OFRC Veterans

 Our OFRC family has always maintained a strong tie to the United States Armed Forces. In fact, the first membership “Drawing” was held on November 11th, 1928 (Armistice Day, now known as Veteran’s Day). You can see a plaque commemorating that eventful day on a stump near the Teen Center.

Those patriotic founders went on to create a remarkable family-friendly recreation community on the shores of the Russian River. Even in 1928, they were drawn to OFRC as a place to offset life’s daily obligations with an opportunity to reconnect with family. Unfortunately, maintaining that balanced life proved to be difficult, especially in times of war.

Looking back, the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s were years of incredible growth for our park. The former logging property was converted into a vast and vibrant recreation community. Scores of families teamed to build private cabins on the upper logging roads. At the same time, the lower flats were repurposed and became home to campgrounds, rental cabins, baseball fields, a general store, a community beach, and a dance hall.

In an interview with late member Florence Houston Vergari, she recalled those remarkable days. “The 1930’s saw many members camping in the Park while building their cabins. In the middle of the worst depression our country has ever suffered, Odd Fellows were building vacation homes….As youngsters we had fun, becoming expert swimmers by day and great dancers at night. We didn’t know what the word depression meant.”  She continued, “World War II changed our lives. Some of us moved away, some stayed in the area, some visited and some died…Bud and Barbara Church were OFRC summer sweet hearts and very well-liked by the large teenage group in the Park. They were married very young and had three sons. Bud served twenty years in the US Navy, to include 1941 to 1945.”

As those men deployed for battle, the Park itself took on a training role, helping enable others to enter fight. In her article, “Our Park, Yours and Mine”, late member Nonie Gertsen described the following scene. “During the 1940’s our Park was the scene of an Army encampment. Our large open field was used as the site. Pup tents, a galley, washing areas, etc., were set up. About 75 soldiers along with the officers were in attendance. Many maneuvers were executed. These troupes were seen marching over our hills and around the flat areas. Many surveys were made, mock battles fought and mock mines were set, as well as various other duties performed. These soldiers were under strict surveillance as in every other Army site. There were many Army jeeps equipped with fire arms. During their “on duty” time they lived regular Army life, taught to be self-sufficient and obedient. During their “off-duty” hours these soldiers were allowed to enjoy our Park activities if they so wished. Some went into Guerneville or into other nearby resorts to enjoy whatever they chose. Many dances, slot machines, eating and drinking places, movies and other types of amusements were available. This encampment was in our Park for a couple of months. When they moved out to another site, our grounds were left as they had found them, in excellent order.” 

Following victory in WW II, the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s showcased a longstanding Cold War with the Soviet Union, which periodically became ‘hot’ as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts erupted. At the same time, summer life at OFRC served as a safe and predictable refuge.

Longtime member Wendy Waldie recalled the magic of that period. “The 50’s were an ideal time for family life on the Russian River. From the day school was out until Labor Day, the mothers and children thoroughly enjoyed the Park. On the weekends, dads would show up in the family car. No television or phones.  Long hours of incredible freedom and utter bliss for kids. Weekly campfires, sing-alongs, canasta, potlucks, canoe trips to Jenner, theme dances and infinitely long days at the beach still fill our hearts with great memories.”

That sense of summer wonder carried through to the 1960’s and 1970’s. Late member, MSgt Paul “Russ” Reimer (USAF Retired-Korea, Vietnam), recounted a similar experience during an interview. “My wife Pat and I first visited OFRC during the 1960’s. In the summer of 1970, I deployed to Vietnam. I encouraged Pat, along with our three young children, to drive a camper to the Park and rent a campsite. When I returned to the states, she encouraged me to buy a one bedroom cabin on Saratoga. For years, Connie, Cassie and Rusty spent every summer in the safe and predictable world on the Russian River. The children had summer days on the beach, sun bathing and searched for minnows and pollywogs. Everyone honked their horns from River Road signaling their arrival as we waved from the beach.”

MSgt Reimer’s wife Pat, in a 1970 letter written to her deployed husband, describes the OFRC camper experience. The support of other wives proved particularly helpful as she waited for her husband to return from the War in Vietnam. “Dearest Russ August 25th, 1970. My return to the river has been pleasant. Anne from Daly City and Lynn from San Francisco came back about the same time. It was like a reunion. Colleen is Lynn’s 11-year-old daughter. She and Connie are perfect for each other in diving, teasing boys, etc. Anne has a daughter Cassie’s age, but Cassie prefers the boys. Anne has three boys and the girl. All of the children were at our campsite last night for hot chocolate and cookies after the movie (High Noon). The Mamma’s drank coffee with me. Rusty went to sleep in the midst of it all. The children do have fun here. Thank you for thinking of us so we could have this experience this summer. I would have gone mad at home alone!”

Sadly, not everyone from our OFRC family made it back to the river. On Oct 15th, 1967, John Snyder (a highly decorated Airman First Class) was killed in Vietnam. Nonie Gertsen honored his memory. “When our theater was completed, it was, as agreed upon. dedicated to the memory of one of our beloved boys, the son and grandson of our very respected members. The loss of this handsome, upright young man who gave his life to our country in Vietnam, was a loss felt deeply by all and he shall be remembered for many, many years.”

Indeed, our OFRC family continues to remember the sacrifice of those that served. Annually, on Memorial Day weekend, members gather at Veterans Gazebo to initiate the recreation season by raising the colors. During the flag ceremony, our veterans share their military background and service-related stories. All are encouraged to walk about the flats, visit the Armistice Day plaque, visualize the WW II encampment site and read Airman Snyder’s memorial, honoring him for giving the ultimate sacrifice.

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close