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Rodeo, Chocolate Festival Resume After 2020 Hiatus
Year In Review - Part 2
Front rodeo
The record crowd stood in solemn reflection as the ‘riderless horse’ was led through the rodeo arena on Saturday evening, Aug. 14 honoring two of the greatest cowboys to call Oakdale home, Bill Martinelli and Leo Camarillo, both of whom passed away since the last rodeo was hosted at the Saddle Club grounds. Marg Jackson/The Leader

The second half of the year, July through December, saw a couple of traditional spring favorites come back to Oakdale, albeit later than normal. Once gatherings were allowed once again, the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo was staged in August – not April – and the Oakdale Chocolate Festival was put on in September – not May. They were a couple of the notable events that signaled somewhat of a return to ‘normal’ life as the summer and fall months unfolded.



After serving for five years as the City of Oakdale’s Chief of Police, Scott Heller is retiring, effective Aug. 27, but Heller plans to help develop the transition plan before his formal retirement. “It has been a privilege and honor to serve this wonderful community. The timing to step back is right for me and my family,” Heller said. “The Oakdale Police Department is well supported by our great community with a team that is well prepared for the future. I look forward to remaining in the community with family and friends.” With the retirement announcement made in the last week, the search will soon begin for a successor. “The Oakdale Community is fortunate to have had Chief Heller lead the Oakdale Police Department,” said City Manager Bryan Whitemyer. “His commitment to constant improvement and serving the community is unparalleled. It has truly been a privilege to work with Chief Heller over the last five years.”

Oakdale High School Future Farmers of America continues to represent the investment of the District and its staff well, as the OHS Livestock Judging Team was recently named California State Livestock Judging champs. Team members Nicole Carter, Morgan Gravatt, Devon Pastor-Guzman, Jaiden Grivette and alternate Dominic Robles proved that adversity by way of learning need not get in the way of success. According to OHS Ag Instructor Isaac Robles, the adversity and distancing of COVID-19 learning left many California schools opting out for the year. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the OHS team began attending virtual practices via Google Hangout and Zoom in September to prepare for the competition.

Last summer, the beloved Hutton’s Hamlet had to keep the doors closed for their regular performances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they’ve returned to the stage with a vengeance this summer and just wrapped up the play Doo-Wop Wed Widing Hood. Shows were staged July 9 and 10, performers and audiences braving the triple digit heat for the love of the theater. “It’s the ‘50s meets fairytale,” Kierstyn Springer, a longtime Hutton’s Hamlet actress, described. The play followed the tale of three young princes trying to fight for the hand of ‘Little Wed Widing Hood’. Full of poodle skirts, ‘50s slang, and classic dance moves, the show brings a unique take to classic fairytale storytelling.

It’s a day she once hoped for, yet never truly saw coming. She’s had three separate tours with the Oakdale Joint Unified School District, but all good things do indeed come to an end. After a decade of greetings issued via phone and to walk-in customers, Beckie Westfall has said her final “good morning,” “good afternoon” and “thank you” as a district employee. “This is the job I had applied for a couple of times but didn’t get,” Westfall said of her tenure with Oakdale Joint Unified. “So when this job came available in March when I was still working at Fair Oaks, I applied and started working here that April.”

Lieutenant Jerry Ramar has been tapped as the Acting Police Chief for the Oakdale Police Department. The announcement was formally made by Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer on Monday evening, July 12. This appointment serves as the first step in preparing for Chief Scott Heller’s upcoming retirement which was announced on July 2, 2021.

Melinda Screeton, the powerhouse advocate behind the vision to build a local recovery house for addicts seeking help, has found another gaping resource hole when it comes to people in crisis — helping troubled teens. The U-Turn project is geared toward creating a safe space for teens in the community currently in crisis and struggling to find resources, encouragement, and guidance during a turbulent time in their lives. The idea is to build a support network for drug/alcohol rehabilitation that focuses on mental health and wellness, not punitive discipline.

It has been 31 years since Gillian Wegener’s last interview, which happened to be with Oakdale Joint Unified School District. That is, until earlier this year, when Wegener once again subjected herself to the question/answer session and secured the position as the new Assistant Superintendent Curriculum and Instruction. “I was super nervous beforehand, as I’m sure anybody would be,” Wegener shared. “I just tried to breathe deeply and the interview went pretty well and here I am. I’m really, really excited to get to do this job and get to serve the teachers and the students of Oakdale.”

The Oakdale Joint Unified School District announced all school sites within the district, including secondary campuses, will open Wednesday, Aug. 4 with modified COVID-19 protocols. According to new OJUSD Superintendent Dave Kline, masks will be required in the classroom setting.



Cloverland Elementary student Michelle Rodriguez, 11, isn’t your typical kid. Not only is she an entrepreneur with her own business, she’s brimming with compassion for those less fortunate. When Rodriguez and her family moved to Oakdale to be with family after the loss of their restaurant business due to COVID-19 closures, depression hit Rodriguez hard until her mother, Carime Antunez, suggested a fun activity to help pass the time. The idea became the foundation of her cocoa-bomb business, Fancy Sweets, which not only galvanized Rodriguez’ spirit but also inspired her to give back to the community by way of school supplies. Rodriguez spent more than $600 of her Fancy Sweets money to purchase 48 backpacks to fill with much-needed school supplies, such as notebooks, pencils, pens, index cards, highlighters, erasers, and so much more. She used social media to reach out to the community and registered interested people for a scheduled distribution on Monday, Aug. 2 in the Wells Fargo parking lot in Oakdale.

For many, it was a tough day. But at the end, it was also a feel good experience, coming together to honor a woman who was revered in her community and raising funds in her memory for those still battling cancer. Bonnie Gellerman served as a bus driver and teacher’s aide for years at Valley Home School and her freshly painted Bus No. 4 was on display at the school on Saturday, July 31 to serve as a backdrop for the event. From roughly 4 p.m. to nearly 11 p.m., community residents were busy on the school campus in the special fundraiser, with proceeds going to Team Bonnie and its participation in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, coming in October.

With all of California feeling the heat with rising temperatures and very little water to work with, it comes as no surprise that 100 percent of San Joaquin County and 95 percent of Stanislaus County are listed as experiencing “Exceptional Drought” conditions according to the US Drought Monitor, based out of UC Merced.

Things may appear to be happening rather quickly for newly appointed Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent, Dr. Dave Kline. Formerly serving as the Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources with OJUSD, Kline has begun his fourth year with the district in the big office. He took over the new post in time for the start of the new school year, with students returning to campuses this past week, on Wednesday, Aug. 4. The Oakdale High School Class of 1985 alum, however, didn’t enter that seat without significant past experience in education. Kline has worked in the education field for over 30 years, as well as completed additional course work to achieve this ultimate goal.

Before smoke from the wildfires burning in Northern California settled in over the Central Valley, residents of Oakdale had the opportunity to get out and greet their neighbors and ‘take back the night’ from crime and drugs. It was part of the National Night Out observance hosted locally and across the county, on Tuesday, Aug. 3. In Oakdale, it was an in person gathering; the 2020 Night Out was hosted as a ‘drive-thru’ style dinner event as the region was effectively shut down due to the pandemic.

It was a slice of Americana, a wild weekend party, an homage to those cowboys lost in recent months … and there were record crowds there to drink it all in. Oakdale Saddle Club’s PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) Rodeo was the capstone event, played out in the arena on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, Aug. 14 and 15, but there was plenty of activity spread elsewhere throughout the week. The Cowgirl Luncheon, Queen Coronation, the annual Rodeo Dance, Saturday morning parade, Sunday morning Cowboy Church … all were part of the celebration. And, based on the wall-to-wall people jammed in to every seat of the bleachers, box seats and often standing several people deep at the fences, people were more than ready to join the fun.

The increase of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in California has prompted health officials to recommend a vaccine booster shot for those individuals with compromised immune systems. The Stanislaus County Health Services Agency is advising immunocompromised individuals get a third dose of the vaccine, especially as the more transmissible Delta variant continues to spread in the region.

Tables piled high – but kept neatly organized – filled every available spot in the main room at the Bianchi Community Center in Oakdale on Saturday, Aug. 21. Members of the Oakdale Enrichment Society put on the annual Community Closet: Clothing “Free-For-All” to a receptive, appreciative audience. That, according to OES Secretary Lisa Ballard, one of the organizers for the Saturday clothing distribution. “We provided clothes for 332 people and that did not count the young kids in strollers, or the infants,” Ballard explained. “So I would say overall it was close to 400 people.” The event was not staged in 2020 due to the pandemic so it seems as though it was doubly needed this year, said Ballard.



Californians will begin receiving the second round of Golden State Stimulus payments, the historic $12 billion state tax rebate program enacted by Governor Gavin Newsom to provide direct relief for Californians hit hardest by the pandemic and support the state’s economic recovery. The Golden State Stimulus program was a key element of the Governor’s Immediate Action package in January to offset the worst economic effects of the pandemic, allocating $4 billion for low-income Californians, which included undocumented households that file taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) who were not eligible for the federal stimulus. In July, Governor Newsom expanded the program to include Californians making $75,000 or less.

Every decade, counties redraw district maps for their communities. Stanislaus County is working with the community to make sure the current redistricting process is guided by transparency, bipartisanship, and public input to ensure the new map reflects the will of voters, allows for competitive county elections, and fairly represents all communities. Stanislaus County is seeking participation in upcoming community workshops and public hearings.

Diane Kline returned to the Oakdale High School campus a bit earlier than she has for the past 15 years. On July 1, 2021 the long time OHS Social Studies teacher reported not only for a new role on campus, but to a new office and much more. Returning from summer break a few weeks before she normally would during her teaching days, Kline is now serving the OHS student body in a Vice Principal role overseeing Athletics, as well as ASB activities.

The Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts have joined in a lawsuit challenging the State Water Resources Control Board’s authority to prevent the two water agencies from diverting and storing Stanislaus River runoff in Donnells, Beardsley, New Melones and Tulloch Reservoirs. The state water board, in an emergency drought order issued Aug. 20, declared that OID, SSJID and 4,500 other water rights holders in California must immediately stop diverting water due to unprecedented drought conditions. Both Districts have the ability to use water previously stored behind those reservoirs and anticipate no immediate impacts to its agricultural and municipal customers.

Suspects wanted in connection with a deadly stabbing in early September were taken into custody on Sept. 9. Oakdale Police officers captured the suspects wanted in the Sept. 4 stabbing, reporting the arrest of Scott Warren Staudenmaier, 50, of Modesto and 23-year-old Lindsey Bench of Oakdale. The two were taken into custody in the 1400 block of East F Street on Thursday, Sept. 9. The victim was identified as Nathaniel Holland, 21, from Modesto.

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager announced Tuesday, Sept. 14 that she will not seek a fifth term as District Attorney in the 2022 election and plans to retire in January 2023.

Friday night, Sept. 17, family and friends packed the stands as Oakdale High School hosted its annual Fall Homecoming event. During halftime of the Oakdale and East Union varsity football game, the school honored its female royalty by crowning a princess and queen. The 2019 princess Baylee Merrill and queen of 2020 Kyndall Green handed over their crowns to the winners. With her father Jeff by her side, it was Jenna Sanders who was named princess. For the queens the crown went to Mikayla Notaro and she celebrated with her mom, Kim, and others following the announcement.

In what may be one of the most memorable years for Oakdale Joint Unified School District, Oakdale High School senior Brooklyn Tolboe has found herself in the mix as the OJUSD Student Board Member. Brooklyn was sworn into office at the September board meeting, where she got her first taste of what the year might entail. “It was hard because there isn’t much I could say, I’m not very influential on that topic and that’s totally fine,” the senior said of her first meeting and the audience displeasure with the board regarding COVID-19 protocols, especially masking. “But it’s hard to sit there when adults are almost acting like the kids. Where they’re not even being respectful when it comes to talking over one another; that was the main thing.”

Moving from late May to late September brought some changes to the annual Oakdale Chocolate Festival. Perhaps most notably, the lack of chocolate. While there were a handful of vendors selling the sweet confection, many of the vendors that come to the festival the third weekend of May couldn’t make it the last weekend of September. After having to cancel the festival altogether in 2020 due to the pandemic, Oakdale Chamber of Commerce officials wanted to get one in this year, but had to wait until restrictions eased and gatherings were once again allowed. That pushed the date to late September. “It was definitely not our normal size event,” said Chamber CEO Trisha K. Brown, “but we can’t expect it to be with us still being in the middle of a pandemic, this being September instead of May; many regular vendors are scheduled elsewhere in the month of September, and there were several events scheduled nearby at the same time.”



Some might say she’s a natural fit or ideal candidate. For Bambi Porter, however, her title as Oakdale Cowboy Museum Manager is a longtime dream realized. “I have actually wanted this position for years,” Porter shared, of her newly assigned role, noting she first expressed an interest in the job over five years ago. “We’ll just say that the planets were not aligned, and it just wasn’t my time,” she continued. “That was a hard pill to swallow. At the time and during that five years. At the beginning of this year, I found out that they were going to be hiring a manager, the person that was here had left.” The journey from then to now, as they say, is history. Porter quickly proved to be the right Cowgirl for the job, as she hit the ground running.

Back to a 24-hour event, the Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County saw participants from Oakdale and Riverbank in addition to Modesto, Turlock, Escalon and more. After not having an in person event in 2020 due to the pandemic, reductions in staffing levels at the American Cancer Society prompted the regionalization of the signature Relay For Life program. Here, the three host cities of Modesto, Oakdale and Turlock – which previously had individual relays – were joined together for one large event. Riverbank and Escalon were included in the Oakdale Relay For Life over the past few years and so continued on to the ‘Greater Stanislaus County’ regional event. Presenting sponsor for this year’s event, hosted at John Thurman Field in Modesto, was the local ConAgra of Oakdale, while the top fundraising team – Meet the Flockers – is based in Modesto but Team Captain Donna Stephens is an Oakdale resident.

After completing a comprehensive recruitment process, the City of Oakdale on Monday, Oct. 18 officially announced the appointment of its new Police Chief, Jerry Ramar. Chief Ramar, a local Oakdale resident, brings nearly 20 years of demonstrated law enforcement and leadership experience to Oakdale. Ramar joined the Oakdale Police Department in October 2019 when he was selected to fill the lieutenant position. He has been serving as the Acting Police Chief since July 2021, when outgoing Chief of Police Scott Heller announced his retirement.

With some suggestions provided by the public, Oakdale City Council members unanimously approved the expenditure plan for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds at the Monday night, Oct. 18 council meeting. Representing some of the adjustments to the original plan is the allocation of $200,000 for the creation of a non-profit grant program aimed at helping local grant applicants.

On Monday, Oct. 18, parents, families and activists from across the state traveled to the State Capitol in Sacramento to demonstrate their disapproval of the Governor Newsom’s latest ruling. It has been reported that the permit pulled for the demonstration was for attendance of 2500 and the actual number far exceeded that estimate. Since early in the school year, Oakdale parents, as well as community members have voiced their disapproval of masking and now the vaccine mandate with Oakdale Joint Unified Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Dave Kline as well as board members via phone calls, e-mails and in person attendance to the monthly board meetings. On Monday, while some parents chose to participate in the state wide “walk-out,” by keeping their students at home, some traveled to the Capitol to protest in unity.



Oakdale has earned the No. 1 seed for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs after its 28-0 dismantling of Manteca on Friday, Oct. 29 at The Corral. Oakdale, as the top seed, will welcome the winner of the No. 8 Davis vs. No. 9 Roseville match up, being staged Friday night, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. at Modesto Junior College. The quarterfinal game, at The Corral, is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m.

They came home with a national championship; the first in the history of Oakdale High School. Members of the Oakdale High School FFA Livestock Judging team competed at the national livestock evaluation contest in Indianapolis, Indiana on Oct. 27 during the 94th annual National FFA Convention. After being in Illinois and Indiana for a little over a week before the contest to practice at various colleges and ranches in the area, the students participated in the national competitions live portion of the contest.

An Oakdale man will spend more than two decades in prison in connection with a 2019 shooting in the city. William Beck Usilton III, 30, of Oakdale was sentenced to 21 years in prison during earlier court action in Modesto, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager announced on Nov. 1. On Feb. 10, 2019, at approximately 2:30 a.m., Usilton shot and killed 25-year-old Cody Sorensen during an argument. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and personal use of a firearm at the conclusion of a two-week jury trial.

Christmas shopping got a lot less stressful on the wallet with the Oakdale City Council’s approval of this year’s RAD card program just in time for the holiday shopping season to begin. Council members were happy to help administer some holiday cheer with the approval to allocate $710,000 in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to the RAD card program owned and operated by the Downtown Modesto Partnership that turned out to be wildly successful in its debut year. City Manager Bryan Whitemyer explained, “You double your money with an electronic gift card. If you upload $100 to your electronic gift card, we will double your money. You turn that $100 into $200.”

If it was ever a question it became quickly answered on Thursday, Nov. 11 as the community of Oakdale showed up in a big way to celebrate Veterans Day. Hosted for the fourth year by the Oakdale Enrichment Society, partnering with the City of Oakdale, as well as local Veterans’ organizations, Pontiac Street was packed with spectators as they awaited the parade. The fourth annual Veterans Day Parade began at the FES Hall, traveling west on Pontiac and ending at Fish Park.

Oakdale’s Operation Christmas Child has completed another successful year. With the local collection site set up at The River Christian Community Church along East G Street in Oakdale from Monday, Nov. 15 through Monday, Nov. 22, coordinator Elizabeth Greenlee said they wrapped it up with a busy weekend and a final day of operation on Monday. “We had a total of 548 shoeboxes come in this season,” Greenlee said. “Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days, people have more time on the weekends and that’s when the floodgates open.”



The Spirit of Oakdale Community Thanksgiving dinner, while served up a little bit differently this year, remained a success. A total of 300 food boxes and 430 Thanksgiving meals were distributed by the Oakdale Lions Club on Thanksgiving Day in a drivethru operation hosted out of the Community Center. Approximately 15 Lions Club members and 20 community volunteers gave up some time with their own families on Thanksgiving to aid in the Spirit of Oakdale annual dinner.

In a physical slugfest between longtime rivals on Friday, Nov. 26 the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final was decided by the passing game at St. Mary’s Sanguinetti Field in Stockton. Manteca’s Hudson Wyatt threw for three touchdowns, including the game winner to Zion Allen with 28 seconds remaining, and the Buffaloes secured the 35-28 victory over Oakdale when Blake Nichelson deflected Jackson Holt’s desperation heave into the end zone with no time left.

Downtown Oakdale understood the assignment as people brought the Christmas spirit to the annual Downtown Christmas event on Saturday, Dec. 4 with an unprecedented number of attendees and a plethora of craft booths, food options, and entertainment to keep people bustling at the holiday street fair.

Catherine Medlin is no different than most public school educators; she’s happy to be back on campus, is happy to be once again among the students and is tremendously proud of the Oakdale Junior High staff. Returning to campus full time for the 2021-22 school year, is something she was elated about and while in many ways the former OJHS vice principal would have been content with just that, things have gotten a bit more exciting for the 23-year veteran of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District. In November, Medlin was officially announced as the newly appointed principal of Oakdale Junior High.

With case rates increasing 47 percent since Thanksgiving, the California Department of Public Health will require universal masking to increase protection against COVID-19 to individuals, families, and communities during the holidays. In an announcement made Monday, Dec. 13, officials with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said they continue to monitor COVID-19 data in order to protect the health and wellbeing of all Californians.

Former Oakdale Joint Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Terri Taylor was sworn in Monday night, Dec. 13 by OJUSD Board President Diane Gilbert as she took the seat on the board left vacant in late October by board member Barbara Shook.

On Saturday, Dec. 18 Oakdale community members, volunteers and families of veterans gathered at Oakdale Citizens Cemetery to participate in Oakdale’s program as part of the national Wreaths Across America event. Just shy of 900 wreaths were laid on the gravesites of veterans at the local cemetery.

The Stanislaus County Coroner’s office identified the 18-year-old male who fell from a moving vehicle on Saturday, Dec. 18 and later died, as Joseph Casas of Oakdale. The teen was an Oakdale High School senior.

Oakdale City Council members unanimously approved a five-year extension to the previous agreement with Modesto City Fire for fire protection services at the Monday, Dec. 20 meeting.

It is a moment which has been a long time coming for ASTRO Foundation co-founding Board Members Jaydeen Vicente, Scott Hicks and an army of volunteers, and in early December, the ASTRO Foundation Adoption Center was opened for business. It is a feat made possible due to tireless fundraising, a partnership with a helpful contracting team, as well as a lot of sweat equity, but the 157 N. Fifth Ave., Oakdale location is ready to roll.

o royals
The newly crowned Princess Jenna Sanders and Queen Mikayla Notaro were all smiles at halftime of the varsity football game as part of the Homecoming festivities on Friday night, Sept. 17 in The Corral. Dennis D. Cruz/The Leader
Con Agra was on hand at the annual Oakdale Chocolate Festival on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 25 and 26 to hand out free chocolate pudding packs to festival goers. The annual festival is usually held in May but due to state pandemic restrictions was rescheduled for the fall. KIM VAN METER/THE LEADER
It was an impressive showing of young and old for the fourth annual Veterans Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 11 as participants made their way from the FES Hall to the ceremony hosted at Fish Park. Photo By Jeff Kettering