Friday night was all about memories.
Remembering good times, remembering a sense of humor, remembering a unique individual.
It was also about saying farewell much too soon to a Class of 2010 Oakdale High School graduate and standout athlete, both in football and wrestling.
Charlie Gilstrap, 26, passed away late night Wednesday, July 4 as the result of a solo vehicle accident. A Friday night candlelight vigil, organized by several members of the Class of 2010, brought the community together to mourn his passing and celebrate his life.
The California Highway Patrol report regarding the crash indicates that he was northbound on Central Avenue, north of East Taylor Road, just after 11:30 p.m. Wednesday when his 1998 Pontiac drifted off the roadway and the front of the vehicle struck a utility pole. The vehicle continued off the road and into a cornfield where it overturned. Charlie was ejected from the vehicle and was pronounced deceased on the scene by emergency medical personnel.
Friday night, the focus wasn’t on the accident but on the way Charlie touched so many lives despite his young age.
Staged at the amphitheater inside the new Oakdale Community Park along South Yosemite Avenue, the crowd filled the grassy area surrounding the stage. Photos of Charlie and memorabilia including his No. 5 football jersey were on display. Attendees could sign his jersey or write messages of encouragement to his family.
“I met him when he was playing ball with my kid,” remembered Joe McGrath, one of those taking the microphone to offer a few thoughts. “I also got the fortune of working with Charlie.”
The two worked together when Charlie was employed at the local Steves Chevrolet.
McGrath said he now wishes he had taken time to go see Charlie when he was performing karaoke – as singing was one of his hobbies.
“I look at that jersey,” McGrath said, motioning to the red and gold jersey on the table, “and I think of that big heart. That kid had a heart of gold.”
He had been involved in recent years with the Grupo Forcados Amadores de Turlock, a bullfighting group, and had traveled extensively with the organization. Several of his ‘brothers’ from that group were on hand for the vigil as well.
“True friends are hard to come by and he’s as pure as they come,” said George Martins of the Forcados group. “Charlie, he was a straight shooter and that’s why I loved him.”
He pointed to Charlie as being “the glue” of the bullfighting brotherhood enjoyed by the Forcados.
The group hosted a candlelight vigil in Charlie’s memory on Monday night, July 9 at the bullfighting arena in Stevinson, where he spent so much time.
His dad Phil and mom Veronica Gilstrap also addressed the crowd.
“If there were words I could say to make you feel the love that’s in my heart for you, I would,” Phil told the crowd, thanking them for the support. “All of you are reminders that life can be good … I see you here, and there’s a whole lot of love coming our way.”
Veronica said over the years, she went from being known as Veronica to being known as “Charlie’s mom” and she also gained strength from those in attendance.
The family said they were amazed at the turnout and were grateful for Charlie’s friends from the Class of 2010 that organized the vigil.
They are also setting up a scholarship in his name, an athletic scholarship for students at OHS.