By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Year In Review 2020: January To June
Magnolia Elementary teachers Kelly Benbow and Kelsey Larrabee of Rockin.K.Rings in the workshop where they create the rings and bracelets for their newly launched business in early 2020.

What started out as a year of hoped-for growth, change, development and success at a variety of local levels took a dramatic turn in the first quarter of 2020. Suddenly, instead of planning for the Chocolate Festival, the rodeo, Easter egg hunts and more, residents quickly learned the terms COVID-19, pandemic, and shelter in place as the coronavirus put a halt to many activities. Here are some highlights from the first half of the year, January to June, taken from the pages of The Oakdale Leader.



As is customary in the 95361, over 230 children in the community awoke Christmas morning to presents they may not have had otherwise, thanks to the Oakdale Center for Human Services’ Angel Tree project. “Every ‘angel’ was adopted,” CHS Program Director Tamberly Stone said. “Get Fit Oakdale was the super star. They kept taking all of the angels that didn’t get adopted and filling the needs up until the day before we started distributing,” she continued about the local gym. Get Fit, along with several others, were first time participants of the annual event, which proved to be beneficial to Stone and her CHS team. “We did not fall short in any area,” she shared.

The administration and staff of Oakdale High School are continuing to raise the bar as they enter into the next decade of the millennium. Proving not to be prohibited or shy about growing the curriculum and opportunity for its student body, the area high school recently partnered with Columbia College in The College and Careers Access Pathways Partnership Agreement (CCAPPA). A long title with a dizzying acronym, quite simply Oakdale High students now have the opportunity to participate in college level Fire Science courses without leaving the OHS campus.

From Fish and Game to the CHP, the sheriff’s department to Oakdale Police, local law enforcement personnel were in the spotlight this past week in Oakdale. The annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Day was observed locally on Jan. 15, with a luncheon and program staged at the Gene Bianchi Community Center. Officials said the idea behind the gathering is to provide an avenue to show appreciation for “the difficult but necessary job” that law enforcement officers do on a daily basis.



The trophy is back. Almost as if a twist of fate or perhaps an even year versus odd, Oakdale High School’s Aca Dec team was once again named the champion, taking the top spot at the 40th annual Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon on Saturday, Feb. 1. It is the 18th year in which OHS has earned the distinguished title and brought the trophy back to the 95361. The most win of any high school within the county, followed by Modesto High School with 10 wins.

For the third year, dads and daughters – along with some grandfathers, great grandfathers, uncles and brothers thrown in – gathered to celebrate with a special evening of music, dance, food and fun on Friday, Feb. 7. The Gene Bianchi Community Center played host to the ‘Boots and Bows’ dance party, complete with a DJ, chocolate fountain, face painting, plenty of food, raffle drawings and more.

Tylie Borba is not your average six-year-old. Unless of course you’re speaking of a first grader who rises early, watches the news to check weather and heads out to help with ranch duties, then maybe she is. One thing, however, which makes this homeschooled first grader a bit different than her peer group, came by way of her daily news watching. Tylie has been busy and not with the daily chores one might suspect of a “ranch kid.” Inspired by a segment she witnessed on the morning news, Tylie has been busy sewing and ironing. “I am making pouches for the animals in Australia, because they got burnt,” the six-year-old shared of her project earlier this year.

The Distinguished Young Women of Oakdale Class of 2021 program, sponsored by Soroptimist International of Oakdale, was held Saturday, Feb. 22 at Magnolia School Auditorium. Over 300 family, friends, and community members attended the event that featured 17 junior class participants from Oakdale High School. Oakdale High senior and reigning Distinguished Young Woman Jaden Chau passed her title to Jadyn Rau. In addition to the $2,500 scholarship for the title award, Rau received the $200 Fitness category award scholarship.

Some artists use clay, paint or the written word to create stunning masterpieces. Award-winning choreographer Katey Giovannoni Choate uses athletes, a performance mat, a running clock — and behind the scenes, a clipboard and a flurry of flying paperwork corralling her vision — to wow a crowd. This weekend Giovannoni Choate nabbed the coveted JAMZ Cheer and Dance award for Most Innovative Choreography for the routine she created for the OHS Competition Cheer Squad. The standout routine earned the squad, first a state, followed by a national championship.



It was nearly standing room only as community members crowded into the Oakdale City Council meeting on Monday night, March 2 to voice their opinion on one particular issue: food trucks in the downtown area. Food trucks have become the rising star in food service as more people seek a variety of culinary options that won’t dig into the wallet, which makes the mobile food option a popular accessory to many craft breweries.

Change will be coming for elected board members of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District as the new Trustee Area was voted upon and approved at Monday night’s board meeting, March 9. Currently usage of an at-large system for board member elections exists, but the board will now adopt a by-trustee area election process. Following two public forums, offering the community opportunity to review a choice of four separate recommendations the final hearing was held and voted on.

It was not a decision which was taken lightly or made in haste, yet Wednesday, March 18 marks the last day of school for the Oakdale Joint Unified School District until Monday, April 20. As COVID-19 began gaining more national attention, late last week Superintendent Marc Malone and his team continued assessment of what was best for the students, as well as the community.

On Monday, March 15, City Manager Bryan Whitemyer, with his authority as Director of Emergency Services, issued a proclamation of a local emergency in the City of Oakdale in accordance with the California Emergency Services Act and the Oakdale Municipal Code in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two notable events are impacted in Oakdale due to the pandemic: The annual PRCA Rodeo, set for April 11 and 12, has been postponed but with no rescheduled date available at this time. All activities associated with the rodeo, including the parade, queen coronation, dance and more have also been put on hold. Also, the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce is rescheduling its annual Chocolate Festival – typically hosted in May – for mid-September.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to work with their best friend. For Magnolia Elementary teachers Kelly Benbow and Kelsey Larrabee, work is precisely where their friendship was formed. Two elementary school teachers sharing a passion for educating our youth, living a full life and their country roots. The two women shared it is a friendship which happened almost organically. So now it should come as little surprise that their recently launched jewelry business, Rockin.K.Rings has followed suit.

Oakdale Joint Unified Schools may be shut down, but they still have work to do. Monday, March 23 marked the first day of sack lunch pick-up following the closure of school sites districtwide that took effect on Thursday, March 19.



It wasn’t an Easter parade that drew local youngsters out of their houses on Friday morning, March 27. Instead, teachers and staff members from both Fair Oaks and Magnolia elementary schools did what their counterparts from Cloverland had done a few days before; gathered at their respective school sites and drove a route passing by the homes of many of their students.

As the threat of novel virus COVID-19 continues to shadow the nation, Oakdale City Council members held their first teleconference council meeting, Monday, April 6, adopting an urgency ordinance that supports Governor Gavin Newsom’s shelter-in-place order. With minor adjustments to the language, the council passed the ordinance 4-0 with Councilmember Rich Murdoch not present.

There’s a small grassroots movement happening at the center of Oakdale and it comes at the hands of small business owners Bear and Allison Walters. The movement, however, has little to nothing to do with their downtown fitness studio, Get Fit Oakdale. While to some the movement might seem simple, a T-shirt bearing the words “In This Together” down the front with #weareoakdale at the bottom, has generated much buzz. So much so, that the T-shirt sales idea will now roll out to other neighboring cities.

No two days have looked the same for Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent Marc Malone. While some might think this to be customary given the weight of the position, the unfolding of COVID-19 has created a job which is far from boring or without challenge. As Malone has spent the past month making critical choices for the 5400 student population as well as the OJUSD staff, decisions remain day to day.

Lisa Jones wasn’t looking to start a movement, yet that’s exactly what happened. A simple activity of giving has morphed into something larger as she and her daughters Meghan, 14, and Maddie, 15, transitioned from sharing rosemary and lemons with the community to launching a Facebook page with over 1,300 followers in one short week. The Oakdale High School Career Center Technician shared that early into the break from school, she and her daughters began picking lemons and rosemary from their property as a way of passing time, as well as spreading some cheer throughout the community. Utilizing a simple Facebook post on her social media page, the trio then began traveling throughout the 95361 with deliveries.

While an actual graduation date still has yet to be determined for Oakdale High School seniors, Madelyn Stueve has found a true bright side amidst all the uncertainty. Madelyn is the Class of 2020 Leo Volz Scholarship recipient. It’s an honor worth a total of $100,000 to be used towards her future four-year college education. “It means a lot to me and my family,” the 17-year-old said. “When I found out there was this feeling of disbelief, but it was a huge weight lifted off my shoulder. To be able to go to my dream college and not have to worry about student loans and debts.”

If it was a ‘normal’ year, the soccer fields at Oakdale High School would be buzzing with activity this coming weekend. Saturday and Sunday, May 2 and 3 were the dates set for this year’s edition of the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life; a 24-hour team fundraising event to benefit cancer patients through treatment, research and advocacy. But with the continuing social distancing and shelter in place directives as a result of the coronavirus, the Relay For Life of Oakdale-Escalon-Riverbank-Waterford won’t be taking place this weekend. Organizers are currently trying to determine a future date to have the event.



It took a bit of planning, as well as some construction, but amidst a time of separation and social distancing the team at River Oak Grace found a way to bring people back together. This past Sunday, May 3 the Oakdale based church hosted its first drive-in worship service. The gathering was hosted at 9 a.m. with the lots opening at 8:30 a.m. A total of 88 cars drove in for attendance in the 110 spaces available.

With energy costs continually on the rise, the City of Oakdale finalized an agreement with SitelogIQ to develop a proposal and facility solution agreement for the implementation of facility improvements, energy conservation, energy generation, and/or energy management services.

The Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District knew they were fighting an uphill battle but bad timing, and tough economic conditions capsized the ill-fated Measure Q at the polls resulting in a resounding failure for the struggling district. Only 32 percent of district voters participated in the mail-in ballot but of those, 71 percent voted against the proposed measure that would’ve provided additional revenue, improved service and correct an inflation shortfall that previous measures didn’t.

Four F-15C Eagle Tactical Fighter Jets, with the 144th Fighter Wing out of Fresno, will be performing a formation flyover throughout California, beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 13. The pilots will be flying in salute to health care workers, first responders, and everyone on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.

With Adopt-a-Senior efforts well underway and signs posted on graduate’s lawns, a natural question arises: what does graduation look like for Oakdale’s Class of 2020 students? Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent Marc Malone is hopeful for a June graduation that is “as close to a traditional format as possible,” and encourages patience among community members.

It has been a long road for the Poth family of Oakdale. On Saturday, May 23, however, the road got a little less bumpy and a lot more fun as classic cars and trucks roared past their South Fifth Avenue home in an impromptu birthday and welcome home parade. Young Wyatt Poth, who turned 4 on May 25, has been undergoing cancer treatment and celebrated his birthday with older brother William, 7, who was a bone marrow donor. Mom Sabrina and dad Kevin were thankful for the birthday parade and the chance to celebrate Wyatt’s return home from the hospital … in remission.



In a community where the goal is for Oakdale kids to go far; local soon-to-be-sixth grader, Audrey Clark, has her sights set on the stars. Saturday, May 30, marked the first rocket launch from U.S. soil since 2011. In preparation for the event, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) partnered with SpaceEx and aimed for a widespread social media campaign to encourage people to show them how they were getting ready for the launch. Audrey Clark jumped on the opportunity. And on May 26, just days before the launch, NASA shared Audrey’s video on their social media channels; it was part of a montage with other social media submissions.

It was a peaceful protest until it wasn’t – and it sparked a visit from the militia over the weekend. Oakdale became a focus community during the past week as a Wednesday morning, June 3 Black Lives Matter rally gave way to a violent incident in the afternoon. With reports of a possible second rally on the weekend, a Central Valley militia group made its way into town and was at an F Street business on Saturday afternoon. There was, however, no second coordinated rally as rumored on Saturday. The rally on June 3 was in response to the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25; similar protests and rallies have been staged across the country.

When it came down to the middle of a pandemic, the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce decided that a familiar face was best for their newest leadership position. From the start of COVID-19’s impact, Membership Director Trisha K. Brown has been contacting members and organizations affiliated with the Chamber and has a good understanding of the Chamber’s mission. Now, she is preparing to move up and into the role of the Chamber’s Chief Executive Officer as longtime CEO Mary Guardiola retires.

The Oakdale High School Class of 2020 will not be one easily forgotten. The class which was born months following the changing of the world, post 9/11 is now also known as the “Class of COVID-19.” As their final months of campus time were taken away, traditions bypassed and campus time came to a halt the community, parent volunteers, as well as OHS staff did all they could to create memorable moments. While many of the end of year activities were changed, a few traditions were maintained: scholarships were still awarded and the prestigious honor of Valedictorian and Salutatorian still presented. Valedictorian for the Class of 2020 is Cael Black and Salutatorian is Alyssa Castano.

There will be no more green tea poured, scones baked or salads chopped for Jim Postma and his team at Café Bliss. After close to 31 years of business the popular Oakdale café closed its doors earlier this spring.

It’s a partnership that has worked well and helped spread the wealth just a little bit. “I would just highlight the word grateful,” Josh Malcolm at Oakdale-based brewery Dying Breed expressed, “hopefully that’s a resounding term that comes out and it shows in our actions.” Malcolm, along with partners Dan Wood and Joe Novotny, all expressed continued thanks for the community’s support as they’ve worked to open Oakdale’s newest brewery. As a thank you, they collaborated with Other Half Brewing in New York to create a hazy IPA called “All Together.” The mission for this brew is that proceeds made from it will go back into a nonprofit to help the local community.


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

Shelves in many local grocery stores look similar to this, captured in mid-March at the Cost Less Market in Oakdale. Residents made a run for essentials and stocked up on everything they could, amid fear of the unknown in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. Kim Van Meter/The Leader
Oakdale’s Town Plaza was jammed with people coming in for the peaceful protest and rally staged in support of Black Lives Matter on Wednesday, June 3. A disturbance later resulted in some arrests but came a couple of hours after the initial rally was over. Marg Jackson/The Leader