Thousands of gravesites at Lakewood Memorial Park are the final resting place of many who lived their lives in Stanislaus County since the 1850s. Names like Ingwerson, Zambruno, Boggeri, and Sperry hallow these grounds. The dead includes those who lived ordinary lives, and others who were local household names, such as Modesto Mayor Lee H. Davies, Ceres Councilman Guillermo Ochoa, state legislators like Ernie LaCoste and John G. Veneman Jr., or Valley radio station owners Mike and Pete Pappas. There are pioneers like the Hudelsons whose graves date back to 1855.
However, it's a little known fact that some celebrities and noteworthy people are also buried in Stanislaus County.
Anyone who at Christmas time digs out their DVD of "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby knows the face and voice of Dean Jagger. The Hollywood actor played General Waverly in the timeless Christmas classic and was Major Harvey Stovall in the 1949 movie "Twelve O'Clock High." After he passed away in Santa Monica on Feb. 5, 1991 after a bout with flu and a heart attack, his body was buried in the North Hyland section of the Hughson cemetery closest to Santa Fe Avenue.
Jagger became acquainted with Stanislaus County through his wife, 1941 Oakdale High School graduate and dance instructor Etta Mae Norton Jagger, who died in 1992 and is buried next to him. Mrs. Jagger appeared in a movie herself, "So Sad About Gloria." It is a 1975 film about a young woman who is just released from a mental hospital and moves back in with her family only to be troubled by disturbing visions in which she commits a series of axe murders. Etta plays a nurse. The film also starred her famous husband.
Mr. Jagger was interviewed for a Ceres Courier article by then editor Lee Roddy in August 1971.
An icon of the Great Depression, Florence Hill Thompson, is buried at Lakewood. Her haggard face came to symbolize the destitution that gripped the country during the Dust Bowl. Thompson was the subject of a famous photo, The Migrant Mother, which was snapped by Dorothea Lange in 1933 in a frozen pea field.
The photo had great impact and caused government officials to send supplies to the camp. Mrs. Thompson, however, had moved on.
Until her death in Scotts Valley, Mrs. Thompson resided in a South Modesto trailer park.
Gerry Russell Conlee, a football player for the Cleveland Rams in 1938, Detroit Lions in 1943, San Francisco 49ers in 1946 and 1947, San Francisco Packers in 1942, is also buried at Lakewood. The very body that suffered a broken nose 14 times and the loss of several teeth during play, is in the ground at Lakewood. In his last two years in the NFL, Conlee played 18 games. He retired from football to become a claims adjuster superintendent for State Farm Insurance. He lived from 1914 to 2005.
The body of Max Foster (1906-1996) rests at Lakewood. Foster gained some fame for starting Foster Farms in the Waterford area. Foster was a Modesto Bee editor in 1939 when he and wife Verda made a down payment on a repossessed 80-acre farm using $1,000 borrowed on a life insurance policy. They began raising turkeys and expanded to chickens and dairy cattle in the 1940s. Foster Farms grew to be the largest privately owned dairy and poultry business in California.
Verda passed away in 1993 and is also in the North Hyland section.
Modesto intern Chandra Levy became a household name in 2001 when she turned up missing on April 30 because of the involvement of then Congressman Gary Condit, D-Ceres. Condit was quizzed by the FBI about his relationship with the 24-year-old office intern, but ultimately cleared of any role in her death. The scandal destroyed Condit's political career, resulting in his defeat in 2002. After the election, Levy's remains turned up in Rock Creek Park near Washington, D.C. in May 2002. Those remains were buried in a Jewish section of Lakewood. El Salvador illegal alien Ingmar Guandique was ultimately tried and convicted as her murderer.
In 2009, NASCAR driver legend Jack McCoy died in Modesto and was buried at Lakewood. From 1962 to 1974, McCoy won a record 54 regional series races including two first place championships in 1966, 1973 and four second place finishes in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1974. He was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2002 and named to the "NASCAR Camping World Series All-Time Top-10" in 2005.
Chester Smith, the country music legend and California TV station manager who died on Aug. 8, 2008, is buried at Lakewood. He started singing on KTRB radio station in Modesto and in 1953 signed a recording contract with Capitol Records. Smith became famous with his hit, "Wait a Little Longer Please Jesus." He left KTRB in 1963 when he received a license to build KLOC radio based in Ceres. KLOC went on the air October 17, 1963 and it was the beginning of the change from entertainer to businessman. Smith teamed up with Spanish International Network (SIN) to bring their network to Northern California. The business relationship with SIN lasted 30 years until 1996 when Smith sold channel 19 to SIN for $40 million and stock valued at an additional $45 million. After the ownership change, their business name was changed to Univision and their studios were moved from Modesto to Sacramento and the call letters changed to KUVS.
The cemetery also bears the body of Michael Prokes, whose death was the bizarre aftermath of the 1978 Jonestown tragedy in Guyana. Prokes was raised in Modesto and became a KXTV reporter in Sacramento who abandoned his job after interviewing cult leader Jim Jones and following him in the People's Temple. Prokes followed Jones when he moved the congregation to Guyana where Jones promised a paradise. News leaked out that Jones was holding people against their will, prompting an investigatory visit by Congressman Leo Ryan on Nov. 16, 1978. The California Democrat found some who wanted to leave but couldn't. When Ryan took 14 defectors with him, the group was killed at the airstrip by nine gunmen. The murder was captured on camera that fell after NBC-TV cameraman Bob Brown was cut down by bullets. Jones then led over 900 followers to drink Kool-Aid laced with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide, and Phenergan to commit suicide.
Not all died in Jonestown. Instead of taking part in the mass suicide, Prokes and two other temple members were ordered by Jones to flee the settlement and deliver a suitcase full of money to the Soviet embassy; however they were arrested by the Guyanese police before they could complete their task. Eventually released, Prokes returned to Modesto where he continued to defend People's Temple. On March 13, 1979 he held a press conference in a Kansas Avenue motel room. After again defending Jones, he excused himself to the restroom where he shot himself.
While the cemetery is not the resting place of Hollywood star Mae West, the man who invented a flotation device named in her honor is there. Andrew Toti was born in Visalia in 1915 and dropped out of Modesto High School but went on to file over 500 patents for things like the Mae West vest. The vest saved the lives of thousands of World War II pilots and sailors from drowning, including U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who, as a Navy pilot, was shot down over the Pacific in 1944. The Mae West, named for the voluptuous American film idol, could be inflated either by blowing air into a tube or by pulling cords that filled the vest's two air chambers with carbon dioxide. Toti also invented the pull tab on soft drink and beer cans, the automatic chicken plucker and a grape-harvesting machine for wine producers Ernest and Julio Gallo. Before dying in 2005 he also co-invented the Endo-Flex endotracheal tube used during surgery.
Other local notables buried at Lakewood are Joseph Edward Gallo, the brother of Ernest and Julio Gallo who was a prominent cheese manufacturer. He died in 2007.
Juana Navarro Arellano, a U.S. Marine who was killed April 8, 2006 in Iraq, is also buried at the park.
Famous in Turlock too
Lakewood isn't the only resting spot in the county of famous people.
Turlock Memorial Park is the resting spot of notorious outlaw William "Bill" Marion Dalton of the infamous Dalton Gang. Dalton's remains are buried in an unmarked grave with his father-in-law, Cyrus Blevin, who was the father of his wife Jane Bliven. Bill and Jane were married June 1885 and they had produced two children, Charles Coleman Dalton and Gracie Dalton.
Dalton was born in 1865 and reportedly dabbled in politics while living in Tulare. Dalton had lived in Livingston for five years where he farmed and ranched before moving to Indian Territory in 1891.
His brothers, Gratton, Bob and Emmett Gratton allegedly came to visit Bob and on the trip robbed a train near Earlimart, Calif. Whether or not Bill participated nobody really knows. Bob and Grat were captured, but later escaped.
When his brothers were killed in the infamous 1892 raid on Coffeyville, Kansas, Bill moved to Oklahoma where he met Bill Doolin. The two formed the Doolin Dalton Gang or the Oklahombres, but it became best known as the Wild Bunch. For three years they committed robberies of banks, stage coaches and trains in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas. On Sept. 1, 1893, they were trailed to Ingalls, Okla., where they had a shootout. Bill allegedly shot and killed Deputy US Marshal Lafeyette Shadley. Bill Dalton left the Doolin Dalton gang and form his own Dalton Gang and they robbed the First National Bank of Longview, Texas, on May 23, 1894.
Various posses would kill three of the members and send the last one to life in prison.
Legend has it that Dalton, 29, was playing with his children at the log cabin of gang affiliate Houston Wallace near Elk (later Pooleville), Okla., when on June 8, 1894, a posse tracked him down. He saw a lawman and dove back in the house for his gun. He was cut down in a hail of bullets and died in the yard. His wife identified his body, and had it shipped back to Livingston for burial at her parent's house. The body was exhumed and buried next to the grave of Cyrus Bliven, who died on May 12, 1902. The grave is marked by a tall monument in the southwest corner of the cemetery opposite the Circle K on East Avenue.
The Turlock cemetery also yields two other famous persons.
Silent movie star Wesley Barry, who died in Fresno in 1991, is at rest in Turlock.
Born in Los Angeles, Barry was seven years old when a young director was attracted by his facial features, and put him to work at the old Kalem Studios. He was not noted for his freckles until Marshall Neilan cast him in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, with his freckles uncovered (earlier producers had insisted that all subjects cover facial blemishes with grease paint).
Soon, Barry became a star in his own right, and 1920's Dinty put him over with great success. Later screen productions which served him as starring vehicles are School Days, Rags to Riches, Heroes of the Street, and Warner specials. He was eleven years old when he appeared opposite Mary Pickford in Daddy-Long-Legs, and later, in Cecil B. DeMille's Male and Female, opposite Gloria Swanson.
Barry made some minor film appearances in sound movies through the 1930s, and his last film appearance was in Ladies' Day in 1943. In the 1940s, Barry became a director and producer of television and B movies, such as The Steel Fist and Racing Blood. During this period, Barry also began a prolific career as an assistant director on many major motion pictures, including the1967 film The St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
In 1962, Barry directed his most well-known film, The Creation of the Humanoids, a science fiction film. Wesley Barry directed his last film, The Jolly Genie, in 1963, and died on April 11, 1994 in Fresno.
Cartoonist and Illustrator Dave Stevens, who is best known for creating the "Rocketeer" comic book as well as several illustrations of pin-up model Bettie Page, is also buried in Turlock. In 1975, he went to work for cartoonist Russ Manning, drawing "Tarzan" and "Star Wars" comic strips. He worked briefly for Hanna-Barbara.
Stevens eventually drew storyboards for films, including "Raiders of the Lost Ark." In 1982, he began work on "Rocketeer" and sold the rights to the story in 1985 to Walt Disney Company to make a film, which was released in 1991. He also became known for his renderings of 1950s pin-up Bettie Page. Page's likeness influenced the heroine in "Rocketeer." He struck up a friendship with Page, and with the help of his drawings made her a name again. Following "Rocketeer" Stevens worked on several projects before his death from leukemia in Turlock at age 52.