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Randy Rosa: Grape Bowl graduations are an important tradition

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Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2014 12:00 am

This is an open letter to Dr. Cathy Washer and members of the Lodi School Board.

Lodi is funny about traditions. Some are cherished and preserved and some wither away with time. (I miss cheese buttons.)

Lodi is an essentially conservative town and so are many of our traditions. The oldest church is still on Church Street. Hill House still shares a light into our past. The old S.P. train station was fenced off and saved until it became the Amtrak Station it is today. Lodi High was torched and forgotten, yet became Hutchins Street Square. The U.S. Post Office and its tall oaks were restored, expanded and remained Downtown. The Carnegie Library became the Carnegie Forum. The Grape Festival is still the festival we loved as kids, and yes, the grape murals endure. Fourth of July fireworks still wow us at Lodi Lake (but I do miss the roar of the boat races). The Boy Scouts still collect our Christmas trees. The local paper still comes to our door from a paper boy or girl. The Girl Scouts still sell cookies. Our kids still dance at the Pigskin prom.

Even so, new traditions find their way to us. Traditions like the street markets twice a year, the beloved Christmas parade, Farmers Market — food and music all blessing the summer in Downtown, zombies staggering through our streets, kids coming home from college for a pub crawl in Downtown with old friends every Wednesday before Thanksgiving (and smiling moms and dads pick them up at closing time), and wine strolls showcasing Downtown and our amazing wineries. Lodi celebrates Dr. King’s birthday as a city holiday and the Breakthrough Project continues to lead Lodi into an age of compassion and Love. Zinfest and Lodi Lake are becoming a premier showcase of Lodi at its best. And there is “Lodi Rules,” the nation’s most innovative and balanced statement of organic and environmentally sound farming practices, the Salvation Army Food Drive and “box packing.”

The reader has no doubt thought of many more traditions in Lodi.

At the corner of it all, at the very essence of what Lodi is, stand the crown jewels of the old Works Progress Administration: Lodi Lake, the Grape Bowl, and the Festival Grounds.

We are 80 years removed from a time of national despair, a time where many in Lodi were without jobs and any means to support their families.

The WPA provided jobs for Lodians, who could then feed their families, pay bills and buy clothes. The Grape Bowl stands for so much more than a venue for a football game, or even a graduation ceremony, and yet the Grape Bowl stands exactly for those reasons.

We sit in the Grape Bowl and watch our children play, cheer and yes, graduate. We watch the flower girls because their moms and aunts and grandmothers were flower girls.

The wind blows (make a wind screen), and high heels sink into the field (wear flats), we get sunburned (sunscreen?), and then cold as the sun sets (sweaters?).

It is chaos and balloons and yells of support and pride. It is an occasional boy or girl who has beaten odds that no one in the stands is aware of. It is old men and women (with a smile) sitting on uncomfortable benches (buy a cushion).

It is caps and gowns and tears and hugs and kisses as young and old hunt for each other in a sea of red and white or purple and gold.

It is the last time these parents, these students and these teachers will meet on common ground to celebrate a transition to a new life — and it happens in the most hallowed of our public spaces — the Grape Bowl.

Please continue the tradition of the Lodi High Schools graduation ceremonies at the Grape Bowl. It there are challenges or problems in our way, ask that we solve them as a community.

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