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Galt men still busy after 50 years of community service

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Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2005 10:00 pm

When Orvell Fletcher and Larry Littleton met in the 1950s, Galt was a small agricultural town of about 2,000 people. How things have changed.

Galt is 10 times larger than it was 50 years ago. Subdivisions have transformed the town into a suburb of nearby Sacramento and Stockton -- and it will only get bigger with time.

Littleton and Fletcher, Galt's elder statesmen, have had front-row seats for the city's maturation.

Between the two, Fletcher and Littleton have seen Galt's drive to become a city, Galt High becoming more of an academic institution and the city turning into a growing suburb with the growing pains that go with it.

They have been friends, colleagues and community activists for more than five decades. Half of it was as partners in the Galt Joint Union High School District, where Fletcher was superintendent and Littleton was his principal.

"We get along beautifully," Littleton said.

Fletcher, 89, was born in Dallas, S.D., and moved to Lodi with his parents for a better life during the Depression. He graduated from Lodi High School and taught English, social studies and speech at Lodi High before entering the Air Force in 1942. After his discharge four years later, Fletcher became the first director of Lodi's adult education school.

In 1954, Fletcher became Galt High's superintendent. That brought him together with Littleton, a music and business teacher there since 1937.

Littleton, 91, grew up in Stockton, graduated from the old Stockton High School and College of the Pacific, now a university. He made $1,500 per year when he was hired at Galt High in 1937.

Galt becomes a city

Littleton led the drive for Galt to wrestle control away from Sacramento County and some small districts and become its own city in 1946. He was on the first City Council.

Littleton didn't enter local politics through his own volition. It began in 1944 when Floyd Taylor, who was district superintendent at the time, required all teachers to become involved in the community if they wanted to keep their job. In those days, teachers' jobs weren't protected by tenure laws.

"I went to the Chamber of Commerce, and at the first meeting, they made me second vice president," Littleton said. "I asked, 'What does a second vice president do?' "

"Make Galt a city," chamber President Walter McAllister replied.

Littleton didn't even know what the word "incorporation" meant, but he was off and running.

The local water and sewer boards opposed Galt growing into anything more than a small farm town, while Littleton wanted to see more residential growth.

Littleton was a City Council member for four years, but he stepped down because of his teaching demands. He was also Galt High's band director.

His activism culminated in 1996, when the community center on Civic Drive was named after him.

School days

Fletcher and Littleton recall Galt High being in disarray upon Fletcher's arrival in 1954. It was disorganized, students lacked discipline and the curriculum didn't focus enough on academics.

In those days, teachers told their students they weren't expected to attend college, recalls Genie Olson, who taught English and drama for 25 years at Galt High. Instead, they were encouraged to go back to the family farm once they graduated.

"I was hired to make distinct changes," Fletcher said. "There was no system for handling kids. (The school) had no charm or dignity about it."

Fletcher held the dual role as superintendent and principal for nine years. He named Littleton vice principal in 1956 and principal in 1963.

"There was a big turnaround in education in Galt when Orvell Fletcher was made superintendent," Littleton said. "Orvell was the leader of the whole thing."

Fletcher laid down the law with a list of 10 rules posted in every classroom. But one basic rule dominated: "You can never interfere with another pupil's education."

Fletcher remembers, "We made it stick, and the teachers loved it. It's the one (rule) that parents could understand."

Another rule that Fletcher enjoyed was Rule No. 10: "When everything else fails, ask yourself, 'What is the courteous thing to do?'"

Through their leadership, Fletcher and Littleton formed several clubs and set aside time each Thursday for the clubs to meet. The town's rural roots were still apparent; the most popular was the hunting and fishing club.

"We made education important enough for them to keep learning," Fletcher said. "I do believe we brought them into the 20th century."

Galt resident Dale Templeton, a 1964 graduate of the high school, remembers both Fletcher and Littleton being accessible to students.

"(Fletcher) was stern looking, but he was also a person you can talk to," Templeton said. "I thought Larry Littleton was best person you could have. The curriculum was quite good for a school our size."

Civic involvement

After retiring several months apart in 1977, Fletcher and Littleton continued their public service. They were charter members of the Galt Lions Club. Fletcher also spent eight years on City Council, and Littleton serves on the Lodi Memorial Hospital Foundation board.

They also served on the steering committee together to build a medical clinic through Lodi Memorial Hospital. The clinic, built in 1996, is on Civic Drive across from City Hall.

During his City Council days in the 1980s and '90s, Fletcher was instrumental in creating the present incarnation of Galt's flea market, constructing the Marian O. Lawrence Library building and the Galt Sports Complex on Caroline Avenue and Meladee Lane.

He also played a role in the construction of Galt Plaza, one of two major commercial centers in town, in the 1990s, as well as the Boys and Girls Club coming to Galt.

Today, Fletcher is busy as ever, heading a committee working with a school district architect to draw plans for a new high school in northeastern Galt. Fletcher's wife, Helen, died in July after 61 years of marriage.

Littleton isn't in the public eye as much as Fletcher these days, but he still plays golf and spends quality time with Frances, his wife of 69 years.

And Littleton maintains an annual tradition -- an annual lunch with longtime residents Don Nottoli Sr., Shirley Turner and Art Heinle, all of whom share a birthday on Feb. 19.

"We just never knew when to quit, actually," Fletcher said. "That's our song."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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