Without a doubt the longest-running volunteer group in Atascadero has to be the Colony Days Committee. Since 1973 this group of local folks, led by Maggie Vandergon, has been responsible for the birthday celebration of Atascadero’s founding in 1913 by E.G. Lewis.
In '73 there wasn’t a parade or activities. It was held in conjunction with a long-running art show in the Sunken Gardens.
But in 1974 a celebration did occur with Maggie Vandergon at the helm. She came here in the 1960s, from her hometown of Paso Robles. We all soon adopted this “bearcat” into our hearts. Maggie told me that her family had always been involved in Paso Robles’ Pioneer Day and, “I just thought Atascadero deserved a like celebration.” She couldn’t understand why Atascadero didn’t have an annual celebration of some sort such as many other Central Coast communities had.
Atascadero did have a large celebration in 1963, which was the 50th anniversary of the Colony. That is when a group of local volunteers moved the marble statue from the mall below the high school to the Sunken Gardens where it remains today.
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Maggie’s first task was to round up members for a stand-alone committee independent of the local chamber. Her earliest recruits were Rich Martinez and Jack Stinchfield, longtime local residents, and Will Lewis, who had recently retired to Atascadero. He was a nephew of Atascadero’s founder. Stinchfield became the very first chairman of Colony Days. The term “Colony Days” was coined by the late Dave Cowan, who had a shoe sales and repair shop on Entrada Avenue.
Maggie has been a vital member of the Colony Days Committee since the beginning and served as parade chairman for 21 years. “I knew a good parade would attract a crowd who would stay afterwards and enjoy food and craft booths sponsored by local nonprofit organizations,” she said. She worked hard to build a great parade. I remember she even found a roller skating elephant for one year’s event and sky divers who actually landed right on the parade route in front of the judge’s stand.
With a hearty laugh, and known as one who speaks her mind, she has been very important to this community celebration for four decades. Recently, she notified the group that she needed to take a little respite from the committee. The current committee, chaired by former high school teacher Jerry Tanimoto, will be busy finishing up all that needs to be done for this year’s event, which is about five weeks away.
Atascadero owes this dynamic woman a great big thank-you for her role in the observance of our colorful history. Maggie worries that interest in Atascadero Colony Days is going down. Let’s prove her wrong.
This year’s celebration will be held the week of Oct. 12 to 18 with the parade on Saturday (always the third Saturday in October). There will be no Sunday activities.