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Merced's elders take center stage at Old Timers Celebration

Sixty-two people who have been Merced County residents for at least 50 years were honored Sunday afternoon at the annual Merced Old Timers Celebration. About 320 people, including their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, packed the Italo-American Lodge for the annual rites.

Edna Clendenin, 79, whose son Daniel is the Old Timers group president, said the luncheon, in its 66th year, is a way to single out people who haven't been honored before and a chance for these longtime residents to renew long-standing acquaintances.

Forty-three of the 62 named were on hand for the luncheon and received plaques and certificates from the Merced County Board of Supervisors, Assemblywoman Kathleen Galgiani, and the city of Merced. The oldest man present was 95 years of age and the eldest woman was 96; one person traveled from Utah to attend.

Richard Murphy, 86, said he still is having a good life. A Merced resident for 50 years, Murphy retired from 30 years as a civil engineer at Castle AFB. A native of Alexander, Kan., Murphy lived through the Dust Bowl days and said he remembers when daytime dust made noon look like midnight.

"The roads are better now," Murphy said. "There's a lot more people and traffic is terrible. We could use more police."

Winifred Ciuffo, 87, came to Los Banos in 1946 and hasn't left. Born in Warrington, England, Ciuffo was a seamstress at a shirt factory during World War II. She has two children, four grandchildren and eight grand-grandchildren, with two more on the way.

Now you have to lock your doors and Los Banos' population is more than 30,000 people. Sixty years ago you knew everybody, especially other Italian and Portuguese immigrants, Ciuffo said.

Calling herself a "war bride," Ciuffo keeps active by doing crossword puzzles and plays solitaire and cards with her great-grandchildren.

Joe Alvernaz of Livingston started raising sweet potatoes in 1946 and retired in 1999. Nicknamed "Sweet Potato Joe," Alvernaz said "it's just great to be around" and his mission in life is to get residents of Grace Nursing Home in Livingston to at least smile for him during his daily visits.

Alvernaz spent 50 years announcing Livingston High School football games and was Merced County Farm Bureau president for several years in the 1980s.

Clifford Anderson retired in 1979 as a Merced City School District principal after 32 years in education. A former principal at Fremont, Muir, Rivera and Wright schools, the 89-year-old Anderson quipped he enjoys having morning coffee with friends and solving all the world's problems.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or