top of page unravels local mystery

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

The family of Manuel DaCosta from left, Sally Sepulveda, Gladys Deniz, Cheryl and Gordon Fischer and Johnny Deniz stand by DaCosta’s grave following a flag presentation ceremony for his daughter, Cheryl, on June 10. Manuel is buried next to his sister, Anna Deniz and his father, Antonio.


Cheryl Fischer of Kansas City, Kansas, grew up believing she was of Polish descent. Curious about her genealogy, like many other people, she enrolled in Then she began investigating her heritage.

Much to her surprise, the DNA test showed rather than being Polish, she is Portuguese. Additional information found in her late mother’s papers revealed her biological father to be a man named Manuel DaCosta, formerly of Chowchilla.

DaCosta is the uncle and Godfather to Gladys Deniz of Madera.

On July 28, 1958, DaCosta and a friend, Robert Womble, were killed when their boat capsized during a fishing trip on Lake McClure during what was dubbed the 100-Year Storm.

A copy of the front page of the Madera Daily News Tribune, dated Wednesday July 30, 1958, bears a headline reading, “Two Chowchillans Victims of Storm.”

Subsequent news clippings tell how DaCosta and his wife, Ruth, and Womble and his wife, Frieda, were fishing at Exchequer Dam when the storm hit. The men put the life jackets on their wives, who survived the ordeal. Tragically, neither man knew how to swim.

When DaCosta died, his survivors were presented with a burial flag from the United States Veterans Administration.

This flag ultimately ended up in the possession of DaCosta’s niece, Gladys Deniz. She donated the flag to the Veterans of Foreign War Post 1981.

Using information gleaned from, Fischer discovered she had cousins in Madera that are members of the Deniz family. After becoming acquainted with her cousin Gladys, she expressed an interest in having DaCosta’s burial flag.

Deniz contacted the VFW Post 1981 to see if it was possible to retrieve her uncle’s flag.

The VFW advised Deniz that the original flag is part of its display on patriotic holidays. Additionally, Deniz was informed that if she were interested, the VFW Honor Guard would be able to have another ceremony and present a second burial flag to DaCosta’s daughter.

Flying out from Kansas City last week, Cheryl and her husband Gordon Fischer arrived in Fresno to meet her previously unknown cousins.

Cheryl, has definite memories of attending DaCosta’s funeral at Calvary Cemetery at the age of four.

“I remember going to his funeral,” Fischer said. “I had no idea he was my dad.”

On June 10, the Deniz family and the Fischers gathered at DaCosta’s grave in Calvary Cemetery and attended a ceremony conducted by the VFW Post 1981. Under the direction of Honor Guard Commander Royal Goodman, including prayers from Chaplin Ronald Bell, there was a traditional volley of rifle shots accompanied by a bugler playing “Taps.”

Manuel DaCosta was honored for his service in the Philippines during World War II.

Born in Madera, DaCosta attended local schools and graduated from Madera Union High School before enlisting in the military.

Disabled in the war, DaCosta owned and operated an apartment complex at 530 North Seventh Street in Chowchilla. His obituary listed his wife and three sisters, Anna Deniz of Madera, Mary Huffman of Five Points and Margaret Veiga of Hanford as survivors.

It also stated that DaCosta was well known in local racing circles as a driver.

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