His name was Dwayne Giesbrecht, though more people in Turlock affectionately knew him as the Rock Man.
He was a musician and a Vietnam veteran, who after his service found living under a roof and four walls on a daily basis just a bit too unbearable.
For more than 40 years he lived on the streets in Turlock, interwoven into the human landscape of the community — seen by many but only really known by a few.
Giesbrecht passed away earlier this week in the spot he called home — underneath a stairwell behind We Care. It’s believed he was 79 or perhaps 71 years old.
Turlock resident Stewart Webster first noticed Giesbrecht in the same manner he came to the attention of many in town — pulling a collection of carts with an old bandana tied around his head, his beard bordering on scraggly and his face weathered.
Webster also noticed the toy plastic guitar Giesbrecht carted around among his collection of material squares, pretty trinkets and other oddities. As a musician himself, Webster used the guitar to build a bridge to Giesbrecht, eventually bonding the two men together in friendship.
On occasions the two men would sit outside La Mo Cafe — Webster with his mandolin in hand and Giesbrecht with a guitar given to him by a stranger and kept at the cafe. Sometimes Giesbrecht would strum out a few notes and sometimes he preferred to listen to the music and smile.
“He had these steel-blue eyes that would just light up when he smiled,” Webster said. “And he had this laugh that sounded like Popeye from the old cartoons.”
Webster got to know Giesbrecht over the more recent years, a time when Giesbrecht conversed less and less, especially about his past. But since his passing Webster has heard and read a flood of stories from Turlock residents who recalled some memorable meeting with the quiet man or some kindness he bestowed upon them.
“Years ago, when Blue Shield was on Broadway, I would see him all the time on my lunch,” wrote Becky Machado on a Facebook post announcing Giesbrecht’s passing. “I made a point to say hi to him all of the time. One day, he passed by me, then turned around and smiled and said hi back to me. I was deeply touched by that simple gesture back from him.”
Giesbrecht was not a man to accept charity, often times turning away money or free food offered to him, though he did enjoy donuts and a good cup of coffee.
The Rock Man name was one that is believed to have began sometime in the 1980s. He would often be seen near the railroad tracks throwing rocks or crushing them on a curb. As to why he did, well that is one of the mysteries Giesbrecht will retain.
A service for Giesbrecht is planned for 2 p.m. March 18 in the courtyard at La Mo Cafe at 310 E. Main St. It’s open to all and will include, music, donuts and coffee. Guests are asked to bring a bandana of their choosing.