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No Slowdown For Years Second Half
A Look Back
All smiles and loaded down with gifts, including a signed football and a crown, Grace Fitzgerald was named the 2017 Homecoming Queen for Escalon High School on Friday night, Oct. 13. Marg Jackson/The Times

From the near triple digit heat of July’s Park Fete to a finale on the football field almost 30 years in the making, there was no shortage of front page news for the second half of the year. Following are the top stories for July to December, taken from the pages of The Times.



Temperatures may have reached the mid-90s on Sunday, but that didn’t stop a large crowd from turning out for an early Fourth of July celebration. Hosted at Hogan-Ennis Park adjacent to the city’s Community Center on July 2, the gathering was sponsored by the Escalon Covenant Church and was open to all in the community.

As the fire season kicks into high gear – fueled by heavy vegetation and recent triple digit heat – Escalon firefighters are on high alert, and their numbers have also been bulked up for the season. The addition of seasonal paid firefighters means that the department will have a minimum of three staff members on all shifts, with the Coley Avenue station manned 24/7.

Temperatures that peaked near triple digits may have kept the crowd numbers down a little bit this year, but those that turned out for the city’s annual Park Fete celebration found plenty to enjoy. From the cornhole tournament and musical entertainment on Friday night to the parade and non-stop activity on Saturday, the annual Escalon summer celebration went off well. Grace Stime was selected as the new Miss Escalon.

For the second time this summer, the Escalon community pool was filled with novice scuba divers on Saturday, as the local Aquatic Discount Scuba hosted an introduction to scuba. The first session was in June, with a second class offered on July 29 and instructor Michael Dodge said he truly enjoys putting on the introductory course and sharing his love of scuba diving with the community.



Classes will start for the 2017-18 school year on Wednesday, Aug. 9 in the Escalon Unified School District. The district includes Escalon High School, Vista High, El Portal Middle School, Gateway Academy and four elementary school sites: Dent, Collegeville, Farmington and Van Allen. District Superintendent Ron Costa said the administrative team is in place and ready for the start of what should prove to be another successful year.

More than 340 new West Nile Virus-positive mosquito samples were collected across California in the past week, including several in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District Public Information Officer Aaron Devencenzi said residents still need to be vigilant in protecting against mosquitoes as we wind through the late summer and early fall months.

Over a six-month period, dating back to last December, over $15,000 worth of equipment went missing from the Escalon Unified School District. Now, with the arrest of a district IT specialist, authorities hope those thefts are in the past. Escalon Police reported the arrest of Thomas O’Hare, 31, in connection with the string of thefts. Some of the previously reported stolen property, police said, was located at his home.

Crews have been busy and unusual looking structures have been going up on campuses throughout the Escalon Unified School District over the past several weeks. In some instances, the structures are showing up in parking lots, in other cases, in corners of land previously used as playing fields. But the structures, though difficult to discern in the earliest stages, will bring in plenty of savings to the school district through the use of solar energy. The solar arrays are in various stages of completion all around the district, and school officials said the work is going well.



Numbers were down slightly – with just a handful under 300 cars on display – but the 24th edition of the Escalon Lions Club Autumn Cruise nonetheless went off well on Saturday, Sept. 9. The weather was the best it has been in the past few years, with sunny skies, moderate temperatures – they didn’t reach triple digits – and a light breeze. Visitors and classic car owners jammed the city’s Main Street Park for the event.

Firefighters, police officers, EMTs and members of the community gathered for a solemn ceremony on Monday morning, marking 16 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In a ceremony staged outside the Escalon Fire Station on Coley Avenue, Fire Chief Rick Mello welcomed attendees and said it is important to continue gathering on the anniversary of the day that changed the nation. “It has been called our generation’s Pearl Harbor,” he said of the attacks. “It’s a day we can never forget.”

Back in 2013, Escalon resident Joann Van Vliet did something she never thought she would do – join a bicycle tour, riding coast to coast. Not only did she do it once; now the local has done it again. This time, the tour took her north of the border, with most of the ride done in Canada. In 2013, the Sea to Sea tour was across the United States, spending 10 days in Canada. This year, it was just the opposite, with the tour across Canada, dipping down into the U.S. for 10 days.

The San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG) is updating its Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy to reflect the needs of a growing region. Officials of the COG note that transportation is what connects us to people, places, and opportunities. Whether you get around by walking, biking, riding public transit, or driving – the regional plan will look at all types of transportation and how it will shape communities in San Joaquin County.



Temperatures overnight Friday into early Saturday morning were a bit on the chilly side. For several dozen students camped out on the Escalon High School football field, it provided a bit of an awakening. The students, from EHS and several other schools in San Joaquin County and the surrounding area, settled in for a night of simulating homelessness, constructing shelters out of cardboard boxes, bringing in sleeping bags and blankets for a campout with a purpose. The goal of the annual “Kids in a Box” program is to raise money for the Haven of Peace women and children’s shelter in San Joaquin County and to raise awareness at the local level regarding the homeless issue.

While there aren’t a huge number of driving under the influence – DUI – arrests made during the course of a year in Escalon, there are enough to warrant some recognition from MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This year, a plaque was presented to Officer Carl Poortinga, who had the most DUI arrests of regular patrol officers. He had four solo DUI arrests during the reporting period for the MADD program, and assisted on a fifth.

More sales – and more shoppers – appeared to be the order of the day on Saturday, with the annual Escalon Citywide Yard Sale a major success. Every corner of the city seemed to offer a plethora of sales and people were out and about early on Saturday morning, Oct. 7 looking for the best deals. Yard sale hours were officially 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. This year marked the 25th anniversary year for the citywide sale and it was one of the best in recent memory, according to those running some of the sales.

Joint efforts between the Ripon Fire District and the Escalon Community Ambulance Service are expected to result in better service for the region. “For the last several months RCFD and ECA have been joining forces to better serve both communities by pooling resources,” explained Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters. As part of the arrangement, an Escalon Community Ambulance rig has been posting at a RCFD station that is located between the two jurisdictions, Bitters explained, resulting in better coverage for both areas.

A member of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department Patrol Division, Escalon High School alum Adam Herrero has been assigned as the new Community Car deputy for the local area. He graduated from Escalon High School in 2003 and has been with the sheriff’s department for the past 10 years. He was introduced as the new deputy sheriff on patrol for the Escalon area at a barbecue meet and greet hosted at a home on Dahlin Road, in the rural area just outside the city, on Oct. 11.

Capping off the week with a huge win on the playing field, the Escalon community also welcomed a new Homecoming Queen on Friday night at Engel Field. The Homecoming Week festivities wrapped up with the naming of Grace Fitzgerald as the new queen, crowned at halftime of the varsity football game against Mountain House. The Cougars went on to win by a final score of 49-34, completing the sweep as the JV won their game as well, putting the finishing touches on a successful celebration.

The first of what organizers hope will be an annual event, the Escalon Rocks #Kindness Matters rock painting gathering hosted at Hogan Park on Saturday, Oct. 28 saw dozens of participants join in to paint rocks. From Halloween themed rocks to minions to patriotic rocks to versions of famous paintings, the idea behind it was to offer a relaxing, fun activity. If some of those rocks included uplifting messages and were placed around the community for others to find, so much the better.



Saturday was sunny and clear, with a little bit of a November chill in the air … but that didn’t stop the crowd from turning out for a couple of special events around the Escalon community. In fact, Saturday, Nov. 11 featured plenty of local observances for Veterans Day, starting with a downtown parade at 10:30 a.m.

Escalon could be getting some relief from low-flying planes. A Monday night meeting, Nov. 13, saw some city officials, a couple of council members, a Stockton Municipal airport official, representatives from the FAA and more gather for the session at Escalon City Hall, with Congressman Jeff Denham helping coordinate the meeting. Councilman Ed Alves, a driving force behind seeking action on the low-flying planes over the city, said he came out of the session feeling positive. “They said they were willing to mitigate it,” Alves noted of airport officials. “I told them I don’t want to mitigate it, I want to stop it.”

In a career that has spanned nearly three decades coaching varsity football at Escalon High School, Mark Loureiro racked up 281 wins. And for each win, each season, special memories are a part of the package. The head coach stalked the sidelines in that role for the final time on Friday night, Nov. 17 as the Cougars hosted Hilmar in a semifinal match in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI football playoffs. For the Escalon squad, hopes of a Section title finish for their coach fell in a 41-38 final to the Yellowjackets. Loureiro finished his career with 281 wins, 69 losses and one tie.

Escalon’s C.A.R.E. Center, Community Action Resources of Escalon, has settled in to some comfortable new surroundings. They have moved a little further down Second Street, vacating the spot they had been using at the Escalon American Legion Hall for years, moving in to a building at the corner of Second and Coley, 1601 Second St., that previously housed a few different businesses.

Escalon’s Community Center was humming with activity on Thanksgiving Day. From those who came in to dine on a traditional holiday meal to those packing up the boxes for home delivery, there was a festive feel to the day. Wednesday, student chefs from the Modesto Institute of Technology, culinary division, were busy for several hours getting the turkeys cooked, sliced and preparing many of the side dishes to serve as part of the feast.



For years he has been the ‘face’ of Escalon Community Ambulance. Not to mention its heart. ECA Chief Mike Pitassi has now stepped out of that role, officially retiring on Friday, Dec. 1, leaving behind a legacy of service and commitment at the local ambulance service. When he retired at 5 p.m. on Dec. 1, it marked 30 years exactly that Pitassi had served as leader of Escalon Community Ambulance.

With the recent departure of Milt Medeiros to take the position of Police Chief in Gustine, the Escalon Police Department lost one of its sergeants. Monday night, it gained a new one. Longtime officer Robert Lackey was promoted to sergeant and had his badge pinned on him by fellow officer Gustavo Flores in a presentation before the Escalon City Council on Dec. 4.

An Unmanned Aerial System – more commonly known as a drone – has officially been put into service in the Escalon Police Department. First utilized earlier this month at the city’s Christmas On Main event downtown, officers that had received training in the use of the drone were able to deploy it for an overhead view of the parade and festivities.

As work continues on the McHenry Avenue Improvement Project, officials are issuing an alert for delays along the corridor this week. The message from the Improve McHenry team indicated that delays can be expected at the McHenry Avenue and River Road intersection on both Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 20 and 21, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The delay is due to construction crews in the area that will be installing temporary striping and traffic barriers along McHenry Avenue near Meyers Road.

In what has become an annual tradition, the second grade classes at Dent Elementary School have helped send a ‘taste of home’ to soldiers serving overseas and those across the country that won’t be able to get home for the holidays. Teacher Katie Bartelink helps spearhead the effort and said all the second grade classes at the local elementary school take part. They bring in donations to help fill the boxes that get sent out in time for the holidays, offering notes and cards of thanks as well to those serving in the military.

Escalon Fire Department, in cooperation with the Escalon American Legion Post, concluded a successful 2017 toy drive by distributing gifts for nearly 100 local youngsters on Saturday.

The goal was to help provide a happy holiday for those who might not otherwise have too many gifts under the family tree on Christmas morning. “We had 38 families sign up, accounting for 94 children,” said Escalon Fire Department Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro, who coordinates the effort.

The local Big Boy Market, on Jackson Avenue, remains open as 2017 gives way to 2018 and owners are continuing with a 30 percent off sale but are also doing some re-stocking of the shelves as talks are ongoing with prospective buyers for the market in hopes of keeping it open well into the New Year and beyond. They are building the inventory back up slowly and said the store will be open for the foreseeable future.