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Funeral for Former Madera County Sheriff Set for Thursday

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Ovonual "Berk" Berkley
Ovonual “Berk” Berkley was the sheriff of Madera County from 1980 to 1986. (GV Wire Composite)
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A graveside service for Ovonual “Berk” Berkley, who led the Madera County Sheriff’s Office from 1980 to 1986, is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at Arbor Vitae Cemetery in Madera.

Berkley, who became a full-time deputy in 1964 and steadily rose into leadership positions, was the county’s 11th sheriff.

He “passed away peacefully on the afternoon” at the age of 87 of Jan. 22, according to his Jay Chapel obituary.

‘Touched the Lives of Many’

“Sheriff Berkley touched the lives of many people throughout his life and career, and we are so grateful to be a part of this wonderful man’s legacy,” said Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue in a Facebook post. “We send our sincere condolences to his family and friends during this time.”

Berkley was born on Nov. 24, 1934, in Bristow, Oklahoma, and his family split time between Oklahoma and Madera County before finally settling in Madera for good. In first grade, he met his future wife of 67 years, Maxine Brown. She died in April 2020.

Four years after joining the department, Berkley became the resident deputy in North Fork. A graduate of the FBI Academy, he received promotions to sergeant and captain before his election as sheriff.

Later, he worked for more than 20 years with the Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting.

Deputies Go on Strike

In Berkley’s final year as sheriff, 39 deputies went on strike because they had been working for more than two years without a labor contract and were frustrated with the Madera County Board of Supervisors.

The summer before the strike, Berkley lost his re-election bid to a department lieutenant, Glenn Seymour, who backed the deputies’ walkout.

During the nearly month-long strike, Berkley and a skeleton force of undersheriff, captain, and three lieutenants, including Seymour, worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week policing the county.

“Thank God I will be able to walk away from this mess,” Berkley told The Los Angeles Times after the strike ended.

Enjoyed Golf, Fishing, Travel

In retirement, Berkley enjoyed fishing and golfing, and made trips with Maxine in their RV. They also spent time on California’s central coast hanging out with other law-enforcement retirees and their families.

A celebration of life for both Berk and Maxine will be held at noon on Feb. 26, 2022, in the North Fork Town Hall. To attend, RSVP to Debbie Berkley (559) 760-5769 by Feb. 11.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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