Franklin and Elaine Secara, whose trust bequeathed $2.55 million for development and construction of a new center for the arts, have both departed from us (he in 2002, she in 2010), but their names will forever be in the hearts of many Maderans.
The bequest was announced Saturday night at the 30th anniversary celebration party for the Madera County Arts Council, of which Franklin Secara was a founding board member.
Naturally, the Secaras will be remembered for their wonderful gift — which hopefully will lead others to add to it. The money is a stunning nest egg for what should become a sparkling addition to the cultural life of Madera County. The arts council, which has long kept the flame of anticipation for an arts center burning, never could have raised that much money on its own.
But it isn’t just the money that will keep the Secaras in our memories. They were unforgettable: remarkable people of tremendous character. Franklin was known for the 45 years he worked for Madera Irrigation District. He was so highly regarded that the MID board named the district headquarters building after him not long before his death. A monument to his memory may be seen by all who enter there.
Elaine was a member of the Arts Council until she died. She also belonged to the Madera County Historical Society, the Madera Camera Club and the Society of Mayflower Descendents.
She and Franklin were married 58 years.
Here, though, is what is significant: They weren’t big shots. They were just plain folks who worked hard all their lives.
“Franklin worked at MID for 45 years or so,” said the Secaras’ friend and colleague, Don Roberts, a former chief engineer and assistant manager at MID.
“When he got to be 65, in the old days, Social Security made you retire,” Roberts said. “He’d had all the jobs at MID. He’d been water master, he’d been assistant manager, a little of this and a little of that, and so they made him treasurer emeritus. He used to go to the bank, and all those things, and they provided him with a car and whatever he could make out of Social Security.
“He did that for the next 20 years. And he had his office, and he’d work in his office, but he’d go over into the Water Department when they needed help, answering phones and taking water orders. He would get there real early in the morning. In the old days, he’d be there at 4:30.
“Then, when he got to be 85, he went to the board and said he was going to start his third career, and that was that he was just going to do it for fun. And so, he kept coming out there pretty much until he died, when he was 90.
“In the last couple of years, it got so he couldn’t drive. His body was falling apart, but his mind was still sharp. So, Elaine would bring him out to the office, although not so early.”
Roberts said he often would give Secara thick documents, such as environmental reports, to read when he, Roberts, couldn’t find the time to read them.
“I would say, here, Frank, I don’t have time to read all this. Why don’t you read it and tell me what I need to know.
“About three or four days later, he’d give it back, and he’d have three or four pages of notes — a whole summary of the thing. And, he had beautiful penmanship. It was easy to read.”
Roberts said that from the late 1980s until his death, Secara also was manager of the Gravelly Ford Water District.
That is the job Roberts, himself, has now, since his own retirement from MID. Elaine, meanwhile, had worked 30 years for PG&E, and then she, too, went to work for Gravelly Ford Water District, as the secretary. She and Franklin worked together there for some 20 years.
Roberts said Franklin was a hard worker all his life in spite of the fact he had a disability.
“He had a limp and a bad arm,” Roberts said, but neither that nor age stopped him. “We had some water diversions up in the mountains,” he said, “and sometimes he would go up and check them. And he would be back at work before the office opened. And he’d always have the coffee ready. He knew the water business, and he knew how to deal with people, how to treat them as they wanted to be treated.”
He said Secara had figured out how to answer the phone before it even rang, by listening for a faint, telltale signal that would click before the ringer sounded. “That would frost people,” Roberts said, “because they didn’t know how he did that.” Roberts said Franklin always was active in civic affairs.
“Way back in the 1950s, the district used to dam up the Fresno River before there was Hidden dam, and the Madera Boat Club got a permit to impound the water there, and have boat races, and Franklin was the guy who handled that. He was in the Madera Boat Club.”
Roberts said Franklin was widely active.
“He was out and about all over the place, and he knew everybody, and when some group needed to raise funds, Frank would know who they could get some money from.”
At the celebration Saturday night, after the Secara family trust handed over the facsimile check for $2.55 million, the most-asked question was: “Where did the Secaras get money like that?” Most people had an idea that they had inherited, or had been paid big salaries. But, no.
“They saved it,” said Roberts. “Unlike most people, they were frugal. Unlike most people, they saved. They invested. I know they invested their money, they invested in the stock market. Unlike a lot of people, who just because you’ve got the money to buy a new car, you buy it — well, they didn’t. It wasn’t that they lived poorly, they just didn’t go out to buy things just because they could.
“They worked hard and saved their money. That’s pretty much how they got it.” They were from a generation that was used to hard work and knew what tough times were, Roberts said.
Those habits, their generosity and the faithfulness of their trustees have given Madera two great gifts — the seed money for an arts center, but even more important, the pleasure of having had such people as friends and neighbors.
Truly, we have been blessed by their presence.