MEET TOOTER AND GINGERSNAP: CLEARLAKE’S WALKERS AND GRAND MARSHALLS FOR THE 62nd ANNUAL REDBUD PARADE

If you have driven through Clearlake you’ve probably seen the walkers – that cute elderly couple who walk in step while always holding hands.

Some towns get a reputation (good or bad) from an event or a series of events. A town’s mindset can become shaped by these events, but its mindset can also be shaped by an elderly couple walking down the street hand in hand. Clearlake has a new symbol – a symbol of love. As we drive by, seeing the walkers reminds us of what’s important and good and beautiful in our town. We share seeing them with our co-workers, our family, our friends. We share photos and stories of them on Facebook and this sharing changes our town for the better.

If you’ve ever talked with the walkers, you quickly realized that they are humble people: Ron and Millie Cole were both stationed in Washington D.C. while serving in the United States Marine Corps (thus the in-sync cadence of their walking). Ron served as a military photographer; Millie was a secretary at the front desk of the Marine Corps Photographic Archive when Ron walked in and met her for the first time. That was June 1956. They were married only 6 months later.

When service in the Marine Corps was up, the Coles moved to Ron’s hometown in rural Ohio, where they bought a home and had a baby boy. Dissatisfied with the snow and ice of Ohio, Ron moved his family to southern California. Then they set out for a tour of the world — first to Ron’s life-long dream destination, Australia, where they lived for two years. Then they sailed on an ocean liner to Capetown, Africa and around to the Canary Islands. After that, it was on to England, France, Switzerland, and Italy, and finally back to the U. S.

The Coles have lived as far north as Indian, Alaska and as far south as Miami, Florida. Ron used both his camera and oil paints to capture the beauty of everywhere they traveled.

When he turned 50, though, Ron pursued another childhood dream. He ran off to join the circus (with Millie, of course). Ron and Millie became “Tooter” and “Gingersnap” clowns in the Carson & Barnes 5-Ring Circus. They traveled with the circus all over the country for four years.

In 1994, they bought property in Clearlake and built their dream home from scratch: shovel and pick, hammer and saw. They have lived here ever since.

As the years progressed, Ron’s eyesight worsened, so he can no longer drive. Undaunted, Ron turned this disability into a way to improve his health — by walking everywhere; to the grocery store, the hardware store, the VA clinic, even to Wal-Mart. They average 70 miles a week–every mile hand-in-hand.

For 62 years they have shared life together, worked together, and walked together — a symbol of love.

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