As 2012 prepares to head over that cliff of time, here's a look back on the people, events and issues that graced my column this year.
Once again, the best part of this job is the opportunity to share stories and opinions about what defines the valley: the feel-good stories, the quirks, the problems and controversies that need addressing, and how we react and respond as a community when tragedy occurs.
(January) Bonnie Rodin enjoyed success in tutoring math through The Well Church in Modesto. The immigrant from the Ukraine has made a difference with students who otherwise struggled. Her secret? No guessing via multiple-choice answers. Learn to solve the equation. How novel
(January) Modesto's Elinor Sauerwein lived so frugally and quietly that her death in October 2010 went largely unnoticed until The Salvation Army received a parting gift just over a year later: $1.74 million. She and husband Harold, who preceded her in death, made their fortune primarily by investing in discounted mortgage loans.
(August) Rats, rats and more rats. A mobile home in a west Modesto park had to be fumigated and then destroyed because its owner allowed it to become infested with rodents. The city's action prevented the entire park from being overrun by rats, averting a health hazard and making life a bit easier on the residents of an otherwise immaculate park.
(April) The Michael Jackson impersonator, Malachi Myles, who hones his dancing skills in the aisle of Best Buy's computer section. A real Thriller.
(September) Modesto's Goodwill store employees sorted through a box of donations only to find cremains among them.
Columns about roadside trash dumping, including the incident that led to the death of Keyes rancher Stan Hyer, hit by a pickup when he tried to confront the dumpers in November.
(December) Hit-and-run driver who left a man for dead on Highway 99. The victim lives. Does the driver feel remorse?
(July) Thieves who stole from a woman who had just lost her husband in a motorcycle accident.
(March) Was the so-called free speech zone painted green and box-shaped on a sidewalk at Modesto's downtown transportation center intended to allow free speech or restrict it? Another coat of paint solved the problem.
(January and March) Ralph Nunes bought a home in Modesto believing, based upon city documents, it had been connected to the city's sewer system only to learn that wasn't the case. City Manager Greg Nyhoff stepped in and helped right the wrong.
(August) After the swirling waters of the San Joaquin River washed out 200 feet of riverbank and threatened a levee, reclamation district President Joe Sallaberry arranged for tons of concrete to be placed along the banks to stop the erosion. It worked, but put him at odds with the state Department of Fish and Game. The concrete remains.
Not so neighborly:
(April) Modesto resident Phil Sumner grew disgusted with having to clean up after a neighbor's cat in his yard. So he trapped the critter and released it in a local park, to the dismay of the cat's owner. The episode fomented an ongoing debate about whether Sumner and others who take such problems into their own hands should be prosecuted for doing so. Cat owners think so. Others who face the same problems neighbors' animals or feral cats running wild on their property disagree.
(March) Marilyn Woods constructed a crisp, clean- looking stucco wall behind her La Loma neighborhood home. Her local homeowners association ordered her to take it down or face fines. It's still there.
(June) Saul Tello Jr. drew national attention much of it angry when he gave his graduation speech in Spanish at Orestimba High in Newman so that his Spanish- speaking parents could understand his words. Americans dream in many languages.
(July) A military veteran organized a protest at a north Modesto convenience store/gas station after claiming he'd been disrespected by a store clerk who came here from another country. Hundreds turned out in support the next day, showing the growing power of the social media. A Chevron spokesman apologized.
Cry for help:
(June) For many years, Ramon Alvarez parked his minivan in downtown Modesto. The van was covered with confusing signs as Alvarez protested what he claimed were grave injustices against his family by law enforcement and the judicial system allegations estranged family members denied ever happened. Last summer, Alvarez went on a hunger strike, in effect wasting away in public view on a street corner a block from the Modesto Police Department. Finally, authorities took him to a hospital for physical and mental help.
(September) Members of a local women's golf group befriended a congenial homeless man and wanted to dedicate a bench at Modesto's Municipal Golf Course in his honor after he died. But a look into his past revealed a troubled life of crime, including sex offenses and multiple prison terms. The bench will remain as is.
(November) The rolling drylands east of Oakdale, once home to grazing cattle, are being transformed into more than 6,000 acres of orchards by an investment group from the Bay Area, joining vineyards and other changes as the Old West transitions to the new economy.
(October) Weather and indecision threaten the late Pierce Miller's extensive horse-drawn carriage and wagon collection east of Modesto. A new nonprofit wants to save the collection, a decision ultimately falling to collection owner Joe Miller, Pierce's grandson.
(June) Los Banos resident Gus Villalta, father of the town's mayor, is among the last known living workers who helped build the Golden Gate Bridge. His role? Gus was hired off the street by a subcontractor and spent two weeks pulling electrical wiring into the south tower.
(July) The discovery in Switzerland of the Higgs boson the "God particle" could have happened in the valley had a superconducting supercollider been built in the Linden area and stretching into northern Stanislaus County in the 1980s. Farmers and ranchers fought against it and won.
The human spirit:
(September) The 40th anniversary of a plane crash into a Sacramento ice cream parlor ultimately linked Sonora's Francis family and Modesto firefighter Jim Adams. Roger and Kathy Francis lost daughter Kristi, and twin sister Kerri was injured, in the accident that claimed 23 lives and changed so many others. As a result, the Firefighters Burn Institute was born at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. When Adams and comrade J.D. Clevenger fell through a roof while fighting a fire on New Year's Day 2010, they were taken to the burn center, where they benefited from the knowledge, research and medical science that emanated from the Sept. 24, 1972, tragedy. Both eventually returned to work. Adams met the Francis family in September at the 40th anniversary memorial of the Farrell's tragedy.
(September) The passing of Jean Smith, the man behind Modesto icon Bette Belle Smith, allowed us to do what he would have been uncomfortable with in life: Tell the story of this gentle man who loved being in a supporting role so his wife could do great things for the community.
These represent just a smattering of the topics covered in 2012.
Out with the old, in with the new. Bring on 2013.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.