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Posted: Friday, November 1, 2013 8:10 am

Les Buirch was honored on the weekend of Oct. 11 by going to Washington, D.C., with the Honor Flight of Northern California. He served in the Army during Word War II. He was stationed in Japan.

Buirch was accompanied by his son-in-law Harvey Webb and granson, Warrant Officer Travis Green. They toured the military monuments, the Capitol and the Smithsonian. The best part was being surprised on the trip by Green, and being honored for a job so long ago.

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The venue for future Lodi and Tokay graduations are still in limbo after Tuesday night’s Lodi Unified School District board meeting.

Lodi Unified may open talks with the City of Lodi to make the Grape Bowl the location for future graduations after a public hearing on the issue, but nothing is certain.

More than 20 local residents and a few students spoke on the pros and cons of holding graduations at the Grape Bowl versus University of the Pacific’s Spanos Center.

“We’re here because of tradition,” said Linda Dashnow, a Lodi resident who is among several members of the Keep Lodi Traditions Alive group that formed on Facebook around the issue.

High school principals Bob Lofsted and Erik Sandstrom outlined some of the major issues in the initial decision to move the graduations to Stockton: less seating; lack of accessibility for people with disabilities on the north side of the stadium; a ban on wearing high heels, sitting on the turf and rushing the field; and stakeholders such as students and parent groups being in favor of an indoor location.

The schools decided in December to hold the 2014 graduation ceremonies in Stockton, and the proposal was approved by the board in mid-January.

“What disappoints me is that we read about this in the newspaper. There was no prior discussion with the City of Lodi,” Lodi City Councilman Bob Johnson said at the school board meeting.

Lodi residents at the meeting demanded broader input on decisions that affect the community.

“I intend to do whatever it takes to come back to the Grape Bowl. There should be a task force to make sure that we justify why we went where we did,” said Kathy Dais, creator of the Keep Lodi Traditions Alive group. “Sometimes us parents can understand other parents better (than the district).”

Kelsey Churchill, who is set to begin her senior year at Lodi High School, was also in support of the Grape Bowl venue.

“As a band member, it’s always been a big dream of mine to have (the band) support me with ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’” she said.

But others spoke in support of creating new traditions and were pleased with their experience at this year’s graduation ceremonies.

Kylie Henne, Tokay High School’s Class of 2014 valedictorian, graduated at the Spanos Center this year. She said she enjoyed the venue and being allowed to wear heels. When she gave her speech, Henne said, she liked being close to the audience and being able to address either side of the stands.

Her mother Marina Henne, who says she is normally a traditionalist, agreed, comparing her son’s graduation at the Grape Bowl to her daughter’s graduation in Stockton.

“It’s a big bummer that they don’t get to graduate from the Grape Bowl, but I just remember the sweat rolling down our foreheads. We were packed like sardines. Having experienced both, I stand with the decision for the Spanos Center,” she said.

Board trustees also weighed in.

“What I think is important here is flexibility. It should not have to be ‘one size fits all,’” trustee Ron Heberle said. “Each school has a very unique culture and community. Schools should be able to make decisions on where graduation should be whether at Spanos or the Grape Bowl.”

Trustee George Neely suggested that the board use their two-by-two committee with the City of Lodi to discuss options at the Grape Bowl, and whether they can come to a compromise and use it as a graduation venue. The venue for next year’s graduation is still uncertain.

Mitchell Reinz, a local resident, was not convinced that the school district would take graduations back to the Grape Bowl.

“There was no direction as to when something was going to be done, and I’m not sure students should be making the decision,” Reinz said. “Kids don’t care about tradition and things can get lost. I think they should give input, but shouldn’t be the decision-makers.”

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodinews.com.



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