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     

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.

Innovation at UC Merced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Almost Famous- Meeting Authors, Politicians, and Actors

In a working career now approaching four decades, I am surprised at the number of celebrities I have met.  

Saturday Night Live announcer Don Pardo and Steve Newvine.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

My first career in television news afforded me many opportunities to meet famous people.  Whether they were politicians seeking election, actors promoting a project, or heroes who accomplished something truly special, I have taken many memories from each encounter.

The first real celebrity I met was taxpayer advocate Howard Jarvis of California.  Fresh from his victory in getting Proposition Thirteen approved in California and thus changing the way real property has been taxed in the state, he was in Binghamton, New York to support a campaign to make it easier for voters to put propositions on the ballot.  I interviewed him for the television station where I was a general assignment reporter. 

I also recall the movie Airplane had just come out and Jarvis’ cameo in that picture, where he sits in the back of a taxi cab throughout the movie, was clearly in the back of my mind.  Unfortunately, I did not ask him about that appearance.  I’m sure he would have given me a much more memorable response than he did on the subject of voter referendum.

I also met then candidate George H.W. Bush (or Bush 41) while at that first reporting job in Binghamton.  He didn’t need the H. W. middle initials back in 1980 when he was trying to wrestle the Republican Presidential nomination from front-runner Ronald Reagan. Those initials were added once his son George W. became active in national politics. 

I met Bush 41 again after leaving the field of journalism. About fifteen years later, the now former President spoke at the State University of New York College at Geneseo. 

My wife and I met him at a reception following the speech.  She asked him about raising children and his answer politely deflected anything specific.  

A few years after that encounter, then U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton visited Livingston County, New York as part of an effort to visit every one of the state’s sixty-five counties.   I remember asking her whether she had any dealings with wisdom teeth as my daughter was having dental surgery that week. 

She looked straight at me and said Chelsea had her wisdom teeth removed, and that my wife and I should make sure my daughter had plenty of videos and lots of love to take her mind off the pain.  There’s a picture of Mrs. Clinton standing next to me at the Yard of Ale restaurant in Piffard, New York.

Cover of Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories taken as two Space Shuttle astronauts arrive in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Cover of Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories taken as two Space Shuttle astronauts arrive in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

While working in Huntsville, Alabama as a television reporter, I was assigned the space beat.  Huntsville was the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center where several components to the space shuttle were developed and managed. 

NASA had a tradition of sending astronaut teams to the local Space Centers following a mission so that the workers could be thanked appropriately. 

The cover photo from my book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories shows a very young me doing a live report as two astronauts arrive by plane in the background.  Those two astronauts were Joe Engle and Richard Truly who flew in the very first space shuttle mission. 

I also met Astronaut Walter Schirra as he visited the Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville where several actual spacecraft from the early days of the space program were on display.  He was taken to a Gemini spacecraft that he flew in the 1960s. 

I recall his remarks to the crowd as he wondered how he ever got into the tiny spacecraft in the first place.

Huntsville also gave me the opportunity to meet three stars of television:  Pat Buttram (who played Mr. Haney on Green Acres), Efren Zimbalist, Jr. (from The F.B.I.) and Kay Lenz.  Butrram and Zimbalist were campaigning for Ronald Reagan; Lenz was promoting a movie.  Her career never really took off but she continues to do television roles. I saw her in an episode of NCIS a few years ago.

In the early 1980s, I found myself working in the newsroom of WOKR-TV (Now WHAM-TV) in Rochester, New York.  It was there where I met television news icon David Brinkley.  He visited our station’s new news center on his way to a speaking engagement at the Eastman Theater.  I was too busy producing that afternoon’s six o’clock newscast to pay much attention to him, but I was able to attend a reception in his honor following his appearance at the Theater.  As luck would have it, I had a chance to have a short conversation with him about local news (which he thought was pretty good back in 1983).  I wrote an appreciation essay on his contributions to television news in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle following his death in 2003. 

A few years later, I would meet the original On the Road CBS reporter Charles Kuralt when he visited CBS affiliate WROC-TV in Rochester where I worked as Executive Producer.  He was brought into Rochester to speak at an evening event and our Station Manager imposed on him to stop by the television station to visit the news department. 

I was helping a reporter write a particularly challenging sentence when the Manager brought Kuralt into the newsroom.  We were in awe of this man who practically defined television feature reporting. 

I recall he smiled a lot, did not say much, and had a pack of Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes in his shirt pocket.

I met and spoke with authors David Halberstam and Doris Kearns Goodwin at the same speakers’ series (in different years) at the State University of New York College in Geneseo where I met President Bush.  Halberstam had written The Fifties, and I recall our conversation centering on Elvis Presley.  Kearns Goodwin spoke about the biography of Abraham Lincoln she was working on (she would title it Team of Rivals and publish it in 2005).  Our brief discussion following the speech was about her book Wait Until Next Year.  The book was about growing up on Long Island in the 1950s, coping with life after the passing of her mother, and being a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  We got on the subject of mothers: mine had passed away recently and Kearns Goodwin wrote extensively about losing her mom at a young age in that particular book.  

I sat in the front row of a news conference where Jerry Lewis was promoting his performances in the traveling production of the musical Damn Yankees.  I wasn’t in the news reporting business anymore (a friend in the business got me into the news conference), but I asked Lewis about a reference he made to a book he was writing on his comedy partnership with Dean Martin.  He gave a very long and interesting response to my question.  The book Dean and Me came out two years later.

Actress Teresa Ganzel and Steve Newvine. Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Actress Teresa Ganzel and Steve Newvine. Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Probably my favorite time meeting celebrities came in 2007 and 2009 when I attended the Game Show Congress in Hollywood.  The Congress was formed to honor the significant contributors to television game shows.  I met dozens of game show hosts, announcers, producers, and celebrity guest game players at these two events.  These stars were accommodating to the attendees.  They posed for pictures and I could tell they enjoyed the attention.  I appreciated being around the people who entertained me so much on school sick days and summer vacation when I could watch daytime television in the sixties and seventies.   I met Betty White, Don Pardo, Wink Martindale, Florence Henderson, and Teresa Ganzel among many others.  Teresa played the Tea Time Movie Lady in the Art Fern sketches during the final years of the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.  As we were posing for the picture, I told her how I enjoyed her work with Carson who had passed away in 2005.  She told me, “We all enjoyed Johnny.  He was wonderful to work with.”

From the world of music I met Davy Jones from the Monkees and music personality Mitch Miller during my years in Rochester, New York.  Davy was in a production of The Real Live Brady Bunch, a camp stage show where actors played the roles of the Brady television family.  Mitch, then in his seventies, lived in Rochester part of the year and was at the station to promote a Fourth of July concert (his birthday) where he would conduct the local symphony.  Both were gracious and comfortable with their celebrity status.  I think it was easier being a celebrity back then than it is today.

I’m glad it was a little bit easier back then because it allowed me to approach some of these celebrities, shake their hands, and talk about a variety of topics.  These famous people, along with at least a dozen others whose stories I could not share for lack of time, were accessible.  They appreciated the attention as much as we appreciated their sharing of themselves for a quick comment or observation.  

It was a special time with some extraordinary people.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Saint Nicholas

A few years back, one of my holiday traditions then was the role I played in a Christmastime church function.

 St. Nicholas prepares for his visit at St. Agnes Church in Avon, NY.  Photo: Newvine Family Collection.

The picture shows a Santa like depiction of Saint Nicholas that I had the privilege of assuming for a few years during the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s.  

In case you don’t know much about Saint Nicholas, here’s a refresher.  The real Saint Nicholas was a bishop in the fourth century in what is now known as Turkey. 

He came from a wealthy family, and sought to use his blessings to help others.  There are many stories of miracles attributed to him.  In one story he asked for a portion of a wheat cargo from a transport ship, promising the sailors they would not come up short when they reached their final destination. 

The sailors reluctantly agreed to give a two-year supply of wheat to the residents of a village.  As the story goes, the sailors discovered when they reached their final destination that the total weight of their cargo had not changed.

Another story attributed to Saint Nicholas was about establishing dowries for three women in one family who were not well off.  A dowry was customarily given to the groom by a bride’s family when she married. 

Many times, women who could not provide a dowry would not marry.  If they had no family to live with, they faced an uncertain future for themselves in a male-dominated society. 

The Saint Nicholas story ends with the discovery of coins tossed through a window as the family slept.  The coins became the dowry.  

This story fed a legend that if children left their shoes near an open window at Christmas, they would awaken the next morning to find the shoes filled with gifts and treats from Saint Nicholas.  

The telling of Saint Nicholas’ story was a tradition at the church in the community where my wife and I raised our two daughters.  

The saint’s official feast day is December 6th, but our church, Saint Agnes in Avon, New York,  had to schedule our celebration as close to that date as possible because it did not always land on a weekend. 

Our two very young daughters participated in the event in the mid-1980’s when Father Charles Bennett was the first to put on the costume to tell “his” story, and give the children treats.  

He passed away a year later, so the tradition nearly ended before it was really established.  Fortunately, two other parishioners took over for the next several years to portray the saint.  

It eventually evolved into the children leaving their shoes at the back of church before Mass, having Saint Nicholas visit after the homily (sermon), and finding a gift (usually candy) in their shoes as they left Mass.

In the late 1990s, the Saint Nicholas visit was again in danger of being stopped at our church.  My wife asked me if I’d consider doing it just one time.  I did it that time, and for a few more years I became the holiday time visitor for the congregation.

There was something special about putting on the costume

It started with a white cassock (a floor-length robe) and then was layered with a red surplice (a sleeveless robe that looks like a poncho).  Then a special bishop’s type hat and a long white beard were added to complete the costume. 

It was hot underneath those garments, especially the beard.  But it helped transform me into the man who lived a long time ago and who would share his story with children so they could once more enjoy his visit.

I was also fortunate enough to portray Saint Nicholas at the religious education classes for two parishes.  The younger kids probably confused Saint Nicholas with Santa.  The older ones probably just went along because it was taking place at a church.

While being Saint Nicholas for children was gratifying to me, two special times when I put on the costume stand out because the audience was not young folks.

Our parish Deacon asked me to bring Saint Nicholas to a juvenile detention facility  

A small holiday party was planned for a group of teenage boys who were incarcerated.  The message was tailored to this specific audience.  Ina thank you note following the appearance, the Deacon told me that most of these young men had very little to look forward to during the holiday season, and that my appearance showed that someone out there cared about them.

The last time I put on the costume was Christmas night in 2003. Our family spent the Christmas evening together by producing Saint Nicholas’ final visit.  I had already accepted the job that would bring me to California and would be heading west in another month. 

My two daughters asked if Saint Nicholas would come to the nursing home where they worked and visit with the residents.  My wife and I arrived shortly after the residents had dinner, and we stayed for quite a while visiting with these seniors. 

It was one of the last things we did as a family before we were separated by thousands of miles.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope that you have some cherished memories to recall at this time of year too. 

Steve is grateful to his wife Vaune who helped recall some of the Saint Nicholas memories and who helped edit this column.

UC Merced at 10

Our community’s educational centerpiece reaches an important early milestone.

Photograph from the first graduation ceremony at UC Merced in 2006.  Picture taken at the UC Merced exhibit at the Merced County Museum 

One can extract a lot of joy while looking at this photograph

It shows smiling students in cap and gown at the time of their commencement ceremony escorted by the Chancellor of the institution.  This photograph has special meaning to me.  It’s from the very first commencement at the University of California at Merced in 2006.  

I was in attendance that May morning when the handful of students received their diplomas from the University.  The campus had opened the year before, and these students had transferred from other institutions to complete the early steps along their higher education journey. 

As the recently installed CEO of the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, I accepted the invitation to attend the ceremony.  It was clear to me that this would be a very special day.

UC Merced is celebrating its first decade this year.  Students started attending in the fall of 2005.  A recent exhibit at the Merced County Museum featured three rooms of photographs, newspaper front pages, and icons from the University. 

For a relative newcomer to the area, the exhibit offered a peek into the many steps it took to locate the campus in our community.

Icons from the construction of the first buildings at the UC Merced campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The shovel pictured above was from the celebration commemorating the start of construction.  The ceremonial ground-breaking capped off a multi-year effort to convince the University of California to build a Central Valley campus in Merced. 

Locations in Fresno and Madera, among other places, were under consideration.  The local effort started with a group made up of local education, business, government, and community people. 

There were so many steps that needed to be taken along the way including: acquiring the land, green-lighting the development plans, and convincing political leadership beyond the borders of Merced County that this effort was good for all of California. 

The local group never looked back as they kept the enthusiasm going through state budget cycles, supported the UC as it fought challenges in court, and helped bring back into focus the prize of a four-year state university amidoccasional perceptions that the community had lost momentum.  

The story of how UC Merced became reality has been well documented by the University and local historians. 

I cite a few for your information at the end of this column.  

The first decade of UC Merced has been critically important to the Central Valley.  Enrollment grows at a pace controlled by the University so as to not put any of the delicate development plans at risk. 

The UC Board of Regents recently approved the so-called 2020 Project plan that will monitor growth as the student population rises to the full enrollment target of nearly ten-thousand.  The campus continues to add new classroom and dormitory buildings.  

The UC appears to be a constant state of construction.

To date, three Chancellors have led the institution: the late Carol Tomlinson Keasey, Steven Kang, and the current Chancellor Dorothy Leland. 

Current full-time student enrollment is sixty-six-thousand with faculty and staff numbering now at fifteen-hundred full and part time. 

A Merced Sun Star front page with the latest news about construction of the newest UC campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

As a community, we came together when a student attacked two students, one staff member, and one construction worker with a knife during classes in November 2015.  University Police shot and killed the attacker. 

The UC and the community of Merced County were united like a family as a result of the outpouring of compassion on campus.

And that takes us back to that first photograph

Students are the most important aspect of any educational institution.  Over the years, we saw how students melded into the City of Merced along with their counterparts from Merced College.  UC students wrote messages and campaigned hard to bring the First Lady in as commencement speaker in 2009. 

The following year, students again worked diligently to bring NBC News Anchor Lester Holt to UC Merced as commencement speaker.   

Athletic programs began as club programs in the early years of UC Merced.  Now the Wildcats have organized teams in a number of sports.  Photo: Steve Newvine

The first ten years have brought many highs, a tragic incident of campus violence, and a lot of pride to our community. 

There’s no crystal ball to help us predict exactly what our UC, or our county, will look like in ten years.  We wouldn’t want one anyway.  We want to grow along with our college anchor, meet the future face-to-face, and live each day to the fullest.

But it will be fascinating to review these words in another decade when the campus marks another milestone.  I hope to be among those telling the story of the community that could, and the University that made us all proud.

   The UC history of the Merced campus can be found here:  http://www.ucmercedplanning.net/pdfs/flrdp/2history.pdf

Merced County Historian Sarah Lim’s column on the UC Merced development in the community can be found here:  http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article38302386.html

Steve Newvine’s tribute to UC Merced’s first Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, written at the time of her death, can be found here: http://greatvalley.blogspot.com/2009/10/steve-newvine-legacy-that-endures.html

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

His newest book is a second edition of Finding Bill- A Search for Meaning.  It’s available at Lulu.com

Letters from a Vietnam Veteran

My Uncle Billy’s descriptions of life as a soldier in the jungles of Southeast Asia tell a story of loneliness, bravery, and love of family

 Letters from the pen of Specialist 4 William Newvine.  From the Newvine Family Collection.

“So how is everything going on at home?  Been out riding the Ski Doo very much?  Or isn’t there enough snow yet”.  Letter dated January 25 1965.

He was away from home, a long way from home.  His family made sure he got frequent letters.  My dad, aunt, and uncle sent them regularly.  Some of my cousins and I sent occasional letters too. 

His mother wrote to him every day.  

He was my uncle Billy Newvine, known by his Army buddies as Bill.   Bill served in the US Army in Vietnam.  Surviving the jungles of Southeast Asia in some ways was the less-troubled part of his life journey. 

He was killed in a car accident driving a brand new Chevrolet convertible he bought upon his return to the States. 

The crash happened about six months after his military service ended.

I’ve detailed my journey to learn more about my Uncle through columns here on this website and in a short book called Finding Bill

I was eleven years old when he was killed.

Bill Newvine in Vietnam, 1967.  From the Newvine Family Collection

Bill Newvine in Vietnam, 1967.  From the Newvine Family Collection

On a recent visit to my hometown, I visited my Aunt Betty, Billy’s only sister.  I already knew he received a lot of letters from home, and that he responded when possible. 

I asked Betty whether she had kept any of his letters.  After searching around the family farmhouse where she has lived most of her life (and where Billy lived until he was seven years old), she found about forty letters Billy wrote to her while in the Army.

“After twenty days on the USN Walker, we got here.  We got here on the ninth, but were not allowed in the harbor to the tenth.  Then not allowed to unload till yesterday the fourteenth.”   Letter written September 15, 1966, postmarked October 16, 1966.

He sent letters from many places. Some were from where he started his military life in Fort Dix, New Jersey.  Other letters were from his pre- deployment time at Fort Lewis in Washington State.  Many letters covered the entire time he was in Vietnam which spanned from September 1966 to September 1967.

I spent some time sorting through the letters Aunt Betty loaned me.  I arranged them in chronological order, took several pages of notes, and made a few copies at the local drug store.  What emerges is a story of a young man (just twenty-one years old) who misses his family, who has made new friends, and who is showing the courage to endure what he’s going through in the jungles of Vietnam.

Letters arrived to my Aunt Betty at a rate of about two a month during the time Bill was in Vietnam.  From the Newvine Family Collection.

“…got almost two months in.  Our time started September 2.  So we are supposed to be back in the states September 2.  We will fly back.  The old man told us that…” Letter dated and postmarked October 27, 1966

I was taken aback by the passage above because of Bill’s sense of looking toward the end of his hitch. By the postmark, I can tell he had only been in Vietnam a little over a month.  Yet, he is already explaining the details of how he will get back home in another eleven months.

Bill’s letters make it clear he was a dedicated soldier

Some of the unvarnished scenes he describes on the battlefield disgusted him, but he knew there was a job to do as well a story to tell his loved ones about what he was experiencing.

Bill Newvine (far right) celebrates Christmas 1966 in Vietnam.  From the Newvine Family Collection.

“I pulled up and aimed and did not fire.  But he fired and then you feel different and fired.  My hand froze on the trigger I shot the whole twenty rounds.”  Letter written December 16, 1966 and postmarked December 17, 1966.

There are also images of what he missed from home:  family, friends, a snowmobile, and his sister’s farm.  The letters are what I would describe as newsy.  In a letter before leaving the United States, he tells his sister about mistaking members of the rock group The Animals for women in the Chicago airport.  He frequently references winter in upstate New York and his favorite winter pastime of riding his snowmobile.


“Well how is the sledding around there?  I guess Dad is having fun with his.  I took more time over here to get out in November.”   From the same December 17, 1966 letter.

His letters reflect research I did for the book Grown Up, Going Home where I include interviews with his Army buddies. 

One friend told me how Bill would frequently mention his snowmobile and how amused Bill was with some of this buddies who just couldn’t believe that you could drive a snowmobile over a frozen lake in the middle of winter.

In another letter, Bill described what I call an altercation in a bar when a South Vietnamese soldier insulted two women.  (“I gave him a love tap on the jaw…  His buddy carried him out of the bar.  The bartender bought us drinks.”)  Bill writes that he was in that bar with his friend Paul, who is likely Paul Metzler, a man I spoke to for my book project. 

Paul had a lot of nice things to say about Bill, but I recall the most touching story he shared was the one about a letter he received from my grandmother (Bill’s mother) a few months after Bill died in the car accident. 

Paul told me how touched he was to receive the letter from the woman who had just lost her son.  “It was a beautiful letter,” he said to me.  “It broke my heart.” 

Paul and Bill mustered out of the Army together and flew from San Francisco back east upon their departure from the service.

In another letter, Bill makes a reference to two soldiers from his unit who were killed while taking the camp garbage to a dump.

“Then yesterday we are here in base camp.  Two guys made the trash run and there was fifteen VC inside the perimeter and killed them at the dump.  That sure makes you feel funny.”  Letter dated March 15, 1967 and postmarked March 19, 1967.

Those two men were Tom Nickerson and Clint Smith.  I learned their story from the man who helped me research and find some of the soldiers who knew my uncle. 

I found their names along with other soldiers my Uncle knew on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC in 2012.

 Bill closed all his letters to my aunt Betty in the same way:  So long for this time, Bill.  From the Newvine Family Collection.

The story of Bill Newvine: son, brother, uncle, friend, and Vietnam War veteran continues to be told.  These letters my Aunt Betty saved for nearly fifty years offer another side to this forever young man.  Betty’s forethought to keep the letters is a special gift.

Bill Newvine, a typically quiet person, learned to survive during his time in Vietnam.  Whether it was defending the honor of a woman in a barroom, or taking out an enemy Vietcong soldier bent on doing the same thing to him, he fought and endured.

From the letters this seemingly shy young man wrote, it is apparent that Bill perhaps expressed himself best with the written word.  His letters are part of his legacy.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced. 

He is including a new chapter about the letters his uncle wrote in the second printing of the book Finding Bill.

Central Valley Honor Flight- A Tale of Two Men

A World War II serviceman is paired with a Valley man on a trip of a lifetime

Foy Foster and his Honor Flight Guardian Jerry Jackson.  Photo by Vaune Newvine)

Jerry Jackson is a history buff with a special fascination for World War II.  His passion for the brave soldiers who served during the war led him to a fund raising dinner for Central Valley Honor Flight, the non-profit organization that has been taking World War II veterans to Washington, DC to see the memorials to our service men and women.

“I have a particular interest in the European theater,” Jerry told me.  “My grandfather served there during the war.”

Jerry’s interest in his grandfather’s service, coupled with a weekly radio program airing in the Central Valley, buttoned up his desire to take the next step to learn more about Honor Flight.

“Paul Loeffler put a face and a voice to my interest in World War II through his weekly radio program, Hometown Heroes”, Jerry said.  The radio program airs on a Fresno radio station.  All the interviews with World War II veterans are archived on the Hometown Heroes website.

Jerry attended a fund raising event for the organization and soon discovered he wanted to volunteer for Honor Flight as a guardian for the next mission of Central Valley Honor Flight.  

Guardians serve their assigned veteran throughout their Honor Flight experience.  With most living World War II veterans now in their eighties and nineties, it’s important that they have someone at their side throughout the duration of the trip.

“We’re told right up front that we stay with our veteran throughout the trip,” Jerry said.  “We are there to serve them.”

Jerry’s desire to serve Honor Flight came with a big barrier.  The volunteer guardians are asked to contribute one-thousand dollars toward their own cost to fly to and stay in the nations’ capitol.  As the father of three, with two in school and living at home, that contribution might have been the deal killer.

“I told my wife I wanted to go, but that I shouldn’t because of the cost,” he said.  “She suggested starting a Go Fund Me campaign on-line.”

That on-line fundraising effort paid off for Jerry.  Family and friends were enthusiastic in their support and made contributions. The success of his campaign on Go Fund Me, coupled with a family yard sale, got him to the point where he could do it.  Soon, he had the money to make the contribution. 

He got vacation time off from his job working for the Madera County Public Works department.  The next step was to meet the veteran he would be accompanying to Washington.

About two weekends before the Honor Flight left, Jerry met his veteran.  

Veterans, their Honor Flight guardians, and other volunteers assemble at Castle Airport in Atwater, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine


He’s Foy Foster

Foy served in the Army Air Corp as a bombardier in a B-24.  He flew 35 missions out of England in the 734th Squadron of the 453rd Bomb Group.  Jerry met Foy at the veteran’s home.  Jerry took Foy to an informational meeting and dinner held in Atwater. 

“He’s a great guy,” Jerry said.  “After meeting him I told friends I’m looking forward to our trip.” 

Foy Foster is indeed a great guy.  In an interview for the radio program Hometown Heroes, Foy described his war experiences.  

He enlisted in the Army Air Force as soon as heard of the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941.

  “I was overcome with patriotism, and I couldn’t imagine our country being attacked like that,” he told Hometown Heroes host Paul Loeffler.  “After basic training in San Antonio, I was sent to Albuquerque, New Mexico for bombardier school.  I got my wings in 1942 as a Second Lieutenant."

While he was a cadet in Albuquerque, he was chosen to sit in the co-pilot’s seat for a mission. 

In the pilot’s seat was film star Jimmy Stewart

“He was very nervous all the time,” Foy said.  “He kept telling me to keep my eyes moving and watch out for other planes.”

Stewart made the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life after leaving his service in World War II.

“Colonel Stewart was so skinny,” Foy told Hometown Heroes.  “He was a great guy.”

Right around the same time as his encounters with the Hollywood actor, Foy became an instructor for six months in the southwest.  He would later volunteer for overseas duty.  He then became an instructor for B-17 pilots, and then chosen as a staff officer for a newly formed 453rd Bomb Group flying B-24s.

“We were so busy for about four months teaching,” Foy said.  “We were anxious for the real thing.”
“I remember our first mission out of England to France, it was all new to us,” he said. “In later (missions) we had flack, pieces of metal, throughout the air.  Every minute over Nazi Germany we were under attack.”

Foy also took part in D-Day.  He told Hometown Heroes:

“We had to gear up and leave at midnight for a bombing at daybreak.  .. We met up with the others over England.  There were planes everywhere.  .. Our first mission was to drop bombs on the German army.  We flew back to England, reloaded, and flew back…That first day we did three missions.”

Foy endured the loss of his flight crew (he was grounded on that particular mission due to a bad cold), as well as attacks by friendly fire.  

He served honorably.  Upon his return to the states, he went to college, married, and raised a family.  

And now, he’s on a final mission to pay his respects to his lost comrades and to accept the thanks from a grateful nation.            

A grateful crowd wishes the Central Valley Honor Flight participants a safe trip.  Photo by Vaune Newvine

                                                          Central Valley Honor Flight departed Monday morning, October 19 from the air strip at the former Castle Air Force Base.  The veterans and their guardians were greeted by what some described as the largest send-off crowd in the short history of Honor Flight.

This current group of Honor Flight honorees is made up of sixty-one men and two women.  They come from all over the Central Valley, with some thirteen counties represented on this trip.  

For guardian Jerry Jackson and his assigned veteran Foy Foster, a friendship has started.  They are two men bound together for a trip to honor the men and women who gave so much by defending our nation.

To hear the entire Foy Foster interview from Hometown Heroes, go to:  http://www.hometownheroesradio.com/episodes/   Scroll down to episode 161

For more on Central Valley Honor Flight, go to:  http://www.cvhonorflight.org/ 

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

He has written Finding Bill, a story about his uncle who served in Vietnam.

Around the Valley with a Total Reading Time of Five Minutes

What the drought looks like at the former Stevinson Ranch golf course, why visitors love spending time at Hilmar Cheese Visitor Center, and a special designation for Our Lady of Mercy Church in Merced.

Photo by Steve Newvine

There are many signs of what the drought has done to the Central Valley.  Drive through any residential neighborhood and you will find brown lawns and dirty cars.  It is not surprising to go out to dinner at a local restaurant and see a sign that says “water served on request” as managers comply with California law.  

The photograph at the top of this column shows the former hole number one at one of my favorite golf courses, Stevinson Ranch, before it closed in July.  Rich green fairways lured golfers to this out-of-the-way world class course for several years.  Management closed the course in July due to a drop in business coupled with the ever increasing need for irrigation water.

Now take a look at that same golf hole two months after the watering stopped. 

Photo by Steve Newvine

This is What the Drought Looks Like in our Valley

Turning off the irrigation at a golf course pales in comparison to the thousands of acres of farmland throughout the state that have been shut down from production.  The valley has gone through a very rough dry patch.  Let’s hope we’ve seen the worst of it.

Photo by Steve Newvine

Hilmar Cheese Factory

After nearly a decade living in Merced County, I finally got to see the visitor center at Hilmar Cheese.  Every year, the Center at 9001 Lander Avenue, welcomes more than 15,000 school students for field trips, at least 300 tour buses, and thousands of others.  

Inside, there are displays showing the basics of cheese production.  But as many of us know, making the dairy product at Hilmar Cheese is a sophisticated process.  According to an environmental news website, the company employed nearly eight-hundred workers in Hilmar in 2010, with more employees at a facility in Texas.  Hilmar Cheese turns out two tons of cheese daily.   

The visitor center offers a welcoming environment for families, includes a gift shop, and offers a tribute to the agriculture industry in the valley.  It’s worth the trip

Photo by Steve Newvine

Holy Year of Mercy

Finally, Our Lady of Mercy Church in Merced is set to welcome visitors from throughout California over the next twelve months.

Pope Francis has named the 2016 church year as the “Holy Year of Mercy”.  The official name is the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  

In the Diocese of Fresno, Bishop Armando Ochoa has designated Our Lady of Mercy as a “stationary church for the faithful” during the year of mercy.  It’s expected the Bishop will authorize special Mass times and services throughout the church year, which runs from December 8, 2015 through November 20, 2016.  The Our Lady of Mercy Preservation Foundation receives contributions for the upkeep of the church.  A fund raiser was recently held at St. Patrick’s Parish Hall.

The church expects many visitors to come to Our Lady of Mercy over the next twelve months.  The church is located at 459 W. 21st Street in Merced.



Thank You for Hiring Me

Newvine Personal Collection

Labor Day is set aside to honor the virtue of hard work.  It’s a day off for many folks, and just another day at the job site for many others.  In the northeastern United States, Labor Day signaled the end of the summer vacation season.

Growing up in upstate New York, my first day of school was traditionally on the Tuesday following Labor Day.The Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy was held on Labor Day weekend up until a few years ago. 

But if the first Monday in September is set aside to bring attention to our labor force, a day should be set aside to draw attention to the people who have done the hiring.  These owners, managers, human resource professionals, and others deserve some sort of call out.

I occasionally think of the people who hired me for several jobs I held over many years. 

Newvine Personal Collection
Newvine Personal Collection

When my broadcasting career was launched at a small radio station, a man named Dave hired me at the end of a short interview for a weekend announcer.  He needed someone fast, and with a recommendation from another staff person who knew me, the job was offered on a Friday without the standard voice audition.  It was accepted immediately by me and I was on the air that weekend.

My first television job

A man named Mark gave me my first television reporter job. 

He’s in the picture at the top of this column.Mark had several candidates from which to choose.  After an in-person interview, I waited about a week before receiving his call that included points about the salary, benefits, and the expected working shift. 

He did everything except offer me the job.  He told me he would have to run his choice past the station manager and that if everything went well, he would call me the next day.  I slept only three hours that night and waited all day long the next day for the call. 

It finally came at 6:30 PM.  The job was offered and I accepted on the spot.

When I switched careers in the mid-1990s, a man named Joe headed the search committee for the job of executive director at a chamber of commerce.  The decision was not entirely his, but as the chairman of the committee, his view carried considerable weight.  He saw some potential of bringing someone from a different field of work into an organization.  I remember the phrase “transferrable skills” was used by him on several occasions. 

Thirteen years later, a woman named Mary made the difference in my professional career by again seeing the potential of “transferable skills” to position me in a new role helping local governments save energy. 

I try to call her every year on my work anniversary date to thank her for that leap of faith.

It’s important to be ready to work. 

We hear a lot about education, job training and the so-called “soft” skills such as promptness, following through, and good customer service. 

All of this matters.  But when I think back on the successes I’ve had in getting hired in the first place, I always get back to the person who made the decision to invest their company’s resources in me. 

They could have hired someone else.  But something spoke to their decision-making process and helped swing the pendulum in my direction. 

For that judgment, I say thank you!

We rightly focus a lot of effort in the direction toward finding and keeping a job.  As we take a day off to celebrate Labor Day this year, I urge you to spend a little time remembering the people who said those two magic words:

You’re hired!

Steve Newvine lives in Merced and serves as the immediate Past Chair of the Merced County Workforce Investment Board.

His book Soft Skills in Hard Times is dedicated to the people who hired him at various jobs over the years.You may read a preview of the book at:http://www.lulu.com/shop/steve-newvine/soft-skills-for-hard-times-new-forward-teens-in-the-20-teens/paperback/product-20506951.html

Housekeeping with Golf, Graffiti, and a Good Friend


In this case, there’s some new information on a previous column that may be of interest. I also have an update on a column topic that I have tapped two other times in the past year.  And the final item is about a good friend of mine.

The last time I did a housekeeping column, I thanked Modesto Bee writer Jim Agostino for the concept, especially for the phrase at the beginning of the piece telling the reader approximately how long it will take to read.

In this case, the estimated reading time is four minutes.

Stevinson Ranch Golf Course Flag, Photo by Newvine Personal Collection
Stevinson Ranch Golf Course Flag, Photo by Newvine Personal Collection

Stevinson Ranch Golf Course just sent out an email to the people who were regular subscribers of their email service telling us that memorabilia from the course is for sale.

The course closed in July

People can buy flags from the putting greens for $20 each.   The remaining golf hole signs, carved into wood and showing the layout of a particular hole, are selling for $100 each.

I took a picture of one of those flags when I played there for the last time a couple of months ago.  My souvenirs from that course are the memories it gave me over the last couple of seasons when I returned there after an extended absence.

A flag would be nice, but I’d rather look ahead to the next challenging golf course that becomes my favorite.

Frankly, the whole story about Stevinson closing is kind of sad.

The owners did what they had to do.  I don’t blame them.

I accept their business decision, but I now have a round to play somewhere else.

Mail Pouch Tobacco barn

Mail Pouch Barn, South Merced, Photo from Newvine Personal Collection
Mail Pouch Barn, South Merced, Photo from Newvine Personal Collection

Do you remember the column that posted in April of 2014 - CLICK HERE on the Mail Pouch Tobacco restored barn sign on highway 99 south of Merced?

That column got a lot of shares and a lot of hits for which I am grateful.

I did an update a few months later  - -"Barn Signs and Bureaucracy Collide in Mail Pouch Sign Controversy "-  when I learned that the state transportation agency Cal Trans was forcing the barn’s owner to have the advertisement painted on one side of the building removed.

Cal Trans says that’s because the ad violated some rule regarding distance from the highway to where the advertising is displayed.

The rule seemed silly at the time and I said so.  I believe I used the word “bureaucratic”.

The state of California ruled that the sign for Brent Jerner’s APG Solar company had to be painted over.

Ironically, if it wasn’t for Brent, the restoration would not have happened in the first place.  He was the one who secured a grant from a non-profit agency that paid for a local artist to do the restoration.

The update to the story is even sillier than the bureaucracy I described in that second column on the Mail Pouch barn last year.  The side of the barn with the solar company advertisement that had to be painted over is now covered with graffiti.

I’m not showing a picture of that because I don’t like giving graffiti trespassers the exposure they seek.

But to Cal Trans and their bureaucratic decision to take something positive and turn it into a negative, I do say “what do you think of the barn now?”

My first Merced friend

Steve Newvine and Jim North, Photo from Newvine Personal Collection
Steve Newvine and Jim North, Photo from Newvine Personal Collection

And finally, a personal note about the man I call my first friend in Merced.

Jim North met me at a golf outing at Stevinson Ranch about nine years ago.  I was new to the community, and we were lumped into a foursome.

Little did I know that pairing would last all these years.

Jim was an Air Force veteran.  He was one of many who came to Merced County to serve at Castle Air Base. After building a life with his family here, he made the community his home.

Upon leaving the military, Jim owned and operated the Hot Diggity Dog food cart seen at many community events.

Jim and I played golf on a number of occasions over the years.  I’ll never forget a day at Rancho Del Rey in Atwater when I pulled out a ball that was part of a dozen given to me by a friend from upstate New York.

I told Jim the whole story and he listened patiently as I explained how this ball from a good friend, how it the last ball in a box of twelve, and how it had my name and birthday stamped on it in honor of my fiftieth birthday.

I then hit the ball into a pond.  Jim looked at me, smiled and said, “Well, Happy Birthday I guess.”

Jim and his family have had a rough year.

I hope that story brings a smile to them because I still smile every time I think about it. Steve Newvine lives in Merced

A Journey with Rotary to the Paul Harris Fellowship

Becoming Avon Rotary President in 2000.

Paul Harris was a Chicago area attorney at the turn of the last century.  Believing that a lot of positive things could happen when business people got together and worked collaboratively, he founded the service organization now known as Rotary International.

While the logo for Rotary is a gear wheel, the name actually represents the original meeting tradition of rotating the site of the weekly meeting among the members’ places of business.


The Paul Harris Fellowship was created to recognize contributors to The Rotary Foundation: the arm of the international service club that funds all kinds of humanitarian projects around the world.Most notable among these projects has been the elimination of polio worldwide through vaccinations in third world countries.

Rotary identified that universal goal of eliminating the disease and with the laser focus of a well-organized business, took on the challenge and achieved the goal.

Rot. Foundtion
Rot. Foundtion

While Paul Harris Fellows are recognized for reaching designated levels of support, contributors may also name someone else as a Fellow in recognition of that individual’s special achievements.

What makes this designation special for me is that I have not been an active Rotarian for the past eight years.I asked for inactive membership status when I changed jobs and knew that the travel requirement would make it nearly impossible for me to attend regular meetings of my Rotary club. 

I had been in Rotary since 1995, serving in three clubs over an eleven-year period.I was President of my club in upstate New York for a one-year term. 

When I asked to be moved to inactive status, I knew that Rotary would not be as big a part of my life now as it was before. But I believed in the Rotary Foundation.Wiping out polio worldwide was an achievable goal and the organization was primed to make that happen; and it did.

There have been other projects that are just as significant.When the Indian Ocean tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004, Rotary was there to help in the aftermath.Safer water for parts of the world where that just doesn’t happen has been a priority in recent years.

Rotary has been to earthquake worn areas within hours of the initial shocks.There are hundreds, of projects where Rotary International stepped to the plate, rolled up some sleeves and got down to the business of helping people.

So when it was clear to me that I would not be an active Rotarian as least through the duration of my current job, I did experience a sense of loss.At practically every Rotary meeting, someone mentions the work of Rotary and the need to support the Rotary Foundation. During my first ten years in Rotary, I heard lots of speeches about the work of the Foundation.

But during those early years, there were other demands on my family. About all I could do then was make a few token donations.

In the end, it was a twenty-year journey from becoming a member of Rotary International to achieving the Paul Harris Fellowship. While I haven’t been part of a local club in nearly a decade, I remain very proud of the journey and very blessed to be part of the effort that is stated so clearly in the organization’s Four-Way Test:is it the truth, it is fair to all, will it build goodwill, and will it be beneficial.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

For more on Rotary International, go to www.rotary.org

Community Spirit Makes a Team’s Dream Come True

The Titans Elite at Cooperstown.  Photo

Meet the Titans Elite baseball team.They are an age twelve-and-under local travel team made up of players from Merced, Atwater, Chowchilla, and LeGrand. The team has played in tournaments sanctioned by the United States Specialty Sports Association. (USSSA)

A travel team is defined as a group of really good players, sometimes playing for different teams, who form a stand-alone team.This year, the Titans Elite set out to play the game they love in a ballpark connected to baseball tradition. 

They did that, and much more.

Back in 2013, the team put in an application to play in a tournament held in Cooperstown, New York.

We know that Cooperstown is the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.It is also the home of the Cooperstown Dreams Park, a premier destination for travel teams.

The park has twenty-two fields, and the week the Titans played, they were among one-hundred-and-four teams competing from all over the United States.

The tournament was played in early June.The team left central California on June 5th and returned June 11th.

Playing is not cheap.The cost for each player is $895.The same rate applies for coaches. When you add in airfare and other expenses for the week, it was both a distinguished honor and a high price tag to play.The cost for each player for this dream week at the home of baseball was approximately $1,600.

That’s where the community came into play.Coach Kent Floro says the commitment by the players’ families combined with the generosity from the local business community and others helped make it all possible.

Money was raised from local businesses, service clubs such as Merced Breakfast Lions and North Merced Rotary, along with other organizations and individuals who made contributions. 

Titans Elite Players get ready for action at the Cooperstown tournament.  Photo by Titans Elite
Titans Elite Players get ready for action at the Cooperstown tournament. Photo by Titans Elite

Kent provided me with the details of the Titan’s performances on the field in Cooperstown.

Teams representing twenty states were represented in the tournament.The Titans finished in the top twenty-five among the one-hundred-and-four teams.

On the first day of the tournament, they defeated the Mid-Atlantic Shockers from Maryland 19 to 3.Later that day, they beat Thunder Academy from Colorado 21 to 5. 

On the second day, the Titans defeated the Salt City Sox of Utah 11 to 2.Later on day two, they defeated the SBA Life Heat from Florida 8 to 5.

It was then on to day three of the tournament and another Florida team.The Titans beat the PL (Pembroke Lakes) Bulldogs of Florida 12 to 8.Kent says this was a great game for the Titans.

“The Bulldogs are one of top teams in the tournament and were ranked number three in the state of Florida.”

The Titans first loss came after that game when they came up short to the Germantown, Tennessee Giants 13 to 5.

“That was the one game I thought we should have won,” Coach Floro said. “But I think the emotion that it took to beat the Bulldogs earlier combined with the players being a little worn out from the trip all hit at once.”

Then came the single elimination playoffs; single elimination meaning that once you lose, you are out of the tournament.In the first round, the Titans advanced by defeating the Longwood Longballers from Florida 14 to 2.The next step in the playoffs pitted the Titans against the number five top-ranked team: the Utah Marshalls.The Titans were defeated 18 to 5. 

The Titans Elite finish in the top-25 in a 104 team national tournament.  Photo by Titans Elite
The Titans Elite finish in the top-25 in a 104 team national tournament. Photo by Titans Elite

“Titans Elite did outstanding in this tournament,” Coach Floro said. “We are from a small area while many of the other teams were picked from large metropolitan areas or an entire state.”It’s believed some of the teams flew in players to help them on the single-elimination part of the tournament.

The week was full of excitement with many of the young players living away from their families for the first time in their lives.The players had a great experience in the home of baseball. “They represented our community both by playing exceptional baseball and as real gentleman while we were in the camp,” Kent told me.

Jet Lagged and Road Weary, the Titans wait in an airport for the next leg of their journey.  Photo by Titans Elite
Jet Lagged and Road Weary, the Titans wait in an airport for the next leg of their journey. Photo by Titans Elite

The week started with a flight from the west coast to the east coast.After ground transportation from the airport to Cooperstown, the players were sealed away at the camp where they stayed throughout the tournament. Parents could not come into the camp area after the first day.From Friday night until Thursday night the following week, players and coaches were together playing the game they love on their field of dreams.

The Titans Elite outside the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  Photo by Titans Elite
The Titans Elite outside the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Photo by Titans Elite

Visitors cannot go to the village that is the home of baseball without taking in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.Part of the Titans Elite week in Central New York included a day at the Hall of Fame.They saw the plaques of Hall of Fame members, viewed displays of iconic pieces of major league baseball history and took in the natural ambiance that defines this very special place.

Everyone agreed that as great as the Hall of Fame is, no one can truly appreciate all it has to offer the baseball fan in just a one-day visit.

One of the visitors from the Central Valley expressed his feelings from visiting the Hall of Fame in just one word, “Awesome.”

The group likely got a break from the poor summertime air quality in the Valley.Upstate New York, especially in rural areas such as Cooperstown, has some of the cleanest air in the United States.

They probably saw upstate New York agriculture, which is primarily dairy farming.They saw many hills and lots of deep green foliage.New York State, as well as most of the northeast United States, has no drought worries with above-average annual precipitation.

So while the run to the top ended with the loss to the Tennessee team, the Titans Elite can look back on several stunning individual achievements.

Kadon Floro (Coach Kent’s son) made the final round of the Home Run Derby and ended up finishing tied for fifth place. Kadon also had a .520 batting average for the tournament.Other high batting averages were:Hunter Stonier ( .500), Jake Sapien (.435), Gerald Braxton( .409), Danny Murphy (.350), and Aaron Martinez(.300).Home run leaders among the Titans for the tournament included:Kadon Florio with five,Aaron Martinez with four, and Jake Sapien with three. Hunter Stonier, Fernando Ruvalcaba, Gerald Braxton, Cooper Lanz, Cole Schortzmann and Michael Trejo all had one home run each in the tournament. Antonio Cortez and Gerald Braxton teamed up to pitch an outstanding game against the PL Bulldogs.

The Titans came back from their adventure in upstate New York with some outstanding accomplishments that made the communities of Merced, Atwater, Chowchilla and LeGrand proud.Ranking fifth among one-hundred-and-four teams in a national tournament is quite a feat. 

And there’s more to come for the Titans Elite.They have another national tournament coming up in late October that will be played in Las Vegas.

Tournament batting averages, home run tallies, and pitching achievements notwithstanding, the real prize from their week in Cooperstown can be summed up by Coach Floro. 

“It was a memory of a lifetime.”


Gerald Braxton

Louie Ceja

Antonio Cortez

Kadon Floro

Cooper Lanz

Aaron Martinez Jr.

Daniel Murphy II

Nathan Richards

Fernando Ruvalcaba Jr.

Jake Sapien

Cole Schortzmann

Hunter Stonier

Michael Trejo

Coaches: Kent Floro, Neal Richards, Vince Sapien, Tony Cortez, Aaron Martinez

For more on the Cooperstown Dreams Park, visit www.cooperstowndreamspark.com

Steve Newvine lives in Merced and grew up in a small town about eighty miles north of Cooperstown.He is indebted to Ken Stonier for leading him to the story that became this column.

Polaroid Memories-Instant and Enduring Photographs

Circa 1970, Steve and Terry on a

As you can see in this photograph, some winters were extra snowy in upstate New York when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.  That’s my brother Terry and me standing on top of the snowbank with the road sign at waist level.  The family car, a 1964 Pontiac Star Chief (a topic of a Merced Sun Star essay I wrote about five years ago) is parked below.

This is just one of dozens of photographs my Dad took with the Polaroid camera he received as a Christmas gift from my Mom back when I was growing up.Mom rightfully deserves the title of Queen of the Camera in our household, but with her Christmas gift to her husband, we had a King of the Camera for all things Polaroid.

Cameras were originally the domain of professional photographers in the mid to late 1800s.George Eastman’s Kodak cameras took photography to the casual user in the late 1800s.Edwin Land’s invention of the Polaroid in the late 1940s, changed personal photography again by making it possible to see the picture shortly after it was captured by the camera. 

One can only wonder what either inventor would think about today’s imaging processes with digital cameras and cell phones that can take pictures.

Keep in mind that a Polaroid camera, and the capacity to deliver a photograph within sixty seconds of taking the picture, was high tech for the early 1970s.Back then, it seemed as though everyone in the family was impressed at the magic that would come out of that small shoebox sized camera. 

I remember that if black and white film was in the camera, the picture could be treated with some kind of substance that prevented the photo paper from curling.If the more expensive color film was being used, the picture would be mounted on a sticky-back card.

Circa 1970, My Mom and sister Becky celebrate their birthdays together with two cakes.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection
Circa 1970, My Mom and sister Becky celebrate their birthdays together with two cakes. Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

This shot of my Mom and sister Becky celebrating their birthdays was typical of the kinds of pictures taken during my years growing up.Usually on the evening of a birthday, some of our cousins and other family members would join the birthday celebration. 

Neither my Mom nor my sister seemed to mind sharing the spotlight when their birthdays (spaced one day apart) would come around.As you can see from the look on my sister’s face, birthday celebrations were a happy time.

In addition to birthday parties, our family albums were filled with photos documenting holidays, graduations, confirmations, vacations, and other special events.

My parents also took pictures of ordinary events such as a card party in our kitchen or a game of croquet played in our backyard.

When I visit my boyhood home, I take one of several photo albums to the local drug store and scan as many pictures as I can. 

My Dad in front of our camper.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection
My Dad in front of our camper. Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

My Dad let someone else shoot this Polaroid picture of him on vacation in front of our camper trailer.All of our summer vacations during my years growing up involved packing up the trailer, and heading off to one of several State parks for a weekend in the wilderness.

Usually at the beginning and end of the summer school vacation, we’d take the trailer out for a weeklong vacation.Anyone who has done this knows that while it can be a challenge packing for the extended time away from home, setting up the campsite, and then living with one another in close quarters, it could also be a lot of fun. 

At one place in the Adirondacks, Golden Beach State Park in Raquette Lake, several families from my hometown would head out to the campsites during the same week.For that particular vacation, it felt like we were never really away from home with all the family and neighbors who joined us.

Fortunately for me, a lot of those memories live on thanks to the many photographs my Mom took on her Kodak Brownie, and my Dad shot on his Polaroid camera. 

Steve’s 2010 essay on the family Pontiac was included in his book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories.To read that essay and a few others from that book, follow this link and click “Preview” under the cover image:


A Golf Farewell at Stevinson Ranch


Among the victims of the 2015 drought is Stevinson Ranch Golf Course in northwestern Merced County, California.  Local media reported the owners have agricultural interests nearby and those interests, combined with a general decline in the number of golf rounds at the course, forced a business decision to divert water from the fairways to farm fields.

Ever since the decision to close Stevinson was made, a lot of golfers are playing one last round at a memorable and challenging course.

Impressive course

I first played Stevinson in 2006 in a charity tournament shortly after moving to the community.I remember being impressed with the course but frustrated that I had to travel over a half-hour from downtown Merced over country roads just to find it.

Actually, the distance was a minor nuisance.The fact was that the course intimidated me.It was tough and I needed more time to develop my game.I stayed away for the next eight years in favor of courses that were easier to get to and not nearly as daunting.

About a year ago, a golf buddy of mine suggested we go out there again.My game had improved over the years and I found the course to be formidable and maybe even better than I had remembered the first time.We played there twice in 2014 and we were set to play again in 2015 when we read reports that the course would close in July. 

Closing in July

Recently, we headed out to Stevinson for our last round.I brought my camera along.We had an early tee-off slot and that allowed us a little more time to take in the sights of the Central Valley countryside.Before long, the irrigation will be shut off.I wanted to enjoy this course in its bright green against a clear blue sky on a cool late spring morning.The weather cooperated.

Hole 4 at Stevinson Ranch Golf Club. Photo by Steve Newvine
Hole 4 at Stevinson Ranch Golf Club. Photo by Steve Newvine

Every hole on this course has a name, but I never took the time to connect these names with their respective piece of the landscape.Maybe if I had played the course more frequently, I would have become familiar with the names.Thanks to the score card saved after the round, I can refer back to each hole by name.

I took a photograph at what was once my nemesis.A pond on the number four hole goes by an ironic name of Eden.I’m sure the pond at Eden has captured many golfers’ first shots over the years.The pond water was gone the day we played.It’s just a dry bed of rough.It’s still a hazard, but it seemed less intimidating without the water. 

Sand Trap at Stevinson Ranch Golf Club.  Photo by Steve Newvine
Sand Trap at Stevinson Ranch Golf Club. Photo by Steve Newvine

Number six is aptly titled Risk & Hope.My approach shot landed in one of several sand traps that seem to circle the putting green.

Risk & Hope lived up to its name on this final round.With about one-hundred yards to the green, I took out my trusty seven-iron.I thought the risk was possibly overshooting the green.I hoped to land close to flag.I ended up in a bunker in front of the green. I’ve been in those traps before, but I didn’t seem to mind it as much this time around.

Stump between 10 and 11 at Stevinson Ranch Golf Club.  Photo by Steve Newvine
Stump between 10 and 11 at Stevinson Ranch Golf Club. Photo by Steve Newvine

I’ve always admired an old tree stump that remains near an irrigation creek between holes ten (named Long) and eleven (named Wetland).I get the feeling that stump was there long before Stevinson became a golf course.I suspect it will remain there in the years to come.

I got a par at both par threes on the back nine: number twelve (Devil’s Pot) and sixteen (Hawk Perch).I also made par on the par four number fourteen (Alps).I ended the par five number eighteen (Home Cape) going one over with a six.I turned around and took one last picture of the cart path that brought us to the end of the line.

Stevinson Ranch Golf Club.  Photo by Steve Newvine
Stevinson Ranch Golf Club. Photo by Steve Newvine

Picture- Stevinson 18- looking backcaption:Stevinson Ranch Golf Club.Photo by Steve Newvine

Keeping score

It’s been a rare opportunity for a guy who spent over twenty years trying to figure out the game of golf to now have the chance to play every week.I’m thankful that my game has improved to a point where I no longer use the phrase, “I’m having so much fun, why bother keeping score?”I keep score and keep trying to improve.There’s a long way to go, but I’ve never enjoyed the game more than I do right now.I’m grateful to a couple of golfing buddies who have accompanied me from time to time on some of the better courses in the Central Valley. 

Stevinson Ranch scared me the first time I played there in 2006.I have by no means tamed this venue.But I have given the course my respect as it has brought out the best in me as far as the game of golf is concerned.

The blessing of golf

1.The Names of Each Hole at Stevinson
1.The Names of Each Hole at Stevinson

Golf has always been about blessings.I’m in reasonably good health to play.I can afford it as long as I keep an eye on discounted green fees and decide that I don’t need the latest club available at the sporting goods store.I’m blessed to be able to play this game.I’m blessed to enjoy it as much as I do.I’m blessed every time I get to walk outdoors and view the outstanding scenery surrounding many California courses.I’ve also been honored to meet some genuinely nice people on the fairway and in the clubhouse.

To the staff that kept this course up to an exceptionally high standard especially in these past two years, thank you for your care and customer service.

To the owners who made what was probably a very difficult business decision, thank you for hanging in there so long.

To everyone connected with Stevinson Ranch Golf Club, it’s been a pleasure sharing my passion for the game on those beautiful fairways, challenging bunkers, and demanding putting greens.

I have taken memories from playing there that will last me the rest of my life.I will miss it deeply.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

On the 99- The Palm Meets the Pine



There’s a California landmark that just about anyone who has travelled from Merced to Fresno on highway 99 has seen countless times: most of the time experiencing a view lasting but a millisecond. I’m talking about the median section of the highway south of Madera: where the palm meets the pine.

I’ve driven by it hundreds of times in my eleven years as a Californian.  But it was only in recent months that someone called my attention to it.

Symbolism cannot be mistaken

The palm and pine trees look out of place between the two sections of the highway.  They tower above the standard issue shrubs that are common in most of the highway’s medians.

But their symbolism cannot be mistaken.  The pine tree is north, representing Northern California.  The palm tree is south, representing Southern California.

It was established many years ago that the geographic center of the state is in North Fork to the east of highway 99 in Madera County.  But to see North Fork, you’ll need to get off the highway and head toward the mountains.

The center of the state that most of the public will likely view is right along highway 99.   To be more exact, you’ll find it between the north and southbound lanes in the median south of the city of Madera.

The pine and palm trees represent a symbolic separation between Southern California and Northern California.

where the palm meets the pine Photo by Steve newvine

where the palm meets the pine Photo by Steve newvine

No one is quite sure how the trees were first established at that site.  Web blogger Duane Hall researched the topic a few years ago and lamented the scarcity of definitive history about it by writing,

“There is an abysmal lack of information on the birth of the palm and the pine.”

It’s believed the original trees were planted in the 1920s to represent the midpoint of the state between the Mexico and Oregon borders.  In the 1980s, the state’s transportation planning agency CalTrans rolled out plans to bring the highway up to new standards.  These plans called for the destruction of the trees.  There was a public outcry, CalTrans redrew the plans, and the trees remained.

That is until 2005 when a storm toppled the pine tree.  It was replaced in 2007.  The median is under control of CalTrans and it appears the palm and the pine will remain there under the care of the transportation agency for years to come.

The trees may not be entrenched in popular culture, but the phrase “where the palm meets the pine” has been immortalized in a country song performed by singer/songwriter Danny O’Keefe.  O’Keefe wrote a number of country tunes in the 1970s including a song Elvis Presley recorded called Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.

Even in a country song

In the song In Northern California (Where the Palm Tree Meets the Pine) from the album American Roulette, O’Keefe opines about a relationship between an older woman and a much younger man:

She'd thrown away her crutches But I knew that I'd need mine In Northern California Where the palm tree meets the pine

You can see the two trees just south of Avenue 11 in Madera County on highway 99.

Unfortunately, there is no way for anyone to legally stop, get out of the car, and take a closer look at this site.  And that seems to be a missed opportunity.  One can imagine cars stopping off the highway, people having their picture taken in front of the trees, and families making memories of the Central Valley of the Golden State.

But highway extras such as scenic overlooks and rest stops cost money. No one is calling out for anything such as this, so it appears the two trees will remain just one of those quirky things people see while driving along highway 99.

Until someone comes up with a plan that might allow the public to safely stop and view the trees while absorbing the symbolism of the palm meeting the pine, we’ll continue to see the natural monument to California’s geographic center right where it is:  at 65 miles per hour.

Don’t blink.

To listen to the song In Northern California (Where the Palm Tree Meets the Pine)

Steve Newvine lives in Merced and travels up and down highway 99.

His book 9 From 99 takes the reader on a road trip from Stockton to Bakersfield along the highway.

For blogger Duane Hall’s essay on the Madera landmark, go to: http://duanehallca.blogspot.com/2010/02/where-palm-meets-pine.html

Target Renovation Will Make Merced a Five-StarbucksTown

Photo by steve Newvine

Photo by steve Newvine

Merced has been called a lot of things by a lot of people. Some names have been positive, some names have been negative. In my latest book, I affectionately and truthfully call Merced my adopted hometown.

But by this spring, we may call our city a five-Starbucks town

That’s because the Target store near Merced Mall will add the coffee retailer as part of a renovation project. For those of you familiar with the layout of the Merced store, Starbucks will be located where the photo department currently is housed. The photo department will be scaled down to a self-service kiosk.

The express checkouts near that location will be moved to clear additional space for the Starbucks. You will not miss it when you enter the store from the south side, the side facing Sears. The news was given to me as I checked out recently, and I confirmed it with the manager on duty. Target will house Starbucks in a matter of weeks. This new Starbucks means that by spring, lovers of that particular brand of coffee will have a total of five locations from which to choose.

The other locations are:

  • 425 West Main Street
  • 580 West Olive Avenue
  • 500 Carol Avenue
  • 779 East Yosemite Avenue
Starbucks coffee

Starbucks coffee

Adding a specialty retailer such as Starbucks inside an existing retailer is nothing new in business. The built-in traffic flow makes a lot of sense for both companies to come to terms on making that section of the retail space more profitable. Customers will likely enjoy the added convenience of a Starbucks inside Target. There’s something to be said about how the number and location of a Starbucks serves as an index for community growth and prosperity. Many believe the worst of the recession is now behind us, so it may make sense for some retailers to consider expanding their businesses.

In many communities, Starbucks is seen as sort of a barometer of business success. If business is doing well, they hire more people; with more people working, the likelihood of spending money on luxury items such as four-dollar specialty coffee increases.

And there may be a few companies who have been on the fence in terms of whether they should consider taking a next step in growing the business. Reasonable questions such as: is the worst of this recession really over, and will the economy stay on track long term, are likely to be raised. The fifth Starbucks coming to Merced may not be enough to get some business owners off the fence in terms of expanding and hiring.

But it may be just the right thing to bring about some optimism for the second half of this decade. Merced County still lingers among the highest in the state unemployment figures. The community could use a boost, and we’re not necessarily talking about a caffeine boost.

Let’s hope the soon-to-open Starbucks at Target will be a successful venture. Let’s hope this new venture will lead the way with expansion among local existing companies as well the starting up of new enterprises to serve customers here in Merced County and beyond.

If something like that happens, I’d be happy to buy people making the decision to grow their business in Merced a hot cup of coffee…either at the Starbucks in the Target Store, or at one of several other coffee shops that dot the community landscape.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

A Pot Luck Filled with Love Plus

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 1.34.50 PM

Love Plus Life Skills Training and Mentoring Fall Program

It was a pot luck dinner in many ways like the holiday parties that help define Christmas time:   friends getting together, co-workers taking a moment to spend some social time with one another, or family joining in the spirit of the festive season.  Only this pot luck was different

This was a pot luck dinner celebrating the graduation of ten participants in the Love Plus Life Skills Training and Mentoring Fall Program. 

Love Plus is a life skills training and mentoring program offered by Love, INC in Merced.This year, ten participants completed the program. Since September, they have been attending weekly sessions at a classroom in the Gateway Community Church Conference Center.A second program was started this fall at the Atwater Nazarene Church.Each week, the session would begin with a speaker and specific lesson.Following the one-hour class, the participants would meet with their mentors for the second hour of the session.

The group was honored at a special graduation ceremony at Gateway Community Church in December, but not before one final lesson.Monika Grasley, Executive Director of Life Line Community Development, presented the final class about using the skills learned from the Love Plus program to recognize the gifts individuals have with their head, hands, and heart. 

Monika was one of several volunteer presenters who spoke to the classes throughout the program cycle. Presentations over the twelve-week program included job interviewing, soft skills, financial management, and community service.It was an honor for me to be among the presenters.Throughout the season, other presenters included Shelly Hansen, Sherry Macias, and Eric Swensen.

Love INC

Sherry is the Executive Director of Love INC, and the force behind the Love Plus program.In her comments at the graduation, she told the group, “We can’t truly help people, until we take time to learn about their lives, connect with their struggles, and encourage their gifts.

The people entering the program cross a wide range of life experiences.Most have been through some setbacks.Some acknowledge they were responsible for some of the things that happened to them.But to a person, all agree that the combination of life skills alongside weekly mentoring has made a big difference in their lives. 

At the ceremony, each participant was asked to speak to their experiences from the program.Most talked about their relationships with their mentors. 

Experiences from the program

Teresa told the group she learned a lot of things that she’s going to use. Laura praised her mentor saying how she showed her how to be a better person. Candy said the program helped her realize that the best way to help others is to be sure she helps herself.Gina was recognized for having one-hundred percent participation in the program.Sable spoke about how her mentor showed her how to knuckle down to stay on track.Renee was grateful that the program exists for those who feel many doors have been closed to them.

Manuel and Stacy, one of two couples in the program, found the financial management sessions to be of great help to them. The other couple, Melinda and Jason, werepraised by their mentor whosaid, “They weren’t just individuals, they were a couple that are working great as a team.”

Volunteers also included child care givers who would look after the small children of some of the participants.Alex DeBusk donated her time and talent to document the event with photographs including the one selected for this column. 

Faith in action

Love Plus is a program of Love INC, a coalition of churches working together to put faith into action.

A new cohort of participants is being recruited for the spring session beginning in early 2015.Of special need is for more potential mentors to step forward to help guide and nurture program participants.Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a mentor for the next Love Plus program beginning in early 2015 should contact Marcy Cotta, at 383-7034, or by email at info@loveincmerced.com

My involvement came about thanks in part to the columns I write for MercedCountyEvents.comA program volunteer found me in a Google search, realized I lived in Merced County, and asked me to share a cup of coffee to discuss the program.That happened more than two years ago.I met for coffee, asked a lot of questions, attended a session, and then agreed to do a presentation based on my book Soft Skills for Hard Times. 

The graduation ceremony was about the people who have taken advantage of a unique opportunity to learn more about coping with life.They have learned that there are people out there willing to get to know them, and to find out more about who they are as individuals.As honored as I was to be part of that special pot luck dinner in December celebrating the success of this latest Love Plus class, I was grateful that someone reached out to me over two years ago to offer me an opportunity to share my experiences with others by being a program presenter.

I have a lot for which I’m thankful.Just like a pot luck dinner isn’t really about the food, this program to help others is much more than that.I was helped as well by being part of the leadership team for Love Plus that made this opportunity for others possible. 

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Christmas in Port Leyden

Photo by Steve newvine

Photo by Steve newvine

Ask a child what Christmas is all about, and most likely he or she will answer “presents”.  Ask an adult the same question, and you’ll probably hear the word “family”.

I was fortunate that during my childhood years, memories of the holiday were created that included both presents and family.

Our family Christmas would be considered plentiful.My Mom told me once that there wasn’t much money around her home when she was a little girl and that she promised herself that when she had a family, she’d work all year long to save money to buy gifts. 

In those childhood years when I was filled with anticipation, Grandma and Grandpa Newvine would come to our house in the early hours of Christmas Eve bringing what seemed like a pick-up truck filled with gifts.I remember my brother, sister, and I wondered whether upon seeing all these gifts later in the evening, Santa might think he already visited our house and not leave us anything from him. 

Grandma Newvine would also knit us mittens.For a long time in the 1960s and 1970s, I could count on at least one new pair of woolen mittens every year at Christmas. They were made with love and built to last.Ironically, after getting at least fifteen pairs of mittens over my childhood years, not a single pair survived into adulthood.

I have just one mitten that survived nearly forty years of moving.It’s a good thing I’m living in a climate where it’s warm most of the time.

When I was older, I remember going to my other Grandma’s house not far from where we lived.Grandma’s gift to us in those later years was a box filled with all sorts of homemade cookies. She was a gifted baker and we always considered her box of cookies a true gift from the heart.

We’d go to her house which was about three miles away from where I grew up.Upon our arrival, she would turn off the television that was playing the latest Christmas TV special from Lawrence Welk or Perry Como, and then we would exchange gifts.

I remember for a few years when I was in elementary school, my go-to gift for Mom and both grandmothers was a set of potholders.I had a small loom that came with an ample supply of material loops we purchased from the 5 and 10-cent store in a village near my hometown.

Making potholders was easy to do, but time consuming. I bet I made over a hundred of those potholders over the years growing up in Port Leyden, New York.

Mom and Dad financed most of their Christmas giving through a Christmas Club savings plan at our local bank:Lewis County Trust Company.Each week, they’d tear off the deposit ticket in the Christmas Club book and make a deposit.By December, they’d cash in the club.

They even set up a smaller Christmas Club account, the proceeds of which they divided amongst my brother, sister, and me so that we’d be able to buy small gifts for everyone.

I will now make a confession to my brother and sister:in 1967, I bought the Monkees album entitled Pieces,Capricorn, Aquarius, and Jones, Limited for myself using some of my share of the Christmas Club proceeds.

Both siblings got gifts from me that year, but I suspect these gifts were not as elaborate as expected due to my affection for all things Mike, Mickey, Peter, and Davy.

Celebrating the holiday included Mass at St. Martin’s Church in my hometown.I remember several years when Midnight Mass was part of the Christmas ritual.The nuns from the Convent in our community would lead the choir.Sometimes, I would be assigned to serve as an Altar Boy at that Mass.

The priest would deliver a homily that would remind the congregation to focus on the true meaning of the holiday.

How all of the parts of Christmas fit together made sense to me; being mindful of the religious foundation for the holiday, being close to family, and expressing our love for one another with a gift that we thought was just right for the person receiving it.

All of it happening on one special day.

Merry Christmas to all!

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Golf’s Greatest Challenge

photo by steve newvine

photo by steve newvine

This picture shows my golf ball just a few inches from the cup.  I took the picture the day I almost claimed the greatest prize for a golfer:  a hole in one. That picture shows exactly where my ball landed after teeing off on a par three hole at a nine-hole course in the Central Valley of California.

I’ve come close to the cup before, but never that close.  It happened about three years ago, and it’s never been closer to the cup since.

About ten years prior to that day when I came so close to a hole in one, I was with a golf foursome in upstate New York.  One of the golfers in our group pulled out his seven iron on a par three that the golf card said was 165 yards long.  The tee box was elevated about sixty feet higher than the putting green.

It was a beautiful hole, and if a golfer could just get the ball on the green, he or she would consider it to be a lucky shot.

My group was part of a small golf league formed at a chamber of commerce where I worked.  The idea behind the league was to keep some chamber volunteers engaged in the summer months when their activity level decreased due to vacations and better weather.

Throughout the summer every week, about a dozen golfers got together for this league.  Handicaps were used to allow those of us who were developing our game to compete with those who were more successful on the course.  I don’t remember much about who was leading in the league.  Back in those days, I didn’t care much for scores.  I wasn’t doing very well, but I loved getting out there and hacking away with the others.

While I may not have given much credence to my own golf game, I respected the skill of those who did excel on the course.  That night, I happened to be with a couple of really good golfers.  One of them had the shot of his life.

With the seven iron gripped snugly, and his head tipped downward, he lined up the ball to the club.  His swing wasn’t a hard and fast swing, but more of a graceful and lofty pitch of the ball off the tee and up high and long.

Keeping in mind that my memory of the exact characteristics of the swing have faded a little in the past twelve years, all I can say now is that it was perfect.

The ball landed about four feet from the hole, and then started to roll.  Our view from a distance of about one-and-a-half football fields away wasn’t real clear, but it looked as though the ball went in the cup.

After following the ball trajectory and landing, he looked up at me and asked, “Did that go in?”

I turned my head back to the putting green, and then back to him and said, “I think so.”

The rest of the foursome took our tee shots.  It didn’t really matter to us because by then we were all convinced we had witnessed something truly special on the golf course.

I got to the putting green first, and walked slowly up to the cup.  I didn’t say a word as our lead off golfer walked up to the cup, smiled, reached in, and pulled out his golf ball.  The rest of the foursome gave his a round of applause.

We quickly finished the round and in keeping with clubhouse tradition, the hole-in-one was celebrated with a round of drinks on the man who achieved one of golf’s most elusive feats.

I would leave that area of upstate New York in another six months to pursue the career promises and golf courses of the golden state.

Years later, in spite of playing practically every week, I have yet to experience the hole in one on my own.

But thanks to the luck of being put into the foursome on that special evening over a dozen years ago, I got to experience the magic that comes from watching someone meet up with and achieve golf’s greatest challenge.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced