Guide to the Esther Rice and Edwin Fields Collection (1880s – 1990s) – History

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History Notes

Edwin Wilfred [E.W.] Fields (1868-1948) was born in Hampshire, Illinois . He lived in Illinois, Ohio and Red Bluff, California before becoming a resident of Santa Cruz, CA. In Red Bluff, Edwin waas introduced to the work that would eventually lead him to notoriety at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. As a boy in Red Bluff, Edwin began his trade as a printer in the year 1884. He started by delivering papers, balancing this work with chores on a farm – raking hay – and going to school. Long hours of work led to rheumatism and Edwin had to relocate to Santa Cruz where he could be treated and cured. However, Edwin’s rheumatism and re-location would result in some beneficial developments. After about two months, Edwin was cured of the rheumatism and found himself able to resume work as a printer again. He eventually started work at the Santa Cruz Sentinel in 1888, where Edwin would work at for over fifty-three years. Edwin was in charge of machinery, repairs, and head of the mechanical department and job printing. During his time with the Sentinel he gained notoriety for installing new machinery such as a No. 7 Babcock Standard bylinder press and other machinery that expedited printing at the Sentinel. In 1929 Edwin entered an agreement of partnership with F.D. McPherson to become third partner in the “Sentinel Publishing Company” and the “Santa Cruz Morning Sentinel”. He was a part owner from 1921 to 1937. Edwin was a noticeable figure riding his red bicycle to and from the Sentinel offices when they moved to Church Street in 1938. In 1941, Edwin retired from the printing business. He was married to Eva Gustafson whom he wed in 1890. Edwin passed away in 1948 and he and his wife are buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Santa Cruz. For many years they resided at 24 Riverside Ave. (Information taken from E.W. Field’s personal autobiography, diary, and S.C. Sentinel 1/19/1941 newspaper clipping, all in the Esther Rice Collection at S.C. MAH).

Esther Rice (also called Esther Lucille Fields or Esther Fields Rice) was the daughter of Edwin Fields. She was born in Santa Cruz and attended Santa Cruz High School, she graduated in 1925. After attending San Jose Junior College she received her A.B. degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1929. She was a member of Epsilon Pi Alpha Sorority during her time there. Around 1930, before the Great Depression hit, Esther began working in the business department of the Santa Cruz Sentinel (S.C. Sentinel 3/26/1933). She was involved with advertising, bookkeeping and proof-reading. Esther may even have had the chance to publish a column on skiing that ran in the Sentinel during the late 1930’s and 1940’s under the pen name “Slope Dope”. The column focused on skiing news and tips, and occasionally detailed the trips of the Santa Cruz Ski Club (info. From the S.C. MAH E.Rice and E. Fields Collection). In 1933 Esther married Edwin Russell Rice in Redwood City. Russell, a partner in the welding firm Roberts & Rice, was secretary -treasurer of the Santa Cruz Gliders Club – he owned and flew his own plane. He learned to fly at Capitola Airport in 1930. Thus would begin Esther’s own fascination with planes and her involvement with the Santa Cruz-Capitola Airport (S.C. Sentinel 3/26/1933). Although the airport, located at Kennedy Drive and Park Avenue in Capitola, closed temporarily due to security reasons in World War II as well as Russell’s departure to serve with the Civil Air Patrol in Texas, the airport was re-opened shortly after in 1945 and included a charter service and hanger rentals. Esther and Russell managed the airport as well as a flight school, and even held fly-in events. Eventually, after managing the airport and assisting in plane’s landings and take-offs, Esther found herself on an Aeronca Champ, taking a hundred hours of flight training. After about two years, the Capitola airstrip was turned into a land development, and the airport was abandoned. Esther’s interests in planes would work its way onto the page as well. In 1947 Esther composed an article for the magazine Western Flying and became a regular author of the column “Snap Rolls from Santa Cruz” that appeared in the local magazine Flight. In 1951, Esther and Russell Rice began leasing Scotts Valley airstrip known as Sky Park. Esther and Russell devoted their time to Sky Park and catering to tourists. Esther began contributing a column to the Sentinel entitled “Sky Park Log” which gave details about pilots and planes bound for the airport. Eventually, in 1962 the city of Santa Cruz would purchase Sky Park. Russell and Esther would stay managers until 1964 when the airport was annexed. After a few years Sky Park started to be hemmed in by new business developments and Esther and Russell left. They retired in 1967. Sky Park continued operating for another decade or so but then was closed in the 1980’s after appeals by the Santa Cruz Memorial Airport Association in Superior Court were unsuccessful. Watsonville Municipal Airport is the last remaining airport such as the ones that Esther and Russell Rice operated in the 1940’s for small plane’s (Swift, Carolyn. “County airports, once tourism gateways are down to just two”, S.C. Sentinel 8/8/1999). Later in her life, Esther was a common sight at McHenry Library at U.C. Santa Cruz. There, Esther assisted in identifying thousands of photographs for researchers and historians. Esther was known to local historians as a vibrant personality and fountain of information on local history and historic sites. She passed away in 2002 at the age of 94 and was buried at Oakwood Memorial Park. She was survived by numerous cousins ( Redfern, Cathy. “Esther Lucille Rice, 94; made, chronicled Santa Cruz history” S.C. Sentinel 8/18/2002).