Orondo celebrates 135 years

Thelma Soney, Otto Ross and Kaye Davis share memories at Orondo’s 135th anniversary celebration held Aug. 17. A child enjoys a piñata in the background. (Empire Press photo/Darlene Paterson)


By Darlene Paterson
Empire Press Correspondent

Orondo Community Partnerships sponsored a potluck picnic at Orondo River Park on Aug. 17 in celebration of Orondo’s 135th anniversary.

Community members filled two large tables with delicious food to share while enjoying conversation with neighbors and new acquaintances.

Longtime residents — several of them nonagenarians — discussed memories of the “good old days” while children enjoyed games and piñata fun.

Richard Reiber, 91, was born and raised in the valley. “I have seen a lot of history and a lot of change during my lifetime,” he said.

Thelma Soney, who will be 90 in January, said her great-grandfather homesteaded in the canyon above Beebe Bridge.

“When they first came, he made a dugout in the side of the hill and that is where his family lived during their first winter here,” she said. “They had a good relationship with the Indians, but my great grandmother always hid the children when the Indians came down along the water.”

After high school, Thelma married Jerry Soney. They raised their family in the area and celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary before Jerry passed on.

Otto Ross, whose family moved to Orondo from Kansas in 1914, said Jerry Soney was a teammate of his when he played baseball for the grange.

At 93, Ross remembers much history of the area.

“There was only a one-lane dirt road from here to Beebe Bridge until the 1960s,” Ross commented.

“The old toll bridge cost a dollar and only one car could cross at a time,” he said. “Many people crossed the river on the Orondo Ferry that cost 50 cents.”

One woman remembered that Gov. Albert Rosellini did the ribbon cutting for the new Beebe Bridge.

“Afterward he drove down the east side of the river on our dirt road. It didn’t take long after that before the paving began,” she commented.

Many commented about how busy the road is now. “I wanted a stoplight to get out of my driveway the other day,” Kaye Davis laughed.

“The first orchards started up in the hills where the springs were,” Ross said. “The orchards down here didn’t come in until they got better pumps for pumping water from the river to the orchards.”

Following the meal, Allison Podlich greeted everyone.

“We want to do a picnic here every summer to celebrate Orondo’s birthday,” she said.” We hope to make it to 150.”

Podlich then invited people to share memories.

Paul Davies pulled a baseball cap from an envelope. “This hat is from our 100 year centennial celebration,” he said. “So it is 35 years old. In another 15 years I hope to say ‘this is a 50-year-old hat.’”

The centennial celebration July 12-13, 1984 included a fireworks display on Saturday night that drew about 1,500 spectators and a picnic and program on Sunday afternoon at Orondo River Park.

Orondo is an unincorporated community that was first settled in the 1880s by J.B. Smith. The current population is around 500.