Death Notices

Reedley civic leader dies at 93

Wilbert "Bozo" Aalto's Reedley pals gave him the nickname he never shucked, but he grew up to establish himself as a civic sparkplug.

Mr. Aalto, 93, a former car dealer and volunteer fire chief, died Aug. 27 of natural causes.

He served as president of the Reedley Chamber of Commerce and, until his death, on the board of the Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District.

He was born of Finnish immigrants in Reedley, and grew up among families of Finnish descent living along the Kings River. He attended Riverbend School before it became Riverview Elementary School, and had to repeat first grade to learn English.

He graduated from Reedley High School and married Darlene Hammack, daughter of the town's mayor. Mrs. Aalto died in 1981.

Mr. Aalto entered the automobile business in the 1930s, selling Hudsons and Crosleys from his service station, called PO Service because it was across from the Reedley post office.

Mr. Aalto was elected president of the Reedley Chamber of Commerce in the mid-1940s, and launched the chamber's Reedley Fiesta, held at the close of harvest each October.

The Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District formed in 1946, and Mr. Aalto worked to persuade city governments in the area to join, said Steve Mulligan, district manager of Consolidated:

"He worked for years with farmers in the area, in Reedley, Orange Cove, Parlier and adjacent areas. He was an icon."

Mr. Aalto overcame stiff opposition and became the district's first trustee, Mulligan said:

"He served as board president from 1974 to 2006, and that was a sign of respect for his enthusiasm and history. He had a way of getting business done without lingering."

Mr. Aalto also served as president of the statewide association of mosquito districts, and belonged to its national counterpart.

He welcomed California Gov. Earl Warren to the groundbreaking of Pine Flat Dam, and was appointed years later by Gov. Ronald Reagan to the board running the then-Fresno County Fair.

As chief of fire volunteers, Mr. Aalto was instrumental in raising funds to purchase "jaws of life" equipment used in extricating victims of traffic collisions.

He and his wife served as king and queen of the Reedley Fiesta in 1971.

In 1989, the Chamber of Commerce inducted him into its Hall of Fame.

Marvin Crum, president of the Reedley Historical Society, called Mr. Aalto "one of those people. If there was a cause -- the Fiesta, the museum, any type of cause -- he'd be in the middle of it."

Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday in Reedley First Baptist Church.

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