Jeff Jardine

Blue lives, blue ribbons unite Hughson residents after deputy’s death

Under most circumstances, the term “blue ribbon” is a good thing. It means somebody won something.

In Hughson, however, the blue ribbons you’ll find all over town represent a most devastating loss. They mean Hughson residents are mourning slain Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace, a man they called their “hero.” But blue also means they support his comrades in law enforcement. And the blue ribbons, along with blue balloons throughout town, are intended to comfort Wallace’s wife, Mercedes, her family, friends and the citizens themselves.

“We’ve handed out over 1,000 of them,” said Amanda Young, wife of Hughson Mayor-elect Jeramy Young. “I put it out on the NextDoor app asking who wanted one and it just blew up. We want the Wallace family to know we are behind them. When Hughson hurts, we all hurt. I think it (placing the blue ribbons and balloons) is unifying us.”

They cried together at a vigil Sunday night, hurting because a beloved man who protected their city died in a most heinous and callous way, shot twice in the head, authorities say, by car theft suspect just a few miles away at the Fox Grove Fishing Access to the Tuolumne River. The blue ribbons adorn every fence post from Geer Road to the fishing access as well.

Wallace, 53, lived in Hughson. He spent years there as a football official and soccer coach, and became a driving force in getting Hughson a youth soccer complex. He also spread the anti-drug message at the schools through the DARE program.

“Everything he did,” Young said, “he did for the kids. He worked his butt off for that complex. It was his dream. It’s really hard.”

Small towns are like that. You know everyone in town. They know you or know your parents. Wallace knew them all, including Rafael Quiroz, who cooks at Bob’s Coffee Shop downtown.

“He would always come in and sit right here,” Quiroz said, pointing to a table near the kitchen. “I knew him well. He always ordered the sampler (breakfast) with country potatoes. There were many times when he’d have to get up and leave before he could eat because something happened. His food would get cold. When he finally came back, I’d warm it for him or re-cook his order.”

Wallace once stopped Quiroz for speeding on Whitmore Avenue.

When Wallace asked why he was going too fast, Quiroz responded, “I was driving to work. I was a little late. He said, ‘Let me see your license so I can pretend I’m doing my job.’ Then he said, ‘Just keep making those pancakes. And slow down. You’re good.’ 

Wallace and Pizza Factory owner Derek Ross were longtime friends, going back to a time when Ross coached high school football and Wallace refereed it. Sometimes, Wallace’s calls on the field didn’t meet Ross’ expectations. But when the game ended, the friendship resumed.

“Going back 19 years,” he said. “I’d tease him and he’d tease me.”

The opportunities for more of the same vanished with two senseless gunshots.

“It was heinous, ridiculous,” he said, of Wallace’s murder. “I was kind of speechless yesterday. He touched a lot of people. Yesterday was a bad day. Today is a bad day.”

Monday, Ross found himself missing his friend while feeling proud of his town.

“It shakes you up, but this is where you see how great Hughson is,” Ross said. “I’m not saying other towns don’t come together like Hughson does, but Hughson really does. At the same time, I don’t think you really ever recover. Life doesn’t stop. It goes on. We’ll always remember Dennis and what he represented to the community.”

A few minutes later, Amanda Young and her spunky 3-year-old daughter, Braelyn, delivered blue ribbons and bows to Ross in his pizzeria, and then attached blue ribbons and bows to a lamppost for all the world, and particularly the Wallace family, to see.

“We can’t do anything to bring their loved one back,” Young said. “But when they they drive through town, they’ll see that we care.”