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Packed house remembers late George House
Former lawmaker was a Christian, family man, rancher first
George House memorial
Mourners look over a display of photos and memorabilia from the life of George House during a Friday morning memorial service. The California Highway Patrol sent two officers in respect of the former Modesto area CHP commander and former state Assemblyman. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/The Journal

George House may have been the commander of the Modesto office of the California Highway Patrol from 1983 to 1987 and elected three times to the California State Assembly, but he considered being Christian, a devoted family man and a farmer as his greatest roles – in that order.

The legacy left by the longtime Hughson resident, who died July 14 at the age of 86, was recounted many times over by family members and former fellow lawmakers during a Friday morning memorial service at the Hughson Church of Christ where he served as an elder. House’s last seven years were held hostage to dementia, said his widow, Edna House. He was being cared for at home until he required more intensive care months ago.

Son Nathan said his father “exemplified generosity in his heart and spirit and was quick to help those in need.”

“He saw the most important thing in our family was not being a House – he didn’t build that up – but he built up being a Christian,” said Nathan House. “That’s what he wanted of his children, what he wanted of his family and his grandchildren. Of everything that he is, CHP officer, judge, Assemblyman, farmer, the most important thing that can be said of him was that he was a Christian.”

House retired from the CHP after 32 years. He became a juvenile judicial hearing officer before entering politics, first as a candidate for Hughson School Board. He was elected to the 25th District of the California State Assembly in 1994, 1996 and 1998, retiring in 2000 because of term limits. He went back to farming in Hughson.

George House III said his father was proud of his humble roots in Oklahoma where he was born near Indianola on Nov. 20, 1929 to George and Cordelia House, despite having to pick cotton for 50 cents a day to help support the family. His father was an old fashioned patriot who cheerfully recited Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for his kids and instilled American values when he recited historical events.

“He and my mother celebrated 50 years of marriage last year. You don’t hear about that very often. Even though he started his married life at 36, he made it to 50 years of marriage. There were no other women in my dad’s life.”

House often told his children he loved them and found pleasure in working.

While farming and working for the CHP, House worked on renovations on the family house for 15 years, often telling the boys to “go get the board stretcher, I cut it too short,” said his son.

“He wore holes in his shoes when he was campaigning. I saw them. I wouldn’t have believed it (but he) told them up (and) holes through the shoes.”

George said his dad was generous and opened the home to in excess of 20 people when they were down and out, shared money with those who needed it, helped neighbors with labor and equipment and shared produce from his half-acre garden.

“Above all what I will remember is he was a man of faith,” said George. “He quoted Scripture to me. He had more Scripture memorized than I can tell you but the one that he kept repeating to me while he still had a mind was ‘Hold fast the faith forward.’"

House loved music and in his younger years sang in country western trio consisting also of his brothers Don and Orval. They once backed up Marty Robbins when he came to town and appeared on radio station KTRB.

House failed in his 1992 run for Assembly, losing the Republican primary by Barbara Keating-Edh who later lost the general election to Democrat Margaret Snyder. House ran again in 1994 and defeated Snyder.

Among those who came to remember House were some of his former colleagues in Sacramento, including California State Party Chairman Jim Brulte, former state Senator Dick Monteith, and former Assembly members Dean Andal and Larry Bowler.

Brulte recounted how he helped recruit House to “sneak up” his 1994 Assembly candidacy up to the election to fly under the radar of Democrats. For four months Brulte withheld promises of support and publicly spoke “crappy things” about George so as to not tip off the Democrats and thereby prevent the opposition party from amassing a campaign arsenal to defeat him. Twelve days before the election, Brulte delivered $40,000 to House and a barrage of radio ads touting House’s family values that resonated with the mostly conservative district.

“George won in a landslide, he really won big time,” said Brulte.

Shortly after being seated, Brulte remembered a luncheon caucus in which House suddenly was choking to death. Brulte rushed over and performed the Heimlich maneuver. House replied, “I’m looking forward to heaven but I think I probably have to stay around and vote a few more times before I leave.”

Brulte read comments from former colleagues. David Knowles said House was transparent about how the Bible influenced his votes. He also remembered how he brought peaches from his Hughson ranch to share with not only legislators but to staff members, people who parked cars and CHP officers who protected the Capitol. “He knew each and every one of their names because he cared about each and every one of them collectively,” Brulte said.

Former lawmaker Bill Leonard recounted how House drove him around the district like he was back in a CHP cruiser “during an emergency call.” He also would often pray with Leonard at the drop of a hat about any concern.

Chuck Poochigian, now a federal judge, remembered being driven by House to Hughson and how House sang for most of the trip.

Brulte said many of House’s Republican colleagues were Christians who held House their standard of conduct, but often “fell short.”On one occasion, House and a group of five other state Assemblymen including Speaker Curt Pringle walked over to Tony’s, a sandwich shop blocks from the Capitol. The group ignored a pedestrian “Don’t Walk” sign and crossed before looking both ways and seeing no traffic coming. House remained on the curb. The others went on but noticed House was back at the curb. They went back to see why and House lectured them about following the law, adding “I just don’t want to start knowingly breaking the law at this stage of my life.”

 Jennifer Jacobs, House’s former chief of staff, said her former boss was a politician who cared deeply about his constituents. She cited how House carried bills for the first drug courts in California to rehabilitate offenders instead of jail them. “That legislation has saved hundreds of thousands of people’s lives all over California; people don’t know that it was George House that carried that legislation.”

He also carried a bill to give tax credit for the recycling of pulp from trees.

Congressman Jeff Denham and county Supervisor Jim DeMartini also attended.

Besides his wife, House leaves behind five children, George Rolland House III of Corvallis, Ore., John House of Hillsboro, Ore., Paul House of Guthrie, Okla., Nathan House of Orlando, Fla., and Jessica House Bingham of Orange County; six brothers and sisters; and 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.