Year in Review: 2018 in western Washington County
With 2018 now in the rear-view mirror, everyone is wondering what 2019 will bring.
As we have since 1886, the News-Times will continue to bring you the news every week — and every day on our website. But first, let's take a look back at the year that was.
Elroy the lost dog
In Forest Grove, 2018 could have gotten off to a very sad start indeed. The community rallied behind Erika Baca, with friends and complete strangers alike joining in the search for her 3-year-old pug and Boston terrier mix, Elroy, who had run away from home on New Year's Eve. It took 22 days, but with the assistance of both the "Forest Grove Community." Facebook page and the Forest Grove Police Department, improbably, the little dog was found and returned home safely.
"If we were to convert the hours and supplies from the community into dollars, Elroy is easily the richest or most expensive dog," Baca told the News-Times after Elroy's ordeal. "So many people were out there looking for him, even people I didn't know. It's amazing how much help and support I got through this whole thing."
Rainbow flags at Banks High School
The rumor mill can be a powerful thing, and when social media began buzzing in early January with claims that a teacher at Banks High School had "replaced" U.S. flags in their classroom with rainbow LGBTQ pride flags, some parents reacted with anger.
The Banks School District quickly put out a statement from Superintendent Jeff Leo seeking to dispel the controversy. The school district actually requires that a U.S. flag be displayed in each classroom; no U.S. flags were removed, the district said, and LGBTQ flags in some classrooms were intended to show support to members of the student body who may face bullying due to their sexual orientation or identity.
The issue spilled over into a school board meeting, but only two people ended up speaking in opposition to the LGBTQ flags.
Forest Grove's grocery study
Talk to five Grovers and ask them what they most want to see in town, and we'll bet at least four of them will say: a second grocery store in Forest Grove.
Yes, it's true that neighboring Cornelius has a Walmart and a Fred Meyer, well-trafficked superstores just minutes from Forest Grove city limits. But especially for people living in northwest Forest Grove, their best grocery shopping options lie either to the east — the Safeway at Ballad Towne Square and the Cornelius stores — or several miles to the north, at Jim's Thriftway in Banks.
So it was understandable that the reaction from many was a mixture of disbelief, dismay and disillusionment when an independent consultant reported to the Forest Grove City Council in February that Forest Grove is unlikely to be considered a viable market for another grocery store for at least five to 10 years. This was a story that continues to be cited every few weeks or so on social media, whenever anyone asks why Safeway is Forest Grove's only grocery store — and seemingly every time it comes up, the debate starts all over again.
Gaston school security
In Gaston, a great deal of discussion in the community in February centered on the small city's K-12 school campus. With Gaston Junior/Senior High School undergoing renovations, the school was unable to provide hot lunches for students. Compounding the issue, school officials decided after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that it was time to implement new security measures — such as preventing students from going off-campus for lunch.
The Gaston School District defended its decision, arguing that the security of students was its highest priority and vowing to provide nutritious cold lunches for the rest of the school year, but the matter remained controversial — until, that is, the new school building opened in late August to many impressed "oohs" and "ahhs."
'The Perfectionists' filming
Pacific University, with its wooded campus, old brick buildings, and position in the "Goldilocks zone" of Portland — not too far away, but not too close, either — has been used as a filming location before.
But when the cast and crew of new Freeform drama "Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists" descended on Pacific, transforming it into the fictional Beacon Heights University for a couple weeks in March — and again later in the fall — it was impossible to miss it. A casting call went out for extras, media arts students on campus got to hear from and even job-shadow the production team, and a portion of street parking along College Way was cordoned off for use as an equipment staging area.
"The Perfectionists" begins airing this year, with the premiere date yet to be announced. We don't know about you, but we're looking forward to trying to spot some Forest Grove landmarks.
Cynthia Belton found dead
In more tragic news in March, a rare homicide case in Forest Grove arose when police discovered the body of 54-year-old Cynthia Lou Belton in her apartment on March 19. Investigators deemed Belton's death suspicious, and exactly one month after Belton was found dead, police arrested a transient living in Hillsboro on suspicion of her murder.
Kamen Richard Baer, who has a criminal record in Washington County, was initially charged with murder in the case. However, a Washington County circuit judge dismissed the charge on prosecutors' request later in April. Baer remains in custody as he faces charges of felony sex abuse in an unrelated case.
Edna Gehring's last Lu'au
Longtime Hawaii culture club advisor Edna Gehring retired last year after 35 years on the job at Pacific University. Gehring, an institution at the school and an encouraging presence for its sizable Pacific Islander student population, said of her decision, "It's time. … It's time for someone else to come in and take it to the next level."
Gehring was honored at the annual Pacific Lu'au for her years of dedicated service. Many alumni and family members of students flew in from Hawaii for the occasion.
Of course, Na Haumana O Hawai'i lives on. Janalei Chun — like Gehring, an alumna of Pacific University — was hired on to succeed Gehring as club advisor.
Police chief receives award
In 2016, Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz shared at a public event that she had been raped by a family member as a teenager. In April, Schutz received the inaugural Hardy Myers Crime Victims Advocacy Award — named for the former Oregon attorney general, and "created to honor those who advance the interests of crime victims through advocacy, ingenuity and/or courage" — at an event in Portland.
Schutz told her difficult story again at the Buckman Public House, in front of a room filled with the Portland area's leading law enforcement officials and several state legislators. When she concluded, she received a long, loud standing ovation.
"When we help victims plan for their own safety, when we give them the information they need to make some choices, when we make sure that they have the opportunity to participate in the criminal justice process — when we do all these things, we give them a voice," Schutz said at the event. "We give them some peace. And in reality, we show our humanity to one another."
Dave Parker hired as superintendent
The Forest Grove School District was on uncertain footing as it headed into 2018. The district had just accepted the mid-year resignation of Superintendent Yvonne Curtis, who left the district after an escalating series of clashes between her and the School Board. Its future direction was anything but clear.
The School Board opted to act quickly in hiring a new superintendent. After a search that turned up several strong contenders, many of them with ties to the Forest Grove School District, the board selected one: Dave Parker, the assistant superintendent for the nearby Newberg School District and a former teacher in Forest Grove. The 2018-19 school year is Parker's first in the top job for the Forest Grove public school system.
Small businesses close down in downtown
For decades, Schlegel's Bicycle Center and The Shoe Clinic were staples of Forest Grove's downtown business scene. But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and both stores closed their doors for good in 2018.
In late April, Jim Schlegel, grandson of the original owner of Schlegel's Bicycle Center and a fixture in the Forest Grove community, died of pneumonia at age 74. In May, Dennis Erickson retired after more than 33 years as the owner and operator of The Shoe Clinic, citing health issues. The downtown Forest Grove business scene got a little quieter, especially after Schlegel's Bicycle Center officially closed in September, with Jim Schlegel's surviving family deciding they were unable to keep the shop open.
Hillside Bible Church burns down
A tranquil rural community northwest of Forest Grove was filled with flashing emergency lights one terrible Saturday evening in June, after a fault in the electrical system apparently started a fire that consumed the sanctuary and hall of Hillside Bible Church. Despite the best efforts of firefighters, the church building was a total loss. Even the original church bell, more than a century old, was unusable due to cracking after it was salvaged from the ruins.
The Hillside Bible congregation stood strong in the face of the devastation. For weeks, congregants simply met outside the charred remains of the old building. As fall and winter approached, they eventually moved services into a temporary building. And in late November, church officials obtained land use approval from Washington County to rebuild on the site. A building plan could be submitted in the coming weeks, with hopes to start construction on a new, slightly larger church building this summer.
After all, as any church leader will tell you: A church isn't bricks and mortar, it's the people who meet and worship there.
CPO 12F revived
Forest Grove got some exciting news in June as, with the approval of Washington County officials, a group of community volunteers officially restarted the city's Community Participation Organization, CPO 12F. The CPO, which holds community meetings and events and serves as a liaison between a part of the county and the county government, had been inactive for close to 20 years due to lack of interest. Now, it's back.
CPO 12F did not take long to return to relevancy in Forest Grove. The organization hosted a well-attended — and raucous, at times — candidate forum in October, during the lead-up to the Forest Grove City Council election on Nov. 6. This month, it will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, in the Forest Grove City Library's Rogers Room. All members of the Forest Grove community are invited to attend and participate in the meeting.
Nyuzen sister city visit
It's not every year that you get to celebrate three decades of an international partnership, but for Forest Grove and Nyuzen, Japan, 2018 was one of those years. A delegation from Forest Grove's affiliated township flew across the Pacific Ocean to spend a few days in Forest Grove.
Organizers crammed as much as they could into the delegation's relatively short stay. The mayors of Forest Grove and Nyuzen jointly dedicated a peace pole, sponsored by the Forest Grove Daybreak Rotary Club, outside the Forest Grove Community Auditorium. Nyuzen delegates toured Forest Grove businesses like SakéOne, where they were treated to an authentic Mexican lunch from a taco truck. Many even attended the Independence Day fireworks show at Tom McCall Upper Elementary School.
"I think it is more than fair to say that Nyuzen and Forest Grove sister city is a model example — or, I shall say, the king of the sister city relationship," declared Japan's consul-general in Portland, Takashi Teraoka, to laughter and applause at a formal dinner on the campus of Pacific University.
E.R. becomes urgent care
2018 also spelled the end of another longstanding service in Forest Grove — but as the emergency department at the Tuality Forest Grove Hospital closed, it also re-opened as an urgent care clinic, something that Tuality Healthcare officials said they think better suits the Forest Grove and Cornelius community's needs.
A ribbon-cutting was held for the newly rechristened clinic in July.
"We've heard rumblings that we're moving away from the community," a Tuality spokeswoman told the News-Times. "It's actually the opposite — we're trying to do more. We're committed to Forest Grove and want to meet the needs of the community. We want to operate a site where people can get everything they need."
Brush fire at Shearer Hill
Western Washington County residents had to cope with more than the usual amount of wildfire smoke this summer. But out of several scares last year, Aug. 20 might have been the closest we came to having a major wildfire of our own.
A four-alarm brush fire west of Forest Grove, near Timmerman and Shearer Hill roads, spread onto about 20 acres before firefighters from across the region were able to contain it. No injuries were reported, although eight homes were evacuated or otherwise vacated in case the fire spread out of control. The battle to bring the fire under control took several hours.
Free school breakfast in FGSD
The 2018-19 school year brought some changes to the Forest Grove School District, but maybe the biggest was that students across the district are now able to have a free breakfast at the start of the school day.
The free breakfast program is provided courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which gives meal support to school districts with high poverty rates. Forest Grove has the lowest household median income of all major cities in Washington County, and it has the highest poverty rate; Cornelius, most of which is included within the Forest Grove School District, ranks close behind its larger neighbor.
District officials said they hope the change both reduces lunch debt and removes the stigma around eating breakfast at school.
Miniature flags for 9/11
Sharyl MacDonald of Forest Grove has always considered herself a patriot, but when a memorial display in another state caught her eye in 2017, she decided that she needed to do something similar — and special — in her community for Sept. 11, 2018.
With the help of her husband and a number of volunteers, MacDonald set up about 3,000 miniature American flags surrounding the big flagpole in Forest Grove where Highway 8 splits into Pacific and 19th avenues. Each flag represented a person who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Michael Kinkade, Forest Grove's fire chief, said it was "emotional and stunning" to see the flags planted for the annual Sept. 11 memorial event he leads.
"We had this mantra about never forgetting, and sometimes we worry … that time has faded," Kinkade said. "And when you see something like this, it reminds you that it hasn't."
Moldy mobile home caper
One of the most bizarre and memorable sagas of the year in western Washington County came in mid-September, when half of an old double-wide mobile home was towed into the parking lot of Echo Shaw Elementary School in Cornelius over the weekend and then abandoned. The Washington County Sheriff's Office immediately declared it a public safety hazard, citing its dilapidated condition and mold growing inside the unit. It was removed in time for school to resume the following Monday.
Law enforcement officials investigated the incident, which was quickly connected to a Craigslist advertisement offering money to anyone who could take the moldy old mobile home off the poster's property outside Yamhill. Upon returning to pick up the second half of the mobile home, for transportation to parts unknown, Portland resident Derek Brandon Conley was arrested by Washington County sheriff's deputies.
Conley is facing misdemeanor charges of offensive littering and disorderly conduct for allegedly dumping the first half of the mobile home in Cornelius. A trial date has been set for next month.
Jesse Quinn opens
The Jesse Quinn Apartments development was not the first new apartment complex to open in Forest Grove in 2018 — nor was it the second, even, with both the Cedar Manor Apartments and Forestplace Apartment Homes opening earlier in the year. But it was undoubtedly the one with the most fanfare, as a public-private project years in the making.
A ribbon-cutting attended by city and Metro officials, among others, was held outside the Jesse Quinn — built on reclaimed industrial land that was the former site of the Times-Litho printing plant — in early October to mark the completion of construction. Developer Tokola Properties continues to own and administer the building as a landlord, leasing out its 78 apartment units and ground-floor commercial space.
Local businessman Rod Fuiten, speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, hailed the Jesse Quinn as a "transformational" addition to downtown Forest Grove.
"It's the wave of the future," Fuiten said.
Tornado hits Forest Grove nursery
Something happened Oct. 29 in the Forest Grove area that had not happened in years: A funnel cloud touched down as an EF-0 tornado, as confirmed by the National Weather Service. Unfortunately, the tornado came down on private property owned by Jim and Debbie Roofener, who have a nursery off Northwest Thatcher Road.
The windstorm caused significant property damage to the Roofeners' greenhouses, although thankfully, no injuries were reported.
Strangely enough, this October storm wasn't the first time in 2018 an unusual weather phenomenon was blamed for damaging a building in western Washington County. In July, a family living near Banks said a dust devil tore off part of the metal roofing on their shed. That incident was never officially confirmed by the National Weather Service, but while uncommon in western Oregon, strong dust devils — which are similar in some respects to tornadoes, but usually smaller and less powerful — have been known to cause property damage in other parts of the country.
Gaston elects new mayor
The Nov. 6 election results saw no change on the Forest Grove City Council, but Cornelius and North Plains saw some new council members elected — and Gaston topped the rest of them, as with Mayor Tony Hall declining to run for another term, voters elected Council President Jerry Spaulding to succeed him.
Spaulding ran unopposed to serve as mayor of Gaston, the city population of which is just over 700. He is expected to take office next Wednesday, Jan. 9.
Gaston sits at the northernmost tip of the Yamhill-Carlton wine region. Yamhill and Carlton, located 8 miles and 12 miles respectively down Highway 47, also elected new mayors last year as incumbents Paula Terp and Kathie Oriet did not seek re-election. Yvette Potter is Yamhill's mayor-elect; Brian Rake was chosen to serve as mayor of Carlton.
'The Princess Switch' release
The headline-grabbing news in western Washington County wasn't all politics, development and natural disasters in 2018. One of the year's biggest stories was about Megan Metzger, who co-wrote her first movie for Netflix in advance of the Christmas season.
Metzger, who graduated from Forest Grove High School in 2005, worked her way up as a writing assistant for a show on the Hallmark Channel. Her writing partner from that show, Robin Bernheim, invited her to write a Christmas-themed romantic comedy for Netflix, which became "The Princess Switch," inspired by Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper."
Keep an eye out for Metzger's name in writing credits in the future. Her Vanessa Hudgens-starring movie generated national buzz and received favorable reviews from critics, with an 89 percent approval rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes.
Banks water moratorium
In December, city officials made it clear: Banks cannot handle much more strain on its aging municipal water system. The city has plans to replace its leaky old water transmission system by sometime next year, but in the meantime, the Banks City Council approved a moratorium on most new development and instituted a water curtailment plan intended to prevent existing users from overstressing the system.
This is a story that will continue to play out. The city engineer is expected to make a more detailed presentation on the situation and talk about ways to move forward when the council meets next Tuesday, Jan. 8.
Senior center gets new kitchen
For the entire second half of 2018, the Forest Grove Senior & Community Center went without a working commercial kitchen. An extensive renovation of the kitchen temporarily displaced the Meals on Wheels People from the center, forced the cancellation of certain events, and effectively reduced the amount of business the center's volunteer-run gift shop does to almost nothing.
But by the week of Christmas, new counters, shelves and floors were scrubbed, new appliances were sparkling, and Meals on Wheels was getting ready to move back in. Starting Wednesday, Jan. 2, senior dining services resume at the Forest Grove Senior & Community Center.
"It's really going to be nice," said Meals on Wheels center manager Rayann Warncke of working in the new-and-improved kitchen.
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