In ancient Greece, the laurel was sacred to Apollo and as such, sprigs of it were fashioned into a crown or wreath of honor for poets and heroes. According to Wikipedia, in English the word “laureate” has come to signify eminence or association with literary awards or military glory. It is also used when referencing winners of the Nobel Prize.

Now Visalia has its very own “Historian Laureate” in the person of Terry Ommen. Terry is the successor to the wonderful Annie R. Mitchell, who helped preserve so much of Visalia’s history, and who has a room in the local library and a school named after her. The City of Visalia and our council had been working on this special presentation for a few months, but when it was about ready, we learned that the Chamber of Commerce was also in the process of naming Terry the “Man of the Year.” It didn’t seem right for the City to make its presentation the week before or the week after, as one or the other might have seemed anticlimactic. The Chamber was gracious enough to allow us to piggyback on their June 8, 2017 awards program, and a well-deserving Mr. Ommen was presented both the Man of the Year and Historian Laureate awards.

The “Historian Laureate” title is not just for a year, but is a lifetime recognition for what Terry has done for our community and for local history. Let me extol some of Terry’s accomplishments, since he is too modest to do so himself. He has written three books on Visalia and Tulare County history. I have personally attended some of his frequent downtown walking tours, which he gives to local groups as well as to out-of-town tourists as he pulls his little cart with built-in PA system and microphone and shares his insights. He speaks often to local service clubs, churches, Leadership Visalia classes, and has volunteered at the Annie R. Mitchell history room at the library for 15 years. He is a resource for the Chamber and the City with regard to information on historic buildings and seems to have a limitless supply of historic Visalia photos. He has written countless articles for local newspapers and magazines, and is a past president of the Tulare County Historical Society. He currently is assisting the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in the creation of the giant sequoia interpretive project at the downtown post office. He assisted the city in creating the Historic Recognition Program, which places plaques on historic buildings downtown. I always enjoyed the Historic Visalia photo calendar he helped Visalia Community Bank produce annually. My personal favorite was when Terry helped my 13-year-old son Eddy complete his Eagle Scout project, which was researching and producing the Historic Visalia Walking Trail brochure along with bronze plaques marking each site. Eddy awarded Terry his mentor’s pin at his Eagle Court of Honor. My little scout is now a grown man in his second year of dental school, but he will always appreciate Terry’s assistance. As far as I know, Terry has never accepted a cent for all that he does in preserving Visalia’s heritage.

For all of these reasons, Terry Ommen is well deserving of our thanks and our praise. We know that Terry will continue to give freely of his time and expertise, and we look forward to his continuing to promote Visalia’s history as our Historian Laureate!

Historical Figures

Speaking of history, on May 30, 2017, we revived a Visalia tradition known as the Mayors and City Council Dinner. We invited all those who previously have served on the city council to dinner at Fugazzi’s to renew acquaintances, and to have a little fun. The honorees and their guests had a delightful evening of reminiscing, and even gave a few pointers to the current council!

Present was David Allen who served on the city council back in the 1960s before becoming a Tulare County Judge, and we had representatives from each of the decades since then. Former Mayor Wally Gregory came all the way from Arkansas to be with us that evening. As we walk down memory lane, let me list the names of those in attendance, in no particular order, and see how many you recognize: Berkeley Johnson, Bob Link, Evan Long, Don Sharp, Greg Collins, Wally Gregory, Dave Allen, Basil Perch, Alan McIntosh, Laurel Barton, Don Landers, Amy Shuklian, and Warren Gubler. Others couldn’t attend, and many are no longer with us. But to all we say a great big “thank you” and hope to make this an annual tradition again.

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