Village News - Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

By Jeff Pack
Staff Writer 

Life and stories locally carry on despite COVID-19 shadow


Last updated 12/30/2020 at 1:41am

Village News/Shane Gibson photo

Myrtle Creek Botanical Gardens & Nursery closed its doors on Dec. 30.

While the 2020 conversation was seemingly dominated by COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and the 2020 National Election, there were plenty of stories Village News covered and wrote about during the year that were important as well.

From closures to landmark birthday celebrations to new ways of doing things, life in Fallbrook, Bonsall and Rainbow carried on.

Jan. 9

Myrtle Creek Botanical Gardens & Nursery, a Fallbrook landmark settled in the late 1800s which had been transformed into one of Fallbrook's hidden gems, recently announced it would be closing its doors to the public. "It has been a fabulous & successful 40 years," a statement on Myrtle Creek's website said. "Thank you so much for your support over those years. We have made the difficult decision to close our gates to the public."

Jan. 24

A judge ruled Tuesday, Jan. 21 that Charles "Chase" Merritt will be put to death for the killing of the McStay family of Fallbrook in 2010, less than a month shy of the 10-year anniversary of the day the family was reported missing. San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith upheld the recommendation the jury made on June 24, 2019, which said Merritt should be put to death for the murders of Summer McStay and her two young sons and recommended life in prison without parole for the murder of Joseph McStay. After a six month trial, Merritt was found guilty of bludgeoning to death Joseph and Summer McStay and the couple's young sons – 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr. – in 2010 and burying their bodies in a San Bernardino desert.

Feb. 5

Last week it was announced that Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Lila MacDonald would visit Sacramento in March to attend a luncheon and a state session at the Capitol where she will be honored as Woman of the Year by District 75 Assemblymember Marie Waldron. "At first it was surreal," MacDonald said. "I mean, when you think about how many people are in the district it kind of blows me away and truly I'm used to honoring other people because I'm working for the cause, not the applause."

Feb. 13

Chris Hasvold, who owns Coldwell Banker Village Properties along with wife, Lisa, was named President of the North San Diego County Association of Realtors (NSDCAR) for the year 2020.

"Basically the President's role is to lead the board and the board's role is to set the vision for the organization," Hasvold said. "And there's more change going on in our industry right now than I've ever seen in 40 years in the business."

Feb. 24

While students were away from school on Tuesday, Feb. 18, the North County Fire Protection District hosted an active shooter drill at Fallbrook

High School. The full-scale exercise included representative participants from North County Fire Protection District, Vista Fire, Camp Pendleton Fire, Pala Fire, Cal-Fire, and North Comm., as well as San Diego County Sheriff's Department, California Highway Patrol, United States Customs and Border Protection, the Oceanside Police Department. Representatives from Fallbrook Union High School and the district were in attendance and Fallbrook High students from the JROTC participated in the drill as victims.

"These aren't real fun drills to put on, especially for school officials, they are hoping we are never here doing this, hopefully, we're not," NCFPD Division Chief Keith McReynolds said.

March 9

"I am so lucky to have such great friends that they have some pretty amazing moms," Kaitlyn McKinney told her mother after watching some of her closest friends drive by her house offering surprise birthday wishes.

The surprise birthday party parade was organized by soccer parents from Kaitlyn's soccer team, Fallbrook Villa '07 Girls, Dylan Deforest and Amanda Lucy. About 10 to 12 cars paraded by for surprised Kaitlyn including members of her soccer team and friends from her school, Sullivan Middle.

March 16

As COVID-19 restrictions pressed down on local businesses, some were feeling the sting. "We are all feeling it downtown, everyone down here are feeling it, all the merchants and restaurants," Reyna Beckler, owner of Sage Yoga Studios, said. "It's not just me and I'm hoping I can come out of this and the students will come back. But I know some people may never recover some businesses. Nobody knows, it could be two weeks and someone said this morning it could be up to eight weeks. And I'm thinking, 'Yeah, this is not good."

March 22

Rainbow Oaks Restaurant was hoping a new promotion would help them clean up during a difficult time. The longtime Rainbow eatery tried to help the community deal with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak by offering much-needed supplies for sale to surrounding neighbors. The community is responding by purchasing the supplies and supporting the restaurant by ordering take out from the restaurant's full menu. The best part, they got a free roll of toilet paper with every takeout order.

March 23

Fallbrook Union High School Principal Dr. Narciso Iglesias informed the Valedictorian and Salutatorian for the 2019-20 school year that they had earned their statuses in a Google Hangout call with the students and their parents last Friday. Emiliano Corona was named Valedictorian and Audrey Gillcrist was Salutatorian.

"Both these students are super deserving, they are hard-working, studious beyond words, and just great, awesome humble human beings," Dr. Iglesias said. "I am so proud of them and their families have just been part of every aspect of our community and always 100% supportive."

A Fallbrook transitional house is helping homeless work back into life. Kevin is loyal to his soil and the Fallbrook Union High School graduate has always lived in Fallbrook. "This is my home," he said. "I've never been homeless anywhere else - just here in Fallbrook." Now he runs the place, making sure everyone staying in the home is doing what they're supposed to be doing to progress.

April 7

Connor Eckert, 14, is just doing for everyone else in his community that which gives him the most joy and peace - playing his bagpipe. Most evenings, the eighth-grade bagpiper who competes all over Southern California, practices his craft, sending tunes into the evening sky. "He practices his bagpipes every day and hopes that people can hear his music through the hills of Fallbrook and find comfort during this scary time," Cat Eckert, his mother, said.

The third time was a charm for Fallbrook resident Kattie Corirossi, who was scheduled to be on the longtime CBS game show, "The Price is Right" on Wednesday, May 6. "I can honestly say, since I'm not married and I don't have any kids yet, that was literally one of the most exciting things I've ever done," Corirossi said.

April 14

"We're going to be communicating to our families that we are going to celebrate our students via virtual graduation," Fallbrook Union High School principal Dr. Narciso Iglesias told Village News. "It's been a tough, tough year. Believe me, my heart is completely broken and I know that nothing I say or do will really heal the hurt and frustration that they're feeling. While we're hopeful for a summer celebration of sorts, I feel it's incredibly important to acknowledge and celebrate their accomplishments as we bring a close to the school year."

April 28

For many of the seniors graduating from Bonsall High School this year, it wasn't exactly how they pictured they would be celebrating the end of their high school career - but it wasn't that bad either.

"This wasn't exactly what I had envisioned for our graduation ceremony, but I'm so grateful that we got to celebrate in some shape and form," Heather Holdo, one of BHS's valedictorians said from the front seat of her parents' car on Friday. "I'm very glad to have graduated with a class that I did.

"It's been very different from what I had expected. I was a little sad when there was the whole canceling of all the classes because I knew I wouldn't necessarily be able to hang out with my friends again in the same way or finish off my senior year the way I had planned. But I'm looking forward to the future and to getting my degree at UCLA."

Holdo, along with her fellow classmates were invited to a drive-through graduation ceremony, put on by the staff and district, that featured a drive-up cap and gown delivery, drive-through diploma handoff, a car show by a local car club, music from a live DJ and lots and lots of cheering from BHS staff, Sheriff's deputies, North County Fire, and U.S. Marine Corps representatives.

June 4

When the 8th graders at Potter Jr. High School began their final school year before entering high school, it's likely none of them could have imagined they would be sent home in March never to return to the school as a student. On Friday, May 29, Potter released its 8th Grade Commencement video online. "Although our year was cut short, we had a great year full of many memories," Dr. Edie Powers said. We miss you, we love you and congratulations to the class of 2020."

Fallbrook Union High School seniors and their families were able to watch a virtual graduation ceremony on Wednesday, June 3, but received news on Tuesday that there will be another series of events to celebrate seniors, this time in person. "I'm extremely excited about it," Principal Dr. Narciso Iglesias said. "Parents and students have been asking for different opportunities to have a graduation. Again, it's not the ideal scenario, but it is something that parents have now started to ask about since they've seen other drive-through graduation ceremonies in nearby areas. And we get to have some closure and we are able to give our students their diplomas as well."

June 18

For FUHS Principal Dr. Narciso Iglesias, being able to look into the eyes of all of the school's 2020 graduates after they picked up their diplomas last week meant a lot to him. All of the graduates from the three schools were invited to the drive-through diploma ceremonies, meaning the students were allowed out of their cars and had the opportunity to walk across the stage, be acknowledged by school staff and administrators, and be photographed professionally with their diploma. "What I'm hearing from parents is that they felt overwhelmed and they were quite surprised by how much effort and energy we put into this," Dr. Iglesias said.

July 2

It was a good problem to have at the Santa Margarita River Preserve if they are being honest. The preserve had been experiencing large crowds flocking to the area since the preserve reopened on May 9. They wanted people to enjoy the natural resources that the river valley provides, but cars were parking illegally on streets along De Luz Road and Sandia Creek Drive and some of the visitors are entering the preserve closer to where they are parking, creating their own pathways, and trampling on sensitive ecological resources to avoid having to backtrack to the main trailhead.

"There has been a recent surge of visitation over the last three months that has led to issues related to overcrowding which subsequently has led to natural resource impacts that have raised alarm for me and my counterparts with the County Department of Parks and Recreation," Zach Kantor-Anaya, Regional Director of The Wildlands Conservancy, said.

July 9

Bonsall Ballerina, Keliah Peterson, 14, hopes one day to fulfill her dream of studying full time at the Royal Ballet School in England. A February performance by Keliah at a Los Angeles audition for the Youth America Grand Prix resulted in the world-renowned school awarding her a short-term scholarship. "The Royal Ballet is my dream school and company to work for as a career someday," Keliah said. "I just love it there." Of course, because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the school, like a lot of things are closed down. Keliah and her mom aren't sure when she will have the opportunity to go train in the UK.

"I've been in restaurants my whole life," Scott Anders said. "I'm 45, so, since high school. My parents had one. When I was in grade school, my grandparents owned one franchise ... I have many, many friends from the restaurant business that have their own back in St. Louis and in LA. I've done everything from fast food management to fine dining to bars and clubs, the whole gamut. But this is the first one I've owned outright." Anders and his wife Lori are the new owners of Café des Artistes in Fallbrook, taking over for longtime owner Michael Calvanese who handed over ownership on April 10.

July 16

There are few things more "Fallbrook" than Live Oak Park. For those that grew up in the town, there have been picnics and birthday parties held there, public events, celebrations, remembrances, weddings, and quiet moments away. And it has been that way for a century - officially the park celebrated its 100th birthday on Friday, July 17 - and in true Live Oak Park fashion, it was a subdued affair. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the original centennial celebration plan was to host a two-day special event starting with a movie in the park event on Friday and culminating with family fun and interpretive activities on Saturday. The coronavirus, however, has put such celebrations on hold but it seemed almost appropriate that the park turns 100 in the midst of a pandemic, similar to the Spanish Flu that was coming to an end back in 1920.

On Tuesday, July 7, Michelle's Place Cancer Resource Center celebrated the opening of its satellite office in Fallbrook, located at the Fallbrook Regional Health District offices. "Michelle's Place has provided resources to Fallbrook and surrounding areas for the last four years," Kim Gerrish, Executive Director of Michelle's Place. "We know there is a need for resources there. Having a physical presence in Fallbrook for North County cancer patients has been a priority for several years."

When Chef Daniel Elliot found out that Jonathan and Jennifer Arbell, owners of Oink and Moo Burgers & BBQ, were getting out of the restaurant business, Elliot said he reached out.

"(We) worked out a deal with them ... I have a business partner and he purchased the building and I have the lease and the rest was history," Elliot said of his new place, Smokin' Bird BBQ. "Now I'm here."

July 30

In a video shared with students and parents at Fallbrook Union High School last Friday, FUHSD Superintendent Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez outlined what school at Fallbrook Union High School, Oasis and Ivy high schools will look like when school starts in August. On July 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered schools within the state of California located in counties on the COVID-19 watch list - and San Diego County is one of those counties - to begin the school year with distance learning.

"Like you, myself and the Fallbrook union, high school district, community, governor Newsome, and the California department of education concur that learning must resume," Garza-Gonzalez said. "And if distance learning is our safest option, it must look very different from how it looked late spring."

Aug. 6

Hot Summer Nights are canceled thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and state and local government restrictions on large gatherings, but on Saturday, Aug. 1, it was indeed hot and a summer night when Main St. was closed in portions to allow local restaurants to expand into the streets. While the temperature hovered around 90 degrees at about 4:30 p.m., there were still residents ready to enjoy some of downtown Fallbrook's favorite eateries and brewpubs.

Sept. 24

The Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce's State of the Chamber event was unlike any other in the business-promoting organization's history. First, the entire event held on Wednesday, Sept. 16, was shorter in length than any previously and nobody was allowed to physically attend either. That's of course because the entire event was held virtually via a Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and restrictions regarding large gatherings.

Oct. 1

In one respect, it is remarkable that the community of Fallbrook doesn't already have a weekly farmers market in town and perhaps equally so as to why the town doesn't have it's own vintage swap meet. No matter, both are now in the works and could arrive within the next month or so, with one starting sooner than the other. We are starting a farmer's market on Saturdays," Lila MacDonald, Chief Executive Officer of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce, said. "Again, lots of people have asked and it just has not become a reality and now it can be." Robert Sommers, owner of the Blue Heron Gallery for the past 23 years, is proposing to bring a vintage swap meet to Fallbrook, hopefully by the end of the year, if not sooner.

"I've been in contact with hundreds of great vendors and Fallbrook residents that want to be on board," he said.

Oct. 19

James Wallace grew up in Laguna Hills and San Clemente and was attending Saddleback College when 9/11 happened. Not long after that, he enlisted in the United States Army.

"I was in for three and a half years," he said. "I was (working with) Patriot missiles. I spent two of those years in Korea and I ended up getting hurt over there."

Until he was medically discharged, he hadn't really given art much thought, but now he's pursuing art full time. "(Painting) was like a pain release, I mean, it takes your mind somewhere else and it's an escape."

Nov. 26

A week ahead of Thanksgiving, the Fallbrook Union High School District's Food Services Department provided thousands of area children and their families with a Thanksgiving box as part of its meal distribution program on Thursday, Nov. 19. Included in the packages handed out Thursday morning and afternoon was a ham, carrots, celery, potatoes, cans of cream of mushrooms, grapes, a whole pizza, milk and chocolate milk, a pumpkin pie, and more. They partnered with Albertsons and Grocery Outlet to obtain items that they don't generally obtain from their food distributor.

Dec. 10

A fire that broke out in the home of well-known horse rescue center owners Friday, Dec. 4 that also spread to surrounding vegetation was contained and extinguished by firefighters, but not in time to save the home. The residents, Ron and Crystal Wylie, and their daughter Kiersti, who operate the Sandia Creek Ranch Auxiliary Foundation ( for horse rescue, escaped unharmed although one of their cats reportedly died in the fire. Friends said they lost everything else at the estimated 3,000-square-foot house with a walk-out basement in the 40300 block of Sandia Creek Drive.

Bonsall's Michael Casteneda doesn't raise and care for his white pigeons because he hopes to make a buck. He doesn't do it for the competitions.

He raises his 40 or so birds for the sheer joy of it. "They are a joy to watch," he said. "They give you calm feelings. My neighbors are always stopping me when I'm out in front. They tell me how beautiful and how much they enjoy coming home in the evening after work, you know, fighting with the public and doing whatever they do at work. They enjoy watching and they just bring a lot of joy to the earth when there's so much garbage out there."

Dec. 25

Courtesy photo/Law & Crime Network

Charles 'Chase' Merritt was sentenced to death by San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith on Friday, Jan. 17.

Chris Ingraham, Post Commander of the Charles E. Swisher Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1924, is anticipating a big Christmas day for the post and its members and volunteers. "With this current COVID stay at home order, we think we will have even more than we had for Thanksgiving because there are actually people that aren't gonna go anywhere," Ingraham said. "We're expecting about 800 meals to be either takeout or delivered for Christmas."

During its Monday, Dec. 14 meeting, the Fallbrook Union High School District Board of Trustees approved a contract between the district and Fallbrook High School Teachers Association and a memorandum of understanding between the district that would set hybrid learning for limited students to begin only when San Diego County returns to the red tier and more students when the county hits the orange tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom's framework for reopening.


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