70th Anniversary of Billy Graham’s Central Valley Crusade

An impressive anniversary is coming up in November in the Central Valley.

 Photo-ad – This is what one of the advertisements for the Billy Graham Modesto Crusade looked like in the Modesto Bee. Photo from the Modesto Bee.

Photo-ad – This is what one of the advertisements for the Billy Graham Modesto Crusade looked like in the Modesto Bee. Photo from the Modesto Bee.

October 24 will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Billy Graham Modesto Crusade.

More importantly, that anniversary will note the creation of the guiding principles the Graham organization wrote during their daytime breaks from that two-week Crusade.  

The principles were called the Modesto Manifesto.

An advertisement that ran in the October 23 1948 issue of the Modesto Bee called the event the Canvas Cathedral.  There was a reference to the huge tent that was put up in a field near the corner of Burney and La Loma Streets.

Today, Burney is still called a street and La Loma is now referred to as an avenue.

At the time, local Christian ministers were asked by the Graham organization to help fill that tent for the first night.  

They were assured that if the first night was successful, the rest of the crusade attendance would take care of itself.

For two weeks, an estimated nightly crowd of two-thousand came to the Canvas Cathedral.  The Modesto Crusade was deemed a success, and it would help propel Billy Graham to other venues including the Los Angeles event held one year later.

 Billy Graham, who died at the age of 99 on February 21, 2018, wrote dozens of books including Personal Thoughts of a Public Man. Photo from the book cover.

Billy Graham, who died at the age of 99 on February 21, 2018, wrote dozens of books including Personal Thoughts of a Public Man. Photo from the book cover.

The rest of the story is now in the history books.  Billy Graham traveled all over the world for the next six decades.  

He embraced television, wrote dozens of books, and was considered the “nation’s pastor” by the next eleven presidents.

But it’s the Modesto Manifesto that makes this incredible story of the life of Billy Graham so meaningful to many in the Central Valley.

I’ve written about the Manifesto on a few occasions since 2008 when I came across an article commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Modesto Crusade.

Modesto was a crucial stop in the fledgling period of the Graham ministry.  The evangelist had his eyes on Los Angeles, but wanted every event leading up to the planned 1949 L.A. crusade to continue building momentum.  

His close friend and associate Cliff Barrows came from Ceres, Stanislaus County. Barrows suggested the Modesto stop hoping that his connections with the local faith communities would come through to help make it a success.

While hundreds upon hundreds of people attended the nightly crusade, Billy and his team took advantage of the daytime hours to critically analyze the ministry and the potential problems that could sidetrack an evangelist.

Graham’s close associate was Ceres native Cliff Barrows.  

Barrows, who met Billy while on his honeymoon in Wisconsin, spoke to me in 2010 for a book I wrote about the Central Valley.  We discussed the Modesto Manifesto.

Barrows told me the group was directed by Billy to identify potential pitfalls for the organization, and later decide together on a strategy to avoid these pitfalls.

While the crowds came to experience the Crusade at night, during the day Graham and his top three associates George Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson, and Barrows worked and prayed on the issue.

“The book Elmer Gantry (by Sinclair Lewis) was popular at the time,” he said in 2010.  “It did not put evangelists in a positive light. Billy asked the three of us to think about the pitfalls that other evangelists had encountered.  We each went back to our motel rooms and reconvened the next day to learn that our lists were very similar.”

In the 1966 book, Crusades, published by the Billy Graham organization, the official account of the meetings indicate the men had come up with about fifteen potential pitfalls ranging from finances to infidelity.

What emerged from those daily meetings with the Graham team was a list of four guiding principles.  They are:

  • Accountability-transparency in reporting finances and Crusade attendance

  • Purity-specifically addressing sexual immorality.  This led to a directive that no one working for the Graham organization be allowed to have a closed door meeting with someone from the opposite sex.

  • Integrity-no criticism of local churches or local pastors

  • Humility-no seeking out “exaggerated publicity” for the crusade events

It’s believed Cliff Barrows gave the principles the name Modesto Manifesto.  

Short of the Ten Commandments, the Manifesto was likely the first time a religious organization publicly stated their operating guidelines.

Billy Graham died in February 2018 at the age of 99.  His son Franklin, who is also a minister, visited Turlock later in the year for a prayer convocation event.

Cliff Barrows died in 2016.  At the time of his death, I wrote an appreciation piece that was published in the Modesto Bee.  

In that essay, I recalled how interested Barrows seemed to be in what was going on in his native region.  As we prepared for the taped telephone interview for my book 9 from 99, he wanted me to know that he still thought fondly of the Central Valley.

 The Modesto Gospel Mission was founded with $5,000 of the proceeds from the 1948 Billy Graham Modesto Crusade. Photo: Modesto Gospel Mission

The Modesto Gospel Mission was founded with $5,000 of the proceeds from the 1948 Billy Graham Modesto Crusade. Photo: Modesto Gospel Mission

The only memento of the 1948 Graham Modesto Crusade is an anti-poverty organization.  

The Modesto Gospel Mission was founded using five-thousand dollars from local share of the 1948 Central Valley event.  The Mission continues to feed hundreds of homeless every week and provides over fifty-thousand bed nights to those in need.

The Mission recently celebrated its seventieth anniversary with a gala fundraising event at the Doubletree Hotel in Modesto.  It continues to serve the community.

So it appears that the Modesto Manifesto tenet dealing with accountability was put into action immediately following the 1948 Crusade.  

That gift of $5,000 has come back many times in the form of meals for the hungry, bed nights for those needing a place to stay in the community, and hope for those who may have lost hope.

Billy Graham and his team of associates would be very proud.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

He’s working on a new book about his first years working in television news.

Lessons Learned on the Job

With about forty years of professional work experience, there come lessons.  This letter was so significant to my life, I’ve held on to it for nearly fifty years.

 A letter received in my senior year of high school inviting me to audition for a school news reporter at a local radio station.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection)

A letter received in my senior year of high school inviting me to audition for a school news reporter at a local radio station.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection)

The letter was in response to an inquiry I made to my hometown radio station about doing a weekly school news report over the airwaves.  

The person who had previously done the job had graduated from high school.

In the letter, the station’s News Director invited me to set up a time for a voice audition.  I promptly called the station, set up an appointment, auditioned, was reminded it did not pay anything, and got the job.

It was the first step in my broadcasting career.

Labor Day is as good a time as any to look back on the virtue of work.  Most of us have to work. We support our families, add value to the economy, and reap the benefits that come from doing a job.

In forty years as a working professional, I have had ten employers.  There’s a lesson from each one.

 

  Reading the news on station WBRV in Boonville, New York.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

Reading the news on station WBRV in Boonville, New York.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

 

The no-compensation job of reporting school news in my senior year of high school paid off about seven months after graduation.  

The station was in need of a weekend announcer. The weekday morning DJ who would replay my taped school news reports, suggested the station manager give me a call.  

Thanks to my recent successful test for my Federal Communications Commission Broadcast License, I got the gig.

After landing that weekend announcer job at WBRV in Boonville, my outlook for a planned career in broadcasting looked promising.  Now, just a few months after starting college here was a job in the field where I was pursuing my degree. The lesson learned: sometimes you are the link that connects an employer’s need with the solution they are seeking.

Between records on the air, I read announcements for lost pets, weather reports warning of pending snow storms, and generally kept company with my small audience in rural upstate New York.

  An art card depicting television station WKTV in Utica, New York.

An art card depicting television station WKTV in Utica, New York.

From the disc jockey job in radio, I secured a television news internship at station WKTV in Utica, New York for my final semester at Syracuse University.  

The college class schedule permitted me flexibility so that I could make that eighty-mile round trip drive from my college dormitory to the station three days a week.  

By the end of the internship, I was filing on-air reports. Those stories helped make up an audition tape to show potential employers.

It was an unpaid internship, so the lesson learned was don’t let money get in the way of a good job.

  The Eyewitness News team at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, New York.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

The Eyewitness News team at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, New York.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

That audition tape caught the eye of the News Director at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, New York.  The interview took place during the finals week at Syracuse.

The News Director is the department head for a broadcast newsroom.  An offer was made one week after graduation.

I was on the job three days later. The lesson learned: when an employer asks “when can you start” the answer is “right away”.

  This photo from my personal collection was used as the cover of the book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories. It was taken while I was reporting in the field at station WAAY in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

This photo from my personal collection was used as the cover of the book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories. It was taken while I was reporting in the field at station WAAY in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama hired me a year-and-a-half after starting in Binghamton.  Newly married and looking for adventure, my wife and I headed south. Putting away fond memories of upstate New York, we headed to Dixie for the next chapter.  The lesson learned: never get too comfortable.

Developing some management skills in the latter part of the tenure in Huntsville paid off when a station in Rockford, Illinois wanted to hire a News Director.   I couldn’t wait to start this job. The lesson learned: be ready to move on if you want to move up.

Rochester, New York was the next stop.  With relatives in upstate New York, and one child new to our nest, my wife and I chose family proximity over anything else as I accepted the job as Senior Producer at the ABC affiliate.  

The job lasted eight years. We added another child to our family during that time.

While I enjoyed my coworkers immensely, there was a feeling I had not reached my potential as quickly as I would have liked.  While knowing I would miss my colleagues, I knew it was the right choice to accept a new position with another station in Rochester.   

The lesson learned: know when it’s time to leave.

  Working with the WROC-TV anchor team where I served as Executive Producer, rounding out a twenty-year career in broadcasting.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

Working with the WROC-TV anchor team where I served as Executive Producer, rounding out a twenty-year career in broadcasting.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

The post of Executive Producer was mine at WROC-TV for three years.  Oddly enough, and with the benefit of hindsight, I knew that the career I had chosen was no longer right for me about six months into that job.  

It took two-and-a-half years to quietly figure out what my next career would be. The lesson learned: always have a back-up.

Counting that part-time, no-pay, radio job in my senior year of high school, I spent twenty years in the broadcasting field.  It was at times exciting, rewarding, and satisfying. Working odd shifts, including some holidays, often made family time a challenge.  

Every day seemed to bring on new and usually rewarding experiences.

The time in broadcast news also showed me other career paths.  I would eventually embark on a new journey down an entirely new pathway.  

But the lessons are similar:

  • Be the link between what an employer needs and the solution they seek.
  • Don’t worry about the money.
  • Be ready to work.
  • Never grow too comfortable.
  • Know when it’s time to leave.
  • Always have a back-up.

These are lessons learned on the job.  Lessons that started with a letter from that small town radio station offering an opportunity that would help define a big portion of my professional life.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

In September, he begins his thirteenth year as a director on the Merced County Workforce Investment Board.  

He wrote about working and learning on-the-job in the book Soft Skills for Hard Times, available now at Lulu.com

Summertime Enrichment at UC Merced

A summer learning program on the UC Merced Campus is helping children and providing career insight for UC students.

 UC Student Florence presents a lesson on careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at the Summer Enrichment Program.  Photo by Steve Newvine

UC Student Florence presents a lesson on careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at the Summer Enrichment Program.  Photo by Steve Newvine

For Florence, it all clicked into place when she saw a student’s eyes light up after grasping a concept in the classroom.

“I never worked with children,” she said.  “So when I could tell they really got it, it was a real sense of achievement.”

Florence, a UC Merced Sociology major, is one of the intern presenters at an enrichment program taking place on the campus this summer.

On the surface, this summer school class looks like any other enrichment program.  Children from kindergarten through fifth grade are getting help with social skills, learning strategies, and fun activities through the curriculum. 

But with a closer look, it’s apparent the elementary and middle school students are not the only ones learning.

This is the Summer Enrichment Program of the Harvest Park Educational Center sponsored by the Valley Harvest Church. 

The Center is partnering with UC Merced to offer the program for young learners.  This program includes internship opportunities for UC Merced students like Florence and her two colleagues Rose and Diana.

 Harvest Park Education Center Managing Director Gloria Morris emphasizes a point to students and internees in the Summer Enrichment Program.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Harvest Park Education Center Managing Director Gloria Morris emphasizes a point to students and internees in the Summer Enrichment Program.  Photo by Steve Newvine

 

 

“They are educators, not credentialed teachers” said Harvest Park Managing Director Gloria Morris when talking about the UC Merced students. 
“They present some of the sessions, serve as classroom facilitators, and help keep the classes moving.”

The program is running for five weeks during the summer for three days each week. 

Classes begin after eight in the morning, and the class is dismissed shortly after noon. 

 For the other UC Merced students serving as interns in the program, this is one of the first exposures they have working directly with children. 

 UC Merced interns Rose and Diana are learning from one another as well as learning from their students in the Summer Enrichment Program of the Harvest Park Educational Center.  Photo by Steve Newvine

UC Merced interns Rose and Diana are learning from one another as well as learning from their students in the Summer Enrichment Program of the Harvest Park Educational Center.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Rose, a psychology major, presented sessions on English Language Arts (ELA) and found the summer enrichment program to be an eye-opening experience. 

“The hands-on work with the students has been helpful,” she said.  “Students learn in different ways so we work a strategy to explain concepts at their level.”

Diana is a sociology major with a minor in psychology. 

She presented sessions on the human brain.  That topic may seem a little heavy for this age group, but Diana worked with Director Gloria to tailor the program for the specific audience.

“When I explained something to the whole class, I was worried I might not be reaching them,” Diana said.  “But we moved into small groups based on their ages, and working with their interns and internees, we were able to connect the material to them.”

 

 The Summer Enrichment Program of Harvest Park Education Center is providing learning opportunities on two levels- the grade school children participating in the five-week sessions, and the UC Merced interns who are gaining experience working with children.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Summer Enrichment Program of Harvest Park Education Center is providing learning opportunities on two levels- the grade school children participating in the five-week sessions, and the UC Merced interns who are gaining experience working with children.  Photo by Steve Newvine

With the help of a classroom assistant known as Ms. V, videos are selected to illustrate lessons on improving learning outcomes. 

On the day I visited, a video explaining a five-step problem-solving process was shown to the class.  The video was followed with a hands-on application of the process.   

The video’s five steps are: 

  • Identify the problem
  • Strategize on how to solve
  • Set-up a way to solve
  • Solve the problem
  • Check the work. 

Ms. V provides other program support such as nutrition identification and working directly with the students.

The program embodies the vision of Gloria, a professional psychologist who has authored a book on Principle-Based Lifestyle Training.  The expected result from successful Principle-Based Lifestyle Training is the preservation and development of human capital.

“The primary outcome is closing gaps in the academic achievement of our students,” Gloria said.  “We do this through the learning going on thanks to our UC Merced interns, and through our focus on helping the children better understand their emotional behavior.”
 The Summer Enrichment Program meets three days a week for five weeks during the summer. Students attend for a morning session that runs for about four hours. Photo by Steve Newvine)

The Summer Enrichment Program meets three days a week for five weeks during the summer. Students attend for a morning session that runs for about four hours. Photo by Steve Newvine)

The enrichment program has been a great opportunity for the UC Merced interns and internees who are trying out new potential career paths.  They may become educators, or they may use the experience to help them in whatever line of work they choose after graduation.

For this column, I visited the class on the day of a presentation on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).  

I was given a seat at the front of the room. From the front of the room, I could see the anxious hands raise up as the young people took advantage of the opportunity to participate.  

I could see those faces of children as they responded to questions. I saw eyes brighten as they connected the lesson plan with their own thoughts and ideas.

The real winners from this special summertime experience are the children.  

For a few hours a day, a few days each week this summer, they have been immersed in an educational environment that recognizes emotional well-being is just as important as embracing successful learning skills.  

The expected results are best expressed with the mission statement found on the website for Principle-Based Lifestyle Training  (www.pblt.org): 

All students on the Honor roll!

 

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

A Three-Dollar Tour at the Mission at San Juan Bautista

Being relatively new to the state, it did not take long to learn about the Spanish Missions that mark California along the historic route known as Camino Real.  

One of those stops Camino Real is San Juan Bautista in San Benito County bordering Merced County.

 The bell in front of San Juan Bautista along Camino Real, translated as Royal Highway.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The bell in front of San Juan Bautista along Camino Real, translated as Royal Highway.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The history of California’s Spanish Missions begins in the late 1700s when a Spanish Franciscan Catholic priest was dispatched to the region to convert the people of the area.  

This Mission continues to serve the area with weekend Masses, and daily services.

There’s more to this history than just the establishment of a Mission, and thanks to dedicated volunteers and generous donors, parts of that history are being preserved.

 The grounds of the Mission at San Juan Bautista in San Benito County in California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The grounds of the Mission at San Juan Bautista in San Benito County in California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The effort included an archaeological dig that uncovered remnants from the period of time when the Mission was started.  

The effort continues with a three-dollar tour of the Mission’s main building where volunteer docents help interpret this active piece of California history.

The Mission has displays of a dining room and parlor that recall what life might have been like for people living in the region in the 1800s.  

 The Church at San Juan Bautista.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Church at San Juan Bautista.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Church inside the Mission functions like any other Catholic Church with regular Mass offered daily.  

Two nuns from the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement live on site. A priest is assigned to the Church to celebrate Mass and serve the community of San Juan Bautista.  

According to a Wikipedia entry, the community of San Juan Bautista had a population of 1,862 in the 2010 US Census.

 Parts of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo, starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, were filmed on the grounds of the Mission at San Juan Bautista.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Parts of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo, starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, were filmed on the grounds of the Mission at San Juan Bautista.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Scenes from the movie Vertigo directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Jimmy Stewart were filmed at the Mission.  

The movie includes many sequences filmed on location in California: including the Seventeen Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, San Francisco, and San Juan Bautista.  

The bell tower in the movie is much higher than the real tower at the Mission, but Hitchcock took care of that detail through the use of a model bell tower, and some studio re-creation of what a taller structure might look like.  

There is a small public display about the on-location filming of Vertigo at the Mission.

 Courtyard at the Mission at San Juan Bautista.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Courtyard at the Mission at San Juan Bautista.  Photo by Steve Newvine

There are lots of flowers and trees in the courtyard at the Mission.  Many are drought resistant and ideal for the climate.

As with most museums and similar attractions, this tour begins and ends with a gift shop.  

For this trip, I took about fifty digital photographs, purchased a refrigerator magnet, and spent three dollars on admission.  

I walked away with a greater appreciation for early California/Spanish influenced architecture.

Not bad for a three-dollar tour.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced and travels throughout the state looking for new stories to share.

 His latest book is California Back Roads- Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine. It is available at Lulu.com

Going Beyond Common Course Courtesy

Asking a stranger to join in a round of golf is common course courtesy.  Asking a second time is a special gift.

 Brilliant red flowers frame the putting green at Stanislaus Golf Course in Modesto.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Brilliant red flowers frame the putting green at Stanislaus Golf Course in Modesto.  Photo by Steve Newvine

I was waiting my turn at the first tee at a Central Valley golf course.  My thoughts were centered on a solo round where I might work on some new clubs, drop an extra ball if it did not hold up play, and just be alone with my thoughts.  

When the pair in front was far enough away to assure me it was safe to tee off, my plans for a solo round were about to change.

A golfer in a motorized cart pulled up near my golf bag and pull cart.

“You can go in front of me,” I told the older golfer who sat behind the wheel of the cart.  “I’m walking.”

“Wanna play together?” he asked.

“No, that’s all right,” I said.

I really didn’t want to play with someone else.  I have a regular golf partner and get plenty of socializing when we get together for a round every few weeks.

 When I’m not playing with my regular golf buddy, I go out alone. I’ve grown accustomed to playing alone. I just wanted nine holes of solitude: me and the course.

“You sure you don’t want to play together?” he asked once more.  “I really don’t mind.”

“Okay,” I said.  I didn’t want to belabor the conversation.

“I’m Tony,” he said extending his hand.

“Steve,” I said completing the handshake.

My scorecard would show I ended several shots over par.  But as what usually happens in a story about golf, this is not about the score.

Our conversation started over where our opening drives landed.  We covered missed approaches, clutch putts, and places where we’ve played over the years.

He told me about his older brother who became a golf professional shortly after taking up the game.  Sadly, his brother had passed away a few years ago.

Then it got even more personal.

“You married Steve?”

“Yes, thirty-eight years this summer.”

I would soon learn that Tony lost his wife four years ago to cancer.  

“We would have made it to fifty-two years this July,” he told me.

He spoke about his two grown sons who live with him.  

“One of them likes to be confrontational,” he said.  His laugh told me more about why he liked to get out of the house and onto a course.  

“All the more reason to play golf,” I said to him.

We talked about why we love the game.  

“You can just come out here and forget about your bills,” he said.  “Forget your worries, forget anything and everything. Just think about hitting that ball.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that sentence,” I said.  That’s a phrase I use a lot when I hear something good.  My family is sick of hearing it, but Tony never heard it before.

Like all good things in life, a round of golf comes to a close.  We shook hands one last time. I thanked him for twice asking me to join him.

“I said no the first time, but you asked me again,” I said to him.  “And for that, I am grateful.”

“We had a good round, didn’t we?” he smiled.

“We sure did,” I said.  “Thank you.”

He adjusted his hat, put both hands on his motorized golf cart and said, “You’re welcome, my friend.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

He has authored California Back Roads, Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine.  It is available at Lulu.com

School Administrative Assistants- In Charge

Memories are stirring up about two outstanding secretaries who made a difference while I was going to school in the 1960s and 1970s.

 Mrs. Mekkelson, our high school principal’s secretary. Photo:  South Lewis School Yearbook.

Mrs. Mekkelson, our high school principal’s secretary. Photo:  South Lewis School Yearbook.

When we think about high school, there’s likely a favorite teacher that comes to mind.  Sometimes, our memories recall an administrator or guidance counselor who made a difference.

But for the graduates who have walked across the stage to receive their diplomas at my high school, there may be some special memories attached to two very special women.

They made the announcements in the morning, wrote out hall passes when necessary, or tended to unique problems that came about with students, their parents, and the faculty.

They would help keep bus routes on schedule, track down an administrator who was needed immediately in the school auditorium and ran an office with all the associated functions.

They were school secretaries. That’s what we called them back in the 1960s and 1970s.  They are known today as administrative assistants or similar titles that reflect their level of responsibility.

 An early picture of Christine Allen (now Christine Chaufty).  She would soon return to the school after graduation in 1971 and build a forty-seven year career in the administrative offices.  Photo: South Lewis year book.

An early picture of Christine Allen (now Christine Chaufty).  She would soon return to the school after graduation in 1971 and build a forty-seven year career in the administrative offices.  Photo: South Lewis year book.

At my alma mater South Lewis in upstate New York, Christine Chaufty retired at the end of the school year.  

She graduated from the school in 1971, and then went to work there as a secretary. With forty-seven years on the job, combined with six years in junior high and high school, she’s been part of South Lewis Junior/Senior High for fifty-three years.  

She was interviewed by the local paper in a story recognizing her service to the students at South Lewis. Her secret to success was very simple.  

She told reporter Jamie Cook, “I have always liked how people worked together here. It is one very large family here.”

Christine stayed in her hometown because she loved her life there.  She remained on the job at South Lewis because she cared about the students, her coworkers, and the school itself.  

She told the Watertown Daily Times, “I live and breathe South Lewis and I have always been happy here.”

Christine had many people to show her the ropes more than forty years ago.  Among them was Mrs. Laura Mekkelson, a school principal secretary who worked for the elementary and secondary schools I attended.  

 The Principal’s secretary at South Lewis School who enjoyed a long and prosperous retirement.  Photo: Legacy.com

The Principal’s secretary at South Lewis School who enjoyed a long and prosperous retirement.  Photo: Legacy.com

Mrs. Mekkelson, as I always called her, started her career at Port Leyden Central School long before I entered kindergarten.  When the school merged into the larger South Lewis district in 1967, she continued her work there until her retirement.

Mrs. Mekkelson passed away in June at the age of 96.  Her family made sure her obituary announcement captured the kind of person she was.  

She went to a business school after high school graduation.  She worked for the Ration Board during World War II.

Her working career missed a full inclusion within the computer age, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a master at her own computer that she bought when she was seventy.  She was skilled at spreadsheets and applied those skills to a number of volunteer activities.

Non-profit organizations appreciated her time and many credits her with bringing their organizations into the computer age.  

Her children and grandchildren looked forward to her emails. She did genealogy research, historical searches, and would often go online just to find an answer to a question that had been tugging at her.  

Her obituary also described how much she was respected and loved by the students at the two schools where she served.  

The words sweet, compassionate, and understanding are used to describe how she was regarded by the students she knew from her forty-plus years of work as a principal’s secretary.

I spoke with Mrs. Mekkelson several years ago after delivering a copy of one of my books to her home.  She was a very special person.

 Christine Chaufty (third from the left) devoted a lot of her time away from work on such community endeavors as the Lyons Falls Farmers Market.  Photo: LivingInLewisCounty.com

Christine Chaufty (third from the left) devoted a lot of her time away from work on such community endeavors as the Lyons Falls Farmers Market.  Photo: LivingInLewisCounty.com

Graduating seniors will leave their high school days with a diploma in hand, and memories of friends and teachers.  

At my high school, this year’s class will remember Christine as a dynamic person who led by her example of enthusiasm for the job and the people who make the job special.  

For alumni like me, we’ll appreciate Christine for those same reasons.

And we’ll call to mind another school secretary who loved her job, was respected by students, contributed her talent to her community, and was adored by her family.  

Mrs. Mekkelson’s life of purpose will be remembered by all who knew her.

Both women made an impact on thousands of people at the schools where they worked.  

A Journey of a Lifetime Cycling Through Merced

Francois Hennebert is a bicyclist from France who takes his recreational activities seriously.  

 Francois Hennebert is a long way from his native France, but he’s enjoying California and the western states as he travels from Mexico to Canada on his bicycle.  Photo: Steve Newvine

Francois Hennebert is a long way from his native France, but he’s enjoying California and the western states as he travels from Mexico to Canada on his bicycle.  Photo: Steve Newvine

François has cycled all over the globe and is currently on a four-month, twenty-five hundred mile journey that started in Guadalupe, Mexico in March and is expected to end in Vancouver, British Columbia in July.

 François enjoyed his repair pit stop at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

François enjoyed his repair pit stop at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

One way to get from Mexico to Canada is to cycle through the Golden State.    The trip has already taken him through the desert of Death Valley and to the high peaks at Yosemite National Park.

He encountered a tire and wheel problem while in Yosemite, so he sought out the help of a professional.

 Francois inspects the tire that was damaged on his bicycle.  His tire and wheel were fixed at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced and he was on his way after a couple of hours.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

Francois inspects the tire that was damaged on his bicycle.  His tire and wheel were fixed at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced and he was on his way after a couple of hours.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

His bicycle wear and tear problem led him to Kevin’s Bikes in the Save Mart Plaza at Olive and G Streets in Merced.

For the better part of an afternoon in the week before Memorial Day, Francois watched as the staff at Kevin’s Bikes repaired the wheel and got the bike back in tip-top shape.

The staff at Kevin’s Bikes understood the problem and knew immediately what needed to be done.  While the staff worked on the bike, Francois kept everyone entertained with his stories and his personality.

I would have missed the story entirely had I not run into an associate who was leaving the shop with his own repaired bike.  As he relayed the story to me, I was hooked. I went inside to meet Francois Hennebert.

 Francois Hennebert estimates he has put over forty-five thousand miles on his bicycle.  His current trip from Mexico to Canada will add another twenty-five hundred miles, and probably many more miles as he takes various detours to see the western United States.  He’s shown here with Kevin from Kevin’s Bikes. Photo: Steve Newvine

Francois Hennebert estimates he has put over forty-five thousand miles on his bicycle.  His current trip from Mexico to Canada will add another twenty-five hundred miles, and probably many more miles as he takes various detours to see the western United States.  He’s shown here with Kevin from Kevin’s Bikes. Photo: Steve Newvine

He spoke hardly any English, but he was able to understand some of my questions.  He wrote his name on the paper I was using to make notes. He also provided a web address where he maintains a site dedicated to telling the stories of his worldwide bicycling adventures.

In 2008, Francois and a group of one-hundred people cycled from Paris to Beijing China.  That trip took one-hundred, forty days with all but twenty of those days spent on a bike seat.  

That trip is five-thousand, one-hundred miles (or eight-thousand, two-hundred kilometers).

In 2010, he bicycled in South America.  That trip started in Buena Aires, Argentina.  

Anyone who understands French can read about it at his website velo.hennebert.fz  

 Francois at the Great Wall of China during his 2008 trip with one-hundred other bicyclists that took them from Paris to Beijing.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

Francois at the Great Wall of China during his 2008 trip with one-hundred other bicyclists that took them from Paris to Beijing.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

The Mexico to Canada trip has been a dream come true for Francois, who is seventy-two years old.  So far, he has seen the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Yosemite National Park.

During these trips, he tries not to bike every day.  If he’s on schedule, he’ll take time to enjoy the vistas, meet people, and rest.  

Usually, he camps in a small tent. He lives his bicycling life on the road with backpacks and saddlebags carrying all he needs.  He’s prepared for just about any emergency. A highway map is with him at all times.

  This is the luggage Francois carries with him on his bike as he travels all over the globe.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

 This is the luggage Francois carries with him on his bike as he travels all over the globe.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

Whether it was the universal language of bicyclists, or just the common decency of being a good neighbor, anyone who stopped in Kevin’s Bikes that spring afternoon enjoyed the company of Merced’s international visitor.  

Francois guesses that he’s put about seventy-three thousand kilometers (or forty-five thousand miles) on his bicycle.  

With all those miles, repairs are just part of what most cyclists expect as they put their bikes through some of the toughest tests imaginable.  

 This is Francois’ bike loaded with his travel bags.  This picture was taken from a South American journey in 2010.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

This is Francois’ bike loaded with his travel bags.  This picture was taken from a South American journey in 2010.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

Upon arrival later in the year in Vancouver, Francois will fly back to France and get to work on planning his next bicycling adventure.

“Thailand and Laos,” he told me when I finally phrased the question about his future travels in a way he could understand.   

And after a slight pause, and a smile, he was quick to add, “Maybe.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book California Back Roads is available at Lulu.com

Social Media Memories of My Uncle Bill

 

I thought I had told every possible story related to my uncle Bill Newvine, a Vietnam veteran who died in a car accident six months after returning from military service.

 High School Photograph from Port Leyden Central School (NY) of William Newvine, known to his friends as Bill or Billy.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

High School Photograph from Port Leyden Central School (NY) of William Newvine, known to his friends as Bill or Billy.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

Over the years, I have written about what his life was like growing up in my hometown of Port Leyden, New York.  With the help of an organization that connects soldiers from the same unit my uncle served in, I was able to talk to men who knew him in the Army.  

In recent years, Bill’s sister Betty and my dad Ed have provided me with letters from their brother written while he was in Vietnam.

I thought we had covered it all, but thanks to social media, a new wave of Bill Newvine memories have surfaced in recent weeks.

 My Facebook post marking the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of Bill Newvine.  Photo: Steve Newvine

My Facebook post marking the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of Bill Newvine.  Photo: Steve Newvine

On May 5, 2018, I posted Bill’s high school photograph on Facebook and told my followers that the date marked the fiftieth anniversary of his death.  

Naturally, the post got several likes. But some comments from friends and classmates of Bill provided some additional insight into who my uncle was.

One woman knew Bill from Port Leyden Central School where he graduated in 1963.

 “He was a seemingly shy young man but when we got together as a group, he opened up to his fun-loving self.”
 Bill Newvine is the only soldier wearing glasses in this photograph from his time in the US Army.  Photo: Alpha Association

Bill Newvine is the only soldier wearing glasses in this photograph from his time in the US Army.  Photo: Alpha Association

This comment reminded me of interviews I did with some of the men who served with Bill in Vietnam.  

They had similar observations about my uncle: quiet at first, but someone who opened up after getting to know you.  

Being just eleven years old when he died, I never experienced that fun-loving side of him. But my Dad confirmed that his brother was shy, but after getting to know someone, he lost that shyness.

Another woman who commented on the post said, “I had the biggest crush on him in high school.”  This reminded me of something I saw posted on the Port Leyden Central School Facebook page from a few years ago. 

That post recalled the class of 1963 Senior Trip to New York City that included a ride on a Ferris Wheel.  The person posting about that trip recalled how scared she was on that ride, but “Bill Newvine rode with me so I wasn’t so scared.”

 Bill Newvine’s school picture from his middle school years.  Photo: Newvine Family Collection

Bill Newvine’s school picture from his middle school years.  Photo: Newvine Family Collection

A friend and neighbor of our family commented by speaking to Bill’s depth of sincerity.  “Very nice neighbor and friend... Made many memories growing up.”

There was a comment about his service to the country as well as to others who were in the armed forces. “We owe so much to those who served.”

Bill Comeau, the organizer of Alpha Association, a group that was instrumental in my getting to talk to the soldiers who served with my uncle, weighed in with this comment:

“Bill was a very likable soldier in Vietnam and had many friends. It was tragic that he survived the year in Vietnam and lost his life in such an unfortunate way.”  

Bill Comeau knew Bill but did not know him well.  His work with Alpha Association has brought a lot of Vietnam era veterans together in a safe place where they can open up about their experiences, celebrate their successes, and honor those who served.

 Bill Newvine didn’t seek the spotlight or even the camera’s lens in this photo from his time in Vietnam.  He’s the soldier wearing glasses. Photo: Alpha Association

Bill Newvine didn’t seek the spotlight or even the camera’s lens in this photo from his time in Vietnam.  He’s the soldier wearing glasses. Photo: Alpha Association

It was my hope that posting Bill’s high school yearbook photo and reminding folks about him on the anniversary of his passing will keep his memory alive.  His two brothers and one sister have done a lot to remember him.

The passing of that responsibility has now been made to the next generation including me.  

On this Memorial Day holiday, we’ll do a lot of remembering. I am aware of at least four soldiers who served with Bill in Vietnam and were killed in action.  

I made Bill’s visit to the Vietnam Memorial for him in 2012. I found their names on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial and paid my respects to those men.

 Bill Newvine is fourth from the left in the top row of this yearbook photo from his freshman year in high school.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

Bill Newvine is fourth from the left in the top row of this yearbook photo from his freshman year in high school.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

This journey to learn more about Bill has helped me drill down to find my own memories.  Being so young when he passed in 1968, it was hard at first to get past the tragedy and the family grief.  Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate the moments that have churned up in my memory.

I remember his snowmobile, an Evinrude.  I recall a farewell party his parents had before he went off to basic training.  I remember playing cards with him along with my family sometime shortly after he returned home from Vietnam.  

I remember seeing him every Sunday morning at the nine o’clock Mass at St. Martin’s Church with my grandparents.  The three of them sat in the same pew week after week.

It’s my hope that justice has been done in trying to tell the story about Bill Newvine; not so much by how he died, but by how he lived. His passing permitted me to learn so much about his life.

Whether it was the sharing of Army stories with the soldiers who served with him in Vietnam or the many reflections from friends and neighbors who posted their thoughts on social media, the memory lives on.

There are many friends in my hometown of Port Leyden who still remember him.

We’ve done our best to be sure no one has forgotten Bill.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He wrote about his uncle in the book Finding Bill, available at Lulu.com

Bishop Myron Cotta- Service Influenced by Family, Friends, and Faith

Merced County Native Myron Cotta became Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton in March 2917.

 Bishop Myron Cotta. The Dos Palos native is now Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton.  Photo: Diocese of Stockton

Bishop Myron Cotta. The Dos Palos native is now Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton.  Photo: Diocese of Stockton

He’s never forgotten the words a nun in his Catholic school said to him growing up.

“Myron, one day you’re going to be a priest.”  

His response to the Sister at that time was a smile and just two words, “Yeah, right.”

While he may have responded to the nun with a quick answer, her comment and the words of others who used gentle encouragement stayed with him.

“When people have the courage to bring it up, that stays with you.”

 

 Dos Palos in Merced County has a population of about five-thousand.  Photo: Steve Newvine

Dos Palos in Merced County has a population of about five-thousand.  Photo: Steve Newvine

As a boy growing up in Dos Palos, Merced County, Myron Cotta loved his family, enjoyed his friends, and wondered what he would do when he grew up.  He attended Mass every weekend at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

He grew up on a dairy farm on the outskirts of town.  His family included one brother and two sisters.

He speaks fondly of his family upbringing.  “I’m Portuguese, so that comes with an extended family.  Cousins, uncles, and aunts, were always around. That was the way I was brought up.”

 Sacred Heart Catholic Church is where Myron Cotta went to weekly Mass growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.  Photo: Steve Newvine

Sacred Heart Catholic Church is where Myron Cotta went to weekly Mass growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.  Photo: Steve Newvine

In his teens, he would occasionally entertain ideas of becoming a priest.

After high school, he put those ideas out of his mind as he pursued a degree at West Hills College in Coalinga.  

He also started to move away from the church.  “I sort of drifted away from all this.”

Upon graduation from college, he worked at a grocery store in Dos Palos and found his way back to the church.  

“I believe God allows us to drift in the process of our lives.  But he also permits us to come back.”

 Downtown Dos Palos where Myron Cotta hung out as a teen.  It was also where he was influenced by family and friends. Photo: Steve Newvine

Downtown Dos Palos where Myron Cotta hung out as a teen.  It was also where he was influenced by family and friends. Photo: Steve Newvine

Within a few years, he made the decision that would change his life.  

He chose the priesthood.

“At my high school reunion, I had already made my decision to enter the priesthood.  I shared this with some classmates and they said ‘we had a feeling when you were in school that you might go down this path.”

He entered St. John’s Seminary to prepare for the priesthood in 1980.  

Those years in the seminary created strong bonds with his classmates.  His class included seminarians from the Los Angeles area who were taken by the strong bond of friendship among the Central Valley classmates.

“One of the Los Angeles seminarians asked those of us from the Valley whether we knew each other before entering the seminary.  My answer was no, and I think that’s something special about the Valley. It is a special connectivity.”

He was ordained on September 17, 1987.  In Merced County, Father Cotta served as an assistant pastor in parishes in Atwater and Gustine.  In Fresno County, he served at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Laton.

He was called back to Gustine following his assignment in Laton where he served at Our Lady of Miracles Church again, this time as Pastor.

Soon, he was called by the Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, the late John Steinbock, to serve as Vicar General.  As the Bishop’s right-hand man, the now Monsignor Cotta helped run the Diocese that covers the Central Valley from Merced County to Bakersfield.

He served in that post for two six-year terms and might have considered another assignment when events happened that would ultimately change the course of his life.

Bishop Steinbock passed away in 2010.  Monsignor Cotta stayed on as Diocese Administrator in Fresno until a new Bishop was appointed.

In 2012 Bishop Armando Ochoa was installed as the new Bishop for the Fresno Diocese.  He asked Monsignor Cotta to stay on for a while to help during the Bishop’s first year in Fresno.

That assignment would run for another two years until he received a phone call from the Papal Nunzio in Washington, DC (the Papal Nunzio is a diplomatic representative of the Pope).

The Papal Nunzio notified Monsignor that Pope Francis was appointing him to the Auxiliary Bishop post in the Diocese of Sacramento.

A few years later in December 2017, he got another call from the Papal Nunzio.  This time, he was being asked to accept the appointment as Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton.

 Bishop Myron Cotta was installed as Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton at a ceremony held at   -- Chruch in Modesto. Photo; Diocese of Stockton

Bishop Myron Cotta was installed as Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton at a ceremony held at   -- Chruch in Modesto. Photo; Diocese of Stockton

He was installed on March 2018 at a service at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Modesto.  The church was filled with family, friends, and his colleagues.

“I had a good idea what to expect when I came to the Stockton Diocese,” he said.  “We’ve had some staff changes due to retirements and deaths, but we’re off to a fresh start.”

Bishop Cotta welcomes the opportunity to lead the Catholic faith communities in the Stockton Diocese that covers Stockton east to the Motherlode region.

He is a product of the Central Valley and feels blessed to be able to serve in the area he loves.

“At my installation, I spoke about family, friends, and faith.  These are important things to me.”

With family, he is grateful to have so many relatives within a short distance from one another in Merced County when growing up.  

With friends, he is satisfied with so many of them encouraging him as he responded to his calling to the priesthood.

With faith, he ties it all together back to that nun from Merced County who first told him:

“Myron, someday you are going to be a priest.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He has written California Back Roads, Stories from the Land of the Palm and Pine, available at lulu.com

Steve congratulates the ten winners of this book from a recent contest conducted by MercedCountyEvents.com



 

158 Rooms, 53 Bells, and 2 Commanders in Chief

Santa Nella Hotel/Conference Center Honors Two US Presidents

Hotel Mission De Oro is one of those unusual points of interest in Central California.  

The architecture tries to capture the feel of a California Spanish mission with long sections of rooms, isolated spaces for reflection, and a bell tower.

 The Hotel Mission De Oro in Santa Nella, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Hotel Mission De Oro in Santa Nella, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The bell tower is nine stories high, and has over fifty bells.  

There is no public access to the tower’s upper levels.  

But it is impressive to the drivers passing by on Interstate 5 as well as to the visitors on the Hotel grounds.

I did not count the number of bells in the tower, but a travel website did.  

That website says there are fifty-three bells and that none of them ring.

Unfortunately, there is no public access to the inside of the nine-story bell tower, but thanks to the Hotel’s Director of Sales Shannon Cook, there is a photograph.  

To think of the vista one could experience from any window in that tower.

 Inside the bell tower at The Hotel Mission De Oro.  Photo courtesy Shannon Cook, Director of Sales.

Inside the bell tower at The Hotel Mission De Oro.  Photo courtesy Shannon Cook, Director of Sales.

Amidst the sprawling grounds of the hotel, conference, and restaurant facility there is a tribute to two former U.S. Presidents.

Facing the complex from the back of a reflecting pool is the statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower.  A plaque beneath the bust of the thirty-fourth President commends Ike’s major domestic achievement:  the launch of the Interstate Highway system that includes Interstate Five.

 The likeness of the thirty-fourth President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower on the grounds of The Hotel Mission De Oro in Santa Nella, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The likeness of the thirty-fourth President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower on the grounds of The Hotel Mission De Oro in Santa Nella, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The back of the Eisenhower statue faces the interstate highway.  

About thirty feet away from the Eisenhower representation is another reflecting pool and another statue.  This one is in honor of John F. Kennedy.

 A statue of John F. Kennedy at The Hotel Mission De Oro in Santa Nella, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A statue of John F. Kennedy at The Hotel Mission De Oro in Santa Nella, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The plaque beneath JFK’s bust cites the start of the San Luis Reservoir project in 1962.  

Kennedy traveled to the site of the Reservoir in August of 1962.

The Reservoir has provided flood protection for the area since formally opening in 1967, five years after the President’s visit.  

The Reservoir is just a few miles from The Hotel Mission De Oro.

The Kennedy statue faces the interstate.  

 The sprawling grounds of The Hotel Mission De Oro in Santa Nella, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The sprawling grounds of The Hotel Mission De Oro in Santa Nella, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Hotel opened in 1975 and was acquired by a new owner four years ago.  Chris Rufer, the owner of the Morning Star Corporation, began renovations shortly after buying The Hotel Mission De Oro.  

A dining venue called the Kitchen at the Mission opened in July of 2017.  It is open every day for all three meals.

Mission Lounge is next door to the Kitchen at the Mission.  The bar has comfortable chairs, eighteen brands of beer on tap, and live music on weekends.  It opened in September 2017.

 The Mission Lounge opened next door to the Kitchen at the Mission in 2-17.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Mission Lounge opened next door to the Kitchen at the Mission in 2-17.  Photo by Steve Newvine

According to Shannon Cook, there is more work taking place in the near future.

 “Renovations include more landscaping, creating a new wine cellar to hold two-thousand bottles of wine, and building a sound wall on the Interstate Five side to block the sound of traffic are in the works.”  

Other renovations will include work on the guest rooms, completion of the work on meeting and event space, and the addition of a gift shop.

The Hotel is actively marketing the facility for social and business events.  With one-hundred, fifty-eight hotel rooms, it can handle larger meetings and parties.

“I love introducing people to our newly renovated hotel,” Shannon says.  “We have lots going on. It’s very exciting.”

De Oro means “of gold” in English.  

The name likely connects the hotel to the discovery of gold in California back in the mid-1800s.

I stopped in to see the place after hearing some radio ads promoting the restaurant.  While I was impressed by seeing the bell tower up close, I kept going back to those statues of Kennedy and Eisenhower.  

They were two presidents and two structures that changed life in the Central Valley: Eisenhower and Interstate 5,  Kennedy and the San Luis Reservoir.

The men and the structures are connected on the grounds of The Hotel Mission De Oro in Santa Nella, Merced County.  

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He writes about the fiftieth-fifth anniversary of President Kennedy’s visit to the San Luis Reservoir in 2017 and other points of interest in his book California Back Roads, available at Lulu.com

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

A Valley Golf Course Saved from the Bulldozer

The obituary for this Central Valley golf center was already written:  the land was purchased by Children’s Hospital of Central California for expansion.  But before the bulldozer, there was a reprieve.

 River Park Golf Course was a par-27 course below the cliff where Children’s Hospital Central California stands.  Photo by Steve Newvine

River Park Golf Course was a par-27 course below the cliff where Children’s Hospital Central California stands.  Photo by Steve Newvine

River Park Golf Course in southern Madera County was a neat executive course where a golfer could play nine holes in about an hour.  

The course and large driving range have lights so golfers could play until eight o’clock at night during the winter, and later during the rest of the year.

I played a few rounds there in the years since arriving in California back in 2004.  My first trip there was with visitors looking for something to do.  

We played the attached mini-golf course and had a good time.  That mini golf course closed shortly after our visit.

A few years later, I played the golf course for the first time.  Every hole was a par three, compelling me to put away my driver and rely only on my irons.  

The course was perfect for my irons.  I think I improved that part of my game thanks to the short distance holes there.

At that course, I perfected what I call “no-huddle golf”.  I would play nine holes in as short a period of time as possible.  No-huddle golf to me meant “don’t think about the shot, just hit it, and keep moving”.  

That style of play served me well on days when time was at a premium.

I read about the pending closure in the fall of 2017.  

I was not surprised.  In my time in California, I’ve read of at least four courses closing.  Some went out of business because the drought demanded too much of the precious water that kept the grass green.  

Some ceased operations because owners grew weary of chasing greens fees from golfers who had many choices including on-line deals and newspaper coupons.  

Some closed simply because the land was more valuable for development.

  The closest my ball ever got to the cup off a tee shot happened at River Park Golf Course in Madera.  Photo- Steve Newvine

 The closest my ball ever got to the cup off a tee shot happened at River Park Golf Course in Madera.  Photo- Steve Newvine

River Park was also the site of my greatest shot ever.  

I’ll never forget the day my swing from a six iron on a 135 yard par three took the ball just six inches from the cup.  There was hope that someday that evasive hole-in-one would happen.

With the announcement of the closing, I made peace with myself that a hole-in-one was not going to happen at River Park.

  River Park Golf Course ceased operations when the land was sold to Children’s Hospital of Central California.  The new name for the course is Valley Golf Center.  There’s new management, and a revision to the Hospital’s plan to use the land for expansion. Photo by Steve Newvine

 River Park Golf Course ceased operations when the land was sold to Children’s Hospital of Central California.  The new name for the course is Valley Golf Center.  There’s new management, and a revision to the Hospital’s plan to use the land for expansion. Photo by Steve Newvine

When I flew into Fresno Yosemite International Airport following a vacation, I gathered my luggage, loaded my car, and left the parking lot.  

Checking the time, I knew I could spare one additional hour before coming home to Merced.  So I headed to highway 41 North, got off at the Rio Mesa exit just over the Madera County line, and drove to River Park Golf Course.

While I could not be certain at the time, my instincts told me this would be my last round at this course.  I played a relaxing round of golf.  No-huddle golf would have to wait for some other time at some other course.  I shot a 35 on the 27 par layout.  

It was not my best round there, but not the worst either.  I walked into the pro shop, thanked the man at the register for several years of enjoyment, and headed on my way.  

It was my farewell.

 The new name for the former River Park Golf Course is Valley Golf Center.

The new name for the former River Park Golf Course is Valley Golf Center.

But then in late December, there was a surprise Christmas present for the hundreds of golfers who have used the course.

Children’s Hospital modified their plans, at least temporarily.  The course was saved.  

The new name is Valley Golf Center.  There’s new management, and a revision to the Hospital’s plan to use the land for medical offices.

A return to this newly named, old friend of a golf course in the first weeks of 2018 was a special time.  

I shot a 32, just five shots over par.  With a smile on my face, I went inside the pro shop to thank the new person behind the counter.

Saved from the bulldozer, this golf course has been revived.  

And a lot of golfers are happy about that.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book California Back Roads is available on Lulu.com

 

UC Merced Downtown Campus Center Open for Business

Watching the work crews add some final touches to the exterior of the new UC Merced Downtown Center, a life-long Merced resident looked at the sight, and with a degree of pride said, “I’ve been here all my life.  I feel like saying ‘where did this come from’?”

  School colors blue and gold adorn the entrance to the new UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo: Steve Newvine

School colors blue and gold adorn the entrance to the new UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo: Steve Newvine

The new thirty-three million dollar three-story  Campus Center officially opened with much fanfare on January 23.  The Center will be the workplace for three-hundred UC Merced non-academic employees. 

The building provides 67,400 square feet of office space.  It is state-of-the-art energy efficient, having earned a Gold designation from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the US Green Building Council.

  Open space will greet the visitor to the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo- Steve Newvine

Open space will greet the visitor to the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo- Steve Newvine

The new facility replaces leased space that has served the University well in the early years of operation.  With any rented office, the tenant usually modifies the existing space to fit the needs of a particular department.  

The new space was designed specifically for the departments that will use the offices.  Groups that frequently need to work together will now be down the hall, or up a level or two within the new building.

All of this gives the University greater flexibility in managing the growth of various departments.

  The meeting space in the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center was designed for the specific needs of each department using the building.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

The meeting space in the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center was designed for the specific needs of each department using the building.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

According to the UC Merced website, forty non-academic departments are being brought into the new Center.  

The departments will move according to a three-phase plan that begins immediately and ends by the summer of 2019.  

Resources from the University teaching, research, and public service departments will be integrated into the Downtown Center.  It is hoped this collaboration of University resources will help create and nurture partnerships throughout the community.

  The Downtown Campus Center is direct across the street from Merced City Hall.  Photo- Steve Newvine

The Downtown Campus Center is direct across the street from Merced City Hall.  Photo- Steve Newvine

The Center’s location is no accident.  Directly across the street from City Hall, the facility is symbolically linked to the future of the City of Merced.  

With three-hundred new workers soon to inhabit the downtown area, there are a lot of eyes watching to see how downtown will adapt and change with this new anchor employer in place.

Already, transitions are taking place in UC leased space at the Prominade, Mondo, Castle, and Venture Lab locations.

  Construction workers checking details as the final touches are being made to the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

Construction workers checking details as the final touches are being made to the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

The Downtown Campus Center drives home the point that the UC is a legitimate part of the downtown Merced community.  

It always has been that way since even before the Lake Road campus opened.  

But now, with permanent office space that many would agree is a centerpiece of downtown, UC Merced has made a mark on our city.

As that lifelong Merced resident said to me as we looked at the new building, “this is truly amazing.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He has written California Back Roads, Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine.

A Couple of Chipped Mugs

We tend to do a lot of cleaning up, throwing out, and organizing in the early days of a new year.  A few found items have me recalling some happy times.

  Coffee mug from the two years I spent as a television journalist at WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

Coffee mug from the two years I spent as a television journalist at WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

Take this coffee mug with a broken handle that’s been glued back on.  

The mug shows the logo for WAAY-TV where I worked as a television journalist for two years in the early 1980s.  

Everyone who worked there got a coffee mug.  The coffee maker was in the general manager’s office.  We were told it was his way of getting to know everyone.  

If we wanted caffeine, we had to go through him.  

Those of us in the newsroom were often so anxious to get coffee, the general manager’s secretary started making announcements over the station public address line.  “Attention, the coffee is ready.”  We’d make our way to the manager’s office, say hello, and fill our mugs.

The cup went with me when I left for greener pastures.  The handle likely broke during one of several moves to new cities and new jobs.  I held on to it all these years because of the memories it generates.

 My daughters got me this mug a few years ago, and I promptly dropped it creating a crack and making it useless for beverage holding.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

My daughters got me this mug a few years ago, and I promptly dropped it creating a crack and making it useless for beverage holding.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

Father’s might expect a number of tee shirts, coffee mugs, or hats for Father’s Day, birthdays, or Christmas.  

I had my share of specialized gifts from my two daughters over the years.  

But this coffee mug was special as it came to me later in my life.  My daughters got it for me a few years ago, but unfortunately, it would not last long as a holder of coffee.  

I dropped it within months, rendering it useless for beverages.  But as with other broken special mugs, I repurposed it to hold pencils and it sits on my dresser.

Over the years, I have collected coffee mugs from the many places I’ve worked, cities I have visited, or as gifts from friends or relatives.  

One of my going away gifts from New York State was a ceramic mug made by a clay artist who lived in the community where we lived at the time.  I used it for a while, but now it rests in a cabinet in our foyer; it’s a memory from a very special time in my life.

I just put away Christmas tree decorations and came across a special mug featuring a photograph of our daughters from a visit to Disneyworld back in the 1980s.  

We cherished the mug so much and never used it for beverages.  It remains part of our Christmas house decorations.

There’s a mug that plays to the characteristic of northern New York winters, a mug from the farewell party of a beloved priest friend (that one includes a prayer for vocations to the religious live), and many others.  

Each mug has a special meaning for me.

But the two with the greatest emotional attachment are those two cracked cups.  Each mug holds a special place in my heart.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He has written California Back Roads- Stories from the land of the Palm and the Pine, available on Lulu.com

A Top Ten of Blessings for 2017

 Four generations come together to celebrate three birthdays.  Photo-Newvine Personal Collection

Four generations come together to celebrate three birthdays.  Photo-Newvine Personal Collection

Looking back on the year, I find it helpful to reflect a handful of things that turned out rather well.

 A top ten list helps focus some of the most important things that happened in my life in the year.  In no particular order, here is my top ten.

1.  In March, four generations came together at our home in Merced to celebrate three birthdays.  The birthdays were for my oldest daughter, my father-in-law who turned ninety, and my sixtieth.

2.  Due to a change in a living situation that brought my in-laws under our roof as permanent residents, my wife and I did a staycation week in July.  We did a series of day trips in Merced and surrounding counties.  We saw San Luis Reservoir, San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery, and Oakdale Cheese while exploring the countryside.

3.  I played at least one 9-hole round of golf every week throughout the year.

4.  California Back Roads – Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine became my eleventh published book.

 Country Music Singer and Songwriter Bill Anderson met my wife and me prior to his October show at the Gallo Center in Modesto.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

Country Music Singer and Songwriter Bill Anderson met my wife and me prior to his October show at the Gallo Center in Modesto.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

 

5.  I met one of my country music heroes, the legendary Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, before his performance at the Gallo Center in Modesto.

6.  The presentation of my lecture of Soft Skills for Hard Times was done for both the spring and fall sessions of Love Plus, a life skills training program of Love INC Merced.

  My trustworthy Chevy Cruze purchased new in Merced six years ago, turned over the 100,000 mile mark.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

 My trustworthy Chevy Cruze purchased new in Merced six years ago, turned over the 100,000 mile mark.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

 

7.  My car turned over to 100,000 miles after six years of service on the main highways and back roads of California.  This is the second car purchased new in California that has made that six-figure milestone over the past thirteen years.

8.  My grandson, who will be three in January, visited California for the first time in 2016.  I saw him again when I flew to Colorado for Thanksgiving.

 5 K runs, like this one at UC Merced, helped keep me healthy in 2017.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

5 K runs, like this one at UC Merced, helped keep me healthy in 2017.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

9.  I woke up every day to reasonably good health.  I owe a big thanks to my doctors, my wife, and daily runs through the trail network in my neighborhood.

10.  A great neighborhood makes a lot of difference and we have that here in our cul de sac in Merced.  Whether it was a Fourth of July picnic, the gift of strawberry preserves or something from a garden, or just knowing we could pick up the phone and ask a favor, we’ve got the best of everything in our little corner of the world.

My best wishes to you for this holiday season and 2018.  

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He’s published California Back Roads, available in paper and e-book editions at Lulu.com .  

Steve will be the lead guest on the December 23rd edition of Community Conversations at 6:05 a.m. on radio station KYOS 1480 AM

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

First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo-Remembered in Merced County

Behind the name of anything that honors an individual is a story.  Here is the story of a soldier’s sacrifice and a memorial to that life.  

 First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo.  Photo from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund  http://www.vvmf.org

First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo.  Photo from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund http://www.vvmf.org

Often, that story is told briefly on a dedication plaque.  Sometimes, it is up to others to tell a little bit more.

This is about the life of Peter Gallo whose sacrifice on the battlefields of Vietnam is remembered now with the veterans’ center recently named in his honor.

The First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center is located on the Merced College campus.

The Gallo Memorial Foundation worked with the College to provide a gift of eighty-thousand dollars to help remodel the existing Veterans Resource Center and to name it for the soldier who lost his life in the Vietnam War.

 Plaque behind the entrance sign at the First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center at Merced College.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Plaque behind the entrance sign at the First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center at Merced College.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A brief story about First Lieutenant Peter Gallo is told on the back of the sign in front of the Resource Center.  

It reads in part that he was born in 1946, attended Livingston High School, Merced College, and Cal Poly.  

He enlisted in 1966, graduated from Officer Candidate School, and became an armor instructor at Fort Lewis, Washington.

The plaque goes on to read:

“Gallo began his tour of duty in Vietnam on December 9, 1967. On March 30, 1968, at the age of22, and while serving with Troop C, 3rd Squadron,5th U.S. Cavalry, 9th Infantry division, 1st Lt. Peter Joseph Gallo was killed in action during Operation Kilo in Quang Tri Province.”

There’s more information on that bronze plaque.  

First Lieutenant Gallo was posthumously awarded a number of medals and honors.  He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The plaque does not mention that Peter was the son of Joseph Gallo, founder of Joseph Farms of Livingston in Merced County, one of California’s largest dairy farms.  

Joseph passed away in 2007 and his obituary mentions that Peter was killed in action during the Vietnam War.

Fast forward from the 1960s when Peter served in the Army, on through the early part of this century when his father passed, and now to the present time when veterans services are near the top of our awareness.

Merced College was already providing services to students who served in the military.  But there was a need to improve the physical location where those services were based.

It was that need to upgrade the facilities, coupled with a desire to honor the sacrifice of Peter Gallo that led the Gallo Foundation to fund the Merced College Veterans Resource Center remodel project.

Thanks to that gift and the vision to enhance the facilities for those who served and those who continue to serve, Merced College veterans now have a special place.  

It is a spot where they can relax, get help with problems unique to this category of student, and know that they are not alone in their higher education journey.  

Counselors are available.  

New friendships with other veterans can be fostered.  Dependents have a more visible resource.

 The First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center is part of student life at Merced College.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center is part of student life at Merced College.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The idea behind the remodeled Veterans Resource Center was to give Merced College’s veterans a better place on campus.

Whether they needed someone to talk to or just a quiet space to be alone with their thoughts, the hope was to provide a little bit of everything.

 The Gallo Veterans Resource Center serves approximately one-hundred, fifty veterans, active reserve, and their dependents.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Gallo Veterans Resource Center serves approximately one-hundred, fifty veterans, active reserve, and their dependents.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Vice President of Student Services Michael McCandless says the Center is now a meeting place as well as a resource center.  

“We wanted a space that veterans could use inside and outside,” he says.   “(The Center is) an anchor to attract them to a place where they have the resources to be successful.”

More than one-hundred fifty veterans and their families are served through the Center.  

In addition to meeting space and counselors, other services include a lending library, computers, and printing services.

“The faculty and staff of the Center work hard to function as liaisons between student veterans and the campus community,”

Michael McCandless says.   

“They serve as advocates, spearhead fundraising opportunities, and work with student veterans in regard to access to educational and community resources.”

Some of the student veterans are on active reserve. That status frequently requires modifications in the way instruction is delivered.  Center staff often needs to intervene with instructors to help accommodate the student schedule. 

“This is a pro-active group,”

Michael McCandless says.   

”The Center has allowed the faculty and staff to interact closely with students and best learn how to serve and encourage success.”

That success is measured in many ways, from improvements in academic behaviors as well as in enhancement of support systems for these veterans. 

 The legacy of Peter Gallo’s service lives on at the Veterans Resource Center named for him at Merced College.  Photo from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund  http://www.vvmf.org

The legacy of Peter Gallo’s service lives on at the Veterans Resource Center named for him at Merced College.  Photo from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund http://www.vvmf.org

Thanks to the website Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund ( http://www.vvmf.org) , visitors can learn even more about Peter Gallo and others from that era who lost their lives in the war.  

Peter was born on January 29, 1946 and was killed in action on March 30, 1968.  

His war record, including honors received and the battles he fought are listed on the page dedicated to him.  

Beyond these facts, the website has a feature where people who knew a soldier as well as those who may not have known the soldier but wish to express their feelings can do so.  

Some of the testimonials help fill in a few more details about the kind of soldier First Lieutenant Gallo was.

John Mandrano of Greensboro, North Carolina was so moved by Peter’s service, he posted on the website:

“My heart aches by their loss of life and the loss by their friends and family. I'm deeply saddened. I will try to honor them by living a good and helpful life to others. Thank you for the posting by Peter's classmate about how they have not forgotten him. We are now connected by them....from the West Coast to the East Coast.... We are Americans. “

 Peter J. Gallo served two years in the US Army.   Photo from FindADeath.com

Peter J. Gallo served two years in the US Army.   Photo from FindADeath.com

In another post, Vernon Cole recalled his high school classmate.  

“Peter, it's been 45 years and your high school classmates still talk fondly of you... You will never be forgotten. “

The First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center was completed in the early summer.  

A dedication was held in August.

Peter Gallo served his country, gave his life, and left many memories among family and friends.  His name is now linked forever with a Resource Center that helps other veterans, active military, and their families.  

It is a legacy that makes all of us proud.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book, California Back Roads- People and places among the palms and pines of Central California will be published in December