Grand Marshals with Cal U Ties

Sep 24, 2019

50-year members of the California Volunteer Fire Department are selected to lead the Homecoming parade on Oct. 12.

  • - Jon Bittner

  • - Tom Hartley Jr.

  • - Wesley Sheets


Homecoming at Cal U is both a campus tradition and a community event. 

The 70th annual Homecoming Parade, which begins at noon Saturday, Oct. 12, will be led by three men who each have an amazing 50 years (and counting) of service with the California Volunteer Fire Department. 

The grand marshals ­-- Tom Hartley Jr., Jon Bittner ´68, and Wesley “Chuck” Sheets — also have interesting ties to the University. 

Homecoming Weekend is Oct. 11-13. For information about Vulcan Fest and Homecoming Weekend, including a schedule, parking information, and a registration link for the Vulcan 5K Run/Walk.

All three firefighters were honored with a surprise party in August at the Convocation Center. Among the guests were Cal U President Geraldine M. Jones and her husband, Jeffrey. 

“Seeing the impact they’ve had on so many with their unprecedented years of volunteer service made me realize they were the ideal people to be invited to be our grand marshals,” President Jones said. 

The Chief 

Hartley, the borough’s fire chief since 1981, retired from Cal U in 2013 after more than 40 years as a maintenance repairman. He missed the Homecoming festivities for 41 years as he tended to Adamson Stadium on busy football game days. 

He saw his first Homecoming Parade since he was a youngster in 2014, when he served on the fire department’s standby crew in case of fire incidents. Last year he drove the truck that carried the 2007 national semifinalist football team, which was honored at Homecoming. 

Both of his children — Tom ’97 and Lisa Adams ´04 -- are Cal U graduates. 

Though grateful and very loyal to both the town and university, the straightforward Hartley is looking forward to again being behind the scenes. 

“Let’s put it this way: I am ready for the 50th-year celebration to be over,” he said with a laugh. “The guys are getting out of hand with everything, but I guess you don’t see too many people having 50 years with any organization.” 

Are you Kidding? 

Bittner, the safety officer and past assistant chief, has 53 years of service with CVFD. 

A longtime member and past president of California Borough Council, he spent more than 37 years as a teacher in the California Area School District’s elementary and middle schools after earning his Cal U degree in elementary education. One of his two children, Amanda Lansey, is a 2007 Cal U graduate. 

More than 20 years ago, he helped to start a student membership program that recruits Cal U students as volunteers. 

Did he ever think he’d be leading the parade? 

“If you would have asked me that this was possible, that would the furthest thing from my mind,” he said. 

“It was an honor to be asked. The University has always been supportive of the fire department, which we greatly appreciate.” 

From Engineer to Center Stage 

As the fire engineer, Sheets is the one who transports the firefighters, carries equipment and pumps the water at fire scenes.

 He also drove the fire truck at many Homecoming parades in the 1970s and 1980s, before his children’s activities began to occupy the day. 

Adrienne Fletcher ´00, Wendy Shinsky ´04, and Wesley Sheets ´13 are all Cal U graduates. His father, Wesley, was a longtime maintenance superintendent at Cal U as well as a firefighter for 28 years. 

Now retired after a 45-year career in information technology, Sheets echoed the sentiments of Hartley, who is also his brother-in-law. 

“It’s something you look forward to, but with a little apprehension,” said Sheets about the parade. “Because what we do as firefighters is something we want to do, and we’re not looking for any accolades. 

“Our pay is the gratification of helping others, but the banquet and being in the parade is certainly very nice.”