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Local Musician Passes Away
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Country music singer and local resident Chester Smith, who used to play guitar and sing at the Riverbank Clubhouse in the 40s and 50s with stars like Merle Haggard, died Friday at the age of 78 in a Palo Alto hospital.

A memorial service is slated for Saturday at 11 a.m. at Calvary Temple Worship Center, 1601 Coffee Road, Modesto, according to a family spokesperson.

Smith started his career as a humble radio broadcaster but attained fame as a guitarist and Christian singer and was a personal friend of Haggard besides performing with him. He also became wealthy as an astute businessman and owner of a chain of television stations scattered throughout the Modesto area.

Coming from a family that moved to California from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, he grew up in a migrant camp near Fresno but had lived for many years on his ranch located just north of Riverbank on the opposite side of the Stanislaus River.

"A sad loss for the community," said City Manager Rich Holmer. "I know he used to play at the Riverbank Clubhouse with Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and others. He became famous and wealthy but never forgot his roots. He always kept in touch with the city and donated generously to the community. He gave $10,000 or so for the community pool. He did a lot to promote the city's Festiva Latina at the time he still owned Univision TV."

Just a few years ago he staged benefit performances at the Community Center and several local churches, Holmer added. Some local folks wanted to rename First Street in his honor. The Riverbank City Council turned down the idea but only for fear of setting a precedent.