Classmates create memorial fund to honor Lemoore grad and 9/11 victim Otis Tolbert and hope to dedicate on Sept. 11, 2020

By Ed Martin, Editor
Classmates and friends of Lemoore High School Class of 1980 grad Otis Tolbert are seeking funding for a memorial to honor their fall classmate who died on Sept. 11, 2001 while serving as a naval officer at the Pentagon.
Classmates and friends of Lemoore High School Class of 1980 grad Otis Tolbert are seeking funding for a memorial to honor their fall classmate who died on Sept. 11, 2001 while serving as a naval officer at the Pentagon.

A consortium of friends, teachers, and others – many from the Lemoore High School Class of 1980 – have come together to honor their friend and fellow graduate Otis Tolbert, an unfortunate victim of one of the nation’s most heinous terrorist acts.

Lieutenant Commander Tolbert, the son of a U.S. Naval aviator, was killed while serving at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, when a hijacked airliner flew into a section of the Pentagon where the 39-year-old officer had been working that day.  He served as an intelligence officer and provided intelligence briefings to his superior officers.

His friends and former classmates want to honor their late compatriot and hero and have started the process of raising the necessary funds to place a memorial on the local high school’s campus. A tree was planted several years ago along with the placing of a plaque, but his friends and former classmates want to preserve his memory with a more lasting monument.

Others have honored him as well. Several years ago, local legislators named a section of Highway 198 that runs through Lemoore for Tolbert. But his friends want to do more and have created a fundraising page to generate funds to build a lasting memorial.

All funds will go to the planned memorial, and any leftover monies will go directly to an already established Otis Vincent Tolbert Scholarship Memorial Fund, awarded by the Lemoore High School Foundation for Educational Excellence.

Otis Tolbert Go Fund Me Page

Tolbert was also a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and was known as a hardworking officer who always showed up early for his job. He left behind a wife, Shari, and three children, Amanda, Brittany, and Anthony, as well as parents, Otis and Nancy Tolbert, and brothers Daniel and Chris.

He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

He grew up the son of a Naval aviator, Otis Vincent Tolbert Sr., who moved his family, including three sons to Lemoore, where the elder Tolbert put his skills to work in defense of his country.

The popular young man was also a standout in athletics and helped lead his senior year (1980) football team to the Valley championship game. His talents earned him a scholarship and a spot on the Fresno State Bulldog’s team, where he played fullback and linebacker.

Tolbert’s friend and former Lemoore neighbor, Steve Speake, who created the Go Fund Me site to help raise funding for the memorial, currently lives in Colorado where he operates a truck driving school. He told The Leader that he believes Tolbert deserves a more fitting tribute. “We want to do more than what’s there,” he said. “This has been in the back of my mind for a long time, and I really want to do something for Otis and his family as a legacy for our school.”

Steve graduated in 1980 alongside his classmate. “Otis and I were very close friends. He played football, and we lived across the street from another. We both got scholarships to Fresno state, but I went to Riverside College.”

Tolbert graduated in 1985 with a degree in criminal justice, and shortly after that, he joined the United States Navy, where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, his final job with the Defense Intelligence stationed in the Pentagon.

“Otis, of all people, has always had a character of himself that was far beyond him. Everybody well knew him. He touched everybody’s life. He deserves to have something that really stands out at the school,” recalled Speake.

The existing memorial, located along Bush Street in front of what used to be the old swimming pool and now serves as the school’s Naval Junior ROTC building, consists of a tree and small monument dedicated to the former student and navy officer killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Former Lemoore High School Superintendent Bill Black, the director of special projects in 1980, Tolbert’s senior year, helped convince the school’s non-profit, 501 ( c ) 3, foundation to fund a memorial dedicated to Tolbert.

“Otis was a great kid,” recalled Black. “He was just so multi-talented. He was an athlete and involved in the band. I also remember he had a small band they put together and played at various events. He was an excellent student, always motivated, and he was well-liked.”

Black says he was devastated upon hearing of Tolbert’s death in 2001. “I was really sad that we lost a great talent and just a wonderful kid.”

Black agrees that the current memorial is in somewhat of a state of disrepair and needs to be improved. The school district, citing upcoming construction, suggested that any effort to revamp the memorial be coordinated through the school’s foundation, and that any funds raised for the project will be forwarded to the school’s foundation.

Donors can send checks directly to the Lemoore High School Foundation for Educational Excellence for

Otis Tolbert Class of 1980

5 Powell St. Lemoore, CA 93245

Organizers hope to create and unveil the Memorial on September 11, 2020.

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