Thursday, October 30, 2008

Funeral today for retired ALCO firefighter Luster Knight

SAN LEANDRO — Retired Alameda County firefighter Luster Knight died Friday after a 10-month battle with cancer. He was 59.

Knight was a longtime San Leandro resident who remained active as a volunteer after his retirement in September 2007. His career fighting fires spanned 41 years.

For more than 20 years, he coordinated the Firefighter Turkey Drive and Holiday Toy Drive in collaboration with the Davis Street Family Resource Center. He served as a Recreation and Parks Department commissioner for the city of San Leandro for the past 10 years and was a member of the Leadership San Leandro Steering Committee for the past eight years.

Knight checked into the hospital in January with health problems.

He was diagnosed a month later with lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy treatments. He was given a clean bill of health last month, but he wasn't feeling well and returned to the hospital. Doctors then learned the lymphoma was spreading to his brain, according to Alameda County Fire spokeswoman Aisha Knowles. Knight died Friday at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Hayward.

Knight grew up in Greenville, Miss., and moved to California at age 16. He joined the Job Corps, which led to a job fighting fires for the Department of Forestry, setting him on a four-decade-long career path.

He is survived by two sisters, Carolyn K. Brown of Louisville, Ky., and Charlean K. Robinson; a brother, Thomas Knight, and his mother, Louise Knight, all of Greenville, Miss.

Knight never married and has no children, "but he adopted the entire community," Knowles said.

The Alameda County Fire Department invites the community to a funeral service for Knight at 10 a.m. Thursday at Neighborhood Church, 20600 John Drive, Castro Valley. Attendees are encouraged to arrive by 9:30 a.m.

Donations to Knight's family can be sent to the Alameda County Firefighters Association, 413 13th St., Suite 300, Oakland, CA 94612. Make checks payable to the A.C.F.F.A.


Update from Daily review - Link:

Under gray skies, drums and bagpipes played Thursday for retired Alameda County firefighter Luster Knight, whose flagged-draped casket was lowered from a fire engine by pallbearers as nearly 200 firefighters in dress uniforms snapped to attention and saluted.

Knight, 59, succumbed to cancer Oct. 24, a year after retiring from the Alameda County Fire Department. He was honored at a funeral service at Neighborhood Church, attended by family and friends; members of the Alameda County, Hayward and Oakland fire departments, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, and other local agencies.

Also in attendance were state Sen. Ellen Corbett, Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, County Supervisors Alice Lai-Bitker and Gail Steele, and San Leandro City Council members Surlene Grant, Joyce Starosciak, Diana Souza, Jim Prola and Michael Gregory.

Knight's career spanned 41 years, beginning in 1966 as a volunteer with the Camp Parks Job Corps Center and ending with his retirement from the county fire department in September 2007.

A San Leandro resident, Knight earned a reputation as being a community volunteer and an energetic fundraiser for children's causes.

"We don't take anything with us but our good deeds," Wafaa Aborashed said during the funeral procession. "Luster has a bag full of good deeds."

Aborashed is executive director of the Healthy San Leandro Environmental Collaborative, which works to educate and organize residents whose health and environment are affected by pollution. Aborashed speculated that the lymphoma that took Knight's life may have been caused by the many hazardous materials firefighters are exposed in the course of their careers.

She said Knight volunteered with her organization and helped to locate ground contamination in San Leandro, and that she knew Knight as someone who was always trying to find ways to help the poor.

Each holiday season for the past 20 years, Knight helped round up toys and turkeys for the Firefighter Turkey Drive and Holiday Toy Drive, said Rose Padilla, director of the Davis Street Family Resource Center. Over the past 10 years, Knight took charge of the event, raising money and organizing firefighters to box toys and food, she said.

About 1,500 boxes are given out to local families each holiday season, Padilla said.

"Luster was funny. He was that gentle giant who just loved life," she said. "We were his family -- the fire department and the community."

Retired Alameda County Fire Chief Bill McCammon said he fought plenty of fires alongside Knight over the years, and described him as an excellent firefighter.

"The thing I remember most about him was that he greeted everyone with a smile," he said.

Current Chief Sheldon Gilbert said Knight would enter a room full of firefighters with his "trademark smile and chuckle" and leave the room having collected $20 donations to be put to use helping local children.

During the funeral service, Chaplain Larry Vold said Knight grew up in rural Mississippi and visited his hometown of Greenville each year, where his mother and siblings still live. Whenever Knight returned home, he would look for things he could fix or improve, Vold explained.

Knight will be buried in Greenville.

In San Leandro, Knight served as a Recreation and Parks commissioner and was a member of the Leadership San Leandro Steering Committee -- in addition to his volunteer work with the Davis Street Family Resource Center and the Healthy San Leandro Environmental Collaborative.

He is survived by his mother, Louise Knight, of Greenville, Miss.; his sisters Carolyn K. Knight of Louisville, Ky., and Charlean K. Robinson of Greenville, Miss.; his brother Thomas Knight of Greenville, Miss.; as well as a large extended family.

Donations to Knight's family can be sent to the Alameda County Firefighters Association, 413 13th St., Suite 300, Oakland, CA 94612. Make checks payable to the ACFFA.

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