A Finnegans Wake Reader and Scholar
Ojai Valley News
“Ojai Renaissance man to be remembered at Jan. 30 (2005) service
For the first time in decades, when the rain came down and disaster ravaged the land, Ojai Valley residents were forced to make do without the help of longtime Red Cross Disaster Coordinator Clarence Sterling.
Sterling, 59, lost his year-long battle with esophageal cancer Jan. 7, at
Meditation Mount as the skies grew steadily more turbulent.
“Clarence was everything,” said longtime friend and fellow Red Cross worker Glenda Strosneider. “If anything needed to be done, whether it was Red Cross or not, he was there. If the Red Cross could only do so much, Clarence always
did more.” Friends say Clarence had a certain trademark magnetism that drew people to him and compelled them to serve their communities, as well.
Clarence Ray Sterling Jr. was born on April 5, 1945 in Fullerton, Calif. A fourth-generation Californian, he spent most of his early years on his grandparents’ orange and avocado ranch in the Coyote Hills north of Fullerton, where in 1880, his great-grandfather, Richard Hall Gilman, had planted the first
Valencia orange grove in California. One remaining tree stands at the site,
which has become California State University at Fullerton.
His grandmother, mother and aunt were all authors, and he often spoke of one of his earliest memories — that of being soothed to sleep by the sounds of his mother’s typewriter keys.
After moving to Ojai in 1971, he supported local environmental projects, earning him for a while the nickname, “Petition Sterling.” From the 1970s and into the early 1980s, he was a leader of the Ojai grassroots movement to grant official wilderness status to the Sespe River area.
In a regular series of Ojai Valley News editorials, Mr. Sterling also helped preserve backwoods history through interviews with pioneers. He worked with Chumash ceremonial leader Vincent Tumamait to bring back to life an appreciative awareness of the role of the Chumash people in the Ojai.
In 1976, representing Ojai’s Parks Department, he spoke before a congressional hearing on granting strip mining rights for a gypsum mine on the slopes above Highway 33 and was a major force in securing denial of that application. The march he led from Nordhoff High School to the downtown Arcade to gain support for this issue was among the first environmental actions of this kind in Ojai.
During this time, he also led weekly day hikes into the Sespe backcountry.
For several years, Mr. Sterling was director of the Ojai Art Center and from 1979 through 1985, he was the liaison between the city and the Ojai Music Festival.
He co-founded, with best friend Michael Kaufer, the Bowlful of Blues in Ojai, which was influenced by his knowledge of Chumash ceremonies.
Mr. Sterling was also a musician, singer and composer. He could play any stringed instrument, and played guitar in the classical, flamenco and blues traditions. He taught guitar privately and at Henson’s Music in Oxnard and Ventura College for 10 years. He was also an authority on the lyrics, music and life of blues legend Robert Johnson.
He served for several years on the city’s Heritage Tree Committee and was also caretaker of Libbey Park for some years, preserving several specific trees in Libbey Park, including the Canary Island date palms. He was the first to begin regular mulching in the park in order to hold down dust and to protect oak roots.
In recent years he worked with the American Red Cross of Ventura County, where he served as disaster coordinator, and the group earned a reputation for rapid arrival on scene.
At the time he began treatment for his cancer a year ago, Mr. Sterling revealed his gifts as a healer by organizing the first recognition ceremony for the 10 people who drowned in the Sespe during the great flood of 1969. Many local
residents who had suffered losses during the flood were given the opportunity for the first time in 35 years to speak about their ordeals.
The author of many poems, songs, stories, essays and scholarly articles in at least five journals, in 2000 and 2001 he presented research on the works of James Joyce which begins to unlock the linguistic, historical and
philosophical secrets of Joyce’s mysterious work, “Finnegan’s Wake,” as wel as shedding light on “Ulysses” and Joyce’s other works. It took him more than 20 years of exploration to come to these discoveries. Since his death, tributes from Joyce scholars all over the world have been arriving at his home.
Of his many accomplishments, Mr. Sterling believed that his most important work had been with the American Red Cross. Three weeks before he died, the Red Cross in Ventura County named its disaster relief building in Ventura the Clarence Sterling Disaster Operations Center. He was also honored by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his service with the Red Cross.
He is survived by his wife, Kristina Sterling; his mother, Frances Bowen Root and friend Wendell Anderson; stepmother Dorothie Sterling; two sons, Beau Sterling and Eben Sterling; sister and brother-in-law Francisca and Kenneth Scofield; grandsons Morgan Alexander Sterling, Warren Nicholas Sterling, Aidan Blue Sterling, and Garrett Spitzmesser; aunts Elsie Walters, Delores Nelson,
Rita Sterling; uncle Dale Sterling; daughters-in-law Rachel Sterling and Carmen Spitzmesser; nephew Felix Sterling and wife Kristin Sterling; and brothers-in-law William Hubby III and Charles Hubby. Mr. Sterling was preceded in death by his father, Clarence Ray Sterling; grandmother Helen Gilman Bowen; and aunt Margaret Bowen. A memorial service will be held Sunday, Jan. 30, at 2 p.m. in Libbey Bowl, Ojai. In case of rain, an alternative site will be announced.