2015 Living Treasures Unveiled!

The newest Los Alamos Living Treasures are from left, Robert Emigh, Joyce Eyster and Loring Cox. Photos by Jim Gautier

Living Treasures of Los Alamos News:

It’s once again time to celebrate the contributions of three special people who have made enormous contributions to enhancing life in Los Alamos.

Living Treasures of Los Alamos will honor the recipients at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 12 at the Betty Ehart Senior Center, 1101 Bathtub Row. The public is invited to attend and honor the newest Los Alamos Living Treasures.

Living Treasures of Los Alamos was founded to honor our elders, those older community members who have greatly enriched the lives of others. It is again time to gather together to celebrate the contributions of these giving people who have made a difference.

Each Living Treasure is introduced during the ceremony and those in attendance are invited to share stories and remembrances. Each Treasure then addresses the gathering. The celebration concludes with a reception.

C. Robert Emigh. Photo by Jim Gautier

By Colleen Olinger

Robert Emigh is a rare person in today’s Los Alamos – here during World War II.

Born April 7, 1920, in Seattle, Washington, Emigh was a young Navy Ensign involved in a special Harvard/MIT electronic and radar program – and engaged to his future wife, Betty (Bish) – when Deak Parsons, head of U.S. Navy Ordinance and an associate director at the Los Alamos Laboratory, commandeered him to the Laboratory’s Manhattan Project.   

Bob and Betty tied the knot in 1946, beginning 64 years of marriage until her death in 2010. They parented three sons – Robert Allen, Ted Howard, and David Andrew – and over the years welcomed grandchildren and great grandchildren. During the war years, Betty was Bob’s secretary and data analyst. (Betty subsequently spent a long career teaching 4th and 5th grades in Los Alamos.) 

 Also in 1946, the Emighs left Los Alamos for graduate study at the University of Illinois/Urbana, returning to the Lab permanently in 1951. Emigh’s work was now in nondestructive testing. (Nondestructive testing uses radiographs [X-rays] to investigate materials without destroying them, for example to find cracks in metals.)  After spending a year at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, Bob returned to build the injector complex at Lampf, becoming a group leader for the Intense Neutron Source Facility and later an associate division leader for the Energy division.

Away from work, Emigh was an ardent volunteer. His involvement with the Boy Scouts of America has lasted more than five decades. He served as Explorer Post 20 treasurer over these years and was instrumental in initiating a still active $100,000 Scout scholarship fund. He has received the Scouts’ National Silver Beaver Award for outstanding leader achievement.   

Bob began his long commitment to Explorer Post 20 in the early 1950s. Post 20 was a newly-formed ‘high adventure’ older boys scouting unit centering on outdoor activities considered “a little more challenging” than traditional camping. With the cooperation of the United Church (then lacking the manpower to handle Post oversight and still maintain its usual Scout programs), Emigh and his river running mate ‘Stretch’ Fretwell transferred Post sponsorship to the Kiwanis Club, where it remains.  Their focus was river running.

At the time, river running had yet to assume today’s immense popularity and permit hassle. “We decided where we wanted to go and we’d go.” From 1953 on, crews of 15 to 30 boys and their multi-skilled leaders took 7-14 day summer trips on rivers throughout the southwest, mostly in the Colorado River system. “We liked to get rivers with some challenge.” The Colorado River includes class IV+ (advanced) rapids in Cataract Canyon and class V (expert) at Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon – “a sure canning (overturning).” Canning incidents and bruises and bumps did occur, but nothing serious and often a doctor was on the trip. Emigh does recall their suturing a rafter’s foot with a curved needle. “You wouldn’t believe how tough the skin on the bottom of the feet is.” And there was the time a boy proudly brought in a fish he had caught and wrapped in poison ivy.

Post 20 spent part of one summer spelunking, surveying a cave on Forest Service land near Coyote. It extended over a mile in length and contained a small underground river. The National Geographic accepted the survey, and the Post received a Boy Scout achievement award.

It is not well known that Post 20 with assistance from Kiwanis volunteers started and operated the first food service, in 1961-62, at the Los Alamos Ski Hill.  According to Emigh, it was an evolving thing starting with a card table in the snow and a plug-in hot plate. The boys sold hot dogs, hamburgers, and ‘Bill Bernard’s’ popular chili, “which was really a hit with the skiers, who wanted to warm up a bit.” Asked by the Ski Club to move into the basement of the old ski lodge and extend its service, the Post was successful enough to “move up” from the basement and purchase $12,000 worth of modern kitchen equipment.

In 2000, the Ski Club decided to upgrade the lodge utilities and storage areas, expand food service to Wednesdays, and hire a commercial entity to run the café. So the Post “lost the bid.” Over its 29 years of involvement, Post 20’s cafe earnings (some $250,000) financed their river running trips and vehicles and equipment, among them three buses, three trucks, and a number of discarded but repairable Air Force rafts.

Emigh was also passionately involved with another youth activity – Jemez House Boys Ranch. Organized by volunteers from the United Church and the Kiwanis Club and designed to help out boys (and later also girls) from dysfunctional homes, it operated from the early ‘60s into the ‘80s. Emigh served on the Board of Directors during the formative years as well as helping build and repair structures. The Ranch established Jemez House Thrift Shop to bring in financial aid and state subsidy grants. (The shop still operates at 13 Sherwood Blvd in White Rock and provides, among several projects, scholarships to former residents of group homes.)

Over time, Jemez House moved from a house in Los Alamos to Embudo Station along the Rio Grande, which it rented. It remained at Embudo until a state engineer inspection declared the wooden river bridge unsafe. Forced to relocate, the ranch found a vacant 100-acre Alcalde property with a swimming pool, a number of motel-like rooms, and a generous owner who donated the entire property to the Ranch.  The property was eventually sold off as state money became restrictive.

Thinking back over the years, what comes to mind for Bob?  “Well, I liked to be outdoors. My outdoor skills were probably paramount in leading boys and the most beneficial to the boys. I just enjoyed those things. Perhaps the most exciting place where I had an adventure was in Glen Canyon (now under Lake Powell). The canyon walls, in places a mere six to eight feet apart and a good thousand feet high, were all colored sandstone. At noon, sunlight touched the river surface and threw out patterns of reflected light. … Maybe I enjoy thinking of it partly because it is no longer available.”

Joyce Eyster. Photo by Jim Gautier

By Colleen Olinger

Joyce Eyster is the ‘Cookie Lady,’ the quintessential good neighbor. “Cookies always open the doors.” Caring, unassuming, good natured, never overstaying her presence, her welcome to harried newcomers has been likened to ‘gentle rain on a parched leaf.’  “I go say hello and introduce myself and tell where services are available that they might like. I take cookies; that always works.”  

With lively eyes and curly hair, ninety-four-year-old Joyce was born on March 13, 1921, into a Minnesota farming family. Her parents built up their farm from a single shed in a field. “My father had two mules and a plow and seeds; he weeded sunflowers by hand. It was a real good childhood. I walked to school, about a mile and half away; it got 20-30 below in winter.” Joyce attended college in Michigan. Returning to Minnesota, she married Eugene Eyster in January, 1942, just a month after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor (the two had met in their teens at a church picnic).  The wedding day temperature was 30 degrees below zero; flowers froze on their way to the church. Joyce and Gene spent the war years and those immediately after on government assignments in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

The Eysters came to Los Alamos in 1948 when Gene accepted Duncan McDougal’s job offer to work in the Explosives Testing Division. (Gene eventually became Division Leader.) The couple, then with one child, stayed briefly in married couples’ housing, which required that the wife work – Joyce did clerical duties at one of the county buildings. They were subsequently offered two housing locations, one overlooked the high school football field and the other on 41st Street in the Western Area. The Eysters chose the Western Area home, where – after all these years – Joyce proudly still lives. Joyce and Gene raised five children there: Susan, Peter, James, Barbara, and Robert. Great and great-great grandchildren are now in the family. (To Joyce’s delight, in April an infant great-grandchild is traveling here from Australia to be baptized.)

As an outgrowth of her love of baking (especially those cookies) Eyster and several of her friends early on started catering Los Alamos events, helping out where needed. “I had a two-year-old and a baby, and I wanted to do something where I could stay at home. Nobody did it to make a living.” The group helped each other. Joyce fondly recalls waiting for the yearly Montgomery Ward tablecloth sale. Each friend would buy a different color tablecloth to share. “All in all, we had a very good time.” 

Sometimes catering involved large events, “big do’s” (200 or more people). Eyster recollects two in particular, the Opera Ball and a three-day State Garden Club gathering –“now that was a big do.” … “We did a lot of things at the Lodge where there was nothing. If you forgot a spoon, you were in trouble.” Eyster catered Lab newcomer functions at the request of Director Norris Bradbury’s wife, Lois. Eventually, she found herself responding to ‘second-generation’ weddings, weddings of children whose parents’ she had catered years before.

Joyce has been a member of the Los Alamos Medical Center Pink Ladies for ten years.  “I work at the welcoming desk four hours a week every Tuesday – and I bring cookies.” The Pink Ladies are those cheerful hospital volunteers (in pink, of course) we see when we enter the Medical Center.  They provide visitor information, run the gift shop, and carry out errands to assist patients and staff. Joyce has yet to encounter a ‘real emergency,’ but has had to obtain wheel chair help for some visitors. Always attentive to food, she says a benefit of Pink Lady participation is that all people over age eighty get a free main luncheon. “It’s a good fellowship – a place to talk a little bit.”

Joyce has a personal association with Sombrillo Nursing Home, where Gene spent two and a half years before he died in 2013.  In fact, Gene helped organize and start Sombrillo “way back, but we were all a lot younger then. A lot of the people said, ‘I don’t need that kind of thing.’ But they came to realize that they do.” Joyce still visits occasionally, “trying to be a friend – and a friend to the people who come and see the people; they need a hand.”

Very dear to Eyster’s heart is her church. She is a charter members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church on North Road. In fact, Joyce’s grandfather started a branch of the Lutheran church long ago in Minnesota. “The Church has always been my anchor; it still is. It’s my core, I think. My husband and my two little boys turned over the first shovel for the Church building in April 1951. I’m really proud of that.” Even before the new building came into being, when services were held in the United Church, Joyce sang in the choir; she still does. Bethlehem Lutheran supports numerous nonreligious humanitarian causes, ranging from local homelessness (“Los Alamos is a hard place to be a homeless person”) to Valley home repair to regional and world hunger and other needs.

It should be noted that Eyster has great taste in cars. “I have a little blue smart car. It holds one other person. Just this morning, someone said that I shouldn’t take it to the hot water car wash or it might shrink. Someone else has said that if I water it, it will grow.  A ridiculous little car, but it suits me just fine. If I could find an old man to drive with me, we could have a lot of fun. We could put the top down because it is a convertible – and it’s made by Mercedes.”  In her 90s, Joyce swims at the community pool every weekday morning and regularly line-dances at the Senior Center.

Summing up her life, Eyster has this to say. “I’m happy with my neighbors, my neighborhood and pretty much glad and thankful every day.”  

Loring Cox, Jr. Photo by Jim Gautier

By Colleen Olinger

Loring Cox is known as a very good neighbor, a man who reaches out to those in need of companionship or other help.

Cox has donated more than 26,000 hours to the establishment and operation of Casita Mesita Thrift Shop store (located next to the Pyramid Restaurant in Mari Mac Shopping Center). Two mornings a week, he leaves his home at 6 a.m. and walks 20 minutes to the store. Thus begins an 8-hour day working in the back of the store with his friend Norm McGee, “a fine gentleman, a good friend, and a hard worker.” Loring’s greatest pleasure comes at the selling point – “being able to provide something to someone in need,” a mother with several children, a retiree in a budget squeeze, a homeless man.

Staffed solely by volunteers, Casa Mesita distributes the money it earns monthly to fifteen Los Alamos organizations. A lot of it goes to children. The Senior Center and the Salvation Army are also large recipients. In past years, until it was disbanded because they “ran out of girls” (that is, the number necessary to bring in government funding), Casa Mesita helped support a young women’s group home.

Cox was born April 24, 1919, in the central West Virginia hill country, one of nine children in a farm family eking out a living before and during the Great Depression. Initially assigned to the Corps of Engineers to build an airfield in Bermuda during World War II, he had permanent draft deferment. Bored, restless, and hungry – “German submarines were sinking supply ships coming into the area; nobody had enough to eat, everybody was in the same boat” – Cox applied to the Army’s aviation cadet program. Told by a ‘Captain Betts’ that if he left, he would never work for the federal government again, Cox went anyway – gaining fifteen pounds in two months of hearty dining.

He met his wife Ruth (who died 12 years ago) at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, where he trained as an A-26 medium bomber navigator/bombardier. She was a home economics teacher and graduate student. Cox received his commission in December, 1943, and married Ruth just before transferring overseas to England. The couple eventually had two children – Kenneth (currently in the Netherlands) and Barbara (Akins) – grandchildren scattered worldwide, and great grandchildren.

Back in West Virginia after the war, Cox received a call from the same Bermuda Captain (now Colonel) Betts, then a deputy director to Norris Bradbury at the Los Alamos Laboratory. Could he start working for the Manhattan Engineering District here? Arriving in New Mexico with Ruth, Cox was placed in charge of housing; the Army was pulling out. Bradbury asked him to figure out some reasonable way to assign homes and fix the situation. “It was difficult because we were working with a shortage. There wasn’t enough. And there was no rhyme or reason to how housing was assigned.”

Cox came up with a system. The system involved a series of points: two points for each month of employment plus one point for each salary dollar. “A lot of people didn’t like it, but it worked.” Was he ever bribed? Cox says some tried – “even to putting cash on the table; I showed them the door.” His point system was in place until the 1960s when the government sold the houses to their occupants.

Loring and Ruth were charter members of the Los Alamos First Baptist Church, then numbering only 49 people. Cox helped compile the church bylaws and worked to see that a building was erected to replace meeting “wherever we could – school houses, the theater, homes.”  He has remained active, holding a number of church positions over the years.  

Cox’s WWII military service deserves special mention. Stationed out of England and, after D-Day, France with the 9th Air Force, he flew 35 air raids into enemy territory.  Loring was the navigator/bombardier of a three-crew (pilot, gunner, navigator/bombardier) A-26 medium bomber. The A-26 bombers flew daylight raids at 10,000-12,000 feet – below the heavy bombers flying at 30,000 to 40,000 ft. “The German anti-aircraft fire was very bad for us. They were very good. I was busy from takeoff to landing.”

A typical mission consisted of 24 planes – four ‘flights’ of 6 planes each. Target strikes were made by all 24 planes at once or by four 6-plane strikes. The lead plane of each strike was equipped with the famous Norden bomb sight. When the lead plane dropped its bombs, the bombs of the wing planes were automatically dropped by radio release signal. “The last twenty miles on the bomb run, the Nording flew the airplanes. I locked in one big turn to right and every other turn was to the left.”

War in Europe ended for Cox after 35 air raids. The 9th was on the verge of flying to the South Pacific for the invasion of Japan. “We would never have survived it.” One morning, Loring saw a Stars and Stripes military newspaper headline – ‘Atomic Bomb Dropped on Japan.’ “You couldn’t believe it! You’re alive and you’re going home!”

“I never got a scratch. … Our commanding officer told us, ‘Half of you will not be coming home.’ And that was right. You just took one day at a time. There’s no explanation why one person gets killed and another doesn’t. … It was an honor to serve and I am very lucky. I was blessed.”

“It has been our privilege to live in Los Alamos – there are so many nice people here.”



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