On any given election-day morning, Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen never knows how the day will end. She has no clue whether some precincts will have any glitches, or which candidates and measures will win, and which will lose.
But one thing she has learned to depend upon is that early in the day of every election, 75-year-old Dennis Bambauer of Redding will show up bearing treats for the staff.
Bambauer said he’s followed that tradition since 1971, which made Cathy Darling Allen laugh and hold up three fingers, when asked her age when Bambauer’s sweet tradition began.
Over the last 45 years, Bambauer has supplied election-day treats for three sitting county clerks: Richard Brennan (1962-1981), Ann Reed (1982 – 2004), and finally, for Cathy Darling Allen (2003 – present) and her staff.
In the ’70s, donuts were the preferred treat of choice, from the bygone Donut Wheel, owned by Dennis Bambauer’s cousin.
Sherrill Bambauer said she was an election worker in her precinct, which is how she and husband Dennis learned how hard election office staffers worked.
“We would deliver the ballots at the end of the day to the election department where those workers had to keep counting all night,” Sherrill said. “We sort of felt sorry for them, and I guess that’s what started us with delivering the donuts originally. Now it has become tradition.”
In 2003, Dennis Bambauer became a fan of Andrea Charroin’s baking when she and husband Westley opened Rene-Joule Patisserie just kitty corner from the clerk’s office. Charroin remembers the first time Bambauer discussed a special election-day order.
“The first year the bakery was open Dennis came in and placed an order for 100 cookies,” Charroin said.
“He wanted them delivered to the election office in the morning so the office could have treats throughout the day. I thought this was a sweet gesture and didn’t really think anything more. Several of the people who worked in our local election office were our customers. When we delivered the cookies they were excited and then told me about how Mr. Bambauer always delivers treats for every election. I felt really proud that he trusted us to deliver on this occasion because he was on vacation at the time.”
It should be noted that Bambauer’s back story makes his gift of cookies delivered to government election workers even more striking. In December of 1944, the United States government confined Bambauer at Manzanar Camp in ironically named Independence, California. It was an internment compound for Japanese Americans. His mother was Japanese. He was a 7-year-old orphan.
“It was decided that any individual who had any degree of Japanese blood were national enemies,” Bambauer said. “So, I was there for two years. At 7 I was considered an enemy of the state, and incarcerated.”
Bambauer survived, grew up and thrived. He married and had a family. He held a high-power position as a staff consultant for the California Teachers Association, responsible for seven counties.
Decades passed. He grew older and retired. Bambauer was eventually diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He lost his ability to drive.
Meanwhile, Andrea, the baker whose treats Bambauer adored, closed the bakery in 2005 to return to college to pursue a teachers credential, something Bambauer encouraged her to do.
And Charroin’s sons, Rex and Fox, whose French middle names – Rene’ and Joule’ – who were preschoolers hanging out at the bakery as their parents worked; grew into young men. Rex is now 18, and Fox is 15.
But Bambauer insisted that the tradition continue.
That’s why, for 13 years of Bambauer’s 45-year-tradition- even after Charroin closed her bakery 11 years ago – Dennis Bambauer has placed an order with Andrea Charroin for special election-day treats.
“Mr. Bambauer always calls about two weeks before an election,” Charroin said. “He always calls me his ‘cookie friend’ – and I feel pretty darn special! He wants a variety of cookies and a cake. Dennis loves a cookie we made at the bakery – a triple chocolate orange pecan cookie that I always try to include. This year he has asked for a chocolate cake, so chocolate cake it is. Dennis likes to deliver the cookies in person, I suspect the election office enjoys his visits as much as I do.”
“I have been here at the elections department since 2003, and Dennis has brought treats for all the folks working the election since then,” Darling-Allen said. “One employee, who has been here longer – since the mid-’90s — remembers him as ever-present as well. We are so touched and grateful to have someone repeatedly acknowledge the hard work and dedication that is required to bring off a successful election.”
As Bambauer wished, Andrea baked-on for each election day. And because Bambauer could no longer drive, the plan grew to include Westley picking up Bambauer so the two could deliver the cookies, and then go out to breakfast where the guys would discuss life, and old cars.
“I think Wes was getting the better deal,” joked Andrea.
However, this year, there was a change of plans when Wes was unexpectedly called out of town on business.
So it was Tuesday that Andrea and Westley’s sons, Rex and Fox Charroin, picked up Bambauer at Sherrill Bambauer’s financial planning and insurance services office. The Charroin brothers delivered him to the elections office at 8:30 a.m.
Rex pushed a wheelchair that contained Bambauer, who had a grip on Andrea’s chocolate cake, adorned with a butterfly. Fox carried his mother’s brownies, and an assortment of cookies: chocolate chip, Russian tea cakes, snicker doodles, and, Bambauer’s favorite: triple- chocolate orange pecan.
Inside the clerk’s office, they said they had something to give to Cathy Darling, who arrived in the lobby to greet them.
“Oh, thank you!” Darling-Allen said to Dennis. “We appreciate this so very much.”
And then her attention turned to the towering young men who’d delivered not just the treats, but Bambauer.
She exclaimed about how she remembered them when they were little boys at the bakery, and she couldn’t believe how tall they’d grown – words to which the Charroin boys have grown accustomed.
Darling-Allen and Bambauer chatted for a few minutes. Bambauer told her how much he appreciated her hard work, and Darling-Allen told him how grateful she was for his dedication to such a sweet and thoughtful tradition.
Earlier, before Bambauer’s morning arrival, Darling-Allen expounded upon why she felt such great gratitude for Bambauer’s culinary token of appreciation.
“Elections operate more like a private concern than most other government offices,” she said. “We have an unforgivable deadline, we work overtime as required, sometimes with very little notice, and staff works hard and conscientiously without a lot of fanfare or recognition. We — statewide! — take this responsibility very, very seriously, and I’m so proud of the great work the Shasta County elections team does locally. I am very proud and thankful that others see that work and are grateful, too – we so appreciate this small gesture from Dennis each election.”
Darling-Allen said she and her staff also appreciate Charroin, the treats’ creator.
“We have been so lucky to have Andrea continue to act as pastry chef for this,” Darling-Allen said. “We’ve had her famous lemon bars, brownies, and many kinds of amazing cookies, like her snickerdoodles.”
Charroin is happy her baked goods bring joy to so many, but she considers herself fortunate, too.
“It’s not that I didn’t value our system, I just took the right to vote for granted,” Andrea said.
“I learned to honor our election system and our right to vote more seriously through Mr. Bambauer’s display. I barely bake for my own family any more, but I am honored to fill Mr. Bambauer’s requests.”
It’s not lost on Bambauer that, in the scheme of things, delivering cookies to election workers may not rank high in the order of life-changing acts. But he said it’s an important gesture.
“I only wanted to help make the workers’ job easier,” he said. “I guess I thought it was one of those nice things I could do to say ‘thank you’. I feel good to know that after all these years, the election workers of today continue to be honored. I do think it’s significant that we’ve done this for so long – one of those good things that’s carried on.”
When asked if Bambauer ever samples the cookies before they’re delivered, his mouth made its way to slow grin.
“You – I – have a task at hand,” he said with mock seriousness. “The task is not to eat the cookies, but to allow the workers a mid-morning snack. And yes, I do know they appreciate it. I get a thank-you note every year.”
The treats were taken to the workers’ break room, and it was time for Bambauer to leave.
With that, the Charroin brothers eased Bambauer’s wheelchair out of the clerk’s office, down the sidewalk, and across the street to the very block that once held the family’s bakery.
Although this is a tradition that Bambauer began, Andrea Charroin said she and her family are committed to continuing the gesture for every election, even when Bambauer can’t.
“My family loves Dennis,” Charroin said.
“The boys are so lucky to have listened to his stories, and feel honored to know him. Dennis is walking American history. He and his lovely wife Sherrill are such an asset to our community. My family has decided that we will carry of the tradition of treats to the election office in honor of Mr. Bambauer, even when he is no longer able. It is our privilege to vote, and to make our community better, even if it is one cookie at a time.”
When told of the Charroin commitment, Bambauer’s eyes welled.
“Well, hopefully we can continue doing this for another 30 or 40 years,” he said.
“Can we tell the world that hopefully, this will go on?”
Then Bambauer heard the reply he’d hope for, and smiled.