Sunday, June 15, 2014

Volunteer Grandpa

Sheldon Abb Hunter was my Grandpa.  Probably not in the way he thought he would become a grandpa but sometimes life throws a curveball and Shell stepped up to the plate and took a swing.

Sheldon Hunter
Sheldon Abb Hunter
Date unknown

Shell was born 11 March 1895 in Sacramento to Abner Abb Hunter and Hattie Josephine Baldwin Hunter.  I know there was at least one sibling, Ethel, who was born in 1893.  Together they attended the birthday party of Rob Fischer in 1893 – Shell would have been just 3 years old!

Birthday Party Shell

I don’t know much else about the family until 1917 when Shell was married, living in San Francisco and completed his WWI Draft Registration on 5 June 1971.  On 16 April 1918 their first and only child was born, Robert Melvin Hunter.  At one time Mom told me that she had a memory of Shell adopting Robert as a tiny baby and after a little researching today, I think that just might be the case – I found a Robert M Cochran born on the same day with the mother’s maiden name as Pease.  Could this really be true?  If she was married to Shell in June, 1917 and gave birth to Robert in April, 1918, could he really have had a different father?  Was the wife Sheldon was married to in June, 1917 really Harriett or was there another wife I don’t know about?  Or was he really not married at all and just wrote that on his registration?  Geez, so many new questions today!  I wrote about Robert here when he was killed while serving on the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor.

Maybe it was Robert’s death that tore Shell and Harriet apart or maybe it was something else – I’ll never know – but on 18 Feb 1942 Shell married my grandmother, Clara Fitzgerald Martin, in Las Vegas and became a ‘volunteer’ dad to my mom.  Mom and her mother had been on their own for some years and, in fact, Mom had lived with her great aunt and uncle for a few years while her mother was sorting things out.  But after her mother and Shell married, she returned to Fresno for high school where she met my dad, Gordon Levy.  Who knows if she would have found her way back to Fresno and met my dad if Shell hadn’t entered the scene.  And when Mom and Dad were married 3 September 1950, who else but her volunteer dad would walk her down the aisle?

Gerry_Shell Aisle

And then came grandkids for Shell and really, he was my mom’s dad and our Grandpa as far as we were concerned.  Her biological dad, Earle Martin, had started a new family and with the exception of yearly Christmas gifts, he was pretty much not a part of any of our lives.  But Shell was and we loved spending time with him and Grandma.

Clara Fitzgerald and Sheldon Hunter
Clara Maxine Fitzgerald and Sheldon Abb Hunter

At one point Shell was part of the Shaver Lake Fishing Club along with his father-in-law, Edward Francis Fitzgerald.  I asked Mom about this once and while she didn’t know if they were specifically part of any fishing club, she did remember spending a lot of time at Shaver Lake with her grandfather.  But this picture proves they were part of the club as someone wrote on the back “Shaver Lake Fishing Club”.

Shaver Lake Fishing Club
Shaver Lake Fishing Club
Date Unknown
Edward Francis Fitzgerald – standing, far left
Sheldon Abb Hunter – standing, 7th from left or right
Our favorite part of visiting Fresno was spending time on the chicken farm that Grandma Clara and Grandpa Shell owned on Olive Avenue.  I wrote a little about their chicken farming adventures here and have such great memories of helping Grandma and Grandpa on the farm.  We recently came across an article about the chicken farm.

Fresno Bee Sunday Sept 27 1959
The Fresno Bee
Sunday, September 27, 1959

Since the article is hard to read…….

When Sheldon A. Hunter of 2341 West Olive Avenue, Fresno, retired in 1955 as manager of the Fresno office of Western Union, he recalls he did not know the difference between a laying hen and a bantam chicken.

Today, the grey haired Hunter is the knowledgeable owner and operator of a 2,000 bird egg laying flock, who maintains he “never worked harder, made less or felt better.”  Hunter and his charming wife, Clara, bought the one acre layout two and a half years ago when it included only 600 hens.  They have expanded cautiously and only recently constructed a new cement floored laying house featuring the latest in wire cage operation.

Hunter, whose Western Union career covered 47 years, including 35 years in Fresno, credits feed company salesman and breeder representatives with a big hand in helping him learn the poultry business.  “We thought this would be an interesting part time occupation,” Hunter grins, “but we find there is always something to do, repair or change.  And these birds need a lot of care.  But we like the idea of keeping busy.”

Since all the Hunter eggs are sold directly from the small combination garage and egg processing room, the retired couple enjoy meeting people who stop to purchase the eggs.  Mrs. Hunter chuckles as she recalls a visit by a 10 year old neighbor girl.  “She wanted to borrow three eggs because her mother was baking a cake and didn’t have enough,” she says.  “But she assured me she would soon return them because her mother was going downtown and would buy some there.”

Along with the modest sized poultry set up, the Hunters are proud of their variety of fruit trees, ranging from figs to persimmons, a vegetable garden and boysenberry vines.

While the Hunter operation ranks quite small as compared to some of Fresno County’s sprawling commercial laying establishments, the owners keep abreast of the latest breeding developments.  They are grooming a new experimental White Leghorn strain obtained from Washington State which is said to lay larger eggs for specialized poultry men who have a market for them.

And a few photos of us in the garage/egg processing room – look at all those eggs!

Cary Levy_Sheldon Hunter_Debi Levy
Cary Levy, Sheldon Hunter, Debi Levy
c. 1960

Doug Levy Sheldon Hunter
Doug Levy, Sheldon Hunter
c. 1963

Since today is Father’s Day, it’s fitting that I share this photo of us with the two men we called “Grandpa”. 

My beautiful picture
Doug Levy, Sigmund Levy, Cary Levy, Debi Levy, Sheldon Hunter
c. 1963

Grandma and Grandpa were able to get away to attend my wedding in March, 1974.  Actually, I can’t remember if they even still had chickens back then but I do remember that it was quite an event to have them visit since they were always tied so closely to Fresno and the chickens.

Clara_Shell 1974
Sheldon Hunter and Clara Fitzgerald Hunter
9 March 1974

Grandma Clara was always so beautiful and looked so happy here but, sadly, Shell was in poor health and looked like he might have been wishing he were home in bed by this time.  I’m so glad he was able to be there, though, since just 8 months later he was gone.

Shell Hunter Obit

Even though Shell was a ‘volunteer’, when I think of my Grandpas he is one of the two that is etched in my mind.  And while we weren’t “blood” (as my family likes to say) we were his grandchildren in every way!

Sheldon Hunter Walking
Sheldon Abb Hunter
Volunteer Grandpa


  1. A man who can step into a ready-made family and become so well-loved deserves a crown. Beautiful tribute, Debi. I love the photo you ended with.

  2. Lovely story, thank you for sharing. And remember, blood doesn't make a family; love does.

  3. Debi,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Thanks, Jana - I'm honored to make your list!

  4. We are a combined family with 14 grandchildren! Thanks for your blog post. I love to hear about other combined families that are happy! P.S. I try to be the "funnest" grandma!