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Mary Fenton’s 50 years with city celebrated
• Longtime city employee started as a police dispatcher/clerk
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Mary Fenton reads an engraved crystal gift for serving the city of Ceres for 50 years. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Who stays with the same employer for 50 years?

Nobody, you say?

Mary Fenton has.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Mary Fenton’s employment with the city of Ceres, employees planned a surprise taco bar luncheon at the Ceres Community Center on Wednesday. But when she called in sick to take her ill husband Arleigh to the emergency room on that same day, employees went to Plan B and had to spill the beans to lure her back in.

Mary was hired as a police clerk-dispatcher by then Police Chief Leroy Cunningham back in August 1968 when she was just 21 years of age. It was her first – and now only – full-time job. She read about the job in the Ceres Courier and applied, beating out about 30 other applicants. Mary 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 replacing Mary Jo Chubbuck.

She was the only dispatcher for the department, which back then was a small cinder block building at the northwest corner of Third and North streets where Ceres Fire Station #1 is located. When she went home she 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.”

Her bosses included Chief Pete Peterson and 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 directly under Finance Director Suzanne Dean.

“She really loves her job,” said Finance Director Suzanne Dean. “She knows things that we’ve forgotten or never knew. She can tell you anything about everything and she’s fabulous to work with.”

Dean said Fenton takes care of little things like the copier, FAX and orders supplies as well as accounts payable and posts journal entries.

“She’s an icon around here. She went from working with Police over to Finance and what typically would be the end of your career she’s learning these new things,” said Dean. “She says that she’s going to retire when I retired because she doesn’t want to train another boss.”

Throughout the luncheon, a number of employees dropped by to offer their congratulations to Mary while some pressed for a retirement date. The answer was the same: she doesn’t know when she wants to retire.

“I love my job,” she said. “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.”

Her longevity has attracted some good-natured ribbing, such as from Police Chief Brent Smith who tells Mary that she started working with the city before he was born.

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. 

When she’s not on the job, Mary enjoys an occasional trip to the casinos, particularly Table Mountain in Madera and Chukchansi Gold Resort in Coarsegold.

Other employees with longevity of over 30 years include Olga Mendoza, Fleet Supervisor Tim Palecek, Sally Estrada and John Damon.

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Mary Fenton, who started working for the city in 1968, was celebrated last week for for 50th anniversary milestone. - photo by Jeff Benziger