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Creating a legacy for tomorrow by cherishing our past and
connecting with our present

Fremont Not Resting on Laurels
City wonders what fruit future may bear as it proudly marks 50 years

by Jonathan Jones, Staff Writer
Fremont Argus
January 24, 2006

FREMONT - John C. Fremont, the great explorer and this city's namesake, would have been proud.

Monday night, about 700 people crammed inside a big white tent in Central Park to listen to jazz, learn a little history, look at artwork and help this city kick off its nine-month 50th anniversary celebration.

[At right: Cutting the cake are (from left) Steve Cho, Dominic Dutra, Sue Chan, Kathy Mathys and Irene Koehler.]

"I've never seen a party like this," hailed Bernard Stewart, chairman of the event. "But if it's just a party, then we've failed (in our mission)."

For Stewart, a 63-year-old dentist who has lived in Fremont for 37 years, Monday night's event was not only an opportunity to bring the city together but also a chance for residents to begin to think about what they want their city to look and be like in the future.

"This is a city of great diversity, with incredible potential to form a community of people who can unite on a vision of what they want Fremont to be," Stewart said. "Tonight has gone beyond my expectations. But this is only the beginning. We have a year of events planned to bring this community together."

As part of the celebration Monday night, Stewart, along with Kathi Inholtz Mathys, who celebrated her own 50th birthday at the same time, cut a birthday cake to mark the actual date of Jan. 23, 1956, that five small towns Centerville, Irvington, Mission San Jose, Niles and Warm Springs merged to become the city of Fremont, in part to prevent it from becoming part of Hayward.

In an effort to highlight the yearlong events, each of the Celebrate Fremont committees setup around the perimeter of the tent and stamped handmade passports given to visitors to enter a prize drawing.

Back in 1956, Fremont was a community with open pastures and orchards, a place where auto workers came to work at the now-closed General Motors plant, and most homes sold in the low five figures.

Fremont has evolved into a diverse city of 203,144 people with sizable Indian, Pakistani and East Asian populations, a place of high-tech workers, rapid development and million-dollar homes.

Arlene Norris, who moved to Fremont 35 years ago, described it as a rural area with a lot of cabbage patches.

But she's glad she moved here. She invested in her first home for a mere $28,000. Today, she estimates the house is worth more than $700,000.

"Fremont used to have a lot of small farms growing cauliflower, other crops and pigs," said Al Minard. "You could tell when the tide was coming in just by the smell."

Dressed in a top hat and old-timers' clothes, Minard is one of the organizers of Fremont Heritage Tours, which will operate guided bus tours once a month for $20 per person to travel through each of Fremont's five districts, highlighting historically significant sites.

In the past 20 years, Fremont went from what Minard described as mostly "country folk" to one of the most diverse communities in the country.

Today, fewer than 47 percent of the residents are white, 37 percent are Asian, 13.5 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are African American, with other races making up the rest.

Monday night, 16-year-old Anum Habib handed out pins for people to push into a map near places such as Karachi, Tokyo, and Beijing to show where they were born.

And Fremont can boast of Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, who was born here; M.C. Hammer, who lived here during his famed "U Can't Touch This" era; and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley, who grew up and developed his early baseball skills here.

More recently, the city has been known for its large Afghan population, as well as the setting for the best-selling book "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, who grew up in Fremont after leaving Afghanistan. Some folks still remember Charlie Chaplin and Broncho Bill Anderson making movies here and in Niles Canyon, back when Niles was the silent film capital of the world.

In order to strengthen the sense of community, 57-year-old Bill Bain of the Future Committee handed out surveys to ask attendees what was most important for Fremont in the next 50 years, with the options ranging from maintaining a "small town" feel to hooking up free wireless Internet access downtown.

"I'd like to see a business office and a cultural arts center," said Bain, a father of four, when asked what he'd wish. "I would also like to see improvements in our school district and our educational system."

To find out more about Fremont's 50th anniversary celebrations, visit http://www.celebratefremont.org

Jonathan Jones covers cultural issues for The Argus. He can be reached at (510) 353-7005 or jjones@angnewspapers.com


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