Any city worth its salt is built upon the character, determination and diversity of its residents. As the year comes to a close, we look back at notable figures of Bakersfield and Kern County whose loss we have mourned in 2019. Three were farmers, three more were auto dealers, two were wine ambassadors, and several were public servants in one form or another. One man, whose name is not widely known, saved Kern residents $113 million in public funds.
He was a Kern County grape grower who helped his family’s farming venture go international.
John Giumarra Jr., president and CEO of Giumarra Vineyards, died June 30 at age 78.
History will remember Giumarra as a chief combatant in the epic battle between California grape farmers and Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers.
But Giumarra was a highly influential grower and industry leader who left his mark on agriculture and on his Kern County home in ways that went well beyond farm labor relations.
Don and Izetta Camp, husband and wife of 67 years and the heads of a well-known and successful agricultural operation, died in November, just four days apart.
Don Camp ran a successful farming business, D.M. Camp and Sons, that was started by his father, cotton pioneer W.B. Camp, but farming in the southern valley changed dramatically over the decades, and Don Camp, along with his sons, helped the business evolve and diversify by expanding into the farm equipment business and adding a variety of new crops, including grapes, onions, garlic, carrots and, more recently, tangerines and almonds.
“We needed to re-create ourselves and we did that a couple of times with various crops,” Edwin Camp said. “They were difficult changes but good changes.”
Local car dealer Jose Arredondo, an immigrant who worked his way up to become the owner of several local auto dealerships, will be remembered as much for the terrible circumstances of his death as he will be for the impressive legacy of business success he left behind. Arredondo was found murdered inside his condo in Cabo San Lucas on July 16. He was 60.
Well known for his positive outlook and generosity, Arredondo started with almost nothing. He came to the United States from the Mexican state of Michoacan at the age of 11, not knowing how to speak English.
But after demonstrating an impressive work ethic while washing cars in Los Angeles, Arredondo was promoted to sales, launching him into a successful career that would last decades.
Many of Bakersfield’s most influential figures have not been household names. Longtime local attorney Dennis Mullins, who once worked for the administration of President Ronald Reagan and most recently served as chairman of the Kern Groundwater Authority, was one of those who mostly flew under the radar. But fly he did.
Mullins, who died Nov. 6 at age 67, didn’t flinch when he told powerful water interests in Kern that their estimates of groundwater overdrafts were based on “phony numbers.”
Standing up to some of the most powerful agricultural interests in Kern County may have been his swan song, but it was just one example in a long, distinguished career.
As an engineering student at Stanford University in 1957, a young Chuck Haddad walked into a car dealership intent only on buying a car. Instead, he drove off the lot with a new career. Haddad’s bargaining skills had apparently impressed the staff there so much that the manager immediately offered him a job as a salesman.
The immigrant from Lebanon would go on to help build a network of Bakersfield auto dealerships, and a record of philanthropy.
Haddad died April 16 at the age of 85.
Former state legislator, frequent political candidate and relentless conservative, Phil Wyman died Nov. 29 at age 74.
The longtime Tehachapi resident spent 18 years in the legislature, first as a state assemblyman from 1978 to 1992, then as a state senator from 1993 to 1994 and, in something of a comeback, again in the state Assembly from 2000 to 2002.
As an assemblyman, Wyman got a lot of publicity for backing the claim of some religious conservatives that satanic messages could be heard by playing rock music records backward.
“Phil was always proud to be (first) elected in 1978, when a good number of conservative assemblymen were elected,” said friend Paul Stine, who served on Wyman’s staff in 1994 when he was a state senator. “They called themselves Prop. 13 babies.”
Longtime local car dealer and community leader Harold Meek, best known for his decades-long affiliation with Three-Way Chevrolet, died Christmas Eve. He was 83.
“He was just a wonderful man, a great businessperson, a great community leader, and his generosity, his and (his wife) Kay’s, was amazing,” said Jim Camp of S.A. Camp Pump Co. “We’ve lost a great leader for our community.”
Meek’s charitable activities included student scholarships and the Bakersfield College football program.
Fred Starrh, a longtime Shafter cotton farmer and industry leader whose landmark legal victory over a Bakersfield oil producer earned him local renown, died April 16 after suffering a stroke. He was 89.
Born in Tucson, Ariz., Starrh grew his family’s holdings from 35 acres to several thousand over his long career in farming. Like many valley growers, he expanded from planting row crops such as cotton and alfalfa to growing permanent crops like almonds and pistachios. He held numerous positions on local, industry and national boards.
Outside ag circles, he was probably best known for a lawsuit he filed against Aera Energy LLC, a local oil company he was able to show had knowingly allowed its wastewater to contaminate his groundwater. The 13-year case, which was tried three times and appealed twice, included a multimillion-dollar award against Aera.
He was a fixture for decades at Bakersfield City Council meetings and ran three times for the Ward 1 council seat. But he never won.
Marvin Dean, a longtime community organizer who assisted residents so often some mistook him for their city councilman, passed away Dec. 30, 2018 after a brief illness.
Dean worked as a Pacific Gas & Electric journeyman lineman for 20 years, and was a self-employed contractor. But it was through that experience that he saw that African-Americans were woefully underrepresented in the construction trades, and particularly in state- and federally funded projects.
She was the kind of person who liked to see others do well.
As a teacher at Burroughs High School in Ridgecrest, and a teacher and principal at West High in Bakersfield, she did much to steer her students toward exactly that end.
And later, as a wine lover, she remained throughout, an educator.
Ann Cierley, who enjoyed a rich, successful career in education, and upon retirement poured herself into the world of wine as a hobbyist, wine educator and ambassador, died March 20, two days short of her birthday. She was 87.
“Ann was the queen, one of the original people who started the wine scene in Bakersfield,” said Bernie LeBeau, a local attorney and friend.
“Wine is for sharing, not for drinking alone,” LeBeau said. “And Ann epitomized this idea. Nothing made her happier than finding a special bottle of wine and tasting it with friends.”
Born in Germany in 1927, he lived through a series of harrowing experiences that included forced membership in the Hitler Youth, conscription at age 17 into the Nazi armed forces, the virtual destruction of his home city by Allied bombers, and a five-week stint in an American prisoner-of-war camp.
Despite all that, he later served in the United States Army.
Klaus Hoeper, known for decades by many local wine lovers as Bakersfield’s unofficial ambassador of wine appreciation, as well as the knowledgeable and urbane host of several classical music programs on local radio, died March 27. He was 91.
As a Bakersfield artist and fearless art patron, longtime sculptor Betty Younger made contributions to the local arts community that still reverberate today. The diminutive powerhouse died March 26. She was 88.
“Betty was an extremely creative individual. She was a connoisseur of art and was heavily involved in the local arts community,” said longtime Bakersfield attorney Timothy Lemucchi, who for decades practiced law alongside Younger’s late husband, Milt Younger, who died in 2017.
As a team, the Youngers seemed to be unstoppable. Perennial champions of the local arts, local artists, the Bakersfield Symphony, and charities of all sorts, the pair believed giving back to the community was critical.
Longtime Kern County Fair assistant manager Jeannie Burton died March 10 on what would have been her 76th birthday. Burton, who retired at the conclusion of last fall’s annual 12-day event, worked at the fair for 33 years. She was the fair’s most senior employee at the time of her retirement.
His death was shrouded in mystery, and still is.
Former McFarland City Manager John Wooner went missing in May, even as allegations of sexual misconduct and financial strains in the city he led seemed to be dogging him.
Wooner’s SUV was recovered from the Kern River in July, along with a body that was later identified as Wooner. In November, the Kern County Coroner’s Office determined he died from an accidental drowning.
He was last seen in May at a relative’s gravesite at Hillcrest Cemetery.
Thousands knew Bakersfield native John Wilson in his role behind the camera photographing untold numbers of school and family portraits, wedding ceremonies, and myriad formal events. Others knew him for his avid love of motorsports and watching birds in the wild, both of which he also followed from behind the lens of his camera.
But he may be best remembered as a role model to his family and for his joyous dedication to his children and grandchildren.
Wilson died Oct. 9, after succumbing to a 15-year battle with cancer. He was 77.
He was a longtime volunteer and leader of the Kern County Sheriff’s Citizens Service Unit. But more importantly, Jim Davis was always there to help.
A pistachio farmer from Buttonwillow, Davis logged an estimated 10,000 hours of unpaid service to the sheriff’s office since joining the citizen volunteer group in 2008. That’s the equivalent of nearly five years of 40-hour work weeks with no vacation.
David died Oct. 15 after dealing with medical issues, according to sheriff’s officials.
A football star at East Bakersfield High in his youth and a family man throughout his adult years, Jim Maples went on to lead the Kern County Assessor’s Office for some two decades before his retirement in 2002. He died Sept. 10 at the age of 79.
As a public servant, the Texas native saved tens of millions in tax dollars, not only for the county, but for school districts and outlying cities when he fought Occidental Petroleum Corp. in court — and won.
Maples’ David had beaten Oxy’s Goliath, saving more than $113 million in tax dollars. Local school districts, water agencies, park districts and other special districts may not have even known it, but they still owe Maples a huge debt of gratitude.
Kern Medical’s longtime lead pathologist, Dr. Sheldon Freedman, died in April. The renowned physician — a researcher, university professor and gubernatorial oversight agency appointee — was 84. By the time he moved his family to Bakersfield in 1979, Freedman was already a highly regarded pathologist who had studied everything from Alzheimer’s to dwarfism, cancer to gonorrhea.
He moved to Kern County to become KMC’s chairman of the Department of Pathology and Director of Laboratories. For much of that time he was also director of the Medical Technology Department at California State College Bakersfield. He also taught at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City, the University of Hawaii, UCLA and CSC Bakersfield. He was medically licensed in four states.
Arvin resident Craig Garrett taught martial arts for more than 40 years before he passed away in early September, moments after concluding the last of his thousands of karate classes. He was 65.
But Garrett taught more than karate. “Most of us here are ‘rich,’” he wrote in 2016. “We simply haven’t figured it out as we spend our days occupied with negativism. We think about what we lack and not what we have.”
David Marcus touched countless lives with his positive attitude, uplifting personality and the inspiring way in which he lived.
That was the message delivered by everyone that spoke about Marcus during a celebration of life service for the ultra-popular 60-year-old Bakersfield man, who died of cancer on June 28.
Marcus was well-known for being a devoted Centennial High School sports fan, and many of the several hundred people in attendance at a memorial for Marcus held at Valley Bible Fellowship Church wore Centennial jerseys and shirts, including former Golden Hawks football and basketball standout and current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Cody Kessler.
Marcus, born with special needs and picked on as a child, overcame every obstacle that came his way with an unyielding lust for life and desire to help others in need. His nickname was Mr. Bakersfield and he won a PEAAK Award winner in 2018 in the category “Greatest Community Supporter.”
His Facebook account reached the website’s 5,000-friend limit and had to make a second account to accommodate the ever-increasing number of friends that he made.
Anthony Martinez Sr., former Delano city councilman, mayor and founder of the local Tony’s Pizza chain, died June 20, one day before his 81st birthday.
Tony, as he was known in the community, served on the Delano City Council from 1994 to 2001, two of which he served as the town’s mayor.
“Delano lost an icon. We’re going to miss him,” said Art Armendariz, a former city councilman who worked with Martinez during his time on the council.
The news spread through Bakersfield’s tight-knit music community like a shockwave June 25 following the death of one of Bakersfield’s most beloved musicians, trumpeter and bandleader John Hollins.
“Music was the love of his life,” said longtime friend and collaborator Tracy Peoples.
“John Hollins was a true son of Bakersfield. I was his biggest fan,” said veteran singer-songwriter Monty Byrom.
With a burst of energy and an inspiring personality to match, Joe Seay had the local and national wrestling community in a collective front head lock for more than four decades.
The former South High and Cal State Bakersfield coach collected wrestling championships at every stop, helping to mentor and change the lives of countless athletes along the way.
Seay’s signature move and legacy will live on forever, despite his passing July 11 at his home in Paso Robles. He was 80.
“Joe had a way of just making you feel comfortable and making you feel like you knew him all the time,” said Bill Kalivas, a two-time All-American wrestler at CSUB who went on to coach at Bakersfield College for 27 years. “He always had a kind word for somebody, no matter where he stopped, even when he met you for the first time, it was like he knew you.”
Seay’s built powerhouse programs at South High in the mid-1960s, and later at Cal State Bakersfield and Oklahoma State.
It was Will Smith’s heart that took him to new heights as an athlete. Ultimately, that same heart led to his untimely death.
A standout basketball player at Bakersfield High and Bakersfield College, and former head coach at West High, Smith died April 15 at the age of 53 after suffering a heart attack.
If you work in oil, agriculture, construction or a line of work associated with one of those industries, Bakersfield is a great place to call home. If you work in the creative arts, as a writer, an animator or a musician, Bakersfield is a great place to be from.
Exceptions abound, but while creative genius does take root here, it tends to flower elsewhere. That is the case with Jerry Gibbons, a 1954 Bakersfield High School graduate who became one of the country’s most influential advertising executives and sought-after marketing analysts.
Gibbons went to Bakersfield College, served two years in the U.S. Army and graduated from San Jose State. He then entered the advertising world as a mailroom clerk in Young and Rubicam’s San Francisco office and rose to lead several of the city’s most powerful ad agencies and directed the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ West Coast office.
He died of heart failure Jan. 7 at age 82.
Longtime director of the Kern County Resource Management Agency, David Price III, died April 11 after suffering a cardiac event on April 9. He was 65.
Known for his dry wit and easygoing style, Price retired from the county in 2009 after 21 years of service.
After retirement, he moved to Johnson City, Tennessee, to be near his family, but remained in touch with many friends on Facebook.
As director, Price controlled one of the county’s most powerful departments. Known as an “umbrella” department, the RMA oversaw the county’s efforts in roads, planning, engineering, animal control, environmental health and many other public works functions.
“If you think of a government employee, he was one of the great ones,” said Supervisor David Couch. “I never saw him mistreat anyone. He was a very humble guy. We need more like him.”
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