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Byron Eddy Cederwall was born on December 19, 1925, to a Swedish family in Turlock, California, the youngest of four boys. Our cousins tell us that the family had to stop speaking Swedish at home when he started school because he kept getting confused between Swedish and English, but that may just be trash-talking that older brothers have been known to do at times. He grew up on the family farm and attended Denair High School where he played tennis and basketball.
After graduating from high school in 1943, Dad started attending Modesto Jr. College but was drafted into the US Army in 1944. Dad did not talk about his time in the army and, until just a few years ago, all we knew was that he had held the rank of sergeant and had been stationed in India. When one of his daughter’s-in-law was describing her trip to Burma with a mission team, he started telling us about where he had also been stationed in Burma, processing soldiers that were returning home from the war, and that he almost missed the last train out. He was discharged from the army in 1946.
Like Charlie Brown, he fell in love with a little red-headed girl, Kathryn (Katy) Kessel, from San Jose. They were introduced on a blind date by one of Mom’s girlfriends who believed that the only guys worth marrying were from Turlock, and they were married on December 27, 1952. Their first son, Gary, was born in 1953, followed by Mark in 1955, Duane in 1958 and Craig in 1962. The family has since grown to include four daughter’s-in-law, seven grandchildren, three of whom have married, and one great-granddaughter. Dad and Mom’s first home was an apartment in Berkeley, the site of which became People’s Park in later years. They purchased a home in 1953 In El Cerrito, and purchased a hillside lot in Walnut Creek in 1957 that at the time was considered unbuildable, with the idea of eventually relocating. Dad and Mom would occasionally bundle up their boys in the station wagon and bring us out to the lot to have a picnic under the oak trees. They were also dragged around to open houses where Dad and Mom would gather ideas for the house they wanted to build on their property. Dad designed the house and engaged a contractor friend (otherwise known as “that crazy Norwegian carpenter”) from church to build it. Construction commenced in 1960 and we moved into our new home in Walnut Creek in November of that year.
Dad started attending Laney College in Oakland in 1950, and in 1951 he started working at CE Toland & Son, a metal fabrication company, where he continued working for 38 years until his retirement in 1989. He started working as a draftsman detailer, became the corporate secretary in 1958, joined the estimating department in 1963, and from 1971 until his retirement, served as chief estimator, a member of the board of directors, and vice-president. At his retirement celebration a recurring theme was that he was always considered a man of integrity. It was apparent to us in his family that what he preached at home was consistent with how he lived his life out of our view.
Dad’s experience as an army sergeant was probably good preparation for raising four boys. He could not abide anyone sleeping in on Saturday mornings so we were often roused by John Phillips Souza marches being played at full volume. Once we had moved to Walnut Creek Dad had the space to channel his inner farmer (you can take the boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy). He planted fruit and nut trees, vegetables and berries. He also finally got to plant dozens of tiny Monterrey pine trees that he had acquired at no cost and had been maintaining in quart jars until we moved to Walnut Creek. Best of all, he also had four in-house farm hands to water and weed everything. However, his practical nature (or maybe Mom) never let him buy the tractor that he wanted to complete his version of Green Acres.
Dad always had projects going; as big as building or re-building decks, hot tubs, re-roofing the house, finishing a room in the basement, remodeling the kitchen, building or re-building retaining walls on the hillside, or as small as building birdhouses. Seeing his example, and often being conscripted as forced labor for his projects, gave us, his sons, the experience, knowledge and confidence to tackle our own projects as we grew up. There was also his ongoing battle with his nemesis, the squirrels. He spent many hours watching the squirrels, designing and building various barriers and contraptions to keep them out of the bird-feeders, watching to see if the design was successful and more often than not, going back to the drawing board. If nothing else, the battle provided entertainment for the rest of the family.
Most vacations were spent camping at state or national parks in our tent trailer. Spontaneity was never one of Dad’s defining characteristics; many of those vacations and subsequent trips in retirement had been planned for well over a year, if not longer. And after returning home there was always the obligatory slide show to help us remember everything we had seen and done.
Dad’s life, and therefore ours, revolved around his love for his savior, Jesus Christ, and his love for the church. It seemed like we were at church every time the doors were open, and if we were not at least five minutes early, Dad would consider us to be late. Dad grew up in the Swedish Evangelical Free Church. At that time there were two separate Evangelical Free Church groups, the Swedish Evangelical Free Church and the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Free Church Association. Dad was a delegate to their conference in 1950 in which the two groups voted to merge into the Evangelical Free Church of America, the denomination to which North Creek Church belongs. As I listened to Dad and his friends trading Swedish vs. Norwegian jokes many years later I’m not sure I know which way he voted regarding that merger. While living in El Cerrito we attended the Evangelical Free Church of Berkeley, and since the people that started North Creek Church (then known as the Evangelical Free Church of Walnut Creek) included several of Dad and Mom’s friends who had relocated earlier to the Walnut Creek area, when we moved to Walnut Creek there was no question as to where we would attend church. Dad served North Creek Church in countless ways and for countless hours; Sunday School Superintendent, several terms as church chairman, chairman of the fund-raising, and subsequently the building committee for the multi-purpose building that formerly stood on the site of the Worship Center, several terms as a member of the elder board, pastoral search committees (including the one that called Jon McNeff) and, most recently, as a bulletin folder and stuffer. Chuck Wickman, a former senior pastor at this church, once described Dad as a member of the SAGES, the Society of Ancient and Godly Elders. Dad also served for many years on the board of directors for Dr. Bob Stevens’ Church Bible Studies ministry.
In 1982, Dad and Mom made the first of what would be four trips to Sweden and other parts of Europe, reconnecting with his Swedish heritage and relatives. In retirement they traveled far and wide throughout North America in their motorhome, including two trips to Alaska. In 2011 they were able to visit our youngest brother, Craig, at his home in Missouri. Craig recalls a couple of highlights from that trip; Dad helping him to plant a tree that is now 30 feet tall and Dad being kissed by a camel at an animal park they visited.
Unfortunately, Dad began to suffer cognitive decline over 10 years ago, which eventually was diagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease. Although Dad always insisted that he was going to die in the house that he had built and then Mom could go live wherever she wanted, he and Mom sold the house and moved to Rossmoor in 2008. As Dad declined over the last ten years Mom truly showed us how to live out our marriage vows; “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part," as she cared for Dad at home and then ensuring that he had the best possible care once she could no longer provide it herself. During the time Dad was in the Memory Care unit of the Kensington, his Bible was his constant companion. It was either on his lap or in the seat of his walker. Some of the caregivers found if they read the Bible and prayed with him, it would calm him at night when they were putting him to bed. Even though he couldn’t carry on a coherent conversation, everyone on the staff knew that Dad’s favorite Bible verse was John 3:16. That verse had not left his memory and often he could be heard reciting it with one of the caregivers. And when a visiting chaplain prayed with him one day, Dad scolded him for not closing his prayer in Jesus’ name.
On September 5, 2018, Dad entered into the presence of Jesus Christ, his savior, and the joy of heaven where we know that his mind has been restored to wholeness. He’s probably hard at work again on a new project, estimating materials needed for part of the New Jerusalem.
Byron is survived by his wife of 65 years, Kathryn (Katy) Cederwall, and his four sons, Gary, Mark, Duane and Craig with their families.
Donations in Byron’s memory may be made to either:
NorthCreek Church Master Plan