Frank Charles Kirkman was born March 16, 1899, in Lindsay, California, the son of Charles Lincoln and Rebecca Elizabeth Jobe Kirkman. Charles Lincoln had been married previously to Russia Grace, and they were the parents of two sons, Clarence Ellsworth and George Grace, and a daughter, Helen, who, after her mother's death, was raised by another family. Frank Charles was joined two years later by a sister, Lily Ellen Kirkman, who later married Van Edward Sanders.
Charles Lincoln passed away when Frank was but three years old. Two years later, Rebecca married Charles Lincoln's brother, Henry Franklin, who had a daughter, Frances Myrtle Kirkman.
To Henry Franklin and Rebecca Elizabeth were born John Arthur and lnez Arlene. After the death of Henry Franklin, Grandpa John Kirkman lived with the family and operated the family farm. Frank assisted with the farming operation and, from the age of eight years, milked cows before and after school. After John's death in 1907 Frank became responsible for the total operation.
Frank was eight years of age when he began elementary school at the St. Johns School south of Woodlake. He excelled academically and was able to graduate from the eighth grade at thirteen years of age, his total formal education. (By this time, the family had relocated to the Venice School District. Clarence E. Horsman was one of Frank's teachers and later Mr. Horsman's daughter Elva, taught his son, Richard, at the Venice School.
Several years later Frank completed a correspondence course through the Franklin Institute and was able to pass the Civil Service Test for Railway Mail Carriers. In addition to operating the family farm, he joined the Exeter Police Department, becoming the night shift, with the responsibility of ringing the curfew bell and walking the streets to rattle the doors of the town's business houses to be sure they were locked for the night.
Frank married Esther Elizabeth Hash in 1920. Their first son, Mervyn John, was born July 10, 1921; another son, Charles Claude, was born December 23, 1923. Esther passed away in 1927 after a long illness and, in 1928, Frank married Mary Borgman. A son, Donald Vernon, was born into the family on December 8, 1928; on November 2, 1931, a daughter, Jeanne Marie was born. On April 18, 1938, another son, Richard Warren, was born. (During part of this time, Frank was a business partner of his brother-in-law, Vernon Hash, in the operation of the Pool Hall in Exeter, in addition to his law enforcement work).
Frank had moved into Exeter while on the Police Force and Arthur took over the operation of the family farm. In 1933 Frank and Mary moved to the Venice School District. Their first home in that area was located on the north bank of the Kaweah River on land owned by the Goad Family. Frank continued on the Police Force and also operated a dairy. Mary raised chickens on the Goad Ranch and sold eggs to stores in Exeter. She also bartered with her mother, furnishing her with eggs for which she was to receive the upright grand piano which had come into the Borgman Family as partial payment for work done by her father's drayage business in moving a family's household belongings.
Mary had completed elementary school and the first two years of high school in Exeter. She dropped out of school during her junior year. She worked at a fruit drying yard and also at the Rocky Hill Packing House. She later attended and graduated from Central California Commercial College in Fresno. She worked for Levy Brothers insurance and real estate office in Fresno before returning to Exeter and working as secretary/bookkeeper for the Shell Oil Company in Visalia.
While the family lived in Exeter, Frank suffered a burst appendix and had emergency surgery in Visalia. One week after the surgery, Frank was playing baseball again.
Frank left the Exeter Police Department and took over the Kirkman Ranch in 1936, relocating the family from the Goad Ranch to the Kirkman Ranch east of the Venice School. Mary continued seasonal work at Rocky Hill Packing House.
Mervyn and Charles had begun their elementary school in Exeter; both graduated from Venice School. Donald and Jeanne began at Venice.
In 1938, to supplement the farm income, Frank accepted work for the Associated Farmers as a security guard at the produce market in Los Angeles. This was a period of labor unrest, and pickets were disrupting deliveries of farm produce to the Los Angeles markets. Frank and the rest of the Associated Farmers' security force, lived at the Hayward Hotel at Sixth and Spring Streets in downtown Los Angeles; he visited home as often as he could. Richard, who was born in April of 1938, was originally named Clarence Edward; nobody called him by this name, and for his first birthday, his name was changed to Richard Warren for one of Frank's coworkers in Los Angeles. This employment lasted for several months, during which time Mervyn and Charles operated the dairy farm.
In 1939 Frank became extremely ill and was given only six months to live. He didn't accept that pronouncement, though. After his health began to improve, he turned the farm over to Arthur, rented the house to the Babb Family, and became a Deputy in the Tulare County Sheriff's Department. The family moved into Visalia early in 1940. During a trip into the foothills on a case, Frank contracted poison oak, with such a severe case that he was bedridden with blood poison in his right arm, almost costing the loss of the arm. He was literally covered from head to toe with blisters which had to be broken daily to have the medication applied properly. He also continued with some of the symptoms of his earlier illness, which had been diagnosed as "cancer of the stomach". (This illness turned out to be a severe case of ptomaine poisoning from eating canned salmon at a family dinner. He never ate canned salmon again!). After the move to town, he changed doctors and was referred to Dr. Dailey at the University of California Hospital in San Francisco, where he was diagnosed with nervous colitis and amoebic dysentery. He was advised to avoid stress. (The ranch had, by this time, been rented to Leland Edwards). The Babb family
continued to live in the ranch house.
(Donald transferred to the Sierra Vista Junior High School, where he completed his elementary education; Jeanne transferred to the Jefferson School, where she completed the fourth through sixth grades).
Frank was seriously injured in 1941 as two Sheriff's cars collided at the intersection of what is now Bardsley and Blackstone in Tulare. They were transporting nine jail inmates to Pixley for trail. (The drivers had taken different routes at the "Y" at Tulare and Mooney Boulevards). He was taken to the Tulare County Hospital a mile from the accident scene, where Dr. Frank Kohn, Medical Director, and Dr. William D. Clinite, a resident physician, worked with him, reattaching his left ear and suturing the damage caused by the barbed wire fence at the accident scene. (The Frank Kohn Elementary School in Tulare [where two of Frank's Great Grandchildren would later attend] was named for Dr. Kohn). Frank was not expected to live, but he wouldn't accept that prognosis and began to improve slowly. Four days after the accident, he was moved by ambulance to the Visalia Municipal Hospital, where he was assigned special nurses around the clock. He was placed in traction flat on his back because his neck had been broken. His pelvis had been broken on both sides, and his legs were paralyzed. As he steadily improved, the prognosis was changed to, "If he lives, he'll never walk again".
Frank was determined, though, that if he could just wriggle his toe, he would walk again. Fifty-two days after the accident, he walked out of the Hospital and, after a period of recuperation, returned to full duty at the Sheriff's Department, where he remained until the Spring of 1943. (He was rated by the California Industrial Accident Commission as 76 percent permanently disabled).
In the Spring of 1943, Frank and Mary relocated the family (Mervyn and Charles had married by this time) to the Clarence Scott Ranch on the Ivanhoe Highway across from the Allanoake Ranch, where Frank took over the operation of the dairy. Mary worked part-time as a bookkeeper for brothers Adolph and Tony at Borgman Brothers Trucking which evolved from Henry Borgman's drayage business. During this time the ranch at Venice Hill was leased to Willie Wolfe, who operated a dairy and the Wolfes lived in the ranch house.
During the time on the Scott Dairy,
Frank and Mary harvested and planted black walnuts from a tree in the yard. These saplings later were planted on the Kirkman Ranch east of the Venice School, were grafted and grew into a very productive orchard. During this time, also, Charles was serving in the U. S. Army Air Corps, stationed in England and flying on a B-17 (the Ice Cold Katy) over Germany).
Richard completed his first grade education, and Jeanne completed seventh and eighth grades at the Elbow School south of Ivanhoe. Richard was enrolled in second grade at Venice at the beginning of the 1945-46 school term because the family planned to move back to the Kirkman Ranch. The move was made in January 1946. Donald attended Visalia Union High School, graduating in
1946, and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. Jeanne completed the Freshman year at Visalia Union High School, and then transferred to Exeter Union High School, graduating in 1949. Richard completed his elementary education at Venice and attended Exeter High School.
The black walnut trees Frank and Mary planted on the ranch were grafted to English Walnuts by Joseph Edwards, Jr. While the trees were growing to maturity, Frank raised cotton between them and continued to keep a few dairy cows.
A 4-H club was established in the Venice area; Frank and Mary were very active leaders - Frank for dairy projects and Mary for sewing. Families represented in the original club membership were: Edwards, Brown, Huff, Wood, Borges, Moore, Matthewson and Kirkman. Only the Edwards, Moore and Borges families remain in the area at this time (1994).
Frank and Mary, following a long-time dream of Frank's, operated a neighborhood store from December 1951 to October 1953. The store was located on the main highway just south of Ivanhoe; the family lived next door to the store. (The dairy cows had been moved to the George Barnes ranch in the Taurusa area north and west of Ivanhoe, and the ranch house was rented to a family by the name of Newkirk). By this time, Jeanne had graduated from College of the
Sequoias and, after working the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Visalia for six months, left this employment to work in the family store. Richard was attending high school by this time but helped out in the store as much as possible evenings and weekends.
After the walnut trees matured, Frank and Mary built a walnut dryer on the ranch to dry their own walnuts. After several modifications over the next several years, they began doing custom drying for others, eventually drying well over 1,000 tons of nuts each year. Eventually a working relationship developed for the walnut harvest. Tom Combs did the shaking; Jack Scovel and Charles Black did the sweeping and picking up; Frank did the drying. Later, Lorris Chatten hauled the dry nuts to the processors.
In 1961 Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy, followed by radiation treatments. By the mid-sixties her cancer had metastasized, and she spent over two years in and out of the hospital, undergoing radiation, cobalt and chemotherapy treatments. She maintained a very positive outlook and put up a valiant fight but lost the battle in 1968.
Frank sold the north part of the ranch to Roger Marshburn but continued to operate the dryer for a few years. Later Charles Black took over major responsibility of the dryer. Frank suffered a heart attack in the early 1970s, and sold the dryer business to Charles Black, who moved the equipment to his home place.
After Frank's recuperation, he married Lillie Esswein Welch, purchased a home across from the Exeter Memorial Building, still maintaining the south portion of the ranch. He enjoyed keeping up his Exeter yard. When Frank retired in 1976, he sold the remainder of the ranch to Roger Edwards, who had purchased the north part from Roger Marshburn. The Exeter house was sold, and Frank and Lillie bought a large mobile home in Exeter, where they lived until Frank passed away in 1980 at the age of 81.
Written by Jeanne Rose. (revised on June 14, 2009)