Our lives have been so disrupted this year in so many different ways because of the coronavirus pandemic. One major effect has been the manner in which we celebrate our loved ones, since big gatherings have been discouraged. One Tehachapi family came up with a creative way to celebrate the 95th birthday of longtime resident Jean Lantz: a car parade past her house.

The much-beloved Jean turned 95 on July 28, and her youngest daughter Vali Muro and neighbor and friend Barbara Oberg came up with the idea of a parade. So with help from Vali and Ernie Muro’s daughters Kalie and Kasie, friends and neighbors were told of the plan and decorations were prepared.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, a string of cars slowly made their way past the Lantz house, each car stopping in front to visit with Jean, who sat outside on a birthday girl throne.

There were handmade signs and balloons, and a beautiful printed sign provided by Christina Scrivner, director of philanthropy at Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley hospital, thanking Jean for her many, many years as a volunteer for the Guild of Tehachapi Hospital.

Jean has a big family — she and her late husband Dae had eight children, who in turn provided them with 20 grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren and 5 great great-grandchildren, for a total of 69 Lantz descendants. Son Dae III traveled the furthest, coming from Oregon for his Mom’s 95th.

“I was planning a large party with family from all over the USA for Mom’s birthday, but COVID-19 messed that up,” Vali told me, “But we still had to celebrate her 95 years in some way. Mom was so happy! She said it was the best party she’s had yet!”

I’ve known Jean for many decades now – she was the teacher’s aide in my sixth grade class at Wells Elementary School with teacher Chuck Kraft, and she was such a loving, kind and supportive person that she is one of my brightest memories from all of elementary school. Her husband Dae was a kindly, prince of man as well.

We’ve only become closer over the years, and I’m proud to be an honorary member of the Lantz family, and it was a delight to see Tehachapi celebrating the life of this remarkable lady.

Honoring Tehachapi rancher Neal Losey

In addition to impacting birthdays and weddings, the pandemic has also disrupted funerals and celebrations of life when we lose loved ones, and it seems like Tehachapi has lost a lot of remarkable people in 2020.

One of these is Neal Losey, a longtime cattleman and a man with a keen intellect who died on April 29 at age 77 from cancer. Neal was a one of a kind, and I’m glad to have been his friend.

Neal first came to Tehachapi in 1972 with his family to work as a foreman for Bud Cummings at the historic Cummings Ranch, and he later went into the cattle business for himself.

Although he loved ranching and all that entails, I always thought of Neal first and foremost as a philosopher and observer of human events. He had an amazing speaking voice, and in his youth had trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. His deep baritone was made for radio, and he could have had a career behind a microphone with his unforgettable voice and flawless diction. He could also sing, and knew at least the most salient lines of many show tunes.

Although Neal could seem gruff and intimidating, at heart he was very kind and considerate, and I always felt like his sometimes dour and cynical exterior was merely his way of protecting the sensitive, insightful and caring man inside. He was unfailingly respectful towards seniors, and though he may have seemed gruff around them, little children delighted him.

Neal was self-deprecating and always made light of his abilities and achievements. I told him many times that I wanted to write a column about him, and he always nixed the idea, telling me that “surely you can find someone more interesting and accomplished to write about.”

No, Neal, you were as interesting and intelligent as anyone I’ve ever written about, and your friendship was valued and cherished by your many Tehachapi friends. We loved you and you will not be forgotten by us.

There will be a memorial in Neal’s honor at Tehachapi City Park (Phil Marx Central Park) on August 15 at 11:30 a.m. There is special significance to that date, time and place: that would have been the time when the annual Tehachapi Mountain Festival parade on F Street had ended, and people would make their way to the park for Mt. Fest. Neal was a fixture at every Mountain Festival, so since this year’s event has been cancelled, his children Neal and Roxanne chose that location to honor and remember their remarkable father.

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to tehachapimtnlover@gmail.com.