Hundreds of townsfolk and guests were there: beauty queens, dignitaries, politicians, ladies (and one man) in elegant gowns, and gentlemen in top hats and tails. There were several hundred members of the John P. Squibob Chapter of the Ancient & Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus fraternity in their red shirts and black vests adorned with bling, which they refer to as “wearing your tin.”
Dan Parker, great-great grandson of Augustus and Martha Barnett who donated the town hall to Ramona in 1894, was there. And then there were regular Ramonans, drawn to celebrate and honor the grand dame herself, the 115-year-old Ramona Town Hall.
The hall was all dolled up with cleaned windows, newly painted trim and bunting flying from her rooftop. She was sparkling in the spring sunshine and opening her doors wide to her guests who had come to admire the renovations, which are in various stages of progress. The front east wing is sporting new carpeting, which was laid just in time for the party, and, with its period light fixtures and fans, buttery gold paint and rich wood trim, is ready for community meetings.
The celebration of Ramona Town Hall, considered to be the largest adobe building in the Southwest, began with the premiere performance of the Ramona Town Hall Brass Band, which was housed on the front portico and led by Kenneth Serfass.
“This band is really good” commented one bystander.
The band also concluded the ceremonies with an original composition of the Ramona Town Hall Quick Step, a pure expression of Americana reminiscent of the old musical play and movie, The Music Man.
At 11 a.m. the Ramona Town Hall Board of Trustees along with Miss Ramona Rachel McAllister and the recently crowned Ramona Rodeo queens took their places in front of the hall. The candidates politicking for honorary mayor of Ramona were reined in, and the Clampers gathered around, except for the ones who were gathered around the door of the Turkey Inn. In their own way, they were honoring that historical establishment which holds the oldest liquor license in the county. The Ramona High School NJROTC (Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps) color guard marched in, and after the Pledge of Allegiance the band played the national anthem.
Paul Ketchem, Noble Grand Humbug of the John P. Squibob Chapter of E Clampus Vitus, a Ramona resident and himself a candidate for honorary mayor, welcomed everyone to the event. Ketchem introduced Milford Wayne Donaldson, the California State Historic Preservation Officer from Sacramento. Donaldson, who is also a member of E Clampus Vitus, gave a brief history of the fraternity, and then presented Woody Kirkman, Ramona Town Hall Board president, and the other town hall trustees with a proclamation from Sacramento which outlined the triumphs and struggles of the Ramona Town Hall over the past 115 years.
The history of E Clampus Vitus is long and colorful. In brief, the fraternity was formed in the Old West gold rush era, as the complete opposite of the more sedate men’s organizations of the day. Modern day “Clampers,” while still dedicated to having a very good time, are also instrumental in the preservation of historic buildings and promotion of local history throughout the Southwest.