Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent any other company or publication.
* ... GIVE BIG KERN: The countywide drive to support non-profits called Give Big Kern is over and it raised more than $919,000 for some outstanding organizations and programs. Topping the leaderboard as the top fund raiser was the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which raised an impressive $226,487 from 345
donors. Independence Through Grace ran second with $126,593 and Bakersfield Pregnancy Center was third with $57,312. My favorite was SJVWater.Org, the non profit run by former Californian investigator editor Lois Henry, which pulled in $7,345 for its work covering the politics of water in California. (Full disclosure: I serve on SJV's board of directors) Interesting, some groups did poorly, reflecting a disorganized fund drive or a disengaged board of directors. For example the HUB of Bakersfield, which bills itself as a group that hopes to redefine and revitalize downtown Bakersfield (Ward 2 Councilman Andre Gonzales is a big supporter) raised a meager $50 from two donors, meaning some of the HUB's 16 board of directors likely failed to rally to the call to donate. The same was true with American Cancer Society which didn't raise a single dollar. Despite the spotty results, Give Big Kern has evolved in a major positive force in our community and non-profits who choose to participate should take this opportunity seriously.
* ... WHOLE FOODS LEAVES SAN FRANCISCO: Do you remember when Whole Foods made a big gamble on San Francisco, opening a huge new store in a blighted area? Well it is now closed after just a year, and critics are having a field day saying 'I told you so.'" The market has been the scene of just about everything: a machete wielding customer threatening others, vagrants defecating in the aisles, people overdosing on fentanyl in its bath rooms and the mentally ill harassing others. And then there is this: Nordstrom, or what is left of the once influential department store, is also leaving San Francisco. Is anybody surprised by this?
* ... RIP SEAN MCKEOWN: A popular longtime high school teacher and coach, Sean McKeown, has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and has passed away. The notice of his death was made by Kati McKeown, Sean's wife who works for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the district home office. McKeown worked as a teacher and coach at Bakersfield High, Independence and Stockdale high schools, earning legions of admirers along the way. He was diagnosed with cancer just a few months ago and fought bravely to the end. Services are are set for Saturday, May 28, at St. John's Lutheran Church. (file photo from 2016 courtesy of Kati McKeown)
* ... PADRE HOTEL: There is nothing quite like opening The Wall Street Journal and bumping into a feature story on the iconic Padre Hotel, the grand dame of downtown Bakersfield. Built in 1928, just two years after the nearby Bakersfield Californian building, the eight-story building was the largest in town at the time and withstood multiple earthquakes over the years. The review mentions the Prairie Fire Grill and the poke nachos, but it recommends the classic Padre burger for the road weary.
* ... REMEMBERING MERLE: Country singer David Frizzell penned a lovely short tribute to the late Merle Haggard and his wife Bonnie, leaving this entry on Facebook: "Remembering Bonnie Owens today. We were just talking about Bonnie and Merle on the way home from Illinois... I was sitting with Merle one day and he was telling me he went and seen Bonnie at the care facility where she was living at the time (due to Alzheimers)... he was having a great visit with her when she asked 'Do you want to see my room'? Merle of course said yes and they got to the room and walked in and Bonnie pointed up to a poster of Merle hanging on her wall and said, 'You see that guy right there? That is my favorite singer! '
Miss them both!" (photo courtesy of the Kern County of Old Facebook page)
* ... WEIGHT LOSS SURGERY: How fat are our children today? Well check this out: The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of children undergoing bariatric weight surgery has skyrocketed, multiplying five fold to total more than 500 surgeries. a year Before the pandemic, some 20 percent of all American children were deemed obese, and that number is expected to rise.
* ... OUR WILDFLOWERS: I just can't resist sharing the incredibly stunning wildflower pictures from my friend Pam Taylor, whose travels have taken her to some of the most spectacular blooms. Check out these two Pam Taylor shots.
* ... MORE WILDFLOWERS: And one of my favorite local photographers, JoJo Paredes Butingan, submitted this incredible shot of a field of red flowers.
* ... MEMORIES: Do you remember this scene with Jack Nicholson in the movie Five Easy Pieces (1970, dir. Bob Rafelson)? It was shot on Highway 99 at the 53 off ramp to Shafter and Wasco. Thanks to the Kern County History Fans for this timely nugget.