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City Celebration, Progress Usher In First Half Of Year
Review 2021
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Adding some shovels full of dirt at the Friday night, June 25 time capsule ceremony as part of Oakdale’s Sesquicentennial were members of the Oakdale Enrichment Society, from left, President Amy Velasco, Vice President (and Oakdale Mayor) Cher Bairos, Secretary Lisa Ballard and Treasurer Lupe Aguilera. Marg Jackson/The Leader

While the calendar turned from 2020 to 2021 as scheduled, the New Year did not immediately bring any relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. There were still many restrictions but residents in and around the Cowboy Capital persevered to enjoy a number of significant events to start the year.

This week, we review the top stories of 2021 from January to June, those events that made the pages of The Leader, in a year that was definitely memorable.



Stanislaus County Health Services Agency’s Public Health Division received its first allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December. The first delivery contained 3,900 doses and was made available to those identified under Phase 1a Tier 1 of the COVID-19 vaccine plan by the federal government and California Department of Public Health, which includes Acute Hospital Health Care Workers who are most at risk of exposure.

Former Oakdale resident and five time PRCA World Champion Team Roper Leo Camarillo passed away Dec. 30 from complications due to COVID-19 in Chandler, AZ. Leo was born into a family rich in western tradition and rodeo, and grew up in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, where his father Ralph Camarillo worked on a local ranch and mother Pilar worked in a restaurant in the nearby tourist town of Solvang. Ralph, who competed in rodeos and was the 1945 California State Rodeo Champion himself, passed along his knowledge of roping, work ethic, and love of competing to Leo and his brother Jerold. Leo was on a horse at the age of three and started competing in horse shows and junior rodeos at the young age of five. He competed in rodeos and horse shows through high school, when he began focusing on roping.

Oakdale City Council members recently approved the build of a brand new 1500 Gallon-Per-Minute (G.P.M.) fire engine for the Willowood Drive station, awarding the $687,523.41 bid contract to local company, Hi-Tech for the project. The city opted for a pre-payment option, which allowed for a 10 percent reduction in overall price.

The council also appointed councilwoman Cherilyn Bairos to serve as the interim mayor following former mayor JR McCarty’s resignation at the end of December last year, opening up a council seat.

Letting their feelings be known, student-athletes from Oakdale High School joined the statewide #LetThemPlayCA movement, gathering at the West G Street campus on Friday, Jan. 15. At 4 p.m. student-athletes began to show up with their signs, many wearing Mustangs gear and more importantly, their masks. The event was organized by junior Jackson Holt. He heard about the movement and wanted to make sure Oakdale High School was represented. “We are anxious, we are smart and we want to play,” said Holt at the peaceful demonstration. “I really do think this can be done safely, responsibly and smart.”

Stanislaus County will soon receive funds through an Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) supported by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Emergency Rental Assistance program makes available $25 billion to assist households unable to pay rent and utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to information on the Stanislaus County website, the Stanislaus region will be receiving a combined amount of roughly $16,400,000 for distribution to those who are eligible and can demonstrate a need.

Preliminary annual crime statistics compiled by the Oakdale Police Department show the overall crime rate was down in 2020 and below the five-year average. From January to December of 2020, the Oakdale Police Department recorded more incidents of violent crime when compared to 2019 and fewer incidents of property crimes. This appears consistent with similar data released by other cities during the COVID-19 pandemic this past year.

Nothing looks as the up and coming graduating class of 2021 may have imagined. Now with graduation just a handful of months away, Oakdale parents as well as the community, have begun pioneering their own memory making for the local high school seniors. On Friday, Jan. 22 a second of bi-monthly drive-thru lunches was hosted in the parking lot outside the former Big K-Mart on South Maag Avenue. The events began as a result of mom and longtime Oakdale schools volunteer Ashly Ferreira, whose youngest son Brody will be graduating from OHS this May.

The Oakdale Saddle Club and PRCA Oakdale Rodeo is taking precautions and is postponing the annual event. Earlier this month, officials with the Oakdale Rodeo took to social media and announced that they were moving the event from April to August as a result of COVID-19. The event is now scheduled for Aug. 14 and 15, rather than the normal second weekend of April. During 2020 the event was cancelled altogether and the goal is to have the event return to The Cowboy Capital of the World for 2021.



In a letter to the community, posted on the Oakdale Joint Unified School District website, District Superintendent Marc Malone announced that there won’t be any opening of secondary school campuses for in-person learning at this time. Malone explained that the “Board of Trustees has acted to postpone announcing any potential reopening date for grades 7-12 to in-person instruction until Stanislaus County reaches the Red Tier in the California Blueprint to a Safer Economy. This postponement is due to the fact that Stanislaus County is currently in the Purple Tier of the Blueprint.” Oakdale does have its elementary students back on campus in a hybrid-type schedule but has not yet allowed the secondary students to return.

Some might say Pat Corrigan’s most recent project is a bit of a labor of love. A project which has been over a decade in the making, now has much of the community of Oakdale both wondering as well as talking. The “project” would be the west side construction which continues to take shape with Pat Corrigan and his son Austin of Corrigan Construction, Inc. as head contractors of a future senior community. “I always knew there was a need for it in Oakdale,” the elder Corrigan said, noting becoming aware of the need when looking for a facility for his mother to live and wanting to keep her in the 95361.

Jack Dickens, a semi-retired painter, doesn’t consider himself anything more than a guy doing the right thing but to the people and animals he delivers much-needed pet food to, he’s an angel. When the pandemic hit and the lockdown shuttered many businesses, it also took down many volunteer services that low-income and senior citizens rely upon for their daily life. For many shut-ins, who consider their pets nothing less than family, Dickens’ deliveries are a shining beacon of hope during one of the nation’s darkest times.

A handful of new volunteers joined the Stanislaus River Watch group on Saturday, Feb. 6, rolling up their sleeves, armed with trash bags, trash-pickers, and a can-do attitude to help clean up the shores of the mighty Stanislaus River. Stanislaus River Watch started five years ago with a core group of volunteers, dedicated to keeping the Stanislaus River clean and presentable, rain or shine, and even through the pandemic but new energy was appreciated. Saturday’s clean-up removed 1,180 pounds of trash picked up from the river behind the Costless shopping center, under the bridge and beyond the bridge toward the senior center.

This year’s Annual Awards Dinner hosted by the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce will be presented in a different format, but there will still be honors presented for those who have made Oakdale a special place to live and work this year. Normally held at the Gene Bianchi Community Center in January, the event has been rescheduled for Friday, Feb. 19 and will be a drive-thru dinner with a virtual viewing ceremony.

Oakdale Joint Unified School District unveiled a night course option for students who failed their courses last semester and would like an opportunity to repair their grades. OJUSD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum/Instruction, Kristi Rapinchuk presented the course option to the school board earlier this month with the following information on the Edgenuity program.

Nothing looked the same for the 41st Annual Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon. The addition of the word “virtual” to the event title would be the most telling, as well as predictable fact as the Oakdale High Aca Dec team joined the others for the annual event, hosted on Saturday, Feb. 6. This year’s topic was the Cold War. Amidst the virtual difference, coach Dee Hawksworth proudly coached 17 competing students in the months leading up to the Saturday event. The result of her coaching and the team’s effort resulted in a second place award to Oakdale High School, as well as a collection of 56 medals. Second year competing team member Alana Casey was awarded First Place Scholastic Champion.

It was a virtual celebration, but several local businesses and residents were feted as part of the 75th annual Oakdale Chamber of Commerce awards night. Festivities were staged on Friday, Feb. 19 and the evening netted big honors for the award winners in numerous categories. Announced previously, the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Melinda Owen; that is the only award that is known ahead of time. In the other categories, the 2020 winners were: Citizen of the Year — Pastor Henry Raven; Community Service Award — Oakdale Community Sharing; Junior Achievement Award — Emery Franco, Dominic Robles, Devon Pastor Guzman, Morgan Gravatt (All nominees were recognized in this category); Small Business of the Year — Get Fit Oakdale; Large Business of the Year — Infinite Athletics Cheer and Tumbling.



New daily cases of COVID-19 in Stanislaus County continue to decline. Currently, Stanislaus County has an adjusted case rate of 15.7 per 100,000 people, and a positivity rate (seven-day average) of 6.3 percent, for the week of March 2, 2021. The County’s testing positivity rate meets the State’s metric to advance to the red tier; however, the adjusted case rate does not. The State requires Stanislaus County to meet the red tier metric in both measures for two consecutive weeks in order to advance.

As the campuses of Oakdale High and Oakdale Junior High schools remain empty, so to do the choir classrooms. The vacancy, however, hasn’t stopped Choir Instructor Bryan Mills from doing what many have been motivated to do this school year: think outside the box. Mills, a veteran at teaching choir at both campuses, shared he began thinking of the coming year last summer when it became apparent he would likely be teaching Choir in an on-line format. The longtime teacher admitted he felt it would be tough to teach singing on-line. As a music enthusiast himself, Mills did some research which resulted in finding funding to purchase 50 guitars for the high school and 50 ukuleles for his junior high students. “With singing, we sang the whole first semester, but it’s hard to put the music together,” Mills said of the virtual experience. “So what we did was ordered the guitars and ukuleles. The kids seem to like it.”

The first known case of the B.1.1.7 variant has been detected in Stanislaus County. This is the variant that was first identified in the UK and has now been detected in 70 countries. It is more infectious and possibly causes more severe illness and death. This is also the variant that CDC had predicted would become the predominant strain in the US by the end of March. “The detection of the B.1.1.7 variant in Stanislaus County is a sobering reminder that this pandemic is not over,” said Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, Stanislaus County Public Health Officer. “The best way to prevent this variant from spreading, and prevent more variants from developing, is to stop the virus from circulating in the community. It is vital that everyone, even people that have been vaccinated, continue to follow recommendations that prevent the spread of disease, which include testing, masking, distancing, and getting the vaccine when it is your turn.”

City pooches will be getting a new place to run around for doggie playdates as Oakdale City Council members approved the Maag Avenue Dog Park layout Monday night, March 15, clearing the way for volunteers to start the construction of the community-driven new park. City Council approved plans to move forward with the design process for a new dog park at the drainage basin on Maag Avenue, north of the Oakdale Junior High School campus, in October 2020 as community volunteers Jennifer Stasio and Michelle Thomasser led the charge to make it happen. The civic-minded volunteers presented council with a plan involving local landscape architect Sam Harned to finalize the design. “They’ve done a lot of legwork and we’re appreciative of that,” City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said of the two volunteers.

Students were back on campus on Tuesday, March 23 in Oakdale, the end result of a long process that featured plenty of twists and turns. Emotions were high from all corners of the district on Thursday, March 18, in fact, as members of the Oakdale Joint Unified School Board gathered for a special meeting with just one agenda item to discuss: “Student Requirements of Guided Instruction Portion of 7-12 Re-Opening Plan.”

Making a move out of the most restrictive purple tier, the California Department of Public Health announced Tuesday that Stanislaus County has met the requirements to move into the Red Tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. This change is based on the accelerated health equity metric with a percentage of positive tests (5.0 percent, the exact number being 4.96 percent) and health equity metric (4.5 percent). In alignment with the State’s framework, most businesses can resume modified indoor operations effective Wednesday, March 24.

Last week as students returned to Oakdale High School, theater as well as choir students were able to finally take in the new Performing Arts Room. Formerly the wrestling room and previously the school library, the building which shares a common wall with the OHS Theater was transformed over the summer to a state-of-the-art performing arts space. The multi-purpose room is complete with mirrored walls, dressing rooms, an expansive make-up space as well as risers for the performers to use in rehearsal. “This really helps when practicing with dance routines and how one will look on the stage,” performing arts instructor Bryan Mills said of the 24-foot mirrored wall.



Melinda Screeton knows a thing or two about the healing power of grace, forgiveness, and personal accountability — and now it’s time to pay it forward. Recently, Screeton introduced herself to the Oakdale City Council in the hopes of garnering hope and interest in a project that’s rooted in compassion and gaining traction in other counties, states and countries. The project, at its core, is a place to offer rehabilitation for those with addiction that goes far beyond simply requiring a few mental health visits and then tossing the addicted person back on the streets without any appropriate aftercare. Improperly treated addiction issues fracture into additional challenges, most often, homelessness, which then feeds into a vicious cycle that’s near to impossible to escape without help.

Mother of two and community volunteer Ashly Ferreira is making sure the Class of 2021 has a memorable Senior Year. The pioneer and mastermind behind the Friday Senior Lunch Program gathered her resources and put volunteers to work on Saturday, April 3 as 450 ‘congratulations’ signs were distributed. “We want to make sure everybody gets a sign in their front yard, as a surprise to them,” Ferreira said prior to the sign distribution. The 385 member Class of 2021 each received signs in their front yard within two hours, thanks to the 50-volunteer army which showed up at Oakdale High School on Saturday morning. Additional signs were placed for students with two family homes, as well as some being placed in local businesses. “The greatest part about it is the Oakdale High School Sports Boosters sponsored it,” Ferreira said of the signs which she designed. “We’re so fortunate.”

Oakdale and Modesto City-County Airport will both receive significant grant funds from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in an effort to enhance protection for their runways. Oakdale will receive $91,000 and Modesto will receive $305,000. The Oakdale grant will enable the airport to continue its pavement management project, which according to Michael Renfrow, Oakdale City Senior Engineering Technician, is much-needed and well-overdue as more than $5 million worth of work is needed.

The Oakdale Chamber of Commerce welcomed spring with a fun event, Explore Oakdale, on Thursday, April 15 with 15 local businesses participating where shoppers had the opportunity to win raffle prizes while discovering new or established businesses within Oakdale.

Members of the Oakdale City Council approved a long-overdue and much-needed overhaul of City Hall’s audio equipment Monday night, April 19 with unanimous support for the $76,704.27 project.

Now in her third year as an OHS FFA member, junior Micaiah Richison was recently selected to be an officer on the Central Region FFA team, and will serve as Reporter for the 2021-2022 school year.

From trash pick-up at parks to refreshing the large OHS letters on the back side of The Corral, there was plenty of love to go around as volunteers fanned out around the community on Saturday. Love Oakdale was hosted on April 24.



Oakdale High School senior Madison Hoffman is well on her way to a bright and promising future. The senior was recently selected as the 2021 Leo Volz Scholarship recipient; an honor bestowed most commonly on one graduating senior each year. The Leo Volz Scholarship pays $25,000 per year for four years of higher education, for a maximum of $100,000 toward tuition and books. Volz was an Oakdale farmer who bequeathed a scholarship to be set up through OJUSD in his will, which was endowed with $2 million.

Consider it a celebration 150 years in the making. In other words, it’s going to be big. The members of the Oakdale Enrichment Society, OES, are planning a huge birthday bash – recognizing not only the 150th birthday for the City of Oakdale but also working in a July 4 celebration as well. The event is being planned in late June, kicking off with some activities on Thursday, June 24 and running through Sunday, June 27. The main attraction will be Saturday, June 26 – a day that will include a parade, tractor pull, live music, kids activities, food and a live professional fireworks show at dark. Members of the OES include President Amy Velasco, Vice President Cherilyn Bairos, Secretary Lisa Ballard and Treasurer Lupe Aguilera. “Our beloved town of Oakdale turns 150 in 2021, and we want to celebrate with a bang … literally,” the OES members noted in an announcement highlighting the upcoming event. “Combining the celebration of this huge milestone, along with the Fourth of July holiday, our event promises to be one of the best around.”

After 35 years of serving Oakdale Joint Unified School District, in a number of capacities, District Superintendent Marc Malone officially announced his retirement during closed session of Monday night’s OJUSD Board meeting, May 10. “It has truly been a pleasure to have him serve with all the outstanding professionals that represent OJUSD,” Board President Barbara Shook said during the public announcement shortly after the start of the 6:30 p.m. Public Meeting. “After 35 years it took me a while but my work is complete, thank you,” Malone stated to the board.

The first case of SARS-CoV-2 Variant P.1 has been detected in Stanislaus County. This variant was first found in Brazil and has been identified as another variant of concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The case is not believed to be travel related.

The Corral field will once again be filled with white chairs, as Oakdale celebrates graduations and promotions this week. With the return of traditional graduation ceremonies, so do commencement speeches given by the Oakdale High School 2021 Valedictorian, Joey Janssen and Salutatorian, James Homer. Former Fair Oaks Elementary School Falcons, both Janssen and Homer have plans of traveling south come the end of summer to begin the next chapter of college life. Janssen has chosen to attend UCLA where he plans to major in Civil Engineering and minor in Computer Science. “Hopefully that will go well,” he said of his college choice, particular to his major. “It was one of the top engineering programs of all the campuses I got into and I also have family down there. I really like the area.” Homer will be a short drive away as he plans to attend UC Irvine, where he will major in Computer Science. “I hope to specialize in machine learning and AI and I eventually want to become a software engineer and live in LA.”

While not a specific item on the Oakdale City Council agenda, one particular issue keeps popping up in public comment as more citizens have voiced their concern, displeasure, and frustration over complaints that the D Street traffic has become a major problem. The main complaint appears to be excessive speed by motorists using the side street as a faster alternative to the main highway, which, according to residents, has turned into a dangerous drag strip, putting everyone at risk.

It was a first of its kind last Friday night, as 367 seniors of Oakdale High School’s Class of 2021 took their seats on the field of The Corral for their graduation ceremony. As the graduates entered the stadium a limited number of family and friends cheered for their respective senior. Due to Health Department Guidelines for gatherings, each graduate was allotted two tickets. ASB President Jude Krick led the ceremony with a well prepared speech. The ticket limit, however, did not detour friends and family from lining up along the chain link fences, while others tailgated in the parking lot awaiting their respective graduate.

American Veterans First (AVF) hosted Medal of Honor recipient Command Sergeant Major Robert M. Patterson at Love America, a salute to patriotism event held this past Friday in Riverbank. The May 21 gathering paid tribute to veterans and active military in all the armed forces. “I thought it was excellent,” stated AVF CEO Duke Cooper about the event. “It went very smooth. Sergeant Major is a great speaker. He engaged the audience from the start to the finish. It was very well done.”



American flags placed on the graves of veterans buried at the Oakdale Citizens Cemetery were very much in evidence for the Memorial Day observance on Monday, May 31. The graves are decorated each year with the small flags and, as they do for all major holidays, the Oakdale Lions Club also places large flags along the main highways through town along with some side streets downtown. The day is now considered the unofficial start to summer and temperatures hit triple digits on Monday, the Oakdale area recording a high of 100 degrees.

Now that the ink on the contract is dry, Oakdale Enrichment Society members are happy to share the news: country artist David Lee Murphy is coming to town. He will be the headliner for the Saturday, June 26 concert that is part of five days of festivities planned for Oakdale’s 150 birthday celebration. Or, to be more precise, it is the city’s sesquicentennial event, and the party starts on Wednesday, June 23 and continues through Sunday, June 27.

Finally, the news that families all over Oakdale have been waiting for: Royse Memorial Pool (“The Plunge”) is open for the summer. Saturday, June 5 the pool officially opened up for its 2021 summer season. After last summer when the pool had to keep its doors closed due to COVID restrictions, patrons and lifeguards alike are thrilled to be poolside once more. “My goal is to open safely and stay open,” city recreation coordinator Jane Finkenbine relayed. “We’re sticking to open swim, lessons, and water aerobics.”

With a unanimous approval vote, members of the Oakdale City Council gave the green light to proceed on a major, and long overdue, $2 million overhaul on the Oakdale City Police Department, starting with the removal of harmful asbestos from the aging building. The City received three bids for the project. CNW Construction, Inc. came in with the lowest bid for the facility improvement project, at $2,141,000.00.

Stanislaus County has met the requirements to move into the ‘Orange Tier’ of the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The California Department of Public Health announced on Tuesday that effective June 9, the county will be in the ‘Orange.’ This tier allows many activities to resume, according to the State’s expanded capacity limits and safety protocols, including: Indoor dining at maximum 50 percent capacity or 200 people maximum; Retail stores open with modifications (no capacity limit); Wineries and Breweries to open at 25 percent capacity or 100 people indoor maximum.

It’s a project that highway travelers quite literally have watched come to life. The River Oak Grace Children’s Ministry Facility is now open for worship. With the groundbreaking first being staged in late August of 2019, the close to 12,000-square foot facility has reached completion and is now abuzz with youth from infant age to sixth grade. It is on the property of River Oak Grace Church along Rodden Road, just north of Oakdale across the Stanislaus River Bridge. The expansive, free standing building hosts two levels, with 10 rooms for the varying age groups, as well as a large gathering room, multiple restrooms, a check-in area and a large indoor play area which greets all who enter.

It’s never too early to get started on your life path. Just ask a trio of local teens … and their mentors. “Wow, we just taught this 18-year-old how to become a professional,” area Realtor Jeff Green mused, reflecting on how the ‘Young Realtor’ program started. Ricardo Jimenez and Green have since begun helping young adults in the region get their Realtor’s license. It’s an internship that they market to high schoolers in their senior year to get their careers started right away. The latest success stories for Jimenez and Green are Estrella Castro, Alondra Castro, and Noah Harris. The group, with ages ranging from 19 to 21, heard about the internship through school and now all have their Realtor’s licenses and are hosting open houses.

Five days, multiple events, thousands of people … and countless memories. That sums up the Oakdale Enrichment Society’s event, celebrating Oakdale’s 150th birthday and a Fourth of July All American Bash. With events starting on Wednesday, June 23 and continuing through Sunday, June 27, the city was provided with a showcase that allowed it to highlight the things that make Oakdale special. The celebration was a couple of years in the making, and members of the Oakdale Enrichment Society, OES, were both thrilled and relieved that the pandemic restrictions were loosened literally in the nick of time for their party to go on. California’s COVID-19 restrictions were basically lifted on June 15, just a little more than a week before the first events were scheduled. Main festivities were on Friday and Saturday, June 25 and 26, with a time capsule ceremony and city celebration on Friday night at the Bianchi Community Center, followed by the Saturday morning parade and events all afternoon and evening at the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo Grounds.


Next week, a look at the top stories from the second half of the year, July through December.

Local youngsters Gracie and Ella Madru, Owen and Emma Bodeson, and Sara Peabody couldn’t wait to jump into the local pool this weekend. The swimmers showed off their tricks leaping into the deep end and splashing around to start the summer in style. Autumn Neal/The Leader
The message from student-athletes was taken to the curb in front of the Oakdale High School campus on Friday, Jan. 15 with participants raising signs, seeking the chance to play sports once again amidst the pandemic. Dennis D. Cruz/The Leader
Jack Dickens, a semi-retired painter, spends his off-time picking up, packaging and delivering cat and dog food to residents throughout Oakdale as part of his effort to help those in need during the pandemic. The ‘pet food dude’ has become a hero to many in the community. Kim Van Meter/The Leader