Diane Hayden points to a Christmas a few years ago to describe the sharpshooting skills of her father.
“I bought my son a BB gun, and my son was already in his 20s. Someone put a can on the far tree in the corner of my yard to see if he could hit it,” she recalled.
Her father all of a sudden straightened up from his stooping stance and shot the can, on his first shot.
“OK, you haven’t lost it and you’re 98 years old,” Hayden told her father.
Fernie Espinosa – the first Latino to serve as a Fresno police officer when he joined the force on Dec. 10, 1945 – packed a lifetime of action into his 101 years.
The handsome former boxer died Feb. 3 at the age of 101.
In his 28 years with the police department (he retired in 1973, one day after his anniversary), Espinosa worked in the patrol division, traffic enforcement and as a detective.
In 2009, the Hispanic Police Officers Association presented him a plaque recognizing him as the city’s first Latino police officer.
But the person who wore police badge No. 71 was more than a peace officer, according to his only two children.
“He was one of a kind,” said Hayden, one of two children.
He was one of a kind.
Diane Hayden, daughter
Espinosa was born on June 10, 1916 in the copper-mining town of Cananea, Sonora, México not far from the Arizona border. He was one of five children (four sons, one daughter) born to Alejandro and Isabel Espinosa.
The family migrated to Arizona in 1918 and, soon after, relocated to Fresno.
When he was 13, Espinosa hawked newspapers on the corner of Van Ness and Tulare streets.
Three years later, he pursued boxing and fought 40 amateur and 39 professional bouts. Boxingrec.com lists him with a record of three wins, three losses and two draws from 1933-36 as a middleweight boxer.
Life in the boxing ring ended when he met Viola Valdez, a beautiful young woman who became his wife. The couple were married for about 50 years until her death in 1986.
During World War II, Espinosa managed and held several businesses for Japanese America families who were interned in relocation camps, said his son, Al Espinosa.
After the war, Al said his father relinquished his involvement and returned the businesses to their owners.
He was heavily involved in agriculture, business and his family.
“He was an excellent bowler,” said Al of one of his father’s hobbies.
“He had great hand-eye coordination. He was athletic. He could shoot,” said Hayden.
“He was an excellent sharpshooter with the pistol,” said Al. “He had very good reflexes and very good eye sight.”
In retirement, Espinosa rooted for the San Francisco Giants and 49ers.
His family said he also enjoyed caring for and chasing grandkids and visiting casinos.
“He liked to fish,” said Hayden, adding that he also liked to play cards with his friends.
Espinosa broke his hip and right arm when he was 90, but “came through that with flying colors,” said Al.
“He was a very resilient person,” said Al.
Hayden said her father would tell her as he got older that he would like to make it to be 90, then when he reached that age, he would tell her, 95, and then 100, moving his goal in five year increments. When he celebrated a century living fully, Hayden said her father began saying he would like to make it to be 105.
She said her father was ready to live longer if it wasn’t for his aging boby.
Espinosa was described as energetic and athletic individual with a dynamic personality.
Al said if his father was “fun, loving, colorful, and always generous.”
“He spoke his mind,” Hayden said, adding that that characteristic of him might have gotten in trouble a few times.
“He was a good man,” Al said. “If you had him for a friend, you had a good friend.”
He was a good man. If you had him for a friend, you had a good friend.
Al Espinosa, son
After his first wife, Viola, died in 1986 at the age of 72, Espinosa married Senorina González.
Hayden and Al Espinosa said their father was a compassionate, loving, and very special husband, dad, and grandfather, who lived an extraordinary life and will be missed very much.
“He was the longest serving member of the association,” said Todd Fraizer, vice president of the Fresno Peace Officers Association. “We had a party for Fernie for his 95th birthday here at the association office.”
“We try to do something for our older members, so 95 seemed like a good time,” he said.
Fraizer said Espinosa was a member of the association for more than 70 years.
“He was a member until the end,” Fraizer said.
Fraizer said the association wanted to celebrate Fernie’s 100th birthday but due to his declining health the celebration couldn’t take place.
Espinosa is survived by his second wife Senorina; his son, Al Espinosa and wife Mindy; his daughter, Diane Hayden; grandchildren, Michael Espinosa and wife Amanda; Kate Robb and husband Jeff; Matthew Hayden and wife Heather; Annie Maguire and husband Marc; and, Kelley Hyta and husband Nick Mosely; and great-grandchildren, Quinn Espinosa, Eliot Espinosa, and Kora Hamett.
Funeral mass was held at St. John’s Cathedral on Friday, Feb. 16.
Burial was at Belmont Memorial Park.