Well, What D'Ya Know?
The Spirit of Tehachapi
When people tell me, “Gee, you know lots about Tehachapi!” I just tell them that what I know, I know, and what I don’t know, I really don’t know! About the time I think I have it all together, is when I find out I need a few more lessons. This town has its secrets and some are left unsaid simply because they weren’t newsworthy enough to make the newspaper but were part of community life and would bring a smile or a tear to those remembering. Then, of course, there are some secrets that are better left alone and those, I will omit or let someone else spill the beans.
Our local “men of God” who have passed through our lives in past years have left some endearing tales that make us appreciate their efforts, not only to bring Christianity to the community, but to prove that they sometimes go just one step farther in their “good deed doing.”
Dorothy Banducci Perry, daughter of Mary and Joe Banducci, once told me that in the early 1900s Catholic Priest, Father Joseph Wanner, had a wide range to cover to reach members of his flock. This extended to the Owens Valley, east to Needles and south to San Fernando; Fr. Wanner was seen often hopping a freight to get to the destination. One of his visits extended to the Old Tejon Ranch southeast of Tehachapi.
Local man, Sam Iriart, made a trip with Fr. Wann, and Father would spend the night at the farm and early the next morning Father, accompanied by Sam Iriart and sixteen year old Mary Perrier, would ride horseback on the narrow Cedar Canyon Trail down the mountain ending up at the El Tejon Ranch to serve Indian families residing in the area. He would Baptize infants, bless graves, marry young people and say Mass before heading back up Cedar Canyon again. All of this was accomplished in one day. They would spend another night at the Perrier ranch and then head back to Tehachapi. Sam Iriart, the willing “chauffeur” used to laughingly remark, “It took me three days to get rid of that priest!” Incidentally, Mary Perrier was to later marry Joe Banducci, the son of Angelo and Jane Banducci. The properties gradually became known as the Banducci ranch.
During another time; the year of the earthquake – 1952 – Father Silvano Baquedano, Pastor of St. Malachy Church, was able to impart just enough information to the Bishop of the (then) Monterey-Fresno Diocese to get a new double car garage built on the church property. It would seem that Fr. Baquedano (usually called Fr. Baque) had asked for permission to have a larger garage built that would accommodate both his car and that of his assistant, Fr. John Kennedy. The Assistant’s car usually sat out in the bad weather. Bishop Aloysius Willinger gave him a “thumbs down” decision about building a larger structure. After the earthquake Father Baque was “pretty sure” that the garage was sufficiently damaged to warrant a new building. Just to make sure, though, he had local man, Jake Berry, bring over his bulldozer and “take it down a bit.” Just to make certain! With aftershocks coming in rapid succession who could say? The years 1951-52 were very wet years with 16.9 inches of precipitation and both autos were safe and dry.
Local resident, the Reverend Lewis Wakeland, who for many years was pastor of the Community Congregational Church on Green and E Streets, has given me a few unknown facts that can be tucked away into our memories with a smile. The local Equestrian Group would ride to the area near the Old West Ranch on an occasional Sunday morning to have breakfast and attend a Worship Service conducted by the Reverend. On a particular Sunday, arriving a little later than the horseback folk, he was approached by businessman, Spencer Lees, who asked him if he would consider riding one of the horses back to town.
Not having ridden in a while, but willing to help, the Reverend assented but soon found that the horse was not very interested in obeying what commands he was being given. He concentrated on managing to stay on as opposed to walking back to town and they made it to Spencer’s ranch in Old Town.
Some days later he met Iva Smith, wife of the Tehachapi Chief of Police, who asked him why he had ridden that awful horse back to town. She said that Spencer said he was looking for some sucker who would ride the ill-mannered steed back home and everyone else had refused.
Not to be his last horseback experience he found himself, this time, performing a wedding at the Golden Hills Equestrian Center with good old Spencer Lees acting as one of the ushers and the whole bridal party, including the Reverend, on horseback. This time his well behaved mount was owned by real estate broker, Bob Karpe. The life of a “man of the cloth” can take interesting turns occasionally.
One last tidbit of past history involves Meals on Wheels, an ongoing program here in town that had its beginning with none other than, yep, you guessed it, Reverend and Mary Lou Wakeland. At first, the expense was handled by the church and then the County began to subsidize it. Mary Lou and Blanche Kimberley did the cooking in those early days and the Reverend was the delivery man. Not on horseback this time, but in his 1941 Chevy sedan!