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Oran Walker Palmer

Teacher, ‘Yardman’, exuberant singer

Oran Walker Palmer, Jr., a longtime teacher in the Claremont Unified School District, died peacefully at Redlands Community Hospital in Redlands on April 22, 2016 at the age of 87. His daughter, Deborah, and his son-in-law, Fenris, were with him in his final hours. During the previous months, he had experienced the confused frustrations of those who dementia holds in its unyielding claws. 

He was born in Los Angeles on October 10, 1928 to Oran and Esther Palmer and raised in Bakersfield. He attended East Bakerfield High School where he was part of the debate squad and, along with his brother George, was a yell leader. Following graduation in 1945 he entered the US Navy, serving for approximately two years. Upon his return to civilian life, Mr. Palmer enrolled at USC. While a student there, he met his future wife, Eleanor, who lived at the same boarding house as Mr. Palmer. The couple married in 1949.

Mr. Palmer taught for more than 60 years. His happiest years were at Claremont High School, where he particularly enjoyed coaching the debate team. He was principal of La Puerta Intermediate School the first year it opened but soon returned to teaching, not caring for the bureaucracy of administration. He was at his best as a classroom teacher. He earned his PhD from Claremont Graduate University.

He loved music, particularly Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday who, in “Yesterdays,” sang, “Sad am I, glad am I, for today I am dreaming of yesterdays.” It was unfortunate that Mr. Palmer could neither sing on key nor dance in time, much to the chagrin of his family. But in the early ‘70s, he would pick up his daughter Deborah at Citrus Community College and on the way home they would, at the top of their lungs, sing Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” with unbridled joy. Car windows down, there was no one to complain or sigh in embarrassment.

One of his greatest joys was traveling by train to visit family and friends, making new friends along the way. He and his son-in-law, Fenris, were able to take an Alaskan cruise that they talked about for years afterward. 

Following the death of his wife, Eleanor, Mr. Palmer shared the family home in Claremont with his daughter and son-in-law. In 2012, Deborah and Fenris purchased a home in Yucaipa. Mr. Palmer moved from Claremont after living here for more than 40 years. For three years his daughter would drive him to Claremont at least once a month so he could visit with friends, have breakfast and drink coffee at The Last Drop Café.

Mr. Palmer and his daughter completely landscaped the half-acre property in Yucaipa, bringing sorely neglected trees and plants back to life. He reveled in yard work, and proudly dug the holes for each of the 20 roses that were planted in the yards, as well as those for the newly planted fruit trees. He was up at 5:30 each morning and walked the property with one of the family dogs, Yoshi. The accompanying photograph is of Mr. Palmer and his son-in-law Fenris on one of the last unaided walks Oran was able to take in the backyard.

Mr. Palmer is preceded in death by his wife, Eleanor. He leaves his son and daughter-in-law, Tomás and Elfie of Shavano Park, Texas; his daughter and son-in-law, Deborah and Fenris of Yucaipa; his grandson Joel and his wife Michelle of San Antonio, Texas, and his grandson Geoffrey and his wife Kirsten of Yucaipa. His great-grandchildren, Hunter, Mason and Liam, will not experience the joy of his bedtime readings of The Chronicles of Narnia or his exciting rendition of “The Tinderbox.” He also leaves his sister and brother-in-law, Sally and Bud, in Memphis, Tennessee and his brother and sister-in-law, Bill and Maggie, in Bakersfield. His younger brother, George, died in 2014. George’s widow, Nina, now lives in Sedona, Arizona.

Always an avid reader, Mr. Palmer’s extensive book collection is now being sorted, with many of the books slated for donation to those who may not be able to afford books but nevertheless love reading.

As was his request, Mr. Palmer’s body was donated to Medcure to further scientific learning. He was a fan of Abraham Lincoln, and a Mr. Lincoln rose will be planted in the backyard he loved, next to the Pilgrim rose planted for his late brother, George. Upon their return from Medcure, his ashes will be taken, along with the ashes of his late wife Eleanor, to Colorado, her birthplace.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to Yucaipa Animal Placement Society or Medcure. 

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