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Neighbors Profile: Lester Murphy cared for Ceres parks
Lester & Martha have spent 50 years together
Former city parks worker Lester Murphy is now missing a leg it was removed in May but he has the undying support of wife Martha Murphy. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

I spent an hour last week with an unassuming Ceres couple who don't seem to take life for granted and don't feel they are owed anything. Not even a leg.

Rose Hefeley, the oldest daughter of Lester Murphy called me up weeks ago to suggest she would like to see her dad earn some recognition for giving 21-and-a-half years of his life to the maintenance of Ceres parks for the enjoyment of residents. She explained that he had been retired for some time and recently lost a leg due to an unfortunate series of medical complications following a knee replacement surgery.

I met in their home Friday afternoon and was made welcome by both Lester and wife Martha. The house is crowded with knickknacks and collectible aluminum cans and bottles displayed on shelves. After introductory handshakes I was disarmed by Lester's humility. He invited me to take a seat in his motorized wheelchair or another chair.

Lester's left leg was removed in May and he was still feeling phantom feelings in toes that weren't there. "The leg feels like it's still there," he told me.

With great detail, Martha explained how Lester got a knee replacement about eight years ago and was allergic to chromium in the device. Turns out his body rejected the foreign object, there was a serious infection and Lester came very close to dying. The knee replacement was removed in lieu of a straight leg rod. It worked for a while but the problem was, the bar was chiseling away at the bone and in danger of fragmenting and breaking. The decision was made to remove the leg on May 9.

"I didn't want to lose the leg but as far as being depressed I think I got depressed one day and after that it was just something that had to be," said Lester, 77.

Since then he's had to learn how to get around with the help of Margaret. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August.

Lester was born to Chester and Geneva Murphy in Tolleson, Ariz., and in six months they relocated to the Bakersfield area where his dad found farm work. He graduated from the eighth grade in 1954 but dropped out of his junior year in high school in 1957.

"I just couldn't cut it, as they say."

Like his dad, Lester found work in the fields. He moved sprinkler lines and drove tractor for farms that grew garlic, potatoes, carrots, onions, cotton and grapes. While growing up in Arvin, Lester's family attended the Pentecostal church. He was sent to Odessa, Texas for what he thought would be an extended ministry but his task would prove only to be winding down a church. Two weeks Lester was sent to Stanislaus County where he met Martha Sawyer in the Full Gospel Tabernacle on Service Road.

Martha, as it turns out, was born about 15 miles from Lester's birthplace in Arizona. She and her family later lived in the San Jose area but when their church closed, they also came to Ceres.

Painfully shy, Lester's courtship consisted of writing Martha four letters. At the time Lester was 25 and she was 17.

"Her best friend was a friend of mine so I asked her what her address was. I wrote her a letter."

Martha confirms that Lester was "shy - very shy." The letters conveyed his desire to settle down and raise a family. Because Martha's dad was a Pentecostal preacher, he didn't see any need for the two to rush into things. Martha wrote back to Lester saying she wasn't going to pursue things and dropped the correspondence. Lester resolved to move on.

Meanwhile Rev. Reuben Tackett of the Ceres church blessed the couple's desires during a worship service. Tackett publicly asked Lester if he was agreeable to marry Martha and he said, "I'll go along with that" - a phrase he still laughs about saying. Because the couple wanted to get married before Rev. Tackett was to depart for Texas the following week, a wedding was hastily prepared for Aug. 30, 1967.

"We had a beautiful wedding," Martha remembered. " The day after our wedding we moved to Fallon, Nevada, and he served there for six months."

In March 1967 the couple was assigned to the Arvin church. In August 1969 they were in Odessa Texas for six months, then back to Arvin in March 1970.

The couple moved to Ceres in 1976 for ministry at the Full Gospel Tabernacle. The Murphys left the church in 1990.

"I was in that organization for 50 years. I was just a little kid when my mom started me."

Lester worked farm labor jobs in the Patterson area when he decided to seek a Ceres School District job through the CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) program. J.D. Horton, the head of maintenance for Ceres schools, arranged for his employment.

After nearly 10 months on the jon, Lester said "the president decided that kids that wasn't married needed the job worse than the men that were married."

An opening of a maintenance worker position with the city of Ceres became available and he was hired by Tom Jackson in September 1980. For 21-1/2 years Lester Murphy drove the riding lawnmower in approximately 10 city parks.

"I got 'em done every week and got the mower cleaned up for the next week."

In the winter he pruned trees in the parks.

"I loved it," said Murphy. "I enjoyed the guys I worked with. I was one of these guys who gave 110 percent."

He is still amused that one day Ceres police asked him to pose for a photo so he could be placed in a photo line-up of suspects.

"They said there is a (suspect) who looks a lot like you and we want to put your picture in the album so the guy who saw this happen can pick out which one. They didn't pick me so evidently it wasn't me. I thought it was funny."

His employment came to an end in 2001.

"Actually I didn't quit, I didn't retire. I got fired because of my knee and I had missed work for almost a year and they sent me a little letter saying ‘Your services are no longer required here. Turn your keys in at City Hall.' "

John Haynes was supervisor when he left the city.

"She was so upset because they didn't give me a retirement party," said Lester, laughing. "I said, ‘Ma, I didn't retire - they fired me!"

The marriage produced three children, the first of whom was a boy who lived only 12 hours after his birth in 1968. Rose came along in 1969 and Rhonda Howser in 1971. Today they have four grandchildren.

Since retirement he's done little, especially now that he's missing a leg. He loves to watch sports - mostly wrestling and football - and has not abandoned his NFL teams.

There are times he rolls his motorized wheelchair over to Roeding Heights Park to check out the work being done by those who replaced him.

I'm sure the thought occurs to him that despite our function, we all get replaced sooner or later.