By Fred Swegles
San Clemente locals seem to have no end of lively recollections about meeting or seeing President Nixon during the time he lived here, from 1969-80.
Recently, I asked readers on Facebook, “Did you ever run into Mr. Nixon?” I compiled some of them and printed them, which seemed to delight readers.
It inspired still more recollections, equally fun to read. I’ll share more edited snippets here.
PARTY AT CASA PACIFICA
One reader asked me if I remembered a farewell party that former President Nixon hosted at the Western White House before he and wife Pat moved to New York in 1980.
“Dr. Risbrudt hired a limo for all of us in the staff to go to the party,” one of the dentist’s staffers reminded me in a Facebook comment. “You were outside, covering the gate to the Western White House, and wanted to hitch a ride in with us. Great times.”
I do remember that. Dr. Risbrudt was my dentist. I was near the gate, trying to connive a way to get into the party.
“Daily Sun-Post staffers had to join other members of the news media outside, even at the party that was held for the local community,” I wrote the next day.
I was able to put together a news story about the party, afterward, by chatting with locals on their way out.
About 500 people attended, I wrote.
NIXON’S PARTY SPEECH
Leon Riley, manager at Alpha Beta in which the Nixons bought their groceries, told me that Nixon gave a short speech thanking the community for being so nice to him and his family.
Bill Garcia, who’d done plumbing for the Nixons, said there was a mariachi band and food catered from El Adobe Restaurant of San Juan Capistrano.
Don Baylor, a California Angels baseball star whose home run had just powered the Halos to a 6-5 win over the Chicago White Sox, told us outside the party that the former President planned to attend the next game at Anaheim Stadium.
“He said there’s nothing he’d like better than to see the Angels in the World Series this year,” Baylor said.
Bonnie Koch, whose El Camino Travel Service had handled the Nixons’ excursions since his resignation from office in 1974, said Dick and Pat patiently spoke with every guest in the receiving line. He “just made us all feel like it was very nice to have us there,” she said.
MORE LOCALS’ RECOLLECTIONS ABOUT NIXON
- My grandma and I got to wash his dogs.
- My dad worked at the Western White House. I’ve even seen Pat with her hair in rollers. I was 16.
- He once came down on the beach . . . we paddled around to Cotton’s Point. Corky Carroll (surf champion) was there . . . he introduced us boys to Mr. Nixon. Corky had developed a friendship with President Nixon and was cleared to surf Cotton’s, for he called it training.
- My grandmother, who was an avid golfer and lived in Shorecliffs (neighborhood), loved watching him play from her backyard. Said he was a decent golfer.
- As a kid who grew up in Shorecliffs, we used to run down to the ice plant on the fifth hole . . . wave and smile at him very enthusiastically. He would always wave and say hello right back at us.
- When he went into the Mission in San Juan, me and a few buddies knew how to go over the wall. When he walked by on his tour, I stuck my hand out, and he shook it. Real soft hands, I remembered.
- I lived at the corner of Ave. Miramar and Ola Vista. I always walked over to Del Mar to go to the hardware store. So, I walk over and as always entered through the back door. It was eerily silent. I saw some shiny hard shoes through the aisles. The Feds (Secret Service) spotted me and formed a circle around tricky Dicky . . . LOL . . . Like some hippie chick was a threat . . . Hey, boys! Nobody was watching the back door.
- At Sam’s Shoes, they have neat stories about closing down the store so Nixon and family could shop. I worked for them. Sam loved telling that story.
- My husband’s grandparents were his tailors. They had a picture of their son wearing his ‘Old Guard of Army’ uniform. After Nixon left, Secret Service agents came in with two signed copies of his biography and a signed picture of Nixon to add to their wall.
- Rod and I shared an anniversary with Pat and Richard once at El Adobe in San Juan. They sent part of their cake to our table, and we toasted together. All quite by accident.
- I worked as a busboy in high school at El Adobe. I worked one night when they came in for dinner. Secret Service people everywhere. Every time we went from kitchen to dining room, they would search our bus trays.
- My husband was his mail carrier. Everything had to be put through an X-ray machine. We got a Christmas card every year.
- My friends and I would walk along the back side of their property when our families went to the beach. We could not understand why there were always guards with guns up on the cliff. Then someone told us that the Nixons lived there. All of a sudden, it made sense.
- My dad used to take care of the Secret Service cars at his tire store.
- My grandma’s favorite President Nixon story: She didn’t drive freeways, and the Secret Service had El Camino Real closed off because the President was arriving. Secret Service told her to turn around and get on the freeway. She told them she didn’t drive the freeway. They let her through. Simpler times, for sure.
Fred Swegles is a longtime San Clemente resident with five decades of reporting experience in the city. Fred can be reached at email@example.com.