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Mayor’s death brought a whirlwind

Madera County Historical Society The sudden death of Madera Mayor John McNally set in motion a whirlwind of political activity in 1951.


All of Madera was shocked on Wednesday morning, April 25, 1951 when they learned that their 39-year-old Mayor, John McNally, was dead. A sudden heart attack had taken his life late in the night. McNally, one of Madera’s leading businessmen and its Mayor for just one year, was found dead in his bed. He had attended a special meeting of the city council that night and seemed to be all right when he left at about 11 p.m.

McNally’s death presented the remainder of the council with a couple of serious problems. First, they would have to name a new mayor, and then they would have to fill the vacant council seat.

“The Mayor’s passing is a terrible shock to all of us,” said Councilman Dr. G.G. Daggett. “His good nature and understanding of city problems were of great value to the entire council.”

Councilman Al Barsotti declared, “We have lost a fine man and one of our outstanding citizens.” Councilman Robert P. Archibald termed McNally’s death, “a great loss to the community.”

The council had elected McNally to the position of Mayor in April of 1950, when John B. Gordon retired and gave up the mayor’s gavel. Prior to that, McNally had served on the city council for three years.

A resident of the Madera area since 1915, McNally was part of a prominent local family. His father, Frank McNally, one of the city’s best-known old-timers had passed away just a year earlier.

Funeral services for McNally were set for 9:30 a.m., Saturday, April 28, 1951. All city offices except those providing essential services were ordered closed by an official city council proclamation. Most private businesses closed their doors for the funeral.

When daylight broke on Saturday, mourners were met with a downpour of pelting rain. John McNally was carried to St. Joachim’s Church for the funeral rites. The funeral cortege, headed by uniformed members of the Madera police and fire departments, made its way from Jay’s Chapel as the rain drummed a steady undertone to the solemn tolling of the church bell.

The gray casket on which a blanket of scarlet roses had been draped was taken from the hearse and into the church as the honor guard stood at attention.

The interior of the church was jammed with mourners, some of whom never made it inside the building and had to stand outside in the rain. Finally, however, the departed was buried. Then came the political whirlwind.

Madera’s city council moved quickly to name a new mayor, but held off on filling the empty council seat. At a special meeting held on April 30, Councilman Al Barsotti received the unanimous vote of his fellow council members to replace McNally as mayor. It took them just 10 minutes to elevate Barsotti, who had just been elected to the council one year before.

“Barsotti has the name and the ability, and he’s a good man for the job,” said Councilman G.G. Daggett, who nominated the new mayor. No other nominations were made.

Barsotti was a native Maderan and was engaged with his brother, Nello in sub-dividing the Barsotti Tract in northwest Madera. Previously, the two brothers had operated the Madera Baking Company for 25 years.

On May 21, 1951, the Madera City Council filled the vacancy left by John McNally’s death by naming Arthur Avellar to the seat. Avellar, a grain farmer and native Maderan, was sworn in by City Clerk George Shedd. The new councilman was described as a farmer, businessman, and property-holder. Councilman Irvine Schnoor nominated Avellar for the post.

With the appointment of Avellar to the city council, in one year Madera had received an “extreme makeover.” Between the April election of 1950 and May of 1951, the town got a new mayor and two new councilmen — without an election!

In the election of 1950, Barsotti and Daggett won their first terms on the council. Irvine Schnoor held on to his seat, and McNally was named mayor to replace John Gordon. That left Frank Frymire to round out the council as Madera entered 1951. This new guard of Maderans was to be short lived, however. The McNally, Barsotti, Daggett, Frymire and Schnoor team began to unravel before it ever really got started.

It all began when the council decided that it needed a city administrator. The workload was simply too much for part-ztime citizen/politicians to run the city. They needed a legman, and on February 26, 1951, they got one in the person of Frank Frymire.

Frymire, who was a city councilman at the time, had served in that capacity since 1947. By 1951, however, he saw that he had the chance to improve city government. That’s why he gave up his seat on the council and then accepted the job as Madera’s first city administrator.

This move opened the way for Robert P. Archibald to be named to the council. Then with Mayor McNally’s sudden passing, Al Barsotti became Mayor and Art Avellar was brought on board. Thus within the period of one year, Madera had three mayors and four new city councilmen. By the summer of 1951, only Irvine Schnoor was left from the pre-1950 council.

This writer would call this “whirl-wind politics.”

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