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Second review installment features May through August
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Two air support units were brought in to help contain a 20-acre vegetation fire along the Stanislaus River in Escalon at mid-afternoon Monday, July 3. Here, Cal Fire 205 drops more water onto the fire, burning near McHenry Recreation Area. Marg Jackson/The Times

Graduations, Park Fete, summer activities and more were among the main stories unfolding during the months of May through August in and around the Escalon area.

This week, we present the second installment of the annual Year in Review, looking back at 2023.



There was plenty of enthusiasm in the air, plus coffee, water and pastries near the stage, as volunteers gathered early Saturday morning, April 29 to ‘Love Escalon.’ The community day of service saw several dozen people turning out for the opening rally, while others had already started work at their project sites prior to the 8 a.m. formal kickoff.

Having the opportunity to put their best foot forward, Escalon High School students enrolled in the district’s Fire Science/EMT classes shared their knowledge with Dent Elementary first graders on Friday, May 5. It was a morning full of learning about vital signs, firefighting, knot tying and search and rescue, with high school students leading the sessions in the ‘Cougar Bay,’ the onsite firehouse/hospital/classroom area.

Buff Puff was a hit and the varsity vs. alumni game was ultra-competitive, the Lady Cougar alum squad pushing this year’s varsity girls to three sets before yielding a win to the reigning Section champions. The fun evening of competition was staged at Escalon High School on Friday night, May 12 and featured three different Buff Puff contests prior to the varsity-alumni action.

Junior Macie Vickers doesn’t have to worry about sending out college applications. She is ready to start her collegiate career – after her senior year next year at Escalon High School – as a member of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Huskers softball team. After a recruiting trip there, an offer was extended, and the three-sport EHS athlete couldn’t be happier. “It was amazing,” Macie said of the spring recruiting tour. The Division I Huskers play in the Big Ten Conference. Macie, primarily a catcher, has played softball since she was four years old and getting a scholarship to play at the collegiate level is a dream come true.

Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District firefighters were stationed at the city’s main intersection for the weekend of May 20 and 21, hoisting their turnout boots to collect money for the Firefighters Burn Institute. The heavy volume of traffic helped bring in a sizeable amount of cash; the total was heading past $25,000 with some coins still to be rolled and counted.

With the flags flapping in the breeze, a crowd of several dozen gathered at Burwood Cemetery on Monday morning, May 29 for the first of three Memorial Day Services in the region. Put on by the Escalon American Legion and American Legion Riders Post 263, the ceremony at Burwood on River Road featured a moment of silence for fallen comrades, remarks from a guest speaker, the placing of a memorial wreath, flag lowering ceremony, 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps.



Graduation and Promotion ceremonies are on the schedule in Escalon, and the top two graduating seniors from Escalon High School have been announced. This year’s Valedictorian is Kenya Sanchez; Salutatorian is Gianna Bava. The Escalon High School graduation ceremony is scheduled for Friday, June 2 at 7 p.m., hosted on the East campus of Modesto Junior College. El Portal Middle School will have its promotion ceremony for eighth graders at MJC East on Thursday night, June 1 at 7 p.m. Those two ceremonies have been moved to MJC as a result of ongoing renovations at Memorial Stadium/Engel Field on the Escalon High campus. Wednesday, May 31 featured a daytime graduation/promotion for Gateway Academy Charter School with a ceremony in the EHS Performing Arts Center/Auditorium and in a 6 p.m. ceremony in the auditorium, graduates of Vista High School were celebrated.

What was hoped to be a rescue effort along the Stanislaus River at McHenry Recreation Area on Thursday, June 1 has turned in to what officials have now termed a recovery. Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said the initial call went to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, with a man reported floating in the water. Listed by authorities only as a 22-year-old man, he was at the river with a couple other people when he attempted to cross the swift flowing water. Mello said those with him indicated he apparently lost his footing when he reached a deep pocket in the river and was swept away, unable to get back to shore.

During their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, June 6, members of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors were presented with highlights of the 2023-2024 Proposed Budget, which totals $2.59 billion. As part of the process, the Board also voted to approve $2.6 million to a number of Non-County Organizations in the 2023-2024 Proposed Budget. This included $42,500 for Escalon Strong.

A quartet of outstanding Cougar athletes have been honored with the top Senior Athlete Awards for Escalon High School, closing out stellar careers. Rylie Lattig and Owen Nash were recently presented with the Bob and Mark Loureiro Most Inspirational Senior Athlete awards, while Emily Vickers and Logan Anderson were chosen as the Lloyd C. Engel Outstanding Senior Athletes.

Selected as the 2023 Senior Mr. and Mrs. Escalon are Dave and Sandy Russell; they will be honored at a luncheon during Park Fete Week in July. They will also ride in the Park Fete Parade on Saturday, July 15.

Making some history, Steve Largent has been tapped as the first-ever Flag Football coach at Escalon High School. There will be a Flag Football league season in the fall for high school girls in Escalon, the first time the school has offered the sport at a competitive level.

Well over 150 people turned out, doing their part to help keep the doors open and the exhibits in top shape, supporting the Escalon Historical Society and Museum at a fundraising dinner on Saturday, June 24. Hosted by the Historical Society at Del Rio Vista Garden in the 25000 block of East River Road, the gathering kicked off with a ‘happy hour’ at 5:30 p.m., with attendees arriving to mingle, sip and look over the variety of items available in the ‘opportunity drawings’ to be held later on in the evening. “We had 166 (dinner attendees) so it’s going to be a big fundraiser for us,” Escalon Historical Society President Dave Russell said of the turnout. “And the Del Rio Vista Garden is just a beautiful venue.”



A 20-plus acre fire that burned on both side of the Stanislaus River on Monday afternoon, July 3, kept fire crews busy for several hours. The call came in shortly before 3:30 p.m. to Escalon, said Fire Chief Rick Mello, and was reported as a vegetation fire in the area of McHenry Avenue and River Road. The river bottom fire was in McHenry Recreation Area; Mello said the area was evacuated, including getting some kayakers off the river, and crews moved in to attack on the ground. Air support was called in from two helicopters including Stanislaus County Air 101 and Tuolumne County Unit-Cal Fire 205, to provide assistance from the air with water drops. Units battled the fire on both sides of the Stanislaus River, with a few acres on the Stanislaus County side, close to 20 acres on the San Joaquin side.

It was expected, but the explosion of mosquitoes this spring and continuing this summer have kept officials at the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District busy with detection and control efforts. In response to increased adult mosquito populations, or the detection of West Nile Virus, or the detection of invasive Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the District is conducting ongoing adult mosquito control operations. Both ground and air spraying has been done, and several locations in and around the Escalon-Farmington area have had ground spraying treatments over the past few weeks.

It’s starting to look a little bit more like a football field; crews moved in to Engel Field at Memorial Stadium on the Escalon High School campus this past week to begin putting in the sod that will form the base for the field. Improvement work is also continuing around the perimeter. It will take several weeks for the sod to be ready before the field can be used; officials are still hopeful the Cougars can have a true home game during the upcoming fall football season.

Temperatures were steadily on the rise as the week progressed, leading up to triple digit heat for the Friday and Saturday, July 14 and 15, observance of Escalon’s annual Park Fete celebration. This once-a-year party for the community turned 101 years old this year and though the heat may have kept the crowd size a little smaller than usual, there was still plenty to do, see and enjoy. The new royalty crowned at pageants during the week – Miss Escalon Aileen Aguirre and her court, along with Little Mr. Escalon Harrison Showalter and Little Miss Escalon Tinley Lombardi – had their first official appearance as the new royals during the Saturday morning Park Fete parade. The annual parade, with the American Legion providing the colors and then Grand Marshal John Paladichuk happily leading the way, featured a full half hour of community service organizations, equestrian units, a band, the Escalon Senior Fun Bunch providing their own musical accompaniment on kazoos, local businesses and more all following the route from Coley to First to Main.

After getting through a lengthy stretch of triple digit days, the temperature still reached the upper 90s on July 19, keeping crowd numbers down slightly for the once-a-month Escalon Farmers Market. There was a bit of a breeze for those attending and those running the vendor booths also did their best to keep cool while they displayed and sold their wares. The kids corner again was busy, there was live music on stage, some fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, and plenty of merchandise options.



On a sunny Saturday afternoon, laughter was in the air and a spirit of camaraderie could be felt, as several past participants of the Little Chefs program at El Portal Middle School joined in for a reunion. The luncheon reunion was staged at the Community Center Park pavilion in Escalon on Aug. 5, and attendees had the opportunity to reconnect with Patsy Laws, who started the program for students. It was a way, Laws said, to reach students who often didn’t ‘fit’ in to other activities on campus, and gave them a home. The Little Chefs learned baking skills, catered lunches, did some cooking and event planning, and more. Those attending the reunion came from far and wide and enjoyed the chance to reminisce about the program they were in more than 30 years ago.

With kickoff events for El Portal and Escalon High School students going on this week and the first day of school looming on Thursday, Aug. 10, Cougar athletes at Escalon High have already jumped into practices for the upcoming season. There have also been a number of projects started, and some completed, throughout the Escalon Unified School District during the summer. Among them, renovations to cafeteria facilities at Collegeville and Farmington, work on the football field/stadium on the Escalon High School campus, some modernization work at Dent Elementary and more.

A highly successful Great Valley Writing Camp helped local youngsters wrap up the summer, getting in some creative writing while having fun on the Dent Elementary campus. There were two separate groups, with the older students deciding on some specific topics to focus on with their writing and the younger group highlighting gardens and the creatures often found in them. Camp Director Sally Hale said there was a great teacher to student ratio this year and everyone seemed to enjoy the camp activities.

The Escalon varsity football team opened up the season on Friday night, Aug. 18. Escalon went in to the campaign as the defending Division 4-AA state champion, knowing that every opponent is looking for the opportunity to defeat a championship squad and will bring their best effort to the field. Though they came away with a win in the Aug. 18 game against Golden Valley in Merced, the varsity Cougars know they got lucky. Uncharacteristic sloppiness, four fumbles, some missed assignments and no converted points after touchdowns … not a recipe for success. They did, however, hold on for a 20-14 win.

With his long blond hair and easy smile, you wouldn’t know Cannan Caton spent the first few years of his life in and out of hospitals. The Escalon seven-year-old, son of Cody and Kellye Caton, was ultimately diagnosed with a Primary Immunodeficiency, PI, disease but there were plenty of times when it was touch and go for Cannan. It was when a lymph node biopsy was done at UCSF that doctors started to ask the right questions, which eventually led to the immunodeficiency, ID, diagnosis. Many people who suffer from the disease go years without being properly diagnosed, Kellye said, making the family even more grateful that Cannan’s diagnosis came early and treatments could be started. He receives donated plasma every three to four weeks, his mom said. “It’s like he gets a new immune system every 28 days and now he’s out there playing baseball, riding his dirt bike,” she explained. “He works on the dairy with his dad every day.” Cody and Kellye have been married for 12 years and, in addition to Cannan, they have a nine-year-old daughter, Sladyn and a two-year-old son, Colter.

Crafting a trio of victories in their first week, Escalon’s varsity flag football girls got their history-making season off on the right foot. This is the first year the sport is being played as a sanctioned league sport in Escalon and the Lady Cougars, along with varsity head coach Steve Largent, are happy to be part of history at the school. “We opened up with Golden Valley and won 26-0,” Largent said of the inaugural game on Aug. 21. “First touchdown in EHS Flag Football history, Alyssa Ball.” The girls then defeated Patterson, 26-6, and held off a determined Livingston team by a 14-13 final on Thursday, Aug. 24.


In next week’s issue, Jan. 17, The Times will highlight top stories from the final four months of the year, September through December.

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The tomatoes were ripe, the zucchini ready for purchase, the strawberries juicy and there were plenty more choices of fresh fruits and vegetables at the SONS Farm Fresh booth set up at the Escalon Farmers Market on July 19. Marg Jackson/The Times
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Sophomore Jasmine Barron looks to angle away from the Livingston defender during a flag football game at Escalon High School on Thursday, Aug. 24. Marg Jackson/The Times
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Young Jaxson Grass, 4, at left, isn’t quite sure he is enjoying the ride on the Scrambler at the Park Fete carnival area on Friday night, July 14 while seven-year-old Kayson Grass holds on tight. Marg Jackson/The Times