In the News -
Friday, SEPTEMBER 8, 2006
in line of duty
Stone raised in Three Rivers,
career as firefighter
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
type of music do you all play?” one fan asked John Knight prior
to beginning the band’s set. “Is it bluegrass?”
not bluegrass,” John Knight cordially replied. “I’m
not sure what it’s called. Maybe after you hear us you can tell
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,
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
trying everything I can think of to generate interest,” said Kevin.
“That includes vouching a personal check for $2,500, enough to help
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
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.
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 www.kfccc.org. To learn more about The
Smile Train’s mission, visit www.smiletrain.org.
up for the holidays
cards will be 3R’s
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
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.
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
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.
ask any postal associate,” said Ontiveros. “We’ll gladly
assist you in making an Operation Gratitude donation.”
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.