R. Tod Ruse stopped a black pickup truck trying to go past the road closure sign at the South Airport Court entrance. After being informed by the vehicle occupants that they were with the state Department of Water Resources, Ruse let them through.
Ruse is just one of dozens of STARS. who have been mobilized to help in the ongoing effort to secure the South Manteca areas that have been closed to the general public in the wake of the levee breach at Hays Road a few days ago which resulted in a brief mandatory evacuation of affected residents due to potential flooding.
STARS – the acronym stands for Sheriff’s Team of Active Retired Seniors – is a volunteer arm of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department. There are currently 80 members, many of whom are being activated to assist Sheriff’s deputies in making sure unnecessary personnel avoid the area west of South Airport Way from Airport Court to Perrin Road so the work to shore up the weakened levees can continue without disruption. At this time, they are being assigned at the entrances to Perrin Road, McMullin Road and Airport Court from Airport Way.
While the levee breach on Hays Road has been patched up, thanks to the American can-do spirit of local farmers who immediately responded to the emergency with their own heavy equipment to prevent an even bigger catastrophe from happening, work crews are now pouring rocks to further strengthen the levees. To prevent flood waters from inundating the areas to the east of Airport Way in the affected stretch of this major thoroughfare, sandbags were placed on the secondary levee stretching from the San Joaquin River to Union Road just north of Trahern by a work crew from the California Conservation Corps which worked 24-7 to complete the task. After four days of sandbagging and working nonstop, CCC supervisor Eddie Davis pronounced the job completed at the end of the day on Wednesday. Crews used bright portable light towers to continue working at night.
Ruse, a retired school teacher and principal, he and the rest of the STARS volunteers who have been mobilized to help in the South Manteca emergency will continue doing the job which they were trained to do for as long as it’s necessary.
STARS coordinator Mary Ann Dahl said the three units at the above locations are on duty during the day.
“They come in at 6 a.m. to relieve the deputies that’s been there all night. They stay until a deputy relieves them at 4:30 to 5 o’clock. They will stay on their station until they are relieved,” Dahl said.
The volunteer program, described by Dahl as self-funded, is constantly looking for citizens interested in becoming a member. It’s open to any San Joaquin County resident age 50 and/or older, she said. They are called upon to “assist, enhance, and promote the Sheriff’s efforts in Crime prevention and other tasks and services as directed,” according to the STARS.’ official website.
Some of the volunteers are not retired and are still currently working, Dahl said, so not all members are not usually activated at the same time.
While members have to purchase their own uniforms, the Sheriff’s department supplies some of it “a lot of time,” explained Dahl. “We give them a polo shirt and black jeans that we wear for special events.”
The oldest volunteer is 93-year-old Leonard McElroy of Tracy.
“He’s from the class of 1993. And yes, he’s still active. He’s an active 93 and he’s sharp. He’s patrol. He loves the program,” Dahl said.
Volunteer applications are accepted “all year long,” she said.
After the application is submitted, “you will receive training about the Sheriff’s office in a mini academy and have an opportunity to have a hands-on experience in the various services offered within the office,” she explained.
STARS is mainly supported by proceeds from three fund-raisers held during the year, plus donations from generous individuals, Dahl said.
“All our vehicles are purchased by donations. We also pay for our insurance through the county,” she said.
The program also pays for all vehicle maintenance. Each vehicle is also equipped with a cell phone, also paid for by donations and fund-raising proceeds.
“One hundred percent of the money goes back to the program,” Dahl said.
STARS is a 501(C)3 nonprofit organization so all donations are tax deductible.
For more information about becoming a STARS voluneer, call Dahl at 209.468.4469 (office), 209482.3303 (cell) or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.