There were a lot of memories, good times and camaraderie shared Nov. 10 at La Strada Restaurant in San Pablo, where a group of folks who shared a golden time growing up in Richmond gather for a semiannual reunion.

They forged friendships on the city's playgrounds and baseball fields, the hallways at school (particularly Richmond Union High School), the corner store and places like Nicholl Park. Many of those favorite places are gone, but the memories are still vivid and the bonds created so long ago are still strong.

The attendees, who range in age from 70s to 90s, are brought together for these events by veteran comedian and Richmond native Ronnie Schell, who will turn 81 next month himself.

"These are the best vibes I've ever had," Schell told the group at last week's lunch. "As my wife says, you can take the boy out of Richmond, but you can't take Richmond out of the boy."

There was applause as news was shared about the city's triumph in landing the second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which they were told would open its first building in 2017. ("We'll all be dead by then," Schell wisecracked.)

There was also a lot of lamenting at how the reputation of the Chevron Richmond refinery has taken a pummeling, a marked change from when they were growing up or worked there.

And there were the memories of a time that seems innocent and far less complex than the modern world.

Connie Ray Jardine (Richmond High class of 1950) recalled that her first job was wearing skates as a 16-year-old to go between gas pumps at the Serve-Yourself station next to Nibs at the Richmond-El Cerrito border.

Don Jardine, RUHS '48, remembered taking classes at the new Contra Costa Junior College housed in a building at Kaiser shipyard No. 3.

Others described how the town looked before the war and construction of housing for defense workers filled what had been large areas of open fields.

Walter Pedretti, at 90 one of the oldest of the day's oldest attendees, said he was "born at home 150 feet from this location." In those days, San Pablo "was basically a farming community," he said. "I think there were only 700 people in the entire township."

San Pablo incorporated in 1948, and Pedretti, a 1940 graduate of Richmond High and recently returned veteran of World War II, became its first police chief at age 26, the youngest chief in the state. "I was the first officer on the street, Aug. 16, 1948," he said.

Pedretti held the post for 28 years, officially retiring in 1977, but still quite active.

"I've been in business in one form or another for 50 years," he said.

The volume in the banquet room grew loud as friends traded memories and updates about their lives. "I don't know how I finished my lunch because my hearing aid started ringing," quipped Ray Perasso, RUHS '48.

CARE PACKAGES FOR TROOPS: The group Their Angels will hold its eighth annual Holiday Packing and Toy Drive starting from 8 a.m. to noon on Dec. 1 at Hilltop Church of Christ, 3000 Hilltop Mall Road in Richmond.

The goal is to assemble 1,500 civilian rations -- complete with holiday cards and a personal note -- for troops deployed overseas and for the USO in Afghanistan and San Jose. Anyone who wants to help is welcome and should bring a new, unwrapped toy.

"Donations are needed to help make our packing a success," the group notes. "Some suggested items are: beef jerky, candy canes, razors, granola bars, socks, playing cards, adhesive bandages, snack and quart size baggies, single-serve Kool-Aid or Gatorade, personally written letters or cards of support and encouragement and monetary donations are always welcome."

The group is also seeking homemade cookies to include in the packages. For details on the cookies, send an email to Bethiestewart@gmail.com.

For details on Their Angels, visit www.theirangels.org or call Marva Lyons at 510-367-608.

WEST COUNTY NOTES: Awarding-winning Gospel artist Earnest Pugh headlines Unity Wellness Fest by the Bay at 5 p.m. Nov. 17 at Hilltop Community Church, 3118 Shane Drive in Richmond.

The event starts with a free health screening and demonstrations by the Richmond Fire Department.

That will be followed by the musical program featuring Pugh and other gospel acts.

For tickets or details, call 510-253-0020 or visit www.thealaf.org.

  • Barnes & Noble and Pasta Pomodoro at El Cerrito Plaza are participating in fundraisers for the El Cerrito High School speech and debate teams from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 2.

    Shop for books and gifts and stop for lunch or dinner, and a portion of your purchase will benefit the team. To participate, go to http://bit.ly/UEsZJB and print out the fundraiser fliers, then show them at the businesses on Dec. 2.

    "Last year, this fundraiser was a huge success for us, and we hope to do even better this year," says debate team parent Leslie Cohen. "Students will also be present at the Plaza handing out fliers and talking to folks about the team."

    The debate program has 55 students competing in more than 20 tournaments around the Bay Area and the state.

    "If folks cannot make it in person, they may also shop online at Barnes & Noble from Dec. 2-5 at bn.com/bookfairs, and they should type in our book fair ID number 10815793 at checkout and we will receive credit," Cohen adds.

    Contact Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/christreadway.