The 60th annual Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion was held at Phil Marx Central Park on Sunday, Aug. 4 and it was day of perfect weather, friendly companionship and good food.

With more than 425 people in attendance, it was believed to be the largest gathering ever at this popular yearly event.

The Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion continues to honor local people as it has since it was started by Herb and Ola Mae Force and others in 1959. Back then, the criteria was that a free meal would be provided for anyone who had lived in Tehachapi in 1919 or earlier.

The formula is still the same today — a free lunch is provided to anyone who has either lived in Tehachapi for 40 years or more, or who lived in Tehachapi 40 years ago or longer. That means that anyone who lived in Tehachapi before 1979 is eligible, whether they lived here and then moved away or have lived here continuously since then.

Anyone is able to attend — it is a public event in a public park — but non-oldtimers are asked to pay for their own lunches.

I have attended many Oldtimers Reunions over the years — I accompanied my grandmother to the event when I was a little kid, then I covered it for the Tehachapi News beginning in 1982 and for all the decades since then. I've now lived in Tehachapi for more than 50 years myself — which hardly seems possible, the years have flown by — and I look forward to this event for months as a chance to see so many familiar smiling faces.

The mood is cheerful and celebratory as old friends and acquaintances greet each other beneath the towering trees and green, green grass of the old City Park, itself now more than 100 years old. Many of those in attendance still live here in our little mountain town, while others travel from throughout California and even other states to be here on the first Sunday in August.

Some families bring their children and grandchildren so multiple generations are represented. As a chronicler of Tehachapi history, I always marvel at how much knowledge of Tehachapi's past is represented at this festive event. It's like an annual gathering of Tehachapi experts.

Naturally there is much reminiscing of Tehachapi's earlier times. Many of the people there on Sunday remember going to and from Tehachapi on trains (passenger service here was discontinued in 1971), and they experienced traveling to Bakersfield on the old road, before Highway 58 was completed in 1968. They all recall a simpler time, when Tehachapi had no chain restaurants or stoplights, when you couldn't go to the grocery store or post office without seeing people that you knew.

In accordance with tradition, the oldest woman and oldest man present were honored, and they were the same as last year: Hazel Woodard is now 99 years old, and Raymond Burgeis is 92. They were given embroidered lunch boxes donated by M & M Sports. Among those who have lived here the longest was Gloria Martinez Fifer, who has lived here for more than 86 years, and she was present with her sisters Laura and Bette.

This year's Oldtimers Reunion was made possible by the City of Tehachapi and the Tehachapi Valley Recreation & Park District, with the help of numerous volunteers, including Dick and Donna Dieterle, Joyce Young Davies, Sheila Hamilton Townsend, Lora Morris Minton, Sierra Pinheiro and Pat Gracey.

Ashley Krampien of the TVRPD was instrumental in running the event, and lots of help was provided by the freshman, junior varsity and varsity Tehachapi football teams who helped set up, serve the meals and then clean up afterward. Head coach Doug DeGeer and his fellow coaches also manned the drinks tent. Excellent music and sound services were provided by Andrew Ledesma of Lil' Ntertainment. Coconut Joe's provided catering service and served pit-style beef, chicken, beans, salad and rolls.

The Tehachapi Oldtimers Reunion is a pleasant, cheerful celebration of Tehachapi life and the people who have lived here over the years. This year's record-setting attendance shows how this continues to be a well-loved annual party.

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to tehachapimtnlover@gmail.com