Labor Day Memories with Jerry Lewis

Labor Day and Jerry Lewis.  For most of my life, that weekend and that person were practically one-in-the-same. 

Jerry Lewis in Rochester, NY in the mid-1990s. Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Jerry Lewis in Rochester, NY in the mid-1990s. Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

I remember watching the annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon in my family living room.  Jerry Lewis was very funny, but would frequently turn serious as he reminded everyone why it was important to call in a pledge. 

His appearances on television outside of Labor Day weekend were confined mainly to talk shows, where the likes of Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Johnny Carson would have him on frequently promoting a movie or an upcoming appearance in Las Vegas. 

There’s a show business legend that recalls one night in the early 1970s when all three late night talk shows (Carson, Griffin, and Dick Cavett) taped their shows in New York City.  

Jerry appeared on all three shows on the same night.  He made an appearance as a regular guest on one and then did quick cameos on the other two.

The movies had their moments.  

The films with Dean Martin were funny.  None of Jerry’s performances as a solo movie actor stood out for me. I enjoyed the Disorderly Orderly where he runs amuck in a hospital setting.  

As a teen watching the annual telethon growing up in the 1970s, I hoped that one day I would have a chance to be part of that tradition.  

Participating in fund raising antics for the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Participating in fund raising antics for the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

I got my chance as one of the hosts from the Binghamton, New York affiliate of the Telethon’s “Love Network”.  For two years, I donned the tuxedo and supported the primary host Mark Williams as we broadcast local segments from the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City. 

I hosted some of the early morning segments while Mark got some rest.  It was fun doing that form of live television.  I left the station after two years, and even though my career would take me onward to four other television stations, none of them carried the Labor Day Telethon. 

It was a dream-come-true for me to be part of that incredible display of emotion and endurance on Labor Day.

Hosting the Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, NY.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Hosting the Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, NY.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Nearly two decades later, Jerry Lewis was appearing in Rochester, New York with the Broadway show Damn Yankees. 

A coworker told me Jerry would be accepting an award from the County of Monroe at a ceremony taking place at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Rochester.  I called a friend at one of the television stations where I had worked and asked if I could accompany him to the ceremony. 

Jerry Lewis in Rochester, NY.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Jerry Lewis in Rochester, NY.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Jerry accepted the award, and then took questions from the local media.  He mentioned how he was writing a book on his recollections from the Martin and Lewis partnership. 

I asked him whether it was difficult to go back and recall that period of time.  He looked at me, smiled and said something to the effect:

“Not really, it was a very special time in my life, in both our lives.  I didn’t want to lose those memories with time.” 

The book became Dean and Me, and was co-written by James Kaplan.  

Mr. Kaplan was interviewed shortly after the news broke that Jerry had passed away at his home in Las Vegas.  The interviewer, pressed for time, wrapped up a five-minute live interview by asking him to describe Jerry in one word. 

Without giving it an extra second to think, Mr. Kaplan answered “genius”.

Jerry’s son Chris spoke at a meeting of Fresno Rotary I attended several years ago. 

Chris was raising money on behalf of the non-profit organization providing wheel chairs for people living in third world countries. 

While not mentioning his dad’s name directly, it was clear he wanted to keep the legacy of Jerry Lewis as a champion of the handicapped moving forward.

There’s no desire within me to explore the complications of Jerry Lewis.   

He was a gifted entertainer who used his life to help others. 

It was a life with purpose. 

Fortunately for many of us who remember those twenty-hour fund raising efforts on behalf of Muscular Dystrophy, Labor Day and Jerry Lewis will forever be entwined.

He made me laugh.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His book on travels in California will be published later this year.

Pretty in Pink for Merced

Local Church School will Flock with Flamingos to Raise Money for Camp.

Think about your front lawn.  You make sure it gets enough water.   You time the mowing schedule so the grass will look nice for the weekend.  You take great satisfaction to add just the right amount of shrubbery to give the perfect look.

A north Merced home gets “flocked” with flamingos for charity.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A north Merced home gets “flocked” with flamingos for charity.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Now imagine that lawn covered with dozens of plastic pink flamingos.  If you’ve seen a lawn with this pink overload in recent weeks, you are witnessing a flamingo-flocking. 

For thirty-five dollars, parents and students in the fifth grade class of St. Paul Lutheran School will cover a typical Merced lawn with up to forty flaming pink plastic flamingos. 

School admissions director Mary Ann Daughdrill says this is a fundraiser that has been going on for the past six years.  “We hope to cover the cost for the fifth-grade class to go to Hume Lake Christian Camp in the Sierra Mountains.”

Typically, a relative or neighbor will pay the School a suggested thirty-five dollar donation.  Volunteers will come to the lawn shortly after sunset and do their gentle redecoration.  The flamingos stay on the lawn for twenty-four hours. 

Plastic flamingo season in Merced usually gets started in August and runs through October when the fifth graders head off to Hume Lake.  Some weeks are very active with two or three lawns getting the pink treatment every night.

One year, the fund raiser was so successful, all of the dozen or more campers had their entire Hume Lake trip costs covered by proceeds from the flamingo flocking. 

There was even money left over to purchase in-house planters for the school and make a donation to the local animal shelter.  The class gets involved with ideas for donating excess funds.

Flamingo decorating is one of the several outside-the-box ideas local schools and non-profits are trying to raise awareness and money. 

Playhouse Merced produces a Broadway themed revue in the summer. 

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) stages an evening of video horse racing in the spring. 

Just about every other non-profit uses some variation of the dinner-followed-by- auction format to make money their cause. 

And who can forget the summer of 2015 bucket challenge to raise funds for continued research into Lou Gehrig's Disease?  

A small sign in the front left of this lawn tells the family living there and others that this decorating was done to raise money for the St. Paul Lutheran Fifth Grade.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A small sign in the front left of this lawn tells the family living there and others that this decorating was done to raise money for the St. Paul Lutheran Fifth Grade.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The idea of strangers taking over the front lawn with over three dozen plastic flamingos can bring some risk. Families, their neighbors and the curious wonder what’s happening in their cul de sacs.

Usually, all it takes is a quick explanation of what is going on and why it’s all for a good cause.

“One time, the children of one family were playing in the front yard when we arrived,” Mary Ann says.  “We waited for a while, and then just asked the children to go inside and look outside for a surprise in a few minutes.”

 Steve Newvine lives in Merced

San Luis Reservoir-Looking Good at Fifty

2017 Marks the Golden Anniversary of the Completion of the Reservoir

People have used the San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County, California as a barometer of just how bad the drought was, or how intense the flow of melting snow pack from the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been.

The San Luis Reservoir in Los Banos, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The San Luis Reservoir in Los Banos, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

I’ve always been impressed by this massive lake in the Pacheco Pass between Los Banos and Gilroy.  The visitor center at the Romero Outlook always made for a convenient and safe rest stops on trips to and from the coast.  

The Vista is impressive.

This spring and summer, friends and family who passed through the Reservoir along State Route 152 told us that the water level was at an all-time high. My wife and I made a visit there early in July to see for ourselves.

An up close look at the water in the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

An up close look at the water in the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Display inside the center.  photo by steve Newvine

Display inside the center.  photo by steve Newvine

To a passing visitor not familiar with the Reservoir, it’s easy to lose perspective of just how high the current water table is.  

During the drought years, it was relatively easy to see little or no water down below from the observation point.  Now with water covering the Reservoir bed, it is clear that conditions have changed.

But to what magnitude that change has been felt, I had to ask the visitor center staff.

A staff person told us that at the peak of the California drought last summer, the Reservoir was at less than three percent capacity.  At the time we visited in early July of 2017, we were told that the water level was just over ninety-eight percent of capacity.

There’s no apparent danger that this Reservoir will exceed capacity as the water is controlled coming in through the California Aqueduct from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta.  

The water is held by the San Luis Dam or the B F Sisk Dam.  

Water from the reservoir irrigates over sixty-thousand acres in the Santa Clara Valley.  Electricity is generated as a result of all this water moving through the Reservoir.

The Visitor Center at the Romero Outlook of the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Visitor Center at the Romero Outlook of the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The visitor center has a number of photographs and historical artifacts from its five-decade history.   

President John F. Kennedy visited the area early in his presidency when construction of the project began.  You can see that speech on You Tube.  

 

In his speech at the dedication ceremonies on August 18, 1962, the President greeted the crowd humorously by saying,

It is a pleasure for me to come out here and help plow up this valley in the cause of progress.
— President John F. Kennedy

The fifty-fifth anniversary of that visit is August 18, 2017.

One section of the visitor center features Ronald Reagan, who visited the project during his term as California Governor.   

Photographs of the two Presidents take up space along the walls of the visitor center.  

Then Governor Ronald Reagan’s image covers part of a wall at the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Then Governor Ronald Reagan’s image covers part of a wall at the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

There’s a room with chairs and a loop of video that explains other details of this man-made wonder.  The Reservoir is now moving into the sixth decade of operation to provide water and hydropower.

There’s a lot of history of how this western Merced County’s engineering and construction marvel was conceived, built, and maintained.  It’s worth an extended visit the next time your travels take you through Pacheco Pass.

The vista of the Reservoir footprint is impressive.  At times, it has taken my breath away. It may do the same for you.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He’s planning on releasing a new book about California in the coming months.

 

A Fitness Finish Line

Crossing the finish line at a five-K race meant more than a successful end to a run.  It put a meaningful exclamation point on a three-month effort to improve my health.

Crossing the finish line at the UC Merced Journey 5-K in September 2016.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

Crossing the finish line at the UC Merced Journey 5-K in September 2016.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

The spring of 2016 was a rough time for my health.  

Symptoms included shortness of breath, an inability to take a deep breath without coughing, fatigue, and frustration.  

Something was wrong and there was a feeling that nothing could be done about it.

My wife made it her challenge to help find some answers.  She would accompany me to doctor visits and trips to see specialists. I had lab work, breathing tests, and a plan of attack to keep the condition under control.  

At the end of all these visits and tests was the conclusion that asthma and bronchitis were now part of my life.  

Medicines were prescribed, and a recommendation was made to exercise more.

I planned to start running daily beginning the day after Independence Day.  Two days prior to the execution of that plan, my back was stained.  

My start to better fitness was delayed another week.

On July 11th, I took the first step toward daily exercise.   I walked a pathway near my home.  Later in the week, I would begin running part of that path.  By the end of week two, I was running approximately a mile-and-a-half daily.  The distance was increased until the desired exertion level was achieved.  

Running was now part of the new normal.

Running got the heart pumping and the adrenaline flowing.  The time outside was good for the lungs and great for the attitude.  

The little annoyances from work and life did not seem to matter much anymore.  A new way to deal with the frustrations of life was discovered.  It seemed as though the running trail was my new sounding board.

Enjoying the accomplishment of a 5-K run at UC Merced.  Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

Enjoying the accomplishment of a 5-K run at UC Merced.  Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

By late summer, I had a routine that included a half-hour run followed by a fifteen-minute stretching exercise ritual.  I was feeling better.  Improved health had returned.  

Follow up visits to the doctors and specialists confirmed that the action plan worked.  The medicine took care of the symptoms; the exercise took care of me.

Just for kicks, I entered the UC Merced 5K Run in mid-September.  5K was about twice the length of my daily run.  It was for charity, and to make the past three months of daily exercise mean something.

Crossing that finish line was a proud moment that day on the UC Merced campus.  I removed my timing band, was handed a medal along with the other five hundred participants and promised to return next year.

Eight months after the UC Merced 5K, another finish line.  This time, the venue was the Mercy Medical Stroke Awareness 5K.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

Eight months after the UC Merced 5K, another finish line.  This time, the venue was the Mercy Medical Stroke Awareness 5K.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

In May, I entered the Merced Medical Center Stoke Awareness 5K.  I did it for the same reason as the UC Merced Run.  I wanted to raise a little money for charity and prove that all this running had a deeper meaning.

9 From 99 w/new afterword

9 From 99 w/new afterword

I ran in thanksgiving for the benefits from daily exercise.  Thanks to the proper medicine, the care of several health professionals, and my wife’s gentle but firm reminders, I feel great.  

Aside from a brief period with some aching joints, the routine continues.  The benefits accrue.

I have crossed the finish line, and am ready for the next race.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced     

American Pie Memories in Florida

Among the many memories, I cherish from growing up in the 1970s was the annual winter trips to Florida to stay with my grandparents who had a winter residence there. 

 I took this picture of my family in front of the Florida Welcome Station in the early 1970s.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

 I took this picture of my family in front of the Florida Welcome Station in the early 1970s.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Those trips were novelties in my teen years as my family discovered a whole new part of the country. 

The drive itself was an adventure.  It started with a very early wake-up call as we climbed into a car that had been packed the night before.   

When the weather cooperated, we'd zip through the Eastern Seaboard states.  It felt just a little bit warmer at each rest stop.  Our day ended at a motel where the whole family of five shared one room with two double beds and a roll-away bed.

 The next morning there would be another early start.

When we crossed the Florida line, we'd stop for orange juice at the state visitor center.

The days in Florida were filled with trips to the tourist venues, including Cypress Gardens or the newly opened Disney World. 

There were also many activities that were less travel-intensive.  Some days included a visit to a distant relative or a trip to the nearest shopping center to pick up souvenirs.  

Every year, my grandmother would treat us to the novelty of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  

Back in the 1970s, KFC wasn’t known by its initials. It was Kentucky Fried Chicken, it was indeed finger lickin’ good, and whoever was staying with Grandma and Grandpa that week was getting a real treat.

Just about every night, we could count on a game of cards.

 The family dressed up for Sunday dinner at a buffet-style restaurant during one of our trips to visit my grandparents in Florida.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

 The family dressed up for Sunday dinner at a buffet-style restaurant during one of our trips to visit my grandparents in Florida.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

I remember a warm Central Florida winter night in 1972.  Six kids between the ages of twelve and seventeen were enjoying the spring break by playing cards and listening to one particular song on the radio.

The kids were my siblings and the similarly-aged kids of my parents’ friends. The card game was racehorse pitch, the preferred card game of that era. 

The song on the radio was American Pie.

 Bye bye

 Miss American Pie

 Drove my Chevy to the levy,

 But the levy was dry

 And good ole boys drinking whiskey and rye

 Singing, this will be the day that I die

 This will be the day that I die.

That song was the big rock-and-roll hit in early 1972.  It seemed like it was being played every half-hour on the Tampa rock-and-roll station.

I was fifteen years old.  The symbolism did not yet resonate with me.  It was the way the words worked together that caught my attention.  I had little or no appreciation of poetry, but these lyrics were beyond catchy.

 Did you write the book of love

 Or do you have faith in God above

Stanza after stanza, the poem of American Pie fascinated me.  It would be years before I fully understood what singer/writer Don McLean was trying to say.   

To this day McLean doesn't talk much about the deeper meaning of the words he composed. 

He doesn't have to.  This is a work of art that stands just as that.

 I can't remember if I cried
 When I read about his widowed bride

Madonna recorded a cover version several years ago, and it's an interesting interpretation.  The Brady Bunch kids recorded a version that isn't interesting or even an interpretation. It's just bad.

In American Pie, Don McLean is recalling a specific point in his lifetime. Whenever I hear that song, I think of a specific point in time too.  I zero in on the opening words:

 A long long time ago
 I can still remember how
 That music used to make me smile

While McLean was referring to the day Buddy Holly was killed in an airplane crash, I go back to a much happier time.  

I return to a warm Florida evening in February 1972, surrounded by family and friends.

We were creating a memory that has lasted nearly five decades.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His first book, Growing Up, Upstate is now available for a reduced price at Lulu.com

Remembered on Memorial Day, Corporal Chester T. Dean

The brief life of a soldier killed in action during World War II

He is one of many who has served in our military and paid the ultimate price in defending our nation.  

 

 The Honor Roll honoring those who served in my hometown and surrounding area in Port Leyden, New York.  My great uncle Chester Dean’s name is on this Honor Roll.  Photo by Gerald Schaffner

 The Honor Roll honoring those who served in my hometown and surrounding area in Port Leyden, New York.  My great uncle Chester Dean’s name is on this Honor Roll.  Photo by Gerald Schaffner

Like many of our brave men and women who died while wearing the uniform of our armed forces, Chet Dean’s story remains frozen in time.  Growing up, I recall occasional cemetery visits, especially on Memorial Day.  

Also while growing up, a family member might recall a story involving Chet as a boy, adolescent, or young adult.  But as the years pile on, the memories faded.

But I will recall his life and his sacrifice again on this Memorial Day.

Here’s what I know about my great uncle Chester Dean.  

Born in 1922, he was the brother of my grandmother, Vera.  In addition to Vera, he had four other sisters:  Mary, Vaughn, Myrtle, and Viola (known in the family as Peachy).  

Chester had two brothers:  Charlie, who was serving in the Army Air Corps in Italy at the time of Chet’s death, and Harry who was living in upstate New York.  

The Dean children were a big part of my growing up experience.  

Harry passed away before I reached school age, but the other Dean adult children were truly part of our family.  My family was always spending time with the Deans playing cards, dropping in for coffee, or helping out on a house project.     

You name it and we were all part of it.

The newspaper article in the Lowville Journal and Republican reporting the death of Corporal Chester T. Dean

The newspaper article in the Lowville Journal and Republican reporting the death of Corporal Chester T. Dean

Unfortunately, no one in my generation would know Chet.  He went into the armed forces in 1942, did his basic training at Camp Rucker, Alabama and was then transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky before being sent on for desert training in Arizona.  

He was sent to Wales in April 1944.  

While soldiers were dying every hour during World War II, it’s reasonable to assume Chet was doing his duty and looking forward to life with his new wife once the war was over.  

Little did he know of the events that were about to happen.  

In just two more months, the landing at Normandy would take place off the coast of France.  Chet, now Corporal Dean, remained in Wales for training that would likely lead to action on the field of battle.

Just two days after D-Day, he was training in Wales on June 8, 1944 when an explosion occurred. Chet suffered concussion and shrapnel injuries.  

These injures would prove fatal.  

His wife Shirley got the news in the form of a telegram.  According to an account of Chet’s death in the Lowville (NY) Journal and Republican newspaper, the telegram was very brief.  

It stated that he died on June 8, 1944.  The telegram concludes with the words:  Letter follows.

Chet’s widow Shirley wanted more information about her husband’s death.  She wrote to the war department on July 10 asking for confirmation and more details.  

On July 27, 1944, just seven weeks after the training accident that would claim Chet Dean’s life, Shirley got a letter with the additional details:

"Dear Mrs. Dean

I have your letter of July 10 and want to thank you for writing me concerning your husband, Cpl Chester T. Dean. It is true, Mrs. Dean, that your husband is dead. The war department did not make a mistake.

I buried him with the ceremony appropriate to military funerals and then in addition to that, we had a memorial service in the company for him. The entire company was present, together with others from the battalion. The battalion commander was present. There were some beautiful tributes paid to your husband.

I only wish I had them recorded to you could hear what they said. But, knowing him to be the man that he was, you do not need them, do you? We held you and other loved ones before the Throne of God in prayer. And Chester's good life and devotion to God has been an inspiration to many others since that service to a closer walk with God. He was always in my services as often as duty would permit.

It was an unfortunate accident that caused his death. More than that I cannot say. But it was very encouraging to hear the company commander say that he was one of his very best men and that he wished he had a whole company of men like him. We all felt the same way.

His last hours were not spent in suffering. He died an easy death. We did all we could for him."

Chet Dean was born in northern New York, died in Wales, was married, served in the military, and paid the ultimate price. His brother and sisters kept his memory alive by tending to his gravesite in my hometown of Port Leyden.  

My father and my uncle see to it that his grave marker is kept clean and place flowers on that grave as well as many other graves of family members every year, especially on Memorial Day.

I never got a chance to know this man.  But I will take comfort from the words the company commander used that were included in the letter Chet’s widow received:  “he wished he had a whole company of men like him.”  

By knowing Chet’s surviving siblings, my family did have a group of people just like him.  Vera, Mary, Vaughn, Myrtle, Peachy, and Charlie were caring people who loved their families, and who enjoyed a good hearty sense of humor.  

That’s a pretty good legacy.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His book Finding Bill, is about his uncle who served in the US Army during the Vietnam War.  

He is indebted to the website http://russpickett.com/history/nylewis.htm for providing many of the details in this column.  Research was also done on the archives of the Lowville Leader and Lowville Journal and Republican newspapers through nyshistoricnewspapers.org

Fifty-three Years of Community Journalism in Merced County

John Derby never gave up on his dream

 Merced County Times Publisher John Derby.  Photo by Steve Newvine

 Merced County Times Publisher John Derby.  Photo by Steve Newvine

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

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

It was too much.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John is originally from New York.  

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

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

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

(front page of the newspaper-  Merced County Times.

(front page of the newspaper-  Merced County Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a Journey of a Lifetime Possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim says it was great to see everyone pulling together.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$20,000.00  is a lot of money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hometown Heroes is a weekly radio show honoring veterans.  

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

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

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

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

 

 

My Love of this Game

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

Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

Picture from the Newvine Personal Collection

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

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

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


Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

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

A Place of Reverence- San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two friends of my wife and I are buried there.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of it reads:

"Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not here.  I do not sleep.

I am the thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow."

Cemeteries can have a calming effect on us.  

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

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

The San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery matches that same feeling.  

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

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

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

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

An Important Place, A Special Person

Two institutions are celebrating significant milestones in 2017.

Herkimer College, Herkimer, NY

Herkimer College, Herkimer, NY

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

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

I met my future wife at Herkimer. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have my own reflections. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope I learned a lot by following his example. 

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Newvine lives in Merced. 

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

The Soundtrack of our Future on the UC Merced Campus

Construction Project is Well Underway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Newvine

Steve Newvine

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

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

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

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

International Ag Expo Gets Ready for the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

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

For more on the World Ag Expo, visit WorldAgExpo.com

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when I met a man named Andy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nice weather we’ve been having?”

“The roads are busy today.”

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

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

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

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

 “Want to play checkers?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livingston Historical Society Museum-Big Things in a Small Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a small building with a big story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon became a naturalized American citizen in 1968.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was remembered as a quiet and humble leader.

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

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

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

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

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

Congressional Medal of Honor website:  www.cmohs.org

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

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

 

 

Moved Musically by the Monkees

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

 Two of my Monkees albums.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

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

Central Valley Native Dylan Floro Made it to the Major Leagues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

For more on Dylan’s latest statistics, go to MLB.com or tampabay.rays.mlb.com




 

Merced Radio Station KYOS to Mark 80th Anniversary in October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An early broadcast home to KYOS.  Picture from KYOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy eightieth anniversary to KYOS!

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

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

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

The State of Working: Merced County at Labor Day

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

A 2011 picture of the Merced Workforce Investment Board.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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