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2020: Year In Review, Part 1
Members of The Living Dead stand with the Grim Reaper, watching a realistic accident scene unfold along Escalon-Bellota Road on Thursday morning, March 12 in the Every 15 Minutes program. The program is designed to show how life can change at a moment’s notice, through a drunk driving incident. Ironically, following the ‘funeral’ the next day at Escalon High School, March 13, area schools shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, driving home the reality that life can change in an instant. Marg Jackson/The Times

The year 2020 started out ‘normal’ enough, with Winter Homecoming, City Council meetings, Farmington’s annual Fill The Boot and more, but mid-March saw an abrupt end to normalcy. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived and sent the region into a lockdown, changing everything. This week, we feature brief excerpts from some of the top stories from The Times during the first six months of the year, January to June.



The first of what are anticipated to be annual water rate increases will go into effect in March of this year. That, after Escalon City Council members on Monday night, Jan. 6 approved the five-year plan to incrementally raise the rates.

After a one-year trial run with a reduced time frame, the 2020 Relay For Life of Oakdale, Riverbank, Escalon and Waterford will be returning to the traditional 24-hour period. Scheduled for Saturday, May 2 at 9 a.m. through Sunday, May 3 at 9 a.m., the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event will again be hosted at the Oakdale High School soccer fields. A Relay For Life Kickoff is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Oak Valley Medical Plaza at 1425 W. H St., Oakdale.

Local residents will have their choice of three unique meal opportunities in the next couple of weeks, with proceeds benefitting different organizations. A spaghetti supper will benefit the Escalon United Methodist Church, a tri-tip dinner will benefit the Escalon Sober Grad effort and a crab feed will support Escalon Kiwanis Club service projects and scholarships.

Now in its second year, the Dual Language Immersion Program through the Escalon Unified School District is growing. Collegeville Elementary School is the current ‘DLI’ site and will also be the setting for a special Parent Informational Night regarding the program. All interested are encouraged to attend the info night on Tuesday, Jan. 28 beginning at 6 p.m.

They have been able to work around them, but unexpected delays have created some issues at the Escalon Community Center. Work on parking lot improvements at the center, corner of Escalon Avenue and Arthur Road, got started but then stopped, as wet weather adversely impacted the project.

Returning to the Jackson Avenue location of the former Big Boy Market in Escalon, trainer Grant Flory worked with K9 law enforcement teams from several agencies this past week. “We had Tuolumne County, Calaveras County and Angels Camp here on Wednesday,” Flory, of Top Dog Police K9 Training and Consulting explained on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 23.

As the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs prepare for their championship game this Sunday, Feb. 2, some Escalon student athletes are already enjoying the perks of being a football champion, albeit a Sac-Joaquin Section Champion. As of this past Monday, they even have their own championship milk to pour on their super bowls of cereal this Sunday. The California Interscholastic Federation’s Sac-Joaquin Section’s six football champions – including the eventual Division 4-A State Champion Cougars – are being recognized on the latest set of Crystal Creamery’s commemorative milk cartons.



To say it has been quite a memorable year for Escalon high school student Jacob Walden would be an understatement. The senior, a key member of the Cougars state championship football team, recently added another accolade to his list of accomplishments. He is now the 2019-2020 Escalon High School Homecoming King.

It’s a heavily traveled route – especially on the weekends – and Farmington firefighters were able to raise a substantial amount of money because of it. Hosting the annual ‘Fill the Boot’ drive from Friday, Feb. 7 through Sunday, Feb. 9, the three-day collection raised some $22,000 for the Firefighters Burn Institute in Sacramento.

It wasn’t a packed house but there was some interest in a special Measure S Community Meeting hosted Thursday, Feb. 13 at the Escalon Community Center. City Manager Tammy Alcantor, Mayor Robert Swift and Police Chief Mike Borges all offered an overview of the proposal, with the measure going before the voters in the March 3, 2020 primary election.

Saturday night, Feb. 15 was served up as Italian Night at the Escalon American Legion Gustafson-Thompson Post. Several dozen locals joined in for the food and fun. The once a month dinners are hosted on the third Saturday of the month at the Second Street Legion Post rooms and have a fresh theme each month.

Happy to be part of the Escalon community, new librarian Nazli Ali is enjoying getting to know the local library patrons and is eager to bring some fresh new ideas to the area. She comes to Escalon from Linden, having spent almost four years as head librarian in that small community. Previously, she worked in San Mateo County and Los Gatos, after graduating from San Jose State.



Who knew it was the custom to smash opponents back in the 1950s?

Jerry Barton knew. And the Escalon High alum shared that little tidbit with a huge crowd that gathered in the EHS gym on Saturday to celebrate 100 years of Escalon High School. The final speaker in the afternoon program, Barton got the loudest cheers when he wrapped up his reminiscing with the fight song. He was just one of several guest speakers for the event, which also featured a variety of activities in the quad area on campus prior to the 2 p.m. program.

They came for a tour … and left quite a gift behind. Several representatives of the DW61 Foundation – named in memory and honor of the late Dennis Wallace, a Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputy lost in the line of duty – stopped by the Escalon Youth Center on Friday evening, Feb. 28. The organization presented the Escalon Youth Center with a $5,000 donation.

In a somewhat unexpected turn, the proposed Measure S for Escalon was defeated in the Tuesday, March 3 primary election. The half-cent sales tax measure was to be earmarked specifically for the Escalon Police Department. Estimates were that it would raise roughly $280,000 annually, and would be provided to the police department in addition to the money already set aside in the city budget for police/public safety services.

The skies were cloudy and there was a bit of a chill in the air, but the dozens of young ballplayers lining up on the playing fields at Hogan-Ennis Park didn’t seem to mind at all. Saturday, March 7 was Opening Day for the City of Escalon’s recreational baseball-softball program and nearly 40 teams were there to be introduced. Ranging in age from the T-Ball division to Major Boys and the 14 and Under Softball Girls, the teams enjoyed the chance to get out on the diamond and play a few innings.

Thursday morning, March 12 didn’t go quite as planned at Escalon High School. One by one, several students were ‘tapped out’ of class, the Grim Reaper entering classrooms and the names of students called, indicating they had been the victim of a drunk driver. Students from Escalon High, Vista High and Gateway Academy all took part in the program, titled Every 15 Minutes, a realistic depiction of a drunk driving accident.

As part of a decision impacting schools in San Joaquin County, all Escalon Unified School District school sites have been shut down. The three-week closure announced on Friday, March 13 comes in response to the coronavirus threat. As of now, school sites will remain closed through Sunday, April 5 with classes tentatively resuming Monday, April 6.

As much as possible, Public Works crews in Escalon are doing what they can to keep facilities clean for the public. But some facilities are shutting down, as the region grips with the ongoing coronavirus issue. “We have suspended our youth program for baseball and softball currently through the end of the month, all practices and games, any kind of events associated with them,” City Manager Tammy Alcantor explained on Friday.

While gatherings have been limited and facilities have basically shut down, the Escalon Senior Meals Program is continuing its efforts to provide food to those most at risk, senior citizens. The Escalon Senior Meals Program, typically hosted Tuesdays and Thursdays at the city’s Community Center, became a drive-thru for meals on Thursday, March 19. The Community Center itself has been shut down to outside events and Senior Meals Program Coordinator Karen Corey said they would also be changing the way they serve up the meals to senior citizens.

With the “Stay Home” order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday, March 19, Escalon Unified School District officials have worked to put plans in place to help meet student needs. “Escalon Unified is continuing to work toward providing distance learning opportunities for its students,” District Superintendent Ron Costa wrote in a letter to parents that was posted on the district’s website,



There were 700 bags of food – each containing five days’ worth of lunches – ready to be distributed from a central location at Dent Elementary School on Thursday, March 26. In the second such distribution of food for students out of school and sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic, Escalon Unified School District Food Service Director Shelli Nicholas said more than 500 of the bags were picked up.

Distance Learning. It is the new reality for Escalon Unified School District students and teachers. The program of virtual schooling for students was rolled out on Monday, April 6, said District Superintendent Ron Costa. “It has been absolutely crazy,” he admitted, with efforts to get all students on board kicking into high gear over the last couple of weeks.

Members of the Escalon FFA Food Science and Technology Team competed at their state finals competition at UC Davis recently and came away with the top honors in the event. The purpose of this contest, said FFA advisors, is to promote learning activities in food science and technology related to the food industry. Each team competes in a knowledge/math/food safety test, a sensory test, as well as a product development project and presentation. “We would like to offer a huge congratulations to Madison Hagglund, Melanie Smith, Benjamin Millard, and Wyatt McCune, as they won first place,” said Escalon ag teacher Isabella Leventini.

With the American Cancer Society cancelling all events at least through mid-May, the Oakdale-Escalon-Riverbank-Waterford Relay For Life has been put on hold. Originally scheduled as a 24-hour event, set for May 2 and 3 on the campus of Oakdale High School, officials are hoping to have a modified, likely shorter Relay event later in the year.

He has covered major stories including Superstorm Sandy, 9-11 and now, the Coronavirus. And today, he is doing it all from the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, New York City. Steve Scott graduated from Escalon High School, Class of 1979, and now works at WCBS Newsradio, AM 880, in New York City. He is among a handful of staff members still physically going to work at the station, commuting from his home in Jersey City, New Jersey for his morning news anchor duties.

With the continuing shelter in place order in effect amid the effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, there will be no Love Escalon in 2020. The situation is similar in many surrounding communities as well. “We had hoped at the beginning of the stay-at-home order we could still keep our city-wide service date of April 25,” explained Love Escalon City Leader Brittany Doornenbal. “As time moved on though and the COVID-19 situation worsened, our team made the tough decision of cancelling this year’s event.”

It started out as a way to bring a little cheer to his grandmother on Easter Sunday. From there, it has grown into quite a busy schedule, with local teen Mitchell Cole playing music at several locations around the region. A senior at Escalon High School, Cole plays in the band, sings in choir and was a member of the 2019-20 State Championship football team. At well over six feet tall, he is already a larger-than-life presence and his newfound mission to bring smiles to the faces of people he doesn’t even know just adds to his lore. “His heart is all gold,” said his grandmother, Judy Westall.

Moe Silva hasn’t really gone that far from home. And that is just fine with the newest Escalon Fire Department Battalion Chief, who was born and raised here. The longtime EFD firefighter has taken on an expanded role, selected as the replacement for the recently retired Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro.

It is an unusual circumstance, but Escalon resident Dave Bellinger will be stepping in to fill a post on the city council on an interim basis. Current first-term council member Peter Krumeich – whose term runs through 2022 – will be serving with the Army Reserves and has to step away from his city duties during that time. So, Bellinger was tapped for the post.

On Friday, April 24, San Joaquin County Public Health Officials released a new order, amending one sent on April 14. In essence, it allows for some limited use of public spaces and also provides for the re-opening of golf courses and allows ‘drive up’ church services – as long as participants stay in their vehicles and maintain the six-feet social distancing protocol.



As local residents continue sheltering in place, Escalon City Council members are handling business through virtual meetings. The latest City Council session, on May 4, featured the council gathering on one screen but from different locations. City Manager Tammy Alcantor said the meeting also had two people ‘on hand’ for the public comment portion of the session; those that file a request can be called on during the meeting to get a turn at the virtual podium.

Now is the time to start tackling weed abatement and making your property fire safe. That, according to Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rick Mello, who said that this week’s hot temperatures will likely signal an early start to the fire season.

The presentation of washable, reusable masks was made at the Escalon Police Department – but other masks went across the way to City Hall and still more are available at Paddack Manor for residents there. All have been donated by the community, in an effort coordinated primarily through the Escalon Sunrise Rotary Club and the Escalon United Methodist Church.

It was a simple thing, just get a few 3D printers and go to work. Escalon-based Hogan Manufacturing, Inc., did just that recently as they began a project to produce face shields to protect local emergency services personnel during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s hard to find anything that hasn’t been impacted by COVID-19. The pandemic that has resulted in a virtual shutdown of the country over the past several weeks has left many events in limbo. That was the case this past weekend, when longtime Escalon residents Pete and Edith Vander Meulen had to cancel a previously scheduled golden anniversary celebration. Married on May 16, 1970 they were planning a big bash to mark the 50-year anniversary. But the pandemic’s shelter in place order put an end to that plan. Nonetheless, the couple was surprised on their special day by a family ‘parade’ with their grandchildren arriving at their Escalon home on the back of a restored Escalon fire truck, tooting noise makers, waving signs and shouting out congratulatory wishes.

Amelia Nevarez of Farmington has been selected to receive the prestigious title of District 5 Dairy Princess. Amelia, the daughter of Manuel and Gina Nevarez of Farmington, is a senior at Escalon High School. She’s active in the Escalon 4-H dairy group and has shown her cattle at the San Joaquin County Fair and at Cal Expo State Fair in Sacramento.

Flags were flying, but there were no official Memorial Day ceremonies this year. The COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of services in most locations, Escalon among them. However, a small group of Legion and American Legion Riders members were on hand at Burwood Cemetery on Saturday morning, May 23. The goal was to make sure that each grave marking the final resting place of a veteran had an American flag placed on it.

Leaders for the Class of 2020 at Escalon High School were announced as Valedictorian Gloria Rodriguez and Salutatorian Christian Davalos-Gutierrez. There are about 170 seniors in the graduating class, with over 70 students receiving scholarships.



On what would have been their graduation day, May 29, instead of marching into Engel Field to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, the EHS grads drove into the high school parking lot as music played and teachers, aides, counselors and administrators cheered them on. “It’s sad but they deserve something,” said math teacher Shellie Legler, as she waved and shouted encouragement to her students. “They need a sendoff.” Each student coming through received a special gift bag that included a Class of 2020 T-shirt, notes from teachers, gift cards and more.

Shortly after the first case of West Nile Virus was reported in neighboring Stanislaus County, the first positive case has been recorded for San Joaquin County as well. The information was released on Thursday, June 4. San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District’s (District) mosquito-borne disease surveillance program confirmed a West Nile virus (WNV) positive bird found in zip code 95219, the Stockton area.

One person brought a sign indicating “This is Not a Riot” and, true to that message, it was a peaceful protest in Escalon on Saturday, June 6. The rally and march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement saw dozens turn out to hear some guest speakers and follow a march route that covered a portion of Main Street, on to First, turned on McHenry and then on to Highway 120 briefly before heading back to the park. Officials estimated the crowd at between 125 to 150 people and the event grew out of response to the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month and is one of several similar rallies going on across the country. Coordinator Trinity Suriano, a 2016 Escalon High School graduate, brought in some guest speakers and worked with city officials to map out the march route.

A longtime City of Escalon employee – starting initially with Public Works and later moving into the Police Department – Robert ‘Rob’ Lackey has been named the city’s new Chief of Police. “Last Thursday night (June 4), the City Council and I conducted interviews for the Chief of Police. On Friday morning, I offered the position to Sgt. Robert Lackey, who accepted,” explained City Manager Tammy Alcantor. Lackey’s appointment is effective July 1, 2020.

The San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) this past week announced the release of new guidance for local schools as they prepare to enter the 2020-2021 academic year. The guidance was developed in close collaboration with the county’s 14 school district superintendents and approved by the San Joaquin County Public Health Officer. The SJCOE document – 2020-2021 School Year Planning: A Guide to Address the Challenges of COVID-19 – is intended to be used as a tool for schools and districts to reopen while minimizing health risks as they develop and implement their own plans for the new school year. “We are working on our reopening plan which aligns with the county plan and follows the California Department of Public Health Guidelines,” noted Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa. “We plan on finalizing that by the beginning of July.”


Next week, a review of top stories, July through December.

Volunteer firefighter/EMT Sofia Martinez smiles as she approaches a vehicle stopped in the intersection, the driver ready to make a donation to the Fill the Boot drive in Farmington over the weekend. Sunday, Feb. 9 was the busiest day, with over $8000 collected that day alone. Marg Jackson/The Times
Hopping out of her vehicle to pose for a quick photo with the 2020 sign was Giselle Pulido, one of nearly 175 EHS seniors who attended the drive-thru graduation ceremony on Friday morning, May 29. Marg Jackson/The Times