Like so many others in Tehachapi, I was shocked and saddened by the recent passing of our mayor and biggest community booster, Ed Grimes. I was aware of his illness, but I thought and hoped he had more time with us. I knew Ed for many years, and the more I knew him, the more I liked him.
Ed and I had many in-depth conversations over the years, and he was always genuine, honest and sincere. He was also a loving person. He dearly loved his family, his friends and his hometown of Tehachapi. He was demonstrably affectionate, as am I; when we encountered each other, we always hugged. We're both like that.
When Ed Grimes first came to live in Tehachapi in 1950, the odds in life were heavily stacked against him: he was a 7-year-old, half Latino boy whose father had abandoned him and his brother, Jerry, and he had been bounced around in eight different foster homes after his mother, Helen Arvizu, contracted tuberculosis and was confined to the Stoneybrook Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Keene for two years until her death.
The rare times that Ed and Jerry were able to visit their mom, it was through a fence or a window; they weren't allowed direct contact for fear of them catching TB. It is achingly painful to even contemplate such heartbreak for a mother and her children. Unthinkable.
It would have been difficult to imagine that this hard luck lad would one day become mayor of the city of Tehachapi, be chosen Father of the Year, lead several different elected boards and become a dearly loved and respected citizen. And yet this little boy, who was raised on hard work with little love or affection, accomplished all this and more.
As wards of the state, Ed and Jerry were taken into the foster home of Jake and Clara Ratzlaff, who farmed potatoes, alfalfa and sugar beets for seed in the eastern portion of the Tehachapi Valley. The boys were expected to work long hours on the farm, and they were provided with room and board but not hugs or familial warmth.
Ed’s favorite outlet was competing in the newly-formed youth baseball team — a single team, not a league — that was organized by Karl Backes and Tom Smart in 1955 and played all 18 of their games in Bakersfield. Other team members included Ed’s brother, Jerry, Rusty and Bub Snider, Danny Cronin, Mike Killingsworth and others. Ed wasn’t tall but he was a tough catcher and he was selected as the first ever All-Star player from a Tehachapi team. As an adult he was heavily involved in the Little League program for 20 years, serving as president for 10 years. When I was growing up, Ed Grimes was Mr. Little League.
After graduating from high school, Ed went into the Army from 1962-65, and then went to work at the California Correctional Institution for 33 years, retiring as a captain. He then spent five more years working as a chief deputy warden for Cornell Corrections. And this former foster child with no parents became a devoted family man, who had four children — Mike, Shelly, Ryan and Jason — and 10 grandchildren.
Ed served on many local boards, including the Tehachapi City Council where he was chosen mayor three different times, the Tehachapi Unified School District Board of Trustees, where he was the chairman five times, the Tehachapi Valley Recreation & Park District board, and more. He and his wife, Ruthie, also gave an annual THS scholarship that awarded more than $10,000 to local grads.
Ed announced all the Tehachapi High School home football games for many years, and was the “Voice of the Warriors.” He was very competent and professional, and his delivery was clear, easy to understand and fair to both teams. But he didn't even try to hide the excitement in his voice when THS entered the end zone and he could announce gleefully "Touchdown, Warriors!" I can so plainly hear Ed making that familiar announcement in my head as I write this, and my eyes keep watering for some reason.
And what motivated a man who could clearly have stayed home and rested on past accomplishments?
“I want to give back to the town that has given me so much,” Ed told me. “I didn’t start with much, but I’ve come a long ways, and found my family, home, and career in this community. I couldn’t be happier with my life and my Tehachapi hometown."
Ed was a man with a big family and hundreds of friends, and the epic and unlikely journey of that former foster child is an inspiration to anyone who knows his story. You don't get to be as popular as Ed by being nice for a year or two; it can only come from being helpful and kind to a whole lot of people over many, many years.
Ed, it was no secret that you dearly loved your hometown of Tehachapi. It was also no secret that we loved you back. Thank you, thank you, my friend for your devotion, dedication and your unselfishness.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.