Paul Mitchell

by Sue Haffner

Paul MitchellThis is a hard column to write. Yes, we knew that Paul was being treated for cancer; we knew what the prognosis was. Still, he attended the January meeting and every one agreed that he was looking good and was far stronger than he had been when we’d last seen him. I sat next to him during the program during which he evinced close attention, and I expected to see him next month. But he passed away suddenly on January 13th. He was 87.

A native Californian, Paul and his family moved to Reedley in 1946 when Paul was a high school sophomore. His stepfather was a ranch hand and the family lived in a chicken coop on the property. (It had a concrete floor, though.) They had to dig their own outside privy. Paul spent summers in the Sierras at a Boy Scout camp, sessions that inspired his interest in science and nature. After he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Fresno State College (as it was then), he was hired in 1953 by Reedley High School to teach history and coach JV baseball. Later he taught natural and earth science. He spent many years coaching baseball and football. He became a legend in the Valley sports community.

The same year that he began teaching, both the high school and Reedley College needed someone to handle PA announcing duties at their games and Paul decided to give it a try. He remained the announcer and statistician for Reedley College football and men’s basketball from 1953 to 2014 (61 years!) He prided himself on never missing a Reedley College home game. He also called in the game scores to the Fresno Bee.

Paul and MadeleineIn 2013 Paul, Madeleine, and I were on the same flight to the CSSA Convention in Austin, Texas. The ticket clerk at the Fresno Air Terminal was one of Paul’s old students. I believe one of the people working in security was, also. (That did not help Paul, though. They wouldn’t let him take his Swiss army knife on the plane.)

Several present and former club members are among Paul’s old students, including Cindy Duwe and Rudy Rapisura. Mary Ann Villegas’ husband, Rafael, met up with Paul at one of our cactus meetings and greeted Paul with “study and contrast”, apparently which is what he frequently stated in his Biology class.

Paul joined FC&SS in the early 1980s. Not long after, he got acquainted with an other member, Madeleine Stratman. Let me tell you that story: in 1984 the club had a picnic and field trip in a small park in the Coalinga area. Some members decided to climb an adjacent hill. As I was puffing along, Madeleine came beside me. We chatted a bit then she asked about some guys who were ahead of us. "What’s his name?” she asked, indicating one of them. “Paul,” I said. Pretty soon she was up beside him, striding along. The rest, as they say, is history. They’ve been married since 1987.

That was just the first of many hikes the two of them took together. They visited Death Valley every winter and it was Paul’s goal to visit every single California state park and historical monument. In addition,he took tours to Yemen, Socotra, Chile and other deserts of intense interest to cactophiles.

Besides Madeleine, Paul is survived by his children, Susan, Andy, Jeff and Dan, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

We will all miss him greatly. The club has lost more than just an ordinary member.

Paul Mitchell