College City resident shares precious town memories

Helen Ehrke, 100, enjoys life in the small town of College City. (Jennifer Blue)

The sleepy little town of College City has plenty of history and neighbors there know one another very well. The person with most memories would be Helen Ehrke.

Before her 101 birthday this fall, Ehrke would like to see a sign erected in her hometown of College City.

At a young age, her father packed up all of their furniture into a wagon and moved his family to Colusa County. Ehrke graduated high school in 1936, the last class before the school was moved into a new building in Arbuckle. The building is no longer standing but the two palm trees that were planted by the entrance doors still stand sentinel, visible from Ehrke’s kitchen window.

Although Ehrke claims that there wasn’t much to do in College City for fun but they still managed to enjoy life. No hard alcohol was allowed to be sold in the area which is still the case today, but that was not necessary for people to have a good time. When not working all day in the field, or taking care of the family and home, they would get together. “Well, at one time, they had an open-air dance,” Ehrke recalled. “Across the highway there was a dance hall there,” Ehrke said. There were warm evenings when neighbors would play a card game called “Whist.” Children would build forts out of the dirt hill where the old college building was. Ehrke boys would hunt for squirrels and fish and swim in the canal to get relief during the hot months. “It was a boy’s town then,” Ehrke said, “Arlene and Beverly were the only two girls in town, the rest were all boys.”

“Of course, we didn’t have a telephone then and so we had to whistle,” Ehrke said. Some families had one whistle and another had two, because she was close to the elementary school, Ehrke said that she’d relay which boy was being called by his mother.

Ehrke’s sons would work in the field, driving a tractor by the time they could reach the pedals. Ehrke said that there weren’t as many almond trees as there are today. “It used to be that everybody had a few almond trees and grapes, everybody had a few grapevines, they’d fix our own raisins,” Eherke said, people would trade their produce among one another. The Ehrke family primarily grew rice and grain on their land. Because there wasn’t irrigation, the crops were contingent on the weather and water from the river.  Many happy childhood memories are of the cherry trees.

Melissa Baikie-Rick shared a fond childhood memory from the Ehrke’s orchard in College City, “I remember my little brother Gary & I riding our bikes around town and we would slip over to see if Curley was in his shop. We’d have pockets full of change and it was always ‘enough’ to buy a bag or two of cherries. Curley was kind to us kids and I’m pretty sure he gave us plenty of breaks if we were a lil’ short.” Memories can be sweet, “I’ve never had a cherry taste better than those,” Baikie-Rick said. “I loved seeing those cherry orchards blossom in the spring and it just broke my heart when most of it was taken out. Thankfully, a handful of those trees remain here in town. Though it just isn’t quite the same as getting those cherries from Curley himself.” As a tribute to Curley, the Baikie-Rick family planted their own cherry trees. “And Mrs. Ehrke? Always so patient with us goofballs,” Baikie-Rick added.

Although she wasn’t born in Colusa County, Ehrke is very much a part of the community. She would have it absolutely no other way, claiming to love the quiet, country life in College City.