Local News

Saturday, Dec 28 2013 09:15 PM

People we lost in 2013: Their accomplishments lifted the community

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Artist Ed Reep in his studio in southwest Bakersfield. Reep was an Army artist in World War II.

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    By Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com

    Annette Funicello

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    Don Rodewald poses with kittens in a publicity shot from his days at Channel 10, sometime before KERO became Channel 23.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Oscar Whittington

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    By Henry A. Barrios/ The Californian

    John Jay Wren

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    By Photo courtesy of Misty Dameron

    Glenda Sue Crosley

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    By Contributed photo

    The Rev. Sam Thomas

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    By Photo courtesy of Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra

    Karen Blockley

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    By Contributed photo

    Michael Flachmann

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    Sofiea Clerico

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    Steve O'Neil

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    Michael Gagner

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By The Bakersfield Californian

When people we have never met and only seen from afar pass away, they take a small part of us with them.

And we hold a piece of them as well, in us.

The hours spent watching a TV host, the inspiration gleaned from a man with an incurable disease, the exquisite beauty of a cellist’s music, an inmate’s dignity, a woman’s triumph over personal tragedy — they are the moments that make our lives and the lives of thousands, tens of thousands of people more meaningful, more purposeful, more fun.

It hurts to lose them.

These people soared and inspired us. We are left with our memories.

EDWARD REEP

May 10, 1918 -- Feb. 27

Edward Reep spent the last 27 years of his life in Bakersfield, but his reputation as an artist extended all over the world. In a prolific career that spanned seven decades, the Brooklyn native made a name for himself with his striking watercolors, oils, acrylics and mixed-media works in an array of styles, paticularly his abstract pieces.

But it was his heroic work as a combat artist during World War II that exposed his talent to a wider audience. An Army captain, Reep captured the day-to-day life -- both harrowing and humdrum -- of the American soldier. His contributions as a combat artist were chronicled in the 2000 PBS documentary, "They Drew Fire."

Reep taught for decades at a number of art schools and universities, authored a well-received book on watercolors and was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 1956. His pieces hang in private collections and major museums around the country.

 

ANNETTE FUNICELLO

Oct. 22, 1942 -- April 18

First as the most famous Mouseketeer in Walt Disney's fleet of angel-faced adolescents and then as a wholesome beach babe in a series of 1960s sand-and-surf films with Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello was the original It Girl of the baby-boom generation.

Though she didn't live in Kern County during her rise to stardom, she and second husband Glen Holt made a life for themselves in Shafter in the 1980s. It was from the couple's horse ranch that Funicello waged her roughly 25-year fight against multiple sclerosis, a nervous-system disorder that eventually robbed the actress of the ability to move or care for herself.

A wrenching documentary showing the ravages of the disease on the actress was shot just months before her death, and is available for viewing at annetteconnection.com, the website for the organization she and Holt formed to fund MS research.

 

DON RODEWALD

Jan. 2, 1927 -- May 22

Don Rodewald started his career as a genial announcer in the early days of live television, a giddy era of seat-of-the-pants improvisation to which his quick wit and game attitude seemed ideally suited.

But with his trademark buzz cut and ever-present smile, Rodewald became more than the guy who announced the afternoon movie at KERO-TV. He was a daily visitor in the homes of Kern County housewives and their children, forming a connection with them on those fuzzy black-and-white TVs that would last long after he left broadcasting in the 1970s for his second career as a speech and communications teacher at Bakersfield College.

Even in his golden years, people would stop him in the grocery store, imploring him to recite his famous TV catch phrase: "Until tomorrow at 3, when it's just you and me."

He always complied.

 

OSCAR WHITTINGTON

June 20, 1928 -- June 3

He wasn't the most famous performer of the Bakersfield Sound era -- not with eventual legends like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard casting their long shadows -- but Oscar Whittington carved out an enduring and impressive career as a fiddle player in the recording studio and on local stages, both as the star of the show and as a sideman to touring Nashville greats like Webb Pierce, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Hank Snow.

Whittington, a self-taught musician, didn't even pick up the fiddle until he landed his first gig in Bakersfield, where he and his brother moved in the 1940s from Oklahoma.

It was in the proving grounds of Bakersfield's barrooms that Whittington spotted a lanky talent from Texas named Buck Owens. Whittington would be one of several people over the years to lay claim to giving Owens his first paying job in music. Though the likelihood of ever nailing down that story is slim, Whittington did do one huge favor for the future star: He loaned him a clean shirt for his first appearance on stage.

 

JOHN JAY WREN

May 2, 1969 -- July 2

His recent football teams at South High School were playoff regulars. What mattered more to John Jay Wren, though, was the means, not the end.

He knew kids needed to feel welcome, not alienated. He focused on molding them, enabling them to grow, helping them reach their potential.

Football was his primary platform for it. As a coach for seven seasons at South -- and three years at Foothill -- he shared his deep love for the game as a way to teach and give, and not just to players but other coaches, too.

Wren's efforts weren't limited by the playing field. Whether at gatherings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, South High bingo nights or in his English class, decency, honor and commitment were paramount.

 

MARGARET ANN "DICKIE" WILSON

Aug. 28, 1932 -- July 7

"Dickie" Wilson was known by many as the longtime Kern County Department of Health Services nurse who traveled to the county's far corners to tend the poor and needy.

But Wilson also had a legion of friends gathered from her other interests, which ranged from gardening to school nurse to cross-stitching. She befriended people wherever she went.

Her nickname "Dickie," which she preferred, came from her father, who'd been hoping for a boy after two girls.

Her death from cancer ruptured a longtime friendship known as the Frolicsome Foursome, four Bakersfield women who met almost every Friday for years to solve the world's problems and bask in each other's light.

 

LES CORUM

Sept. 22, 1941 -- July 14

Life led Les Corum from Hong Kong to Gaithersburg, Md., but Bakersfield's siren song proved irresistible to the East High School graduate, who tried TV and advertising before finally settling on publishing, and founding Bakersfield Magazine.

Corum's David-and-Goliath TV spots for Bill Wright Toyota Scion got him noticed when he staged a tug-of-war between one of the Japanese compacts and an elephant. (No word on who won.)

But it was Bakersfield Magazine, which Corum started with wife, Donna, in 1983, that ultimately was his legacy. Begun as a Christmas catalog for merchants, the monthly magazine succeeded, in part, by being a positive showcase for a city often seen by the rest of the world as the butt of a Johnny Carson joke.

 

 

GLENDA SUE CROSLEY

March 28, 1944 -- July 14

Glenda Sue Crosley was 69 when she died, an inmate of the Chino Hills women's prison.

She was serving a 15-to-life sentence for having killed her husband, Sam Crosley, in front of a Bakersfield pizza parlor in 1986 by ramming him with her car several times.

Crosley alleged her actions were the result of years of severe abuse.

Her first trial ended with a hung jury. She was convicted of second-degree murder after her second trial.

Her family was on the verge of getting a new hearing for Crosley on the basis that testimony about the abuse was not allowed during her initial trials.

Her attorney felt she had a good chance to be set free.

Instead, Crosley, who had become an advocate for abused women during her incarceration, died of pancreatic cancer in July.

She had served 27 years, four more years than she and Sam Crosley had been married.

 

DON HARRISON

Aug. 14, 1929-July 29

Born in Spokane, Wash., with a childhood in Lewiston, Idaho, Harrison came to Bakersfield High School in 1956 after his discharge from the Marines. He spent 23 years as a teacher, coach, athletic director and vice principal at BHS and was known to many as "Mr. BHS."

He coached 24 teams over his first 11 seasons at BHS, winning 20 championships and posting a record of 327-61-3.

Harrison moved to the Kern High School District as director of general services, where he oversaw athletics and began a lengthy tenure as South Area representative for the CIF Central Section, a position he held until he was 75.

He was inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports and Bakersfield High Driller halls of fame and was a volunteer for numerous community organizations such as the Jockey Club, Elias Hall of Fame board of directors and Jack Frost football.

 

The Rev. SAM THOMAS

June 23, 1952 -- July 31

The Rev. Sam Thomas worked with schoolchildren, churches, and the bereaved and dying.

As a pastor he founded Solid Rock Baptist Church and Omega Community Baptist Church. He served on the Kern High School District board of trustees from 1998 to 2006.

He also helped create the KHSD Community Tutorial Program, which still operates. Through the program, district teachers help tutor teenagers after school. Local black pastors help run it, providing snacks and recruiting and transporting children.

Toward the end of his life, he worked with a mortuary and a hospice providing solace and guidance.

 

KAREN BLOCKLEY

July 12, 1958 -- Aug. 5

She was the cellist with the bright auburn hair and even brighter smile. Karen Blockley was co-principal cellist and a member of the Bakersfield Symphony for more than 40 years when an aggressive form of cancer took her life just weeks after her 55th birthday.

Born Karen Shively, the Bakersfield native first encountered the cello in grade school when a teacher suggested she learn the instrument. She began studying privately with Beverly Lambourne, a member of what was then known as the Kern Philharmonic. The student joined the orchestra's cello section as an eighth-grader, eventually earning the co-principal chair of the cello section. She remained with the orchestra until the middle of the 2012-13 season, when her illness forced her to take a leave of absence.

Blockley was part of the adjunct faculty in the CSUB music department, had a private cello studio and in what may be her most enduring musical project, served as president of the Bakersfield Youth Symphony Orchestra.

 

MICHAEL FLACHMANN

Nov. 3, 1942 -- Aug. 8

Although a longtime professor of English and founder and director of The University Honors Program at Cal State University Bakersfield, Michael Flachmann's enduring legacy is his students.

As a Shakespeare scholar, his CSUB classes were legendary among graduates for their vibrancy and depth. His proteges now dominate the Bakersfield theater scene. He advised productions at local high schools and Bakersfield College. And he spent countless hours advising students about their fears and futures.

He died in Cedar City, Utah, where each summer for the past quarter century he had traveled for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where he served as dramaturg. The festival annually attracts as many as 140,000 guests.

Flachmann also created three separate Camp Shakespeares as part of the festival so students, families and seniors could immerse themselves in the theater world he loved.

 

JACK SCHUETZ

Jan. 5, 1932 -- Sept. 12

Jack Schuetz was a highly regarded educator and advocate for the developmentally disabled, and architect of special education programs for the Kern High School District.

He was director of special education for KHSD until 1993, and one of the district's two special education campuses -- the Jack L. Schuetz Career Center -- is named for him.

A Korean War vet and graduate of Bakersfield College, Schuetz joined KHSD in 1959 as a teacher at East High School, where he had previously been a student.

He also taught at Cal State Bakersfield, retiring in 2011.

Late in life, Schuetz became a published author. "The Adventures of Charlee Rae and Billy True," a historical novel set in the Old West, was published in 2009. A sequel, "On the Frontier," came out this year. He also co-edited "Gil Bishop," a book about the late Bakersfield College athletic director.

A standout athlete in both football and track, Schuetz was inducted into the East Bakersfield High School and Bakersfield College track and cross country halls of fame.

 

SOFIEA CLERICO

Dec. 30, 1938 -- Sept. 17

Not multiple family tragedies, not paraplegia and not the conservative politics of her city could stop self-acknowledged liberal Sofiea Clerico from challenging power through her son's community newspaper and later her blogging.

Clerico was also a beloved mother and grandmother, one-time city council candidate and operator of a downtown antique and jewelry shop.

People also knew Clerico as a member of the Bussell farming family, which came to Rosedale from the Missouri Ozarks before Sofiea was born. Readers of The Californian really got to learn about her big brothers through columns she lovingly wrote about their exploits during World War II.

Said her son Erin: "It is unusual for a paraplegic to survive as long as she did. She didn't really survive, she thrived."

 

STEVE O'NEIL

Oct. 4, 1958 -- Oct. 10

Bakersfield Speedway track official Steve O'Neil was working in the infield on Aug. 10 when a speeding stock car slammed into -- and climbed -- the rail and struck him.

It was the first death of an official at the track, which has been in continuous operation since opening in 1946.

O'Neil, 55, was standing next to a tow truck and behind a protective concrete barrier between turns 2 and 3 when he was killed.

He was an avid scuba diver and instructor, and had worked as an official at the track since 2009.

 

MICHAEL GAGNER

Dec. 22, 1956--Nov. 12

Before being diagnosed in 1999 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Gagner had been a petroleum engineer. He called ALS a second career.

He said living with the always fatal degenerative neuromuscular disease "was by far the more satisfying" career.

Gagner helped create the Kern County Walk to Defeat ALS, successfully lobbied Congress so those with the disease could bypass Medicare waiting periods and established a local support group.

By embracing the disorder also known as Lou Gehrig's disease rather than shying from it, Gagner enabled and inspired other ALS sufferers to cope with its day-to-day challenges.

 

JAN STUEBBE

July 26, 1951-Nov. 30

A native of Nebraska who moved with his family to Shafter when he was a freshman in high school, Stuebbe was an outstanding athlete at Shafter High School in football, basketball and track. He still holds the school record in the pole vault.

He also competed in football and track at Bakersfield College.

When he went to Colorado State as a quarterback he was one of the nation's leading passers in 1973.

Following his graduation, Stuebbe had a lengthy football coaching career at McFarland, Shafter and Centennial high schools before becoming athletic director at BC in 1998, a post he held until retiring in 2011.

He was one of the "100 Stars" for the 100-year celebration of Bakersfield College. He was also inducted into the Shafter High School, BC alumni and BC track and cross country halls of fame.

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