Katherine's uncle Norman Watenpaugh was killed by a truck yesterday.
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Subject: Uncle Norman's Obituary in the Gilroy Dispatch
Date: Wednesday 18 October 2006 08:01
Gilroy Loses Birdman
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
By Emily Alpert (email@example.com
Gilroy - Norman Watenpaugh walked six miles a day, two miles after every
meal. He walked briskly, despite his 76 years, as swift as the birds he
doted on. They called him the Birdman of Gilroy: guardian of bluebirds and
barn owls, architect of hundreds of birdhouses.
Sunday night, he was almost home as he crossed Wren Avenue. He didn't see
the truck speeding toward him, and unfortunately, the driver didn't see him.
"Gilroy lost its Birdman," his wife Michiko said quietly, folding her hands.
The Dodge pickup hit Watenpaugh as he crossed near El Cerrito Way. He was a
block from home, where an hour earlier he celebrated his 76th birthday with
his family, splitting pumpkin pie with his grandkids, tearing open gifts and
playing board games until dusk. Afterwards, he went out walking, as he
always did, Michiko said.
But he didn't come back.
At 7:09pm, Gilroy police received the call. Flares blocked the street from
Welburn Avenue to First Street, where shaken crowds gathered on the
sidewalks. Yuri Nunez, 33, from Hollister, was standing with his sister
outside her Wren Avenue apartment when they heard the sickening sound: not a
screech of brakes, but a thud. Hours later, people still clustered on Wren
Avenue, hushed and somber.
The driver, a Gilroy man, was not arrested, but could face "a whole slew of
charges," said Sgt. Kurt Svardal. The incident will be submitted to the
district attorney's office for review.
Despite street lights, the road is dark at night, say neighbors, and cars
barrel down Wren Avenue, cutting between busy Welburn Avenue and First
Street. In the last three years, there have been at least six accidents at
the nearby intersection of Welburn and Wren avenues, one causing injury,
according to data prepared by crime analyst Phyllis Ward.
"I've only lived here since March, and I've already seen two accidents,"
said Steve Zuniga, 45, a resident of El Cerrito Way. He worries about the
kids who cut across the wide avenue each afternoon. "There's no place to
cross here, unless you go down to First Street."
Sunday, as the sun set, Michiko Watenpaugh grew anxious. She left the house
to look for her husband, and found police cars gathered on Wren Avenue,
Norman's body veiled by a sheet.
"It was horrific," said Norma Watenpaugh, one of their four children. "We
were in shock."
They didn't expect to lose him so soon, daughter Susan Bruner said. Before
his death, he used to say he had another 10 years in him, at least, and he'd
scarcely slowed after retiring from Gilroy Foods, where he worked as an
agricultural engineer. His daughters rattle off his activities: the Audubon
Society, Gilroy Garlic Festival, Lions Club, Boy Scouts, Earth Day, Senior
Center, and the nameless small gardens he planted in every corner of Gilroy.
Norman's bird-shaped whirligigs spin above the blossoms of his corner lot, a
certified natural habitat.
"He growed a lot of plants," said Megan, age 7, one of three grandchildren.
"Grew," corrected Sandra McCarthy, Watenpaugh's daughter.
"So many flowers," Megan added. "Like a jungle."
An Air Force veteran, he hated war, but loved soldiers. He attended church
every Sunday, alongside grandson Brett. He believed in the sanctity of
nature, and the dignity of animals and birds. At city meetings, he was an
environmentalist gadfly, a member of Save Open Space Gilroy.
"He was so concerned about some western bluebirds," recalled David Houston,
Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, "that he was feeding them mealworms,
their favorite thing. He'd hang a feeder nearby and make sure nobody messed
Houston also credits him with saving South County's barn owls. He's built
more than 100 birdhouses for them, built to the species' unique needs. Walk
along Uvas Creek or Las Animas Park and you'll see them: small wooden
houses, perched in the trees.
Even a stray cat he nursed back to health still lingers in Norman's yard.
Every animal - bird, cat, or human - knows kindness.
Which is to say, it knew Norm.
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics