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News Reviews Year Gone By
A look back at the stories that made the headlines in 2008 revealed the usual mix of the good, bad and the ugly. Highlights ranged from a work force reduction and eventual closure of the MCI telephone call center to a groundbreaking for a new Riverbank High gym and a bomb scare at Cardozo Middle School that forced evacuation. There were also arrests at a downtown spa for prostitution and of two local women on suspicion of embezzling parent teacher association funds, a move to return Rio Altura School to a traditional schedule and growing recognition of local performing arts groups. Following are some top stories, summarized month by month, for the first half of the year.


The party is always well planned and everybody knows the children attending will have a great time. The Pajama Rama was started a few years ago with the idea of giving parents a night off to do their own thing while keeping the kids entertained at their own party throughout the night. The price is right at $30 per child. And the place - at the Galaxy Theater - is well chosen and popular with the younger set. The event runs from 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve until 9 a.m. on New Year's Day when the parents are expected to retrieve their children.

Riverbank appears to have dodged the bullet in a series of wet and windy storms that blasted Northern California over the weekend. In a storm that reached its height here on Friday afternoon, trees toppled, fences fell, heavy rain and buffeting wind made driving dangerous and there were some isolated cases of flooding. "But we survived it," said Assistant Public Works Director Jerry Meyer. "The worst part was Friday and Saturday. According to my rain gauge at home, we got about 2.25 inches of rain in that time."

Three armed robberies occurred in Riverbank during December and early January and may be connected, said Detective Mark Copeland. On Dec. 9, two Hispanic men displaying a shotgun and handgun entered the Stop'N Save market at Atchison and Eighth streets and took the contents of the till. On Dec. 20, two Hispanics approached a couple of patrons driving into the Galaxy Theatre parking lot, asked the man to change a $1 bill and when he refused and the couple got back into their vehicle, tapped on the window glass with a handgun and forced the driver to give up his wallet. On Jan. 3 at the Circle T Market at Terminal and Kentucky avenues, two masked men in their 20's and carrying a shotgun and a revolver, accosted a man pumping gas outside, forced him and his girlfriend into the market and robbed them and the store clerk of two wallets and also stole $2,000 from the cash till.

Kevin So and Irene Castillo have been crowned the Winter Homecoming King and Queen in separate ceremonies at Riverbank High School. The son of Nate and Solia Martinez, Kevin So enjoys learning about history and hanging out with friends in his free time. Next year he plans on attending a four-year university or Modesto Junior College. Castillo is the daughter of Thomas Alberto and Socorro Castillo, currently holds a 3.8 grade point average and rates math and Spanish as her favorite subjects.

A mother-daughter pair swept the boards at the Riverbank Community Awards Banquet. Norma Torres-Manriquez was chosen 2007 Citizen of the Year and her daughter Daisy Torres named Youth of the Year - while County Bank was recognized as Business of the Year. After her teen daughter's raised hands and squeal of delight at winning, Norma's speech was comparatively subdued and County Bank branch manager Carla Strong's speech of acceptance almost formal.


That famous children's fable "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll features an amazing variety of characters like the King and Queen of Hearts, the Duchess, the March Hare, the White Rabbit and a Caterpillar sitting on a mushroom smoking a hookah, according to the book's original illustrations. Making the costumes for a stage version, like that to be presented by Riverbank High Drama Club next month, has proven to be fun and resulted in some very creative and colorful clothes. Riverbank High students, both cast members and others simply interested in stagecraft, are finding that out in after-school classes being taught by local artist Marilyn Zinner.

Riverbank's telephone call center, originally run by MCI, is reducing its work force, City Manager Rich Holmer informed the city council members on Monday evening. He'd heard it is because the center has seen the volume of overseas calls it handles dwindle and new cell phone developments are likely to replace the relay service it provides for the hard of hearing in a few years. The center employs about 700 people in shift work around the clock to relay calls for the hard of hearing and overseas. The jobs pay about $10.50 per hour.

Hefting shovels painted in school colors of silver and maroon, Riverbank Unified School District trustees, staff and students joined architects and contractors in breaking ground for the new $11.3 million Riverbank High gymnasium on Thursday. Board President Ron Peterson recalled the bond to finance the gym passed at the third try, mainly thanks to the efforts of the students who both worked the telephones at the Galaxy Theater campaign headquarters and went door to door seeking residents' support. "It's been a long time coming. But every other gym will be compared with this one. It's something the students deserve. We should be proud of them," he said.

Riverbank will "go green" in its proposed reuse plan for the former Army Ammunition Plant. While continuing the existing industrial character of the site at Claus and Claribel roads, Riverbank City Council members want to focus on drawing environmentally friendly firms such as recycling companies, alternative fuel manufacturers, solar energy firms and fabricators of "green building materials." Sitting as the Local Redevelopment Authority on Monday, they proposed allocating only certain areas for eco industries, however, and will fall back on conventional industries if they fail to draw the green type.


Riverbank will experience a net increase in expenditures of $169,375 but a rise in revenues projected at $202,900. Property tax revenues are down but unanticipated revenues are up, which will cover the shortfall for a net increase in revenues, Riverbank City Council members heard at a session to make mid-year budget adjustments. The current housing market crisis has impacted Riverbank just as all the other cities in Stanislaus County and this city will see a decrease of approximately $150,000 in anticipated property tax related revenues, Finance Director Marisela Hernandez told the council on Feb. 25.

Faced with a $1.5 million or five percent cut in the budget to meet declining state funding, Riverbank Unified School District is considering laying off almost a dozen teachers. At their March 4 meeting, trustees decided to send advance notices of their intent to cut one halftime elementary and eight fulltime teaching positions, one special teaching post at Cardozo Middle School and one English teaching and one physical education post at Riverbank High. By law teachers must be notified by March 15 of their impending dismissal or retained throughout the next school year, said Director of Personnel Services Barbara Cortese, but the advance notices can be withdrawn at a later date if more funds become available.

Reports of a bomb planted at Cardozo Middle School caused school officials and police to evacuate and thoroughly search the building on Thursday afternoon but no explosive device was found. Coming after a similar incident at Oakdale High School that morning and the finding of a grenade at Modesto's Somerset Elementary School the previous Tuesday, the bomb scare in Riverbank disrupted the lives of hundreds of people as students were herded into Community Park opposite the school and parents summoned there to collect their children. More than 600 students attend the school.

Riverbank High's cadets of the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps unit drew high praise from the recruiting officer who visited on March 18 for the unit's annual inspection and review. "I've done 10 of these things this year and this is the best I've seen," said Commander Romuel "Roy" Nafarette, USN, executive officer of the San Francisco Navy Recruiting District, which covers units scattered all the way from Fresno to Ukiah. "These guys are disciplined. I can tell by looking at their dress and apparatus. They are very mature for their age. You should be proud to be associated with them," he told a group of parents and friends gathered in the football field stadium.


Quick action by a Rio Altura School cafeteria aide is credited with saving a student from choking to death. Antonia Baltazar performed the Heimlich maneuver on seven-year-old Daniel Jiminez, who got food stuck in his throat while eating in the cafeteria at about 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 26. Baltazar was called over by another aide, Terese McHugh, who'd seen the boy get up from the table choking and going red in the face, but had been unable to help him.

Sheriff's detectives arrested two local women Wednesday, April 2 in connection with the embezzlement of money from Parent Teacher Association funds at Rio Altura School. Former PTA president Stephanie Pulido, 31, and treasurer Joann Nordell, 47, both of Riverbank were booked on suspicion of felony embezzlement. They posted bail of $20,000 each and were released Thursday evening, said Detective Mark Copeland. The case came to light in October when current PTA president Paula Jaramillo, who had taken office in July, reported to the district school board she had found approximately $14,000 was unaccounted for in the fund, whether that was due to poor bookkeeping or theft.

Showing herself to be a feisty little blond, Kacie Alpers was crowned Miss Riverbank at Friday's well-attended pageant and awarded the $1,000 college scholarship, the glittery tiara and the right to preside over city ceremonies for the next year. "It's not how hard you can hit, it's how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward - I like that," said master of ceremonies Gary Vernon in commenting on Alpers' favorite quote attributed to Rocky Balboa. Kristy Cappell was named runner up and will receive the $500 prize. Kelly Erazo was chosen Miss Congeniality by her peers.

Scott Pettit was honored as co-Citizen of the Year on Wednesday at a ceremony arranged by Man of the Year/Citizen of the Year club member Joe Galindo, who presided at January's Community Awards Banquet. Norma Torres-Manriquez, who was announced as Citizen of the Year at that banquet, and other members of the MOY/COY Club plus Pettit's friends and relatives attended the hour-long reception held in the school district boardroom. Pettit came to the podium to receive a plaque from Galindo and made a short speech of acceptance saying he hoped his example of community service would encourage others to do likewise.

Riverbank High senior Daisy Torres will be the sole representative of her school in a group of high school band and color guard members from across the nation who are planning to visit Beijing, China for the 2008 Olympic Games. "She wanted to do something really different for her graduation. I guess this is it," said her mother Norma Torres-Manriquez, who works for the City of Riverbank. "Though I'm rather concerned about her going this far away." World Projects International based in the Bay Area is organizing the visit of 2,008 (to mark the year) American students to take part in the Olympics opening ceremonies on Aug. 8.


Riverbank deputies on Thursday arrested both an employee and the owner of K-Spa massage business on charges of prostitution after the employee allegedly propositioned an undercover deputy for sex during a massage. The massage practitioner charged with a misdemeanor violation of prostitution was identified as Mi Jung Yang, a 40-year-old Riverbank resident. The business owner facing the misdemeanor charge of maintaining a house of prostitution was identified as Sung Cha Stelle, a 39-year-old Riverbank resident. Both were booked at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center.

Several teachers and parents asked trustees to look into returning Rio Altura Elementary School from a year-round campus back to a traditional type school during the Riverbank Unified School District board meeting on May 6. The traditional school is the most beneficial for the students, they argued, because the multi- track system breaks up the school year with several short vacations and students no sooner start to learn than they are out of school again and quickly forget. Some community members also argued the new charter school, Riverbank Language Academy located on the Rio Altura campus, is depriving Rio Altura of needed classroom space.

The Galaxy Theater was filled with a different type of movie-goer Thursday evening, May 15 as people crowded into theater No. 10 to watch 'Nuestra Familia: The Impact Of Prison Gangs In Our Community,' a 45-minute documentary geared toward educating parents, teachers, and other teens about the destructive power gangs have over the youth of today. Stanislaus County was one of five communities chosen to host the gang presentation with the documentary.

Gather the family up and head to the Riverbank Community Center Park ... it's time for the annual Farmers Market in downtown Riverbank. Festivities kick off a summer long run this evening, May 28, with market hours from 5 p.m. to 8 pm. each Wednesday from now through Sept. 3. New booths will be featured along with the ones that have been coming for years, said Norma Torres-Manriquez, and there will many booths staffed by local small businesses and service organizations. "Great fruits and vegetables," she said of what has become a true selling point with the crowd.


To kick start summer, downtown Riverbank is throwing a big party on Thursday, June 5. The Blues 'n Bibs event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and will end at 9 p.m. Headlining the festival will be musical group 'Big Earl and the Cryin' Shame' providing the blues, while vendors and non-profit organizations will supply the food. Businesses located between Third and Santa Fe streets will be open to welcome shoppers. More than two dozen classic Corvette automobiles will be assembled along Santa Fe Street and vendors will be located throughout that area.

Stanislaus County Sheriff's Detectives recently responded to a ranch in the 4400 block of Kentucky Avenue in Riverbank for reports of dozens of cattle that were unhealthy and not receiving proper care. The report came from the Stanislaus County Animal Control Office, which started the investigation of the malnourished cattle. Sheriff's Detectives, Animal Control Officers, a county veterinarian, and officials from the State Brand Inspectors office entered the ranch and checked the health of the cattle. County Animal Control officers decided to seize all of the animals when it was determined they weren't receiving even the most basic of care.

For the past four years Stacy Blevins, the woman behind the popular Shakespeare In the Park hosted at Jacob Myers Park each summer, has been the driving creative force that has helped guide and direct actors through the complicated verse of Shakespeare's Old English, but this year will be different. Blevins is no longer at the helm but rather the deck as she prepares with the other players to present Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' buccaneer-style. An English and theater teacher at Riverbank High for the past 12 years, Blevins' deep love for the classics is self-evident as she enjoys delving into the works of Dickens, Hawthorne and her personal favorite - Jane Austen - but the work of Shakespeare holds a special place in her heart and introducing students and adults alike to the venerable master of human frailties is a joy she savors.

Rio Altura's assistant principal Christine Facella has been promoted to the post of principal of Riverbank High in a rearrangement of administrators in the Riverbank Unified School District. The appointment was required by the movement of former RHS principal Ken Geisick into the Interim Superintendent position following Joe Galindo's retirement. At the June 17 school district meeting trustees also approved a changes for Sean Richey who currently is one of two assistant principals at Riverbank High School. They assigned him to serve in a dual role and spend half his time in his last position and 50 percent as principal of Adelante High Continuation School, which is located on the RHS campus.

Coming up next week, a review of the top stories from July to December.