A Life of Service
Posted on July 6, 2020
What is regarded as one of the greatest acts of volunteerism in America during wartime? It is the act of volunteering for the United States Armed Services. Like many other Americans, Roberta Tidmore, fondly referred to as Randy, did that on January 4, 1944. On that date, she enthusiastically volunteered for the United States Marine Corps during World War II, after she learned of the opportunity while employed at a Rockford, Illinois assembly plant as a “Rosie the Riveter.” Tidmore hadn’t moved very far from her place of birth, Cedar Rapids, to find work at the plant. Born in 1922 as Roberta Jane Randoph, she had grown up in Cedar Rapids, so moving to Rockford was a big step. She had completed the first year of nursing school and joined three others in moving to Rockford to work on the production of airplane parts for the war. When she left Cedar Rapids, there were only 30,000 residents there. Though she could have joined the reserves or a women’s service auxiliary, she chose to become an active member of the Marine Corps.she was one of many thousands of women who had joined the Marines. She went through boot camp training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and her initial formal assignment was as a chauffeur for military officers, transporting them from Quantico, a Marine base in Northern Virginia, to Washington, D.C. Tidmore quit that job after one month and she requested a job driving a garbage truck. It was hardly a glamorous assignment. That job, which she enjoyed, ended abruptly when she mistakenly crossed in front of a general’s automobile with her trash truck when the star on the front of the car was uncovered, signifying the general’s presence in the automobile. Actually, the general was not in the car, but Tidmore learned that much later. The star on the front of the car should have been covered, therefore. The driver of the general’s car told others of Tidmore’s misbehavior when he returned to his quarters and that was the end of her trash truck assignment. She was required to surrender her driver’s license and that upset her because she had discovered how much she loved driving.
She spent a total of two and a half years in the Marine Corps filling a variety of assignments. For instance, she was sent to San Diego with a new assignment of picking up soldiers’ baggage and delivering it to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. By that time, her driver’s license had been returned to her. Later, she was assigned to San Francisco.
Tidmore observed little personal interaction between the sexes in the Marine Corps. The men and women in the Marines mostly interacted with those of their own gender when on duty within the service. For instance, at Quantico, there was a larger recreation room for men downstairs, while a smaller one was for the ladies. That the rooms were separate told a story. No matter, it was all part of military life, another learning experience for her.
For Tidmore, the link to the Marine Corps has been a long-lasting one. When honorably discharged, she had attained the rank of sergeant. Since leaving the service in August, 1946, Tidmore has been a loyal member of the Women’s Marine Association, serving as its president for a brief period in the 1970s.
Following military service, Tidmore became a stewardess and then chief stewardess for United Airlines. She actively flew for four years, served as a supervisor for a year and then became a chief supervisor. She flew out of Salt Lake City, then out of Los Angeles. She also flew some charter flights for entertainer Bob Hope. She worked for United for nearly 15 years, during most of which time she was chief stewardess. She quit in 1960 to get married and begin a completely new life. Following retirement from United Airlines, she began her longtime volunteerism with Clipped Wings, an organization of retired stewardesses and stewards, where she served as president of the San Diego Chapter. But her leadership skills extended even further when she chaired one and co-chaired another national Clipped Wings convention in San Diego. One was held in 2002 at The Westgate Hotel and the other at the Hyatt Regency in 2017.
Tidmore and her husband farmed tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes. It was a subject close to her husband, but a new experience for her. The couple was very active in Ensenada, as well as the United States, and farmed tomatoes until his death in 1979, running the business as Baja Vegetable Distribution, an American corporation, and as a Mexican corporation named Dos Arbolitos. Following her husband’s death, Tidmore opted to continue operating the business. She did that for seven years, then she stopped. It was time to change course.
With a great love of entertaining, Tidmore hosted friends in her home, and she did it with increasing frequency. Only when she sold her home to move into a high-rise retirement facility did she cut back on that activity. Still, she enjoys greeting guests in her apartment and in the facility dining room, or at least she did until the COVID-19 pandemic. That activity will resume once the pandemic has ended.
Through the years, Tidmore has volunteered with a number of organizations, such as The Salvation Army and Special Olympics. She derives great pleasure from taking action and making things happen. She played a leadership role in running Christmas on the Prado, which had first been produced with ten Balboa Park institutions in 1978. At the beginning, there were only a couple handfuls of institutions involved and the new holiday celebration was a unique approach to sharing the rich and diverse entities at no cost to the public. For visitors, Christmas on the Prado offered a wonderland of experiences. Later, when the name was changed to December Nights and the event grew by leaps and bounds, Tidmore continued to work on behalf of it, but from the Old Globe Theatre’s perspective. In fact, she chaired the Globe’s December Nights activities for several years. In 1996, she joined the Globe Guilders, the dynamic auxiliary group of the Old Globe Theatre, and has never stopped. Most recently, she took on the role of co-chair of the hostess committee of the annual fashion show, but she has had active roles in all Globe Guilders fashion shows since 1995. She is a familiar face at Guilder luncheons and dinners, and she is present at opening nights of productions of The Old Globe, beautifully dressed and filled to the brim with good humor. In acknowledgement of all she has done with the Guilders, she received the Globe Guilder of the Year Award in 2008. She was the recipient of a Star Award from the San Diego Theatre League, too. So, she went from tomato farming to theater involvement with the greatest of ease, a statement that could be made about everything she does.
Surprise and delight describe the mood when Tidmore was selected to be part of the 2016 Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., which puts the spotlight on World War II veterans. Her daughter-in-law had accompanied Tidmore and good friend Nancy Brock on a visit to Washington, D.C. the year before the Honor Flight, and that tour was replete with historical references. So, Tidmore was really ready for the Honor Flight visit, which transported 50+ guests. It was a happy flight and visit, with the main evening of the occasion highlighted with a talk by a general during dinner. It was quite an event.
Soaring Valor, led by actor and musician Gary Sinise, was a great experience for Tidmore. For Sinise, this annual expression of gratitude to the remaining World War II veterans has become the driving force of his life. Under the auspices of the Gary Sinise Foundation and the sponsorship of the World War II Foundation and American Airlines, 20 veterans and 20 students are flown to New Orleans to celebrate. New Orleans is the home of the magnificent World War II Museum. Each student on the trip has at least one parent serving in the armed services. These school children write letters to those veterans on the trip, beginning their letters with “Honored Veterans.” Tidmore received many letters from the young people and she has kept every one of them, frequently re-reading them.
There have been other honors given Tidmore and what she treasures about them are the experiences she gained as a result. In the spring of 2021, at 99 years old, she will be named, along with eleven other women, a Woman of Dedication by The Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary of San Diego County. That honor will be added to a string of other awards she has gathered. She was honored by the Retired Marine Chapter in Chula Vista in 2016 and then in 2017 at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park. In 2019, Tidmore was asked by the Daughters of the American Revolution to place the memorial wreath at Miramar National Cemetery on Memorial Day. At the 2017 ceremony at the Veterans Museum, a rose bush was planted in memory of Rosie the Riveter. It took Tidmore back to where she was when she learned of the opportunity to join the Marine Corps. Rosie the Riveter. Everything had come full circle. Darlene G. Davies
Celebrating Couture: Photo by Bob Stefanko. All other images Courtesy of Roberta Tidmore Ephemera Collection