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By Jon Hammond
contributing writer 

Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion: an uncommon and joyful event

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

 

August 14, 2021

Jon Hammond

Among those present at the Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion were beloved Tehachapi residents Pat Davis Gracey, left, and Del Troy. Del, 95, was the eldest lady in attendance.

The annual Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion was held on Aug. 1, and more than 425 people gathered in Philip Marx Central Park to visit with friends, acquaintances and in many cases, former neighbors who returned to their old hometown for this celebratory event.

The Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion is a special event that is a testament to Tehachapi's strong sense of community and respect for history and traditions. Most cities and towns don't have an annual celebration like this. They don't even try.

The concept is simple: it's akin to a class reunion, where members of past graduating high school or college classes reunite, most often in milestone years, like the 10-year, 25-year, etc. anniversary of the year they graduated.

The Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion, on the other hand, focuses on those who have lived in Tehachapi for 40 years or more, and those who lived here 40 years ago or longer, even if it was for a brief period. Many of those who attend the Oldtimers Reunion each year only lived here for a few years, but it was back in the 1960s or 70s, and they come back to visit old friends, co-workers or schoolmates.

Anyone who fits that criteria gets a free lunch with no charge. That's where the honoring part of the Oldtimers Reunion comes in -- Tehachapi residents, either former or continual, who have a long past association with the area, get to enjoy a free meal. This is paid for by sponsors of the event, particularly the main sponsors, which are the City of Tehachapi and the Tehachapi Valley Parks and Recreation District.

However, you DO NOT have to have lived here 40 years to attend. You simply have to pay $15 for your lunch, which is a good price for the BBQ meal catered by Coconut Joe's restaurant of Bakersfield. The most persistent misconception about the Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion is that you have to have lived here for 40 years in order to go, and you definitely do not. Some families bring their children and grandchildren, who certainly haven't lived here for 40 years, but the family just pays for their lunches while the elder members get a complimentary meal.

I have many friends who have lived in Tehachapi for more than 30 years, and they're waiting until they hit that 40-year milestone before attending, but they don't need to. There is no test or documentation needed, and if you've lived here for very long and are at all active in the community, you'll run into people that you know and like.

People return to Tehachapi from all over California and beyond for the Oldtimers Reunion. Some only have to travel from nearby communities like Bakersfield, while others fly in or drive for days from other states.

Each year the oldest man and woman in attendance are recognized, as well as the person who travelled the farthest. This year Del Troy, 95, was the oldest lady there, and Rev. Lewis Wakeland, 92, was the eldest man. Raymond Luna, who now lives in Alaska, journeyed the longest distance.

After a year's hiatus due to the COVID pandemic -- 2020 was the first time since it originated in 1959 that the Oldtimers Reunion wasn't held -- this year's event was an especially cheerful and festive occasion. The weather was warm but the large trees at the park provide a lot of shade, the food was good, there was likeable music from a DJ and the time flew by. It's basically held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each year, though some people leave earlier and others linger.

Jon Hammond

People enjoying the Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion, including Patty Costa, Dennis Lopez, Wanda Hawn and Darlene Marsh.

Every year there are cherished people who make their last appearance at the Oldtimers Reunion, and they are no longer with us the following year. And they are not necessarily the oldest, since illness, disease and accidents can take any of us at any time. This makes it all the sweeter and more poignant to have a chance to talk and exchange affections with people you like. Countless times when a Tehachapi person passes, I've heard their friends say "I'm so glad that I got to visit with them at the Oldtimers Reunion."

The 2021 Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion was a pleasant success, as usual, and the people who attended are looking forward to being there next year. I hope to see you there. For more info or to get on the email list, please contact Donna Dieterle at oldtimers@bak.rr.com.

 
 

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