By Susan Read News Review Staff Writer –
A conversation with Peggy Breeden is like sitting across the kitchen table with a good friend and neighbor, coffee cup in hand. This reporter had the good fortune to speak with Breeden following the completion of her most recent term as a city councilwoman and former mayor. “I’m not going anywhere,” she reminded fellow council members at her last meeting on December 21, 2022. “I’ll still be here, and the Swap Sheet will still be here,” she said, referring to the popular local advertising publication she owns and publishes.
It may seem as though Peggy Breeden has been in Ridgecrest forever, but she was born on a dairy farm in upstate New York. There was no electricity on the farm until 1952 and she was no stranger to the hard work of milking 28 cows by hand and caring for an additional 10 “dry” cows. Breeden attended South Hampton College on Long Island before transferring to Syracuse University. Having met and married a man on active duty with the Air Force, the military brought her to Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino. It was this introduction to California that had Breeden setting down roots in the Golden State. Sadly, her husband was killed in action in Viet Nam, and she went on to settle in Victorville to run a produce company.
The produce business brought Peggy in contact with other vendors and business owners, including Cecil Breeden, proprietor of the Inyokern Market. In 1982, Peggy was dealt a hard hand when diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was given only months to survive, so I called my customer-friend Cecil and told him if he’d marry me, I’d move to Inyokern to live out my life.” Well, she didn’t die and spent the next 20 years out in the Brown Road area until parting ways on friendly terms with Cecil.
The resilience and strength with which Peggy handled her first experience with cancer served her well as she faced yet another cancer and many health challenges since then. Her down-to-earth determination is applied to everything she does and was one reason why she entered public service in the first place. Since she was a neighbor of the Inyokern Airport, she served on the Airport Board in 1986, working with airport manager Nancy Bass, whom she admired and described as reasonable and wise, always basing things on fact. Breeden’s second board stint was with the Water District. She had co-founded the Well Owner’s Association with Donna Thomas and felt it was important to contribute at the board level, where she remained for three years.
When Marie Lint, owner of the Swap Sheet, died in the late 1980s, Breeden moved into Ridgecrest from Inyokern and bought the Swap Sheet that had served the valley since 1946. Filled with business and citizens’ ads, it was originally called “The Green Sheet” (the color of the original one-page flyer and the newsprint version for ensuing years). “It was really rewarding to see my business peers grow and the community thrive,” she remembered. “There were no Big Lot stores, just us.”
As community issues arose, fellow business owners asked Breeden to consider running for a seat on Ridgecrest City Council to contribute to solutions for issues that affected local businesses and individuals. It was a hard decision to make, she noted, but it was the right thing to do, and she was immediately elected to the position of mayor. The first year proved to be a huge learning experience, but she emphasized the importance of listening, talking, and working together, especially with those in disagreement with her and with one another.
The most memorable experience Breeden recounts is the time following the magnitude 7.1 earthquake in and around Ridgecrest on July 6, 2019. She was driving down China Lake Blvd. and turning onto Ward Ave. with her tires shaking as if they were going flat. When she stopped the car to investigate, she realized the seriousness of the quake. She credits the immediate presence and support from government leaders like then-State Assemblyman Vince Fong, State Senator Shannon Grove, and Congressman Kevin McCarthy. They provided resources and attention to the situation and all those affected by it. When Governor Gavin Newsom arrived, he commented on the strong Republican base of voters diving deep into the recovery efforts. With her characteristic humor, Breeden replied, “Governor, what you see is red and blue working together. This is a group you can call mighty purple people eaters!”
On the night of her last city council meeting, Breeden’s place on the dais was adorned with colorful floral bouquets. Current Mayor Eric Bruen presented her with a plaque and the key to the city, and Joe Brennan, from Supervisor Phillip Peters’ office, expressed gratitude from the county with a certificate signed by the entire Kern County Board of Supervisors. Public Works Director Travis Reed had a mock street sign crafted with “Breeden Avenue 14-22”, the numbers representing her years on the city council. Council members took turns offering accolades that described her as generous, kind, and professional and tackling issues with poise and decorum. Vice Mayor Soloman Rajaratnam called her a role model. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Hayman described her as a peacekeeper. Councilman Kyle Blades eloquently said “There was a moment in time when Ridgecrest needed a mayor like Peggy Breeden; no, not like Peggy, we needed Peggy. There’s a moment in time for all leaders, and she met the moment.” Her successor, John “Skip” Gorman, honored her by saying her presence always offered him assurance. “God bless you, lady!” Gorman added sincerely,
Breeden is always outward facing when it comes to service to community and country. “Sometimes you’re the right person in the right place at the right time,” she offered. “Efforts need to be team driven and you can’t take full credit or full blame for everything.” Her advice to others is to find a goal and work toward a solution that meets the needs of most of the people. Show others why your ideas have merit, then listen and learn from those others. Base your ideas on reality and knowledge, not expediency. Help wisdom become grounded and more focused.
When she arrived in the Indian Wells Valley that is home to Ridgecrest and Inyokern, she said she immediately knew it was where she belonged. Reflecting on her years of service and leadership, she insists “I am not better than anyone. I’m an ordinary person who said, ‘I can, and I’ll try.’” And she did.