The Man Behind the Annual Niles Dog Show!
Don Dewey knows Niles like the back of his hand. He was born in 1938 on Mission Blvd (at a maternity home; the closest hospital was in San Jose) and raised in Niles by his mother, Dorothea Dewey, and father John Thomas Dewey. Don’s grandfather came from Ohio in the early 1900’s. His mother, Dorothea, was born in San Lorenzo in 1911 and moved to Niles in 1913 when her father bought a ranch on Mission.
Don’s great-great-grandfather was John Harding, President Warren G. Harding’s nephew. Prior to 1909, there was no bridge crossing the Alameda Creek. John Harding owned a barge that he used to transport horses and buggies across the creek for travel to Sunol and Pleasanton. In 1909, a black steel bridge was built over the creek and named the Harding Bridge. Then, in 1948, the Harding Bridge was replaced by the Stanley Bridge. At the time, Don was 10 years old and was taken out of school to cut the ribbon on the new bridge.
The back of the Vallejo Mills property belonged to his grandfather. It was given to him as compensation after he was blinded in an industrial accident. His grandmother owned a cabin on the property; Don remembers the rope from the cabin to the outhouse that helped his grandfather find his way after he was blinded. During the Essanay Studio days, the crew would give his grandmother $3 so that she could take the Peerless bus and trolley into Oakland for shopping at Montgomery Wards. While she was gone, they would use the cabin for the movies they were filming.
Fast-forward to 1998: The Niles Main Street Association was looking for an event to sponsor in July of that year. Gene Keller, the promotional director for NMSA, called Don and said that his name “kept coming up” as the person who could organize and stage the event, which was to be Niles’ first annual Dog Show.
Don said, “Well, I guess I can put together a little something…” He immediately called Carol Spindler, Natalie Munn, and Deb Carey for help. Together, they obtained permits from the City of Fremont to stage the Dog Show at the 3rd Street Park, and gathered some vendors together—Boss Hogg’s BBQ for food, and other vendors for T-shirts and “dog stuff.”
They borrowed 25 bales of hay to create the dog show arena. What Don learned that year, and never forgot it, was to ask the City of Fremont to turn off the sprinklers for that day! This year, he is borrowing 60 bales of hay—the Dog Show has grown into its 16th year!
He shakes his head and smiles, and says “I couldn’t do it all without George, Deb and Natalie, and so many other folks in town who happily give their time each year for that Dog Show.”
Don’s buddy, Bo, a cattle dog, was his sidekick at the Dog Show for 17 years. He helped the show set up on Friday nights, but never got entered into a show! He was in therapy for a few years over that, but recovered his dignity when the organizers created the “Bo Dewey Cup for Best in Show,” which is still awarded today and is etched with the name of each year’s winner. Don’s new sidekick is Chili, whom you will find setting up the dog show with his master on Friday night and training people to spoil him with treats. The Niles Dog Show gives 60% of its profits for spaying and neutering dogs, cats, and rabbits in the City of Fremont.
Don has owned the Turquoise Shop in downtown Niles for 14 years and offers beautiful turquoise jewelry, baskets, pottery, rugs, and blankets—all authentic Indian crafts, mostly from the Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi Reservations in the Southwest. Two or three times a year, he flies to Albuquerque, rents a car, and drives 140 miles to Gallup, New Mexico, where he picks out hand-made crafts and unusual stones, such as opals, onyx, and amber, to display for sale at his shop.
Don has served on the NMSA board, on and off, for 15 years. He has also been a member of the Niles Canyon Homeless Task Force for the City of Fremont for 19 years and still works with the homeless, many of whom help with the NMSA and Merchants’ Association events throughout the year.
Nowadays, you’ll often find Don out in front of his shop with friends, solving tough political issues and critical world problems. Actually, he says, at their age, it’s mostly a communal report about the latest hip replacement surgeries, cataract surgeries, and what’s for dinner.
You’ll find Don at the Niles Dog Show this July 19th, Saturday, feverishly staging the contests and other doggish proceedings that will be taking place.