Kern Valley resident Ona Lee Snyder died peacefully on February 23, 2019, at an assisted living center in Weldon. She was 85.
“I loved Ona,” said Christina Denys, legal clerk for the Kern Valley Sun. “She was beautiful. When she lived at home, she would call us at the Sun to place ads for help. My son Christopher would help her. It was a blessing for her.”
Born in 1933 in Orrville, OH, Ona Lee — “the best little girl” in the words of her mother — accompanied her parents Hubert and Charlotte Killion as they trekked from town to town in search of work. Years later, she recalled the clapboard houses, dusty roads and buckeye trees of the Midwestern state.
“I stayed often with my cousin, Roy,” she wrote. “We’d walk well over a mile in our bare feet for a popsicle at the Smithville railroad station. It was the highest point on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.”
In 1947, Ona Lee, her mother, now married to Marion Courtney, and 8-year-old brother, Quentin, hitched up the car and trailer for the trek to California. After settling in Glendale, Ona Lee enrolled at Glendale High School. Shortly after graduation in 1951, her mother married decorated Navy veteran and master carpenter Paul Pizzini.
Whatever Ona Lee lacked in formal education, she made up for with a lively curiosity and intelligence. She loved literary classics (a trait inherited by her eldest son) and film adaptations like Gone With The Wind, Wuthering Heights, The Letter, The Little Foxes, Kings Row, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Jane Eyre and Doctor Zhivago. Literature and movies fueled her literary ambitions.
“I always wanted to write children’s stories,” she wrote. “But money was the ultimate obstacle — for me, anyway.”
Ona Lee’s first marriage to the late Rod Hammer produced three children. After their divorce, she made the best of her difficult situation, working as a bookkeeper. Her second marriage to Donald Snyder ended in divorce, but the couple remained on friendly terms.
In 1987, Ona Lee moved to Bodfish to be near her daughter, Kristie, and grandson, Stephen, who lived in Wofford Heights. When Stephen was in the fourth grade, she served as a volunteer in his class at Woodrow Wallace Elementary School. With no formal training, Ona Lee proved to be an engaging and inspiring teacher for her young charges, who were eager to master pre-algebra and other difficult subjects.
“I cannot say enough good about Ona Lee,” said now-retired teacher Marjorie Bothwell. “She was a brilliant woman. She was also very grounded and very down to earth. She had a deep love for children and their education. We always said that she should have been a teacher.”
Ona Lee spent her last years in Weldon, where she opened her heart to stray cats, until God called her home.
Ona Lee, who was preceded in death by her daughter ,Kristie, leaves her mother, Charlotte Menefee, of San Pedro; son, Les Hammer, of Pasadena; son, Bret Hammer, wife Leslie, and daughter, Cassandra, of Lacey, Wash.; grandson, Stephen Hammer, of Canyon Country; brother, Quentin Pizzini, and wife Helene, of San Pedro; sister, Eileen Hershberger, of San Pedro; sister-in-law, Sylvia Pizzini, and husband Marty, of Oakland; nephew, Ken Pizzini, wife Holly, and daughter, Emily, of Citrus Heights; niece, Judy Mickelsen, husband Michael, and son, David, of Waltham, Mass.; niece, Vickie Hershberger, of San Pedro; niece, Cathy Scheitlin, husband Mark, and son, Nathan, of Louisville, Colo., and beloved cat, Cricket, who was adopted by a caretaker.
Lake Isabella Mortuary handled the final arrangements. In lieu of flowers, the family suggested donations to the animal fund in care of Dr. Heather Brauer at Kern Valley Veterinary Hospital, located at 5104-A Lake Isabella Boulevard in Lake Isabella, 93240. Telephone (760) 379-5633.