It’s been twenty years since the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The quake itself measured a 7.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. At the time, Candace Stevenson was in Italy with her mother. But her father, Joseph Stevenson, was trapped in his small apartment on Fulton Street.
“My father was a hero,” tears wash over Stevenson’s face as she says it. She recalls how her father had been injured during the earthquake and was unable to get out of his apartment. For seven days, he suffered alone without food and water.
“No one bothered to check on him,” she says. She explains how her father, the selfless hero who had given to so many, had been abandoned in his most crucial time of need. “In a natural disaster you never know how people will react.”
A friend of the family promised to check up on Joseph; she never did. A family member was nearby at the time of the earthquake; he never checked on Joseph. Even the landlord didn’t check up on him. Yet despite all of that, despite seven days without food and water, he survived.
“It was a miracle from God that my dad survived,” says Stevenson. Sadly four months afterwards, her father passed away in February, 1990. Upon her father’s death, Stevenson sought to change local, state and federal laws to insure the well-being of tenants after a natural disaster.
“This is what I want to see happen,” says Stevenson. “I want to see these five things happen.” She explains that the first thing she wants is to make it mandatory that Earthquake City Inspectors must check every apartment after a natural disaster to make sure that tenants are safe. Secondly, she would like a Disaster Register for the elderly and disabled in San Francisco, which would have all pertinent information on each individual, such as name, address and medications.
Third, she wants landlords to be responsible and held accountable for checking up on their tenants after a natural disaster. “They should be held responsible,” she stresses the point multiple times.
Fourth, she says, “Everyone needs to take responsibility in an Earthquake and not assume someone else has been checked.” Fifth, she highly recommends people go through the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) Training. Stevenson rummages through a pile of stuff and pulls out a hard hat. She puts it on and smiles broadly; on the side of the hat is a sticker that reads, “NERT.”
Before the Loma Prieta Earthquake, Stevenson lived a jovial life. She graduated from USF with a B.A. in Italian in 1974. She studied singing growing up and subsequently became a singer. She traveled from the U.S. to Italy on singing jobs and eventually got a Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL).
Once her father died, everything changed for Stevenson. Her father had been her hero and without him she was “lost.” Joseph served in the Army in the 1920s. He became a Private First Class but was injured and taken to Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco in 1926. It was then that he decided to stay in the Bay Area.
He saved pamphlets, letters and other memorabilia from his Marine days. In particular, he saved the menu to a Christmas Dinner his army company had in 1925. “All this meant so much to him that he kept it,” says Stevenson.
At the start of WWII, Joseph attempted to re-enlist. “He wanted to go fight Hitler,” says Stevenson. But he couldn’t due to his injury.
To Stevenson, her father wasn’t just a war hero; he was a hero in everyday life. She recalls that he once found a homeless man on the street suffering from alcoholism. Joseph then took the guy home and essentially “detoxed” the man.
“That’s the kind of man he was. He didn’t have to be told to do something. He just did it,” says Stevenson.
Like her father, Stevenson has also embarked on aiding people. After her father’s passing, she wrote the president, vice-president, each Congress member, Supreme Court Justices, and every state governor, urging them to take on initiatives to insure the safety of tenants during natural disasters.
On the federal level, she helped design the passing of bill H.R. 3533 – the “Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977 Amendments Act,” which would “increase earthquake awareness and education, and encourage the development of multi-State groups for such purposes.”
Currently, a memorial honoring Joseph Stevenson can be seen at the Marines Memorial at 609 Sutter Street.