Chester Martin Locke, a farmer, school board trustee, World War II veteran and service group leader for many years in Lockeford, died on Tuesday. He was 88.
Locke, great-grandson of Dr. Dean Jewett Locke, one of the founders of Lockeford, was inducted in the Lodi Community Hall of Fame in 2003. Except for his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the past four years at an assisted living facility in Stockton, Locke lived his entire life in Lockeford.
Lani Eklund, who with her husband Richard owns the Inn at Locke House, a bed-and-breakfast inn on Elliott Road, has a special place in her heart for Chet Locke because his great-grandfather built the structure in the 19th century.
"He was a very gracious gentleman, and he'll be greatly missed by his friends and his community," Eklund said.
Born Oct. 11, 1920, in Lockeford, Locke attended Lockeford Elementary School and Lodi High. He graduated from the University of California, Davis, where he was a member of the ROTC. He also played right guard on the football team and earned the Lindley Trophy for athletic leadership.
His ranch, now run by his son, Chris, has been in the Locke family since 1850.
Locke's community service included 33 years as a trustee of the San Joaquin County Board of Education and six years on the board of the Lockeford School District, which later merged with the Lodi Unified School District.
A little-known fact about Locke is that he and several classmates at Lodi High were avid skiers in the 1930s before it became a popular activity, son Stephen Locke recalls. Since there weren't any skis for sale in those days, Locke and his friends, led by Charlie Faber, constructed their own skis in woodshop in Lodi High.
"How a bunch of farm kids got involved in skiing, I'll never know," Stephen Locke said.
Locke was also a member of the Lodi Memorial Hospital Board of Directors for 20 years and was a member of the Lockeford Protection District, which oversees levee maintenance, for 50 years. He also volunteered for the American Cancer Society.
Locke grew sugar beets, asparagus, grapes and walnuts on his Lockeford ranch. He was California's Young Farmer of the Year in 1955, named Agriculturist of the Year by the Lodi Chamber of Commerce in 1980 and selected to the chamber's Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1989.
He was also president of the Lodi Rotary Club and was a member for at least 50 years. He was also president of the Woodbridge Golf & Country Club and was a member for many years. He also served as vice president of the California Beet Growers Association.
After his children were grown, Locke was a farm adviser for a brief time in Egypt and Zimbabwe, teaching farmers how to grow asparagus commercially.
While serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Locke was on a ship dispatched to help protect the U.S. force preparing to invade the Japanese mainland.
On the afternoon of April 29, 1945, Locke's unit was sent to assist the USS Haggard, which had suffered a kamikaze assault.
But Locke's ship was also struck by a kamikaze. The plane ripped into the ship's bridge. Sixty-seven men died. For his actions on that day, Locke was awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest military commendation after the Medal of Honor. He was also given the Legion of Valor for his bravery.
He is survived by his wife, Pat Locke, of Stockton; four children, Stephen Locke, of Herald, Bonnie Patrick, of Lodi, Christopher Locke, of Lockeford and Peggy Moore, of Windsor; a sister, Martha; eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
"He was very family oriented," daughter Bonnie Patrick said. "He thought very highly of his family. We took skiing trips, family vacations, played in the pool - he loved life."
Funeral arrangements are pending.