Jeff Jardine

Ringing out the old year no fun for Stanislaus man

Buck McNeely, a 1978 Hughson High graduate, hosts a nationally syndicated hunting and fishing show titled “The Outdoorsman with Buck McNeely,” which airs on more than 500 stations nationwide.
Buck McNeely, a 1978 Hughson High graduate, hosts a nationally syndicated hunting and fishing show titled “The Outdoorsman with Buck McNeely,” which airs on more than 500 stations nationwide. Buck McNeely

From the email and voice mails:

DROP IN THE BUCKET? – Typically, during the holidays, people will leave a store and drop a dollar bill or coins into the red Salvation Army buckets in front of the major retailers, getting a “Merry Christmas” from the bell ringers in attendance.

Mike West thinks he might have dropped in something far more valuable than a feel good contribution, and he isn’t feeling very good about it.

His story began Friday, when he checked his wife, Dana, into Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock for surgery. The nurse told him to take all her valuables with him. The last thing was her wedding ring, which he stuck in his pants pocket.

Later in the day, he made stops at a few retailers, including Walmart and Target stores in Modesto. At one of them, he thinks, he reached for a handful of change and dumped it into the kettle. When he got home, he realized the diamond ring was gone. Did he dump it into one of those buckets? Or did it fall out of his pocket and hit the pavement, the pinging sound drowned out by the ringing of the bell?

He went to the Salvation Army in Modesto to see if he could retrieve it.

“But they said everything goes to Stockton (to be counted),” West said. He was unable to reach anyone Monday at the Salvation Army there to determine if the ring was among the take.

So the waiting game begins. Here’s hoping it turns up.

BUCK DIDN’T STOP HERE – Buck McNeely, a 1978 Hughson High graduate, went from hosting a “Dating Game” knockoff at Modesto Junior College to a career hosting hunting and fishing shows.

“The Outdoorsman With Buck McNeely” is a syndicated show appearing on more than 500 stations nationwide, beginning its 30th year in January.

After MJC, McNeely moved to Los Angeles to begin his career, getting bit parts in movies. He later moved to Cape Girardeau, Mo., where his grandparents lived, and resumed college. For his senior project, he pitched the outdoors concept.

“I talked him into letting me take the camera out into the bush,” McNeely said. “I took it commercial in 1985.”

The show has taken him to Russia, Australia, some European nations, Africa and other places, and his guests have included actors, politicians (including former New York Gov. George Pataki), professional athletes (Kurt Warner and Jim Hart) and some athletes who turned into politicians, including former wrestler turned Minnesota Gov. Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

The show can be seen on Fresno stations, but McNeely said the Sacramento and San Francisco markets have been a tougher sell because of the hunting elements.

He can be found on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

LANDMARK GOES DRY – Columbia State Historic Park’s Jack Douglass Saloon, a watering hole famous for its cold beer and sarsaparilla and good music, closed Sunday afternoon. Owners Steve and Doreen Kwanicki decided it was no longer feasible for them to operate, general manager Kendra Burlison said. But all is not lost: Burlison is trying to raise the $20,000 or so needed to get the 157-year-old saloon up and running again. She’s opened a page on, a fundraising site. If successful, she’ll then need to apply to the California State Parks Commission to take over the operator’s permit, and has no doubts she’ll be approved. If not, she promises every dime donated to the cause will be returned.

BR-R-R-R! – With the Mid-Valley Water Ski Club’s 60th and final Polar Bear Day set for Thursday at Modesto Reservoir, Bart Bartoni of Modesto recalled one of his first – with the long-defunct Stanislaus County Water Ski Association. In fact, he still has the card certifying his participation on that very cold New Year’s Day.

“It was in 1959 at Turlock Lake,” Bartoni said.

Of course, the ride out and back probably seemed more fun than the plunge into the chilly water.

Bartoni and Gene Winfield were Modesto’s most well-known custom car builders and restorers at the time. Winfield was the president of the water ski club as well.

Now 84, Bartoni was just a kid of 28 in 1959.

“It was freezing cold,” he recalled. “We didn’t wear wet suits. We wore shorts. I thought I was going to turn into an ice cube. It was that cold. I only did it one year.”

But he kept the club’s card and still has it to this day.

A BUSY MAN – Jack Warnack of Jamestown turns 100 come Jan. 21. Granted, there are many centenarians in the area. But how many of them are still serving as president of their respective service clubs?

Warnack runs the Twain Harte Rotary – his third go-round as president – and has been a member for nearly 37 years. He’ll celebrate No. 100 with a birthday party at Black Oak Casino, assuming friends can persuade him to take the day off from his job as an estimator for a local roofing company.

Alan Wallace, who will succeed Warnack as president next summer, said he expects about 125 people at the party.

“He’s pretty amazing,” Wallace said. “He’s still got one heck of a strong handshake.”

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.