KINGSBURG – While some traditions that celebrate Swedish heritage held fast in Kingsburg, others were started with brand-new events celebrating other cultures, hobbies and interests in town. While some long-standing public officials retired, there were new faces on the City Council and school boards as well. Here is a chronological look at back at some of the major events taking place in Kingsburg in 2018.
1) Exhibit recounts Japanese American WWII stories
The Kingsburg Historical Society hosted the Go For Broke National Education Center’s traveling exhibit in January that visually retold the Japanese Americans’ World War II experience. The exhibit was called “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American World War II Experience.” Only 10 cities across the nation hosted the exhibit and locals who experienced this chapter of American history first-hand said the exhibit should shed light on how fragile Democracy can be.
Local WWII and 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran Robert Yano said no matter where people have originated from, once they’re in America they all share the same home country now.
“I want them to know that we were all good Americans,” Yano, 93, said.
2) Kingsburg Chamber honors locals
The Kingsburg District Chamber of Commerce’s honored Rob Gong as the Citizen of the Year at its annual awards dinner in February. Chamber Executive Director Kaitlyn Groft said the ceremony was about honoring those who’ve made Kingsburg the community it is today.
“You could tell in his voice and in [Rob Gong’s] face how honored he was. That’s what it’s all about, that they feel that honor.”
Also honored were: Craig and Leslie Carpenter’s Berman’s Flowers as Business of the Year; Oscar Ramos of OFR Inc. as Agriculture Business of the Year; George Jackson as Agriculturist of the Year; Santinder Klair as High School Educator of the Year: Beverly Rosas as Elementary Educator of the Year: Fire Captain Kevin Clark and Captain Wayne Osborne as Public Safety Officers of the Year: David Meyer as Gold Seal Award; Jacob Wilson as Junior Citizen of the Year: Jackson Kuramoto as Junior Gold Star; and Nelson’s ACE Hardware and KCAPS as Recyclers of the Year.
3) Kingsburg Council switches to district elections
To comply with requirements under the California Voting Rights Act, Kingsburg changed the way it conducts its elections this year. The intent of the Voting Rights Act of 2001 is to increase minority representation. The City hosted public hearings, sought input on the districts’ boundaries and had a demographer give input on the most equitable manner in which to create the new boundaries. The November elections were held based on these boundaries.
4) Sports facilities built at Rafer
Construction of new sports facilities at Rafer Johnson Junior High started in February costing $2.9 million in Measure A dollars. A ribbon-cutting was held later in August when all the facilities were completed and students and Kingsburg Elementary School District officials took the first ceremonial lap. KESD leaders said they looked forward to when students and the community would have access to the new track and improved courts and baseball fields. Projects built at the school included a soccer field, tennis courts, a baseball field with a diamond and dugouts.
“It’s really going to be a first-class facility,” Rafer Principal Bobby Rodriguez said. “I think it’s going to create more opportunities for students to explore new sports and maybe try out for track.”
5) Vikings pay tribute rather than march
Nationwide students were protesting campus violence by marching off their schools March 14. Kingsburg High Vikings instead decided to gather in a large circle around their school’s Wind Ensemble as they performed music they’d just played on a trip to Carnegie Hall. The musicians had coincidentally been paired up with other musicians from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who also performed at Carnegie Hall.
6) Criterium brings professional cyclists to town
The Kingsburg Criterium returned to Downtown April 14 thanks to the efforts of bike race organizer Steve Grusis. At least 140 racers came, some as far away as Australia, and plans are to continue the race next year. The Criterium gave locals a chance to see professional men and women cyclists competing in a USA Cycling race up close. “It’s a different set up than doing triathlons where you focus on how fast you can go for long periods of time. This is more like a chess game where it’s kind of like NASCAR,” Grusis said of the tactics of the race.
7) KHS stages ‘Singin’ in the Rain’
Actors in Kingsburg High’s “Singin’ in the Rain” production said the experience was part historical reenactment, part family reunion and part art imitating life. The musical is set in the late 1920s when the movie industry was transitioning from silent films to talkies. Don Lockwood was played by Cristian Valenzuela. His leading lady is Lina Lamont played by Claire Bennett. The duo attempt to transform their latest film into a musical but Lamont’s shrill voice makes that impossibility. Ashton Norris had the role of aspiring actress Kathy Selden whose voiced is dubbed over Lamont’s.
“History is being shown to kids and our next generation and we can show it in a fun way,” Bennett said.
Norris said her character mirrors her own life. “I’m going to start figuring out the industry for myself. It’s so hard to break in and you really have to get in at that right moment. So for me to portray her through myself is really interesting.”
8) Rafer Johnson actors inspired by musical
Rafer Johnson Junior High’s musical was “The Little Mermaid, Jr.” this year and Shaylin Esajian had the opportunity to portray Ariel. “I specifically like how Ariel’s very curious and she likes to discover things on land,” she said of the young mermaid. “The play’s message is to follow your dreams. She was a mermaid, but she got transformed to a human and was able to be on land. It’s inspiring.”
Director Josh Merritt said he the story gets young performers thinking about their own life goals. “It’s about them learning to use the skills that they have and knowing that’s there’s beauty in themselves. They don’t have to change who they are to be beautiful and wanted and the world is at their feet.”
9) Show brings car enthusiasts
Larry and Jan Van Scoy, of Bakersfield, were this year’s Best of Show award winners at the 24th annual Kingsburg District Chamber of Commerce Car Show. It was their first visit to Kingsburg and the couple said they enjoyed the Swedish Village’s atmosphere.
“We want to thank everybody for being so wonderful in this town,” he said.
“It’s fun to see all these men and women bring out their pride and joy and be able to show it off,” Chamber Director Kaitlyn Castaneda said. “You can tell in their eyes this is just the love of their life.”
10) Swedish Festival celebrates Kingsburg culture
The Kingsburg District Chamber of Commerce’s 53rd annual Swedish Festival featured an early morning Dala Horse Trot, Queen coronation, traditional waltzes, Swedish food, countless vendors and many aspects of Swedish culture on display from May 17-19.
Swedish Festival Queen Claire Bennett, 16, a sophomore at Kingsburg High, said it was an honor to serve the community this year. She is the daughter of Chad and Heather Bennett. Her siblings are Josh Bennett and Paige Bennett. “I’ve had the privilege of being the Kiwanis-based service club’s Key Club president and that taught me that the best leaders are truly the servers. That showed me I could use this role to reach out to even more people in our community.”
11) Kingsburg High graduation celebrates hometown
During Kingsburg High’s 111th graduation ceremony June 7, students and staff alike reflected on the past, celebrated the present and looked eagerly toward the future as more than 270 Vikings took part in the commencement ceremony at the KHS Bowl. It was Ryan Phelan first year as principal and thinking back to when he graduated from Kingsburg High in 1998, he said he’s fully realizing what it will take for the seniors to succeed in life. “I put so much stock in having the right kind of character, treating people the right way, doing things the right way and having a strong work ethic,” he said of his goal as an administrator. “That’s what I really wish for these kids when they graduate here.”
12) Measure E safety tax wins approval
Measure E garnered a whopping 70.34 percent of voters’ approval for a safety tax in the June 5 primary elections. City Manager Alex Henderson said the 1 percent sales tax is expected to add an additional $940,000 annually to the city of Kingsburg’s budget for public safety services.
Mayor Michelle Roman said since the sales tax only needed a 66 percent voter approval to pass, the result showed the community’s support for both the fire and police departments.
“Kingsburg has always been a safe place to live with excellent service from our departments. Now we will be able expand with hiring more public safety personnel and enhance these departments with new equipment and technology upgrades.”
13) Rafer Johnson eighth-graders move on to KHS
In their last few minutes as middle school students, Rafer Johnson Junior High eighth-graders buzzed about in the Kingsburg High gym as some shed tears of sadness and others joked with friends as they readied for their June 6 promotion ceremony. Principal Bobby Rodriguez borrowed some advice for the school’s namesake to encourage them. “Like Rafer Johnson said, ‘Be the best you can be.’”
14) Summer concerts kick off with ‘Ethnic Celebration’
Kingsburg Summer Band continued their long-standing tradition of performing concerts at Memorial Park with Dale Engstrom at the helm. Each week had a unique theme and featured guest soloists and singers. The first concert’s theme was “An Ethnic Celebration.”
15) Performers shine at first talent show
Esmeralda Sanchez organized Kingsburg’s 1st Talent Show at Memorial Park to give her daughter Monica Ybarra an opportunity to perform a special song “Jealous of the Angels.” The song reminded her of her brother Marky Ybarra who died in 2016. Sanchez also wanted to open it up to the entire community “for people to show their talent and let their talent out,” Ybarra said. Sanchez is making plans for a show in 2019 and will “definitely spread the word. Like the 'School of Rock' performers are from just right there in Selma so spreading the word will definitely bring more talent.”
16) Bike show brings family tradition
Kris Ingrao and DJ Wilson teamed up to organize Kingsburg’s first bicycle and car show, Hot Summer Nights Aug. 18 in front of the Historic Train Depot. The event included a pre-ride the night before that wound through town from the Depot to the Kingsburg Historical Park. Their goal is to bring the event to town on a regular basis to give families a healthy event to take part in together.
“We’ve developed a real love for this so anything we can do to get people off their cell phones and back out riding their bikes and more active, that’s OK with us,” Wilson said.
17) Parade honors Cal Ripken World Series win
The Kingsburg Youth Baseball Association’s 12U Gold All-stars won the Cal Ripken Major 12/60 World Series Championship and the town and KYBA threw them a parade Aug. 25 to celebrate.
“We’re Kingsburg proud, not only of just the boys, but also of the coaches and the families because it takes a lot to get there,” Mayor Michelle Roman said. A sign will be permanently installed along Draper Street that declares Kingsburg as the home of the 2018 Cal Ripken Champions, she said.
The team includes Alek Van Bebber, Wyatt Boyd, Denis Gagnon, Gunner Geringer, Holden Hirschkorn, Houston Hirschkorn, Tyler Hughes, Tyler Jensen, Nick Palm, Garret Perkins, Ayden Rocha, Jack Rogers, Zack Tackett and Bodhi Verners. They’re coached by TJ Boyd and Oscar Hirschkorn.
18) Health Care District funds Athwal Park projects
Tri-County Health Care District is granting the City of Kingsburg $200,000 each year for the next three years for a total of $600,000 to help fund health-related equipment at Athwal Park. At a September City Council meeting, the council took steps to make sure they had enough funds to cover all the other expenses related to the project. City Manager Alex Henderson said preliminary costs for the projects - a skate park, play structure, fitness court, restrooms, landscaping, lighting and Americans With Disabilities Act access - totaled $990,531.
“We want to make sure the language in the agreement was flexible enough that when we went out to bid, we could go back to the Health Care District and explain why we weren’t potentially able to do all [the projects]. It’s our goal to complete all the improvements.”
19) Rafer Johnson sports facilities open
Kingsburg Elementary School District marked the official opening of the new track and other sports facilities at Rafer Johnson Junior High with an August ribbon cutting.
“I think Kingsburg is already a healthy community, but people are always walking in the streets. Now, we have this track and it’s very safe,” Superintendent Wes Sever said. “It’s a 30-year bond and we wanted everything to last 30 years,” he said of the quality of each court and field.
20) Arson evidence leads to DuPras in double homicide case
Kingsburg’s Alan DuPras, 58, was booked into the Fresno County Jail in connection with the double-homicide of former Washington Elementary Principal Jennifer DuPras and her mother, Cynthia Houk, Fresno Sheriff Margaret Mims announced at a press conference Sept. 25. Alan DuPras has been charged with two counts of murder, two counts of arson, a count of possession of assault weapons and a count of vandalism. He was arrested outside his home on the 2800 block of 18th Street in Kingsburg.
21) Sun-Maid workers end strike
Sun-Maid Growers workers went on strike over increases in their health care coverage expenses. In late September, a company spokesperson said a new contract had been reached with the local Teamsters Local 431. This agreement was ratified by union members and all union employees returned to work Sept. 26.
“We are pleased to have a new contract with the Teamsters Union and we hope Union members will find our new solution to be mutually beneficial and fair for all involved,” Sun-Maid CEO Harry Overly said.
22) Kingsburg reads ‘Charlie’ book together
Kingsburg’s Elementary Charter School District organized a community book project - Kingsburg Reads One Book - with students from Kingsburg, Clay School, Kings River, Traver and Valley Children’s Hospital taking part. Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” was the featured read and activities based on the book took place at each school site. There was also a scavenger hunt Downtown for Golden Tickets.
“When a whole community reads the same book, there’s a lot to talk about. With your help, we can build a community of readers throughout our town,” said KECSD Assistant Superintendent Melanie Sembritzki who spearheaded the effort.
23) Health Care District grant brings new ambulance
Kingsburg has a new ambulance and other life-saving equipment thanks to a $350,000 grant from the Kingsburg Tri-County Health District. Chairman Arlie Rogers said the board is proud to partner with the Fire Department to provide high quality, first-responder care for district residents.
“We know the Fire Department personally and know how much they truly care about the health and well-being of our community. It is our hope and desire to continue partnering with them and other organizations to serve the health needs of every person in our district.”
24) Nisei Vikings honored at rivalry game
Kingsburg High student Kirandeep Klair took it upon herself to honor her schoolmates who were interned during World War II. There were decades of differences in their ages, but Klair felt obligated to recognize what they’d lost simply because of their ethnicity during the time of war.
“We are always a family at Kingsburg High School. As we like to say, ‘once a Viking, always a Viking,’” she said. After much research with the help of local farmer Robert Yano, his daughter Chris Yano Goss, and Roy Deguchi, Klair sought out Japanese American students who attended Kingsburg High from the Classes of 1942 through 1945.
She coordinated a plaque presentation ceremony in-between the Rivalry Week games Oct. 26 and now that marker will be installed at the Kingsburg High Stadium “as a reminder of what our KHS Vikings had to endure.”
25) Gratitude, respect at annual Veterans Celebration
The tradition of honoring local veterans continued with Kingsburg’s 2018 Veterans Day Celebration on Nov. 10.
“We’re celebrating our fallen brothers and sisters we’ve lost. We’re celebrating our families and our country,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6152 member Stan Ruiz said who helped coordinate the event with Kingsburg’s Chamber of Commerce.
“There are letters on the tables that kids wrote to the veterans,” Mayor Michelle Roman said. “That respect starts when they’re young so they can understand and thank them for their service.”
26) Candidates eager for final vote tallies
Candidates running for seats on Kingsburg’s city council, school board and health district boards were eager on Election Night to find out the final ballot tallies. After weeks of counting votes, the Fresno County Elections Office finally reported that Jewel Hurtado and Vince Palomar won seats on the City Council. Mayor Michelle Roman ran unopposed and was appointed to keep her seat.
In the Kingsburg Joint Union High School board election, incumbent Brent Lunde kept his seat and fellow board members Mike Serpa and Steve Nagle were unopposed. At the Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District level, trustee Karyll Smith Quinn was unopposed and will retain her seat. Two new board members ran unopposed and will also be appointed.
For Kingsburg’s Tri-County Health Care District, Gary Nelson and Tiffany Dix will be the new members while Board President Arlie Rogers earned enough votes to remain on the board.
27) Kingsburg’s Fire Chief Ray to retire
After more than 35 years of keeping Kingsburg safe from fires, Fire Chief Tim Ray retired with his final official day being Dec. 28.
“I’m most proud of being able to serve our community working for the same department for my entire career and being able to work side by side with my dad for 26 years. What I’ll miss the most are the people: the ones I work with and the ones I work for.”
“Chief Ray has given over half his life in service to the City of Kingsburg and the Fire Department. With recent equipment upgrades and new hires stemming from the passing of Measure E, I am confident in the future of the department,” City Manager Alex Henderson said.
28) First Baptist bring Community Christmas skating
Kingsburg First Baptist wanted to give a Christmas gift to their community and Associate Pastor Brian Griffin already had the perfect idea: a pop-up skating rink. Congregation volunteers also set up a live Nativity, Lego play place, story time, holiday crafts, outdoor fire pits and invited food vendors to take part. Griffin said aside from having fun, he hopes families realize there’s a more important, free gift available all year long.
“We want people to come and have a sense of community and feel welcomed. We want them to understand and learn through this that there’s more to Christmas. It’s really celebrating Jesus’ birth and the love God has for us. We want people to know that First Baptist loves them.”
29) Festival of Lights parade honors martyr
As is the long-standing tradition Kingsburg’s annual Santa Lucia parade was held Dec. 1. The glittery lights on each float are actually symbols of purity that honor Lucia of Syracuse. The monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden told of how she would bring food to persecuted Christians in Rome living in catacombs underneath their city and wore candles on her head to keep her hands free for serving food. Her name translated means ‘light,’ and thus locals carry on the Festival of Lights parade in her honor.
“I just think it’s a charming tradition that has a really nice meaning behind it,” June Hess said. “It’s our gift to the town.”
30) New Kingsburg Council members get to work
Kingsburg’s new city council members hit the ground running after being sworn in at the Dec. 5 meeting. Outgoing councilmembers Bruce Blayney and Staci Smith were thanked for their service and Blayney shared some words of advice as he stepped down.
“The City of Kingsburg and all its citizens knew we were in this together,” Blayney said.