Claremont’s curmudgeon: a journalist and a man with a heart of gold
Conrad Chester Casler, resident of Claremont since the mid-1960s, died at his home on March 29, 2013 at the age of 83.
Mr. Casler’s late and beloved wife, June, once described “Connie” as having the characteristics of an “old fire dog—whenever he hears a siren, he’s got to know what’s going on.”
Mr. Casler, the son of Chester and Vera Casler, was born on October 4, 1929 in Indianapolis, Indiana where he spent his early years. He was a graduate of Short Ridge High School in Indianapolis and of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.
During the years of the Korean War, Mr. Casler enlisted in the US Army. Although a Quaker and self-described pacifist, he once said of the war, “I figured the pacifists had failed, so let’s just get it over with as quickly as possible and start over again.”
He attended the Army Officer Candidate School in Lawton, Oklahoma and served as an aerial observer for field combat troops in the X Corps Artillery Unit in Korea, an experience that served as a basis for many “Connie stories” of his experiences there.
Mr. Casler began his journalistic career as a reporter for the Caller-Times in Corpus Christi, Texas where he had, among many others, the experience of joining a Coast Guard flight over the Texas-Louisiana coast observing the ravages of Hurricane Audrey. There were many other memorable experiences, and the always competitive spirit of getting a story before competitors.
Mr. Casler recalled writing of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy for the Indianapolis Times, his next endeavor after the Texas job. A move to California brought a short-lived job in advertising and public relations at Disneyland, which he colorfully described as making him feel like “a lady of the evening.” He returned to journalism with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner as a night city editor. It was during his tenure there when the news came in that Robert F. Kennedy, chosen that evening in the California presidential primary election, had been shot, bringing on a 48-hour whirlwind of writing. It was also at the Her-Ex, as he described the newspaper that he was contacted by the infamous “Alphabet Bomber” about his malicious intentions, giving Mr. Casler information about the type of explosives to expect and where to find tapes with more information.
Mr. Casler’s career travels then brought him closer to Claremont at the then Pomona Progress Bulletin (now the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin). It was during that period of time that he testified during the trial of the Alphabet Bomber, leading to a conviction.
During his time at the Prog, he delighted in telling the story of an incident when he was instructed by editors not to say that a murder had occurred in downtown Pomona. Being a stickler for truthful reporting, Mr. Casler instead gave the exact street address of where the crime had occurred. The story went through, giving readers an accurate picture.
It was also at the Progress Bulletin that Mr. Casler met his beloved June, who became his second wife in 1981, a union that only ended with her death in 2008. The couple partnered in many ways, including his handyman business and her love for animals, leading to pet and house-sitting services, used widely by friends and acquaintances in Claremont.
Following his career in journalism, Mr. Casler taught at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut and was the advisor for the Mountain Weekly newspaper there and at the University of La Verne. He rankled at the idea, however, of “teaching” journalism.
“Why spend so much time on ‘journalism,’” he argued in a profile for the COURIER by Brenda Bolinger. “It should be spent on civics, education, history, medicine, politics and economics. A master’s degree in journalism is, pardon the expression, as useful as tits on a boar hog.”
Literal scores of Claremonters had contacts with Mr. Casler over the years. A few reflected on his personality and influence.
Bill and Carol Grant knew Mr. Casler for more than 40 years. “He was a neighbor and a friend of ours and our kids. Everybody in the neighborhood looked to Connie. We never took a vacation without Connie looking after things for us.”
Andrew Zanella of the Keck Institute reflected, “Conrad was friendly, gregarious, curious about many things and fun and stimulating to talk with. He had a great sense of humor and loved to tell jokes, especially the kind that ended in clever and sometimes excruciatingly funny puns. He was a remarkable man and friend. It was my good fortune to know him.”
David Sadava, an emeritus professor at Claremont McKenna College, remembers Mr. Casler as “generous and kind. He loved me and my family. He had a wry and jaundiced view of Claremont politics and would send me clippings that illustrated that view. He retrofitted his home with solar power before it was ‘the thing’ and I’ve always said that the town is glowing because of Connie. He was a great guy.”
Carol Bliss explained that Mr. Casler had pet sit for a friend, and then began to look after her 2 cats—“then he began to fix things for me. I loved his jokes and humor. He would always make a point to cut out news stories of human interest about the goodness of people—about instances of generosity. He was such an ethical, loyal man.”
Jim and Dora Sanders of Claremont Graduate University and the Claremont School of Theology knew Mr. Casler for more than 40 years.
“He was the best handyman ever,” Mr. Sanders noted, “and he charged pre-war prices. He was a man who had a ready word and a constant supply of new stories. He cared for our dogs, our husky-bloodhound mix, and his successor, a malamute. He and June both loved them, and the dogs and we loved them.”
Florence Wanjiku, who came to the US some years ago from her native Kenya, has made her home with Mr. Casler since she began caring for the late June Casler during her final years. Ms. Wanjiku and her daughters, Priscilla Wangeci and Charity Kaningari, recall Mr. Casler’s encouragement and kindness.
“He always encouraged us to go on to school,” Ms. Wanjiku notes. “He was a mentor to us and we considered him our guardian angel. Heaven must have grown by one more angel, now that Connie’s there.”
Mr. Casler, whose daughter, Cathryn, was tragically killed by an errant motorist near her home in northern California in 2011, is survived by his son, Dr. Conrad C. Casler Jr., and his wife Angie of Tulsa, Oklahoma; by his son-in-law, Wayne “Wally” Zampa of Butte Valley, California; by granddaughter Jennifer Davis of Seattle, Washington and by granddaughters, Courtney and Mackenzie Casler of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As with his late wife, June, memorial donations may be made to the Inland Valley Humane Society, 500 Humane Way, Pomona, CA 91766 or to the West End Animal Shelter, 1010 E. Mission Blvd., Ontario, CA 91761.
No formal services are scheduled, but a gathering of friends of Mr. Casler will be held in the near future.