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Local celebs wait tables for tower preservation effort
• Group still a long way from financial goal
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Ceres Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Denise Wickham takes an order from Kendall Meyer at Alfonso’s Mexican Bar & Grill on Tuesday, July 31. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A large collection of personalities well known in the Ceres community volunteered to wait tables and serve customers of Alfonso’s Mexican Restaurant on Tuesday, July 31 to earn and donate their tips to the effort to preserve the Ceres water tower.

There were times when waiters outnumbered customers.

The effort to raise money for the tower is a year old and has only generated about $5,000, said Brandy Meyer, one of its organizers. A group of citizens is set on raising enough money to restore and paint the iconic Ceres water tower, which the city believes will cost a half million dollars or more.

The city owns the tower but doesn’t have the finances to do the job but leaders back the effort. Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra has pledged that the city will restore the tower if the group successfully raises enough money. So far the effort is falling dramatically short.

Meyer, a downtown businesswoman, is leading the ambitious effort along with retirees Sheila and Lee Brandt.

A year ago, Meyer and the Brandts mustered up a group of about 30 residents to brainstorm ideas to raise the money to preserve the water tower, a fixture in downtown since 1934. A 2010 bid from Cornerstone Company obtained by the city pegged the project cost at $450,000. The cost includes cost analysis, testing plans, developing specs, structural repairs, repainting, project management and inspection. Those costs could be as high as $530,000 today, said City Manager Toby Wells. However, Meyer would like to see the city obtain three additional bids and said she believes the firm that painted the MID and TID electrical transmission lines may be able do the work for far less money.

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Shelia Brandt displays new T-shirts being sold as a fundraiser for the Ceres water tower preservation. They are available from Embroidery Plus on Fourth Street. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Meyer said it will take years to raise the funds necessary for the city to order the repairs. Ideas for fundraising include obtaining grants, finding corporate sponsors, hosting annual fundraisers, a donation-driven time capsule, selling bricks with donors’ names and a quest to have 2,500 residents pledge to donate $200 over a three-year period.

The Ceres Community Foundation has agreed to collect funds for the group which allows donors to write off their donations. Meyer pledged to maintain a data base and return the funds if the group falls short by 2023.

The group also is selling T-shirts printed with the water tower logo.

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Shannon Sanford, a Ceres native who is running for Superintendent of Stanislaus County Schools, served tables at Alfonso’s on July 31. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Meyer said she considers the tower – which is situated between Fifth and Sixth streets north of Lawrence Street – to be her “moon,” and “sort of a peaceful image to enjoy” as she leaves her Fourth Street business to go home at day’s end.

City Manager Toby Wells said there are no plans to raze the tower but time will eventually weaken it. The irony is that the cost of dismantling the tower - $20,000 - is how much the city spent to erect it in 1934.

Local “celebrity” waiters included Police Chief Brent Smith, Ceres Unified administrators Scott Siegel and Denise Wickham, City Councilmembers Linda Ryno, Mike Kline and Bret Durossette, business owner Shane Parson, Lisa Mantarro Moore, Lee Brandt, county Supervisor Jim DeMartini, Ceres firefighters and police officers as well as three members of the Chad Condit family – Couper, Channce and Gary. Hostesses included Dovie Wilson and Renee Ledbetter, both of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce, while Becki Nicholes served as a cocktail waitress.

The group remains hopeful that the tower can be placed on a register of historic places. Clinching such protective status could be difficult given that water towers aren’t normally included.

Gary Condit
Ceres High School student Gary Condit takes the order of Amy Browning (left), Patty Kent (center) and Haley Browning. - photo by Jeff Benziger