Cucamonga volunteer firefighter Louis Gakle has spent his entire life serving the community – Daily Bulletin
They tell many stories about Louis C. Gakle, whose 100 years of life were spent serving us all.
There was the story his associates tell of him of how on three occasions he saved the Cucamonga fire station from burning down.
Gakle, who died two weeks ago, was a longtime volunteer fire captain in Cucamonga. He lived next to the fire station on San Bernardino Road even after retiring from the department. He was always ready to lend a hand.
“They say he smelled something burning on the stove three times after the men had to leave quickly on a call during a meal,” recalled retired firefighter Bob Corcoran. “He knew what it was, so he ran over and put out the stove and avoided a real problem.”
On September 7, Gakle died after a number of friends, former workers and his family gathered four days earlier for his 100th birthday.
Gakle was the last living original member of the Cucamonga Volunteer Fire Department. Back when the Inland Empire was still just a vast carpet of citrus fruits and other agricultural fields, small communities like Cucamonga needed local residents to volunteer and train to provide protection against fires.
He was one of 23 founding members of the Cucamonga Department when it was formed in May 1949. He served as a captain until the department was officially replaced by the paid firefighters of the Foothill Fire Protection District in 1974.
At that time, when the fire station siren went off, the volunteers had to drop everything and spring into action.
“The siren was at the back of the fire station, and it was going off and he was getting dressed quickly and going over there,” Gakle’s daughter, Dorothy Wood, explained. “You got used to it happening, so it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.”
It wasn’t as accessible to the rest of the volunteers.
“You drove as fast as you could to the fire station,” recalls retired firefighter Paul Klusman, whose father was a founding member of Gakle in the volunteer force. “If the engine started before you got there, they’d leave the address on a blackboard and you’d head for the fire.
“You never knew who was available. If there was only one person in town, then only one answered.
Gakle, a graduate of Chino High, also worked for more than 30 years for the Ontario Post Office which he joined after serving in the Philippines during World War II.
“He was as good as he could get,” Klusman explained. “My dad died when I was 8, and he kind of took care of me. I kind of grew up with him and his kids. We often went with his family to water ski in Salton Sea or to the Colorado River.
Klusman recalled that he and other neighborhood kids always spent time hanging around the fire station. Sometimes they would help wash down the fire hoses after the truck returned from a call.
He couldn’t wait for his 18th birthday, which allowed him to become a volunteer firefighter in 1964. Gakle played a big part in his first fire call as he allowed Klusman to drive the No. 4 engine to the Foothill Boulevard fire. Klusman then acquired this same truck and spent 10 years restoring it. It is on display at the fire department.
An inveterate mechanic, Gakle spent the few hours he had repairing Model Ts and tractors.
“Any time you needed a piece of big equipment to fix something, you would call Lou and he would lend it to you,” said Sammy Dominick Sr., a retired fire department mechanic. “He would sit there and talk about the good old days and the big fires they had to tackle.”
Gakle’s family has gotten used to him being away for a call. When particularly large fires occurred, Wood said her mother would take her and her sister to the Foothill liquor store, which would donate meat for the sandwiches. “We would go back to the station and make sandwiches, then go to the fire to deliver them,” she recalls.
The fact that Gakle lived to be 100 is no surprise. Her father, Louis Sr., lived almost to his 101st birthday. He had come from Sabetha in northern Kansas in 1910 to become a major goat farmer in what is now southern Ontario.
Gakle’s funeral will be held Thursday, September 22 at 10:30 a.m. at Bellevue Memorial Park, 1240 W. G St., Ontario.
The San Dimas Historical Society will hold its annual Ice Cream Social on Sunday, September 25 at the City Senior Community Center, 201 E. Bonita Ave., San Dimas.
The social will take place from 4-6 p.m. and is free for members and guests.
Battle of Chino
A lecture on the Battle of Chino, the Mexican War skirmish of September 26-27, 1846, which pitted a band of Californios against a band of Americans, will be held September 29 at the Ovitt Family Community Library , 215 E.C St., Ontario.
From 6:30-8 p.m., historian Paul Spitzzeri will talk about the battle that had fatal consequences at Isaac Williams’ ranch Rancho Santa Ana del Chino. His speech is suitable for people 18 and older, the library said.
On October 2, the Riverside Historical Society will host a book fair featuring local authors signing copies of their books, followed by a talk by Frank Teurley about WWII Camp Anza at Riverside.
The book fair will begin at 12:30 p.m. with Teurley’s lecture scheduled for 1 p.m. in the basement of the Riverside Medical Clinic, 7117 Brockton Ave., Riverside.
Copies of the society’s special WWII-themed issue of the journal will be distributed to members and available for purchase at the event.
Joe Blackstock writes about the history of the Inland Empire. He can be reached at [email protected] or Twitter @JoeBlackstock. Check out some of our columns from the past at Inland Empire Stories on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IEHistory.