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Three Rivers,
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In the News - Friday, SEPTEMBER 8, 2006

CDF battalion chief

killed in line of duty


Rob Stone raised in Three Rivers,

18-year career as firefighter


  Investigators were combing the crash site on Wednesday, Sept. 6, of the wreckage of an OV-10 airtactical aircraft that crashed shortly after 10:30 a.m. near Mountain Home State Forest northeast of Springville.
   There were two on board when the plane went down onto a wooded mountainside during a reconnaissance mission out of the Porterville Air Attack Base. Killed in the crash were the pilot, George “Sandy” Willett, and California Department of Forestry (CDF) Battalion Chief Robert Paul Stone.
   Willett, 52, was a contract pilot who had worked for the past four years for DynCorp, a firm based in Fort Worth, Texas, that provides pilots for fire operations. He was a resident of Hanford and is survived by his wife Judy.
   Chief Rob Stone, 36, grew up in Three Rivers and currently resided in Visalia with his wife, Rindi, and their children, Wil, 8, and Libbie, 4. Rob’s parents, Cliff and Ginny Stone live in Three Rivers; his siblings are Marty, Beth Jones, and Missy.
   As long as anyone who knew him can remember, Rob wanted to be a firefighter. He devoted half of his life to his CDF career and was promoted to battalion chief of the Porterville Air Attack Base this past year.
   Captain Stephen Green, a 34-year CDF employee based in Three Rivers, recalled Rob as a teenager hanging out at the CDF’s Hammond Station that was located near his parents’ home.
   Rob began his CDF career as a seasonal firefighter stationed at Milo where Green was his first captain. Captain Green said that there had been several fires of suspicious origin recently in the Mountain Home area and Chief Stone was conducting an investigation.
   Rob’s aerial duties included supporting the ground forces by being the “eyes in the sky” for the Incident Commander, Capt. Green explained. From his airtactical plane, one of 14 owned by the CDF, Rob would also coordinate air traffic and the drops of retardant and water from the airtankers and firefighting/transport helicopters.
   Becki Redwine, CDF information officer, said that the agency has notified the National Transportation Safety Board and the cause of the accident is under investigation. The NTSB routinely investigates all aerial crash sites and makes a determination as to cause as well as recommendations for safety procedures.
   An account at Valley Oak Credit Union has been opened to assist Rob’s family. Donations may be made at the Three Rivers branch or by calling 561-4471.

Jessie Bequette turns 100

   Jessie Bequette, the grand dame of Three Rivers, will celebrate her 100th birthday on Monday, Sept. 11, 2006. She currently resides in Visalia at Delta Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
   She remains bright and alert, and though her hearing has declined in recent years, she still possesses her gracious charm and infectious smile. Jessie often mentions how much she misses life in Three Rivers and once said that there will always be a place in her heart for the place she called home for 84 years.
   Jessie Agatha MacKinnon Bequette was born in an upstairs room at a railroad depot in Fresno in 1906. Her life in Three Rivers began three years later when her parents moved to the area to be near family. It was a coming home of sorts for Jessie’s mother, Bessie, who was the daughter of Walter Fry, a road foreman and later the first civilian superintendent of Sequoia National Park.
   For a time, Jessie’s family lived with her Three Rivers grandparents until their house was ready in 1910. The MacKinnon home, which is no longer standing, was located just below the little white house on the knoll that’s adjacent to the Three Rivers Historical Museum.
   At the time it was built in 1910, Jessie’s parents home was the finest in Three Rivers. In 1914, it was destroyed by a fire and her father perished in the blaze trying to rescue the family’s concert piano, a wedding gift for Jessie’s mother.
   Jessie’s mother was so distraught she could no longer live in Three Rivers. Jessie went to live with her Grandpa Fry, a move she said later that turned her life from tragic to wonderful.
   She recalls fondly her 25 “family summers” spent living in Sequoia National Park. In addition to her years spent with her grandparents, she married Bruce Bequette, a longtime NPS employee.
   The properties that today contain the modest house and museum have special significance to Jessie. She and her husband, Bruce, built the house after they were married in 1924.
   The Three Rivers Historical Museum evolved from Bequette’s Gift Shop that Jessie operated from 1953 to 1967. The shop later housed Mountain Arts for nearly 20 years, then for a short time was an art gallery before being acquired by the historical society in 1997.
   After her husband died from a sudden heart attack in 1967, Jessie devoted much of her time to community service organizations and her beloved Community Presbyterian Church in Three Rivers. In recent years, she came to the public’s attention as a member of the celebrated Woodlake High School’s Class of 1924.
   At the 70th reunion held in 1994 there were 11 class members still living. After Jim Vaughn of Springville died last month at age 100, Jessie and Lloyd Wacaser, 99, of Fresno are the only two who remain from the original class of 25.

  “I wish everyone could look back on their long life and be as happy as I am,” Jessie said just after her move to Visalia in 1993. “Don’t ever underestimate Three Rivers. It’s a great place to live.”
   And speaking of centurions, the birthday of Leland “Kelly” Keller deserves mention. Kelly was born Aug. 17, 1903, and just celebrated his 103rd birthday.
   He currently resides in San Juan Capistrano but he was born and raised in Three Rivers. Kelly’s grandfather, Charles Keller, was instrumental in the founding of the Kaweah Colony while in later years (1917) his father, Carl, was Sequoia National Park’s chief ranger.

Two dead in

separate incidents

in Kings Canyon

   Two men have died within the past couple of weeks in the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park.
   The fate of backpacker Gregory Raye, 52, an artist from Campbell, Calif., was at first unknown. When he failed to return from his solo two-week backpacking trip, much of which was off-trail, his son reported him missing two days later on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
   A search was initiated utilizing ground searchers, dog teams, mounted patrol, and two helicopters. Raye’s route was to have taken him through the southern portion of Kings Canyon National Park, south into Sequoia where he would cross over the Great Western and Kings-Kern divides and east beyond Kern Canyon.
   Early on Friday, Sept. 1, search dogs found Raye’s camp and backpack and search teams zeroed in on the area. By 10:30 a.m., Raye’s body was spotted by a search helicopter near the summit of Mount Brewer, only about 10 miles from Cedar Grove.
   He was at an elevation of more than 13,000 feet. Raye apparently fell to his death while attempting to reach the summit.
   In a separate incident, Conor J. Lighthizer, 28, of Crofton, Md., died while on a backcountry trip north of Cedar Grove. On Monday, Sept. 4, Lighthizer, accompanied by his father and uncle, departed Cedar Grove for Granite Basin on horseback.
   The trio and their gear were dropped off near Granite Lake (10,000 feet elevation). They were planning to return to Cedar Grove on foot Thursday, Sept. 7.
   It was reported that Lighthizer was not feeling well before the trip but decided to proceed. By 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5, Lighthizer’s condition had deteriorated to the point that his uncle and father asked for assistance from two nearby campers.
   Lighthizer’s uncle left at daybreak to return to Cedar Grove and summon help. He reached the ranger station just before 11 a.m.
   In the meantime, at about 10:30 a.m., Lighthizer lost consciousness and stopped breathing. His father and the two campers were unable to revive him.
   A park medic arrived by helicopter at 11:45 a.m. Eight minutes later, he was pronounced dead.
   Conor Lighthizer’s body was transported by the helicopter to Grant Grove and released to the Fresno County Coroner. The cause of death is under investigation but, according to the Fresno County Coroner, it appears to be complications due to Type 1 diabetes, a disease that the victim had for most of his life.

‘COOOL BUS’ makes

musical stop in town

   When John Christopher Knight of rural Kentucky pulled his family’s vacation rig into the Three Rivers Hideaway during the busy Labor Day weekend, the campground’s residents couldn’t help but notice that this was no ordinary RV. In fact, as it turned out, the converted school bus, dubbed “Coool Bus” by its eight occupants, were every bit as curious as their unusual bus.
   That’s because these vacationers, dressed in homespun cotton, looked a little out of place or at the very least right out of Harrison Ford’s movie Witness, a classic movie set in Pennsylvania’s Amish country.

  “What really struck me about John Knight was that once you began talking with him it was like he was your old best friend,” said Dave Hammond, the Hideaway’s owner, who checked in the Knight family.
   It didn’t take long for other campers to strike up conversation with the parents — John and Laura Knight — but the six children — ages nine to 28 — made a beeline for a cool dip in the Kaweah River. The small talk soon turned to music.
   One thing led to another and before long it was arranged that the family would play at the River View Restaurant. Monday nights at the local venue are reserved for open microphone performances so hosting a traveling family band that recently appeared on the Today show and CNN seemed to fit the bill.
   As the Knight family set up for their 7 p.m. performance, nobody in the Labor Day crowd of River View revelers knew quite what to expect.

  “What type of music do you all play?” one fan asked John Knight prior to beginning the band’s set. “Is it bluegrass?”

  “It’s not bluegrass,” John Knight cordially replied. “I’m not sure what it’s called. Maybe after you hear us you can tell me.”
   What ensued in the next two hours can only be described as a unique entertainment event. Each of the group’s dozen songs they performed is an original composition with poignant lyrics about a modern world woefully off track.
   All the songs are written and arranged by John Knight who sang, picked, strummed acoustic guitar and banjo, and played harmonica simultaneously with guitar. The children, who are all accomplished musicians, took turns at guitar, mandolin, bongos, bass guitar, electric guitar, and banjo.

  “We like to switch off on the various instruments so nobody has time to notice if we’re playing badly,” John joked between songs.
   John’s humor and sermonizing after each number came from one place — the heart of a loving father who believes the future of the American family is in the rural simplicity of the family farm. That was the organic message and spirituality in the music played by six and, on some songs, as many as seven members of the Knight family.

  “We’re not really commercial farmers but we grow our own food for ourselves and our animals on our 100-acre farm in Kentucky,” Knight said.
   The family’s income is derived from raising border collies and then showing the dogs at various venues around the South.
Knight explained that while he and his wife were living in Knoxville, Tenn., in the 1980s and driving his-and-hers Volvos, it suddenly dawned on the couple to take their children and escape to the country.
   Knight said he never regretted any of the hard times the family — with nine children total — has endured to get to where they are today. He said a producer heard the family playing music while camping out at a dog show and convinced him to make a CD.

  “I didn’t even know what a CD was… I thought he was talking about making a cassette tape,” Knight confessed.
   Knight said he is now getting offers to play some important-sounding events and they are beginning to earn a little extra income from music. The music, taboo in the Mennonite faith, was what led the Knights to eventually sever ties with their former Mennonite community.
   Knight said the Lord has been in his heart since he was a young man but his music does not resonate with heavy gospel influence. The family doesn’t use electricity, watch television, or have access to any media.
   Their music is unique because it is a sound that has evolved in relative isolation. That fan that asked what it is they do play suggested to Knight after hearing their performance that this music might be called “New American Family Traditional Folk.”

  “I like the sound of that,” Knight said. “I guess when folks ask us what type of music we play, that’s what I’ll tell them.”
   On Tuesday, the Knight family did what they actually came to Three Rivers to do: visit Sequoia National Park and see the Big Trees.

  “It’s the first time we have ever been west and we all thought a trip would be a nice break from the rigors of life on the farm,” Knight said.
   After a stop at the Kaweah Post Office on Thursday, Sept. 7, the Knight family drove their school bus toward the setting sun. Next stop? Yosemite and then onto parts north and west.
   For more information about the Knights or to purchase the CD Way Down Inside or a family video, visit: or call (270) 618-5533.

Charity cycling event will

ensure smiles for children

   It’s a birth defect that can be fixed with a 45-minute, $250 operation. The problem is that the condition of a cleft lip or palate doesn’t discriminate and affects children worldwide, many of whom don’t have the access or means to quality medical care.
   Presently, a local resident is planning to do what he does best to ensure that every child in the world who needs cleft surgery receives it. Kevin Foster is a retired professional cyclist, and next Saturday he’ll be back in the saddle to lead a 60-mile ride through Tulare County to raise funds for The Smile Train, an international nonprofit organization that provides free cleft surgery to children worldwide, nearly 184,000 to date.
   Kevin knows he can’t conquer such a cause on his own. That’s why he’s asking anyone who’s up to the challenge to join him on his mission.
   The charity ride will take place Saturday, Sept. 16, beginning and ending at the Lions Arena. Registration is from 7 to 8 a.m. and riders will hit the road at 8:30.
   The registration fee is $25. Riders are also being asked to collect pledges and provide donations of at least $250, which will ensure one surgery for one child.

  “I’m trying everything I can think of to generate interest,” said Kevin. “That includes vouching a personal check for $2,500, enough to help 10 children.”
   The Smile Train’s special events coordinator, Michele Sinesky, will travel from New York to personally assist at next weekend’s fundraising event. Her husband, Al, will participate in the ride.
   The route will take cyclists from Three Rivers, around Lake Kaweah, through Lemon Cove, south into Yokohl Valley, up over Rocky Hill, north into Woodlake, and back around the lake. Riders may take as long as they want to complete the route – in fact, families (with children 13 and older) are welcome to participate – and it is estimated that the ride will conclude by 2:30 p.m.
   There will be SAG (supplies and gear) and maintenance support along the route, although bicyclists should come prepared with water, snacks, and the fixin’s for a flat. Riders will receive a complimentary T-shirt and hat as well as a post-ride meal.
   So far, about 60 cyclists have pledged their support and will be traveling to Three Rivers from throughout the Central Valley. The riders will be joined on their journey by champion cyclist Catharina Berge, 40, of Visalia, winner of last year’s Race Across America, who will provide motivation as she takes the lead on what will be to her a little jaunt compared to some of her previous endurance rides of hundreds of miles and tens of thousands of feet in vertical elevation gain.
   In addition to rounding up riders for the event, Kevin is also in need of volunteers to assist at the Lions Arena staging area. Local teens are invited to help and earn credit toward their required community-service hours.
   These commitments are simple tasks that will mean the world in the life of a child. The Smile Train has, to date, trained nearly 20,000 doctors to perform the necessary operation to reverse the debilitating birth defect, and 100 percent of all donations goes directly to surgical expenses and physician training.

  “Let’s not think about the looks of the child, but the fact that they can’t eat or drink or breathe properly or smile,” said Kevin. “These are things we ordinary people take for granted.”
   For more information or to register for the ride, visit the cycling event’s website at To learn more about The Smile Train’s mission, visit

‘Operation Gratitude’

gears up for the holidays

Phone cards will be 3R’s

gift to military personnel

   It all started earlier this year when a group of Southern Californians staged Patriotic Drive 2006 to show their appreciation for American military personnel deployed overseas and the Three Rivers Post Office has joined the cause.
   So far, the newly formed, nonprofit, all-volunteer “Operation Gratitude” has held more than 3,000 collection drives and placed bins in 800 Checkers and Rally’s drive-thru restaurants nationwide. One thousand volunteers worked on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, and Father’s Day weekend to package more than 4,000 pounds of Girl Scout cookies, CDs, DVD players, popcorn, sunscreen, disposable cameras, phone cards, and many more items that might bring a smile to a young man or woman serving in Iraq or elsewhere.
   Marine Lance Corporal William James received the 150,000th care package shipped earlier this summer. James is a 20-year old Marine rifleman from San Diego stationed in Iraq.
   Now Operation Gratitude is gearing up for a Holiday Drive scheduled for October 15 to mid-December. The group’s volunteers will begin to package and ship on Veterans Day, November 11.
   The Van Nuys regional center of the U.S. Post Office handled the bulk of shipping the previous Patriotic Drive care packages. That’s when Lori Ontiveros, Three Rivers postmaster, first heard about Operation Gratitude.

  “I was looking for a community service project that the whole town could support,” Ontiveros said. “What these folks in Van Nuys are doing is a neat way for our community to also say thanks to those who are serving our country.”
   Ontiveros said she thinks the phone cards are especially useful so she has made them available through the Three Rivers Post Office.
They are for sale in denominations of $10, $20, and $30.
   The service personnel can use the international cards to stay in touch with home, calls they might otherwise not be able to make.

  “The cards are a great gift for the Holiday Drive and are tax deductible for the donor,” Ontiveros said. “In late October, we’ll deliver them activated to Operation Gratitude as our collective gift from Three Rivers.”
   Ontiveros also said that if anyone has a loved one in the Armed Forces or knows someone who does, they are invited to display a photo and some personal information in the local post office. They can also be one of the Three Rivers recipients, Ontiveros said.
   A display on the postal counter at the Three Rivers Post Office has all the information about how to make a phone card purchase. To date, more than $300 of the cards have been purchased.

  “Just ask any postal associate,” said Ontiveros. “We’ll gladly assist you in making an Operation Gratitude donation.”


Rodney Jones
1947 ~ 2006

   Rodney Wade Jones, a former resident of Three Rivers, died Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006, at his Woodlake home. He was 58.
   A celebration of Rod’s life is planned for Saturday, Sept. 30, from 3 to 5 p.m. The picnic potluck will be held at 42365 North Fork Dr. (at Pierce’s Corner) in Three Rivers.
   Rod was born Nov. 15, 1947, to Elmo and Mary (Metheney) Jones. He was born in Fowler and spent his childhood there, in Tollhouse, and in the Dinkey Creek area in the Sierra east of Fresno.
   He attended Sierra High School in Tollhouse and Fresno City College. He was in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1968, serving on the USS Klondike in the Philippines.
   Rod worked for more than 20 years as both a seasonal and permanent maintenance worker for the National Park Service at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
   In his spare time, he loved landscaping and gardening as well as fishing and photography.
   Rod is survived by his partner of 12 years, Gretchen Hemmerich; his mother, Mary Jones Kinnee; and many friends.

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