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Year In Review Touches On Top Stories Of 2022
Part 1
The 24-member Oakdale High School Academic Decathlon team took to the makeshift stage Saturday, Feb. 5 in the Stanislaus County Office of Education parking lot as they were named the 2022 overall winner of the annual Academic Decathlon. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

The annual Oakdale Rodeo, the Oakdale Chocolate Festival, success for the Oakdale High School AcaDec team … these were just a few of the items making news in the first half of 2022, stories featured in The Oakdale Leader. This week, we begin our traditional ‘Year In Review’ by taking a look at some stories featured from January through June.



The Stanislaus Regional Transit Authority (StanRTA) resumed fares as of Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, after six months of free rides provided to the community. The 2022 fare structure applies to all StanRTA “The S” services which resulted from a merger of Modesto Area Express (MAX) and Stanislaus Regional Transit (StaRT) last July. Former MAX and StaRT passes will be honored if they have not been used or activated. “We understand this will be a big change to the community after so many months of free rides,” said Philip McGuire, CEO of StanRTA. “We hope folks are pleasantly surprised by the fare reductions we’ve enacted.”

As the Omicron variant spreads throughout the state, cases in Stanislaus County have increased rapidly since Christmas Eve. This surge threatens to again jeopardize the county health care system’s ability to care for people and is a significant disruptor to businesses, schools, and critical infrastructure. Everyone living, working, and learning in Stanislaus County are urged to take steps now to reduce the risk to themselves, their families and friends, and all people with whom they interact.

The Oakdale Library is currently offering free at home COVID test kits, part of a program designed to give area residents easy access to the tests. Officials with the Stanislaus County Library system said the kits were made available for distribution at all branches, including Oakdale, Ceres, Denair, Empire, Hughson, Keyes, Modesto, Newman, Patterson, Riverbank, Salida, Turlock, and Waterford. Anyone is eligible to pick up a test; at the Oakdale library, 151 S. First Ave., they are on a table along with more information about the tests right after you walk through the main lobby doors. There aren’t a certain number of tests each branch location has to give out; the goal is to provide an adequate amount at each site to help fill the need for tests in the community.

Authorities say one man is dead and a woman injured following an overnight shooting in Oakdale. According to police reports, the incident began when officers responded to the 500 block of Laurel Avenue at about 1 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 12 for a report of gunshots. Authorities said a woman, who had been shot, was found in that area with gunshot wounds to her legs and pelvis; she was taken to an area hospital for treatment. A perimeter was set up around the suspect’s home on West A Street, said authorities, between California and Laurel avenues, while negotiators with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department were called in to assist. The area of B Street and Eucalyptus Avenue was also blocked off and Magnolia Elementary School, in the 700 block of Magnolia, was put into lockdown. Authorities made multiple attempts to make contact with the man, who had barricaded himself inside the home, but they received no response. A Sheriff’s Department drone was utilized to look inside the home and authorities said the man was determined to be deceased, having died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Knights Ferry resident Lisa Dolling finalized her retirement after working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for almost 35 years. She has worked for a total of 50 years of her life altogether, starting at age 12, with her first job helping her aunt in the kitchen at the Oakdale Livestock Auction. While she was at the Army Corps, Dolling had multiple responsibilities and duties. She ran the visitors center, taking care of all the guests that came in while answering any questions in person or over the phone. She also handled a variety of paperwork and took charge of setting up picnics for special use, and camping sites.

The ‘Mustang Movers’ for the Oakdale Joint Unified School District created and presented a special plaque at the school board meeting on Monday, Jan. 10 highlighting a full school year of no accidents among the school bus miles driven. Patty Maaske, bus driver and special needs driver, provided information about the plaque while Delores Ybarra awarded the plaque to the board. Ybarra was voted by the other bus drivers as Driver of the Year for 2021 and voted to award the plaque.

A large crowd, primarily family and friends of Rebekah Gall, gathered in the late afternoon Saturday, Jan. 22 as the sun was setting, holding candles and sharing memories of the 27-year-old woman, the victim of a drunk driver. She passed away in a Modesto hospital from injuries suffered in a crash that occurred previously in Tuolumne County. The crash occurred about 5:15 p.m. on Jan. 18. Saturday’s vigil was hosted at Valley View Park in Oakdale and many brought flowers and balloon bouquets; a photo of Gall was also set up on a table at the park; many wrote notes to their lost friend. She was married to Michael Gall, a longtime local resident.

There is little question that Jeff Aprile is dedicated to the student body of Oakdale Joint Unified School District. Aprile, now in his 28th year of education and 26th with OJUSD, recently accepted the position of Vice Principal of Oakdale Junior High. An opportunity he shared he is looking forward to, most specifically in the areas both listening to and learning from the students and staff, as well as supporting both in the areas most needed.



Taking the podium and admitting to a little bit of nervousness in having to put together her first ever ‘State of the City’ address, Oakdale Mayor Cherilyn Bairos nonetheless wowed the crowd with a solid overview of the year gone by and a look ahead. Staged at the Gene Bianchi Community Center, the annual State of the City luncheon and address was hosted by the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce. The mayor joked that she had to “google it” when asked to deliver her address, never presenting a State of the City before, having just completed her first year at the helm.

While the setting was much different and the faces fresh, the overall outcome was one which gives testament to long hours of studying, as well as a team prepared for greatness. On Saturday, Feb. 5, the Oakdale High School Aca Dec Team was once again named Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon Champion. With a total score of 36,477 the 24-member team not only earned the overall title, but the competing team of nine won the Super Quiz event as well.

It took vision, planning, a lot of prep work, and then the actual hours spent in transforming the outside wall of a building into a vibrant mural, bringing some unique artwork to the downtown Oakdale area. At the corner of East F Street and South Third Avenue, a girl reading a book, a butterfly, brilliantly colored flowers and more have emerged – the latest city beautification effort coordinated through the OakdaleARTS organization.

Three days of protests – which started with a handful of people having an impromptu meeting outside the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Office with Superintendent Dr. Dave Kline – escalated over a few days and ended with postponement of the Feb. 7 board meeting. The action came following threats made to some school district employees and staff members on Friday, as Wednesday’s small crowd grew larger and more vocal each day. Thursday, several students walked off the Oakdale High School campus and joined the adult protestors at the corner of South Third Avenue and East G Street, taking part in the ‘Let Them Breathe’ effort.

Stanislaus County Fair officials have confirmed the dates for the 110th Fair in 2022. In making the announcement on Tuesday, Feb. 8, officials noted that “The fun is back!” and this year’s edition of the Stanislaus County Fair is set to run for 10 days, from July 8 through 17, 2022. “We had a very successful 2021 Modified Fair and we have already begun securing great entertainment and exciting exhibits for this year’s 2022 Fair,” said Matt Cranford, Chief Executive Officer for the Stanislaus County Fair.

After nearly two years of pandemic life in Stanislaus County and beyond, Board of Supervisors Chairman Terry Withrow gave his 2022 State of the County address on Feb. 15 and shared what he believes the agency has done right during a time when so many have focused on the wrong. Withrow reflected on the past 23 months, which have seen Supervisors faced with making public health decisions to protect county residents, dealing with state and federal mandates and, at times, questioning those orders.

Oakdale High School’s Key Club – the youth arm of Kiwanis – has been fundraising to save up in order to gather an assortment of products to donate to the Oakdale Animal Shelter. They purchased collars, leashes, food, treats, stuffed animals, cat supplies, and dog beds with the money they raised. The donations were taken to the Oakdale Animal Shelter on Liberini Avenue this past week.



The Distinguished Young Women of Oakdale Class of 2023 program, sponsored by Soroptimist International of Oakdale, was held Saturday, Feb. 26 at Magnolia Elementary School Auditorium. Family, friends, and community members attended the showcase that featured eight junior class participants from Oakdale High School. Oakdale High senior and Distinguished Young Woman of Oakdale for the Class of 2022 Reagan Oliveira passed her title to Jessica Birchall at the end of evening. In addition to the $2,500 scholarship for the Distinguished Young Women of Oakdale Class of 2023 title award, Jessica received the Scholastics, Interview, Fitness, Talent, and Self Expression category awards totaling $1,000 as well as the $250 Community Service award.

Mother Nature may have teased the state with a few heavy snow dumps earlier in the season but it would appear, that wasn’t enough to stave off what experts are calling the mega-drought barreling toward California. According to Steve Knell, Oakdale Irrigation District General Manager, OID’s watering season will proceed as planned this year with no scheduled interruptions but next year remains unknown.

Being presented to their families, the two Lifetime Achievement Award honorees this year are receiving that recognition posthumously; Norman ‘Norm’ Antinetti and Lloyd Stueve were pillars of the community that Oakdale lost in the last several months. The Lifetime Achievement Award is one of the honors to be bestowed at the Friday, March 11 Oakdale Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet, slated from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Bianchi Community Center, 110 S. Second Ave., Oakdale.

As shared recently by Oakdale City Police Chief Jerry Ramar, preliminary annual crime statistics compiled by the Oakdale Police Department show the overall crime rate was up in 2021 when compared to 2020, but below the five-year average for the fifth year in a row. From January to December of 2021, the Oakdale Police Department recorded fewer cases of violent crime incidents compared to 2020 and incidents of property crimes remained nearly the same compared to 2020.

Finishing in record time, the city unveiled the $2 million overhaul of the Oakdale Police Department with a Saturday open house, a community ribbon cutting and then opened the doors to a new address Monday morning, March 14. The new police station address is 250 North Third Avenue and there is no more public access from the former address. The station remodel was a long time coming as the aging facility struggled to keep up with the demands of a community that had grown from a one-horse town to a small city with all the benefits and struggles of a growing population.

Thanks to American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, help is on the way for local nonprofits that were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Oakdale City Council members approved the mechanism, Monday night, March 21, that will open up the application process for funds set aside as part of the multi-million dollar federal relief program that has enabled many communities to keep rolling in spite of catastrophic trauma to everyday working lives. City Council allocated $100,000 from this funding as the source for the Oakdale ARPA Non-Profit Grant Program and it will have zero fiscal impact to the General Fund.

Over the past month, with roughly 7.2 million students and staff heading into and returning from spring break, the state has distributed more than 14.3 million COVID-19 at-home tests to schools for students and staff. In partnership with local county offices of education, the state has allocated tests based on the total number of students and staff – in both public and private schools – in each county.



With well over a hundred autos shined up and ready for display, the Knights Ferry Classic Car Show was a popular destination on Saturday, April 2. It was a picture perfect day for strolling the streets and taking in the wide variety of classic cars and trucks, with bright spring sunshine, a cooling breeze coming off the nearby Stanislaus River and warm temperatures bringing a big crowd to town. Staged on the main street through the community, the line of classics stretched the length of the thoroughfare.

The 70th annual Oakdale PRCA Rodeo, hosted at the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo Grounds, saw mild temperatures, some windy, dusty conditions and plenty of spectators on hand to cheer the competitors on. Two performances were offered, with Grand Entry at 1:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, April 9 and 10, followed by the events. All-Around Cowboy honors this year went to Dane Browning, competing in tie-down roping and steer wrestling.

It was almost a “return to normal” as board members gathered maskless and with a room full of students at Monday night’s Oakdale Joint Unified School Board meeting on April 11. Both the Oakdale High School Academic Decathlon Team, as well as the OHS State Qualifying Wrestlers were in attendance. Each received certificates of recognition from OJUSD. A thorough and extensive presentation regarding progress of the Oakdale School Farm was conducted by Deputy Superintendent of Pupil Services and Facilities, Larry Mendonca.

What was supposed to be a festive egg hunt at Oakdale’s Cottles Woods Park on Saturday morning, April 16, instead was hosted as more of a drive-thru/walk-up Easter giveaway for youngsters. Hosted by The River Christian Community Church, the plastic candy and treat-filled eggs were bagged up and handed out, as light rain wet the grass at the park and cloudy skies threatened more showers. Church volunteers planned for about 350 kids to attend.

A teenager was arrested in connection with multiple shootings at vehicles along Albers Road. The Stanislaus County Sheriff ’s Office arrested 18-year-old Modesto resident James Ganjeh on Saturday, April 16 and he was booked at county jail on counts stemming from multiple shootings in the east end of the county, south of Oakdale.

Oakdale High School senior Haleigh Humble has been recognized for her accomplishments in the classroom, the community and on the track and cross country course. The CIF Sac-Joaquin Section has announced its A. Dale Lacky Scholar-Athlete Award winners for outstanding athletic performance, community service and academic success during their four years of high school. Humble is among the winners. The award, named after former Section and State CIF President, A. Dale Lacky, recognizes the top male and female student athletes within the Section.

A family fun day, hosted by Oakdale Christian Academy in cooperation with Living Hope Christian Fellowship, brought hundreds to Oakdale’s Kerr Park in April for a color un, food, music, games and more. Offered as a day of family fun in the sunshine, it also served as a fundraiser for the Oakdale Christian Academy, a Kindergarten through 12 school based at Living Hope.



A citywide community service celebration spreading love throughout Oakdale took place during the morning hours and on in to the midafternoon hours of Saturday, April 30. Love Oakdale was staged and kicked off with an early morning rally at the city’s skate park that featured remarks and proclamations from representatives of local legislators State Senator Andreas Borgeas, Assemblyman Heath Flora and Congressman Josh Harder; comments from Stanislaus County Supervisor Buck Condit; a welcome from Oakdale Mayor Cherilyn Bairos and the announcement that the City Council has proclaimed the last Saturday in April as ‘Love Oakdale Day’ for the community. There were an estimated 350 community members in attendance and they combined to take on 40 different community service projects ranging from painting park benches, to cleaning the gutters of homes for local senior citizens that are unable to do it themselves.

The perimeter construction fencing has gone up, the ‘road closed’ signs are in place and a group of city councilmembers and department heads turned the first shovels full of dirt for the Third Avenue Improvement Project in downtown Oakdale on Monday, May 9. The extensive renovation project along North Third, between E and F streets, has a scheduled completion date of Sept. 5, 2022.

College hopes and dreams are coming true for Oakdale High School senior Savannah Borba, who has been named the 2022 Leo Volz Scholarship recipient. The Leo Volz Scholarship pays $25,000 per year for four years for a maximum of $100,000 toward tuition and books. Volz was an Oakdale farmer who bequeathed a scholarship to be set up through the Oakdale Joint Unified School District in his will, which was endowed with $2 million. Borba has plans of attending San Jose State University this fall, where she will major in Mechanical Engineering.

Ballots have arrived in mailboxes and a race of local note is that for a vacant seat on the Oakdale City Council. Four candidates have thrown their hats in the ring, seeking to fill an unexpired term, left vacant when former council member Erika Chiara stepped down. The candidate receiving the most votes in the Tuesday, June 7 election will win the seat. Bob Amaral, Kayleigh Gilbert, Jennifer Harris and Anthony Pratt are seeking the post.

Back at its traditional time on the third weekend of May, there was music, corn hole, lots of food booths, classic cars, cool treats, unique art and gemstones … all the ingredients combining to serve up the fun at the Oakdale Chocolate Festival. Put on by the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce, this year was the 30th annual fest, which was staged on Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22. It covered a portion of South Yosemite Avenue and also saw booths in Wood Park and scattered throughout some side streets as well.

It is indeed as the saying goes, “All good things much come to an end.” In terms of Oakdale educator Pete Simoncini, some might say “All great things.” This Friday night Simoncini, lovingly known as “The Voice of the Mustangs” will have his voice fill the Corral one final time before entering retirement after more than two decades as an educator at Oakdale High School.



The brief heat wave of last week took a break just long enough for the Oakdale Junior High School Rams and Oakdale High School Mustangs to enjoy cool, yet somewhat windy graduation ceremonies May 26 and 27.

It has been 35 years since Fair Oaks Principal Kathy Pinol went from student to educator, but on Friday, June 3 that all came to an end. After 35 years of living her passion, Principal Pinol will now transition to the title of ‘retired.’ “This is my time and there’s still things I want to do,” Pinol said. “I don’t want to be too old to do them.”

A lot of things have changed since 1952. But one thing that hasn’t is the spirit of camaraderie between classmates from Oakdale High School, former Mustangs who have continued to get together periodically to mark the anniversary of their graduation. This year, several members of the Class of 1952 – who donned their caps and gowns for OHS 70 years ago – came together at Gambini Farms on River Road to share some laughter, some wine and some tall tales from the past. Hosting the event was class member Joe Gambini, while classmate Carol Davis helped with the planning and was at the sign-in table to greet attendees.

The Recreation Room of Oak Haven Senior Apartments was once again filled as Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer and Mayor Pro Tem Christopher Smith returned to update the residents on progress made since their initial visit last month. Resident Sandie Davis initially requested a meeting with the City following a number of concerns regarding security and safety as well as rent increases during the pandemic, which was not permitted by the government. Since the initial meeting in May, Whitemyer and his team have been addressing a number of issues. The one which seemed to spark the most enthusiasm from the residents last Tuesday, June 7 was the announcement that the current property management company, Buckingham, had given a 60-day notice of resignation. That brought cheers from residents in attendance at the meeting.

John Fauria gets to do the fun things. Currently serving as treasurer for the Oakdale Lions Club, Fauria said part of his ‘job’ is to work to fulfill requests the club gets from time to time for donations, which recently included delivering laptop computers to the Gladys L. Lemmons Senior Community Center. “With COVID, we didn’t have people coming to request things,” he said of the past couple of years. “I contacted Jane (Oakdale Recreation Services Supervisor Jane Finkenbine) and she said ‘yes, we need stuff’.”

Kat Songer always had aspirations of being a teacher. Yet as life took certain turns, her once childhood dream of becoming an Ag teacher would go to the wayside, as she sought other employment. What started as an “on call” position 16 years ago, has now grown to something much bigger. Songer was named the Oakdale Joint Unified Transportation Director late in the recently completed 2021-22 school year.


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

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Along with the free at home COVID test kits available at the Oakdale Library, a variety of information is offered on the table. Limit is one box per person, which includes two tests. Sarah Lawson/The Leader
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On her final day before her adventure of retirement began early in 2022, longtime Knights Ferry Corps of Engineers staffer Lisa Dolling was showered with flowers and balloons and cards to give her a heartfelt farewell. Photo Contributed
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Oakdale Mayor Cherilyn Bairos delivered her first State of the City address at a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored luncheon on Jan. 26. Marg Jackson/The Leader