The great western crooner, Tommy Duncan, sang a song during the 1940s titled “Time Changes Everything.” It is a ballad about lost love, that he thought she would always love him. But over time, that changed. Then he thought he would never get over, but . . . shazam . . . time changed that. Finally, he wishes her well as he rides off in the sunset with his new love. Change, change, change.
Well, there’s a lot of truth in that ol’ Bob Wills western swing ballad. But to state it a little more accurately and in the words of my unhousebroken cousin Bubba, “Time changes pert near everything.”
For example, you graduate from high school and your class fractures into minute pieces. Some kids go off to college or off to the military or off elsewhere for a job . . . and a few just, well, go off. One day you realize not even Humpty Dumpty can’t put those pieces back together.
Or you reach that mid-life crisis point where you must face up to the fact that you’re never going to be President of the United States. Heck, you’re not even going to be a leader in your Lions Club or your church. Last week you got a letter confirming your rich uncle left you his favorite poodle, but nothing else. And chances are high you aren’t going to see your own children reach any high level of success. And you’ve just about concluded you just ain’t very good lookin’ no mo.
Shoot-fire, y’all, it gets worse. You become a senior citizen somewhere about 60 or 65. That’s when you notice the wheels starting to fall off your wagon, and you never were very mechanically inclined. You sorta think you’re a cut above most old folks, . . . until you count the number of prescription pills you take each day. And you tally up the aches and pains and dysfunctional parts of your anatomy and realize that if a part of you doesn’t hurt, it is probably not working.
Yep, time changes . . . pert near every aspect of our lives.
That’s what I’m talking about, friends, the changes that will not be ignored. They trip us on our way to the bathroom and slap us up side of the head to get our attention.
Okay, fellow travelers, I freely confess I kinda feel like I have the Elephant-of-Change sitting on my chest. Maybe if I scratch its back that Dumbo will go squat somewhere else, but he is probably like my nutty brother-in-law, Alex. He will be back much more often than I’d like.
Well, here is the first of several changes I am making: I will no longer give public performances of my storytelling (i.e., cowboy poetry, stories, songs and guitar playing). That tough decision comes after having had a heap of fun doing those things since about 1991 — about 27 years worth. In that regard, here is a poem I performed on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 during my very last session at the National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration in Lubbock, Texas. I call this poem, my 488th, “On Hitting a Wall at 77.”
My second change is this: I’m am saying adios and farewell to all my social media.
Yes, Virginia, ’tis true. I shut down — i.e., deleted — my Facebook account just last week. Oh, yeah, I’ll miss seeing some photos of our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids that somehow never get seen to us in any other way. And I’ll miss that good clean joke which crossed my screen every once in a while, but life goes on. And so do I.
Oh, I guess I should mention those somewhere over 300 folks who friended me on Facebook. Some of those folks are really good friends, with a few of them dating back from six or more decades ago. Those I’ll miss a bunch, but . . . I still have a telephone (yes, a smarter-than-me phone and a land-line) and the U.S. Post Office still delivers to my mailbox (though 90 % of which I get is non-personal) . . . so I can be reached. Now I admit to being blissfully unaware of just how 40 or so of my “Friends” on Facebook had any real connection with me. Too much drama. Too much trivia. Just . . . way too much.
CHANGES THAT REALLY HURT
Part of the big changes I’m seeing in my life have to do with the passing of close friends and relatives . . . and the demise of so many people who, though not close friends, were folks I knew at one time or have corresponded with for a while or people for whom I had a long-distance and long-standing admiration.
In this blog I just want to mention some of our friends we always saw at the National Cowboy Symposium and elsewhere, but who have crossed over that Big Divide. Here is just part of that list:
********** DUSTY & PAT RICHARDS
The first time I met Ronald Lee (“Dusty”) Richards was in 1984 in Branson, Missouri. A few weeks earlier I had met Jory Sherman at a writers convention in Oklahoma City. It was Jory who told me all about the great folks in the Western Writers of America and about that year’s convention in a short time in Branson. At his urging, I traveled there alone and walked into the host hotel’s lobby. There an elderly man looked at my cowboy hat, walked over to me and introduced himself to me. It was none other than Thomas (“Tommy”) Thompson, the author of numerous Western articles and novels and movie and TV scripts.
A short time later I met a fledgling writer from Springdale named Dusty Richards, and we hit it off right away. Between the WWA, other writer conventions and the National Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Peggy and I saw Dusty and Pat many, many times over the years. He was a “late bloomer” who did not have his first book published until 1992, when he was 55 years old. But, golly Bill, he caught on fire there. He wrote some 150 western novels, many under various publishing “house names.” One of those novels, The Mustanger & the Lady, was made into a movie with the title, “Painted Woman.”
Paul Patterson was the high school literature teacher who became a mentor out in West Texas to none other than the late, great Western novelist Elmer Kelton.
Those times are now behind us, wonderful memories we will cherish. Dusty and Pat Richards were in a horrific car accident in December of 2017. They were hospitalized in critical condition. Pat died from her injuries on Jan. 11, 2018 and Dusty left this life one week later on Jan. 18, 2018. He was 80 years old.
Dusty and Pat loved their adopted home state of Arkansas, as well as Arizona and the great Southwest. A writer for the family posted this on Dusty’s Facebook page:
“What can we say about Dusty? The real question is what can’t we say about him? To say that he was larger than life is the grandest of understatements. He was an irresistible force and an unmovable object all rolled into one, a personality wider than the western skies he wrote about. He was an eternal optimist, a man who woke up each and every day renewed and ready for the next job, the next challenge, the next good fight. He was a father, a patriarch, a mentor of the first order.
“He toured the country teaching and encouraging new and experienced writers alike, challenging them to follow his lead, tell the next inspiring story, pen the next Great American Novel. He was a fighter, a lover, a joker, an entrepreneur, a canny businessman, a television and radio personality, a famous rodeo announcer, a cowboy, and, perhaps above all else, a master storyteller. Dusty was everything that fit under his trademark ten-gallon hat and so much more, and we could keep writing for a year and not do him justice.”
********** HENRY TORRES
** Henry Torres, a rancher and historian and cowboy poet, died on April 6, 2018 at the age of 80. He was born to Hispanic parents on Nov. 7, 1937. He grew up in that farming and ranching family, with most of his time spent on ranches in New Mexico — from Deming to Las Cruces and up to Silver City. He had two beloved sisters, Beatrice and Elsie, where were some older than he. Henry joined the U.S. Navy right after graduating from high school, but came back in 1960 to again work for and with his father.
This cowpoke went above his learnin’ and married Carolyn Shores in 1971. Henry spent much of his adult career ranching on the side and working as a Brand Inspector for the New Mexico Livestock Board. He retired as the Supervisor in Silver City in 1996. A few years before his retirement, he got interested in writing and publically performing cowboy poetry. He was of the founders and supporters of the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Museum in Las Cruces, NM. And he was the primary force behind the creation of their annual “Cowboy Days” celebration.
In 2002, Henry Torres felt very blessed when he received an “American Cowboy Culture” award at the National Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Texas. In 2016, he was recognized in a ceremony at the Las Cruces New Mexico Farm & Ranch Museum for his many years of service to the industry and to the museum. In 2011, Carolyn Torres was seriously sick and wanted to move to Nevada to spend her last days close to their children and grandchildren, and they left their beloved New Mexico. She died in 2014, so Henry moved back to Silver City. He lived and died as a man of his word, a cowboy to the bone.
********** GUY W. LOGSDON
Peggy and I first met Guy Logsdon in about 1990 at the National Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Texas. He had a both at the convention center where he sold new and used and collectable books. When he went back to Tulsa and started “The Oklahoma Cowboy Poetry Gathering” at the National Western Museum & Heritage Center in Oklahoma City. He was kind enough to invite me to perform there several times. Now he is gone.
Guy William Logsdon was born on May 31, 1934 in Ada, Okla. He grew up there, played bass fiddle and then the guitar, in the Logsdon family band. Then added singing and storytelling to his skills. He graduated from Ada High School and then attended and graduated from East Central State University there is Ada. While getting educated, he also got married to Phyllis Landers from up the road in Okemah (hometown of the legendary singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie).
Later, Guy received M.S. degree in Library Science and his Doctorate of Education from the University of Oklahoma. His first job was as Director of Libraries at prestigious University of Tulsa. Over time he became a recognized expert in three very different fields: (1) the life and music of Woody Guthrie; (2) Western swing music and the lives of Bob & Johnnie Lee Wills; and (3) old-time authentic cowboy music.
Dr. Logsdon wrote the liner notes for both Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger compilation CDs which were produced by Smithsonian Folkways. His books include “The University of Tulsa: A History, 1882-1972;” “The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing and Other Songs Cowboys Sing;” “Ada, Oklahoma, Queen City of the Chickasaw Nation: A Pictorial History;” “Saddle Serenaders;” “The Flip of the Coin; the Story of Tommy Allsup;” and “Woody’s Road; Woody Guthrie’s Letters Home, Drawings, Photos, and Other Unburied Treasures” co-authored with Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon (Woody’s youngest sister). Guy Logsdon himself was the subject of Stan Paregien’s eBook, “Guy W. Logsdon: Award-winning Folklorist,” and a main source of first-hand information for Stan’s book, “Woody Guthrie: The Man, His Music & His Myth.”
Guy Logsdon died Feb. 5, 2018 after a short illness. He and Phyllis had been married for 64 years. One of their daughters, Cindy Logsdon Black, is married to and performs with noted cowboy poet and storyteller Baxter Black.
********** GAIL T. BURTON
Peggy and I first met Gail T. Burton (Benton, AR) at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City in about 1991. That was when Dr. Guy W. Logsdon of Tulsa organized the very first “Oklahoma Cowboy Poetry Gathering.” He and I each performed there, and we would perform together at many other events over the years. Burton began writing and performing his own cowboy poetry and before he stopped he had created more than 500 poems. He also wrote a book titled, “Cow Pies and Candle Lights” (1999).
Gail Travis Burton died on Feb. 22, 2017 at his home in Benton, Arkansas at the age of 88. He had been born Jan. 4, 1929 in Temple, OK. Ten months after his birth the United States and much of the world would be floundering the economic disaster we now call “The Great Depression.” Well, Gail grew up and served Uncle Sam as a soldier in the Army and was stationed in Korean from 1946 to 1948. Later, he took specialized training at Oklahoma State University and spent the rest of his life as a Fire Protection Specialist in California and in Arkansas.
Peggy Paregien took this photo at the 1st Annual Oklahoma Poetry Gathering at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City. LEFT TO RIGHT: Okay, here’s where my memory has slipped a cinch. I cannot remember the fellah at the left, seems maybe he was a professor at Oklahoma Panhandle State University way out at Goodwell, Okla. Anybody know his name? That bare-faced gent 2nd from left is , . . . uh . . . give me a second . . . oh, yeah. Me. Stan Paregien. And the lady is Francine Robison, the pride of Tecumseh, OK. And on the far right is Gail T. Burton.
Burton was a deacon at First Baptist Church of Benton. He was also a Master Mason and a member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. In addition, he was a member of the Missouri Cowboy Poet’s Association, and a charter member of the Academy of Western Artists. He was survived by his wife of 65 years, Barbara Burton and their five children, 15 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
How Far Is It to Bethlehem?
by Gail T. Burton of Benton, AR
“How far is it to Bethlehem,”
a young cowboy asked his pard’
while riding ‘cross the open range
as the snow was falling hard.
It was coming on to Christmas,
and the two were out alone,
pushing cows to lower pasture
where the blizzard hadn’t blown.
“I know it’s past Chicago,
crosst’ the ocean anyhow;
I still don’t know just where it’s at,
but a far piece I’d allow.”
His partner rode a while in thought,
like he hadn’t even heard.
“It’s a right far piece from Heaven,
you can take me at my word.”
That’s all he said for ‘most an hour,
while they hazed the cattle slow,
but his thoughts were on the Christ child
as they trudged on through the snow.
On the thought of that first Christmas,
and the gift God sent to earth,
of the truth of Jesus’ coming,
and the blessing of His birth.
While riding on he understood
Where these thoughts of Christmas lead,
And bringing words up from his heart
The old cowboy softly said:
“I’ve no clue to mark the distance,
of the mile, ….. I’m at a loss.
How far is it to Bethlehem?
It’s just half way to the cross.”
Oh, sure, new friends are wonderful, too. That’s one reason we moved from Edmond, Oklahoma here to Bradenton, Florida exactly five years ago. Back there we lived in a larger, comfortable house in a very nice neighborhood. We were involved in church activities, and I often performed my original cowboy poetry and stories at Western venues and events from Arkansas to California and from Texas to Montana. We also hosted many music jams and church groups in our home with as many people as we could crowd into our spacious living room. But, still, we could only name a few of our neighbors on our street. And not one ever reciprocated our hospitality by inviting us into their home even for just a cup of coffee. Maybe we should have changed our deodorant more often. I don’t know.
After we both retired, we were thinking of moving to a “nice beaches and warm water” area. We liked the idea of living in a gated 55+ community with a clubhouse, a pool and lots of scheduled activities from which to choose. Our hopes were high that kind of environment would make it easier to make new friends. And I am delighted to say that is exactly what happened. Now as we take our regular two-mile walk around the inside perimeter of our community of some 270 homes, I am amazed at how I can look at so many houses and recite the owners names. We found the situation here encourages mixing with the current residents and getting to know the new ones. Peggy and I are very pleased with our lives down here. We are thankful for the way our little Florida experiment has worked out over the past five years.
Having said that, I’ll return to my main point: there is really nothing quite like maintaining old friendships. That is no small or easy thing to do, though, is it? Over our 56 years of marriage, and because of our different memberships and activities, some of our closest friends are those we only get to be with for two or three days each year . . . or two . . . or five years or more. Still, it is a joy each time we get together.
Friends in Council Bluffs, Iowa
For example, Peggy and I moved with our two small kids from Stroud, Oklahoma to Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1975. That was so I could serve as the preaching minister for the Southside Christian Church at 1919 S. 10th Street. During our relatively brief two-year stay, we made many friends. Lots of ’em. We were in and out of each other’s home, playing cards and games and going to the lake and on picnics and shopping trips to nearby Omaha, Nebraska. They were a great group of folks to be around.
Then in 1977, we moved back to Oklahoma where I became the preacher for our “home congregation,” the Stroud Christian Church in Stroud, Oklahoma. During the next three or four years, at least four families from Council Bluffs went off the beaten path to visit us. Slowly, though, we lost track of most of them. Life moved on. Oh, yes, there were a few we corresponded with for several years by letters and an occasional phone call. But it was more difficult to stay in touch, back then. You see, Virginia, there were no such things as “texts,” “emails,” or Skype back in the Dark Ages.
Time and distance took its toll on those friendships. Fast forward to 2018. We were invited to attend the 75th anniversary of the Kearney Church of Christ in Kearney, Nebraska. That’s where Peggy’s father preached from 1945 to 1954, before accepting a pastorate in Ventura, California. To attend this celebration, we would need to fly into Omaha and rent a car. Hmmmm. That got us to thinking. Council Bluffs is just across the Missouri River from Omaha. We wondered whether we should try to see whomever might be left of our old friends — from 41 years ago. We reasoned that many if not most of the people we had know fairly well in Council Bluffs had died. No doubt others had moved away or for whatever reason might have no interest in seeing us. Hmmmm. But . . . just maybe . . . .
I was able to contact one of our dear friends from that era, Robert J. (“Bob”) Anderson. He and his son, Ron Anderson (who was a close friend with our son, Gene), and another Southsider named Larry Buckles (a current elder in the congregation; and a guy from Fletcher, Oklahoma) took the idea and ran with it. They decided to invite some of the old-timers to a reception for us at the church building on Wednesday, May 23rd at 1:00 pm. We wondered whether anyone would show up. After all, it had been . . . 41 years . . . yep, 41 years since we last set foot in Council Bluffs.
Larry and Bob picked us up at our nearby hotel about 9 am on Wednesday morning. We went by the Southside church building and looked at the improvements they had made. Then we went to the upstairs offices and I got to stand inside my old office for the first time in 41 years. It was occupied by the current preacher, Scott Weber, and we visited with him for quite some time. He is a new friend but with an interesting connection. He laughed as he told me he heard me speak a long time ago. In about 1976, I was invited to speak at a Bible lectureship at Nebraska Christian College in Norfolk, Neb. (Johnny Carson’s hometown, by the way). “I was a student in that audience,” Scott said with a smile. Any, another nice memory to add to my collection. I really liked Scott and I pray he will have a long and productive ministry with that congregation.
Among those at the 1 pm reception were Bob Anderson, Larry Buckles, Gary and Barb Williams, Leo and Roberta Martin, George and Pam Roush, Jack and Carol Swanger and another couple, Craig and Annette Kruse. It was a wonderful time of hugging each other and sharing a lot of “Remember when . . . ?” moments.
Peggy and I first met George and Pam Rouse in 1975 or so when they were truth seeks, hungering for a closer walk with God. So Peggy and I and possibly some others met with them for prayer and Bible study over a long period of time. One evening Pam said she wanted to accept Christ, so we rejoiced at that and I baptized her. At this reception in 2018, she told me: “You gave me an inscribed copy of your brand new book, The Day Jesus Died. And in your inscription you suggested four things to remember and practice in my walk with the Lord. I have made those ideas part of my spiritual life ever since.” Another new memory for me, a very sweet and precious one.
George, on the other hand, was not ready to follow Pam’s lead. Not at that time. So we kept studying with and praying for him and loving on both of them. At this reception, George reminded us that one night we were all leaving the church building. Peggy was already in our car, but as George walked by she rolled down the window and said, “George, you know you really need to go ahead and accept Jesus as your Lord.” George smiled at her and said, “Peg, you’re kinda pushing me, aren’t you?” To which Peggy replied, “No, it’s not me. It’s the Holy Spirit pushing you, George.” He didn’t know quite what to say to that. But it wasn’t long before he, too, accepted Christ and I baptized him just as the apostles did Believers in the Book of Acts. Pam and George are still serving the Lord, and that is a tremendous encouragement to us.
The next day, on Thursday, May 24th, we spent all of the daylight hours being guided around to beautiful and historic sites in Council Bluffs and Omaha by Bob Anderson and Larry Buckles. The four of us nearly laughed ourselves silly, as we had often done “back in the good ol’ days.” Mid-morning we were joined for coffee by long-time Southsider Jerry Cook and also by Gary and Barb Williams (Gary retired from the CB Police Department some years ago with the rank of Assistant Police Chief).
Larry Buckles drove us over to where his son, Travis Buckles, lives with his wife and children. Travis was just a pup when we knew him, a skinny blond-headed pre-teen who played on the church baseball team with our son. Travis has seven children and hasn’t strayed far from Council Bluffs all these years.
That evening, Bob Anderson invited us to his home for light refreshments. To our delight, we were joined by his son and daughter-in-law, Ron and Kelli Anderson, and by our mutual friend Aaron Jones. Aaron’s late parents, Harvey and Lilly Jones, were always kind and gracious toward us. And Aaron got the same gene. He actually worked with me as the Associate Minister at Southside for a time. He is a diligent student of the Word and a strong Believer. Aaron now lives at The Center in downtown Council Bluffs, a very nice senior citizen apartment complex built and operated by the city.
Ronnie Anderson spent a lot of time at our house there in Council Bluffs. He only lived a couple of blocks south of us, and he and our son were about the same age and on the church baseball team together, etc. Likewise, our son spent many hours at Bob and Chris Anderson’s house (she passed away, but he still lives in the same house) playing with Ronnie. Ron and Kelli have been active in youth ministry for several years, while working at other full-time jobs. Their son Noah Anderson is now a youth minister in Omaha.
As we hugged Ron and Kelli, I mentioned to her I had heard a lot of good things about her and I was so pleased to meet her. She smiled and then sort of shocked me when she said, “Oh, you have met me before. Both my sister and I were baptized into Christ by you.” Yikes. No covering up my senior moment that time. She reminded me she is a granddaughter of the late Wayne and Esther Rutledge (he was an elder back then and she played the organ in church).
When we left Council Bluffs on Friday morning, it was with both joy and sadness in our hearts. Extreme joy from such an uplifting and inspiring reunion with friends from 41 long years ago. And some sadness from knowing we’ll probably not see most of them again in this life. We praise the Lord, though, that there will be an eternity of reunion time when all of the Redeemed reach heaven.
John Ford and I are right about the same age (I think he turns 77 this summer and I do so in October). His first eight years were spent with his parents in Bakersfield, Calif. Then his parents moved to Fillmore (Ventura County), California. That’s where he started 2nd grade. His father was a certified welder, working mainly in the oilfields. His folks (or maybe his grandparents) had migrated to California from Balko, Oklahoma — a tiny community in sparsely populated Beaver County in the panhandle.
I, on the other hand, was born in tiny Wapanucka, Oklahoma (south central Oklahoma, south of Ada and north of Durant). My parents (Harold and Evelyn Paregien), paternal grandparents (Frank and Mattie Paregien), and several uncles and an aunt and maybe an outlaw or two headed for Ventura County in 1942 to take advantage of all the war-time jobs available in the area. Several went to work for the U.S. Navy at Port Hueneme. My dad did that until the war ended, then he went back to farming. This time it was on the Todd Estate about three miles west of Santa Paula, working in the orange orchards.
We lived for about three years near the Los Angeles County/Ventura County line on Highway 126, about six miles east of Piru, Calif. My dad worked in the orchards of English walnut trees owned by the large and historic Newhall Land & Farming Company (aka “Newhall Ranch”). The company provided an old, wood-framed house (no insulation) for us, located on the south side of the Highway, about 150 yards inside the Los Angeles County line. That was just enough that my sister Roberta and I could not go to the nearby schools in Ventura County (Piru and Fillmore). Instead, we rode the school bus a long way over to Castaic Elementary and me on to William S. Hart High School in Newhall (now Santa Clarita) for junior high.
We left the Newhall Ranch in the summer of 1955 and moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Not since 1942 had my mom been able to live close to her parents, John and Vada Cauthen, who lived maybe four miles west of us. However, the wages were much lower there, so we loaded up another U-Haul trailer and moved back to Ventura County. My dad went to work farming orange trees on the Edwards Ranch, about a mile west of Piru. My mom soon became the Cafeteria Manager at Piru Elementary School. Later, she would be promoted to Cafeteria Manager at San Cayetano Elementary in Fillmore, then to Supervisor of all the school cafeterias in Fillmore and Piru. After a while that position was eliminated and she gracefully returned to her starting place: Piru Elementary, with Glenda Gregory DeJarnette helping her. Glenda also graduated with the Fillmore Class of 1959 and, when my mom retired, she became the manager.
So in September of 1956, I enrolled in the 10th grade at Fillmore. That is when my path crossed that of John Ford. In the spring of 1957, we were both on the Boxing Team under coach Simmons. We were both in the Lettermen Club (the he-man, me Tarzan organization on campus), though John lettered three years in track and I played two years of football, lettering my senior year. We were also in the social . . . and may I dare say, Christian . . . organization called Hi-Y. John played a mean clarinet in the band, while I horsed around in the Choir where the girls far outnumbered the boys and I liked the odds. And, of course, we attended various classes and special events together.
However, . . . John and I never did double-date at the drive-in movie theater in Santa Paula or take our respective dates up in the balcony (passion pit) at the Fillmore Theater; we were not beer drinkin’ buddies; we never backed each other in street rumbles; we never did sleepovers at each other’s houses; we never burned any midnight oil together at any late-night study sessions; we never did go fishing together up Sespe Creek; we never got together and went cat hunting at night, driving by the orange orchards and shining lights down the rows; we never did drag racing together; etc., etc., and so forth. There were just a whole lot of thing we never did together. We were certainly acquainted, but we ran in different circles I guess.
Then came graduation night in June of 1959. And afterward, like those tiny fluffy cottonwood seeds, we scattered with the wind to here, there and everywhere. I would never see most of those classmates again. Ever. That fall I drove my 1955 Ford to Amarillo, Texas to study ministry at a small private school. John Ford, meanwhile, put his track shoes on and tried to outrun the military draft. Yes, Virginia, the government did such a thing back then. Ever hear of Viet Nam? It was coming, and eventually John would go there. But before that he enrolled at nearby Ventura College. He told me he lasted about 13 weeks before seeing he was not college material right then. So he decided he would join the U.S. Marines, but . . . their recruiting office was way up in Santa Barbara or such. “Not to fear,” he thought, and turned around and joined the U.S. Navy because their office was in Ventura.
While in the U.S. Navy, he was trained in electronics. Very sophisticated electronics. He worked in that field the rest of his working career. Somewhere in that process, John married a Fillmore girl from the Class of 1962. They moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where he eventually earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He went to work for the Department of Education in their Information Technology department. He and his first wife had a family, then as things sometimes happen, he and his first wife divorced. Later, he married a native of China named Ying, who had a son by a previous relationship. They are all active in hikings, biking, etc. Ying Ford even competes in the “Iron Woman” world events, the next being in Chattanooga, Tenn., in late September.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Piru, . . . I married a foreigner myself, a cutie named Peggy Allen (daughter of W.W. “Woody” & Pauline Allen) from way over yonder in Ventura, Calif. That was on May 31, 1962. We moved to Nashville, Tenn., that August and I entered Lipscomb University. I graduated with my B.A. in Speech Communication in 1965. Next we moved to Albuquerque, N.M. Peggy went to work as a new accounts rep at the Bank of New Mexico and I started work on my master’s at the University of New Mexico. Little did we know, there was something suspect about the water supply there . . . because in a few months she was very much pregnant.
We received a bouncing baby boy in Las Cruces, New Mexico in September of 1966. And I received my M.A. in Speech Communication from UNM. Upward and onward, as I worked toward my goal of one day teaching speech in some college. In the summer of 1968, we moved to Oklahoma City. I enrolled at the University of Oklahoma. Sixty class hours and one language later, I received . . . nothing. I had run out of both energy and money without completing two more things: (1) one more language requirement; and (2) writing my dissertation.
So I dropped out of graduate school and took a sales job. Later, I would return to preaching full-time, and then back to sales of one kind or another, mainly. We spent twenty years (1993-2013) living in Edmond, Okla. Peggy spent most of that time working at the Southwest Airlines reservation center in Oklahoma City. After we both retired, we moved here to Florida. We had two children: Stanley Jr. (aka Gene through high school and Stan, afterwards) and Stacy.
We have been married for 56 years and are now grandparents and great-grandparents, thank you very much. When Peggy slipped up and accepted my marriage proposal, some folks said it would be a “slip knot” and it wouldn’t last. Most of those folks are dead, now, and we are still in love. Those doubters just didn’t know what a loving and forgiving person Peggy was and is. That is the plain secret of our longevity.
Well, neighbors, let’s return to our mini-reunion with John Ford. Somehow, a point lost in my foggy memory, John and I began touching base once in awhile via emails and/or Facebook. Recently he told me he and Ying would be vacationing at Treasure Island Resort on Gulf Avenue in Treasure Island, Florida. That is a small beach community due west of St. Petersburg and about 40 miles north of us. So we exchanged more emails and a couple of phone calls and made a meeting happen. Together, again, after only 59 years. It was really nice meeting Ying and John, as well as John’s son Jeff and his family.
Well, John Ford and I are card-carrying members of that big group of “Fillmore Flashes” (our school’s dorky mascot), only our cards have “Emeritus” on them. And the “Flash” in our “Fillmore Flashes” has dimmed considerably with the passing years. Still, our’s was a very enjoyable reunion and I found out more about John than I ever knew before. John, old buddy, we’ll have to get together just a wee bit more often than every 59 years.
In June of 2018, John and I and the remaining folks of our original 125 classmates in 1959, will celebrate the 60th anniversary of our graduation. John has already told me he cannot make it out to Fillmore for that Alumni Association meeting. I’m still debating the pros and cons of such an event.
Anyway, here is a copy of the lyrics and guitar chords for Roger Miller’s song, “Old Friends.” I like it a lot, and so I share it with both old friends and new . . . like you.
True friendship brings sunshine to the shade, and shade to the sunshine. — Thomas Burke
If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man . . . should keep his friendship in constant repair. — Samuel Johnson, quoted in Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1775)
A friend is always a friend, and relatives are born to share our troubles. — Proverbs 17:17, Contemporary English Version
A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. I am arrived at least in the presence of a man so real and equal that I may drop even those undermost garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness with which one chemical atom meets another. — Ralph Waldo Emerson (American philosopher) in Friendship
The sweet smell of incense can make you feel good, but true friendship is better still. — Proverbs 27:9, Contemporary English Version
My grandfather Wood advised his large family of seven daughters and one son, “When you move to a new place and want to make friends, go to the church, for there you will find the best people.” I agree with him. They may not be perfect people (indeed, who is?), but most of them know that. That’s why they go to church—for help to become better people and to grow in the knowledge and love of God. – Dale Evans Rogers (1912 to 2001; singer, actress, movie star and author; wife to cowboy movie star Roy Rogers), Time Out, Ladies! (1966), p. 81.
Don’t desert an old friend of your family or visit your relatives when you are in trouble. A friend nearby is better than relatives far away. — Proverbs 27:10, CEV
You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn. If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble. — Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, CEV
The Paregien Digest – Issue 316 – December 5, 2015
Stan Paregien, Editor
The 1928 St. Francis Dam Disaster:
The Story & A Song
by Stan Paregien Sr.
The St. Francis Dam was built between 1924 and 1926 in the San Francisquito Canyon up in the Sierra Pelona Mountains about 10 miles north of what today is Santa Clarita, California (the site is about 40 north of downtown Los Angeles). It was built both as an additional source of water for Los Angeles and as a way to control occasional flooding downstream in the Santa Clara Valley. The dam itself was a gravity dam made of concrete in was a curved fashion.
William Mulholland was both the General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the “Chief Engineer” (though he had no engineering degree; he taught himself by reading engineering and geology books). He was directly responsible for the construction and maintenance of the dam.
The modern map, above, shows the historic location of the St. Francis Dam in the center of the map. [“St Francis Dam area terrain relief 1” by Kbh3rd – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons ]
It was Mulholland himself who chose the site for the dam, and that was the moment the disaster began. That area was known to be unstable. The original plan for the dam was for it to be 175 feet high with a capacity of 30,000 acres of water. In 1925, after the first concrete had been poured, Mr. Mulholland approved a change to a height of 185 feet and a reservoir capacity of 38,000. All this with very little structural change.
The dam was completed on May 4, 1926 and steadily filled the reservoir behind it. Some cracks and leaks were noted into 1927, but they were considered normal and in some cases attempts were made to seal them. But in the spring of 1928, heavy rains pushed the dam toward its capacity . . . and, significantly, it began to really leak. Lots of leaks.
Staff and concerned citizens finally demanded that Mulholland come up and inspect the dam himself. He did so on March 11, 1928. He declared it was safe and such leaks were normal and that crews would fix them in the coming days. All was well.
It just over 24 hours later, at exactly 11:57 p.m. on March 12th, when the mountainside on the left end of the dam collapsed and brought down the dam. A wall of water—estimated at 12.4 billion gallons and at least 120 feet high–roared down the canyon at 18 mph, carrying, most of the structure of dam far down into the canyon below. When the flood entered the Santa Clara Valley, it careened to the right and followed the Santa Clara Riverbed west toward the Pacific ocean at a height of about 55 feet and a speed of 12 mph. It was 54 miles from the dam to the mouth of the Pacific Ocean.
Many small communities and larger towns lay in the path of the raging wall of water. There were no warning systems in place. It wiped out the village of Castaic Junction, where Highway 126 and present-day Interstate 5 intersect.
Some five miles downstream the deluge hit the spot where my father worked and where we lived in the mid-1950s. My father, Harold Paregien, was a farm laborer in the walnut orchards for the farming division of the Newhall Land and Farming Company. We lived in an old farm house which someone told us had survived the flood, but I have no verification of that.
The house stood at the eastern end of “the flats” which ran a mile or so to the west. The house was about a hundred yards or so east of the Los Angeles County and Ventura County line, and on the south side of the railroad track (between the track and a 25 foot bluff overlooking the normally placid Santa Clara River).
About a half-mile west of our house, the mountains on each side crowded the riverbed. In the attached photo, below, please note a “notch” in the low mountain ridge about 1/2 of the way from the left side. Highway 126 ran through there and many called that notch “The Blue Cut.” That ridge of the mountain formed a natural bottleneck for the flood and backed up the murky flood waters to a considerable depth. Simultaneously, it created a gigantic whirlpool before shooting out the pass like a high pressure fire hose. It was there in the west flats in Ventura County that a terrible loss of life took place. It normally would have been deserted, with our farm house to the east and another farm house perched high on the hill (notch) just to the northwest on Highway 126. The farmer who lived there worked for the orange orchard division of Newhall Land and Farming Company.
The Southern California Edison electric company had rented a spot of Newhall Land & Farming Company’s land or a temporary tent city set up on the far west flats. Some 150 men were building a new electric line project through the valley. They were sleeping when, with only a few shouts of warning, the awful wall of water—estimated at 20 feet high–engulfed them. Most survived, but 84 died horrible deaths. The rumor was that the company’s cash box containing hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars, was buried somewhere downstream.
When it reached the orange orchards a mile or so down on the south side of the river bed, Newhall Land & Farming Company executives believed the wave of water was at least 60 feet high to reach up as far as it did. The flood continued west on past tiny Piru and doing major damage to the community of Bardsdale and the town of Fillmore (the latter being where I graduated from high school in 1959).
At about 1:30 a.m. on what by then was March 13, 1928, the lonely telephone operator on duty at the Santa Paula switchboard received an urgent call. It was from an area manager telling her that the St. Francis Dam had collapsed and a deadly wall of water was rushing her way down the Santa Clara Valley. That local operator, Louise Gipe, notified the police and then called the on-duty telephone operator in Saticoy, just to the west of Santa Paula, alerting them to the immediate danger. Both operators called and awoke as many residents as they could, especially in the lower areas nearer the river.
There in Santa Paula, two motorcycle officers for the California Highway Patrol, got the warning. They roared down to the areas near the river, knocked on doors and yelled the message to evacuate toward higher ground right then. Those brave men, officers Thornton Edwards and Stanley Baker, were able to alert scores and scores of sleeping residents to the danger and those folks passed the message on to many of their neighbors. Thus, the officers effectually saved hundreds of people from certain death. In recognition of their bravery, a statue was erected 2003 in Santa Paula in honor of them and to their memory.
Photo by Stan Paregien Sr.
The flood waters ravaged Santa Paula and parts of Ventura before dumping many bodies and tons of mangled houses and trees into the ocean. The inland tsunami reached the Pacific Ocean at about 5:30 a.m. on the morning of March 13, 1928. It had taken 5 1/2 hours for the leading edge of the massive, raging wall of water to travel from the dam site to the Pacific Ocean 54 miles away. The wall spewed into the ocean near the tiny community of Montalvo an awful cocktail that was two miles wide and full of human and animal remains, mangled metal, splintered wood, sewage, asbestos products, insecticides, solvents, oil and gasoline, and much, much more.
Early estimates of the deaths from the flood were widely inaccurate. Over time the best guesses were that somewhere between 400 and 600 people died. That truth was hard to come by since there were a number of undocumented farm workers who died in the flood. There were people who went missing and whose bodies were never recovered. There were scores of relief agencies, such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, and military groups recovering bodies along the 54 mile path of destruction. There were scores of funeral homes assisting in trying to identify and document a large number of badly damaged bodies. And bodies from the flood were found as far south as the coast of northern Mexico. Making the number of deaths even more fluid is the fact that periodically additional victims were found in the ruble, not just for years but for decades. The last flood victim discovered was in 1994, buried in the sand and mud along the Santa Clara River.
However, a graduate student named Ann Stansell in 2014 concluded her investigation and documentation of the known flood victims. The student at California State University (Northridge) wrote her master’s thesis on the subject and spent nearly three years searching death certificates, newspapers, funeral home records, family documents, etc., to catalog those who died.
Ms. Stansell’s investigation concluded that the authorities actually recovered 306 bodies, but only 240 of them were ever identified. There were another 125 people who went missing and were never found. Of those 125 missing people, family members made death claims on only 79 of those. So the proven dead (306) and the still missing (125) totals up to 431 people.
In addition, Ms. Stansell tabulated in a spreadsheet format the available date on 306 victims. That includes their name, age, town of residence, location at the time of the flood, nearest relative, and which funeral home handled each body. In many cases, she also provides a photo of the victim (often with other members of the family). All of this, of course, helps to make these large death numbers more real and manageable.
The loss of life was horrific and heart-wrenching. But don’t forget the physical damages. Train tracks and train bridges, highway bridges and paved roads were destroyed. Powerline poles, transformer boxes and transmission lines were knocked down. Irrigation and farm equipment were completely ruined. Whole dairies and small businesses and hundreds upon hundreds of individual homes were washed away or mangled beyond recognition. Horses, cattle, pets of all descriptions were killed or injured. Cars and school buses and commercial trucks were buried in muck. Large parts of groves of walnut trees, orange trees and lemon trees simply vanished. Church buildings, retail stores, mom and pop restaurants, warehouses, bars and barbershops either smashed to small pieces, swept off their foundations or so badly water-logged they were not only immediately unusable but ultimately unfixable. It was a 54 mile long crisis of an unbelievable magnitude of misery. The figure for property damages, even in 1928 dollars, must have been in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Let’s see how that played out for one company, the huge Newhall Land & Farming Company based in Newhall (now Santa Clarita), Calif. This is just a summary of the various farm lands that the flood ruined. The flood destroyed 1,000 acres of alfalfa. It destroyed 600 acres of dry land farming. It ruined 400 acres where an orange orchard once grew. It destroyed 80 acres where a pecan tree orchard was located. That totals a whopping 2,080 acres of farm land taken out of production, much of it permanently.
Several investigations took place right after the flood, as there was great public concern about whether the construction of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River—a project hundreds of times larger than the St. Francis—was another dangerous thing. In the end, even after modern studies, the main culprit seems to have been Mulholland’s misjudgment about the location of the dam and the stability of the earth beneath and adjacent to the dam. The official coroner’s inquiry was a judgement not only against William Mulholland but against the system itself as they concluded: “The construction of a municipal dam should never be left to the sole judgment of one man, no matter how eminent.”
Some people were so angry they posted signs in their yards which read, “Kill Mulholland.” To his credit, William Mulholland accepted the blame for the disaster. Part of his testimony was this: “Don’t blame anyone else, you just fasten it on me. If there was an error in human judgment, I was the human, and I won’t try to fasten it on anyone else. On an occasion like this, I envy the dead.”
Although Mulholland was demonized by the public in general, his career was not over. He did lose his job with the city of Los Angeles, where his right-hand man, Harvey Van Norman became the Chief Engineer. Mulholland kept a fairly low profile, but he was able to work as a consultant on many other engineering projects—including the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.
In 1995, an geological engineering professor at the University of Missouri (at Rolla) wrote his analysis of what went wrong with the St. Francis Dam.
First of all, Dr. J. David Rogers concluded that, yes indeed, Mulholland chose the wrong spot for a dam. Dr. Rogers said that the problem, contrary to the earliest investigations, was with the eastern abutment (mountain) where the concrete dam was anchored rather than the western abutment. The problem with that eastern anchor is that it was made up of a rock formation called “Pelona schist.” It was an unstable and somewhat porous , spongy material. So as the dam was filled, that rock actually absorbed water and weakened, much like some composite flooring commonly found in manufactured homes will upon contact with water become a mushy sawdust with little or no strength to support anything.
Second, Dr. Rogers said that Mulholland also made a fatal mistake when he arbitrarily raised the height of the dam by 10 feet without modifying the base of the dam from the original blueprints. That put way too much pressure on the abutment and on the dam itself.
Third, Mulholland did not include in the blueprints for the St. Francis Dam any sufficient provisions to counteract the factor called “hydraulic uplift.” This phenomenon, commonly known by professional engineers of the 1910s and later, actually results in the force of the water behind a dam “lifting” it slightly and tilting it forward (or downstream). The only place Mulholland did that was in the very center of the dam where he installed ten uplift relief walls at the base. That one section was the only part of the dam left standing, standing like a gravestone or a monument to human arrogance and/or ignorance.
So Dr. Rogers concluded that those three mistakes, together, made a failure of the structure almost inevitable. And in 2004, a study by Donald C. Jackson (an Associate Professor of History at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania) and by Norris Hundley Jr. (Professor of American History at the University of California at Los Angeles) pointed to Mulholland’s lack of appreciation for the devastating effect of hydraulic uplift. They concluded, “William Mulholland understood the great privilege that had been afforded him to build the St. Francis Dam where and how he chose. Because of this privilege—and the decisions that he made—William Mulholland bears responsibility for the St. Francis Dam disaster.”
The failure of the St. Francis Dam still stands as the 2nd most deadly disaster in the entire history of California, only outranked by the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. There is one big distinction, however. The 1928 dam break is still number one in terms of a man-made disaster. And that event eventually resulted in revising and tightening laws related to building dams, and it resulted in establishing strict educational requirements and certifications for those who want to hold themselves out to the public as engineers.
Blasotti, Tony. “St. Francis Dam disaster: a receipe for failure, tragedy and heroism.“ Article found on the online version of the Ventura County Star newspaper, dated March , 2006. Found at:
Nichols, John. Images of America: St. Francis Dam Disaster. Chicago, IL: Arcadia Publishing, 2002. [He is a resident of Santa Paula, Ca]
Norris, Michele. “The St. Francis Dam Disaster, The Second-worst Disaster in California History.” NPR Radio Broadcast on March 12, 2003. She interviews the daughter of the dam’s Chief Engineer (Wm. Mulholland) and a woman who was 13 when her parents and brother were lost in the flood and she was swept 9 miles downstream before being rescued. About 10 minutes long. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1190341
Rock, Frank. Video interview with a resident of the area who has studied the flood for many years. This is a very well done video. About 30 minutes long.
Copyrighted Jan. 27, 2010 by Stan Paregien Sr. All rights reserved. Play similar to “Blues Stay Away From Me” ( Recorded by The Delmore Brothers. Words and music by Alton Delmore, Rabon Delmore, Henry Glover & Wayne Raney.) Watch and listen to Stan singing his song at www.youtube.com/watch?v=q65NBvP7hmg ]
[D] We called him Sweetie Pie just as long as I recall.
[G] Yes, we called him Sweetie Pie as long as I re- [D] call.
Never heard nobody [A7] say Sweetie Pie’s real name.
It was plain ol’ Sweetie Pie, that’s [D] all.
Now as a kid I was told Sweetie Pie’s sad tale.
[G] Yes, most everybody knew ’bout his sad [D] tale.
His parents were killed [A7] in that flood of 1928,
When the St. Francis Dam did [D] fail.
Mr. Mulholland built a dam across a big canyon,
[G] Some five miles northeast of Saugus [D] town.
He built it to send water [A7] to Los Angeles,
But on March 12th that dam crashed on [D] down.
Oh, Mr. Mulholland, you done Sweetie Pie wrong.
[G] Yes, Mr. Mulholland, you done every body [D] wrong.
You killed 431 people and [A7] that’s why we grieve
Through the words of this little ol’ [D] song.
Oh Mr. Mulholland, you were the engineering man.
[G] Yes, Mr. Mulholland, you were the engineering [D] man.
But you chose the [A7] wrong danged location;
That’s when the St. Francis Dam disaster be- [D] gan.
That 12-story wall of water swept everything away.
[G] Yes, that giant wall of water swept everything a- [D] way.
The raging current buried hundreds [A7] there in the mud,
And others were washed into the Pacific that [D] day.
Well, Sweetie Pie searched for his parents so dear.
[G] Yes, searched from Piru to Fillmore for those so [D] dear.
He lived in that riverbed [A7] and looked and looked,
Never findin’ a trace of ’em year after [D] year.
I once saw ol’ Sweetie Pie near the river so still.
[G] Yes, along that Santa Clara River so small and [D] still.
I was kinda scared of the [A7] strange actin’ old man,
But he just ignored me and walked up the [D] hill.
Hey, Sweetie Pie, listen up wherever you may be.
[G] Hundreds of other families still share your [D] pain.
And we think about those [A7] 500 innocent victims
Of the St. Francis flood each time we hear it [D] rain.
Now there’s just one more thing before I say goodbye,
[G] Yes, there’s just one more thing before I up and [D] scram.
Don’t ever buy yourself a house [A7] that is downstream
From any ol’ damned government [D] dam.
[Close the song by whistling the chorus.]
Song written and copyrighted at Edmond, Oklahoma on Jan. 27, 2010.
All rights are reserved.
This entire manuscript, from the essay to the song above, is copyrighted by Stan Paregien Sr. All rights are reserved. However, permission to perform or recite the song is hereby given for personal or non-profit use. Any commercial use of the song or the essay requires the express written permission of the author. Contact him at email@example.com
Roberta Louise Paregien was born to Harold and Evelyn (Cauthen) Paregien at the home of Evelyn’s parents, John and Veda Cauthen, just outside Wapanucka (Johnston County), Okla., on Sept. 1, 1943. Her parents were actually living in Santa Paula, Calif., but Evelyn wanted to be near her mother when the baby was born. Dr. S.S. Haberly delivered her, as he had also delivered her brother, Stan, and other extended family members.
Evelyn holding Roberta [Photo 1944-01]
Roberta Paregien was a healthy child, but was forever getting hurt. When she was about a year old, she climbed up on the kitchen table and fell off and hit her head on the baseboard. It knocked her out and she turned blue almost immediately. Evelyn ran out the back door to get the landlady, Mrs. Burdicks, to telephone the doctor. Roberta came to about that time, but they still took her to the doctor.
When Roberta was about 15 months old, she climbed up on a dresser. She picked up one of Evelyn’s crocheting needles and stuck it in her mouth. She really stuck it in her throat and it hung there. Evelyn heard her making a funny sound, so she investigated and found her with that needle stuck in her throat. Evelyn rotated the needle and it came out. Then she rushed her to Dr. Silas Williams’ office, two blocks away. It turned out that Evelyn had turned the needle just right, so there was no permanent damage.
On Aug. 2, 1947, Harold and Evelyn stopped their car to buy some chickens down on Howard Street in Santa Paula. Evelyn went inside, while Harold remained in the car with Stanley and Roberta. Evelyn’s crocheting needles and some material she had been working on were on the front seat of the car. She had positioned them toward the car seat, but with the kids shuffling around, the needles got positioned in a vertical angle.
Roberta was in the back seat and decided she wanted up front. So she slid over the seat with her knees bent. One of those needles went into her knee, right in the joint. And when she automatically reacted with pain and straightened out her leg, it bent that steel needle. Harold tried to ease it out, but could not. And at that moment Roberta reached down and jerked it out, tearing the membrane loose.
They rushed her to Dr. Williams, and he said she should be okay. They took her back to him every other day for two weeks. Then Dr. Williams went out of town on a trip, and Roberta began getting worse. They took her to Dr. Sterling Clark in Ventura. He put her right into Ventura General Hospital and operated on her knee on Aug. 20, 1947. Then he had to operate on it a second time. And the operations left a scar about three inches long by 3/8″ wide.
The hospital staff had to draw the water off her knee every few hours for several days. They gave her penicillin shots every three hours for 17 days, to fight the infection, but she still had a temperature when she left the hospital. Roberta celebrated her 4th birthday in the hospital. Evelyn recalled, “She cried every minute we were with her while she was in the hospital, and I did my share of crying, too.” Roberta’s Grandpa and Grandma Cauthen came out from Oklahoma and visited her in the hospital.
Roberta recalled one time her father, Harold, was having a problem with dogs turning over their trash cans. So he rigged up a live electric wire and wet the dirt around the trash cans to make sure the dogs made a solid contact with the electricity. Roberta says, “I don’t know if the dogs learned to stay away, but after my third time of getting shocked, I learned to stay away.” Harold rigged up the same apparatus a time or two, much later, at the Edwards Ranch.
In July, 1948, while living on the Todd Estate (or “Joy Ranch”) west of Santa Paula, a very traumatic event took place. Roberta was home with her mother. She heard Evelyn screaming, then saw her running from the back porch to the bedroom. She was on fire. She had been washing some work clothes in gasoline and the fumes drifted next to the water heater, resulting in a flash fire. Evelyn had the good sense to get into bed and roll up in the covers to put the fire out.
Meanwhile, Roberta–being all of not quite five years old at the time–tried to use the telephone to call for help. It was the old-style “crank” phone. She started cranking it and yelling, “Help, my mom’s on fire.” She finally got the fire department on the line. Then she ran outside and yelled for her father, hoping he might be working near enough to hear her. He was nowhere around.
Evelyn ran back outside, in great pain, and began screaming. A couple passing back in their car saw the fire truck pulling up and knew something was wrong. They stopped and took her to the hospital. Roberta still remembers the fire truck arriving. Evelyn suffered 3rd degree burns to both legs.
By about 1948 Roberta had become quite an accomplished roller skater. She and Stan spent many hours at the roller rink on the east edge of Santa Paula, Calif. Evelyn sewed several skating costumes for her. She worked very hard to learn how to do special tricks, such a “figure 8”, both forward and backward, plus doing jumps of all kinds. She also liked to enter the speed races at the skating rink. But one afternoon, while doing some figure skating, she remembers doing a backward jump and her skate hitting a patch of sand or gravel on the rink floor. She fell and hit the back of her head, resulting in a concussion. She remained unconscious for a while, and was taken to Dr. Williams.
Roberta didn’t get to go to kindergarten because of her knee. She began 1st grade in Sept., 1949, at Briggs Elementary School about three miles west of Santa Paula, Calif. Mrs. Tomblin was her teacher. She had not been going to school very long when some boy pushed her down on one of those steel grids designed for scraping mud off shoes. It skinned up that same knee, but in time it healed again. However, she walked with that knee turned in. So the doctor put high top shoes on her to try to force her to walk straight and without a limp. She had to wear that clunky, “army boot” kind of shoe until she was in the 7th grade, and she hated them.
Roberta remembers, and Stan tries to forget, the time they were playing cops and robbers or something similar. And Stan decided to use a trick that he had recently seen in a movie. While he was hiding from Roberta, he loaded up with a handful of table salt. And when Roberta found him, he threw it in her eyes. It worked for the hero in the movies, and the recipient certainly didn’t cry. But life did not imitate art, in this case. The salt burned her eyes and she cried long and loud, resulting in Evelyn coming to the rescue and giving the “hero” a whipping.
Mattie (Nolen) Paregien and Frank Paregien were Roberta’s paternal grandparents. They moved from Wapanucka, Oklahoma to Santa Paula, California in 1942 and both found war-time jobs at the Navy base in Port Hueneme (Oxnard, CA).
Things didn’t get much better for Roberta in 2nd grade. She was standing in line to ride the bus home when a boy in front of her slung his lunch pail over his shoulder. It hit Robert’s front tooth and broke it in half. They took her to Dr. I.P. Brown in Santa Paula. He put a plastic cap on it, which turned yellow in about a month. Finally, in about the 9th grade, he fixed it the way it should have been fixed in the first place.
In 1951, Harold Paregien went to work for Newhall Land & Farming Company. The company provided a clapboard frame house for them, located 6 miles east of Piru, Calif. It was on the south side of Highway 126, about a hundred yards east of the Ventura-Los Angeles County line marker. It sat on a high bluff overlooking the Santa Clara riverbed, with an active railroad track about 40 yards to their north and the highway just north of that. They lived there until Aug., 1955.
During this time, both Stan and Roberta had a series of horses. Roberta had a large, beautiful pinto named “Tony” that had a really soft gait (single-footed); but it was too much for a little girl. Then she got another large horse, this one a plodding, hard-to-motivate red-colored horse named “Red Wing.” This normally very gentle horse bucked her off one day when she was riding along Highway 126, and she landed on her head and neck.
Her best horse was a smaller pinto, perhaps a Welch breed, named “Little Bit”. She could ride that horse like the wind.
Their horse-riding buddy was Ann Walker, who lived about three miles east of them. One winter day they–Ann, Stan and Roberta–went for a ride due south of their house, up the mountain. They had never been in that area before, and discovered an old line camp up there. It was such a long ride that they did not get back until long after supper time, and Evelyn was very worried about them.
During the summers, Evelyn, Stan and Roberta all used to go swimming almost every day over at the ranch headquarters at the McBean home. They also earned a few dollars in the fall by picking up the English walnuts in the nearby orchards.
In 1954, there on the Newhall Ranch, Harold would let Roberta drive the family car into the garage by herself. Of course, her feet did not quite reach the gas or the brake peddles. As she pulled in, Harold would stand in front of the car and motion for her to pull it up more. One day he was doing that and told her to stop, but she hit the gas instead of the break. Fortunately for Harold, he quickly jumped up on the hood of the car as it continued forward until it hit his workbench.
John and Vada Cauthen were Roberta’s maternal grandparents. They moved to far west Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1946 from Wapanucka, Oklahoma.
The family moved to the west side of Tulsa, Okla., in Aug., 1955. They were just three or four miles to the east away from her Grandma and Grandpa Cauthen’s house. In 1956, while living in Tulsa, Okla., she and her cousin, Jona Ruth Cauthen, were riding on a motorcycle with a friend and had a wreck.
Roberta and Stan both had bit parts in the wedding ceremony of Johnny Cauthen and Ethel. The wedding was at the Church of Christ (non-Sunday School) in Sand Springs, Okla. Robert and Jona Ruth Cauthen were candle girls and had dresses just alike. Roberta remembers that nearly everyone in the wedding party had sunburns from being at the lake, and that her dress really scratched her sunburn.
The family moved back to California in August, 1956, and lived on the Samuel Edwards Ranch, one mile west of Piru [in Ventura County; see map, above]. Stan started the 10th grade at Fillmore High School, while Roberta went to nearby Fillmore Junior High.
Roberta’s paternal grandfather, Frank Paregien, of Santa Paula, Calif., had a heart attack and died on Sept. 6, 1956 at the Foster Memorial Hospital in Ventura, Calif. He was just one day shy of his 71st birthday. He was buried in the cemetery at Santa Paula. [See his photo in the 1950 section.]
In July, 1957, Roberta and her mother went to the brand-spanking new Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Roberta was allowed to drive part of the way down there, even though she was only 13 at the time. Harold used to let her drive on the Turner Turnpike in Oklahoma long before she got a license.
In December, 1958, Roberta and Stan double-dated to the Christmas formal dance. She dated Jim “Tank” Edwards and Stan dated Judy Goodenough. It was one of the few times they double-dated.
Roberta was in the 10th grade the fall of 1959. That’s when Roberta and her friend Marla Brewer were helping her mother make some of her delicious donuts, using very hot grease. They were turning the donuts as they turned brown. The two teenagers got to acting silly and fighting over who got to turn the donuts. That’s when another accident happened. The pan of grease got knocked off the burner and hit the floor splashing hot grease everywhere. Evelyn tried to get to the two of them, but with grease all over the floor she was slipping and sliding. And the girls were repeatedly slipping and falling down.
Finally, they all got out of the grease. Marla’s legs were turning red, and Roberta was frantic because she could not see. Evelyn put the girls into the car and rushed into town to the doctor’s office. Roberta remembers that she was scared to death she was permanently blinded, but about halfway there she began to see a little blur of light. The doctor said Marla had 2nd degree burns to her legs. Roberta had 1st degree burns to her eyes, but she could see again once he cleaned the grease out of her eyes.
Roberta & Marla Brewer at Ventura Beach in 1959
In 1960, Roberta and her friends Janice Wilson and Larry Batey had a car wreck near “foothill” in Fillmore, Calif. The car turned over three times as it rolled down the hill.
Roberta graduated from Fillmore High School in June, 1961. She started to beauty college right away. In late 1961, Roberta was returning from Los Angeles with some friends. The driver went to sleep and ran into a telephone pole east of Fillmore.
Later in 1961, she was on her way to the Ventura Beauty School in her parent’s 1960 Comet on the rain-slick road and had a tire blow out. The car went spinning around, finally overturning in an orange orchard about 1/2 mile east of “Cave-in-Road” east of Fillmore. Ironically, she drove her parents’ car that day because she was afraid of driving her own 1956 Ford convertible on rainy days; but that may have saved her life.
In 1962, she was working in Oxnard, Calif., for a mortgage company. Her employer sent her to Los Angeles to the main office. There was a heavy fog at the time. And when someone stopped in front of her, she smashed into them.
As a result of all of the mishaps mentioned above, she has kept many doctors living in luxury. She still suffers from pains in her knee and neck, and has migraine headaches.
From 1964-68, she worked as a secretary-receptionist for Jenning Hansen Engineering in Ventura, Calif.
NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, the following statements in quotation marks are from material submitted by Roberta Paregien Fournier in December, 2005.
Roberta’s maternal grandfather, John Whitehead Cauthen, died on Sept. 12, 1963 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In his last years he had suffered from a dementia similar to what today we would call Alzheimer’s Disease (back then they called it “hardening of the arteries”). He was buried in the Enterprise Cemetery just southwest of Wapanucka, Oklahoma.
She married David M. Loffswold on Sept. 17, 1967. Their marriage was performed at the East Ventura Church of Christ by minister W.W. (“Woody”) Allen, the father of Stan Paregien’s wife, Peggy.
“Dave” was the Personnel Director of the Montgomery Ward store in Ventura. They lived in Ventura until Sept., 1968, when he went to work for Litton Industries and they moved to Panorama City, Calif. Roberta took a craft class at night school, and this opened up a whole new world for her. She discovered she was talented at making things.
And speaking of making things, David and Roberta Loffswold had their first son, Douglas Loffswold, early in 1969 at Van Nuys, Calif. They lived in Panorama City until Jan., 1970, then bought their first house. It was in Simi, Calif.
Dave, who was a graduate of San Jose State University, Litton Industries transferred Dave to Lubbock, Texas in Sept., 1971. He and Roberta bought a house there.
“Doug at age 3 [in 1972] started reading the newspaper, and his knowledge of words was just incredible. Texas Tech University even came out and gave him a lot of tests. He was also extremely good with music, and taught himself how to play the song THE STING on the organ.”
While living here in Lubbock, Roberta made three Christmas “wise men” figures. She entered them in the county fair and won FIRST PRIZE.”
Their second son, Bradley (“Brad”) Morris Loffswold, was born in Lubbock on a hot summer day in 1972. Stan and Peggy took Grandma Vada Cauthen with them from Oklahoma to see the new baby.
In Feb., 1973, David Loffswold was transferred by Litton Industries back to California. He and Roberta bought a house at 3109 Arlington Ave., Simi, Calif. 93063.
“Brad became very ill at this time. And for several years he periodically ran extremely high fevers. It was very common for his temperature to get up to 105 degrees. And he ended up once in the hospital for tests, and they gave him pneumonia.
“This was happening when Doug was already going to school each day. So I was looking for something for Brad to do. I found a really helpful Tiny Tot group, where the kids would met at a park recreation building 3 mornings a week. Each mother had to work 1 of the 3 days. That was a lot of fun, and I made some great friends with this group.”
Roberta’s paternal grandmother, Mrs. Frank (“Mattie”) Paregien, died in the Memorial Hospital in Santa Paula, Calif., on Feb. 27, 1973, at the age of 82. [See the photo of Frank and Mattie in the 1950 section.]
Roberta’s maternal grandmother, Vada Walters Cauthen Wheeler Skinner, died in Tulsa, Okla. on Aug. 30, 1976. She, like her first husband, John Cauthen, was buried next to him in the Enterprise Cemetery just southwest of Wapanucka, Okla. [See a nice photo of John and Vada in the 1954 section.]
Evelyn and Roberta were in Tulsa for the funeral. The family had to decided on a date for the funeral – either on September 1 (Roberta’s birth date) or on September 2 (her cousin Rhonda Cauthen’s birth date). Evelyn asked Roberta’s permission to go ahead and have it on September 1st.
“I said okay. That was a real heartbreak for me. Grandma Cauthen had ALWAYS sent me birthday cards every single year. And now we were having her funeral on my birthday.” The funeral service was conducted on September 1, 1976 at Sand Springs and the burial was at the Enterprise Cemetery near Wapanucka (Johnston County), Oklahoma. And the photo you see, above, was the birthday cake that Evelyn got for Roberta later that same day at Grandma Cauthen’s house where they were staying.
Roberta continues: “And here is a strange little story for you. About a month after the funeral, I was ironing some mending tape onto a quilt. My ironing board cover had seen better days and then I remembered that my mother, several years earlier, had given me a new cover. I found the new cover and proceeded to put it on my ironing board.
“Then I started ironing, again. All of a sudden something hit the floor. I looked down and saw it was a letter. And the minute I saw it I knew it was a letter from Grandma Vada Cauthen. She had some light blue stationery with pansy flowers on it. Her letter was SEALED. It had NEVER BEEN OPENED. And it was dated seven years prior.
“I immediately began to cry. Then I opened it up and this is what Grandma had written seven years before: ‘Sorry I can’t be with you on your birthday.’
“I got to thinking back to when we moved from Simi, California to Lubbock, Texas. Mother had given me several items, including that ironing board cover, that I just stuck in a box. I must have stuck that letter in there, too. And somehow it got stuck down inside the ironing board cover. I am still amazed that her letter would stay lost until she passed away and then show up shortly after her death to wish me a happy birthday.”
Dave Loffswold then accepted a job with Harrah’s Casino in Reno, Nevada and the family moved there. He was the personnel director and the company had over 7,000 employees.
Roberta and Dave separated in August of 1977 and divorced in December of 1977. Even worse, after just a few years, David had no further participation in or even any interest in the lives of his sons.
Roberta and her two sons moved back to Fillmore, Calif., and lived with her parents for a while. Then she moved to a rent house in Simi, Calif. She started selling and building swimming pools as a dealer for Foxx Pools. And that is how she met Norman Patric Fournier at a Foxx Pools dealership convention. Norm was also a dealer for Foxx Pools, only up in Fresno, Calif.
A terrible flood hit the Los Serenos sub-division in Fillmore, California in the early spring of 1978. The house her mother and father lived in had over four feet of water inside it. The repairs took many weeks to perform, all during the time that Harold was dying from lung cancer.
One day, Roberta was driving from Simi to Fillmore with her mother, Evelyn. They had been crying about the awful flood situation. They decided they had
better eat something before they got to the house to start cleaning, so Evelyn took a bite of an apple. They were stopped at the intersection of Highway 126 and Highway 23, headed north. Evelyn choked on that apple, and got out of the car. Roberta ran around and grabbed her and did the Heimlich procedure on her, expelling the apple and cracking a rib in the process. A passing truck driver stopped, thinking Roberta was attacking Evelyn, but saw what was really happening and radioed for a fire department rescue unit. Roberta took her on to the doctor.
On May 9, 1978, Evelyn and Roberta somehow managed to take Harold to Dr. Swartout’s office for an appointment about 3:00 p.m. They asked about putting him in the hospital, and he said if they really wanted to do the kindest thing for him to just take him home. They got back home about 4:30 p.m. Harold died at about 8:15 p.m.
After the flood and the death of her father, Roberta wanted to be closer to her widowed mother. So she bought a home at 1149 Los Serenos, in Fillmore. It was just around the corner from her mother’s home and it, too, had seen water damage. The water had been over five feet deep in her house. She bought it cheaply, but had to do major repairs to it.
Roberta married Norm Fournier in Nov., 1980, at Las Vegas, Nev. They lived in her house in Fillmore, Calif. He began selling solar panels for a company in Santa Paula.
“When Mother married Chester Spradling on March 14, 1982, they decided to buy a new double-wide mobile home and live in a park east of Fillmore. So Norm and I bought her house because of the pool I had built at her house a year or two before the flood. So we moved down the street.
“We had opened a collector record store in Ventura. And it was doing very well. But I was working 6 days a week, which was very tiring.
“During this time we got to met so many singers. Norm and I went to a club in Hollywood every Tuesday night. That was their oldies night. Most of the singers we met there we also became good friends with — such as Hank Ballard, The Tokens, The Safarri’s, and Marvin & Johnny.
“Then at our record store there was always someone famous stopping by. Like Jimmie Rodgers (‘Honeycomb’), Sheb Wooley (‘Purple People Eater’), Jerry Wallace (‘Primrose Lane’), and Sonny Curtis of the Crickets (the group that backed Buddy Holly). We even did some special mail orders for singer Frankie Laine. Plus record producers use to stop in our store.
“But the best was Ritchie Valens’ mother [Connie Valenzuela]and her son Bobby. We became extremely close with them.” Valens died in the plane crash with Buddy Holly.
In April, 1981, she moved her record store from Ventura to 515 E. Main Street in Santa Paula. Then in 1983 they moved it to Los Angeles Avenue in Saticoy, Calif. They named it “The Record Fan,” as they sold both records and ceiling fans.
This view, looking northwest from Fillmore to San Cayetano Mountain was one of Roberta’s favorites. Thanks to Berta’s friend, Sharon Horn Villasenor, for emailing the photo to me. It does bring back some good memories for sure.
Christmas of 1985 at Chester and Evelyn (Cauthen Paregien) Spradling’s house off of Highway 126 in the east part of Fillmore, California. Clockwise: Chester Spradling, Stan Paregien Jr., Stacy Paregien, Doug Loffswold, Brad Loffswold, Roberta Paregien Loffswold Fournier, Eupel Paregien Higgenbotham (sister of Harold Paregien), Peggy Paregien and Evelyn. [Photo by Stan Paregien Sr]
On March 29, 1987 the Ventura County Star-Free Press newspaper carried a large feature article about Roberta and Norm and their record shop.
In 1991 Roberta and Norm moved the store way up north to Jackson, Calif., in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Brad and Doug continued to live in the family home in Fillmore until it sold, and then they moved in with their grandmother Evelyn.
The store in Jackson was located at 139 Main St. They finally closed the store in January, 1995.
“We were living in Pine Grove and tried moving our store to a building on that property where the store was next door to where we lived in Pine Grove. But that location flooded, and ruined about $25,000 worth of records. Then it took us a year to fix the store back up. And a month later it flooded a 2nd time. I was just sick of the whole mess, and we permanently closed our store.”
Berta was an avid fan of Elvis Presley from the first time she heard him sing. She collected so much of his memorabilia that newspapers and TV stations have interviewed her about it. She started an Elvis Presley Fan Club in 1995 and was the president of it.
This is Norm & Berta Fournier on a visit to Wapanucka, the town in Oklahoma where she was born at the home of her maternal grandparents, John and Vada (Walters) Cauthen.
Front row: Christal Magness, Madelynn Loffswold, Daniel Paregien, Dylan Magness. 2nd row: Roberta P. Fournier and his mom Evelyn P. Spradling, her brother Stan Paregien, her maternal uncle Johnnie Cauthen. 3rd row: Peggy Paregien, Berta’s son Brad Loffswold, Stacy (Paregien & John Magness), her niece Jodi Paregien, and Jodi’s parents, Becky & Stan Paregien Jr.
In about 2003, they bought and moved into a small house on about two acres of land just northwest of Pioneer, California (about a half-mile north of Highway 88). Their address was 23574 Bonanza Road, Pioneer, CA 95666. It had 15 or 20 large oak trees on the property, as well as a garden area on the east side. Deer and wild turkey were frequent visitors. It was in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in beautiful country.
However, they had bought the house when the real estate business was red hot. House prices were soaring and unscrupulous mortgage companies were reducing or flatly ignoring lending qualifications. So lots of folks across the country who could not really afford to buy a house were able to do so. Roberta and Norm were among them. Then the bubble popped. A depression hit the real estate market nationwide. And suddenly people with little disposable income found themselves living in homes where the value had dropped from 30 to 60%. They were stuck with homes they couldn’t afford and they couldn’t sell them, either.
In the summer of 2004, Norm and Roberta welcomed the arrival of her mother to live with them. Roberta’s son, Bradley Loffswold, and his wife (Michelle) and child (Madelynn) also lived on their property in a garage apartment.
Evelyn Cauthen Paregien Spradling had lived with her son and daughter-in-law, Stan and Peggy Paregien, in Edmond, Oklahoma for 11 years. But, at age 82, she was getting more frail. So they agreed that it would be best for her to move to Pioneer, Calif., since Stan and Peggy were still working full-time. Norm flew to Oklahoma, rented a U-Haul truck, and brought her furniture and belongings back to California.
“Evelyn, Roberta and Madelynn love to bake, and so they were always fixing something special to eat, especially cookies and cakes. Then Roberta and Madelynn both love to make things. They made some puppets for her class play. Plus lots of things for Easter, July 4th, and Christmas. They always had some craft project to work on.”
Roberta and Norm at Pioneer, Calif.
This 2009 photo taken in Pioneer, Calif., shows Evelyn Cauthen Paregien Spradling in May on the occasion of her 87th birthday. FRONT: Roland Loffswold and Evelyn. BACK: Norm and Roberta Fournier and Stan Paregien Sr.
By 2009, Roberta’s world was falling apart. Her health was rapidly deteriorating, largely to her reduced lung capacity. She had been a heavy smoker since her teens and watched as her own father basically sufficated to death from his emphesema/lung cancer. But that did not motivate her enough to give up her own addition. Now she had to be attached to a bottle of oxygen nearly 24-hours a day and was only able to sleep sitting up in her recliner.
Berta Fournier got to where she could only walk a few steps and then had to be pushed in a wheel chair. She is shown here in 2009 going out to eat at the big buffet at the Rancheria Casino east of Jackson, Calif. Others, L to R: Daniel Paregien (son of M/M Stan Paregien Jr.), Dylan and Christal Magness (children of M/M John Magness), Madelynn Loffswold (daughter of M/M Brad Loffswold), and Stan Paregien Sr. Photo by Peggy Paregien.
Her husband was very concerned and one day said to her, “Berta, if you don’t stop smoking, those cigarrettes will kill you.” She countered that with what she thought was a safe, fool-proof argument: “Well, Norm, I can’t stop smoking if you’re still smoking.”
To her great surprise, Norm reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and tossed them on the table. “Alright, then,” Norm said firmly, looking Berta right in the eyes, “I quit. Now you quit.” But she did not. We were all pleasingly surprized, though, that Norm could just quit “cold turkey.” He never smoked another cigarrette.
Berta claimed she had quit, but would sneak over and open a window. Then she would light up a cigarrette and blow the smoke outside through the screen. Norm never said anything, but he caught on to her little act early on. Eventually, she had to be on larger and larger intakes of oxygen, 24-hours per day and that is when she quit smoking. It was way too late.
They had stopped making monthly payments on their exhorbitant mortgage a year or two earlier. But they were allowed to continue living there as no bank or mortgage company at that moment wanted another house sitting empty. That didn’t keep them from badgering Roberta and Norm for money. One day Norm told another rude mortage company collector on the phone, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. We’ll move out tomorrow and I’ll leave the key hanging out by the door.” The man backed off, saying “Oh, please, don’t do that. Maybe we can work something out.”
The mortgage company never worked anything out. And in the spring of 2010, they told Roberta and Norm that they were foreclosing and for them to be out of the house by May 31st.
Meanwhile, Norm was dying from liver cancer. Roberta certainly could not care for him when she couldn’t even care for herself, much less care for Mom (who was seriously debilitated by her dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. So one of Norm’s daughters by his first marriage, moved him to Reno, Nevada and to a small apartment where she could help him (she is a licensed nurse).
Right in the middle of this, Brad Loffswold and his family were also having to move out of their garage apartment on Roberta’s property to somewhere else elsewhere. So he began to look for a place where Roberta could also live with them.
Roland Loffswold sure did love his Grandma Berta
In mid-March of 2010, Peggy and I decided that Mom should live with us, again. So we drove to Pioneer, California and rented a big U-Haul Truck. Brad and Peggy helped me load Mom’s belongings. It was a sad, sad day for everyone as I drove that truck down off the hill with Peggy driving our car and Mom at her side. And then it got worse for Roberta.
Roberta in her bedroom/study on Sept. 22, 2010
Brad eventually found a duplex at 418 Preston Ave., Apartment B, in Ione, California 95640 that his family and his mom could squeeze into . . . and afford. It was tight, very tight.
Berta did have a small bedroom by herself, one with the recliner in which she continued to sleep, plus her computer and a secretarial type chair. Everything else, including most of her photo albums and scrapbooks and her music collection had to be stored in the one-car garage. She would spend the next six years of her life there, very seldom feeling well enough to venture outside. So her computer became her major link with her friends and family.
Then her husband Norman Patric Fournier–from whom she was separated because of his medical needs and her own limitations–died in Reno, Nevada on June 10, 2010. His body was cremated and there was no funeral service.
Meanwhile, back in Edmond, Oklahoma, Evelyn P. Spradling’s dementia was becoming acute. I came up with the idea of making a “Last Time Around” swing through southern California, visiting sites where she had once lived and visited with people she had known. I was hoping it might jog her memory and help her connect the dots, again. We saw lots of sights and folks along the way, and Peggy and I shed many tears as we experienced some terrible moments of dealing with Evelyn’s mental condition.
It was a heart-breaking ordeal for Roberta when, because of her frail health, she could not be present when her husband died nor when her mother died. Out of the depth of her sorrow, she wrote the following poem about her mother:
Peggy and I flew out to Ione, California to visit with Roberta and her son Brad and his family. As it turned out, this was the last time we saw her. She actually felt well enough to leave their home to go out and eat a couple of times, plus stopping at a thrift store or two. She and her mother had been Queens of the Garage Sale Circuit a few years back, when they were both able to get around on their own.
Stan & Berta in 2015
Oh, did I tell you she and our mother loved their deserts? When we went to a buffet, each of them would immediate head for the desert bar before getting anything else.
Robert’s health issues — emphysema, COPD, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. — became worse and worse. Her hands were often in such pain that she had to quite using her beloved computer for several days at a time. And her breathing was just a constant challenge, forcing many trips to the emergency room and stays in the hospital.
Then about 7 am on Sunday, May 31st, she had another serious inability to inhale enough oxygen. So Brad took her to the Amador Sutter Hospital in Jackson, Calif., and she was admitted late that afternoon when a bed finally was available.
The doctors placed a mask over her nose and mouth — a “B-pap,” I think is the term– to try to get her lungs to accept more oxygen. They told him if the mask did not work, there was only one thing left they could try and that would be to put her on a ventilator which would do all of the breathing for her. That would require a tube down her throat, preventing her from breathing; and they would have to feed her through a tube in her stomach; and she would have to be transferred to and live in a special facility for such treatment for the rest of her life, how ever long that might be.
Some time during the next couple of days, she received a special telephone call. Elaine Campbell Harris was first my girlfriend back in the dark ages (1956-57) and, after we stopped dating, continued as a friend of Roberta’s both by emails, Facebook and phone calls. Elaine herself has been bedridden for the last year or two. But she read on Facebook about Berta being in the hospital and tried to call her.
Later, after Berta’s death, Elaine phoned me and related that conversation. A staff member answered the phone in her room. Elaine explained she was a close friend of Roberta’s and would like to speak with her. That nurse told her that Berta could not talk at the moment because of wearing that “B-pap” mask and no family member was present right then. So Elaine said, “Just tell her that Elaine Campbell called and left this message, ‘I love you.'” The nurse conveyed that message to my sister and then told Elaine that Berta had smiled and pointed to her own heart, then to the phone, to have the nurse tell Elaine that she loved her, too.
Brad later reported he had watched as the nurses took the mask off of Roberta to try to get her to eat something. They had the mask removed for only about five minutes when she began to turn blue from lack of oxygen, so they quickly replaced the mask.
By Wednesday, June 3rd, the doctors had decided that the mask was not increasing the oxygen level in her blood. And Roberta had let them know in no uncertain terms that she refused to be placed on a ventilator. So the doctors told Brad to go ahead and arrange for a hospital bed for Berta to use at their home, and to arrange for hospice and home health assistance.
Late on the afternoon of Thursday, June 4th, a medical supplier delivered a hospital bed and set it up in her room. The doctors then released Roberta, minus the B-pap mask, and she was sent home with only the oxygen bottle she always used–and which could no longer keep her alive for long. They gave her doses of both morphine and an anti-anxiety drug to make her more comfortable. Her elder son, Doug Loffswold flew in from Portland, Oregon and made it to her beside about 9:30 that evening. She seemed to acknowledge his presence, but could say little. She lasted through the night.
Meanwhile, Stan and Peggy Paregien left their home in Bradenton, Florida about 3:30 am (EDT) on Friday, June 5th, and drove to Tampa International Airport for a 7:20 am flight to Sacramento, Calif. Actually, it was a 4-part series of short flights strung together, so they did not arrive at the airport in Sacramento until about 3:30 pm, local time.
They made a call to Brad to let him know they had arrived. And that is when they learned Berta had given up on her long, hard fight and breathed her last breath about 11:00 am that morning. They continued on to Brad’s house, arriving about 5:30 pm. There they learned Berta’s remains would be cremated. And because few, if any, of her friends could attend a funeral service the decision had been made not to have one.
Please take a minute to scroll back to pages 35 and 36. The two poems there, “Come With Me” and “I’m Free,” are just as appropriate for Roberta as they were for our mother, Evelyn. Please re-read them with Roberta in mind.
The following two photos of Roberta were taken by Peggy Paregien during our 2014 visit with Roberta there at her home with Brad in Ione, California. As you can see, she still had those beautiful blue eyes (as did our father). And the second photo is a good example of her laughing and making the best she could of her life. She will be missed, so terribly, by each of us who knew and loved her. Berta, dear Berta, . . . we will not forget you and we will always love you.
Roberta Louise Paregien Loffswold Fournier (“Berta”) in 2014
See the information below about her two sons and her two grandchildren. At the very end you’ll find out how to view many more photos of Roberta and her family, and how to contact Stan Paregien.
1. Bradley Morris Loffswold
Bradley Loffswold was born in the summer of 1972 in Lubbock, Texas. ”Brad was born when we lived in Lubbock. In Feb. of 1973 we moved back to Simi Valley and bought a home on Arlington Way. Brad learned his ABC’s
and was talking up a storm. When Brad was about 1 years old he started developing extremely high temperatures, some as high as 105 degrees. He then, started not being able to say his ABC’s, and he quit talking. The fevers
were really affecting him.
”We ended up at UCLA hospital, and the only thing they could think of was Jr. Arthritis. But I did not believe this for a second. But the fevers continued for over a year, and he was on antibiotics almost the entire year. The pediatrician wanted to put him in the hospital to run tests for “fever of unknown origin”. He was fine and no fever when they put him in for these test. But a couple days later, his fever spiked. They wrapped him in ice cold blankets with no clothes on, and THEY ended up giving him pneumonia. He was so very sick, and the Dr. one evening said if he is not better tomorrow we are going to air lift him to UCLA to do a lung tap test. He was not talking, and was just almost in a coma like state, and laying there in an oxygen tent over his bed and he had not eaten in several days. I was just at my wits end, and was afraid he was going to die. I went out to grab a quick bite of dinner.
”When I returned about 30 minutes later I found him sitting up in bed, and he was eating a plate of spaghetti, and he was talking. It truly was a miracle. After spending a week in the hospital, and so close to death, I could not believe his turn around, in just a few minutes.
”Brad came home from the hospital and I thought I will never let the doctors put him through this again. At this point he was so weak that he could no longer walk, and I had to carry him everywhere. He still was having high fevers off and on. Finally Evelyn talked Roberta into taking him to a Chiropractor. Roberta knew they could help with back problems, but did not think they could help with fevers, but as a last resort, we took him. On his first treatment, he was running a temperature, but by the time the treatment was over his fever was gone. We then took him in for treatments for about 6 months, and finally his fevers had gone away.
”We moved to Reno, Nevada in 1977. Then we moved back to Simi Valley. Then in 1978 we bought a house in Fillmore, just down the street from Evelyn Paregien (Grandma). That worked out great. They stayed with Grandma about 1/2 the time, and the boys loved being near her.”
Roberta built a swimming pool at Grandma’s house. Brad and Doug become great swimmers, and practically lived in the pool. “Brad started kindergarten in Fillmore and went there through 12th grade. He took his S.A.T. test and finished early. Brad was very involved in drama during school. He became very close with his drama teacher. A couple years after high school, his drama teacher was teaching at Beverly Hills high school, and she had Brad come down and act in their school plays.
”Experience as a professionally trained actor allows Brad the capability of performing multiple ‘roles’, in both movies and live play productions. Brad was in the TV show ‘BEVERLY HILLS 90210’ several times. He also was in the TV series ‘RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.’ He also appeared in the TV show ‘PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOOSE.’ He has performed in a variety of skits and plays for schools, community groups and businesses; topics included parodies, original skits, improv exhibitions and office satire. Wrote original material and collaborated with other writers to develop skits and plays. He also designed and built sets and props.
”Brad worked 1 year for a swimming pool company, putting gas concentrated chlorine into swimming pools. Brad worked as manager of PET BARN, in Ventura for 5 years as manager.
”Brad and Michelle Loffswold had a daughter they named MADELYNN RAE LOFFSWOLD. She was born in the summer of 1996. One spring day in 2002 Brad married his long time sweetheart, Michelle Maddox.
”Brad worked 2 years for Kinko’s printing company. They were living in Ventura. Michelle worked for her Mother’s daycare facility in Santa Barbara.
”In 2003 Brad and his family moved to Pioneer, Calif., right next door to his Mother, Roberta. This was so wonderful having family right next door. Michelle got a job working with county agencies, in training daycare workers, and she loved her job.
”Brad got a job that he loved, doing tours through a local cave. Brad was Lead Tour Guide/Cavern Naturalist, at Black Chasm Cavern, Volcano, California, from Sept 2003 to January of 2005. He became Certified for cave rappelling. He gave guided tours through cave, and ran the gift shop as manager. Plus he trained other tour guides.
”Madelynn did fantastic in school. She was always winning awards. She excelled in Match, and reading. She even won a bicycle at her school for reading a certain number of books.
”In 2005 Brad and his family moved to Agoura Hills, CA. Michelle went to work at a daycare facility. Brad went to work for a company that tests games, for cell phones and x-boxes, and he is enjoying his work.”
Sometime later, they moved back to Pioneer, California to live in the garage apartment next to the home of his mother and stepfather. In 2010, after the place went into foreclosure and they were all evicted, they moved to Ione, California, where they live presently. In the spring of 2015 they started their own child care center, with Michelle as the director. It has become so successful they are adding on to their building and hiring more staff.
At this time (June, 2015), their daughter Madelynn Loffswold works at a fast food restaurant and has since her graduation in 2014 from high school in nearby Jackson. Roland is now in the fourth grade and enjoying several sports and acting.
2. Douglas Loffswold
The following information was submitted by Doug:
Doug Loffswold was born early in 1969, in Van Nuys California. The family moved around quite a bit, and when the dust settled, a second son, Bradley was born. The family landed in Simi Valley, California.
Doug was unusually bright, and began to read at the age of two. By the age of three he was embarrassing his parents with complicated questions about who “Deep Throat” was, as he picked up the latest story about Nixon and Watergate.
This proved to be meddlesome however, when he entered kindergarten. His reading comprehension was already that of a senior in High School, while his classmates were still learning their ABC’s. It was decided he would be moved ahead into the first grade.
All through school, Doug excelled in English classes, but because he skipped a few basic lessons in Kindergarten, certain subjects like Math and Geography were tough. Doug was more of a dreamer and spent more time looking out of the classroom windows, wondering about the life cycles of caterpillars and the shapes of leaves rather than learning about what year the Louisiana purchase was made.
In high school he joined the Drama club and Jazz band, playing drums. Later he was in the marching band. He wrote poetry and short stories, and taught himself how to play the guitar. By the time he was a senior in High School, he’d picked up a Super-8 movie camera, and with his friends as actors, started making films. Once he’d acquired a multi-track audio recorder, he started making his own soundtracks for the films, editing and adding sound effects like a one man band… but with film.
He graduated High School in 1986, and after a few fits and starts in Ventura, moved to Oakland in 1989. Throughout the next few years, he made more films, played music in several different bands, and by 1994 he found that audio editing was something he excelled at. He and a friend started a group called Screenbred, the name referring to how the people of his generation were brought up on various screens of different types- be they movie, TV or ATM screens, this Generation X (as it was now called) were surrounded by them.
The music was a cut and paste pastiche of “Found Sound” (Children’s records, cassettes found in thrift stores, audio clips from TV etc.) mixed with live instrumentation. The result was something that sounded like a humorous cross between radio drama and rock and roll, with an eye toward skewering the status quo by re-editing the junk we’re bombarded with in the media every day, and serving it up anew as a tongue in cheek criticism of media.
After spending nearly a decade in the Bay Area, Doug moved to Portland, Oregon several years ago. That is where he lives today. He works for a large corporation, and he is still active in his creative pursuits
for a large corporation. He is still active in his creative pursuits.