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In the News - Friday, September 25, 2009

All stories written by John or

Sarah Elliott unless otherwise noted


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


Economic development

through art and tourism

   In every success story of community development, there are pitfalls, false starts, valleys, and peaks. And currently, in the throes of a very difficult economy, there are challenges to find new avenues of doing business, social relationships, and an effective plan for Tulare County’s future.
   There is no more common thread among our two communities — Three Rivers and Exeter — than a love and appreciation for the arts. Former Exeter mayor Alex Torres, who promoted the mural idea in the 1990s, once said the goal of the city in featuring a series of murals was to draw visitors to Exeter.

  “It’s economic development through the arts and tourism,” Torres proclaimed in 1996.

Exeter: a festival of the arts

   In 1996, the City of Exeter planted the seed money of $13,000 to ensure that the murals project had a foundation. When the first was completed at Pine and E streets, all who viewed the 98-foot wide by 33-foot masterpiece knew the murals project was already attracting tourists and would be a source of civic pride.
   But the key to the success of the ongoing project — 26 murals and the next one with a World War II theme will commence next week — is to have a central theme – that theme is history.
In the annals of Tulare County, the Exeter story has been an incredible chapter in the epic of the citrus industry. Today, acreage planted to the mythic orange, which surrounds this hopeful town of 10,730, is at an all-time high.
   But it wasn’t always that way. Challenges of finding water, weather, transportation, and market conditions made farming in these parts a risky venture.

Founding fathers
   Unlike neighboring Visalia, which was founded in 1852, Exeter did not attract early settlers because it lacked a natural source of water. The nearest settlements began at Deep Creek and Yokohl Valley, northeast of the present-day town.
   In 1877, John Firebaugh settled on what is now the city of Exeter. He planned to call the new town Firebaugh but his uncle Andrew Firebaugh already named a small settlement on the west side of Fresno County “Firebaugh’s Ferry.”
   D.W. Parkhurst, land agent for the railroad, came up with the name Exeter. That name was derived from his hometown in England.
Until 1898, when the Southern Pacific Railroad connected Exeter and Visalia, the fledgling town had gained some prominence as a stage stop. Travelers to and from the recently established Sequoia National Park (1890) became well acquainted with this scenic Valley route via Exeter.
   Exeter became an important agricultural crossroads being served by three railroads: the Southern Pacific (1888), the Visalia Electric (1905), and the Santa Fe (1912).
   Exeter was incorporated March 2, 1911. George Waddell served as the first mayor.

Emperor Grape, King Orange
   The small community experienced little growth until grapes and oranges were planted in the 1890s. Both crops did exceptionally well with the Emperor grape achieving early success. In those days, Exeter was touted as the “Home of the Emperor Grape.”
   It was not until advances in pump technology and irrigation that orange groves became commercially viable in Exeter. The extension of the railroads helped to link growers to the consumers.
   The Bonnie Brae Ranch near Merryman Station (Highway 198 and Spruce) had the first local packinghouse. In 1912, the Merryman railroad spur was the first in the area to provide cold storage.
   By the late-1920s, an average-sized grove of 20 acres ensured a good living for many Exeter families. World War II and the years that followed stimulated citrus demand and production.
   Concurrent with post-war growth in Southern California, many displaced orange growers relocated to Tulare County in the 1950s and 1960s.
   In the 1980s, recurring freezes in Florida brought record returns for Exeter growers. Agribusiness giants invested even more capital.

The future is now
   Today, Exeter is a peaceful, progressive city with an exciting future. Blessed with rich farmland and natural beauty, the ingenuity of its residents and community spirit has infused the old farm town with new life.
   The 26 (soon to be 27) murals have been the rallying cry. The murals have transformed the downtown into one giant art gallery.
   In the stories of Three Rivers and Exeter, our neighbor to the west, we have much in common and a great deal we can learn from each other. It is in this cooperative spirit that THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH publishes this inaugural Exeter special section.

Kaweah Marina burglarized

   Desperate times call for desperate measures and evidently there’s a desperate thief on the prowl. Sometime between Monday evening and Wednesday morning (Sept. 21-23) someone broke into the Kaweah Marina and made off with more than $4,000 worth of equipment and tools.
   A generator and a compressor were the biggest part of the loot.

  “I’ve been here 45 years and in all my time we never had anything like it,” Dale Mehrten said, who with his wife Joy operates Kaweah Marina. “We’ve had break-ins before but nothing like this one.”
Tulare County Sheriff’s deputies were on the scene after Dale reported the crime at 10 a.m. on September 23. According to a police report, the thief cut some locks to gain entry.
   Sheriff’s Department deputies interviewed some people on nearby houseboats and combed the scene for physical evidence. No other burglaries or break-ins were reported in the vicinity during that time period.
   Anyone with information that might assist in the investigation is asked to call the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department at 733-6220.

A clean lake is a happy lake

By Brian Rothhammer

   Lake Kaweah needs your help. While driving around the lake on Highway 198 it is plain to see that as the water has been released for irrigation throughout California’s vast inland empire, the lake in late summer has the appearance of a titanic bathtub with the plug pulled out. A closer look reveals what has been left behind.
   Let’s talk trash. Tons of it. Everything imaginable that can fall off of a boat or has simply been pitched into the once deep waters is now left exposed on the dry lakebed for all to see.
   Along with the usual debris are tires, bedsprings, even the occasional treasures such as coins and firearms. Many of the trees are festooned with surreal decorations of lost fishing tackle that dangle in the breeze like a demented sort of tinsel.
   What can be done to help clean up and preserve the beauty of our Lake Kaweah? Just show up at Horse Creek Campground at 8 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday, Sept. 26) and pitch in with hundreds of fellow volunteers for the annual cleanup on National Public Lands Day.
   Past years at Lake Kaweah have been very productive with tons of unsightly and environmentally damaging refuse removed. Here’s how it goes:
   Volunteers meet with staff at Horse Creek Campground to choose project assignments while enjoying coffee and doughnuts. Along with debris removal, projects will include painting benches, landscaping, graffiti removal, and other tasks. Comfortable work attire and gloves are recommended.
   Then it’s back to Horse Creek for a barbecue lunch and live music. Some of the many sponsors of this year’s event will have booths set up and cold drinks will be provided.
   So what are you waiting for? Grab the gloves and hat, and let’s get out and support our community while beautifying Lake Kaweah. YOU can make a difference!


Mom’s night off

By Tina St. John

   Saturday evenings were my parents’ date night, all but one Saturday a month. That day was reserved for my dad to cook dinner with us nine kids.
   Spaghetti was the specialty. The day was about the sauce, a labor of love, mostly for my mom.
   This was her day to retreat to her library to do whatever she wanted. The door was shut and we kids were to leave her alone.
   My dad was in charge of us, the dinner, and anything else that came up. Well, let me tell you that my dad was sort of a kid himself, but a very well-organized kid. He had the routine down.
   We would pile into our Ford station wagon and off to the market we’d go to shop for the ingredients pour le diner. Just going to the store was an adventure.
   I remember driving down the street and when we’d come to a stoplight and were to obviously stop the car, my dad would almost stop at the light, only to tell us he was going to try and see if he could keep the car going until the light turned green. We would slowly creep along the road, inch by inch, the car barely moving. And he would do it while always joking about something.
   After getting home with our bags of groceries, my dad would delegate different kitchen duties to us depending on our ages. Jobs included cleaning the produce, cutting the tomatoes, and washing the dishes, while some of us just watched.
   After assembling all the ingredients for the sauce, which usually was tomatoes, garlic, onions, and herbs, he would leave the sauce at a very low simmer on the stove. He cooked it for hours.
   He said that was the secret, to cook the sauce very slow, and slow it was. It took most of the day. The idea behind his “secret sauce” was not so much what was in it, but how long he cooked it.
   So while his secret sauce cooked, my dad would pass the time playing games with us. Every now and then he would check on the sauce, stir it, and go back to playing games. Looking back, I think my dad chose to make spaghetti because it didn’t require a lot of effort and he could spend more time goofing off with us kids.
   He was a very tall man, 6 feet, 4 inches, to be exact. On our cooking day together we always played a game were he would lie down on the living room floor as if he had no life in him.
   We kids had to bring him back to life by picking up his limbs and standing him upright, dead weight and all. This wasn’t easy because he was a big man and we were all very young.
   Once we got him standing up he would sway back and forth, pretending to fall over and then all of a sudden he would come alive with a slight moan in his voice, his eyes moving back and forth. We ran for our lives, anticipating what would happen next.
   Our home was large with many rooms, and even though we’d run and hide, he would walk slowly throughout looking for us, which made our excitement more than we could bear. Some of us couldn’t help giggling, some of us would give up our cover, and others would yell out in desperation, “Hey Dad! What about the sauce?” to try to distract him.
   That’s why I’m convinced he picked spaghetti as the dinner of choice when cooking with his kids. It only required an occasional stir. But it was always worth spending that time with him.
   When his sauce was done, he would give it a taste, dipping the edge of his spoon in the thick, deep, red, aromatic phenomenon (at least that’s what I thought), taking a bite and wondering if more salt was needed. We’d wait for the verdict.
   Was dinner ready? Yes!
   My mother would emerge from her place of solitude and dinner was served. As my dad sat in his place of glory, dishing out plates of noodles and pouring his famous spaghetti sauce, I just knew the reason he made the best sauce in the world was because his love was the “secret” ingredient that made it so good. And he always added a huge helping of that.
   I’ve included a sauce of my own in this week’s column. It’s not my dad’s secret recipe, but it does require slow cooking so that you’ll have plenty of time to goof off with the kids.
   Tina St. John writes from her Three Rivers studio.



3 tbs. olive oil
1 medium white or yellow sweet onion, diced
15 medium-size ripe tomatoes or 2 large cans of organic diced tomatoes
1 medium bunch of organic fresh basil, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, grated
1 tbs. pure maple syrup

   Sauté diced onions in olive oil until golden brown (caramelized) in large pot. Dice or blend tomatoes, depending if you like your sauce chunky or smooth (I blend mine because I like my sauce that way). Add the herbs, garlic and maple syrup. Add sauce to onions in a pot and simmer at a VERY low heat. This sauce will simmer for hours or until the water is gone and the sauce is very thick. Serve over noodles of your choice.
   NOTE: For anyone who eats raw foods, this also makes a great dip or sauce for pouring over raw veggies. Blend these ingredients, add just 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and do not cook it.

   Recipe from Tina St. John’s “Welcome to My Food Column,” published September 25, 2009, in THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH.

Several ways to support Three Rivers School


   Given the challenges associated with the current economic climate, the financial stability of many institutions, education included, has been hit hard. Here at home, Three Rivers Union School is no exception.
   Students, teachers, and support staff alike have experienced the fiscal crunch. From salary reductions to combined classes, TRUS is making tough choices and doing whatever it takes to weather the downpour.
   Fortunately, TRUS is not a vessel unto itself. Based on historical observation, the local community supports and protects education and the children it serves.
   This academic year is evidence of that unique relationship between school and community. For example, despite the pervasive precipitation of financial hardships for many, donations are arriving daily for the school's major fundraiser of the year — the Fall Carnival
Such demonstrations of continued support are deeply appreciated by TRUS. These fundraising efforts translate into improved opportunities for learning for our community's children.
   Interested in supporting TRUS, but funds are tight? Here are a few ways that community members can get on board without getting soaked:
   Box Tops for Education: TRUS collects “Box Tops” found on a variety of grocery items. All you need to do is cut out the small pink and purple rectangular label on any participating product, such as General Mills or Ziploc, and save them for TRUS. Concerned that your contribution will hardly make a difference? Think again.
Collectively, the contributions add up to a big deal for TRUS. Ask your family, friends, and neighbors to save their Box Tops too.
A collection box is located in the TRUS office. You may also mail your collection of Box Tops to: Eagle Booster Club, P.O. Box 99, Three Rivers, CA 93271. For more information about this program, call Sue Schwarz, 561-3042, or visit the Box Tops for Education website: www.btfe.com.
   SHARES Cards: Now, more than ever, it is important to shop local. We also recognize, however, that there are folks that both shop local and down the hill. For those folks who do the latter, you can swipe a free SHARES card after making a purchase at either SaveMart or Food Maxx.
   By doing so, there is no charge to the customer, yet the vendor will donate 3 percent of every dollar spent to TRUS. Last quarter, TRUS earned about $575 just because folks remembered to swipe.
   Free SHARES cards are available at many local businesses and at the TRUS main office. Feel free to pick up a card or two for family, friends, and co-workers too.
   Gently Used Toys: Forgotten toys collecting dust or creating clutter? The Eagle Booster Club is collecting gently used toys to be used as prizes at TRUS’s Halloween Carnival. Drop your donations off at the TRUS office.
   Attend the Carnival: The Halloween Carnival at TRUS is the school's major fundraiser of the year. Invite family, friends, and co-workers for an old-fashioned evening of fun and entertainment. This is one form of entertainment where spending with a purpose makes sense, or is that cents? Any way you spell it, it equals success for TRUS students. Let's make this our biggest fundraising year yet!
   Lorée Little is on the Eagle Booster Club advisory board.

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
© Copyright 2003-2009 The Kaweah Commonwealth