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In the News - Friday, February 24, 2012



Shell pumps to reopen soon

  If the current economy isn’t sluggish enough, consider being a small business owner with a slim profit margin and taking a $50,000 hit. That’s happening now at Three Rivers Market and what is keeping the gas pumps out of service for awhile longer.
   Sam Yim, owner of Three Rivers Market and the Shell gas pumps, said he has a crew working to correct a regulatory problem and the new pumps should be ready to go in a week or so.
  “The contractor that put in the tanks installed some pipes that now some new government regulations say are substandard,” Sam said. “The company that put them in is responsible but they went bankrupt.”
   That leaves Sam with a $50,000 repair bill, an amount he says is equal to his last five years’ profit. But Sam remains resolute in his desire to provide gas for his customers so he’s paying for the fix.
  “My policy has always been to provide the rock bottom gas prices that I can give here in Three Rivers so that’s what I will continue doing,” Sam said.
   Rising gas prices— If you think the current $4.25 a gallon is steep just wait. Now the analysts have $5 in their sights by Memorial Day, traditionally the start of the busy summer driving season.
   This is becoming an annual late-winter tradition. In March 2010, gas prices were increasing so quickly that the Commonwealth published photos for three consecutive weeks to document the price changes.
   During the first week of March 2010, a gallon of regular gas was $3.87; by the next week it was $3.95. On March 18, 2010, the price had reached $4.13 before slowing, then actually dropping back down to under $4 by Memorial Day.

3R motorist survives vehicle rollover

  What sounded like a bomb going off to nearby residents proved to be another truck-versus-boulders collision where tragedy was narrowly averted. The bizarre incident began unfolding on Sunday, Feb. 19, around 10:30 p.m., as Douglas Gillis, 60, was driving eastbound on Highway 198 in the vicinity of the west entrance to Pierce Drive.
   The CHP has not released its final report on the crash but according to witnesses at the scene, after striking some boulders, Gillis’s 1993 Ford F-250 pickup came to a stop on the driver’s side partially in the eastbound lane of the highway. There were rocks, tools, a truck-bed toolbox, screws, nails, a chainsaw, vehicle parts, and various other contents of the truck scattered on both sides of the roadway and along the shoulders.
   Gillis was frantically yelling for help, trying to get free from inside the smashed cab. The witnesses — a man, his wife, and their son, residents of Ridgecrest who had been visiting friends on the South Fork — were the first to arrive at the accident scene. While the father and son began prying a portion of the cab’s door open to free Gillis, the woman placed a cell call to 911.
  “In a minute or two, we had a big enough space for the man to crawl out from where he was trapped in the cab,” recalled one of the witnesses. “We were trying to locate a flashlight so we could shine the light on all the debris that was on the roadway.”
   The victim of the crash and his rescuers tried frantically to wave their arms to warn oncoming traffic at the pitch-dark scene that there was a wreck in the roadway, but to no avail. Within minutes, another vehicle “plowed right through” the wrecked truck, then another vehicle, swerving to miss that wreckage, struck the toolbox in the westbound lane.
   Both of these crash victims also remained at the scene. The witnesses estimated that the first emergency vehicle, the Three Rivers fire engine, was at the scene within 15 minutes of the crash.
   After emergency personnel arrived, they immediately closed the roadway in both directions while the wreckage was cleared. It took until after midnight to clear the accident scene and for the CHP investigating officer to sort out what happened.
   Gillis, according to the preliminary CHP report, had an Arizona driver’s license but is currently living in Three Rivers. He was last seen in the custody of the CHP officer investigating the accident. but was apparently uninjured.
   The woman who called 911 said that it was scary being out there on the highway in the dark.
  “We normally travel with [signal] flares, but we just got a new vehicle and hadn’t put the emergency kit in the new car yet,” she said. “It was a miracle that no one was seriously injured.”

Teachers ‘released’ from Woodlake elementary schools

  In a special meeting of the Woodlake Union Elementary School board on Wednesday evening, Feb. 22, trustees approved four resolutions. Three of the resolutions dealt with giving Tim Hire, district superintendent, the authority to release and reassign staff, including the non-reelection of probationary certificated employees.
   Three teachers and several parents and students were on-hand to encourage the board to rescind the notice of non-election of a new contract for the teachers or at least reconsider the method by which they were being released.
   Elizabeth Owens, a second-grade teacher at F.J. White Learning Center who was hired in November 2010, stated during public comment that she was shocked when her principal, Nancy Stidman, told her she was being released. She wasn’t objecting to the board’s right to take the action, she said, but felt she had done a good job and deserved an explanation.
   When Owens asked Stidman for a reason as to why she was being released, Stidman said she wasn’t required to provide one. Two parents in attendance, and one student of Miss Owens’s, all commented that she was an exemplary teacher.
   One parent, whose son was diagnosed with an attention disorder, said his student had shown remarkable improvement.
  “For the first time since he has been going to school, my son isn’t saying he hates himself,” the parent reported. “And he looks forward to learning and going to school.”
   Another teacher, Susan Cueva, a kindergarten teacher at F.J. White Learning Center, said she was also informed that she was being released. She said that being “non-reelected” can make it difficult to be rehired by another district.
   Both teachers who spoke at the meeting, and another member of the audience, encouraged the board to provide “pink slips,” which may be issued for budgetary circumstances and not related to performance.
  “I want to make it clear that these actions are not about layoffs or budget cuts,” said Superintendent Tim Hire.
   As a result of the impassioned testimony, the board did consider the teachers’ releases in a closed session following the meeting. After approximately 15 minutes in closed session, John Kimber, board chairman, announced that Superintendent Hire and Principal Stidman would meet with the non-reelected teachers to discuss the matter further.
   In the other agenda item, trustees approved a 10 percent match ($4,500) to assist in the planting of more than 200 trees on district property. The resolution was required to complete the final application for an Urban Forestry Grant.
   The special meeting was necessary, Hire said, because employees that are being released or reassigned must be notified by March 15. The elementary board will officially cease to exist after June 30; as of July 1, elementary trustees (Hallmeyer, Chapman, and Renteria) who were elected in November to the new Woodlake Unified School District board will be seated for their new terms.

Jobs in cool places

  The Summer Seasonal Employment Fair was held for the second year Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the Visalia Convention Center.
   Some of the employers on hand that were providing opportunities for summer jobs at Lake Kaweah and in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks were the National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Delaware North Parks Services-Sequoia, and Sequoia Natural History Association.

Unemployment rate down in Tulare County

  The good news is all eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley had unemployment rates that were lower in December 2011 than a year earlier. The bad news is the San Joaquin Valley’s unemployment rate is still higher than both the nation’s average and California’s average by several percentage points.
   Tulare County’s unemployment rate is 16.2 percent, compared to 17.5 percent in December 2010 and 17.3 percent in December 2009, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Merced has the highest unemployment rate in the Valley at 18.7 percent; Kern County boasts the lowest at 14.5.
   The U.S. average is currently out of the double digits at 8.3 percent. In California, 10.9 percent of the eligible working population is without a job.


Hawaii’s Big Island: History, culture, and volcanology

  The true character of national parks — or anywhere, for that matter — is best discovered on foot. Exploration by walking and hiking is a fascinating and enjoyable experience while providing a surefire way to escape the crowds.
   During our annual winter trip to someplace warm, John and I spent half of our vacation at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. The park is a beautiful, stark, ever-changing place that consists of lava fields and rainforests, sun-drenched coast and a snow-covered volcanic mountaintop, with elevations ranging from sea level to 13,679 feet on the summit of Mauna Loa.
   There are over 150 miles of trails that allow visitors to explore the volatile diversity of the area. Several trails are currently closed due to volcanic activity, and these closures are revised at the whims of the volcanoes.
   We traveled on the Kilauea Iki Trail that descends through a rainforest to a still-steaming crater floor that was once a lava lake. After descending 400 feet into the crater, we stopped to take in the 360-degree view just as an earthquake rumbled through, rocking the earth enough that our heels were lifted briefly.
   It was a significant reminder that this land is alive and continuing to metamorphose. At that moment, we felt quite insignificant and powerless against nature’s wishes.
   The Kilauea Iki Trail is a four-mile, moderate loop hike that consists of a steep, rocky descent of 400 feet into the crater on its west side and a switchback trail out of the crater on its east side. The trail conveniently ends near the Thurston Lava Tube, a popular park attraction that consists of a trail through a tree fern forest and prehistoric lava tube.
   A lava tube occurs when low viscosity lava forms a continuous hard crust that gets thicker and thicker, while lava continues to flow inside it. The thick sides act like insulation to keep the inner lava hot and molten. When the eruption finally ends, the hot lava flows out of the tube, while the crust remains, leaving an underground tunnel.
   We also explored the mysterious Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs near where the Chain of Craters Road abruptly ends near the sea due to a past lava flow. These simple, yet prolific etchings document the life and culture of the native Hawaiian people. It was fitting that we were viewing these sacred remnants early on a Sunday morning with no other people around.
   Directly across the road from the 1.5-mile trail to Pu’u Loa is the Puna Coast Trail. This trail parallels the island’s southeast coast for almost 10 miles before intersecting with several other backcountry trails.
   The trail traverses several old lava fields and can only be navigated by walking from one ahu (known on the mainland as cairns or trail ducks) to the next. The lava-rock towers that guided us were at least three feet high — some much taller —but since the landscape is monochromatic, a piece of white coral was placed on the top of each one so they may be easily spotted in the distance.
   After hiking on lava — though now cooled and solidified can heat up quickly as the day warms and it reflects the sun’s heat — for more than three miles, the lure of the crashing waves convinced us to veer from the marked trail and head to the edge of the ocean where the constant waves have battered and carved the pahoehoe lava into a series of coves and arches all along the rocky coastline.
   We soon discovered that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an island within an island. It is shelter for what remains of the once-rich tapestry of Hawaiian life.
   Over the millennia, Polynesian and other settlers have introduced alien plants and animals, some of which thrived in their new home and multiplied. Forests disappeared as people cleared the land to plant crops and establish communities.
   Today, Hawaii is home to 25 percent of all the endangered plants and birds in the United States. Six endangered bird species seek refuge in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, dependent directly on the remaining portions of native habitat.
   Park crews erect fences to keep out feral animals; track and kill feral pigs; and pull out or cut down firetree, banana poka, guava, and ginger. As native plant communities reestablish themselves, populations of Hawaiian honeycreepers, nene, Kamehameha butterflies, and happyface spiders may once again flourish.
   In recognition of its outstanding natural values, Hawaii Volcanoes has been honored as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. The park continues to mend the fabric and promote the lasting vitality of this remnant of pristine Hawaii, reminding us that these islands are more than just beaches, mai tais, and T-shirt shops. The cultural and natural heritage of this national park is an irreplaceable source of life, learning, and inspiration.


Helen Grossman
1919 ~ 2012

   Lydia Helen Grossman, a resident of Three Rivers for nine years, left this earth surrounded by family and friends on Tuesday morning, Feb. 21, 2012. She was 92.
   Helen was born July 12, 1919, near Argonia, Kan., and moved to Southern California in 1923. She graduated from Redlands High School in 1936 and, in 1939, married John Holmes Grossman, a lifelong employee of Southern California Edison Company.
   During the 1950s, while living in Kernville, Helen shared a mining claim with friends and prospected for uranium in the Kern River Valley. The Los Angeles Times once published a photo of her holding a crooked barrel rifle and patrolling the claim markers, describing her as “one of the pistol-packin’ mamas” of Kernville.
   When Helen and John lived in Big Creek (north of Shaver Lake) in the 1970s, she commuted to Fresno City College, where she earned her A.A. degree.
   In 1974, the couple lived briefly in Three Rivers, but when John died, Helen returned to Shaver Lake to continue her real estate career. While there, Helen developed the concept for a Shaver Lake historical museum after visiting the Kernville Museum.
   Helen initiated the process of a permanent home for the museum at SCE’s Camp Edison on the western shore of Shaver Lake. As founding president of the new Museum of the Central Sierra, she arranged for the documentation of oral histories of area old-timers to record their memories of the Shaver Lake and Big Creek areas in the 1900s.
   Also at the museum is a working model of an Edison powerhouse. Ironically, the generator is from SCE’s Mill Creek Powerhouse, where Helen’s father worked in 1927 and where the family lived.
   Helen was the first female member of the Shaver Lake Lions Club, before there were Lady Lions. She also founded an order of the Golden Slipper Club, whose primary mission was to visit the elderly at Wish-I-Ah Sanatorium (for tuberculosis) in Auberry.
   Helen worked for more than 30 years as a real estate agent and broker. Upon her retirement in 2003, she came back to Three Rivers, to the home her daughter built for her.
   Helen helped raise her granddaughter, Lynn, who posted the following on Helen’s Facebook page this week: “Rest in peace, Grandma Helen. Every kid needs a champion and you were mine. You will always be with me in my heart.”
   Some of Helen’s favorite things were family and friends, See’s Candy, Snoopy, Bing Crosby, cocker spaniels, bird-watching, bridge, Chicken-Foot Dominos, and violets. She loved jeeping in the Sierra and touring the American Southwest. Two of her last words Monday were “Let’s go.”
   Helen is survived by four generations of her family: her daughter, Georgellen Parker, of Three Rivers; granddaughter Lynn Christl and husband Richard of Clovis; great-grandsons John of Fresno and James of Clovis; and great-great-grandchildren Alyssa, Allyson, Addison, Morgan, and Kylie.
   The family has many five-generation photographs that they will always cherish.
A funeral service of Helen’s choosing will be Monday, Feb. 27, at 1 p.m., at Boice Funeral Home, 308 Pollasky Ave., Clovis.
   Remembrances may be made in Helen’s name to the Three Rivers Historical Museum, the Museum of the Central Sierra (Shaver Lake), the Kern Valley Museum (Kernville), or the donor’s favorite charity.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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