Hooray for Hay Days | June 27, 2008 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

- June 27, 2008

Hooray for Hay Days

Four days of fun celebrated Danville centennial in 1958

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Old Doc Ohlson was the type of veterinarian who would struggle in the mud with shears to sever the toenails of a 2,000-pound bull on a ranch one minute and the next find himself in his Danville office delicately trimming the petite nails of a canary.

Tom Ohlson was one of the town leaders in the 1950s - president of the Danville Chamber of Commerce and a charter member of the Danville Rotary - who were responsible for the first Hay Days 50 years ago, held to celebrate Danville's centennial.

At that time, Russel Glenn, owner of the Danville Hotel, was lobbying to make Danville look like an old Western town, and started a group called the Confederacy to make it happen. He refurbished the historic Danville Hotel and added the Danville territories behind it, including the large Victorian-styled restaurant and false-fronted little buildings that are on their last legs today and waiting for redevelopment.

Glenn thought the town's centennial in 1958 would be a perfect deadline for his movement to redo business facades downtown, with the slogan "modern convenience in old time leisure."

"Russel said, 'Let's have a celebration - we're 100 years old!'" recalled Ohlson recently at his hilltop home off El Pintado with his wife Gloria. "We had a professional carnival for four days and at the end was the parade."

Residents dressed like their counterparts from 100 years before, and the festivities included a beard contest.

"I wore my beard for three weeks," said Ohlson. "I never had one before - or since."

Ohlson said they appointed committees to run everything with members from the Chamber, Rotary and the Lions. Kiwanis handled the parade, which was the culmination of the festivities.

After a few years of Hay Days, Danville's big celebration was changed to commemorate the Fourth of July, but eventually the Independence Day festivities such as booths, speeches and fireworks were dropped.

"It all boiled down to one parade," said Ohlson.

However that parade has increased in popularity for the entire San Ramon Valley, and now draws tens of thousands. It has been blessed through the years by mostly sunny skies.

"It has only rained once," Ohlson noted.

For many years, Rotary gave a pancake breakfast before the start of the parade, which members cooked in the kitchen at San Ramon Valley High School.

"For 22 years, I was chairman of the Fourth of July Parade Pancake Breakfast," said Ohlson. "We started serving at 6 o'clock because people were there early to work in the parade."

But he'd still have time to participate in the parade and see his friends.

"We used to have water fights with water balloons," he said. "Sometimes we'd miss."

"People came from all over," he added.

Ohlson had his veterinary practice adjacent to his home on Rose Avenue downtown. He and Gloria were Fremont High School sweethearts in Oakland and have been married for 64 years. When he graduated from veterinary school at Washington State College in 1951, his aunt in Piedmont suggested he look around here for a place to practice.

"I was the only veterinarian between Walnut Creek and Pleasanton," he said.

"I was the receptionist until I had my sixth child," Gloria said. "She was a girl but my two little boys were getting pretty active by then."

Today Gloria and Tom Ohlson watch the Fourth of July Parade from the comfortably outfitted back of a pickup truck parked by Fosters Freeze along with whoever can make it among their six children, 12 grandchildren or multitude of great-grandchildren.

"We've only missed a couple of parades. We were out of town a couple times," Doc Ohlson said.