While clearing brush from their weekend cabin on Hillcrest Drive in Felton, Chris and Joanne Lunardi discovered a toppled-over headstone inscribed with the name Bobbie Lee Rice. The baby boy had lived only a short time, from October 21 until December 1, 1930, according to the inscription on the headstone.
“I was thinking, ‘now what do I do?’” Joanne Lunardi said this week.
The Lunardi’s, who were clearing the property after purchasing it from a friend in December 2012, weren’t sure if the baby was buried in a plot on the property, or if the 100-pound headstone had been moved from somewhere else.
So she Lunardi turned to the web.
“I couldn’t just leave it be,” she said. “I kept putting the name Rice into searches.”
By happenchance, she came across Felton amateur historian and Realtor Vicki Weiss and her blog www.feltonhomesandhistory.wordpress.com where a “Rice” was mentioned.
Lunardi contacted Weiss who put the word out on her blog and through the Press-Banner seeking more information.
Enter Felton resident Duane Davis.
Davis, who is in the process of researching his family’s genealogy, used www.ancestry.com to search birth and death indexes in California, and found that Bobbie Lee was born and died in Ventura County.
“I contacted the Ventura County Genealogical Society and asked them if they could assist with solving the mystery,” Davis said in an email. “I also ordered a copy of the death certificate so we could verify anything we learned.”
Davis’s contact at the Ventura County Genealogical Society, Marilyn Peterson, and her associates visited the cemetery in Ojai and spoke with family members and others who knew the family. They determined that the headstone found in Felton on the Lunardi’s property belonged to the same Bobbie Lee who was buried in Ojai.
Davis shared his findings with Weiss and the Lunardi.
Lunardi said her first reaction was of minor relief, and then she felt a call to action.
“First of all, thank you, there is not a body on my property,” she said, noting that her grandchildren come to the property and play in the yard. “In my heart of hearts, I thought I had to get it back to where it belongs.”
On Saturday, Feb. 8, Lunardi and several friends made the 300-mile drive to Ojai to deliver the headstone.
The Ventura County Genealogical Society sent out a genealogist to meet them upon their arrival, and they spoke with Thomas Hatcher, Bobbie Lee’s cousin. A local newspaper, the Ojai Valley News, also documented the arrival of the headstone.
Lunardi said they placed the headstone at the gravesite, right next to Bobbie Lee’s father who was a WWII veteran. The group placed flowers at the grave before leaving.
During their visit, they learned the graveyard had gone through a period of vandalisms, but Lunardi was unable to find out when.
“When we came through there, a lot of plots did not have headstones,” Lunardi said, explaining how the headstone may have left the cemetery. “How it got 300 miles up the coast is beyond comprehension.”
Weiss was thrilled that Lunardi and Davis carried on the research to see the headstone returned to its rightful home.
“It just got close to all our hearts,” Weiss said. “(Joanne) really cares, and she was thrilled to take Bobbie Lee home. Just watching it happen, for me, was amazing. There’s just not enough of that kind of good stuff in the world.”
Despite more than 700 miles of driving, Lunardi felt a large amount of satisfaction in knowing the headstone had been returned.
“I’m 56,” she said. “This is probably the biggest thing I’ve done that I did not have to do. It’s something I had to do in my heart.”
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