The Bench

In the fall of 1997 I received a telephone call from Kathleen Jones, widely known for her courageous efforts to preserve the Guadalupe Dunes, and referred to affectionately as The Dune Lady.  At 87 years of age her voice carried a lilt, and with it, her contagious enthusiasm, as she told me of friends who had given her a park bench and placed it half a mile from her home, on a small concrete foundation. 

The location was the corner of Halcyon and El Campo Roads, the halfway mark of her nightly walks, which she was then still taking from the house that overlooked her beloved Dunes. Kathleen could often be seen identifying plants along the roadside, and was known to stop a motorist, on occasion, to ask for a ride home.  When her evening strolls first began she walked alone, with the aide of a walking stick south on Halcyon to El Campo Road and back.  Later she was helped by a home care nurse, but found the need for a place to pause and catch her breath before turning for home.

How she obtained permission to have the bench placed on the corner is something of a mystery.  The land stood vacant for many years.  In conversation with Kathleen that day, I learned she had spoken to a man at the County Planning offices inquiring as to the property owner’s name.  It is my understanding that she was unable to locate the owner.  Kathleen seemed bent on taking the risk of placing her bench there, even though she said, “they might throw me in jail”.  But neither of us believed that would happen.  Kathleen called me to ask for a few oaks and other native plants for planting around the bench to provide shade in the coming years.

From that telephone conversation developed an organized service project by Girl Scout Troop #234, to plant the trees along with a few other native plants, and water them through the first summer.  Having been a Girl Scout Leader in her youth, Kathleen expressed enthusiasm for this idea, and so the plan came to fruition.  A representative from the newspaper met Kathleen and the girls to take photographs of the planting and dedication.   During the maintenance period when the Girl Scouts were watering the plants, passersby and neighbors would often stop and thank them for what they were doing and express their appreciation for the new bench.

Unfortunately, shortly after installation the bench was vandalized.  The date was mid December 1997 and Kathleen called me with the news, her voice, at first shaking with sadness, soon turned defiant as she revealed her unwillingness to give up on the project. The girls who helped with the planting, were hurt and dismayed.  Again, there were pictures in the newspaper, this time showing the demolished bench.

Within a few weeks a representative of the Rotary Club of Pismo Beach called me to say he had seen the picture in the paper.  The Rotary Club- having sponsored a program of park benches- wanted to donate a new bench to replace the one destroyed.  He would deliver it in pieces, to be assembled and transported it to the site.

A few adjustments were needed to accommodate the new gift, which was a bit larger than the original one.  A neighbor wanted to help, and asked two of his employees if they would volunteer to enlarge the cement slab, which they eagerly agreed to do.  Three Cal-Poly students assembled the parts and transported the heavy cement bench to the corner.  Next, the Girl Scouts met Kathleen for another dedication and photograph.  It would be difficult to say who looked more exuberant, the girls or Kathleen.  With eyes sparkling she peered out from beneath the brim of her hat as she smiled for the newspaper photographer.  Much has happened since the moment captured in that image.

In the months that followed Kathleen Jones passed away, much to the sorrow of those who loved and admired her.  The property at the corner of Halcyon and El Campo was sold and subdivided.  Bulldozers worked within inches of Kathleen’s bench, moving and leveling land.  Eucalyptus trees were felled, and pipe placed.  Driving by the construction sight I wondered how long the bench would continue standing.  In April 2003 it was still there.

When construction began I soon learned the identity of the new owner and was able to secure his name and telephone number.  When I called to inquire as to the status of the bench, he assured me that he too wanted it preserved.  However, “once the lots are purchased it becomes the property of the new landowners” he said.

The corner of Halcyon and El Campo Road has seen many changes.  Cypress Ridge Golf Course and the northeast corner were developed.  The two intersecting red-rocked roads were paved.  No longer do we see the shepherd guiding his herd of sheep down El Campo, equestrians cantering along the horse trail that crossed the corner acreage, or our neighbor riding her horse drawn buggy.  Traffic increased considerably and our community rapidly changed, but some still remember Kathleen’s presence in the evening hours when she took her nightly walk.

As I write this piece the Girl Scouts who originally participated in planting the oaks and other native plants around the bench, are nearing their high school graduation.  They will soon be on their way, out into the world.  We can only hope the bench will remain, in memory of Kathleen Jones and her remarkable accomplishments.

Rainie Fross
April 2003