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Plenty of horsing around in Bonita Richard Pena | Sat, Jan 15 2011 12:00 PM

When we first moved to the Sweetwater Valley more than 50 years ago, the common quip in the community was that there were more horses than people. I am not altogether sure that this statement was true. The census was taken, it is true, but, to our knowledge, horses were never counted.

The horse population, however, was right up there. At least once a week there would be a gathering of the Sweetwater Saddle Club in the area that is now part of Rohr Park. There would be competition in the contests known as Gymkhana.

The Saddle Club was one of many horse clubs in the area, all extremely active, and all drawing the young residents of the valley about the same way that soccer clubs and other forms of athleticism entice them today.

This household, for example, was part of the field with Trixie, a roan, and Cochise, a pinto, adding to the equine population.

The idea of a horse-oriented community is coming to the fore with a celebration and demonstration coming up at the Bonita Museum.

The museum will host a display of Cowboy Gear produced by some of the finest cowboy artisans in the country. This exhibit will be on display through Feb. 26.

This exhibit is being curetted by Mehl Lawson. Lawson, you might recall was the horseman/artist who worked at the museum for quite a period of time a couple of years back. He made a sculpture of a horseman on a horse, a half size larger than life-size. The entire project was moved in sections where it now graces the entrance to a northern ranch.

They tell us that the gear represents many different varieties from different cultures. On exhibit will be items that were employed by groups of horsemen, not too many miles apart in distance. These, of course, are the Vaqueros from Mexico and the American cowboy, both plying at a similar occupations but with different equipment.

Many of the items on exhibit are from Lawson's personal collections including Luis Artega braiding which, we understand, is art in itself.

This exhibit will take the community back to the days when the entire valley, then under Mexican rule, was home to a large cattle ranch, a ranch that, in fact encompassed all of what is now Chula Vista, National City and the entire Sweetwater Valley up to what in now the dam. It is, in short, our heritage.

The museum will host a Kids Vaquero Day on Feb. 5 starting at 11 a.m.

The young horsemen and women will try their hand at throwing a lariat, creating a fancy braid, and other crafts learned generations ago.

This presentation is open to the public.

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We joined a few hundred other folks the other day at the Presbyterian Church in Chula Vista giving a farewell to Chester DeVore who had died last week. He was 92 years old and had been in failing health the past few months.

Much has been written and said of DeVore as of this writing.

Since I had known him for more than 50 years, and have been active with him in various venues I suppose I could add to many of the things that have been said, which would, of course, be a redundancy.

He had, after all, lived most his life in the South Bay. His immediate and extended family was raised in the area and many are people of note. Like many others his career was interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. In that capacity he had seen much action and was a highly decorated marine officer.

He was an accomplished athlete both in college and later at various sports and had a long career as an officiator in both football and basketball. He had a keen interest in history, a dedicated student of the discipline, so much so that he could be designated as an historian. He was an educated individual who carried a career in education from classroom teacher to college president for most of his adult life.

I thought about this while I listened to some of what was said at DeVore's rites. He and I were of the same generation and I have always averred that when we go we should leave a legacy.

In Chet DeVore's case what would that be? Without hesitation I would say that his lasting legacy should be in education.

Oh, all those other things are great. But we must stop and think a bit. DeVore is one of the last of the original educators of the South Bay. His peers were such folks as Joe Rindone, Burt Tiffany, Bob Burress and others who founded the schools with the rich tradition that is alive today. Review the many lives that he must have touched through his many years at Sweetwater schools and Southwestern College and we might have a legacy equaled by a scant few. He will be missed.

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