I looked down at the table between Louie Arrollo and me last week and observed his hands twirling a pen over a notepad. He had scribbled notes about his tenure as mayor in preparation with my interview with him. Weeks ago it dawned on me that I had never thought about writing a Neighbors feature on Louie Arrollo, the quintessential Ceres resident of our era – and now I was making things right.
The same hand holding the pen in the lobby at Samaritan Village in Hughson once held a gun as a Ceres Police lawman in the 1960s, seventies and eighties. In fact, he had to fire his revolver on one occasion, taking a man’s life. The same hand was raised in oath of office and pounded the mayor’s gavel at countless council meetings. The same hand scrawled over blackboards in his law enforcement class and wrote up reports concerning student discipline at Ceres High School.
Historic hands, if you will.
One of my first experiences after being hired as the editor of the Ceres Courier in 1987 was covering the city race and the election of Louie Arrollo as mayor. Arrollo had defeated Jim Delhart in a 1,243 to 896 vote outcome. Louie was 45 at the time and teaching law enforcement class at Ceres High. He came with lots of ideas and plenty of drive to transform Ceres in many respects.
Under his watch the city:
• Built the skate park in Smyrna Park happened because of Louie Arrollo.
• Established the summer Concerts in the Park.
• Merged police and fire into the single Public Safety Department happened under his watch.
• Built the downtown Police headquarters.
• Commissioned the city motto contest that came up with “Ceres – Together We Achieve” slogan.
Arrollo is now 78 and health concerns – including heart problems requiring six coronary procedures, Type 2 Diabetes and macular degeneration –forced him three months ago to leave his Joy Avenue home of 57 years and take up residency at Samaritan Village in quiet Hughson. His heart, however, still very much beats in Ceres. Although he doesn’t hold office any longer Louie Arrollo continues to gin up ideas for ways Ceres can improve.
A news junkie, even keeps regular tabs on Ceres politics and offered his thoughts on the recent election that placed newcomer Javier Lopez over Bret Durossette, a 13-year council veteran.
“I believe the City Council has been fractured for a number of years,” said the former mayor. “They’ve had some issues. I think what happened in this election – because it was a foregone conclusion Bret Durossette was going to get elected – I sense the people sent a message to the city government, that we’re tired of a do-nothing council and we’re ready for a change to move on to somewhere else, someone with another perspective. I know they’re really upset with how Ceres looks. Ceres really doesn’t have a good reputation at the moment.”
When he was living in Ceres and driving daily to pick up his mail at his post office box, Arrollo would notice a mattress on the sidewalk where it remained for 30 days before it was picked up.
“And I thought, where’s the pride in the city? And the same thing across from the high school … people looked like they dumped a truckload of stuff on the sidewalk and it was there for a couple of weeks. It’s stuff like that that people are tired of. I think before the citizens are going to care, the city government has to occur.”
He opined that the council has lacked vision to advance Ceres “for a long time.” For example, Arrollo suggested that leaders have not considered planning for an eventual expansion of City Hall. His dream would be to possibly use the Whitmore Mansion for city offices or its grounds for new city offices.
“I wish I was young enough to get back in the swing of things and do some stuff. I think it’s enjoyable, and frustrating. I just hope the new councilmembers study what their responsibility is. Number one, you don’t have to say yes to staff.”
He would like to see the city act on the vision cast in his council days to converted Fifth Street to an old-time street with antique stores that would draw folks into town off the freeway.
Ceres welcomed him
Arrollo’s affection for Ceres started when his family found acceptance here after spending his first 15 years in Turlock where he was born in 1942.
“The Arrollos were the first Mexican family to permanently reside in Turlock. And if you go to the library there’s a book of the history of Turlock down there with our pictures in it.”
Louie attended Lowell Elementary School, Wakefield Jr. High and Turlock High School. When Louie was a junior, Jess and Lola Arrollo moved the family to Garrison Avenue in Ceres in 1957. His father – whom Louie says he was a spitting image of – continued to work for Markley Dairy in Turlock. When Foster Farms bought out the dairy, the elder Arrollo worked for them.
Louie attended CHS for two years.
“When I came to Ceres it was completely different. It seems like I was accepted more being a Mexican in those days more than I was in Turlock. So right away I felt at home at Ceres High. It was a lot of fun at Ceres High. There was no prejudice stuff going on. Turlock didn’t really take to Mexicans too well back then. I was much happier in Ceres.”
While at Ceres High School, Louie worked part-time at Barbour’s Save Center (now the site of Cruisers) at Whitmore Avenue and Mitchell Road. Lee Barbour was the uncle of Kathy Elwess, who would become Louie’s bride. In 1959 as he was making plans to join the Army, the couple was married at the Ceres Justice Court which is now Alfonso’s Mexican Bar & Grill. Louie immediately was shipped out to Fort Ord in Monterey for basic training and then off to Augusta, Georgia for three months for military police school. Army stints took him to Fairbanks, Alaska for two years and to Maryland for a year returning to Ceres in 1962.
Return to Ceres
“We came back and I went to work for John Barbour. He had a peach ranch. I was a swamper and then I went to work for Lee (Barbour) there are Barbour’s (Save Center).”
Because the term was new to me, he had to explain that peach swamping was a term for loading up boxes of peaches onto a trailer heading out for processing.
In those days, Mitchell Road ended at Barbour’s and all the way to the north was a dirt road. There was no bridge at Mitchell.
Having served as a military policeman, Arrollo decided to become a reserve police officer in 1963.
“I thought this might be a pretty good career so the openings came up and I tested and Chief (Leroy) Cunningham hired me.”
Eight weeks of training was offered in police academy classes held on the second floor of the downtown Modesto Police building at 11th and F streets.
“That was the first Central Valley criminal justice training center back in those days.”
Shortly after he joined the police department Louie joined a musical group that taught him how to play the guitar. Members consisted of Councilman (and later city administrator) Gene Robirds who sang and played the guitar; Mayor Guy Wharton who played lead guitar; Councilman Ernie Firestine on the banjo; Councilman Chub Sterling on the fiddle; and Ceres Police Lt. Hank Trantham, who played acoustic and steel guitar.
“We met every Wednesday evening at Firestine’s real estate office on Fourth Street and jammed. We had a lot of fun, even talked a little politics once in awhile which you could do in those days.”
Arrollo cannot forget the day he had a deadly encounter with a burglary suspect on Mitchell Road. After being spotted by Arrollo, the suspect fled from the small commercial building next to the Ceres Post Office. Arrollo radioed for backup as the suspect ran into a field to the west where he was stopped by a masonry wall just built for a new subdivision at El Farrari and Cordoba courts. Officer Loren Hartman showed up quickly and drove his patrol car out into the field on what is the northwest area of the Ceres Post Office yard behind what is now Save Mart.
“Loren beat me there even though I was right on the scene. He and the guy got in a shootout there, of course Loren got shot.”
Hartman was shot by his own gun after the suspect grabbed it away from him. The bullet was partially stopped by Hartman’s bulletproof vest but pushed the fabric into his abdomen. Hartman retrieved his boot gun and shot the suspect in the back of the head. Hartman’s bullet traveled around inside the skull of the suspect but did not kill him, Arrollo said. A bullet shot by Arrollo was deadly, taking out “all his vitals.”
“Luckily I wasn’t hit. But he (suspect) was deceased.”
While Hartman seemed to enjoy talking about the shootout, Arrollo didn’t talk about his role in taking a life.
“He had a lot of notoriety in the paper because he survived it in the hospital. He talked about it all the time. I never really talked about it. I didn’t really find the need to talk about it.”
Hartman later died in a motorcycle crash near Modesto Reservoir.
Arrollo did share about it during a session during his stint at the FBI Academy.
The shooting was the talk of the town for months because incidences like that just didn’t happen here. Things were so quiet that Ceres Police only needed one-man shifts.
“We had a sergeant who would come on at 8 o’clock in the evening and work until 4 a.m. Aside from that, when he was off we didn’t have anybody. You’d drive all night hoping you could stop somebody just to talk to them. Those days are gone but they were good days. Now these days I see some guy stubs his toe and there’s five cars on it. You’d think they’d have something better to do but what do I know?”
Arrollo believes anyone wanting to become an officer back then just wanted to serve their community. He thinks that’s still the case but also senses “that’s been lost somewhere along the line.”
He remembers Ceres Police Department doing a lot of things to benefit the community.
“We worked close with the Lions Club, Norm Mendonca; he was always active and doing things, bicycle rodeos for the kids and crosswalks and all that jazz.”
Arrollo recounted what now seems like a primitive system when police had to assist in summoning firefighters to a call.
“Everything was volunteer for the fire department. We ran a one-man patrol car. When the fire whistle went off our job was to go Code 3 to the firehouse, raise the door up and we picked up the phone – the county was calling on the phone but they set the alarm off – and we would say, ‘Ceres Fire.’ And they would tell us where it was at and we’d write it on the board. We’d start the fire engine, get in our cop car and wait for someone to come so we could lead them to the fire.”
Not long after that the system was replaced with “10-10s” which was a radio receiver placed in the firefighters’ homes. The county dispatch would use tones to distinguish which fire department was being called.
“It was like Mayberry – it really was. We had some good times.”
The worst scene he witnessed was a motorcycle crash victim on Hatch Road.
“It was just gruesome.”
Arrollo also remembers rolling to a plane crash on Mauna Loa Drive where he expected the worst. He estimated it was about 1968 or 1969.
“They were just building those homes and it was about the third house off of Central (2109 Mauna Loa). They didn’t have a fence up yet; that’s how new the construction was. The guy was flying, I think, a Piper Cub. The guy wasn’t hurt. I think he was a new pilot. He hit the ground and it flipped and stopped.”
“I thought, wow, right there in little ol’ Ceres, a plane crash.”
Arrollo spent 21 years with Ceres Police, working his way up to commander before quitting in 1984. Gene Fowler took his place.
“Gene always had a story to tell. He had that military gift of gab.”
Arrollo next taught law enforcement classes at Ceres High School for three years. Because of his police background and being the campus security officer, Arrollo assisted Bob Margerison, then Vice Principal of discipline and attendance. His official title was “resource specialist and student discipline.” Arrollo earned his master’s degree and turned law enforcement class over to Randy Cerny as he slid over to replace Margerison, a job he held for 12 years.
“I was assistant principal in charge of attendance, discipline and buildings and grounds.”
Arrollo retired in 2001.
During that same time his desire to serve the Ceres community manifested into political office. He had served on the Ceres City Council when he decided to run for mayor against Jim Delhart in 1987. Arrollo won and served until 1990 when heart conditions forced him to step down.
Vision flowed from the Arrollo mayorship. He was instrumental in getting the city to build the skate park at Smyrna Park, initiated Concerts in the Park, formed the Public Safety Department to place police and fire under the same department (a concept that was later disbanded). He also formed committees to look after labor camp, the city motto contest which came up with the “Ceres – Together We Achieve.” He was also the first mayor to deliver a “State of the City” address.
His health improved and Arrollo asked to be considered for appointment to fill a vacant City Council seat. He was successful and again elected as mayor in 1999, serving until 2001.
Arrollo has been alone 16 years since the leukemia death of wife Kathy whom he met while working at Barbour’s and where she spent 40 years working as the bookkeeper. The couple had two children, Shelley and Troy who live in Lodi and Hughson, respectively.
“We were getting ready to make our first trip to (Arizona) and then she came down with leukemia. She only lasted eight months after they diagnosed her. She never did get to go. We bought a new fifth-wheeler. She picked it out but never got a chance to stay in it.”
Louie did use the trailer to enjoy RV camping along the Colorado River in Arizona, a winter tradition he enjoyed for 13 years. He had to give it up four years ago because health problems led to the DMV revoking his driver’s license.
Now he finds himself sidelined in one of the nicest assisted living facilities in the area. It doesn’t seem that long ago when he had to relocate his parents into a retirement home.
“The last six years of her life my mom thought I was my dad. It’s rough. That’s why I came here; I didn’t want to burden my kids with all my jazz. Old age isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.”
Despite the ailments of age creeping into his life, Arrollo keeps plugging away, serving. While his days of playing guitar with a band that performed in Arizona and British Columbia are over, he does play for the enjoyment of others at Samaritan Village. He also maintains fourth-degree membership in the Knights of Columbus and participates in rosary and communion and mass. He formerly taught RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) class for 20 years at St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Ceres.
“I’m content. I’m content doing exactly what I’m doing.”