By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
Everyone walking into the banquet room at the Paradise Cove Lodge on June 4 were there to honor Rod and Vicki Middleworth as recipients of the 2019 Book of Golden Deeds Award from the Exchange Club of Kern Valley. But true to form, the Middleworths tried everything they could to make the evening not about them by focusing instead on the museum, the community, and the family they love.
Master of Ceremonies Marsha Smith described their 27 years of leadership in the Kern River Valley Historical Society and Museum as tireless volunteer work far beyond any call of duty. Several speakers described the significant improvements the Middleworths helped make to the museum over the years, including doubling its size and exhibits and developing its gift store and docent program. They were particularly passionate about educating visitors and residents alike about the compelling history of our area.
The one common aspect of every story told that night was how Rod and Vicki always make everyone feel welcome at both the museum and within the community. Sue McKinney, the 2014 Book of Golden Deeds recipient, remarked that “this unique couple never sees a stranger but instead welcomes and helps them all.”
Ron and Dianna Anderson, President and Curator of the Kern River Valley Historical Society, respectively, said the Middleworths “are always positive, and we have never heard them say a negative word about anyone or anything. They will take you under their wing and let you know you belong.” This ability to make others feel comfortable can have its unforeseen consequences. The Andersons said when they were new to the community, they came to visit the museum. Before they knew what hit them, they became members, docents, board members, and newsletter editors. “Rod and Vicki were awfully persuasive!” they remarked.
The Historical Society Past President Rich Burdge described them as board meeting cheerleaders, the king and queen of fundraisers, and event organizers with Rod being known as a great hot dog cook. Burdge concluded with the heartfelt comment, “I’m proud to call them both my friends.”
An amusing part of the evening was a slide show of Middleworth family photos which was presented by Marsha Smith and produced by John Blythe. Shown were images of a mobile trailer used by the awardees as their home for the first two years of their marriage, hydroplane boats Rod built and raced, an ‘afro-like’ hairdo Vicki wore in 1972 at a Delano Chamber event, and Rod at the Mt. Whitney summit after a successful climb. From comments made by Rod and Vicki during the slide show, it was evident that the photos of their children and grandchildren were the most precious to them.
For a dozen years, Rod wrote weekly columns in the Courier with words of wisdom and nostalgic stories which have now been compiled into a book available at the museum gift store with all proceeds going to the museum. His July 15, 2016, column challenged his readers to find the good things in life. He described what has made him feel good over the years, writing “Playing with my children, grandchildren, and now my great-grandchildren has been the love of my life. They are little persons who look at life with uncluttered memories.”
Exchange Club member Ron Smith remarked that he was sorry to hear the Middleworths may soon be leaving the Kern River Valley, saying, “Over these 20-plus years, they have given a gift to all of us that even when they leave, will be here forever. I thank you for being a part of my life.” Everyone in attendance at the award dinner could be heard echoing these sentiments about this very deserving couple.