“If not for him, we wouldn't have an NAPD, his legacy will still live in our hearts,” says Kyle Frink. Frink is one of dozens who gathered in downtown Bakersfield on Saturday to honor the life of Walter Cochneuer.
Cochneuer founded the NAPD, or New Advances for People with Disabilities in 1979 in Bakersfield. The NAPD helps close to 500 children and adults every day by providing life skills training and activities. Frink has mild cerebral palsy and has been coming to NAPD for 10 years.
“To me, there's no other program like this one,” Frink says. “He has really helped the disabled into believing in themselves and to has people bringing themselves up instead of tearing people down.”
Many shared heartfelt stories of Cochneuer, who's life mission was to help people he felt, needed it the most.
“It’s a big loss, he was a tremendous inspiration to people who got passed his rough veneer and understood his passion that gave him such zeal because he didn’t tolerate people who didn’t try to understand people with disabilities,” says Wayne Montgomery, pastor of Wasco Christ Community Church.
Montgomery has been a close friend of Cochneuer’s for nearly three decades. He preached the eulogy and said Cochneuer’s life has touched tens of thousands of people in Kern County in the last 40 years.
As NAPD's executive director until 2010, Cochneuer created numerous programs and services for the developmentally disabled. He taught high school literature in Stockton and received a lifetime teaching credential from University of California, Davis in 1965. Cochneuer didn't even let his own disability, blindness, stop him.
"He was a person that it was very easy to forget about his visual difficulties because he had this loud, booming voice and such an incredible presence," says Cochneuer’s daughter Mindy Cochneuer Andrews. “He was willing to stumble and fall in public because he had a mission, and he’d get himself up and brush himself off and go on, and for me that was a really inspiring message.”
Cochneur's son Morgan led the crowd in singing Gospel, rock hit "Spirit in the Sky." Cochneuer died on September 19 from natural causes. He was 73 years old and leaves behind his wife of 42 years, Vivian, four children and four grandchildren.
"My father was not a person who was saying look at me, look at my limitations,” she says. “He was saying look around the world at what you can do to make your community and the world around you a better place."