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September 28, 2010 > History: Forty Years of Candle Lighters

History: Forty Years of Candle Lighters

Dorothy Pegueros, Sumi Lampert, Anita DeDomenico, Betty Sabraw and Flo Aragon met in early January, 1969 to come up with a plan to raise money for the Fremont YMCA building fund. Molly McCrory, Anina Fletcher, Wyoma Clouser, Dara Gill, Alverda Hyman and Kathy Varrasso soon joined the group and by March 25th the name Candle Lighters had been established and the membership included 53 socially prominent women. Seed money was raised by hosting an elegant dinner party at the Sunol Valley Golf Club on April 11, 1969.

Members decided their project to raise money would be a ghost house and the site was chosen at the Linda Vista Winery which was located on what is now the Ohlone College Fremont campus. This first Ghost House was built with the help of the men from the YMCA building committee and members' families and friends. Profits from this first Ghost House were awarded to the YMCA building fund in the amount of $10,000 and $175 to the Fremont Police Department for walkie-talkies. Since then cash awards have been granted every year to a variety of worthy non-profit organizations of the Tri-City area.

A special committee decided that the Candle Lighters should do something special for their 40th anniversary in 2009, so they put out a book entitled Forty Years of Candle Lighters Memories. It was compiled by Flo Moscon, Theresa King, Marguerite Meyer, Claire Douglas, Mary Lang and Marilyn Kern. Special recognition was given to Sumi Lampert, Dorothy Pegueros, Dolores Carter, Lynn Barnett, Wanda Andra, Shirley Feeley and past presidents for their special help. Theresa King was recognized for spending many hours proof reading the book which was dedicated to the women who formed the Candle Lighters in 1969.

The main body of the book includes specific information about the organization. An article in the July 1969 "Gazette", the organization's newsletter, stated that about 50 people were needed for the shifts while the house was open to the public. It also advertised the appearance of the vampire, Barnabas Collins, a TV personality from the soap opera Dark Shadows.

The location of the Candle Lighter's Ghost House moved from the Linda Vista Winery in 1971 to the Chadbourne Carriage House at the Fremont Hub where it is today with a brief move to the Fremont Fashion Center on Walnut Ave from 1973 to 1976.

The theme for the first six years was "Ghost House", but from 1975 to 2008 a new theme was "dreamed up" each year. "Ghost House" was once again the theme the fall of 2009.

Among the many highlights listed for each of the years were some important to the Candle lighters and some to the community at large. There were the changes in the amount of dues paid by members each year and the increasing cost of the "orange smocks" worn by the members during the operation of the Ghost House. They finally got their own trailers, both for storage and to house the 10 rooms of the Ghost house. One of the high points of the 2009 Ghost House was the newest set of "rooms" which replaced the ones put into service in 1988. Finally the Ghost House has air conditioning to keep the "ghouls" from melting. In 1978 the group built actual game booths and a ticket booth for the midway which have been used every year since. Members were represented in BART's first ride in 1972. The YMCA building was completed in 1975 with the administration section being called the Candle Lighter Wing.

In 1988 Burdette Williams eliminated deed restriction that cleared the way for expanded uses of the carriage house and the park around the Chadbourne Carriage House was named W. Burdette Williams Park. The newly designed park was dedicated by the city in 2004 giving the Candle Lighters a concrete surface after many years working on a surface covered in pea gravel. This made it easier for members of the community who require wheelchairs, walkers or those who ride in strollers to enjoy the Ghost House and midway. Hours of operation have varied throughout the years.

In 1989, the 20th anniversary year, the Ghost House did not open on Tuesday the 17th because the Loma Prieta earthquake occurred one hour before opening time. The year 2000 was especially remembered for the huge windstorm that knocked over the ticket booth and the "torrential downpours that caused puddles so deep the ducks swam in them". The midway booths were flooded more than once in 2007 and there was a small earthquake to close out the last night that year. Among the last highlights in the book are photos of the members sliding down the water slides at the City of Fremont's new water park.

The last part of the book lists the names of the 521 women who joined Candle Lighters between 1969 and 2009. The book closes with a list of proposals funded each year with the names and amount awarded. A colored photo of the current and past membership is included in the back of the book.

The Candle Lighters have received many earned honors of appreciation over the years since the plaque presented by the YMCA in 1970. Other honors include the plaque dedicating the Candle Lighter Central Park Pavilion in 1974 and the pavilion's replacement in 2007 with the new Candle Lighters Band Shell at Central Park.

The Candle Lighters have awarded nearly 1.5 million dollars to various Tri-City area non-profits in the 40 years they have conducted their annual fundraiser. They have given many hours and talents to better our community. Their book, Forty Years of Candle Lighters Memories is a fitting memorial to their contributions. It should be noted that two of the founding members, Dorothy Pegueros and Sumi Lampert, are still very active members, both putting in their full required hours each year.

A few copies of the book will be available for purchase during Ghost House operation this year at the Food Booth.

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