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Liberty Orchards Company to close June 1 after 101 years in business

CASHMERE — After 101 years in business, the Liberty Orchards Company, makers of Aplets & Cotlets, has announced plans to close June 1.

Company President Greg Taylor said it was decided three years ago to sell the business and if they couldn’t sell it, to close.

“There’s been a lot of interest. We’ve had some good negotiations with several prospective buyers but we were never able to put together a deal. We tried long enough, it was time to move on. We just recently made the decision to close the business by June,” Taylor said.

Provided photo/Angie Norwood Browne 

Liberty Orchards president Greg Taylor

While the closure comes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Taylor said it is not directly related to the pandemic. From an operating standpoint, it made it harder to be in business and it did have a negative effect on some sales, but the online business actually grew during the pandemic, he said.

The pandemic made it much more difficult to sell the business, he said.

“We had a number of interested parties. When the pandemic came on last spring, they walked away from exploring it further because they had bigger issues with their own businesses,” Taylor said. “It made it a difficult climate to find a buyer for the business.”

The company was founded in 1920 by two Armenian immigrants, Mark Balaban and Armen Tertsagian, who owned a small orchard and developed the Aplets & Cotlets candies which became the staples of the company.

Closing the company after so many years is a mixed bag, Taylor said.

seabrook / World file photo/Don Seabrook  

Sal Lanuza empties hot mix into forms during a 2014 tour at Liberty Orchards in Cashmere, home of Aplets and Cotlets. The mix is cooled for a day in the forms and then cut into Orchard Bars.

“For sure, there is disappointment. We are pretty proud of having made it to 101 years. We’re proud of the legacy we have left, the employment we’ve provided and the customers we’ve served,” he said. “We’ve certainly tried to operate the business honestly and with integrity. We look back and we’re proud of all that.”

Taylor, who has been with the company for 43 years, said they appreciate the support from their customers, suppliers, from the town of Cashmere and from the region generally.

Liberty Orchards employs between 25 and 125. Taylor said those employees are one of the reasons the company has been in business so long, aside from the great product.

“We’ve had good employees, loyal employees. Most of the people here have been with us for 20,000 hours, at least 10 years. Many employees have been with us for 20 or 30 years,” Taylor said. “We’ve had good employees and we’ve had continuity. We get them and they tend to stay with us. The accumulated knowledge is valuable to the company.”

The company will be selling down its inventory until June 1. Taylor said the store will stay open and the tours will continue through the end of May. Online sales and mail order business will continue until June 1 for those customers who would like to get product before the production line is shut down.


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A woman's homicide remains unsolved. The family's pain endures (copy)

WATERVILLE — Seventeen months ago. That was the last time Edith Rodríguez Chávez saw the inside of her daughter’s bedroom.

She didn’t dare go in.

“It’s that I say that she’s still in there,” Rodríguez said.

Hannia Dalay Paulina Mosqueda Rodríguez, or simply Paulina, was found dead March 17, 2020 in a Wenatchee ravine five months after she went missing. She was 18.

Paulina’s death was ruled a homicide by the Chelan County coroner. There have been no arrests.

On Monday, Rodríguez, accompanied by her longtime partner, José Miramontes, entered for the first time since Paulina’s disappearance to allow a photographer to document the room.

Aside from a few small alterations, Paulina’s childhood room in her family’s Waterville home has gone untouched.

Rodríguez doesn’t speak English. Her comments were translated by a bilingual Wenatchee World reporter. To whoever killed her daughter, Rodríguez has a question:

“What did she do to you? What harm did she do to you to have deserved the harm done to her?” Rodríguez said through a disposable mask in an interview at her home.

She wants them to know part of her died with Paulina.

“They finished me the day they killed her; they killed me too because there’s no life here with us now,” Rodríguez said.

A daughter gone missing

Paulina went missing the third week of October 2019. What happened in the hours preceding her disappearance is not clear.

Paulina was supposed to take a bus from Seattle to Wenatchee, Rodríguez said. When she didn’t show up at the bus station, Paulina texted Rodríguez that she would catch a ride with a friend.

She still didn’t make it and Rodríguez calls to her only daughter went unanswered.

But then later that day Paulina’s aunt texted Rodríguez saying she’d heard from Paulina and that she was at the Wenatchee Valley Mall in East Wenatchee. Rodríguez asked her to relay a message: come home.

The message went unanswered.

Rodríguez knew something was wrong. The mother and daughter had had their squabbles, but never silence. If they fought, a message from Rodríguez was always replied to with reassurance, like a winky emoji.

Paulina liked to dance and socialize with friends. It wasn’t unheard of for Paulina to leave home for a few days at a time.

“Like all the girls, she would have fun, go out, but she wouldn’t be out for more than a week. She would always come back,” Rodríguez said.

The investigation continues

A criminal investigation can be confusing for anyone. Jurisdictional boundaries, policies and practices aren’t always clear to the unfamiliar, let alone a Spanish-speaking person in an English-speaking country, and Rodríguez has grown frustrated.

“What I want to ask the police is that they do the job they have to do, and I want, well, for justice to be done,” Rodríguez said. “We’re in a pandemic, I understand, but it’s been too long. It’s going to be a year since her death, and they haven’t given us any results.”

Paulina’s body was found outside Wenatchee city limits in Chelan County, but she was reported missing in Douglas County. That means the investigation into her death and disappearance is a joint effort by the two counties’ respective sheriff’s offices.

Rodríguez said she tried to report Paulina missing in mid-October but was referred back and forth between the East Wenatchee Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. An adult must be gone for 72 hours before a missing persons report can be filed, she was told.

A missing persons report was filed Oct. 18, first with the Wenatchee Police Department and then later that day with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, according to Chief Jason Reinfeld with the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.

Law enforcement officials say they haven’t given up.

“It hasn’t gone cold,” Reinfeld said of the case in an interview last week. He declined to divulge substantial details of the case, including the cause of her death, due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

There are no suspects, but detectives are continuing to pursue leads, he said.

Authorities have not disclosed when they believe Paulina died but have said her body was badly decomposed, discovered by hikers about a mile from the Horse Lake Trailhead.

Rodríguez said she was told by officials that Paulina was dead for about three months when she was found. She was missing for five. She wonders: What was Paulina doing — or what was done to her — during the first two months of her disappearance?

A few weeks after the disappearance, Rodríguez said someone close to her was contacted by a person who claimed to have Paulina and demanded ransom. Police advised her against paying, she said, noting that it could be an imposter replying to missing person posters hung around town.

Remembering Paulina

Rodríguez resisted entering Paulina’s room because she feared it would open wounds too deep to close. Even so, the memory of her daughter is never far away.

An altar in honor of family members who’ve died greets guests near the entrance of her small home. Most prominent is a 3-foot tall photo of Paulina in a pink quinceañera dress.

Paulina was 2 years old when Rodríguez moved her to Waterville from Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico. She was the youngest of three after two brothers in their late 20s.

“It’s very difficult for us because she was the youngest,” Rodríguez said.

Paulina was a happy girl who loved music, dancing and cooking. Tortillas were her specialty.

“She really liked making tortillas,” Rodríguez said. “Always make tortillas.”

Paulina worked at a packing shed, like her mother, and never missed work, Rodríguez said. She wanted to be able to afford nice things, like the blue Chevy Camaro that sits under a carport at her mother’s home.

What Rodríguez has left of her are memories.

She scrolls through photos and videos on her phone. In one, Paulina is covered in sand on a California beach. In another she’s dancing in Quincy at what appeared to be a fair. In yet another she’s giggling as a dog licks her face.

“It’s things like that, well, I’m never going to forget, never,” Rodríguez said. “I’m never going to forget them.”

Every day Rodríguez relives her life with Paulina.

“It’s that only thing I have left. I don’t know what she did to them,” Rodríguez said, wondering again what Paulina could have done to deserve a death sentence. “I don’t know. I don’t know why they took her from me. I don’t know. I wish they would see what they did to her, that now all her dreams are lost.”

She continued to scroll through photos and videos. Tears disappeared behind her blue mask as they rolled down her cheeks.

World staff writer Oscar Rodriguez contributed to this report.


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Washington’s only Native American lawmaker cuts a path in Olympia

OLYMPIA — Debra Lekanoff always makes sure to appreciate her surroundings, whether she’s spending time in nature or on the House floor at the Capitol in Olympia, where she has served for the past three years as the Democratic representative of the 40th District in the northwest corner of the state.

“I sit right in the middle of the People’s House. I have my Republican colleagues to my left and my Democratic to the right, and watching our two parties work together for the best of Washington state ... continues to be one of the highlights,” she said of her time in the Legislature.

The only Native American lawmaker in the state, Lekanoff came up against the same kind of hurdles women of color across the country face when they run for public office.

“I ran against five white males,” Lekanoff said about her first campaign in 2018. “It was an ugly and racial race. Coming from a predominantly Democratic district, I dealt with more racism than I thought I would ever see. I actually had one [candidate] say, ‘You have to choose between being Native and being American. You have to pick one or the other, because you can’t pick both.’”

But Lekanoff doesn’t hold grudges. She takes a long view.

“It was a good learning experience, because I couldn’t look at them with judgment,” Lekanoff said. “I had to look at them and say, ‘They don’t understand, so we need to do a better job educating those around us.’”

In Olympia, Lekanoff is looking to improve the way Native Americans are represented.

House Bill 1356 would create a process around the way Native American names or symbols might be used for public school mascots, logos or team names in Washington state. Her bill would effectively ban them unless the schools, for example, consult with and win a greenlight from related tribes.

“We’ve got 30 school districts that have Native American mascot names,” Lekanoff said. “The bill really just says, ‘Look to your neighbor and shake their hands and say, we want to honor you, how do we do this together, let’s have a conversation.’”

Another of her bills, HB 1372, would see Washington state request the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to replace a statue of Marcus Whitman, who founded a mission in Walla Walla, with one of Billy Frank Jr., the Native American environmental activist.

Frank Jr. led the fight to restore tribal fishing rights in Washington and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

The Whitman statue would be returned to the state and displayed in Walla Walla County.

Lekanoff considers Frank Jr. a mentor and credits him with shaping her even-keeled approach to government affairs.

“He taught me…everyone has an opinion… but you have to be able to sit at the table, and share the ball, and stay focused on your goal,” Lekanoff said. “For me, I need to ensure that generations look back at this time and say, ‘Thank you for doing what you did.’ That’s what Billy taught me.”

Lekanoff views the fact she’s the sole Native American in the Legislature as both an honor and a continuing challenge.

“I always say that I’m clearing a pathway for more women of color and more Native American women to run for office,” she said. “I’ll leave a couple branches there for them, because it can’t be perfect. They’ve got to clear their own pathway too.”

Lekanoff thinks increased familiarity and trust fuel greater understanding, which will make for improved public policy writing.

“You have to be able to trust those that you’re working with, that they will honor you, they will value you, they will treat you as an equal and that they will welcome you into the table that they all have been sitting out for a very long time without us. For me, every day, sitting at the table with my legislative colleagues is truly an honor.”

The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website managed by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Learn more at wastatejournal.org.


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Health district gets ready for next group eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

WENATCHEE — Anywhere between 8,000 to 12,000 essential workers in Chelan and Douglas counties are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting today.

Provided photo 

Luke Davies

Chelan-Douglas Health District administrator

The Chelan-Douglas Health District will be working with local partners to vaccinate as many people as possible who qualify under Phase 1B Tier 2 of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, Luke Davies, district health administrator, said Tuesday.

Critical workers working in enclosed spaces will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, including workers in agriculture, grocery stores and public transit.

To find out if someone qualifies under Phase 1B Tier 2, go to wwrld.us/phase.

Local partners in the area will make sure that people from Phase 1B Tier 1 who have not received the vaccine can still receive the vaccine moving forward, Davies said.

Davies said that the state has had challenges with COVID-19 vaccine federal allocations these last four weeks. The health district will have a better idea of supply going into early April, according to Davies.

“This will help all of our local providers who are working to get essential workers and people who may have barriers to access at the Town Toyota Center,” Davies said. “We’re expecting the number of vaccine doses to rise significantly starting in April.”

Around 2,000 to 3,000 COVID-19 vaccine first-dose appointments will be available for next week, and the health district expects people from Phase 1B2 to fill the slots, according to Davies. Another 3,500 booster doses will round out next week.

The best way to vaccinate the next group is to ask employers to organize their employees to get vaccinated, Davies said. If employers are unable, employees can still sign up through prepmod.doh.wa.gov, he said.

The state Department of Health and volunteers at Town Toyota Center have turned away some people who did not qualify during the current phase, according to Davies. Davies asked the community to use phase finder and to answer clearly and honestly.

Davies said in early March that life could return to normal if the area reached 60% to 70% herd immunity by the end of the year. But with the number of COVID-19 variants appearing in Washington state and around the world, that timeline may change, he said.

“We still have millions of people around the planet that have had not had any access (to vaccines) and part of what that does is that it allows these variants to propagate,” Davies said. “We could be looking at doing large vaccination campaigns again sometime sometime next winter or fall. It depends on the progression of the disease.”

Things will eventually go back to a kind of new normal, according to Davies. The COVID-19 pandemic will impact the future as much as other epidemics like the Black Plague and Spanish Influenza, he said.

“It will be a couple of years before we understand what new normal is,” Davies said. “But if we keep wearing masks, if we get vaccinated, and we take care of this, we’re going to have something that is going to be similar to what we had before.”


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