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

Region's Fourth-Largest City Marks Turning 50 With More Than Just Cake

by Lisa Fernandez
San Jose Mercury News
January 23, 2006

Typically, when a group celebrates an anniversary, organizers throw a party and guests show up to eat cake.

Well, Fremont -- the fourth-largest city in the Bay Area -- turns 50 today, and organizers are intent on not having a typical affair. They want the milestone to better connect people to their neighbors.

Sure, at tonight's celebration there will be cake and music and old-timers waxing nostalgic about the past. But that's just the beginning.

"We didn't just want to have an event,'' said Irene Koehler, chair of Celebrate Fremont, a non-profit organization of hundreds of volunteers. "We wanted to change the community.''

Specifically, organizers want Fremont residents to look beyond the soccer teams, churches and restaurants they already know, and introduce themselves to their 212,000 neighbors, who hail from 155 countries and speak 137 languages.

Already, change is afoot.

Bernard Stewart, a dentist in his early 60s who has lived in town for 37 years, has never eaten at Burrito Loco & Tacqueria. Now he plans to dine there after having met owner Gaby Machuca, a 39-year-old Mexican-American, while working on the anniversary project.

For her part, Machuca had never met Moina Shaiq, an active member of the Islamic Society of the East Bay, a Fremont mosque, who is on the project's steering committee. The two have brainstormed together on how to get more people from the schools to participate in the citywide celebration.

Machuca also reached out to members of the Afghan community to volunteer, and became friends with the owner of Mission Coffee, a place she visited while recruiting business leaders for the project.

"Now, if I have a craving for a vanilla latte, I drive all the way to the Mission,'' Machuca said.

And there are connections among groups with like-minded goals.

United effort

Thirty or so historical groups are working on a united project instead of focusing on their individual goals such as saving an old tree or house. On Saturday, they will begin offering tours of the city. And the "Heritage Team'' began collecting oral histories from Fremont residents, which they plan to present at Fremont's big 50th bash Sept. 9-10, the culmination of the anniversary project's efforts. Organizers estimate it will take about $750,000 in private funds to put on the yearlong series of activities.

"I've never seen anything like it,'' City Manager Fred Diaz said. "In my career, over about 23 years, I've seen a lot of communities pulling together to celebrate or for a tragedy. But I have never seen anyone pulling together so effectively at a grass-roots level.''

Diaz said he is also surprised by the community's generosity. Not only has the corporate community donated money and services, but Diaz was especially pleased at a recent planning session held at Center Theater. More than 200 people showed up, and a dozen restaurateurs donated food. At tonight's celebration, members of the Sikh gurdwara are donating 1,000 bottles of water.

Many people who live in Fremont say they love the place because schools are good and the crime rate is low. But the city, to much of the rest of the Bay Area, has the reputation of being a boring bedroom community, a place that people notice off Interstate 880 because of the sprawling NUMMI car manufacturing plant -- and keep on driving.

City leaders have tried to change that image, dubbing it the Gateway to Silicon Valley during the dot-com heyday. Today, many play up the city's cultural diversity, advertising that Fremont is home to many immigrants from Taiwan, India and Afghanistan.

Because the anniversary celebration is lasting almost a year, the planning process has created new attitudes about the city that many say will probably continue long after the cake is eaten.

"I used to sit at the coffee shop very concerned about how the city might be wasting money, and about all the potholes,'' said Bob Creveling, a retired bank executive. "But I jumped at the chance at being on the steering committee, and I've gotten a better chance to see how the inside of city hall works, and I'm much more confident now that the city is being run well.''


The simple act of baking cakes has turned Brian Bacher, owner of Vienna Bakery and Cafe, into a nascent activist and major Fremont cheerleader.

While baking for the project, Bacher realized he needed a large wood frame to hold the base of his nearly 6-foot-tall cake. Folks at Dale Hardware donated the lumber. The owner of Angel's Flowers helped him with some floral arrangements to drape over his edible masterpieces. Now, he's happy he's met his neighbors, and hopes he can help them in the future.

"The people are great,'' Bacher said. ``I'm glad I got involved. I wanted to stretch myself.''


Fremont residents are invited to a free community party today from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Central Park. To find out more about the year's events, visit or call the Celebrate Fremont office at (510) 790-9352.

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