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In the News - Friday, August 22, 2008


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


Wildland blaze sparked

by burning car

   It’s been 20 years since a careless smoker tossed a cigarette from Generals Highway near Hospital Rock and sparked the Buckeye Fire, which threatened to consume the Giant Forest before it was finally contained. A half-dozen other fires along the highway have been extinguished since but none as large or as damaging as the 1988 blaze.
   So on Monday, Aug. 18, when an Amphitheater Point interpretive ranger called park dispatch to report a fire burning upslope from Deer Ridge, there was more than a little cause for concern.
   The most recent fire started when a mother of infant twins pulled off the Generals Highway on the east side of the roadway near Deer Ridge. The woman’s mother, who was also a passenger in the 2000 Volkswagen Passat, helped get the infants out of the car after they smelled “something weird” and started to see smoke.

  “Hey lady,” a passerby called to the driver of the Volkswagen, “your car’s engine is on fire.”
   In a few seconds the vehicle was engulfed in flames. The stranded Pomona motorist and her family got a ride back down the road where they spotted the ranger at Amphitheater Point.
   Engines from Ash Mountain, Lodgepole, and Grant Grove were immediately dispatched to the scene and arrived shortly after law-enforcement rangers. A parked helicopter was also dispatched to the incident and made a bucket drop that helped firefighters on the ground establish a hose perimeter and soon snuff out the half-acre blaze.
   NPS investigators believe the fire started when tinder-dry brush along the roadside burst into flame from the radiant heat of the burning vehicle. Sequoia park rangers closed the Generals Highway for two hours while the area around Deer Ridge was scoured for potential flare-ups.

  “We take fire on the Generals Highway very seriously because of the safety of our visitors and the infrastructure that exists within the highway corridor,” said Deb Schweizer, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks fire information officer.
   Schweizer said that this time NPS personnel were able to get the jump on the fire so no outside resources were needed. It’s a busy time for human-caused fire, she reported, as other small fires were extinguished this week at the General Sherman Tree parking area in Sequoia National Park and at Azalea Campground in the Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park.

  “Fire danger is extreme now along all our roadside areas,” said Schweizer, “so we are reminding everyone to be extra careful with fires and to dispose of all smoking materials properly.”
   Tehipite Fire— The Tehipite Fire, a lightning-caused fire that has been burning in the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park since mid-July, is continuing to grow. It has nearly doubled in size in the past week from about 500 acres to 1,000.
   The Tehipite Valley trail from Simpson Meadow to the park’s west boundary has been closed for two weeks. This week, the Blue Canyon Trail, which is north of the Tehipite Valley, is also closed.
   Backcountry travelers will receive alternative backpacking options from rangers if their itineraries include this area of the park.
   Avalanche Fire— Another lightning-caused blaze in Kings Canyon National Park is burning slowly in a remote area between Cedar Grove and Roaring River. It is currently at about an acre in size and has not shown much growth in the past week.
   These types of slow-burning, natural-occurring fires are healthy for forests, thinning them, reducing the amount of dead and downed debris, and opening the canopy. A human-caused, raging wildfire, on the other hand, puts forests and humans at greater risk.

Songwriters inspired

to play Three Rivers

   Three Rivers has attracted its share of show-business types and musical personalities. They come to revel in the quietude and be recharged in this awe-inspiring place known as Kaweah Country.
   When their busy schedules permit, some of these renowned visitors might perform or play a set at an intimate Three Rivers venue. Last Saturday night, Aug. 16, the distinguished players were Randy Sharp and Jack Wesley Routh; the venue was the Three Rivers Arts Center.
   The fact that a glorious full moon cloaked Three Rivers and its rustic Arts Center in shimmering splendor was no accident. It was the perfect setting for Dennis Melkonian of Three Rivers to present an evening with two Grammy award-winning songwriters.
Melkonian — who with his brother, Milton, has owned and operated Lake Elowin Resort since 1977 — often hosts some really exceptional folks. But his old friend Randy transcends being a guest; he’s more like family.

  “I first met Randy in 1970 after hearing him perform at one of the Wesak festivals staged by John Holden and Adrian Green,” Dennis recalled. “I couldn’t believe the amazing talent and how this guy sounded.”
   The Melkonians, who were introduced to country rock during their high school days at Mt. Whitney in Visalia, invested time and money in the music business and along the way helped to preserve its purest art.

  “We formed a production company that helped Randy become one of most successful songwriters in country music,” Dennis said. “In the 1980s, we met Jack in the studio and the two artists have teamed up ever since.”
   A two-hour set of some of the duo’s incomparable songwriting was on display at the Three Rivers show. Randy, who opened the evening with some solo numbers, confessed that this is one of the first times he’s felt rehearsed while playing Three Rivers.
   The duo’s music is part swing, a dash of Brazilian, a hefty dose of Texas, and deeply rooted in the San Joaquin Valley’s Bakersfield tradition, with the Beatles all over it.

  “We always try out some new songs here in Three Rivers,” Randy said, “because if anybody’s going to put up with us, it’s going to be you guys.”
   Two of the duo’s songs currently getting a lot of airplay are featured on the latest release by Emmylou Harris. In the past Randy said, Emmylou has won a Grammy for one of Randy’s songs and she’s probably going to win another for Jack’s composition “Beyond the Great Divide.”

  “A songwriter only kind of wins the Grammy,” Randy explained.
Jack’s hauntingly beautiful piece, written with J.C. Crowley, epitomized all the best that these songwriters bring to country music. Randy and Jack played the guitar lines crisp and sang with the harmony of a hot cup of coffee at a chilly morning campfire.

  “I guess the first artist who really noticed Randy’s talent was Ray Stevens,” said Dennis. “And later it was Randy who taught Nashville five-part harmony.”
   There have been Sharp songs recorded by Glen Campbell, Reba McEntyre, Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, Clay Walker, Alabama... and the list goes on to include nearly all of Nashville’s hottest country stars.
   Among the songs he played last weekend was his “Dreams of the San Joaquin,” which was recorded by Linda Ronstadt. Not too shabby for a kid whose Dust Bowl parents landed in Woodlake before Randy graduated from Redwood High School in Visalia during the late 1960s.

  “The reason Randy is not more popular because he never played the music industry game,” Dennis said.

  “What he wanted to do was write great songs, and that’s the measure of his incredible success.”

Big wheels

   The huge iron wheels that sat for years on the former Ogilvie property adjacent to Old Three Rivers Drive were recently donated to the Three Rivers Historical Society. The wheels were used on an old steam traction engine when sections of Three Rivers were dry-farmed a century ago.

  Fred Ogilvie (1900-1988) and Rena Alles Ogilvie (1904-2001) were lifetime residents of Three Rivers and longtime employees at Three Rivers Union School.

New retail shop offers

natural skincare products

   Ja Nene Natural Body Products, Three Rivers’s own natural and organic skincare company, has opened its first retail location at 41667 Sierra Dr., next to the Cutting Room in the shop recently vacated by My Sister’s Closet.
   Previously, the Ja Nene inventory, which is created by Janene Lasswell, has only been available online or at periodic art shows.

  “Finally, I have a public store!” said Janene, owner and product developer. “I’m so excited to offer a convenient place for shoppers and the space to expand product lines. Residents and visitors who love our area for its natural beauty will love the natural, safe, quality products offered in this new store.”
   Ja Nene Natural Body Products is the only manufacturer in Tulare County of natural skin care products sanctioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, an industry watchdog sponsored by the Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth.
   Janene invites everyone to visit her at the new store.

  “Come by and take advantage of the free samples, have a mini-facial, enjoy some healthy snacks and a cold drink, and ask me about our custom gift baskets that are perfect for special occasions,” she said. “Hope to see you soon!”
   Ja Nene Natural Body Products is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


WHS sophomore hones skills in nation’s capital
by Kathryn Keeley
   Poet Maya Angelou once said, “Because of our routines we forget that life is an ongoing adventure.” I realized this is true after I changed my routine by doing something adventurous.
   I traveled across the country to attend a two-week class in Washington, D.C. — a journey unlike all others I had ever taken.
I was nominated to participate in the 2008 National Student Leadership Conference, and I chose to attend the Journalism and Mass Communications course. It took place at American University with 107 other high school students from around the country.      Specifically, I was to participate in the Environmental Communication class, one of many categories in which to specialize.
   When I picked my class, I had no idea that I would learn one of the most important lessons of my life: “The one thing we cannot recycle is wasted time.”
   For my two weeks there, the time went by so unbelievably fast.    From day one, our schedules were busy from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
   In the mornings, I had my environmental class, with visits to the Environmental Protection Agency and interviews with Greenpeace’s executive director. Then we’d board buses for a fantastic and educational field trip, visiting illustrious places such as The Washington Post and the Smithsonian museums.
   In between trips and journalism classes, we had leadership lessons with topics such as “Conflict Resolution” and “Team Building.” There we engaged in fun, and sometimes ridiculous, activities and heard phenomenal and inspirational speakers.
   Another precious highlight of the trip was the people. They were as dedicated and determined as I am, and it was great to be with them. These people, my peers, were not judging me but accepting and appreciating me. Despite being with them for only two short weeks, deep friendships were developed.
   Attending this conference not only benefited me. The insights gained will help me give back to the community.
   Because I am part of the Woodlake High School journalism team, I will contribute my new reporting skills to help build a better paper.   Furthermore, because WHS journalism goals are to create a student-driven newspaper with relevant information that connects our communities and our school, I am energized to forge a new linkage between our communities.
   I believe I have gained abilities that will benefit me for the rest of my life — in high school, college, and my future career.
   Throughout my stay at our nation’s capital, I learned that leadership is about character. And I am pleased to report that I have found myself and am proud of my potential.
   It was an adventure I will never forget and an education I can apply to the rest of my life. I have no doubt whatsoever that this conference was the best experience I have ever had.
   This program had an immense impact on my life and I am extremely thankful for it and those who made it possible. I enormously appreciate the Three Rivers Woman’s and Lions clubs for their generous donations to make this a dream come true.

3R senior selected student senator

  Woodlake High School senior Jordan Vieira of Three Rivers was selected as the student senator to represent California’s 18th Senatorial District at the 2008 session of the “Sacramento Leadership Experience” which was held from Tuesday, Aug. 5, to Friday, Aug. 8. Conducted at the state capital, SLE is a four-day event where selected high school students from throughout the state act as California state senators as they engage in a living laboratory about government, public policy formulation, and civics.
   Participants at this conclave learn about California government operations, the legislative process, public policy development, and study major issues facing our state’s citizenry. As the week progresses, the student senators will take up pieces of mock legislation aimed at solving some of California’s significant problems. Working to represent the best interests of the constituency in the Senate District they represent, student legislators convene their own Senate Committee Hearings and determine whether or not their legislation moves to the Senate Floor.
   The climax of the week’s activities is the convening of a general floor session of the student senate in the State Senate Chambers of the State Capitol, where student senators debate, argue their points of view, lobby fellow senators, and ultimately vote on the mock legislation that was moved to the general session by committees. The overall experience is designed to increase understanding of government functions and policies, create awareness of major issues facing the state, and stimulate interest in becoming active, concerned, and participatory citizens.
   The Sacramento Leadership Experience is the first and only student-leadership development activity of its kind where students literally operate as legislators for a week in the state capital. In operation since 1995, the conference was created, and is presented, by the student success and motivation experts at Excellence in Presentations.
   This year’s legislator host at the State Capitol was Senator Jack Scott (D-Pasadena) of the 21st Senatorial District. Senator Scott currently serves as the chair of the Senate Education Committee.
   Students competed for a seat at the conference through an application procedure that includes consideration of academic achievement, breadth of involvement in school and community activities, demonstrated interest in government, politics, and public policy development, extent to which this educational experience contributes to the student’s future plans, and recommendations from school faculty and administrators. Student senators are selected by a committee comprised of representatives from the conference presentation staff at EIP, representatives from various financial sponsors of the event, and representatives from legislator offices at in Sacramento.
   The 18th Senatorial District is geographically the largest in California. It includes Kern and Tulare counties and portions of Inyo and San Bernardino counties. Competition was stiff for Jordan as he competed for a spot against students from Visalia, Bakersfield, Tulare, Porterville, Bishop, Lone Pine, Barstow, Big Bear City, Needles, 29 Palms, and dozens of other smaller communities.


How local little tikes are playing and learning
By Melissa Alberti-Araujo

  It’s back-to-school time, but the kids of Three Rivers have happy memories of summer. Many of the community’s youngest were busy each week with activities made possible by community volunteers and service organizations.
   Each Friday at Our Place playground, there was water play and bubble fun. With a couple of wading pools, extra hoses, tarps, and sprinklers, the playground was converted into a water park.
   Two new canopies have been installed at Our Place. One is strategically placed over the sandbox and one is in the corner over one of the hand-hewn benches. The canopies were generously provided by the Three Rivers Community Services District and through the continuing support of the Three Rivers Woman’s Club.
   On Thursdays, kids caught “The Reading Bug,” courtesy of Three Rivers librarian Sonja Hoogeveen. During Storytime, there was record attendance and entertaining presenters.
   Oklin Bloodworth, renowned children’s musician and recording artist, returned to sing and dance with the kids. Joel Despain, National Park Service cave specialist and author of Hidden Beneath the Mountains, gave a presentation about cave creepy-crawlies and autographed copies of his book. Kristie Martinez, Child   Development instructor at the College of the Redwoods in Humboldt County, who was here on vacation, read bug stories. Local mother of two, Jalene Vincent, shared the very popular Animal Yoga. These along with others made the library the place to be each Thursday morning.
   On Wednesdays, it was all about the Three Rivers Swim Club. At 11 a.m., children met at the Three Rivers Bed & Breakfast, where owner Catherine Launey volunteered her pool. Many, many thanks to Catherine for being so gracious.
   Although the summer activities are over, the fall program started yesterday (Thursday, August 21) at Three Rivers Library. This was the first day of the 26-week “Alphabet Days.” Each week, a new letter will be presented in stories, sign language, yoga, music, and arts and crafts. There is also the ongoing “Reading Club,” where reading five books five times is rewarded with a prize from Sonja’s prize basket.
   Fridays this fall will be more fun than ever because the Our Place Playschool is back with great activities planned for each week. August and September begin the preschool year with presentations on Alaska, the changing seasons, a mini nature walk, and plaster-of-Paris handprints.
   All of the above activities are always free of charge and open to any child. The only requirement for both programs is that children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Keep an eye on the Kaweah Kalendar each week for all upcoming events.
   For more information or to volunteer or contribute to “Alphabet Days” and Storytime, contact Sonja Hoogeveen, librarian, 561-4564, or Melissa Alberti-Araujo, 561-4167.
   For information regarding the Our Place Playschool, or to volunteer as a presenter, call Amy Dolcourt-McElroy, 561-4306.


Verna Curtis
1921 ~ 2008

  Verna Curtis, a former resident of Three Rivers, died peacefully Thursday, March 27, 2008, surrounded by her three children and friends in her apartment at Friends House in Santa Rosa. She was 86.
   A Quaker memorial meeting will be held this Sunday, Aug. 24, at 10:30 a.m., at the Visalia Friends Meeting, 17208 Avenue 296, Visalia.
   Verna was born Oct. 13, 1921, in a small county hospital in Nanton, Alberta, Canada to Rachael and Earl Godsey. Her mother, Rachael, grandmother Rebecca, and aunt Ethel raised Verna and her brother in an extended maternal family home.
   Verna graduated at the top of her class from Amboy High School in Illinois and attended Indiana University. In the summer of 1941, Verna and her brother drove to California to visit relatives. She decided to stay in California and graduated from UCLA in 1943 with a degree in Psychology.
   Verna then moved to Washington, D.C., and worked at the Department of Land Resources. On Mother’s Day 1943, she met her future husband, Russell Curtis, at the Florida Avenue Quaker meeting in Washington, D.C. They were married Oct. 3, 1943, in the care of the Meeting.
   This began their adventurous life together of working and traveling around the world. As newlyweds they came to Three Rivers for Russ’s alternative service during World War II. On a beautiful spring day, they rode their bicycles from Exeter to Three Rivers and instantly fell in love with this Sierra town and its people, a love that spanned more than 60 years.
   After the war they volunteered with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker relief organization that took them to India. Verna’s assignment was to be a neutral presence in the violent clashes between the Muslims and Hindus and to help organize village-weaving cooperatives. The highlight of their two years in India was their “breakfast with Gandhi.” Verna would later write an account of this meeting.
   In 1949, they returned to Three Rivers with a baby son, George. While in Three Rivers they published The Current of Three Rivers and operated a mail-order book cooperative. The Current was a six-page newspaper, printed on a small offset press in the chicken house behind the Curtis home on Dinely Drive.
   In 1951, Verna and Russ were selected to work in Micronesia. They sold their printing press for $100 to Virginia Williams of Three Rivers and began their 35 years of dedication to these island people. Verna taught English at the first inter-island high school, ran a hotel resort, was the main purchasing agent for the cooperative store, and acted as postmaster on Yap. Verna encouraged the local population to produce quality island handicrafts to promote exports and economic growth. The family now included two daughters, Ginger and Kate.

  Russ and Verna returned to Three Rivers in 1960. During this time, Verna was active in the school community with her three young children. Russ worked with migrant farmworkers in the valley.
   In 1963, they returned to the islands of Micronesia to continue their work in economic development of that area. They were instrumental in establishing several locally-owned companies in the early days of the newly formed nations in Micronesia.
   Verna and Russ’s third return to Three Rivers was in 1986 to retire. They were members of the Visalia Friends Meeting and involved in various peace activities.
   In these later years, Verna was active in the Three Rivers Woman’s Club, Redbud Garden Club, Three Rivers Senior League, and was a founding member of the Three Rivers Historical Society.
In 1994, Verna and Russ moved to Friends House in Santa Rosa. In 2000, after 57 years of marriage, the love of her life, Russ, died. 

  Verna is survived by her three children, George of Visalia, Ginger of Three Rivers, and Kate of Petaluma, and five grandchildren.
   Remembrances in Verna’s name may be sent to American Friends Service Committee, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102.

Irva Leal
1936 ~ 2008

  Irva Mary Leal of Three Rivers died Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008, at Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia after a courageous seven-month battle with brain cancer. She was 71.
   Irva was born Dec. 28, 1936, in Fresno to Paul and Katherine Lencioni. When she was seven, her family moved to Lindsay, where she was raised and educated, graduating from Lindsay High School in 1954.
   Irva attended the College of the Sequoias in Visalia and spent the first portion of her working life as a bookkeeper for local citrus packinghouses in Lindsay. When she was in her mid-40s, Irva’s business-savvy mind and adventuresome spirit led her to embark on second career in the grocery business.
   As a business partner with her eldest son, Irva utilized her accounting and managerial skills in their Grocery Outlet store. After three years in Ontario, they seized the opportunity to transfer the business to a local Grocery Outlet Store in Visalia and return to the family and friends she loved so much in Tulare County.
   Irva was a 13-year resident of Three Rivers. She retired in 2007.
Irva was a devoted mother who always proudly identified herself by the title “Mom” and “Grandma Irva.” She was active in her community, including the altar society at Sacred Heart Church in Lindsay and, later, St. Clair’s Catholic Mission in Three Rivers. She was a volunteer at St. Anthony Retreat in Three Rivers and dearly loved her Red Hat Society chapter.
   Irva was an industrious member of the Tulare County Grand Jury from 2006 through 2007 and incredibly proud to serve her community in that capacity.
   Irva is survived by her husband, Tony Leal of Three Rivers; four devoted sons, Quinn and wife Carrie Blue of Visalia, Vahnn and wife Lori Blue of Lindsay, Shann Blue and fiancée Kristen Atkins of Visalia, and Carson and wife Elisabeth Shearon of Chicago; daughter-in-law Doreen Blue of Lindsay, 13 grandchildren, beloved step-grandchildren, and brother, Paul Lencioni Jr. of Fresno.
   Two services have been held to celebrate Irva’s life; a rosary at St. Clair’s in Three Rivers on Monday evening, Aug. 18, and a funeral mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Visalia on Tuesday, Aug. 19.
   Remembrances may be made to the Sequoia Regional Cancer Care Center, in care of the Kaweah Delta Hospital Foundation, 216 S. Johnson St., Visalia, CA 93291.
   Condolences mat be sent to the family at www.myersfuneral.com.

Roger Jennings
1946 ~ 2008

  Roger Paul Jennings, formerly of Three Rivers, died Monday, Aug. 4, 2008, at his Bishop home. He was 61.
   Friends are invited to gather tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 23), 5 p.m., at the Cort Gallery in Three Rivers to reminisce and reflect on his life.
   Roger was born in Bakersfield on Sept. 28, 1946, the only child of Paul and Faye Jennings. Roger was educated at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving his B.A. in Art and, in 1972, his M.A. in Design.
   After college he was employed in various occupations in the Bay Area, such as designer, options trader, and welder in a shipyard.
   In the late 1970s, Roger moved to Three Rivers with Carol Lieder.    He worked as an artist, craftsman, laborer, and carpenter.
   Roger strove to put the very best of himself and his skills into whatever he did, whether it was an original painting or installing a window frame. He will be remembered by many for his spiritual searching.
   He spent many hours a day in meditation, and toward the end of his life used meditation instead of medication to relieve pain.
Mercurial and volatile, Roger was passionate about many things and never stopped searching or reflecting. His kind and gentle spirit will be greatly missed by his friends.
   Roger resided in Three Rivers until about five years ago, when he moved to Bishop.
   In the late 1990s, Roger was preceded in death by his longtime partner, Carol Leider. He is survived by no immediate family.


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