New President Elected at NABO 50th Anniversary Celebration in Los Banos


Young dancers at Los Banos Basque Club picnic

Nancy Zubiri, Editor

The recent Basque picnic in Los Banos was a three-day affair this year. The annual festival in this California ranching town is usually held on the third Sunday in May. This year, the Los Banos Basque Club hosted the 50th anniversary celebration of North American Basque Organizations (NABO) and the local club’s annual festivities were expanded through the weekend to include activities to honor the umbrella organization.

NABO’s annual summer convention meeting on Friday was attended by many NABO delegates and past officers from different Basque communities, mainly from California, Nevada and Idaho. Delegates chose Jean Flesher of Salt Lake City as their new president, replacing Philippe Acheritogaray of Marin County, who was the NABO president for the past five years.

“My plan is to try to get NABO to promote programs that will not only keep Basque culture alive for our kids’ generation, but for the one past that,” said Flesher, when asked about his presidency.

As part of the opening ceremony on Saturday, President Mikel Zabalbeascoa, the new president of the Los Banos Basque Club, publicly offered condolences for Jean Pierre Arambel, the recent president of the club who died unexpectedly in April at age 42 of unknown causes.

Los Banos’ mayor, Paul Llanez, attended the opening event. Saturday’s activities included a mus tournament, Basque chorizo and lukainka contests, folk dancing and bertsolari performances. Bertsolaris Sebastian Lizaso, Aitor Mendiluze and Xabi Paya came from the Basque Country and were joined in Los Banos by Basque American bertsolaris Martin Goichoechea, Johnny Curutchet and Todor Azurtza, who all competed in the challenging art form known as bertsolaritza, in which singers are given a topic and must make up bertsos (verses) on the spot.


In the evening, many of the picnic-goers ate dinner at the local historic Woolgrowers Restaurant and enjoyed an outdoor dance next to the restaurant. Jean Flesher’s band Amerikanuak entertained the crowd.

Sunday, the traditional picnic day, started with a mass with Bishop Emeritus Armando Ochoa and Father Anton Egiguren. Afterwards, a couple of wood choppers raced to cut logs in half while the crowd cheered them on. The club cooked up a delicious barbecue lamb lunch that also included beans, lamb stew, salad, bread, cheese and rice pudding.

Afternoon festivities were emceed by the club’s vice president, singer Christopher Bengochea. They included dance performances by groups from San Francisco, Fresno, Los Banos and Bakersfield, plus a 40-strong Klika with band members from all over California.

Los Banos was celebrating the 59th anniversary of its festival. This small ranching community in Northern California has been home to several Basque ranching families since the 1880s. They chose the date of the third Sunday in May as their festival at their very first meeting. To learn more about the Los Banos Basque community, check out “Travel Guide to Basque America” from Amazon.