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Vince and Ginny Smith – Citizens of the Year

As the 53rd Annual Loggers Jamboree approaches, CHIPS would like to take this opportunity to salute Vince and Ginny Smith, North Fork’s 2011 Citizens of the Year.

The couple is known for their involvement with the North Fork History Group, especially with the research, preparation and marketing of a selection of videos and DVD’s of North Fork’s history. Additionally, they have devoted many volunteer hours preserving memorabilia and photos from earlier days in North Fork. Ginny has volunteered countless hours at the North Fork Library and is active in its support group. Ginny also helped Tammy Armstrong with the gate at Jamboree for many years, plus both Vince and Ginny helped pick up trash.

They were married in 1983 among the trees at Lake Arrowhead. As they both brought children from previous marriages, the family ended up with three sons and three daughters; today there are 13 grandchildren and 1.5 great-grandchildren.

The couple used to visit Vince’s relatives in Oakhurst and when they both decided it was time to retire, they knew it would be either Bishop or Oakhurst. They wanted room for animals. They were told about four parcels that had opened in North Fork and came to see them in the rain and got stuck on the mud road. But when the view opened up they both said, “This is where I want to live.”

They bought 5.1 acres which was room for four burros (good fire control), two geese, two cats and some dogs. They bought some adjoining land and soon there were deer and wild pigs, a combination of the Russian boar bred with the domestic pig. “All consider this a game preserve,” says Vince. And, through the years, they have added some kittens which are from Goodwin’s Lumber. When they moved, they started building their forever house which saw the final official kitchen cabinets being installed eight years later.

The North Fork History Group started in the early 1970’s, and in 1992 the Smith’s were invited to join because Ginny could type and transcribe.

The biggest event held by the History Group was the presentation in May of 1993 of North Fork Museum Days at North Fork Elementary School. Since then, the group has been high profile at the Fall Festival, Loggers Jamboree, Earth Day and the Christmas Bazaar.

In 1994, the History Group decided it was time to do something about the exact center of California, a title claimed by several areas including O’Neals and a stretch of 99 near Chowchilla. With the help of the U.S. Forest Service and the Engineering and Surveying Department at Cal State Fresno, as well as Huell Howser, the point was determined to be 4.7 miles from the center of North Fork, down Italian Bar Road. The Group developed the site and maintains it today.

One of the most fun history projects for the Smiths was when they were given the use of some of the Naman mannequins for about a year. According to Paula Lloyd of the Fresno Bee, “Sam Naman’s handmade mechanized figures posed in scenes of life in the 1800s were popular attractions in the Commerce and Industry building at the Fresno Fair from 1948 to 1975.” The collection filled a 6,000-square-foot warehouse. Working with then owner, Dick Caglia, the History Group had the use of the lifesized manniquins which were on display at Loggers Jamboree and at the parade. Throughout the year they could also be seen at various local businesses and were a big hit with the community.

Through the History Group, the Smiths have created three history videos about North Fork, and are working on the fourth. They also have note cards, magnets and book marks available at the different events and also at the Greater North Fork Art Gallery in the old mill building. The videos are also available at North Fork Hardware, Sierra Video and the Bass Fork Minit Mart.

The big project right now is the group’s plan for a “history park” at the old mill site. Ten or so years ago they forged a memorandum of understanding with the Community Development Council, to have a permanent home when the mill site was developed. Toward this, they have been able to preserve the two main saws that were used at the mill.

With the help of Don Grove, Connie Popelish, Michael Olweyler and Bob Costa, they have brainstormed a “North Fork History Park.” They started by looking around the mill site and chopping weeds to get a better view. They are hoping to eventually have a dynamic display of what used to be, as well as a kiosk with the mill history in words and photographs. They also envision a picnic area.

They presented their plan to the CDC in May and were pleased with the response. First, however, the CDC will need to determine what the ultimate location of Pitcher Creek will be. Pitcher runs across the mill property and was sent on a new path for the needs of the mill. At question is if it will stay where it is today or be moved back to its original creek bed.

Presently, History Group artifacts are in a container on the Smith property. However, they are hoping (and have requested) that when the fire station moves to its new home on the mill site, the County will let them use the old fire station, under the library.

Vince has been active in the San Joaquin Valley Antique Flywheelers for many years. This group collects, repairs and displays a variety of old engines that pump, mix, pop and whirr. The Flywheelers come each year to display at the Fall Festival and enjoy the BBQ.

Ginny was born in Ontario, Canada but moved to Detroit as a youngster. After a short California stay and a return to Detroit, she came back to Orange County, staying with friends in La Habra and working for Beckman Instruments in Fullerton.

Vince was born in Whittier and went through a small school in Olinda. He ended up at Fullerton college and then into the Air Force right after the Korean Conflict. His early training was at Savannah, Georgia but his deployment was to the northern far east where he learned to live in a tent at 22 degrees below zero.

On his return, he also went to work for Beckman, working in the model shop. He was going to school more and more until he finally got his engineering degree. Meanwhile, Ginny became support staff for Vince’s department and, as the old saying goes, the rest is history. “She could spell and I could do the math,” Vince quips about his chosen bride.

“This is the greatest place,” says Vince. “We are in awe that we get to live here.”

The North Fork History Group meets the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the North Fork Library. Information: 559-877-4807.

Republished from “Chips” with permission of the North Fork Boosters. Thank you!

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