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Winters Express
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Grand Marshals
are all sisters

Staff writer
The Grand Marshal for the 80th annual Winters Youth Day Parade is nominated by members of the community. According to Mike Sebastian, chairman of Youth Day Parade for the past 38 years, “the nominations are looked at by the Youth Day Committee, which decides on the Grand Marshal for the year. The criterion is simple: The person must have done something to benefit the youth of Winters and the community as a whole.
“The Thomas Sisters are a great example of this,” says Sebastian. “They have been involved in everything from Grad Nite, the Swim Team, Scouts, National Cemetery Wreath Project and much more. They have spearheaded fundraising for Grad Nite for the past 15 years or so. Every senior can go to Grad Nite without it costing them anything.”
The Thomas sisters may have inherited genes for unstinting community service since their mother, Barbara Thomas, was honored as Grand Marshal a few years ago. Another indication of their attitude toward participating in the community is found in the tag line on Susie’s email: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” said Margaret Mead.
In brief, the sisters have been involved with Grad Nite in one way or another since around 2001 or 2002 when Susie was helping on the existing Grad Nite committee that was trying to come up with new fundraising ideas. Prior to that time, there had been many small activities, like pizza parties and parking cars to raise some funds for Grad Nite. Susie suggested a more all-inclusive event that was to combine a dinner-dance, BigBoard drawing for cash prizes, silent and live auctions. That was the origin of Senior Spirit Nite, which functions as the main fundraiser for Grad Nite festivities.
Every year, the Thomas sisters buy what they call “Sister Tickets” for the Big Board — tickets that they share equally if they win anything.
It was a natural progression from Susie, the oldest of the sisters through Sally, Nancy, Debbie and Patty, the youngest sister, to be part of the committee that puts together Spirit Nite and Grad Nite — the Grad Nite Parents Group. All of the sisters have worked for many years in different capacities on the committee: chairperson, treasurer, silent auctioneer, decorations, donations, you name it.
All together, they have 14 children, so their more active years coincided with the years when their children were in high school.
“We do plan to continue supporting it after the last of the kids are out, but may not be as actively involved,” they all agreed. Debbie added, “We’ll probably be back when the grandkids start school.”
The goal is to raise enough money to totally fund Grad Nite for all Winters seniors so that they spend the night of graduation in a safe and sober environment, having fun with their classmates and not out drinking and driving.
In a Winters Express letter to the editor, Julie Ries, the current president of the Grad Nite Parent Group, recently wrote, “According to, with annual events like proms and graduation parties, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day has been labeled ‘The 100 Deadliest Days’ for teenagers.”
When asked if, over the years, they have been able to streamline the logistics for Spirit Night and Grad Nite, there was much laughter in the room and a couple of the sisters pointed to some gray hair. Sally acknowledged that email has lightened the load quite a bit, but it is still a lot of work. They all acknowledge that there are so many volunteers and people who help, that it is not just them, but a huge number of people that make Grad Nite happen. They start recruiting help early in the school year.
They give particular mention to Troy DJ Barnett who has been supporting Senior Spirit Nite and Grad Nite activities over the last several years. Also, Chris Novello and the Winters Hihg School culinary students have prepared and served fantastic dinners for Spirit Nite.
“These donations of time and talent greatly helped us in achieving our goal of providing, at no cost, a safe and sober event to all Winters High School graduating seniors,” said Sally.
Grad Nite passes swiftly for the seniors who finish graduation around 10 p.m. and then are bussed to the Grad Nite location, where there is dancing, video games, sketch artists, food and a hypnotist, among other fun stuff. At about 3 a.m. donuts are brought in. There is a little Big Board game and this year the top prize is a laptop. The seniors even receive raffle tickets — they do not have to pay for a thing for the evening. Come sunrise, the students are bussed back to Winters for the Seniors Breakfast.
“We make it work for them,” Patty says. “It costs roughly $150 per kid, and they also walk out with $25 to $50 dollars in gifts.”
The Thomas sisters agreed that one of the most touching things is that the students realize that they will never be together in this way again, as a class, as a group of people who have grown up together, and experienced the world together in the city of Winters.
The sisters recalled with glee the year after Susie stepped down from being chair of the Grad Night Parent Group that the sisters won the BigBoard prize of $7,500. They were astounded. Four sisters were present at the event, but Patty could not attend that year. She recalled, “I got a call from my sisters late at night and all I could hear was…” (She made a sound like a group of squirrels being caught in a high speed fan.) Finally someone screamed, ‘We won! We won! We won!’ The next morning, a Sunday, at our weekly breakfast at our parents’ home ranch, we took a photo of all of us with the check.”
Youth Day happens on Saturday, April 30. The theme is “The Journey of Youth. Don’t Stop Believing!” All are invited to come join in the festivities and see the Thomas sisters as Grand Marshals of the Youth Day Parade, and also to witness Mike Sebastian on his Farewell Tour as Youth Day Chairman.
More information about Youth Day can be found online at