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Ventura shows little respect for its dead

By Patricia Clark Doerner
July 18, 2004

Ventura shows little respect for its dead

Re: your June 27 article, "Resident saves old lights for cemetery": Hurrah for Steve Schleder and Mel Sheeler! The rumor was that all families were contacted when the city decided to turn St. Mary's Cemetery into a park in 1964. No one in the Clark family was notified, even though many family members lived in the county at the time.

My uncle, William P. Clark, has a building named for him at the fairgrounds and even he was not notified.

I commend Mr. Schleder for trying to relocate the headstones to the park, but I doubt he'll be able to locate them. Evidently, the headstones were dumped in Hall Canyon; some, rumor has it, were ground for roadbed.

I was one of the fortunate ones. The then-Ventura Star-Free Press printed an article about me in March of 1989 and included among the pictures one of me playing my harp.

Two months later, I got a call from John Lashbrook, of Ventura, who asked if I might be related to Michael Hugh Clark. John had made the connection mainly because there was a harp carved on my great-grandfather's headstone. When I explained the relationship, John said, "I think I might have something that belongs to you." He then explained that his sons had seen the tombstone, dragged it out of the heap and, with his help, moved it to their Ventura home. He refused any payment, but we did celebrate with a magnum of champagne and I remain so grateful for his kindness.

I think of the pain that was caused by such lack of consideration by the city of Ventura and wonder that it would consider changing the park to any other use than a cemetery. My grandmother, Alice Barnett Clark, had three children buried in the old cemetery and it haunted her that she could no longer locate the sites. She requested that they be moved to Ivy Lawn to be buried alongside her after her death. This was done.

We still have at least four family members buried there as do so many other pioneer families: Canet, Cagnacci, Cardona, Camarillo, Dennison, Daily, etc.

Although most of the headstones will probably remain missing, it would seem the better part of valor on the part of the city to place markers at the gravesites. Could it not be a project of the Ventura County Museum of History & Art to research the stories behind the names and prepare some sort of permanent exhibit in the park? It would be a valuable asset to the community if handled properly.

I will be happy to return my great- grandfather's headstone to its original resting place, should the decision come about to restore the ground to its proper status.

-- Patricia Clark Doerner lives in Ojai.


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