Long before the “Mouse” began his takeover of Anaheim in 1954, long before Universal Studios revved up their first tram ride in 1964, and even before Six Flags put the “Magic” in the “Mountain” of  Valencia in 1971, there was  “Conejo Valley Days”.

            Originating in the late forties, Conejo Valley Days began as a “Community Circus” located on the old Jungleland compound site where the Civic Arts Plaza now stands. In the early fifties, a community parade was added to the circus festivities. Almost all area residents participated in the short parade route which ran from Conejo School Road to the Jungleland site. It didn’t take long before small groups of enterprising individuals began setting up fund raising food booths to raise money for specific causes.

            As interest in Conejo Valley Days grew, more events were added. The Whiskeroo contest for men and Western Dress Contest for ladies became part of the annual event. A Bar-B-Que was added to feed the crowds and help raise funds for local charities. By the mid fifties, rides, entertainment and a beauty pageant joined the list of  festivities.

            In the summer of 1957, the first official Conejo Valley Days Community Activities Committee was formed. Ever since, a special “theme” contest is held to select the design of that year’s official CVD badge. Each badge is designed to reflect a specific event of that year. The Bi-Centennial of 1976 was “Conejo Salutes the Red, White & Blue, 1999; Country Friends at Century’s End” followed by the year 2000 “Y2K The Country Way” and this year’s theme “Conejo Fun In 2001".

            In 1960, the  “Honorary Mayor’s Race” was born with local resident’s supporting their candidates by rasing money earmarked for their designated charities. That year, The Junior Women’s Club’s candidate Bob Talley was named the first “Honorary Mayor” of Conejo Valley Days. Their winning dollars helped to build the Conejo Community Center, which still stands today at Dover and Hendrix Avenue. Talley’s title of “Honorary Mayor” became official when, in 1964, the city incorporated and he became the first elected Mayor of the “new” City of Thousand Oaks.

            Now that the city had a “real” mayor, the name “Honorary Mayor’s Race” was changed to the present day title of  “Grand Marshal Race For Charity”. In 1972, Grand Marshall candidates were re-named to reflect a western theme with “Ma” Barker winning the coveted title. No matter the changes in the name of the race, or the winner of the contest, the goal remains the same: to raise funds to support local service organizations and their sponsored charities and have a great time in the process!

            Every year since 1957, the Grand Marshal Race for Charity has raised thousand of dollars for local clubs and organizations through fun activities during the six weeks of Conejo Valley Days. The “race” begins with the “Kick-Off Picnic” and ends with the Grand Marshal Final Countdown when the candidate who has raised the most money is awarded the title  “Grand Marshal”.

            The winning candidate has the honor of presiding over the remaining events of CVD,  including the Chili Cook Off, Whiskeroo and Badgeroo contests and, of course, leading the prestigious Parade of  floats, bands and equestrians down the five mile stretch of  Thousand Oaks Boulevard. The Grand Marshal also has the privilege of cutting the ribbon to officially open the five day Conejo Valley Days Carnival.

            During the final week of CVD, the spirit of that very first Conejo Valley Days magically transforms the cold, barren vacant lot by Conejo Creek Park into a spectacular wonderland of lights, rides, laughter and fun. All who pass through the gates are transported back in time to a simpler era before cell phones, email and traffic jams. Before multimillion dollar amusement parks, whose admission prices for a family of four are as much as a car payment, sprang up across the countryside. A time when we celebrated the spirit of community. When neighbors knew each other and customers were addressed by their first names when they walked into a local business.

            The aromas emanating from the vide variety of food booths, selling everything from cotton candy to Indian fry bread, entice even the most health conscious consumer to indulge. Forget the cholesterol and the calories. This night is for fun!

            Hypnotic lights of the Ferris wheel turn parents into children as they remember when it was their small hand being held by their parent’s, as they waited their turn on line, the same way they hold their own child’s hand this night. For one magical moment, the demands of daily life fade away in the spinning and twirling of the carnival rides. Game booths beckon with huge prizes and enticing barker’s calls. Even though everyone knows their chances of taking home one of the enormous stuffed animals is small, they don’t really care because they also know all the money spent will go, not to some huge anonymous corporation, but directly to one of the several hundred charities the carnival participants sponsor.

            Except for small operating costs, every nickel collected at each and every game or food booth goes to support the many non-profit organizations in the community, who in turn provide needed assistance to a wide range of charities. Eat a hot dog, feed a needy family. Take a chance on that cute teddy bear, help an abused woman and her children find safe shelter.

            And while it my be true that Magic Mountain has the fastest roller coasters, and Universal has the best tram ride, and Disneyland has...well, Disneyland, they don’t have the one thing the Conejo Days Carnival has had from the very first day of its existence: a commitment to help local charities and non-profit groups raise much needed funds to help enrich the lives of less fortunate individuals here at home, and around the world.

            What began as a small “Community Circus” has grown into the nation’s largest all-volunteer community event. According to 1999 CVD Chair Francois Rene Lussier , “Conejo Valley Days provides more than two hundred local clubs and organizations an annual opportunity to come together

and raise money from their favorite charities and have fun doing it! An average of just over $250,000 is raised each year by all the local groups and their numerous events.”

            The venue might be a bit less prestigious than that of a modern Southern California amusement park, the rides a bit shorter, the lines a bit longer, but the look in the faces of the youngsters and adults turned into youngsters, is the same today as it was more than fifty years ago. With the continued support of the hard working volunteers and the entire community, Conejo Valley Days will continue to transport a little bit of the past into the present and carry on the tradition of supporting local charities while bringing smiles to the faces of Thousand Oaks families for many years to come.  

     Non-fiction Short Story
     Ventura County Fair