The brightly colored marquee outside the Warnor's Theatre said it all: Catherine Rehart, A Legend and Legacy.
Monday, more than 125 people paid tribute to Rehart, whose rich research of the Valley was turned into "Legends and Legacies" books and more than 2,000 spots on KMJ radio.
Rehart died in Oregon on Sept. 6 of cancer. She was 73.
Rehart, a 1958 graduate of Fresno High, traced her family's history to her great-great uncles, Clark and A.T. Stevens, who first came to Fresno in 1873 and open Black Hawk Stables, which supplied wagons to merchants who sold meat, bread and produce door to door.
Her family's 134-year ties to Fresno were broken in 2007 when she moved to Oregon City, Ore., to live with her daughter, Katie, and her family. Before leaving her beloved city, she blamed Fresno's smog for her departure.
Monday, her family brought her back to Fresno and buried her ashes at Belmont Memorial Park in a private ceremony.
"She loved Fresno," said her son, Bill Morison, a history professor in Michigan. "This was her home. She wanted to be with her family and friends."
Before her death, Rehart planned her memorial at Warnor's Theater, asking friends to sing her favorite songs and speak about her.
KMJ celebrity Ray Appleton recalled the phone conversation.
"Hey do you want to do another funeral?" Rehart asked. "You can't do radio forever."
Appleton told the crowd: "We're not here to pay our final respects. What she has done for us will last past our lifetime. Her research will outlive us all."
Morison and his sister, Katie Byerly and her daughter, Courtney, greeted their mother's guests as they entered the theater. Rehart's other daughter, Anne Marie Rehart, a school teacher in Hawaii, could not attend.
Patty Hixson, general manager of Peak Broadcasting, owner of KMJ, started the celebration by singing, "Unforgettable." Bagpiper Bill Jamison ended it by playing "Amazing Grace."
In between, childhood friends like Jan Letson and Jim Shekoyan talked about a young girl with red hair, bright blue eyes and pink cheeks who turned into a wonder woman with a keen sense of humor and a hearty laugh.
Back then her friends called her Vernie —short for her middle name Loverne. It was after she became an accomplished historian that people referred to her as Cathy.
"Live fully, love enthusiastically and be ever so grateful for the gift of life" was the credo that Rehart lived by, Letson said.
Others said Rehart was proud of her Scottish heritage, fond of the British crown, and a devout Episcopalian.
Many in attendance remembered her service to the community. She was a volunteer on many boards, including the board of directors of the Fresno City and County Historical Society as chair of its preservation committee and as its education/information director.
"She has a special bond with everyone in this room," said Jackie Ryle, a former Fresno city clerk. That's because "she was the best possible friend anyone could have."
Morison told the crowd that her mother wrote six volumes of "The Valley's Legends and Legacies" and was a much sought-after speaker. She gave hundreds of speeches about local history and played a key role in developing a documentary for Fresno County's sesquicentennial celebration in 2006.
He said a high point of his mother's career came on June 28, 2012, when Mayor Ashley Swearengin proclaimed "Cathy Rehart Day."
Despite being severely ill, Rehart wrote the "Legends and Legacies" spots for KMJ while she was in hospice care. Her last piece was written in June, Morison said.
In all, she wrote eight books, including "The Heartland's Heritage: An Illustrated History of Fresno County" and "Celebrating the Journey: 150 Years of Fresno County and Beyond."
Morison said his mother also was especially proud of her work on KMJ with her radio partner, Al Smith, the voice of "Valley Legends and Legacies."
Smith told the gathering it all started in 1989 with modest plans to do about 50 of them. "But Cathy found stories that no one had even heard of," he said.
In a touching tribute, Smith said Rehart "has moved on from this Valley."
By now, "Cathy has probably asked St. Peter if she can do some Legends and Legacies in Heaven," figuring there are some pretty interesting people there, too, Smith said.
"Cathy," he said, "rest peacefully with God."
The family has established the Catherine Morison Rehart California History Scholarship to be awarded annually to a history student at California State University, Fresno. Contributions can be made to the Fresno State Foundation, 4910 N. Chestnut Ave., Fresno, CA 93726. A note on the check or donation should say it is for the Rehart scholarship fund. For details, call Kent Karsevar, senior director of development, (559) 278-4381.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, email@example.com or @beecourts on Twitter.