Among the 60 houses destroyed by the Creek Fire—a wildfire burning more than 333,000 acres northeast of Fresno, California,—as of Sept. 11, 2020, was a piece of Fresno Pacific University history and an important resource to students, faculty and staff for more than 35 years—the Casa Pacifica cabin near Shaver Lake.
Flames took the structure apparently over the weekend of Sept. 4-5, burning it to its foundation.
“Casa held a special place in the hearts of the FPU community, including countless alumni,” says Joseph Jones, president of FPU, as those who knew the place flooded social media with photos and memories. (See Dr. Jones’ full statement on the Creek Fire, including prayers for all affected, at fresno.edu/article/09/08/2020/fresno-pacific-university-praying-safety-during-wildfires).
The history of Casa Pacifica is not just an account of a cabin. It is the story of a group of people making real their commitment to the ideals and particular approach to Christian higher education at Fresno Pacific.
All information below quoted or adapted from “Casa Pacifica Executive History: 1976-2003” by Dalton Reimer, emeritus communication faculty.
Before 1976, the possibility of Fresno Pacific University owning property to use for faculty and student retreats seemed beyond reach. Some faculty retreats took place at Hartland Camp in the Sierras and a few student retreats were held at Barlow Ranch in the foothills. That year Nikolai (Nick) K. Reimer learned while doing carpentry work in Wilsonia—a village in Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park—that the National Park Service planned to return the village to its natural state by purchasing cabins from private owners with the understanding they would be removed.
“So, for better or worse, he informed me,” Reimer’s son, Dalton, writes in his history of the cabin.
The O’Bosky cabin, built about 1959, was among the newer Wilsonia cabins and in good shape, with two full floors of 1,200 square feet each and a lower, unfinished half floor. Built almost entirely of wood, much of the structure was ripe for use in a new location.
While other priorities prohibited the cabin from being an official college project, Dalton Reimer and fellow faculty Don Isaac and Dennis Langhofer formed an informal group and bid $1,057 for the building.
“Several other bids were in the neighborhood of $1,000, but the addition of $57 to make it $1,057 won the day,” Dalton writes. One unsuccessful bidder suggested the bid had been “inspired.”
“Perhaps so,” Dalton writed. “But now we had a large, three-story facility on our hands that needed to be removed with the hope that a new retreat facility could be built somewhere in the Sierras.”
College funds were out of the question and faculty could offer little beyond volunteer labor. In the end, Dalton and wife, Beverly, provided the funds and took title, with assets to be transferred to the university in a series of donations.
Langhofer’s in-laws in rural Dinuba-Reedley stored some of the salvaged materials and other pieces lived in the Reimers’ Fresno garage until a five-acre parcel was purchased in the Timberwine subdivision near Shaver Lake for $21,000. Construction began in 1980, with Paul R. Epp as architect; John Goetz, a friend of the Reimers and the college, as construction contractor; and Nick Reimer as master carpenter, assisted by several others. Goetz, Nick Reimer and others donated all time and expenses, while Dalton and Beverly Reimer provided financial assistance.
In the new site, the basic exterior dimensions of 30 feet by 40 feet were kept, and the cabin was backed into the hillside making for three full floors of 1,200 square feet each. Dormers and a front two-floor porch were added, along with an exterior deck on three sides. The interior was redesigned for more efficient use. Electrical and plumbing were new, as were bathroom and kitchen cabinets and fixtures and windows.
Nick Reimer kept records of those who worked on the project and valued their 2,015 work hours at $16,088, most donated. Among those who helped—paid or volunteer—were Duane Quenzer, James Krehbiel, Randal Braun, Steve Wiest, Wilfred Martens, Al Friesen, James Farrar, Lowell Ewert, Al Dueck, Dennis Langhofer, Don Braun, Richard Enns, Wilbert Reimer, John Goetz, Nick Reimer and Dalton Reimer.
“This list does not include those who helped in the removal of the Wilsonia cabin, among whom were several other faculty members,” Dalton writes. “Other members of the Reimer family also became involved along the way including my mother, Lydia. Our school-age children, Melissa, Julia and Charles, also helped out where they could.”
Popular retreat facility
By June 1, 1984, the cabin was ready for use with beds and bunks to sleep 24, plus sleeping lofts in the two third-floor bedrooms, and tables, chairs, sofas and a full kitchen. Guests needed only bring sleeping bags or linens, towels, food and personal belongings. Modest rental fees for non-university use and endowment income covered operational and maintenance expenses, making official university uses by students, faculty and staff free.
FPU took ownership of Casa Pacifica in 1998 and full responsibility for management and maintenance in 2003.
“I managed and maintained the facility, with occasional help from other members of the family, on a volunteer basis from its inception until both management and maintenance were transferred to Fresno Pacific…upon my retirement from fulltime teaching,” Dalton writes.
Casa Pacifica was used heavily, primarily as a weekend retreat facility during the academic year and more fully in the summer. Freshmen collegiums, athletic teams and other university groups had priority in scheduling, with faculty, staff and their families also enjoying the facility.
The cabin was also popular with external groups as a mid-size retreat facility between smaller family cabins and larger camps. Scheduling grew to the point where the cabin was reserved up to three years in advance.
Over the years, Dalton championed Casa Pacifica as an integral part of Fresno Pacific. “This could even include some attention to the concept in the curriculum, along with intentional retreat experiences of various kinds at the facility itself,” he writes.
Fresno Pacific University is California’s Central Valley’s only accredited Christian university, connecting every student’s untapped potential with unlimited opportunity for professional, personal and ethical growth. Nonprofit and independent, FPU offers more than 100 areas of study to about 4,000 traditional undergraduate, adult degree completion, graduate and seminary students at the main campus in Southeast Fresno and throughout the Valley at regional campuses in North Fresno, Visalia, Bakersfield and Merced as well as online.