CLEAR LAKE | For Connie Valens and Irma Norton, the spirit of their late brother Ritchie Valens lives on at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.
"For us, this is where Ritchie last stood. This is where he last played, where he last meeted and greeted. He poured out his life music," Connie said. "This is where he came to celebrate with his passion, to share that. Unfortunately, it was the last time."
Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and their pilot Roger Peterson were killed when their plane crashed north of Clear Lake on Feb. 3, 1959, after a performance at the Surf Ballroom.
Valens was just 17.
THE SISTERS AND THEIR BROTHERS Bob Morales of Prunedale, Calif., and Mario Ramirez, Watsonville, Calif., have been to the Surf many times. The siblings will gather for Saturday's screening at the Lake Theater of the 1987 film "La Bamba" starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie. Norton lives in Las Vegas and Valens makes her home in Okoboji.
"We get treated so good. You guys love us and you always want us to come back," Irma said. "Honestly, I can't imagine my life without the Surf. It holds special meaning for different reasons for everyone."
Valens hosted a screening of the film in Okoboji last year.
"It never gets old. People love the movie," Norton said.
"The film is about more than music. It's about family. It's about relationships," Valens said. "Lou Diamond Phillips brings Ritchie back to life. I am really excited to see the public's response."
Norton said the Surf is an emotional place for the family.
"It's a place where we can cry," she said.
Valens was 8 and Norton was 7 when their brother was killed.
THE SIBLINGS HAVE LOANED some of Ritchie's personal memorabilia including a wallet their brother carried at the time of his death to the Surf Ballroom & Museum.
The sisters attended Friday's kids show in the ballroom. They like to get out and dance with the kids and help to build musical memories with a new generation of Clear Lake young people.
But this year Valens was sidelined after a fall at her home in November resulted in a fractured ankle.
What do they hope visitors to the Surf learn about their brother and his music?
"Ritchie was just a real guy. He was a real young guy. He was only 17. Most people don't realize he was only 17," Connie said.
"A lot of people think Lou Diamond Phillips is Ritchie. When they come to the Surf we want them to find out who he really was and then take that out there and share it with people."