Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tuesday with Fran Elgin, former Victor Valley College librarian and archivist

Cover of Fran Elgin's book on the history of Rancho Yucca Loma, a desert getaway for celebrities in the 1930s through the 1950s.
By Matthew Cabe
Victorville Daily Press

Meet Fran Elgin.

She’s a longtime Mohahve Historical Society member, an author and a retired Victor Valley College librarian, where she worked for more than 24 years.

But nowadays Fran spends her time in the past.

I received a letter from her on Monday in which she addressed me as “Mr. Cabe” — completely unnecessary — before detailing a little about herself, including the volunteer work she does keeping up the vast collection in VVC’s Local History Room.

So on Tuesday — her volunteer day — I took a trip over to my community-college alma mater to hear Fran’s take on the archiving of our history.

“The historical society, in the early ’80s, they had been keeping things in garages, including photographs and so on,” she said. “I started going to their meetings, and they asked me to be on the board. After a while they asked if they could bring this stuff to the college library. And the president and vice president at the time said that would be OK.”

This was in the old library, mind you, where the Math Success Center is today.

“And they brought these rickety old file cabinets,” she said. “Nothing was organized ... The historical society doesn’t have a home. We meet at the museum. In the ’70s, the museum and the historical society were like this, but then something happened. I don’t know exactly what ... So, anyway, over the years we’ve built this up.”

It’s an astounding collection.

In addition to hundreds of books, the Local History Room houses videos, audio-cassette recordings that document the oral histories of prominent High Desert figures, all of the original “Desert Magazine” issues that were published from 1937 to 1985, not all but a thick binder full of Stuart Kellogg’s “A Dry Heat” columns, and nearly 2,400 historical photographs that are catalogued in a database.

What sort of photographs makes it into the collection?

“Almost anything that has to do with the history (of the Victor Valley and the Mojave Desert),” Fran said. “Some of them aren’t very good. Some of them are very poor quality. But anything with historical value, and sometimes you’d be surprised what people are looking for.”

I asked Fran if she’d seen the black-and-white photograph Ansel Adams took of a massive Joshua Tree near Victorville in 1947. She hadn’t, but we both agreed it would make a fine inclusion before moving on.

“We have all the Apple Valley News (back issues),” she said, pointing to stacks upon stacks of bound newspapers situated atop two or three filing cabinets. “After Eva Conrad died, her son brought all these over because I had interviewed her a few years before. They’re getting pretty fragile.”

Eva Conrad was the editor of the Apple Valley News from 1950 to 1983. She also owned and operated the paper with her husband, Lloyd, a former Los Angeles Times reporter. Described as “fiery and outspoken” in her Daily Press obituary, Mrs. Conrad wrote a weekly column called “Speak No Eva,” excerpts of which were often reprinted in Reader’s Digest and the Atlantic Monthly.

Before we moved on, I took a minute to appreciate the motto that Eva and Lloyd Conrad ran across the Apple Valley News’ masthead: “A Very Independent Newspaper.”

Much of what has been amassed and incorporated into the Local History Room’s collection over the years — only a fraction of which I’ve discussed here — is well-documented and neatly catalogued, though Fran thinks it could be better.

“Well, how many volunteers do you get normally?” I asked.

“Me,” she said. “I’ve had a couple over the years, but they didn’t work out for this reason or that. Like the last person, she was great, but she got a detached retina and hasn’t been able to drive. But there have been a few.”

It baffled me to learn that Fran had taken it upon herself to — almost single-handedly — piece together the history of this desert and its inhabitants.

Fran doesn’t seem to mind though. Being as sweet as she is, I can’t imagine she holds a grudge against people for being too busy living their lives to offer a little help.

I only wish they knew that when those lives end, Fran just might be the one to come along and gather up what remains.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Remi A. Nadeau, author and Westerner, dies at 95

Remi A. Nadeau
Remi A. Nadeau
August 30, 1920 - June 6, 2016

Dr. Remi Allen Nadeau – fifth generation Californian, well-known historian and author, descendant of one of California’s pioneers, devoted husband to his wife Margaret and father to three children – passed away in the early morning hours of June 6th in Santa Barbara, California. He died of natural causes at the age of 95.

Born in Los Angeles in 1920, Remi Allen Nadeau was the son of the late Marguerite and Remi E. Nadeau and the great, great grandson of “old” Remi Nadeau from the 1870’s. “Old” Remi Nadeau – known as the “King of the Desert Freighters” – became famous by owning and operating a line of wooden wagon freighters pulled by a team of twenty-mules to carry bullion from the California high desert into Los Angeles. He subsequently built a business empire, which helped to shape Los Angeles into the city we know today.

Remi Allen attended University High School in West Los Angeles and was president of the “boys-league” of his school while also becoming an Eagle Scout. As a college student, Remi majored in American and world history at Stanford University and served as the president of Theta Chi, his college fraternity. He received his Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in 1942.

Remi entered into World War II as a commissioned officer in the US Army Air-Corp through ROTC. He served with the 320th Bomb Group, flying 23 combat missions in the B-26 Marauder as a reconnaissance photographer, toggle bombardier and tail gunner. Additionally, he served as one of the 320th Group Intelligence Officers, the outfit’s newspaper editor and a gunnery-training officer. He saw action in North Africa and the Mediterranean and was also stationed in England and post-war occupied Germany. He completed his military service to his country in 1946, with the rank of Major.

Once he returned home after the war, he met the love of his life, Margaret G. Smith of Santa Monica. They began a courtship and married in June of 1947 in Santa Monica, California.

In 1946, he completed his first manuscript, which became The City Makers (Doubleday Press,) a best selling book about the various historical figures that built Los Angeles, including his great, great grandfather “old” Remi Nadeau. City Maker’s launched Remi Allen’s successful career as a California historian. Over his lifetime, Remi wrote multiple articles and booklets regarding the history of California, the Great West and mid-twentieth century European events. His nine books include: The City Makers, The Water Seekers, Los Angeles: From Mission to Modern City, California: The New Society, Ghost Towns & Mining Camps of California, The Real Joaquin Murrieta, Fort Laramie and the Sioux, Stalin Churchill & Roosevelt Divide Europe and The Silver Seekers.

Remi’s professional writing career began at The Santa Monica Outlook and The San Diego Union as an editorial writer. Later, he became an executive in the public relations department of many international corporations, which included Atlantic Richfield, North American Aviation, Collins Radio, Rockwell International and Memorex. Additionally he was appointed as the special assistant to the US Attorney General where he wrote multiple speeches for John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst. He also wrote several statements on behalf of President Richard Nixon.

After retirement from corporate life in 1980, Remi earned a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in History at the University of California in Santa Barbara. During his retired life, Remi was a member in such organizations as The Westerner’s, The Santa Barbara Club, The Cosmopolitan Club, The Eastern California Historical Society, and The First Families of California as well as a member of the UCSB Faculty Club. He and his wife Margaret enjoyed travelling the globe – exploring many countries not often visited by most Americans. They regularly attended services at the All-Saints by-the-Sea Episcopal Church of Montecito.

Remi is survived by his wife of almost 69 years – Margaret Gwendolyn Smith – who is a local award-winning plein-air artist and his three cherished children: Christine, Barbara and Bob. Those who knew Remi respect him not only as a man of accomplishment, but also as a man of integrity and principles who loved his family. His loved ones look to him as an example of a life well lived. A memorial service is planned for late July in Santa Barbara.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

China Lake Museum Foundation is grant finalist

Ridgecrest Daily Independent

The China Lake Museum Foundation was just notified that it was selected, contingent upon California Cultural and Historical Endowment board approval on June 10, to receive a $250,000 grant from the CCHE Museum Grant Program. The CCHE program is administered by the California Natural Resources Agency. The Museum Grant Program is funded by Proposition 40 California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002.

Sixty-seven museum applicants applied for the capital asset grant program. The China Lake Museum Foundation hosted three state representatives for a site visit on May 3. Twenty finalists were visited and 18 museums around the state were selected to receive funding ranging from $50,000 to the maximum of $250,000.

These grant funds will be used in conjunction with existing China Lake Museum Foundation funds gathered through the Founders Program, capital assets fundraisers, memberships and special events such as the annual CLMF Dinner Auction.

The China Lake Museum, highlighting the great accomplishments to defense by our local base, will be making its first phased move off the base and into Ridgecrest this fall. The museum will be situated on Kern County leased land next to Maturango Museum.

Infrastructure including parking lot and utilities will be completed along with a 2,880 square-foot building which will house an information center and expanded gift shop. Some of the displays will be relocated to the new facility and others will remain in the base awaiting completion of Phase 2.

Phase 2 will be a 10,000 square foot building located on the same land. This will form a museum complex including outside exhibit areas. The China Lake Museum Foundation invites all interested parties to become members, work on the building committee or other subcommittees, become a building Founder for $5,000, or contribute what they can to make this museum in Ridgecrest a reality. For more information please contact Alice Campbell, president or Wayne Doucette, vice president of building at the China Lake Museum 760-939-3530.