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Retired fire chief keeps artistic flames burning
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Retired fire chiefs don’t just fade away.

For some, as in the case of Jim Monty, they just keep the artistic flames burning.

After he retired as chief of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District in 2008, Monty was forced to sell the family home at Raymus Village off Lathrop Road and Highway 99 and move to Mariposa to take care of his mother who was seriously ill. He took care of her until she passed away.

But even with her gone, Monty is still hard at work – this time, in helping preserve the legacy she left behind called The Elizabeth Specht Memorial: Miniatures in Mariposa – A Fine Arts Exhibition. He is currently in the middle of helping set up the 16th annual juried exhibition with the winning entries to be exhibited at the Sierra Artists Gallery, Highway 140 and 6th Street in Mariposa.

“I’m kind of keeping my mom’s program going. She started it, and when she died I kept it going,” said Monty who is, himself, an award-winning photographer.

“It was something that she really loved, so I just wanted to keep it going. The mini-show this year will be on March 5-24,” said Monty who did the brochure for this year’s art competition.

The juried exhibition attracts not only artists from all over California but from all over the world, Monty said.

Submitted entries must not exceed 48 square inches – and that’s including mat and frame, with a maximum size of 25 square inches. It’s a painting specialty that was favored by Monty’s mother – she remarried after her first husband, Monty’s father, died. She often entered her paintings at the annual Lathrop Mayor’s Art Purchase Show and Sale in the spring. Like Monty, Specht also had won prizes at the show.

Not to be outdone, the former fire chief who has been an avid photographer for years, has also entered some of his photographs at the Mayor’s Art Show which either received the judges’ nod or were purchased by art collectors.

And even though he now lives in Mariposa, he still takes the annual trek to Lathrop to volunteer his services to Bennie and Joyce Gatto who, with their volunteer crew, put together the exhibit for the show.

Monty has gone back to working in the Mariposa fire district. The difference is that, his stint is entirely voluntary with no pay. He is currently a Battalion Chief. There’s “no pay,” he said tongue-in-cheek, but there’s “no boredom” either.

He didn’t plan on being a volunteer fire crew when he moved to the high-elevation residential community.

“It all started with the Oliver Fire we had here,” he said, recalling the devastating fire of 2008, the year he moved to the picturesque town along the Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park.

The lightning-sparked fire, which endangered nearly 50 homes in the Ponderosa Basin, destroyed nearly 2,800 acres and cost an estimated $10.24 million. More than 1,000 firefighters were involved in battling the blaze at its height.

“It bothered me that I didn’t know what was going on (about the Oliver Fire), so I joined up as a firefighter and progressed up (the ladder)” until he became the volunteer battalion chief, Monty said.

The fire district in Mariposa is different from the way the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District is set up, he explained. The LMFD’s reserve program pays its reserve personnel when they get called during fire calls. In Mariposa, there are only two paid firefighters – a fire chief and a deputy fire chief.

“The rest (of the crew) is volunteer,” Monty said. And that includes a jurisdiction of 14 stations, he added.

While he was taking care of his own mother, Monty himself has had some health scares.

“It was a steph infection between two vertebrae. I was in St. Joseph’s (Hospital in Stockton) for nine days,” he said.

“My doctor said I came close to calling it a day and being paralyzed. But I recovered. My health is doing well. In fact, I gained some weight that I’m trying to get rid of,” said Monty who took over the helm at the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District in 2004 from the retiring Jerry Sims, who recently passed away in Reno.

The Elizabeth Specht Memorial Miniatures juried exhibition will open March 5. Deadline for entries is March 1, and the awards presentation is slated for March 24. For more information about the competition and for an application form, visit