How do you start a column you don’t want to write?
Just dive in, I guess, and see where it goes.
By now, most of you have probably heard about the passing of Sheila Arellano on Tuesday, Oct. 7. As fate (and irony) would have it, Sheila and her daughter Tina Jensen collaborated recently on Sheila’s ‘Just A Thought’ column and it ran in the Oct. 8 issue – it had already gone to press before Sheila passed and I know she would have been happy to know it was included in the paper.
I first got to know Sheila when the company switched former Escalon Times editor John Branch and myself back in 1996, moving John over to Riverbank and taking me out of Riverbank and putting me in Escalon. Sheila at that time was the staff reporter, receptionist, money handler, classified taker and general overseer of everything Escalon in the Times office. She was gracious in welcoming me and we quickly struck up a friendship that went well beyond the confines of work; in many ways she became a surrogate mom, with mine so far away in New York. She helped me deal with my kids in crisis, school issues, homework nightmares … she had been through it all and was there to guide and offer support. Her husband, retired teacher and coach Pete Arellano, was also a familiar face around the office and together the two of them handled our “Street Beat” feature for years, going out to ask our ‘Question of the Week’ with Sheila taking down the answers and Pete taking the pictures.
Together they have been recognized as Senior Mr. and Mrs. Escalon and Sheila spent many active years with the Chamber of Commerce helping organize Park Fete and, later on, the Senior Mr. and Mrs. festivities.
We survived a flood that left our original office heavily damaged and eventually relocated to Main Street, where Sheila could keep better tabs on everything going on. She was a fountain of information, kept endless details and minutiae ready to share and was always eager to write another story.
She served on the Escalon Community Ambulance board, helped start the Historical Society and Museum, helped with school pageants and community clubs. For years, she and Pete worked tirelessly to promote Escalon through displays at the San Joaquin County Fair and I’m sure somewhere along the line she was a room mom for her kids while they were in school. There isn’t much she didn’t get involved in and this city is richer for the mere fact that she chose to call it her home.
I used to love hearing her stories of her growing up years spent in Winnemucca, Nevada and the adventures she and her sister shared – she would tell me it wasn’t always the best life but it was the one she had and she was determined to make the most of it.
Just like with her newspaper work – it was a dream she had and she pursued it until it came true. Even when she started having vision problems, she found a way to continue working and writing, well past the time most people would have given up and retired. When she finally did retire, she asked if she could continue her columns and they remained a popular feature, one of those things that readers looked forward to because they are full of humor, wisdom and a real slice of life.
She would often joke, as her health declined, that she and Pete still made the perfect couple because she couldn’t see and he couldn’t hear – they balanced each other out and somehow made it work. No matter what came her way, she plowed through, undaunted and unfazed by whatever odds she was told were stacked against her. That’s a great testament to the power of faith and determination and a real lesson in the rewards of perseverance.
There’s no way to summarize all that Sheila has meant to this community, her family, her friends. We are all better for having known her. Tina promises one more column is still to come, one she and Sheila had talked about doing, kind of one final ‘thought.’ I can’t wait to read it.
And though saying goodbye is difficult, I am comforted in hearing the words Sheila would say to me every time we hung up the phone or parted ways after the work day was done: “Love ya kid.”
Love ya right back.