Wasco Tribune - Serving the community since 1970

By Jamie Stewart
The Shafter Press 

2021 a year of change, growth and coming together

 

Last updated 12/31/2021 at 3:07pm | View PDF

Jamie Stewart | The Shafter Press

Richland School District students return to classroom.

2021 was a year that challenged everyone and also saw residents coming together like no other time in decades.

With the covid-19 pandemic seemingly waning, residents, along with the rest of the nation, were trying to get their lives back to some sort of normalcy.

Schools were opening back up, allowing the students to return to the classroom in person.

Later in the year, as the omicron variant reared its head, a new threat loomed to threaten the progress that had been made in the communities thus far in the year.

While the year was full of challenges, the community saw a lot that could and was celebrated as well. Here is a quick look at this past year.

January

The year started with schools still using the distance learning models.

Sports were back in operation, with all of the teams fielding competitive squads. The exception were the indoor sports that were still under covid protocol. Outdoor sports were cleared to resume their seasons, with each of them following safety guidelines set by the CIF.

Also in January:

Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the Stay at Home order in the state, giving residents the chance to shop, dine, and attend certain functions while still following safety and health guidelines.

The city of Shafter utility customers were able to start paying their bills online again, after a hacker had invaded the city's computer system and caused the system to be shut down until order could be restored.

The city saw 200 new covid-19 cases in the third week in January, bringing the total number of cases for the city to 3,085. The city utilized a Wear to Care campaign, encouraging residents to wear a mask when going out in public.

In late January, the Richland School District started a hybrid classroom operation, using small cohorts to return students to the classroom.

February

With the parents, staff, students at odds on whether to remain attending in-person classes, or return to distance learning, the decision was made to return to distance learning.

February also saw the loss of an icon in the Shafter community for decades.

If you have ever attended a Distinguished Young Woman program, formerly known as the Junior Miss program, you have heard of Karolyn Kay Millwee. Millwee passed away recently.

Born in 1938, Millwee served the community for over five decades. Millwee moved to Shafter when she was a young child and she graduated from Shafter High in 1956. She married Robert Millwee in 1960 and were married for 38 years before the passing of Robert in 1998. Kay raised their two children, Jeff and Jana. She was a homemaker while Robert worked at his new car dealership, Richland Chevrolet. Millwee was known for her hospitality and was very involved in the Shafter community, teaching dance and baton lessons. Together with her friend Sharon Biloff, Millwee brought the Junior Miss program to Shafter.

Through the years, Millwee was known as the spirit of the program, and even when turning over the reins in recent years, she was still considered the heart of the program.

The City Council presented the Key to the City to reigning Distinguished Young Woman of Shafter Shelbee Ramos. Ramos recently competed in the state level competition and won a special award at the event. Ramos won a $2,000 scholarship for her title of Shafter's DYW, along with an additional scholarship for winning a phase during the event. Also recognized by the council were First Runner-up Alicia Pompa, Second Runner-up Santana DelaRosa, Lilian Jaime, who won the Talent portion of the event, and Cathy Garcia, who won the Spirit Award.

February also saw Grimmway Academy have two days a week in-person classes, the beginning of the complete reopening of the school.

Another highlight of the school for students, parents and staff is the Edible Garden at the academy. CEO Casey Yeazel said that the garden is still producing vegetables and are used extensively in the students' meals on a daily basis. "We practice social distancing and safety measures and continue to utilize the edible garden. It is a valuable asset as a source of nutrition and also a very valuable teaching tool," Yeazel said.

March

As the pandemic continued, a group of Shafter High students were feeling disconnected with their peers as they left the school campus to learn at home. The group soon developed a solution to help better support their peers, starting a program called THRIVE. Audrey McPhetridge, Yesenia Gil, Jose Magana and Anthony Olivas wanted to find a way to get their peers together after so much time by themselves.

They originally started the program with Zoom meetings in November, but it quickly evolved.

"I seized the opportunity to connect and help others in situations where they may feel alone or a little down," Gil said about becoming a leader in the group. "I believe that you can only truly feel fulfilled if you have lived a life of service."

March also saw the return of high school football, with Kern County teams playing an abbreviated spring season. Shafter opened their season with a 52-3 whipping of Arvin High.

The Generals began the game strong, scoring three times in the first five minutes of the game. The Generals' offense, led by quarterback Tyson Dozier, wasted no time in scoring, with Dozier scoring on a keeper with just a few ticks off of the game clock, putting Shafter up 7-0. The Generals have benefited from a couple of transfers this year, with two players from other SSL teams joining the Generals' squad. Chavez transfer Cameron Huerta made his presence known quickly, with a touchdown on the Generals' second offensive possession of the game on a quick out pass that Huerta turned into a 64 yard touchdown, giving the Generals a 15-7 lead. The Shafter defense continued to stifle the Bears' offense, allowing the Shafter offense to thrive.

April

April saw Kern County enter the orange tier of the pandemic scale, freeing up residents to open more businesses, as well as shopping and doing business freely. There was still a recommendation of wearing masks, but they were no longer mandatory.

April also saw the approval of a library committee that would explore different avenues available for the city to keep its library open.

The Kern County Library System decided not to reopen the Shafter branch. With the possibility of not having a library, the community came out in force to voice their concern. A committee was formed by the City Council.

Shafter High Coach Jerald Pierucci also gave a presentation to the council that highlighted the planned video scoreboard that will be a part of the new stadium renovation. This board will be used for football, soccer, track, the Fourth of July fireworks show and Shafter High and Richland Junior High graduation ceremonies.

The historic Green Hotel was vandalized and broken into in April.

According to Shafter Historical Society President Roy Shaffner, vandals kicked part of the fence in and gained access to the property. They then broke several windows and the front door with what is believed to be rocks. Shafter Police Captain Diana Burnett said that there were other businesses on James Street that also suffered damage recently.

The Green Hotel was constructed in 1913 by the Kern County Land Company to house prospective land buyers. Located centrally downtown at the corner of James and Central, it was the city's first commercial building.

In other April happenings, Shafter's annual Easter Sunrise Service made its return. The event began at 6:30 a.m., with music being played as the sun broke over the trees at "The Green," located at the intersection of Kern Street and California Avenue, at the Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church. The event was sponsored by the Shafter Kiwanis Club. Over 70 people were in attendance at the celebration, including worshipers from a variety of churches in the city, no matter the denomination. The opening prayer was led by Craig Haley, with Pastor Pat Coyle of the Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church leading the music. Ben Wilson gave the benediction, welcoming attendees to the service. Each year, the message is given by a local pastor from one of the churches in Shafter. This year, the message was given by Pastor Gabriel Espinoza of Iglesia Companerismo Cristiano. His lecture was entitled "The Cross," telling the attendees a message of hope, tragedy, and victory

Nicole Morris was named Shafter's Distinguished Young Woman for 2021. The event was held at the Ford Theater and was livestreamed for those who were unable to attend. Emceed by Debbie Porwell, last year's Distinguished Young Woman Shelbee Ramos handed her title to Morris at the end of the evening. The First Alternate was Natalie Olvera. Olvera also won the Scholastic award, Spirit award, and the Self Expression award. Second Alternate was Jamilynn Eighmy. Eighmy also won the Talent portion of the event, performing a piano solo. Morris, who was sponsored by the Shafter Ford Theater, is planning on attending Abilene Christian University and is looking for a career in theater, psychology, or interior design.

Jensen Boyt, a Shafter High senior, has been chosen to attend the Naval Academy at Annapolis, the first student in Shafter to capture a nomination in over two decades.

It has been over a little over 20 years since a Shafter High School student had been nominated to one of the nation's military academies. The last student was Eli Espericueta, who graduated from West Point in 2000.

At the end of April, the Shafter High Generals football team ended their abbreviated season with a victory over Golden Valley 41-14.

One of two inmates who escaped from the Lerdo Justice Facility was captured by the Shafter Police Department. At approximately 1:30 a.m. David Reagan Palms, 22, and Tyrone Deangelo Johnson, 24, escaped from the facility. One Shafter resident caught Palms on their security cameras. Palms was located by the Shafter Police Department and was captured after a foot pursuit.

May

May saw a successful run at the Ford Theater for the Shafter Young Adult Theater group, presenting their production of The Wizard of Oz to packed crowds.

Playing the role of Dorothy, Lauren Givens played the title lead character with a powerhouse performance. Megan Bloehmof was the Scarecrow, showing agility, great timing, and a quick wit. Matthew Maldonado was hilarious as the Cowardly Lion. Daelyn Smith made the Tin Man a character that you couldn't help but root for.

May also saw a tragic incident in the orchards in the outskirts of Shafter.

A Wasco man was found dead in his vehicle after being shot and then crashing into an orchard in Shafter. The man, later identified as Tony Sanchez, 64, of Wasco, had reportedly crashed into the orchards near the intersection of Fresno and Beech avenues. Shafter Police Department officers found Sanchez in the vehicle deceased, the victim of a gunshot wound.

The city cut the ribbon at Mannel Park, opening up a new outdoor fitness court. The court features over 10 stations that people can do cardio and strengthening exercises and can keep track of their progress on their phones.

At the end of May, the City Council decided to create its own Municipal Library. The City Council voted to disband the Shafter Branch of the Kern County Library from the county structure, creating a municipal library run by the city in partnership with Bakersfield College, after the county ended talks to reopen the library.

Richland Junior High celebrated their promotion to Generals with a Commencement Ceremony, graduating to enter Shafter High in the fall.

June

The wall at the Shafter Learning Center is blank no more after the ribbon was officially cut on the new mural, a project that began with a group of students dreaming about what it could be.

In October 2019, while attending a Fall Break Literature Class at the Shafter Learning Center, Alondra Montalvo, Sierra Albiar, Khloe Verdugo, Seniya Schluter, and Brinlee Swann noticed a blank wall located diagonally across from the center. They began to dream about the possibility of a mural at that location.

Working together with Listen to Shafter, the students brainstormed design ideas, advocated for the project, and helped select the artist. There were five different submissions from local artists and muralist Lorena Castillo was selected. Castillo, who had moved to Shafter three years ago, had experience painting murals up in Watsonville, where she had moved from.

"I didn't think that I would ever paint another mural, but this project touched my heart, and I wanted to be a part of these young girls' dream," said Castillo. Castillo received help from the group of students, as well as other volunteers. The mural is titled, "A Wall of Dreams," and depicts dreams and hopes that are in the minds of local youth, from science and math, to art, sports, and possible careers.

The Shafter High graduating class of 2021 celebrated the end of their high school careers.

The Shafter High Lady Generals Softball team advanced to the Central Section Division V Championship game with a 5-4 win against Bakersfield Christian. Unfortunately, the Lady Generals came up one game short of the title when they dropped a heartbreaker to Highland High School in the title game.

Also in June, the second of two escaped inmates from Lerdo Jail was apprehended, ending a months long search. Tyrone Johnson, a Lerdo Justice Facility inmate who escaped in April, was apprehended by Bakersfield Police after a short pursuit. Johnson, along with David Palms, escaped from Lerdo on April 28.

Joslyn Pierucci, 13, of Shafter, won third place at a national track and field competition. Pierucci, a thrower, competed in Rome, Georgia at the USATF National Youth Outdoor Championships last week. Joslyn threw a personal best of 35'9''. Joslyn had three throws in the first round to make it to the next round. She advanced into the top eight, qualifying her to the finals. Joslyn threw her personal record to grab the third place medal.

July

Over 1,000 people came out for the Fourth of July fireworks show. As the sun set, Grace Givens sang a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, followed by a fireworks show that lasted well over 15 minutes, with a fantastic finale. With the football stadium undergoing renovations, the show was held on the Shafter recreation fields next to the stadium.

The new Amazon fulfillment center in the Wonderful Industrial Park will bring about 1,000 jobs to Shafter. Public Relations Specialist Eileen Hards said the Amazon location will bring a mix of full- and part-time jobs, paying a minimum of $15 an hour and offering a variety of benefits packages from day one.

Shafter Business Development Director Bob Meadows said the 1 million-square-foot facility is another example of big name companies finding a home in Shafter. Meadows said that the city has so much to offer companies, including a great central location, rail access, one of the only fiber optic networks in the county, and an administration that works to make a partnership with the city an easy and positive one.

William Jack Hopkins, 46, was convicted of kidnapping to commit rape, forcible rape, assault with the intent to commit sodomy, two counts of robbery, two counts of criminal threats, and felon in possession of a firearm.

August

Police Chief Kevin Zimmermann introduced Diana Burnett as Shafter's assistant chief of police. Burnett has worked for the Shafter Police Department since 1992 and has held numerous ranks throughout her career, including officer, senior officer, sergeant, lieutenant and captain.

Burnett also has numerous certifications in various training, including vehicle theft, narcotics and weapons training.

In March of 2020, Burnett received the Richard A. Maxwell Regional Award of Merit for Public Safety by the Kern Council of Governments Regional Awards Event. Her award covered her 27 years of service with the City of Shafter and the fact she has been a trailblazer in local law enforcement her entire career. She was Shafter's first female senior officer, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and acting chief.

The Shafter Kiwanis Club welcomed the new teachers in Shafter schools with its annual New Teachers Luncheon Friday, Aug. 13 at the Shafter Veterans Hall. Each year, the organization hosts the local schools and their new teachers, introducing them to the community.

September

Two local veterans joined about 170 other veterans on a recent Honor Flight to the nation's capitol, where they visited the memorials and monuments. John Enns and Bob Reeves spent Sept. 14-16 in Washington, D.C., visiting landmarks that they had thought they might never see. "This was an amazing trip, one that I will never forget," said Reeves, who served in the United States Navy in the 50s and the 60s. Reeves served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He was on a troop transport ship stationed in Japan that would carry soldiers on their R&R trips. Reeves was accompanied on the trip by guardian Art Soliz. The trip was free for the veterans, with a charge for the guardians. "But it was well worth it," said Stacy Enns, guardian for John Enns on the trip.

The veterans were also honored at a dinner one evening, receiving medals and awards from several different people. Reeves and Enns received flags that had been flown over the Capitol, given to them by Kevin McCarthy, House Republican leader. There was also a special mail call on their flight home. Unbeknownst to the veterans, each vet had a bag of mail to open. Reeves and Enns had letters from old friends, a card from the City of Shafter, and letters from the local elementary schools.

Enns said that the trip holds a special place in his heart because of the welcome they received throughout the trip. "It is so different than the reception we got the first time when we returned from Vietnam," said Enns.

A routine traffic stop turned into a car chase through the outskirts of Shafter that ended in front of the suspect's residence in the city. An officer from the Shafter Police Department attempted to stop a vehicle that had run a stop sign at the intersection of Fresno and Poplar avenues. The driver, later identified as Christopher Sergio Acosta, 42, failed to stop, and led officers on a lengthy pursuit through the outskirts of the city and then back into Shafter, where he stopped in front of his residence. After refusing to come out of the vehicle for about 25 minutes, he was taken into custody without further incident, officers said. The Kern County Sheriff's helicopter assisted by monitoring the pursuit. Acosta was charged with evading, driving with a suspended license, possession of marijuana while driving, and obstructing.

The Shafter Generals football team continued its winning ways, defeating the Taft Wildcats 31-14.

Shafter schools have been open, with no distance learning offered this year.

October

The Shafter Woman's Club brought awareness to the issue of domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Barbara Gladden presented a pledge to the City Council which promises to recognize the issue as an important one and they will do their part in fighting against domestic violence. This issue hit very close to home recently when five lives were lost in Wasco when a Wasco man took the lives of his wife, two sons, and a Kern County Sheriff's SWAT team member when he confronted the sheriff's department in a standoff that began involving a case of domestic violence, Gladden said.

The Shafter High Generals celebrated their Homecoming night with a big win against the Arvin Bears 47-7, keeping their SSL record unblemished at 4-0. Shafter's stadium is in the middle of a major renovation, so the Generals played their Homecoming game at North High. This didn't affect the crowd much, as a large number of Shafter fans were on hand to witness the festivities. Led by quarterback Devon Sundgren, the Generals' offense played a strong game, rolling up yardage on a defense that didn't have an answer for Sundgren.

Shafter upped the lead in the second quarter with a drive that ended with Elijah Lucero, who had a very productive game on both sides of the ball, scored on a touchdown run. The rest of the game was Shafter moving the ball at will, while keeping the Bears' offense off of the field.

At halftime, Shafter's Homecoming King and Queen were announced. General quarterback Tyson Dozhier, who is still rehabbing, won the King's crown, while Malia Maldonado won the Queen's crown.

In the 94th battle between the Shafter Generals and the Wasco Tigers, Wasco used a hurry-up offense that eventually battered the injury-riddled Generals into submission with a 46-20 win. Shafter spotted the Tigers a 16-0 lead just minutes into the game. Wasco scored on their first drive of the game on a 9 yard run, followed by the recovery of an onside kick by the Tigers. The game was played at Centennial High School, the Generals spending the season on the road while their new stadium is being renovated. The Tigers used a no-huddle offense that kept the Generals' defense on the field for long periods of time, assisted by a couple of pass plays, intermingled with a slew of misdirection runs. Wasco score midway through second half to widen the lead. Wasco capped off the scoring with a touchdown run with under two minutes to play. The win gave the Tigers the outright league title.

October also saw the loss of a Shafter icon.

Mert Wiedmann passed away on Oct. 19, leaving a legacy of hard working, family-first, traditional values. Wiedmann grew up in Shafter. Wiedmann said that he remembers watching the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, knowing that he wanted to do something to help this country in this conflict. A year to the day of the attack, Wiedmann enlisted in the Navy, utilized as a meteorologist, watching weather patterns and even flying into the center of severe storms, gauging their ferocity and predicting where the storms were headed.

After serving in the war, Wiedmann married Patricia Stringham and would become a pharmacist, the duo making their home in Shafter. Pat's father had founded Stringham's Drug store and Mert and his wife became pharmacists at the store.

November

The Minter Field Air Museum held the 4th annual Wings 'n' Wheels event at Minter Field, drawing thousands from all over the county. The event returned after a hiatus because of the health and safety restrictions due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Thanks to the Golden Age Flight Museum in Bakersfield, plane enthusiasts were able to get a look at a piece of aerospace history with a Russian Antonov2 plane that held the title of largest biplane in the world for quite a few years.

The City Council approved a proposal by American Refuse for the company to service the city residents for trash collection. With the enacting of SB 1383, the state of California requires all residents to move to a three cart system that is aimed at reducing the amount of waste that gets taken to local landfills. With the new regulations that will take effect in March 2022, all residents will have three different carts for their residences; a blue cart, a green cart and a black cart for household trash.

Public Works Director Michael James said with the proposal submitted by American Refuse, the cost for Shafter residents would be about $27 a month for the collection service per household. The cans would be picked up at the curb in front of the residences, ending the alley service for all residents. American Refuse will offer a free bulky waste service for residents once a week. The resident would need to call American Refuse to schedule the pickup and the company would pick up the item or items free of charge.

GROW Academy students can now get a firsthand experience of what is involved bringing food to the table with a new edible schoolyard. Students at Grow Academy - formerly known as Grimmway Academy - participate in every phase of the edible garden, from planting, watering, harvesting, and helping prepare the food for their lunches. The students participate in the program, which goes in five-week rotations, and includes every grade level. Each part of the process is done by the students, giving them duties that are age appropriate.

December

The City Council ratified agreements reached with the labor unions representing the employees of the Shafter Police Department and the Public Works Department.

Employees in the Public Works Department will received a 2.5% increase in pay for the 2022 fiscal year, as well as an additional increase for the 2023 fiscal year. They will also receive an increase in the cell phone budget. Essential employees who were working during the pandemic period from March 2020 to September 2020 will receive a lump sum of $5,000. The ratification of this agreement would cost the city an amount of $47,000 in the budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The council also came to an agreement with the Shafter Police Officers Union. In the agreement, sworn employees will receive a 1% cost of living increase for the 2022 fiscal year, with a 2% increase to take effect in the fiscal year 2023. Sworn officers who were serving the city during the pandemic period of March 2020 to September 2020 will receive a lump sum of $3,000, with other sworn employees receiving a lump sum of $1,500.

The Shafter Lions Club annual Christmas Parade made its return, after a hiatus because of the health and safety restrictions in place last year.

Jamie Stewart | The Shafter Press

Mayor Cathy Prout recognizes the participants of the Distinguished Young Woman program.

The Richland Junior High Trojan Band provided a musical number including a performance from their Drill and Flag team, as well as the musicians marching through downtown. The parade had more than 40 entries, with a variety of floats, vehicles, and groups celebrating the holiday season. Adding to the festivities was the appearance of the Shafter High Generals football team, who had concluded a successful season that included a run to the quarterfinals of the Central Section Division V playoffs. Several seniors from Carrington House in Shafter braved the cold weather and delighted the crowd as they made their way down the parade route, waving to all of the spectators. The parade followed a well-attended Christmas Tree Lighting and Sing that took place the night before. The GROW Academy's Choir entertained the crowd and Shafter's Distinguished Young Woman Nicole Morris had the honor of lighting the tree.

 

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