Looking back at 2019: News & Newsmakers

Editor’s Note: With last year in the rear view, we take a look back at just a few of the headlines from the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune that took place during 2019. G.A.D.


NVH COO talks about vital importance of hospital — North Valley Hospital District’s Chief Operating Officer John McReynolds spoke with the Oroville Chamber of Commerce about his move to the area, the worrisome financial picture of the hospital and the possibility of splitting Three Rivers Hospital’s chief administrator’s time with NVH.

Ex-police chief allegedly falsified documents, lied — Tonasket City Council held a special meeting to hear from members of the community before voting to begin negotiations with the county for police coverage after the Tonasket Police Chief had been terminated after allegations that he falsified documents in regards to a reserve officer he had hired.

Public Health says whooping cough cases up to 35 – Health officials say 35 people in the county have pertussis (whooping cough), a highly contagious disease, up from 19 since Christmas. Whooping cough can be especially dangerous for infants and the elderly.

Oroville’s new Postmaster a self-described ‘Postal Nerd’ – Oroville had a new Postmaster, a Scott 2.0, so to speak, as Christopher Scott Christensen took the reins in the 98844 zip code from Scott O’Dell, who has transferred to Dryden.

Public upset over Tonasket Police Department issues — A Tonasket City Council meeting quickly turned into a heated debate regarding the police department and some council even expressed “no confidence” in the mayor suggesting he resign. Mayor Dennis Brown said he won’t step down.

Williams wins Grand Prize at NW Ice Fishing Festival — An angler from West Lin, Oregon, beat out all the rest of the 100 registered competitors for top honors at the events sponsored annually by the Oroville Chamber of Commerce on Sidley Lake near Molson. She won both the grand and first place prizes.

Tonasket leaders field questions on police contract — The Tonasket Public Safety Committee, along with County Sheriff Tony Hawley and Commissioner Andy Hoover, hosted a special town hall meeting to answer questions about future police coverage and a possible contract with the county for policing. The public seemed to be split on whether contracting out coverage to the county was a good idea or not.


Unanimous vote of ‘no confidence’ in mayor — In a heated Tonasket City Council meeting Mayor Dennis Brown nearly stepped down after the council gave a unanimous vote of no confidence in him. Councilwoman Ritter said the mayor’s decisions had been made on emotion and caused more harm than good and that she felt the city could not afford anymore liability than it has already experienced. In the end, the mayor chose not to resign.

Confluence says it won’t deliver babies at North Valley — Confluence Health announced its intention to cease obstetrics (OB) services at North Valley Hospital in August because of a shortage of available OB doctors. The company plans to do all their deliveries at Mid-Valley Hospital in Omak.

Frigid winds prompt National Weather Service warning — While snowfall in the Okanogan had been somewhat sporadic in 2019 with mild temperatures, winter struck hard the first week of February causing many to have burst pipes and the National Weather Service to issue an urgent chill warning with temperatures as low as 15 below zero with wind chill.

Tonasket mulls contract for Internal Compliance Officer — The role of the new position would be to properly secure and process all records and evidence and property at the Tonasket Police Station.

Oroville repeals Business License Ordinance, fee — After some review, the city council approved the repeal of the city’s business license that required all businesses operating in the city limits to register and pay a $25 fee. The move was made to come in line with new regulations that require businesses to register with the state and send the fee back to the city the business is registered in.

Tigers 3-peat — The Tonasket Tigers wrestling squad secured its third straight Class 2B State Championship at the Mat Classic XXXI at the Tacoma Dome. Front page features a photo of the winning team.

Cold weather leads to near record power use — Okanogan County PUD Commissioners learned how recent cold weather has impacted the district including having to buy expensive extra electrical power on the open market.

Five Oroville juniors vie for May Festival Queen — Gwen Hankins, Christina Herrick, Julissa Alvarez, Mariya Mathis and Taralynn Fox have put their hopes on being chosen this year’s May Festival Queen at the upcoming Selection Night.

Oroville grabs first state basketball berth in 10 years – The Oroville Boys Basketball team defeated the Napavine Tigers, 45-43, in a close regional contest at Wenatchee earning the Hornets a trip to the State B Championship in Spokane.


Tonasket to contract with county for police coverage — Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley attended the Feb. 26 Tonasket City Council meeting to answer questions regarding the city entering into a contract with the county for police coverage. Former Tonasket reserve officer told public comment not meant to interrogate council. Council was told the city needs a “local police department.”

Oroville School Board accepts principal’s resignation — The Oroville School Board accepted the resignation of Dr. Omar Montejano who will remain at the helm of the high school through the end of the school year.

Making his wish come true — A local fourth grade boy from Oroville had a big dream come true thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Dylan Herrick, nine, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in May 2016. He and his mother, grandmother and brother travelled to Los Angeles so Herrick could make a video with YouTube sensation, Guava Juice, at Universal Studios.

PUD customers to see a $2.81 per month rate increase — Rate increase to fund critical projects for the area’s power grid including a transmission line and the rebuilding of the Tonasket substation.

A Royal Selection Night — Julissa Alverez was chosen at the 2019 May Festival Queen at Selection Night. Her court of princesses will be Mariya Mathis, Gwen Hankins and Taralynn Fox.

Aurora Masons serving the community for over 100 years — For many towns throughout the U.S., the Masons Lodge has been an important part of their community. Formed in 1914, the Aurora Masons in Oroville has been serving its community for 105 years. With the motto “Building to help those who can’t help themselves,” the lodge includes Masons from the Oroville and Tonasket area and supports many causes throughout the community.

Juvenile accused of fatally shooting his father — A 14-year-old Oroville boy shot and killed his father, Terry Shaw, outside the family home on Emry Road. The boy was booked into the Okanogan County Jail. It was the first murder inside the city limits since 1981.

Oroville Couple wants watercraft concession at park — Kevin and Mercedes Hand approached the city council with a proposal to bring their business, Kevin’s Funtime Rental, to Oroville’s Veterans Memorial Park with hopes of renting the concession stand as their base of operations.

Housing Authority requests public hearing on block grant — Sue Edick, executive director of the Oroville Housing Authority, gave an update on the OHA’s proposal to pursue a state Community Development Block Grant to make improvements to the older units of farm worker housing/emergency shelter. Oroville Mayor Jon Neal concerned that the grant proposal would compete with a CDBG that the city has hopes of getting.


NVH to recruit family and obstetrics doctor — North Valley Hospital Commissioners gave the green light to start the recruitment process for a family practitioner/obstetrics physician with C-Section capabilities. The move is in response to Confluence Health’s decision not to do baby deliveries at NVH because of the shortage of OB doctors in the area.

Teen claimed to be kidnapped at knifepoint — A 13-year-old Oroville High School student has been charged with false reporting after texting friends that she was being held against her will. Oroville Police and agents of the U.S. Border Patrol had responded to the school and found the student had claimed she was chased at a location outside the school and then sent another text saying she had been taken from the school and was in the Ellisforde area. She was later seen walking along Hwy. 7 and an investigation determined she had been lying in her text to friends.

Historical Society plans to make upgrades to Depot Museum — Arnie Marchand with the Borderlands Historical Society talked with the Oroville Council about planned renovations to the Depot Museum. The building, which belongs to the city, is getting some much needed attention, according to Marchand, who said the renovation includes replacing the back porch and painting the front porch.

Governor declares drought emergency — Despite significant snow in parts of the state, water supply shortages were projected in the Okanogan, Methow and Upper Yakima River Basins. The Okanogan Basin is projected to be only 58 percent of normal.

PUD power sales short of predictions — The first few months of the year were hard for Okanogan County PUD power sales and a low water year could make recovery of the shortfall in revenues difficult.

From Oroville Explorer to U.S. Border Patrol Academy graduate — Teresa Fast, a former member of the Oroville Explorer Post #0023, graduated from the 1108th Session of the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico in April, with several representatives from the Explorer Post in attendance.

City declines support of Housing Authority grant request — The Oroville Housing Authority held a Public Hearing at a city council meeting in pursuit of a Community Development Block Grant to pay to extend the city sewer lines to the Harvest Shelter/Emergency Camp, as well as make upgrades to the facility. The OHA can not apply for the CBDG funding alone and approached the city for its support. However, the city intends to apply for a grant for projects of its own and felt the OHA request would compete with their own grant application so declined supporting the application from the Housing Authority.


Mike & Kay Sibley this year’s May Fest Grand Marshals – Mike and Kay Sibley, local historians and retired educators, were named the 2019 Oroville May Festival Grand Marshals.

Community comes together for May Festival – May Queen Julissa Alvarez and Princesses Gwen Hankins, Taralynn Fox and Mariya Mathis were crowned at a coronation on Friday and represented Oroville in the parade and at all the activities associated with the town’s biggest annual event.

Abie Lane Fire 80 percent contained — The fire, which started on Mother’s Day afternoon was listed as 80 percent contained as of Sunday evening, according to Okanogan County Emergency Management. The fire, which burned approximately 50 acres, started south of Oroville and continued up the hillside toward Swanson Mill Road on May 12 and led to a Level 1 Alert being sent out by Emergency Management as several structures were threatened.

City offers support for Public Safety Emergency Communications Project — Tonasket joins other communities in supporting a measure putting a small sales tax increase on the ballot in November to raise funds to replace outdated emergency communications equipment, now approximately 40 years old. The new equipment would also improve emergency radio traffic for police, fire, ambulance and public works, according to Deputy Mike Worden, who has been attending public meetings to explain the need for the updates and upgrades.

Joseph Enzensberger ‘Citizen of the Year’ — Oroville Chamber of Commerce names Enzensperger, “Citizen of the Year” and Midway Building Supply, “Business of the Year” at their annual Officer Installation and Awards Banquet, which took place at American Legion Post #84.

Tonasket City Council draws most interest during filing week — It looked like there was a battle brewing for who will make up the Tonasket Council with all three positions attracting two or more candidates for council seats during filing week. No other race in North County — Oroville City Council, Tonasket or Oroville School Board or North Valley Hospital Board, had races where more than one candidate sought the position.

Alleys are 2019 Founder’s Day Grand Marshals — Tim and Julie Alley were selected as this year’s Grand Marshals for Tonasket’s biggest annual event. The owners of Tonasket Interiors are known for their volunteer work throughout the community.

Founder’s Day theme, ‘The Great Outdoors’ — Founder’s Day Queen Trinity DeJong and Princess Alizae DeVon welcome everyone to the Tonasket Rodeo Grounds to join in on the excitement of this year’s Founders Day Rodeo. Other events for Founders Day include the Grand Parade, a Cowboy Breakfast, the Run to the Rodeo and live music.


Fire at Zosel’s sawmill destroys main building — After suffering a major fire at their chip plant at the beginning of May, the month ended with a second fire at Zosel’s sawmill which took out the main mill building leaving the company searching for answers on how to rebuild one of Oroville’s oldest businesses.

Hospitals seek to save OB services — Alan Fisher, CEO of Omak Mid-Valley Hospital addressed the North Valley Hospital Board about declining OB numbers and the possibility of consolidating services. Fisher said OB relies on volumes and as rural hospitals they need to do approximately 400 births a year.

Body Found in trunk of burning car in Aeneas Valley — An Okanogan County Sheriff’s Sergeant and Deputy were involved in a non-fatality officer involved shooting near the Aeneas Valley Store after responding to the scene of a vehicle fire where a body was found in the trunk and reported by the local fire department. The suspect that was shot, Lance Bowers, was arrested on weapon charges and is under investigation as to whether he was involved in the death of then unidentified woman.

Two dead, three injured in boating accident — The bodies of two people who went missing after a boating accident on the Canadian side of Osoyoos Lake that sent three to the hospital were located by the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team. The two went missing after a collision that sank both boats on June 8.

DNA to be used to determine woman’s identity — An autopsy was performed on the body found in the trunk of a burning vehicle in Aeneas Valley was found to be that of a woman, but the body was not identified. Sheriff Tony Hawley says that DNA will be used to help determine her identity. Meanwhile the North Central Washington Special Investigation Unit continues to investigate the officer involved shooting that occurred when two county officers went to investigate the body in early June.

Oroville Council hears about homelessness and juvenile issues — The Oroville City Council heard about offenders, homelessness, truancy and substance dependency among juveniles in Okanogan County from Dennis Rabidou, the administrator of the county’s Juvenile Department.

No OB at North Valley Hospital — North Valley Hospital CEO Scott Graham announced that the hospital can no longer provide obstetrics services and will shift their attention towards doing everything they an to save Inpatient Care, including finding family practitioners to staff a clinic being developed at the hospital.


Guns, cash and drugs missing from police department — The Tonasket City Council along with Mayor Denis Brown showed visible shock during Internal Compliance Officer Steve Brown’s report that 26 guns, as well as cash and drugs that were seized as evidence could not be accounted for going back to 1984.

Celebrate 4th of July with Rodeo and fireworks — This year’s Independence Day brings with it the 77th annual Chesaw Fourth of July Rodeo and Oroville’s Community Fireworks display fired skyward form Deep Bay Park.

Deputies cleared in officer involved shooting – The North Central Washington Special Investigation Unit determined that two Okanogan County Sheriff’s Deputies were justified when they fired on Lance R Bowers, a 37-year-old armed suspect, after he did not comply with officers and displayed a firearm.

Swanson Mill fire now 100 percent contained – The Swanson Mill Fire, which started the afternoon of July 3 and quickly grew to 281 acres was listed as ‘contained’ by the Northeast Washington Interagency Management Team on July 8. Local fire crews, the DNR, helicopters and retardant bombers used to control the blaze.

Oroville EMS Levies go before voters — Voters within the Oroville School District will be asked to approve a six-year Emergency Medical Services District levy to bring back 247 ambulance service to the Oroville area.

Saved — Two eaglets, with help from the Colville Confederated Tribes Fish & Wildlife, Featherhaven and Kettle River Raptor Center, along with helpful citizens were returned to their home after being found in shallow rapids in the Okanogan River.

Town Hall discusses doctor shortage — The Tonasket Senior Center and North Valley Hospital District hosted one of two scheduled meetings to discuss the current physician shortage and the recent development to suspend their OB program.

Town Hall discusses doctor shortage — The Tonasket Senior Center and North Valley Hospital District hosted one of two scheduled meetings to discuss the current physician shortage and the recent development to suspend their OB program.

Oroville to get two covered bus stops from TransGo — Brent Timm, Operations Manager with the Okanogan County Transportation System appeared before the Oroville Council to get approval for locating two bus shelters in town. The council approved locating the shelters at the current bus stop on Central and a new location near the Camaray Motel.


Dry conditions affecting range of summer Osoyoos Lake Levels — The International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control is allowing a broader range of water levels on Osoyoos Lake to help limit the impacts of dry conditions in the basin.

Council looks for a way to preserve history — Tonasket Mayor Dennis Brown and the city council reconsidered how to handle the future of nine trees in History Park which were scheduled to be removed in order to preserve them because they were originally planted to honor the town’s founders.

The Oroville Initiative getting busy with projects — The Oroville Initiative, or TOI, is no longer ‘dormant’ and is making a comeback and looking for projects to enhance the Oroville community.

New fire being fought between Oliver and OK Falls — If you think last week was bad, folks in the North County started the week waking up to smokier mornings with new fires burning in British Columbia adding to the poor air quality drifting south across the border.

Early ballot count going in favor of Oroville EMS levies — Voters within and outside the city limits are voting in overwhelming favor of their respective EMS levies in the early vote count of the Aug. 6 primary.

Visitor Info Center and museum see increase this year — The numbers of visitors to the Oroville VIC and the Depot Museum have been on the rise, according to Arnie Marchand, who told the city council that visitors from nine countries and six or seven provinces helped to swell the numbers which had been down in previous years due BC television reports of fires along the Hwy. 97 corridor.

Council considers postponing hiring code enforcement officer — Tonasket Councilwoman Marylou Kriner recommended postponing hiring a code enforcement officer this year and revisiting the idea next year because of fiscal concerns.

Pop’s says ‘see you at the Garlic Festival’ — Rob Smith and Sandi Palmer, the couple behind Pop’s Pickled Garlic are inviting everyone to attend this year’s garlic festival. The Molson couple’s business is featured with an interview on how they got started in the pickled garlic business and the hoops they had to jump through to make and distribute their product for sale.

Teachers and students gear up for new school year – Summer was winding down and students and teachers alike were preparing for a new school year and Tonasket School District was rolling out the welcome mats with an Open House.


Firefighter Christian Johnson injured in Spring Coulee Fire — Christian Johnson, the Assistant Okanogan Fire Chief and Permit Administrator for Oroville, Tonasket and Okanogan, was critically injured while fighting the Spring Coulee Fire south of Okanogan. He was airlifted directly from the scene to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment of burns over more than 50 percent of his body.

Border Patrol charges man with alien smuggling — U.S. Border Patrol Agents were involved in two notable arrests over the Labor Day weekend, including near Oroville. Agents with the Oroville Station observed two individuals walking in a remote area near the border. During an investigation were determined to be citizens of Mexico that had just illegally entered the country.

Marchand emphasizes importance of ‘International’ airport — Arnie Marchand with the Oroville Visitor Information Center and Depot Museum told the city council to remember that Dorothy Scott is an international airport and encouraged them to start using the designation when they discuss it. He said it was one of the community’s biggest assets.

Councilwoman Moreno resigns — In a surprise announcement Maria Moreno announced she would resign from her seat on the Tonasket City Council. She said her stepping down was for “personal reasons.”

Fall drawdown of Lake Osoyoos begins — With the coming of autumn and fewer concerns about drought, the state Department of Ecology is drawing down water levels on the lake to winter operational levels. Releases from Zosel Dam to the Okanogan River will bring the level down two and a half feet by December.

Homicide victim found in trunk identified — The dead body of a woman found in the trunk of a burning car in the Aeneas Valley last June has been identified as Angela M. Bowers, the wife of a jaile suspect who was shot by county deputies investigating the suspicious fire. The coroner had ruled the death a homicide and DNA had to be used to identify the victim. Police still investigation who may have killed her.

Tonasket recall dismissal affirmed by Supreme Court — The Washington State Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of a recall petition filed against two Tonasket City Council members, declaring the petition by Tonasket citizen Brenda Jones “factually and legally insufficient.”


Christian Johnson succumbs to injuries from fire — Assistant Okanogan Fire Chief Christian Jones, injured when fighting the Spring Coulee fire resulting September passed away. Johnson, who made his home in Okanogan was Oroville’s Permit Administrator/Building Inspector, a job he shared with Tonasket and Okanogan.

School asks Oroville to allow police ride alongs — Oroville School District Superintendent Jeff Hardesty approached the Oroville City Council to request that high school students participate in ride alongs with the Oroville Police Department as part of the district’s Career Pathways program.

Council discusses grants, taxes and budgets — The Tonasket City Council held a public hearing for the purpose of applying for USDA Rural Development funds for the replacement/repair of the city shop.

16th Street Reopens — The entirety of 16th Street from Main to Cherry was opened to traffic after both lanes were paved. The project included a new sidewalk along the south side of the street connecting with other sidewalks in town. The new sidewalk is designed to make travel to Oroivlle’s Henry Kniss Riverfront Park safer for pedestrians.

Having a great Faire — Photos from the Okanogan Family Faire, known by many as the Barter Faire, were featured on the front page, including Hippies on Vacation performing on the solar stage.

Voters asked to approve increase in sales tax for Emergency Communications — Okanogan County voters are being asked to increase the sales tax to replace outdated communications equipment that connects dispatch to police, fire and ambulance. The current equipment is passed its useful life and the new equipment will greatly improve communications with emergency services throughout the county.

Commancheros crown Julie Dellinger Miss Tonasket – Julie Dellinger was crowned the Tonasket Founders Day Rodeo Queen an Madison Miller princess during the Commancheros’ end-of-the-year banquet and coronation.

Oroville School District notified of $1.58 million grant – Oroville School District could receive a $1.5 million grant to make improvements to a section of the elementary school built 65 years ago.


Oroville man booked for manslaughter — An Oroville man, Brant A. Blanchard, 44, who called the sheriff’s office to report a hunting accident was arrested for manslaughter in the second degree when Ashley Nelson, Oroville, was found dead at the scene.

Voters support Emergency Communications upgrades — Voters are showing overwhelming support for a small increase in the sales tax for updates to the communication system used by police, fire and ambulance according to an early count of general election ballots.

Third count of ballots show no change in results — Along with approval of the Emergency Communications System sales tax, candidates who had leads in the race for Tonasket City Council continue to edge out their opponents.

Funding for homeless youth program — Okanogan County Community Action Council has been awarded two seperate grants from the state Department of Commerce to address homelessness among the county’s young people.

Tonasket man charged after burnt body found in trunk — A Tonasket man has been charged in the death of his wife, Angela M. Bowers, whose remains were found in the trunk of a burned out car in Aeneas Valley last June. Lance R. Bowers, 37, was arrested for murder in the first degree and arson. Bowers was already in custody at the Okanogan County Jail on firearm charges.


Oroville School Board sets $1.23 million levy — Despite the state legislature increasing school district’s ability to ru higher levy amounts, the Oroville School Board agreed to set the collection rate at $2.32 per $1000 in assessed property valuation, with a projection that levy equalization will make up the difference in what the district will need for its Programs and Operations Levy.

Green Okanogan recycles one million pounds — Green Okanogan recently reached a milestone of having recycled one million pounds of materials at their center in Tonasket which is run by volunteers.

Whitestone Pharmacy will soon open their doors — Whitestone Pharmacy held an open house welcoming the community to visit its new incoming pharmacy projected to open their doors sometime in January 2020.

Shop with a Cop — Front page features photos of law enforcement, elementary school staff and other volunteers helping kids pick out warm winter clothing and toys as part of the annual Shop with a Cop program.

Weddle sworn in early to council — Newly elected Councilwoman Alisa Weddle was administerd the oath of office a few weeks early as Councilwoman Maria Moreno resigned her position on the council before the end of her term.

Clinic Collision —The front page of the last newspaper of 2019 featured a photo of a Ford Explorer that was driven three-quarters of the way into the side of the Oroville Confluence Clinic. The accident injured one woman inside the building who was treated and released and closed the clinic while repairs were made.

Oroville adopts $10.1 million budget — The City of Oroville adopted a $10.1 million budget for 2020, that is about $100,000 less than the 2019 budget. There was also a lively debate on the new 4-way stop at 16th and Fir.


About Gary DeVon

Gary DeVon is the managing editor of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune and celebrated his 25th year at the newspaper in August 2012. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in Communications - Print Journalism, with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a proud alumnus of Oroville High School. His family first settled in Okanogan County in the late 1800s. His parents are Judy DeVon and the late Larry DeVon and he has two younger brothers - Dante and Michael. Many family members still call Oroville home. He has a grown daughter, Segornae Douglas and a young granddaughter, Erin.