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Tim Dominick 

Chapin students and faculty celebrate principal Akil Ross being named best in the nation. 

Local veterans take flight

Jim Stephenson served in the Army during the Korean War and later became a teacher. Unfortunately, one of his former students passed away fighting in the Vietnam War.

Stephenson, 86, was able to travel to Washington and find his student’s name, Eddie Gamora, on the Vietnam Memorial because of the Central Valley Honor Flight.

“We checked on the Vietnam Memorial, and we found his name,” Stephenson said. “That was the highlight. I’ve thought about him often, so we wanted to make sure that we could find his name on the wall.”

Stephenson, along with 67 other veterans, traveled to Washington on the honor flight to visit the war memorials. The honor flight honors local veterans by sending them to see their war memorials at no cost.

The veterans, guardians and volunteers flew out of Fresno Yosemite International Airport on Oct. 9 and returned two days later. This was the second Central Valley Honor Flight in 2017. Over 1,000 veterans have gone on the 14 flights since the first trip in 2013.

Mark Hopkins, Honor Flight president and trip leader, took over from former president Al Perry this year. He said each trip costs $180,000 and is funded by donations.

Hopkins, a retired paramedic and now a manager at Island Waterpark in Fresno, said his father, a Vietnam veteran, was a guardian for one of the previous flights. The experience pushed his father to open up for the first time about his experiences in the war.

“Now I have that bit of history that I can pass on to my kids to tell them what their grandfather did and those are things that are not lost anymore,” Hopkins said. “That’s really what Honor Flight, in essence, is about – something that’s lost and re-found. It’s so exciting to see these guys finally get what they deserve – seeing their memorials.”

Ivan Wohlgemuth, 86, was very surprised when he arrived at the Korean War Memorial on the second day of the trip.

American and South Korean generals were at the memorial performing a ceremony for the victims of the war.

“I thought it was a wonderful thing,” Wohlgemuth said. “We never expected to see our generals and officials and the Korean army generals.”

Wohlgemuth said he “enjoyed the camaraderie with the other veterans” and was impressed with them. Also, he said that the wars are all hard and presented challenges, but “we’ve come through it.”

Wohlgemuth was in the Army and served as a medic. He was stationed in Korea from the end of 1952 to the beginning of 1954. Before the armistice took place, he was called to help out with prisoner exchange at the 38th parallel.

Along with the Korean War Memorial, the veterans visited the Vietnam War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Navy Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.

Stephenson served as a high-speed radio operator mostly in Germany and he is very grateful for having the opportunity to go on the honor flight.

“It was an amazing trip,” Stephenson said. “They’re so well organized. We just saw so much stuff, that a person would never get a chance to do that in their lifetime.”

At the end of the trip, the veterans arrived home to 80 active-duty Navy men and women saluting them and over 1,000 people welcoming them home.

Stephenson didn’t expect to see such a large crowd.

“Coming home, the reception that we received at the terminal was just amazing,” Stephenson said. “We figured there would be a few people out there, some family and friends, but it was just amazing.”

For Hopkins, the welcome home at the airport was the perfect ending to the trip.

“This is our way of saying, ‘Thank you for what you did,’ and honoring them for all that they sacrificed during that time,” Hopkins said. “And some people sacrificed their life, and we need to remember that. This country would not be where it is today if it wasn’t for these people that sacrificed so much. So, this welcome home signifies all that put together.”

Four honor flights are planned for next year, including a trip specifically for Vietnam veterans. To donate, go to the Central Valley Honor Flight’s website, and click on the donate button.

Anyone interested in applying to go on a future flight as a veteran, guardian or volunteer can apply online on the website or by downloading the applications and mailing them in. The donate button and the applications are found on the right-hand side of the website’s homepage.

Leprino gives $20,000 to Lemoore Library

LEMOORE — The Lemoore Branch of the Kings County Library was, fittingly, filled with the sound of children’s voices as representatives from Leprino Foods in Lemoore handed a $20,000 check to the library.

It was during Children’s Weekly Storytime that employees from Leprino Foods and Kings County Library staff came together Monday and announced the library would be the next recipient of a donation from the Leprino Foods Company Foundation.

Ana Nicks, human resources manager for Leprino Food’s Lemoore East facility, said a few years ago Leprino started the foundation in an effort to help local communities.

Nicks said the four pillars the company strives to help are education, health, nutrition and community needs. She said helping the library fell under a few of the core pillars.

“We decided to take a look at what they could use and decided technology was an area — because it is a very small library,” Nicks said.

In order to provide a greater impact for the library, Nicks said both the Lemoore East and Lemoore West Leprino facilities combined foundation funds to provide the $20,000.

Kings County Library Director Natalie Rencher said the money will be used to purchase five laptop computers, two stand-alone computer stations for children and three tablet computers for children — equipped with both English and Spanish programs for early literacy.

Rencher said both the Hanford and Corcoran branches have laptops at the libraries, but this will be a first for the Lemoore branch. She said library patrons can check out the laptops to use inside the library.

“I’m pretty sure by February we’ll have everything purchased and all ready to go,” Rencher said.

Besides providing a partnership between Leprino and the library, Rencher said being able to receive this money allows the library to leverage all the services they have been providing to the community of Lemoore.

Nicks said Leprino is always encouraging employees to volunteer and have more engagement within the community. She said employees are proud of what they have been able to accomplish.

“We have a big footprint here in the community,” Nicks said “We have a responsibility to try to promote help and service.”

Nicks said Leprino is always looking toward the future and hoping to help different areas of the community.

“It’s a great feeling,” Nicks said. “People get busy but it’s still nice to know that you’re donating and making a difference in the community.”

Wilma Humason is the president of the Friends of the Kings County Library, a nonprofit organization that advocates, fundraises and supports the Kings County Library and related literary and educational programs.

Friends of the Library helped start the children’s reading program and Humason said the 12-member group are all “absolutely stunned and thrilled” that the library is getting the money from Leprino.

“That opens up the world to a child,” Humason said of the importance of reading and early literacy. “You can see a child change when he or she comes to know reading. Pretty soon they want to take all kinds of books home with them.”

Rencher said a long-term goal for the Kings County Library system is to renovate the Lemoore branch someday to make it larger and provide new furniture. She said the Lemoore branch is the second-largest circulating library in the county and hopes the renovation will boost the amount of people using the library’s services.

Humason said Friends of the Library is going to focus its efforts on helping fundraise for the renovation and Nicks said Leprino would also like to help with the endeavor in the future as well.

Another 'chop shop' found in Corcoran

CORCORAN — A probation compliance check at a home in Corcoran led to the discovery of a “chop shop” operation, California Highway Patrol officials said.

During the probation check, CHP investigators said they found an engine from a stolen 2005 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck inside the garage of 32-year-old Francisco Javier Montes.

In addition to the stolen engine, investigators said they found several rounds of high-powered rifle ammunition and narcotics at the premises.

CHP officials said the check happened Friday with help from the Kings County Gang and Narcotic Task Force and detectives from the Kings County Sheriff’s Office Agricultural Crimes Unit.

After finding the stolen engine, investigators said they determined Montes was operating a chop shop at his residence, and he was subsequently arrested and booked into the Kings County Jail.