Pumpkin Patch Silver Lining

Roberto Vazquez
Jaemi and River Kehoe, age 4, pan for gold on Saturday,  September 30, at the El Dorado Frontier's Pumpkin Patch Day, the start of the Halloween season."

It was late Saturday morning, Jeff Barr looked a little tired, and rightfully so.

Barr, now the sole owner of El Dorado Frontier, was busily making last minute rounds for the annual Pumpkin Patch Day, the official start of the Halloween season.

The El Dorado Frontier includes a train ride, a carousel, gold panning, food and drink stand, picnic areas and other entertainment, including Saturday's live band, The Stan Zabek Band and their swing-blues sound.

Barr and his team worked late into Friday night to get everything just right. Now, he was too tired to clearly tell how the day would turn out. Unfortunately for Barr, mother nature brought gray skies, dark clouds and a slight chill in the morning air.

Barr shook his head and kept moving forward with his tasks.

The Mothers and Children

While Barr looked at the dark skies and did the cold, hard math of running this operation, Jaemi Kehoe and her daughter, River, arrived early and set up an area for a birthday party.

"We've been here before. River likes it a lot, so she's having her birthday party here today."

River beamed with joy, now that she was four years old.

Amanda Johnson and her three-year-old daughter, Annie, spoke with the Beachcomber, as well. 

The Garden Grove resident shared, "This was our first time to the pumpkin patch and train. It was great. It's not crowded, there's lots of photo opportunities and everything is up and running."

Meanwhile, Jessika Mirarchi and her four-year-old daughter, Liv, were busy panning for gold.

"Fossil! Fossil!" Liv yelled out with the joy of a future Indiana Jones.

"It's beautiful. I like that it's set up for younger kids and it's just a convenient, small space packed with lots of stuff, which is nice for the little ones."

Liv Mirarchi's excitement continued, unabated, "I think we should find some more treasures!"

For Crystal Angulo-Garcia, a resident of Long Beach, it was also a first visit. "We drive by all the time. We're always looking for things to do with the kids," adding, "For me, it's always tough to find things for kids to do and I wish there was more of this in the city. It's always so nice when you see things you can do as a family."

The Small Army

Fortunately for Barr, the day's dark clouds will pass.

More importantly, he has put together a team of young people who are seeing firsthand the importance of what they're offering here to the community.

There are Christian and Jonathan Aguilar, Barr's stepsons, who've taken on an active role as Barr faces an uphill battle with a weakened economy, recent vandalism and previous break-ins.

Christian Aguilar shared, "I got involved about six months ago. I run the internet, social media, the website and strategy for him (Barr)." His brother Jonathan was unavailable for Saturday, having worked long into Friday night. "It's a lot of work. Pick up the pumpkins the last couple of days, then set it all up. My brother is really, really tired. They've been working super late."

There's Tiona Jones, a photographer who joined Barr about a month ago. "I help out with the Instagram page and I also do the Yelp."

There are cousins, Gabriela Vargas, 22, and Sarita Vindas, who have been with Barr a short time, as well. 

As they waited at the snack stand for customers to begin strolling in, Vargas, a sophomore at CSULB majoring in psychology, said "I never really thought about being in nature, and it's very much a plus. The air, it's very fresh. It's always healthy coming here and doing this as an activity, especially now with kids turning more to screen time. I'm very grateful to be here."

Vindas, who graduated from UC Davis with a degree in design, added, "I like the environment, how quiet it is. My past jobs have been in retail. Working with different types of people, it's really nice to see everyone actually enjoying themselves with their families. It's a nice little environment."

A Little Bit of History

According to Aguilar, the Victory Special train was hand built by Phillip J. Martin, likely in an Art Deco design. "It had a more futuristic and modern, stream-lined look." He added, "The train was built in 1937. It was brought over here from Orange County. It used to look totally different." Aguilar shared he and his brother came here as little boys. "I came here as a kid, too, before it was all this. I used to come when it was just a train."

The two men who deserve much of the credit for starting this in the first place are Tony and Greg Ruvalo.

"They brought it over here in the 80s."

According to Aguilar, "They love what we've done to the place, completely transforming it."

He continued, "So, we're doing it for the families. We have the next generation here now and they're enjoying the next level of it. This is like a family heirloom now, so it's something we're trying to grow, trying to pass it on to our next generation, keep them rooted in Long Beach, because this is a piece of Long Beach history."

The Importance of Emotional Investments

As the day wound down, the rain picked up, putting a damper on the day. Crystal Angulo-Garcia and her children, Elia and Mateo Garcia, were joined by her sister, Rose Angulo, a public defender in the city of Orange.

Angulo-Garcia said, "There's so much you can do, just different draws and events here would be huge, even like a little beer garden during Oktoberfest."

"As a public defender, I think we should be investing in maintaining this, we should be investing and dedicating resources to keeping places like this open. It gives people a sense of their city and if kids have memories of going to places like this, they're less likely to come and vandalize it!"

And with that, Rose Angulo let out a laugh.

It was so obvious.

A community needs places for kids to be kids, places like El Dorado Frontier, where people like Jeff Barr are trying to find the silver lining in gray skies.



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