December 09, 2011

Wendell Jess Furnas

The good Lord extended his hand to Wendell Jess Furnas, 94 years old, taking him gently home November 15, 2011. His family was by his side.

Captain Wendell Jess Furnas was a man of faith and conviction. He was also a man of distinction, direction, and accomplishment.

Wendell was a World War II Veteran of fame, and was asked to lecture all over the world on his experiences in Shanghai China during the war, and on his 33 year Naval Intelligence career - which included The Pentagon in Washington D.C. and tours of duty in London, England. He is credited in the book “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” for bringing important information to the United States in World War II, and will be mentioned in an upcoming documentary and book about those days.

Wendell was born in Wichita, Kansas July 27, 1917 to Edgar and Dottie Furnas, the middle child of three brothers. Although his early childhood was as a Quaker on a farm in Kansas, he came to Santa Paula in his early teens, and graduated from Santa Paula High School in 1934. 

He was very active in the Methodist Church and in the “Epworth League” with his friends the Hyde children -- Charles, Elmer, Esther, and Gladys -- as well as Reola Maland and Loren Ayres.  

Wendell was a self made man. His life has been described by many as one amazing adventure after another.

After working his way through college, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Berkeley in 1939 in History and English Literature. He then accepted a unique teaching position as a professor for the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, where he taught a variety of subjects, including Shakespeare. Simultaneously, he was the editor for two Chinese American newspapers.  

The timing of this job, in relation to events occurring in world history, changed his life dramatically. It was 1940, and by this time Shanghai had been shelled, a British boat sunk, and the city was taken over by Japan. Americans were asked to leave immediately, and schools were shut down. Wendell, then in his early twenties, suddenly found himself with nothing but the clothing on his back, trying to escape with a band of POW Marine escapees led by Chinese guerilla freedom fighters.  

There are many amazing stories as they traveled through the Chinese countryside at night, hiding in small villages along the way, and with almost nothing to eat. Wendell was captured by the Japanese and taken to the Bridge House Prison, a place of torture and death. He was there alongside some of the Doolittle Raiders, who had also been captured, some who died there.

Wendell was sentenced to death. He was, however, traded at the last moment in the first United States exchange prisoner program. He was titled “the luckiest man in China”.   

When he came back to the United States on the Swedish ship Gripsholm, because he had brought back important information he was asked to join the Navy as a Japanese language student and work in Admiral Nimitz’s Intelligence Center in Pearl Harbor. He interpreted codes that only he could decipher, and he found himself landing with the marines on Guadalcanal and sharing a foxhole with the man who took the famous picture that inspired the well known statue in Washington D.C. of the men raising the flag in Iwo Jima. He served on a critical amphibious unit, which took the last troops into Korea in World War II.

Wendell was dedicated to Naval Intelligence for 33 years, where he served on numerous units including Head of Naval Intelligence Collection for Western Europe, the Mid East, and Africa. He was the Officer-in-Charge of organizing and automating all the Intelligence reports for the Navy (early computers!). He commandeered many critical Task Forces, one of which required him to fly blindfolded in the President’s helicopter to attend a meeting at Camp David.   

He was well known in the Pentagon, and in his last tour of duty as Commandant of the Defense Intelligence School he put together and obtained an agreement through Congress and the Defense Department to make the Defense School a Master’s Degree College in which to train attaches from all the armed services. Through this program, which he initiated, attachés from his school were successfully sent to all of the capitals of the world.

Captain Furnas was also a distinguished author who enjoyed writing numerous articles on various subjects for Esquire and Colliers, his most famous ones being on Japanese swords and on unique bird wildlife throughout the United States. Both of these articles caused him to receive numerous requests for more.

Most of all, Wendell was a devoted family man. 

He was preceded in death in 1977 by his wife, Esther Hyde, who had long time Santa Paula roots. He is survived by his wife Karen, his daughter Tammi, his grandchildren C.G. and Vanessa Gray, Maryrose Gray, and a brother Raymond. He also leaves many friends all over the world who loved and respected him… and whom he loved and respected.

He was an inspiring educator, a world traveler, a decorated military officer, a Japanese linguist, a code expert, an interpreter, a citrus grower, a sought after lecturer, an author, a scholar, and a loving husband, parent, and grandfather. He was a poet, a patriot, a philosopher, and a gentleman.   

He felt you could never go wrong by doing the kind thing. His true identification was fully and truly expressed in his own words: “Whenever you get a chance… put a drop of kindness into the pot of humanity.”

To his family and friends he leaves behind a legacy of kindness, love, laughter and adventure, which will remain tucked in our hearts forever. We know he has now entered the eternal Church triumphant.

The funeral services are as follows, and all are most welcome: Gravesite memorial and Military Honor Guard Salute - 11 a.m., the Santa Paula Cemetery, 380 Cemetery Rd., Santa Paula, CA 93060; the church memorial service at First United Methodist Church is at 12:30 p.m., 133 N. Mill St., Santa Paula, CA 93060. Any questions: Contact Skillin-Carroll Mortuary Chapel, (805) 525-3391.

In lieu of flowers, you may send a donation in his name (Captain Wendell J. Furnas): The Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 123, P.O. Box 5046, Culver City, CA 90231-5046.

Michael Ray “Mike” Edge

Michael Ray “Mike” Edge of Indio, California, passed away peacefully in his home on December 3, 2011 after a brave battle with glioblastoma (brain cancer).

Mike was born in Santa Paula, California on March 10, 1946 to Harvey and Helen Edge. He attended schools in Santa Paula, graduating from Santa Paula High School in 1964. He then attended Ventura College and the University of Utah, where he played football for both schools.

Mike married his high school sweetheart, Caroline Culver, in June of 1966.

He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Caroline and their three sons, Michael Scott of Salt Lake City, Utah, Eric Jason (wife Andrea) of Moreno Valley, California, and Andrew Christopher (wife Roxanne) of Salt Lake City, Utah. He leaves three beloved grandchildren, Sydney Jade, Charlotte Elizabeth and Zachary Christopher. He also leaves his older brother, Jerry Edge of Oakton, Virginia; two nephews, Jeffrey Edge of Virginia and Craig Edge of Ohio; and a niece, Janna Edge Decker of Reston, Virginia.

According to his wishes, no services are planned. Donations in his name may be made to the Tug McGraw Foundation for Glioblastoma Research.

Russel E. “Sandy” Irwin 

1935 - 2011

Russel E. “Sandy” Irwin passed away peacefully on November 24, 2011 after a short illness. “Sandy” (as his friends and family called him) was born on March 20, 1935, the son of Russel and Peggy Irwin. 

He grew up in the small town of Rosalia, just outside of Spokane, WA. He lived in the train depot where his father was the depot agent for Northern Pacific Railroad. Sandy had very fond memories of his childhood in Rosalia, and he visited there frequently.  

When his father passed away in 1948, Sandy and his mother moved to Spokane, WA, where he attended Lewis and Clark High School and graduated in 1953. He then attended Washington State University, majoring in music. He remained a faithful fan of the WSU Cougars.  

Sandy entered into the USANG Reserves in 1953, and then enlisted in the Navy in 1960. Sandy worked as a dispatcher for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department for 32 years and retired in March of 1997. 

Sandy loved his trains and collected train memorabilia, model trains, and anything train related, and he loved to watch and ride on the steam trains. He also loved his music and his old time radio shows. Music from the “big band” era was his passion, especially Frank Sinatra. He was a very talented musician himself; he wrote some of his own music and played the piano and trumpet most of his life.

One of Sandy’s favorite things to do was to travel with his wife Judy in their RV. Together they traveled all over the United States, sometimes with groups of friends, and sometimes just the two of them. Either way, he always enjoyed being “on the road”. He was a big Los Angeles Dodger fan and traveled often to the training camp at Camelback stadium in Arizona, as well as attending many home games. When the trip was over, he was happy to be relaxing at home, too. 

In addition to his beloved wife Judy, Sandy is survived by his daughter Jennifer Burell and son-in-law James Christopher (Chris) Burell; grandchildren James Cameron Burell and Keira Cathrine Burell; stepchildren Cindie and her husband George Wilke, Scott and his wife Sue Collis, Craig Collis and Stuart Collis; five step-grandchildren; sister-in-law Dorothy Irwin; his niece Linda and her husband Jorge Santaularia; and his nephew Greg and his wife Gigi Irwin and their children Lindsey and Brandon. 

A memorial service will be planned for Sandy after the first of the year. Sandy will be spending the foreseeable future with one of his most prized possessions, his model train set. 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Sandy’s name to the VCMC Auxiliary, 329 Loma Vista Rd., Ventura, CA 93003. And please make a note with your donation that it is designated for the Santa Paula Hospital.

To sign the family’s online guestbook, share stories and post pictures, please visit our website: and click on Sandy’s name located below “Recent Obituaries”.

Funeral arrangements are under the direction of the Family Owned & Operated Robert Rey Garcia Jr. Funeral Svcs., Santa Paula, CA, 805.229.7054.

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