Ralph Caulkins, a descendant of the firmly-rooted pioneer family who colonized farmland southeast of Ceres around 1900, was not known for dating as a young man. He was painfully shy and wore glasses since he was in third grade. When word went out in 1945 that he was interested in a piano-playing Chicago church goer by the name of Dorothy Ward, people back home in Ceres couldn't believe it.
"He just didn't go with girls," said Dorothy, laughing.
The couple, whose lives have always been about serving others in and through a Christian church, recently celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary.
"We never fight," Ralph said in answer to a question about staying married longer than most.
"We rarely ever have a disagreement of any kind," she echoed. "We just get along well."
The Caulkins live in the same Roeding Road house where he was born on June 15, 1925 to Ellis J. and Merle Veach Caulkins. Just outside in the front yard is where Ralph made wedding plans with his Midwestern bride on her first trip to meet his family back in 1946.
The Caulkins family germinated in Ceres as William Orvil and Mary Emma Whittier Caulkins came here from Nebraska by train in 1903. They purchased 40 acres of barley from Clinton Whitmore had raised their seven children, one of them being Ellis Caulkins, Ralph's dad. The Caulkins also grew figs, peaches, walnuts and almonds.
Ralph enjoyed life growing up in the rural setting where he made friends with the likes of Cliff Barrows, a neighbor living about a half-mile away. Barrows, of course, became internationally famous with the Billy Graham crusades. The Barrows attended First Baptist Church in Ceres where the Caulkins attended.
Ralph enters the Navy
Ralph graduated from Ceres High School in 1943 and immediately enlisted in the Navy. Most of his time was spent training in radar school. He trained at Farragut, and in Chicago at Manley High School - a public school where Dorothy was attending - that was taken over by the Navy for training.
Her church decided to create a serviceman's center blocks away from the training facility. Dorothy volunteered at the center where she would play the piano and sing church hymns with sailors who stopped by. One of the men standing behind her piano bench was Ralph, who handed her an open hymnal, turned to a favorite he learned in Ceres.
Ralph was invited to Sunday morning services where Dorothy's father, Harold Ward, served as head deacon. Mr. Ward later invited some to home for lunch. There Dorothy and Ralph became acquainted. However, shortly after meeting, Ralph was headed to Bliss Electrical School in Washington, D.C. so their only contact for months could be through letter writing.
Long distance relationship
"We exchanged a couple of letters and we eventually had got to where we were writing every day," said Dorothy, who spent the year after high school graduation studying at Northwestern Bible School in Minneapolis, Minn.
Home baked cookies were shipped his way as the courtship continued through ink on paper. Ralph's Naval training took him to Corpus Christi, Texas, then Key West, Fla. Ralph even went out of his way to California on leave to go see Dorothy in Chicago. It was there, in December 1945, that Ralph proposed and gave her a ring.
"We were engaged but no date was set because we didn't know what was going to transpire," she said.
That following spring, Dorothy had a chance to ride with a relative to Ontario, in Southern California. Members of the Caulkins family in Ceres jumped at a chance to go to Southern California to meet Ralph's fiancé. They eventually brought Dorothy up to Ceres for the first time.
"I rode home with them in a two-door couple, a Model A coupe that belonged to his brother," said Dorothy. "I sat in the middle and kept dodging the gear shift. It was awful."
A Model A, with the wind behind it, might reach 50 mph on a good day.
She pitched in with family chores as the Caulkins were hospitable to Dorothy. She learned how to cut apricots for drying in the cutting sheds. Dorothy helped direct a children's choir during a vacation bible school at the downtown Ceres church.
She remained in Ceres that summer until Ralph was discharged and arrived home June 8, 1946.
"We still had that plan in the back of our heads that he was going to go to college and I was going to go back to Chicago," said Dorothy. "Unbeknownst to me ... his dad cornered him and said, ‘Why are you waiting so long before you marry her? Because you're not going to get any better acquainted if she's in Chicago and you're in school here.' So I guess he told him he'd help him out financially if we would go ahead and do it."
Ralph took Dorothy on a private walk into the front yard where he proposed a wedding date. They would get married two weeks later, on July 11, 1946, in Chicago.
Marrying into a wonderful family
They returned to start a new life together in Ceres. Dorothy remembers her mother crying as she was leaving.
"She had no idea what a wonderful family I had married into or she would not have been so sad."
They first lived in the bedroom just feet away from their current living room where they spend their evenings reading Christian literature or talking on the phone to family. Ralph attended Modesto Junior College while his dad set them up in a house on Eighth Street in Ceres.
About two weeks before graduating, Ralph lost an eye in a traumatic accident. Working under his old Model A, a pair of plyers slipped from his hands and impaled his eyeball through broken eye glass. He spent months seeing doctors who fitted him with a glass eyeball. Ralph was forgiven for most of his final exams he missed and passed his classes. Ralph and Dorothy then moved to San Jose where he attended state college on the G.I. Bill to become a teacher. His parents would often visit with fresh produce and eggs produced in Ceres.
Ralph and Dorothy decided to start a family and after two miscarriages, son Paul came along in 1951. Norman followed in 1954 and still lives in Ceres. Wayne, born in 1956, lives on the family property. Phillip was born in 1961 and their final child, Mary Jean, was born in 1963. She lives in Manteca.
Ralph taught wood shop classes at a school in Patterson and then in Escalon and decided that he wasn't cut out for the profession. So he then went back to school to become a bookkeeper. After graduating from a private commercial college in Modesto, Ralph was hired by Milk Producers Association in Modesto. While he was in his 50s, Ralph retired to take over the family farm from his father Ellis Caulkins.
Dorothy worked 18 years as a teacher's aide at Ceres High School, retiring in 1991.
The couple continued to invest in the lives of children as volunteers with the AWANA program at Crossroad Church in Turlock for 37 years.