Chelley Kitzmiller, July 27, 1946 - Nov. 6, 2016
Tehachapi has lost one of our most influential citizens, Chelley Kitzmiller. She passed away on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, after a brief battle with cancer.
Chelley was born Cheryl Jean Clarke on July 27, 1946, in Santa Monica, Calif. Chelley met Ted Kitzmiller, her husband of 53 years, at Sunny Hills High School, when he stole a Nestle Crunch Bar from her in the lunchroom. They were married five months later on Sept. 21, 1963. In their 53 years, they rarely spent a night apart.
While living in Orange County, Chelley began her menagerie of animals. All animals that would show up at her door would be welcomed, fixed and loved. Some of Chelley’s most outrageous pets were the two Spider Monkeys that she rescued and named Ethel and Fred. Chelley had a huge cage built in her very small backyard for the monkeys, yet they spent most of their time in the house, answering the phone and playing with the kids.
Chelley’s first job was as an Avon Lady, where she won numerous awards for her sales and personal relationships she built with her clients. She also raised award-winning African Violets.
While camping in Bishop in the late 1970s, she was presented with a book called "Sweet Savage Love" by Rosemary Rogers that changed the course of her life. She began gobbling up romance novels, realizing at one point she would have to write one. She started immersing herself in the romance novel industry, became friends with the authors and eventually started doing publicity for them. She was an absolute natural and could whip out a press release with a snap of her fingers, throw together an autograph party in a day and pulled off some well-noted publicity stunts like “The Love Train” in 1983 where hundreds of authors boarded a train from Fullerton bound for New York for a Romance Writers of America conference.
In 1985, Ted’s job transferred the family to Tehachapi. Excited about having enough land for a country life, Ted and Chelley began collecting more animals, including Chelley’s two beloved donkeys, Paco and Abigal, goats, chickens, peacocks, geese, dogs, cats and even a lamb that she had to rehome when it plowed through her dining room window.
When Ted lost his job in 1987, they purchased the Radio Shack Franchise store in Tehachapi on Curry Street and became business owners. After several months, the beauty parlor in the same building as the Radio Shack became vacant and Chelley decided to open a used bookstore from books she had on the shelves in her den. Her love of books and writing drove her to create a successful business called ”Celebrity Books and Tea Parlor” where she would use her contacts and advertising experience to host author signings and special events.
Four years later, she sold her bookstore and resumed her writing, selling the first of four novels, one anthology and numerous short stories and magazine articles including Bakersfield Life Magazine. In 2002, Chelley and her daughter Gina Christopher opened Books and Crannies Bookstore next to the Kitzmiller’s Radio Shack and began a unique family business enterprise. And this is where her love of pet rescue became her passion. Chelley began a pet rescue organization with the vision of rescuing as many homeless dogs and cats as possible and educating the public about the importance of spaying and neutering, but found the first rescue too limiting on the ideals that were most important to her.
It was 2010 when her true calling began and she formed Have A Heart Humane Society. She worked tirelessly 12 or more hours a day raising money, scheduling spay and neuter clinics and coordinating foster homes for the endless stream of animals needing help, vet care and homes. In March 2016, her dream of an upscale resale store and adoption center became a reality when she opened Rescued Treasures, a store where the donation of quality new, used and collectible items supports spay and neuter efforts and helps fund Have A Heart’s ongoing projects. Chelley’s ultimate dream was to obtain a brick and mortar NO KILL animal shelter and adoption center in Tehachapi. She wrote grants and raised money and felt she was very close to realizing her dream, so much so that Chelley set aside $10,000 of Have A Heart savings to go toward the shelter fund.
Chelley is survived by her beloved husband, Ted Kitzmiller, her daughter and closest friend, Gina, and her husband, Mark Christopher of Tehachapi, son, Dan Kitzmiller, and his wife, Nancy, and two granddaughters, Amber and Kinley of Susanville, brother Gerald Clarke of The Hamptons and sister Barbara Dardis of Florida, dogs, cats and many loving friends.
In lieu of flowers, the Kitzmiller family is requesting that donations be made to Have a Heart Humane Society. A special fund called “Chelley’s Fund” has been establish to raise funds for Chelley’s dream of a NO KILL animal shelter.
A celebration of her life will be held at Christian Life Assembly in Tehachapi on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. The Kitzmiller and Rescue Family originally wanted animals to attend the ceremony, but finding a pet-friendly church is not easy. So instead they request that those who have adopted a furry family member from Have A Heart bring a picture with your name, the animal's name and a short sentence of how Chelley and/or the rescue impacted your life. A scrapbook will be created to honor and remember her legacy.
We are welcoming all who knew and loved Chelley to attend and to wear red in her honor. Please visit the Have A Heart Facebook page or website to make a donation. Chelley had left us, but Ted, Gina and the devoted volunteers at the rescue are dedicated to continuing her legacy and fulfilling her dream.
Tehachapi romance author remembered for her work with animals
BY HAROLD PIERCE Updated 13 hrs ago
November 6, 2016. www.Bakersfield.com
Book lovers might find celebrated novels written by Chelley Kitzmiller in the romance section, but friends and family say it’s not her fiction she’ll be remembered for — it will be her work with animals.
The Tehachapi-based novelist spent her retirement years rescuing animals through Have a Heart Humane Society, which she founded in 2010.
“Chelley had a lot of life left and a lot of work to do,” said Lisa Kimble, a former KERO reporter who sparked a friendship with Kitzmiller in the late 1980s. “Even though generations will read her romance novels, I think the love that she gave to these abused and neglected animals in Kern County will be her legacy.”
Kitzmiller, the novelist who crafted romance fiction dripping with historical details and became the subject of a documentary exploring the genre, died Sunday morning in Bakersfield after a bout with lung cancer. She was 70.
Kitzmiller found early notoriety in the romance novel arena before she ever wrote a book. While living in Orange County in the 1970s, she founded the area’s first chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Later, after moving to Tehachapi with her husband, Ted, she organized a four-day train trip to New York with 300 novelists for a romance writer’s convention.
She called it The Love Train. It made stops across the country where throngs of (mostly) female fans awaited with banners to mob the niche novelists, who stepped off the platform to pass out books and sign autographs. Kitzmiller’s convoy gained the attention of national media outlets, and without ever having published a book, she became the subject of George Csicsery’s 1987 documentary, “Where the Heart Roams,” which followed the trip and explored the genre.
The whole thing was born from Kitzmiller’s refusal to board an airplane.
“She had a fear of flying, and so this is how Chelley’s mind worked,” Kitzmiller’s husband, Ted, said Sunday evening, his voice breaking. “It was incredible.”
Ironically, Kitzmiller took a flight back to California after the conference ended, said her daughter, Gina, who traveled on The Love Train alongside her mom at 16 years old.
Ted, who married his wife when they were both 17 years old, said their love affair started at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton when he snatched a Nestle Crunch candy bar from her during a lunch period in April 1963. Four months later, they were married.
That’s not exactly the type of storyline that would make it into one of Kitzmiller’s books, which fell under the umbrella of old western Apache romance tales.
Her affinity for the genre began about a decade after she met Ted, while the two were on a camping trip in Bishop. She read a Rosemary Rogers novel and was “mesmerized by it,” Ted said. It should come as no surprise that Kitzmiller’s best writing flowed at various campsites while Ted was fishing, Gina said.
“Who can explain why you like a particular kind of fiction? What turns you on?” Kitzmiller said in the 1987 Csicsery documentary. “I don’t know, it just completely overpowered me and took me by storm and I can’t explain it, and I haven’t grown out of it. I still feel the same way — I do. When I get a good romance novel in my hands, you can’t tear me away from that. I’ll stay up until my eyes are going blind and I can hardly see.”
More about Chelley and Ted:
Chelley in a video: