When we write about St. Helena and the Napa Valley, the stories that stick in our minds are usually about the individuals who continually remind us why we live in the Napa Valley. The year 2017 was no exception, and so we offer 12 months of Spotlight stories from the year just past.

On Jan. 21, a large contingent of people from St. Helena, Angwin, Calistoga, Rutherford, and Yountville descended on Napa to take part in a Women’s March Napa Valley. In “The storm at the Women’s March Napa Valley” we documented the protest of the election of Donald J. Trump after the highly contested election for the office of U.S. President. Napa Valley residents converged in front of Oxbow Market and then marched to Veterans Park, where U.S. Representative Mike Thompson spoke of the political challenges facing the nation. Various estimates at Veterans Park put the number of marchers above 5,000.

Colonial America

In February, the Star ran a story about educational creativity at the St. Helena Elementary School in which fifth grade teachers Mike Bass, Gina Meade, Michelle Parriott and Ashley Wright created classes around the Colonial period of American history. Each student in the four classes selected a role of a real Colonial person, dressed up in period-appropriate attire, and then gave presentations about their imagined lives from over 200 years ago.

Ava Busby’s dreams

In March, we ran a story the story about Ava Busby, a 13-year-old straight-A student who was busy making her dream of becoming a professional ballerina a reality.

Busby wrote to the Star “I’m doing now approximately 10 hours a week of ballet, working very hard to make sure that I am prepared for the Bolshoi Academy Summer Intensive Program,” and she was asking the Star to help her raise awareness and funds that she needed to go to New York. We wrote the story, and Busby received the scholarship funds she needed from the Soroptimists and others generous supporters.

Special Ed advocate

In April, the Star ran a profile of former St. Helena resident Joanne Gouaux. Gouaux said that her experiences with the St. Helena school district’s Special Education programs were so positive that she decided to become a Special Education advocate.

So she organized a seminar featuring Peter Wright, one of the nation’s top legal experts, who had argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The seminar, which was held in Yountville’s Lincoln Theater the following month, attracted more than 200 parents, educators and social service workers from as far away L.A. and the Philippines.

A homeless woman profiled

In May Editor David Stoneberg got up from his desk and decided to meet Yolanda Irby, a 60-year-old homeless woman who had taken up residence in the area surrounding St. Helena. “On some afternoons, her voice is so loud that I can hear her yelling from Lewis Station Park, across the railroad tracks from my office,” Stoneberg wrote. But instead of joining the complaints of others, Stoneberg decided to interview Irby in an effort to see what could be done to help her. He discovered that Irby had gone to Arizona State University, transferred to Georgia Tech and studied architecture and graduated as a Class 4 designer. Stoneberg tracked down the family, who wrote they had been searching for her for years.

Jay Templeton retires

In June L.J. “Jay” Templeton, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga, announced his retirement after 47 years working for the organization. For the kids of the two communities, the efforts of Templeton had been crucial to their clubs’ after-school activities.

In the interview Templeton said working with the local boards of the clubs, and watching the communities in the Napa Valley come together for the new Calistoga facility had brought him tremendous satisfaction. The Calistoga campaign raised more than $10.5 million to build the facility and to provide for two years of operating costs. The Calistoga facility opened in October, and Templeton returned from his home in Washington to participate in the celebration.

Legendary historian Jim Hunt remembered

In July the Star posthumously remembered the legendary St. Helena athlete and Calistogan football coach Jim Hunt, who passed away on June 27.

In Yousef Baig’s story “‘A true Saint’” Hunt was celebrated as quarterback and defensive back for the Saints and a member of the teams which ran a 53-game unbeaten streak that spanned from 1960-65. Hunt went on to play football at UC Berkeley. As Calistoga’s football coach from 1978-1984 his team won a North Coast Section title in 1978.

In retirement Hunt spearheaded the establishment of the St. Helena High School Hall of Fame, into which he was posthumously inducted in November.

Viewing a solar eclipse

In August St. Helenans joined millions across the country to witness a solar eclipse. Napa Valley teachers and students turned the celestial event into a scientific teaching opportunity.

In Daniel Diamond’s Environmental Science class at the St. Helena High School, students used a combination of technologies – such as a simple flashlight, a globe of the earth, and a miniature basketball – to model the event that was transpiring overhead. Then, as the moon passed in front of the sun, students streamed outside with cardboard box projectors and special glasses to witness the event first hand. At the Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School all the children had been supplied with special ISO-approved glasses to view the event.

‘Spirits of St. Helena’ come alive

In September the St. Helena Historical Society held its 15th “Spirits of St. Helena Cemetery Tour,” in the St. Helena Cemetery on Spring Street. But this year, instead of focusing on the town’s most celebrated residents of the cemetery, students from the St. Helena High School Drama Department took on the roles of 19th century Chinese community members who worked as laborers and built much of the initial infrastructure of the town before being driven out of the community by bigotry and racism. “I learned a lot,” said Frank Lenny who played a Chinese grocer named Ginger. “I hadn’t known about the Chinese here in St. Helena.”

Old Mill Days celebration

In October, the day before the devastating fires that raged up and down the valley, the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park held its annual Old Mill Days celebration. It was one of three such events in 2017 that highlighted the mill, which was once the most important economic engine in the valley. Children and adults dressed in period-appropriate-attire to relive the lives of valley folk in the 1840s. Other events that the Star covered at the Napa Valley State Park included the Bale Grist Mill Harvest Dinner, and the Pioneer Christmas, as well as the Bothe Vintage Trailer Hitch-Up.

Girl rescues horses from wildfires

The tragedy of the wildfires in October brought numerous stories to the attention of the St. Helena Star. But one, which was printed in the following month of November, was particularly poignant. “The girl who rescued the Napa Valley horses” recounted how Grayson Broyles of Yountville started out to rescue one horse up in Soda Canyon but ended up orchestrating the rescue of over 300 throughout Napa County with an ad hoc team composed of friends and acquaintances.

Sunshine Foods highlighted

Finally, December’s Spotlight is shining most brightly on Jay Smith and his family, of Sunshine Foods, who build up the St. Helena community by being generous beyond belief.

St. Helena’s Boys and Girls Club’s unit director Ash Clements called the St. Helena Star last week and said, “You need to do a story on Jay Smith at Sunshine Foods. He is an amazing person. Every year we have come to him asking for some help with a project. For instance, our ‘Healthy Foods’ program which teaches kids about eating and cooking good organic foods. That’s just one example. “

“Jay is incredible,” Clements continued. “He fights for all his employees, and he treats them all like family. And he gives to the community – he’s a real advocate for affordable housing in St. Helena. And he’s not looking for acknowledgement or praise. It’s just who he is.”

But according to Smith, it’s not about him. It’s about family and making the community work.

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Tom Stockwell is currently a staff writer for the St. Helena Star. He is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and has been a working journalist for a variety of technical publications as well as a consultant for numerous wineries in the Napa Valley.