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He was born in Shafter and died in Shafter, but in between he lived a life of service, community and family

Merton Wiedmann, a Shafter native who flew into Pacific typhoons as a U.S. Navy weather researcher during World War II, and later became a much-loved pharmacist in his hometown after the war, died Tuesday at home in his beloved Shafter. He was 97.

Wiedmann had been under hospice care when he passed, said Lynn Taylor, one of his three daughters. But he left this world on his own terms.

"He wanted to be at home," Taylor said. "He didn't want to be sent to a (nursing) home or go to a hospital."

When Taylor looks back at the days of her youth, growing up in small-town Shafter, it almost seems like an idealized Norman Rockwell painting right off the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

"It was an idyllic life," Lynn Taylor remembered. "Our parents worked hard and they played hard. My dad genuinely loved people and loved helping people."

If you ever wondered whether pharmacists made house calls, it seems at least one did. And not just to refill prescriptions.

Taylor remembered one difficult night during her teen years. There had been a plane crash in San Luis Obispo County and the family of one of the young men on board lived in Shafter.

"I remember the family calling our house," she said. "My dad went to the store, opened the safe and pulled out enough money to get them to where they needed to go.

"He touched a lot of lives in so many different ways," Taylor said.

Merton Wiedmann — friends and family called him Mert — was born in Shafter in 1924 to pioneering parents who came to the fertile farmland northwest of Bakersfield in about 1915. The couple "took up a farm in the sagebrush and rattlesnakes" of the area, said Stan Wilson, who heads up the Shafter Historical Society.

As a youth, Mert worked in the farm fields or in agricultural packing sheds, as did many youngsters growing up in Kern County in those days.

According to a story by local author-historian Arnold Martinez, which was published in the Shafter Press in 2019, "Mert was a 17-year-old senior at Shafter High School when he heard the news of the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor by the empire of Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941."

Wiedmann told Martinez that the entire student body was in the gymnasium for a general assembly, listening to a radio broadcast when then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced that America was in a state of war with Japan.

Wiedmann graduated the following year, Martinez wrote, and enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 7, 1942, exactly one year after the attack, a date that Roosevelt said would "live in infamy."

Wiedmann was sent by the Navy to midshipmen's school at the University of Notre Dame for training in meteorology, or aerology as the Navy termed it. This officer training was intended to be used to protect the Pacific Fleet and other U.S. assets, including sailors and Marines.

According to the Naval Weather Service Association, a tropical cyclone did slam into the U.S. Pacific Fleet in December 1944, killing hundreds of American sailors and sinking or damaging numerous warships and military aircraft.

The need to predict the power and path of Pacific typhoons was critical. As a result, Wiedmann and his fellow crew members flew directly into the eye of these hurricanes to collect data, Martinez wrote of the dangerous duty.

According to the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command's website, the Navy's weather and ocean programs contributed greatly to the Allied victory in World War II. In addition, Navy forecasters cracked the Japanese weather code.

After the war Wiedmann attended the University of Southern California. He had married Patricia Stringham on Oct. 22, 1944, and would follow his wife into the study of pharmacology. Pat's father had founded Stringham's Shafter Drug in 1919, and both Weidman and his wife became pharmacists.

"The couple later owned and operated Stringham’s from the 1950s until they sold it in 2005," Martinez said in a text message.

"He is loved in Shafter," the author said of Mert. "The Wiedmanns did so much for the community.

"Mert took late-night calls to deliver medicine, and he gave people in need medicine as well," Martinez recalled.

"Just a wonderful, humble man."

It seemed everyone in the community knew him, remembered the historical society's Wilson.

"You couldn't get in the door of his store without saying hello," Wilson said. "He was a volunteer caregiver to the whole community."

In a way, Weidmann's passing may reflect the passing of a way of life. When Rite-Aid moved in to replace Stringham's in 2005, Wilson said he could feel the difference.

"Their generosity in supporting community events and affairs was well known," he said of the Wiedmanns.

Chain stores, Wilson added, simply don't have that same local connection, that dedication to the betterment of the larger community.

"Dad fiercely believed in always doing what was right," said another Wiedmann daughter, Diann Potter. "He loved helping people and was supportive and generous.

"He encouraged people," she said. "He had several letters written to him from high school classmates of my siblings who thanked him (in later years) and credited him as an influence in their lives." 

Family time was also a priority, with "adventurous travels and lots of laughter," Potter remembered. And her father attended to his spiritual needs as a member of Shafter Congregational Bible Church.

He and Pat were blessed with six grandchildren, one of whom died, and seven great-grandchildren.

Patricia, his wife and companion of nearly 64 years, died in 2008. A year later, Wiedmann married for the second time.

Over his lifetime, three of his children followed his footsteps to become practicing pharmacists. A fourth became a physician.

At least one descendant in yet a later generation has also become a pharmacist.

During his long life, his daughter Taylor said, her father came to realize that as much as he gave, the rewards that came back to him were multiplied.

"He didn't think in terms of give and take," she said. "But he knew he received even more than he gave."

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 30 at Mennonite Brethren Church in Shafter.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.