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WG alums kick off Founders Day and their 100-year celebration
By Maggie Benson

The Willows district is the most noted in the county. The roads are reported as numerous and well-kept. Most roads are gravel and kept well sprinkled, bordered by lines of walnuts, eucalyptus, elms and pepper trees.
--newspaper report from 1894, excerpted from April Halberstadt's The Willow Glen Neighborhood: Then and Now

With its dedicated residents, spirited history and quaint, tree-lined streets, Willow Glen has always stood out as a charmed community. Each year on Founders Day, residents come together to honor the area's unique attributes, and this year residents have yet another cause to celebrate--the 100-year anniversary of Willow Glen Elementary.

"Founders Day celebrates historic Willow Glen, and the school is a big part of Willow Glen," Demetri Rizos, manager of the Willow Glen Business and Professional Association, which hosts Founders Day, explained. "It's been a centerpiece on the Avenue. The school and downtown have always intertwined together. So I think it's appropriate that we celebrate both the 100-year anniversary and Founders Day together."

In order to recognize the school's anniversary, WGBPA chose all the Willow Glen alums as the "grand marshal" of this year's kick-off parade, a spot usually reserved for the oldest and most respected members of the community. "They will be parading the oldest graduating person from Willow Glen Elementary and the youngest student at the school," Rizos explained.

Behind the youngest and oldest participants will march anywhere from 200 to 500 Willow Glen alums. Following the parade, the elementary school will host a rededication ceremony at the school, featuring speeches, memorabilia and photos. WGBPA will host its regular celebration, erecting three stages for music and dancing. Organizers expect to draw up to 30,000 people.

Allison Barker, co-president of the Willow Glen Elementary Parent-Teacher Association, said she feels it's important to celebrate the area's history because it brings the community together.

"It shows that we respect [our elders] and that they're a part of us," she commented. "It reminds us not to forget where we've come from. It helps us to teach our children that things weren't always as they are now. It helps the community grow as a whole when we do things together."

Each year, the community comes together for Founders Day to celebrate the nine years from 1927 to 1936 when Willow Glen was a city of its own.

In 1925, in an attempt to decrease traffic congestion downtown, the San Jose City Council ordered Southern Pacific Railroad to move its train tracks off Fourth Street. In response, the railroad company proposed laying tracks from Coe Avenue to Almaden Road, through the middle of Willow Glen. To fight the proposition, Willow Glen residents voted in 1927 to end their unincorporated status and become a city.

After successfully keeping the railway at bay, nine years later residents voted to annex to San Jose.

In order to honor this unique history, 16 years ago a group of residents proposed blocking off Lincoln Avenue and holding a festival.

Traditionally, the festival was a one-day affair, with a 10K run and art and food booths. Three years ago the event expanded to two days, with a parade and street dance kicking off the event on Saturday night.

This year organizers axed the art portion of the event because of the expense of hosting it. Rizos said he expects Founders Day to remain a one-day event, but plans next year to bring back the art booths during the day.

Though the art portion was canceled, some say this year's Founders Day will be more memorable than in years past because of the dual celebration with Willow Glen Elementary.

"I think we feel honored [to take part in Founders Day]," said Sherry Rodriguez, a member of the Willow Glen Elementary PTA. "We've always taken a great pride in being a part of Willow Glen because we're so close to the downtown and so many of our alumni are local."

From the September 10, 1997 issue of the Willow Glen Resident. Copyright 1997 Metro Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

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