to help me with my homework."

Floyd was a star athlete at Ceres High, playing football, baseball and basketball and running track. He earned approximately 15 block letters before graduating from Ceres High School in 1946. Mr. Cakebread was the principal and presided over the ceremony.

In 2009 Floyd Sneed was inducted into the Ceres High School Hall of Fame for the class of 1946.

"I won a scholarship to UCLA to play football but the last football game I got a knee injury. In those days they didn't operate. I went down there for a week and got it busted again. That's as far as I went. I came back and went to JC for a year."

During the summer of 1946 Floyd was looking for work and was offered a job at the local bank. He was going to quit work to devote his attention to the second semester at Modesto Junior College but the bank offered him more money so he stayed.

Floyd Sneed the banker
Few people today remember Floyd Sneed the banker. For decades Ceres was served by just one bank, the Bank of Ceres under the management of Arthur Harris. Floyd remembers that Mr. Harris "was just an old type of banker" who commonly told people that buying a house was a bad investment; he rented a house at the northwest corner of Fourth and North streets from assistant manager named Vinnia McGarvey. In 1949 a new bank, the Anglo California National Bank, decided to give Mr. Harris some competition and opened in downtown Ceres. Floyd worked in the bank which started out in a trailer on the lot now occupied by Ceres Drug Store until the current branch (now Wells Fargo), was built. Floyd remained there for 13 years and transferred to Security State Bank at Lander Avenue and Main Street in Turlock. From there he went to a branch at 10th and G streets in Modesto.

At the bank Floyd met Helen who was born and raised in Canada by French-Canadian parents. Then a Salida resident, Helen started working for banks in 1945 when there were only three in Modesto - Anglo (later Crocker), Bank of America and American Trust.

House moving
In 1960 the state commenced with plans to widen Highway 99 into a freeway, which required residential and commercial rights of way to be gobbled up for removal. Sneed bid on the 1926 Brown family house but lost out to Rudi Bonzi, who owned a moving company. Bonzi didn't move the house on the state's time schedule so officials threatened to bulldoze it if he didn't move it. Bonzi had no place to move it to so he came back to Sneed.

"I offered him $10,000, moved and set down and he wouldn't take it when he was trying to sell it," said Floyd. "Then he came in real fast and said, ‘I have to move it. Do you want it?' I said, ‘What do you want for it?' And he said $15,000. (I said) ‘I'm not going to pay you $15,000. You only paid $10,000.' I ended up paying $10,000."

In late 1960 the house was jacked up on blocks and moved down Whitmore Avenue and up Mitchell Road, which was then an oiled dirt road that only connected to River Road. That was before the Mitchell Road bridge over the Tuolumne River was built. The Sneeds planted the house on a half-acre lot carved from the former Barbour peach orchard on Fowler Road. They bought the land from John Barbour for $3,000 and today Floyd regrets not having bought at least another one.

While working at the bank, Sneed served as a Ceres Fire Commissioner of the all-volunteer department along with Judge Helsley and Charlie Hanson. The board would approve purchases of fire equipment for the station on North Street, oversee the volunteer program and account for monies that came from the county.

"I still have my badge."

By retirement, Sneed was vice president and regional manager of the Bank of California in Modesto after 41 years of banking.

Floyd and Helen are proud of their kids and especially proud to be the grandparents of two career Marines as well as two grandsons who live nearby. Son Mike and his wife Debbie Sneed are "two angels for us," said Helen. "We see Mike two or three times a week. He'll come over and see if we need anything."

Floyd agrees that anyone with children living close by and look after them in times of illness are "lucky." Years ago Helen was a victim of breast cancer and had to undergo a mastectomy. Both regret the decades of smoking, which has led to both suffered from COPD and on oxygen.

"When I started banking, everyone smoked," he explained.

They recently had a motorized chair lift installed so Helen can get to the upstairs bedroom. Floyd, 88, tries not to use it because he needs the exercise.

"I get tired. As long as I sit I can talk forever but if I go out and mow that lawn I go go about three or four minutes and I've got to sit down and take a hit (on the oxygen.)"

Before our visit ends, Floyd calls me into a room where an amazing collection of wooden vehicles - pickups, fire engines, Jeeps, tractors, cars and tow trucks - sit on a ping-pong table parking lot. Floyd carved each meticulous masterpiece of wood. He wants to give them away to a group, such as the Boy Scouts, who could put it to better use.

That could be another great story.