This visit to Phil and Donna Reynders is way overdue.
It's been close to 10 years since I came to their home to do a feature story on Phil's collection of Yosemite National Park memorabilia. The last time I was here: In 2010 to hand deliver a copy of my Ceres book, which Phil helped me produce.
Phil greets me at the door of his Acorn Lane home, a stone's throw from former home of Congressman Gary and Carolyn Condit. He's leaning on a cane, calculatingly shifting weight from leg to leg to prevent a fall. Phil, who has served as guardian of historical treasures of Ceres since the founding of the Ceres Historical Museum on Fifth Street, is quick with unwelcome news that he doesn't move around like he used to because, well, he's been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
The kick of someone else's injury is sinking in.
"My life has changed a lot," Phil concedes, "as far as being the person who runs the museum. It's frustrating because you can't do what you used to do."
I can see Phil is affected by it, despite my confession that I don't know much about the disease. Certainly it is not the best of news for someone who, at age 85, has taken charge of life and is forced - against his will - to let others do yard work or run a museum in his stead.
We move to the living room where I learn the story of how Phil and Donna Reynders, who earlier this year celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, came to be.
I flip through an album of photos taken at their wedding at First Baptist Church in Ceres on March 7, 1953. I see the Phil's resemblance to TV personality Ryan Seacrest and ask if he knows who I am talking about. He says he does, which reminds Donna that "Phil was always told he should have gone to Hollywood." In fact, before graduating at Redlands High School in 1947, his drama teacher suggested he go into acting. He didn't because his mother protested.
Hollywood's loss was Ceres' gain.
Couple encounters at church
The son of Holland immigrants Peter and Jeanette Reynders, Phil came to Modesto to visit older brother Richard. While here, he and a friend dropped into First Baptist Church of Ceres where he caught sight of Donna's girlfriend, Dolores Parker, in the youth group. The romance was not to be.
"He came down to ask her out," said Donna. "She wasn't there (at church) so I was his second choice."
Phil was 18 and Donna, 15. Donna's parents, Clell and Della Lane of Ceres, owned the Flying A gas station at the frontage road and Lawrence Street, which is now the auto shop of the Parnoutsoukians. Donna's dad was one of nine children (one of them being Leslie Lane, a Ceres police officer in the 1950s), who were raised on a farm in Missouri. They came to California when times got bad. Donna's dad moved the family to Ceres in 1939 to work on Wallace Caswell's ranch. At the time the Whitmore ranch was located east of Sixth Street.
Donna starts working
Donna graduated from Ceres High School in 1950 and intended to attend college but immediately was offered work. She was first given a secretary job by Bob Hubbard who had Johnson's Furniture Store on McHenry Avenue. When her hours dwindled to the point that it wasn't worth the drive to Modesto, Ruth Firestine, sister of Charlie Whitmore, offered to train Donna as a bookkeeper at the Bank of Ceres. She would hold the job for the next 20 years. Donna worked with branch manager Arthur Harris, and his sidekick spinster Vinnie McGarvey.
"She never married. Her life was that bank. She was there from dusk to dawn and followed Mr. Harris ... I am sure she was madly in love with him. He got a haircut about every six months. It would get all curly at the bottom and when he'd go and get it cut it was so short he didn't have any hair."
Harris' stinginess with loans was legendary in Ceres. He even gave Chester Smith - the singer and radio baron - a hard time with financing his KLOC radio station.
Korean War interruption
Phil continued to live in Southern California while seeing Donna. Then his number came up for the draft. The Korean Conflict was raging at the time. Phil let Donna use his deep maroon 1940 Ford Club coupe while he was in the service and the two corresponded while he was in the war.
Phil was first in the Navy Reserve and later was picked up by the Army. He was assigned to the Army's 712th TROB (Transportation Railroad Operating Battalion), the signal section of the railroad battalion near Yong Dong Po.
"I was over there in Korea for two Christmases," said Reynders.
Marriage and work
When the war was over, the Reynders married and first lived in a new two-bedroom house on Seventh Street. Like his dad and grandfather who were both printers, Phil accepted a job with Pix Sign Company on Burney Street in Modesto. As an artist, Phil was skilled at hand-lettering signs. He later worked for Save Mart for 20 years in a trade that he found immensely rewarding. Reynders said the art of hand-lettering signs is a lost art in this computer era.
The marriage produced only one child, daughter Sheryl Trout, who now runs the Ceres museum. Granddaughter Tiffany McCleskey has taken over the historical society books from Donna. Phil and Donna also have another granddaughter in Danelle Trout.
Yosemite love affair
Besides the museum, the family shares a love of Yosemite, one of their favorite haunts. There isn't a room in the Reynders homes that doesn't include some art of Yosemite.
"What started me on Yosemite was my dad liked to get out and go places and camp so he made two trips to Yosemite," said Phil. "The first time was in 1937 and 1938. I got hooked on Yosemite because Dad liked to camp."
Donna left the bank after 20 years in 1973 and thought she was retired. Within months she was called by Ceres Unified Schools with an offer to become a teacher of deaf and multi-handicapped students. It was a job she would hold for 21 years until her final retirement in the 1990s.
The couple made a big move in the 1970s. They plopped $750 - you heard it right - to buy a lot on Acorn Lane from Duncan McDonald and had a new house built in 1979. Donna remembers Acorn being the northernmost street in Ceres, with nothing but berry vines between Acorn Lane to Hatch Road. But she said it quickly filled in after that.
When Phil and Donna were both retired, they were able to travel. They visited Alaska twice and Holland once. Always interested in history, Phil joined the Ceres Historical Society and helped restore the Daniel Whitmore Home, the first home to ever be built in Ceres from 1869 to 1870. His association with Caryl and Hardy Fowler and Ruth and Homer Jorgensen led to the formulation of the Ceres Historical Museum on the grounds of Ceres' first residence. Phil was curator until health forced him to slow down.
For his efforts, the Ceres Chamber of Commerce honored Phil as Citizen of the Year in 2008.
Both have no regrets about choosing Ceres, saying it's offered a good life with a lot of good people.
Yes, people like Phil and Donna.