Surviving Sixty-Eight

With a perspective of fifty years, those of us who endured 1968 can now put things in proper perspective.

 The Newvine family camper provided a lot of fun during a tumultuous 1968.  Photo: Newvine Family Collection

The Newvine family camper provided a lot of fun during a tumultuous 1968.  Photo: Newvine Family Collection

For the past five decades, we could summarize 1968 with a few quick images:  

  • The springtime assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy within two months,
  • The violence in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention that summer,
  • The election of Richard Nixon in the fall
  • The daily presence of the Vietnam War on the national television news.  

There is little doubt that year changed many of us.  

By the mid-1960s, seniors who were among the first to pay into Social Security were now collecting their benefits.  

Middle-aged people who thought they had been through the worst in World War II now scratched their heads as they watched television images of draft card burnings, college campus protests, and death in the jungles of Vietnam.  

Those in their teens and twenties feared the military draft as more and more young men would be brought into the south-east Asian quagmire.

I saw it all from a different perspective.  I was a fifth-grader in the spring of 1968. I grew up a lot during that year.

In April, we saw the aftermath of the King shooting, the rioting, the funeral procession, and the updates on the manhunt for the man who pulled the trigger.

The next month would bring tragedy to my family when my uncle Bill was killed in a car accident near my hometown.  Bill had endured a tour of duty in Vietnam. He had finished his service just six months prior to that accident.

  Finding Bill is the story about my efforts to learn more about my uncle who died six months after returning home from Vietnam.

 Finding Bill is the story about my efforts to learn more about my uncle who died six months after returning home from Vietnam.

I spent a good amount of time in later years tracking down soldiers who knew him.  I never got the chance to talk to him about his military service. He died when I was just eleven years old.  I knew that I would never know him as an uncle.

With that accident coming just a month after the King shooting, I put the events from the south out of my mind and focused on going through the grieving process with my family as we mourned the death of Bill Newvine.

In early June, the world saw Robert Kennedy gunned down in Los Angeles.  

I have distinct memories of spending a Saturday afternoon at my cousin’s dairy farm.  My cousins and I spent most of the day outside.

But whenever I came inside, my aunt Betty would be watching the Kennedy funeral on television.

I survived 1968.  Thanks to my parents.

 My parents, Ed and Bea Newvine in a photo likely taken in 1968.  Photo: Newvine Family Collection

My parents, Ed and Bea Newvine in a photo likely taken in 1968.  Photo: Newvine Family Collection

Like most parents, Ed and Bea sought to protect their children, and provide enriching experiences for them.

Our annual camping trips over the summer months remained on the calendar in 1968.  

We packed our camper and headed to Golden Beach State Park on Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks.  There, we joined with several other families from my hometown for a week of vacation.

The remainder of that summer would take us through images of violence at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago later that summer.

The Vietnam War would continue to rage seemingly out of control as more American soldiers paid the ultimate price.

But my parents sought to keep our summer as normal as possible.  In addition to the camping trips, we’d go to the weekly firemen’s field days in Port Leyden and surrounding communities.  

My brother, sister, and I would help Mom tend to the garden or assist Dad with projects around the house.  I spent many days riding my bike and being with friends.

On weekends, my parents would take us on family day trips to such places at the Saint Lawrence Seaway or a boat cruise through the Thousand Islands of northern New York State.

The summer ended with one final camping trip to another Adirondack state park.  We returned home on Labor Day, and I entered the sixth grade the next day.

On one level, the events of 1968 made me feel as though the world was falling apart.  But in my family circle, my parents were trying to fill our free time with things to do.  This in spite of the fact my Dad was dealing with his own grief over the death of his brother earlier in the spring.

 Earthrise is the name of this photograph taken during the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968.  Photo: NASA

Earthrise is the name of this photograph taken during the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968.  Photo: NASA

The most hope-filled moment of 1968 came at Christmastime when the Apollo 8 mission took three astronauts around the moon for the first time ever.  

Circling the moon was an important milestone for the space program as it proved NASA could safely travel there. Astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell would fly close enough to the surface to identify favorable landing spots for the mission that would land there later in 1969.

But the moment that remains as a hopeful sign that times would get better came when the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve, 1968.

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”

Those words, coupled with pictures showing the earth looking like a bright blue marble, put a final touch on a year many would just as soon forget.  

The passage ended a year of tragedy with words of hope.

“And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

1968 was filled with tragic events.  It was more than enough to endure for any child, or any adult for that matter.  

Thanks to my parents, there were some pleasant memories from 1968.

And for that, I am grateful.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He wrote about the 1968 death of his uncle Bill in his book Finding Bill, available from Lulu.com



 

When a Pastor Dies

When a beloved member of the clergy passes away, a faith community feels the impact of that life.

 Father Bert Mello.  Photo from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Bakersfield

Father Bert Mello.  Photo from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Bakersfield

Bert Mello of Atwater, Merced County came to his decision on becoming a Catholic priest late in life.  He entered the seminary in his fifties.

He was ordained in 2013 just a few weeks before celebrating his sixtieth birthday.

So when he passed away March 21 just a few months short of turning sixty-five, there was surprise and shock that this tenure in parish ministry was seemingly cut too short.

I first saw Bert Mello serve in the Lector ministry at St. Patrick’s Church in Merced shortly after arriving in the community in 2006.  

The Lector reads scripture out loud before the congregation during Mass.

What impressed me about Bert’s style of oral interpretation was his apparent memorization of some of the readings he delivered.  

A friend told me this was one of Bert’s signature habits as a Lector.

He would practice the readings so intently that by the time he read to the congregation, he usually knew the text so well that he could deliver it without looking at the written page.

The faith community at St. Patrick’s Church would see Bert during his years in the seminary.  He would come back to visit family and help out at the church during breaks from his studies.

While I did not know him well, his presence was felt in a positive way.

That presence was more than just being a familiar face.  In church, he was full of enthusiasm. When we learned of his backstory, we understood why he was so passionate about his faith.

At age 50, divorced from his spouse and separated from his church, Bert turned back to his faith.  He sought and received reconciliation. In that process, he found his life calling.

He entered the seminary at a relatively older age.  His enthusiasm came across as a man in a hurry to make up for lost time.  

My wife and I attended his first Mass as an ordained priest in 2013.  

The church was packed. I remember how everyone was proud that someone from our parish had become a priest.  

Father Bert gave a powerful homily describing his faith journey that led him to that very day.

He was immediately assigned to a church in Fresno and would eventually accept a post in Bakersfield.  The congregation in Merced would see him once or twice a year when he visited family and celebrated Mass.

In my forty-plus years of adult life, I have attended the funeral Mass for three priests.  While there is joy through our faith in knowing the soul lives on in heaven, there is sadness with the earthly reality of a special person separated from us.

People develop some kind of relationship with their pastors.  They are present at some of the most important times in family life:  marriages, baptisms, even funerals. Some become close personal friends.  

Some feel there is a comfort in life personified through the person who leads a faith community.

Many pastors generally work to keep some distance from their flocks.  Transfers in assignments are common. There’s a realization that the person serving in that role is loyal first to the church.  They go where they are needed.

Still, they are people.  They appreciate the kindness we show.  We acknowledge the sacrifice they make when they choose to enter church ministry.

And that takes us back to Father Bert Mello.  He was a man who came into religious life at a later age.  

A man described by some of his parishioners in Bakersfield as intent on cramming in as much activity in his church as he could possibly give.   

He did just that.  And for those who knew him, even for a brief amount of time, we are feeling the impact of his service and expressing our gratefulness for having him cross our path.


Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His 2007 book Go Where You Are Needed is about a group of Sisters dealing with the closing of their convent.  

It is available at Lulu.com


 

Merced Falls- A Ghost Town with a Great Story

There was a time from the late 1800s until the early 1940s when the town of Merced Falls in northern Merced County was a center of commercial activity.

   The Yosemite Lumber Company employed 1,000 workers in the early part of the 1900s.  Photo from: Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

 The Yosemite Lumber Company employed 1,000 workers in the early part of the 1900s.  Photo from: Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

The gold rush created dozens of towns for the thousands of workers and families that would come to the Sierra Mountains and other western locations.  

Merced Falls was born of the gold rush but continued to flourish thanks to the need for lumber and an abundance of tourists.

At its peak, Merced Falls had a large lumber mill that employed one-thousand workers.  There was plenty of housing, a store, movie house, and a school.

A railroad served the logging industry and provided passenger service to take people to Yosemite National Park.

Like a lot of these booming areas in California in the early 1900s, times changed.  

Automobiles became more common reducing the need for railroad travel. Once the lumber mill closed in 1942, it was only a matter of time before Merced Falls became a ghost town.

  This railroad serviced the Merced Lumber Company as well as tourists interested in seeing Yosemite National Park.  Photo: Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

This railroad serviced the Merced Lumber Company as well as tourists interested in seeing Yosemite National Park.  Photo: Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

Thanks to an exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum, we can explore dozens of restored photographs depicting life in Merced Falls during those boom years.  We can see how a typical worker slept and lived in a company bunkhouse.

We can understand the reasons why this focal point of commerce in Merced County declined and left only a few visual reminders from that era.

The exhibit is made possible by the County Courthouse Museum, the UC Merced Library, and some individuals who loaned their family photographs and technical expertise.  The Society and the Library co-present the exhibit entitled Yosemite Lumber Company, Merced Falls.

  The intersection where Merced Falls Road begins going north was once a thriving business center.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The intersection where Merced Falls Road begins going north was once a thriving business center.  Photo by Steve Newvine

As great as the exhibit is with its photographs, artifacts, and skilled docents explaining some of the finer details, to truly experience what was Merced Falls one should actually travel to the site of that former company town.

It is relatively easy to get to the major intersection of Merced Falls.  Taking highway 59 or Merced’s G Street to the community of Snelling, Merced Falls Road runs east just as one is leaving town.  

About four miles from that intersection, the road takes a sharp northern turn toward the Mariposa County line. That intersection where the sharp northern turn happens is approximately the center of the former Merced Falls.

  The plaque placed at the site of Merced Falls by the group E Clampus Vitus, Estanislao Chapter No. 58.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The plaque placed at the site of Merced Falls by the group E Clampus Vitus, Estanislao Chapter No. 58.  Photo by Steve Newvine

There’s a plaque marking the site.  The group E Clampus Vitus placed the marker there in 1970.  It reads in part: The flour and woolen mills were built in 1854 and 1867.  

The town was destroyed by fire in August 1895. Yosemite Lumber Co. had a large mill here from 1912 until 1943.

Heading up the first incline in these foothills, the Mariposa County line is less than a half-mile away.  Commerce flourished when Merced Falls was in its heyday, but there is very little left to show.

  Some foundations and these structures are all that remain of the once busy community of Merced Falls. Photo by Steve Newvine

Some foundations and these structures are all that remain of the once busy community of Merced Falls. Photo by Steve Newvine

Heading south down the incline to the intersection near the Hornitos Bridge, the remains of a couple of buildings can be spotted from the road.  Fencing prevents the curious from getting too close to the structures.

As the exhibit explains, there were flour mills, wool mills, and even a stage-coach stop in the community in the late 1800s.  These mills burned. In 1912, the Yosemite Lumber Company started operations in Merced Falls.

  Loggers with a really big tree that would eventually be cut at the sawmills of Yosemite Lumber Company.  From Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

Loggers with a really big tree that would eventually be cut at the sawmills of Yosemite Lumber Company.  From Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

Back in those days, lumberjacks would deliver thousands upon thousands of logs that came from the higher elevations including El Portal.  A rail line, as well as the Merced River, kept busy moving the logs from the forests to the mill.

Some UC Merced students have been busy studying the area and some of the artifacts that have been contributed to the Museum’s effort to tell the story of Merced Falls and the Yosemite Lumber Company.

Being out in the open countryside looking at the remaining structures can get the imagination going.  What was it like back then when this area was an active and thriving community? What factors contributed to the decline of Merced Falls’ commercial backbone?  

What would Merced County look like today had the Yosemite Lumber Company either continued operation or a new business had moved in to replace it when YLC closed?

  The Merced County Courthouse Museum has created this display that suggests what a worker in a Yosemite Lumber Company bunkhouse might have had.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Merced County Courthouse Museum has created this display that suggests what a worker in a Yosemite Lumber Company bunkhouse might have had.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The general story is clear:  Merced Falls was a gold rush boom town that continued to thrive through the mid -1900s thanks to the Yosemite Lumber Company, the Merced River, and a rail line.  

There are likely many reasons why it could not survive longer. Some point to the automobile. Some point to the shift in the population centers of the San Joaquin Valley as well as the Bay Area.  

There are, no doubt many reasons.

Thanks to the efforts of the Merced County Courthouse Museum, UC Merced, and some key individuals who wanted the history of Merced Falls to be preserved, more answers are now available for future generations to study and appreciate.  

They are on a journey to learn more.

All it takes to be part of that journey is to take a short drive away from the City of Merced to see what remains of this historic site.

 

The Merced County Courthouse Museum is open Wednesday-Saturday from 1:00 to 4:00 pm

An interactive map of the Merced Falls area as it once was will soon be available on ArcGIS.com

 

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  His book California Back Roads is available at Lulu.com

  

Reflections on Daffodils and Mr. C

This spring, the American Cancer Society will distribute millions of daffodils and raise over sixteen million dollars through Daffodil Days.  If you want to donate to the cause or help the Cancer Society deliver the flowers and raise the funds, you can go to their website.

 The first flower of spring, representing hope.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The first flower of spring, representing hope.  Photo by Steve Newvine

I have a memory involving daffodils that takes me back to my sophomore year in college at Herkimer County Community College (now known as Herkimer College).  

Our television broadcasting professor arranged for a local television station to help students produce public service announcements to air on the station.  

Public Service Announcements or PSAs were commercials for non-profit organizations.  Stations still air them for free, but usually in the overnight hours when the available airtime has not been sold.  

Each week during the spring semester, we’d go to station WUTR-TV and use their equipment and tap into their expertise.  

For the students, this was a unique opportunity to actually get some experience working in a real television station.

Our class was divided into pairs of producers; we had to identify a non-profit, determine whether there was a need for a PSA, and work with the agency to be sure they approved of the messages we were producing.  Students would rotate roles such as camera operator, video switcher, and director.  

daffodil ad.jpg

When it was our turn to produce, my classmate Matt and I went to the local office of the American Cancer Society in nearby Utica.  

We were there initially there to talk about producing an anti-smoking ad, but the Executive Director of the agency had other ideas.

“Daffodil days are coming up,” he told us.  “It would be great if we could stir up some interest in this year’s campaign.”

Matt and I had our mission.  We worked on a concept, selected music, and ran our ideas past our professor Dave Champoux, who we would frequently refer to as Mr. C,  and our “client” at the Cancer Society.

I still remember some of the lines from the script:

The daffodil is the first flower of spring, and it stands for hope.

Hope is the message from the American Cancer Society.

Your dollars support outreach, services, and research.

Be generous when your Cancer Society volunteer comes calling.

A public service message from Herkimer County Community College and W-U-T-R TV.

“Actually, this is pretty good,”

I recall Mr. C telling us after we presented our plan to produce a thirty-second PSA.  

“At the very least, you are focusing on the positive rather than harp on about the dangers of smoking.”  

As our night approached to produce the PSA, Matt and I were nervous.  The thoughts I recall from some forty plus years ago were along the lines of:  will it be effective, will we get it done in the amount of studio time we had, with the Cancer Society like it, will Mr. C  like it.

Well, our mix of slides, camera cards, instrumental music, and voiceover (mine, as I was working at a radio station on weekends and had access to a good audio studio) all came together.  The spot was well received.  I’m sure Matt and I got a good grade, but I honestly don’t recall.  I do remember the sense of accomplishment we felt when the project was finished and how that feeling continued over the next several weeks when the PSA aired.

Later that spring, the broadcasting department held an awards ceremony for all the students.  The daffodil days PSA picked up a couple of awards.  

That night was special.  Everyone in the class treated it like the Academy Awards.  Our music professor recruited Matt, another singer named Irene, and me to provide some song and dance interludes throughout the evening.  A week later, we would graduate from our two-year program.

 This photo from the early 1970s shows my broadcasting professor Dave Champoux (Mr. C) being interviewed by a student.  Photo- Herkimer College

This photo from the early 1970s shows my broadcasting professor Dave Champoux (Mr. C) being interviewed by a student.  Photo- Herkimer College

I remained in contact with Mr. C  over the years.  He sent me a couple of notes during my broadcasting career congratulating me and offering advice on adjusting in my chosen career.

 I spoke to him by phone shortly after accepting a job as an adjunct college lecturer many years ago.  He remained one of my favorite teachers.  

Flash forward to about three years ago when Mr. C tagged me on Facebook one spring day.  It was about a year before he lost his battle with cancer.  

Then retired in North Carolina, he called my attention to a photograph he shared.  The photo was of a daffodil.  The message from my professor was to the point- “Hey Steve, does this look familiar?”

It sure did look familiar.  It took me back to a time when youth was in ample supply; where energy abounded and optimism filled the air around me.  

Like the daffodil, it was a time of hope.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  His book California Back Roads is available on Lulu.com

California Back Roads. A preview of my new book

  California Back Roads is my eleventh book

California Back Roads is my eleventh book

California Back Roads is my eleventh book.  I’ve taken about three-dozen essays, many from my regular column here on MercedCountyEvents.com, updated each with new information, added a few essays from other publications, and included some never-before-seen material to create this book.

The book starts with an explanation of the “where the palm meets the pine” phrase we often hear about Central California.

 MercedCountyEvents.com webmaster Brad Haven told me my January 2016 column on the palm and the pine was among the most popular essays I’ve done in terms of web hits, shares, and visits.  

That seemed like a good phrase to use in the title and a good start to the book.

 

  • places

  • people

  • heroes

  • golf

  • music

  • ...And postscripts.  

 

The places section includes stories about the All Souls celebration in Hornitos and the Port of Stockton.  

The people section includes the story of Joe and his 1953 Chevy: a car he’s held on to since he drove it off the new car lot over sixty years ago.  

The heroes section remembers the brave men who defended our nation in the military as well as the people who go above and beyond in their support of our armed forces.

The essays on golf include my farewell round of golf at Stevinson Ranch from a few years ago.

The music section features a popular piece I wrote last summer about the Central Valley’s connection to the legacy of Tony Bennett.

Every page in the book connects to California; most of the stories relate to my experiences here in Merced County.

 This drawing is included in the children’s fiction story The Giant Bulldozer, co-written by my wife Vaune.  The story is based on the real giant bulldozer at United Equipment Company in Turlock

This drawing is included in the children’s fiction story The Giant Bulldozer, co-written by my wife Vaune.  The story is based on the real giant bulldozer at United Equipment Company in Turlock

bulldozer 2.jpg

There’s also something new to my writing- a collaboration with a writing partner.  

My wife Vaune joined me for a children’s short story I have included in this collection.  We present The Giant Bulldozer, inspired by the real thing at United Equipment in Turlock.  Here’s a preview:

The next morning Kasper bid goodbye to Mommy and Daddy as they left for their vacation before they ate breakfast.  

During breakfast Gram said, “Gramps has a surprise for you Kasper.”

“You do Gramps? What is it?”

Gramps laughed.  “Have you ever seen a bulldozer as big as a house?”

“No.  That sounds silly.”

“Well after breakfast we are going on a ride to see it.”

After breakfast was cleaned up, Gram strapped Kasper into the child seat in Gramps car.  Then all three of them headed off to see the great big bulldozer.

They drove to a place called United Equipment Company where Gramps turned off the car, got out, and unlatched Kasper’s seat.  

“Take my hand,” Gramps said.  “Let’s go find that bulldozer.”

After a short walk through the parking lot, Kasper spied the giant bulldozer. His eyes grew large with wonder.  His mouth opened wide.  He was speechless.

“What do you think?” Gramps asked him.

“It’s as big as a house!” Kasper exclaimed.

Gram and Gramps laughed.

I hope you like this book.  Thank you for taking the time to read the columns posted here on MercedCountyEvents.com.  

My best wishes to your family and you in this holiday season and happy New Year in 2018.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  California Back Roads is now available through this link:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/steve-newvine/california-back-roads-stories-from-the-land-of-the-palm-and-the-pine/paperback/product-23431833.html