Wife of late ag man tells ‘The rest of the story’ of his life

John Kirkpatrick was a lifelong California farmer, innovator and businessman up until his death on Feb. 26, 2023

As former newsman Paul Harvey said before the final segment of his daily broadcast, “And now for the rest of the story…”

And thanks to the generous offer by The Sun-Gazette’s publisher Reggie Ellis, I’m able to add a few stories to amplify John’s obituary, which ran in the paper last week. Even those who knew him best may have forgotten these elements from his amazing 92-year life. 

As granddaughter Zoe so aptly put it, “he was smart as a tack and stubborn to boot.” In the family, John’s trivia knowledge was legendary. He’d drop some salient fact into our conversations. We’d wonder if it was so and could we challenge him on it. I clearly remember the time he was challenged. A friend stopped him cold by saying “No John, that’s wrong.” He backed down. 

I ran into her at the market a few days later and told her how amazing that was. She said with a big smile, “I was lying.” When I relayed that back to John, he got on the phone and said in a deep, gruff voice, “This is God. You can go to hell for lying.” 

His bright mind was also inventive. The family fondly called him ‘Carakatus Potts’ after the crazy inventor played by Dick Van Dyke in the movie Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang. While he came up with ideas for many useful things, he never took steps to manufacture or copywrite—most recently it was to test if he could warm his coffee with the sun shining on metal from a Pepsi can … didn’t work.

John had research projects throughout our 63 years of marriage. Before throwing away any paper with scribbled notes I always asked if they were important. One of the most memorable of these research-related things took place in the late 70’s when he became interested in beneficial nematodes and their potential to attack harmful nematodes and other soil-borne pests. He befriended a USDA researcher in Fresno who was studying them and offered to supply him with beneficials. They were grown in the bodies of dead crickets in petri dishes on our dining room table, with the lids clamped down tightly, thank you.

John was a pilot—a skill he learned before we met through the Exeter flying club at Pruner Field, south of town. The plane they shared was a Taylorcraft—a two-seater, wing overhead with the pilot in back and passenger in front. I questioned its reliability, but when John checked it out to fly us to Palm Springs to visit my sister I changed my tune. 

But planes and talk of them stayed with him always. He loved to be sent on errands to Woodlake because then he could stop by the airport to shoot the breeze with George Benson (Benson Aviation) at his hangar space where he repairs small planes and rebuilds old ones. One that John admired is his restored and beautiful 1932 model Pietenpol open cockpit plane. He longed to ride in it.

That finally happened six years ago when we arranged for George to take him up as a surprise for his 87th birthday. Friend Louise Fisher, also a pilot, supplied a long, white silk scarf. George provided the goggles. He squeezed into the plane—creaky joints and all—and they were off. We got pictures from start to finish at the airport and daughter-in-law Karen got still pictures and a video as they did a flyover of our home and Lindcove Ranch. On landing, we all celebrated with cake at the Airways Café.

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