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Year In Review 2007
Shortly after Riverbank children celebrated a new year with an all-night party at Galaxy Theater, Riverbank's City Council got down to business by naming purchase of the Del Rio Theatre and downtown street reconstruction as priorities in their redevelopment plan. In the same month, a fire leveled most of the popular Morris Nursery and Joe Galindo was named Citizen of the Year. From fires to a fatal train-car crash, council-school board arguments on taxes to Riverbank High School's graduation, appointment of a new police chief to resignation of a public works director, there was plenty of news to follow in the pages of this newspaper. Here is a brief glimpse of the top stories from January to June. The last six months of 2007 will be covered in the Jan. 2, 2008 issue.


Children attending the New Year's Eve Pajamarama at Riverbank's Galaxy Theatre probably had as much fun as their parents who left them there overnight and went to their own parties. There were movies for the kids, pizza and popcorn, arcade entertainments, games of tag and hide-and-seek going all night. Very few of them sought out their sleeping bags for a nap. Recreation Supervisor Kerrie Webb said all 60 children who registered arrived and there was no space for 50 more she had been on a waiting list.

Naming their redevelopment agency priorities, Riverbank officials listed purchase and rehabilitation of the Del Rio Theatre, construction of the Plaza del Rio, downtown infrastructure and streetscape and prepayment of the general fund loan. The projects totaling $10.4 million included theater acquisition for an estimated $1.7 million, its rehabilitation for another $1 million, plaza construction at $1 million, downtown engineering and streetscape for another $6 million and repayment of a general fund loan at $440,000.

Fire extensively damaged the 30-year-old Morris Nursery at the west edge of town and injured an employee who fought the flames until fire trucks arrived. Known for its beautiful Christmas displays and holiday wares, the nursery saw its roof collapse during the blaze that started shortly after noon on a Sunday. Nursery founder Bill Morris said manager Dave Provost sustained burns on his face and hands when he tackled the blaze with store extinguishers and hoses. He was released from the hospital after several hours.

Riverbank's Superintendent of Schools Joe Galindo was named 2006 Citizen of the Year out of five contenders for the honor at the Community Awards Banquet. The Youth of the Year Award went to Vivian Studebaker of Riverbank High. For the second time in three years, the downtown flower and gift shop Designs by Karen was declared Business of the Year by the Riverbank Chamber of Commerce.

Sunday afternoon shopping at O'Brien's Supermarket was disrupted when a bomb threat forced evacuation of the large grocery store. A 24-year-old Riverbank man caused the commotion when he walked into the center carrying a duffel bag that he claimed held a bomb. Police closed the store and sections of the adjacent Patterson and Oakdale roads. They later arrested Mark S. Wion on suspicion of making a false bomb threat and burglary. Wion admitted to a history of mental illness and no bomb was found in the bag.


After 34 years in business, Pete and Shirley Sorensen called it quits and closed their downtown hardware store to retire. A fixture in the downtown, the True Value franchise has offered hardware, plumbing, electrical, lawn and garden and paint items for almost as many years as the 50-year-old Landon's Clothing nearby. The Sorensens said they would continue living in town and had no particular plans for the future "but Peter's health is not so good and our son Eric (who helps in the store) wants to move on and do something else," said Shirley.

Games ranging from dancing in sync to an arcade machine to throwing wooden blocks in a sport invented by the Vikings were part of physical fitness and health classes in an After School Program offered at Riverbank High. The program offers personal interest classes in cake decorating, tractor restoration and monster video making. Students also can delve into the arts of singing, dancing and acting for the theatre; increase their power and speed in sports activities; or obtain tutoring in any subject for the high school exit exam.

Thieves are hitting the new large stores at the Crossroads hard but police are catching a large number of them and prosecuting them successfully thanks to good store security systems, said Police Chief Art Voortman. Commercial burglary - and the police can and do charge theft from a store as burglary if they suspect the culprit entered with intent to commit a crime - was way up last year. Cases rose from 28 in 2005 to 83 in 2006, according to Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department statistics.

With Riverbank's purchase of the Del Rio Building for conversion to a performing arts center, the popular Bingo games held in the rear hall ceased after a dozen years of activity, but the restaurant was expected to continue operating for a year or more. The city paid $1.7 million out of redevelopment funds for the historical building fronting Highway 108 at Third Street. The city had offered to let the building owner Ray George continue the games until the city was ready to start reconstruction. Citing competition from places like the Rancheria, however, George decided to close the Bingo down at once.


Future Farmers of America students at Riverbank High were working on restoring a 1943 farm tractor to working condition for the Stanislaus County Fair and a shot at a $2,500 national prize. Attacking the solid metal with wrenches and a pry bar, students Jason Appling and David Vannest were lifting out the whole engine block so they could install new pistons, sleeves and bearings. The newly revived FFA chapter at RHS has more than 90 members, said agricultural mechanics and ag biology teacher Lianne Garcia Trout.

Sheriff's Lieutenant Tim Beck was named interim police chief of Riverbank to fill in for Lt. Art Voortman who was taking six months off work for back surgery. Beck, 44 had served on the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department for almost 20 years. A graduate of Escalon High School, Beck began his career as an officer in that city in 1984 and transferred to the Sheriff's Department in 1988. He has lived in Escalon since 2004 with his wife Kim and two sons.

Riverbank hired a public relations firm to ease the pain of extensive construction work in the downtown due to start in the summer and take two years. While 11 companies were contacted, only Judith Buethe Public Relations of Stockton submitted a proposal and were awarded the contract for $77,000 over a 24-month period. Public Works Director Laurie Barton called the firm the best in the Valley. Downtown merchants Karen Bickford and Dr. Dennis Zinner joined city staff in interviewing Buethe and her chief assistant Jan Stanley.

Residents and city staff prepared for Riverbank's Spring Clean which each year sees citizens and visitors, students, churchgoers and club members, people of all ages working side by side to pick up trash, plant flowers and shrubs, take down old signs, even paint a mural to beautify the town. Starting with a light breakfast at no cost and concluding with a barbecue lunch at Pioneer Park, the event was open to anybody who wanted to keep Riverbank beautiful and inviting to all.


Waving flags of blue and white, Cardozo Middle School's color guard and drum line again placed first in the Central Valley Guard and Percussion Circuit finals to complete a perfect season of five wins in five competitions. "The school finished on top. This must be a first in its history. We've never been quite this successful before," said Dave Howard, who teaches music for the Riverbank Unified School District. The event at Ceres High School took all day and featured scores of groups taking the floor in rapid succession. The Riverbank High drum line won a third place.

City Council expressed concern over private citizens creating impromptu parking lots for vehicle sales and the consequent danger to traffic. The council restricted parking on both sides of Morrill Road from Oakdale eastward to Zellman Court to stop people parking their cars there all day and posting "for sale" signs in their windows. This not only impedes parking for visitors to the Community Casa, it creates a safety hazard with people constantly getting in and out of the vehicles to inspect possible bargains near a busy intersection, said staff. A similar situation has caused crashes and injuries near Stanislaus State College in Turlock.

The eagerly awaited Riverbank Sports Complex on Morrill Road just west of Oakdale Road began construction with a formal ground breaking for city officials. The first phase for the park will offer two soccer fields, a restroom and concession building, and a parking lot. Riverbank has never before had a field specifically designed for soccer. Both of these fields will be lighted with one adaptable for junior league football practice. Later phases will add a children's playground, a picnic area with a gazebo and a bicycle motorcross park.

Samantha Heckel, a senior at Beyer High School, was named winner of the Miss Riverbank Scholarship Pageant. She received $1,000 toward her college plans and presided over civic ceremonial events during the year of her reign. Riverbank High junior Teri Simmons was the first runner up and another RHS junior, Ashley Tapley, the second runner up winning $500 and $250 scholarships respectively. Riverbank Business Association presented the event at the Community Center.


Alejandro Pulido was one of many area residents applying for a passport at the Riverbank Post Office. Pulido was going on vacation with her husband Florencio to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. Thanks to increased border security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American citizens can no longer cross the Mexican or Canadian border with just a birth certificate but need a passport. The federal government has asked selected post offices to absorb some of the work by accepting applications. The Riverbank post office has been busy and faced a steady stream of applicants.

Faced with a plan for classified staff layoffs to meet declining student enrollment, Riverbank Unified School District trustees approved the elimination of four positions and reduced the hours for a fifth post. But they saved the also-targeted position of a part-time clerk typist at Rio Altura School. The proposal was to eliminate the posts of secretary II and an account clerk at Riverbank High and of a paraeducator, clerk typist and custodian at Rio Altura Elementary. Only the clerk typist faced losing her job, Assistant Superintendent for Business Ron Costa noted. The custodian is resigning, the principal's secretary is retiring and three of the other four employees will be transferred to other district jobs.

California Highway Patrol officers continued to investigate a May 8 train-car collision in which an Amtrak locomotive killed all six occupants of a small sports utility vehicle caught on the tracks on Claribel Road at the Terminal Avenue intersection. Killed were the 2001 Geo's driver Maricruz Corral, 23, of Ceres and her sons Ivan, 5 and Tony, 3. Members of a Modesto family, Ramona Lopez Verdugo, 39, her five-year-old son Brayan Lopez and her 19-year-old niece Diana Villareal, who were traveling with Corral, were also victims of the crash. Blocked by traffic ahead and behind, it appears Corral stopped too close to the tracks, tried first to reverse and then plunged forward into the train's path.

Clutching their diplomas, Riverbank High seniors were set to graduate on May 24 in a class numbering 115 plus nine more students in Independent Study High and three foreign exchange students. Valedictorians for the event were Senior Class President Juana Aguilar, Courtney Brock, Alexandria Caton and Robert Searway with Nicholas Bos as the salutatorian. The same week, RHS announced four female athletes had won college scholarships to upgrade their education and continue playing their sport. The girls were softball catcher and shortstop Courtney Brock, track and field star Kelly Clancey, cross-country runner Maritza Garcia and softball pitcher Chelsi Walls.

Back from Iraq for a few weeks leave, Infantryman David Little of the 86th Airborne Division, U.S. Army said nothing about firefights or roadside bombs in addressing cadets of the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps at Riverbank High. "He talks more about that kind of thing to his father who was in the Navy," said his mother Leslie Little of Oakdale. Little graduated from Oakdale High but attended NJROTC classes at Riverbank High for two years.


In the city's first Relay for Life, residents raised almost $26,000 in pledges for the fight against cancer during a 24-hour event conducted at the Riverbank High football stadium. The money went to the American Cancer Society, which organizes relays across the nation and raised $375 million in 2006 alone for research into a cure for cancer and support of those who contract the disease. Scott McRitchie and his wife Marilyn, both cancer survivors, made keynote speeches.

Riverbank Unified School District complained it was being excluded from the Community Facilities District that the City of Riverbank and Stanislaus Fire Protection District were forming to tax the proposed 3,400-home Bruinville development. The Fire District can negotiate independently with developers if it wishes but the School District needs the city's approval to participate. The School District estimated it needs $74 million to build facilities for more than 2,000 students expected from the Bruinville development and has only $64 million available from other funding sources.

Youth took charge in "Two Dudes From Verona," which played as an appetizer to "Two Gentlemen of Verona" at the Shakespeare in the Park festival that ran for four days at Jacob Myers Park. The Two Dudes director Kristy Cappel was a junior at Riverbank High, while the producer Kayla Munoz was 16 and all the actors 17 or younger. Two Dudes was an adaptation of the Shakespearean comedy by Riverbank High drama teacher Stacy Blevins. It was set in a California surfing community reminiscent of Santa Cruz instead of being located in the 16th century Italian cities of Milan and Verona.

A probation officer working five days a week on campus replaced the sheriff's deputy who formerly spent about half his time as a school resource officer. The Riverbank Unified School District signed a contract to have the Stanislaus County Probation Department serve all five campuses. The Probation Department agreed to pay half the cost of the $110,000 contract on the theory the early intervention at the high school level would save later law enforcement costs. The District, meanwhile, got a fulltime instead of a part-time officer for about half the previous cost.