Yes, folks, it once again is time for my annual year-in-review column, the one dedicated to revisiting the issues and people who graced this space over the past 12 months. Here goes:
HISTORY REVISED, REVISITED – McHenry Museum researcher Janet Lancaster (Sept. 29 column) uncovered a fact that jarred many longtime Modestans: Robert Henry Brewster, one of the area’s most influential early-day residents you’d never heard of, had deserted the Army in 1847 and came west to the valley, where he remade himself as Robert McHenry, for whom many things in Modesto are named. It’s a family secret that died years ago, but one confirmed by DNA matches.
The demolition of the Cote d’Oro restaurant on Yosemite Boulevard enabled me (Jan. 13 column) to revisit the tunnel connecting the restaurant with the Prohibition-era speakeasy in the Tower Club – now the Eagles Lodge – next door.
RIM SHOT – Five days after the Rim fire began Aug. 17, I drove all the way to Cherry Lake and came across cattlemen searching in vain for the animals and knowing much of the forest would be charred within the next day or so. Indeed, a day later, the fire raged over the same forest it had burned in 1973. In fact, by the time it was out, the Rim fire’s footprint encompassed every major fire in the region since 1949 and became the third largest on record in California history (Aug. 25 column). With such dry conditions after a poor snowfall year, it wasn’t surprising at all that such a huge fire occurred. In fact, my July 14 column detailed why the Sierra and foothills were ripe for a major fire.
BULLET POINTS – When a man broke into an Oakdale couple’s home three different times in a matter of minutes early one morning, they gave him plenty of warnings before wounding him (Nov. 17 column). He didn’t count on Bart and Melissa Ardis being well-trained and equipped with guns. They could easily have shot to kill but opted to merely disable him until deputies arrived. The column went to the top of the most-read list on modbee.com and stayed there for several days, getting about 200,000 views nationwide.
And I wrote about Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson’s letter to Vice President Joe Biden in response to gun legislation recommendations by the Obama administration (Jan. 18 column) following the Newtown school shootings in Connecticut.
WAR, REMEMBRANCE AND FORGIVENESS – Leroy Myers (July 4 column) and Oakdale residents Jack and Mary Lou Fries (Dec. 5 column) could have spent a lifetime hating the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Myers was captured at Wake Island 15 days after the bombing of Pearl and taken to a slave labor camp in Japan, where he and his contractor father survived horrible treatment as they built the Sasebo Dam. Myers returned to Japan and Sasebo last spring, honored as one of the camp’s last surviving prisoners.
The Frieses, teens during the war, remember a time when the hatred toward Japan was a way of life in the United States. Mary Lou’s brother survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. They grew up in areas of Los Angeles where Japanese were believed to have committed sabotage. They changed their minds when they began hosting Japanese exchange students in 1984. They’ve remained close with many of them, and the Japanese families paid their way to Japan in 1994.
And ongoing is the effort by Hawaii resident Janna Hoehn (Nov. 2 column) to collect photos of all Californians killed during the Vietnam War. The photos will accompany the biographies on the virtual Wall websites and at the planned Vietnam Wall Education Center in Washington, D.C. Stanislaus County lost 56 young men, and Hoehn began her effort needing 32 of them. She’s down to nine.
RECONNECTIONS – Over the course of any year, I’ll hear from people with compelling stories of how they reconnected with long-lost family and friends. Irit Goldman (Jan. 10 column) knew little of her paternal family history – only that her father had escaped the Auschwitz death camp during World War II before moving to Israel and starting his family. But after reading testimonies on Yad Vashem, a Holocaust museum and resource center in Jerusalem, she realized one of those posting might be related. He was. He lives in Arizona, and they now talk a couple of times each week. He was able to fill in the gaps involving Goldman’s father’s past and how one branch of the family made it to America.
Thanksgiving Day, Oakdale’s Baron McDonald told of how he united after 43 years with a man who had been like a brother in foster care in the 1960s. The friend, Jack Sutton, died just a few days after their November visit.
UPLIFTING STORIES – When Penny and Rodney Kreifels (Feb. 24 column) decided to adopt, they figured they would take in one child. They got three, brothers from a homeless family in Sacramento. The Kriefels set the ground rules and stuck by them. They helped the boys transform from distrusting underachievers into solid young men with futures. The youngest, John, is a freshman playing football at Eastern Washington.
Gary Brister (April 14 column), meanwhile, lost his sight in an industrial accident more than 35 years ago. He’d all but given up hope of seeing again one day – seeing his wife, his children and nine grandchildren. That happened in March after a breakthrough surgery restored his vision to 20/30 in his right eye, with plans to repair the left eye similarly. And he began spreading encouragement to others who might benefit from the surgery.
“I hope what’s happened to me gives other people hope,” Brister said.
THEATER OF THE ABSURD – The city’s plan to spend $250,000 to remodel a restroom building at the transportation center downtown (May 19 column). … Measure X failing because voters don’t trust government officials who wouldn’t guarantee how the sales tax revenue would be spent (Nov. 7 column).
The snit between former California State University, Stanislaus, presidents Marvalene Hughes and Hamid Shirvani over who deserved credit for what during their respective tenures at the school (March 10 column). They both deserved a timeout over that one. … And what would a year be without discord in the City of Action? Riverbank’s school board follies came in a close second to the unrest on the City Council during the Jesse James White years (June 23 column).
AMERICANA – The story of how, in 1966, Ripon almond and grape grower Floyd Due became the subject of a Norman Rockwell portrait on display in the Ripon Museum (May 30 column). Due and wife Barbara flew to Massachusetts, where Floyd sat in Rockwell’s studio for the portrait later used in an insurance company brochure.
I also wrote about the retirements of 90-year-old Dr. J. Carl Hornberger after 58 years of practicing medicine in Modesto (Dec. 12 column) and 82-year-old Estelle Barnhill (June 16 column), who began her 72-year run as organist at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Valley Home in 1941, when she was only 10.
It’s been an eventful year, indeed. Bring on 2014.