The Westside Express is fortunate to have talented and dedicated writers contributing to this newspaper. Most of them do it strictly for the love of writing about things important to them and because they believe in the importance of a hometown newspaper.

Among these contributors have been Rob Robinson (writing about his longtime commuting experience), Chris White (about his knowledge of Westside water), Dan Nelson (about his knowledge of Los Banos history) and Kirsten Areias (about her knowledge of agriculture).

There are many more contributing writers, who submit articles pro bono. They complement the group of younger writers, mainly college and high school students, who are paid to write articles.

One of the contributing writers I’d like to acknowledge in this column is Mark Koehler. Mark started writing a gardening column, under the logo of “The Garden Guru,” soon after The Westside Express’s first issue in May 2022.

He has faithfully written his gardening column every week, providing tips for Westsiders who appreciate trees, plants and landscapes. His column has included identifying the trees and plants which grow best in the westside region of the Central Valley, explaining how to prepare Westside soil for planting, creating an appealing front and back yard and on and on.

Many readers have told me how much they enjoy Mark’s column and how they have benefited from it. Even people who live in rented apartments appreciate the horticultural knowledge they’ve gained from him in the past year.

Even I, a person who does not like to garden, have benefited from Mark’s knowledge, especially his knowledge of trees. As most people know, I’ve spent a good portion of my time encouraging friends, associates and strangers to plant more trees and to better maintain them. Mark has helped me better understand what it takes to keep a tree alive and thriving.

The more I talk with Mark, the more I’m impressed by him as a horticulturist and landscape designer. I shouldn’t be surprised. After all he’s a certified arborist, master gardener, qualified applicator and landscape technician. And he has knowledge of both interior and exterior plant care and appropriate irrigation.

In my 52 years living in Los Banos, the only other person in my experience who compares to him was Bob Edminster, a friend and colleague of mine at the Los Banos Campus of Merced College.

Bob was a professor of botany at the college and taught me a great deal about trees and plants, especially those native to the Westside. He was also a paid consultant who helped both private individuals and public organizations. He had particularly  good knowledge about endangered plant species in the Central Valley. Bob died more than a decade ago, and I still miss him as a horticulturist and person.

Just as Westside community residents were lucky to have Bob, they are now lucky to have Mark. As readers of his column may know, Mark is not originally from Los Banos, Dos Palos, Firebaugh or Santa Nella. He ran a family business in Santa Barbara for many years and then worked as a landscape designer and technician in Monterey.

Mark came to Los Banos because a wonderful young lady named Katie, who became his wife, encouraged him to do so. Katie is a native Los Banosan, and she thought Mark would enjoy coming to her hometown. And, indeed, Mark has.

Mark is now semi-retired from working full time in the landscaping industry. But he still has a great deal of landscape knowledge and experience that he is willing to share with Westsiders who connect with him. One of the best ways of making a connection is by writing to him at his Garden Guru email,

Anyone who talks with Mark, as I have, will know not only what a nice guy he is, but also how much knowledge he has. He is like so many other contributing writers for The Westside Express — a good person with a passion for his subject, for life and for helping others.

Los Banos lost a good

educator with passing

of Ken Ebner

In memoriam: The world of education lost a good teacher, counselor and person in the passing of Ken Ebner last month. Ken was a native of Los Banos and a graduate of Los Banos High School.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, teaching credential and master’s degree, he returned to his alma mater to teach, oversee the science and math departments and become a dean and counselor for many years. After he retired he served as a school board member for 12 years.

I was privileged to know Ken (as well as his talented wife Toni) when he was a counselor and I was a parent of children who were students at Los Banos High School. Ken, along with fellow counselor Alan Wilbur, gave sound advice and strong encouragement to them.

When I served as dean of the Los Banos Campus of Merced College I worked with Ken, who had the foresight, well ahead of his time, to encourage high school students to take college courses while they were in high school.

Ken touched the lives of so many students, parents and community members. He will be long remembered and appreciated by all the persons he helped.