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Second Half Of Year Brings Remembrance And Success
2021 Review - Part 2
flags 911
With many clutching American flags, attendees listen to one of two songs played during the 9/11 memorial observance hosted at the Escalon fire station on Coley Avenue on Saturday, which was the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Marg Jackson/The Times

From Escalon High teams seeing success on the volleyball court and football field, a return of the annual Park Fete celebration, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks – the second half of 2021 provided plenty of stories from in and around the Escalon area. Here are some of the top headlines from July through December, as published in The Times.



After more than three decades, Carla Travaille has delivered her last letter and dropped off her last package. The longtime Escalon Post Office Rural Route 1 mail carrier worked her final day on the route on June 30, entering retirement on July 1. She will stay busy in retirement, though, having more time to devote to the family winery, but has only good memories of her time working for the postal service in the local community. Travaille said she started working initially as a substitute for RR4 in January of 1989 with a roughly four hours per day route. “My youngest daughter was 18 months old,” Travaille remembered. “I worked Saturdays only and drove my own car, sitting on the passenger side, stretching my left leg over the console for gas pedal and brake controls.”

Dr. Troy A. Brown took the oath of office as the 27th San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools during a brief ceremony at the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) on Thursday, July 1, 2021. He replaces former San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools James A. Mousalimas, who retired from a 36-year career in education at the end of June.

This year’s Senior Mr. and Mrs. Escalon have been announced – and the honorees are longtime local residents Walt and Debbie Murken. A former police chief for the city, who also served many years in the department as an officer before taking over as chief, Walt Murken later was elected to the Escalon City Council. He also is now a Docent for the Escalon Historical Society Museum. Debbie Murken for many years ran a homebased childcare business and later got involved in the Every 15 Minutes program, serving as one of the coordinators of that effort at Escalon High School. She also has been instrumental in helping plan the last several Park Fete gatherings.

With swimming lessons offered both in the morning and afternoon, sandwiched around some open public swimming sessions, the Escalon Community Pool is a busy place this summer. No lessons and no swimming were allowed last summer, as the region was in the midst of the pandemic, and kids were eager to get back to splashing around, said officials. Numbers for the lessons are a little lower than they were in 2019, but longtime Pool Supervisor Lexi Wheeler said that has worked out well for swimmers and instructors this summer.

Friday night featured some battles on the volleyball court. It was the annual alumni game, this time with two teams of alumni squaring off first and the winner then turning around to play this year’s varsity Lady Cougars. “I told them I would play bench or sub,” joked Amanda Clayton-McNeil, Class of 1993. She did go in to serve several times for her alumni team, racking up a few points, and also brought appreciative cheers and applause from fans and friends in the stands when she made a diving attempt at a ball, hitting the court at about the same time as the ball landed just out of her reach. The only alumni that graduated earlier than McNeil was varsity head coach Teresa Leipelt-Williamson, who did not play but coached her team in the competition against the winning alumni.

After being forced to cancel Park Fete and all the associated events last July due to the COVID-19 shutdown, activities are returning for the city’s celebration this year. Scheduled in August, the nearly weeklong observance will include the Miss Escalon Pageant on Wednesday, Aug. 4. “This year’s contestants are Bella Ambro, Hannah Luna, Irene Fernandez, Madison Hagglund and Marcela Mancilla,” said Lexi Bavaro, one of the pageant coordinators.

The drought conditions and the spikes in temperature, bringing plenty of triple digit heat already this summer, create conditions favorable to an increase in West Nile Virus activity. San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District spokesman Aaron Devencenzi said the lack of water often sees both birds and mosquitoes converging on available sources, coming in closer contact than they would in years where more water is available. That, in turn, can mean a quicker spread of West Nile Virus.

Escalon Unified School District’s Food Service Department has some good news for local families. For school year 2021-22, the Escalon Unified School District has opted to participate in the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) of the National School Lunch Program. This means that all students enrolled in Escalon Unified schools will receive breakfast and lunch free of charge, said Food Service Director Shelli Nicholas. However, she added, it remains critical that parents or guardians complete and submit the Alternate Income Form found in their student’s first day packets or you can fill out the form online. The Alternate Income Form may help to determine eligibility for other programs, like the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (PEBT), discounted technology and Wi-Fi programs, and more.



Members of the Escalon Unified School District Board of Education don’t want students to have to wear masks in class. And they have sent a letter to several state officials making that request. The letter was sent to Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary, State of California Health and Human Services; Dr. Naomi Bardach, Safe Schools for All Lead, California Department of Public Health and Dr. Tomás Aragón, Director, California State Public Health Officer, California Department of Public Health.

With all of California feeling the heat with rising temperatures and very little water to work with, it comes as no surprise that 100 percent of San Joaquin County and 95 percent of Stanislaus County are listed as experiencing “Exceptional Drought” conditions according to the US Drought Monitor, based out of UC Merced. Level D4-Exceptional Drought lists the following criteria: Fields are left fallow; orchards are removed; vegetable yields are low; honey harvest is small. Fire season is very costly; number of fires and area burned are extensive. Fish rescue and relocation begins; pine beetle infestation occurs; forest mortality is high; wetlands dry up; survival of native plants and animals is low; fewer wildflowers bloom; wildlife death is widespread; algae blooms appear. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS) 63 percent of streamflow sites are below normal in California with zero percent of the state experiencing above normal precipitation probability. In other words, the forecast for the foreseeable future is hot, dry and dusty. The last time California experienced this level of drought was 2014-2016.

After a devastating fire burned out nearly all of his beehives, a local resident is buoyed by the efforts of a friend who started a GoFundMe to help get him back in business. Javier Munoz, who had been raising bees with his brother Carlos to use as the base for a pollinating business, saw those dreams go up in flames this past week. The beehives, a few hundred in all, were placed on property along River Road, almost directly across from the Escalon Sportsman’s Club.

Seven stops, seven neighborhood gatherings, seven times to enjoy connecting. Escalon’s National Night Out went off well on Tuesday, Aug. 3 as the caravan of first responders and city officials made their way to all corners of the community. Running from 6 p.m. to about 8:45 p.m., the caravan included several Escalon police cruisers, Escalon Fire Department rigs, Escalon Community Ambulance and the bus carrying Escalon City Council members and city officials. It was a night of fun for everyone, noted councilman Robert Swift. “It’s nice that everyone is able to get out again,” Swift said.

After too long a time in pandemic lockdown, residents of Escalon and the surrounding communities seized the chance to get out for some fun. Park Fete was observed in Escalon with two days of downtown activity, Friday and Saturday, Aug. 6 and 7, and attendees enjoyed music, food, vendor booths, carnival rides and games and, most of all, the chance to socialize. Among the events lost to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, organizers of Park Fete were hopeful they could have it this year and decided in mid-June – as pandemic restrictions eased in California – that they would go for an early August fest. Throughout the week there were special events, with Walt and Debbie Murken honored Aug. 3 at the Senior Mr. and Mrs. Escalon luncheon; the Miss Escalon Pageant crowning Madison Hagglund as Miss Escalon 2021 on Wednesday evening, Aug. 4 and youngsters Marcus Montgomery and Rylee Hawkins chosen Little Mr. and Little Miss Escalon during a Thursday night, Aug. 5 event.

It was something everyone missed in 2020. There was no formal ‘opening day’ of school for the Escalon Unified School District in August last year; like most schools it opened the year in a virtual setting, with students at home for distance learning. For the start of the 2021-22 school year, however, school buses were on the move, parents were dropping off students and there were plenty of hugs, smiles and tears. There was a little separation anxiety for some, taking their child to school for the first time on Thursday, Aug. 12. “I was fine until about 10 minutes ago,” admitted tearful mom Sam, watching her son Stryder Oglevee play on the Dent playground with newly made friends before heading into his kindergarten classroom. For young Stryder, on campus just a few minutes, he already had picked his favorite part of the school day. “The playground,” he said, dashing off to climb the ladder and slide down the slide. Elsewhere, teachers were welcoming students in to the kindergarten classrooms, with name tags at the ready, hooks for their backpacks and lots of bright colors visible to enhance the learning experience.

As a bright red sun set in the west, a nearly full moon – also glowing due to wildfire smoke impacting the state – rose above Engel Field in Escalon on Friday night, and the crowd filling the stands enjoyed the first fall football game on campus since 2019. The 2020 fall season was lost to COVID, though the Cougars did get to play a few games in the pandemic-shortened ‘second season’ of the 2020-21 school year this past spring. However, with schools back to in-person instruction, the hope is that fall sports will be able to continue with their regular season schedules as well. For those attending the Friday night, Aug. 20 football games in Escalon, it was a chance to cheer, see a Cougar victory, and gain a little sense of normalcy. The game was with a longtime former rival, Linden, and both the JV and the varsity Cougar teams came away with wins over the visiting Lions. There was plenty of pomp and circumstance to usher in the season, with the traditional breaking of the banner as the varsity team ran on to the field, the smell of barbecued tri-tip wafting up into the bleachers and the Cougar store open with plenty of merchandise including T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts and more.

Getting back to hosting once-a-month dinners, the Escalon American Legion Gustafson-Thompson Post put on its latest event on Saturday, Aug. 21. Officials said they had to put the dinners on hiatus during the height of the COVID pandemic and were finally able to start them up again this summer. They had one in July, the recent ‘Italian Night’ event this past weekend, and are planning two more this year. They are looking at putting on a Taco Night supper in September and then a Chili Cook-Off event to wrap up the gatherings in October.

With fall sports practices and scrimmages already underway and plans in place to return to a normal high school sports year, Crystal Creamery is marking the occasion with new milk cartons welcoming back student-athletes in the Sac-Joaquin, Central and North Coast Sections. “The pandemic has been trying for all of us, especially our young people who have missed out on many big moments. While we know we aren’t out of the woods, the return of high school sports is a great reason to celebrate,” said Brian Carden, Senior Director of Sales and Marketing for Crystal Creamery.



With the goal of raising enough money to purchase a new ambulance and put it in service, Escalon Community Ambulance has started a two-pronged effort: offering up information while seeking members and funding. ECA Manager Vanessa Herrero and Community Outreach Coordinator Leah Truelove are spearheading the campaign, hoping to get additional members for the community-based organization. Escalon Community Ambulance is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and depends on membership to help keep the doors open. These days, it is more important than ever to get that community buy-in, said paramedics Herrero and Truelove. A letter being sent out to many community businesses outlines the need for additional funding, above and beyond the membership fees.

The Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts have joined in a lawsuit challenging the State Water Resources Control Board’s authority to prevent the two water agencies from diverting and storing Stanislaus River runoff in Donnells, Beardsley, New Melones and Tulloch Reservoirs. The state water board, in an emergency drought order issued Aug. 20, declared that OID, SSJID and 4,500 other water rights holders in California must immediately stop diverting water due to unprecedented drought conditions. Both Districts have the ability to use water previously stored behind those reservoirs and anticipate no immediate impacts to its agricultural and municipal customers.

Homecoming Theme for 2021 at Escalon High School is “Eski is out of this World” and features all outer space themes. Students on campus are enjoying dress up days this week and a variety of activities, leading up to the Homecoming Game and crowning of the 2021 Homecoming Queen on Friday night, Sept. 10.

Saturday, Sept. 11 saw a sizeable crowd turn out at the Escalon fire station on Coley Avenue, with an observance noting the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “I appreciate you all being here, there are a lot of other places you could be,” Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said in welcoming the crowd. This year marked the 15th time that Mello and his firefighters have hosted an observance, coinciding with the number of years he has served as chief at Escalon Fire. Some attendees filled in the rows of chairs set up outside the fire station while others stood behind and off to the side, many clutching small American flags. A glass jar that held pieces of debris from United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on that fateful day when passengers fought with hijackers, was brought in and displayed this year as well. Brought by Saundra Miller, she said it was from her cousin’s property in Pennsylvania, close to where Flight 93 crashed.

There was plenty of fun and excitement around the Escalon High School campus over the past week, with a flurry of activity for Homecoming. The week was capped off with the crowning of Emily Gutierrez as the 2021-22 Homecoming Queen, presented with the crown at halftime of the Friday night varsity football game on Sept. 10. Last year’s queen, Kaitlyn Baptista, was able to come back and present the crown while football team captains Tyler Medina and EJ Lewis handled the presentation of the cape, sash, signed football and flowers. Each of the five candidates – Sarah Bava, Taylor Cullum, Soleil Gouzenne, Amanda Murphy and Gutierrez – had brief biographies read as they toured the track in their showcase vehicles.

The Windy Fire and KNP Complex Fire in Tulare County continue to cause smoke impacts across the San Joaquin Valley. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has issued an Air Quality Alert for San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, and the Valley portion of Kern counties, due to the smoke impacts from the ongoing wildfires occurring throughout California. The District on Tuesday morning, Sept. 21 issued an Air Quality Alert with the National Weather Service, to remain in place while smoke impacts continue, or until the morning of Thursday, Sept. 23 when a trough is expected to pass through the region and assist with dispersion.

It was truly the tale of two halves on Friday night. The Escalon Cougars found their offense sputtering, their defense a little too shaky … and they were looking at a 13-0 deficit at the half. But a challenge from their coach – and a determination from deep within – saw the varsity football team find a way back. Three unanswered touchdowns in the second half lifted Escalon to a 21-13 opening week win in Trans-Valley League play on the road at Hughson on Sept. 17.

Juggling multiple positions and job duties the last several years, Escalon City Manager Tammy Alcantor will be leaving for a new post in Riverbank. Thursday, Sept. 30 will be her final day on the job for Escalon. She will take over as Assistant Finance Director for the City of Riverbank. The news of her leaving prompted many members of the Escalon Senior Fun Bunch to meet with Alcantor this past Friday, Sept. 24 to present her with a gift of appreciation for her support.

The San Joaquin AgFest Junior Livestock Show and Auction Council honored its president at the recent annual meeting in Stockton with a custom AgFest belt buckle. Josh Hiatt, who served as president for 2020-2021, is an Escalon resident and business owner. His leadership transformed the AgFest Junior Livestock Show and Auction into a virtual event last year and back to an in-person event despite all the pandemic challenges. Hiatt dedicated hundreds of hours creating an opportunity for 4-H and FFA members to exhibit and sell their livestock projects. The late September evening was the perfect backdrop, as hundreds of people gathered for the annual Escalon Chamber of Commerce Wine and Brew Stroll downtown on Sept. 25. Cool weather, a nice breeze, live music and plenty of flowing wine, craft beer and conversation made for a special night.



The crowd wasn’t as big as it has been in the past, or so it seemed to many of those shopping and selling on Saturday, as Escalon hosted its annual citywide yard sale. There were still plenty of bargains to be had and plenty of people arriving in town early to seek them out, but it was a more subdued sale day. “If I find some tools, that’s always great,” said Dan Streeter, looking over a variety of items with daughters Becca, 6, and Julieanne, 3, along for the day as well. “I love Pokémon and she loves baby dolls,” Becca said of her own preferences and those of her little sister. She had found a treasure trove of collectible Pokémon cards, so the Oct. 2 citywide event was a success for her.

They had planned to celebrate their 60th high school reunion last year. But like many gatherings in 2020, it fell victim to the pandemic. Instead, members of the Escalon High School Class of 1960 had their ‘60 Years plus One’ reunion on Saturday, Oct. 2 in Escalon. It was originally supposed to be at The Fruityard but a scheduling conflict meant either canceling or relocating, and they didn’t want to miss out a second time. So the class gathered at the Hogan-Ennis Park pavilion on Saturday for a meal, conversation, rekindling of old friendships and sharing plenty of memories.

Back to a 24-hour event, the Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County saw participants from Escalon, Oakdale and Riverbank in addition to Modesto and Turlock. After not having an in person event in 2020 due to the pandemic, reductions in staffing levels at the American Cancer Society prompted the regionalization of the signature Relay For Life program. Here, the three host cities of Modesto, Oakdale and Turlock – which previously had individual relays – were joined together for one large event. Riverbank and Escalon were included in the Oakdale Relay For Life over the past few years and so continued on to the ‘Greater Stanislaus County’ regional event. Escalon American Legion Post 263 members were called on to present the colors to begin the Relay, with the blessing of the Modesto post. Providing the Opening Ceremony address was longtime Oakdale Leader/Escalon Times/Riverbank News reporter and columnist Teresa Hammond, outlining her own battle with breast cancer and urging everyone to be their own best advocate in dealing with their health care needs.

Working with the San Joaquin County Health Department and in partnership with Fulgent Genetics, the Escalon Unified School District will open up a COVID-19 testing site at the high school. The Performing Arts Center on the high school campus will be the site for the clinic, said District Superintendent Ron Costa. “It will be open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Costa said, noting that the testing clinic will be available to everyone in the community, not just school students and employees.

It’s a case of ‘what’s old is new again’ on First Street in Escalon, with a major transformation at the former Escalon Lumberyard into a stylish destination housing four separate businesses. Lumberyard Cellars, Pencie & Ginger, Studio Off Main and TDS - Total Dairy Solutions have all settled in to the newly renovated lumber and hardware building at 1455 First St., Escalon. A Grand Opening celebration was hosted by the four businesses on Saturday, Oct. 16 with a sizeable crowd milling through the renovated facility throughout the afternoon.

San Joaquin County Public Health Services recently confirmed a 74-year-old woman from Stockton is the first case of West Nile virus (WNV) in San Joaquin County this year. The woman was hospitalized in September and later passed away; cause of death is unconfirmed at this time. As of Oct. 8, 2021, there were 70 confirmed human cases of WNV for the state of California.

At a dinner earlier this month hosted at the Robert Cabral Ag Center, six new members were inducted into the San Joaquin County Agricultural Hall of Fame. The 2020-21 Hall of Fame Inductees were: Jim Clare, Pacific Southwest Irrigation; Manuel J. Dutra, Jr.; David Phillips, Michael David Winery; Michael Phillips, Michael David Winery; and Aldo and Rosalie “Rosie” Togninali, posthumous induction. “The San Joaquin County Ag Hall of Fame honors those who have contributed so much to a great part of our heritage,” said Timm Quinn, interim CEO of the Stockton Chamber of Commerce Honoree Jim Clare is an Escalon resident; posthumous inductees Aldo and Rosie Togninali lived for many years in the Collegeville area.



It was something that hadn’t been done in a decade. And the 2021 Escalon High varsity football Cougars did it – they earned the Trans-Valley League title outright, claiming sole possession of the crown on Friday night, Oct. 29. The championship was the best way to celebrate Senior Night, with recognition for the senior football players and cheerleaders, as well as honoring their parents and families for the continued support through the years. The varsity football team defeated Livingston 33-26 in the final game of the regular season. Escalon went 6-0 in the tough Trans-Valley League and are 9-1 overall, their only loss to Kimball.

Kids came in all kinds of costumes, there were hayrides and food, music and the chance to dunk the pastor in the dunk tank; Heritage Church in Escalon was the host site and plenty of other churches and local clubs and groups helped out to stage a Fall Festival on Oct. 27. The Wednesday evening gathering saw cars jammed in everywhere; across the street at Escalon High School, at the nearby Community Center, in the overflow parking area between the Community Center and the church on Escalon Avenue; and lining both sides of Arthur Road.

For senior Mandy Murphy and junior Emily Vickers, the second time around was even sweeter. The two varsity Lady Cougar volleyball players – this year’s team captains – helped secure the second consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section title for the program. The varsity squad defeated Sonora, 3-0, in the championship match on Saturday, Nov. 6. After winning the first-ever Section blue banner for the volleyball program in 2019, the COVID-impacted 2020 campaign did not have any playoffs. This year, with a full season and postseason, Escalon made it back to defend the title they won in 2019. And with a 3-0 sweep of all four opponents they faced in the Division 4 playoffs, the blue banner came back to Escalon on Saturday afternoon. The match was played at Ripon High School and plenty of fans were there to support both teams, filling the stands. In a match that took roughly an hour, Escalon defeated Sonora in impressive fashion, 25-14, 25-22, 25-10.

For many local veterans, service in war was just the start of a lifetime of commitment. That, according to local veteran Allan Lial, a member of the Escalon American Legion Gustafson-Thompson Post, who served as keynote speaker on Thursday, Nov. 11 at Veterans Day ceremonies. Hosted at the Memorial Wall adjacent to the city’s Community Center, Lial said it is important to honor veterans, not just on specific holidays, but throughout the year. A U.S. Navy veteran who served from 1974 to 1996, Lial was a Chief Petty Officer and had many service stations, from Washington, DC to Guam, San Diego to the Philippines.

It’s a familiar final two. Escalon and Hilmar will do battle in the Sac-Joaquin Section football championship, vying for the Division 5 title on Saturday, Nov. 27. Game time is 6 p.m. at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton. Top seed Escalon defeated No. 5 Ripon, 34-10, in the semifinal on Friday, Nov. 19 at Engel Field while the No. 6 seed Hilmar Yellowjackets stung visiting No. 7 Casa Roble, 41-8.

Escalon’s “Relay Center” for Operation Christmas Child saw more than 950 boxes move through during the past week. Coordinator Pam Elsholz said final numbers after the last drop off day on Monday, Nov. 22 saw 412 boxes donated by the Heritage Church members and 541 more brought in by residents from throughout the greater Escalon area, accounting for 953 total shoeboxes.

Over a two-day, 10-hour period, five hours each day, area residents made sure there will be food for those in need, helping stock the shelves at the Escalon C.A.R.E. Center on Second Street. It was the annual Stuff the Bus food drive, hosted by San Joaquin Regional Transit District, in cooperation with local agencies. In Escalon, the Community Action Resources of Escalon, C.A.R.E., operates the food cupboard and several food programs to help those who may be food insecure. The holiday-themed food drive sought donations specifically for Thanksgiving dinners, including 10 to 12-pound turkeys, canned vegetables, cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing mixes, instant mashed potatoes, as well as staples such as flour and sugar.



Escalon’s varsity Cougars came home with the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 football championship on Saturday night, Nov. 27. They defeated Trans-Valley League rival Hilmar in a thrilling 20-13 contest at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton to claim the blue banner.

The food was hot and tasty, the laughter was flowing, the deliveries went smoothly … and Escalon’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner for 2021 was a success. Welcoming diners back to the city’s Community Center for a sit-down holiday dinner, there was also a crew that delivered meals to those who couldn’t get in to town and others stopped by to pick up a dinner order for enjoying at home.

Monday night, Dec. 6 was the final Escalon City Council meeting for longtime councilman, Mayor Pro Tem and former Mayor Jeff Laugero. He tendered his resignation from the council as he is moving out of the city in preparation to run for the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s post. “I have been with the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office since 2005 and was recently promoted to Assistant District Attorney. When the current District Attorney, Birgit Fladager, announced she was not seeking re-election, I was asked to run,” Laugero explained. “After a lot of consideration and many discussions, I have decided to step down from council and move to Stanislaus County to run for D.A.”

There was ‘snow’ falling, tacos being grilled, purchases being made and music being played, as Escalon and surrounding area residents poured in to the downtown area for Saturday’s festive Christmas on Main. Highlight of the Dec. 4 event was the lighted holiday parade, stepping off on Coley Avenue about 5:30 p.m. and lasting roughly a half hour. Each entry had to feature some kind of holiday light theme and there were several fan favorites, such as the huge, oversized Christmas tree on top of a station wagon in ‘A Griswold Family Christmas’ entry to Escalon High School band members with strings of lights blinking as they played their instruments and marched in time down the street. This year’s Grand Marshal was Chris Swanson of Escalon’s Ace Hardware, who thanked the community for their support over the years.

When the last snap was taken, the Wildcats of Marin Catholic kneeling to run out the clock and claim victory, there was no wild celebration by the home team. Instead, there were hugs and handshakes for the Cougars of Escalon, who battled in a NorCal Bowl game on Dec. 3 in San Rafael, coming up just a touchdown short in a 21-14 loss. Marin Catholic would celebrate later, but as the seconds ticked off to end the game, the Wildcats and Cougars embraced, knowing they had just come through a war. Respect on both sides was evident, as the Bay area team left the field with more than a few players hobbling, unaccustomed to the smashmouth style of play that defines Cougar football.

In an effort that started in early November, students in all the second grade classes at Dent Elementary have provided a little bit of holiday cheer to servicemembers around the world. “All the second grade classes sent in items or money,” said teacher Katie Bartelink, one of the coordinators of the care package project. “We start it right after Halloween because a lot of the kids donate their extra candy.” This year, she said, they also were surprised and excited to have gotten a significant cash donation from a ‘Secret Santa’ specifically to help defray the cost of those boxes getting shipped overseas.

During the Thursday, Dec. 2 meeting of the Escalon Lions Club, Immediate Past President Mike Powers presented Escalon Police Chief Rob Lackey with 60-plus stuffed Teddy Bears to be used in various ways by patrol officers. The Escalon Lions “Bears that Care” program is a locally adapted program based on similar law enforcement programs where donated stuffed bears are distributed by police officers, given to children who are involved in traumatic events.

Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average COVID case rate has increased by almost half (47 percent) and hospitalizations have increased by 14 percent. In response to the increase in cases and hospitalizations, and to slow the spread of both Delta and the highly transmissible Omicron variant, CDPH has issued updated guidance to curb the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. Beginning Dec. 15, CDPH will require masks to be worn in all indoor public settings irrespective of vaccine status through Jan. 15, 2022, at which point California will make further recommendations as needed in response to the pandemic.

Choosing to be proactive, a pair of Escalon Police officers spent most of their work day rotating around to the school campuses in the city on Friday, Dec. 17. On the heels of a TikTok challenge that reportedly suggested a school shooting – the challenge that was a nationwide buzz on Friday saw the officers quickly respond.

After an absence of a year – kept from making his normal stop at the Farmington firehouse in 2020 due to COVID – Santa Claus was back in town this past Friday night, Dec. 17. And the rousing reception from the kids and their parents proved he was missed last year and everyone was happy to be able to share some holiday joy in 2021.

After receiving a highly competitive state grant, Escalon High School ag teacher Isabella Leventini is hard at work, putting together a new food science pathway for students on campus. She applied for the secondary specialized program grant in October of 2020 – written by fellow ag teacher Kenny Saephan – and got word earlier this year it had been awarded. “They only gave out seven in the state,” she said, adding that the award for Escalon amounted to close to $50,000 in funding.

A total of 124 youngsters within the boundaries of the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District had a very Merry Christmas, courtesy of a local toy drive. The Escalon American Legion Gustafson-Thompson Post 263 and the Escalon Fire Department combine to collect toys at a number of locations around the city for a couple of weeks in December, culminating with the distribution day before Christmas. The 2021 final count saw 69 girls and 55 boys in need of toys and firefighter Ryan Burr said they added one more boy to the list; a youngster whose family home in a nearby community was destroyed by fire in the past couple of weeks. Escalon Fire Department ‘adopted’ the boy for the holiday, said Burr, making sure he got some presents.

Serving as Grand Marshals for the Park Fete parade this year were Karyn and Richard ‘Dick’ Dawson, honored for their many contributions to the community they have called home for decades. The event was staged in August, delayed from its usual July date. Marg Jackson/The Times
e champ
Escalon’s Lady Cougars literally jump for joy after scoring the final point in a three-set sweep of Sonora in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 finals on Nov. 6. Shown are Emily Vickers, 5; Leah Wheeler; 12; Mandy Murphy, at center; Madellyn Spurgeon, 17; and Rylie Lattig, at right. Obscured on the left, behind Vickers, is Mallory Berhorst. Marg Jackson/The Times
ice cream
It was a relatively small but appreciative and enthusiastic crowd that turned out Saturday evening, Aug. 21 for the annual Ice Cream Social hosted at Escalon United Methodist Church. Here, volunteer scooper John Weeks serves up some homemade ice cream for Bill Downard, left, as Don Vest looks on and decides on his flavor choice. Marg Jackson/The Times