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Long-time Ceres resident 'jack of all trades'
"Jack of all trades, master of none."

That's how Ralph Reynolds terms himself. And after he recalls the various jobs he's held down to make a living during his 82 years of life, the phrase aptly fits.

Reynolds, who has been a Ceres resident for 67 years - since 1944 - even supervised the building of the triplex he lives in squarely across the street from the Mae Hensley Junior High School gymnasium. He's had a front window on school life since in opened in 1972. He daily witnesses actions of drivers and students and shakes his head, saying it's "wild."

Attitudes and styles have changed noticeably for this octogenarian.

"Oh yeah," he says, when asked if there's a difference between kids of today and his generation. "These guys, they think they own the street when they take across. We never did do it. And jumping bicycles on the curbs out there. We never did do that, afraid we'd break a tire. They don't think anything about it. The way they dress, wow!"

Texas born in 1928, Ralph spent his first three years in the Lone Star State. During the Dust Bowl, William and Zina Reynolds packed up themselves and their two girls and three boys and relocated to McFarland in California's Central Valley in 1931. His father worked in the cotton fields until the family uprooted and moved to Ceres.

"They worked in the canneries for years," said Reynolds.

Ralph was about 15 when he came to Ceres, then a sleepy town of around 1,000 to 1,500 people. He had attended high school in McFarland but stopped going to school altogether when arriving in Ceres, jesting that "I knew more than the teachers, so I didn't go."

During his freshman year, Ralph went to school full-time but his sophomore year was on a schedule of "four hours a week, two hours a day. I guess that tells you I knew more than the teachers."

His exit from school - he can't explain how he got away with it - meant he was ushered right into the back door of the school of hard knocks.

Ralph first worked for Borden's Dairy Products, then on 11th Street in Modesto. Then at the Packard Garage on McHenry Avenue Ralph lubed and services cars. He worked for a while as a Pepsi products delivery man out of the South Modesto plant. From there he worked at Mission Linens in Turlock, picking up and delivering uniforms at service stations.

In 1946 Ralph married his lifetime honey, Dortheil Reynolds. They were married for 57 years until her death.

"I couldn't ask for a better woman but I got married awful young; I was 17, she was 16 so I didn't have much time running around getting in trouble. I thought I was ready. If I had to do it over again I would marry the same one but not so young to sow some of the seeds I had."

The marriage produced two daughters, Sandra Kirkpatrick of Modesto and Karen Morris of Pullman, Wash. Sandra, who lost her husband to heart disease, looks after her father who is now legally blind.

During his first year of marriage, Ralph worked for a service station at Highway 99 and River Road for a year. In the 1940s, Highway 99 ran along the strip of asphalt today known as South Ninth Street. He left there and worked for John Strickenland at his Ceres Bakery. Reynolds had a bakery route, delivering bread to homes in a day when home deliveries were a common service.

Milk was also delivered in glass bottles on door steps. Thus when Foster Farms started up around 1954, Ralph came asking founder Max Foster for work. Ralph was one of the first three drivers hired by Foster to go around delivering milk and soliciting for new customers.

"He was just a downright ordinary man," said Reynolds of Foster. "You never seen him dressed up. He usually wore bib overalls and he always carried his small child with him. Whenever you seen Max he was with that kid."

After spending seven years with Foster Farms, Ralph worked with Louis Holloman selling used cars at a lot on Crows Landing Road. He eventually took over the lot.

"It was an alright living. At that time there wasn't that many car lots like there is now. It made a living for us."

For a while Reynolds made a living transporting mobile homes. He unhitched from that job and bought a Texaco service station in the early 1960s. Those were the days when Highway 99 was a divided road and it intersected with local roads controlled by traffic signals, much like South Ninth Street today. His station was located at the corner of Central Avenue and 99. Reynolds sold gas to the travelers as well as the movers and shakers of Ceres, like Walter White and Gene Robirds.

"It was a good living," said Reynolds. "The gas was pretty cheap but you didn't raise it like they do now. They raise it every day here. There you raised it when you got the tanker of gas."

Ralph sold the station about a year before 99 was expanded to a freeway, wiping out significant landmarks at the southern end of downtown Ceres. In those days most services were downtown, including the bar, the bank, and the local cafe, Maye's. Ceres grocery stores were located downtown, including Better Buy Market where Delhart's Home Furnishings operates today, and Mert's Cash Mart in the 1940s on the triangle piece on which the Odd Fellows Hall sits.

Driving down Fourth Street one night, Ralph was stopped by constable J.M. McGuffy who claims he saw him do a U turn - something Ralph denies to this day - in front of Maye's Cafe (approximately where the Nashville West bar is today.)

"I didn't make a U turn there. But you don't argue with an officer. He kind of upset me because I didn't make a U turn. He didn't give me a ticket. That was kindly odd to have a one-armed policeman. The town must have been pretty good at that time. There wasn't a lot of crime back then."

Good thing Ralph didn't put up a fuss for McGuffy was the officer who shot at a passing motorist after nearly hitting a pedestrian in Ceres. After flattening the tire, the driver stopped to give McGuffy his peace of mind but McGuffy issued a tongue-lashing on the man.

Ralph's last job was working as a truck driver for Delta Freight Lines. He retired in 1985 after 18 years with Delta.

"If I wanted to work, I had a job," said Reynolds. "I wasn't afraid to work.

Reynolds outlived all but one sibling. He maintains daily phone contact with his 72-year-old brother who lives in Missouri. He swaps stories and talk about the weather.

While his eyesight is poor, Ralph uses a video device to read his newspapers and keep abreast of local news.

He also manages to get around and do chores. Work, it seems, is in his DNA.