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Second Half Review: Top Stories Of 2022
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These youngsters in swimming lessons at The Plunge were literally ‘using their noodles’ during a session in July. The kids are split into groups of four or less per lifeguard/swim instructor to allow more one on one swim contact for comfortable and successful learning. Sarah Lawson/The Leader

Wrapping up the news events of the past year, this week we take a look at some of the stories making the front page of The Leader over the second half of 2022. The stories were featured from July through December.



The snowpack on the far reaches of the Stanislaus River watershed in late June was as anemic as it gets in mid-August. Atop the 11,404-foot summit of Sonora Peak — the highest and eastern most point where water from melting snow makes its way into the middle fork of the Stanislaus River — the view was reminiscent of a typical precipitation year leading up to Labor Day and not the Fourth of July weekend. Small splotches and not wide swaths of snow were on the horizon looking south toward Yosemite.

There are two things which one might say about Oakdale’s Mel Bradley and his passion. He is passionate for coaching cyclists and passionate for raising money. Both the money and the cycling, however, may not be what one might initially think. Bradley doesn’t coach cyclists to win races, to the contrary he does exactly the opposite. He coaches cyclists of all physical levels to finish a goal and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as they do it. The mastermind behind Team 209, Bradley took a team of 46 riders around Lake Tahoe the first weekend in June to participate in what’s known as America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride - Lake Tahoe, which partners with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training’s (TNT) Cycle 100 event. A total of 48 team members helped raise a total of over $445,000 for the 2022 season.

Saturday, July 23 marks the National Day of the Cowboy and, true to its Cowboy Capital moniker, there will be a couple of different options in Oakdale to celebrate the day. The Oakdale Cowboy Museum at 355 East F will be open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. hosting two appraisers inside the museum, encouraging members of the community to bring in their western gear for appraisal. At the far eastern edge of town at the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo Grounds, there will be a Ranch Rodeo and Ranch Sorting, with buckles and cash prizes to be awarded. The events are presented by the Oakdale Saddle Club.

It has been several weeks since the Royse Memorial Pool’s grand opening for the summer and classes have never been busier. Everything from the open swim to the formal classes have seen steady growth, and there have been waitlists for almost every class offered, from private lessons to adult aerobics classes. Most of the children’s swim lessons and private lessons were the first to book up very quickly, keeping the pool staff on the go this summer. The recent string of hot weather – including several days of triple digit heat – saw plenty of people visiting the pool adjacent to Dorada Park to take a dip in ‘The Plunge.’



Members of the Oakdale City Council approved the acceptance of a $933,375 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant for a $1 million improvement project at the Oakdale Airport that includes funds from the Airport Enterprise Fund, and Caltrans Division of Aeronautics. George Reed Construction, Inc, was awarded the contract bid. The action came at the Monday, Aug. 1 regular council meeting.

The Citizens Auxiliary Police Services, also known as CAPS, is made up of volunteers from the community who help the police department in a number of ways. And for three longtime members of the organization, they have collectively dedicated more than three decades of service to the department. Retiring earlier this summer, CAPS members Carole Pelchat, Sonya Schali and Bev Hay were each recognized with a plaque of appreciation as they ended their tenure with the Oakdale Police Department. Pelchat served 17 years, from 2005 to 2022; Schali for 14 years, 2008 to 2022; and Hay for 13 years, 2099 to 2022.

Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District (SCFPD) has had several changes throughout the years and most recently has obtained a new administrative contract with the Modesto Fire Department. With this new contract, Tim Tietjen has accepted the role as Fire Chief for SCFPD in Riverbank and is at Station 26 running things on a daily basis. Tietjen is an Assistant Chief for Modesto Fire and has also taken on fire chief duties for the City of Oakdale and Oakdale Fire Protection District. Oakdale agreed on a full contract for services with Modesto Fire in 2019.

Passion and partnership proved to be the winning combination for both Sierra 4-H and Oakdale High School as each were named recipients of the Stanislaus County Fair John Thurman Award this summer. The Thurman award is presented to the 4-H Club and FFA Chapter representing the most diversity of projects within their program. The five components include: Chapter Group, Showmanship, Clean Barn, Still Exhibits and Outstanding Exhibitor.

In an effort to ease the financial strain Third Avenue business owners are suffering during the extensive Third Avenue construction project, Oakdale City Council members met Monday evening, Aug. 29 for a special meeting to discuss the creation of the Third Avenue Construction Hardship Program. Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer and city staff have been working closely with the affected business owners as the city navigates the complicated and extensive project that has been hit with unexpected delays created by PG&E.



With extreme weather stretching California’s energy grid and threatening public health and safety, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services issued an emergency alert at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, asking residents to conserve power. As a result of this action, the California Independent System Operation (CaISO) saw an immediate and significant drop in energy use, providing some relief to the state’s grid. The alerts come as California and the western United State are experiencing record heat.

During the morning of Monday, Sept. 12, the McDonald’s franchise located on East F Street in Oakdale was the scene of a special celebration. It was a gathering convened to honor the four generations of Gutierrez family members that have worked there through the years, dating back to the 1990s. The family consists of Geovany, Rodrigo, Maria, Jessica, Ana, Mavelia, Esmeralda, and Jorge; all of whom currently still work at the Oakdale McDonald’s, having the youngest member join the crew just a couple of weeks ago. The majority of family members have the last name of Gutierrez; a couple have the last name of Dimas but all are related. The owners that took over the Oakdale location in 2006, Jay and Geeta Hazari, showered the family with gifts to celebrate their hard work and dedication.

Dozens of entries rolled in to Oakdale on Saturday morning, Sept. 17 as the Pharoahs International and Throttlers Modesto car clubs joined forces for a Blast From The Past classic car show. With the cars displayed in Wood Park, at the intersection of F and Yosemite, the heart of town, there was something for all auto enthusiasts to enjoy. Along with the cars and trucks, there was music, food, prize drawings, a benefit Poker Walk and the chance to take home a unique category trophy.

Discussion touched on a number of topics at the Oakdale Joint Unified School District board meeting earlier this month. The one which sparked the most conversation was that of Item 12.5 Assembly Bill 104: Graduation Requirements for the Class of 2023. Assistant Superintendent Gillian Wegener presented the school board with a recommendation to approve the continuation of AB104, which is a modification to graduation requirements as a result of the loss of learning which occurred during the pandemic. AB104 was passed by the California state legislature for the Class of 2022.

American Veterans First has a new mission: to bring veterans that were deported to Mexico back to the country they fought for. A meeting was held at AVF headquarters in Riverbank to rally support for this humanitarian cause that CEO Duke Cooper of Oakdale called “Operation Forgotten Valor.”



Three candidates who will by vying for two available seats on the Oakdale City Council in the November election have been invited to participate in an upcoming forum. The forum will be overseen by the League of Women Voters and LWV officials said the forum was requested by the local branch of the AAUW, American Association of University Women. Date for the forum is Tuesday, Oct. 11. Candidates for council are incumbent Christopher Smith, local businesswoman Kayleigh Gilbert and student/security guard Benjamin Amaral.

A welcome sight for downtown merchants, and seen as a sign of progress, was the recent pouring of sidewalks outside the businesses lining North Third Avenue between E and F streets. Construction continues and merchants are eager for full completion of the improvement project as they prepare for the holiday season. In the meantime, a ‘Shop Third Avenue and Win’ initiative offers $100 gift cards to shoppers through the Love Oakdale program. Spend a minimum of $25 at any Third Avenue business; email a photo of your receipt to; you can enter every day, once per business.

With 49 teams registered – and the majority of them setting up on site – the Relay For Life of Greater Stanislaus County surged past the $110,000 fundraising mark over the weekend. Hosted for the second year at John Thurman Field in Modesto, the 24-hour Relay brought together those who previously participated in the Oakdale, Modesto and Turlock events, combining for the one large, regional Relay For Life. Oakdale, Riverbank and Escalon were all represented in addition to teams and participants from the larger Modesto and Turlock communities.

The timelines of Oakdale Joint Unified School District’s observance of Red Ribbon Week(s) later this month could not be more timely. Due to scheduling conflicts, the OJUSD primary schools will host Red Ribbon Week from Oct. 17 to 24, while the secondary campuses will observe events the week of Oct. 24 to Oct. 28. With increased news coverage of vaping, e-cigarettes, fentanyl and TikTok challenges, the staff of OJUSD has their hands full. While TikTok challenges are not an item which will be covered later this month, they are cause for disruption to the learning process.

Things might start to look a little different around Oakdale Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and if Will Pringle has his way, those changes will happen sooner rather than later. Pringle was recently named Vice President of Longterm Care for ONRC, a position he shared he is both thrilled, as well as eager to step into.

“It was an excellent opportunity to find a leadership position like that in Oakdale,” Pringle shared of joining the ONRC team. With over 20 years of experience in senior care, working for facilities throughout California, Pringle has not only a lot to offer, but a lot he plans to implement. More specifically, Pringle is excited about working on opportunities for residents and their socio emotional experience, aiming at providing the best nursing care.



Oakdale Joint Unified is doing more than just educating students. The district is now, more than ever, looking at ways to aid students with their mental health. The STEP UP program, launched this school year at the elementary schools, is one such effort. STEP is an acronym for: Say the problem; Think of solutions; Explore consequences; Pick the best solution. “STEP UP is really just empowering kids to be able to handle the social and emotional difficulties they experience,” Andrea Barnett, District Mental Health Clinician, shared.

The Friends of the Oakdale Library have been busy beautifying the park area adjoining the library in order to celebrate its grand opening as the Oakdale Library Outdoor Educational Space on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 3 p.m.

A crowd gathered, surrounded by balloons and streamers, on Friday, Nov. 4 as Sachin Uttam followed a post office tradition, raising his right hand and taking the Oath of Office as the Postmaster of the Oakdale Post Office. The first postmaster in Oakdale took the oath in 1864; that was Henry Langworthy and Uttam is now the latest in the list of those that have served the community.

Oakdale Joint Unified School District continues to shine in the area of academics. Results were recently revealed for the 2022 Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC), placing OJUSD in the top spot overall for Stanislaus County’s Unified School Districts.

Just in time for the Black Friday kickoff to the holiday shopping season, Oakdale City Council members approved a third round of RAD (Relief Across Downtown) card funds during a special council meeting on Monday afternoon, Nov. 14. The RAD program, created by the Downtown Modesto Partnership, matches funds, up to $100, per customer, which can be used at participating businesses within the community.

It was a night which was a long time in the making and emotion filled all the same.

Monday evening, Nov. 14 longtime Oakdale Joint Unified School District board member Mike House stood for the flag salute, surrounded by his family and extended family for one final time. After three decades of serving Oakdale Joint Unified Schools, as well as the community of Oakdale, House has retired. It was standing room only for the proper send off at the OJUSD Tech Center.

Call it the culmination of a dream: former Miss Rodeo Oakdale McKensey Middleton recently claimed the title of 2023 Miss Rodeo California.

Her selection came following a three-day competition in San Luis Obispo that consisted of multiple categories such as impromptu speeches and questionnaires, panel interviews, modeling, and showcasing her equestrian skills. On the last day, the morning started with final speeches by the contestants followed by impromptu questions. Then, with the competition completed, scores were tabulated. “When I heard my name, I was shocked and excited,” Middleton expressed. “I kept repeating in my head ‘oh my gosh I actually did it’.”

Kayleigh Gilbert and incumbent Christopher Smith will serve terms on the Oakdale City Council; they were the top two vote getters in a three-way race for two available seats on the dais. Gilbert polled 3,243 votes in the Nov. 8 election, according to the official results released just before Thanksgiving by the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters office. Smith, currently serving as Mayor Pro Tem, had 3,009 votes and challenger Benjamin Amaral was third, with 2,621 votes. Incumbent Mayor Cherilyn Bairos was unopposed; she received 5,837 votes in the election.

Members of the Oakdale Lions Club, along with the help of plenty of volunteers, served close to 600 meals on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 24. Hot meals were offered both inside the Gene Bianchi Community Center as well as home delivered to those unable to travel. Preparations started well before the big day, as the Spirit of Oakdale committee gathered donations and got ready for the festive Thanksgiving feast.



A little rainy weather didn’t stop the adults and children from lining the streets for a parade that was hosted alongside the annual Downtown Christmas on Saturday, Dec. 3. While booths downtown in the area of North Second and Third avenues in addition to a portion of E Street opened at midafternoon, the parade stepped off from Oak and Poplar in the late afternoon. The parade continued to the intersection of E Street and North Second; it was the sixth annual Christmas parade presented by the Oakdale Enrichment Society. The downtown Christmas festivities featured multiple vendors setting up shop outdoors and stores extending their hours to welcome the community to the downtown area to shop and take pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus as well as The Grinch. There was also a petting zoo, some crafts, food trucks and more.

Ushering in the holiday spirit, the Gladys L. Lemmons Oakdale Senior Community Center was the site for a special dinner and program on Friday evening, Dec. 9. The occasion was the annual holiday dinner at the senior center, 450 E. A St., where people gathered to listen to music, watched a couple of dance performances and also enjoyed a holiday-themed meal while sharing the good tidings of the season.

It was a ‘changing of the guard’ on Monday evening as recently elected board members were sworn into office at the Dec. 12 Oakdale Joint Unified School District board meeting. Winning seats in the November election were newcomers Clayton Schemper (Area 1), Bill Duvall (Area 2), and incumbent board member, Diane Gilbert (Area 4). All were sworn into office at the start of the meeting by OJUSD Board President Tina Shatswell.

Against a backdrop of foggy skies and a bitter winter chill, dozens of volunteers turned out for Saturday’s poignant Wreaths Across America program at the Oakdale Citizens Cemetery. Staged across the country this past weekend, the effort looks to place a wreath on the grave of every veteran and there were over 1,000 to be placed at the East J Street cemetery on Dec. 17. Donations are accepted throughout the year for the wreaths, with many of the wreaths also sponsored by families or community organizations.

Yvonne Duenas has a long-time love of art. Creating beautiful things which bring her joy. She also has a love for children, young students in search of things to do. Recognizing a void by way of kids being able to resume gathering post-COVID, the art enthusiast launched Kids Social presented by Yvonne Duenas. The once-a-month event is geared toward all ages and with the help of Mountain Mike’s Pizza in Oakdale, they are able to host the event in the back room.

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Oakdale resident Holley Coppetti was all smiles, displayed her 1957 Ford T-Bird at Wood Park during the 2022 Blast from the Past car show, put on cooperatively by the Pharoahs International and Throttlers car clubs, both out of Modesto. Marg Jackson/The Leader
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Greeting students as they started their Color Run was a shower of pink, applied by volunteers; the seventh and eighth graders at Oakdale Junior High enjoyed the colorful activity on Friday, Oct. 21. Sarah Lawson/The Leader
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At the end of the 24-hour Relay For Life event in early October, ConAgra Foods of Oakdale, on left, earned the perpetual trophy for being the Top Fundraising Team while the Meet The Flockers group took home the Nelson Sayre Team Participation trophy. Marg Jackson/The Leader