Red Oak Victory honors three longtime crew members

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Red Oak Victory honors three longtime crew members
All photos by Kathy Chouteau unless otherwise noted.

By Kathy Chouteau

The SS Red Oak Victory, a restored WWII Victory ship berthed in Richmond, saluted three of its longtime volunteer crew members with appreciation awards at its sold-out Fleet Week Pancake Breakfast Sun., October 8.

Fred Klink, the ship’s Executive Committee chairman and director of marketing, took time during the last Pancake Breakfast of the season to honor and surprise two of three present volunteer crew members—Ron Jones and Rich Chivers—with glass-inscribed awards. He said during the brief ceremony, “Both of these guys contribute a lot to the ship and I’d like to present to them with an award.”

A third longtime volunteer and honoree, Gary Elliott, was unable to be at Sunday’s Pancake Breakfast to receive his award in person. Klink said a mutual friend is delivering it to him.

The trio have served the ship since around the time it was towed from the Ready Reserve Fleet—or “Mothball Fleet”—in Suisun Bay to Vallejo’s Mare Island Naval Shipyard and finally to Richmond 25 years ago on Sept. 20, 1998. Per Klink, an order from the U.S. Congress conveyed the ship from the Maritime Administration (MARAD) to the Richmond Museum Association (RMA), which is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation currently running the ship via an all-volunteer crew. 

Volunteer Ron Jones, who was on hand to receive his award Sunday, said he’s been “chipping paint, painting…when I first started here I wasn’t a docent, but then I became a docent about 13 years ago.” Photos provided by Klink reveal the transformation the ship has undergone from its “mothball” days, due, in part, to good paint jobs. Mr. Jones, who was born in Oakland, said he has been residing in Richmond for 68 years.

Fellow volunteer Rich Chivers, who was also present Sunday, first started his work volunteering for the Red Oak Victory during its Mothball Fleet days. A onetime merchant seaman in the Navy, he answered an ad looking for volunteers. “A lot of people I knew worked in the shipyards and I heard about victory ships my whole life… So they had one they wanted to restore for the city and I thought I could help with that.”

Mr. Chivers, a Richmond resident for 69 years, is a “Jack of all trades,” per Klink. He works as one of the ship’s electricians and often fills in as a docent, per Klink. Mr. Chivers even stepped in to help cook the ship’s Pancake Breakfast Sunday.

Klink said that the third honoree, Gary Elliott, “Came to the ship a week after her arrival in Richmond.”  He’s been a crew member since then and is part of the ship’s radio crew and amateur radio club. David Rajkovich, director of the USS Lucid in Stockton, attended Sunday’s breakfast, works with Elliott on that ship as well and is giving him his award.

The Red Oak Victory is located at 1337 Canal Blvd., Berth 5, in Richmond. While the crew member honors occurred during the Red Oak Victory’s last Pancake Breakfast of the year, the ship is open for visits Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with it shifting to closing at 3 p.m. from Nov. 5, 2023 through March 10, 2024. Pancake Breakfasts will restart on Mother’s Day 2024. Learn more here and contact [email protected] with questions.

The ship when it arrived in Richmond before volunteers began working to restore it 25 years ago.
The ship when it arrived in Richmond before volunteers began working to restore it 25 years ago.
The ship when it arrived in Richmond before volunteers began working to restore it 25 years ago.
The ship when it arrived in Richmond before volunteers began working to restore it 25 years ago.