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ETCHED IN STONE -- Mike Stavrakakis does his best thinking at the McDonald's on McHenry Avenue in Modesto.
That's where the 81-year-old Korean War veteran came up with the idea of collecting reading material and movies to take to the waiting rooms at veterans' medical hospitals and clinics around Northern California. He's delivered more than 8,000 books, magazines, DVDs and videos.
As the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3199 finished rebuilding its memorial hall at 2801 W. Hatch Road, Stavrakakis got another brainstorm beneath the Golden Arches: The new hall, replacing the building that had been torched by a couple of juvenile delinquents in 2007, needed a monument to commemorate the post's 75 years of serving veterans.
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So he contacted members of another group he belongs to, E Clampus Vitus, and the Clampers built a concrete-and-stone monument in front of the new VFW Hall. The veterans also decided the building needed a new flag pole but were running out of time to install it before Saturday's dedication.
"We poured the concrete base and we were afraid it wouldn't be ready in time," Stavrakakis said. "We threw in a lot of quick-dry stuff, and there it was, ready to go. It went like clockwork."
More than 200 veterans, family members, friends and red-shirted Clampers attended the morning ceremony.
"When the flag went up, we all got kind of misty-eyed," Stavrakakis said.
WELCOME HOME -- Vietnam veterans received their long-awaited welcome home during a parade in Sonora over the weekend. Stanislaus County Vietnam vets will be honored by Stanislaus County supervisors during the regular board meeting at 9 a.m. today in the basement chamber of the city-county building at 1010 10th St.
Steve Lawson of the Stanislaus Veterans Center said officials decided on a proclamation rather than a parade, since Vietnam-era veterans assumed coordinating duties for the annual Veterans Day Parade in November.
Last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill encouraging public schools to "observe the day and conduct exercises recognizing the contributions of all those involved in the Vietnam War" each March 30.
Many Vietnam vets came home to criticism and ridicule after fighting in an unpopular and divisive war.
"It is never too late to recognize the selfless actions of these courageous men and women who answered duty's call and served our nation," the governor said in 2009.
HERE, KITTY -- Two local organizations have reached milestones in low-cost neutering and spaying of cats.
Project X, started by Turlock veterinarian Rob Santos in 2005, is a nontaxpayer-subsidized low-cost spay and neuter program. Last year, the effort expanded to include 21 veterinarians and 12 clinics or hospitals. They set a goal of spaying or neutering 9,000 cats by this summer and are well on their way to hitting that goal.
Susan Enz of Village Oak Veterinary Hospital said they've collectively surpassed the 6,000 mark.
They also set a goal of 1,000 for the month of March -- considered the beginning of the breeding season, which goes through September -- but will fall short with about 800 spays and neuters.
March included discounted prices of $30 for males and $55 for females. The prices will return in April to $40 for males and $72 for females. Call 988-SPAY (7729) for more information.
A newer but equally committed group, Alley Cat Guardians, has spayed or neutered nearly 1,200 cats since its inception six months ago, including 836 just since Jan. 1. The group handles only unowned strays and charges $20 for feral (free-roaming) cats in traps and $25 for tamed cats in carriers. Visit www.alleycatguardians.org for more information.
ET TWO, BRUTE? -- A few years ago, Modestan Geri Wheeler's son brought home a dog when he came home from Chico State. The mongrel named Brutus has become Wheeler's personal guardian, as two incidents might suggest.
Two years ago, Wheeler awoke to Brutus' frantic barking. She looked out the window and noticed an orange glow coming from her freshly stained redwood deck. It was on fire, and the dog's warning enabled Wheeler to turn the hose on it until the Fire Department arrived. Had the fire spread to the house, who knows? Brutus might have been a lifesaver, she said.
Then, a couple of months ago, he again began barking loudly. So she got up to let him outside. Turns out a burglar had come into her yard, and the dog chased him away.
"I had no idea what was going on until I looked out and saw all the police cars," she said.
Officers caught the burglar, and Brutus firmly established himself as Wheeler's protector and all-time favorite dog.
RESTING THE PIPES -- Lucky Baldwin had missed only a handful of days -- none in the past five years -- behind the microphone in 56 years at the Modesto Livestock Auction. That changed three weeks ago when the 83-year-old auctioneer underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery. He began calling auctions at the Modesto yard in 1954 and has been in the auction business since 1946. Baldwin was profiled in a 2006 story in The Bee. He plans to return to work upon his recovery, auction yard secretary Dawn Pascale said.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.