Obituary Notices and Memorials


NEFF John Lee
NEFF, John Lee Jan. 23, 1955-May 31, 2015 Johnnie Lee Neff was born in Tulsa, Okla., if not with a silver spoon, certainly with a tool nearby. He early on would develop a mastery of all things automotive. Not long after he was born, his parents separated. John and his father traveled as his father worked in various locations. John attended Antelope Valley High, ran track and always worked on cars. He sadly lost his father to a car accident. Finding his living arrangements unacceptable, he packed all his belongings into his car and drove away to live life on his own terms. He drove out into the desert and briefly lived out of his car, driving into high school each day. One of his friends arranged for John to stay with his family. Soon the owner of Frank's Automotive fixed up an old trailer at the shop and John had a home. He would go to school and then work on cars. Once he cut out the sides of an old van and completely rebuilt it. Quite an accomplishment for a high schooler. John never looked back, always determined to hit life and live every minute. Tall and lanky, sharp and smart, confident in his abilities, fun-loving and ambitious, at times grouchy and stubborn, once you knew John you were not likely to forget him. After high school, John worked in construction remodeling homes. While working in San Diego he learned to surf. Working near Malibu he met Wilfred and Fran Rittamel of Quartz Hill. They were so impressed by John that they mentored and then, having no children of their own, adopted him. John once again had a family. He also worked a while for NASA making aircraft parts, but he always preferred to work for himself. By the time he was 24, John was operating his own mechanic's shop at the Mojave Airport Industrial Center. He kept his shop immaculate, every tool in its place. There he rebuilt his Harley, his El Camino, and the big, brown pickup truck he would always keep. His shop was the gathering place for his friends and the parties there were famous. The stories of those Mojave days are endless. There was the time he rode his Harley into the Frontier Bar in Mojave. Once he and his friends took a steer to Lake Isabella for a bar-b-que and, as usual, word of mouth lead an unknown number of partiers there during the big weekend. It was not unusual for 50 to 100 people to show up for one of his parties, especially those he held up on his mountain property. As often as he could, John would go up to his beloved Piute Mountain property near Lake Isabella. He had a great love of the land, always a country person at heart, liking country music, western shirts, and swing dance, long dirt roads, and uncrowded vistas. He would go up to throw a party, or cut firewood, always dreaming of living there. Becoming restless again, in 1980, he decided to close his Mojave shop and work for FEMA. Shortly, he realized how much paper work was involved, unacceptable for someone who needed action and to work with his hands. By 1983, he was making his dream of living on his mountain a reality, building a home, refurbishing the original cabin, creating a guest house, and most importantly, designing his dream shop where he could do anything from rebuilding engines to painting cars. All this was off the grid, as there were no electrical or phone lines down the long canyon dirt road to his place. Eventually land lines and electricity would be installed, but he chose to remain off the grid. Cell phone coverage could be spotty, so he did connect to the phone line. Most people on the mountain continued to communicate via short wave radio. Land lines were followed by the post office deciding to deliver mail so the residents did not have to drive 15 miles to the post office. The canyon residents installed a long line of boxes where the carrier could easily deliver mail. One day John came racing down the road, swerved out of control and took out every mail box. The letters flew everywhere! Not one to make excuses, he owned up to his errors and replaced everyone's box, resulting in his CB handle of "Mailbox John." His shop was where he spent most of his time at home. It was where he entertained his friends as well as working on any automotive project. He was the life of all the parties and bar-b-ques held in the canyon. He loved to start his comments with the phrase "Well, now..." and you had to stop and listen. Quirky, passionate and fun-loving, he could make practical jokes. Once he brought some Ensure to a neighbor, saying they might be good for an emergency; later, when opened, they had wine inside. A neighbor had a donkey and whenever John went to visit, that donkey would start braying as soon as he heard John drive in. John always first went and prepared two screw drivers, one for himself and one for the donkey. He'd saunter down and give the donkey his screwdriver. The happy donkey quieted down and John could continue his visit. John's skills were always in demand. Whenever a driver went off the road, John would respond day or night and winch the car back onto the road. He liked the challenge learning electrical work and traded his skills for roofing, painting, or other construction help on his land, which he grew to nearly 200 acres. He was always there to help repair anyone's property after flood or fire damage, always mountain hazards. John was definitely an asset to the community and will be greatly missed. From the time he headed out on his own during his high school years, John never made excuses for his losing his father, but hit life with an adventurous spirit, never doubting his ability to figure out how to do anything. He didn't just buy a computer, but took it apart to learn how it operated. His unique spirit passed quietly at his mountain home. He was predeceased by his father Jack, by Wilfred Rittamel and his love, Kathy. He is survived by Fran Rittamel, and his many friends. If anyone has a story or photo you might wish to contribute to a memorial page, please e-mail it to

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