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Second Half Review: Looking Back At 2020
Oakdale High senior, Chandler Neal, took the stage for a quick minute to pose for an official photo after teacher Pete Simoncini handed him a temporary diploma cover in a nearly empty social distancing COVID-aware Corral in late July. Autumn Neal/The Leader

 Students remained on distance learning to start the new school year, the holidays looked decidedly different and COVID-19 continued to impact every aspect of people’s lives as the second half of 2020 unfolded. Here are excerpts from some of the top stories from The Oakdale Leader, July to December.



It comes as no surprise but stings nonetheless. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the Oakdale Saddle Club have formally decided not to have the annual rodeo in 2020. Originally scheduled for April of 2020, COVID-19 prevented the annual event from saddling up on its traditional second weekend in April. “It was a tough decision, one that we tried very hard to find an alternate way to prevent,” said Oakdale Saddle Club Director Les Porter. “It’s uncharted territory, a situation that we have never faced before. We really did do everything in our power to try and reschedule it for later this year but scheduling and the uncertainty of COVID-19 and our government’s mandated guidelines would not allow it.”

The generosity of the community supporting Oakdale High School’s Class of 2020 continues. One of the latest efforts, a tree of ‘Mustang Bucks’ is located at Pak Mail on the city’s eastern end and 100 percent of the money donated will be given to the OHS Sober Grad committee to ensure that every single senior receives a gift on graduation day.

Giving back to the community is what Jaylene Ponce, owner of Jaylene’s Baking, is proudly known for. With all that is going on in the world today in regards to a focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, Ponce knew showing her gratitude toward local police officers and firefighters was exactly what she wanted to do. The local baker notes that some 750 cookies have been delivered to local stations and even some Bay area stations over the past few weeks.

Call it a dream come true. But it was a dream that an Oakdale woman had to work hard to achieve. “Tears, tears. I could still cry today,” Paulette Graham-Wright shared. “It was just something that you dream about.” That ‘something’ happened a little over a month ago. June 21, 2020 marked the end of the multi-day California State Trap Championship; it also marked the day that Graham-Wright was inducted into the California Trapshooting Hall of Fame.

Not entirely unexpected, but disappointing for many nonetheless, school campuses in Oakdale won’t be opening the doors in early August. “There is certainly ample opinion upon the overall effects of the virus and the proper response to it,” Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent Marc Malone noted as a special school board meeting commenced on Monday night, July 27. “The county public health officer is the recognized, single authority in Stanislaus County on public health and infectious disease. On July 13, the Stanislaus County public health officer determined that it is not safe to open our schools with in-person instruction.”



It was the moment that many in the community had been waiting for the entire summer: graduation. As of June, the hope had still been for a traditional high school graduation ceremony, albeit at the end of July. However, new mandates to help stop the spread of coronavirus put a halt to any hope for normality. The district, still wanting to celebrate their graduates, decided to put on a less-than-traditional ceremony. “It was our goal all along to hold out for the traditional ceremony,” Superintendent Marc Malone reiterated. He also confirmed that all four graduations –junior high, alternative education, charter and high school – proved to be a success and graduates respected social distancing protocols.

Oakdale City Council took steps to help mitigate the impact of a statewide shutdown affecting local business by unanimously approving an urgency ordinance permitting outdoor operation for qualifying businesses.

Volunteers at the longtime local food bank, Oakdale Community Sharing, are celebrating a brand new facility. With plenty of room with which to work, crew members say the organization has been up and running smoothly in the brand new facility for the past several weeks. The new building was funded by donations from the community so that the Oakdale Community Sharing organization wouldn’t have to use any of their food donation money to fund the new facility.

For the first time since it began almost three decades ago, there won’t be any Oakdale Chocolate Festival this year. Chamber of Commerce officials announced this past week on social media that they have had to cancel the event, as it just wasn’t practical to try to put it on amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditionally, the annual Oakdale Chocolate Festival has been staged in May but, when the pandemic effectively shut down normal life in mid-March, organizers quickly had to make a decision. The festival was originally postponed until September but, with numbers still trending in the wrong direction, they finally just had to pull the plug for this year.

Masks and gloves were the order of the day as a crew in Valley Home worked hard for a few hours on Saturday morning. Set up on the campus of the Valley Home School, volunteers served up pre-ordered to-go breakfasts in a drive-thru style. Proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward the maintenance and upkeep of the small Valley Home Community Park, which is the scene of many gatherings throughout the year.

When evacuees from the Moc fire headed out from homes in Groveland, Pine Mountain Lake, and surrounding areas, many found themselves in Oakdale. And the reception they got was unexpected, overwhelming – and definitely appreciated. Front desk clerk Monique Poe at the Holiday Inn Express on East F Street in Oakdale said when she realized they were getting many fire evacuees, she posted on Facebook that they were looking for help with meal preparation and said the response was immediate.



By now, most of Oakdale that’s affiliated with the high school in some way has seen the famous “OKG” video – also known as Oakdale Kinda Guy. With hats and shirts being sold and more and more athletes identifying with the title, the documentary inarguably made a strong impact on the community. Creators Soren and Eriksen Dickens – brothers who grew up in Oakdale and were heavily involved in athletics – made the OKG video back in 2016 and it served as a catapult for their careers. Four years later, they’ve continued interest in documentaries and recently created a new one that followed the trip of Rotarians as they went to India to vaccinate children against polio.

One man was arrested and faces weapons charges in connection with an incident on Friday, Sept. 4 in downtown Oakdale that snarled holiday traffic. Oakdale Police officers arrested the armed man, identified as Gordon Paul Newnam, 55, after he fled a motor home that had been reported as driving recklessly along Albers Road on the way in to the city limits. The case triggered road closures downtown and brought a response from the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department along with the local police.

A successful Thursday curbside dinner fundraiser and a mid-September Saturday evening ‘Drive-Thru Luminaria’ event served to close out the year for the Relay For Life of Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon-Waterford. Though the in-person event was not able to be held this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams continued to stay active, fundraising and planning for the final event of the year, the Saturday night drive-thru.

Monday evening, Sept. 21, members of the Oakdale City Council accepted a resolution that puts into play some serious high-tech, crime-fighting tools to give officers an additional edge when looking for criminal activity on the roads. The Oakdale Police Department was approved for approximately $70,000 in grant-funded Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) equipment from the Department of Homeland Security via the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services and it’s time to put those dollars to use.

The unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic are the people quietly going about their duties, helping others, and trying to think outside-of-the-box to move forward in an uncertain time. The Oakdale Joint Unified School District’s Central Kitchen staff personifies that dedication as they shoulder the challenges inherent to serving nutritious and delicious meals to those who need it most.

An Oakdale woman died of gunshot wounds in late September and the investigation into her death continues. Detectives with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department Crimes Against Persons Unit are investigating what they termed a homicide, occurring in an unincorporated area of Oakdale.



Acknowledging that they can’t please everyone, Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent Marc Malone nevertheless is adamant that students need to be in school. And with the county and state waiver granted for OJUSD elementary schools, the local campuses will soon welcome students back. It will be on a hybrid model, with one day of distancing learning for all, and two on-campus days during the week as well.

A decision made this past week, which took effect on Monday, Oct. 19, has resulted in the closure of the Valley Home Fire Station. According to information released by the Oakdale Fire Protection District, “Effective immediately the Oakdale Fire Protection District will no longer rotate staffing between Knights Ferry and Valley Home Fire Stations, leaving one of the two fire stations unstaffed at any given time. To enhance deployment efficiency and effectiveness, with existing limited staffing, the district will transition to full-time staffing of Knights Ferry Fire Station and brown-out Valley Home Fire Station.”

Within a week of opening, parents of Fair Oaks Elementary students received communication from the district warning of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis at the school site. Correspondence from the district confirmed an adult tested positive but as of press time, there were no student cases reported by the district.



A 28-year-old Oakdale man, Stephen Frederick, has a scheduled court appearance set for Thursday, Nov. 12 in connection with the September shooting death of Katrina Allen. Frederick was taken into custody on Wednesday morning, Nov. 4 in Oakdale at about 11 a.m., as the Stanislaus Sheriff’s Office SWAT team closed in on a house in the 100 block of Poplar Avenue. Allen, 39, was also from Oakdale and authorities arrested Frederick on suspicion of her murder.

Assuming Stanislaus County can hold onto the red tier as identified by the county virus tracking system, Oakdale Joint Unified School District approved a tentative plan to reopen the secondary school campuses after winter break, Jan. 4, 2021 at the earliest. However, the approval is contingent upon the county being in the red tier when the time comes to implement the plan.

After many months of planning, discussion, and designing, an award-winning Bay Area artist started a traffic-stopping mural on the entire side wall of the Hobby Shop, located at 160 N. Yosemite Ave., Oakdale on Monday, Nov. 9. The mural should take about a week to complete, said officials, and provides a brief glimpse into all that is Oakdale. “Our first mural was designed by Cheryl Ichord Dillwood to represent the city of Oakdale situated at the edge of the foothills surrounded by agriculture,” said Nancy Podolsky, one of the founding members of OakdaleARTS, a group that hopes to increase visibility and awareness of art in the community.

Residents in the Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon area will continue to have bipartisan representation at the state and federal level following the Nov. 3 election, as both of the incumbents representing Congressional District 10 – Josh Harder – and State Assembly District 12 – Heath Flora – held on to their seats.

Incumbent Ericka Chiara was poised to return to the Oakdale City Council, receiving just over 3,300 votes. She was second in the voting to Frederick Smith, who polled about 28 percent of the vote overall, collecting more than 3,460 votes. For Stanislaus County Supervisor in District 1, representing Oakdale and Riverbank, Buck Condit had a 58 to 42 percent winning margin over Bill Zoslocki. Oakdale Irrigation District saw Ed Tobias win the Division 1 seat and in Division 4, incumbent Linda Santos got the win.

Spotted Demon, a champion 12-year-old cross breed bull, is getting ready for his farewell tour. The 1,650-pound bull is entering the final two events of his career. Oakdale’s Spotted Demon is competing at the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Finals: Unleash The Beast at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas from Nov. 12 through Nov 15.

During a time when finding things to be grateful for is more important than ever, the news that the annual Spirit of Oakdale Thanksgiving event has been canceled due to coronavirus restrictions couldn’t be more depressing. This would’ve been the 27th year for the community event, serving up fresh, homemade turkey, mashed potatoes, and the rest of the traditional holiday fare to those less fortunate, or alone for the holidays. Oakdale Lions Club President, Jim Austin, shared the club’s struggle to keep the event going that ultimately ended without a solution.

Wednesday, Nov. 11 was Veteran’s Day and with social distancing and guideline protocols in place, folks in Oakdale as well as Riverbank helped the local veterans have a special day. Jason Dillon and Infinite Athletics, Inc. joined forces with Oakdale City Council member Cher Bairos to organize the event. “We are feeding all the veterans for free. We have been doing it for about nine years and this year Cher joined up with us. We want to feed the veterans and show our appreciation for them and help them out,” said Dillon.

Due to an increase in spread, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reassigned Stanislaus County into the most restrictive “Purple” tier. The reassignment announced on Monday, Nov. 16 is now in effect.

For the sixth consecutive year, The River Christian Community Church has participated in the Samaritan’s Purse International Relief holiday event called Operation Christmas Child where shoeboxes are packed with gifts and delivered around the world. The shoeboxes are filled with quality toys, educational materials, small toiletries, age appropriate items and often a personal note. More than 600 boxes were dropped off during the week, some from The River congregation, many from other churches in the area and some from residents as well.



Ana Reynoso, a 2013 Oakdale High School graduate with dreams of going into the film industry, earned a top Naval honor when she was awarded the Blue Jacket of the Year (BJOY) for her meritorious service at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The award came as a complete surprise to Reynoso as she hadn’t been recognized previously as a Blue Jacket of the Quarter, and it’s rare to receive the BJOY without first having been recognized at the quarter.

The ripple effect and the impact it may have on lives has been spoken about and quoted for decades. In the words of Apple Executive Tim Cook, “You want to be the pebble in the pond that creates the ripple for change.”  Oakdale’s Alida McKeon recently found herself in such a place of power as her original song ‘Hope’ was chosen for “World AIDS Day 2020: A National Conversation.”

Downtown Oakdale was filled with the holiday spirit over the weekend in early December, with a socially distanced light parade in the late afternoon and a market event from mid-afternoon to early evening. In addition to crossing some items off the Christmas shopping list and buying some sweet treats to eat, families were able to interact with animals at a petting zoo. Meanwhile, parade entries from classic pick-ups, flatbed trailers, motorcycles and horses were all festively decorated as they “cruised” a route from Poplar Street to the downtown area, spreading Christmas cheer with spectators and the community.

Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent Marc Malone released a statement following the OJUSD board meeting of Monday night, Dec. 14 postponing any potential reopening date for grades 7-12 for in-person instruction until the Jan. 11, 2021 board meeting. This postponement is due to the fact that Stanislaus County is currently in the Purple Tier of the California Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Any reopening for grades 7-12 is contingent upon Stanislaus County being placed in the Red Tier of the Blueprint.

A definite winter chill filled the air and foggy conditions lent an eerie atmosphere to the scene, but the cold and damp didn’t stop volunteers and members of Oakdale’s Cub Scout Pack 365 from taking part in Saturday’s Wreaths Across American program. Oakdale’s Citizens Cemetery was one of the stops in the local region, with several wreaths placed on and near the graves of veterans, from all wars.

What started out as a fun hobby to spread Christmas cheer has blossomed into a light-fest extravaganza that has people driving into Oakdale to enjoy the show during the holidays. Bob and Alicia Crossman started their epic light show about 15 years ago and it has grown to the dazzling display of more than 300,000 synchronized lights along Atlas Road that has kids and adults “oohing” and “ahhhhing” with the Christmas spirit.

A 30-year-old Oakdale woman was arrested by detectives with the Sheriff’s Office Crimes Against Persons (CAP) unit on Dec. 23, charged in connection with a September murder. Authorities said Nikkole Scruggs, 30, was taken into custody at her Oakdale home around 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 23 and was arrested as an accessory to the September murder of 39-year-old Katrina Allen of Oakdale.

While the timing may seem questionable, it is being approached as a time of opportunity for newly appointed Oakdale Tourism and Visitors Bureau (OTVB) President and Business Manager, Amy Craig. Appointed to the position in early fall of this year, Craig reports directly to the OTVB Board of Directors and is the face of the Visitors Bureau. In the role, she is managing OTVB business, providing an outreach to the community, and as the sole employee, responds to the board and what their goals are. She is also the person visitors see when stopping in at the 7450 River Road, Suite 6, Oakdale location.

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A police officer takes up a position behind a parked vehicle along East F Street in downtown Oakdale on Friday morning, Sept. 4. Authorities were dealing with a possible armed suspect inside a motor home that came to a stop near the F Street and Yosemite Avenue intersection; it was later determined no one was inside, officers had already arrested one subject near the scene, he was the driver of the vehicle. Marg Jackson/The Leader
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Filling orders assembly line style, volunteers for the take-out, pre-ordered fundraising breakfast in Valley Home on Aug. 15 dished up scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, a fruit cup and biscuits and gravy. Marg Jackson/The Leader