History & Staff
We have years of experience caring for families, from all walks of life. Each family comes to us because they know we are leaders in our profession, dedicated to excellence in service, and have the highest integrity. Celebrating our 100th year of service to the community of Fresno.
On July 1, 1914, the Fresno crematory was opened. The crematory consisted of two cremation chambers, a chapel and a columbarium. The property is located on Belmont Avenue, west of Roeding Park, and north of the Mountain View Cemetery, which was established in 1888.
Originally behind the crematory, there was a streetcar track that ran through Roeding Park and dead-ended at the crematory.
There was also a self-made airport on the balance of the property. Local aviators, who flew bi-planes for their own pleasure, established the airport.
The crematory was a product of prominent citizens who wished to establish a crematory in the Fresno area. They formed a private stock company in order to finance the project. The Fresno crematory was the first crematory in the valley. The closest crematory before the Fresno crematory was built was in Oakland.
Mr. Lawrence Moore, president of the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, was also a designer of cremation chambers. The developers of the Fresno crematory knew nothing about cremation chambers and once they discovered Mr. Moore, they contracted his services for the crematory.
The developers did not want to manage or run the crematory, so they were looking for someone to take it over and they approached Mr. Moore. Mr. Moore agreed to purchase the majority of the stock and he became the owner in 1919.
Herbert Hargrave worked for Mr. Moore at the Chapel of the Chimes and was asked by
Mr. Moore if he would come to Fresno and help find someone who could manage the chapel, with the agreement that when he found someone he could return to Oakland.
Mr. Moore never found a manager and he remained at the chapel for 60 years as manager.
Mr. Moore had his work cut out for him. He first made it a point to become known in the community, and at that time there were many organizations that were very active. He joined many of the clubs and lodges, as well as the Chamber of Commerce. Soon, he became well known in the community.
The crematory has become a place of early Fresno history. Many of the movers and shakers are inurned in the old or original section.
The following are some of the prominent names you can expect to see:
Dr. Chester Rowell - owner of the Fresno Republican Newspaper, served three years as state senator, and was mayor of Fresno. He died in office. A statue of Dr. Rowell remains in the Courthouse Park. Dr. Rowell was inurned in a silver urn, which was donated by the Armenian people of Fresno. When the Armenian people migrated to the valley they did not have many funds and when they became ill, Dr. Rowell took care of them and often did not expect any remuneration.
T. W. Patterson - in 1888 he came to Fresno as a young real estate capitalist and built the T. W. Patterson building which still is in existence in downtown Fresno.
T. C. White was a raisin farmer and the first person in Fresno County to plant a Thompson seedless vineyard. Mr. White also constructed the White Theater and the Fresno Hotel.
M. Theodore Kearney was a person of great means and a developer of large areas of property, primarily vineyards. He promoted the first California Raisin Growers Association. He owned the Kearney Mansion and more than 5,000 acres of land. Mr. Kearney died at sea in 1906 and his body was taken to his destination in Europe and cremated there. The cremated remains were sent back to Fresno and placed in a safe at the Kearney Mansion.
Robert Barton built the Barton opera house in 1890 and for a quarter of a century the opera house was filled with professional music and was enjoyed by all.
Oscar j. Woodward was a well-known banker throughout the valley. The Woodward Park was named after him.
One of our most unusual urns is a replica of a home on Van Ness Blvd. Mr. & Mrs. Ben Levy were in the process of building a home in what is now known as Fig Garden on Van Ness Blvd. and the home was close to completion when Mrs. Levy took a trip to Texas to visit her sister. Mrs. Levy was in an automobile accident and was killed. Mr. Levy came to the chapel and made arrangements for her niche.
The first additions to the crematory were two columbarium rooms. The rooms were faced with stone and beautifully designed. At that time they brought in Doris Day, a protégé of Julia Morgan. Ms. Day had worked with Julia Morgan at Hearst Castle for some years. Ms. Day did all of the interior designing of the buildings and you will be able to appreciate her artistic ability when you view these two rooms and the chapel, which she also worked on.
In the early 1940s a new service was added to the crematory and they built an indoor mausoleum on the west end of the present buildings. It is a stately building with terrazzo floors, Italian marble and beautiful outdoor garden vistas.
In the mid 1950s, the chapel expanded even further into an outdoor mausoleum at the west end of the buildings. This was the largest addition we had added to the chapel. In 1955 Keith Hargrave, son of Herbert Hargrave joined the chapel as assistant manager.
All of our future indoor additions were mausoleums and were built at the west end of the buildings. We included niches within the mausoleum. Aaron Green, who was a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed our new buildings. Mr. Green's buildings reflect the very modern and beautiful design style of Mr. Wright, which are reflected in the cathedral type ceilings and the beautiful pools and fountains.
We continued to add on many more mausoleum buildings both inside and outdoors. Along with our growth, more well known Fresno people were interned in the buildings.
The most famous was William Saroyan, an author. When Mr. Saroyan passed away they had a committee who was in charge of making all of the arrangements. They came to the chapel and wanted to select a niche and two matching bronze urns. One urn was placed in a niche in Fresno and the other was taken to Soviet Armenia. The urns were engraved exactly the same, except for the one detail. The committee insisted that the words "born in Fresno, California" appeared on the urn.
J. C. Forkner - a land developer. His greatest and most memorable work is in the Fig Garden area, which consisted of 12,000 acres. Mr. Forkner surfaced 120 miles of road and planted 600,000 fig trees and 60,000 ornamental trees.
Today this is still the most beautiful area in Fresno. Unfortunately there are only a few fig trees left. Christmas Tree Lane and the Van Ness extension, with all of the beautiful homes, are all a part of this Forkner acreage.
In 1979, Herbert Hargraver retired because of bad health and his son, Robert Keith Hargrave became manager of the chapel.
In 1983, the chapel was sold to Buck Kamphausen, a funeral director. Mr. Kamphausen, added another service to the chapel and that was the funeral home.
We are the only place in Fresno that can offer a full service arrangement - funeral home, mausoelum, cemetery and crematory. In order to have a state-of-the-art funeral home we added 5000 square feet to the facility, which consisted of a casket selection room, two state rooms, offices, a hospitality room and an apartment.
Chapel of the Light has become Fresno's premiere funeral home. They continue to give back to the community that patronize their firm. they support many local causes such as Hinds Hospice, and various church and civic organizations. Being one of the few remaining locally owned and operated funeral homes, Chapel of the Light will celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year.
Our Valued Staff
Michael J. Rabara, General Manager
Michael J. Rabara (FDR-2073) is our General Manager of Chapel of the Light. Michael is a graduate of Cypress College School of Mortuary College in southern California. He is a lifelong resident of the Fresno area.
Michael began his career with the Buccheim Family Chapels in 1997 and decided to pursue a degree in Mortuary Science. While in mortuary school, Michael worked for the Catholic Mortuaries, predominatly All Souls Mortuary in Long Beach where he was an apprentice embalmer. Upon completion of his studies, Michael returned to the central valley to continue to work for the Buccheim Family Chapels which became Stewart Enterprises.
In 2007, Michael joined the Chapel of the Light, a family owned and operated firm, as a funeral director and embalmer. In July of 2012, Mr. Buck Kamphausen, the owner of Chapel of the Light, appointed Michael to serve as the general manager of the firm.
Michael is a member of many civic organization throughout the state of California. He currently serves as the Chairman of the City of Fresno Implementation Planning Committee, Youth Service Director for the North Fresno Rotary Club, past Treasurer of the Filipino Catholic League of the Diocese of Fresno, past President of the Sunnyside Property Owner's Association, Vice Grand Master of the Grand Lodge LDT, member of the parish finance council of St. John's Cathedal, member and past Vice President of the Serra Club of Fresno - Msgr. Laserian Byrne Chapter, a life member of the Filipino American Association of Fresno and Vicinity and a member of the Fresno Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Michael also is a board of director and past two-term President of the Central Valley Funeral Directors Association which serves Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. In 2005, Michael was awarded the distinguished honor of "California Young Funeral Director of the Year" award at their annual convention held at the Westin Hotel in San Francisco.
Besides being active within many civic organizations, Michael has always maintained complete allegiance to his community and the many families he has served throughout the Fresno area. He has assisted the famlies of many service members who have passed in the line of duty. Michael has directed some of Fresno's highest profile funerals most recently, the officers from the Fresno County Sheriff's Department, Fresno Police Department, California Highway Patrol, Clovis Police Department and the Reedley Police Department who gave the ultimate sacrifice while protecting us. He has the respect of not only his peers but also the many clergy he has come in contact with. He is very devout Catholic active not only in his parish but in whatever the diocese asks of him. Whether its helping with the altar servers picnic or hosting the Filipino telethon for KNXT the local catholic television station, Michael is always willing to help.
"It is my honor and privilege to have a family entrust their loved one unto my care and guidance. I want to assure my families that my staff and I are here for them whenever they are in need. It is my mission to ensure a family celebrates the life of their loved one."
Matthew A. Pascua, Funeral Director
Matthew Pascua (FDR-1284), a graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Mortuary Science, has been serving families throughout the valley for over 40 years. Matthew started his career in valley working as an apprentice at Boice Funeral Home in Clovis, and served as a funeral director for Lisle Funeral Home, which at that time was owned by the Lisle Family. He later became associated with the Buchheim Family Chapels where he served as Manager of the Palm Colonial Funeral Chapel location. He also ran the Evergreen Cremation Service, an affiliate of Palm Memorial Chapels, now of which all the above mentioned chapels are owned by Service Corporation International (Dignity Memorial.)
Matthew decided it was time to work for a locally owned funeral home in which he was familiar with. In 2006, Matthew joined a family business, and became associated with Chapel of the Light Funeral Home. Matthew is a licensed funeral director, embalmer, insurance agent, and crematory manager.
Matthew is married to Marlene Pascua and together they have two beautiful children (cats), Lennon and McCartney. They both are parishioners of Holy Spirit Catholic Church and are actively involved with Nancy Hinds Hospice - Ray of Hope Campaign. Matthew is also active in the Serra Club of Fresno - Msgr. Laserian Byrne Chapter, Chicken Livers Club and also a member of the Las Palmas-Ponderosa Lodge No. 366.
Stephanie L. Fox, Funeral Counselor
Stephanie has been serving families in the Fresno and Bakersfield communities for more than 15 years.
She has spent a great deal of time volunteering and assisting various groups in both counties. Stephanie has helped with fundraising for hospice groups, coordinating and organization of relay for life teams and donations, as well as the care and organization of bringing the traveling Vietnam wall to both Bakersfield and Fresno. Stephanie has assisted with the Veterans Stand Down project and Homeless Veterans program. Working with Veterans and their families and elder care issues are just a couple of the things she is known for. She also serves on the board of the Central Valley Funeral Directors Association, having been President in 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 and is currently sitting on the board as Past President. Stephanie is also an active member of the Fresno Women’s Network.
Having the true spirit of a caregiver, for Stephanie it is always the needs of the families first, there is no request that is too large or too small and she will always make you feel like family.
We are honored to welcome Stephanie to the Chapel of the Light family.
Rita L.. Mendoza, Funeral Counselor
Rita Mendoza, a native of Coalinga, has been serving families throughout the valley since 2000 when she started her career as a funeral counselor at Palm Memorial Coalinga Chapel. She has maintained a stellar reputation with the many families of the Coalinga, Huron, and Avenal vicinities. Rita later became associated with a new firm in Fresno called Cherished Memories Memorial Chapel.
In February of 2013, Rita became a part of our family at Chapel of the Light. She has developed a keen sense of serving families of various faiths, cultures and traditions. She speaks spanish fluently. Rita has become involved within many community service activites such as assisting in missions at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, serving as a board member of the Central Valley Funeral Director's Association and always going above and beyond for each family she serves.
We are thankful for the dedication Rita provides to her families at Chapel of the Light.
Rosemarie Valenzuela, Office Administrator
Rosemarie has been serving families within the Fresno area since 1993. At that time, she was working for the Jesse E. Cooley Jr. Funeral Home as an administrative assistant to Mr. Cooley. In 1995, she later became acquainted with Fresno Memorial Gardens. It wasn't until 2002 when Rosemarie came to work for Chapel of the Light.
Rosemarie has been a complete asset to our firm. She handles all the details that pertain to our 100 year old cemetery. She is very familiar with the many families that come and visit loved ones at Chapel of the Light. Rosemarie volunteers her time for many organizations. She and her family have made it a tradition to assist in placing flags on veteran's graves for memorial day at Fresno Memorial Gardens. Chapel of the Light is honored to have a dedicated employee always there for the many families that walk through our doors.