Secret to living long

mvoorhis@sierrastar.comApril 15, 2014 

Eileen Dunn has called Raymond home for more than 50 of her 80 years. She raised her children there, was a den mother for the Cub Scouts, and was a heavy participant in the Raymond's Mothers Club — where parents played sports with their children so they would be prepared to compete with other schools. In fact, Eileen has lived there so long, that she said she wouldn't know how to live any where else. And in a couple of days, she will represent the tiny town as Grand Marshal for the 28th annual Raymond Parade.

Eileen was surprised to be named Grand Marshal, and believes it's because she's "getting to be the oldest person around." Judy Leonard, one of the group putting on the event, gave the true reasons Eileen was chosen.

"She's been here forever, raised her family here, and has been a big part of the community. She loves Raymond, and when we have things going on, she's always there to support our town."

It was because of husband Joe that Eileen found herself in the sparsely-populated town she had never heard of. After their marriage in 1951, Eileen lived in Madera while Joe served in the U.S. Navy. When he returned home in 1955, the couple decided to relocate to Southern California with their three young children because there was no work in the area. Two additional children and five years later, the Dunns decided that city living wasn't the best place to raise their children, so they packed up and headed to an area Joe knew quite well.

"Joe had grown up in Madera and knew about this tiny town — Raymond — with bigger towns all around it within 30 minutes driving time, so we ended up here rather than Oregon," Eileen explained.

When they arrived in Raymond, Eileen said she thought she had moved to the end of the earth. The children had a different reaction altogether, immediately loving the peace and quiet Raymond had to offer. They quickly settled in and made new friends — so much so that when mom and dad decided to move to Oregon after all, the children, all teens and younger, said they could go ahead and leave them there — that they were staying put.

Needless to say, majority ruled and the Dunns began building their home. Joe, who died in 2006, worked at the Raymond Granite Quarry for 18 years, while Eileen busied herself with raising their children, and picking up work here and there to help pay the bills.

Because she was born the fourth of 12 siblings in Mountain Home, Arkansas, Eileen had always helped with her younger brothers and sisters — so, being a homemaker and caregiver as an adult came quite naturally to her.

She worked as a caregiver for White Oaks in Oakhurst for eight years, was assistant cook at the Raymond Elementary School, and worked in the laundry at Oakhurst Living Center for five years. She also ran her own daycare center from her home for five years — caring for eight children under the age of six, including two babies.

Once she became more active in the community, Raymond grew on her and Eileen came to love the area. When the children were grown and out on their own, Eileen and Joe, with a strong itch to travel, bought a tractor to pull trailers across the country.

"We became team drivers for Mayflower when we were in our late 40s, and when we signed up, we said we would drive anywhere they wanted us to go," Eileen recalled.

As a result, the couple traveled across the United States, as well as into Canada. Eileen collected spoons from every state they traveled to; these spoons are displayed in her home on a special wooden piece shaped like the United States.

As team drivers for Mayflower for 10 years, and Atlas for another 10, one of Eileen's fondest memories was stopping in Indiana, loading one of the largest pipe organs in the world, and transporting it to the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.

Still, despite all their travels, Raymond was always the place they wanted to come back to — it was where home, family and friends were.

"You know, I just love the quietness here. It's such a friendly little town, there's no crime, and people watch out for each other," Eileen said. "When I need some juicy gossip, I go to the only store around — the Raymond General."

Now, Eileen spends her free time playing Bingo — anywhere and as often as she can. She also enjoys traveling with her middle daughter, Bonnie. The pair are world travelers, having visited Germany, Switzerland and Paris, and plan to visit the Grand Canyon in May.

Eileen is looking forward to serving as Grand Marshal and to seeing family — about 100 members — converge on Raymond, not only to see the parade, but for a huge celebration Easter Sunday.

"When it's all said and done, and I see the words written down, I guess I have led a busy life, after all," Eileen added, "and that's really the secret to a long life."

Nichelmann named Miss Inspirational

Jenni Nichelmann loves country music, working puzzles, watching the Dukes of Hazard and General Hospital, Play Station, and enjoys visiting her mother's Facebook page to check-out new and old photos. Another thing she loves is parades, so you can imagine her excitement when she was named "Miss Inspirational" for this year's Raymond parade.

"Jenni was selected because she's always positive, always smiling and upbeat — no matter what's going on," Robert Casaurang, parade committee member, said. "She wants to be involved in everything, she loves life and inspires us to no end."

In fact, Jenni is so exceptional and inspiring to those who know her that the "Miss Inspirational" title was created just for her.

Jenni, 37, was born with Down Syndrome, heart defects and pulmonary hypertension. Because she has trouble breathing, she is now wheelchair-bound and has had a small portable oxygen tank at her side for the past 20 years.

"She's so excited about being picked," Jacqui (Jenni's mother) said. "She will walk up to me with a big smile on her face, and I'll ask her what she's so happy about, and she says 'parade.' She's been practicing her wave for days."

As a child, Jenni attended Gail Johnson's Special Ed classes at Coarsegold Elementary, and moved on to Lori Blate's Special Ed classes at Yosemite High. She has been a student of Social Vocational Services in Oakhurst since it opened 10 years ago.

"It's an excellent program," Jacqui continued. "How would you feel if you couldn't do anything but sit at home and watch television all day? This gives Jenni a chance to interact with her peers, a place to be with friends and to go out into the community. She's a very happy young lady, is about age 8 or 9, but in other ways, she's very adult — and because she's treated as an adult, she learns to do adult things a little bit more."

A dedicated student, Jenni loves academics and has proven to be very creative with a good eye for detail. Because she is especially fond of butterflies, Jenni raised them in a butterfly garden, and later released them at the Mariposa Butterfly Festival.

When Jenni's not at school, her favorite activity is gambling. Give her a $20 bill and she can spend hours at the slot machines; she especially likes the sounds the machine makes when she wins and always does a little dance to the music.

Jenni has lived in Raymond her entire life. Her great grandmother was an Appling, who married a Calhoun. Both families moved to Raymond in the 1800s, and while they dabbled in mining, they were mainly ranchers. Jenni's father, Buster, was born in Raymond and his family has been there since 1927.

Considering her nearly four decades as a Raymond resident, Jenni is no stranger to the annual parade. In 2009, she rode in the family's 1931 yellow pick-up when her parents were selected as Grand Marshals. Jenni's grandfather, Fred Nichelmann, was Raymond Grand Marshal in 1989 and her great uncle Cliff Calhoun served as Grand Marshal in 1998.

As for an outfit befitting Miss Inspirational, Jenni will be pretty in pink, wearing a pink shirt to go with the sparkling tiara the parade committee has for her — one covered in rhinestones and pink stones. Of course, the tiara will sit atop her cowgirl hat. She will also wear a light pink sash bearing her title — and her schoolmates and school staff couldn't be more thrilled for her.

"She used to be this little wallflower and now she has friends, and even had a boyfriend at one time," SVS Program Director Annette Brade said. " She's blossomed since being in our program. She's likable, very sweet, and everyone is her friend."

"What makes her fun is that she's not really all that sweet," case manager Joyce Estes said. "She's full of vinegar ... that's what makes Jenni — Jenni."

"And that's why we love her," added Brade.

The 28th annual Raymond Parade will begin this Saturday, April 19, at noon, in downtown Raymond, going past the Raymond General Store. There will be craft booths, food fair and a swap meet from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Raymond Museum will be open throughout the day.

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