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By Fred Swegles
Growing up in rural San Juan Capistrano during the era of citrus groves following World War II, Fred Newhart III attended local schools and worked in the family’s business, Walnut Grove Restaurant.
He helped prepare smudge pots to prevent orange crops from freezing, hung out at the family’s gas station and aimed his studies for what would become a teaching career spanning three decades.
Longtime San Juan Capistrano residents and generations of area school children will remember Newhart, a 78-year-old educator and local businessman who died Oct. 31. A celebration of life was held Nov. 16, the family announced.
“We lost a wonderful historian in Fred,” his sister Mary Ann Newhart Hile wrote. “He loved stories of the good old days in SJC where he grew up and Mission Viejo where he lived for 48 years.”
Born in Pasadena, Newhart moved to San Juan in 1946 at age 6 when his father, Fred L. Newhart, Jr., leased the Walnut Grove Cafe and Sunset gas station. Both businesses were located along the highway through town, Camino Capistrano.
With the construction of Interstate 5, the family relocated the restaurant in 1960 to Ortega Highway, next to Mission San Juan Capistrano and conveniently close to the new freeway.
According to his sister Mary Ann, Fred III attended San Juan Elementary School and old Capistrano Union High School, going to work at Walnut Grove during eighth grade as a busboy, earning 45 cents an hour.
Graduating from Capo in 1958, when San Juan had just 710 residents, Fred III enrolled at Chapman College, earning a teaching degree and masters degree, his sister reported.
During his collegiate years, he spent time in Hawaii in 1961, working at Waikiki and meeting movie actor Elvis Presley who was there to film “Blue Hawaii.”
“Later that year, he was thrilled when the future president of USA, Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, stopped by and got gas at the Sunset gas station,” his sister reported.
Fred III’s teaching career began in 1963 at his former school, San Juan Elementary. He taught at Old Capo in 1966 while coaching sports at then-new San Clemente High School, transferring in 1967 to teaching at San Clemente High. He taught at Dana Point’s new high school, Dana Hills, from 1972 through 1978, the year when the Capistrano Unified School District named a Mission Viejo school for his father, a longtime school board member serving south Orange County and Orange County.
Mostly, Fred III taught social sciences and history, although some in South County will remember him as their coach or teacher of driver’s ed.
He also served on a committee that arranged for America’s commemorative Freedom Train to stop in San Juan Capistrano as part of the nation’s 1976 bicentennial celebration.
In 1978, Fred III took a leave from teaching to manage the Walnut Grove, working with cousin Ben. In 1985, a massive stroke sidelined him. He “stayed positive and worked hard” and returned to teaching from 1988 to 1991, when he retired as an educator, his sister said.
He and other family members continued to run the restaurant, a family enterprise for 59 years until the Newharts returned the leased Ortega Highway site to the landowner in 2005. Today it is a hotel site.
Fred III is survived by his wife of 56 years, Ruth Newhart of Mission Viejo; his son Mick Newhart of Aliso Viejo; his sister Victoria Newhart Nicholes of Oklahoma City; his sister Mary Ann Newhart Hile of Indio; four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter; an aunt and uncle and several cousins, nieces and nephews.
Fred Swegles is a longtime San Clemente resident with more than 46 years of reporting experience in the city. He also covered San Juan Capistrano for two years for the Orange County Register.