By Douglas W. Motley
Ken Kenaga, a 38-year veteran of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station’s Search and Rescue Team (SAR), was honored by 40 of his fellow teammates on Jan. 13 for his steadfast dedication and courage in searching for persons missing or lost somewhere within the San Bernardino National Forest. Kenaga volunteered to do this, no matter whether it was daytime or the dead of night or in rainy and snowy weather.
Twin Peaks Station Commander Capt. Don Lupear told The Alpine Mountaineer, “For anybody to volunteer for 38 years is pretty amazing. He will be missed because he was the most knowledgeable member of the team and was always willing to work late at night in the snow.”
Lupear lauded SAR team member Jim Sims, a retired teacher and former principal at Charles Hoffman Elementary School, who was the SAR commander for many years. “Jim was always willing (just like Ken Kenaga) to work late at night in the snow.”
Following Kenaga’s arrival, Lupear swore in new SAR member Marina Amador. Next, Capt. Lupear awarded Kenaga a plaque commemorating his 38 years of volunteer service. He was also given a certificate of appreciation by Lewis Murray, 2nd District County Supervisor Janice Rutherford’s district representative.
When asked what encouraged him to become a SAR team member, Kenaga said he had gotten lost while hiking by himself in the Snow Creek area of the San Gorgonio Wilderness. “My wife was quite worried when I didn’t return on time. They sent in the Riverside Search and Rescue Team and, with the aid of a helicopter, they finally found me.”
When asked about the most exciting thing that happened during his 38-year career, Kenaga recalled a search that occurred back in the 1980s. “A man named Ned Gretty went hiking near Green Valley Lake during a raging snowstorm. When the fog came in, he called 9-1-1 and said he didn’t know where he was. Back then, we didn’t have GPS, so I told him to stay where he was and wait for help. We finally found his remains three months later.”
While awaiting Kenaga’s arrival, Judge Michael Dest toured his former courtroom, which is now used as a bunkroom for off-duty deputies. This reporter, recalling that his oldest boy was a former classmate of Dest’s two daughters at Rim High School, asked the now-retired judge how his daughter, Karyn, is doing with her career as a television news reporter. He said she had been an anchor at an NBC-TV station in Lansing, Mich. “Now she’s vice president for strategic communications at Coca-Cola North America, which makes sense because she had been awarded a Coca-Cola scholarship upon graduation from Rim,” Judge Dest said.
Prior to adjourning, Kenaga was given an honorary lifetime membership on the Rim SAR team, which entitles him to a free meal at any restaurant he goes to with another SAR member. The evening ended with pizza, soft drinks, candy and ice cream, while teammates and associates recalled fond memories of serving with the team’s longest-serving volunteer.