From the emails and voice mails:
OVER-ARCHING SUPPORT – Whenever a national publication mentions Modesto, the tone generally is condescending. From the least livable city surveys to stories about how Modestans lead the world in car theft or wash cars on their lawns, the outsiders seldom paint a flattering picture.
“If you’ve ever heard of Modesto, California, a dusty agricultural town as unprepossessing as its Spanish name, it’s likely because it is the place depicted by George Lucas in his 1973 blockbuster, ‘American Graffiti.’ ”
Indeed, the obligatory “dusty agricultural” description is pretty hard to deny and particularly at this time of year when the almond harvest is in full swing. Washing your car becomes part of the daily routine, and merely opening the windows at night guarantees a coating of fine dirt on the hardwood floors by morning.
And “unprepossessing” means, in essence, unattractive. OK, ugly. You certainly must remember Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of “The Unprepossessing Duckling,” right?
But wait. Read further and you’ll discover that Goldberg actually is very fond of Modesto. No, really. She is impressed by Modesto’s I Street arch, specifically that its slogan – “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health” – begins with water:
“... the wellspring of the blessings that follow,” she wrote. “Without water, there is nothing.”
The note includes a 1912 postcard featuring the arch.
And there is another aspect to the Valley she finds even more important: 17-year-old Aimee Peepgrass of Modesto.
“She’s a lively, funny 17-year-old who has struggled with cerebral palsy since the day she was born,” Goldberg wrote. “Every September my husband and I attend a fund-raiser in a historic barn just outside Modesto – amid acres of the bounty for which the area is famous – to help defray Aimee’s medical costs and for therapy that will allow her more independence.”
The fundraiser was Saturday night at Durrer Ranch in Wood Colony. The annual event raises anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the economy, dad Jason Peepgrass said. Aimee was featured in an expansive Bee story in 2006. She is now a senior at Gregori High and is scheduled for surgery next month.
The connection between Goldberg and the Peepgrass family? Goldberg was the executive editor and managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News a decade ago. Living in San Jose’s Rose Garden area, she met neighbor Julie Riera Matsushima, who also was a member of the same Rotary Club. Matsushima is Jason Peepgrass’ mom and Aimee’s grandmother.
“Best grandmother in the world,” Goldberg told me. Matsushima and husband Mel helped create the annual fundraising event for Aimee here, but also spearheaded through Rotary a $6 million effort in San Jose to build a fully disabled-accessible park in that city. The PlayGarden at Guadalupe River Park broke ground in April.
While living in San Jose, she came to Modesto to attend her first fundraiser for Aimee, and that is when she first saw Modesto’s landmark. Goldberg left San Jose in 2007, followed by three-year stints each at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Bloomberg News. In April, she became only the 10th editor-in-chief in the 126-year history of National Geographic.
“I was really taken by the arch,” she said. Consequently, as the magazine prepared to publish “When the Snows Fail,” she figured that “Water” is the first word of the slogan on the arch, and that the story focused on the Central Valley, and that Aimee lives in Modesto ... “that I’d write about Modesto,” she said.
She teases readers to the piece written by National Geographic science writer Michelle Nijhuis, who details the effects of drought conditions in the Valley and throughout the West on farmers and the populace. Along with great maps and graphics, it includes an aerial photo of geese near the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge west of Modesto. It will be in the print and online versions.
National Geographic isn’t the only major publication writing about our water woes these days. British-owned The Guardian and The Observer published a story Saturday about the Valley and the drought’s impact on almonds. The story headlined “ Alarm as almond farms consume California’s water” is available at www.theguardian.com. Enter almonds and California in the search field.
CENTURY MARK – Though it nearly was delayed, Steve Hutton of Turlock was able to make his 100th and presumably final climb of Yosemite’s Half Dome on Saturday. The recent fire in Yosemite National Park left him, for lack of a better term, up in the air about whether the climb would go on as scheduled.
“We did not know until Thursday if the trail was going to be open but we made it!” he wrote in an email. “These last 10 years have been an incredible journey never been about me yes I did set goals but sharing my passion of hiking has been so much fun.”
AND FINALLY – In the summer of 2013, I wrote about a naturalization ceremony atop Glacier Point. With the grandeur of Yosemite as a backdrop, 64 people became U.S. citizens. Several were Valley residents. The event was so well-received that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services decided to do it again.
Wednesday’s 11 a.m. ceremony will commemorate Constitution and Citizenship Day, a combined event observed every Sept. 17 to celebrate the creation and signing of the U.S. Constitution. Of the 46 new citizens, 16 of them are from Merced or Stanislaus counties, including seven from Modesto.