Giving Thanks for a Life Together, For Freedom and For Love: A Special Thanksgiving Story From 1991

Just a few days ago beautiful, charming, determined, lovely, loving friend Vera Frantom passed away. A longtime Running Springs resident, I met Vera when I owned my newspaper in Running Springs in the 1980s. At the time she owned a wonderful Czech restaurant (where Blondie’s is in Arrowbear Lake) and she called it, appropriately, Czech Made.

To honor her and to print her story I met with her and we were immediate friends way back then. She was beautiful, funny and we quickly stuck up a wonderful friendship. Although I had not seen her for a while every time I drive by Blondie’s I think of Vera. Here is the story I wrote so many years ago about her triumphant journey to America so many years ago. I entitled this November 28,1991 story “Giving Thanks for a Life Together, For Freedom and For Love). In her honor I am printing it again . Vera, I hope you’re sitting on a great big fluffy cloud and are reading this story all over again. It truly was ALL ABOUT YOU! I will miss you forever!

“By tradition, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, however, every day brings cause for thanks. Those of us who were born in this country cannot comprehend what it is to be born afar, particularly in a Communist country, and yearn for a life free of tyranny. This is a special Thanksgiving story so prop up your feet, grab a cup of coffee and be thankful for all the blessings you have.

“To walk into Czech Made Restaurant in Arrowbear is a little like walking into another country. By tradition, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, however, every day brings cause for thanks. Those of us who were born in this country cannot comprehend what it is like to be born afar, particularly in a Communist country, and yearn for a life free of tyranny. This is a special thanksgiving story so prop up your feet, grab a cup of coffee and be thankful for all the blessings you have.

In August 1968, the Russians overran Czechoslovakia with their massive military might. The next year Vera Frantom came to the United States for six months on a tourist visa. She gave custody of her small son, George, to her parents because she had been told he could join her within the six months she would be in the U.S. This was not to be because he ended up being held for “ransom” in a political situation that had absolutely nothing to do with either one of them. Their 15-year separation led to frustration, anger, bitter disappointment but utter determination on Vera’s part to be reunited with George.

This November 3 marked the seventh anniversary of George’s arrival in the United States after being held in Czechoslovakia for political reasons. You see, when Vera came to the United States the government in Czechoslovakia was under one government and while she was gone it changed completely. At that time, in order to visit the United States you had to have a sponsor and her’s was Jim Slemons who owns Jim Slemons Jeep dealership in Newport Beach and Big Bear.  While she was here, she married an American citizen and prior to her marriage , she was assured that her son could join her within six months. She knew that once she went home to a Communist country she would never be allowed out so she waited three years until she could become an American citizen. Then she went home in an effort to bring her son out of Czechoslovakia because she was a naturalized American citizen and the Czech government would not be able to keep her there.

Because George’s father was alive in Czechoslovakia and was working as a civilian with the Warsaw Pact he talked to high military officials in an effort to stop Vera from Regaining custody of George.

She won the first battle but on the last day of the proceedings her ex-husband appealed. Because this occurred, she had to fly back to the United States for references and be back in Czechoslovakia in two days. After all her work, through, (and after living in Czechoslovakia for nine months). she ended up losing the custody battle. George was taken from his grandparents because the government felt he was to “Americanized” and they were teaching him American ways and that America was an unfit country in which to raise a little boy. Since the father was a Communist he got custody of George.

When he was 18-years-old George left his father and returned to his grandparents’ home. He attended auto mechanic school for three years, but he has become the furthest thing from a mechanic. He runs Czech Made restaurant.

Years before, the American government had issued George a visa and when its six-month expiration came and passed, they continued to hold it until the boy was able to get out of the country. He was, more or less, a political prisoner and his fate was tied to those of two children he didn’t even know.

It seems that in 1969 a Czech father took his two children from the country and the mother didn’t know where they were. When the father died, the children’s grandparents put them up for adoption. The children were adopted by an American family and two or three years later the mother learned of their whereabouts. She asked the American Embassy in Prague to return the children but she was told that they couldn’t do that and told her that she had to go to Los Angeles to go through the court system. (Her request for their return had to be forwarded to the U.S. through the state department because the children had been adopted by U.S. citizens.) The mother’s visa and trip were paid for by the U.S. Government

By this time the children didn’t speak Czech but through a translator she learned they didn’t want to return with her. The mother returned to Czechoslovakia without her children but the Czech government didn’t allow George to leave at that time, either. They said he was being held captive by the Czech government and until the two children were returned to their mother they wouldn’t let George leave even though they knew he wanted to be with Vera.

He was finally allowed to leave the country when the political situation started to ease. By this time he was 21-years-old and his grandfather began to help him with the complicated visa process through the Czech government.

I like to think that he knows exactly what George is doing and that all is well with his family.

Three weeks ago the brother and sister drove up to Arrowbear to eat dinner at Czech Made because they live in Highland and had heard of the Czechoslovakian restaurant. A flabbergasted Vera and George met the brother and sister whose lives had been so intertwined with their own.

When George arrived in the U.S. he lived in Cerritos with his mother and Howard. The family purchased Czech Made on August 1, 1989 from the owners of the Apple Tree Inn after dining at the charming Hwy. 18 restaurant. When she asked the owners if they wanted to sell their establishment they said, “Yes!” and Vera and Howard suddenly had three days to change the menu and get ready to open.

George’s grandfather, Vera’s father, always had a dream to come to the United States and own a restaurant on a highway. After George arrived in the U.S. on November 3, seven years ago, his beloved grandfather died the next month. He never got to see his grandson fulfilling his own dream.

JOAN: Of all the stories I have written all these years this one still speaks to my heart! Vera’s death a few days ago has touched me deeply and while I hadn’t seen her in a long time she is one of those special people that I will never, ever forget. My thoughts are with George and his family. She was, in a way, part of my family as well.





Longtime Running Springs Resident Lincoln Tanaka Has Died

Absolutely breathtaking!

I was so sad to hear this morning that wonderful, giving, funny Lincoln Tanaka has died. Those of us who are “oldies but goodies” in Running Springs will remember that he and his wife Gladys owned Genii’s Candles many years ago. The shop, which is now part of Jensen’s Running Springs, specialized in cards and gifts of all kinds. For years it was the “go to” place if you needed a last minute gift or a card.

Lincoln was a member of the Arrowbear Lake Lions Club a long time ago and he was always ready and willing to help our small mountain communities any way he could. Along with everyone else, I adored him!

I will post more information when a service is arranged. He was so respected in our communities so my heart goes out to his family and the hundreds of people who remember him so well. He truly was a quiet, extraordinary man. I know his family and all of us who knew and loved him will remember him for a very long time.



Mountains Community Hospital Annual Rose Memorial Ceremony

A gorgeous bright pink flower arrangement at the Lake Arrowhead School of Dance.

Each year for many years a ceremony is held in the lovely rose garden at Mountains Community Hospital in Lake Arrowhead and the ceremony is always moving.

This year will be the 47th ceremony and it will begin at 2 p.m. on June 27 in the beautiful tranquil garden that overlooks Lake Arrowhead. This special event, sponsored by the hospital’s auxiliary, celebrates the lives of loved ones who have passed on. Each of the  roses is donated by a family member or members who have a few minutes to share memories of their loved ones and take part, if they choose, with a simply eulogy. Donors pay a small fee of $25 for a new memorial rose bush. The fee includes the cost of the ceremony, an engraved nameplate and maintenance of the rose garden throughout the year. Anyone wishing to participate in this annual event should call Christi Schneider at (909) 337-6940 by June 6.

Everyone is welcome to attend this special ceremony and refreshments will be served at its conclusion.

The history of this special memorial garden is quite fascinating. In 1951 Sister Theresa of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange started the original heart-shaped rose garden soon after the hospital was built. The sisters maintained the garden until the property was sold to a non-profit organization in 1964. The hospital auxillary was also founded in these years to assist the sisters and the hospital.

In 1967, an auxiliary member, who was a member of the Hilltoppers Garden Club, began the rose garden renovation, donating hundreds of hours for this labor of love. The Hilltoppers replaced and rejuvenated the roses, adding new areas to the gardens.

In 2008 the Hilltoppers disbanded and the hospital auxiliary took over the care of the rose gardens. The memorial ceremony continues ass a beautiful tradition for the local mountain communities.

For more Rose Garden information or to participate in this lovely memorial call Christi Schneider at (909) 337-6940.




Celebration of Life March 18 for Longtime Mountain Resident Ross Johnstone

The view from the pews at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church is truly magnificent, as you can see.
The view from the pews at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church is truly magnificent, as you can see.

A celebration of life will be held for longtime Lake Arrowhead resident and supporter Ross Johnstone on March 18. This is a date change from the originally announced date so friends need to make sure they attend on the right date. This event will be held at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church and it will begin promptly at 11 a.m.

A reception will follow in the church hall which is located right across the street from this magnificent church that in many ways reminds me of a cathedral.

The ground that surround this beautiful church are every bit as lovely and uplifting as the building itse.f

Friends and family of the Johnstone family are welcome to attend. This family has decades of history in the local mountain communities and as the Patriarch of the family Ross will be remembered forever.


Celebration of Life for Gretchen Sherman Set for January 26

Absolutely breathtaking!

I was so sorry to hear about the recent death of longtime Lake Arrowhead resident Gretchen Sherman. She and her husband, Harry, have been longtime mountain supporters and they are much beloved by all who know them. The couple have been very active in the Lake Arrowhead community for many years and while I have not known them well I am always so happy to see them (and vice-versa). This delightful couple is such an example of a marriage we all hope we can have. They have been active in the community and I know that Harry will miss her terribly as will all her friends in the local mountain communities she loved.

A celebration of her life will be held at 1:30 p.m. on January 26 in the Lakeview Room of the Lake Arrowhead Resort.

My hope for Harry is that he will take comfort in knowing that so many of us who knew Gretchen share the sadness he is now feeling.



Remembering the Battle of the Bulge December 16, 1944

Amber_Waves_of_GrainPresident Barack Obama has released this proclamation and I wanted to share it with all of you. This battle and the sacrifice of the lives of so many allied forces is one battle Americans should never forget. As a 20-year-old in 1965, traveling around Europe with my mother and sisters we visited many a military cemetery. I will always remember being in Belgium when we met a man who was so thrilled to meet Americans that he insisted on taking us to his home to meet his family. He kept saying, over and over again, ‘You (Americans) saved us! You saved us!” I carry that memory, that man and that place in my mind to this day! We, along with all our allies, truly did save them!

“By the winter of 1944, the United States and Allied forces had stormed the beaches of Normandy, thundered into Europe and liberated Paris, turning the tide of the struggle against the forces of oppression. With the fate of freedom in peril, millions of Americans went to fight for people they had never met to defend ideals they could not live without. But as Americans and our allies advanced through the Ardenees Forest region of Belgium and Luxemburg, German troops launched a desperate and massive assault, attacking the poorly-supplied and heavily-outnumbered Allied front during the early hours of December 16, 1944. Against improbably odds, patriots of exceptional valor and remarkable courage beat back Hitler’s armies and achieved a crucial victory at the Battle of the Bulge, marking the beginning of the end of a world war.

The Battle of the Bulge was one of the United States largest and bloodiest encounters of the Second World War. Over the course of more than a month, some 500,000 American service members fought through snow and bitter winter conditions. in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, our Armed Forces faced down bullets and German tanks. From the grip of hatred and tyranny, they won a victory for liberty and freedom. But our triumph came at a tremendous cost; over 76,000 Americans were killed, wounded or are missing in action.

On the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, we are called to do more than commemorate a victory. We must honor the sacrifice of a generation who defied every danger to free a continent from fascism. As we salute the unfailing dedication of a free people, we tell their story so as to commit it to the memory of our Nation. The world will never forget the heroes who stepped forward to secure peace and prosperity far from home, and we will always remember those who gave their last full measure of devotion.

The warriors who defended the promise of liberty during the Battle of the Bulge are an inspiring and heroic link in an unbroken chain that has made America the greatest force for freedom the world has even known. Today, we lift up their memories and carry forward the proud legacy of the veterans who gave their all and in doing so, changed the course of human history.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, December 16, 2014, as the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. I encourage all Americans to observe this solemn day of remembrance with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS THEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the independence of the United State of American the two hundred and thirty-ninth.



Remembering a Man Who Remembered Pearl Harbor

sailor-salutingTwo days from now Americans will honor those lost in the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. A total of 2,008 U.S. Navy members were killed that day and 710 were wounded. One hundred-nine Marines lost their lives and 68 were wounded. Sixty-eight civilians were killed and 35 were wounded.

When this day rolls around each year I always remember an old man I met many years ago when I had my local newspaper in Running Springs. He was there that day in Pearl Harbor. Each year he took his grief and with the help from some elementary school students from the San Bernardino area, they would honor those lost by planting pine tree seedlings along Hwy. 330 near the ranger station. He and the students would dig holes in the ground and plant the trees and water them as a way to remember those who died and that unbelievable day of infamy. They would come up occasionally and water the trees but the seedlings didn’t take root and they eventually, like so many victims of that terrible bombing, died.

I’ve never forgotten that man nor will I and while I don’t remember his name I will never forget what he did. It had been my privilege to go down and take photos of this annual event and I had the chance to talk to a lot of the students. I hope each of them, now grown, will remember that day. It was one man’s way of bringing life to something so terrible and although the trees are no longer along the highway I remember them. Each time I drive by I remember him and the project that meant so much to him and I honor him…..especially on “Pearl harbor Day,” the terrible day he chose to remember in a very beautiful way!