Times 60th anniversary dinner reveals exciting news
• Supporters celebrate ‘Power of Positive Press’ • Big donations for Kiddieland
There was plenty to cheer about during the Times’ 60th Anniversary celebration at the Italo American Lodge in downtown Merced last Thursday, Nov. 2.
The only publisher this newspaper company has ever had — John Derby — received several rounds of applause during the night, including right after an announcement declaring him the oldest working newspaper publisher in the entire state of California.
The 87-year-old Derby — a Korean War veteran and war correspondent — was presented with specials U.S. flags, including one to be flown inside the Field of Honor this week at Merced College.
The turnout for the event was impressive, featuring a diversity of Merced County’s top leaders, business owners and standout citizens who filled up the main hall of the Lodge for the special-but-informal night that resembled more of a big family affair than a community-wide event.
Heart-warming speeches about the Times positive role in the community were provided by Gina and Darrell Cherf of the Merced Sunrise Rotary Club, Jonathan Whitaker of the Merced County Times, and E.J. Lorenzi, the distinguished longtime businessman and community advocate.
The evening also doubled as a fundraiser for the ongoing “Save The Train” effort for Kiddieland, and a couple big donations were announced to the surprise of those gathered — especially members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Merced, the group that operates Kiddieland.
In one jaw-dropping moment, Steve Tietjen, the superintendent of schools for the Merced County Office of Education (MCOE), unveiled a check for $50,000 to support the train project. Kiwanis President Karen Adams was left temporarily speechless by the announcement which she said was a total surprise for the club.
According to Tietjen: “Kiddieland provides a local opportunity for young children and their families to enjoy an afternoon of fun for a small amount of money. MCOE believes it has a role with other community partners like the City of Merced, First Five of Merced County, the Merced City School District, and others, to support children and families this way. Kiddieland is a safe, clean, nonprofit place for children to sue their imaginations and have bonding experiences with their parents, grandparents and extended families.”
The amusement park and nearby Merced Zoo also serve as popular destinations for young students and school field trips.
The MCOE donation was immediately followed by another incredible announcement by Kim Garner of the Central Valley Opportunity Fund — a private, donor-advised fund dedicated to improving the lives of residents in the greater Merced community.
Garner said the Fund will be providing a matching gift for the Kiddieland project of up to $250,000. Every donation, including the ones developed at the Times event, will be matched for a chance to raise $500,000. The purpose of the grant is to cover ADA requirements, finishing touches on a new train path, other ride upgrades, and as an overall boost to help get the effort to the finish line.
The Times dinner, along with a small but enthusiastic auction and raffle, also raised several thousand dollars for the cause.
And yes, Good Times were had by all!
First 5 Merced County awards $628,000 for Kiddieland Train
Merced County is “all aboard” on bringing the beloved Kiddieland Express Train back to Applegate Park in Merced.
First 5 Merced County on Monday presented a check for $628,000 to the Kiwanis Club of Greater Merced, whose volunteers operate Kiddieland. The funding, supported by state tobacco tax dollars, will be used to bring in a new train to replace the existing one that has been shut down due to ongoing maintenance issues.
Specifically, the funding will help with the removal of the old tracks, installation of new high-grip asphalt to replace the tracks and expand the route, and assist in the purchase of a new electric, ADA-accessible train.
District 2 Supervisor Josh Pedrozo, who also serves as the Chairman of the Merced County First 5 Commission, said Kiddieland is incredibly important to local residents, and the train has special meaning.
“When people think of Kiddieland, the train is one of the first things that comes to mind,” Pedrozo said. “The existing train has been loved by many for more than 50 years, and this investment will bring smiles for generations to come.”
Pedrozo added that the county wanted to make sure the prices of the rides (50 cents per ride) remain at the level they are at now. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but for some kids, it is.”
The Kiwanis Club and First 5 are also working on a partnership that would bring a free day at Kiddieland once a month during the park’s season.
“Ideally, we want everybody to have access to Kiddieland,” said Kiwanis President Karen Adams. “We still have to provide ADA requirements to all our planned upgrades. We are still in need of community donations.”
Upcoming fundraising events include:
- Run for the Rail, Nov. 19, 7:30 a.m., Bob Hart Square.
- Casino Night, Jan. 13. Info online at: kiwaniskiddieland.com