ETCETERA - Milton-Freewater native graduates from U.S. Air Force Academy

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Milton-Freewater native Dan Mitchell is a proud member of the U.S. Air Force Academy's 53rd graduating class in Colorado Springs, Colo.

A week of activities for the Class of 2011 and the Brigadier Gen. Robin Olds Class ran May 19-25, culminating with commencement and a rousing demonstration from the Air Force Thunderbirds in the sky over Falcon Stadium.

When Dan was commissioned a second lieutenant that week, his uncle Joel Yourkowski, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, swore him in, according to Dan's parents, Jean Ann and John Mitchell of Milton-Freewater.

Jean Ann added that as commencement speaker, Michael Donley, Secretary of the Air Force, "was dedicated and inspiring, 'Fly. Fight. Win' he said. He shook each of the 1,000 graduates' hands and individually congratulated them."

"Then the whole graduating class was finally presented to the throngs in the stands and in the following second the air was full of the sound of five Thunderbirds in formation zooming from behind the audience overhead and then veering from each other in a majestic display, while the graduates all tossed their hats into the air. Gasps, clapping, laughter and tears of joy and pride all mixed. I wish you could have joined us for that one moment. We watched the Thunderbirds somersault, spar and nearly walk on hind legs, all for show."

The Denver Post reported that close to 1,290 cadets started with the class in 2007 and 1,021 made it to graduation. About 500 will go on to pilot training school, including Dan, who will begin his program in February at Whiting Naval Air Station, Fla. The Post also reported that 32 other graduates will train to fly remotely piloted aircraft.

Since 1959, officials said 42,874 cadets have graduated from the academy.

A 2007 graduate of McLoughlin High School, Dan was joined at graduation by his parents, sister Ruby; friends, and former Walla Wallans Tom and Ann Williams of Granby, Colo., Dan's aunts and uncles Rollis and Linda Mann of Arizona, Chuck and Nancy Diven of California and Jean Ann's brother Joel and Donna Yourkowski and their children Kelsey, Mariah and Dakota of Colorado Springs.

"Joel and Donna served as Dan's sponsors, providing some home comforts, entertainment and transportation when Dan could get away from the Academy campus. It's an official status, arranged for each Academy cadet, and in this case was a great comfort for us as well," Jean Ann said.

Prior to pilot training, Dan will work in the academy 's aeronautical labs while intermittently beginning ground school at Pueblo, Colo.

"It's nice to exhale after holding our breath so long," she added. That the "USAFA is arduous, is an understatement."

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Pres. Barack Obama's Champions of Change Winning the Future Across America program recently honored Lon Wyrick, a member of the Walla Walla High School Class of 1971.

Champions recognizes efforts of average Americans "doing extraordinary things to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world."

Each week, they invite Champions of Change to the White House to share their ideas to win the future.

Week 7 looked at transportation champions. Lon is executive director of the Thurston Regional Planning Council and director of the Regional Commission for Olympia. The Thurston Regional Planning Council is responsible for environmental, housing, land use and transportation planning in Olympia.

Lon is also president of the American Association of Metropolitan Planning Association, a national trade association for federally mandated metropolitan planning organizations.

"Moving America requires a dedicated workforce that is committed to addressing every aspect of our nation's transportation system. This is why we are recognizing these Champions of Change in the transportation industry. Individuals who embody the concepts of 'Innovate, Educate, and Build' across a range of transportation careers," according to a release.

"These are individuals who are Winning the Future and can further empower and inspire other members of their respective industries and communities."

Lon is the son of the late Eldon Wyrick and Ruth Wyrick Underwood. In the mid-1970s, he graduated from Eastern Washington University with a bachelor's in planning administration.

Lon has two daughters, Megan and Katelynn Wyrick and two sons, Matthew and Joshua Wyrick; and three grandchildren. He will be in Walla Walla in mid-July for his 40th high school reunion.

His sister Jani Kay Wyrick Smith of Walla Walla said in a release that anyone can nominate a Champion of Change by going online to www.whitehouse.gov/champions/nominate . Jani Kay and Lon's sister Lonice Wyrick-Loftis died in 2005.

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Former Walla Walla resident Christine Rojas Cook earned a Ph.D. from the counselor education: interdisciplinary program at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Commencement was May 15.

Her thesis was "Exploring the Challenges of School Counseling: Voices From Rural Alaska." Her research looked into challenges experienced by rural school counselors in the state, with a glimpse into specific resources the counselors utilize in addressing concerns in their communities. From this work, recommendations were made to school districts and counselors, state groups and counselor education training institutions.

The daughter of Walla Wallans Adeline and Lino Rojas, Christine graduated from Walla Walla High School in 1987. She earned a bachelor's in psychology from Whitman College in 1991 and a master's in psychology from Western Washington University, Bellingham, in 1993.

She and husband Lance Cook live in Fairbanks with son James, 8, and daughter Olivia, 2. Christine is an assistant professor in the UA School of Education counseling department in Fairbanks.

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Christy Nicole Poirier, a June 3 Waitsburg High School graduate, became an elected FFA state officer during the 81st Washington State FFA convention on May 14 at Washington State University in Pullman.

Christy will serve as Washington State FFA Sentinel on the new Washington FFA State Officer Team.

During the course of her year of service, she will participate in leadership trainings around the Northwest, put on trainings for members at FFA chapters across the state, host leadership workshops, attend state and county fairs, attend the national FFA convention in Indianapolis, Ind., attend an international leadership training in China, plan the 82nd state FFA convention, visit Washington State agricultural businesses, educate the public about agriculture, and serve as a figure and spokeswoman for FFA and agriculture in Washington state.

The state officer candidate process was extensive, said her sister, Bertha Poirier Clayton, in a release.

Candidates submitted thorough applications, took a FFA knowledge exam, participated in rigorous group and individual interviews, and then the top 10 candidates gave three-minute prepared speeched at the Saturday afternoon session of the convention to 2,000-plus FFA members.

Delegates then elected candidates to fill six state officer slots. In addition to election to the FFA Sentinel post, Christy also received a Diversified Livestock Production Proficiency Award for her swine and beef projects.

Officers are required to defer their freshman year of college in order to fulfill state officer obligations. Christy will then head to WSU in fall 2012 and double-major in agricultural education and communication.

She is the daughter of Roy and Abelina Poirier of Waitsburg. In high school, Christy was president of the Waitsburg FFA Chapter and reporter of the District VI FFA Officer Team this year. Her FFA advisor is Nicole Wright.

Bertha will start her second year of law school this fall at the University of Idaho. "I'm very excited to be accomplishing this goal," she emailed. "Law school has definitely lived up to its reputation of being challenging!" A 2013 juris doctorate candidate, Bertha is ASUI Student Defender/Attorney General for 2011-2012; president-elect of the Public Interest Law Group and vice president-elect of the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association.

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I happened to chat with Greg Van Donge while waiting on line at the Main Street Starbucks the other day. Had he and his friend Randy Rogers launched their coast-to-coast bike trip yet, I wanted to know. They had.

Despite the fact Greg stood before me, he and Randy had actually traveled as far as Lolo Pass, Mont.

How Greg happened to be in two places at once involved car transport and an appointment in Walla Walla. His brother Dean Van Donge planned to take him back to Randy so they could continue.

"Randy and I have been planning a cross-country bike trip for three or four years now," Greg emailed me later.

Greg retired as a captain from the Walla Walla Fire Department in April, after 37 years on the job. Randy is adult corrections cook at the Washington State Penitentiary.

The pair left the Pacific Ocean at Seaside, Ore., on May 25 and expect to make the Eastern Seaboard at Bar Harbor, Maine, around Aug. 1. On their 16th day, they had covered about 900 miles, Greg said.

"Our longest day so far has been 110 miles. The most challenging so far has been Lolo Pass, but we are still facing the Continental Divide," he wrote.

Folks can follow their progress via blog site 2guysbiketrip.com. At the bottom of the page is a link to photos and maps links on the small type, not large type, of the route name.

Greg was the subject of a U-B story on April 2 about his firefighting career. He has been a longtime cyclist, preferring to commute to and from work on his bicycle, in all kinds of weather.

"When I came to work the first day, I came on a bike," he said. "And on my last day, I rode a bike home."

It's difficult to keep up with the guys, for every few days they're putting a lot of territory under their tires. This column is assembled on Thursday for the following Tuesday, which means it's easier to advance upcoming events than to keep track of things in real time.

But as of June 15, Randy and Greg had made Jordan in eastern Montana, the 22nd day since they set out.

"We have ridden about 1,000 miles of our 4,400-mile route and yesterday (June 11) we made it over the Continental Divide at Rogers Pass, which is 5,610 feet," Greg emailed on June 12.

"The trip has been great Annie, the people we meet make the trip worthwhile. We have spent more time in motels, and not camping like we had intended, because of the constant rain we come across.

Rivers have been flooded virtually everywhere we've been. Right now we're watching tornado watches and flooding on our route through North Dakota."

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Participants in the recent Relay for Life at Borleske Stadium track could fuel up at the breakfast tent that Walla Walla Dental Care offered for the 14th straight year. Food was served as nightshift walkers in the American Cancer Society fundraiser completed their rounds before sunrise.

Pastries from John's Wheatland Bakery, fruit, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and beverages were dished to participants completing or starting their shifts.

"We wanted to provide something healthy for the participants," said Amy Woiler, project coordinator. "Our continental-style breakfast seemed like a great energy option ... as well as something they could eat in their hand while continuing to walk the track."

Other special donations of goods and services for the breakfast came from Walla Walla Roastery Coffee and Andy's Market.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or 526-8313.

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