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On June 10th, 2017, Jerome "Jerry" Gerald Sutton went home to be with the Lord. He had been a resident at Bridgeview Estates extended care facility for five years. Previously, he had been residing in Buhl where he also had The Clock Shop on 121 South Broadway where he repaired many antique clocks from around the Magic Valley and the Sun Valley area. He resided at The Senator mobile home park. He closed down the business three years ago shortly before his final stay at Bridgeview Estates commenced.
Jerome was born in Oakland California, the third child of John L. Sutton and Jessie B. (Martin) Sutton on November 28th 1932. Due to John Sutton's work for the California Department of Employment, he and his older sister and brother moved several times, including a stay in Petaluma where he unknowingly attended Petaluma High School at the same time as his future wife Jeannette Sjosten; they did not meet for another six years. He graduated from Watsonville High School in 1952. He then attended Santa Rosa Junior College where he took various courses including Italian. In 1953, he volunteered to join the United States Army. While he was being trained as an MP he repaired a broken clock of a high-ranking officer there and in return this officer asked the then Pvt. Sutton, "Where would you like to go?"
He replied "Africa, sir!" He was then asked if he spoke any foreign languages, and Pvt. Sutton said, "Italian, sir!" Since Ethiopia had been under Italian control, Jerome Sutton was assigned to a posting in Eritrea (while it was still part of Ethiopia) where he stayed for two years. During this time, he survived being lost for three weeks, subsisting on water from a mucky stream and meat from a starving dog he shot. He also ruined a poacher's day by using a 357 Magnum gun to put down a wounded bull elephant, intentionally shattering the ivory tusks in the process so that nobody would get the ivory.
During this time, he was promoted to Sergeant E-5, and had a squad under his command. Unaware that he was being tested, Sgt. Sutton was assigned driving the payroll truck, and various confidential and secret tasks. When he proved that he had integrity bar-none, the CIA and a few other groups (the names of which he never revealed to me) tried to recruit him. During the CIA recruitment effort, the men interviewing him threw a Korean POW out of a helicopter to get a second POW to talk. Offended and grieved, Sgt. Sutton demanded to be returned to base and that the CIA never contact him again.
On return to the United States, he initially wanted to find a big city police department to join. He would be given the rank of Sergeant immediately on hire, the same as his MP rank. The SFPD interview included a drive around San Francisco. When Sgt. Sutton saw pre-teen prostitutes and asked if the SFPD was helping them get off the streets, they said they were ordered to not get involved. Angry and indignant, Sgt. Sutton said he also did not wish to be involved with the SFPD, and decided to nix further efforts of becoming a police officer.
While stationed at Two-Rock Military Station, west of Petaluma, California, Sgt. Sutton met a young elementary school teacher named Jeannette J. Sjosten. They dated and in 1957 they got married. Shortly after their marriage, and honeymoon at Morrow Rock in the Monterey Bay area, Jerome Sutton interviewed for and obtained employment with the Civil Service. Since he had Top-Secret clearance from his time in the Army, he was assigned work on nuclear submarines. He wanted a position at Mare Island Shipyard and was hired immediately. He was trained and became a tolerance tester, which meant he took X-rays of various parts of a submarine and had the power to decommission a nuclear sub that he determined to have cracks, other potential failure spots, and stressed metal structures. He became so good that he was sent on audits around the US to check up on other shipyards. He reported in person to Admiral Hyman Rickover and other high-ranking military officials the results of these audits.
His career was cut short when a large oak limb he was cutting with a chainsaw fell on his left leg, crushing the cartilage in his left knee in 1973. He could no longer climb the ladders into and out of the submarines, and did not do well at the ‘desk job' he was assigned. He quit Mare Island in 1974, and the Civil Service awarded him a disability pension for life.
This accident allowed him to explore his primary passionate interest: clock repair. In 1945 when Jerry was 12 and living in San Francisco, a neighboring business dumped a large number of broken alarm clocks into the Sutton back yard. He told his kids, "At first I broke more than I fixed, but soon I fixed more than I broke." By age 13 he was a better clock repairman than some five times his age. Since nobody would take a 13-year-old boy seriously, he worked in the back room of a jewelry store ran by an older man whose own clock repair skills were faltering due to age. The store ‘inexplicably' regained its reputation of being one of the best clock repair facilities in San Francisco. Due to his father's gambling problems, Jerome's income from clock repair helped feed his mother and older brother and sister.
Even while working full-time at Mare Island, every Thursday night at Lynch Jewelry in Petaluma, CA, he would spend the evening repairing antique clocks for customers all over Sonoma County, including some fairly wealthy customers. After his divorce in 1984, he dated Sylvia Sebastiani of Sebastiani Winery, whom he had first met through clocks he had repaired for her family. While he never got a chance to work on arguably the most famous timepiece in the world, for about a decade during the late 1970s to late 1980s Jerome was one of ten clock repairmen from around the world who were both qualified and licensed to repair Big Ben if anything went wrong. Eventually that license lapsed and Jerome did not reapply.
On becoming disabled, he purchased a small house trailer and set it up as a clock shop on the Ranch where he and his wife, Jeannette, and two children Christopher and Amy lived on a 12-acre walnut orchard. Many customers came and went over the years.
Jerome and Jeannette separated in 1982 and finished the divorce process in 1984. During this time, Jerome moved into downtown Petaluma, where he lived for five years. Since he could no longer use the trailer, he instead worked full-time at Lynch Jewelry until his mother's health deteriorated under what he thought was negligent care of his older sister. He moved to Merced, California, where he stayed with Jessie B. Sutton, his mother for seven years. She passed away in 1998, leaving him alone in the single-wide house-trailer they called home.
Due to the hype and fears of Y2K, Jerome Sutton moved from Merced to Buhl, Idaho, during November 1999 where he resided for two years in the home of his son Christopher Sutton and his wife, Laura. In 2001 Jerry negotiated a deal with Barker Realty of Buhl to lease the former Black Bear Stoves store on North Main Street in Buhl. There he built his first Clock Shop, and started to gain the reputation in Idaho that he left behind in Petaluma. By 2004 he was regularly visiting Sun Valley and repairing antique and other kinds of clocks for various celebrities. The one that stood out the most was when he repaired the clock that was literally mounted inside of a taxidermy-preserved elk, owned by Arnold Schwarzenegger. At that point, he purchased a large Express van, thinking that he would be routinely moving grandfather clocks and other large items to and from the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, as well as local Magic Valley customers.
Then came the first of several disabling accidents. After a fall that destroyed the rotator cuff of his shoulders, he could no longer carry the large clocks. Then he had back surgery for a disintegrating disk, but that left his legs weak. Over the next several years Jerome had to gradually cut back on his services. During this time, he was convinced by Barker Realty to relocate his Clock Shop to 121 South Broadway for an offer of lower rent. By that time, he was no longer able to do the extensive carpentry work he had done at the Main Street location, so his shop remained unfinished. Due to his son being occupied by raising his two grandchildren and running a poultry and orchard operation, he could not obtain help from that quarter. As his health deteriorated he attempted to partner with other interested persons, but none of them could be relied upon to be there full-time like he needed to keep his business open.
By this time, he was living in The Senator, a 50 and older trailer park in west Buhl. After several falls and decreasing ability to take care of himself, he was moved out of his home to reside at Bridgeview Estates in Twin Falls. Due to his financial situation, they decided to accept his disability pension as payment in full for as long as he lived. He resided there for five years until he died June 10th. Two years after he left his home, his son closed down and emptied the Clock Shop due to the building being sold, and then his house trailer, which was sold back to the lender. His son adopted and still has his now 13-year-old cat, Buster, living at his house.
Jerome Sutton is survived by his two children, Christopher H. Sutton of Buhl, Idaho, and Amy F. Heflin of Petaluma, California. He is also survived by his ex-wife Jeannette J. Sutton, also of Petaluma. Additionally, he is survived by three grandchildren, Andrew M. Heflin of Fairfield, California, and KC and Jane Sutton of Buhl. He is also survived by nieces Wendy Taylor and Andrea Sjosten of Petaluma, nephews Patrick, Bruce, and Peter Sutton of Redding, California, and nieces Donna Soria of Merced and Rhonda Kammeraud of Flagstaff, Arizona, and nephews James Spencer of Merced, and Bert Spencer of Spencer, Wisconsin.
Jerome was preceded in death by his father John L. Sutton and his mother Jessie B. Sutton, his older sister Janice M. Spencer, and older brother John L. Sutton, Jr.
He was involved with the Optimist Club in Petaluma, and briefly the Buhl American Legion. While in Petaluma he was active in the Methodist Church until the 1970s. He was a member of Christian Center of Magic Valley, Twin Falls, for several years before he became inactive in church affairs due to health. While Jerome had shown some interest in the LDS church due to being friends with missionaries over the years and best friend Wade Quigley, who is LDS, it was never clear if he ever committed to the faith itself. In later years, he would sometimes donate clocks to Buhl West End Senior Center for fundraising auctions, and spend time with good friends Lyle and Cathy Woods while they were working at the Senior Center. He dated Ruth Johnson of Castleford for a time, and a few other local women. He enjoyed playing poker (no money) with the Sutton grandkids KC and Jane in his home, and would serve them macaroni and cheese at least once a week right up to the final week before he left his home for the last time. Most of his Clock Shop customers enjoyed hearing his various stories about his time in Africa and to a lesser extent other interesting events in the US.
He chose cremation, and has requested that a portion of his ashes be sent to Ethiopia to be scattered, another portion to Van Damme and MacKerricher State Parks on the Pacific Coast in California, some to the Ranch in Petaluma (for his ex-wife to scatter), a portion to be buried in an ash vault by or on his mother's grave in Merced, California, and portions to be kept by son, Christopher, and daughter, Amy.
From all of us who knew Jerome Gerald Sutton, we will miss you and your "Stories out of Africa."
The memorial service will be held on June 21st at 2:00 pm at Farmer Funeral Chapel in Buhl, Idaho.
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