Press "Enter" to skip to content

Trona High Alumni honors Trona Treasures

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer– Some may think of Trona having gems and minerals as their precious treasure, but it is people who make this community special. Several All School Reunions ago, the Trona High School Alumni Association (THSAA) decided to honor residents who have been treasures to the community. “Trona Treasures is a way of recognizing those people who have lived in the Trona community for many years and who have been contributing with organizations or just being an all around good member of the community,” says THSAA  member Cathy Heseman.”The criteria is that the person has to be at least 80 years old and has been part of the community for a number of years. There’s no specified number of years; just a person that the Alumni Association wants to give special recognition.”

The recognition includes special seating in front of the Old Guest House Museum at the Homecoming Parade which will be held on Saturday, October 15 at 10am. The parade starts at the library and continues down Main Street and Telescope Avenue until it ends at the school. The Treasures are given gift bags and are treated to the catered lunch at the Round School. 

Meet the Trona Treasures:

Rose Ann Austin doesn’t consider herself a Treasure since she moved to Trona as an adult; however, she has been an integral part of the community. She tells us, “In 1963 my mother and grandmother bought the Argus Motel so my mother could come out here and raise her last two kids. I went to a graduation in 1965 because my sister was graduating and they said, ‘Everybody stand up that went from kindergarten through 12th grade.’  Because I went to many schools in my life, I said, ‘That’s what I want for my children.’ So I so I did that.”

Rose Ann Austin

When her children graduated from high school empty nest syndrome set in and Austin began volunteering. For many years she was a Citizen on Patrol for San Bernardino County. She tells us her most vivid memory of those years, “My husband and l were called out at about 1230 midnight to go to Randsburg because the sheriffs had been involved in a shootout with a guy that had run from the sheriff from Adelanto and ended up in Randsburg in the middle of the night. The police had to fire their weapons, so the sheriffs couldn’t leave. We had to drive the sheriff’s cars back to Trona while the sheriffs were being interviewed,  I remember that there were shell casings everywhere and they took this guy away in handcuffs.”

Austin also volunteered with children by helping to run the Trona Nursery School that was attached to the Trona Community Church. She was also a Cub Scout leader for four years. In the adult world she was on the boards of the Searles Valley Historical Society and the Gem and Mineral Society.

She has witnessed many changes to Trona over the years. She is disappointed to see that new residents aren’t getting involved in the local organizations and all of the dedicated volunteers are getting older.

Lois Barrett moved to Trona with her family on July 1, 1951. She started Trona High School as a 9th grader and graduated in 1955. She tells us her favorite memory, “As a senior in high school, I became an employee of the Trona Fox Theater. I began work on the theater’s opening day in November 1954. I was given the assignment of watching the first two rows in the theater to make sure no unauthorized person sat in those rows which were reserved for the celebrity visitors coming to celebrate the grand opening. I was able to meet Rita Moreno.  It is something I will never forget.”

Lois Barrett

Barrett ran the 4-H Club for 40 years. She says, “We had so much fun during those years, From handling horses to learning life skills, I was able to see many young Trona people become more confident and self reliant.” She also played in the women’s softball league and worked at Trona Elementary School from 1975 until she retired. She is a longtime member of the First  Baptist Church of Searles Valley.


Amelia (Mel) Gonzales

 “They call me Mel,” says Amelia Ledesma Gonzales, who owned the Kut & Kurl Beauty Salon for 54 years. She tells us she did hair for three generations of customers.

Gonzales was born and raised in Trona. The most important thing she wants us to know is, “I have nine grandkids and 13 great grandkids.” She adds, “The best thing about Trona is your family and friendships and people help each other here. People take care of each other.” 

Ruth Payton

 Ruth Payton tells us, “We came to Trona in 1953 because we heard that the plant was hiring. My dad was hired by American Potash and Chemical Corporation (AP&CC). We liked it He liked his job, it was good pay. We were very happy here and I fell in love with the desert.”

Much of Payton’s community involvement revolved around the school. “ I had a couple of kids and they  went through this nice school that was provided here. It was a well known school. Everybody loved the school system.” It is noteable that AP&CC employed scientists that insisted their children have a good school. As the company sold to corporations, the scientists were moved off site to other cities.

 Payton was very involved in the Trona Community Church, “I sang in the choir; there was always something to do.” She also was a Cub Scout leader for several years.

Her favorite memories include Valley Wells, “We sure enjoyed the swimming pool. I want to mention that because our summers were really out there at the pool. It was brackish water and it was open to the public all summer. I don’t know how we would have survived without it. It was about three miles out of town and the kids all learned how to swim.”

Her appreciation of the desert includes, “The stars at night because of the nice clear skies and the beautiful views. Also it’s close to Death Valley; I always loved to go out there and sight see. We did a lot of hiking and exploring.”

Right now Payton is helping prepare for the All School Reunion festivities. “I am doing some cleaning down at the History House, the Railroad Museum and the Caboose. We’re getting ready for the All School Reunion.  Things need to be tidied up because they’ve been locked up for the last three years.”

 June Sayer came to Trona in 1942 as a first grader with  Mrs. Parmalee as her teacher. Mrs. Parmalee went on to become Principal of Trona Elementary for many years. She says, “I’ve been here ever since.” She elaborates, “My dad came out to California when I was five. The war was on and he heard about Trona and they needed sheet metal workers. The job sounded really good. The pay was really good. And so we came out to live in Trona.  At that time we lived in Kern’s Camp.  There was a settlement there. It’s still there. It’s just a few houses (between Trona and Pioneer Point.)”

June Sayer

Sayer tells us about housing and living conditions in the 1940’s in Trona. “Mr. Kern had built three houses.  They didn’t have any electricity or running water at that time. And so we had kerosene lamps that was our lighting. And my dad would bring water every day when he came home from work. He would bring in all those great big jugs of water. We had cook stoves that used kerosene. The stove was a long metal stove that had four burners and  a large container filled with kerosene, which you turned upside down.” Each burner needed to be lit by a match. “That’s how my mom cooked.

“There was no cooling. My mom would open the windows in the summer time and put pans of water on the window will. She would wet rags and hang them at the top. The breeze coming through was our cooling because there was no electricity when we first came out there.”

The limited housing in Trona was given to workers based on their position. “When you first came to Trona your name was put on a list.” There were regular houses, duplexes, larger houses, and up on the hill were the largest and nicest houses for the big bosses. Eventually Sayer’s family moved into a duplex, then a larger house that had a big kitchen and a lot more room.   

   Sayer was a familiar face in the Trona schools, having been the Manager of the school cafeteria for many years. 

Sayer’s volunteerism was so extensive that she chose to focus on her favorite. She became a catechism teacher at St. Madeline’s Catholic Church. She started with the seventh graders and moved on to juniors and seniors. She especially enjoyed taking them on field trips. “I took them to a college down in Los Angeles. We went to a mass there; afterwards, they took the kids and all of us on tours of the college and the dorms. I wanted to introduce them to what it would be like and give them inspiration to work towards.” She tells us three girls graduated from Trona High, went to Catholic colleges and became nuns.

 “Trona is home and that’s where I want to be .Everybody cares about our neighbors. You go into the city, and a lot of people don’t know their next door neighbor. We all know each other on the street. And everybody’s always so friendly.”

Edna Whiddon

 Edna Whiddon tells us, “I came to Trona in 1952, seventy years ago. I rode in on the old Trona Stage – not the stagecoach,” she laughs. “It was a bus that ran from Trona to LA. My dad got a job with the plant so he sent for me and my brother and we took the bus to LA and then rode the Trona Stage to Trona.”

Whiddon went to school in Trona and worked in the school cafeteria for 20 years. She is proud to say that her son Johnny Young’s band, Uptown ATX, will be playing for the reunion and his brother Jim will join him.

Whiddon has been in Trona for its ups and downs. She tells us, “AP&CC was good to our people. They had the rec call and they had parties for the people and when they sold to the company now  – they don’t care about the people. Most people move to Ridgecrest. I’ve been in this house for 60 years. My daughter, Julie Camacho, lives on the same street. I told her if she leaves, she’s taking me with her.”