They include a longtime local political aide who decided to step out from behind the scenes. A new city school district superintendent who has begun to make his mark — and make some waves. And a young runner who may be the next big standout at storied McFarland High School.

If the scenario sounds like a country song, maybe it's because it actually became one: Singer returns to the hometown he loved/loathed/ultimately escaped to make peace, relive his earliest memories of home and family, and say goodbye.

The Californian remembers the people we lost this year who helped shape the city’s identity and inspire us. Reflections on country music great Merle Haggard and activist Helen Chavez begin our special commemoration