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

Lunch, Laughs, and Letterman

Letterman column

I don’t stay up to watch his show anymore, and I haven’t been a regular viewer in several years.I’m catching up on these final shows via CBS.com.The whole farewell thing with Dave is reminiscent of what I went through twenty-three years ago when Johnny Carson left the Tonight Show after nearly thirty years as host. Toward the end of that historic run in 1992, it seemed to me that every broadcast of Carson’s was special.

While I’m a fan of Dave’s, I had a much deeper sense of generational change when Johnny retired.

But Dave’s departure from nightly television reminds me of how his career has intermingled with my adult life.

My wife and I sat in the audience of his short-lived morning talk show in 1980.We were on our honeymoon as my then television station bosses arranged for a special tour of the studios and tickets to this new live morning talk show.

The show was funny, the host was quirky, and practically no one watched it.After the live broadcast, Dave came up into the audience and sat in front of us to record some promotional announcements for upcoming shows.

We saw those promos when we returned and I believe it’s still on an old broadcast video tape now buried in a pile of stuff that has traveled with me over the years.

Dave’s morning show went off the air after only a few months in 1980.A year-and-a-half later, he began Late Night with David Letterman.The hour-long talk show followed the Tonight Show Starring, Johnny Carson.Thanks to our VHS tape recorder, I was a regular viewer.

When Johnny left the Tonight Show in 1992, Dave’s fans were disappointed that he was not offered the job to replace Carson.Dave remained with the Late Night program for another year until his contract expired and CBS hired him to take on Jay Leno in a true battle for late night television dominance. 

Jay won that battle, but it seemed to me that while Leno had bigger audience numbers, Dave had the better of the two shows. 

In the late 1990s into the first few years of the 2000s, a good friend of mine would join me in midtown Manhattan once a year for an afternoon in the city followed by being in the audience for a taping of either Late Show with David Letterman or Late Night with Conan O’Brien.Both were great shows, but I’m especially fond of the two times I saw Dave’s show from the audience inside the Ed Sullivan Theater.

One time was in the Christmas season.Tom Brokaw was one of the guests.Being a former newsman, Brokaw was a guest I always enjoyed.He was clearly one of Dave’s favorite guests.

Another time was in the summer when the movie Moulin Rouge came out.Actor Ewan McGregor was one of the guests.At that time, I never heard of the guy.The musical guest that night was Moby and I recall being impressed at how quickly the crew could set up the stage during the commercial break right before he took to the stage.Thanks to Google, I now have learned the day of that show was June 21, 2001.

Those trips to New York City to meet my friend for a day of lunch, laughs, and late night show tapings were quite a test of endurance for me.I would get up around four AM, and then drive about six hours to a train station in Tarrytown, New York.

Following about an hour of travel on the rails, I’d emerge from Grand Central Station and walk to an agreed upon destination to meet up with my buddy.After a quick lunch, we’d do what I call the “poor man’s” tour of the New York City by taking in such iconic locations as the Dakota apartment complex where John Lennon lived and died, the restaurant where exterior scenes were shot in the television series Seinfeld, and my favorite venue: inside 30 Rockefeller Plaza where such iconic shows as Saturday Night Live are produced. 

We’d have to get in line for the Letterman taping around 3:30, and after being moved from a gathering area in a building across the side entrance to the Ed Sullivan Theater, we’d take our seats inside and were coached as to how to behave while in the audience of a national television show.We were ready for a brief audience welcome by Dave and then the magic that is live-on-tape television was underway.

Live-on-tape means the show is performed as though it was being done live with no stops of the recording machines unless a major problem occurs. 

When the taping was finished around 6:30, my friend and I would shake hands and depart:I would head to Grand Central while he headed to Penn Station to catch our respective trains.Barring any train delays, I’d get to my car in Tarrytown around 8:00 PM, and then head on back to either a hotel or a relative’s home for a well-appreciated good night’s sleep.

We did those trips annually for about four years, and then my friend moved to the west coast.My wife and I followed with our own west coast adventure a few years later.

While I’ve been to Hollywood to see a couple of television shows in production, I still have a longing for the days when I embarked on an annual endurance test to travel several hours to see David Letterman’s show

David Letterman began his late night television career just a couple of months prior to my becoming a father.He leaves television as I enjoy the privileges of being a grandparent.I remember watching that very first show on CBS in 1993.

I remember the night Johnny Carson did a walk-on to hand him the Top Ten list and symbolically “hand off” the late night throne- without saying a word.

I remember the broadcast a week after 9-11 and how in some satisfying way, he helped bring back some normalcy.

I remember the night he returned from heart surgery and nearly cried as he thanked his medical professionals that were brought on stage.

Thirty-three years have passed.

Thank you David Letterman, for entertaining me through fatherhood and for keeping the laughs coming as I became a grandfather.

You deserve to retire with all the accolades and all the memories.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Life through Vinyl


We have the good people at Parade magazine to thank for telling readers that April 18 is National Record Store Day.  Those seeking to make money from the music business have designated this day to bring attention to the resurgence of vinyl records.   Many popular music artists are releasing special songs on vinyl . Once thought lost forever with the advent of compact discs and eventually digital music delivery, vinyl is enjoying sort of a comeback among those who prefer their music played with a needle and a turntable.

I made the move to compact discs about ten years after that format started back in the 1980s.  But I’ve always held on to a few vinyl records because they bring back memories of my younger years when it was the best way to listen to music on your own terms.

The Monkees
The Monkees

The very first record I owned was this one from the Monkees.  There was a time when I could tell you the exact order of songs on that album.  I actually got both the first and second Monkees albums on the same day (my birthday), but I opened and played this one first.  I would eventually acquire every record the group released in their short career, which lasted two years (the length of their television series) with several reunions over the past few decades.

Elvis Presley, the NBC-TV Special Soundtrack
Elvis Presley, the NBC-TV Special Soundtrack

While the Monkees represent the first music I would actually own, it was Elvis Presley who would instill my appreciation for popular music.  I watched his NBC television special in late 1968 and became a fan instantly.  I bought it from the closest thing we had to a music store in my hometown: a rack of records at a dry goods store.  The soundtrack album propelled him into the third and final phase of his performing career, eventually clearing the way for his iconic jumpsuits and the hard living lifestyle that many suggest ended his life way too early at the age of forty-two in 1977.  It begins with the song Trouble (“you lookin for trouble, you came to the right place…”) that he first popularized in the movie Kid Galahad.  It ends with the inspiring If I Can Dream.  I just found out this spring that If I Can Dream is my daughter Colleen’s favorite Elvis song.  Good choice.  The song has been covered over the years by such artists as Barry Manilow and Della Reese, but Elvis made it his own.

Goodyear/Columbia Great Songs of Christmas
Goodyear/Columbia Great Songs of Christmas

I experience most of the holiday seasons through the lens of Christmas music.  The Goodyear Tire company, through an arrangement with Columbia Records, released a compilation album of holiday music annually in the 1960s and 1970s.  My mom bought this one from the local Goodyear dealer in hometown (Sylvester Burkhart’s Garage on Main Street in Port Leyden).  This particular album has the distinction of being the first album my mother purchased when our family bought a record player in the early 1960s.  I connect right back to the family living room in my hometown when I play this album.

These are three of the long playing albums that helped define my life in vinyl.  We always had records playing in the house.  My fascination with recorded music fed a desire to work as a disc jockey for a few years while I was in college.  To this day, I occasionally put on an old vinyl record and listen to it with all the scratches that come from playing them over and over when I was much younger.

Long playing albums from my era generally had about ten to twelve songs, split between the two sides.  Some record players allowed you to stack up to six so that the music could continue for well over an hour.

New York, New York by Frank Sinatra
New York, New York by Frank Sinatra

I can’t forget the singles: the forty-five RPM (revolutions per minute) discs that so many of us from that generation had.  I still have mine, but I don’t play them as much as the LPs (long-playing) albums that spun at thirty-three-and-a-third RPM.  My friends and I would play them in the jukebox at the Leyden Elm diner (better known as Hazel’s) in my hometown.

But this one forty-five has special meaning to me.  It’s Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York.  It was recorded in 1980 and remained Sinatra’s signature show stopper in the remaining years of his public performances.  It was also the last brand new single I ever bought from a music store.  It would take a few more years before I’d consider myself a Sinatra fan, but there’s no doubt this single was the starting point.

And if that’s not enough to drive home how significant this record is to me, I can add that it was released in the same year I got married.   A husband better not forget the year he got married.  I have this single to remind me.

Records have a way of doing that for me.  They bring back a memory of when I first received a particular album or single, they connect me to my hometown, and they help me remember important times in my life.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

For more on Record Store Day, go to www.recordstoreday.com

Completing the Apollo 13 Circle in Colorado

Jack Swigert Statue at the Denver

April 11 is the forty-fifth anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission to the moon.  Apollo 13 was the mission that never landed on the lunar surface, but it became a legendary story of a true test of courage and ingenuity from the US space program. I had the recent good fortune to visit family living in Colorado.  As I was preparing to leave at the Denver Airport, I encountered a statute that in many ways has completed a circle I started with Apollo 13 some forty-plus years ago.

The statue is of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert.  The bronze cast shows Swigert in his astronaut suit.  The plaque refers to Swigert as “Astronaut and Congressman Elect.”   He was about to begin his first elected term in the US House of Representatives when he died from cancer in the early 1980s.  I asked a fellow Californian who was viewing the statue with me to take this picture.

In my youth, I followed the space program with great interest.  As a young boy, I was in front of the television set many times for rocket launches.  My family circled around the set in July of 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

I was a hardened space fan, but even I was becoming disinterested in moon landings after the second one (Apollo 12).  I recall seeing Apollo 13 lift off on April 11, 1970, but my life was beginning to be occupied with all the things teenagers encounter.

My interest level changed two days later when we learned there was a problem aboard Apollo 13.  News reporters on television tried to explain something about an explosion aboard the spacecraft, and how the astronauts were moved to the lunar module as plans were made to bring them back to Earth.  I recall feeling concerned, but confident that the crew would make it home safely.

The now familiar story ends with a successful return to Earth for the three astronauts.

Commander Jim Lovell wrote a book called Lost Moon about the mission.  Fred Haise worked in private industry after retiring from NASA.  Jack Swigert lived in Colorado and was elected to the US House of Representatives.  He died before taking office in 1982.

I never realized just how serious the effort to return the astronauts to Earth was until many years later when I started reporting on the space program as a television reporter for WAAY in Huntsville, Alabama.  NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center was in Huntsville, so anything about the space program was a local news story in northern Alabama.  During my short time in Huntsville in the early 1980s, I learned more about how dangerous the Apollo 13 mission was as the ground crew worked the problem to bring the crew home safely.

1981, Steve Newvine at the Marshall Spaceflight Center, Huntsville, Alabama
1981, Steve Newvine at the Marshall Spaceflight Center, Huntsville, Alabama

A few years later, the Ron Howard film Apollo 13 introduced a new generation to the story behind the story of that mission.  For many years, watching the movie was a family tradition in my house.  During the time when I was working as an adjunct college lecturer, I used clips from the movie to demonstrate leadership principles.  The movie remains one of my all-time favorites.

I met astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise in 1996 when both appeared at a business conference I was attending.   I was told at that event that this was the first time the two appeared together in public since the end of the mission.

Seeing the statue of Jack Swigert in Denver brought back many of those memories.  From childhood passing on through my teen years, I experienced the excitement of the space program transition to a less intense interest as I grew older.  I saw that passing interest reinvigorate as a journalist working in a town where space exploration defined the community,   I re-lived, if only for a few moments, the thrill of reporting on the first three Space Shuttle missions.  As a slightly bit older adult, I reconnected with my passion for the space program thanks to the movie Apollo 13 and the opportunity to meet the two surviving members of the crew.

And now a bronze statue of the astronaut who survived that ordeal only to be taken much too early brings it back full circle.

Apollo 13 showed us that bravery isn’t just about knowing the risks and acting anyway.  The forty-fifth anniversary of that historic mission gives all of us an opportunity to spend a few moments reflecting on the successes we have experienced and the obstacles we have overcome.

Apollo 13 has also shown us that leadership comes in all shapes and sizes.  From the crew’s courage under fire, to the steady seriousness demonstrated by flight director Gene Kranz , to the short-sleeved NASA technicians who offered solutions that kept the astronauts alive as the spaceship was being brought back home, Apollo 13 has proven the very best we all can do by working together.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He worked as a Space and Science reporter for WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama from 1980 to 1982.  

Welcome to the World Grandson

Steve's grandson

My wife and I recently became grandparents.  Our grandson came into this world surrounded with a lot of love.  For the first time in my life, I’m a grandpa. The best assessment I’ve ever read of how a child can change a person comes from that expert on family relationships: Alice Mitchell.  She’s the mom of comic strip character Dennis the Menace.

Her view on how grandfather’s change comes in a recent cartoon where we see Dennis playing with his dad.  Dennis’ grandfather remarks how amazing it is that a boy can make a man out of his father.  Alice responds by saying, “And a boy out of his grandfather.”

I’d like to offer my special welcome, along with some grandfatherly observations, to my grandson.  Some of my reflections come from experiences with my two grandfathers.  Most of it comes from experiencing firsthand what it’s like to be a grandchild.

Welcome to the world little boy.

This is Earth grandson.  It’s a unique spot, and now it’s a special place because you are here.

You came into this spot two months early, but you put up with all the tubes and monitors that helped make you stronger.  You also had the help of some wonderful medical professionals who have made it their life’s work to help little folks like you.  They helped you until you were well enough to leave the hospital and start living at home.

You have two wonderful parents.  I know one of them real well.  Your Mom was a bundle of joy, someone who enjoys an adventure, and someone who truly loves her family.  You already know this, but she’s a great Mom.  Dad is a good guy too.  I’ve known him about ten years now and I know he’s the real deal.  You are in excellent hands.

Someday, I hope your parents will take you to the family reunion on your grandma Newvine’s side of the family.  They take lots of pictures throughout the reunion day, but the part I like is after the midday meal when they line up each generation of relatives for a special set of group photos.  You may not think much of it at first, but my experience has been you’ll grow to appreciate those generation photographs in later years.

Someday, you might visit my hometown.

If you see it in the summer, you’ll enjoy county fairs, weekend picnics, and extended family in practically every surrounding village.   If you visit in the winter, be prepared to see lots of snow.  You can take part in downhill and cross-country skiing, ride a snowmobile, and build up your muscles when someone hands you a snow shovel after a big storm.

As you get to know me, you’ll find I like a lot of things young people enjoy.  I keep a kite in the garage and know a perfect open field near our house where we can fly it on a breezy spring day.

When you get older, I’ll take you to a driving range where we can hit a bucket of golf balls.  On cold days, we can stay inside and put together a jigsaw puzzle.

When I was about ten years old, my Grandpa on my mom’s side of the family took me and a load of scrap metal to a junkyard.  The people at the junkyard weighed the car before and after we unloaded the cargo.  My Grandpa was paid for the scrap metal by the pound.  Upon leaving the junkyard, he took me out for breakfast.

It’s funny how I still remember that day as though it happened a week ago.  I want to do something like that with you.

My other grandfather lived down the street from my house.  He had hands that seemed as big as a coffee pot and as tough as a claw hammer, but he was kind and gentle, and had a smile that no one forgot.  He lived to his mid-nineties and brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.  I’m hoping for a nice long life too, not only for you but for me.  I want to spend a lot of time with you, my grandson.

I promise you that I’ll try to help create memories for you of a grandfather who won’t take you or anyone else for granted.

I’ve had two pretty good role models in my grandfathers.

We’ll have a lot of fun.

Welcome to this world grandson.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Meeting and Covering Mario Cuomo

A Steve -Gov. Mario Cuomo visiting Upstate New

Over the New Year holiday, we learned of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s passing at the age of 82.

Cub television reporter

As a former resident of the Empire State and a working journalist during most of the Cuomo administration, I covered the Governor during parts of his term.

My memories go back to the first time I met him in 1980.  He was Lieutenant Governor and I was a cub television reporter for station WICZ in Binghamton.  Cuomo was promoting some initiative from Governor Hugh Carey’s office.  I don’t remember why he was in town, but I remember arriving to the press availability late and dealing with a handler who basically chastised me for being late and effectively told me that when you snooze you lose.

Observing my argument that we could set up our camera and ask a couple of questions in a matter of minutes, Cuomo came over to me, smiled, and then told his handler that he had the time to speak to my camera and me.

I spent several of the early Governor Cuomo administration years living outside New York State, but by the time I returned to live in Western New York in the mid-1980s, the Governor had a well-oiled government machine.  He easily won reelection twice, and anyone who remembers the 1980s can hardly forget how his name frequently made the list of potential Democratic presidential nominees.

Livingston County Chamber of Commerce

By 1994, I left the world of television news and became an advocate for business as head of the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce.  Once again, my path would cross that of Mario Cuomo.

It was in the fall of 1994 when the Governor arrived at the Livingston County Government Center in Geneseo, New York to announce a package of state incentives to keep a salt mine operating in our community.

The Governor’s office and the State Legislature worked with the County on a package of incentives. The Governor, who was up for re-election, wanted to make the point that his administration cared about those jobs and cared about upstate New York.

As the deal was sealed, it was decided by the Governor’s office that Mario Cuomo, staunch Democrat, would come to the Republican stronghold of Livingston County to personally deliver the goods.

The Governor was in a battle for his fourth term against George Pataki, so there was little doubt that politics played a role in the visit.  But with a population around 65,000, the incumbent wasn’t going to win or lose the state based on how well or poorly he did in Livingston County.  But image was as important then as it is today.

As a guest for the ceremony, I got to the Government Center about two hours early to get a seat close to the front. As Executive Director of the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce, I was in the audience to join with others in thanking the Governor and the Legislature for saving jobs in my community.

"We’re a family"

As he passed by me on his way to the podium, he shook a lot of hands including mine.  He started his speech by addressing the elephant in the room.  I’m not quoting him directly as it was twenty years ago and all I have are memories of that afternoon.  Here’s what I recall the Governor saying to his Livingston County, New York audience:

“You may be asking what am I, a Democrat, doing here in the hot bed of the Republican party?”  he joked with the receptive crowd.   And then, he became serious.  “I’m here because we’re a family, and this part of our family needs help and the rest of the family, the State of New York,  is coming together to bring that help.”

When he finished, he left amid a standing ovation and again he passed by me.  Again, I shook his hand.  I had only been on the job as head of the Chamber of Commerce six months, but I was filled with the satisfaction that comes from knowing things were going to get better for the community.

Within a few weeks, the Governor would lose the election.

About a year later, the original aid package was rejected when the original mine company pulled out.

But a new company was formed, and five years later, long after Mario Cuomo left office, a new mine opened.

But it was those words from Governor Cuomo some twenty years ago that still resonate with me; challenging us to think of ourselves as a family, and coming together as a family when one of us needs help.

Those were powerful words two decades ago, and words that still define former Governor Mario Cuomo.

Steve Newvine has lived in the Central Valley of California for the past ten years.

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

A Letter to A T & T



AT&T call center closing

I read in the paper recently that the union representing some of the employees at AT & T’s Atwater Call Center was asking for letters to the company. The union promised to forward any letters sent to their office in Modesto.

I sent this letter:

AT & T Castle Commerce Park Atwater, CA Dear ATT: Thank you for being a respected employer in Merced County these past two decades.  As a resident of Merced County, I appreciate the economic impact the company made on the community.  By employing close to four-hundred workers, you helped improve the quality of life for countless families.  You were a good employer. We are saddened that a business decision has been made to end operations at the facility at the former Castle Air Base.  AT & T was the first major employer to lease space at the former Air Base after military operations left.  The company has been an anchor in the efforts by Merced County to market the site to other companies. I hope business conditions change and that AT & T might again consider Merced County for the location of a call center or other facility.  The company knows our labor force, our business friendly approach, and our strong work ethic. ATT has enjoyed success here in Merced County for two decades.  We hope to welcome you back in the future. Sincerely,

Steve Newvine

Customer Care Way, Atwater- Photo by Steve Newvine
Customer Care Way, Atwater- Photo by Steve Newvine

 Two-decades of employment

My letter thanked the company for two-decades of employment on behalf of hundreds of families in and around Merced County. When AT & T leaves the call center buildings at Castle Air Base at the end of the summer, nearly four-hundred jobs will be lost. Employment has been offered at the company’s call centers in California and other states.

The company’s original offer for continued employment included a five-thousand dollar moving allowance and a ten-day decision window.

Economic tragedy for local families

My letter made it clear that I understand the business decision that drove this economic tragedy for local families. The company paid decent wages and many workers have described working conditions as good. But apparently there are efficiencies to be achieved by consolidating operations within other facilities. I try to be mindful that had this decision gone the other way, and workers from other facilities would have been asked to move within a week-and-a-half to Merced County, many of us would be celebrating a victory for job development in our community.

Keeping the door open

The letter offers to keep the door open should business conditions change in the future. Should AT & T ever consider expansion again, I ‘ll do whatever I can to gain the support of the entire business development community, from the Office of Commerce, Aviation, and Economic Development to the County Workforce Investment Board. I serve on the board of the latter.

ATT photo by Steve Newvine
ATT photo by Steve Newvine

In times like these, it would be easy to take shots at AT & T or any company that eliminates jobs from our community. I’d like to think the company discussed some of their efficiency concerns with the union representing workers and economic development leaders in the community. I have seen no evidence of that from the reporting done in the local media.

There’s even a small part of me hoping AT & T will see some merit in reconsidering the decision, although I’ve seen enough of these operational restructurings to know better. Anything is possible, but we have to move on and embrace the companies that want to do business in our county.

Our community has taken another hit in the struggle to recover from the recession. We’ll add it to the list of setbacks endured by Merced County in terms of job growth.

We’ll also take stock of our strong points:

  • Agriculture
  • Highway ninety-nine improvements
  • UC Merced

Compassion for the families

The mourning period for the departure of AT & T will extend beyond the end of the summer when the last employee leaves the facilities at Customer Care Way in Atwater. With compassion for the families facing uncertainty and empathy for the businesses that relied on local spending from the AT & T payroll, we will move onward.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

He serves on the Merced County Workforce Investment Board

The Week Merced County Made the Cover of Life Magazine


The Week Merced County Made the Cover of Life Magazine

For those of you under the age of twenty-five, there once was a time when Life magazine was a big deal.  Now limited to such things as occasional special books commemorating significant historical events, the magazine name has no real impact on society. 

January 28, 1957

But back in its heyday, it was a special achievement for a person, place, or event to be featured in the magazine.  It was truly outstanding when that story made the cover of the publication.

That’s the story behind the January 28, 1957 issue that featured a United States Air Force jet on the cover.  The story inside was about Operation Power Flite, the first-ever around-the-world flight of a jet without landing to refuel.  

Operation Power Flite, and I note the Air Force used a spelling of the word that the rest of us spell as “flight”, began at Castle Air Force Base in Atwater. 

The contingent of three aircraft took off from Castle on a cold January morning.  One plane developed mechanical troubles and had to land.   A second plant left the group, as planned, over Great Britain. 

The third made it around the world.  Thanks to aerial refueling, the jet could keep going for the forty-five hours it took to circle the planet.

CAM Entrance
CAM Entrance

Although the jets started from Castle, the mission didn’t end there.  Foggy conditions in Merced County led to the decision to land at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. 

Operation Power Flite

Behind the controls for the landing at March was Major General Archie Old.  March Air Force Base became a reserve military base in 1996.  The military golf course at that base is now a public golf course named for him.

Operation Power Flite was an important chapter in our nation’s military aviation history.  In 1957, in the middle of the Cold War, it was important for the United States to send the message that it could scramble a group of aircraft from any place in the world within minutes, and keep those planes flying for as long it would take.   It was the kind of deterrent many thought would keep the Soviets at bay.  

The mission was considered by military experts to be a significant development in aviation.

 Castle Air Museum

The role Castle Air Force Base played in the nation’s defense has been well documented by the Castle Air Museum.  The Museum created a small display area within its’ permanent collection area to commemorate Operation Power Flite. 

The staff and volunteers at the Museum are very helpful in assisting visitors as they learn more about the aircraft and the people who helped keep our nation safe during the years Castle Air Force Base was in operation.

CAM 3-planes
CAM 3-planes

It’s easy to go to the Castle Air Museum and be overwhelmed by the outstanding collection of military aircraft.  But if you happen to go there in the near future, spend some time in the exhibit building and find the Operation Power Flite display. 

Ask a volunteer for more information about the mission.  Remember how important that flight from over fifty-five years ago was to our nation.  

The story of this history making flight during the Cold War put a Castle on the cover of Life magazine.  The Castle Air Museum as well as the Merced County Historical Society has a copy of that magazine. 

The story took up over a dozen pages in that week’s issue.  The pages are so large that it’s impossible to copy a single page on a regular eight-by-eleven or eight-by-fourteen inch copy machine. 

Magazines were much bigger back in the 1950’s; not only in the size of the pages, but also in the influence wielded in our society.  

Magazines back then were a big deal.  And Life magazine, especially the cover story on Life magazine, was a really big deal.

Steve Newvine  lives in Merced

Will Californians Have a Voice in 2012

Demo & GOP images_0001

All I’m really hoping for in this presidential campaign season is that Republicans will have a real choice by the time Califonria’s primary comes around.

In 2008, the GOP crowned John McCain with the big prize before Republicans had a chance to participate in the California primary.  There’s reason to believe the frontrunner may have it wrapped up this time around too.  That would be a shame.

Many registered voters declare a party when they register so that they can participate in the primary process.  With the race being wrapped up before the campaign gets to the Golden State, it’s easy to lose interest. 

The State legislature voted to lump the California Primary into the regular June election cycle.  That saves money, and in a time where every dollar is important to the state’s bottom line, you can understand why the legislature made that decision.

We’ll see what the next few weeks bring.  For now, it’s a long shot that California will play a major role in the selection of the next Republican presidential candidate.

In the meantime, I found a fascinating polling tool to help undecideds determine which candidate best fits one’s feelings on issues that are making up this year’s race for the presidency.

A friend sent me a link to the USA Today website where a presidential preference measuring tool is available.  The web visitor answers eleven questions asking where the user stands on such issues as immigration, national defense, taxes, and energy. 

It then links the responses to the actual stands of the current slate of Republican candidates, as well as President Obama.  The tool then tells the visitor the candidate who most closely stands for the positions entered.  It also gives a second and third choice.

You can use the tool by following this link:  http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/candidate-match-game

I took the test over the weekend and was surprised by the results.  According to the tool, my top choice for President is John Huntsman.  Surprised?  I was.  But I wasn’t nearly as surprised by my number one computer choice as I was by number two.

The candidate for President who ranks second in my preference tool according to the USA Today site is none other than Barrack Obama. 

This is pretty remarkable given I didn’t vote for the President four years ago and have no intention of voting for him this time around.  In fact, I’ve never voted for the Democratic presidential candidate since I first voted for Gerald Ford in 1976.

I have voted for some Democrats over the years.  When I lived in upstate New York, I voted for Mario Cuomo in 1990.  The Governor was running against businessman Pierre Rinfret.  I had met Mr. Rinfret when he stopped by the television newroom I was working in for an interview. 

Seeing him off camera before and after the interview was enough to convince me that the incumbent Cuomo deserved my vote.

In California, I’ve voted for Congressman Cardoza the last two times.  Frankly, I’ll miss his leadership on Valley issues.  I’m sorry to see his seat lost to redistricting.

The USA Today poll, more than anything else, shows that in my case no candidate is a perfect fit.  But that’s all right with me. 

The primary season is the time to sort out the issues that are important to us.  It’s a time to critically evaluate how the candidates will deliver on the promises they make, how they will respond under pressure, and whether they have what it takes to be a leader.

By the way, if you’re wonder was my number three choice according to the USA Today preference tool, it was Mitt Romney.

Let’s hope Republicans get a chance to have their voices heard in June.

 Steve Newvine lives in Merced.