In 1891 the undertaking business was operated by A. F. Schweer and Geo W. Detjens in Pleasanton out of the Detjens’ stables known as the Fashion Livery Stable. Mr. Detjens at that time purchased full interest in the undertaking business. The Detjens had two children a boy and a girl. The young man had “a problem with alcohol.” For that reason spent much of his time at Fairmont Hospital in Oakland. Miss Detjens, the daughter, had a suitor by the name of Charles Graham.
Charles, or as he was commonly known, Charley Graham was in the Livermore Valley working in the hopyards and in other agricultural labors. He won the heart and hand of Mr. Detjens’ daughter. Because the Detjens’ son had shown, no aptitude nor inclination for undertaking, Mr. Graham was blended into the business. Mr. & Mrs. Graham did not take over the business in name until 1905 when this advertisement appeared:
Charles S. Graham
Successor to DETJENS & GRAHAM
Undertaker and Embalmer
Everything requisite for First-class funerals
Leave orders at the Fashion Livery Stable.
TELEPHONE BLACK 23 PLEASANTON
As late and possibly later than 1906, the business instructed the public to “Leave orders at the Fashion Livery Stable.” Mr. Graham, knowing the value of education went to the Grant – Miller Mortuary in Oakland. He stayed there and studied embalming and the undertaking business for a full week, then applied for and received California Embalmers License #15. The Grahams settled on St. Mary St.
Mr. Graham built the building at 4417 Railroad Avenue, now occupied by Contractors Fasteners, and operated the business there until moving to 706 Main St. The business remained there until Ralph Hitch moved to 675 St. John St.
Mr. Hitch, a Nebraska native, came to California in 1938 with a friend who was a physician and setting up a practice in San Diego. Ralph settled in Stockton after talking another friend, a Navy pilot, to bring him to Lodi to visit friends. Somehow to his surprise he convinced the lovely Bonita Butler to leave her beloved Nebraska. They married in 1939 and lived in Stockton.
Ralph worked for Fiberboard during the World War II. Following the war, he took a position with DeYoung Mortuary in Stockton. Mr. Hitch then went to Kansas City to attend mortuary school and received his license in Nebraska. Later he attended San Francisco College of Mortuary Science for a 3-month course to obtain his California License #2957.
Mr. DeYoung knew of the young Mr. Hitch’s desire to own a mortuary and told him of the Graham Mortuary in Pleasanton. Soon Ralph and Bonita were sitting in the mortuary being sized up by Charles Graham. They were aware that others, like themselves were vying for Mr. Graham’s favor. When they returned to Stockton they were hoping to have the opportunity to provide funeral service for this quaint little town. As you already guessed, the quaint little Pleasanton had a new funeral director who grew to love the town as much as the town grew to love both Ralph and Bonita. The mortuary later took the name Graham and Hitch Mortuary.
Mr. Hitch explained that he wanted the townsfolk to believe that Mr. Graham had taken on a partner. Ralph worried that if anyone found out that he had attended the University of Nebraska and had played football for a year, the many Cal and Stanford fans might be tempted to run him out of town. Silently he remained a Nebraska fan his entire life.
For more than a year when a family came to the mortuary following a death, Mr. Graham would greet them and start the arrangements for the funeral and shortly claim a need to be elsewhere and say “Let me introduce you to my man”, then introduce Ralph and he would complete the arrangements.
Both Bonita and Ralph became active in their community as well as their faith. Mr. Hitch immediately joined the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce and remained a member until 1976. For four years after selling the business, he served on the Board of Directors with the Chamber. He had served on the Board from his first years in town almost continually through 1976. He remained active in the Lions Club for more than 20 years after his retirement and maintained close ties to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, becoming personally involved with all the priests serving at St. Augustine’s.
Ralph was active in the funeral community as well, serving on the Board of Directors of the California Funeral Directors Association from 1972 – 1974. The only disagreement he and Mr. Graham had on the direction of funeral service was when Ralph made metal caskets available to Pleasanton families. Mr. Graham knew the metal casket was only a fad and would not last long.
In 1954 Ralph finished building a new modern 4,000 square foot facility, of his own design and built with his own hands at 675 St. John St. The business operated in this amazingly adaptable building until December of 1992. By then Pleasanton was no longer the quaint little town but a large community with a quaint and trendy downtown.
In 1972 Mr. Hitch sold the business to Jess Spencer who operated Jess C. Spencer Mortuary in Castro Valley. Mr. Spencer and his staff operated the business until January of 1990 when Randy Friesen joined the firm as a vice president, and became a full time presence in Pleasanton. Many years have passed and Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley have had quality, compassionate and dignified funeral professionals serving them. An example of our legacy and our goals is a phone call received by Mr. Friesen early in 1990 from a man inquiring on service times for a funeral, after providing the requested data the gentleman stated, “You’ll never be a Ralph Hitch.” Randy’s reply was “No, but I’ll be the best Randy Friesen I can be.” What was a quick response to a less than complimentary statement, has become a goal for the entire organization. We desire to have those we serve be so satisfied with the services we provide that they cannot imagine any way that there could be anyone who could serve them as well as Graham – Hitch Mortuary.
In March of 1992 Mr. Hitch was one of the people to proudly break ground at the site of the current facility located at 4167 First St.