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Bill Berghorst exemplified Ripon family, community values
Bill Berghorst - photo by Photo Contributed
RIPON — Bill Berghorst will be remembered as an icon of what is good about the Ripon community while leaving a family strongly united.

His immediate family – six daughters, two sons and his wife – gathered Friday night at his rural Ripon home. They told of a man who would go out of his way for others – a man who repaired the cars of strangers broken down in Ripon – getting them back on the road without charging if they didn’t have the money.

They remembered their dad and husband as a family man who was careful with his money – spending on luxuries that his entire family could enjoy with him.  He was someone who enjoyed family table games, camping, boating and sitting around the campfires telling stories.

Bill Berghorst passed away last week shortly after reaching his 70th birthday on April 20.  Visitation is scheduled today from 4 until 7 p.m. at the Deegan Memorial Chapel.  Burial at Ripon Cemetery will take place at 10 a.m. on Tuesday with a memorial service scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Calvary Reformed Church.

Berghorst was in his fourth term as a director of the Ripon Consolidated Fire District with many years as a Ripon businessman.  He owned the AC Auto Repair and Welding, retiring five years ago in 2004.  Son Brian said his dad was one of few artisans who could weld pot metal, with jobs coming to him from all over the country.

He grew up on a farm in Minnesota where his family produced soy beans and corn.  He left home in 1957 for California within months of a similar move by his wife-to-be.  However, he and Betty had never met in the Midwest, and they wouldn’t until they both settled in the West.  She had made the move three months prior to Bill’s westward trek.

The adult children voiced their awe at how Bill and Betty remained so much in love – so very passionate about each other.  They would always kiss in front of them to the point it was sometimes embarrassing, they said.  The two of them truly loved each other all these years – not fading in the least, they all agreed.

Started horse stable business
Berghorst and his brother Joe started a horse stabling business where the old Quonset hut stood for years on the north side of town.   The business lasted for only a year before he went into the auto repair and welding operation.

All part of being in Ripon was responding to the shrill fire siren that called out volunteers at all hours of the day and night.  It was some 30 years ago that he signed on for training and duty with other men from the business and farm communities.  Bill has served on the fire department board of directors for 13 years and once received the coveted Citizen of the Year award for his involvement in the community.

Chuckling his sons remembered how he loved to take them water skiing – driving his boat like a “maniac” while he didn’t know how to swim.  “He scared me,” daughter Teri recalled.  They would go to Buck’s Lake every year – the entire family – along with the Vrielings.

It was Berghorst who organized the Almond Blossom Tractor Run – an event that would become a big part of his life.  He would often win first or second place competing in other communities’ tractor pulling events as well, they said.

Daughter Teri remembers the time when she, Julie and Tamara went to Amador Lake fishing with their dad.  She caught a rainbow trout – the rule being, “you catch it, you clean it.”  She said she followed through – she cleaned that fish.  And, fishing with Bob Van Groningen was always a favorite trip for stripers that Bill savored.

In looking back to his teen years growing up in Minnesota, the kids shared one of their dad’s early driving experiences that brought its share of laughter to the family living room.

When he was a kid in LaVerne, Minnesota – with his sister and brother in the car – he rolled it over in the snow.  They said their dad told of going back to the farm and getting the tractor and pulling the car up – with not a scratch on it – never telling his parents.

“He used to tell us about when he had a really loud ‘40s Chevy – he would get mad and ramp it up and rattle his parents’ windows,” they chuckled.  Another prank he passed on to his kids was when he and his friends would hide in the high grass of a ditch – pull out wads of weeds, dirt and all – and throw them out at passing cars.  

At the young age of five he was allowed to drive the farm tractor even though the pedals had to be built up with blocks.  He had told them he would just drive it up and back in the fields in straight lines.  As a teen he used lighted kerosene in a coffee can next to the engine to warm up the oil so the engine would kick over.  

It was often 30 degrees below in the winter in Minnesota in what family members described as the American Siberia.

Son Kevin remembered when his dad “peeled out” in his 1974 Ford pickup truck at Jack Tone and Moffat roads.  “That was my first memory of power in a car – that got me started,” he said.  Bill loved to follow the NASCAR events and the races at Stockton Speedway and at the Altamont Speedway.

He also enjoyed his BSA 650 motorcycle with his younger brother Keith.  Bill had a major road rash to prove it from when they were riding together near the mountain resort area of Crestline in Southern California.  It was a time when he had to lay his bike down on the ground.

Bill and his sons have been in the process of restoring a 1956 Ford that sets in his shop.  It’s pretty close to being done with Brian and Kevin planning to finish the restoration job together.  “Mom was a pretty big part of it,” they agreed, “she wrote the checks and did the baby sitting.

Games & cookies were a family staple
Kevin referred to his dad’s strong faith that was exemplified with his desire to always help others.  In addition he got the audio visual system going in his Calvary Reformed Church.  He was also a big part in the construction of the New Life Community Church in Artesia in Southern California – the church where four of his daughters were married.

The girls said they would take up an entire pew on Sunday mornings in Ripon before the church restoration project.  Kevin, the youngest, would sit on Mom’s lap – until he got older – then he would have to sit in the next row, they chuckled.

The children shared favorite memories of watching their dad who was thrilled to listen as their mom played the organ at church and equally enjoying her piano playing at home.

Family games were a regular activity at the Berghorst home where they played game after game of Monopoly as Betty baked chocolate chip cookies by the dozens.  They also enjoyed playing the Mexican Train Wreck – a form of Dominos.

Daughter Julie said her parents passed their family love – their devotion, unity and caring — onto them and their families.  “How often can eight brothers and sisters be this close?” she asked.  While some are separated by hundreds of miles, they have a unique bond, a closeness that keeps them together as one.

Berghorst is survived by daughters, Kathleen Foster Brink, of Norwalk, CA; Linda Combs, of Anaheim, Teri Parish, of Lakewood;  Tamara Butler, Bend, Oregon; Julie Hoogeveen, of Manteca;  Debra Page of Ripon;  sons, Brian Berghorst, of Ripon and Kevin Berghorst of Vacaville.  There are 22 grandchildren from the young age of three to 24.