Fifty-three Years of Community Journalism in Merced County

John Derby never gave up on his dream

 Merced County Times Publisher John Derby.  Photo by Steve Newvine

 Merced County Times Publisher John Derby.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Six months after starting the Winton Times weekly newspaper in the early 1960s, publisher John Derby was ready to call it quits.

John worked countless hours gathering news, writing copy, selling advertising, and doing all the other things a small business owner needs to do.  

It was too much.  

He decided to end his dream of publishing a newspaper that focused on the positive aspects of life in Winton and the surrounding area.

Fortunately, a supermarket owner from Delhi asked him to start a similar weekly paper in that community.  John told him he was too late, his mind was already made up.  The store owner, who also was heading up the local chamber of commerce, promised to advertise in the paper every week if John started one in Delhi.  

With a one-year advertising contract signed by that store owner, John pressed on.  

He started that paper in Delhi and his small newspaper operation became a two- newspaper business.  

That decision not to give up would lead to what is now a five-paper chain in Merced and Stanislaus Counties.  

The weekly papers of Mid-Valley Publications are the only newspapers that are physically published in Merced County.  Mid-Valley Publications is an employee-owned company where twenty full time and ten part time workers apply their craft week after week.

 The slogan for all Mid-Valley Publications as stated on the front page:  The Power of Positive People.

 The slogan for all Mid-Valley Publications as stated on the front page:  The Power of Positive People.

The guiding principle for the Merced County Times family of papers is embodied in its marketing slogan: the power of positive people.  

The concept is frequently referred to as community journalism.  Crime and political reports are not emphasized as much as telling stories about good things happening in the cities and unincorporated areas of the County.

At a time when some newspapers across the country are struggling to hold onto readers who have many other options for receiving news, the County Times is making it work.  

“Some people say newspapers are a bad investment,” John told me.  “I think bad newspapers are bad investments.  Sure, we’ve had some rough spots, especially during the recession.  A lot of businesses went belly up, but we got through that. “

In addition to his publishing duties, John Derby writes a weekly column for the Merced County Times.

In addition to his publishing duties, John Derby writes a weekly column for the Merced County Times.

John is originally from New York.  

As a young man, he moved to California and went to college at Fresno State.  He worked at the Merced Sun Star for four years before starting that first paper in Winton.

Counting his time with the Sun Star, John has been gathering news in Merced County for six decades.  He has put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.  But he’s quick to remind anyone that his staff is critically important to the success of Mid-Valley Publications.

“I have a top rate staff.  We are an employee-owned company and we have great people.”

(front page of the newspaper-  Merced County Times.

(front page of the newspaper-  Merced County Times.

Over the years, John has had a front row seat at the major events and the big issues of the community. He says the significant stories he has reported on include the closing of Castle Air Force Base in the 1990s, followed by years of searching for the best use of the land at the Base, and the arrival of UC Merced a little over a decade ago.  

The biggest issue, from his publisher’s perspective, has been and will continue to be agriculture.

“Agriculture is so important to our area economy,” he says.  “And policies over water use and allocations are absolutely critical.”

John Derby has come a long way from those humble beginnings in 1964.  Those rough times during the first six months of his newspaper found him living with his first wife and two children in a mobile home trying to make ends meet.  

Thanks to that business owner from Delhi who committed to a year-long advertising contract, Mid-Valley Publications has endured through good times and bad.

“I’m a hard copy newspaper man,” he says as he responds to a question about the changing face of journalism.  “We’re a positive press, but that also means we stress fairness and recognize there is another side to the story.”

When the paper started in the fall of 1964, the nation was looking at the prospect of a Lyndon Johnson defeat over Barry Goldwater for president.  California Governor Edmund Brown was midway through his second term.  

The City of Merced had a population of around twenty thousand.  Gathering local information has not changed much (while on the phone or at a news event he takes notes with pen and paper), the way that news makes its way to the printed page has evolved.  

“I did a lot of writing in those early years on a Remington Noiseless typewriter my father gave me,” John told me with a laugh.  “That typewriter was anything but noiseless.”

A computer keyboard has reduced the noise, but John’s commitment to sharing the power of a positive people has only increased with time.

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.

An Important Place, A Special Person

Two institutions are celebrating significant milestones in 2017.

Herkimer College, Herkimer, NY

Herkimer College, Herkimer, NY

My junior college, Herkimer College (formerly known as Herkimer County Community College) is marking its fiftieth year. 

I graduated from that college many years ago and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Syracuse University. 

I met my future wife at Herkimer. 

It was an important place for me.  The College is marking the year with activities focused on fifty years of commitment to serving the educational needs of the Mohawk Valley region of upstate New York.

Dave Trautlein from the early 1970s when he served as Dean of the College, at Herkimer County Community College, now known as Herkimer College.  Photo from Factory 70 (Herkimer College yearbook)

Dave Trautlein from the early 1970s when he served as Dean of the College, at Herkimer County Community College, now known as Herkimer College.  Photo from Factory 70 (Herkimer College yearbook)

The other institution reaching a milestone is my father-in-law Dr. H. David Trautlein, Dean of the College Emeritus, Herkimer College.   

Dave marks his ninetieth birthday in March.  He'll celebrate his birthday with his wife (my mother-in-law Angie) and his family in California. 

The couple gave up their Central New York snow shovels and moved to the Golden State last year.  His birthday celebration will unite four generations of family sharing reflections.

I have my own reflections. 

The memory I hold closest happened more than three decades ago. 

I’ll never forget the wide eyes and big smile.

There I was in Huntsville Hospital in the early 1980s, holding my newborn daughter.  She came into this world about six weeks early and required neonatal care. 

She was going to be all right, or at least that’s what the doctors and nurses kept telling me.  It was hard to see normalcy at the end of an image of tubes and wires that kept my little girl alive during these critical first days of life.

When my in-laws arrived from upstate New York, they wanted to see their first grandchild.  I took them to the hospital.  I went inside the neonatal unit where I scrubbed, put on my surgical gown, and sat down as the nurse placed my little girl in my arms. 

I looked at her for at least a minute before realizing that her grandparents were on the other side of the window looking in. 

That’s where I saw the big smile on the face of my father-in-law.

At that moment, I knew everything was going to be all right.  And it was.  My daughter celebrates her thirty-fifth birthday in March alongside her grandfather and me.

I was so taken by that simple act of a genuine smile that I wrote about it in my book Soft Skills for Hard Times:

That look of sheer joy on the faces of my in-laws told me everything was going to be all right.
Dave Trautlein is third from the left in the top row of this picture.  He served in the US Navy in the closing days of World War II

Dave Trautlein is third from the left in the top row of this picture.  He served in the US Navy in the closing days of World War II

Born as the Great Depression was winding down, Dave was the youngest in a family with four boys and two girls. 

He went into the Navy in the final years of World War II and was ready for action when the Japanese surrender was signed.  He then left the service, went to college on the GI Bill, and began building a life for himself.

He married Angie in the 1955 and they had three children.  He taught English in a western New York high school before accepting a post with Alfred Agricultural and Technical College in New York State. 

In the mid-1960s, he took a sabbatical leave and moved the family to Florida for one year as he pursued courses for a doctoral degree. 

He received his PhD from Florida State University shortly after accepting a new post as Dean of that new community college in Central New York.

I came into his picture a few years later.  As a student at Herkimer College, I met and fell in love with his oldest daughter.  We married in 1980.

 In retirement Dave enjoyed a number of activities including an annual fishing trip with his friends.  Photo from Dave Trautlein

 In retirement Dave enjoyed a number of activities including an annual fishing trip with his friends.  Photo from Dave Trautlein

Dave served Herkimer County Community College, until his retirement in the mid-1980s.  Retirement was spent traveling, visiting his grandchildren (there would be four in total), camping, fishing, reading books (as well as the Sunday New York Times), writing two books, and listening to jazz.

I’ve learned a lot from this man over the years.  He’s been a great audience to my occasional outbreaks of laughter. 

I found out the best way to fold a cardboard box, why one should buy the best cut of steak for an outdoor barbecue, and learned why luggage expands to fit the size of the car trunk. 

And I saw by his steady attendance at the annual reunion, that family really matters.  

I hope I learned a lot by following his example. 

Dave wrote a history of Herkimer College's first twenty years.  He was recognized as one of the institution’s torchbearers in 2004. 

A scholarship endowment created by his oldest daughter’s family bears his name and embodies his core beliefs of what a community college should be. 

This year, the endowment will award its tenth scholarship to a deserving student.

His family will gather to honor him when he celebrates his birthday.  A lot of memories will be shared.

But for me, only one memory matters.  It's that image of a proud grandfather looking at his new grandchild for the first time.  That’s an image that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced. 

He is one of several volunteer presenters at the Love Plus life skills program organized by Love INC of Greater Merced.  In the Love Plus program, he uses his book Soft Skills for Hard Times to offer ideas on increasing people's value at work and in their lives. 

International Ag Expo Gets Ready for the World

Annual Farming Event Sets the Stage for Agriculture in the Central Valley

The World Ag Expo, Tulare County.  Photo from Steve Newvine

The World Ag Expo, Tulare County.  Photo from Steve Newvine

Most of us living here know that agriculture forms the economic base in many Central Valley counties. Soon, the region will make farming the center of attention.

The annual World Ag Expo will be in Tulare County once again.  Held during the second week of February, the Expo brings the best agriculture has to offer to the world stage that is the International Ag Center off highway 99 about fifty miles south of Fresno.

Vendors display agricultural products, explain services available to farm enterprises, show off the latest equipment, and celebrate the contributions of farmers to the world economy.  

As I wrote several years ago in my book 9 From 99, Experiences in California’s Central Valley, City Managers in the state’s agricultural communities fully recognize the impact of farming and food processing.

At that time, one City Manager told me that farming establishes a steady base that communities can rely on in good years and bad.  T

hat has been especially important during the recent recession when the Valley, as well as the state experienced severe unemployment and snail-paced economic growth.  

Agriculture had its struggles with the recession, but it has helped many communities by providing that steady base of economic activity.


Soon, blossoms will appear on may orchards as springtime nature takes hold in the Central Valley.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Soon, blossoms will appear on may orchards as springtime nature takes hold in the Central Valley.  Photo by Steve Newvine

We saw just how important agriculture was during the past few years when drought focused more attention on the ever important resource of water.  

The availability of water for agriculture has always been a challenge as government leaders attempt to balance the water needs for such urban areas as Los Angeles and San Francisco with the water needs of farmers in the Central Valley and other agricultural areas.

Shortly after arriving in the Central Valley a dozen years ago, I was told that to really appreciate the impact of agriculture from the Central Valley on the rest of the world, I would have to attend the World Ag Expo.  

So I made it a top priority and visited the Expo grounds in 2006

According to the World Ag Expo website, over one hundred thousand people attend the show every year.   There are sixteen hundred vendors.  

The day I attended, the parking lot made we wonder whether all those people showed up on the same day and did not bother to carpool.  Once on the grounds, I could only skim the surface of what was available to see.  

In my three hours on the Expo grounds, I got a broad-brush painting of the significance of agriculture as a business and as a way of life.  

There were displays of equipment that can perform all kinds of work out in the field.  Mechanization has helped the farmer become more competitive by allowing machines to do the work that was done by hand just a few years ago.  

Computers that manage such things as accounting, fertilization effectiveness, and production yields are commonplace as today’s farmer recognizes the necessity of technology in a competitive world market.

Other businesses that serve farmers understand the value of an agricultural enterprise as a source of economic benefit.   

In my lifetime, I have been to countless county fairs.  During my years as a chamber of commerce manager, I helped organize several agricultural showcase programs.  But the World Ag Expo is in a class all by itself.  

The Expo brings the world to the Central Valley to celebrate farming as a business and not just a way of life.

Bee boxes are a common springtime site around Central Valley orchards.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Bee boxes are a common springtime site around Central Valley orchards.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Expo sets the stage for the upcoming natural showcase of agriculture in the Central Valley.  Within weeks of the Expo’s conclusion, blossoms will begin to show up in the orchards.   

Familiar sights when driving through area farmlands will include boxes of beehives as those bees pollinate certain crops.  We will also view incredible swatches of wildflowers up and down the highways.  

All of this and more make up the annual rites in the farm communities of the Central Valley.

The timing of the annual World Ag Expo could not be better.  Coming just weeks after the holiday season, the winter doldrums end as tens of millions of dollars in farm equipment is placed on the Expo grounds.  

Parking lot space is made ready for the thousands of vehicles that will embark upon Tulare County for the event.  Well over one-hundred thousand  visitors will come to Tulare County for the Expo.

All that excitement from the Ag Expo will be followed with some real live farm miracles taking place in local orchards and growing fields.

We have a lot to be happy about in the Central Valley.  Spring is just around the corner.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

He wrote about the International Ag Expo in his 2008 book 9 From 99: Experiences in California’s Central Valley.

For more on the World Ag Expo, visit

The Next Move, and the One After That, and the One After That

I don’t even want to tell you how old this photograph is.  The picture was taken of my friend Andy and me shortly after my career as a television journalist began.  He taught me how to play the game of chess.

A very young Steve Newvine with his friend Andy from 1980,  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

A very young Steve Newvine with his friend Andy from 1980,  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

Allow me to take you back to a time when there were no cell phones, no Facebook, no Starbucks, and no email.  

That’s when I met a man named Andy.

I had just started my first paying job in television news working for a local network affiliate in Binghamton, New York.  I lived in an apartment building in Johnson City, a village just outside the city limits.  

I knew no one other than my work colleagues.  My girlfriend (who would later become my wife) lived nearly an hour away.  I was a recent college graduate with the good fortune to land a great job just one week after getting my diploma from Syracuse University.

The advice from a professor at my junior college (Herkimer College) was to get to know the community as quickly as possible.  For eight hours a day, I met the government officials who we interviewed for most of the stories that aired on the station newscasts.  

After work, I walked around town trying to get the lay of the land and meet the people who were my audience.

That’s when I met Andy.  He was an elderly man who I would see crossing the street at a moderately busy intersection between my apartment and where he lived.  

He did not use a cane.  He just slowly and steadily made his way across the street.  

At first, I greeted him with a smile.  I saw him taking a walk just about every day.  Later encounters would be met with a wave and a small bit of conversation.  

Soon, it seemed like I kept running into him. He always had something to say.

“Nice weather we’ve been having?”

“The roads are busy today.”

“Boy, there sure is a lot of traffic.”

It wasn’t long before he took an important first step and introduced himself.

“I’m Andy, my friend.  What’s your name?”

I introduced myself and started a friendship that would last the entire time I worked in the Southern Tier region of New York State.  Soon, I would not just pass by on my daily walks.  I’d take a few moments to walk with him.  After all, I reasoned, someone should be with him as he tried to cross the busy street.

 “Want to play checkers?”

That question caught me by surprise.  Do I want to play checkers?   I ran his question back through my head.  Without giving it much thought, I said yes.

That began a weekly visit to where Andy stayed with his daughter and son-in-law at their home just a few blocks from where I lived.  Andy would greet me at the door and point me to a card table with two chairs.  

On that table was a checker board with the pieces ready for the first game.  Every week, we’d play for a couple of hours, and then shake hands at the end of the last game before leaving.  I think his daughter was relieved that her dad wasn’t out for a walk as darkness set in.

To paraphrase an often used line about competition, our weekly games were really not about the checkers.  Our visits were about bonding as friends.  I told him how I was preparing to propose to my girlfriend.  

He told me about how much he regarded the writings of Norman Vincent Peale who expounded the power of positive thinking.  I’d share a story about a news interview I had done that week.  

He would tell the story about the founder of the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company.  We had pleasant conversations over the checkerboard.

Within a few weeks, Andy asked me if I wanted to learn the game of chess.  For about a month, he’d walk me through the basic moves, share some strategy, and consistently beat me game after game.  

He never relented in his competitiveness while at the same time helping me to understand how the successful player gets to that place.  His simple advice:  “Always be thinking of the next move, the move after that, and the move after that one.”

I’ll never forget the night I finally beat him fair and square.  As he offered his hand in congratulations, I never saw a bigger smile from a more proud teacher.  After that night, we generally split the number of games won, with a slight edge going to him.

When my television station decided to do a promotional campaign on the members of the news team, thirty-second commercials were produced showing each news personality doing something fun.  

News Director Mark Williams was featured preparing a campfire while out in the wilderness with his recreational vehicle.  My commercial featured Andy and me playing chess.  As we played our game, the announcer spoke, “When he’s not working on a story for the newscast, Steve is spending time with his friends and neighbors.”

I got married a year later and was moved to a night shift at work.  Our games were now played in the afternoon before my shift started.  Within a few weeks, Andy’s daughter made the difficult decision to move him to a nursing home.  I then paid my weekly visits to his new address right up until I left Binghamton for a new job in Huntsville, Alabama.  

On that last afternoon, we played chess, we both knew a special time was coming to an end.  

We parted with a handshake, and this time, a hug.  

He told me he thought of me like I was a son.  I thanked him for taking that important first step of introducing himself to me.  

I left with tears in my eyes and gratitude for having this important first friend as I started my professional life.  As I left his room that afternoon, I knew that I would probably never see him again.

From my new home in the heart of the deep south, I wrote him a letter and a Christmas card.  I wasn’t really surprised that I did not get a response.

Several years later, I visited Binghamton and dropped by Andy’s daughter’s home.  She wasn’t in, but her husband told me how Andy had passed away peacefully in his sleep a couple of years after I left the community.  

Andy’s daughter sent me a letter shortly after that visit to fill in some of the details, and to thank me for being his friend.  She told me how he often spoke of our weekly chess games and that he truly cherished the time we’d spent talking to one another while carefully watching our game board.

We were planning our next move, and the move after that, and the move after that one.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  His book Growing Up, Upstate shares stories about his friends and family members from the time he was a boy in Port Leyden, New York

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.

Merced County’s Medal of Honor Recipient- Jon R. Cavaiani

When Jon came over to the United States from his native Great Britian, he was reunited with his stepfather and lived in Ballico, Merced County.  

Jon Cavaiani (left) at a ceremonial function.  Photo from

The year was 1953 when Jon was just six years old.  He was adopted by that stepdad in 1961.  

Jon became a naturalized American citizen in 1968.  

Like many young men of that age at that time, he went into the military and fought in the Vietnam War.

Jon was Jon R. Cavaiani.  Staff Sergeant in the US  Army.

 He was a brave soldier, a distinguished leader of men, a prisoner of war, and a recipient of our nation’s highest military honor:  The Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is awarded to soldiers who displayed heroism and valor on the battlefield.  Jon’s story of bravery follows that pattern.

According to the Medal of Honor website, Jon was serving as a platoon leader providing security for a radio relay site on the morning of June 4, 1971 when the site was targeted by Vietnamese enemy fire.  

To direct his platoon’s fire and rally his group of soldiers, Jon moved around the attack site often in the line of oncoming bullets.  When it became clear the entire platoon would be evacuated, Jon volunteered to remain on the ground to direct the helicopters onto a landing zone.

 Intense enemy fire forced him to stay at the camp overnight to direct the other remaining troops as they held off the enemy.  There were more acts of bravery as a heavy barrage attacked the next day.  

At one point, Jon got a machine gun, stood up again facing enemy fire, and fired away as his remaining troops were able to escape.

Through Staff Sergeant Cavaiani’s valiant efforts with complete disregard for his safety, the majority of the remaining platoon members were able to escape. While inflicting severe losses on the advancing enemy force, Staff Sergeant Cavaiani was wounded numerous times. Staff Sergeant Cavaiani’s conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
— Part of Staff Sergeant Cavaiani’s Medal of Honor Citation

He was wounded several times in those two intense days, but returned to the battlefield.  

Within months, he was captured and spent two years as a prisoner of war.

He was released in 1973.  He took on other assignments, graduated from a culinary arts program in Columbia, and lived there with his wife.  In 2010 he was the grand marshal in a Vietnam Veterans Parade in Sonora sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391.  

He was a member of that chapter.He lost a battle with cancer in 2014.  An effort to find a bone marrow donor and to help pay medical expenses was launched in the months leading up to his death.  That effort was detailed on the website  

From that web story, the reader learns a little more about Jon the man.  He rarely talked about his Medal of Honor, but wore it at least once in the years following his retirement from the Army in 1990.  

He was remembered as a quiet and humble leader.

Jon is one of 3,498 recipients of the Medal of Honor.  

There is some history about his life and military service available at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.   Thanks to the Medal of Honor website and Wikipedia, this Merced County hero’s story is out there for the rest of the world to see.

As we honor our veterans again with the parades, services, and activities such as the Field of Honor at Merced College, spend a few moments to think about the heroic acts men and women like Jon Cavaiani did on the battlefields of America’s wars.

He was Merced County’s Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jon R. Cavaiani.  

We thank him for his sacrifice, and we thank all our soldiers for their service.

Congressional Medal of Honor website:

For more on the Livingston Historical Society Museum, call:  394-2376

Steve Newvine lives in Merced and has written the book Finding Bill about his uncle who served in the Vietnam War.



Moved Musically by the Monkees

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the musical group The Monkees.

 Two of my Monkees albums.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

The guitar lick at the beginning of the Monkees’ Last Train to Clarksville ranks right up there with the opening chord to the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night or the electric guitar opening to Glen Campbell’s Southern Nights.  

Five picks of the guitar repeated once and then repeated again with a few more notes added.  Just a few instrumental notes that immediately take me back to a specific time and place.

For me, those musical notes take me back to my parents’ living room in March of 1967.  I was celebrating my tenth birthday at an after school party with some of my classmates from Port Leyden Central School.

I was nine years old when the television series starring Davy, Mickey, Peter, and Mike debuted in September 1966.  I never before experienced the feeling of being a fan of anyone, let alone these four American twenty-somethings who were about to take the rock-and-roll era by storm.

The Monkees were the American answer to the Beatles.  The series was a creative solution to the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night.  

The album Good Times was released this summer in recognition of the group’s fiftieth anniversary.

The Monkees were manufactured by a television studio with the intent to create a ratings success, sell millions of records, and make a lot of money.  

The group did just that by earning a lot of money for the studio, the record company, and maybe themselves.  

But something happened after the series ended just two years later in 1968.   The group never really broke up.  

Peter left the band first in the months following the end of the show.   Mike departed shortly after.  

Mickey and Davy put together a few releases, but with sales falling each went their separate ways.


In the early 1980s, a reunion tour was set up and all four took part in recreating the magic from the sixties.  Over the succeeding years, members would come together for a reunion concert and even a few new songs.    

A new album was released and a tour was launched this summer in recognition of the band’s fiftieth year.  Gone from the group is heartthrob Davy Jones who passed away a few years ago.  

Your author is sitting with the girls at his ten-year-old birthday party.   From the Newvine Personal Collection

The tour featured Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork with an occasional appearance by Mike Nesmith.

To the photo albums my mother put together during my childhood for inspiration.  Here’s a photo from my tenth birthday party.  

I’m right there, the third from the left in the photo of a group of children.  Two things made this party stand out for me.  It was the first time boys and girls were invited to my birthday party.    

It was also the day I received my first record album as a present.

The album was Meet the Monkees, the groups second album. I opened the groups’ first album titled The Monkees later that evening.  On my tenth birthday, I got these first two Monkee albums as gifts from relatives.  

I’d eventually acquire each album (with the notable exception of the movie soundtrack Head- I heard two of the songs on a single and thought it wasn’t worth buying the album).  

What an impact the Monkees made on me.  After the Monkees, I gravitated toward Elvis Presley as he staged his comeback that began in December 1968 with a television special and would extend through his death in 1977 and beyond.  I would acquire a deeper appreciation of the Beatles after purchasing my first Beatle’s album, Abbey Road during my first week of college in 1975.  I’d play rock-and-roll on the radio as a part time disc jockey throughout the late 1970s.  

As the years passed, I’d discover the artistry of Tony Bennett, the interpretation masterfulness of Frank Sinatra, and more fully appreciate the country artists who defined the music my parents enjoyed in my house growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.  

I think I owe that appreciation of many types of music to those four young men who were chosen from a cattle call audition in Hollywood fifty years ago.  These four were told “you’re a band now” and they not only performed as actors playing members of a musical group, but also bonded as musicians and entertainers.

I had the good fortune of meeting Davy Jones in the early 1990s when he was touring with a stage version of the Brady Bunch television show that recreated his guest appearance on that series from the early 1970s.  

What impressed me most on the day I met Davy was his sense of pride over the success of the Monkees and his role as a teen idol during those impressionable years.  

We were scheduled to do a two-minute interview on our local television newscast, but as executive producer for the station, I cut back on other stories so that our anchor team could spend more time talking to this rock-and-roll icon.

When Peter and Mickey were set to play the Gallo Center this past September, I put in a request to interview either or both for this column.  

I was turned down due primarily to timing.  I was told my request came in too late.  As my mother would say, “oh well, better luck next time.”

I challenge anyone who grew up in that era to listen to the first notes from Last Train to Clarksville and not be able to associate it with a memory from that very special time.

Thank you to the Monkees for fifty years of entertainment that always left me with a smile.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His book Growing Up, Upstate chronicles memories from his youth in upstate New York.

Central Valley Native Dylan Floro Made it to the Major Leagues

Dylan Floro’s high school baseball coach knew he had someone special when Dylan Floro made the varsity team as a high school freshman.

Dylan Floro, Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  Photo: Major League Baseball

After outstanding careers in high school, and then on to Cal State Fullerton, Dylan signed on with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays farm system.  In July, he was platooned to the Devil Rays where he has pitched throughout most of the second half of the 2016 season.  

The team website now reports he was recently reassigned back into the Rays farm system.  Everyone is hoping he’ll return to the big team in 2017.

Making it in the major leagues was a dream-come-true for this Merced County native.  He was born in Merced, and grew up in Atwater where he remains a deep source of pride to his family and his coach at Buhach High School.  

At Buhach, he was such an outstanding player that he was moved to the varsity team in his freshman year.

Coach Scott Wise was in the dugout for Dylan’s high school baseball career.  “Exceptional,” he summed it up to me in an interview about Dylan’s remarkable arc from outstanding school and college player to the major leagues.  

“Moving up to varsity as a freshman really showed his level of ability.”

According to the official website of Major League Baseball, Dylan led all of minor league baseball in 2014 when he played for Tampa’s double-A affiliate Montgomery.  

That year, he pitched 178 and two-thirds innings.  He was named the Rays' Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2013 after leading the organization with a 1.77 ERA.  

He was selected by the Devil Rays in the thirteenth round of the 2012 first-year player draft out of Cal State-Fullerton.

Coach Wise says Dylan’s family is all about baseball.  An older brother Brock played at Buhach and then on to Cal State Fullerton leading the way for Dylan’s selection by the school for his college ball.  

A younger brother plays in organized baseball in Atwater.  Dylan’s dad is a youth baseball coach.

“Dylan’s mom and dad were always there for him,” Scott said.  “It’s a solid family all the way around.”

Dylan is a product of what some describe as Atwater’s special connection to baseball.  Observers have pointed to strong baseball teams from the area going back as far as the 1920s and 1930s right on up to the present day.  

The community had a semi-pro team, the Atwater Packers, that was incorporated in 1949 and played in the forties and fifties.  

In recent years, the Atwater Aviators played in the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League.  Baseball is part of the community fabric of Atwater.

A community doesn’t magically receive outstanding baseball talent.  As in any special accomplishment, there are a lot of factors.  In the case of Dylan Floro, coaching was certainly a factor.  

Involvement by the family is also important.  His parents Dee and Kent nurtured this passion for the game and provided the love and support necessary for Dylan and his siblings to succeed.  

Also important, according to Coach Wise, has been work ethic.

“I remember Dylan taking care of his pitching mound after practice without being asked,” the coach recalls.  “You knew he was going to achieve what he has achieved.  He’s not afraid to put in the work; he will do everything that was needed both on and off the field.”

 Baseball card expert John Kucho says the baseball card companies probably won’t release a Dylan Floro card until next year at the earliest.  This photo is from the Devil Rays website.  Photo:

While the Devil Rays entered the final month of the 2016 season in last place in the American League East, as the great baseball cliché goes, wait until next year.  The Rays signed him four years ago, have worked with him in the minors, and appear to have every intention of standing behind their pitcher.  

In the meantime, Dylan’s coaches hope to see him again during the off-season as he had done in the past.

“I usually see him in the off season when he works a couple of baseball camps at Buhach,” Coach Wise says.  In January we do what we call the Super Ball clinic. He and other former Buhach players come back to give their time and share their talent with our younger athletes.”

The combination of upbringing, community support, and good coaching has helped Dylan make it to the major leagues.  And while the future is definitely wide open for this Central Valley pitcher, there will always be a connection to where it all began.  

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

For more on Dylan’s latest statistics, go to or


Merced Radio Station KYOS to Mark 80th Anniversary in October

If you listen to local AM radio station KYOS (1480 on the dial, on the internet), you have probably heard an announcer proudly announce at the top of each hour that the station has been serving Merced since 1936.

K97.5 Program Manager Dave Luna’s voice is heard on station promotional announcements for KYOS.  Photo by Steve Newvine

On October 13, the station will reach a historic milestone:  eighty years on the air.

The station began serving the city of Merced from a studio in the Hotel Tioga.  It was a daytime station at that time.  It would sign-on (a term that comes from a broadcasting regulatory requirement that a radio operator sign a program and engineering log) every morning and then sign-off at sunset.  

It began with a relatively low-powered signal that could cover the city.  In later years, the station’s signal was boosted so it could cover Merced County.  The broadcast day eventually would be lengthened to 24-hours.

Throughout Merced’s history in the twentieth century and so far into these early years of the new century, the community has seen a multitude of change.  One constant has been the AM radio station that has continuously been the voice of the community for eighty years.

Another constant for close to half of those eighty years has been radio announcer Dave Luna.  He’s the Program Manager and morning personality for K97.5, the FM sister station owned by Radio Merced’s parent company Mappleton Communications.  

Dave listened to KYOS as a teen growing up in Newman in Stanislaus County.  He went to work for the station part time beginning in 1979 and has worked for the various owners of the broadcast group that includes KYOS full time since leaving college.

 A bumper sticker from the heyday of station KYOS.  Photo from KYOS.

“KYOS was the big top forty rock-and-roll station in Merced,” Dave told me from his K97.5 studio on Main Street in Merced.  “It’s what all of us listened to in those days.”

Dave says he moved to the FM side of the house as more and more listeners gravitated away from AM stations.  His time with KYOS follows a pattern that is close to a history of AM radio in the United States.  

“AM radio is tough,” he says.  “Some AMs have just shut down, some are hoping news and talk will save them. “

KYOS runs satellite driven programming of news and talk radio Monday through Friday.  Weekend programming includes some public service programs and an oldies format with music from the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  

An early broadcast home to KYOS.  Picture from KYOS

One can only imagine what those early years for KYOS were like.  Radio was still a relatively new communication medium.  While there were network shows like The Jack Benny Program or Fibber McGee and Molly, Merced audiences likely were drawn to local programs.  

As music became the primary program source for radio in the years following the start of television, stations like KYOS found their new niche and were big players in local communities.

“I remember driving by the KYOS studio at the corner of 18th and Main when I was a teen,” Dave Luna recalls.  “You could see the thunderbird logo on the building and the announcer through the large glass window.  My buddies and I would wave and the announcer might wave back.”

Those were glorious times that have faded somewhat for local radio in the advent of large corporate ownership, changing listener tastes, and automation.

The iconic thunderbird logo on the KYOS studio at G and 18th Streets in Merced. Photo from KYOS

But KYOS has survived.  It may not be the powerhouse it was in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, but it has carved out an audience that prefers news and talk.  

For many loyal audience members, it is a station they are familiar with and a place they feel comfortable listening to on a regular basis.

There are no special plans to commemorate the milestone KYOS will soon mark.  While the station’s eightieth anniversary may be just around the corner, the focus in radio is always on the future.  

And what will the station look like in twenty years when a one-hundredth anniversary may be in order?

Radio now is still connecting with listeners who don’t want to pay for satellite services - Stations like K97.5 connect with our audience not only on the airwaves but also through social media.
— Dave Luna

Local radio competes in a marketplace filled with many outlets for people to inform and entertain themselves.  

Successful staff people, like Dave Luna with his over thirty-five-year tenure with the station, have found success by being resourceful and by being adaptable to changes in the work environment.

“I learned some valuable lessons from my dad about work ethic,” he says.  “I have adapted and will continue to adapt as radio evolves.”  

Dave Luna keeps rock and roll photos and vintage album covers on the studio wall at the Radio Merced offices on Main Street in Merced.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Dave has seen a lot of change in his years with KYOS and K97.5.  For him, the most drastic shift came when the Castle Air Force Base closed in the mid-1990s.  

He said it was common when the Base was in operation to see many military people walking down Main Street in Merced on a weekday.  

Those days are gone, but new days are on the horizon.  A radio station that broadcast the news of the United States entering World War II, the election of a dozen presidents, the moon landing, and so many other iconic events, continues to inform and entertain listeners in and around Merced County.

Happy eightieth anniversary to KYOS!

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He’s written Sign On at Sunrise, a novel about a young man who works at an AM radio station in the 1970s.    

Steve worked part time at radio station WBRV in Boonville, New York in the 1970s.  That station recently marked its sixty-first anniversary.

The State of Working: Merced County at Labor Day

Over the past several years, Labor Day afforded the opportunity to provide updates on the local labor market here in this space and in some years on the op/ed pages of the Merced Sun Star.

A 2011 picture of the Merced Workforce Investment Board.

My assessments were based on what I’ve seen in the community over the years.  I serve on the Merced County Workforce Investment Board (Merced WIB).  

At the height of the recession, I noted a bumper sticker seen locally that read “I wish I had a job to shove.”  Last year, I urged people to take a minute to thank the person who hired them.  

As we come to another Labor Day weekend, I have nothing new to add about the state of labor in Merced County, California, or in the United States for that matter.  So instead, I will celebrate an anniversary.

It was ten years ago when I was asked to accept a term on the Merced WIB. Workforce Investment Boards receive state and federal dollars to offer programs and services for people either looking for work or looking to improve their skills.  

By law, these boards must have a private sector majority.  My entry on the board helped maintain that majority.  The most visible aspect of Merced WIB is the operation of the Worknet office on Wardrobe Avenue in the City of Merced and another site in the City of Los Banos.

As a director, I learned how the board worked, what the staff of Merced WIB did, and generally how our tax dollars were being spent.  I soon joined a work group that helped maintain state certification of the two Worknet offices.  

That group evolved into a quality committee that routinely evaluated opportunities available to the local offices.  That group is now known as the Business Services Committee.

Steve Newvine served as chair of the Merced WIB from 2011-2013. Photo from Merced WIB.

Workforce boards not only help people get and keep jobs, they also serve as a resource to businesses that are looking for workers.  

This business focus helps explain why Congress, who authorized the Workforce Investment Act that funds these boards, wanted a private sector majority.  To put people to work, an economy needs a strong business community.  

Over my ten years with Merced WIB, we worked hard to be sure the business voice was heard not only in the board meeting room but in the Worknet career centers. 

Employers frequently remind us that most new hires either have or can be trained on the specific hard skills needed to do a job. Employers repeatedly say what is really lacking in many workforces is a focus on the soft skills.

Soft skills speak to such things at attitude, customer service, showing up on time, and many other personality traits that help a worker succeed on the job.

We took that challenge to focus on soft skills when I became vice-chair of the Merced WIB in 2009.  With the help of my employer, we were able to bring resources to train older youth (defined by Merced WIB as between the ages of 18 and 22) for an energy efficiency heating and air conditioning (HVAC) program.  

My company provided equipment and a trainer for the energy efficiency segments of the program.  Merced WIB focused on the soft skill training, job placement, and program management.  

The result was the successful completion by the entire class and the placement of several participants in an on-the-job training program with local HVAC companies.  These accomplishments were recently recognized by my company.  

In the years leading up to my election as chairman of the Merced WIB as well as throughout my term as chair, I participated in statewide meetings of workforce boards held, appropriately, in the days following Labor Day.  

For four years, I participated in a national conference of workforce boards in Washington, DC.  

Participants in a youth employment energy efficiency program receive completion certificates. Photo from Merced WIB

But none of these meetings compared to the invitation I received several years ago on the Friday morning before the Labor Day holiday weekend from a staff person at Merced WIB.  He invited me to a graduation ceremony held later that day at the Worknet office.  The ceremony honored participants in that energy efficiency training program mentioned earlier.  

While most of my colleagues were wrapping up their work in preparation for the long holiday weekend, I headed down to the Worknet office. We proudly watched as several young people received their certificates of completion.  

It was a great way to honor Labor Day with the celebration of skills learned to succeed in jobs created locally.

September is Workforce Investment Board Appreciation Month.   As Merced WIB looks ahead to celebrating the accomplishments of workforce boards, staffs, and customers, let us encourage those looking for work to enroll in the free programs offered by Worknet.  

Employers should consider using the services available to improve their company's productivity.

What better way to honor Labor Day than by investing time and energy in the services available to help improve the workforce in Merced County?

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  In 2009, he wrote Soft Skills for Hard Times.  The book is used as a training document in the Love Plus Life Skills Training program.

Food Bank Mural-When a Building Becomes a Billboard

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, the Merced County Food Bank hopes a mural along the west side of their warehouse is worth a few moments of our time to think about the issue of hunger.

The new mural on the west side of the Merced County Food Bank warehouse.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The mural is being seen by hundreds of drivers passing by daily along highway 59 at Olive Avenue in Merced.   The mural’s message is summed up by the three words to the far right end of the warehouse wall:  help fight hunger.

Over the past few weeks a local artist has been painting the mural.   The artist is Ramon Valencia who works for a design firm called The Mariposa Art Company.  The Company does a variety of original artwork on buildings, along with other graphic design services for businesses including business cards, t-shirts, and banners.

The idea for painting a mural on the side of the building came after Food Bank board members saw a wall mural at the local United Way office in Merced.  Some inquiries were made. The Food Bank board was pleasantly surprised with the opportunity presented by the Mariposa Art Company.

Food Bank Executive Director Bill Gibbs says the Mariposa Art Company is donating a lot of its time and resources to the project.  In addition to Ramon’s and an assistant’s time, more than three-thousand dollars in paint has been donated by the company. 

The use of an industrial lift being used on the project was donated by United Rentals.  The Food Bank will spend approximately $1,500 as its share of the total cost.  

It is estimated a mural of this size would cost between ten and fifteen-thousand dollars if the labor and materials were not donated.

“The cost to the Food Bank is worth it to raise awareness about hunger,” Bill Gibbs says.  “I can’t tell you how many times people or donors have told us they didn’t know there was a food bank in Merced County.”

 The work of artist Ramon Valencia is now part of the Merced County Food Bank warehouse.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The mural depicts the valley’s deep agricultural heritage

The bottom half is solid brown representing the soil (and hopefully a hedge to a quick paint-over in the event of a graffiti attack). It shows a wagon or trailer filled with crates of fruits and vegetables.  Farm fields, a bright blue sky, and the mighty sun fill out the rest of the mural.

The project has taken the better part of July to complete. The biggest challenge so far has been the heat.  “Ramon told me our extreme temperatures are even hotter against the side of the building,” Bill says.  “Some days, the paint dries as soon as it’s applied making the blending of colors a challenge.” 

Ramon manages that challenge by doing some of his work in the early morning or early evening hours.

Over 17,000 people served

The Food Bank acquires, stores, and distributes food for one-hundred non-profit groups in Mariposa and Merced Counties. 

More than five-and-a-half million pounds of food passes through the Olive Avenue warehouse in a year.  Every month, seventeen thousand people are served by this organization and associated non-profit groups that are part of the Food Bank network. 

Volunteers help sort and move much of the food that comes into the warehouse.  The volunteers augment the regular staff making sure the food is readily available to meet the need in the two counties.

The mural’s message:  help fight hunger.  Photo by Steve Newvine

So the message is now clearer than ever at the far right of the mural on the west side of the Food Bank warehouse. 

Three simple words make the case for raising awareness and supporting initiatives that help those in need of food:  help fight hunger.

The new Food Bank website address is




The Central Valley’s Part in Tony Bennett’s Legacy

Tony Bennett turns ninety this summer.  While fans around the world will remember him for the song about San Francisco, the Central Valley played a small, yet significant role the singer’s career.

Tony Bennett’s enduring music catalog. Photo by Steve Newvine

Elvis liked his style. Sinatra called him his favorite singer.  It has been a remarkable career for the singer whose first records were made in the early 1950s.

Through the years, music formats changed.  But Tony never really changed. Sticking to popular tunes better known as the Great American Songbook, he kept plugging along.  Through good times and bad, he was around, “picking up the pieces” as he sings from an early hit, making music.  

He was the first musical guest on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on October 1, 1962.  He performed his newest single on that program.  The tune, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, would become his signature song.

To me, the song is more than just a tribute to that “City by the Bay” as the song lyrics go.  The song connects with the desire many of us have to go home. No matter where we end up in life, we’d like to think that home is always welcoming us back.

Tony once told an interviewer that U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War would see the Golden Gate Bridge upon their return from the service.  Invariably, someone would break out in song singing I Left My Heart in San Francisco.  

As my uncle served in Vietnam, I’d like to think he and his fellow returning soldiers did the same thing upon their return to the states.

My journey as a Tony Bennett fan began in the mid-1970s when he was a frequent guest on the Tonight Show.  

Johnny Carson preferred to have pop music artists of the Tony Bennett/Steve Lawrence genre.  I was a teenager preferring rock-and-roll, but I liked Carson.  

So I figured if Johnny favored these artists, they must be good.  I was a Tony Bennett fan long before it was fashionable.

I realize now that the 1970s was possibly the most trying years of his career. At times during that decade he was addicted to drugs, his long time record label Columbia dropped him, and he toiled away in less popular venues before smaller crowds.  

I remember seeing a picture of him taken from that time at a Rochester, New York area restaurant.  The owner saw me admiring the photograph in the early 1990s. He pointed to himself standing alongside Tony in that picture.

He told me the photo was taken after a performance in western New York.  The man shared with me how he saw the singer again twenty-years later and asked Tony whether he remembered that particular performance.  

Tony told him “I don’t remember much of what happened in the seventies."

Life is Beautiful album by Tony Bennett


The first Tony Bennett record I bought was a long-playing 33 RPM called Life is Beautiful on the obscure Improv label.  The album was made in the seventies; I found it brand new in a clearance bin at a big box store.  The songs were well done. The title song was written by Fred Astaire.  

In the 1980s, Tony kept plugging along and my only connection to him was through his frequent appearances on the Carson show.  Toward the end of the decade, he would turn to his son Danny to manage his career.  That’s when the new Tony Bennett emerged.

Danny was able to restore his dad’s recording contract with Columbia. He booked his father with some younger acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  

He also got his dad featured in an hour-long MTV episode of the Unplugged series.  That appearance featured duets with K.D. Lang and Elvis Costello.  The live concert CD release captured the excitement of that evening and is credited with moving Tony to a new fan base.

In May 1992, Tony appeared on the last week of the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.   Tony sang two songs.  One was Johnny’s favorite, I’ll be Seeing You.  The other was I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

 Mementos from Tony Bennett’s concert at the William Sayoran Theater in Fresno in 2004. Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

And now to how the Central Valley played a small role in the legacy of Tony Bennett.

I saw Tony perform in Fresno in 2004.  I recognized every song but one.  That particular composition, All for You, he explained to the audience at the William Sayoran Theater, was a new song in which he tried his hand at writing lyrics.  He performed it for the very first time on stage that night in Fresno.  In his second autobiography Life is a Gift, he wrote of singing the song on stage that night in Fresno.  “I was bowled over by their (the audience) reaction” he wrote.  “They went crazy for it.”  

The words for All for You were the only song lyrics he ever wrote.

I’d like to think I led the enthusiastic applause when he performed that song on that night.  I know I was the most enthusiastic fan in the theater as he performed I Left My Heart in San Francisco.  

I’ve already begun celebrating Tony’s ninetieth by playing his music daily. The music has endured, his interpretations continue to layer over the many songs in his catalog.

He is a class act. Happy Birthday Tony!

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Shaping the Lesson Plan

Did you ever want the chance to help shape what our children are learning in the classroom?  

Thanks to the staff at Merced Union High School District and a company that helps schools improve educational programs, I got that opportunity during the summer school break.

 The Energy and Power Technology Technical Working Review Panel.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

Like many people, I used to watch our educational system from the sidelines.  But for the past twenty-plus years, I have taken advantage of opportunities to weigh in on what’s going on in our schools.

In the 1990s in upstate New York, I was involved in a business and education collaboration that brought together school administrators and people running companies. 

Our mission was to help identify the skills employers needed in their company’s workforce and work with schools to incorporate those job skills in class.  

At first, both sides were skeptical yet optimistic.  A common perception the business people had was that the teachers were not presenting anything relevant to what was going on in the real world. 

Educators had a perception that the business community was only concerned about lowering taxes and reducing the amount of money government was spending on education.  

But the goal was pretty clear:  the people creating jobs felt many local graduates were unprepared for work. By talking to one another, we could better understand the problem and work on solutions.  

We got through those early years by building trust, working collaboratively, and becoming a little more open-minded.

In the last decade, a group known as the Business Education Alliance of Merced (BEAM) was formed by the Merced County Office of Education to do the same thing: bring the worlds of business and education together to improve the quality of education. 

That group had a strong start, but interest fell in later years and the group no longer meets.  The need for business input in education is still there, but now it is being addressed by the schools working directly with businesses in their communities.

That takes me to the call to participate in a project of the Merced Union High School District.

I was asked to take part in an evaluation of one of the career and technical education (CTE) courses offered by the District.  I was joined by another working professional, the educator who teaches the class at Yosemite High School, and a facilitator from the consulting company hired by the District

(Educational Programming Improvement Center based in Oregon. 

Our task was to evaluate the local Energy and Power Technology program on how well it covers California education standards.

The high school class is taught at the Merced Adult School facility on the Yosemite High School campus.  Teacher Kahri Boykin says that without the Merced Adult School, the entire Energy and Power Technology program would not be available to students.  

The Adult School offers a similar program preparing older workers for jobs in many fields including energy.  

Teacher Kahri Boykin talks about his Energy classes he teaches at Yosemite High School and the Merced Adult School. Photo:  Steve Newvine

We met at the El Capitan High School Cafeteria and spent several hours reviewing the curriculum for the Energy and Power Technology program. 

We were referred to as the Technical Working Review Panel.  We were given documents to read ahead of the day-long work session.  Knowing how important it is to have people who are working in the field engaged in how these programs are put together, I accepted the request to participate. 

Fortunately, I work for a company that encourages community service such as this.

We reviewed each of the California Education Department’s standards for the curriculum.  Kahri told us whether or not that standard was being addressed in the program.  As he explained what he was doing in the classroom, the two business representatives would offer feedback. 

The consultant kept us on track as we went through each standard.  With about seventy individual standards including associated subsets tied to the program, it was clear not all of them could be integrated in the Energy and Power Technology curriculum. 

But my business colleague and I were impressed that many of the standards are already part of the program.

The standards themselves were reasonable and read as though sound business principles were taken into consideration as they were written. 

For the Energy and Power curriculum, some of the standards include: understanding basic communications, being aware of current technology, knowing the roles and responsibilities of team members, and having the technical knowledge to do the jobs that the program is preparing the student to fill upon graduation.  

Other skills covered by the standards and highly valued by the business partners included:  safety, entrepreneurship, and personal ethics.

Our work concluded with lunch, a thank you gift from Merced Union High School District, and a feeling that in a small way we made a difference in bringing business insight to a career-oriented program. 

We met some new people, exchanged contact information, and returned to our regular jobs. In thanking my private sector colleague and me, Kahri told us he was going to apply some of our input directly to the classroom beginning this fall when the students return from summer vacation.

It was not an ordinary workday, but it was a productive means to the end of preparing our young people for the jobs that will need to be filled in the future. 

We had our chance to tell a teacher what our companies are looking for in their new hires.  That made the whole effort worthwhile.  We left knowing the school district appreciated our effort to help them prepare our young people for possible careers in the energy industry.  

The economic development professionals I have known over the years have told me that one of the first questions a company will ask when considering investment to a community is how skilled is the local workforce? 

A second question is usually about what initiatives are in place to train workers for the jobs the company will create?  

So to these future solar installers, home energy auditors, and related careers covered by the Energy and Power Technology curriculum, I wish you the best of luck. 

As former State Assembly Member Juan Arambula, once told me, “The world of work is as easy as A-B-C.  A: get a job.  B: get a better job.  C: get a career.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

His book, Soft Skills in Hard Times covers fifteen specific strategies to help people succeed on the job and in life. It is available at

On the Job- 50 Years

Can you envision doing the job you’re doing right now for fifty years?  Imagine outlasting every supervisor except the one you’re working for right now, and you know there’s a good chance you’ll outlast that one.  Can you see yourself watching scores of coworkers come and go?  It’s likely you endured some low points, and certainly had many high points.

Steve Newvine and Don Alhart who marks 50 years on the air at WHAM-TV in Rochester, NY.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

What would it be like to find just the right career and staying with your company for fifty years?  

I know someone who reaches that milestone in June of this year. 

My friend Don Alhart is the six and eleven o’clock news anchor for WHAM-TV in Rochester, New York.  He arrived at the station on June 6, 1966. 

First as a reporter, and then soon as an anchorman, Don has enjoyed the work and the station’s newscasts have remained popular in the ratings.  Seeing no reason to hang it up at a time when many might retire, Don continues to deliver the nightly newscasts on Channel 13.

My memories of working with him center on a globe that at one time occupied a corner of the newsroom at Channel 13.  More on that later.

For eight years of Don’s fifty-year tenure, I was part of the station’s news department.  I produced the six o’clock news, helped Don create the station’s noon newscast, and produced special projects including election night coverage and documentaries during my time with the station.  

My memories of working with Don include the five years he was paired with the late Dick Burt on the six o’clock news.  I enjoyed working with both of these broadcasters.  There’s no question in my mind that I learned an awful lot from them. 

If as the title of the popular book by Robert Fulghum is true, All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, then I can say with some authority that all I ever needed to know about television news I learned from Don Alhart and Dick Burt. 

More to the point, I learned how to write more like how people talked.  I learned why striving for accuracy was paramount in a business where trust is highly valued.  And I learned Don’s constant refrain that we earned audience loyalty one viewer at a time.

Throughout those eight years I worked alongside Don (1983-1991), another constant in our professional lives was our friend, the late Bill Peterson.  As the station’s meteorologist, Bill would offer nightly forecasts and an easy target for Don to express his sense of humor. 

At times it seemed that Don, with very little effort, could make Bill laugh on the air.  The station’s blooper reel is filled with footage of Bill breaking up after Don planted an image of something funny during his introductions to the weather segments.  

The two kept that friendship intact as Bill retired to focus on his declining health.  Don delivered the eulogy at Bill’s funeral in 2006. 

I was no longer living in the area when Bill lost his final battle with cancer, but Don made sure that a DVD of the services and of the WHAM-TV coverage of Bill’s life was sent to my home in California shortly after.

The years working with Don can be summed up with an image of either of us laughing at what the other had to say.  I had a habit of getting a cup of coffee from the newsroom drip coffee maker while it was brewing; I’d remove the pot and let the first drops of liquid flow into my mug. 

In later weeks, he’d come by my work area and say, “The coffee is ‘Newvine’ ready,” meaning it had not finishing brewing, but it was coming out just the way I liked it.  

And then, there’s the globe.  There was an old desktop globe on a corner counter of our newsroom. 

I would occasionally place the globe on my shoulder and lament to Don with a smile, “Somedays, I feel as though I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.”  My tired bit always brought a smile, sometimes a chuckle.   

Two years after leaving the station for a better job at a competing station, someone dropped off a box at my desk saying, “Don has this gift for you.”  I opened the box and there was that globe.  

My time at Channel 13 was good for my family and me.  I sorted out what I really wanted to do with my life. 

And as nice as it was working alongside Don for those eight years, considering myself one of his friends in the years since I stopped working with him has brought me a real sense of satisfaction and pride.

I remember the day both Don and Bill showed up to see me sworn in as a member of the Avon (NY) Rotary Club.  I remember a sympathy card and note at the time of my mother’s passing.  

I can count on annual Christmas photographs, too infrequent telephone calls, and funny emails that arrive whenever either of us find something we think the other might enjoy.

The viewers of Rochester, New York television station WHAM-TV have had a wonderful blessing over the past five decades as Don anchored the news.  But I’m sure Don sees it as a blessing to him that viewers have remained so loyal all these years. 

He often said you build an audience one viewer at a time, and he should know.  It took several years after he joined the station for the news to reach the top of the ratings.  Holding on to the top spot is always a challenge. 

The competition is tough, and I am certain neither Don nor the news teams at all of Rochester’s television stations, would not have it any other way.  

I salute my friend Don on his fiftieth anniversary with WHAM-TV.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Innovation at UC Merced

It may not have been the television show Shark Tank, but for UC Merced students wrapping up the spring semester, the pressure was likely just as intense.

UC Merced students make their presentations during Innovate to Grow at UC Merced.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The students were engineering majors who spent most of this past semester working on ideas that might improve things in such areas as manufacturing or public safety.  

The students’ final presentations were made during the fifth annual Innovate to Grow conference held on the campus on the Friday before graduation.

Organizers say the purpose of Innovate to Grow is to celebrate student innovation.  Throughout the daylong event, demonstrations of some of the engineering solutions created by student teams were presented to the public. 

A panel of judges which included faculty and business representatives questioned the teams at the end of each presentation.

Audience members view a student presentation at Innovate to Grow. Photo by Steve Newvine

Prototypes of the projects were on view in a gymnasium set up as an “Engineering Design Expo” earlier in the day.  The presentations began after a lunch break.

Ideas included a new way to load chickens into the correct processing holding areas.  In the chicken processing industry, a lot of labor is used to make sure this is done properly. 

The students working on the chicken loading prototype believe their device could drastically reduce the amount of labor needed to do this task. 

Their job on this particular Friday afternoon at the end of the semester was to convince the panel looking at their presentation to see some potential in the project.

Another idea centered on helping restaurants lower their energy use to save money on their utility bills.  Restaurants generally consume a lot of electricity and natural gas.  The students working on this engineering project proposed a solar energy generation solution that would help reduce what a local restaurant pays for energy. 

Their solution also included energy efficiency.  They talked about how the recent installation of LED (light emitting diode) lamps in fixtures throughout the restaurant helped lower energy usage immediately. 

The installation of aerators on all faucets in the facility helped reduce water waste.  Aerators disperse the flow, creating more pressure while using less water. Water saved not only helps in the dry Central Valley, it also reduces energy use to heat it for hot water needs in a restaurant.

 Innovate to Grow was held the day before commencement at UC Merced.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Other ideas explained before the judging panels at the conference included a system that handles tomatoes with kid gloves by touching the tomatoes in a gentler way, a new way to remove byproducts of the logging industry to eliminate fire hazards, and a process to remove the hardness of water in food processing. 

In each case, the student team worked with either a private company or a public agency to determine needs for their proposed solutions.

For the panel, the students presented power point slides that, in some instances, included animation and video.  Each presentation began with a mission statement for the student “company” that was offering a solution to an industry issue.

The audience included proud parents (this was graduation weekend), interested students, and others who registered for the Innovate to Grow event. 

The panel asked good questions.  And while their personal fortunes were not on the line as the sharks on Shark Tank lead us to believe week after week, the opportunity for students to respond to questions about their projects was in itself a valuable learning experience.  

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Hmong Story 40 Exhibit brings History and Heroics to Merced

In recognition of the forty year connection between the Hmong and California, a new exhibit celebrates the living history of an important American ally.

 A wall full of individual Hmong community members seen near the beginning of the Hmongstory 40 exhibit at the Merced County Fairgrounds.  Photo by Steve Newvine

In recent years, many have sought out their family history in an effort to learn more about past generations.  Whether it’s a genealogy search, connecting through social media, or coming across an old letter a family member kept stored away for decades, the search for meaning behind who we are seems universal.

That may explain the hundreds upon hundreds of people with a connection to the Hmong communities in California are seeing the exhibit Hmong Story 40. 

The interactive exhibit has been touring select cities in the Central Valley including Merced where it will continue to inform and inspire the community through May 15.  The exhibit is being held at the Merced County Fairgrounds daily. 

There is no cost to attend. 

The title reflects the forty-year history of the Hmong, who were allies of American troops in the Vietnam era.  Forced away from their homeland in Laos, many families became refugees and settled in the U.S.; many in California.

 Paintings by Hmong artists depicting life in California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

When Hmong families began settling in California, Merced welcomed some of these early citizens.  The first three Hmong families to settle in California resided in Merced.  

Event Director Wa Chong Yang says the exhibition is intended to preserve the relatively short history of the Hmong in the Central Valley.  “It’s human nature to question one’s identity,” he said.  “We hope this exhibit encourages more people to look to their past.”

A display of clothing worn by the Hmong.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The exhibit breaks down the history of the Hmong/U.S. connection into four stages: life in Laos, the Secret War, refugee camps, and life in California.

On the day I attended, a school class from Sacramento participated in a presentation on Hmong life, followed by a guided tour of the exhibit areas.  

“We knew this exhibit would be well received in the Hmong community,” Project Director Lar Yang told me.  “But it also connects with other communities as the search for identity is universal.”

The Life in Laos portion of the exhibit explains the genesis of the bond between the U.S. military and the Hmong.  In the Vietnam War era, Laos was considered by the Geneva Accord to be a neutral country.  This meant that by international agreement, the sending of troops was not allowed. 

Although the U.S. was supposed to have no official involvement in the affairs of Laos, the CIA served as consultants or advisers for the Hmong soldiers.   The U.S. promised it would help the Hmong get to America or to refugee camps if they lost the war. The Hmong lost, but the U.S. was able to get about 5,000 people out.

 The Life in California portion of the Hmong Story 40 exhibit.  Judge Paul Lo of Merced is pictured in the lower right hand corner.   Photo by Steve Newvine

The Life in California portion of the exhibit includes artwork depicting experiences for the first Hmong refugees.  There’s also a section on Hmong citizens who have been elected to political office or appointed to judicial posts.  In this section, there is a photograph of Judge Paul Lo of Merced, California’s first Judge of Hmong descent.

Perhaps the most touching tribute in the exhibit is an area near the end of the displays honoring Peter Chou Vang of Merced County. Mr. Vang passed away in early May.  He was a highly regarded military and community leader.  A card introducing the tribute calls Mr. Vang one of several fallen heroes who put their lives on the line for freedom.  

Portion of the Hmong Story 40 exhibit honoring the life of Peter Chou Vang of Merced.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Hmong Story 40 exhibit started in Fresno and will head to Sacramento after the Merced stop.  Approximately 45,000 people attended in Fresno, and organizers expect attendance in Merced to reach 5,000 to 10,000.

Organizers hope that the exhibit will extend interest in the Hmong story.  A website  allows a visitor to read about the specific elements of the exhibit, view videos on different aspects of Hmong life, and even upload photographs and videos.  

As universal as the desire to learn more about past generations may be, it still requires work to turn that desire into action.  Hmong Story 40 hopes to make it a lot easier for anyone interested in making that connection.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

On the 99. The Modesto Manifesto

The year was 1948.  The preacher was Billy Graham.  Already stirring up enthusiasm for his prayer meetings, this evangelist was on the verge of becoming an internationally known religious figure.  Something happened that year in Modesto, California that would set the foundation for his ministry

Site of where the Billy Graham Crusade in Modesto, California was held in 1948.  Photo from The Newvine Personal Collection

Billy Graham had a connection to the Central Valley.  His right-hand man, Cliff Barrows was from Ceres, Stanislaus County.  With the Graham organization staging Crusades in several US cities, it made sense that a similar event take place Central California.  Thanks to the community ties of Cliff Barrows, a decision was made to run a Crusade event in Modesto.

I wrote about that 1948 Modesto Crusade in my book 9 from 99-Experiences in California’s Central Valley

For that book, I spoke with Cliff Barrows by phone from the Graham ministry offices in North Carolina.  He told me Modesto was more than just a tune-up for the upcoming Los Angeles Crusade.  It was a time when Billy Graham and his closest aides met to write what would become the guiding principles for the organization.

“The book Elmer Gantry was popular at the time, so there was a lot of skepticism over traveling preachers,” Cliff Barrows told me in 2010.  “Billy asked the three of us to think about the pitfalls that other evangelists had encountered.”  

Over several days at the Rock Motel on Highway 99 north of McHenry Avenue in Modesto, the four discussed barriers to the success of any ministry.  Their goal was to create a set of guidelines for the ministry to adopt in an effort to help them overcome the barriers.

While the Modesto Crusade was underway nightly, Graham and Barrows, along with associates George Beverly Shea and Grady Wilson met during the day to work out the ministry’s new rules of conduct.  

They produced a document that featured four points, and how the new organization would conduct itself in these four areas.  Billy Graham credits Cliff Barrows with naming the document the Modesto Manifesto.  

The Manifesto’s four pillars are as follows:

  1. Integrity.  Honesty to one another and to the people served.
  2. Accountability.  To each other, to themselves, to the organization, and to its’ finances.
  3. Purity.  In life and in heart.  In relationships with members of the opposite sex.  This led to the promise that no member of the Graham organization would be in a room alone with a person of the opposite sex other than their spouse.
  4. Humility.  A promise to honor each other, to engage the local faith community as the crusades moved throughout the nation and throughout the world.  This tenant also includes the promise that the organization would not seek excess publicity for what they were doing.

After the Modesto Crusade in 1948, the Graham team focused on Los Angeles where in 1949 where they would take the evangelist’s message to a bigger audience.

The Los Angeles Crusade is considered to be the turning point for the Billy Graham ministry as it became a nationwide, soon-to-be worldwide evangelical organization.  

An estimated 26,000 people attended the Modesto Crusade over ten nights in 1948.

The work by Billy and his three close associates helped create the guiding principles of Graham ministry.  You won’t find a historical sign in Modesto marking either the creation of the Manifesto or the location of the 1948 Central Valley Crusade. 

The Rock Motel where the Manifesto was drafted no longer exists.  You can drive to the intersection of Burney Avenue and La Loma Avenue and find the approximate location of the 1948 Modesto Crusade. 

But you can take some comfort in knowing that the Modesto Gospel Mission, started with a portion of the donations raised at the 1948 Crusade, continues to serve hundreds of families and others through a variety of programs that have developed over the years. 

The mission serves 150,000 meals every year, provides 4,600 overnight accommodations annually, and now operates with a yearly budget of over two-million dollars.  An investment of five-thousand dollars made nearly sixty years ago has paid dividends to thousands of people in need.

That’s a pretty respectable legacy from the Billy Graham Crusade of 1948.  And the Modesto Manifesto continues to guide the organization well into the new century.  Billy will turn 98 in November 2016.  

In 2018, the faith communities of Modesto will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Central Valley Billy Graham Crusade, and the seventieth anniversary of the Modesto Manifesto.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He wrote about Modesto and several other Central Valley communities in the book 9 from 99-Experiences in California’s Central Valley

Energy and Enthusiasm, in the Early Years of Work


Learning about the untimely passing of a colleague from three decades ago brought back memories from working in local television news with some very special people.

Covering the news in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

An email arrived recently informing me that a former colleague from my television reporting days had passed away.

After experiencing the shock from learning of Helen's death and having thoughts for her two grown children, I spent a few moments to grieve over the passing of my former co-worker.  All three emotions:  shock, concern, and grief were experienced in the course of an afternoon.

The first fifteen years of my professional life were spent as a television journalist working in a total of five local stations in different parts of the country.  I cherish the memories from those years, and consider myself fortunate that I have stayed in contact with at least a handful of colleagues.

But there is a special place in my heart for the two years I worked in Huntsville, Alabama.

This column is not about how those good old days were so much better than it must be for electronic journalists working in the media today.  It was a different time.  Electronic news gathering in the 1980s was the only true high tech medium for the time.  Journalists now have the internet, vest cameras, surveillance footage, cell phones, and webcams in their electronic toolboxes.  

The rules were much different three decades ago with editors reviewing news copy, ethics guiding most decisions about appropriateness, and gut instincts playing an important role over decisions about fairness.

This is not about the differences from my time in the media to now.  This is about the similarities; or at least what many of us hope endures over time:  good memories.  

Those years created many smiles.

While live on-the-scene reports were common on local television stations in the early 1980s, moving the entire news anchor team on location was a relatively new trend.  Pictured are WAAY weather man Bob Baron, anchor Jim Marsh and the late Helen Howard in a newscast dedicated to summer recreation.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection.

In those formative early years in northern Alabama, my coworkers and I learned a lot about the exciting world of local television news.  The station had a remote van that allowed us to report from just about any place in northern Alabama and southern Tennessee.

I did my first live report from the local Republican Party celebration on election night when Ronald Reagan was elected President.

Our station experimented with lots of ideas that were new for the early eighties but seemingly normal in local news today. Some nights, we would take the whole anchor team including the weather and sports casters, on location and do the entire broadcast from the field.  

From time to time, we would interrupt network programming to broadcast bulletins to our audience.  This practice usually generated calls from viewers who missed something in the sitcom we were interrupting.  My news director would dismiss the complaints with explanations to the staff along the lines of “they may hate us for interrupting, but they’ll remember us.”

I remember getting home one afternoon after pulling an early morning shift when the phone rang.  The news department’s assignment editor dispatched me to the airport where a big fire had broken out.  I had already worked about ten hours and was looking forward to a relaxing evening.  But the story needed to be reported, and I got my instructions to meet the live truck at the airport.   I arrived on the scene moments before the six o’clock newscast began, reported what few details I knew at the beginning of the newscast, promised the viewers more later, and returned with another live report before the newscast ended.    

I’ll never forget the night before Thanksgiving in 1981 when I was sent to a remote part of the viewing area where a distraught man was holding his wife and young child hostage.  My photographer and I, along with our competitors from other news media, stayed with the story until it ended in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning.  Upon returning to the station, I worked on my script, recorded my narration, headed home, and took my wife out for Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant.  It was the most sleep-deprived holiday I ever endured.

And there were little things about working with a group of good humored folks.  

I remember calling the general manager's secretary by her name "Mrs. Higgins" using my impression of Tim Conway's old man Tudball's character from the Carol Brunett Show.  I can only hope the real Mrs. Higgins appreciated the reference.

Even Helen, the person whose passing is now bringing up so many memories, got the best of me one night when I asked her to pick up a sandwich for me on the way back from a reporting assignment.  I asked for a Whopper with no onions.

She had the sandwich made with triple onions.  I was so hungry that I didn't notice the extra onions until about the third bite.

A very young Steve Newvine (bottom left) with co-workers in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

The men in this photograph were the young Turks of the WAAY-TV newsroom in Huntsville, Alabama in the early 1980s.  Shown here at a colleague’s farewell party, we were full of energy, enthusiasm, and optimism.  

We would repeat a farewell party every few months as someone in the newsroom accepted a new job in another city. My colleagues were dispersed over the years to such places as Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, and in my case Rockford, Illinois where I became one of the youngest television news directors in the country in 1982.

None of us seemed interested in making Huntsville, Alabama our permanent home.  The so-called Southern hospitality was wonderful.  It was a beautiful city, but many of us were climbing up the career ladder.

My wife and I came to Huntsville as newlyweds.  If we were looking for an adventure to start our married life, we found it there.  We left about two years later shortly after the birth of our first child.  There were high and low points for me professionally during that time, but as with anything meaningful in life, the good times outweighed the bad.

We were ambitious and excited about the work we performed daily at WAAY-TV.  Most of us moved on, with only occasional phone calls and a Christmas card to keep us connected for a few years.  Eventually, new work brought about new acquaintances.  With time, only the memories survived.

So I remember the passing of our colleague Helen.  I smile as I recall the time when our hopeful dreams carried each day, and we had no idea how life would end up for all of us.

They were the good old days.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He shared some memories of his work covering the US Space program while working in Huntsville in his book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories.


Springtime is Stampede Time in Chowchilla

The opening lyrics to the theme song from the television western series Rawhide say all that needs to be said: “Rollin, rollin, rollin.

59th Annual Chowchilla Western Stampede cattle drive.  Picture by Steve Newvine

The herd was rolling.  It was rolling down Robertson Boulevard in Chowchilla, California.

The herd of cattle was the highlight for day one of the annual Chowchilla Western Stampede.  About one-hundred young steer were led down the city’s main thoroughfare in the heavy rain on the traditional second Friday in March.  

The cattle drive is the kick-off to a weekend of rodeo-related roping activities and a tip of the western hat to the cattle raising heritage of this northern Madera County city of about nineteen thousand people.

The Stampede cattle drive brings out the area’s most dedicated cattle people.  Picture by Steve Newvine

Rodeos and related roping events are nothing new to the Central Valley, and certainly not new to Chowchilla.  2016 marked the fifty-ninth annual event.  

The cattle drive kicks off the weekend as the animals are led from the Chowchilla Fairgrounds, turning east on Robertson Drive, moving down the street until turning right at the intersection just before Highway 99, and then completing their drive right back to the Fairgrounds.  

Led by area horsemen and women, alongside cattlemen and young people on horses, with local law enforcement providing the parade security, the drive passes by in a matter of minutes.  

It is tradition that keeps the cattle drive going year after year.  After all, there is no practical reason why the cattle need to be moved in what amounts to a giant circle in the town’s original business section.  It’s done for the community and those who want to get some idea of what a western cattle drive looks like up close.  

It’s one of the few opportunities many people will get to see an actual herd of cattle moving down a paved roadway.

Chowchilla Western Stampede.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Chowchilla Western Stampede gets an early start in January with an annual fundraising dinner.  Money raised from that dinner is used to award scholarships for agriculture-based education at Chowchilla High, Mariposa High and Yosemite High schools.

The highlight of the dinner is the naming of the Stampede Grand Marshall.  This year, local cattleman, former rodeo star, and area business owner Bob Ragsdale was named Grand Marshall.

I tried unsuccessfully to reach Bob to talk about his Grand Marshall honor as well as his rodeo career.  But outgoing chairman of the Stampede, Tom Martin told the Merced Sun Star that Bob was the ideal candidate to be Grand Marshall, “He’s a superstar of the rodeo arena, but more importantly, he’s a superstar of a man.”

More than six-hundred people attended the fundraising dinner when Bob was named Grand Marshall.

Bob Ragsdale was born in Montana and began taking part in rodeos while in high school. He qualified for the National Finals Rodeo every year from 1961 to 1975 for calf roping, steer wrestling and team roping.   

He was inducted into the St. Paul Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oregon, named to the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, and was recently honored by the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall.

Steer from this year’s cattle drive make the turn to head back from where they started at the Chowchilla Fairgrounds.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The three-day Stampede event is usually held on the second weekend in March.

 It features such events as team roping barrel racing.  Top finishers are awarded cash and western oriented prizes.  

The cattle drive has been one of those things I’ve been meaning to do over the past few years.  Living in nearby Merced, it seemed like there was no reason to put it off any longer.  

So I made my way south to Chowchilla to take it all in.  I’m glad I did.

So rodeo season is off and galloping in the Central Valley.  

While the Chowchilla Western Stampede may not be the biggest event among the many communities who stage activities to celebrate their cattle raising heritage, it has a lot of heart with fifty-nine years of success.

In 2017 when the event reaches its’ sixtieth anniversary, we’ll once again hear the hooves clacking down Robertson Boulevard.

Rollin, rollin, rollin.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced





To read and hear the Merced Sun Star’s report on the Stampede dinner,