Jerry O’Banion — a longtime community leader with a record of service spanning more than a quarter-century — died on Sunday.
The cause of death wasn’t immediately clear.
A Dos Palos High grad, O’Banion served seven terms on the Board of Supervisors from 1990 until he retired in 2018. During that time, he served six times as chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
Merced City Manager Stephanie Dietz said she knew O’Banion personally through their families farming before working with him professionally.
Dietz described O’Banion as a very kind man who had a strong love for Merced County, growing up in Dos Palos and being a farmer. She said she got to know him professionally during her time working for Merced County CEO Jim Brown.
Dietz said that during the last drought, the county took strong measures to protect the use of groundwater, and O’Banion made sure it stayed in the community. Dietz said one of her assignments was to work on the ordinance.
“He mentored me in several ways, both in leadership style and in wisdom,” Dietz said. According to Dietz, he shared with her his vision, which was to do the best for the people he represented.
“Jerry was very special to me in that he encouraged me to find my path and to take on more responsibility — and he is one of the reasons I am here today,” she said.
Dietz said O’Banion did so much to support the people of Merced County and that he leaves a long-lasting legacy of leadership.
“His passing is a great loss to our community,” she said.
He represented the District 5 west side communities of Dos Palos, Los Banos, Santa Nella, South Dos Palos, and Volta.
O’Banion served on the Dos Palos City Council from 1980 to 1990, with a stint as mayor from 1987 to 1990.
He was also part-owner of O’Banion Ranches.
Merced County District 5 Supervisor Scott Silveira posted about O’Banion on his Facebook page.
“Jerry was a great mentor and advisor. He always took my calls and provided insight,” Silveira wrote.
“He was a good friend and supporter. He left big shoes to fill, and I am working hard to make sure the opportunity to fill them is not wasted. Brooke and I send our heartfelt condolences to Dollie and family.”
Everyone in local politics knew and respected O’Banion, according to Merced County District 3 Supervisor Daron McDaniel.
McDaniel said he will never forget how after he was elected to the Board of Supervisors, he was told by another elected official not to take it personally if O’Banion didn’t talk to him much — and that it didn’t mean he didn’t like him.
After his first year on the board, McDaniel said he and O’Banion visited with each other in their offices all the time. “He was more like an uncle – he taught me a lot,” McDaniel said. “We had a lot of long discussions.”
According to McDaniel, you always understood where O’Banion was coming from and what he stood for. “He always had just such a down to earth way of approaching every item that we discussed”’
McDaniel said O’Banion never faced an opponent in an election during his 28 years as a supervisor. McDaniel recalled a time when O’Banion responded to a question about the experience on the Board of Supervisors when Deidre Kelsey retired and both Hub Walsh and John Pedrozo lost their seats.
According to McDaniel, “He told somebody ‘Don’t you worry about it. We’ve got 26 years of experience. I’ve got 24 and Daron’s got two. We’re going to be just fine.’”
McDaniel said that he would call O’Banion even after his retirement. O’Banion would tell him to toughen up and that he knew what he signed up for.
He explained that O’Banion had been in and out of the hospital recently. McDaniel said he had a chance to speak with O’Banion the day before his death.
McDaniel said that although he could tell O’Banion’s breathing was labored, he was still able to be snarky and give McDaniel a hard time. “When I got the call that he had passed it was a shock for sure,” said McDaniel.
O’Banion will truly be missed by the community, McDaniel said. “I want to wish the best for Dollie, his wife, and his family. I know this has got to be a tough time and I’m just praying for them and my heart’s with them through this process.”
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Merced, released a statement to the Sun-Star on Monday.
“Jerry was one of the good guys! Yes we were friends for many years and worked together on behalf of the people in Merced County. He truly was a public servant and Jerry, with his family, for multiple generations gave back,” Costa wrote.
“We will miss him. Our thoughts & prayers are with Dollie and his family.”