Jeff Jardine

Inspirational airport neighborhood activists will be missed

A family photo shows Frank and Marcy Wood at Christmastime, posing with Santa. The Woods died 7 hours and 6 minutes apart at Hospice.
A family photo shows Frank and Marcy Wood at Christmastime, posing with Santa. The Woods died 7 hours and 6 minutes apart at Hospice. Unknown

A longtime friend described Frank and Marcy Wood as being "like one person."

They were married for 50 years. They raised three children. They were staunch supporters of Modesto's airport neighborhood, helping to create Airport Neighbors United. The organization works to improve living and social conditions in one of the valley's most economically challenged areas. The Woods served on its board together.

Frank was a passionate advocate for children, to the point of getting fired up and even riled up on occasion.

Marcy could calm him.

"Now, Frank ... ," she would say quietly, and he would ease up.

So when they died seven hours, six minutes apart one week ago today, it seemed only fitting they would depart this world together.

"I don't think they would have wanted it any other way," said Laurie Jackson, who met the couple when they all began working together 15 years ago to improve the neighborhood.

Frank, 72, who endured diabetes and a series of heart attacks, died at 11:53 a.m. in the Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson.

A few rooms away in the same place, Marcy joined him at 6:59 p.m., a cancer victim at 64.

"I think he was waiting on her," said their daughter, Debra Kester of Arkansas, though Frank went first.

They'll definitely be missed in the airport neighborhood, where they lived since the 1950s and made such positive impacts.

"Frank was very active," said Mary Lynn Lebow, Airport Neighbors United's coordinator. "Marcy was the backbone."

In 1993, Jackson was a social worker at Orville Wright Elementary in the neighborhood. The Sacramento-based Sierra Health Foundation wanted to develop a safety and help program.

"They wanted to make changes from inside out," Jackson said. "They wanted the community to identify its own needs."

Frank, who had just retired from his civilian job at Castle Air Force Base, and Marcy attended the first meeting. Then they hosted one for their neighbors at their home near Oregon Park. Those neighbors then hosted more meetings. They launched Airport Neighbors United in 1994.

They persuaded the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and Modesto police to open a joint substation on Yosemite Boulevard. They visited neighbors to discuss the issues and needs, dividing the neighborhood into four areas, each with a representative.

Over the month of April 1997, Frank Wood alone made 132 home visits. They worked with city officials to get sidewalks and better lighting in the neighborhood's areas within the city limit.

They worked to rebuild Oregon Park, getting grants to install playground equipment for young children in an attempt to reclaim the park from the gangs that considered it their turf. Despite the combined efforts, Ernestina "Tina" DeJesus Tizoc, a 17-year-old Johansen High School student, was killed by a bullet from a passing car as she sat under a gazebo in Oregon Park in 2004.

Undeterred, Frank Wood continued to visit the park. He'd talk to anyone there, from the most hardened gang banger to the most timid child.

"He never judged them," Lebow said. "He never had an enemy. They might not have known him by name, but they knew him as the gentleman in the rainbow suspenders."

Frank received the Blue Cross Community Service Award -- an honor echoed by the California Legislature -- in 2003. And he was on hand for Opening Day of the youth baseball association season at Oregon Park in May, but his illnesses ultimately sidelined him.

Marcy, meanwhile, continued to be involved in Airport Neighbors United until about three weeks before her death, attending meetings and visiting neighbors.

They will be eulogized during a service beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Modesto Foursquare Gospel Church, where Frank Wood was the church's "hugger" and assisted in the children's ministry. Eric Chapman, the church's youth minister, will honor Frank by wearing his rainbow suspenders.

"Undeniably, that man cared for every kid who walked in the door," Chapman said. "He was just like a grandpa to them."

Frank and Marcy Wood lived together as one, died just hours apart and will be remembered together, too.

It's only fitting.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News.

He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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