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Family remembers a charismatic, devoted husband & young father
Tyler and Crystal Wilson on their wedding day. - photo by Photo Contributed

Tyler Jennings Wilson was an outgoing young man, charismatic, and a devoted husband and father, among his many sterling qualities that family and friends will long remember.

He also was always the first one to eagerly raise his hand when someone was looking for a volunteer, even before he knew what he was supposed to be volunteering for.

That’s how he ended up in Washington, D.C., in 2006 when he served as part of the Honor Guard at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda where the casket of the late President Gerald Ford lay in state. He just completed U.S. Coast Guard boot camp and was waiting to go to training school in Virginia when their officer announced he needed 25 volunteers without giving any further explanation. Tyler immediately raised his hand. Soon, they were loaded up in a bus that took them to Washington, D.C., where they went through a 48-hour training on what they were supposed to do as members of the Honor Guard for the late president’s funeral ceremonies.

“Tyler was always the first to volunteer to do anything,” said Terry Wilson, sharing some of her many fond memories of her son, the second to the oldest of her four boys with husband Harlan Jennings.

“He was very excited,” she said of her son’s reaction to that 15-minutes-of-fame experience.

Four generations of family members were gathered in the Wilsons’ cozy home Wednesday afternoon at the compound on Airport Way in Manteca where they also run the HJW Hay business that was founded by Harlan Jennings, Terry’s husband. Just outside the front door, a tiled seating area anchored in the middle by a portable camp fire mutely spoke of many happy evening hours of camaraderie and familial bonding moments under the stars. Just behind this homey gathering place was an ivy bonsai in the form of a windmill, a tribute to Terry Wilson’s Dutch roots. Next to the neatly trimmed bonsai was a flagpole with the U.S. flag at half staff in a silent solemn salute to the young U.S. Coast Guard veteran who lost his life on Friday, Nov. 22, when his 1989 International semi plummeted about 150 feet off Clavey Bridge on Cottonwood Road in the Stanislaus National Forest while hauling rice straw to the charred remains of the devastating Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park in the summer.

The Manteca-born and -raised Tyler, who exchanged vows with his wife Crystal just last year in July, became a father barely three weeks ago when their son, Levi, was born on the first day of November.

Everyone had many special memories of the East Union High School graduate, each one painting a picture of a person who loved and lived life to the fullest.

“Boy, he was a little social butterfly. He didn’t know a stranger,” said the young man’s smiling mother as she continued to reminisce.

She said all of her four sons were bilingual, having learned Spanish while they were going to French Camp Elementary School. But Tyler was especially fluent. “He just excelled in Spanish. He used it every day while working at Eden Garden (in Lathrop)” where he worked for eight years, starting there right after high school and then going back to his old job after his honorable medical discharge from the Coast Guard after serving nearly four years.

His aunt Alice Allen remembered her nephew as “outgoing and charismatic,” and a great mentor to the young – at First Christian Church where he was baptized, and as a training officer with the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet program starting when he was a freshman in high school.

“He was a good mentor to a lot of young people in and out of the military,” said Allen who spent a lot of time with her young nephews including playing practical jokes. Her face wreathed with smiles, she confessed she used to drive her young nephews as they went to TP their friend’s homes as a friendly prank.

“Aunt Alice was a cool aunt!” she unabashedly declared with a big grin as the others in the room smiled in agreement.

For sister-in-law Nicole who is married to the oldest Wilson son, Harlan James or simply HJ, Tyler’s laughter which sounded like no other is one that she will never forget. “That was his trademark; it was unique. It was the goofiest sound,” said the mother to eight-month-old Ella and her four-year-old brother, Riley.

A devoted husband,

father, brother and uncle

Nicole also recalled a brother-in-law who never hesitated – in fact, was always happy to volunteer – to babysit his beloved niece and nephew.

“Anytime I needed help with the kids, I’d just call Tyler and he would watch his niece and nephew any time of the day,” she said. “He was a loving husband and father, and he was very family-oriented. He was very helpful. That’s why he has many, many friends. He was always there to lend a helping hand – always.”

In Tyler, Crystal found a husband who didn’t shirk from any baby chore including nappy changing. “He was pretty good at it,” she said.

Proud grandmother Terry remembered how excited Tyler was when his son was born.

“Tyler was with the baby all the time. He was very hands-on. He was very excited,” she said.

That pride and excitement about being a father for the first time is demonstrated in a very touching photograph taken by a professional photographer at the hospital. It shows Tyler lovingly carefully cradling his newborn son’s tiny head in one hand while gently kissing the peacefully sleeping baby’s head.

“He even stayed at the hospital” during the two nights before his wife and their baby were allowed to go home. “Tyler wouldn’t go home. He was there for the duration,” noted Terry.

He also took a 30-day leave from his job to bond with his family after the baby was born, she added.

Baby Levi was born on Nov. 1, a birth date that he shares with his uncle Travis, the youngest of the four Wilson brothers and the only who is not yet married.

While Tyler and Crystal both attended French Camp School and East Union High, they did not connect romantically until after he completed his stint in the Coast Guard and she came back to Manteca after attending Butte College in Chico where she was studying business.

Their love story began when “she came to buy some hay for her horse and he (Tyler) happened to be home,” recalled Terry. On July 21, 2012, the young couple tied the knot at an outdoor ceremony held in the Wilsons’ family ranch in Escalon. The reception immediately following was held in the refurbished barn next to the place where they exchanged vows.

The Wilsons are a tightly knit family, and that showed also in the four brothers’ relationship. Their mother said the question is not what they did together as siblings.

It was more, “What didn’t they do? There wasn’t a lot of things they didn’t do,” Terry said, her eyes shining.

A high school athlete, a mastiff

and cosmic bowling at midnight

Tyler’s kind heart extended to man’s best friend as well. While he in the Coast Guard, he picked up a mastiff puppy he named Missy. When he came home, his big four-legged friend came along with him. Tragically, Missy died when she was run over by a car just two months ago.

While at East Union, Tyler was active in sports and FFA. He played football starting in his freshman year, but was sidelined in his sophomore year when he injured his knee during summer training. Still, he stayed with the team until his senior year. Even though he did not play the rest of his high school years, he received a four-year plaque because “he was always there at every practice; he was there at every game” rooting for his Lancer team.

When they were not working at their jobs or helping at the family hay business, the four brothers along with their family and close friends loved to hang out and sit around the bonfire at the hay ranch, primarily in the evenings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Besides fishing and enjoying his family’s company, family members said Tyler also loved cosmic bowling at Manteca Bowl with members of the family.

“They were very, very close,” Nicole said of her husband and his three brothers. “We were all very close. I was the big sister he never had.”