From the emails and voice mails:
MORE ON JOSIE – Last week, I wrote about Josephine Marks, a Waterford resident who designated a significant portion of her $1.3 million estate to benefit children and the arts. Her great-nephew Rob Kunde came to Modesto to present checks to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County, Modesto Gospel Mission, the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau’s Camp Sylvester in the Sierra for kids, and the Waterford Education Foundation.
Marks died at 98 in 2001. Some folks who read the column emailed me to offer more information and stories about her.
Brian Kunde of Tracy, another of her great-nephews, explained that she was born Guiseppina Casazza in Boston in 1903, the third of six children of Italian immigrants. She Anglicized her first name to Josephine in school and later her last name to Casann. After her mother died in 1917, her father abandoned the family. The children all went to an orphanage. An older sister put Joe, as she was known, through nursing school and the sisters came West by train to San Francisco.
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“Her passion was for travel,” Brian Kunde wrote. “With her earnings from nursing, she took cruises to Hawaii, Japan, China and Brazil, and in later years traveled extensively in Europe and elsewhere. She made her home in Honolulu, where she made a good living as a private duty nurse, even in the Great Depression. That was when she started building her fortune. She was a sharp operator, and did not always leave happiness in her wake. But she was good at putting her money to work for her and saving what it brought in. I don’t believe she ever spent much, except on investments, travel and mementos from her travels.”
From Lloyd Castles, who served evictions for her when necessary: “She told a dark story of how she had to tend to the injured survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack,” Castle wrote. “Her arrival back in San Francisco was not just a routine sail. ... As she told it, there wasn’t enough regular beds for the wounded, and they had people lying in every conceivable hallway and room on the vessel. Stretchers littered the halls, and the smell of burned flesh was overpowering in the lower decks. The congestion and lack of adequate dressings and antiseptics added to the burden. A few of those boys died on the trip and there was nothing that they could really do for them under those circumstances, except administer the ‘opiates’ as she called them. (Morphine, I assume).
“I will never forget the look on her face, as her gaze drifted away during her story. You could see the pain in her expression when she mentioned the ones they lost. And the tears came as she reflected on that experience. Very stressful, and a supreme test of her mettle.”
From Waterford resident Melinda Hoff: “She traveled yearly as long as she could to a Shakespeare festival up north, and donated to it as well. She had a passion for things that no one ever realized when they could not get beyond the bag lady appearance. Josie traveled the world; once I remember that she was going on a trip (Russia I believe) and my mother was so concerned that she wouldn’t dress appropriately, that mom started cleaning out her closet to outfit Josie for her trip. On her 80th birthday, she hiked the Himalayas.”
And, finally, from former Waterford Police Chief Jim Waddell: “I want to say we became friends after a somewhat tumultuous relationship that went on for years after I refused to evict her tenants or correct some other wrong she brought to me when I was restrained by law from enforcing her will,” Waddell wrote. “Our relationship was cordial, as she wouldn’t allow anyone to penetrate emotionally her tough-as-a-walnut outer shell.
“Somewhere in my files in the basement, I still have letters she wrote to the city manager or city council about my performance. There are several letters where she commended my performance and just as many when she let the governing board know, very plainly, that I was a worthless jerk that needed replacing.
“To say she was fair, I totally agree. I remember her fondly.”
STEPPING UP – Every three months, the McHenry Museum & Historical Society releases a new edition of Stepping Stones, which focuses on people and events of yore. This month’s highlights the San Joaquin River and the role it’s played in the county’s development. You could say the history folks have gone modern. They’re posting videos on YouTube, each roughly three minutes in length and featuring items that will be detailed in the quarterly newsletter. They’re well done and, as you’d expect, informative. On YouTube.com, type “Stanislaus Stepping Stones” into the search field to view the first two entries.