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The rainclouds parted and the sun shone as a mourning dove called from a nearby tree and nine people gathered at the Redland Pioneer Cemetery last week to watch the blessing of a gravestone for Stanley Fafara, a man none of them ever knew.


PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Father Jim Kolb, second from left, officiated at Stanley Fafara's funeral and here at the blessing of his gravestone. Also in attendance were, from left, Elizabeth Duncan, Beverly Jeppesen and Margie Tosi. The blessing on June 14 was a long time coming, since Fafara died on Sept. 19, 2003, at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital; the cause of death was complications from hernia surgery. He was 53 years old.

A few people came to his funeral service at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church in Portland, but only the Rev. Jim Kolb, from St. Elizabeth’s, and Ron Threadgill, at that time the funeral director and owner of Family Mortuary, came to the burial.

Stanley Fafara

So who was Fafara and how did this all come about?

His name is not as recognizable to baby boomers as the names Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow, but Fafara played a character named Whitey on “Leave it to Beaver,” from 1957 to 1963.

But Fafara’s story from there is one of decline, as his career was pretty much in tatters after “Leave it to Beaver” was canceled in 1963.

He experienced early fame as a child actor, and then began drinking and using and selling drugs. Fafara spent a year in prison, became addicted to heroin, and was in and out of rehab facilities for years.

But in 1995 Fafara moved to Portland and got sober. He lived in a subsidized apartment in downtown Portland and survived on Social Security checks of $475 per month.

Right before his death in September 2003, Kolb administered the last rites, and subsequently found out there was no money for a funeral for Fafara.

But “one of the works of mercy is to bury the dead,” Kolb said, adding that his parishioners at St. Elizabeth of Hungary came through with the funds for Fafara’s burial.

Kolb and Threadgill then contacted the Redland Cemetery to see if they could find a place to bury Fafara, and Jay Eisele, the cemetery caretaker and contractor, dug the grave where Fafara rests today. There was no money left over for a headstone, so for 13 years the grave was unmarked.

Gravestone

Then, several years ago, Susan Eisele, wife of Jay and a trustee of the cemetery board, was helping to fill in a grave, when she encountered two men who were looking for Fafara’s plot.

“She looked on the chart of graves and found Whitey’s for them. They were upset there was no stone,” said Margie Tosi, secretary of the Redland Cemetery board.

The unmarked grave and Fafara’s story caught Tosi’s attention, and she asked the board if she could contact St. Elizabeth of Hungary to see whether the same priest was there, and if something could be done about getting a headstone.

“Father Jim was still there and very pleased that we were pursuing the matter and wanted to be involved. With board approval, Susan contacted [Affordable Family Memorial]” and the design process began, Tosi said.

“Father Jim wanted a cross etched into the stone and, in fact, a special design. I believe he calls it a Benedictine cross. We went back and forth with proofs before the final approval,” Tosi said. The gravestone was paid for by anonymous donors and parishioners at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, she said.

In addition to Kolb, Threadgill, Susan Eisele and Tosi, in attendance for the blessing of the gravestone were Elizabeth Duncan, parish assistant at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Redland Cemetery Board trustees Ron Tosi and Beverly Jeppesen and her husband, Al, and cemetery neighbor Betty Armstrong.

Helping one another

“Stanley’s was a poignant story about struggles, but in the end, redemption. Those of us who remember [‘Leave it to Beaver’] recall with fondness the idealized happy days era of its setting. The episodes always had pleasant, resolved endings. Hopefully, his life had a happy ending, too,” Tosi said, adding that the show was “part of our lives.”

“As Catholics and as Christians, we believe in the Communion of Saints, which is the spiritual solidarity that binds together all the faithful on Earth. Because of our fundamental belief that we should do what we can to help one another, upon learning of Whitey’s situation, St. Elizabeth’s parish arranged for his funeral and burial,” parish assistant Duncan said.

A brief shower occurred just before the ceremony, but the sun came out as Kolb began the blessing of the gravestone.

“Stanley, once again we gather at your grave. With this holy water, we bless him as a child of God. We bless this gravestone and may he have everlasting life,” Kolb said.

“It is so important to remember somebody who was a celebrity as a youth, fell off the wagon, went down the drain, but came back up again. The people who are part of this cemetery are doing a great service to the community, by burying the dead with dignity. We are all God’s children,” Kolb said.

Kolb then told the group that at Fafara’s funeral in 2003, there was a crucifix on top of his casket.

He added, “It is the custom in the Catholic Church to give the crucifix to the family, but since there was no family [at the funeral], we opened the casket and put the crucifix on his chest. I said, ‘Stanley, take it with you as a sign that you are a child of God.’”

Redland Pioneer Cemetery

The Redland Pioneer Cemetery was established in 1858 and the Redland Cemetery Association Board on April 8, 1899.

It is located at the intersection of Redland and Lyons roads, about two miles from the Redland Cafe.

The cemetery houses graves of veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish American War.

In its early days, a grave plot cost 50 cents for anyone within the Redland area’s boundaries; outsiders were charged $2.50.

Redland Cemetery Board members are: Kurt Weninger, chairman; Bruce Cole, vice chairman; Margie Tosi, secretary; Yvonne Weninger, treasurer; Jay Eisele, caretaker/contractor; Susan Eisele, trustee; Beverly Jeppesen, trustee; Ron Tosi, trustee; Gary White, trustee.

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