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In the News - Friday, July 4, 2008


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)




End of the road

for Pat’s Towing

   One of the most difficult challenges that any self-employed business owner is facing today is the rising cost of insurance. In the towing business, the recent industry-wide increases have forced Pat O’Connell, the only local towing operator, to quit that part of an automotive business as that has been a Three Rivers landmark for 43 years.
   Landmark because since 1964, Pat O’Connell has furnished nearly every type of automotive service, including repair, tires and service, batteries, spare parts, gas and oil, propane, tire chains, and so much more. But what he’s best known for — and has a nomination pending to the International Towing Hall of Fame — is his incomparable mountain towing expertise in all kinds of terrain and along some of the most treacherous roads on the planet.
   Pat, who turns a spry 81 later this year, said he will really miss all the folks he has encountered over the years while towing their stranded vehicles. But to renew his current insurance policy, which more than tripled in one year, just isn’t feasible.

  “I hate to quit taking the tow calls, but I just don’t generate the business to pay the annual premium,” Pat said. “It’s going to take some getting used to not being always on call.”
   To have Pat no longer on call will leave a huge void in Three Rivers that will never be filled. In more than four decades, Pat has helped so many wayward motorists, he could fill a book; it’s impossible to even estimate how many folks he has rescued.
   Pat said in some ways it will be a relief to no longer deal with some of the physical strain of a very demanding job.

  “I’m not as young as I used to be,” Pat confessed.
   But there is an upside. Now, he said, he will have more time to work on his park-like four-acre landscape that adjoins his shop and service bays.
   Pat has seen a lot of changes since he first opened his Three Rivers service station 43 years ago. But one constant that has never wavered is his commitment to the community that he has cheerfully served nearly all his working life.

  “Even though I’m no longer in the towing business, I’m not going anywhere,” Pat said. “I’ll still be available for lockouts, tire work, most minor repairs and, of course, a story or two, so come on in for a visit.”

Chronology of

Pat O’Connell’s Towing

   1958— Pat and Shirley O’Connell bought their first Mobil service station in Los Angeles.
   1964— Pat and Shirley moved with their young sons to Three Rivers, where they opened a full-service Mobil station, offering gasoline, auto repair and maintenance, towing services, as well as window-washing and a check under the hood with a gas purchase.
   1982— The O’Connell’s Mobil station became a BP gas station.
   1998— The gas station portion of the business was closed due to federal legislation that required antiquated underground fuel tanks to be upgraded or removed due to the probability that they were causing soil and water contamination.
   2006— Pat O’Connell traveled to Northern California to purchase a used tow truck. As he attempted to pay for it, he was told the debt had been satisfied. The community of Three Rivers, he was informed, had purchased the truck for him.
   2008— As of Tuesday, July 8, Pat O’Connell will retire from the towing business.

Sheriff to Three Rivers:
‘We’ve got you covered’

   A standing-room-only crowd gathered at the Three Rivers Memorial Building last Monday evening to hear Sheriff Bill Wittman deliver on his promise to respond to law enforcement concerns that were raised during the June 3 meeting. Tulare County’s top cop, accompanied by key staffers, began his remarks by assuring all who attended that the Sheriff’s Department has already committed some additional resources and it was showing immediate results.
   Since the last meeting, Sheriff Wittman said, deputies had issued 152 citations, mostly for illegal parking. More than 100 of these were issued in the Slick Rock area. In addition to the resident deputy, Wittman said, several other officers have made their presence known around the popular swimming areas during peak hours.
   Wittman’s staff used a brief PowerPoint presentation to show that the actual cases for local criminal activity remained about the same for Jan. 1 to May 31 when comparing 2008 with the previous year.  Assaults were down while reported burglaries were up.
   Statistics were not presented for the summer months when there are a greater number of calls. But to deal with the added traffic and increase in visitors during the 2008 summer season, Sheriff Wittman said he has already requested more CHP patrols and assigned extra deputies.

  “When I heard recently that a Three Rivers resident had to wait four hours for a deputy to arrive after a 911 call, that’s unacceptable,” Wittman said.
   Several locals also reported known gang members to be congregating in and around the recreation areas of Three Rivers. In response, deputies with the Sheriff’s Department Gang Task Force were also reported to have made some periodic patrols to Three Rivers.

  “We know these gang members come up here, but so far there doesn’t appear to be any effort to organize locally,” Wittman said. “It’s a bad situation here in Tulare County that’s going to get worse. These kids will kill each other over a red handkerchief.”
   Sheriff Wittman said the department’s gang unit will be back and is committed to monitoring the situation.

  “Be our eyes and ears, but don’t try to confront these individuals,” Wittman said.
   Bill Pooley, a local kayaker who has long advocated river access, said he has been threatened recently by a number of these individuals who are congregating around Kaweah River Drive. He said he now supports a permanent closure of the swimming hole near the Edison Company’s Powerhouse No. 2.
   The popular swimming hole on Edison Company property will be closed throughout the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
   Other local river users reiterated that closing river access is not an equitable or practical solution to the seasonal problem. The trespassing issue is made even more complex when some riverfront property owners grant access while others do not.

  “One thing we can do,” Wittman said, “is to have a deputy up here on Jim’s [resident deputy] days off.”
   Clancy Blakemore, a member of the Sheriff’s Volunteers in Patrol (VIPs) and chairperson of a committee to encourage more locals to be proactive, presented several ways to get involved.

  “We can all be part of an informal neighborhood community watch,” Clancy said. “Simply raise your alert level as you go around town day or night and help us report any suspicious activity.”
   Clancy said her core committee of six to 10 people will be meeting in the next week to plot strategies on how to be more effective in assisting law officers during the busy summer season. To get involved, email Clancy at clancychocolate@sbcglobal.net.


John Kulick
1946 ~ 2008

  John Kulick, second son of Harry and Rose Kulick of Three Rivers was born Oct. 29, 1946, in the old, single-floor Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia.
   John attended Conyer Elementary School, Divisadero Junior High School, and Mount Whitney High School, all in Visalia, where he was very active in many school activities, including four years on the wrestling squad, four years in the high school band, and four years on the Mount Whitney Pioneers football team. He was voted runner-up for the coveted Mount Whitney blanket.
   He always commented that his high school years were the best years of his life. The Kulick family lived on West Kaweah during those years, making it convenient for John and his brothers to be involved in school activities. It was not until John graduated high school that Harry and Rose moved the family to Three Rivers, where they operated the Kaweah General Store for more than 30 years.
   John was always known for being tough, perhaps due to a high pain tolerance. On occasion during wrestling events, his knee would pop out. The coaches would pop the knee joint back in and the match would continue.
   After high school, John attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, College of the Sequoias, and Fresno State University. During much of this time, he worked summers for Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks as a firefighter, primarily in Cedar Grove. He later shared that he regretted not pursuing an NPS career, which was offered to him near the end of his last season.
   All of his life, fishing was one of his primary passions. John was one of those special people who knew how to fish and how to catch fish. If there was a fish caught during a fishing trip, more likely than not, John was the one who caught it, from trout on the South Fork of the Kaweah near Whiskey Log to bigger trout on the Kings River to, later in life, salmon along the Pacific Coast.
   His love of hunting was equal to his love of fishing. He especially enjoyed taking game birds such as dove, quail, and geese.
   John eventually started working for a company that manufactured artificial Christmas trees in Fresno. Little did he know, at that time in his life, he would spend the next 40 years in the commercial Christmas manufacturing industry.
   From that first job, he moved on to work for the Crystal Valley Decorating Company, where he was involved in manufacturing commercial Christmas decorations for malls and casinos, as well as float-covering materials. John eventually was named vice president of Crystal Valley Decorating, in charge of production.
   John and his partner, Dan Cowen, eventually bought Crystal Valley and moved the company to Fowler. While there, they began to operate the Fantasy of Lights in Fresno’s Woodward Park and, later, in Selma.
   Three years ago, John moved the company to Albany, Ore., where the company continues to grow and expand in a more favorable business climate. The year 2007 marked the company’s best performance ever.
   John spent his last day — Saturday, March 8, 2008 — enjoying life with his Crystal Valley distributors on a pheasant-hunting trip in Kansas. John loved the sporting life and he died with his boots on.
John was preceded in death by his older brother, Harry Kulick Jr.
   He is survived by his wife of 20 years, Lorene Kulick; three daughters, Monica Kulick, Natalie (and Cliff) Bohlae, and Shandra (and Russ) Milstein; two stepchildren, Tommy (and Julie) Collins and Tammy (and Travis) Koll; his parents, Harry and Rose Kulick of Three Rivers; two brothers, Michael (and Cathy) Kulick and George (and Debbie) Kulick (of Three Rivers); nine grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and seven nieces and nephews.

George Hartzog
1920 ~ 2008

  George B. Hartzog Jr., the seventh director of the National Park Service, died Friday, June 27, 2008. He was 88.
   During his nine-year tenure from 1964 to 1973, George led the largest expansion of the National Park System in its history.
   During those nine years, 69 sites were added to the National Park System, including 80 million acres of Alaskan land that were set aside for national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. He was a visionary in this regard, no doubt, but also in his stance on civil rights.
   In 1968, George appointed Grant Wright to head the U.S. Park Police, the first African American to head a major police force in the United States.
   Former Director Hartzog is survived by his wife of 60 years, Helen, and three children.


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