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Final Chapter: Closing the book on top events of 2023
A plethora of Escalon Unified School District officials, Engel Field renovation project participants and donors, students and Boosters Club officers gather for the official ribbon cutting at the long-awaited dedication and unveiling of the new Engel Field on Friday night, Oct. 20 as part of the Fall Homecoming festivities. Escalon defeated Ripon, 40-7, in the varsity football game. Marg Jackson/The Times

In this, the third and final installment of the Year in Review for The Times, we look back at the months of September through December, highlighting the top stories in and around the community.



It was the last day in business for longtime Escalon eatery, Wong’s Chinese Deli, and a surprise community farewell was hosted there on Aug. 31. Recognized on the final day were owners Hadley Wong and his wife Lai Wong, working the shift with employee Kathryn Knittel. The Wong family owned and operated the popular take-out deli for nearly three decades, employing many community members through their 29 years of business as well.

Labor Day weekend saw some people visiting area waterways and though it brought the unofficial end of summer, local fire officials are still on the lookout for wildfires and poised for the possibility of more river rescues. “I don’t know that it ever stops in California,” Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said of fire season, which now seems to be in effect all year long. “We are certainly holding our breath to get out of fire season and get to rain.”

As the popularity of electric bikes (e-bikes) continues to skyrocket, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is launching an online e-bike safety and training program to help keep commuters and recreational cyclists safe. “With the rise in popularity of e-bikes across the state, the CHP worked with Governor Newsom’s Administration, the Legislature, and key stakeholders to develop California’s first e-bike safety and training program,” said CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee. “The CHP’s program can be accessed on our website and is designed to promote safety for those who choose to ride this alternative mode of transportation.”

It was another banner year for the Escalon Lions Club, as the annual Autumn Car Cruise saw nearly 300 classics come into town on Saturday, Sept. 9. The best part, said club members, is that the funds raised through the popular show benefit graduating Escalon High School seniors, in the form of scholarships presented through the Lions Club. The annual cruise is the biggest event of the year for the club and organizers said they were very pleased with this year’s show. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been handed out in scholarships through the years.

Most of those attending a Monday morning memorial staged at the Escalon Fire Station on Coley Avenue remember where they were 22 years ago. That’s because it was Sept. 11, 2001 – the day that terrorists hijacked four planes, sending two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and one into the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania, as passengers fought back and stopped the hijackers short of their intended target. The department again hosted its annual 9-11 remembrance ceremony for the community.

A few vehicles were in the parking lot and the gas pumps were also seeing some traffic, as the new Orlando’s Market in Escalon officially had a ‘soft opening’ on Monday, Sept. 11. The 24-hour store, in the building formerly housing Big Boy Market, has undergone an extensive transformation inside and out. Officials had hoped to open last week but encountered a slight delay, although they were able to welcome customers in beginning this week to the store along Jackson Avenue.

In a new twist on a cross-county rivalry, the coveted 120 Cup is headed to Escalon. The mayors of Oakdale and Escalon agreed on establishing a perpetual trophy, as the two city’s high school football teams met this past Friday night in preseason football. Dubbed the 120 Cup, the trophy is to be presented annually, staying in the town that wins the game. For the inaugural contest on Sept. 15, it was the Cougars coming away with the 41-21 win … and the Cup. The trophy, once engraved with the score for the 2023 contest, will be displayed at Escalon High School.

It was a full agenda for members of the Escalon City Council on Monday night, Sept. 18, gathering in regular session in the council chambers on McHenry Avenue. Among the items discussed, Police Sgt. Anthony Hardgraves reported on the department’s use of an Automatic License Plate Reader, ALPR. For the month of July, the most recent month figures were available for, there were 441,272 license plates read and 62 ‘hits’ including 61 that came back as stolen license plates and one stolen vehicle. In that instance, the report noted, if only one license plate is missing and reported as lost or stolen, it typically means one license plate remains on the victim’s vehicle.

The service-based Escalon Strong organization is delving into yet another area: developing a garden designed for the community. Operating in the 2100 block of Jackson Avenue, on land donated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the new Escalon Community Garden will have planter boxes available for rent. Residents can sign up for the 12-by-4 individual garden boxes at a cost of $50 per year and grow a personal garden. There are currently a dozen planter boxes ready for renting and officials with Escalon Strong are looking at having around three dozen installed by the time they are done adding the boxes to the roughly quarter-acre site.



With more than $130,000 raised prior to the actual 24-hour Relay For Life at John Thurman Field in Modesto, the 2023 event surpassed its $150,000 fundraising goal. By the time the closing ceremony was staged on Sunday, teams involved in the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraiser had gone over $161,000, with more donations still anticipated. At press time, the total had surpassed $166,000. The combined Relay, which brought together Modesto, Oakdale and Turlock Relays, also draws in participants from some San Joaquin County communities and is classified as the Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County. This year was the third year for the larger, combined event. All the activities were at John Thurman Field, home of the Modesto Nuts, and began with a breakfast on Saturday morning, Sept. 30 followed by the official Opening Ceremony at 9 a.m., running through 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 1. The Escalon American Legion Post 263 color guard was on hand to present the colors to open the ceremony. Guest speaker Tonia Reyes offered some statistics and noted the many family members and friends she has seen battle the disease. Among them, her daughter Faith, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in elementary school. Faith and her twin sister Destiny did not attend the Relay; as Tonia explained, they were both at a cross country training camp for Escalon High School, where they are seniors this year.

An Escalon woman who serves as a cheerleading coach for an Oakdale-based travel team was arrested on Friday, Oct. 6. Escalon Police reported the arrest of Samantha Marie Silva, 34, of Escalon in connection with the case, accused of taking funds from the cheerleading bank account of the Oakdale Inferno cheer team for her personal use.

From the 713 Danielle Street address that was listed as the first entry on the citywide yard sale map to the 28000 block of Lemon Avenue out in the county that was last on the list, shoppers looking for bargains had ample opportunity to find them on Saturday. It was the citywide yard sale day, the 31st annual event, and officials said along with dozens of in-town sales for the Oct. 7 event, there were several county addresses included on the list as well, from Campbell Avenue to Seidner to Dahlin and more.

With temperatures hovering in the mid-90s, a sizeable crowd nonetheless turned out to take part in the annual Harvest on Main festival, put on through the Escalon Chamber of Commerce on Sunday, Oct. 8. Event sponsor once again was Deverie Voral, Re/Max Executive, and pumpkins for carving and decorating were donated by Van Groningen and Sons. The festivities began at 11 a.m. and also included a car decorating contest, with several classics decked out in a Halloween theme; food vendors and a variety of craft and merchandise booths; face painting, the annual costume contest for youngsters and a magician, taking the Main Street Stage for a performance at noon.

Hilmar won the toss and deferred, but that was about the only thing that seemed to go according to plan for the Yellowjackets on Friday night, as Escalon used team speed, tough defense, a little bit of razzle dazzle and a whole lot of touchdowns to upend their league rival, 49-21. The game went to a running clock to start the fourth quarter, as Escalon had built up a 49-14 lead, the 35-point differential automatically ushering in the running clock. With the Oct. 13 victory, the Cougars brought home the Vaca Bowl Trophy, introduced this season and crafted by local resident Danny Medina. It will be engraved with the year and the score and make its home in Escalon for the next year, until these teams meet in Trans-Valley League play again next season.

The Child Abuse Prevention Council of San Joaquin County (CAPC) has announced the appointment of Keenon Krick as its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO), effective Oct. 16, 2023. Krick brings a distinguished career spanning various sectors, including business, education, non-profits, and social services, making him well-suited to lead CAPC into a new era of success.

Established in 2022, the Escalon Strong organization continues to be involved in the community with a number of projects, with an overall goal of helping improve the quality of life for residents. The group is hosting its first ever Cornhole Tournament, a fundraiser, on Saturday, Oct. 21 with a 9 a.m. check-in for teams and registration being accepted the day of the event. Teams can register on Saturday for $110 and are asked to ‘B.Y.O.B’ – bring your own bags – for the competition. The Cornhole Tournament will be hosted at Hogan-Ennis Park, 1051 Escalon Ave., Escalon.

Friday night, Oct. 20 capped a busy Fall Homecoming Week at Escalon High School. It featured not only a football game against rival Ripon but also brought the long-awaited official unveiling of the newly renovated Engel Field at Memorial Stadium. New football field, scoreboard and goal posts, new track and other upgrades including a state-of-the-art drainage system, all were shown off to the community and a ribbon cutting marked the beginning of a new era. Melding the old with the new, longtime former coaches came back to crowd the east end zone to watch the game, former school teachers and administrators were on hand and legendary coach Mark Loureiro was coaxed into attending. He was an honorary captain, assisting with the coin toss at midfield, walking out with the Escalon captains prior to the contest, which saw a decisive 40-7 victory for Escalon.



After a successful year when the event was last staged in 2019 – and then a long hiatus due to COVID and associated issues – the Edible Expo returned to the Escalon Community Center on Saturday night, Oct. 28. The turnout for the fundraiser, with proceeds benefitting the Escalon Educational Foundation, was good, and organizers said they were generally very pleased with the event. The EEF puts all the money it raises back into the school system, in the form of grants and scholarships for students throughout the Escalon Unified School District.

The Trans-Valley League football title has returned to Escalon. With a regular season finale victory on the road at Livingston by a decisive 49-21 margin, the Cougars completed a 5-0 league season and claimed the outright TVL title. They are now 9-1 overall and have a first week bye in the playoffs on Nov. 3. Varsity head coach Andrew Beam said this year’s title is special, in that some teams will be leaving the TVL next season due to realignment, while others will be added. “It’s kind of like ‘the originals’ and winning an outright TVL title is an accomplishment,” the coach said. “It makes us the 25-time league champions and that is a testament to our history, our community that supports us and the tradition of Escalon football.”

It was a night of celebration at a special dinner hosted at the Robert Cabral Ag Center in Stockton. There, six new members were inducted into the San Joaquin County Agricultural Hall of Fame. The 2023 San Joaquin Agricultural Hall of Fame Inductees were: Dr. Marit Arana, A.L. Gilbert Company; Eugene “Gene” Wallom, Lodi Farming Inc.; Marden Wilbur, Lane Ranches; Edward “Eddie” Alfred Zuckerman, Zuckerman Family Farms; and posthumous honorees Marc R. Marchini and Chester “Bud” Rolland Murphy.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District is expected to be well positioned for the 2024 irrigation season regardless of what Mother Nature does this winter. That’s thanks to last year’s wet winter that left New Melones Reservoir storage at 1.9 million acre feet when SSJID ended its irrigation season on Oct. 29. That is within 700,000 acre feet of the highest flood storage level it can be at for this time of year which is 78 percent of the reservoir’s 2.4 million acre foot capacity or 1.97 million acre feet.

Elijah Armendariz is packing his suitcase for a trip to Walt Disney World. The five-year-old kindergarten student at Dent Elementary – who is also a cancer survivor – will be traveling with his family to Florida courtesy of the Make A Wish Foundation, which granted his wish to visit the iconic theme park.

The purple and gold of the Escalon Cougars served as a backdrop; the red and white of the Nebraska Huskers was front and center. Escalon High School senior Macie Vickers officially signed to play collegiate softball at Nebraska next year, following graduation from EHS. The three-sport star for the Cougars was feted at a signing ceremony staged in the new gym on the campus the afternoon of Nov. 8, with family, friends, coaches and teammates from school teams and her travel softball squad, Love The Game, all on hand.

Whether it was the parade through the center of town or the patriotic music at the Escalon Community Center, residents turned out to show their appreciation for local veterans on Saturday, Nov. 11. Activities for the Veterans Day observance began with the 10:30 a.m. parade, which was led by the Escalon American Legion Post 263 colorguard, followed by Grand Marshal Bill Bennett. He enjoyed the opportunity to wave to the crowd lining Main Street for the Saturday morning parade.

Shoeboxes full of items and bags full of groceries were in abundance this past week in Escalon. The Operation Christmas Child effort, which collects shoeboxes full of small toys, toiletries, school supplies and more for underprivileged children, saw more than 1,100 boxes dropped off at Heritage Church, the local collection site. Meanwhile, the Stuff the Bus effort, collecting food items to help stock the shelves of the local food pantry, Escalon C.A.R.E. Center, benefited from community donations as well.

Before the Escalon offense even got on the field Friday night, Nov. 24 at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, they were looking at a 14-0 deficit. It was not the best of starts for the Cougars as they faced off in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 final against the Patterson Tigers. Escalon, moved up to D4 this season for the playoffs due to past success in D5, went in as the number one seed while Patterson was the number three seed. But it was the Tigers who seemed to be trending in the right direction in the early going. Taking the opening kickoff, the Tigers displayed a combination of speed, strength, agility and athleticism in putting points on the board on their first possession. It took less than three minutes, with the Tigers getting an 8-yard rushing touchdown and the point after to take the early 7-0 lead. In the end, though, a comeback for the Cougars, capped off by a 2-point conversion in the closing seconds by quarterback Donovan Rozevink, sealed a 36-35 win for Escalon. It was the 12th Section football title in school history, on their 18th trip to a Section final.



Collection boxes are out, distributed throughout the community, as the Escalon Fire Department works to collect toys for a December holiday giveaway. Firefighters earlier staged a one-day sign-up for the program. It is open to those residents in need who reside within the boundaries of the Escalon Fire District who otherwise would have a hard time providing toys for their children for Christmas. The boxes are set up for the collection of new, unwrapped toys.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors broke ground on Nov. 29 for the new medical examiner and morgue facility. The new facility will replace the current morgue facility at the Sheriff’s Office Complex in French Camp. “The Board of Supervisors wants to ensure the San Joaquin County Medical Examiner’s office remains up to date, with proper space and equipment to allow them to best serve the residents of our county,” commented Board Chairman Robert Rickman. “The medical examiner’s work is vital for the families of San Joaquin County, whether it is to pursue justice or closure for those who have lost a loved one. This new space will provide the best possible environment for both our employees and the members of the public we are committed to serve.”

It was a different feeling, something they hadn’t experienced in a long time. Escalon lost a football game on Friday night, Dec. 1. And it ended their season. After losing one game in the preseason, the varsity Cougars didn’t lose again until falling to powerful Acalanes High School in the NorCal Division 3-AA contest in Lafayette on Dec. 1. The Cougars were 4-1 in the preseason; they went 5-0 through the Trans-Valley League to claim the league title; then they won three games in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 playoffs, coming home with the Section title. The team, as part of ‘competitive equity,’ was moved up to Division 4 for the Sections and nonetheless came home with the blue banner, the third one for a group of seniors who have been on the varsity since their sophomore year. Those players are Gio Chavez, Anthony Jones, Jamin Miller and Donovan Rozevink. It also was the third for junior Ryan Lewis, who has played at the varsity level since his freshman year. Escalon couldn’t overcome the speed and precision with which Acalanes played the game, losing by a 49-14 decision. Acalanes now moves on to play for the state 3-AA title.

It’s the season of giving and Escalon Fire Department officials were giving thanks for a couple of reasons this past week. First, they recognized the efforts of San Joaquin County Supervisor Robert Rickman, who represents Escalon in District 5, for helping secure grant funding for the department. And the members of the Escalon Fire Board announced the signing of a new contract with current Fire Chief Rick Mello, keeping him on the job.

There was already a line of people waiting to get in 6:15 p.m. Doors at the Farmington firehouse, at the corner of Highway 4 and Escalon-Bellota Road, weren’t scheduled to open until 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 15. The event was the annual Farmington Community Christmas, which is staged annually at the fire station. When the doors were opened, attendees could enjoy some holiday music and also choose from a wide selection of homemade Christmas cookies, brownies, and other treats. There was also fruit punch, coffee, hot cider and hot chocolate offered. But the real stars of the evening arrived a bit later. With everyone enjoying the snacks, the main doors were opened and the fire siren could be heard, signaling the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus. They were brought to the firehouse aboard the Farmington fire engine, with youngsters and their parents congregating in front of the firehouse to greet the duo from the North Pole.

A longtime holiday tradition played out on the stage at Dent Elementary School in Escalon just before the Christmas/New Year break. And once again, it was a hit. Second grade classes joined forces to perform The Nutcracker, with three separate shows offered. The first performance was on Friday, Dec. 15 at 9 a.m., with the second staged on Monday, Dec. 18 at 9 a.m. Those were for the other elementary grades at Dent while the finale was a show specifically for families of the Dent students, performed in front of a packed house on Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 9 a.m. The Nutcracker trio of shows helped wrap up the calendar year for the students.

As residents all across the state prepare to usher in a new year, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is ramping up efforts to help ensure the safety of all road users, while reducing the number of deadly crashes on the state’s roadways. Beginning at 6:01 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 29, the CHP will implement a statewide Maximum Enforcement Period (MEP), which will continue through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. The CHP conducted a similar enforcement effort during the recent Christmas holiday.

People swarm in to this location at the intersection of California and Irwin to take a look at the variety of items up for sale during Saturday’s citywide yard sale day, Oct. 7. Shoppers had plenty to peruse here and there were dozens of sales scattered throughout the city. Marg Jackson/The Times
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Attending the Veterans Day program at the Community Center on Saturday, Nov. 11 was parade Grand Marshal Bill Bennett, accompanied by his wife Toni. He has been a member of the Escalon American Legion Post for more than 10 years. Marg Jackson/The Times
At halftime of the varsity football game on Friday night, Oct. 20, senior Hannah Wampler was crowned as the 2023 Homecoming Queen and shares the moment here with younger sister Rebecca, dad Miles and mom Lucy. Marg Jackson/The Times