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Second Half Of 2022 Top Stories Featured
Year In Review
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Senior Gianna Bava, right, collapses into the arms of her teammates as they share a group hug, Bava notching the kill that gave Escalon a 15-11 win and the Section title in Division 3 playoff action on Saturday night, Nov. 5 at Modesto Junior College. Marg Jackson/The Times

The 100th year for Escalon’s own Park Fete celebration, the selection of a new Chief of Police, and banner seasons for Escalon High School’s varsity volleyball and football teams were among the top stories covered by The Times for the second half of 2022.

This week, we wrap up our look back at the year just completed, with July through December in focus for the Year In Review.



After a career that spanned more than 20 years, Escalon Police Chief Rob Lackey has retired. The retirement took effect as of July 1, 2022; he started with the city in the Public Works Department and ended his tenure as the Chief of Police. Lackey said he leaves with nothing but good feelings for the city, having started here in 2000. “I was in Public Works first, from 2000 to 2007, and did everything from the treatment plant, the street department, a water operator,” Lackey explained.

Escalon Presbyterian Church on First Street welcomed dozens of youngsters back to its Vacation Bible School this past week. Hosted from Monday, June 27 through Friday, July 1, theme for the 2022 VBS was Rocky Railway, featuring the slogan Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through.

The Escalon Community Pool is unable to be opened this summer, officials have announced, due to a lack of certified lifeguards. City Manager Dominique Romo said they tried to get enough lifeguards to provide the needed level of staffing at the pool to safely open, but fell short of the number necessary. “Instead, staff has been directed by the Council to work with surrounding cities’ public pools,” Romo explained. “Riverbank and Oakdale pools will provide vouchers for those residents of the Escalon Unified School District who would like to swim at their pools for this summer season.”

Effective Monday, Aug. 1, Gustavo ‘Gus’ Flores will take over the top spot in the Escalon Police Department. The current sergeant has been tapped as the city’s next Chief of Police and will officially begin the job in August. “I felt so much joy; just extremely happy,” Flores said of being offered the position. “I’m grateful for them (City Council) giving me the opportunity to be Chief of Police, to represent the City of Escalon.” He started his career with Escalon some 23 years ago, arriving here in 1999.

Hosting a series of art camps for the summer, the Happy Artists Children’s Creative Studio was humming with activity over the last several weeks. Owner Alicia Johnson welcomed dozens of area youngsters to her McHenry Avenue location, wrapping up the hectic summer schedule this past week with a unicorn-themed art camp. The camps ran Tuesday through Friday, with both a morning and afternoon session offered.



Four seats on the Escalon City Council will be up for election in November; three full four-year terms are available, along with a two-year term, remaining on a vacated four-year term. The terms of Mayor Ed Alves, Mayor Pro Tem Robert Swift, councilman Peter Krumeich and councilman Andy Hagan – who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Laugero when he ran for the post of Stanislaus County District Attorney in the June primary election – will be on the ballot on Nov. 8, 2022.

Two new reserves and one new volunteer have been added to the roster for the Escalon Fire Department, officially starting their orientation. Fire Chief Rick Mello said the new reserves are fire academy graduates, while the new volunteer did not attend the academy but is ready and eager to learn all the skills required. Volunteers must live within the boundaries of the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District while reserves live outside the fire district borders. The new reserves are Jordan Kron and Zack Tamburrino; the new volunteer is Elijah Sherington-Lester.

With one last minute stop added on at the end of the evening, the 2022 edition of National Night Out in Escalon featured nine locations for the first responders/city officials caravan to visit. First up was Saron Lutheran Church at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 2, followed by additional 15-minute visits at eight more locations around the city.

At first it was just a dream … but organizers firmed it up into an idea, which then turned in to an actual event. Coordinated by Margy Sawyer with a team of volunteers, the inaugural Escalon Presbyterian Church backpack and supplies giveaway was hosted at the church on First Street on Saturday, Aug. 6. After deciding it was something they definitely wanted to do, the team behind the giveaway worked to collect 100 backpacks and fill them with needed supplies.

It was the best of everything that makes Escalon what it is: a small, close-knit community that focuses on family. And there was something for everyone at the annual Park Fete celebration, which marked its 100th anniversary this year. Festivities began with the luncheon for Senior Mr. and Mrs. Escalon Tom and Sally Hale on Tuesday, Aug. 2. Incoming Escalon High School senior Isabella Nalbandian captured the title of Miss Escalon on Wednesday evening, Aug. 3 and on Thursday, Aug. 4 it was the Little Miss and Mr. Escalon pageant, with Jezebel Pires and Lincoln McManis chosen as the young royalty. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 5 and 6, brought entertainment, food, beverages, merchandise booths, rides, games and more to downtown for the special centennial edition of Park Fete.

High school teacher, varsity football head coach and now, Athletic Director. Andrew Beam has added another duty to his repertoire, taking over the A.D. role from Nate Bartelink during the summer. “When I found out that Nate was going to submit his resignation, I decided to apply,” Beam explained. The EHS alum said it was important for him to make sure the connection between sports, the community and the school remain strong, as it is such a symbiotic relationship. “Sports are very important to this community,” Beam said, feeling that as a longtime resident, he can make sure those ties are kept intact.

Across all campuses within the Escalon Unified School District, school bells rang out on Thursday morning, Aug. 11. School was in session for the new year, the 2022-2023 edition, with students and teachers alike returning to classrooms with no masking requirements, no one-way arrows on school hallway floors to minimize student interaction. COVID-19 protocols that had been in place – originally in full force and then slowly scaling back – since early 2020 have been lifted, allowing for a more ‘normal’ start to the year. A new District Superintendent, Ricardo Chavez, is at the helm and the year also saw teachers at Dent, Van Allen, Collegeville and Farmington welcoming a new class of kindergarten students, starting their school careers.

There will be plenty of choices for local voters come November; as nine candidates have qualified for the Escalon City Council race. Five of the candidates filed for the three available four-year terms on the council; four people are seeking the one available two-year unexpired term vacated by former councilman and incoming Stanislaus County District Attorney Jeff Laugero. Those that qualified to run for the four-year terms are: incumbents Ed Alves, Peter Krumeich and Andrew Hagan, who is currently filling the Laugero post. He chose, however, to seek a full four-year term. Joining the incumbents on the ballot will be Malinda Walker and Jeremy Engle. Seeking the two-year term are Kurt Danziger, Sherry Hill, Elsa Sandoval and Shawn Strohman.

Friday night proved two things. Escalon is not afraid of anybody on the gridiron. And their community is behind them 100 percent. In a contest likened to David vs. Goliath, the Cougars hosted the Buchanan Bears from Clovis on Aug. 26, the visitors coming in as one of the top teams in the state. The Cougar fans got their money’s worth and more, as the game went into overtime before Buchanan escaped Escalon with a win, taking a 41-40 decision, converting the extra point after an overtime touchdown to seal the victory. “This was one of the best high school football games I’ve ever been a part of,” head coach Andrew Beam said. The coach also pointed out that while most of the Escalon players go both ways, playing both offense and defense, none of the Buchanan players had to do that. “Our guys were dead tired but they found a way to get back out there; they gave every ounce they had, left everything out there on the field,” Beam said, adding he couldn’t have been prouder of his team and was grateful to the community for making it a night to remember.

Temperatures that could soar past 110 degrees are possible over the weekend, prompting the National Weather Service to issue an excessive heat watch for the region. The excessive heat watch will be in effect from Saturday morning, Sept. 3 through Monday evening, Sept. 5. The predicted high heat could put a damper on plans for the long Labor Day holiday.



Friday, Sept. 9 featured a pair of events, focusing on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This year was the 21st anniversary of that day that led to the War on Terror and ceremonies at the Escalon Fire Department along with a unique presentation by students at Escalon High School brought the 9/11 events and aftermath into focus.

News of the Sept. 11 passing of longtime Escalon teacher and coach Greg Largent stunned the community; he never recovered after being hospitalized following a heart attack in late August and his loss left hearts throughout the community of Escalon and beyond broken.

Crowned as the first runner-up in the Miss Escalon pageant in August, senior Jessica Toledo-Pantoja has followed that up with an even bigger crown – named as the Escalon High School Homecoming Queen on Friday night, Sept. 16. She received her crown, cape, bouquet of flowers and signed 2022 football as part of the halftime festivities at the varsity game. Pantoja, a cheerleader, was one of five candidates in the running for the Queen’s crown. Other nominees were Bailey Dugo, Faye Hernandez, Emily Vickers and Makayla Wentzell.

Former players, colleagues and assistant coaches all turned out for a work day on Saturday morning, Sept. 24 at Escalon High School, cleaning up and beautifying the varsity baseball field. The field will be the site for a Celebration of Life on Saturday, Oct. 1 for the late Greg Largent, a longtime teacher and coach with the Escalon Unified School District. The event on Saturday is open to all and runs from 10 a.m. to noon. Come and share stories and memories, bring your baseball glove and wear your school gear.

It was a sellout … and a crowd of roughly 500 gathered in downtown Escalon on Saturday night, Sept. 24 to enjoy the Chamber of Commerce Wine and Brew Stroll. With 400 tickets sold for a successful event last year, there were 500 sold for the 2022 edition, and all those sold, as people seized the opportunity to get out and mingle. The stroll venue stretched from First to Fourth streets along Main, adjacent to the Main Street Park, with some food vendors, lots of hors d’oeuvres served up by local businesses, and a wide variety of wine and beer being poured.



A tradition now three decades old, the annual Citywide Yard Sale in Escalon welcomed visitors from throughout the area on Saturday, Oct. 1. This was the 30th event and sales were set up in every corner of the community. Crowd numbers appeared to be down slightly, and traffic wasn’t as congested as it has been in past years but many shoppers were delighted to be out looking for bargains.

With 49 teams registered – and the majority of them setting up on site – the Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County surged past the $110,000 fundraising mark over the second weekend in October. The $125,000 goal is in reach, as officials said some sponsorship money is still coming in and participants can continue fundraising for the next few weeks before the official ‘close out’ of the fundraising year. Hosted for the second year at John Thurman Field in Modesto, the 24-hour Relay brought together those who previously participated in the Oakdale, Modesto and Turlock events, combining for the one large, regional Relay For Life. Oakdale, Riverbank and Escalon were all represented in addition to teams and participants from the larger Modesto and Turlock communities. Relay is the signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society.

An 18-year-old from Escalon, shot during an attempted armed robbery on Monday evening, Oct. 10 in the city underwent surgery and was reported in serious but stable condition on Tuesday morning. Escalon Police Chief Gus Flores said the victim, a female employee at Family Dollar on Jackson Avenue, sustained multiple gunshot wounds and the armed assailant then fled the scene.

In the interest of providing a wider array of services, members of the Escalon City Council voted 5-0 previously to partner with the City of Oakdale, with that city’s police department taking on animal control services. The vote by the Escalon council was 5-0 in favor of the change, which takes effect in November.

As part of a special dinner and program hosted by the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 at the Robert Cabral Ag Center in Stockton, six new members were inducted into the San Joaquin County Agricultural Hall of Fame. The 2022 Hall of Fame Inductees were: Benjamin “Ben” Beam of Escalon (Posthumous), Bruce Fry, Rudy Maggio, Diana Muller, Jim Tanaka and Sam Tanaka.

They started out with plenty of projects … and they ended up with even more to do. Volunteers with the Escalon Strong community outreach fanned out across the Almond Grove mobile home park along Jackson Avenue in Escalon on Saturday, Oct. 22 to handle a variety of tasks for residents of the park. There was gutter cleaning, installation of motion detector lights, some safety strip installations, gate repair and more. Plenty of pruning and weeding also kept crews busy with yard work.



Escalon Christian Reformed Church was the setting for a fun and festive Harvest Party on Saturday, Oct. 29, just head of the Halloween holiday. With many of the kids and adults attending in costume, there were games and prizes, pony rides, a bounce house, face painting, plenty of candy, and a hot dog dinner.

On match point, it couldn’t have been a better combination. Senior co-captain Emily Vickers dug out the ball served up by Christian Brothers, teammate and fellow co-captain senior Rylie Lattig set the ball and senior Gianna ‘G-Money’ Bava lived up to her nickname, slamming home the game-winning kill. When the ball hit the floor to nail down the 15-11 victory in a five-set marathon, the Lady Cougars on the volleyball court collapsed as one, exhausted and at the same time exhilarated. They won the Sac-Joaquin Section blue banner in the two-hour match at Modesto Junior College on Saturday night, Nov. 5 with scores of 21-25, 25-17, 20-25, 25-23, 15-11. It was the third straight Section title for Escalon, with the 2019 and 2021 crowns coming in Division 4. There were no playoffs due to COVID in 2020 and, after winning two D4 crowns, the varsity girls were moved up to Division 3 for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs this year. They went into the playoffs as the top seed, coming off a 12-0 league campaign, undefeated champions in the Trans-Valley League.

A good-sized crowd lined both sides of Escalon’s Main Street on Friday morning, Nov. 11 as the community turned out to observe Veterans Day. Starting with the annual parade, stepping off at 10:30 a.m., the Escalon American Legion Post 263 Cologuard led the way, followed by this year’s Grand Marshal, veteran and Post member John Blowers. The parade stopped briefly at the historic caboose in Main Street Park for a flag ceremony, then continued on its way.

The victim in an Oct. 10 attempted robbery and shooting at Escalon’s Family Dollar is at home recovering, while two suspects have now been arrested in connection with the case. The two – 34-year-old Andre Brooks and 33-year-old Brian Sewell – were arrested Nov. 9 for the Escalon incident as well as similar robberies in Oakdale, Waterford and Stockton. “It was a collaborative effort,” Escalon Police Chief Gustavo Flores said following the arrests, noting that other agencies involved were the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, Stockton Police Department and Oakdale Police Department. Multiple felony charges were filed against Brooks and Sewell, including attempted murder and robbery.

This year’s Operation Christmas Child effort in Escalon concluded successfully, with the last of the boxes dropped off at the collection site, Heritage Church, on Monday, Nov. 21. Coordinator Pam Mendez, overseeing the local operation for the first time this year and a volunteer with the program for many years, said more than 1,100 boxes were donated locally.

With just under 450 meals served in total, there were well over 300 home-delivered and picked up ‘to go’ while nearly 100 people dined in. The setting was the Escalon Community Center, the event the traditional Community Thanksgiving Dinner, served on Thursday, Nov. 24.

There’s no rest for the weary – but the Cougars wouldn’t have it any other way. Fresh off an historic Section title win on Saturday night, Nov. 26 against Sonora, the Division 5 Section champions will host Pleasant Valley of Chico at Engel Field on Friday, Dec. 2. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.; winner of that NorCal Division 4-AA contest moves on to play for a state title. Saturday night’s game against the Sonora Wildcats was like a heavyweight prize fight; it took all 48 minutes to decide the winner. Escalon battled back and got a pair of touchdowns in the final few minutes of the game to seal the victory.



Results for the November election have been certified by the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters. The certification came on Friday, Dec. 2 and shows three new members elected to the Escalon City Council. In the race for three available four-year terms, current councilmember Andrew Hagan received the most votes of the five candidates seeking the seats. Hagan polled 1,999 votes in the election, receiving just over 30 percent of the vote. Two newcomers to the council dais won election, with Jeremy Engle receiving 1,317 votes for just under 20 percent of the total and Malinda Walker received 1,242 votes, just under 19 percent. Walker won the third available post with just an 11-vote margin over longtime incumbent and current Mayor Ed Alves, who had 1,231 votes. There was one available short term two-year seat open on the dais as well, and that race featured four candidates. Shawn Strohman received 984 votes, just under 40 percent of the total cast, to win the seat.

The mantra has changed slightly – moving from “All Gas No Brakes” to “One More”. And if they get one more win, the Escalon varsity football team will be state champions. Coming off a 42-20 victory over visiting Pleasant Valley in the NorCal 4-AA Bowl Game on Dec. 2, the Cougars will return to Engel Field for the title contest. The game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 10 with a 6 p.m. kickoff.

A little less than two months after being seriously injured during an attempted robbery at Escalon’s Family Dollar on Jackson Avenue, the victim shot during that incident made a visit to the Escalon Police Station on Friday, Dec. 2. It was a scheduled meeting; Samantha Gammel wanted the opportunity to personally thank the officers that responded to the call that night in October, as well as those that were involved in the subsequent investigation. Ultimately, two suspects were arrested and booked into jail on charges including attempted murder and robbery, among others.

In a special swearing in ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 8, the members of the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District Board were installed for 2023. They include Joe Camara, Zach Hogan, Jason Koops, Billy Mekelburg and Mickey Schilber.

Riding a nine-game winning streak, Escalon made it 10 in a row, closing out a state championship season with a 28-7 win over the Northwood Timberwolves of Irvine. With no playoffs in the COVID year of 2020, this is Escalon’s second state title in three years. The championship game on Dec. 10 saw Escalon take a 7-0 lead, Northwood tied it at 7-7 by halftime. The Cougars, however, stepped up with a major push by the offensive line in the second half and outscored Northwood 21-0 over the third and fourth quarters, taking the victory and the state title. “It still is hard to fathom, I keep reflecting on this group … this was a challenge,” head coach Andrew Beam said. “That’s why the feeling right now is so satisfying; because of the hard work that it took.” Rain and wind, which turned the game into a sloppy mess, was no deterrent to a large and loud Escalon crowd, which cheered the Cougars on and was rewarded by being able to share in celebrating the state title.

Moving the annual Christmas on Main celebration from Saturday to Sunday – accommodating the State Championship football game hosted and won by the Escalon High School Cougars on Dec. 10 – the afternoon and early evening festivities on Sunday, Dec. 11 drew a sizeable crowd downtown to the city’s Main Street Park. Food and merchandise booths opened at 3 p.m.; there were crafts, hot chocolate, fire pits set up for the making of s’mores and entertainment on the Main Street stage. The high point of the event was the Lighted Christmas Parade, which stepped off at 5:30 p.m.

Temperatures were a little chilly … and a light fog started to drift in to the area, but that didn’t stop Santa and Mrs. Claus from making their way to Farmington on Saturday night, Dec. 17. The special guests at the annual Farmington Fire Department community holiday party, the North Pole duo left their sleigh behind and rode in on a fire truck.

During an evening where some longtime Escalon City Council members were recognized, the oath of office was also taken by newcomers to the panel. The actions came as part of the Monday night, Dec. 19 regular City Council session, with a large audience packing the council chambers on McHenry Avenue. After declaring the results of the November election as official, as provided through the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters Office, the newly elected council members were announced: Andrew Hagan, Jeremy Engle and Malinda Walker for the three available four-year terms; Shawn Strohman for a short term, two-year post. At the same meeting, Councilman Hagan nominated councilman Dave Bellinger to serve as the next mayor, pointing to his experience on the council; Shawn Strohman seconded the nomination and it passed on a 5-0 vote. Bellinger was given a standing ovation from the audience as he moved in to the mayor’s spot on the dais.

“I’m honored by this appointment, very much so,” Bellinger said. “I’m happy to serve and do what I can to help this community.”

A total of 45 local families, accounting for 131 children, had their Christmas holiday made just a little brighter, thanks to the Friday, Dec. 23 toy distribution at the Escalon fire station on Coley Avenue. The effort, coordinated by the Escalon Fire Department in cooperation with the Escalon American Legion/American Legion Riders, also sees support from Escalon Police Department and Escalon Community Ambulance, with volunteers from all those organizations stepping up to help run the distribution program. Also this year, several student-athletes from Escalon High School donated time to assist on Friday morning.

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Youngsters attending the Park Fete parade in early August enjoyed the opportunity to get up and close and personal with one of the equestrian entries; the city celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Park Fete celebration this year. Marg Jackson/The Times
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Nick Largent acknowledges the crowd along Main Street for the Fall Homecoming parade on Sept. 16; he and his older brother Steve rode in the parade in honor of their dad, Greg Largent, who was selected as this year’s Grand Marshal but passed away on Sept. 11. Greg’s sons and his four grandsons took part in the parade at the high school track during halftime festivities for the Friday night football game in Escalon as well. Marg Jackson/The Times
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Capturing the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 banner with an epic win over Sonora on Nov. 26, the Escalon varsity football team went on to win the NorCal Division 4-AA bowl title and closed out a memorable season with the Division 4-AA state championship. Marg Jackson/The Times