Paso Robles resident Don Keefer has spent the past half-century celebrating the community’s most longstanding citizens, each with deep roots in the city’s heritage.
“It’s 500 guys standing around jawin’ and talking about times when they were in school playing football or basketball,” Keefer said. “In a smaller town like ours, those people all knew each other. It’s small enough that they lived on the block or went to school together.”
Paso Robles Rotary Club’s Old Timers Luncheon, held Thursday at the Paso Robles Event Center, served a free barbecue lunch to honor those who have lived in the Paso Robles area for 50 years or more.
Keefer, 88, moved to Paso Robles when he was 2 years old. His family has been here ever since.
Looking back, Keefer is delighted with the fact that he’s actually among the folks he works to honor each year.
“Well, I guess I qualify now, considering my son is going to qualify in three years,” he said, letting out a soft chuckle.
Thursday’s event also kicked off the celebration of the 82nd annual Pioneer Day. The event brings back all the local favorites such as the Pioneer Day Parade and free community bean feed.
The first Pioneer Day was held Oct. 12, 1931, as a way for businesses to thank their customers. Paso Robles businesses and donors fund the festivities, recognized for the slogan
“Leave your pocketbook at home.”
Keefer, whose family moved to Paso Robles from Oakland in 1927, remembers grabbing folding chairs and heading downtown each year to take part in the event.
“We would get up and go, rain or shine, though it’s hardly ever rained,” Keefer said. “We definitely looked forward to it. All of my family through the years has been involved at one point or another.”
One of his fondest memories was watching horses race down Pine Street, a tradition that didn’t endure the passing of time.
“Of course, Pine Street wasn’t paved then,” he said.
Keefer attended schools in town, graduating from Paso Robles High School in 1942.
At one point, the family moved to Vine Street, where his mother, the late Florence Keefer, taught piano “to almost all of the town,” Keefer said.
“I just met someone the other day who just turned 77 and said, ‘I remember your mom giving me piano lessons,’ ” he added.
After high school, Keefer served in the Army from 1943 to 1946 and later worked for the city of Paso Robles from 1958 to 1983, serving as city manager from 1971 to 1983.
In 1962, he joined the Paso Robles Rotary Club to help give back to his community. He’s been part of the Old Timers Luncheon since day one.
“Every year I see some of my old classmates, and they’re getting fewer and fewer. But that’s a big part of it — seeing the people you haven’t seen and who’s been doing what.”
One of his favorite things to chat about was when the football team at Paso Robles High School beat San Luis Obispo High School 7-6 in 1941 “after 17 years of losing to them,” he said.
“That was a good day,” he added, his voice steeped in nostalgia.
Overall, Keefer said Paso Robles’ traditions have kept him centered throughout the years, even though the town grew up around him.
“We’ve had earthquakes, and we’ve had fires. We used to be the almond center of the western world, and now it is grapes. People have expanded the town and built on the hills.
“I would say there’s a lot of water under the bridge — but there isn’t much water either,” he said with a laugh.