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Switchboard Operators Reicel Jones and Althea Marks
Heroes of the St. Francis Dam Disaster

Given her city's sizable population, Louise Gipe of Santa Paula was the most storied telephone switchboard operator of the 1928 St. Francis Dam Disaster, but she wasn't the only woman on the line. Downriver in tiny Saticoy, Reicel Jones and Althea Marks stayed at their posts to spread a similar warning message to their community.

Historian John Nichols writes (Nichols 2002:30):

Only one thing traveled faster than the floodwaters, and that was (Jones and Marks') emergency calls. When it was all over, each was given a $25 check of appreciation. Small exchange for the dozens of lives they saved.

Jones, left, and Marks were still on the job in this 1955 photograph.


About the Contributor.


John Nichols, ©Donna Granata. Click to enlarge.

John Nichols is a historian, photographer, writer, art dealer and independent curator who developed several exhibits on the 1928 St. Francis Dam Disaster for the California Oil Museum. His research led to his first book for Arcadia Publishing, "St. Francis Dam Disaster" (2002). A subsequent exhibit led to the book, "Santa Paula Portrait Project: Paintings by Gail Pidduck and Photographs by John Nichols." A quarter-century of writing is compiled into his Kindle book, "Essay Man: Selected Essays and Writings," available from Amazon. He also published the art book, "Mexico: 1895 A Vernacular Album."

In 1984 he opened JohnNicholsGallery.com in historic downtown Santa Paula to exhibit and promote vintage and contemporary photography and art. A black-and-white darkroom photographer for more than 35 years, Nichols made the leap in 2002 to color photography and digital printing with state-of-the-art digital printers and archival pigmented inks. His photographs are found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Ventura County; Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Austin, Texas; Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard; Santa Paula Art Museum; city of Ventura; Community Memorial Hospital of San Buenaventura; and numerous private collections.

Nichols serves on the board of the Santa Paula Art Museum and the Universalist Unitarian Church of Santa Paula. He is a former board member of the Museum of Ventura County and chaired its Fine Arts Committee; he has served on the board of the Rotary Club of Santa Paula and is past president of the Santa Paula Historical Society. He was named Santa Paula Rotarian of the Year and Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year.

Note: High-resolution scans of images in the John Nichols Collection are not available from SCVHistory.com.


NG4037: Image courtesy of John Nichols Gallery.
ST. FRANCIS DAM HEROES

Story: Victims & Heroes


Thornton Edwards


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Louise Gipe

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Reicel Jones, Althea Marks

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Eddie Hearne

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Lee Shepard, Stanley Baker, John Messer

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