October 22, 2011

Haenszel became 'the source' on San Bernardino County's past

Nick Cataldo, Columnist
San Bernardino Sun

During my years researching San Bernardino County's colorful past, more than a few historians have helped me out immensely. But without question the scholar who made local history the most exciting for me, not only through her own amazing work, but also through the encouragement she gave me, was the late Arda M. Haenszel.

Born on Sept. 24, 1910, in Ebenezer, N.Y., the only child of Dr. Allen and Arda C. Haenszel became fascinated with history early on when she moved with her parents to the semi-abandoned Nevada desert mining town of Searchlight in 1919. Dr. Haenszel was the company physician for the Santa Fe Railway as well as the lone town doctor. In fact, he was the only doctor for miles around.

The region's mining boom was over by nearly a decade, so young Arda grew up around the ghostly reminders of abandoned buildings, mine shafts, and rock dumps. This unique environment may have sparked her interest in the past.

The Haenszel family left Searchlight in 1922 and moved to San Bernardino, which is where Arda called home for most of the rest of her life, until moving to Redlands' Plymouth Village, where she resided during her last years.

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, Arda launched a 33-year elementary school teaching career in San Bernardino. No doubt, her kids learned a thing of two about our region's "olden days" during her tenure.

After her retirement in 1966, she often was honored as the No. 1 consultant on our county's rich heritage. A longtime associate of the San Bernardino County Museum, she amassed a famous set of files - an unbelievably extensive historical collection on any and every topic regarding San Bernardino County as well as parts of Southern Nevada - that have provided material for countless other researchers (including yours truly) in their quest of exploring this region. She efficiently and willingly shared information on local Indian tribes, old trails, pioneers, historic sites, nearly forgotten towns, the Mojave Desert ... the list goes on and on.

Arda also had a strong interest in archaeology and, although not blessed with great health, was no "couch potato" writer. Up until about 10 years before her passing, she always was driving her Jeep out into the most remote areas of the desert, photographing abandoned sites, documenting her findings, and analyzing ancient petroglyphs.

Over the years Arda wrote numerous articles pertaining to archaeology, paleontology, anthropology and history for the San Bernardino County Museum Association. She also wrote many articles for the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society's publications, "Heritage Tales" and "Odyssey," an amazing accomplishment considering her busy schedule volunteering with the County Museum and San Bernardino Public Library. Even more remarkable was that this was mostly done while she was practically deaf and her vision was failing.

Arda was well known for her book donations; she is responsible for the creation of the California Room at San Bernardino's Feldheym Library.

For decades Arda Haenszel had been the "the source" for local history and when she passed away on Jan. 9, 2002, the 91-year-old San Bernardino County resident became part of that story she loved to research and write about.

Her estate included a very generous donation of $749,000 to the City of San Bernardino Library Endowment Fund. On Dec. 13, 2007, the San Bernardino Library Board of Trustees unanimously approved the naming of the California Room as the Arda Haenszel California Room.