Catherine M. Rehart, whose family's roots in Fresno date back more than a century and whose rich research of the city's history was turned into "Legends and Legacies" books about the Valley and more than 2,000 spots on KMJ radio, died Friday of cancer. She was 73.
Ms. Rehart's 134-year family legacy in Fresno was broken in 2007 when she moved to Oregon City, Ore., to live with her daughter, Kate, and her family. Before leaving her beloved city, she blamed the Valley's poor air quality for her departure.
In an interview this summer, Ms. Rehart said she was proud of her children: her son, Bill Morison, is a college professor in Michigan; Kate is a speech therapist; and daughter Anne Marie Rehart is a teacher in Hawaii.
But, Ms. Rehart said, she was sad because everyone had moved away from Fresno, leaving no one to carry on the family's legacy here.
She also confided that she had been fighting breast cancer, which was once in remission. "I'm fighting my last fight," she said.
But she was upbeat about her pending death, saying, "I'm preparing my own memorial service."
With her cancer taking over her body -- she was on morphine and could no longer write because of swollen arms or walk without falling -- her family in Oregon put her in a home with hospice care for her final weeks.
Though she was in intense pain, her final thoughts were with her friends in Fresno, saying she hoped to have her memorial service "when the weather was cooler," said longtime friend Alice Powell of Fresno.
"She was a magnificent woman and a very bright lady who was dedicated to Fresno," Powell said. "Her death leaves a great, big hole."
What made Ms. Rehart great, said former Bee reporter Bobbye Temple, who edited Ms. Rehart's books, was her accuracy. "She knew how to research and knew who to talk to to get information," Temple said.
Ms. Rehart also "was an incredible, honest person" who loved to laugh and talk about people. "I'm glad her suffering is over, but her friends and family and Fresno are going to miss her terribly," Temple said Friday.
Ms. Rehart had red hair, bright blue eyes and pink cheeks, a keen sense of humor and a hearty laugh. She was proud of her Scottish heritage and a devout Episcopalian.
Family historians traced the family line to the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620.
In the interview this summer, Ms Rehart said her father, William "Scotty" Morison, immigrated to America from Glasgow, Scotland in 1914, and found his way to Fresno in 1935. Her mother also was Scotch.
But it was her great-great uncles, Clark and A.T. Stevens, who first came to Fresno in 1873, she said. The brothers bought land at Fresno and L streets and opened Black Hawk Stables, which supplied wagons to merchants who sold meat, bread and produce door to door. Their stables also took private parties by stagecoach to Yosemite and to Shaver Lake.
"They saw something in this Dodge City that appealed to them," Ms Rehart said in a 2007 interview with The Bee.
Her maternal grandfather, Henry McKay, a blacksmith, arrived in Fresno in the 1890s from Nova Scotia and operated the Fashion Shoeing Shop -- at the time the largest establishment of its kind between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
An uncle, J.R. McKay, opened the first car dealership in Fresno and owned the first car in Fresno, a Stanley Steamer. "He sold Theo Kearney his first car," Ms. Rehart said.
She said her maternal grandmother, Lovern Kinsley McKay -- who studied under Chester Rowell and T.L. Heaton at Fresno High and graduated in the Class of 1896 -- had a profound influence on her life.
"My grandmother told stories in a way that made them fun," said Ms Rehart, who also graduated from Fresno High, Class of 1958. "She kept the past alive."
Her grandmother spoke of shootings, saloons and hangings, Ms. Rehart said. But she also said touring shows and famous artists frequently stopped in Fresno on their way to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
"There was a lot of cultural benefits in Fresno in spite of it being a Wild West town," Ms. Rehart said.
In her lifetime, Ms. Rehart said it broke her heart to see Fresno city leaders tear down old homes and buildings such as the downtown courthouse. She said it was a shame that today's children couldn't see Fresno in its heyday when the city had magnificent buildings and restaurants and people dressed up to go downtown.
"Seeing tangible things and knowing their heritage, I think contributes to the stability of children, so they know where they came from," she said.
Ms. Rehart served for several years on the board of directors of the Fresno City and County Historical Society as chair of its preservation committee and as its education/information director.
As a volunteer on the Pioneer Families Centennial Committee, Ms. Rehart researched families who had lived in Fresno more than 100 years for a 1985 article in The Bee. She discovered that many of Fresno's families had connections: "Of course, they would be; there weren't that many people here in the beginning," she wrote.
The Maupins were related to the Miles and the Miles to the Samples and the Samples to the Blasingames. (These last two families intermarried at least three times, Rehart noted). "A fabric was forming that brought everyone together," she wrote.
"My grandmother's generation was mostly delivered by Dr. Rowell, my mother's by Dr. Cowan and mine by Dr. Tom Sample," she wrote.
She was so intrigued by the Churches, the Fabers, the Goulds -- families who came before hers -- and those that followed -- the Levys, the Rowells -- that she became enamored with recording the city's history.
"How deep go the roots of this city and what a sense of community pride I was feeling!" she wrote.
Ms. Rehart was particularly fond of "Celebrating the Journey: 150 Years of Fresno County and Beyond," a coffee-table book packed with photographs. It recounts the accomplishments of Fresno County newsmakers in fields such as sports, business, education and the arts; celebrates the region's agricultural heritage; and chronicles the history of its major ethnic groups. She helped write it with her friends, William Secrest Jr., J. Randall McFarland and Elizabeth Laval.
In all, she wrote eight books, including "The Heartland's Heritage: An Illustrated History of Fresno County," and a six-volume series called "The Valley's Legends and Legacies."
She also was proud of her work on KMJ with her radio partner, Al Smith, the voice of "Valley Legends and Legacies." In 2012, Mayor Ashley Swearengin recognized Ms. Rehart and Smith when they aired their 2,000th episode.
KMJ plans to air a dedication to Ms. Rehart next week, Smith said.
"It started in 1989 and we thought we would do 50 of them," Smith said Friday. "But she found stories that no one had even heard of."
Though she was ill, Ms. Rehart worked on those stories until she could not write any longer, Smith said. "She was so passionate about Fresno that she lived, ate and breathed Fresno history."
"In my opinion, she was in words what Pop Laval was in photographs," Smith said. "We owe a great debt to her."
Catherine Morison Rehart
March 29, 1940
Died: Sept. 6, 2013
Occupation: Fresno historian
Survivors: son, Bill Morison; daughters Anne Marie Rehart, and Catherine "Kate" Byerly, and four granddaughters
Services: Services and burial in Fresno are pending
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, firstname.lastname@example.org or @beecourts on Twitter.