By Belinda Blacketer, Special to the Independent
Francis LeRoy “Doc” Blacketer, an artist with ties to Laguna Beach’s early settlers, died in Atwater, Calif., on Aug. 30.
Born on July 10, 1918, to Lewis Sherman Blacketer and Frances Mae Lovelace Blacketer on a farm near Seward, Neb., he was the youngest of 10 children. His nickname derived from Dr. LeRoy, who delivered him.
Blacketer arrived in Laguna Beach at age 6 with his parents, who sold the family farm and bought six Model T Fords to transport his siblings and their families.
They took the path of Lewis Blacketer’s sister Dora and her husband, Tom Sayles, who arrived in Laguna Beach in 1913. Sayles had built the Cabrillo Ballroom on Main Beach with a partner. He also bought what was then known as Temple Hills, which included today’s Mystic Hills, Top of the World, and Temple Hills neighborhoods.
Sayles pointed out his landholdings to Blacketer’s father, who was unimpressed. “Don’t know what good it is. Can’t farm it, livestock can’t graze on it, and you sure as hell can’t build any thing on it.”
After the stock market crash in 1929, Sayles sold his holdings to Joe Thurston for 50 cents an acre.
Doc Blacketer attended the one-room elementary school, location of the current high school. “We used to walk barefoot to school most of the year,” he said.
For the first few years the family lived on the Fisher Ranch, present site of Anneliese’s School in Laguna Canyon. Eventually, the extended Blacketer family moved to Canyon Acres Drive. Even as a young boy, Blacketer sketched, painted, and carved wood figures.
Blacketer was a member of the Laguna Beach High School class of 1938, which was the first class to attend the new school for all four years. He was proud to have played football as an Artist. Two relatives were teammates, who figured in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not newspaper article for a pass from nephew Cecil to his uncle Doc to nephew Archie.
After graduation, Blacketer joined the Army and became a master drill sergeant. During training, a new recruit pulled a pin on a live grenade, but froze. Blacketer grabbed and threw the device, but was suffered shrapnel wounds and punctured eardrums.
He spent the rest of the war undergoing multiple surgeries and received a medical discharge in 1944.
Blacketer attended Chicago’s Otis Art Institute and Los Angeles’ Chouinard Art Institute on the GI Bill.
In 1946 he married Enid Dell Blacketer (1925-2012), of Palmyra, Mo., and brought his bride to his hometown.
An early job when he returned included build seating in the Irvine Bowl for the Pageant of the Masters
The couple eventually bought a one-bedroom house on Canyon Acres Drive for $50 down and $50 a month, and added another bedroom with the arrival of every child. They divorced in 1966.
To support his growing family, Blacketer became a custom house painter and craftsman. He was a Festival of Arts exhibitor for many years and was one of the first to join the splinter group that became the Sawdust Festival.
A successful artist in various mediums, Blacketer painted in oils, acrylics and lacquer and built life-size figures throughout his life.
Blacketer was a founding member of the Neighborhood Congregational Church, where he served as a deacon.
In the ‘70s, Viola Russ McBride, a descendant of early settlers of Ferndale, Calif., hired Blacketer to restore several historic Victorian buildings. He replicated original woodwork, restoring both exteriors and interiors, while living with his children in a vacant inn.
He was famous for telling his clients “you don’t need a permit for that” much to the dismay of his older brother Bill, a former Laguna building inspector, and the subsequent chagrin of his oldest daughter, who served on the city’s planning commission and became an attorney.
In 1973, Blacketer quit drinking, but continued to stop at the Marine Room to visit friends.
He was knows for a mural of the “cook chasing the mice, chasing the cat, chasing the dog, chasing the cook’s wife” in Trotter’s Bakery on Forest Avenue. He was famous for drawing sketches on the backs of place mats while eating in various local restaurants, which he gave away to whoever showed an interest.
Blacketer always wore a cowboy hat, and installed a pair of bull horns in his 1973 Chevy truck, which he drove for 36 years.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Blacketer had a studio on Glenneyre Street, but continued remodeling homes, including refurbishing a Victorian row house in York, Penn., for his son Howdy.
After Howdy’s death from AIDS, he returned to Laguna to retire and paint. Even so, when the Laguna Beach Historical Society acquired the Smith House on Ocean Avenue, he spent eight years maintaining the cottage and relocated his art studio there.
As artist in residence, he painted seascapes and old Laguna scenes and regaled visitors with local stories.
When the Greenbelt pushed to rid Laguna Canyon of cattle for environmental reasons, he built a life size cow placed on the Smith House porch in a visual protest.
In 1996, Blacketer led Patriot’s Day Parade as Citizen of the Year.
In 2001, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he relocated to Willows, Calif., with his eldest daughter. There, he worked on a 1908 bungalow, escorted a granddaughter to school and joined ranchers and farmers at Nancy’s Airport Café.
In 2010, Blacketer relocated with his daughter to Atwater, Calif. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer earlier this year.
When asked the secret to his long life, he always said, “You have to keep moving, keep doing things, keep your mind engaged.”
Blacketer is survived by children Belinda Blacketer of Atwater, Calif.; Maren Dell Blacketer Lincks, of Mena, Ark.; and Jared Wesley Blacketer, Sr., of Laguna Beach. Son Howard (Howdy) Sherman Blacketer died in 1990. Other survivors include four grandchildren, two great grandchildren and
He is survived by four grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
A service is planned for Oct. 19, though the location has not yet been determined, organizer Sande St. John said.
Belinda Blacketer is chair emeritus of the Laguna Beach Historical Society.