Cover "Off the Record" Chico ER magazine, featuring Charlie Pressuer
(click to enlarge)
Ad for Tom Ryder's Band in the same issue.
Pioneering a new spring celebration
By Paul Harrar
May 4, 1988
For more than 70 years, the tradition
included a big parade, Quad projects, Sweepstakes, Sheriffs and Lit Neils,
town-gown cooperation and a festive atmosphere.
This year, its all back. Sort
Rancho Chico Days, according
to organizers, is an effort to uphold the tradition of Pioneer Days. that
celebration abruptly ended last year when university and city officials canceled
it following a rock- and bottle-throwing confrontation between students and
night stick-wielding city police.
Old traditions never die.
They just change names.
And, in this case, sponsors
too. Rancho Chico Days Inc., the non-profit organization rebuilding a community
pioneer-honoring tradition that died last year, has created a new celebration.
Significantly, it retains much of the flavor of Pioneer Days without the bitter
Organizers say that what’s
missing from Rancho Chico Days is what distinguishes it from P-Days, what gives
It credibility, what may be the key to its future success.
What Rancho Chico Days
not a campus-oriented celebration.
Rancho Chico Days is
completely under the auspices of Rancho Chico Days Inc. and a 14-member board of
directors that includes community leaders and local merchants, but also several
representatives of participating student organizations.
Rancho Chico Days was born
when community leaders — led
by Chico City Councilwoman Mary Andrews — protested last years cancellation of
Pioneer Days, and specifically the parade.
“I felt our community was
robbed of a tradition that has been going for over 70 years’ says Rancho Chico
Days committee member and aarly supporter Jim White. This sentiment, he says, is
shared by all of the event’s organizers.
It is not a contest or
competition to recognize any community or campus organization.
Missing from the new
celebration is the all-consuming goal to win Sweepstakes by the campus
organizations. The huge amount of time and money spent by Greeks and others to
compete for an ultimately meaningless prize has long been a complaint by both
the campus organizations and the university administration.
Arguably the true Pioneer
Days spirit of Greeks trying to win Sweepstakes was revealed last year when the
celebration was snatched from them like Christmas stolen by Grinch. While many
participating students admitted the whole Sweepstakes concept was far too great
a burden on their scholastics and their pocketbooks, others were threatening to
hold a Sweepstakes with or without the university administration’s permission.
Rancho Chico Days does,
however, retain the tradition of Sweepstakes by offering prizes for outstanding
float and “Project” (Quad) entries, and competitions for Sheriff and Lit’
It is not a celebration
that might attract a large number of out-of-towners.
Last year, Chico State
University students blamed non-resident students and other out-of -towners for
inciting the riot. Though no one can predict if a large number of non-residents
will come to town, Andrews says Rancho Chico Days Inc. has not advertised
outside of Butte County to attract crowds to their events.
But even If out-of -towners
do come to town, the events — not
parties, as was the tradition — will
focus their attention.
Says White, “In the past, a
lot of people were coming to town during Pioneer Days
with nothing to do. We want people coming to
town to celebrate our history with members of the community. There will be
things for them to do.”
‘There is no motivation for
people to come here unless for the parade,” says David Klbourne, president of
the Downtown Chico Business Association and a member of the Rancho Chico Days
Committee. “There won’t be that freefiowing ambiance.”
It is not an alcoholic
Beer won’t be free-flowing,
either. All the “official” events are non-alcoholic, and rules for
involvement by community groups specifically stress non-alcoholic participation.
According to student leaders,
including Billy Berry, president of the Interfraternity Council, Rancho Chico
Days won’t be an excuse for students to hold their traditional spring
“blow-out” partying because Greeks and other student groups scheduled a full
“social calendar” two weeks ago during Spring End ‘88, the university’s
new alternative to Pioneer Days for students.
It is not disorganized.
In many ways, Rancho Chico
Days is the community celebration that should
have been especially from an organizational
standpoint. Unlike the university’s Pioneer Days Committee, which suffered
from a lack of continuity because committee members changed each school year
(and went to school), the 14-member Rancho Chico Days board of directors will
likely be permanent. Andrews says, as Rancho Chico Days grows in coming years,
the organizing committee will seek a paid professional to spearhead the
organization of the celebration.
The Rancho Chico Days
Committee also appears to have control over the celebration Its created. Its
energy has been controlled, says KlIbourne. By contrast, the university was
losing control over Pioneer Days, which its organizers frequently admitted had
become larger than the sum of its parts.
Pioneer Days was a
half-bridled, wild, unbroken show horse whose passengers (some of them
unwilling) were barely hanging on for their lives. Even when not on parade, it
kicked in its stall.
Rancho Chico Days, in
comparison is a soft-stepping pony ride. It resembles the original animal, sure.
But it’s going to be a slow ride that’s over quickly and a lot of people are
waiting in line to get on.
It’s the only attraction at
the carnival right now.
“I’m acting like Pioneer
Days didn’t exist,” she states. “It’s not Pioneer Days re-done”
But the fact remains: The
community tradition died last year and is being revived this year. Rancho Chico
Days distinguishes itself, say participants and organizers, by being a vast
Improvement over its predecessor.
A New Sense of
is a feeling among participants and
organizers of retaining all that was good about Pioneer Days.
“Our main concept is
rejoicing in the history of the community — who we are and how we got here,” Andrews
explains. The theme of this year’s celebration is “The Bidwell Era — 1848-1923.”
But like Pioneer Days, the
new celebration is not purely a “historical” celebration. Rancho Chico Days,
say organizers, will be good for business.
“Our first priority is to
maintain this tradition (of a a community-wide celebration) and perpetuate
it,” says Kilbourre. “But it goes without saying that any major community
tradition will have some positive effect on tourism.” But Kilbourne says the
new event will “not be any more economically stimulating than Pioneer Days.”
In fact, it may be much less,
According to committee member and local businessman Jim Davis, the economic
fallout of canceling the much larger Pioneer Days celebration may be felt for
the first time this year.
“Nobody lost much money
last year,” he says. “The test will be this year to see how much money is
really lost. Last year, everyone was already in town for the parade when it was
canceled. Motel rooms were booked and businesses did well up until the
It’s the money
traditionally spent by students that Davis sees as being lost this year from the
local economy. An adviser to the Alpha Chi sorority, Davis says the group spent
almost $20,000 on Quad project lumber, paint, costumes and more last year
gearing up for Pioneer Days.
‘The costumes were $125
each times 80 girls, all bought here. Multiply that by all the Greeks. That’s
a lot of money that won’t be spent this year. It could be hundreds of
thousands of dollars.”
A New Philanthropic
Unlike Pioneer Days, whose
participants were mostly motivated by the goal of winning Sweepstakes, Rancho
Chico Days heavily emphasizes fund-raising and publicity for local non-profit
“This is a very giving
community who helps our organizations, and this (celebration) is a very good
vehicle to continue this,” states Andrews. “We have patterned Rancho Chico
Days after the Gilroy Garlic Festival in as much as the
Fueling the spirit of renewal and rebirth
allows various community groups to use the event as their fund-raiser.”
centerpiece of the parade will be a float depicting The Old Mother in the
Shoe” nursery rhyme built cooperatively by the Delta Chi fraternity and
Project Child, a new non-profit child abuse prevention organization holding a
fund-raiser during the celebration.
the parade has its share of tacky, purely commercial entries led by the local
radio and TV stations’ inevitable parade of personalities in convertibles, but
a new mood of philanthropy with the student groups leading the way is more the
theme of Rancho Chico Days.
Project Child fund-raising chairwoman Lynn Robertson, “I was involved in
Pioneer Days 10 years ago when I went to Chico State. I used to think, all this
energy and the end result was just this trophy? I thought fraternities
and sororities should compete to see who could raise money (for charity).
Before, it was just a big ego trip.
charity organizations will have food or craft items for sale at the
Cbi president Sean McGee says his 3-year-old Chico State fraternity wasn’t
thrilled about getting caught up in the winner-take-all atmosphere of Pioneer
Days Sweepstakes when it entered Sweepstakes for the first time last year.
just wanted to get involved,’ he says. This year. he says Delta Chi
helping to lead student participation away from the competitive spirit.
past was so centered around the competition. For us, this was the perfect chance
to change the format of these events. This gives us a chance to work with the
community. It’s a chance to get a very worthy cause publicized. Our emphasis
is on getting the word out about Project Child. We think this is the beginning
of a long-term relationship (with Project Child).”
from their Rancho Chico Days involvement, Delta Chi has donated the manpower
during refurbishing efforts on an old house that Project Child hopes to turn
into a center for abused children.
hopes Delta Chi’s involvement in Rancho Chico Days will help break down
community stereotypes of Greek organizations blamed they say unfairly
community has a total stereotype of Greeks as being ‘Animal House’ crazies.
The only way we can change that is by working together. There is no established
relationship between us and them, They don’t know us and we don’t know them.
This is a step in the right direction.”
despite the new cooperation. relations between Rancho Chico Days organizers and
some campus organizations remain strained.
nonparticipation has frustrated organizers. especially Andrews, who had high
perhaps too high —
that students would jump on the bandwagon. That she has publicly expressed her
disappointment hasn’t exactly helped ease tensions either.
billed as a community event. close scrutiny of Rancho Chico Days reveals that
organizers went out of their way to retain aspects of Pioneer Days that appealed
most to students. There is a Sheriff and Lil’ Nell, a Sweepstakes trophy, and
specific awards for best projects and best parade float. Currently there is only
one candidate each for Sheriff and Lil’ Nell, two “projects” and a handful
of float entries.
students and celebration organizers are well aware that students were the
creative energy and muscle behind the events most popular with the community.
Students feel there never was enough appreciation for their past efforts, and it
was only reinforced when the city canceled the parade last year
appreciation of the students seems to be rising.
always talked about Pioneer Days being a community celebration, but the
fraternities and sororities put all the work into it.” says committee member
White. “I don’t think the city really appreciated what they did and how much
work they put into it. Nobody knew how it worked.”
no community organization has erected a “project” or major parade float is
proof the community has much to learn about such endeavors the students produced
spectacularly. White says.
hopes the community can learn from the students and has provided an opportunity
to do so. A public parade float building event early Friday evening will allow
community volunteers to help add the finishing touches to this year’s entries.
It’s never been done before. The sharing of ideas, organizers hope, will
stimulate community float building for future parades.
Gives His Blessings
the university administration Es behind the community’s new celebration. Says
Chico State President Robin Wilson, “I have very explicitly instructed people
with student affairs in writing not to interfere with student participation.
don’t want to stand in the way. I fervently hope Rancho Chico Days is a
booming success and that there’s not an ounce of trouble. I think that would
be just wonderful.”
there clearly is no threat of repercussions for student groups participating in
Rancho Chico Days. both students and event organizers say they know Wilson
isn’t entirely pleased that the celebration he took in the backyard and shot
in the head (to rephrase Wilson’s memorable vow last year) has been
notwithstanding, this possibly is the only black cloud hanging over what
otherwise promises to be a successful event with a bright future.
missing one thing: Greeks
ER May 4, 1988
in the student acclivities office, Chico State Panheflenic Council president
Debbie Bateman recently ran across some old files containing Pioneer Days
memorabilia, and her thoughts flooded with memories of past P-Days.
hurt to look at them,” she says. A year ago. we were tuning up our instruments
and ready to go on the stage. Canceling Pioneer Days hit everyone En the
groups are still aching from last year’s disastrous and disappointing end to
Pioneer Days, she says, after Greeks and other organizations spent months
preparing for their cherished spring celebration.
painful memories, according to Bateman, are among the many reasons why Greeks
have been almost unanimously reluctant to participate in this year’s Rancho
Chico Days celebration, despite many invitations from organizers to join in.
year, she says, “I think we need to catch our breath.”
the Greeks are putting their spring energy into alternative events and
statements made earlier this year by Greek leaders that campus organizations
were “99 percent” against participating in Pancho Chico Days, Bateman says
each organization has its own reasons for not participating in the new
celebration. There is no boycott.
to lnterfraternity Council president Billy Berry, Greeks this year mostly want
to take a step back and reevaluate their involvement” in a large-scale spring
in Chico State’s alternative events to Pioneer Days — Spring End ‘88, held two weeks ago
from poor to good, depending on the event, according to organizers. Berry says
the events were satisfying.”
the new event did not erase the memories of fun, competition and spirit of
P-Days many students hold.
End was fun and there was no stress, but I miss Pioneer Days,” says Bateman.
“(Greeks) want that spirit back and that feeling of accomplishment.”
like most students involved in Pioneer
she admits that celebration was due for a change. She cites the competitiveness
of trying to win Sweepstakes and the financial burden as being destructive, but,
she adds, “It brought out better Quads and parade entries.’
have not remained idle during the spring. According to Berry, official Spring
End activities on campus such as a “Wimpee Olympee,” a dance and a softball
tournament were just a part of this year’s replacement celebration. A full
Greek social schedule has long been a tradition, and it was not abandoned this
Spring End ‘88, says Berry, “There were tons of blow-out socials. There
wasn’t a real kick-off party, but a lot of fraternities had two to four
socials in that four-day period (April 23.26). We usually have that many in a
Pioneer Days tradition was competition for recognition. Though Sweepstakes is
dead, Berry says competition among fraternities for recognition is alive and
well due to revived interest in the Greek Cup.
last year by fraternity brother Phil Devitt of Beta Theta Pi, the Greek Cup is a
trophy honoring the fraternity who wins interfraternity competition in six
sports — soccer,
football, floor hockey, softball, five-on-five basketball and three-on-three
says the Greek Cup competition last year was weak. But this year, with
fraternities not working feverishly on Quad projects. Presents dance steps and
parade floats, there’s an all-out war for ownership of the
become a very big event,” he says. “Almost all the fraternities are
participating. It’s a great time.’ The trophy will be awarded next week
after softball competition winds up.
the presence in alternative P-Days activities, Berry and Bateman say interest
among Greeks does exist for participating in Ranco Chico Days. Both agree with
members of the two fraternities and one sorority participating in Rancho Chico
Days who say the student organizations will probably participate in the new
celebration in the future.
think we’ll see how it goes this year,” says Bateman. “I’m sure groups
will look at the Quads and the parade, and maybe something will pull them from
inside and they’ll participate in it next year. We want the tradition to
Bateman says Greeks are also cautious about becoming involved. She says
assurances offered by the Pancho Chico Days organizers that community groups
sponsoring student participation would help defray expenses is a positive step
toward mending the rift between the community and student groups wary of
repeating past problems.
there’s still the time involved,” she says. “Also we have to feel the
university is supportive of us.”