Saying goodbye to 2018

This year in the Woodburn area was marked by growth, community engagement and triumphs

INDEPENDENT FILE PHOTOS – Highlights of 2018 include (far left graphic, from top) St. Paul took home its first-ever volleyball state championship win after switching back to the 1A Classification this fall; Teresa Alonso Leon, who was re-elected to House District 22 (Woodburn/Gervais/North Salem), speaks at a mental health clinic at Woodburn High School this fall; Firefighters were busy this year, with plenty of large fires, including this one in February at the Young Street Market, which destroyed the building; Woodburn High School students took to the streets in March to advocate for stricter gun laws in a nationwide response to the Parkland, Florida school shootings, (second graphic, from left) Gervais High School’s Alexys Zepeda placed third at the state wrestling tournament, marking the highest a female has risen in the ranks during the OSAA event; Mikayla Golka, a 2018 graduate of North Marion High School, was selected as the Woodburn Independent’s Amazing Kid for 2018, thanks to the many creative ways she has used her talents to give back to the community; (third graphic) Thanks to Woodburn’s move to the 4A classification, Woodburn faced North Marion in the boys soccer championship in November, coming out on top 2-0; (fourth graphic, from top) Woodburn has a new mayor in Eric Swenson (left) who shakes hands on Election Night with Lt. Robb Gramzow of the Woodburn Fire District, which saw voters approve its levy in the same election; and Woodburn Fiesta Mexicana’s 55th year celebration saw perhaps its highest attendance ever and had new features, like this Juan Gabriel tribute performed by Miami-based performer Ray Heker.

It’s easy to end every year by saying it was one of notable success, with ups and downs in between. But 2018 seemed to see more ups than downs for the Woodburn area, with eight athletic state titles, a positively-run mayoral campaign leading up to the November election and buzz about development that will continue to put Woodburn on the map.

Sports

The top headlines in sports this year started in February with the state wrestling championships. North Marion’s Russel Stigall took home his second state championship win in the 4A 132-pound match. Teammate Brandon Gibson was defeated in the final seconds of the 138-pound match. Gervais freshman Alexys Zepeda made a name for herself when she placed third in the 113-pound bracket, the highest finish for a female wrestler in state history. Woodburn also had a successful year, with Wesley Vasquez competing and ultimately falling in the state championship final in the 113-pound match, marking the furthest a Woodburn wrestler has advanced since 2008.

In girls basketball, Kennedy saw its second state title in the past three seasons (St. Paul wasn’t far behind, with a third-place finish and Kennedy boys placed fourth).

St. Paul’s Isabelle Wyss brought home a state title after recording a winning distance of 35-10.75 in the triple jump at the 2A Track and Field State Championships in May.

Also in the spring, Kennedy girls struck again, this time in softball, crushing the competition 10-0, taking home the school’s first softball state title.

In the same week, Kennedy’s Alejandra Lopez took home gold in the 3A/2A/1A Cross Country State Championship race with a time of 19:02, and St. Paul’s volleyball team completed a perfect 30-0 season by winning its first-ever state championship.

The 4A boys soccer championship game was a local match, with Woodburn and North Marion vying for the crown. Woodburn defeated North Marion 2-0.

And finally, the fall season was capped off with Kennedy’s first state win in football during its fifth trip to the championship game. St. Paul also made it to the 1A championship game but fell to Dufur.

Education

Local schools had their share of highs and lows this year, and the shooting in a high school in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17, set communities across the nation on edge.

Woodburn was no exception, and it’s had its share of social media threats. The most notable was a week after the Florida shooting and, even though police investigated and the district assured parents that students were safe, more than 50 percent of students districtwide (70 percent at the high school) were picked up by parents or went home early.

The district’s response prompted community safety meetings, which filled the high school lectorium with concerned parents and community members.

Additionally, students at Woodburn and North Marion high schools participated in a March 14 nationwide student walkout. Woodburn not only did a walkout, but marched through downtown Woodburn, where speeches were made on the steps of City Hall and in front of the district office.

Another school walkout was planned at Kennedy High School a month later as part of a nationwide pro-life protest. In this instance, though, only one student, Marcos Sanchez, ended up participating in the walkout that was part of a movement against abortion and Planned Parenthood.

Also in the spring, the Woodburn School Board hired an independent investigator to look into the past three year’s employment separations at the school district, following many raised concerns from students, staff and parents regarding no explanation for recent non-renewal contracts for staff and administrators, particularly among those of color. The results of the investigation came out in October, concluding that the district showed no bias against staff members of color who have left the district, that it followed all collective bargaining agreements and district policies and laws.

While the departure of former Valor Middle School principal Danny Nanez was one of the reasons parents voiced concerns to the board, he wasn’t the only administrator to leave the district. Longtime principals Geri Federico, Eric Swenson and Jenny Caragol retired, while director of student services Joe James resigned. As a result, Dana Christie was hired to replace James, and Sara Bautista, who used to work in the district several years ago, returned as Lincoln’s principal. French Prairie Middle School principal Ricardo Marquez moved to Woodburn Academy of Art, Science and Technology to replace Federico, and assistant principal Mateo Courtney replaced him. Jeff Taylor from Nellie Muir Elementary School moved to fill the principalship at Valor, while his assistant principal Oscar Belanger replaced him.

At North Marion, longtime administrator Julie Jackson was replaced by former board member Patrick McArthur as director of special programs.

Gervais School District is also experiencing a shift in its leadership, as Superintendent Matt Henry announced he would resign as of June 30, 2019, giving the school board more than a year to look for a replacement.

In Mount Angel, both its high school and middle school principals resigned, bringing in Dale Pedersen at Kennedy High and Jared Tiecke at Mount Angel Middle School.

There were a lot of things to celebrate in schools this year as well: notably, WAAST was named the No. 1 high school in Oregon according to U.S. News and World Report (it also ranked Wellness, Business and Sports School as ninth and St. Paul High School as 16th).

Local teachers also received statewide and national recognition this year. In April, Valor Middle School music teacher Jason Rodgers was named the 2018 Eugene Kaza Music Educator of the Year by the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Then over the summer, Academy of International Studies teacher Andy Beyer was named the 2018 Oregon History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Around the same time, Gervais Elementary School teacher Lisa Ludwikoski was named the 2018 Oregon Substitute Teacher of the Year after filling in as a long-term substitute the previous year.

Woodburn students were able to start to reap the rewards of the bond that passed in 2015, with the new Success High School opening and with the completion of Washington Elementary School’s expansion. It’s something that North Marion stakeholders got a taste of this year, with the completion of a new track and the clearing of trees to prepare for a new parking lot, all the beginning stages of the November 2017 bond passed by voters.

Development

Expansion in the Woodburn area is not limited to the school districts. New businesses popped up all over town, most notably at Woodburn Station, west of Interstate 5, which brought in a temporary building for Salem Health (which is breaking ground on a permanent urgent care facility in the same location), Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop and and a Verizon store, and Oregon’s first location for Fazoli’s, a national Italian fast food chain.

In Donald, the 120,000-square-foot hazelnut processing factory owned by farming collective Hazelnut Growers of Oregon opened its doors in August. Donald also had 87.6 acres approved for annexation into the city’s urban growth boundary to develop housing.

Housing developments are popping up throughout northern Marion County, from a 63-home development in Mount Angel that was approved in September, to an 821-unit residential development on 140 acres in southwest Woodburn called Smith Creek.

Low-income housing is also coming to Woodburn, with the development this year of Villa Esperanza by Catholic Community Services, a 16-unit complex on East Lincoln Street, and Colonia Unidad, a 44-unit complex on Park Avenue by Farmworker Housing and Development Corporation. Plans are also underway for a 300-unit apartment in West Woodburn and construction in Boones Crossing in south Woodburn has been moving along since last year, with several homes ready for occupancy.

While more is being built, there are also buildings going away. It was announced in November that the city of Woodburn would purchase the 70-year-old long-vacant Pix Theater building and, as part of the agreement with the owner, would demolish it, citing mold and other issues that make reconstruction virtually impossible. The property is then planned to be used as a parking lot.

The Pix Theater move is just one step toward the city’s plans to improve First Street, a $4.4 million project that is expected to start in spring 2019 and would also include alley and parking lot improvements. This year, the city solicited community input regarding parking, trees and brickwork designs.

Crime

Woodburn had its share of fairly bizarre crime incidents in 2018.

In May, a Woodburn woman was arrested for hiring a homeless man to stage a robbery and kidnapping at Gina’s Restaurant.

On May 24, police were called to the restaurant to find two victims of an armed robbery, one of whom had a serious laceration on her arm during a struggle with a knife.

Chanh Tran, 47, who was the one injured, would later admit to police she staged the scene to scare the restaurant owner. She pleaded guilty in court in August and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Another unusual scare in Woodburn was a bomb threat downtown.

On Feb. 22, Woodburn man Patrick Thomas reportedly attempted to rob La Caseta De Tarjeta, a money exchange business at 479 N. Front St. He reportedly showed employees a sign which read "please give me all the money or I’ll shoot you." When the owners of La Caseta refused to give Thomas any money, he reportedly revealed a pipebomb, which he lit and dropped before fleeing. Witnesses said the bomb emitted smoke but didn’t cause much damage. Oregon State Police deployed a robot to render the device inoperable about two hours later. During that time the surrounding area was shut off to the public.

Thomas was arrested on March 7 while in custody for unrelated charges.

He pleaded guilty in September and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Many court cases were put to bed in 2018, including the 11-year sentence of Fernando Cortez, who pleaded guilty in April to manslaughter of Woodburn teen Alfredo Lopez-Nabor 20 years after the incident; the guilty plea and five-month sentence of former Woodburn police officer Daniel Kerbs for second-degree sex abuse; the conclusion of a years-long battle between the city of Woodburn and three former police officers that settled out of court; and the guilty plea of a man who had originally sought a plea of insanity after he tore through Woodburn with a machete, injuring multiple people in January 2017. Alan Brock was sentenced to 25 years in prison on the following charges: two counts of attempted murder, four counts of first-degree robbery, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, four counts of unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

Within a short period of time in September, two separate rape cases found the suspects to be at large. As of this publication date, both Wilson Hernandez-Perez, 32, and Margarito Sanchez-Vega, 46, both of Woodburn, are still fugitives after being charged with rape involving minor victims.

In November, St. Paul was in the news after a body was discovered in a nearby field. A police investigation determined that the victim, Tricia Carver, 47, of Albany, was left there by an estranged husband, Lemarr Carver, of Hillsboro, who was discovered dead in his home from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head when police arrived to serve a search warrant two days later.

Election

One of the biggest stories coming out of 2018 is, that for the first time since 2002, Woodburn has a new mayor.

Kathy Figley, who is Woodburn’s longest running mayor, announced she would not seek re-election this year, prompting Council President Frank Lonergan and retired WSD Principal Eric Swenson to throw their hats into the ring. Following an amicable campaign between the two candidates (they even promoted a joint video in which they urged people to vote and promoted how civilly a campaign could be run) Swenson emerged the victor by just 240 votes. He was sworn in as mayor Dec. 10. Lonergan’s council seat has gone to Mary Beth Cornwell, while Councilors Robert Carney and Sharon Schaub ran unopposed for re-election.

Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson also announced retirement and, after a battle against Bill Burgess, Colm Willis has been voted in to replace her in 2019. Kevin Cameron beat out challenger Shelaswau Crier to maintain his commissioner seat.

Also retaining their elected seats are Sens. Peter Courtney (D-SD11) and Kim Thatcher (R-SD13), U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-U.S. Dist. 5), State Reps. Teresa Alonso Leon (D-HD22), Bill Post (R-HD25) and Rick Lewis (R-HD18), Mayors Charles Rostocil (Hubbard), Shanti Platt (Gervais) and Kim Wallis (St. Paul).

But Mayors Rick Olmstead and Bill Graupp, of Donald and Aurora, respectively, were ousted by a city councilor challenger. Donald’s new mayor is Brad Oxenford and Aurora’s is Kris Taylor Sallee.

Hubbard has two new councilors in Michelle Dodge and Robert Prinslow and St. Paul has a new councilor in Peggy Sellers, who edged out incumbent Rosemary Koch.

Also on the November ballot was a levy for Woodburn Fire District which was approved by voters. Measure 24-433 is a five-year local option levy will go into effect in July 2019, costing the average homeowner $5 a month, according to Chief Joe Budge. The levy will allow the district to staff each emergency response crew with a four-member team, which statistics show, Budge said, can make a difference between life and death.

Conversely, Aurora Fire District’s proposed levy in the May election failed by a mere nine votes and the city of St. Paul’s proposed three-year local option levy in the November election also failed to pass, this time by a difference of seven votes.

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All in all, 2018 brought many reasons to celebrate as well as many opportunities for reflection and community engagement. The year ends with a tone of anticipation, as 2019 is sure to continue the trajectory toward growth, both physically and intellectually.

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