Let’s Talk Clovis: The Story of John and Alta Polson

Alta Polson (1900-1998) and John Polson (1897-1996). (Courtesy of Clovis Museum)

John Polson married Alta Cole on September 1, 1921 at 6:30 a.m. at her parent’s home. The couple would drive his old Model T Ford to San Francisco for their honeymoon. The roads were narrow and they took a ferryboat from Oakland to San Francisco (Bay Bridge constructed 1933).

John was twelve when his family arrived from Pawnee, Oklahoma in 1909. He remembers riding his bicycle down Fulton (Clovis Ave) to the Sunnyside area of Fresno. He would leave his bike and take the streetcar to downtown Fresno. His unguarded bike would be there when he returned. 

Adventurous John would ride down the 1893 flume from Shaver Lake to the Clovis Lumber Mill, which was located at the present site of Clark Intermediate School.

The courting couple would ride the train to Big Creek to see the snow in the winter. One date they both remember occurred on November 10, 1918. It was during WWI and John had been drafted and he was shipping out from Fresno with 450 draftees. The armistice was declared thirty minutes prior to their scheduled train departure. 

While describing “early” Clovis, John stated: “In those days if you walked down the street and saw some guy you didn’t know, you’d find out who the hell he was. Now, you walk down the street and you don’t know anybody.”

Alta was born in Clovis in 1900. Her grandfather Jacob A. Cole and his brother Stephen Cole arrived in Clovis in 1872. Stephen homesteaded 320 acres in the Red Bank district. His son Clovis Cole became nationally known as the “Wheat King of the United States”. Our town bears his name.

Alta’s father Alvin R. Cole was the son of Jacob Cole. Alvin was a rancher and would also serve as Clovis Marshall.  Alta graduated from Clovis High School in 1918. She began training as a nurse at the Fresno Burnett Sanitarium. Her tenure was during the flu epidemic and after eight exhausting months she decided to enroll at the Fresno Normal School and become a teacher. She received her teaching credentials in 1920. She taught in our elementary schools and also served as principal.

John graduated from Clovis High in 1918 and earned 16 athletic letters by excelling in tennis, basketball, baseball and track. 

John worked for the Fresno County Agriculture Department for 37 years. He dedicated 54 consecutive years as a judge of agricultural exhibits at the Fresno Fair. 

John served as a Clovis School Board member for three terms and on the City of Clovis Planning Board. He was elected to the Clovis City Council and was elected Mayor in 1972.

During his reelection bid in 1970, he received a questionnaire from the Clovis City Employees Association and the Clovis City Fireman requesting specific information that John believed would obligate his decisions to the two groups. He refused to answer the questions and published a newspaper ad stating he represented all the people of Clovis and would make his decisions based on that premise.

Another reelection ad stated that he had accomplished the following: “Two 4-lane State highways in Clovis, 2 miles on Shaw, 1 mile on Clovis Avenue and one 4-lane County highway, Willow Avenue and Dakota to Shaw; looking for tax benefits of new subdivisions.”  

In 1984, John was selected grand marshal of the Clovis Rodeo parade. He had attended the first 1914 Clovis Festival founded by the Clovis Woman’s Club that would become the Clovis Rodeo Association. 

Both John and Alta remained active community leaders until their deaths. They are a part of our rich heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.