The Bee’s Sunday (Feb. 3) edition carried the sad news of the passing of two people who were instrumental in shaping and guiding me when, at the age of 27, I started the first of four terms on the Fresno City Council.
With the loss of Alma Radka, Fresno lost a huge part of its heart, compassion and reverence, and I lost the best neighbor anyone could ever hope to have. Also in Sunday’s Bee I read of the passing of Walt Berg, which meant that Fresno lost a significant part of its soul, character and value, and I lost the chief source of guidance and inspiration I was blessed to have during my service to the city.
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Alma, and her late husband Al, were frequently seen around our neighborhood south of Dakota Avenue and west of First Street as they held each other’s hand while taking their walks. They always had time to wave, stop and chat with neighbors. And Alma always carried a pet leash in her pocket. Why? Because the Radkas were the frequent caregivers and custodians of lost or meandering cats and dogs. Our black Persian, Midnight, was a guest at the Radkas’ more times than I care to mention. And she was always well fed, as were other four-legged boarders.
Alma had her charities and social work that kept her busy and occupied, while Al was a star personality on KFRE radio with his “Saturday Gay Ride” three-hour show that took listeners on visits to various cities and communities in the Valley. Al Radka made Saturdays something special in our neighborhood because one could walk on the streets bounded by Dakota, Shields, First and Fresno and listen to Al’s voice booming from radios.
Although Alma and Al did their own gardening, they were always the neatest and cleanest neighbors we ever knew. How could they have the most beautiful, flowering and impeccable yard, and always be dressed for church, a social event or to an art show to see some of Alma’s professional quality paintings? Patriotism and love for their country were always visible because the Stars and Stripes proudly waved from their residence, and Al rarely, if ever, mentioned his extensive military service during World War II.
No neighbor was a bigger Fresno State Bulldog fan and supporter than the Radkas, especially since Al was student body president during his senior year. Yes, Alma’s passing, so soon after Al’s death, has left a large hole in our community’s heart.
The soul of our city has also lost a giant benefactor in the passing of Walter “Walt” Berg. Fresno’s former city treasurer, he was my City Hall mentor, confidant and big brother during the four terms I served as councilman, and the last two terms, as mayor pro tem. And on Thursdays we always sat together at our Downtown Kiwanis Club luncheon meeting.
When some of our council meetings became boisterous and tumultuous, we could always count on Walt, who had a five-ton keel; constantly steady in a storm. When hostile remarks were made from the audience regarding finance expenditures, Walk’s rational, calm and well-developed response, usually with clear illustrations, quieted the room and helped restore order.
During annual two-week budget hearings, Walt sat as usual in the “well” in front of the council dais. Next to him were the city manager, city attorney and city clerk, who had their reference books, notes and other paraphernalia handy for quick perusal when needed. Walt, as usual, had his favorite items in front of him at budget meetings: a note pad and a ball-point pen. When questions regarding budget items were asked by council members that required a response from the manager, attorney or clerk, it was common to see them refer to one or more of their reference books before they could provide the answer. Not so with Walt, who was valedictorian at Edison High School, and summa cum laude at Fresno State. When the council added or deleted funds to the budget preparation process, Walt was usually asked how the plus or minus affected the budget and the city’s tax rate. It usually took Walk about 30 to 40 seconds to calculate with his pen and note pad the exact figure. And he was never proven wrong!
Walt was my mentor, and the path to his heart was open and unobstructed. He was Fresno’s mother lode.
Elvin C. Bell is a former Fresno City Councilman. He is a retired Air Force colonel and the author of 14 books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.