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Contributed by John Lindsey 

Meteorologist Dr. George Fischbeck for KABC-TV Channel 7 out of Los Angeles in this undated photo.

Pigeon breeders bring sky racers to Big Fresno Fair

Ken Larrey is bringing a display to the Big Fresno Fair that’s part research partner, war hero, GPS system and speed racer.

As a member of the Selma Racing Pigeon Club, Larrey will have a number of his racing pigeons and fancy pigeon breeds on hand to answer questions and help inform fair-goers of the little-known facts about the birds most have traditionally seen as only a nuisance.

“We call them God’s perfect flying machine because they can fly 50 miles an hour, 15 hours non-stop on a teaspoon of food,” Larrey said highlighting the small birds’ unique abilities to return home in all sorts of weather throughout the year. That ability has given pigeons a special place in history as they’ve been used to deliver messages that have saved hundreds of lives during war time.

“The Coast Guard used them until 1992 since they can pick out orange lifejackets from 15 miles away in rough seas. They’d find the lifejackets thinking it was food,” Larrey said of their keen eyesight.

Larrey is especially impressed with how the male birds even share half of the parenting responsibilities to the point they produce crop milk to feed newborns.

Another racer is Hanford’s Ed Harmon. He’s a member of Hanford’s Racing Pigeon Club and estimates he has 100 birds on his Elkhorn property. Harmon studied genetics in college and said his goal is raise birds that can improve on racing times.

“It’s fun trying to breed even faster pigeons as they’re clocked electronically now.”

Larrey started raising pigeons when he was just 9 years old, collected more from neighbors in the Fresno area and now races them along with 55 others in their club that includes members from Hanford, Kingsburg, Visalia, Madera and Fresno.

“As a kid, you wanted one of these and one of those and one of those. After a while you realize if you have all these different kinds, you won’t get good offspring. If you race, you want birds that will get home quicker,” he said.

Their club is hoping to start spreading more positive information about the hobby of raising pigeons and the different kinds there as they come in 150 different colors and there are more than 400 different types.

A booklet from the American Racing Pigeon Union compares the hobby to horse racing but says the pastime can be enjoyed for a fraction of the cost and creates an interest in genetics, nutrition, physiology, weather, math and carpentry.

“It’s a whole different attitude in Europe,” Larrey said. “There, people will pay $15 to look at the pigeons and there’s a line around the block. So we need to see how people in other areas have different attitudes and maybe people could open their minds. I’m asking for them to think the next time they see one in the park to realize they’re fascinating animals.”

Larrey estimates he has 700 birds on his country property outside of Easton. Some are racers, some are fancy with iridescent or lacey feathers and the white ones are for his business, Wings Away where he releases them for special occasions. He’s been hired to release 100 birds during Kingsburg High’s graduations. For events such as funerals, he said the releasing of the birds is often an emotional and symbolic gesture.

“When people see a white dove being released there’s the connection that the spirit is free. The white birds are a sign of peace and love, and in the Christian world it’s the sign of the Holy Spirit,” he said of Biblical accounts. “In the secular world, every postcard that says ‘love’ shows a white dove.”

Larrey is hoping people are especially impressed with the little birds’ abilities to return home after being taken hundreds of miles away from their coops. He trains them by taking them a little farther from home each time so they can get oriented and fly home. Exactly how the birds figure that out has baffled scientists for decades.

“It’s interesting to see how since Darwin and before him, the studies that have been done in figuring out how they come home,” he said of scientists’ experiments with magnets, blinders and the birds’ sense of hearing.

“It’s still a mystery. Scientists since Darwin on have put GPS on them, followed them in airplanes and helicopters or put magnets on them and they still don’t know exactly what it is that makes them come home,” he said. “I’ve asked a thousand of them and they haven’t said a word to me.”

Larrey says he’s not necessarily looking for new club members with the fair display, but is hoping to spread a new respect for the often-maligned critters. To most, pigeon racing may seem like a pastime from yesteryear, but to Larrey he sees it a soothing way to take care of fascinating flying racers.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, black, white. They don’t care. You feed them and water them and they’re coming home. We’re all here for the birds. We have millionaires and guys that are just field workers. With the birds, everything’s equal. Pigeons are pigeons and home is home.”

Hospital volunteer knits and donates 'knitted knockers'

HANFORD — Anne Sutton started knitting while she was in college and hasn’t stopped since, but now she knits "knockers" to help improve the self-esteem of breast cancer survivors.

Knitted knockers are handmade breast prosthesis made out of a special kind of yarn. Volunteers, working through the national nonprofit organization called Knitted Knockers, make them for women who have undergone mastectomies or other breast procedures. 

Traditionally, prosthetics can be heavy, sweaty and expensive, but the knitted knockers offer a more relaxed soft feel that can even be placed in a regular bra to take the shape and feel of a real breast.

Sutton, 81, is a volunteer at Adventist Health in the Central Valley and was approached by a friend who will undergo a double mastectomy next month.

“She brought one from Fresno and showed it to me, and asked me if I could make her some knockers. I said sure,” Sutton said.

Sutton - along with at least 12 other volunteers - had been knitting quilts, blankets and other newborn baby items during a Thursday morning knit-and-crochet session at the Needle Inn on the Adventist Hanford medical campus. 

Now she focuses on making knitted knockers. She's the only one of the volunteers who has mastered the art of knitting the knockers as it is quite complicated and requires four different types of needles.

Ambur George is the gift shop coordinator for the Volunteer Service Department with Adventist Health and is in charge of making sure the knitted knockers Sutton makes are available in the Adventist Health Breast Care Center.

“[Sutton] had wondered if through our organization we could benefit and have it stay local within the organization,” George said. “I contacted our breast center and spoke to the director, and they said that yes they had heard of [knitted knockers], but nobody had been doing this for them,” George said.

Sutton is not a breast cancer survivor, but she was diagnosed with a different form of cancer and thinks “cancer is the ugliest word in the English language.”

She retired 19 years ago after being a librarian at the Lemoore Library for many years and says she started volunteering because she was bored at home.

“I can’t just sit and watch TV without doing something,” Sutton said. “I’m selfish, I enjoy doing it.”

It takes Sutton about six hours to knit one pair, and she has made about 60 knitted knockers since April. They vary in colors and sizes for the patients at the Breast Care Center in Hanford.

Breast coordinator and lead clerk Julce Belo says they have given out 25 to 50 of Suttons knitted knockers in the last six months.

“We had a lady come in two or three weeks ago after having a mastectomy,” Belo said. “She heard that we had some here and we told her they are free. She was so excited, she had tears in her eyes, and I was trying not to cry. She was just so touched.”

Sutton is insistent that the knitted knockers are free. She buys most of the yarn herself but hopes more people learn how to make them or help donate.

“The reason I’m even here is because I hope other people start knitting. Why should I do everything,” Sutton jokes.

Venture Place road coming soon

LEMOORE — After much debate, Venture Place road in Lemoore finally has a relatively concrete future.

At its regular meeting Tuesday night, Lemoore City Council discussed a request from Tom Vorhees for financial assistance from the city to construct Venture Place road and other infrastructure in Lemoore’s Industrial Park.

In January 2014, the city of Lemoore sold a lot, located east of Highway 41 and south of Highway 198, to Vorhees. The sale was like a trade with Vorhees, with the original agreement being that in exchange for developing the lot and paying for a road, he would retain ownership of the property and develop the area.

After several extensions, inflations in cost estimates and no work being done, Vorhees finally met with council to ask for help paying for the road. Vorhees estimates it will cost around $1 million to develop the entire road and infrastructure.

City staff came up with three options council could take to help Vorhees:

  1. Provide a general fund loan out of the city’s general fund reserves in an amount up to $400,000. Vorhees would then be required to pay back the loan over a period of four years at $100,000 a year.

  2. Provide a loan using impact fees in an amount up to $400,000. The use of impact fees as a loan source would require that the loan be structured as a reimbursable loan, meaning Vorhees would need to expend the funds and provide invoices and sales receipts to the city. After providing invoices, the finance director would determine the appropriate funds and release them to Vorhees.

  3. Waive building and impact fees up to $400,000 for this project and provide no loan option.

Apart from the three options, Assistant City Manager Michelle Speer said council could also take no action and Vorhees would have until Jan. 13, 2018, — the remainder of his second extension — to construct the road himself or the property would revert back to the ownership of the city’s successor agency.

Vorhees attended the meeting and spoke to council for the first time, telling members that he preferred the first option because it would incentivize him to move forward and allow him to start developing the road right away.

Vorhees said he would like to work with the city and do what’s best for the city, including putting retail and maybe even a car dealership in the area to bring in tax dollars.

In terms of developing the road and lease-ready buildings, Vorhees said he will probably end up investing around $2 million into Venture Place. He admitted, though, that he does not have any commitments from businesses to locate there just yet.

A few of the council members were hesitant about loaning that large of an amount of taxpayer dollars, especially from the city’s tightly budgeted general fund.

Mayor Pro Tem Eddie Neal was particularly apprehensive, saying a loan decision would set a precedent for any business that wants to locate in the city.

“I don’t want to set a precedent of saying ‘no’ to people coming in and wanting to invest in our city,” Councilwoman Holly Blair countered, reminding council that the city has planned many projects that were stalled and didn’t always go as planned.

“We don’t have a lot of investors knocking down our door here and this is a potential to have some retail dollars come to our city,” Blair said, adding she wasn’t opposed to the first loan option because she knows the city will get the money back.

Heather Corder, Lemoore’s financial director, said a $400,000 loan would put the city’s general fund $300,000 in the red.

“Four hundred thousand dollars out of our general fund is big for our budget, it’s huge,” Councilman Jeff Chedester said. “That’s one issue that I have is maybe we’re taking too big of steps. Maybe we should look at waiving the building and impact fees as you go per lot and that would be your incentive, instead of us dishing out $400,000 from our general fund from our taxpayers’ money. Let’s go on some baby steps and start incentivizing you to continue to build.”

Vorhees told council that if the first or second options were chosen, it would put “pressure” on him to get started on the road and move more quickly on getting buildings developed. He also said, however, that he could make the third option work as well.

Council went back and forth for over an hour on the pros and cons of the proposed options and debated whether the city would have a return on the investment.

Chedester finally moved that the city choose the third option to waive building and impact fees up to $400,000 with no loan option and added that the building of a road start within 30 days and be completed within six months.

Chedester, Blair and Mayor Ray Madrigal voted “yes” while Neal and Councilman Dave Brown voted “no,” so the motion passed.