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Wayne Salter was an exceptional role model
Wayne Salter holds up his 1927 Ceres Grammar School graduation certificate. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier file photo

Wayne Salter was an exceptional man.

Ceres lost him last month. His heart gave out days shy of his reaching the age of 101.

I only met him once, for an interview, in 2010. But as I have heard others speak of him, I arrived at the conclusion that he was the salt of the earth.

Wayne was a lifelong servant of his family and community. He was a servant in his church. He was a hard worker but also knew how to play on the golf course. He was a devout farmer. Reports are that he was an exceptional father and friend to many.

You could say that Wayne Salter is not exceptional in that he represented a generation where you just did that. You worked hard. You scrimped, saved, sacrificed and re-used. You served. You prayed and attended church. You did for your neighbors.

You also knew not to take yourself too seriously.

That's probably why Wayne Salter wasn't too upset when the School Board in 2009 skipped over his name as the namesake for the new junior high school on Whitmore Avenue. I believe I sensed more indignation as did he, upset because the politically correct School Board violated its own policy of naming Ceres schools after local people who had an impact on education here. Let's be real. No town in America will be naming a school after Wayne Salter - even though Ceres should have as a 12-year trustee on the School Board - but many have named schools after labor union leader Cesar Chavez.

Oh well, the poor decision didn't detract from the life of Wayne Salter.

I was privileged to see a copy of a letter sent last year to Wayne by Cliff Barrows, the legendary associate of Billy Graham, who was raised in the same rural Ceres neighborhood. Barrows wrote, in part: "My, how the memories flood my heart and mind as I think back some 70 plus years ago when you took a chance hiring this young neighbor boy. That was a special privilege for me then Wayne to help you in your cutting shed and later grading peaches in the peach harvest. It is even a more meaningful joy to think about it now - as I reflect on those wonderful years. I have so many varied memories involving the family on both sides of Faith Home Road. And I remember your first wife, Florence, who was a very lovely lady. I especially wanted to please her and all the ladies of the cutting shed as they'd bade for excellence and speed as they would finish off a box, I would have to add another tray to the stack."

I may be selling today's generation short but I don't imagine too many youngsters today would wish to "bade for excellence" in their jobs, let alone take a manual labor job.
When I interviewed Wayne he told me "I've had a good life."

He really did. He blessed others and was blessed with wealth, health and long life.

His stories, which gave a picture of a different and more tight-knit Ceres, fascinated me.

Wayne graduated from eighth grade at Ceres Grammar School in 1927 and received his Ceres High School diploma in 1930. He was born in 1912 from Frederick and Annie Salter who came to Ceres in 1902 after leaving Hollister. They purchased land at $35 an acre at the corner of Service and Faith Home roads.

As a boy, Wayne occasionally found himself getting into mischief while at church, which is the same building as the Masonic Lodge on Third Street. Once he conspired with other 12- to 14-year-olds in the church to lift a car parked between a narrow space between the northern wall of the church and a fence. The boys managed to turn the car 90 degrees to wedge it sideways between the church and fence, making it impossible to back up. The owner was not happy and the boys "caught thunder for it" but he remembered "a lot of church members smiled."

Another time he and friends placed a car on buckets like makeshift jack stands to prevent the car from going anywhere.

In Mae Hensley's class Wayne once carried some .22 shells to school in his pocket and pulled the bullet apart and the powder ignited. "I got attention," he said.

Wayne was there when the dirt streets of Ceres were first paved with concrete. The highway was grade level and once Wayne rode his bicycle down 99 with a little toy siren. One driver actually pulled over, thinking an emergency vehicle was on his tail. He reported his embarrassment and how they laughed and moved on.

Wayne remembered how the community would come out for free entertainment offered in the form of outdoor Saturday night movies shown in a lot east of Fourth Street and south of Lawrence Street. I suppose the community hasn't changed much as they still gather for free music entertainment in the Whitmore Park.

Such stories are rich and remind us of the fact that Ceres was - and is - full of goodness.

So was Wayne Salter.

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