The RCAF Retiree's Luncheon is held annually in Yuma, Arizona, and in February 2013, celebrated its 11th successful year. Yuma is a smaller city in the deep southwest corner of Arizona where California, Mexico and Arizona meet along the Colorado River. It is well known as a major military area as there is a large marine air base, an U.S. army proving ground and several air weapons ranges. Two large weapons ranges are nearby: the Barry Goldwater Range and the Chocolate Mountain Range. The desert location is why so many bases were here from the Second World War; Patton's Army trained just north of here. With the warm desert climate it is not surprising so many Canadian "snowbirds" choose to make this their winter home.
This year a short history of the event was prepared and delivered by one of the original founders of the luncheon, Don Reader, a long-time RCAF member, retired. This short story is based on Don's report to the 238 guests who were in attendance at the American Legion Post 19 this year. The lunch was opened by a piper which is a tradition we are so pleased to continue as the Prince Albert Highlanders from Saskatchewan joined us and delivered a rousing performance.
The event had started out with four vacationing couples getting together: Jim and Marge McGrath, Des and Ann Dessario, Ron and Joanne Murray and Don and Shirley Reader. The first organizational meeting took place 12 years ago at Jim and Marge's place over breakfast. It all began as a retiree's breakfast. The first one was held at a local 55+ resort called Country Roads and 50 retirees were in attendance. Jim McGrath was the first committee leader. The success of this breakfast led to an annual event and Des Dessario became the leader. The next breakfast hosted 150 attendees. When Des and Ann quit coming to Yuma, Bev and Andy St. Amant took over the committee leadership.
In 2011, Bev and Andy stepped down after dedicating five years to the event and passed the leadership over to Roger and Gerry Beebe. We outgrew the Country Roads site and on Shirley Reader's suggestion we approached the American Legion Post 19. They were pleased to support us and we now have a fine facility to meet in. The Legion prepares and serves the food, provides the sound system, sets the tables, and does the cleanup which makes the event much easier to manage by the committee. We continue to grow, last year we had 200 in attendance and this year 238.
The luncheon gives people a chance to renew old friendships and swap stories about their RCAF time and careers. It also allows us a time to honour our veterans and serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Last year, we had a Second World War veteran in attendance but he passed on. This year, no Second World War veterans but some from 50s, lots from 60s and 70s and even few from after the year 2000. A large attendance came in from British Columbia and Alberta, a few from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, five or six from Ontario, two from Quebec, another five or six from the Maritimes and two from Newfoundland, but no one from the three northern territories.
The event is getting bigger every year and I assume it will continue for years, as we get a lot of support from the Royal Canadian Legion, RCAF Association and many others.
Author Roger Beebe is a former RCAF veteran who served from 1963 to 1969, spending four years in France and Germany maintaining CF-104s and many other NATO aircraft of the time. Then he headed back to CFB Cold Lake to work in 434 Squadron on T-33 and CF-5 aircraft. In the CAHS, Roger was also Edmonton Chapter President, and National Western Director for several years, as well as serving as interim President in 2008.