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From dictator to Pulitzer Prize

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POSTED August 4, 2017 1:35 a.m.

Surprises never cease – especially in Ripon – from the finding of a cannon ball years ago near Caswell State Park on the Stanislaus River to the surfacing of very large oil portraits of Argentinian dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and his wife two years his junior, Alicia Raquel Hartridge, in the Magpie Antique Shop on First Street.
Videla’s tenure ran from 1976 to 1981 following the coup that ousted former President Isabel de Peron.
The man who purchased the framed portraits only wanted the frames, according to Magpie staffers. The portraits are now up for sale for $50 each for any interested history buffs, becoming probably the most unusual items in Janet Dyk’s Ripon shop. They are nestled among household furniture items leaning against the back wall. 
Some two years after the return of a democratic government in 1985, Videla was prosecuted in the Trial of the Juntas for large scale human rights abuses and crimes against humanity under his rule including kidnappings or forced disappearances, widespread torture and extrajudicial murder of activists and political opponents as well as their families at secret concentration camps.  Up to some 30,000 political dissidents vanished during his watch. 
He was also convicted of the theft of babies whose mothers – female guerilla prisoners –  were forced to become pregnant in his detention centers with the understanding they wouldn’t be tortured or executed.  He would then offer those babies up for illegal adoptions.  In July seven years ago he took full responsibility for the actions of his soldiers for carrying out his orders. 
Videla was tried and convicted of his crimes and sentenced to 50 years in prison – a prison where he reportedly slipped in the shower and died of head injuries.  Videla had also been charged with harboring many Nazi fugitives.

THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK was quite a play last week at the Sierra Repertory Theater on the east side of Sonora.  It was fast moving and full of action and surprises from the first minute with its singing cast members bursting out onto the stage from behind three small trailers – claiming to being on the “wrong side” of the tracks.
The show runs through Aug. 20. Show times are Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.; and Thursdays at 2 or 7 p.m. For reservations contact Sierra Rep’s box office at 209-532-3120, e-mail or visit their website: The show contains adult material and language and carries an “R” rating.
Ellie Wyman – taking the part of ‘Pippi’ – as the other woman was thrilled to be joining the resident of the Amadillo Acres Trailer Park for her first show with the Sonora Repertory Theatre.  She holds a BFA in Musical Theater from CSU Fullerton and has been working and auditioning in LA.  Her recent roles include American Idiot, Beehive, and Legally Blonde.
The only down side was the lack of an intermission.  Sitting for that long has its natural problems including stiffness in the legs and the need to find a restroom. On the drive back home, we made a stop at a burger hangout at Knights Ferry.  It was great and the food was fantastic in addition to running into Juvenal. I had done a story about him years ago when he had bone cancer while a student at Nile Garden School. He survived and is doing great things with his life.

THE NATIONAL NIGHT OUT event throughout Manteca was something of a challenge with about 70 locations to choose to cover with camera and note pad.  The problem came with the use of my iPhone and its directional abilities that continued to send me in the wrong direction.  It was great to find an MPD volunteer in his pickup truck who could straighten out my route.  While the heat seemed to deter a lot of folks, the ones who turned out were the best to talk to about their situations and actually love of community.

MY AIR CONDITIONER DECIDED TO QUIT this week so I quickly took my 7-year-old Honda into Phillips Auto Care on Moffat Boulevard – my longtime auto shop – and asked for a diagnosis.  It wasn’t a good thing, and after they put more Freon into the system, a mechanic said that the fix would only be short lived.  Once the engine is shut off you will again be without cold air, he predicted, and a new A/C was going to run over $1,000.  Well, here we are some five days later and in the heat of this summer, the cold air is still pumping out.  What a surprise for me and the staffers at Phillips as well.  They have a relatively new mechanic, Doug, who has worked on by CRV twice now and both times he has worked his magic.

DOGS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MY COMPANIONS throughout my life from when I was a small boy to the last that lived to be 20 years old.  Had a cat when I was just 10 and saw him hit by a car in front of our home in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles.  He was a special pet that would come when he was called or whistled to come.  I moved from there a few years later and continued to have dogs as the family pets until I went into the Army.  The lack of a yard now has dictated that if I am going to share my digs with a pet, it has to be a cat – or maybe a raccoon – and I think that might be frowned upon.  So, I got a cat about a year ago from the Ripon pound and she has been special – yep, a cat can be special.  She lets me know when it’s time to eat in the evening and when I get up in the morning with a special “meow!”
Thing is, when I turn the light out at night she climbs up on my chest and stays there until I brush her away, lying down next to my right hip, and later finding a spot near the bottom corner of the bed, remaining there until morning light.

ANOTHER PULITZER EARNED BY A MANTECA HIGH student came to light this week involving Leo and Ellen DeGroot’s son Leonard who works for the Los Angeles Times heading up their art department.  Len was part of the team to win the Pulitzer last year in the coverage of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.  The Times coverage included a database of the victims and a multimedia reconstruction of the police pursuit that culminated in the shooting death of the mass killers.
Leonard worked in the family milk drive-in when he was a teen that many will remember being located on North Main Street just above North Street.  His dad recalls his son working the counter when he was held up by a gunman with a loaded hand gun who he told he wasn’t going to give him any money and ran him off. The guy was arrested by police a little ways up the street some minutes later.

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