Sunday, 21 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Vehicle thefts dropped statewide but rose locally in 2009, according to a new California Highway Patrol report.

The CHP said that statewide vehicle thefts are down for the fourth consecutive year.

“Vehicle theft prevention efforts by law enforcement agencies and the public are paying off,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “Since 2005, California has realized a 35-percent reduction in stolen vehicles.”

The agency attributes the decrease in thefts to enforcement, education and technology – all three of which have contributed to the largest decrease in decades of the number of vehicle thefts in California.

The CHP reported that 169,058 vehicles were stolen in 2009, which represents a 15.4-percent decrease from 2008, when 199,766 vehicles were stolen.

“Even with the decrease, on average, a vehicle is stolen every three minutes in California,” said Farrow.

In Lake County, the trend appears to be the reverse.

For 2009, 156 vehicles were stolen, up 16.4 percent from the 134 vehicles stolen the previous year, according to CHP statistics.

Lake County had approximately 84,941 registered vehicles in 2009, with the 156 stolen vehicles representing 0.27 percent of that number, and 0.09 percent of the statewide thefts, statistics showed.

In Lake's neighboring counties, thefts were mostly down last year. In Yolo, thefts dropped by 14.9 percent, 9.4 percent in Colusa, 9.1 percent in Glenn, 4.2 percent in Mendocino and 1.9 percent in Napa. In Sonoma, there was a 0.6 percent increase in thefts in 2009.

The CHP said that of the vehicles reported stolen in 2009, more than 88 percent were recovered. However, the economic loss to Californians exceeded $1 billion.

Statewide, the number of recoveries actually dropped by 13.5 percent from 2008, when 173,328 vehicles were recovered, to 149,884 vehicles recovered in 2009

Lake County showed an increase in stolen vehicle recoveries. In 2008, 125 stolen vehicles were recovered, a number which increased 5.6 percent to the next year, when 132 were found.

Lake's recovery statistics were far better than those of its neighbors, which registered the following numbers: Colusa, -8.6 percent; Glenn, -37 percent; Mendocino, -21 percent; Napa, -8.8 percent; Sonoma, 1 percent; Yolo, -12.8 percent.

In 2009, the top automobile for theft was the 1991 Honda Accord, followed by several other Honda Accord and Civic models from the 1990s. The CHP said the top personal trucks for theft included 1986, 1987 and 1988 model Toyota pickups, while 2007 Suzuki and Yamahas topped the motorcycle theft list, followed by 2006 through 2008 model year Hondas.

Southern California is a hot spot for vehicle theft, the CHP reported.

Approximately 53.4 percent of all thefts in 2009 occurred in the Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, according to CHP numbers.

“In order to put thieves out of business and keep from becoming a victim, we must remain vigilant in our efforts,” Farrow said.

Law enforcement is aided by the strategic deployment of bait cars, license plate recognition systems, joint task force operations, vehicle theft training and district attorney cooperation to help drive the vehicle theft numbers down year after year, according to CHP officials.

“Vehicle theft is a crime of opportunity,” added Farrow. “Citizens are on the front lines when it comes to prevention.”

The CHP encourages the public to safeguard vehicles by parking in a secure or highly visible location, always locking the vehicle’s doors, using an alarm system and never leaving a vehicle running unattended.

The agency also urged citizens to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

Shane Hutchins has been on the run from Mendocino County law enforcement for three months. Photo courtesy of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.




MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif. – The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office is attempting to locate a wanted parolee who has been on the run for three months.

Shane Hutchins, a 32-year-old transient from the area, is being sought on a variety of charges, including evading and resisting arrest and being a wanted parolee, according to Capt. Kurt Smallcomb.

Smallcomb said Hutchins has been evading law enforcement for the past three months in incidents that took place in Potter Valley, Redwood Valley and Ukiah.

During that time, Hutchins has allegedly been involved in three vehicle pursuits, where at least one deputy injured himself in an accident involving the pursuit, said Smallcomb.

Hutchins also has allegedly been involved in two foot pursuits with law enforcement officers who were attempting to apprehend him for the listed charges, Smallcomb said.

In addition, Smallcomb said Hutchins is wanted for a California State Parole violation.

According to witness statements, Hutchins has been known to be in possession of either handguns or knives during these incidents. Smallcomb said Hutchins has further stated he was “not going back to prison.”

Anyone with information on Hutchins' possible whereabouts is asked to contact the Mendocino County Sheriffs Office at 707-463-4086. Callers can remain anonymous.

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UPPER LAKE, Calif. – The identity of the victim of a hit-and-run vehicle collision last week has been released by local officials.

Merlin James Pruitt, 73, of Ukiah was identified as the crash victim, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Pruitt left Robinson Rancheria Resort & Casino at about 2:30 a.m. Sept. 9 and was traveling northbound in his wheelchair on the westbound shoulder of Highway 20, as Lake County News has reported.

A half-hour after Pruitt left the casino, 30-year-old Manuel Herrera of Nice is alleged to have hit Pruitt with his vehicle while traveling at around 70 to 80 miles per hour, according to the California Highway Patrol report.

The CHP reported that a Caltrans crew found the debris from Pruitt's wheelchair along the roadside before discovering his body in an area off the roadway.

Later that day, the CHP arrested Herrera on charges of felony hit and run resulting in death and misdemeanor driving on a suspended license, officials reported. He later was released after posting $10,000 bail.

Bauman said an autopsy on Pruitt is scheduled for Tuesday morning at the Napa County Coroner’s Office.

The CHP is continuing the investigation on the hit-and-run case.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

Alex Hadgis of Kelseyville, Calif., runs the Solar System Slalom. Photo courtesy of Nancy Brier.



LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A lucky handful of Lake County elementary students ended summer with a blast this year at Camp Walla Walla Hoo Ha, a hands-on science exploration camp where science and art collide.

Fifteen young campers were greeted with puzzling questions: If the sun were the size of a front door, how big would earth be? If the sun were the size of a grapefruit, how far away would Pluto be?

Campers explored these questions and dozens more of their own in a fast-paced, action-packed week of science, crafts, physical fitness and performing arts.

On day one, campers built a model of the solar system. It was massive, the huge globular sun dangling from a sturdy tree limb, and it stayed on display at camp all week to serve as a fun artistic centerpiece and an excellent point of reference for space related questions.

An 8-foot sphere, the sun glowed red, yellow and orange with flickers of purples and blues. Planets were built to scale, with Jupiter being about the size of a basketball and Saturn stealing all the glory with its magnificent rings.

Building this giant system helped put the incomprehensible nature of space into a more down to earth realm, and it made the campers hungry.

After a fortifying snack and a spirited round of rocket relay races, campers created individual 3-D solar system models of their own to take home.

“I want to live at space camp,” said 6-year-old Aiden Hall, a particularly ardent fan of science.

Camp Walla Walla Hoo Ha, whose mission is to bring science to life and inspire school age children to improve skills in science, technology, engineering, and math, debuted this summer in Lake County. Plans to expand the program are under way.

“Six months ago, I heard a Silicon Valley executive literally pleading for more science education in California,” said camp founder Nancy Brier, a Lake County entrepreneur with a strong interest in education.

According to STEM, a Silicon Valley foundation that encourages education in science and technology, California ranks second to the bottom nationally in science education among eighth graders, but Brier said she believes that small steps can turn these numbers around.

“I’d like to see Lake County take a leadership role in the shift,” she said.




Space camp instructor Nancy Brier demonstrates a model of the inner planets at Camp Walla Walla Hoo Ha. Photo courtesy of Nancy Brier.



By day two, campers were ready to explore in depth the inner planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt.

They learned that the inner planets are mostly made up of rock, that they are relatively close to the sun and that they orbit faster than the outer planets.

Each camper made his own replica of the inner planets, and their replicas actually revolve on their own orbital paths, an artistic keepsake and a scientifically accurate representative of the day’s theme at camp.

“It was so much fun,” said an exuberant Michael Wiser of Kelseyville, just as day two ended.

His mother, Meredith Wiser, said she couldn’t believe how much Michael was learning. “It's all he talks about, and the knowledge he’s acquiring is amazing,” she said.

On day two, each camper also selected a role to play in a performance called “The Living Solar System,” presented by the Milky Way Players at week’s end. Campers made their own costumes and rehearsed all week to portray their best interpretation of the planets, the asteroid belt, space explorers and other roles which reinforced the core learning of the week.

The third day of camp offered a closeup look at the sun, the moon and the earth. Campers split up and visited stations all over the campground to discuss specifics and conduct experiments.

At the moon station, campers studied NASA photos of craters on the surface of the moon. Campers then recreated the moon surface, and using various sized “asteroids” projected at differing angles and speeds, made their own craters and discussed them.

They also looked at photos showing shadows cast on the earth by the moon and learned about the how our view of the moon changes during its various phases. Many campers were shocked to learn that the earth is actually larger than the moon.

At the earth station, campers learned about polar ice caps, the earth’s axis and equator, and how the earth moves relative to the sun.

At the last station, campers visited the sun itself, where a 3-D poster showed in amazing detail what the surface of the sun actually looks like.

They compared that poster to the flame of a candle and discussed the impact of heat on earth and other planets.

Campers tossed pebbles into a plastic container decorated with the sun’s image. If those pebbles represent earth, it would take a million to fill the sun.

That afternoon, campers recreated the view of earth from space with a 3-D craft that included topographical land masses, the equator and the earth’s axis.

For 5-year-old Audrey Dierssen of Kelseyville, the earth project was a favorite. “I liked making the land and mixing them with paint, and I loved getting the earth tattoo from NASA.”

Contributions and consultations from professionals at Jet Propulsion Labs in Los Angeles helped furnish the camp with educational materials, cool tattoos and stickers.

Day four shifted the focus to the outer planets, which are mostly gas.

“Making our own gas planet was cool,” reported Miles Mattina of Lakeport.

Campers discussed how the outer planets, other than Pluto, are generally large, made of gas and orbit slowly. At craft time, they replicated Saturn in a craft that mimics Saturn’s glamorous rings of ice and dust.

Lots of physical activity punctuated the science activities at camp. Six-year-old Lauren Trippeer especially liked the Solar System Slalom, an obstacle course in which campers made timed runs around the planets in order.

Starting at the sun, each camper had to make a complete orbit around each planet and race back to the finish line while another camper documented the score. “It was awesome,” Lauren exclaimed, panting and red faced.

By Friday, campers were eager to show off their knowledge, and parents and family members were invited to join the fun.

As a warmup to the performance, campers challenged parents to a game of space trivia, a match that put the parents to shame. Campers eagerly raised their hands to each and every space related question, while parents, mostly mystified, could only guess at the answers they may have known long ago.

To answer the opening questions: if the sun were the size of your front door, Earth would be about the size of a nickel. And if the sun were the size of a grapefruit, Pluto would be about a half a mile away.

Camp Walla Walla Hoo Ha culminated just as the school year gets under way.

Perhaps the most promising moment of the action-packed week came at the very end when 6-year-old camper Clara Andre was overheard to say, “This year, I’m going to ask my teacher for more science.”

For more information about the camp, contact Nancy Brier at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Participants in the inaugural Camp Walla Walla Hoo Ha included, back row, left to right

A color composite image of the June 3, 2010, Jupiter impact flash. Credit: Anthony Wesley observing from Broken Hill, Australia.

In a paper published Thursday in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, a group of professional and amateur astronomers announced that Jupiter is getting hit surprisingly often by small asteroids, lighting up the giant planet's atmosphere with frequent fireballs.

"Jupiter is a big gravitational vacuum cleaner," said co-author and JPL astronomer Glenn Orton. "It is clear now that relatively small objects left over from the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago still hit Jupiter frequently."

The impacts are bright enough to see through backyard telescopes on Earth. Indeed, amateur astronomers were the first to detect them, recording two fireballs in 2010 alone – one on June 3 and another on Aug. 20.

Professional astronomers at NASA and elsewhere have followed up on the amateur observations, hoping to learn more about the impacting bodies.

According to Thursday's Letter, first-authored by Ricardo Hueso of the Universidad del País Vasco in Spain, the June 3 fireball was caused by an object some 10 meters in diameter. When it hit Jupiter, the impact released about one thousand million million (10^15) Joules of energy.

For comparison, that's five to 10 times less energy than the "Tunguska event" of 1908, when a meteoroid exploded in Earth's atmosphere and leveled millions of trees in a remote area of Russia. Scientists continue to analyze the Aug. 20 fireball, but think it was comparable in scale to the June 3 event.

Before amateurs spotted these fireballs, scientists were unaware collisions so small could be observed.

The first hint of their easy visibility came in July 2009 when Anthony Wesley, an amateur astronomer from Australia, discovered a dark spot on Jupiter. It was clearly the swirling debris of an impact event that he had only just missed.

Next time, however, his luck would improve. On June 3, 2010, he caught a fireball in action.

"I was watching real-time video from my telescope when I saw a 2.5-second-long flash of light near the edge of Jupiter's disk," said Wesley. "It was clear to me straight away it had to be an event on Jupiter."

Another amateur astronomer, Christopher Go of the Philippines, confirmed that the flash also appeared in his recordings.

Professional astronomers, alerted by email, looked for signs of the impact in images from larger telescopes, including NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, and Gemini Observatory telescopes in Hawaii and Chile.

Scientists saw no thermal disruptions or typical chemical signatures of debris, which allowed them to put a limit on the size of the object.

The second fireball on Aug. 20 was first detected by Japanese amateur astronomer Masayuki Tachikawa of Kumamoto city and quickly confirmed by another Japanese amateur, Aoki Kazuo of Tokyo. This one flashed for about 1.5 seconds and, like the June 3rd fireball, left no debris observable by large telescopes.

"It is interesting to note that while Earth gets smacked by a 10-meter-sized object about every 10 years on average, it looks as though Jupiter gets hit with the same-sized object [as much as] a few times each month," said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL, who was not directly involved in the study.

Learning how often Jupiter is hit can tell astronomers something about the meteoroid population throughout the solar system – a matter of considerable interest right here on Earth.

Just this past week, on Sept. 8, a 10-meter class asteroid named 2010 RF12 flew past our planet without hitting. A somewhat smaller space rock, 2008 TC3, actually burned up in the atmosphere above Sudan two years ago.

"The Jupiter impact rate is still being refined," added Yeomans, "and studies like this one help to do just that."

To learn more about the original research, read "First Earth-based Detection of a Superbolide on Jupiter" by R. Hueso et al, in the Ap J Letters, 2010, 721, L129.

For additional information and videos, visit

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The Aug. 20, 2010, fireball recorded by Aoki Kazuo of Tokyo, Japan.

Volunteer workers at the Soper-Reese Community Theatre in Lakeport, Calif., include, from left to right, Marc Spillman, Kelseyville Lumber Truss Division;; Jim Plank, Soper-Reese Theatre, facilities; John Ross, Soper-Reese Theatre, theatre manager; Mike Beale, Guido

MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – The 15th annual 100-mile Nome Cult Trail walk traces the forced relocation of Indians from Chico across what is now the Mendocino National Forest to Round Valley in 1863.

The walk will take place from Sunday, Sept. 12, through Saturday, Sept. 18.

Descendants of American Indians who took part in the original relocation and other supporters will walk from Chico to Covelo to commemorate the 147th anniversary of the trail, camping each night along the way.

Participants will descend into Round Valley the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 18, to participate in a gathering sponsored by the Round Valley Indian Tribes at the Round Valley Reservation in Covelo.

The theme for the walk and gatherings is “Honor Their Memory … A Path Not Forgotten.”

The Mendocino National Forest asks that people traveling on forest roads along the trail route be aware of the event and careful of the walkers to ensure their safety.

This year, the walkers will begin at Bidwell River Road at 7 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 12. They will walk west on State Highway 32 and camp at the Buckhorn Campground at Black Butte Lake the first night. For the remainder of the week, they will walk across the Mendocino National Forest, following the Nome Cult Trail.

Their planned schedule is:

  • Monday, Sept. 13, Orland to Newville Cemetery, camp at Grindstone, Buckhorn Campground or Paskenta;

  • Tuesday, Sept. 14, Newville Cemetery to camp at Black Bear Campground;

  • Wednesday, Sept. 15, Black Bear Campground to camp at Log Springs;

  • Thursday, Sept. 16, Log Springs to camp at Wells Cabin;

  • Friday, Sept. 17, Wells Cabin to camp at Eel River Ranger Station;

  • Saturday, Sept. 18, walk into Round Valley.

The removal of Indians from Chico to the Round Valley Reservation in 1863 is one of the many forced relocations following the establishment of reservations in northern California in the 1850s.

At least eight different tribes were moved to the reservation after it was initially established as the Nome Cult Farm in 1856. It became a full-fledged reservation in 1958 and eventually was named Round Valley Reservation.

In September 1863, 461 Indians were marched under guard from Chico to the Round Valley Reservation nearly 100 miles across the Sacramento Valley and rugged North Coast Ranges.

Only 277 Indians completed the journey. Some were killed, a few escaped, and others were left behind, too sick to go on.

The route is now called the Nome Cult Trail.

The original path has largely disappeared as a result of road construction and maintenance. The most grueling part of the trail passed through what is now the Mendocino National Forest.

The Forest Service has placed interpretive signs along the route to mark places where the Indians and their military escorts camped.

A free brochure and trail map produced by the Forest Service is available from Mendocino National Forest offices for those interested in the route.

For further information on the event, please contact Sandra Knight, Chico Mechoopda Tribe at 530-899-8922, Extension 213, or Alberta Azbill, Round Valley Indian Tribes at 707-983-6126, Extension 11.

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LAKEPORT – National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed annually across the nation on the third Friday in September.

This year the commemoration takes place on Sept. 17.

To mark the date and remember those who were or are prisoners of war or missing in action and their families, a gathering will be held at the gazebo in Library Park in Lakeport at 8 p.m.

The program will include a candlelight vigil, speakers Woody Hughes and Dan Christensen, and music by Robert Deppe.

The Military Funeral Honors Team of Lake County will also fire the traditional rifle volleys and play “Taps.” It is a rare opportunity to view a nighttime rifle firing.

More than 1,700 American personnel are still listed as missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam conflict. There also are personnel not accounted for from the current conflicts.

Though National POW/MIA Recognition day is not a public holiday it is a national observance.

You are encouraged to take time to remember and honor our American POW/MIA service members.

Everyone is welcome. Please bring a candle to light.

For more information, please call 707-349-2838.

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The Anderson Family of Grass Valley mesmerized the crowd at Anderson Marsh State Historic Park in Lower Lake, Calif., on Saturday, September 11, 2010, for the fifth annual Old Time Bluegrass Festival. The group includes Mark and Christy Anderson and their four children, Paige, Aimee, Ethan (Bo) and Daisy. Photo by Terre Logsdon.



LOWER LAKE, Calif. – Nationally known musicians once again graced the stages at the annual Old Time Bluegrass Festival held at Anderson Marsh State Historic Park on Saturday.

Anderson Marsh State Historic Park is well-known to Lake County residents as a preserved slice of the American West, with the property donated by the Anderson family, several of whom were in attendance on Saturday.

The park is now home to the annual Old Time Bluegrass Festival, now in its fifth year.




Jenny Ranger, a 9-year-old fiddler with the Konocti Fiddle Club, performs at the Old Time Bluegrass Festival on Saturday, September 11, 2010, in Lower Lake, Calif. Photo by Miguel Lanigan.



Several local favorites – including the Cobb Stompers, Clear Lake Clikkers and the Konocti Fiddle Club – kicked off the event, which was simulcast on KPFZ 88.1 FM, Lake County Community Radio.

“It's such a pleasure to work with everyone to put this magnificent event on,” said Gae Henry, a member of the steering committee and a driving force behind the event.

Henry spoke passionately to the event-goers about supporting Proposition 21, a state initiative which would create a designated funding source for California State Parks separate from general fund allocations.




Trevor Cleir of Clearlake, Calif., was the volunteer for the lemonade stand for his second grade booth at the Old Time Bluegrass Festival on Saturday, September 11, 2010, in Lower Lake, Calif. It was his first visit to the festival. Photo by Miguel Lanigan.



There also was a special presentation to the Lake County Volunteer Firefighters to thank local first responders on the ninth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

“As always,” Henry said, “we've been given tremendous support form the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Children's museum of Art and Science to put on this event.”

She said they also received help from Carlé Continuation High School and Lower Lake High School.




KPFZ 88.1 FM members doing the all-day remote live broadcast of the Old Time Bluegrass Festival at the Anderson Marsh State Historical Park in Lower Lake, Calif., on Saturday, September 11, 2010. From left to right, Buck Bouker, MC of

Ann Burow is the oldest granger in the United States and her Grange in Bennett Valley, Calif., is the oldest continuously operating Grange in the country. Here she looks over news clippings with California State Grange President Bob McFarland. Courtesy photo.

BENNETT VALLEY, Calif. – Quietly sitting on a bench in the 138-year-old foyer, Ann Burow turned the tattered pages of a scrapbook filled with clippings and photos breathing life into the rich history of the Bennett Valley Grange.

She smiled and proudly claimed her 85 years as a member of this oldest continuously operating Grange in the nation, founded May 27, 1873.

And it just so happens that at her splendid age of 105, Burow is the oldest Grange member in the nation.

“We have history here,” she said simply.

Ann Burow was born in Oakland, Calif., on Oct. 23, 1905. To say she came from a large family is an understatement. She had 14 brothers and sisters.

She described herself as a “city girl who came to the country.” A friend introduced her to a dairyman named George. They were married in 1924 and she moved to live with George and 70 cows on his farm in the Bennett Valley.

“I didn’t know anything about farm life,” she confessed. “But I went out there on an unpaved country road.”

She paused, recalling fondly a time long ago. “It was like a storybook unfolded. A little farm house with no electricity and a hardwood stove.”

The farm was run by George and his brother. “The two men took care of the farm. I used to watch them. It was an education in itself. None of the milk ever touched anything piped. They carried the milk in big cans.”

On the farm, they raised two daughters, Luella and Gwen. “The oldest girl was her father’s girl,” she said. “She would drive the tractor with him and ride it through the fields to school.”

On Valentine’s Day 1925, Ann joined the Bennett Valley Grange. Within a year, the members elected her as the secretary and she served in that position for 65 years before retiring in December 1990.

The Grange is a grass roots organization that began in 1867, in the aftermath of the destructive and divisive Civil War.

Rising from the fields and farmlands, survivors gathered on common ground to heal and support each other, work together, and honor traditional values.

The Grange grew rapidly, building halls across the rural landscape of America.

Cities and townships have grown up around rural halls and the Grange has evolved into a community service organization with 10,000 members and 206 chapters across California. Grange halls are often the center of their community, providing opportunities, culture and education, entertainment, emergency shelter, and a meeting place where new friends are made and old friends are cherished.

Everyone is welcome to apply for membership in the Grange. Each member contributes at their own pace and level of participation. Each Grange decides how to best serve the community.

Member Donald Turpley recorded an excellent history of the Bennett Valley Grange and it is available in its entirety on the California Sate Grange Web site at

Quoting from Turpley’s research, “On April 26, 1873, 16 residents of the valley met informally at the old Strawberry School to discuss the possibility of organizing a Grange.”

A month later, 25 founding members met at the home of George Whitaker to formally organize the Grange. Men paid $3 each for dues and women paid 50 cents each. Elmira Whitaker prepared a bountiful harvest feast from food grown on her ranch.

Praising the organization of the new Grange in a letter to the Sonoma Democrat, George Whitaker wrote, “Bennett Valley Grange has taken the lead in Sonoma County in the good cause and may the work go on until every tiller of the soil will sing to the tune of we are coming, some 80,000 strong, to save our sons and daughters from the clutches of the monopolies and rings.”

In the months that followed, Granges quickly formed in the surrounding communities of Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Two Rock, Bloomfield, Bodega, Green Valley and Glen Ellen. During the month of April 1873, 571 new Granges were formed across the country, bringing the total to over 4,000 nationwide. The National Grange was not even six years old.

The new members of the Bennett Valley Grange wasted little time building a hall. The new hall was dedicated on Dec. 4, 1873, a date selected to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the founding of the National Grange. The lumber used to build the hall was brought by wagon from Occidental and cost $292.82.

Fast forward. On a lovely summer day, June 6, 2010, folks from all corners of Sonoma County and beyond gathered to celebrate the 138th consecutive annual picnic and barbecue at the Bennett Valley Grange.

For more than a century, the community comes together on this day to celebrate this grand old hall and the good work of the Grange.

Much like the bountiful feast served at the founders’ meeting, the food was plentiful and good. Guests were served half of a big barbecued chicken (these birds looked more like pterodactyls), delicious fresh salads and two desserts.

Picnic tables were set up outside the hall to accommodate the hundreds of people that showed up. There was a live band and dancing. Inside the hall, dozens of wonderful gift baskets and other prizes were set on tables for a silent auction. The local 4-H had rabbits, pigs, goats and chickens on display.

"For the first time we partnered with another nonprofit organization,” explained Bennett Valley Grange Secretary Bill Allen. “We decided to split the cost, profits and work with the emergency preparedness committee of the Bennett Valley Homeowners Association. This partnership proved successful by increasing attendance and increasing the participation of the community in preparation for the event. "

In 1925, when Ann Burow joined the Grange, there was no electricity. The main hall had a big heater and was lit by three huge oil lamps down the center. Most folks arrived in horse drawn buggies.

“We had an old Dodge with no glass windows,” she said. “You had to put the curtains up when it rained.”

“It was nothin’ to have 30 to 40 people here at a meeting,” Burow said. “The ritual was most important. We had two beautiful ritual teams. I was the drill master. We wore evening gowns. That is how we dressed – not in bikinis!

She added, “I was so proud of that team. We went all over the county. In those days lots of people joined the Grange. At one time we had 300 members. We were a friendly group. Everything centered here. We had lively programs and our lecturer was very good.”

Burow knew George and Elizabeth Shelmeyer. For decades, George served as California’s most venerable State Master.

“I knew Elizabeth when she was a little girl,” Burow recalled. “She became a school teacher and married George when he became the Master. They lived in Bennett Valley on Grange Road. They lived a very happy life. They were a nice couple.

“Today, the kids have so much more than we had. They can get anything. They just Google it,” she said, amused.

Her advice to young people is that they stay in school and get a good education.

Burow's favorite memory of the Bennett Valley Grange was the 100th anniversary in 1972, a weeklong gala celebration culminating in a formal dance at the hall.

“It’s a picture in my mind that never leaves,” she said. “Nowadays, people are casual. This world has changed. The whole world has never been the same since the war and it will never be the same again.”

At the June picnic, Burow beamed. “To sit up here and see the crowd … it’s wonderful.”

"Sister Ann Burow is an amazing person who just happens to be 105 years old,” said Bennett Valley Grange Master Patty Allen. “She remembers and has taught us many things about Bennett Valley Grange. She is very accepting and appreciative of new members and new ideas while always happy to share memories of the past if asked. I'm proud to call her a friend.”

“What I’ve told you is true. We love this old hall,” said Burow. “The very first time I came here I said, Oh, I love this place. And as years rolled by the love is still there, really.”

Ann Burow and the Bennett Valley Grange “have history here.” They are inseparable. Together, they represent the very best that is the Grange.

For more information on Granges in California, phone the State Grange office at 916-454-5805 or visit

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