We residents of Oakdale proudly call our little city “The Cowboy Capital of the World.”
Well, that was until the brilliant folks at City Hall decided that we should have a new and improved slogan.
How does “farm fresh” sound? How about “pioneer perfect”?
What, we asked, was wrong with “cowboy capital,” a name we won fair and square a few years back in a contest with some pretenders from West Texas who thought that they could wrest this title from us. If the 2008 closure of our local Hershey plant was not enough to unseat our beloved Chocolate Festival, surely the “cowboy capital” could withstand a little name-wrangling from City Hall.
Nonetheless, the Oakdale Travel and Visitors Bureau recently declared to a rather perplexed citizenry that we deserved a new name.
I asked former Mayor Pat Kuhn for her thoughts, and she was quite direct: “Cowboy capital is just fine. We are down-to-basics folks here in Oakdale, and if they think we are a little redneck to boot, well, I guess maybe we are. That is what Oakdale is all about.”
Former Mayor Farrell Jackson was even more direct when I ran into him on the street. “What are they thinking?” he asked. “The ‘Cowboy Capital of the World’ is who we are. We earned it and are proud of it, and that is what people know us by.”
While it seems that local outcry has put this ill-planned scheme to rest, there is certainly much local precedent for such poorly thought-through schemes.
Just last year the folks in Stockton decided, due to some untimely rainy days, that the annual Asparagus Festival should die. Fortunately, local farmer and promoter Tony Noceti stepped up and the festival will live on, albeit promoted by a private entrepreneur and not by the city government.
Modesto’s slogan “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health” may well be on its way out as the water is vanishing, the wealth might follow and discontent rings about the town.
Years ago, Modesto had the most successful civic title and annual event ever invented: Graffiti Festival.
So successful, in fact, that it was killed off, only to return in some faint vestige each June, barely resembling its former ability to attract literally thousands to this fair city.
Interestingly, then-Mayor Dick Lang invited my partner and me to a private meeting in his office, where he posed the question: “Gilroy has its garlic, Riverbank has cheese and wine, Oakdale has a chocolate festival; what can we do here in Modesto to truly promote our city?”
We looked at him for a brief moment and both said in unison: “Graffiti?”
The mayor looked stricken. “Oh no, we tried that and it was too successful.”
So, there you have it. Success spoiled Graffiti. Apparently, the success of our annual Oakdale Rodeo, Testicle Festival, numerous local roping and rodeo-related events, plus a legion of local world-champion cowboys have, in the minds of the civic leaders, put an end to our claim as “cowboy capital.”
Well, I can tell you that this will not fly. I have friends all over the world who talk about coming out to the “cowboy capital” for a visit. I wonder how they will react if I tell them we are now “perfect pioneers” and not cowboys.
Dick Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.