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In the News - Friday, September 20, 2013



Neighborhood Watch organized in 3R

  More than 20 neighbors gathered at the Three Rivers Arts Center on Friday, Sept. 13, to help organize a Neighborhood Watch in Three Rivers. The meeting was conducted by Scott Doyle, Three Rivers resident deputy.

  “A Neighborhood Watch group can be informal or as formal as you all want it to be,” Deputy Doyle told the gathering. “The important thing is that we post those signs and let the potential criminals know we are watching and keeping an eye out for suspicious activity.”

  A sign-up sheet was circulated around the meeting so the participants’ addresses can be mapped to determine which neighborhoods have adequate contacts and what areas need more coverage. With local residences being scattered along three forks of the Kaweah River, the more volunteers, the better the coverage.

  “The most important thing is that you document what you see, and that means taking notes at the time you observe the suspicious person or activity,” Deputy Doyle said. “The memory can play tricks as to the actual details of what a person was wearing or the make and color of a vehicle.”

  Don Thompson, a member of the local VIPs (the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department’s volunteer patrol organization), has already developed a note-taking form that contains the essential information needed to record a suspicious person or a possible crime. The forms are being distributed among the Neighborhood Watch volunteers and will make the recording process easier.

  “Just about everyone has a camera phone these days, and a photo is indisputable evidence,” Deputy Doyle said. “Sometimes a license plate number that can be enhanced from a digital photo is all that’s needed to lead us to a suspect.”

   “There are things you can do around your home, too, like removing shrubs that obscure windows or entryways,” he continued. “A burglar loves to hide behind the bushes when he’s breaking in, and your neighbors can’t see the suspicious activity either.”

  Deputy Doyle said he has some of the prototype Neighborhood Watch signs left over when a watch group was formed in Porterville. Laminated copies will be made available for use in Three Rivers.

  Watch for new signs being posted in your neighborhood. Also, “beware of dog” and alarm company signs can be a deterrent.

  “In the majority of the burglary cases that I have investigated, the suspects tell me if they see these signs, they look elsewhere for another place to hit,” Deputy Doyle said.

  Monthly or semi-monthly Neighborhood Watch meetings will be held to exchange information and delineate territories and responsibilities. To get involved, call Deputy Doyle at 740-8894.


Three Rivers native publishes memoir:

The life and times of a cowboy musician


  The history of Three Rivers is a captivating story. Although this community is young by history’s standards – a mere 150 years or so – the accounts of the formation of Three Rivers as a way station for Sierra travel, a utopian experiment, and a haven for artists have been begging to be told.

  The history books are few, however. Jay O’Connell’s Cooperative Dreams: A History of the Kaweah Colony (Raven River Press, 1999) is a comprehensive work about the settlement of the upper North Fork and its role in the formation of Sequoia National Park.

  Sophie Britten’s recently released book, Pioneers in Paradise: A Historical and Biographical Record of Early Days in Three Rivers California-1850s to 1950s (Dog Ear Publishing, 2013), adds to the area’s archive as an anecdotal history of the people and places in Kaweah Country’s formative years.

  Now the most recent publication, Echoes of Blossom Peak: Cowboys, Horsemen, and History of Three Rivers (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, August 2013), by Earl McKee Jr., tells the story of Three Rivers by someone who has been an intricate part of the community for all of his 82 years.

  The autobiographical memoir is told in the first person by Earl, a third-generation Three Rivers resident who was born and raised in the house in which he still resides. It is in this home on Old Three Rivers Drive, which was built in 1910, that he and his wife of 62 years, Gaynor, raised their three children.


“I have been gifted with a good memory that still works and I need to write this down before I go up the hill.”


  Throughout Earl’s life, he has experienced much of what Three Rivers identifies with: the Sierra backcountry, the ranching heritage, and its musical legacy. And it’s all told in Earl’s cowboy dialect, so those who have had even the most brief of conversations with him will hear his voice as they read.


The packing era

  In 1929, Earl’s parents, Earl Sr. and Edna, became the owners of the Wolverton Pack Station concession in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park. Earl Jr. was born in July 1931, and Giant Forest was where he spent all his adolescent summers.


“Corral cleaning was our first job as little kids. Every morning before daybreak a chunk of wood hit the tent to wake us up and we hustled out early to rake the corrals before the horses were fed… We’d use heavy rakes, we’d pile the horse manure, then we used a finish rake with narrow tines so it looked spic and span, and everything was hauled away before the corral opened for business.”


  As soon as he was old enough, Earl accompanied his dad on High Sierra pack trips and soon knew every nook and cranny, meadow and moraine, from Wolverton to Whitney and then some.

  Anyone who has traveled in the backcountry knows that when exposed to the whims of weather, as well as a string of stock, often things don’t go according to plan. Add some wildlife, remote terrain, and inexperienced vacationers to the equation and, over the years, Earl accumulated a mountain of memories.


“I loved the packing and the mountains and saw the backcountry in the good times. I can tell you every trail, I can describe any itinerary over the great ranges and name everywhere you want to go.”


  His page upon page of recollections are laugh-out-loud hilarious, hair-raising, awe-inspiring, and poignant, sometimes all in the same story. But it was in Earl’s 15th year, on the last trip of the 1946 season, when an event occurred that would change the course of his life, and he shares that tragic saga with readers.

  Some of the more prominent “dudes” who were led by the McKee packing contingent included those with well-known surnames, such as Mather (National Park Service’s first director), Farquhar (mountaineer, environmentalist, Sierra author), Eastman (Eastman-Kodak), Crocker (Crocker Bank), Hoover (wife of U.S President Herbert Hoover), Haas (Levi Strauss & Co. president, UC Berkeley benefactor), and Fuller (Fuller Paint). And the name-dropping doesn’t stop there: the packers, camp cooks, and various crew are a who’s who of Three Rivers history.


“I wish everyone could see the backcountry as I saw it, that there could be pack trains and facilities or a mode of alpine transport to open this wonderland to oldsters and youngsters. Current thinking has made the High Sierra a young-athletes-only park.”


The ranch life

  The McKees have had a significant role in the local ranching legacy. It all started when Earl Sr. borrowed $1,000 to purchase a herd of cattle that was put to pasture on the family’s 1913 homestead.


“There is a lot of calculating on how and when to move your cattle; hopefully, you can move cow-calf pairs to the mountain pastures before it quits raining so the grass can grow up behind them…”


  Due to unforeseen circumstances, Earl was just 19 when he became a full-time rancher. He continued to expand the ranch to include rangeland throughout the South Fork region.

Today, more than 60 years later, on land that has been in his family for more than a century, he remains in the saddle. Presently, he manages the property as a ranch for American quarter horses, but will still assist neighbors and friends at roundups and by herding cattle. 


“In a small community you learn to be a good neighbor. In the cattle business it has always been our custom to help each other gather cattle, brand, or whatever needs to be done.”

  Next in line to inherit the McKee ranch dynasty was Earl McKee III, known as Little Earl. Earl’s personal account of his only son is a heart-rending tribute. Yes, cowboys do cry.


A world of jazz

  Earl’s musical roots began with his maternal grandfather, Frank Finch, who was a championship fiddler. Frank was also a member of the Poison Oak Orchestra in Three Rivers.

  Earl’s two sisters were talented singers. In fact, sister Earleen studied at Juilliard and received her master’s degree in music from Columbia University. Earleen knew how to get to Carnegie Hall (practice, practice, practice) and performed there.


“Music then was certainly nothing like today’s singers who take a breath in the middle of a word, can’t hold a note, are obviously untrained because no one could train anyone that improperly.”


  Earl has many reminiscences of performing at local functions as a youngster. He continued to sing and play music throughout his life when his ranching responsibilities would allow. The solo act became a duet when, in December 1950, he married another talented Three Rivers performer, Gaynor Hardison.


“We sang pretty good together.”


  The talent continued to multiply as Earl and Gaynor had three children. Fast forward to a couple decades later and there was the McKee Family Singers — with Earl, Gaynor, and their three teen children, Linda, Chearl, and Earl. The family made the rounds to the local events — rodeos, ropings, and local festivals.

  But it was an Irish banjo player who caused Earl’s life to take another unplanned detour. A couple years earlier, Gaynor’s cousin, Terri Sullivan, had married Leuder Ohlwein and they settled for awhile in Three Rivers.


“He [Leuder] really knew music but didn’t know how to care for a family or hold on to his money, so their cupboards were often bare.”


  All who live in Three Rivers know the ending to this chapter. Jazzberry Jam Band becomes High Sierra Jazz Band, and for 40 years, has hosted a little festival called Jazzaffair in Three Rivers and traveled worldwide, playing music and telling audiences about their unique hometown.


“Jazz has been a large part of my life. My wife, Gaynor, always says, ‘You know, if you hadn’t learned to play the tuba, we’d a never got out of the front yard.’”



  Earl’s memory of names, years, and places is remarkable. The impetus for this book, however, is Carol McGrew, also raised in Three Rivers. She took on the monumental task of recording and transcribing the lifetime of stories and historical recollections.


“I am very grateful to have been born and raised here in Three Rivers at a time in history when the world was changing in so many ways. I grew up as a cattleman and horseman like my father, and I was very lucky to have known personally many old timers and characters who taught me how things really happened back then.”


  The book ends with poetry by Earl and others and some additional photos. There is no index, which would have been a monumental task, no doubt, but a gift to the reader who may later remember and want to look up a favorite passage, a name, a place, an anecdote.

  This packer-rancher-musician told his tale in 374 pages, but the book could easily have been doubled in size. Earl is thankful for the wonderful life he has had but realizes there is still so much more to tell.

  And the story has not yet ended. After all, Earl is still in the saddle, can play a tuba for multiple sets, and sing a ballad that makes the ladies swoon and a grown man cry.


Just a couple of weeks ago I was on my horse at 5 o’clock in the morning to help gather cattle for my friends on South Fork and we didn’t finish the day until 5 o’clock that evening. They needed me the next day because the cattle trucks were coming in, but I had to call them at 4 a.m. to cancel out because my horse was stiff and tired.”


  Echoes of Blossom Peak is available at several local outlets — Colors Gallery, Anne Lang’s Emporium, and Three Rivers Historical Museum — and online at www.amazon.com.



of Blossom Peak:

Cowboys, Horsemen

and History

of Three Rivers




self-publishing platform)

August 31, 2013

374 pages, paper, $19.95


Storage units nearing completion


  The complex of steel buildings being constructed adjacent to South Fork Drive just past the Tulare County Fire Station is the latest development by Mike McCoy, owner of Three Rivers Mercantile. When completed in a week or two, the property will house 32 garage-style, 12-foot by 24-foot storage units.

  Priced at 40 cents a square foot, McCoy said the units will rent at $115 per month, which is competitive with other storage facilities in Tulare County. All the rental business will be handled through Three Rivers Mercantile.

  “We really tried to keep a low profile, tuck the buildings into the hillside, and face the entrances inside so the units wouldn’t look like a bunch of doors,” McCoy said. “The red barn-like color is supposed to look like ranch buildings in the country.”

  McCoy admitted that the red steel panels are a little bright to start with but will fade over time. There are also plans for adding landscaping that will help the complex blend in with its setting.

  “I’m already hearing that some people want smaller units, too, so we might be able to extend the pad to build those in the future,” he said. “We know there is a need for storage units up here.”

  The storage units are being built by Steelex Industrial of Strathmore.

McCoy also said he is improving the driveway access to “Caltrans standards” on the frontage along Highway 198 of the adjacent parcel he owns. There are preliminary plans to develop that parcel into a restaurant or grocery store.

  “Right now I have still have control on what goes in there, and if I sell the parcel I’d like to ensure that what goes in there is a quality development,” McCoy said.


Business Briefs


Mid Valley Disposal expands to Three Rivers


  In August, Waste Connections, the former trash pick-up service for Three Rivers, sold their foothills routes, trucks, and dumpsters and transferred all their property and equipment in Three Rivers and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to Mid Valley Disposal.

  “Even though there will be a new company, customers won’t notice much, if any, changes,” said Marty Stone, a longtime Three Rivers driver, who worked for the former and now the new provider. “We’ll have the same pick-up schedule and more recycling in the future.”

  The offices of the new provider are in Kerman. A spokesperson expressed interest in conveying the news of the change in operators, however, the company declined to comment on the terms or make an official statement.

  The purchase price of the contract and equipment was reportedly $15 million.


Smith’s Gym has new owners


  The only public fitness facility/racquetball court in Three Rivers changed ownership on September 10 when the Pierce Drive property closed escrow. The new owners are Ron and Sandy Brankovic, who live in Southern California.

  The Brankovics also own the adjacent Water Wheel rental housing units.

  “We’ll still call it Smith’s Gym, and there won’t be any changes for the time being,” said Ron. “Sandy [Gomez] will remain on-site as the caretaker.”

  Scott Smith, who passed away in June, built the fitness facility in 2008. Irene Smith, Scott’s wife, was in charge of the day-to-day operations. The gym portion of the fitness center contains free weights, weight machines, treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines. 

  Brankovic said dues-paying information is posted on the door of the gym. Rates for use of the facilities are $5 per visit or $25 per month.


North Fork house raided


  Tulare County SWAT officers raided a house on Tuesday, Sept. 17, and served a search warrant to residents at 43645 North Fork Drive. Arrested and taken into custody were Shawn Aldridge, 24, and Kevin Frame, 24, residents at the rental property.

  Aldridge and Frame were both booked on multiple drug charges including cultivation of marijuana and the manufacturing of a controlled substance. The suspects were booked into   Bob Wiley Detention Center and are being held on $250,000 bail.

  A break in the case came on Friday, Aug. 23, when Daniel Andreco, 25, who also lives at the North Fork Drive house, was arrested in Santa Clara County on drug charges. The September 17 raid in Three Rivers was carried out in cooperation with SCCSET (Santa Clara County Special Enforcement Team).


Gunman opens fire at Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.


  Flags flew at half staff this week at the Three Rivers Post Office, Cal Fire Station, and other government facilities throughout the nation as a mark of respect for the 12 victims who were shot Monday, Sept. 17, at the Washington Navy Yard.

  The FBI identified the suspect as Aaron Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, Texas, a onetime Navy contractor who received a general discharge from the Navy Reserve in 2011 after a series of misconduct issues. He was killed in one of several gun battles with police.

  The motive and how he breached security remain under investigation.


High Sierra Trail Crew founder

dies in fall from helicopter


  The illicit marijuana-growing operations that occur on public lands are a deadly business, and another life was claimed as a result last week.

  On Thursday, Sept. 12, just after 10 a.m., Shane Krogen was killed when he fell from a helicopter while volunteering on a Tulare County marijuana cleanup operation. Krogen, 57, was being lowered via harness to a remote site in Sequoia National Forest when he fell.

  Krogen is well-known in the Central California outdoor community. He was the former owner of California Outfitters in Fresno, which he closed when he founded the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew in 1998.

  Today, the Trail Crew has grown into a group of more than 800 volunteers. In sync with the nonprofit organization’s mission, Krogen actively supported cleanup missions of illegal marijuana cultivation sites.

  The accident occurred about 10 miles northwest of Springville in Giant Sequoia National Monument. It was part of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Operation PRISTINE (Protecting Resources Involving Specialized Teams in Narcotic Enforcement). The volunteers are all trained on how to be airlifted and inserted into remote locations.

  Once there, they assist in the clean up of garbage, left-behind camp equipment, miles and miles of irrigation hose, and pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic waste.

  Krogen was with four other cleanup volunteers that were transported by helicopter to the contaminated site. The other four reached the ground safely; Krogen was the last to be lowered and was in a harness when he fell about 50 feet.

  The crew in the helicopter lowered a stretcher and with the aid of those on the ground, retrieved Krogen. He was airlifted to Kaweah Delta Hospital.

  The incident is currently under investigation.

  Marijuana-growing season is typically from last frost to first frost. Currently, it is harvest time for the public-lands growers.


Skull found in backcountry meadow


  A rancher checking on his cattle came across a human skull at Loggy Meadows, a remote locale in Giant Sequoia National Monument east of Mountain Home State Forest. The grim discovery was made Friday, Sept. 13.

  Authorities were alerted the next day when the rancher was able to access a telephone, and detectives from the Tulare Country Sheriff’s Department responded to the location and found the skull. No other human remains were located and there was no physical evidence of a crime.

  The skull was turned over to the Tulare County Coroner’s Office for further investigation.  As is typical in this type of investigation, forensic anthropologists from Fresno State University were summoned. They determined that the skull is that of a male in his early to mid 20s and had been exposed to the elements for up to 10 years. There were no signs of trauma.

  The skull is now being processed for DNA by the state Department of Justice. The Violent Crimes Unit of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department is checking missing person’s reports.

  Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to contact the Coroner’s Office at 685-2593 or the anonymous tip line, (559) 725-4194.


Sosa Sisters headline Concert on the Grass


  For over 30 years, Three Rivers has enjoyed an annual outdoor music event known as the Concert on the Grass. Started by former Three Rivers resident Dr. Harry Ison, the event originally featured classical piano music.

  When Dr. Ison moved out of the area about 10 years ago, locals Bill Haxton and Ken Elias took over the event, transforming it into a multifaceted event, including classical music, jazz, drama, dance, and the spoken word.

  The mission is to provide a venue for local and emerging talented individuals in the performing arts. In addition, professional performers who become aware of the event and wish to add their special flare may also appear.

  This year’s concert features the Sosa Sisters, the Central Valley’s emerging force for inspiration in the pop and ethnic genres.  These six young women sing, play various instruments, and wow their audiences with their spiritual energy. 

  On September 25, 2010, the Sosa Sisters sang the National Anthem for the San Francisco Giants’ Carlos Santana Cameo at AT&T Park in San Francisco. 

  At the Concert on the Grass, the sextet of sisters will be joined by other local performers and a special guest artist from Los Angeles, composer and pianist David Wheatley, whose many credits include movie scores, on-camera appearances, and scoring work in television.

  The 2013 Three Rivers Concert on the Grass will be held Saturday, Sept. 28, 1:30 p.m., at 44879 Dinely Drive.

   Admission is free (donations will be collected to defer costs and to pay honoraria to the performing artists).

  Check the Three Rivers Performing Arts website for additional information (www.threeriversperformingarts.org) including directions to the event.




Eugene Powert

1929 ~ 2013

  Eugene Harry Powert died at his Three Rivers home on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. He was 84.

  A service will be held Friday, Sept. 27, 11 a.m., at St. Clair’s Catholic Church. A lunch reception will immediately follow at St. Anthony Retreat.

  Gene was born March 29, 1929, in San Francisco to Harry Powert and Johanna Nielson. He was raised and educated in Westchester, Calif.

  Gene was drafted in 1950 and served in the Korean War. He was a recipient of the Bronze and Silver stars. On January 13, 1961, Gene married LaVona Lydick Long in Santa Monica.  They settled in Canoga Park where they raised their two children.

  He owned and operated several businesses during his career. He retired in 1994 from the leather business.

  Upon retirement, Gene and LaVona relocated to Three Rivers. They built a home on North Fork Drive and, soon after, built two more homes on the property for LaVona’s mother, Dorothy Long (1908-2003), and their daughter, Lori, and her two children.

  Gene’s wife of 41 years, LaVona, passed away October 30, 2002.

  On May 3, 2003, Gene married Bettie Crowley of Three Rivers. He was a member of the Three Rivers Lions Club and the Three Rivers Travel Club. He was a Comfort for Kids volunteer for 10 years.

  In addition to his wife of 10 years, Bettie Powert, Gene is survived by his son, Mike Powert and wife Julie Davis; daughter Lori Diaz and husband Nick; grandchildren Haley Powert, Taylor Powert, Krystal Cassano, Erica Cassano, Gavin Diaz, and Mason Diaz; and Betty’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.


Notice of Service

 A memorial service

will be held for

Scott Smith (1950-2013)

Saturday, Oct. 19, 4-7:30 pm

at a private residence

Food and beverages

Music by Martin Pugh

and the Belmans

21-Golf Ball Salute

Information: 471-6624


THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
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