Peggy DeStefano

Peggy DeStefano

Another scorching 90-plus-degree day settled on the landscape in Bakersfield on the first day of August 1985. I made my first friend, one who would endure for more than 35 years.

Chuck Wall and I gravitated to one another on the first day of the academic year at the new faculty orientation at Bakersfield College. I met Chuck, a member of the business faculty who exuded charisma and collegiality. From the outset, we shared an eclectic and expansive sense of humor and didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We laughed a lot and soon found ourselves planning to get together later that day for a meal. We settled on my picking him up at his home where I would meet his wife, Diane, whom I recognized immediately as the jewel of Panorama Drive. I should have told her then and there. Better late than never!

Chuck and I headed out for a meal at the legendary Alta Vista-La Cresta neighborhood restaurant known to many ... the Tam O’ Shanter. Darkness settled in, and Chuck was reciting the lefts and rights, a veritable GPS long before I became aware of the navigation tool. I missed one or two of the directions in my usual driving anxiety and concluded there might be a better option. I turned to Chuck, piloting from the right seat and said, “Chuck, maybe you should be driving!” There was that sense of humor. Our collective laughter filled the automobile. As you likely know by now, Chuck was blind. It wouldn’t be the last time we shared a private joke. Like the time we were almost taken out in a crosswalk in front of the Weill Institute on Chester Avenue. What a lawsuit that would have been! We laughed about that one for years!

The meal was great, but I recall nothing about our menu choices. What remains clear in my mind was how long we spent swapping stories, Chuck’s from his Los Angeles days at UCLA, and mine from my upstate New York days at SUNY Ulster County Community College and the Ellenville Police Department. We closed the restaurant down that night.

Anyone who knew Chuck could recite fluently his many skills: birdhouse building, for example. His garage workshop revealed all the tools of a master craftsman. I still have the birdhouse he gifted me nearly 30 years ago. I see it now as I write, hanging from a tall oak tree in my thickly wooded backyard across from the deer lick.

While most folks point to Chuck Wall’s internationally recognized Kindness Campaign, some others will point to another campaign, Chuck’s run for mayor of Bakersfield. I hosted a fundraising event at my home. Chuck arrived at my home the day before the event to capture the interior landscape and the floorplan. Chuck wanted to execute his process for establishing a comfort level in a new interior location. Chuck had a solid conceptualization of the spaces and how to navigate them. Acknowledging that phenomenal spatial mastery, I asked Chuck with a bit of a giggle if he wanted to see the upper level. He laughed and replied, “of course, what if the main-level bathroom is occupied? I always need a Plan B!” A private joke we shared that day is now public.

I can’t count the number of times I asked Chuck for advice. Chuck’s keen understanding of human nature and problem solving strategies while always demonstrating compassion for others continue to inform my daily life.

I know I speak for many when I celebrate the extraordinary team Chuck and Di’s marriage modeled. Always welcoming, a visit to Chuck and Di at home was the next best thing to experiencing a spa with their beautifully landscaped yard and Star, a one-cat chamber of commerce! The fruits of their individual and collective lives’ work will endure. I invite you to celebrate Chuck’s life of service in some small way that you believe may be meaningful to his legacy.

Peggy DeStefano, Bakersfield College professor emeritus in criminal justice, resides in Enfield, N.H., with Fawn, her retired greyhound.