The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a terrible toll on our Santa Barbara County communities — as of this writing, 207 of our neighbors are dead. In a new series, the Independent is putting names and faces to this growing number with the purpose of conveying the human toll of the coronavirus. We feel it is important to recognize and remember these individuals as people, not just statistics. To share the story of a lost friend or loved one, contact Senior Editor Tyler Hayden at email@example.com.
Al Reese was a powerhouse behind the piano. For the better part of 40 years, he filled the city’s best-known hotels and clubs with his soulful play-style and unforgettable voice — mellow and pitch-perfect. His music took him all over the world, from Japan to Switzerland. He even did private shows for the likes of Oprah and Rob Lowe. But Reese always came back to the people and places that he said gave real richness to his life. “He loved Santa Barbara, and Santa Barbara loved him,” said singer and collaborator Yvonne Bazinet.
Reese died the morning of January 4 of COVID-19 complications, said his daughter, Rachelle Chillous. He was 82 and living his later years with her in San Bernardino County.
Chillous, one of three children, remembered her dad as outgoing and generous with a big laugh. “Especially when he thought his jokes were funny,” she said with a wink. A die-hard Laker’s fan, he played basketball at the YMCA and liked to box and jog, too. He never smoked or drank or did drugs, rare for his line of work.
As busy as he was — Reese would also give piano lessons, sometimes for free — he always made time for his kids, Chillous said. They often went to the zoo. One afternoon, Chillous remembered, she walked into the petting pen with a bag full of candy. The goats nibbled a hole in the bottom and made quick work of the contents. “My dad laughed so hard that day, but by the end of the visit, I had a new bag of candy.”
Chillous said when the pandemic subsides, she hopes to host a memorial get-together in Santa Barbara where Reese’s many fans and bandmates can properly celebrate his legacy. “I think people would like that,” she said.
Meliton Pineda Flores
Meliton Pineda Flores came to Santa Barbara from Mayanalán, Mexico, when he was 18 years old. He met his wife, Cecilia, while working at a grocery store. He needed a new place to live (his landlord was forcing Meliton to wash his cars for free), and she offered him a small room. They fell in love, got married, and raised five daughters together.
Meliton doted on Cecilia. He never wanted her to have to work, so he spent much of his life toiling away at multiple jobs, very rarely with a day off. Most recently, he was a janitor at UCSB and a gardener. When he did get free time, Meliton and Celcia would drive down to Oxnard to shop and eat. “They were everything to each other,” said their granddaughter, Tanya Castro.
Meliton contracted the coronavirus the week before Christmas, Castro said. A blood clot formed in one of his lungs and slowly blocked his ability to breathe. He had no underlying health issues. He died on January 2 at 56 years old. Cecilia is now quarantined in Cottage Hospital fighting her own uphill battle against COVID-19.
Castro, who lived with her grandparents, is finding it difficult to understand Meliton’s death. “Out of all people, why him?” she asked. “It was so unexpected.” Castro remembered as a little girl drawing and playing marbles with him. They’d talk for an hour each night before bed. “He was such a good person,” she said. “He didn’t deserve this.” As deep as her pain is, Castro’s concern is for Cecilia as she lies sick and suddenly alone. “She feels like she can’t go on,” she said.
The family intends to bury Meliton at Calvary Cemetery Santa Barbara and is fundraising to help pay for the funeral. To donate, click here.
At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor. Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.