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Pee-Wee Golf Tournament Raises Money for the Niles Historic District

5 October 2008 No Comment

Photos, Video and Story by Linsay Rousseau Burnett

Fremont’s Niles community — a historic, quaint and close-knit neighborhood — proved once again that it is not afraid to show some flare, after residents held the 10th annual Pink Flamingo Pee-Wee Golf Classic. The “wacky and tacky” event raised over $2,000 for the Niles Main Street non-profit association.

In 1998, Laurie Manuel and Julianne Pagan were drinking coffee and discussing new fundraising activities for Niles Main St.

“One of my clients told me about a charity event he went to where someone set up a game of putt putt golf in their house,” said Manuel, who runs a mortgage company and is a life-long resident of Niles.

After a little bit of brainstorming, the two women decided to run with the idea. “We thought, gee, maybe we can do that in Niles and instead use people’s yards and businesses,” said Pagan, who works in special education in the Fremont Unified School District and was also born and raised in Niles.

The two “Nilegians” (a name bestowed upon long term Niles residents) rounded up volunteers and decided to call the event the Pink Flamingo Pee-Wee Golf Classic.

“It started out as a joke. I thought pink flamingos were tacky. People put them on their lawns and you just think, how cheesy. But now I really like them,” said Pagan, as she adjusted her giant purple beehive wig, adorned with curlers and a “nesting” stuffed pink flamingo.

But Nancy Haylock, who serves on the Niles Main St. board and co-chairs the event with Pagan, said that pink flamingos are no longer seen as tacky in Niles.

“The merchants have pink flamingo themes in their windows. So it permeates not just the neighborhood but also the downtown area,” said Haylock, who wore a black button-down shirt covered with images of pink flamingos and palm trees.

Pink flamingos even made their way into Main St. art. Across from where the new plaza is being built, a mural of Charlie Chaplin (who filmed his first movie in Niles) sitting on a park bench covers the brick wall. Behind Chaplin are three pink flamingos.

Beyond flamingos, the golf classic serves as a way for neighbors to get to know each other better.

“We do eight holes of golf and the ninth hole is the ‘Watering Hole,’ where there’s food and refreshment and we give out awards. We like to spread the holes out over several blocks so it doesn’t wrap up really fast,” said Haylock.

Each of the eight holes has a different theme; residents construct these theme-holes on their front yards. The themes for this year’s holes ranged from the Halloween inspired “Un-Hole-y” to the Niles elementary school’s “Physic-Hole Education” and the Mexican flavored “The Hole Enchilada.”

In attempt to make use of some old car parts he had lying around, Bruce Frisbey and his two children came up with their “Gas-Hole-ine” hole.

"We’re trying to teach a bit about the environment as well. So each ball represents used oil and you have to put it in the proper ‘dispos-Hole’,” said Frisbey, dressed in a blue mechanic’s uniform, leaning against a 1951 Gilbarco gas pump.

The strong sense of community is one reason residents are attracted to Niles.

“It’s not exactly Norman Rockwell but it has that feel. It’s just so neighborly. That’s the feel we have in Niles and that’s what I think most people like about it,” said Haylock.

This “feel” is what drew Oonagh Lanigan and her husband to Fremont when they left Ireland 17 years ago.

“I love the quaintness of Niles. One of the things that drew me to this area is that it reminds me of where I come from. I love the fact that everybody knows everyone,” said Lanigan, as she putted through the “Hole-aween” course with her daughter Molly.

The designers of the “Hole-aween” course, Lori and Lowell Thomas, decided to construct a hole this year at the urging of their seven-year-old daughter Caroline.

“The last couple of years we’ve been walking around with the kids playing golf and they enjoy it. We try to do different community activities and this is something that’s a community minded activity that supports the community and the people here,” said Lori Thomas, dressed as an angel in a long white dress with silver wings and a silver halo.

Aside from just community strengthening, the event also raises money for the Niles Main St. non-profit organization. Al Cunha, president of the organization and a local business owner, said events like the golf classic are important for helping Niles Main St.

“The organization is really focused on taking care of historic preservation in town and pulling the community together. Anything we can possibly do to help out the community we do,” said Cunha.

While Niles is focused on community building, it does not isolate itself from the rest of Fremont.

“We welcome everyone to Niles,” said Cunha. This was evident at the golf classic: Fremont City Councilwoman Anu Natarajan golfed her way through the eight holes with her two young daughters. Mayor Bob Wasserman, a sponsor of the event, showed up at the “Watering Hole” and briefly talked to residents.

An image of Niles as quintessential Normal Rockwell or quirky Charlie Chaplin is not mutually exclusive. As Manuel said, “We’re just a little odd and we like it that way."

For more information about Niles and upcoming events visit their website: www.niles.org

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