Making a Journey of a Lifetime Possible

Los Banos Future Farmers of America raises $20,000 to help send veterans to Washington, DC

Los Banos FFA leaders and other current and former citizens from the City prior to the start of the April 14 Fresno State/Air Force Baseball Game.   Photo provided by Los Banos FFA

Los Banos FFA leaders and other current and former citizens from the City prior to the start of the April 14 Fresno State/Air Force Baseball Game.   Photo provided by Los Banos FFA

This is about two Central Valley organizations doing a lot of good in our community.  

Central Valley Honor Flight has made it possible for dozens of area veterans to see the memorials in Washington, DC that recognize their service to our country.  

By arranging these cross country trips, Honor Flight mobilizes hundreds of volunteers to send the veterans off at the beginning of their special journey, and to welcome them back upon their return.

The Los Banos Chapter of Future Farmers of America, like many FFA organizations, nurture the passion young people have for agriculture and leadership.  

We see them in their blue jackets with gold embroidery at the Merced County Springtime Fair and at other events.

In the fall of 2016, chapter members and their adult leadership were in Washington for a conference.  At the same time, Central Valley Honor Flight was there taking veterans to various military venues.  

Chapter leaders changed their schedule so they could meet up with the veterans.  The Chapter paid for a wreath that was laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

According to Paul Loeffler who works with Central Valley Honor Flight and is the radio host of Hometown Heroes, a program where many veterans share their stories,

“The kids were really moved by meeting our vets.”

That DC connection between the teens from the Central Valley and the veterans would change a lot of hearts, and motivate many volunteers to raise money for future Honor Flights.

“Watching those kids meet up with the veterans really moved us,” FFA adult leader Jim Orr told me.   

After hearing a volunteer talk about how Honor Flight would continue providing trips as long as it could afford to, Jim and others came to a realization.  

 “Getting back on the bus that day, we thought about what that volunteer said.  That’s when we decided we had to do something.”  

Members of the Los Banos FFA, area veterans, & Central Valley Honor Flight representatives at the Fresno State/Air Force baseball game where the $20,000 donation was presented.  Photo provided by Los Banos FFA

Members of the Los Banos FFA, area veterans, & Central Valley Honor Flight representatives at the Fresno State/Air Force baseball game where the $20,000 donation was presented.  Photo provided by Los Banos FFA

Working with the area Veterans of Foreign Wars post, the local American Legion post, and other community volunteers, the FFA helped sell eighteen-hundred tickets at ten dollars apiece for a drive-through pasta dinner held in February.  

With one-hundred percent of the dinner expenses donated by local businesses and community members, coupled with some cash donations, the dinner pulled the community together to raise twenty-thousand dollars for Central Valley Honor Flight.  

Jim says it was great to see everyone pulling together.  

“Veterans, high school ag kids, teachers, and parents were all working in one direction.”

The money will be used to help pay for the next mission to take a jet full of area veterans and their volunteer “buddies” to see the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War memorials.  When time permits, other venues fill out their time in DC.  

The veterans are thanked for their service.  For many, this is the only period in their lives that anyone took the time to show appreciation for the sacrifices made to defend our nation.

Prior to the start of the Fresno State/Air Force baseball game, players from both teams welcomed the veterans and FFA members.  Photo provided by Los Banos FFA

Prior to the start of the Fresno State/Air Force baseball game, players from both teams welcomed the veterans and FFA members.  Photo provided by Los Banos FFA

Raising twenty-thousand dollars was a monumental task for the Los Banos FFA chapter.  

But like the many challenges in farming, group members broke down the over-arching goal to manageable smaller tasks.  

Little by little, this volunteer effort did the job and knocked the goal out of the park.

Honor Flight continues to draw more attention to the sense of gratitude many are trying to install when it comes to our military.  

Recently, an episode of the popular CBS television series NCIS focused on an Honor Flight participant.  The episode ended with information on how a viewer can support the national organization.

Central Valley Honor Flight focuses on regional veterans.  The April 2017 trip features six Merced County veterans.  Three are from Merced, two are from Livingston, and one is from Los Banos.   

$20,000.00  is a lot of money.

But it takes a lot of money to fly these veterans across the nation.  

A medical professional accompanies the group.  Hotels, ground transportation, and meals all add up.  The cost is about two-thousand dollars per person.  

While each veteran is accompanied by a “buddy” who devotes his or her time exclusively on a particular veteran, the buddy is expected to raise enough money to cover his or her own trip costs.

The Los Banos chapter of Future Farmers of America takes their pride for these veterans seriously.  Plans are already underway for the 2018 dinner.  

These young men and women have a real appreciation for farming.  But they also have a true desire to help others.

And that’s exactly what they did by helping Central Valley Honor Flight.

Hometown Heroes is a weekly radio show honoring veterans.  

You can search their interview website at www.HometownHeroesRadio.com

For more information on Central Valley Honor Flight, visit http://cvhonorflight.org/

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His book Finding Bill shares his search to better understand the military service of his uncle who served in Vietnam.

 

 

My Love of this Game

It’s now abundantly clear who in their right mind would take up golf.  

Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

The first time I swung a golf club on a course I missed the ball, tore up the grass, and wondered why anyone would want to play this game.

The second time on a golf course was not much better.  I hit the ball, but it went out-of-bounds.  I was convinced this game was not for me.

Now, nearly forty years later, I can’t wait to get on a tee box and start another round.  How I got from “why” to “can’t wait” is the story of my life in golf.

In the 1980s, a friend suggested we try to learn the game together.  For a few years, we’d try to get out once every other month for nine holes.  I refer to that time as the “score doesn’t matter era.”

By the 1990s, I began a new career as a chamber of commerce executive.  Part of what a chamber of commerce person did back in those days played in charity tournaments.  Most of these tournaments were played as scrambles, meaning only the best shot among the four team members was used.  

This speeded up the game, and with over one-hundred golfers on the course for a charity tournament, the game had to move fast.  

Suddenly, it didn’t matter how poorly I played as our team could win based on the best shots among the members.  

Playing scrambles did give me a chance to observe better golfers.  

The score card from my one and only round at Oak Hill Country Club. Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

The score card from my one and only round at Oak Hill Country Club. Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

One Saturday evening, a friend called to invite me to join his foursome on Monday morning at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York.  Oak Hill was one of the finest golf courses in the United States.  

I quickly accepted the invitation.  It was a memorable round for two reasons.  The first reason was made clear as soon as our group finished the first hole and the caddy said, “Gentlemen, from this point forward, we will play in the scramble format.”  The caddy’s job was to help keep the golfers moving.

The second reason why this round was memorable was our host.  An elderly man, he took only one swing of a driver and putt just one hole.  The rest of the time he remained on his cart and enjoyed watching his much younger friends play.  

At the end of the round, he bought us lunch in the clubhouse and took us to the pro shop where we were instructed to pick out a golf cap to remember the day.    

Years later when I about to leave the area to come to California, I called my friend and invited him out to lunch on me.  He declined, offering instead to treat my wife and me for lunch one final time at Oak Hill.

I’m not sure whether it was that special place or some other time, but I would like to think that was the day I began to love the game of golf.

Like a lot of weekend duffers, I would use the occasion of being on the golf course to smoke a cigar.  In the year 2000, my family learned of my mother’s cancer diagnosis.  

There wasn’t much I could do to help my mom as she endured chemotherapy that summer, but I could change my health habits.  

I stopped smoking cigars on the golf course and any other place right then and there.  My mom lost her battle with the disease, but my pledge to myself to stop smoking even those few times I was on a golf course has made me proud.

I started watching golf on television in 2004.  I had already moved to California but was going back to upstate New York occasionally where my wife was busy selling our home.  It was Easter weekend, and I didn’t want to go anywhere.  

After church and our Easter dinner, my family and I sat in our living room and watched Phil Mickelson win the green jacket at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia.  Most Sundays in golf season, you’ll find me watching that week’s big tournament.  You can probably guess who my favorite pro golfer is.

 Steve and his friend and golf buddy, the late Jim North.  Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

 Steve and his friend and golf buddy, the late Jim North.  Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

In more recent years, there was the time when I played a round with my friend Jim.  

We played as Rancho Del Rey in Atwater, California.  I was down to the last golf ball in my bag, a monogrammed bill making my fiftieth birthday.  

I hesitated to tee up that ball, but I had no choice.  I started to tell Jim about the ball, and how an East coast friend had a dozen monogrammed for my birthday.  Jim was patient, but quiet as I rambled on about how special this ball was.  

Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

I then teed up the ball, made my swing, and saw the ball plop into the water hazard.  Without missing a beat, Jim looked at me and said, “Well, happy birthday I guess.”

So now you know why I love this game so much.  It has nothing to do with how well or how poorly I play.  It has everything to do with connecting me to friends, special moments, and enduring memories.   

It’s now abundantly clear to me why someone would take up this game.


Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His book Friend Through the End is a collection of columns and book excerpts about family, friends, and golf buddies.

A Place of Reverence- San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery

It is a quiet place.  It is a place of reverence, respect, and remembering.

San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery, Santa Nella, CA.  Photo by Steve Newvine

San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery, Santa Nella, CA.  Photo by Steve Newvine

There are people who have a soft spot in their heart for cemeteries.  Growing up, I remember my grandparents and parents were always making sure we paid our respects to family members who had passed.  

Gravesites were well maintained.  Flowers and plants were placed around the markers all the time.  When visiting the places where close family members were laid to rest, we often took the time to say a short silent prayer.

I thought my family was a little different from others in regard to their feelings about these hallowed grounds.  

That was until I talked to other adults over the years.   

One friend told me that she would take a bag lunch to the family cemetery and spend an extended period of time there.  

When the Merced Cemetery Association asks for volunteers every Memorial Day weekend to help place crosses on graves, they are overwhelmed with people wanting to do something to help make our local cemetery look nice.

Merced County can claim some truly sacred ground in the over three-hundred acres that form the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella.  

The highest peak in the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery offers a wide vista of the Valley.  Picture: Steve Newvine

The highest peak in the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery offers a wide vista of the Valley.  Picture: Steve Newvine

If you haven’t been there, you should consider going.  If you have been there, you will likely never forget the experience.

Two friends of my wife and I are buried there.  

For well over a year, we had been meaning to take the ride out from our home in Merced to the Cemetery.  It finally happened for me on a sunny late winter day.

From the north or south, signs on Interstate 5 let you know that the Cemetery is off the Santa Nella exit, and smaller signs take you from the exit ramp to the road that leads there.   

You think twice when you see there are another three miles to go, but as you pass a massive solar panel array and come upon the grounds, you instantly realize these extra miles off the beaten path of I-5 is worth the effort.

The Administrative Office is the main structure on the property.  Inside during business hours, a staff person can assist by telling you exactly where the grave you are looking for is located on the grounds.  

But there’s much more going on at this Cemetery than the over thirty-thousand graves.

From the Observation point at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

From the Observation point at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

The highest point on the grounds is the observation point.  From here, you can see the entire Cemetery with the added bonus of an incredible vista of the San Joaquin Valley.  

The land for this final resting place was donated by a ranch company in 1989.  Agricultural land and a solar farm surround the Cemetery footprint.

The Californian Korean War Memorial lists the name of every soldier from California who served in that war.  Picture:  Steve Newvine

The Californian Korean War Memorial lists the name of every soldier from California who served in that war.  Picture:  Steve Newvine

Closer to the Administration Building, there’s the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  The circular stone tableau lists the names of twenty-five hundred soldiers: every soldier from California who served in the Korean War.  

Like many of the memorials on the grounds, funds were raised by veterans groups, clubs, corporations, and individual donations.

A memorial to sixty-five submarines lost in battle by the US during World War II.  The trees line the road median coming into the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery.  Picture:  Steve Newvine

A memorial to sixty-five submarines lost in battle by the US during World War II.  The trees line the road median coming into the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery.  Picture:  Steve Newvine

Dividing the roadway heading to and from the Administration building is a line of trees.  This line of sixty-five trees represents the United States Veterans World War II Memorial.  

Each tree represents a submarine lost in action during World War II.

Across from the Administration Building, there’s a statue representing the Airborne Soldier.  The brass base of the statue reminds the visitor of the “unsurpassed courage” of these soldiers.

I thought I’d spend ten minutes on the grounds.  I would pay my respects to the two friends whose bodies are buried there and then head back on the road.  

I stayed for about a half hour and promised myself to spend more time on a future visit.

Among the memorials at the Cemetery, there’s a piece of granite with the words of a poem that honors those who have passed.  

Part of it reads:

"Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not here.  I do not sleep.

I am the thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow."

Cemeteries can have a calming effect on us.  

They are peaceful, quiet, and at times even prayerful.  

At a visit to Arlington National Cemetery a few years ago, I was overwhelmed by the sense of pride I felt for the way we honor those who served in the military.  

The San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery matches that same feeling.  

As we honor those who paid the ultimate price in protecting our freedoms later this spring, consider spending part of a day at this very special place.

It is a place where you can listen to your heart.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

In the spring of 2017, he is once again presenting classes on soft skills to participants in the Love Plus skills and mentoring program sponsored by Love INC of Greater Merced.  The classes are based on his book Soft Skills for Hard Times.

The Soundtrack of our Future on the UC Merced Campus

Construction Project is Well Underway

On any weekday at the University of California at Merced Campus, there’s a distinct sound in the background.  It’s the noise from construction equipment moving earth and creating the long awaited 20/20 building project.

The 20/20 Construction Project at the UC Merced campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The 20/20 Construction Project at the UC Merced campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The sound is what you might expect from any construction site.  It can be the “beep-beep” of a heavy-duty truck backing up.   Or it could be the grinding of earthmovers as they carve into this one-time farmland.   

Way off in the distance, you might hear construction workers shouting directions as they guide the machines to the right places.

These are the sounds of an active construction site.  But for the students and staff at the UC campus, it is just another day.

“We hardly notice,” one student told me when I asked whether the noise bothered her.  Another student responded, “Until you mentioned it, I wasn’t even aware of it.”  

From the third floor of the UC Merced Engineering Building, the vastness of the 20/20 project becomes very real.  Photo by Steve Newvine

From the third floor of the UC Merced Engineering Building, the vastness of the 20/20 project becomes very real.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The 20/20 Project was approved by the local governments shortly after land use, annexation, and tax sharing agreements were agreed upon.  

As the sign along the walkway to the main campus spells out, the project will encompass one-point-two million square feet, include three new research laboratory buildings, seventeen-hundred new beds of student housing, fifteen-hundred parking spaces, a conference center, wellness facility, recreation field, and a new entrance at Bellevue Road at Lake Road.  

The buildings will be built to one of the highest energy efficient construction standards.

A construction fence keeps debris and dust from a busy walkway on the UC Merced campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A construction fence keeps debris and dust from a busy walkway on the UC Merced campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

 

The project cost is one-point-three billion dollars.  The first phase is slated to be opened in the fall of 2018.  The second and third phases will open in succeeding years.

From the perspective of the students attending UC Merced, the timeline could look like this:  a freshman entering next fall (2017) could possibly go to a class in one of the new structures by the time he or she becomes a sophomore.

That same student will enjoy the results of most of the full three phases of this project before he or she graduates in 2021.

 The pastoral landscape off Lake Road will continue to change as the 20/20 project moves along.  Photo by Steve Newvine

 The pastoral landscape off Lake Road will continue to change as the 20/20 project moves along.  Photo by Steve Newvine

In addition to the work on the Lake Road main campus, downtown Merced is experiencing one of the largest construction projects in its history.  

UC Merced’s new Downtown Center is adding nearly seventy-thousand gross square feet of office space to the area across the street from City Hall.  

The three-story building is slated to open later this year.  

It will consolidate leased office space from around the community under one roof.  Conference and seminar rooms are part of that building plan.

Back on the main campus, the magnitude of the 20/20 project is stunning.  On a recent visit to UC Merced, I was taken aback by the sheer size of the construction footprint.  

It looks as though a second campus of the same size as the current one is being created before the eyes of everyone who takes in the view.  I was not in the community when the original campus was under construction, but this new project can give one the idea of what it must have looked like as machines ruled over the land and the buildings and infrastructure were constructed.  

Steve Newvine

Steve Newvine

It’s much like it must have been back when the campus was new- only this time there are thousands of students and hundreds of staff members around to see and hear it.  

And that takes you back to the sound:  the din of graders, bulldozers, and backhoes making progress at our UC Merced.  

Some would call it the sound of progress. Others might call it the soundtrack of our future.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Livingston Historical Society Museum-Big Things in a Small Building

The Livingston Historical Society Museum is not a very big building.  But it holds a lot of things that tell quite a story about this small northern Merced County City and its role in shaping life in the San Joaquin Valley.

Livingston Historical Society Museum, Livingston, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Livingston Historical Society Museum, Livingston, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

My interest in the museum was first sparked by a brief newspaper item several months ago that thanked volunteers and encouraged the public to visit.  

While the museum will open for special tours, or even a casual visit, the official hours are Sunday’s noon to two.  I thought a museum that was only open officially for two hours a week probably has a story or two to tell.

So I called Barbara Ratzlaff, the president of the Livingston Historical Society, and asked for a visit.  Barbara, who prefers people call her Babs, set up the appointment and met me on location.

Late in the afternoon following a long day on the road for my regular job, I stopped in and took a memorable tour.

Telephone operator’s station display at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Telephone operator’s station display at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

An early item of interest was this telephone operator’s station.  Livingston had its own telephone company going back to the 1940s.  

The company is now owned by Frontier Communications and functions as a local phone service.

A local resident told me at least one long-time citizen has kept her family phone number ever since 1947.

There is an American Flag on the wall of a meeting room in the back of the building.  The flag has only forty-five stars and is believed to have been given to the City in commemoration of the nation’s forty-fifth state.  

By the way, the forty-fifth state is Utah.

I saw a display of black and white photographs depicting the visit by then Governor Earl Warren to the City from 1950.   

The Governor was running for reelection.  Governor Warren would win a third term, but he did not complete that term in Sacramento.  His tenure at the Governor’s mansion was interrupted when President Eisenhower appointed him to Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

Japanese internment artifacts at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Japanese internment artifacts at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The museum’s devotes a considerable amount of its limited space to telling the story of the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II.  

Many Japanese citizens worked in the fields in and around Livingston.  Many of these citizens owned property.  Internment took many people away to camps in nearby Fresno and Stockton.  

The Museum collection includes a suitcase used by one family as they packed what would fit and took it with them to an internment camp.  Other displays include newspaper accounts, photographs, and posters.

The Japanese Internment displays at the Livingston Historical Society Museum feature this box that likely held possessions of an intern gathered before being sent to one of the camps- Photos by Steve Newvine

The Japanese Internment displays at the Livingston Historical Society Museum feature this box that likely held possessions of an intern gathered before being sent to one of the camps- Photos by Steve Newvine

The internment story takes several pages and is sourced to over two-hundred articles and books on Wikipedia.  The Livingston Museum does not attempt to cover the entire story, but it does help the visitor understand to some degree what life might have been like for the Japanese who endured the internment era, and those who returned to resume their lives in Merced County after the War ended.

There is an internment memorial on the Merced County Fairgrounds in the City of Merced.  In Livingston, the primary memorial for this part of the community’s history rests behind the walls of this little building on 604 Main Street in Livingston.

The building opened in 1922 as a County Library and Justice Court.  Then California Governor William D. Stephens attended the groundbreaking ceremony held in March of that year.

While the Museum is not very big, it holds a lot of stories.  It’s a place for volunteers like Babs Ratzlaff, many who have lived in Livingston all their lives, to help share this history was younger generations of interested visitors.

It is a small building with a big story.

To arrange a tour of the Livingston Historical Society Museum, call Babs Ratzlaff at 209-394-2376

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He’s written Grown Up, Going Home, a look at his home town of Port Leyden, New York where he details some of that community’s historical events.