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Memorial service Saturday for flood victim

Linda Hiller

The Greek philosopher Heraclitas once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is never the same river and he is never the same man.”

For Fred Pinard, the Carson River was always different. Thirty-eight days ago, it made its final transformation.

On Jan. 2, while operating a heavy front-end loader on the banks of the East Fork of the Carson River, trying to save a trailer park from being washed into the madly flooding water, the soft riverbank suddenly gave way and took both Pinard and his 18-ton machine into the swift, swollen river. He hasn’t been seen since.

Witnesses say it happened so fast in the dark night that he was practically there one minute and gone the next. At first the machine was nowhere to be found, but when it was finally spotted downstream, Pinard wasn’t in the cab as rescuers had hoped.

Those who know the river say his body could be just about anywhere. Under yards of silt, miles downstream. Only time will tell. Then again, maybe it never will.

But Fred Pinard lives on. In the face of his son, Dana Pinard. In the smile of his daughter, Janine Bliss. In the eyes of his treasured 4-year-old granddaughter, Brigitte Bliss.

“Dad would do anything for Brigitte,” said her mother, Janine. “He would instantly clear his schedule to babysit her.”

“He would take her to Lampe Park to feed the ducks and play on the swings,” added Uncle Dana. “He was a proud Grampa.”

As you ask people around the Valley about Fred Pinard, a clear pattern emerges.

Steve Erven, a shepherding pastor at the Carson Valley Community Church, who will be officiating at today’s memorial service, knew Fred Pinard as a quiet, gentle spirit and said he will miss this unselfish man.

“All you ever had to do was ask for help from Fred,” he said.

Erven said that several years ago, when Pinard’s wife, Sandra, came down with a rare and progressive lung disease, Fred decided to quit his job at Bing Construction to take care of her.

“He went kind of crazy after he quit,” Erven said, “he was such an active person. So when we started to build the church – of which Sandra was a faithful member (more faithful than Fred, Erven said) – and we needed to use volunteers, Fred was there, no questions asked.

“He was a tremendous help. He came every day. He had a quiet spirit, a gentleness. In biblical terms, gentle means strength under control.”

Erven said that for six months Pinard came to help.

“I remember one time when Fred showed his sense of humor,” he said. “When we were building the church, the county wanted us to have some water tanks on site, so we decided to use some old gas tanks that were buried on the property. We steamed them out and one day when Fred was in the pit working on the tanks and sparks were flying, he looked up at me and said ‘I guess we know which one of us is expendable,’ and laughed.”

“Even though he was suffering through his own tragedy at home, he still made time to help. He even helped with the Nazarene church across the way when they started to build. He was just that kind of person.”

Son Dana agrees. “He would always help others. It was just his nature. I remember that he poured concrete for the Nazarene church, and did the stucco on the front.”

“In a way, Dad was from a different era,” said daughter Janine. “He would never think of driving past someone on the road who needed help. He would even take their tire home and fix it for them and bring it back.”

The more Pinard emerges out of the words of those who knew and loved him, the more the void left by his disappearance expands. As Brigitte plays and draws her 4-year-old pictures, her mom and uncle hope she’ll be able to remember Papa Fred.

“We have a special picture of her with Grampa that we’re going to blow up and put in her room,” said Janine, “so she’ll remember.”

Fredrick Franklin Pinard was born Feb. 10, 1937 to Frank and Mary Pinard in Long Beach, Calif.

He grew up in Long Beach and Bellflower, Calif., graduating from Bellflower High School in 1954. He played four years of varsity football.

He found his way to Carson Valley to work on the ranch of Roy Godecke that year, and there he courted Sandra Byers, his future bride. Sandra’s father, Henry Byers, was a well-known electrician in the Valley.

Sandra’s brother, Kent Byers, who still lives here, remembers the early years.

“Fred’s dad died when Fred was 18, and that had an impact on him,” he said. “Before that, the Pinards would come here to camp and that’s when Fred met Sandra, but it wasn’t until he came to work on the ranch that they got serious.”

Sandra Byers and Fred Pinard were married in Long Beach, Calif. on June, 4, 1955 on the same month and day as her parent’s anniversary. Four years later, on Nov. 9, 1959, their first son, Dana was born.

In 1961, Sandra gave birth to a second son, Mark, but because of a heart condition, he died in infancy.

“Today, a condition like he had could have been easily corrected with surgery,” Dana said.

In the early 1960’s the family of three moved to Gardnerville and in 1965, the family home on East Valley Road was completed.

One year later, on Oct. 8, 1966, daughter Janine was born. Fred worked construction and Sandra used her teaching degree from the University of Nevada, Reno to substitute teach from time to time.

In 1969, Fred went to work for Bing Construction as a mixer driver and heavy equipment operator, and was later in charge of the gravel operation.

In the 1980’s, Sandra became ill with a rare chronic lung condition, bronchiectasis, which resulted in her slow and steady decline.

Fred quit his job to take care of her, and living off their savings, he was her caretaker until 1988 when she died.

“She died in his arms,” said Sandra’s brother Kent.

“A lot of men couldn’t have done what he did, quitting his job and all to take care of his wife,” said Kent’s son and Fred’s nephew, Steve Byers, here visiting from Twin Falls, Idaho. “It shows a lot of love for someone to do what he did.”

After Sandra died, Fred went to work for Brian Crockett – an old friend and Carson River playmate – and owner of Crockett Construction.

“Around 1965, Fred and Brian made plywood boats to float down the river one summer,” Kent reminisced. “It was a brief ride,” he laughed, explaining that the boats fell apart on the first ride.

“The next year we went down the river in rubber rafts and found the remains of Fred’s plywood boat on the riverbank.”

Pinard also enjoyed fishing the Carson River. “He liked to fish at Horseshoe Bend,” said nephew Steve.

Last September, Fred’s mother, Mary, passed away. After the funeral, Dana said his dad handled her death his own way.

“He went for a drive and ended up at Markleeville and just sat in the woods there,” he said.

A river is just a river, but this Carson River, which was a part of Fred Pinard’s life for so many years, was the last to embrace him in death.

“Sometimes I think about having a conversation with Fred about the conditions of his demise,” said Steve Erven, “and I can’t help but think that he would have said it wasn’t such a bad way to go. To be doing what he loved: helping people and working the machine.”

“Ninety-nine percent of what I feel, is that Dad is gone,” Dana said. “But then there’s this one percent of your heart that hopes for a miracle.”

“We are trying to close some wounds at this memorial,” Erven said. “In a way I hope Fred never turns up, because it will just open up the wounds again. It has been hard to try and have closure without finding his body, but I hope this memorial will help.”

“We knew our dad was a good dad,” said Janine, “but the support from the Valley has been so great. In the grocery store and everywhere, people come up to us and tell us about him.”

“It has reminded us just how special he was,” Dana said.

Today at 2 p.m., two days before his 60th birthday, the family and friends of Fred Pinard will gather at the Carson Valley Community Church to say goodbye to their hero. In addition to his daughter, Janine Bliss and her husband, Monte and daughter Brigitte, son Dana Pinard who lives in San Diego, he leaves behind a brother Neal Pinard and a sister Phyllis Callen.

He will always be remembered for his generosity, his humor, his love of the the ocean and the river, and his willingness to help anyone in need.