Gilroy Grieves

Life resumes in community scarred by shooting

This banner in the downtown area is one coping mechanism residents are using to deal with the July shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Steve Newvine

This banner in the downtown area is one coping mechanism residents are using to deal with the July shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Steve Newvine

July 28 is a date that will forever be remembered in the community of Gilroy in Santa Clara County.

On that day, this city of just under sixty-thousand located on the other side of the western Merced County border, endured a tragedy many will never forget.

The story is familiar to most of us. A man enters the Gilroy Garlic Festival and pulls out a gun. Shots are fired.

Two children and one adult are killed while more than a dozen others are injured.

Police were able to fire and hit the shooter, who then shot and killed himself.

The story shocked the nation. But Gilroy’s brush with a deadly gunman was knocked off the front pages shortly after in the wake of shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

One of many roadside stands that line highway 152 going into the City of Gilroy. Photo- Steve Newvine

One of many roadside stands that line highway 152 going into the City of Gilroy. Photo- Steve Newvine

Gilroy is known to most Californians as “that garlic place”.
Agriculture is the backbone of this community with rich soil and ideal growing conditions that produce a bounty of vegetables and fruits.

Roadside stands selling everything from avocados to zucchini, and yes even fresh garlic, are a common site. Today, those vegetable stands remain.

Visitors stop by to pick up whatever is in season.

Some go about their tasks.

Others can’t help but ask the local residents about the tragedy.

City Hall Caption: Gilroy City Hall. Photo- Steve Newvine

City Hall Caption: Gilroy City Hall. Photo- Steve Newvine

The community of Gilroy is coping with the loss of part of that small town feeling many residents have grown to appreciate in recent years.
The annual Garlic Festival was more than something people from outside the area came to see. It was something that defined the community.

“Not only did it raise money for local charities, many non-profits raised funds from the influx of visitors to the festival,” a local resident told me on a recent visit.

Tens of thousands of visitors came to the Festival every July.

Organizers had worked tirelessly over the years to tweak the logistics of moving thousands of people from designated parking areas to and from the Festival site.

Security has been a priority in recent years, and a strong law enforcement presence at the site was noted as a factor that likely kept the number of deaths to three.

The City of Gilroy’s community park where families are winding down their summer vacation days. Photo: Steve Newvine

The City of Gilroy’s community park where families are winding down their summer vacation days. Photo: Steve Newvine

So now, one day at a time, residents touched by the shooting and its aftermath are getting on with their lives.

Some are going to the park, others are taking in a shopping trip, and others are just staying home.

Life may never be quite the same, but it goes on. “It’s really important that we have the Garlic Festival again next year,” one local resident said.“It means so much to us.”

Another crop matures in a field in Gilroy. Photo- Steve Newvine

Another crop matures in a field in Gilroy. Photo- Steve Newvine

Throughout the City on the mid-August afternoon when I walked along the streets, there was a sense that residents are moving on with life.

No one talked about it, but there seemed to be a feeling that the community must get past the tragedy, eventually.

Maybe just not today. Not yet.

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

Volunteers Get the Best Gift

Summer Enrichment Programs End in Merced with Happy Kids and Delighted Helpers.

Children take part in the Summer Enrichment and Reading program organized by Harvest Park Educational Center in Merced. Photo: Steve Newvine

Children take part in the Summer Enrichment and Reading program organized by Harvest Park Educational Center in Merced. Photo: Steve Newvine

Ask any non-profit organization how valuable their volunteers are, and you’ll get an earful of praises.

Most of the kind words can be summed up in one sentence: We couldn’t do it without them!

That’s the case for the Summer Enrichment and Reading Program organized by Harvest Park Educational Center, a Merced-based non-profit organization that is sponsored by Valley Harvest Church.

When Esmeralda Ramirez decided to devote part of her summer helping young people, she knew it might be hard.

“I wondered what it might be like, and wondered whether I was up to it,” she says.

Esmeralda got everything she hoped for during her time working with young learners.

“It’s really encouraging to see these kids be excited about learning.”

One of the first projects students in the Summer Enrichment and Reading Program embarked upon was stuffing t-shirts for use as pillows during rest breaks. Photo: Steve Newvine

One of the first projects students in the Summer Enrichment and Reading Program embarked upon was stuffing t-shirts for use as pillows during rest breaks. Photo: Steve Newvine

We heard about the organization’s program last year and shared the story of children getting immersed in exposure to such STEM areas as science, technology, engineering, and math.

Those lessons continued in this latest version of the program, but there were some changes.

“We added a reading program this year,” says Managing Director Gloria Morris.

“We acquired a nationally acclaimed program called “All About Reading” and introduced it to the students in the afternoon session.”

Volunteers helping out include a reading specialist, a parent, a high school student who was served by the program when she was younger, and four college students.

Magdalena Valdez is another college student who made the most of the five weeks she had with the children in the program.

“I created lesson plans and served as the lead intern in charge of pre-K through third grade,” she says. Like everyone touched by the program this summer, the time went by quickly.

“The summer just flew by,” Magdalena says. “I can’t believe it.”

Lily Ketchum and her daughter Jaime continue to give their time almost every year. “Jaime participated as a student in 2008,” Lily says. “And now she’s back as a volunteer.” Betty Jackson-Yilma helped pilot the “All About Reading” component to this year’s program.

“The improvement in the student’s reading comprehension has been gratifying,” she says.

“But to see their desire to read, to want to read more and more, is really satisfying to me as an educator.”

The Summer Enrichment and Reading Program ran for five weeks this summer with students spending their mornings in a classroom at UC Merced, and their afternoons at the Harvest Valley Learning Center on 25th Street in Merced. Photo- Steve Newvine

The Summer Enrichment and Reading Program ran for five weeks this summer with students spending their mornings in a classroom at UC Merced, and their afternoons at the Harvest Valley Learning Center on 25th Street in Merced. Photo- Steve Newvine

Colleges represented with interns this year were UC Merced, Merced College, UC Stanislaus, and San Jose State. Melissa Chavarria is pursuing a children development college curriculum.

She came to the program because service in a child development program was a course requirement.

She’s leaving her volunteer post with a great deal of satisfaction. “Working with the children opened my eyes a little,” she says. “Now I know I can handle it.”

If there is such a thing as a winner in an effort like the Summer Enrichment and Reading Program, one needs to look no further than the smiling faces of participating children.

Most of them greeted me with a smile when I entered the classroom. One of them made his way up to me and shook my hand.

He was seven years old. Managing Director Gloria Morris confirms reading skills have increased, character development is becoming more prominent, and children are having a good time.

“We are pleased with the results from this year’s program.”

While the volunteers are praised by the staff that puts on the program, they in turn give kudos by heaping lots of admiration to the team that makes it all possible. One of the volunteers said it best with just a few words.

“I couldn’t get over how caring the staff is toward us and toward each other.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

You can read about some of the places he has traveled in the golden state in his book California Back Roads, available at Lulu.com

An Apollo 11 Scrapbook

Some of the pages from the Apollo 11 scrapbook I made when I was twelve.

Some of the pages from the Apollo 11 scrapbook I made when I was twelve.

My Grandma Newvine would save clippings from local newspapers and put them into scrapbooks back in the 1960s and 1970s.

That’s where I got the idea, when I was twelve years old, to collect stories about the mission of Apollo 11 that took Americans to the moon.

Back then, scrapbooks were nothing like what you might see now at a local crafts store.

The scrapbooks from my grandmother’s era were made with thick construction paper and cardboard covers. No stickers or 3-D accruements from the hobby store.

My scrapbook from 1969 includes articles from the days leading up to the launch from the Kennedy Space Center and into the first days of the mission.

All the clippings were from our daily newspaper from northern New York State: the Watertown Daily Times.

The Times arrived every evening, hand delivered by our paperboy.

The newspaper price in 1969 was ten cents.

Sprinkled among the clippings in my space scrapbook are articles about the preparations for the historic launch. There are several stories about the first two days of the mission as the astronauts were heading to the landing spot named the Sea of Tranquility.

Aldrin family Caption: Photos clipped from newspapers featuring Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and family.

Aldrin family Caption: Photos clipped from newspapers featuring Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and family.

There are plenty of sidebar stories.

I clipped pictures with captions featuring Buzz Aldrin and his family. There’s a photo of his son with a caption suggesting that the young boy may be the most popular child in school.

Barbara Aldrin, the wife of Buzz, is shown in a photo unfurling the American flag. Buzz is highlighted from a demonstration the astronauts did inside the orbiter midway to the moon.

I wonder whether I just favored features about Buzz Aldrin, or whether Neil Armstrong, who was noted for his desire for privacy, asked NASA to downplay stories about his family to the media.

There’s a small glossary of acronyms NASA used throughout the mission. In the days long before computer graphics, the paper had artist renderings of how the lunar module would separate from the command module for the moon landing and subsequent rejoining of the mother vehicle.

President Nixon’s phone call to the astronauts is the subject of one of the clippings, and there’s a story that reports NASA may move the actual first steps on the moon from 2:21 AM Eastern Time on Monday, July 21, back to a more viewer friendly time on Sunday evening.

And that takes me back to Sunday July 20, 1969

Newspaper diagrams of the Apollo 11 landing.

Newspaper diagrams of the Apollo 11 landing.

My family had planned to spend the better part of that Sunday evening at the Port Leyden Firemens Field Days in my hometown. The mix of rides, games, and carnival food was a big part of the summertime tradition.

When we learned the actual walk on the lunar surface would take place on Sunday evening, the Newvine family left the field days earlier than in previous years.

We went home, gathered around our television set, and watched the coverage.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Neil Armstrong’s words were about as clear as a voice on a long-distance phone call. The image of his stepping on the lunar surface was hard to make out in black and white. But there was no doubt both Armstrong and Aldrin made it.

Astronaut Mike Collins orbited the moon until it was time for Neil and Buzz to reconnect and head home.

I couldn’t wait for the next day’s newspaper to arrive so that I could begin clipping the stories of the moonshot.

There is was in glorious black and white: mankind’s great achievement. We were eyewitnesses.

Photos from the local newspaper that were clipped for my Apollo 11 scrapbook.

Photos from the local newspaper that were clipped for my Apollo 11 scrapbook.

The scrapbook stayed with me for all the moves made after I graduated from college and went out on my own.

The covers were lost somewhere over the past five decades. The scotch tape that held the clippings had long lost its’ stickiness. The pages from the actual landing and subsequent return to Earth are missing.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll never forget how the US race-to-the-moon ended.

The scrapbook was my “Google” of the moonshot several decades before we ever heard of search engines.

The Apollo scrapbook belongs to me, but the idea of keeping up a collection of articles about this historical event came from my Grandma Newvine.

Thank you Grandma.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

He wrote two books about his hometown of Port Leyden New York: Growing Up, Upstate and Grown Up, Going Home. Both are available at Lulu.com

Speed Dating with Community Information- Cramming Two Weeks of Radio Programming into One Afternoon

KYOS Audio Engineer Casey Stead checks microphones for two guests on Community Conversations. Photo- Steve Newvine

KYOS Audio Engineer Casey Stead checks microphones for two guests on Community Conversations. Photo- Steve Newvine

I welcomed the opportunity to fill in again for host Roger Wood for the KYOS public affairs program Community Conversations.

It was my hope that interviewing local people for a couple of hours might help me develop an idea or two for future Our Community story columns.

The segments were recorded at such a fast pace, that it felt like speed dating.

Eight segments, each running about nine minutes, are recorded at the KYOS studios during an afternoon session.

The segments are stacked to make two full-hour programs. With commercials and station announcements added to the stack, we walk out of the studio knowing that two hour-long shows are “in the can”. In broadcasting, that phrase means the shows are done.

The purpose of Community Conversations is to hear from local non-profits, government, and others about fund raising events, issues of concern, and services available to people.

The audience gets informed through listening to the weekly broadcast (7:00-8:00 AM Saturday).

As the fill-in host, I got my information first hand and crammed into a two-hour window as we recorded the interviews.

Community Conversations is public service program of KYOS, AM 1480, in Merced.

Community Conversations is public service program of KYOS, AM 1480, in Merced.

The person heading up the Atwater Fourth of July celebrations stopped by to tell us what’s new and different about this year’s event.

Atwater has been doing this since 1962, so there’s not much new. But the reminder was still worth the effort.

By the way, Fourth of July fireworks begin at Castle at dusk.

Admission is ten-dollars a carload.

(Details at Atwater4thofJuly.com)

Merced’s Police Chief once again sat behind the guest microphone.

He offered an update on how the City’s illegal fireworks enforcement will roll out this year.

Two representatives from the Merced County Historical Society described the upcoming exhibit Shaping Justice: A century of Great Crimes in Merced County.

The exhibits are always interesting, and this one sounds like it will be in that same category.

Three of the guests touched on the importance of STEM or science, technology, engineering, and math curricula.

Each interviewee came from different organizations and each highlighted summer enrichment events. But as the interviews unfolded, I couldn’t help but see the connection as they described how these programs continue in the direction of more science, technology, engineering, and math for our students.

One guest, from the Merced County Office of Education, added an “A” to form the acronym STEAM.

The “A” is for arts. The other guests were from Merced City School District and Merced Union High School District.

A photo from my first guest host radio stint in early 2019.

A photo from my first guest host radio stint in early 2019.

Two UC Merced professors chatted about the Extension Program teacher training offerings available to local educators.

The pair, now in their third decade as a married couple, brought some variety to the usual format of host talking to guest.

It was a refreshing mix of guest talking to guest and then talking to host. Speaking of variety, we broke with the regular format again with a monologue by yours truly. I spoke to the audience about my writing of this column and the ten books I’ve written over the past decade.

I read from California Back Roads and Stand By, Camera One.

The City of Merced’s Assistant to the City Manager discussed upgrades to Applegate Park, and a local band leader rounded out the interviews to tell listeners about a big band concert soon coming to the Merced Theatre stage.

It was a jam packed afternoon as KYOS audio engineer Casey Stead recorded my interviews with these local folks.

The content for Community Conversations is assembled with the help of the public information departments of the City of Merced, County of Merced, County Office of Education, and host/producer Roger Wood.

I just happened to be the lucky fellow who spoke behind the microphone on a warm summer afternoon.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

His new book Stand By, Camera One is available on Lulu.com and Amazon

Ben, the Birdhouse Man of Merced

On most Saturday mornings in the Savemart parking lot in Merced, you might find a man selling birdhouses and dog houses from the back of his pick-up truck.

Ben Franco shows his handmade birdhouses to me. Photo: Vaune Newvine

Ben Franco shows his handmade birdhouses to me. Photo: Vaune Newvine

Meet Ben Franco, a retired truck driver who has turned his spare time into productive work.

He builds birdhouses that are now in dozens of backyards throughout Merced.

When Ben retired, he traded in his trucker’s log book for a workbench.

He spends many hours every week designing, building and selling bird and dog houses. “It gets me out of the house,” Ben says about his pastime.

Ben has a lot of stories to tell about his birdhouses. He says the folks at Savemart know he’s out in their parking lot and he says they don’t seem to mind.

“This keeps me busy,” he says.

Keith Visher of Merced buys a birdhouse for his mother from Ben’s selection on the back of a pick-up truck. Photo: Steve Newvine

Keith Visher of Merced buys a birdhouse for his mother from Ben’s selection on the back of a pick-up truck. Photo: Steve Newvine

As well as keeping himself occupied, Ben experiences the joy of knowing a customer is buying a well build birdhouse.

One of those customers is Keith Visher of Merced. I came across Keith and Ben on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Keith was looking over the selection before picking out the perfect birdhouse for his mom.

“Mom had two birdhouses,” Keith told me. “Summer weather destroyed the one in the backyard, and the one in the front had seen better days.” Keith paid Ben twenty dollars, and was on his way.

Ben Franco is a walking time capsule with stories about his military service. Photo: Steve Newvine

Ben Franco is a walking time capsule with stories about his military service. Photo: Steve Newvine

Before working as a truck driver, Ben was in the military and stationed in Germany in 1957 and ‘58. When I asked him about his time in Germany, he took a few moments to tell me a couple of stories.

“One day when we were off duty, a friend suggested we fly to Spain. We did and when we landed, we were questioned by the French police because we were in uniform. The police officer asked me my name and I told him ‘Franco’. He got real serious with us because of General Francisco Franco.”

General Franco was the Spanish dictator at the time. After a few tense moments with the French policeman, Ben and his friend were on their way.

Another interesting story from his service days that came to Ben’s mind was when he and his buddies recognized actor Jack Palance. Ben says the actor was not pleasant to the soldiers. Palance at first refused to pose with the uniformed soldiers for a photograph.

“He was there with his wife,” Ben said. “She pulled him aside and after she talked to him, he came back to us and said he’d stand next to us for picture.” Ben laughs, “We told him never mind, we don’t want a picture anymore.”

Ben’s selection of dog houses and birdhouses change as some are purchased and new ones are finished. Photo- Steve Newvine

Ben’s selection of dog houses and birdhouses change as some are purchased and new ones are finished. Photo- Steve Newvine

Ben says it takes him a little over an hour to assemble each birdhouse.

Dog houses are larger and require a little more time. He uses pieces of lumber and other building material he has acquired over the years.
For Ben, building and selling birdhouses gives his retirement greater meaning. He enjoys seeing a satisfied customer.

He’s a happy man, even if he is doing it in part to get away from his spouse’s honey-do list.

“My wife will find me something to do around the house if I’m not busy,” he says.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

His latest book, Stand-by, Camera One is available on Lulu.com .