Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dedication of the Dennis G. Casebier Library

Director John Fickewirth.

[MDHCA Director John M. Fickewirth was chosen to deliver the official dedication statement for the new library during the 29th Mojave Road Rendezvous. Following is his address.]

We are assembled here today to dedicate the Casebier Library. It is fitting we do so—as we celebrate the achievements of a man and his life's work.

A library is a repository, a center of learning, and this library for Dennis is the culmination of his mission to gather, conserve, and interpret the history of the East Mojave.

Dennis' association with the East Mojave began when he arrived in 29 Palms to serve the Republic as a United States Marine. He fell in love with this wonderful land, a love that lasts to this day.

Many of us are fascinated by the desert. We come, enjoy its wonders, and leave. Dennis is different. He came—and he collected the artifacts of the desert. He gathered the historical documents, he traveled to the wastelands of Washington, D.C. to conduct research at the National Archives, he met with the old-timers—and sometimes their descendants—and let them tell their stories. And most important he recorded and transcribed their oral histories.

What can be more ephemeral, more transitory, more anecdotal than the human memory? And when a pioneer of the East Mojave is gone, he or she takes his precious knowledge with him.

There are letters, documents, journals, photos, artifacts, all the physical reminders of man's presence here. But, what was the experience? What was the feel and texture of life in this great land?

It is from Dennis' thousands of pages of oral history that we know this. There is no other resource of the East Mojave comparable to this.

Since Dennis published his first monograph 38 years ago, he has built an admirable "shelf" of authored books. Many of Dennis' books are the standard reference works on the subjects.

We are often criticized for subscribing to the "Great Man Theory" of history—the belief that from time to time among us one person's actions change events.

Today we are here to dedicate a library. It will hold over, 6,000 volumes. Over 6,000 historic maps. Over 100,000 photographs of the Mojave Desert. The Weight, Edwards, Moon, and many other collections. And none of this would be possible without one Great Man—Dennis Casebier.

Please join with me in the dedication of the Dennis G. Casebier Library.

A magnificent bronze plaque measuring 26 x 34" and tipping the scales at 70 pounds was procured and donated by John M. Fickewirth. It is to be mounted on the wall inside the first floor of the Dennis G. Casebier Library. It bears the following inscription:


Dedicated to the pioneers of the East Mojave Desert whose stories are enshrined in this building

And to the membership of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association

Steve Mongrain, President
Dennis Casebier, Exec. Dir.
Phil Motz, Vice President
Randy Kimball, Treasurer
Hugh Brown, Secretary
Jo Ann Casebier, Director
Chris S. Ervin, Director
John Fickewirth, Director
Russ Kaldenberg, Director
John Terrill, Director

Dedicated October 11, 2008

Funding for the Library was made possible by a grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment

Plaque Donated by John M. Fickewirth

Volunteerism and Providence

Director Chris Ervin.

[The following remarks were made by MDHCA board member Chris Ervin at the dedication of the Dennis G. Casebier Library on October 11, 2008.]

My first inclination on speaking here today was to pull a “William Mulholland.” If you are from southern California you’ll likely recall Mulholland was the head engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in the early Twentieth Century. Upon completion of the 233-mile engineering feat called the Los Angeles Aqueduct, at a ceremony similar to this one, Mulholland pointed at the gushing water and said, “There it is. Take it.” This building is certainly no LA Aqueduct, but after sweating over something bigger than myself for so long, I can understand the irony, the sense of accomplishment, and exhaustion, behind those five simple words.

So I’d like to make a few remarks here today on the occasion of the celebration of this accomplishment before us. Having lived with the process of bringing this to fruition for the better part of ten years, I recognize the fact that to some, this building may appear to have merely sprung from the earth. Now I know, that you know, that isn’t so. But over a decade’s time, the highlights of how we got here may be a bit fuzzy. But have no fear, for I am here – to recap the good stuff for you.

We’ve had some major contributors along this journey who generously lent their expertise at each junction. The story of this building is one of nurtured volunteerism, punctuated by sudden spasms of Providence. That’s a theme here – volunteerism and Providence.

Doing things on a shoe-string budget, which is typical of volunteer endeavors, has many frustrations. But the side benefit is that the experience generates stories you can tell at building dedications.

Back in 1993, board member Gene Perry of Palm Desert, who worked for the Imperial Valley Irrigation District, made application on behalf of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association for the nonprofit status we enjoy today. That status is key to this organization’s ability to shamelessly ask for money and donations of your time and expertise. Today, that nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service and the State of California is maintained and kept current through the efforts of our long-serving treasurer, CPA Randy Kimball of Rancho Cucamonga.

When the Association completed its first large project in 1998, the restoration of the Goffs Schoolhouse, it encouraged us to think bigger, to think about what our next accomplishment should be to fulfill our mission of preserving the history of the Mojave Desert. We concluded that we should build a Library to house the wonderful collections that desert historian Dennis Casebier had been amassing for – well, forty years – at that time, ten years ago.

As we became serious about this concept of building a library, we were advised by our county building inspector that we had already maxed out the number of structures we were allowed to build on the property. It’s actually zoned as residential and it’s very difficult to obtain a zoning change. A better way of approaching it would be to apply for something called a conditional use permit. Basically, it’s an agreement with the County that would allow us to build specific structures beyond what is allowed by the zoning – like a library. This required submitting a plan to the county for approval. Perhaps this is straightforward if you know what you’re doing. But as a bunch of volunteers with our hearts in the right place and no experience with conditional use permits, we did not know what we were doing.

So, being novices, we asked around our membership for advice. One member who had lived in the county for many years told us it was easy. Just make application, draw up your plan on some butcher paper, and present it to the Planning Department. So we felt pretty good when we paid our $14,000 application fee and showed up with a drawing done on a computer. As we found out, the Planning Department is used to having civil engineers deliver plans – not desert rats. We were pretty much sent back to the drawing board.

About that time, long-time supporter and board member Carl Volkmar of Las Vegas, a developer and Land Rover enthusiast, unexpectedly donated ten thousand dollars at just the right moment so we could hire a civil engineering firm to do the necessary survey work, maps, and traffic studies for a lot split of this property using Lanfair Road as the dotted line for the cut. This was an improvement in our thinking in that it set the stage to allow the Casebiers, who owned this property, to split these 70 acres away from the 40 across the street where the Casebiers now reside. That felt like Providence to suddenly have the funds to obtain both a lot split and a conditional use permit at the same time. Unfortunately, Carl died of cancer a few years ago and is not here to witness this great accomplishment to which he contributed importantly.

It took about two years to get through the process, but we obtained our conditional use permit approval and lot split from the county. In all fairness to the county, it took us two years instead of the average six months because we are constrained by the amount of time and effort that volunteers can contribute. Many of us have full-time jobs and families, so volunteerism is actually a kind of leisure activity. It’s a labor of love that has to be fit into one’s life.

The next major milestone in getting this building in place was to get the property legally under the ownership of the nonprofit entity, the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association. Dennis and Jo Ann Casebier exhibited great faith in the potential of this organization in 2003 when they donated these 70 acres and all of the structures on it to the MDHCA. It is a responsibility we as members must step up to. It is a legacy for us to maintain in perpetuity.

So time was passing by. Our conditional use permit was only good for three years and we still had no library. We didn’t even have a drawing of a library. It was 2004 and we had only a year left on the permit. Funding was the challenge. We knew we could not lean on our generous membership for the amount of money it would take to construct such a building in the amount of time we had left. We had no choice but to request an extension from the county on our conditional use permit. We were granted another three years, but that would be it. Otherwise we’d have to start the application process all over again.

We scrapped around for grants. But the majority of grants available for historical societies were for small amounts – if you call five or ten thousand dollars small – and most had restrictions that the money could not be used for new construction. We did have one brainstorm during this time. We figured out what shape our Library should take. It should take the form of a local historical structure – the Goffs Depot – which was torn down in 1956 and of which we had only photos. Historical documents were found by Dennis that described the dimensions of the depot. Those, along with old photos from the photo collection, and from several angles, were enough for member Roger Leggett of Kingman, Arizona, the structural engineer who oversaw the restoration of the Schoolhouse, to develop our first large format elevations of the new Goffs Depot / Library building.

But what about the money required for construction? We had enough experience with projects small and large to know we couldn’t cobble the Library together with volunteer labor only. We needed the experience of a general contractor to get all of the various components up quickly to meet our conditional use permit deadline. And, we figured it was going to take half a million dollars – far too much money to raise from our members.

It was in August of 2004 I received an e-mail announcement – out of the blue – that the state of California had loosened up funding from a public works proposition passed by the voters in 2002, which included $267 million for historic and cultural resource preservation. Best of all, these California Cultural and Historical Endowment funds could be used for construction of capital assets – a rare eligibility for grants. This grant program was a perfect fit for us and our need for construction funding. This opportunity felt like Providence. Dennis and I had one month to put everything else on hold and pull together a 73-page grant application. Apparently, the CCHE staff and board agreed with us on the worthiness of our proposal and allocated $500 thousand dollars for the library in May 2005.

You might still ask, “But what took so darn much time to get this building up?” There are too many mundane tasks to mention, but just to give you an idea, the conditional use permit came with seventy conditions – that’s seven-zero – that we needed to meet before we could obtain our building permit. These conditions cover things we take for granted in modern society; water quality, fire safety, sewage, hazardous waste, endangered species, archaeological significance, professionally prepared building plans, handicapped access, etc. Out here in the desert, we had to start from scratch on many of the conditions. We eventually overcame all of these challenges, but with volunteer labor as the method of getting work done, these things take time. This is not a criticism, just a fact that all nonprofits adapt to in order to get things accomplished on a shoe-string budget.

Now, I would like to take the opportunity to recognize by name, those volunteers who made a significant contribution to making this building a reality; Robert Botich and Walters Wholesale for a major discount on our 400 amp electrical panel; designer Paul Geissinger for a major donation of services for our professional building plans; archaeologist and board member Russ Kaldenberg and his wife Judyth Reed for our cultural resources survey and report; the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association for the two acres of land this building sits on; San Bernardino County Fire Department for waiving fire plan check fees; wildlife biologist Larry Sip for our desert tortoise survey and report; and board member and president Steve Mongrain for arranging the donation of the Goffs and Santa Fe signs on the sides of this building.

Additionally, I’d like to recognize the leadership and labor contributed by our board members and the following volunteers who provided direct “in kind” labor that counted towards our $250 thousand match for the CCHE grant; Gail Andress, Bob and Dorothy Beal, Red Brooke, Larry Burkholder, Leslie Ervin, Dave Given, John Harrington, Sharon Holmes, Don Johnson, Gus and Stella Lind, Jeff Moffatt, Kristy Motz, Rick Nisbet, John Reiff, Kib and Shirley Roby, Jerry and Jan Sears, Ron Shepard, Tom Smith, Morris Swain, and Carl Weikel. My apologies to anyone I’ve left out. Together, these folks contributed 5,676 documented volunteer hours towards this building. We couldn’t have done this without your assistance.

Even with volunteer labor, though, these things don’t happen without vision and direction. Those all-important core ingredients are provided constantly and without fail by Dennis and Jo Ann Casebier. I cannot overstate the importance of their contribution; their generosity, and their faith in volunteers. In fact it’s more than what these words indicate. Inspiration may be a closer word. And Providence: it feels like Providence to me to have the honor of being associated with Dennis and Jo Ann, and learning from them.

Now, I’ve said a few times it cost a half million dollars to construct the Library, and that is true. But it is actually a million dollar building value-wise to the MDHCA. In addition to the half million dollars of CCHE funds, the MDHCA had to come up with a two-to-one match of “in kind” funding. The way we met that match was through various volunteer labor efforts in support of the construction – $250 thousand dollars worth of documented donations of labor and goods by many of the folks present here today. So now we’re up to $750 thousand. The last $250 thousand was achieved through a parallel fundraising effort among our membership over the course of four years to furnish and operate the Library once it was finished. Way to go, TEAM! So, there you have it – a million dollar building.

The dedication of the Library closes one chapter and opens another for the Association. Now we begin the process of furnishing the Reading Room, (already in progress) and consolidating the collections of the Mojave Desert Archives into this building. Describing the collections and development of finding aids are next. Fleshing out an operations plan and policies and receiving researchers are also in the queue. Those are the tactical activities we’ll be concentrating in the near future.

Strategically, the Association will be working on funding its endowment. An endowment that will generate the long-term funding needed to hire a professional archivist and other staff to operate this facility in perpetuity. "O’ Providence" – if you’re listening – here’s your next opportunity. Thank you.

Dennis G. Casebier Library Dedicated

Slideshow of the dedication ceremony and BBQ

Dennis G. Casebier Library Dedication Ceremony, October 11, 2008.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dedication Ceremony for Mojave Desert Library

Chris Ervin
Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association

Dedication Ceremony for Mojave Desert Library

New Library Building to be Dedicated at
Annual Mojave Road Rendezvous

GOFFS, CA – October 2, 2008 – The Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association (MDHCA) will formally dedicate its recently completed research library that will house the collections of the Mojave Desert Archives. The dedication ceremony will be at 2:00 PM on Saturday, October 11, 2008 in Goffs during the 29th Annual Mojave Road Rendezvous. The dedication will include the unveiling of a bronze plaque, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and tours of the new building. Desert historian Dennis Casebier, County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt and Mojave National Preserve Superintendent Dennis Schramm are scheduled to speak.

A $500,000 grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE) made possible the construction of the research library that is a reincarnation of the historic Goffs Depot (1902-1956) built by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. The library is built on the grounds of the 75-acre Goffs Cultural Center, which also boasts the restored Goffs Schoolhouse, a National Register property. The new building is a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled repository designed to process, protect, and make available to the research community a unique, extensive and ever-increasing volume of gathered materials pertaining to Mojave Desert history.

The Mojave Desert Archives is the largest single collection of archival materials covering the American history of the Mojave Desert—a history rich in the stories of western migration and pioneering spirit. This unique collection, formed by renowned desert historian Dennis G. Casebier over the last fifty years, consists of more than 108,000 historical photographs, 6,000 volumes of published works, tens of thousands of pages of news clip files, 5,000 maps of the region dating from earliest times, 2,000 loose subject files pertaining to specific individuals and cultural sites, more than 1,000 oral histories, an extensive collection of old area newspapers, periodicals and pamphlets, and materials culled from federal records in the National Archives.

Goffs is a former railroad junction and Route 66 highway stop that has become a repository of historical buildings, artifacts, and lore relating to the Eastern Mojave. The Goffs Depot formerly stood at the junction of the short line Nevada Southern Railroad with the Santa Fe, the main east-west line through the Southern California desert. For about 30 years beginning in 1893, this junction connected isolated mining communities, homesteaders, and cattle ranchers to the outside world.

About Mojave Desert Historical and Cultural Association
The mission of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association is to research and conserve the natural and cultural history of the Mojave Desert region for the purpose of preserving and sharing these resources in perpetuity. This is accomplished through operation of a research center, library, and archives, restoration of significant structures, conservation of historic open space, interpretation of backcountry trails, and production of educational guidebooks and historical publications in concert with government agencies and people of good faith everywhere. For additional information, visit