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2020 Part 1: Year In Review
Driving right up to the table at California Avenue Elementary, this young lady was able to stretch out and grab a new book to read this week during an April book drive thru event hosted at the school. Virginia Still/The News

Many people had high hopes for the new 2020 year but a few months into it things took a severe turn for the worse as COVID-19 took over everyone’s lives in one way or another. Although there were many alarming uncertainties to go along with the pandemic, people in and around the Riverbank community proceeded with caution, safety and positivity. Following are some excerpts of top stories from the first six months of the year, taken from the pages of The Riverbank News.



There is a group in Riverbank that has been assisting the community for many years and their duty to help those in need continues; it’s business as usual for Riverbank Christian Food Sharing (RCFS). Due to donations collected by Boy Scout Troop 1100 and Cub Scout Pack 10, RCFS was able to distribute a variety of goods to help out during the recent holiday season.

Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien stepped down from the dais recently and passed the gavel to Vice Mayor Darlene Barber Martinez so that the City Council could select a Riverbank Representative for the Stanislaus County Fire Protection District (SCFPD) Board of Directors at the final city council meeting of the 2019 calendar year. O’Brien was among the candidates and had to step down and not participate in the voting process. After public interviews the decision by the City Council was to select Chad Homme as the new Riverbank representative for a four-year term beginning in January through December 2023.

Helping knock down a potentially damaging fire, a pair of local youths were hailed for their actions recently by fire officials. Authorities noted that two young skateboarders noticed smoke permeating the air nearby their location in early January and took action. On their boards at the skate park in Riverbank, Jesus Rodriguez and Chris Mariscal decided to investigate where the smoke was coming from on a late Tuesday afternoon.

Even though winter is here, now, awards continue to trickle in from the recent cross country season. Two Riverbank High School runners recently received notification that they have been selected at the top of the Boys All-StanCo first team for their efforts in the 2019 Trans-Valley League season, where they posted the best times of the season. RHS senior Ramon Rosas and junior Adan Salgado received their awards from coaches Monte Wood and Robert Searway.

Riverbank Police Services Sergeant Jim Walsh made his final log off with dispatch on Jan. 17 to begin a new chapter in his life: retirement. The 29-year veteran has worn many hats over the years as he served the Stanislaus County community including the City of Riverbank.

The music was flowing this past weekend at the Modesto Junior College Auditorium for the Stanislaus County Music Festival that included high school and junior high school Honor Choir, Honor Orchestra and Honor Band. Riverbank High School (RHS) had two students that made the Honor Band for the second year in a row, senior Dolores Navarro and junior Lizbeth Ramos.



The Riverbank City Council accepted the proposal submitted by SS Consulting for coordination of the 2020 Riverbank Cheese and Wine Festival. The agreement came at the regular council meeting on Jan. 28. The festival has been an annual event in downtown Riverbank for over 40 years and for the past six years the city contracted with Chris Ricci Presents to oversee the event.

Riverbank High School students took a field trip, attending a production of Hamilton at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. The 100th anniversary of the showing of Hamilton was celebrated at the theater. AP US History Teacher Davina Cipriano applied for the grant and her students had to complete a performance piece and other course work to be eligible for the opportunity to see the play. There were 22 students that attended the Hamilton performance and over 2000 students from schools throughout California.

Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien hosted an annual meeting with non-profits and community partners to discuss the homeless population in the area, along with talking about potential programs and solutions.

Riverbank High School’s Winter Homecoming 2020 wrapped up a fun and festive week on Feb. 14. Celebrating Valentine’s Day and Homecoming alike, the Bruins and their fans marked the occasion with a rally and a basketball game at home where Ty Luu was crowned King and Mikayla Macias was crowned Queen during halftime festivities. The 2020 theme of “Welcome to the Bruin Jam” had students participating in all kinds of activities during lunch at the high school and featured themed dress days all week long.

The Riverbank High School FFA club along with first year Ag Instructor Brittney Thomas had a variety of activities planned to celebrate FFA week for all students on campus. A friendly game of Penny Wars was also in effect where the teacher receiving the most money in their jar is supposed to kiss a horse during lunch.



Riverbank High School was well represented at the SkillsUSA competition held at San Joaquin Delta College where several of the participants advanced to the state competition. The team, under the direction of the Building and Construction Instructor Cory Casteel and the Graphic Design Instructor Jon Gianelli, was prepared for the 2020 competition.

Deputy Geoff Crowley worked his last shift for Riverbank Police Services on Feb. 26, as he retired from the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department. Crowley started his law enforcement career as a Riverbank Police Department Reserve and then moved to full-time officer in 1994, then was hired by the Sheriff’s Department in 1995 after the first police services contract was agreed upon by the City of Riverbank and Stanislaus County.

Mayor Richard D. O’Brien presented his eighth State of the City Address on March 5 at the Riverbank Community Center. Some of the key topics that were addressed were the Riverbank Industrial Complex, water meters, Crossroads West, homelessness, and some of the projects that have been completed.

Riverbank Police Services Chief Erin Kiely closed the chapter on his law enforcement career after serving for 25 years. After almost seven years as the chief for Riverbank, his final day on the job was March 13. He will be moving on to new adventures in his life and spending quality time with his family. Sheriff’s Lieutenant Ed Ridenour is his replacement.

According to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency ( website, as of March 16 there were three Coronavirus cases in Stanislaus County and there have been no local deaths related to the virus.

Riverbank Unified School District hired a new Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Richard Tapia, who is excited to make a difference. Though classes at all Riverbank Unified School District sites have been cancelled due to the coronavirus – with a projected reopening date of April 20 – Tapia had a chance to settle in prior to the recent shutdown.

On March 16, the City of Riverbank’s Assistant Director of Emergency Services, Marisela Garcia, issued a City Proclamation of the Existence of a Local Emergency (“Proclamation”) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Proclamation follows President Trump’s declaration of a Nationwide Emergency on March 13 as well as California Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide declaration on March 4 and the World Health Organization’s characterization of the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic on March 11.

With local schools closing this week in response to the spread of the coronavirus, other organizations also are adjusting to having to deal with new restrictions. The president of the Riverbank Historical Society, Kristin Platts, announced over the weekend that her group of volunteers, who normally staff the museum in downtown, will not be working for the foreseeable future. She said most of the docents who work at the museum are retired and fall into the age group officials have designated as most susceptible to the virus and most in need of taking extra precautionary measures.

The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has affected everyone in one way or another and the increased cases in the State of California has led to a state order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom for people to shelter in place and for non-essential businesses to close.

Riverbank Police Services (RPS) will continue to serve the community but are also taking health and safety precautions. With ramped up patrols on the streets of Riverbank, RPS Chief Ed Ridenour wants to assure the public that they are here for the community through these unusual circumstances.

The City Council of Riverbank has ratified a Local State of Emergency Declaration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Riverbank is recommending that members of the public shelter in place when possible, however, it is not mandatory. Additionally, it is critical that residents practice social distancing during this COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Gavin Newsom has directed that all gyms and movie theaters close and that restaurants limit their service to take-out and delivery meals only. This follows a previous directive, in which the Governor also asked that residents age 65 and over and those at higher risk for serious illness stay at home.

‘Grab and Go Meals’ are being served up for all, 18 years old and younger, Monday through Friday in Riverbank. With schools throughout the Riverbank Unified School District shut down, district staffers and teachers are staying busy, working to help provide food.



As the ripple effect of the COVID-19 virus continues with businesses closing and people staying in due to the shelter in place order, the Riverbank Parks and Recreation Department has postponed all of their programs until further notice. Currently the parks are open; however, the playgrounds are closed to the public as a precaution to stop the spread of the virus.

Locally, Dr. Ted Howze has stepped up to assist the community distributing food and goods to the public including deliveries to disabled veterans and seniors that he has dubbed “Operation Compassion.”

Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) has posted a Story Time link on their website to engage students at home to read. The stories are read by RUSD teachers and staff with a variety of stories.

The empty parking lot and the deserted lobby of the Galaxy Theatre in Riverbank was an odd sight as the theatre is usually bustling with business and leaving a scent of freshly popped popcorn in the air. The doors were locked and a sign was posted on the door stating that they are “closed for business temporarily.”

Crossroads Shopping Center in Riverbank had several businesses affected by the COVID-19 epidemic. The once lively shopping center has seen unprecedented closures and financial decline in the past weeks. However, a handful of businesses including Target, BevMo, Staples, Best Buy and Cold Stone Creamery have remained open with modified business hours and new procedures.

In the neighborhood by Silva Park, specifically on Chancellor Way there was a canopy with shelves filled with goods and a sign that says Crossroads Community Pantry. Riverbank residents Mikey Benton and wife Allison started the pantry on April 11 hoping to help others in the community during these unprecedented times.

The term ‘Friday night lights’ had a new meaning at Riverbank High School as the district turned on the stadium lights to recognize the ‘shining stars’ in the senior class of 2020. As schools have been closed and all sports, concerts, activities and events have been canceled including the graduation ceremony for the senior class, the district tried to adjust and remind them that they are special.

Park facilities under the jurisdiction of Stanislaus County, as well as a few nearby cities, have been reopened by their officials during the past week, but those in Riverbank remain closed.



Members of the Riverbank City Council unanimously passed a resolution strongly recommending the public to wear a face mask or covering while out in public to limit the spread of COVID-19. The action came at the city council meeting on April 28. The highly contagious virus has spread globally and numbers of deaths and confirmed cases continued to rise.

As the 2019-20 school year approached what would have been the last day of school on May 22, the Riverbank community and the Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) became creative on making the remainder of the year special for Riverbank High School seniors. The goal is to make it memorable, as their senior year abruptly came to an unexpected end in mid-March. Ana Calderon created a private Facebook group for RHS seniors called Riverbank Adopt a Senior 2020 and RUSD invites everyone to a memorable cruise by on Friday, May 8.

Riverbank High School seniors not only picked up their caps and gowns but also had a Senior Drive By Celebration. In such bleak times there was high energy and excitement at the high school with an immense effort by staff to lift the spirits of their 2020 senior class.

Closed temporarily by the shelter-in-place COVID-19 shutdown ordered back in March, downtown Riverbank florist Karen Bickford has decided to throw in the towel, literally.

There was a small bicycle memorial ride organized by a few law enforcement officers to honor the fallen, as many events during National Police Week were canceled due to COVID-19. Police Week ended on Saturday, May 16.

Spreading goodness with foot long sandwiches to first responders in the area kept new Subway restaurant owner Tanmeet Randhawa busy. Through a fundraiser Randhawa raised about $1,100 to make sandwiches for first responders. They were able to deliver the sandwiches on May 12 to Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District in Riverbank, Escalon Fire and Escalon Police Department, Modesto Police Department and Fire, and Ceres Fire and Police as well as to Doctors Medical Center and Memorial Hospital.

Members of the Riverbank City Council have directed City Staff to open the parks, tennis courts, basketball courts, park restrooms and skate park with a few restrictions. Jacob Myers Park was also reopened but had limited entry with social distancing required in the open spaces. Finally, staff was directed to cancel the annual Cheese and Wine Festival this year.

It was a week of both an ending and a beginning for seniors at Riverbank High School, culminating the school year, and a graduation of sorts, on Friday, May 22. Where RHS underclassmen had completed their check out requirements earlier in the week, Friday, May 22, was dedicated to the Class of 2020, Riverbank’s graduating seniors.

With society dealing with the COVID-19 situation, coming together to observe its regular Memorial Day activities was proving problematic, but officials at the City of Riverbank came up with a socially distancing solution, live streaming.



Adelante Continuation High School did not have a traditional graduation ceremony, similar to many other schools throughout the country. However, Principal Ed Vaca and school staff did not want this accomplishment to be sizzled due to the pandemic. To celebrate the class of 2020 the staff purchased graduation signs and placed them on the senior’s front lawns at their homes and when they picked up their official diplomas they had a photo opportunity.

Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District (SCFPD) had a regular Board meeting mid-May to discuss a number of items and an amendment to Fire Chief Whorton’s employment agreement. This has alarmed some citizens, as the board approved a pay increase for the Chief, firefighters have seen an increase in the amount for their retirement while sick time accrual has been reduced and citizens will now be billed for some services.

A small group of demonstrators gathered Saturday, June 6 in Riverbank, assembling near the Police Services building before marching peacefully in support of the Black Lives Matter movement around several downtown blocks, ultimately dispersing where they started.

There is a new Chief in town leading the Riverbank Police Services (RPS) through the COVID-19 pandemic and the negative spotlight that law enforcement currently finds itself in. RPS Chief Ed Ridenour officially started his new position the first weekend the pandemic shut everything down in March.

Although the 2019-20 school year is officially over, Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) had a busy June. With a teacher being called out for inappropriate postings, a graduation ceremony announced, retirements, a board member resignation, and ACSA Awards, there has been a lot going on in the district.

For the past few weeks there have been a plethora of calls to Riverbank Police Services regarding fireworks in the area. The City of Riverbank discussed the illegal fireworks at a city council meeting in early June. Citations were given out as the fourth of July was still over a week away.

On June 18 Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order that everyone must wear a mask in public. This came shortly after Stanislaus County was going to issue the same order for the county that was to begin on Monday due to rising cases of COVID-19. The order given by the Governor was to be implemented immediately to help prevent the spread.

The Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) was in the planning stages of reopening schools in the fall which were to include some sports and safety precautions. The 2020- 21 Budget was approved at the regular board meeting. The meeting was filled with several action items and several people including teachers attended the Zoom meeting.


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

Riverbank High staff and administrators, including District Superintendent Christine Facella, greet graduating RHS seniors and their families during a drive-by distribution of caps and gowns on Friday, May 8. They were set up in front of the Administration Building to hand out the materials between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Ric McGinnis/The News
Riverbank Police Services Chief Erin Kiely retired after 25 years in law enforcement and was looking forward to moving on to a new chapter in life. Virginia Still/The News