Lemoore's power couple has all the tools to make community a better place

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Longtime community icons Joe and Kathy Neves at a recent football game.
Longtime community icons Joe and Kathy Neves at a recent football game.

They are Lemoore’s power couple who hail from the metropolis of Stratford. Joe and Kathy Neves are Lemoore’s ultimate leadership tandem, and they just happened to be married to one another. The dynamic duo are the Franklin and Eleanor, Othello and Desdemona, John and Abigail Adams, John and Yoko of Stratford and Lemoore.

That last couple may be a stretch, but there is no denying that Joe and Kathy have made an indelible mark on Lemoore, Stratford, and to an extent, Kings County, and it’s not because they’re both elected officials, he a member of the Kings County Board of Supervisors since 1994 (he defeated incumbent Jim Edwards) and she an important voice on the Lemoore Union High School Board of Trustees, where she’s served faithfully since 1999.

Neither incidentally, due to their popularity, has ever really been challenged in an election, attesting to their unabashed popularity.

We met Monday afternoon as the temperature in Lemoore once again managed to break the 100-degree barrier. Joe and Kathy are often seen at Starbucks, sipping on iced tea, often outside enjoying the Lemoore sunshine – when of course it’s not 105 degrees. This time around, the cool air conditioning of Starbucks seemed much more inviting so we found a table inside.

They are the ultimate volunteer power couple too. Need an announcer, someone to cook hot dogs for a fundraiser, need a near-perfect rendition of Santa and Mrs. Claus? Joe and Kathy Neves are available, and their services come cheap - very cheap – free as a matter of fact, and they’re happy to help.

The couple, in addition to their legislative duties, are certainly a very visible presence at many community events, whether a football game, fundraiser, or Christmas event, where Joe faithfully, year after year, dons his Santa Clause persona and grants local kids their Christmas wishes. Kathy dutifully tackles the duties of Mrs. Claus. “One of the things I really enjoy doing is being Mrs. Clause,” she proudly told me.

The couple has been married for 29 years and met in Stratford as youngsters. Though separated by about 4 years, - Kathy outranks Joe by a couple of years - they both attended Stratford Elementary School and graduated from Lemoore High School - she in 1972, Joe in 1976.

Kathy isn’t a native of Stratford though, arriving here with her parents J.D. and Allison Lemons when she was just three years old. The Oklahoma native has called Stratford home ever since, and while her parents eventually returned to Oklahoma for retirement, she has no intentions of leaving Stratford and Lemoore, preferring instead the tranquil qualities of the San Joaquin Valley where she and her husband have achieved somewhat of an iconic presence.

“I’ve been here since I was 3 years old,” said Kathy. My parents settled in Stratford and my dad used to work with his (Joe) dad in the trucking industry.”

Joe’s parents both passed away but he remains close to his grandmother, 100-year-old Mary Neves who will soon turn 101.  Kathy has a daughter, Heather Venegas, who currently resides in Virginia and Joe has a son Justin who lives in Madera.

The two, in addition to sharing community events, even managed to attend college together and recently earned their Master’s Degrees from Brandman University. “We went to class together,” said Joe. “I had to do her homework for her,” he states mischievously, perhaps hinting that as if it may just be the opposite.

Kathy admitted it took some time to for them to return to college. “Once we got the kids out of the house we could find some time to go,” she said. Meantime she also spent her days employed at the Huron Ginning Company, where she has worked for 24 years.

While earning degrees both continued serving their community, as leaders and as volunteers. Joe can often be seen announcing football and baseball games, Kathy dutifully at his side, helping with statistics and names. They attend numerous events every year.

They must have some kind of record for attendance at community events, and the public knows it.

In fact, their volunteerism is so well known that both were inducted the same year as Lemoore Citizens of the year, the first and only couple to be honored by the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce. Both are also members of the Lemoore Union High School Hall of Fame, albeit in separate years. Kathy, in addition to her service on the high school’s board, was an original member of the Lemoore High School Foundation Board.

Kathy was also instrumental in the organization of the 2001 Lemoore High School Centennial Reunion, in which all classes were invited. She also chaired the 2011 All Classes Reunion and is pondering a 2016 reunion.

“That was a lot of work,” said Kathy. “It was really fun because I got to work with committee members from different classes. “They’ve been after me to do another one.”

Why so involved in the community?

“You know, I really had no plans to do all of this. It’s all Joe’s fault. I was somewhat of a hermit and he got me involved when we got married and we also had kids involved in things. He’s always said ‘we have to do this’ and so I just followed along.”

“As far as her role with the high school district, they sort of convinced me to run so I’ve been there ever since.”

She has enjoyed her tenure on the board, albeit some definite dislikes, including dealing with discipline issues. “The fact that you have to go through that part of it, that’s about the only thing I don’t like.”

A difficult time was during the 2008 recession when times were tough for school funding. “We thought we were going to have to make cuts,” said Kathy, “so everyone stepped up. That was it, we were going to cut because we had no money. Everyone stepped up, they took reductions, and that was a big deal and it was really hard trying to figure out (what to do).”

Now that she has a pair of degrees in hand, are there other challenges on her horizons? “I might like to sub,” said Kathy. “I don’t really want to teach full time. I’m not really leaning towards high school, I’m leaning more to community college. That’s sort of what I’m looking at.”

How does it feel being honored by the community? “You know most of the time we do this stuff we don’t even look for recognition,” said Kathy. “It’s just that somebody’s got to do it, and it often falls to where we end up doing it.”

But Kathy is more impressed with her husband’s community endeavors. “He doesn’t know how to say no,” she said. “If somebody needs some help, if he thinks he can do it, he will.”

Even during our interview, Joe’s service comes into play. As they sat sipping their dwindling drinks, Joe, a Kings County Volunteer Fireman, received an alert that a plane has gone down near the Naval Air Station, which turned out to be an FA-18 that crashed in a field west of the base. Fortunately the pilot survived and was able to walk away. But once the call came through he immediately left Starbucks, and with drink in hand, hopped in his truck and proceeded to do his job.

Before he left, Joe praised his wife of 29 years. “You know Kathy’s been the anchor. She’s helped out a lot. Many of the things I’ve done over the years she’s allowed me to do them, and help. She’s been right there whether it’s 110 (degrees) barbecuing chicken or tri-tip, spotting at a football game, or a basketball game or getting agendas ready for a meeting. She’s pretty much done it all. She has certainly been the anchor and the bedrock of my foundation.”

He has one of the longest tenures ever on the Kings County Board of Supervisors. Only Evan Cody, a longtime supervisor, has spent more time on the board. “It’s always a challenge,” said Joe of keeping Kings County healthy.  “We need to find sources of revenue without continuing to tax the taxpayer beyond what they can afford to pay. We’re always looking for new sources of revenue and ways to help the economy without negatively affecting the economy.”

What are their future plans?

“I wouldn’t mind participating at junior college type of environment, (University) Phoenix or Brandman (University) environment,” said Joe. “I think we can do something like that and help people at a different level.”

It all comes down to caring. “I just like being involved,” said Joe. I like being out making a difference, whether you’re barbecuing tri-tip or announcing a ball game, or helping out with the FFA and going to the fair and watching the kids show their animals. I think it’s important to be more involved in the community and not sitting home watching TV.”

“I’m hoping that people will see  that you can work together, you can have a family and still be a part of the community and do good things for the community,” said Kathy. “I’m hoping that somebody will see us and say to themselves that this looks like fun and want to help too.”

Do they make a difference? “I hope so,” said Kathy. “We see a lot of kids when they were young and now we’re seeing their kids growing up and their kids come up and give us a hug. They know who we are. That really means a lot.”

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