Interview with Bryan and Rhonda Rambo
Radioactive waste disposal
Civil rights movements
A National Park Service funded project to document the history of African American contributions to Hanford and the surrounding communities. This project was conducted through the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, Task Agreement P17AC01288
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Bryan and Rhonda Rambo on March 23rd, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with Bryan and Rhonda about their experiences living in the Tri-Cities and/or working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, could you state and spell your full name for us, starting with Bryan?
Bryan Rambo: Yes. Bryan, B-R-Y-A-N. Middle initial, Keith, K-E-I-T-H. Last name, Rambo, R-A-M-B-O.
Rhonda Rambo: My name is Rhonda Rambo. Rhonda, R-H-O-N-D-A. Middle initial, M, and last name, Rambo, R-A-M-B-O.
Franklin: Thank you. So, where did your—your parents moved here, right, to come to work at Hanford?
Rhonda Rambo: Yes.
Franklin: Your father did.
Rhonda Rambo: Our father did.
Franklin: Where did your father move from?
Rhonda Rambo: Bivins, Texas.
Franklin: Bivins, Texas.
Bryan Rambo: Yup. Thank you. You remembered Bivins, Texas.
Franklin: Do you know where that is?
Rhonda Rambo: It’s between Arkansas and Kansas—Arkansas/Texarkana border.
Bryan Rambo: Northeast Texas.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: East Texas, gotcha. And when did he come to Hanford?
Rhonda Rambo: I’m not sure when they came to Hanford, but my mom moved here first, and she stayed actually in Hermiston with a cousin and that was back in 1954. And then my dad was in the service.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, the Korean War at the time—well, he was coming back.
Rhonda Rambo: Coming back. And so once he came back, she was already moved—I believe she was already here in Pasco, east Pasco, and he came after.
Franklin: So your parents were married before they—
Rhonda Rambo: Yes.
Franklin: And when did they get married?
Rhonda Rambo: Ooh.
Bryan Rambo: That’s a good one.
Rhonda Rambo: I’m not sure.
Bryan Rambo: I’m not—
Rhonda Rambo: Maybe in ’48? I wanna think 1948.
Franklin: Okay. I don’t know. It’s probably not super important.
Rhonda Rambo: Because I can’t remember what Artie—
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, exactly, it would be either ’48 or ’47.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, because whatever Artie’s birthday year—
Bryan Rambo: Artie’s ‘52. 1952.
Rhonda Rambo: So, I imagine it’d be—well, yeah, then it’d mean about ’51. Because she was kind of pregnant, I think, at the time.
Franklin: Ah. That’s not uncommon.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: So, you said your mom came first; she came to Hermiston. Did she have family in Hermiston?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, there was a cousin.
Franklin: And do you know why they were in Hermiston?
Rhonda Rambo: I’m not sure. I think that cousin actually moved further in. But that’s where, that was the first place she stayed.
Franklin: Okay. What do you know about their lives before they came to the Tri-Cities?
Rhonda Rambo: My grandfather was a sharecropper with cotton, so they worked the land. He had his own farm.
Bryan Rambo: He also did truck farming, too.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. And my dad lived with his aunt. And I guess they were kind of—they had a little bit more money, I suppose, and so my dad didn’t have to work as hard. But my mom—they kind of went to school together and they had met up. After that, they had all of us kids.
Franklin: Were you two born here in the Tri-Cities?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. Our Lady of Lourdes, I was.
Franklin: Lady of Lourdes.
Bryan Rambo: Only one of us was—our oldest brother was born in Texas. Everybody else was born up in Washington State.
Franklin: Okay. What do you know about their initial experience of coming to the Tri-Cities and finding a place to live?
Rhonda Rambo: All I remember my mom talking about is the house on east Pasco, saying how bad the sandstorms would be. When the front door—screen door would be just blocked with sand and tumbleweeds, basically. That’s what I remember her talking about, living on the east side of town in that home that she stayed in. It was an apartment complex she stayed in.
Bryan Rambo: Right around A Street, what is now A Street. Very dirty and dusty over there.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, that’s why she just kept saying how dusty it was, and dirty. Coming from Texas with the red clay and more—their land was more forestry, so it wasn’t—for her to come here and see all this dust and dirt and back there it’s more trees and red clay. I think it was a big change for her.
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hmm.
Franklin: Great. Let’s see here. Do you know what prompted your mom and then your dad to move up here from Texas?
Rhonda Rambo: The relatives.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah.
Rhonda Rambo: Other families from different counties in Texas moved up here and the word got out, and I think they just started migrating—
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, the opportunities.
Rhonda Rambo: --up here.
Franklin: Right, because that was part of a pretty large migration of blacks from east Texas that came, I believe, initially in the Manhattan Project. So your parents were part of that word-of-mouth migration during and after World War II. Okay. So you kind of described the first place your mom stayed after she arrived. When did your family stay together—do you remember the first house that you guys were in, or your parents were in?
Rhonda Rambo: The house that I have now, the family home, is on Clark Street. And prior to that, they lived in Navy Homes.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, we called it the Navy Homes over there, off of 10th and Court.
Rhonda Rambo: Court, yeah. That’s where most the families started out, in those homes. And eventually my dad saved up enough money to purchase the home that we’re in now.
Franklin: And where—is that home in east Pasco, or in—
Rhonda Rambo: West.
Franklin: West Pasco.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: And what was the address?
Bryan Rambo: No, no, no, you mean the Navy Homes and stuff?
Franklin: Oh, yeah, so I was—well, both, actually.
Bryan Rambo: Oh, Navy Homes is in more downtown but it’s in the northeast part of Pasco.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: But it’s downtown—still considered downtown.
Franklin: Yeah, I’m trying to imagine—like, I’m trying to look at a map of Pasco in my head.
Rhonda Rambo: If you know where the Chinese Garden is? It’s straight across the street.
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Rhonda Rambo: And all those little houses there. That’s Navy Homes.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Bryan Rambo: They actually rebuilt those. They’re still there. They remodeled them and they built them like they are today.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. They’re considered low income, I guess, too. And they were established I guess back then for the Navy families that might have been here at the time, too. After that, I think, just general families were just moving in there.
Franklin: How long did your parents stay in the Navy Homes?
Rhonda Rambo: It must’ve been until ’62. Because Tim--
Bryan Rambo: Because Tim was still—me, Sean was still there, I was still there, Dwayne and Artie. So we—it was about ’60—
Rhonda Rambo: ’61 or ’62, because after that I was at the house. I was born in the house in ’65, so.
Bryan Rambo: And I want to make a note, too, that before my father even got out to the Area when he’d come back, he was working for the railroads, too. Burlington Northern at the time—Great Northern. He was there. He was a brakeman there for a short time before he got out to the Area.
Franklin: So he must have traveled around quite a bit working for the railroad?
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hmm. Well, he stayed local mostly because he was like a—they had the control switch men and all that. He wasn’t working, going up far, he was just doing the locking or—what do they call it? Switchmen. That’s what he was doing, basically. So he stayed close to town a lot.
Franklin: Right, right. Makes sense. What was the hardest—did your parents ever talk about adjusting to life here in the Tri-Cities and what maybe was a struggle for them coming from east Texas to here, and maybe what was the benefits of coming?
Rhonda Rambo: I don’t remember my mom ever saying it was a struggle. But I think she liked it. Because after she—she took us all one time down to Texas for a family trip. After I seen where she grew up, I kind of understood, maybe, why she chose to come up here and stay and start over as a family.
Franklin: What was different about it down there?
Rhonda Rambo: It was really—it’s rural. All rural.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah.
Rhonda Rambo: I mean, you’re way out of town from anyone. When it’s dark, it’s dark. It’s pitch. You can’t see nothing. I mean, she warned us. She made me scared to go because she kept telling us how bad the snakes, the ticks, when you go out to the outhouse, you got to look in there and make sure there ain’t no critter in there. So I kind of had a fear of going. But, I mean, it was fun, but I understood why. And even after I went down again after I was older, I kept—I think you and me were together—and I kept saying, man, I could not live here.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]
Rhonda Rambo: There’s no way. With the humidity, it being hot and just living like that. I wouldn’t imagine trying to live like that, but, you know, some people—what you adapt to when you’re growing up, you adapt to.
Franklin: Right, yeah, that’s true. Let’s see here. So, tell me about your father’s work—when did he start working at Hanford and what did he do?
Bryan Rambo: Well, as I say, when he got here, he did several jobs, but I knew he worked for the Burlington Northern. Then he got a job up in the Hanford Area and that was around 1950—actually probably the year I was born, ’58, ’59, he got there.
Bryan Rambo: Started working there.
Franklin: And what was his job out at Hanford?
Bryan Rambo: Patrol.
Franklin: Oh, Hanford Patrol.
Bryan Rambo: He was a patrolman.
Franklin: Okay. That must’ve been—were there any other—do you know if there were any other African American patrolmen at the time?
Bryan Rambo: I had—fortunately, I’ve had some documents that are local news about it, and I believe he was one of the first, if not the first black patrolman out there in the Hanford Area.
Franklin: Yeah, I would think so, too, considering that employment was still somewhat unofficially restricted to—most blacks worked outside jobs—outside the Area or more menial, more service-type-oriented jobs. Did he talk about his work as a patrolman at all?
Rhonda Rambo: I don’t remember that.
Bryan Rambo: Well, we remember—well, basically all we remember, he had a blue uniform and his hat was a barracks hat. And he’d come in—he’d work—with the stripe. It looked like Richland PD back in the day, but—there was like a light blue uniform, he’d come in, his gear, his gun and stuff. Well, he wouldn’t carry his gun all the time. I didn’t see. He probably had it but he hid it.
Rhonda Rambo: It was in the holster.
Bryan Rambo: But he always had the holster. It was interesting. He would come in, he would go talk to us to make sure we did our chores, see how we were doing. And apparently get good news from Mom that we hadn’t gotten in trouble or anything because he was going to get us later of course! But he was a hard worker. He’d come in—he didn’t talk much about it. But he did take us out there. He took me out there.
Franklin: Oh, really?
Bryan Rambo: Yes!
Rhonda Rambo: I don’t remember going.
Franklin: And when did this—
Bryan Rambo: You were really young then.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, I don’t remember.
Bryan Rambo: It was interesting, because he brought us through what is now the Prosser Barricade. It’s off of 240 and I think it’s highway, what is that, Highway 4 now? But it’s not the Wye Barricade area, if you’re kind of situated with the 400 Area and all that. It’s like coming into 400 Area is closer. But anyway it comes off of Highway 240 and—gosh, I can’t remember—I think it’s Highway 4. But anyway, there used to be a barricade there and you can’t see nothing there but a parking lot there. But we actually drove in there, we went in, and he started showing us the Area. We didn’t go into the facilities, per se. We went through there, then we went through and drove through what is now the 100 Area. He took us way out there. He was just showing us the scenery, the N Reactor, the 100 Areas. He didn’t show us East and West too much at the time. And 300 Area, he showed us 300 Area and he kind of told us where he worked at, at the time. At the time, he told me, if I remember right, I think he was at 300 Area then. But he’s worked all the areas he said. But I remember 300 Area, he showed us a lot about 300 Area.
Franklin: Right, yeah. I think they—most patrolmen kind of got stationed all over the place.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah. But we stayed in the vehicle, couldn’t get out.
Franklin: Of course.
Bryan: Rambo: We just drove around. But, no, I remember that. It was a great experience for me, because I didn’t—you know, I wanted to see where he worked out, what he do. And he just drove us around. And it’s so big, at the time. It was interesting.
Franklin: Did your father ever talk about any challenges with his work at Hanford? Maybe ever any racial conflicts or things with supervisors or fellow employees or anything like that?
Rhonda Rambo: No, my dad was a pretty quiet man. I mean, I don’t remember ever hearing him—I still don’t remember him even raising his voice. All I remember him is coming home, my mom fussing, and then he’d go out to the garage, and that was his place to kind of wind down, tangle with stuff. I don’t remember—I don’t even remember getting a whupping by him, but they said I did.
Bryan Rambo: You did. [LAUGHTER]
Rhonda Rambo: But I don’t remember. I remember him taking me and trying to show me how to drive a truck. You know, it was an old, what? That old Chevy truck he had, and the stick was up here. And I remember him trying to push the clutch and he’d tell me to go down with the gear. That’s what I remember. I don’t remember—I do kind of remember the uniform thing, but I don’t remember too much of him complaining about work. Like you said, he would come in, he’d have dinner with us kids and, you know. I just remember him being a mellow, quiet man.
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hmm, I agree.
Rhonda Rambo: He enjoyed fishing when he had time off. He also had another business. He worked for Sandvik Metals doing their land.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, he had a landscaping business.
Franklin: Oh, okay. Oh, wow.
Bryan Rambo: And myself and my other brother, we’d go with him and we’d mole and cut and weed-eat and all that stuff. For, like, you said, Sandvik’s. It was several homes in Richland and Kennewick we’d go to, and Pasco.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, he did that.
Franklin: And you guys grew up in Pasco and lived in Pasco your whole lives?
Rhonda Rambo: Yes. Pasco High. Stevens Middle School, we went to.
Franklin: Okay. How long did your father work out at Hanford for?
Bryan Rambo: Exactly ten years.
Franklin: Exactly ten years. And what—
Bryan Rambo: So it was ’58 through 1968.
Franklin: Okay, and why did he leave Hanford?
Rhonda Rambo: Got sick.
Bryan Rambo: At the time, he was a—well, he smoked a lot, too. He quit smoking, but he had issues with emphysema and stuff. But he wanted to get in town—my mother, at the time, wanted him in town, and Garrett Freight Lines was opening a local delivery truck service in town. And he just decided to go ahead and work with them and stay in town and stop the long drive out to the Area.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: Yeah, that is a long drive out there from Pasco. I imagine, especially with the roads in the ‘60s. Okay. So let’s hear kind of about your guys’ experiences with growing up. So we talked about the kind of housing you guys lived in. Did—so I know east Pasco was kind of the hub of the African American community, but you guys lived in west Pasco.
Rhonda Rambo: Yes.
Franklin: So you would’ve went to—did you—I imagine you would’ve went to schools that were predominantly white—
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: As opposed to schools in east Pasco, which would’ve been predominantly African American at the time.
Rhonda Rambo: And at the time, there was only one school in east Pasco.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, Whittier.
Rhonda Rambo: Which was Whittier.
Franklin: Whittier, right.
Rhonda Rambo: And our older brother and possibly—
Bryan Rambo: Yep, Artie, he was the only one.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, Artie was the only one that went there. All the rest of us went to Pasco High.
Franklin: Pasco High, right. How large was the African American community in west Pasco where you lived?
Rhonda Rambo: Maybe, I can think of—
Bryan Rambo: Oh, man, everybody was basically on the east side at the time.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. Well, the Robinsons lived up the street.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah.
Rhonda Rambo: There was maybe one family I could think of that was close to us.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah it was the Robinsons and that was it. We were one of the first families that went even on the west side of Pasco. For a long time.
Rhonda Rambo: For a long time.
Bryan Rambo: It was not many blacks would even be on the west side of Pasco, on this side of the—you know, of the town.
Franklin: Did you face any challenges being one of the—outside of what had been formally and informally—you know, east Pasco’s formally and informally placed as where African Americans would live. And that line was pretty drawn sharp with the railroad there.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. Our school, I mean, I remember junior high, not so much elementary, but junior high, I remember one time some girls were saying, well, why are you sitting with the white girls? And I’m like, you mean, my neighbors and my friends? Because they couldn’t even—they couldn’t see that me being black, sitting over here, but being growing up in a majority-white neighborhood, that’s who I grew up with. So I felt comfortable, but I felt a little bit like discriminated against, because I felt pressured into, like, oh, I got to go start socializing with these girls. So that was my first reaction, I guess. Someone showing some kind of discrimination.
Bryan Rambo: Now, in addition with what she said, that’s when we moved—we did move from Navy Homes in to Clark Street.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: Which was further west at the time. And that was considered growing, getting better and everything, as Pasco. And like I said, like she said, with just the Robinsons, I guess, and us, and not many minority or blacks were on that side of town.
Franklin: Right. How big is your family?
Rhonda Rambo: Seven of us.
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hmm.
Rhonda Rambo: Seven children.
Franklin: Seven children, okay. And where are you guys age-wise on the--?
Rhonda Rambo: I’m now—I was the only girl out of seven—out of six boys. So I’m now the baby. Three out of the seven—six boys—are deceased. So he would be—I would’ve been second-to-the-youngest, first the baby brother, and then he would be third in line from the two older brothers.
Franklin: Okay, cool. Did you guys attend church?
Rhonda Rambo: Oh, yeah.
Bryan Rambo: Yes.
Franklin: And what church did your family attend?
Rhonda Rambo: Trinity Church of God.
Franklin: And where was that located?
Rhonda Rambo: On the west side of town. [LAUGHTER]
Bryan Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: On the—
Bryan Rambo: Well, yes.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, it was on the west side.
Bryan Rambo: Well, it was originally on the east side, though.
Rhonda Rambo: No.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, yeah.
Rhonda Rambo: Was it? I don’t remember.
Bryan Rambo: We went to church on Ainsworth—it was off of—not Ainsworth, but off of A Street—it’s 1st Street. Not 1st Street. What’s the name of that street that there’s only partially of it left on east side, but the church was there. And that’s when we had—it was before Elder Knowles—Elder James.
Rhonda Rambo: Oh, I don’t remember him.
Bryan Rambo: See?
Rhonda Rambo: [LAUGHTER] I was too young, probably.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah.
Rhonda Rambo: I only remember the church on Shoshone.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, you were young. But it was—but then Elder Knowles taken over and that’s when you remember, and then we moved—the church moved from the east side to where it is now on Shoshone.
Rhonda Rambo: Shoshone. 4th and Shoshone.
Bryan Rambo: Yes. And there were—
Rhonda Rambo: 5th and Shoshone.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, 5th and Shoshone, exactly.
Rhonda Rambo: 5th and Shoshone.
Franklin: So did its congregation follow when it moved or was it more of a mixed congregation?
Rhonda Rambo: It was people from west—east and west—well, east Pasco that came there. Which was kind of nice, because those members, I went to school with, so it was kind of like I still got to see people I knew and went to school with but lived in east Pasco. But yeah there was quite a few members. The majority of the members were from east Pasco. We were the ones I think thatweren’t. From the west, on the west side.
Franklin: What role did the church play in the community?
Rhonda Rambo: A big part of our family. Our mom, she had us in church three, four times a week.
Bryan Rambo: At least three times a week.
Rhonda Rambo: I mean, Sunday was twice a day. We went morning service, to Sunday school, church, and then we came back in the evening. Even when we were young and she knew we had to get home with the younger ones, she had the older ones walk us home. So a big group of—here’s seven kids walking down the street. You know, back then, we—today, that’d be a gang.
Bryan Rambo: [LAUGHTER]
Rhonda Rambo: But, yeah, she sent us home so we can get home and get to bed while she stayed and attended church. Our dad was sick the majority, most of the time. I remember her dragging him to church on Sunday because of football, that was his thing. I don’t want to go, I want to watch the game. But every once in a while, he’d dress up and he’d go, she’d get him to go. But once he started getting sick, he couldn’t go. But she still got up and got us dressed and off we went.
Franklin: What was your father’s illness?
Rhonda Rambo: Cancer. Lung cancer. Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: And emphysema. Well, emphysema plus the—was part of it.
Franklin: You said he was a pretty heavy smoker?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. I don’t remember him smoking, but my mom—both my parents did smoke. But my mom, I don’t remember her smoking, either. So she did quit at some time, and my dad.
Bryan Rambo: And they had some issues in 300 Area, too, that happened. Particles that got in there, too. So he had issues there. So he had gotten sick. It was a combination of both.
Franklin: Yeah. Okay. And when did your father pass away?
Bryan Rambo: 19—I remember I was in—
Rhonda Rambo: ’78.
Bryan Rambo: Yup.
Franklin: About ten years after he retired from Hanford.
Bryan Rambo: Yes, mm-hmm.
Franklin: Do you recall any family or community activities, events or traditions, including food, that people brought from the places they came from? Like east Texas?
Rhonda Rambo: Oh, yeah. Well, of course.
Bryan Rambo: It’s a lot. It’s so much.
Rhonda Rambo: My mom’s a Southern cook and so am I. So one thing she traditionally kept us eating during, I don’t know, I guess in holidays, she taught me to make gumbo. And I still traditionally make it for Thanksgiving.
Bryan Rambo: Every year, mm-hmm. Still do.
Rhonda Rambo: I don’t know. We—my momma used to take us picking beans. There was a farm here in Pasco that I guess after they harvested, they would let the families go in and pick again to see anything. So my mom did a lot of canning. She would take us all out there. We picked beans if we could off the vines and bring them home. She canned a lot of it. So we had a lot of fresh cooking. And when she cooked, she’d cook a lot. But yeah, the Southern cooking of snap beans and potatoes and ham and—
Bryan Rambo: Preserves.
Rhonda Rambo: She had a garden in the yard there, so she’d grow greens and cabbage and tomatoes. She would take tomatoes and cucumbers and pour vinegar and salt and pepper on, and we’d eat slices of that. Fresh corn if it was—either she’d take us and pick it or she—she couldn’t probably grow enough of it. But anytime she could get it, she’d cook it. There was a local guy that would catch fish and bring it to her. Crappies and bluegills, by the buckets, and we’d have fish fry, you know, as soon as we cleaned them all up.
Bryan Rambo: Alan. Alan was the guy that used to do that.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, so traditionally, yeah, she loved to cook and she instilled that in me. I feel like some of my cooking skills came from a young child going in the kitchen and helping her a lot in the kitchen, learning how to do a lot of it. And I thank her for that because it makes me a good woman today, I think.
Bryan Rambo: And me, I continue to garden, like she said, we just—I still do. I give her the—
Franklin: Kind of got bit by the bug?
Bryan Rambo: I give her the greens so she can cook them.
Franklin: Nice, nice. What about any—like community activities or events, like, celebrations that may have been more specific to the South? Was there anything like that that was brought?
Rhonda Rambo: Well, I know, Juneteenth is really big here and in the South. That’s one of the things that they still today do here each year. That was one of the big things I remember as far as traditional things that were done. Easter is a big—I think played a lot here, still today, is the women would come out with the big hair, big hats. My mom was one of them. [LAUGHTER] Yeah. She loved to dress up for anniversary, church anniversaries. That was something big that they—she dressed us up. But I remember, Easter mainly, going and wearing gloves, Easter gloves, hats, little patent shoes, matching your little patent purse. Yeah. So I remember that was a big—and the bonnet of course.
Bryan Rambo: Oh, yes.
Franklin: That’s cool. Were there any opportunities available here that were not available where your parents came from?
Rhonda Rambo: I think work. Just work altogether. I mean, if you didn’t get out from where they lived, you were going to be a farmer. So I think coming here had bigger opportunities, money. The South is hard, back then. You couldn’t do too much down there and not be scrutinized about what you’re doing. So for my grandfather to be able to sharecrop and have some land to work it and not lose it to the white man that was down there was a lot.
Bryan Rambo: True.
Rhonda Rambo: So I can’t tell you the whole story, but there was a relative of ours that’s supposed to have shot a white man, and they smuggled him out, and he did live, he did survive. But his family—he had to leave his wife and children to start a whole new life away from there, because that person’s family after they left and they were questioned, where was this person, they were basically beaten, land taken from—part of their land was taken from them in order to try to get them to say what had happened. But they kept their mouths quiet. They did get him out, and he did have to start—and my mom actually saw that person. He had started a whole new life, new change of life, new lifestyle, new family. But it was kind of sad, he had to leave his wife and children just to start over, just to get out of the—leaving. But the family that was left there did get tortured because of it. So that’s one story that will always stick with me, because that’s kind of sad that you have to be smuggled out to survive. It’s almost like a slavery-type thing, where you have to run for your life and leave your family.
Rhonda Rambo: You know?
Franklin: Yeah, yeah. Sharecropping is—and that Jim Crow system is—too many uncomfortable parallels to slavery. Slavery by a different name. Did your parents ever talk much about the segregation that was in the South and any differences here in Washington?
Bryan Rambo: Well, in my experience, we knew that certain parts—we’d go to like—we would walk around a lot when we were growing up. And we knew in the earlier ‘60s, we were told we could go—if we go to Kennewick and walk across the old blue bridge—the old bridge, now it’s gone—we could cross over there. You could go there and shop and do your thing and get done, but you can only—make sure you’re back before nightfall. Don’t be there after nightfall, we were always told that. Us older boys. Because we were worried about, you know, accidents can happen. She just said, just get back because things happen there. I’m not saying there was cross-burning and stuff, I didn’t see that, but there was a fear that could happen to us in Kennewick. So we made sure we did everything we did, we stayed in Pasco or stay outside of town, and not have those kind of problems.
Rhonda Rambo: I think one thing I remember is going to school and everybody saying—you know like when we had basketball games against Richland or Kennewick, we always seemed to have the rep of we’re bad. You know, Pasco’s bad, they’re this bad element. And even with—I work in Richland, and even working with some of my coworkers and they say, where do you live? And I say, oh, Pasco. And they say, oh, I would never go to Pasco. And I’m like, good! Stay out. Because we ain’t missing nothing over there that you ain’t bringing us already. But it’s just that fear of hearing, Pasco’s bad. But you know, really, it’s not. I think it’s all in people’s—it may be, back in the day—
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hm.
Rhonda Rambo: I remember when the prostitutes were legally—not legally—but they walked downtown Pasco. I remember that. I remember the pimps. I remember hearing about the police pulling these people over. I remember hearing they said they put them in the cars and put them back out on the street just to keep doing what they’re doing. I remember after-hours night clubs that they can go to after-hours, on east Pasco. Where they can gamble, drink late at night. I remember all that. But it didn’t affect me because my mom kept us—
Bryan Rambo: JD’s. [LAUGHTER]
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. My mom kept us—
Franklin: Sorry, what? What’s JD’s?
Rhonda Rambo: JD’s was the old—you shut up before I say it now.
Bryan Rambo: [LAUGHTER]
Rhonda Rambo: Well, it was a grocery store, but I don’t think it was a night—
Bryan Rambo: Well, there was some other stores around—
Rhonda Rambo: Around there, yeah.
Bryan Rambo: Some clubs were up there.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, there were some after-hour clubs that—they were bars but then they did after-hours stuff. But the prostitution, that went on for years.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: Yeah. I mean, all cities have these issues. It’s funny when they pretend they don’t exist or they shove them to an area and stigmatize that area. That’s often—yeah, I’m not from around here but when I did move here a couple years ago, it’s one of the first things I heard about Pasco. Don’t go to east Pasco.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, don’t go.
Franklin: Yeah, and no real reason but that’s the “bad” area of town. Oh, well, then you come to find out the history of east Pasco and you can see why it’s been stigmatized that way, and it’s not due to the residents; it’s more due to careless—
Rhonda Rambo: Talk, yeah.
Franklin: And prejudice. Yeah.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, so that’s what I remember, is being labeled as the “bad” town to live in. I mean, Pasco has a lot of good elements to it I still see today. And obviously the growth is one of them. So I still think that it’s a great place to raise your family as far as having your children grow up here. I love it. I go to—I have family, I go—my family’s from the Bay Area, so I go out there and I visit. But I don’t want to live there. I have family in Seattle, I go to visit, but I don’t want to live there. I’m always—this is what I call home. And, see, I probably will die here. I imagine. [LAUGHTER] But I mean, everybody has their own different views. But, like you said, there’s bad element everywhere. You can’t really get away from it; you learn to adjust and hope for the best. I just think that there’s good and bad in everybody.
Bryan Rambo: And also one of the issues I remember that—it was bussing. It wasn’t bussing, because we were never bussed; my mother would take us to school or we walked to school. But I also was at Longfellow at the time, and all of the sudden they moved us out of Longfellow and they switched us to what is now Emerson, the Emerson School. They just moved us around, switched us around, and we were told it was kind of because of a bussing issue—not a bus issue, but they wanted to move minorities around. So things were changing, I guess, so they moved us around. They moved us out of Longfellow to Emerson and then started changing out then.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: So that was quite interesting, yeah.
Franklin: The integration—you’re talking about the integration of schools.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, the integration, yeah. I remember that.
Franklin: And where—sorry, I’m not super-familiar with these schools, so where was Longfellow?
Bryan Rambo: It is now on—
Rhonda Rambo: 10th?
Bryan Rambo: 10th, it’s more in town. It’s on 10th also, 10th and—
Rhonda Rambo: Clark.
Bryan Rambo: No, actually, it’s 14th. That’s 14th, isn’t it? It’s 14th. It’s 14th.
Rhonda Rambo: 14th and Clark.
Franklin: And where is Emerson?
Rhonda Rambo: Emerson is right on Sylvester.
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hm.
Bryan Rambo: Well, now it’s not. No, it’s not on Sylvester anymore. It’s moved up, now. It’s—but at the time, she’s right, it was on Sylvester.
Rhonda Rambo: It’s now the Boys and Girls Club of America, that’s where it is now, and then they moved it over towards the high school now. Emerson, that’s the new Emerson.
Franklin: Were there any ways in which opportunities for your parents were limited because of segregation or racism?
Bryan Rambo: I think, personally, I think the opportunities opened, like I say, when they got here, my sister was saying. It just, like I say, it was more work. My dad always had found work and he had, like I say, his own business.
Rhonda Rambo: They both went to CBC for a little—my mom got an AA at CBC, and so she taught early childhood education.
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hmm, Head Start.
Rhonda Rambo: Head Start. I think there were other black women that my mom—the Tates—that one of them worked there with my mom.
Bryan Rambo: Yes. Of course, Virgie Robinson. The school’s named after her now. We were real close to her, real close to her.
Franklin: Yeah, one of our early interviews for the project was Richie, Richie Robinson, I talked with him.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, Richie’s great, yeah.
Franklin: Yeah, he is. That was a really wonderful interview. And his mom, I wish I could have met her. She was a really—
Bryan Rambo: Oh, she was great.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: She was a really amazing lady.
Bryan Rambo: Yes, she was.
Franklin: What about for yourselves? Did you feel in any ways, growing up in Pasco, that—or when you were first starting out in adulthood, felt that your opportunities were limited in any way because of de facto segregation or racism?
Rhonda Rambo: I don’t think so.
Bryan Rambo: I feel that my parents at the time, they kind of were in the tougher fringes of the—you know, segregation and all. Because they came out of Jim Crow era. And then things were changing in the ‘60s and things were getting a little bit better. I think the opportunities for me opened up. For me, and my sister. We found work, there’s no problem.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: Even in school, I felt had all the opportunities I wanted to go forward from middle school and high school. Went to Stevens, both went to Stevens, and it was good there.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: High school.
Franklin: And could you describe any interactions that you or your parents had with people from other parts of the Tri-Cities that stand out to you, if any?
Bryan Rambo: My father, like we say, he was kind of tight-lipped a little bit about the friends. But he had a gentleman named Mr. Kimbrough. Now, he’s also a fellow patrolman. He’d hang out with him, and he would go out—his house was out further out at right now what would be the farm areas. Its no longer a farm area, now it’s West Pasco, further out. I think he was on 50th or 40—I think Road 53, I think, or 54. But anyway at that time, he’d go out there and he would hang out—I remember he used to drive out there with him. He would help him do his taxes, he would help him do his work in his house. They were really good friends, and they had good rec. He was really good. And they took care of each other. You know, he was a real good friend of my dad’s.
Rhonda Rambo: We had good neighbors. We had good friends around our neighborhood.
Franklin: Who were some of the people that influenced you as children?
Bryan Rambo: Locally, or--?
Franklin: Yeah, yeah. And nationally?
Rhonda Rambo: Influenced me? I want to say—I don’t know, I think just my upbringing. The way my mother taught us. After our dad passed, my mom really had to step up. I mean, she still had five?
Bryan Rambo: Yup.
Rhonda Rambo: Five kids in the house to raise. So she immediately—she worked nights, I remember getting up and making her coffee and packing her lunch. As she got older and got sicker herself, she started showing me how to pay bills. So I was paying bills probably at 15, 16 years old, writing checks for her. I felt I might’ve grew up a little faster, but at the same time, she was teaching me what I needed to know at the same time. But just watching her as a woman, growing up and being so strong and independent, it made me who I am today. I think I’m a strong person because of that. So I think she’s my biggest role model. Because of her faith in God, I think that helped shield us from a lot. Because she always taught us, when we came in from school, we prayed.
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hmm, we did a lot of praying.
Rhonda Rambo: She taught us to pray, if we were in class and we were having issues with maybe our teacher or a fellow classmate, she would say, just—you don’t have to shut your eyes, she said, just say a little prayer. And today, I think she’s kept us out of a lot. She used to foresee things. I kid you not, she would tell us, I saw this in a dream: don’t go over here. One of our brothers didn’t listen. And we had a local pub across the street from our home where we grow up right there on Clark Street. It was First Edition. And she told my brother, I dreamed that you’re going to get injured in that pub; you need to stay out of there. And he went over there and they had a pinball machine. I guess there was someone in there playing on it longer than he wanted, and he went up to the guy and said, hey, I want my turn. This guy punched my brother one time, broke his jaw, and sent him straight to the hospital. My mom said, I told you!
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, I remember that!
Rhonda Rambo: And stay out of that bar because this was going to happen. There was a couple of dreams that she had about my older brother, and she told him, I had a bad dream. Stay out of here, don’t go over here. My brother didn’t listen. But you know, none of us have done time to where we’re in prison. But she instilled us the right and the wrong. And I think that is what is slacking in a lot of families today. She gave us rules and if we broke them rules, we got the punishment. And my mom didn’t joke.
Bryan Rambo: No, she did not.
Rhonda Rambo: If my dad came home, and she told, you know your dad is going to whup you, she really meant that, and she meant she going to do it, too. And so we had that fear in us. And so I tried to instill that same thing in my children. Y’all know right and wrong. If you go out there and you did something wrong, don’t expect me to come and get you out of it, if you make that mistake. So I think that that is what people need in this world today, is a little bit of more, put down your foot, let’s just say, and just stick to your grounds.
Franklin: Did your mom or dad ever give you any advice or anything on maybe how to handle a delicate situation that may be caused because of someone else’s bigotry or perception of you?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, she did. She said, they’re only words. Try to walk away from—she always taught us to walk away from a fight unless they put they hands on us. I mean, then you have to—if you have to defend yourself. But she’d always try to teach us it’s only words and they’re not going to kill you, and to try to walk away. You know, today, I’ve never really been—I don’t remember being called out of my name. But maybe one time.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: One time for me at least that I know.
Rhonda Rambo: Usually I will address it if it is a problem. I usually just go ahead and speak my mind, too. And then—but I’ve never had to physically fight or anything. Outside my brothers.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: Right, that’s just—
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, we protect our brothers and sisters. Yeah, we did that.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, but they tried to teach us to love, not to fight.
Franklin: Right. So, Bryan, you worked out at Hanford, right?
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hmm, yes.
Franklin: And how long did you work out at Hanford for?
Bryan Rambo: Oh, okay.
Franklin: A long time?
Bryan Rambo: You want to put a—phew. Since ’86, so—
Franklin: Do you still work out there?
Bryan Rambo: No, I retired in—what was it? 2014. ’14, yeah. No, ’13. ’13, excuse me.
Franklin: So 27 years.
Bryan Rambo: Yes.
Franklin: And what did you do out there?
Bryan Rambo: Like my dad, like my father, like son, I joined—went on patrol.
Franklin: Went on patrol.
Bryan Rambo: Hanford Patrol.
Franklin: And how had patrol changed from your father’s day to when you started?
Bryan Rambo: Well, it was interesting because I—when I got out there, there was people that still—even though he was gone, let’s say, he’s been gone more than, at that time—
Rhonda Rambo: 20 years.
Bryan Rambo: When I started, because that was ’86, so that’s been a span of—
Franklin: Almost 20 years.
Bryan Rambo: 15, 20 years.
Rhonda Rambo: Almost 20 years.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, some people that were still there remembered my father. And again, like my sister said, they had real respect for my dad, and they—I had to, of course, have previous experience in the service—Marine Corps, and they wanted me. But they knew my dad, and actually, the interviewer knew my dad and spoke very good words about him and everything. And it just went from there. But I tried to bring up a photo showing how my father was out there. He was one of the few that watched the first moon rocks that were brought in 1968 from the moonwalk.
Franklin: Oh, cool.
Bryan Rambo: It was at the Federal Building, and he was—it shows him guarding it, standing up, guarding it. And then there’s a little girl looking at it, and he’s looking down kind of watching everything. It was in the Federal Building at the Science Center then. It was very cool. I was very proud of that. I think PNL still has records of those photos—they’ve got photos of it. But that’s the reason why, again, because they saw Rambo, a lot of those photos because in our academy they had those pictures. They had a picture of my dad still in there.
Franklin: In where?
Bryan Rambo: In our academy. We had an academy out there at the time, in the East Area. Not East Area, now it’s 300 Area, toward 300 Area. But at the time, they had some pictures in the East Area where I first started at, and they had pictures of patrolmen through the ages of the years, and they had my father’s picture there. It was great, you know, seeing that. So it was great. It was great there. Real professional. Professional work. A lot of years, a lot of good people. Had some issues in those days, but—
Franklin: Like what?
Bryan Rambo: It wasn’t much—like not much racial issues. But you know a little here and there, little sticklers. Like we said, my sister was saying, my mother and father gave us—look over at the wind, just look over at—as long as it’s not interfering with my job, my work and my job, keep going.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: And that’s why I did 20-some years doing that. And overall it’s been good.
Franklin: What on-the-job training did you receive, if any?
Bryan Rambo: Ooh, I started off there as what would be called the SRT or like SWAT, kind of a fast tactical team there at the time. Different than what my father was, which was like just regular security police officer. We were like a [UNKNOWN], they called it. But anyway we would do pretty much everything what my father would do, except if there was an emergency, we would go there for emergencies. Anything, situations, we’ll be ready to go, out at the Hanford Area, whatever it may be. And in the town, also, so, the Federal Building. So it was pretty interesting.
Franklin: Did you acquire any skills or experience on the job that helped you later in life?
Bryan Rambo: Oh, a lot.
Rhonda Rambo: Patience.
Bryan Rambo: Patience, yes.
Bryan Rambo: A lot of patience. You’ve got to just—being an officer, whether you’re in the Area or you’re a police officer, you’ve got to have the patience, like you said. You got to have—of course have all the necessary training from law enforcement to do my job. Today, I would use those opportunities still in my head—it’s still a race around my head to do it—what to do and what not to do. They help me in life. Plus, like we said, we went to school. I also did—prior to going into patrol, I did four years of college out of University of Hawai’i, went to University of Hawai’i and got a degree there.
Franklin: Oh, on—Manoa?
Bryan Rambo: Yes, yes, Manoa Campus.
Franklin: Oh, I went to University of Hawai’i in Hilo.
Bryan Rambo: All right! Good job.
Bryan Rambo: Hilo, right, that’s great. Excellent. The Big Island? Oh, my goodness.
Franklin: Yeah, the Big Island.
Bryan Rambo: It’s great.
Franklin: Yeah, I loved it. What made you—this is a little off-topic—but what made you want to go to Hawai’i?
Bryan Rambo: Again, when I was in—I went into the Marine Corps right after high school in ’77—I went and I did my training and then after that, my first duty station was Pearl Harbor. So I got to see Pearl Harbor, did my duties there, and at the time I was taking a few classes at the University on my off time and everything. So when I finished my first initial four years with the Marine Corps, I decided, oh, well, I’ll just go back and finish up. So I went back to Manoa and started off there and finished up.
Franklin: And what was your degree in?
Bryan Rambo: Broadcast communications.
Franklin: Broadcast communications. And, Rhonda, did you go to college as well?
Rhonda Rambo: I only did a little bit for early childhood education. Because I was kind of working at a daycare where they wanted me to have a little extra training on it. But, no, I didn’t go any more than I had to. [LAUGHTER] Per se.
Franklin: It’s not always for everyone.
Franklin: Hold on, I just want to write that down. So, Bryan, where did you—could you describe a typical workday as a Hanford Patrol officer when you were out there?
Bryan Rambo: I can’t tell you everything. But I can tell you some outlooks. Like I say, we get there, get our lineup, we get the time—what happened the night before or what’s going on that happened that day, the activities. We’d get our reports, and we’d be sent out to our various locations, whether it be, let’s say, up close in East or West Area or we’d be sent way down south to 300 or way north to 200-East or 100-N Areas. So we’d roll, we’d do our various security checks, and just traffic control, those things.
Franklin: And so that really brought you all over the Site, then.
Bryan Rambo: Yes.
Franklin: Like your father, you would’ve gotten to know the whole Site pretty well.
Bryan Rambo: Yes, I got to know the whole Site.
Franklin: How would you describe your relationships with your coworkers and your supervisors and management?
Bryan Rambo: Pretty good. I had a good—tons of good coworkers. I’m still having fun with them now. Some of them are still out in the Area today. I still have time with them. In fact, two years ago—well, now it was a year and a half I guess—we went to white water rafting on the Solomon River—Salmon River down in Oregon.
Franklin: Oh, cool.
Bryan Rambo: It’s fun, you know, we do a lot of good things.
Franklin: So you have pretty close relationships, communication, with a lot of them.
Bryan Rambo: Oh, yes. Sure do.
Rhonda Rambo: I still—well, for my job, there’s one of the inspectors that come through, still, every time he sees me, your brother. Your brother this, your brother that. I’m like, okay, I get it, he’s a good guy. So he was like, I do still hear, people still that do know him say—
Franklin: And, Rhonda, where do you work?
Rhonda Rambo: I work for a company that’s not in Hanford, but for Hanford, that does radioactive waste from Hanford.
Franklin: Okay, which company?
Rhonda Rambo: It’s Perma-Fix Northwest.
Franklin: There’s such a litany of contractors that’s it’s always, like, I need a map.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, yeah.
Franklin: I’m scared to make one because I don’t know if I have that much space on a piece of paper.
Bryan Rambo: Is it all Battelle now?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, we’re right off of Battelle here, on the other side.
Franklin: Our project is a subcontractor of MSA so we’re involved. WSU’s also involved in the web, as I like to call it. The web of Hanford contractors. And how long have you been with Perma-Fix Northwest?
Bryan Rambo: You’ve been there—
Rhonda Rambo: I’ve been at the site 19 years. It’s been owned three times. So it went from ATG which is Allied Technology—
Rhonda Rambo: To Pacific Eco Solutions which is abbreviated for PECOS to now what is now Perma-Fix.
Franklin: And what is your specific job within Perma-Fix?
Rhonda Rambo: As of right now, I’m doing material control documentation. Before I was an operator, the other years there.
Franklin: An operator of?
Rhonda Rambo: On the Site handling the waste.
Franklin: Oh, wow, okay. So kind of similar questions to Bryan’s—what on-the-job training did you receive?
Rhonda Rambo: Hazardous waste training, material—you know, as far as we had to get a 40-hour—
Bryan Rambo: You’re RTC cleared, too, aren’t you?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. We had to get hazardous waste training. Still today. We still keep that going. A physical every year. And on-the-job training pretty much every year we do it out on Site. It’s a nice job. Yeah.
Franklin: Could you describe a typical work day?
Rhonda Rambo: Typical work day, we do a job briefing in the morning, about what we’re getting into. We go over the paperwork that we might have to sign saying we understand what we’re getting into, what type of waste. And then usually we go in and suit up, put our respo on, and get to opening up containers and—
Rhonda Rambo: --start processing the waste. So now that I’m out in the office, I do the receiving of the waste now. And I enter it into—we have a database that I enter it into. And from there, lots of waste comes, I go to meet the drivers, get the paperwork, sign it. I create the barcodes that we use to mark the containers, and then I track the waste after it goes into the different facilities of the waste is being done at, I track that waste in that database. And then I build the shipment and give it off to our shipper who reviews it and sends it off to get notification and that’s the end of the process. And I do it on a daily basis.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: And we interacted, because I had to work with her to get—
Rhonda Rambo: Waste coming.
Bryan Rambo: Into her facilities to bring waste, you know, escort it, make sure nothing happens to it between coming out of the Area to her area. But she’s right, I would go in there with full gear, and—[LAUGHTER] I said, wanna see—the security folks would know me, but once I’d go in there, they’re just worried, what’s going on. Because they didn’t know.
Franklin: Right, because I go on the Site and Hanford Patrol is pretty tactical. It’s not much different from what you would see on a base. Which really surprised me when I got here. Especially comparing photos of Patrol guys from the ‘50s and ‘60s that, you know, look like—you know, they kind of look like Mayberry--
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, exactly, and what’s the way it was with my father. And now you see like camouflage and whole wearing gear and everything.
Franklin: Automatic weapons.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Franklin: Yeah, it’s a real different—it’s a real different world.
Rhonda Rambo: He used to come on my lunch hour, and I’d be playing cards. And he suited up. And they’re like, your brother’s got a gun. We’re not supposed to have guns on Site. I said, he’s still on the job. He can have that gun. On the Site.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, so.
Bryan Rambo: But you tell them, and say, hey, don’t make any trouble with me, which wasn’t nice.
Rhonda Rambo: I would say, yeah, don’t mess with me, because there’s that gun right there. I might decide to take a few of you out. But we know, it’s a joke. Everybody knows it’s a joke. But it was fun.
Bryan Rambo: It was good seeing sis, though. It’s just—you know, see how she’s doing and vice versa, it was nice.
Franklin: That’s good, that’s good. Let’s see here. And similar questions, good relationships with your coworkers?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: And everything?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Franklin: No—treated on the job well?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. Well—yeah.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, there’s been a few—maybe not so much—there’s been a few little—
Franklin: Maybe in the past?
Rhonda Rambo: There’s been a few little incidents. But nothing that couldn’t—that hasn’t been dealt with. So, I could say there has been some people that would say something. And I don’t know if they just didn’t know better. So—
Franklin: You mean something like insulting, racially motivated?
Rhonda Rambo: Racially. They would kind of in a round-about way say stuff. And then they would think—they’d, ha ha ha. But I would go, ha ha ha and then let them know, yeah, you’re incorrect. So I kind of—I was there prior and I left when it was ATG. And I went and worked at the Interstate Nuclear Services which is a laundry facility off of the Bypass there, on 240. I left and went there for five years. My old supervisor sent a note saying, hey, come back, with the truck driver that was picking up the laundry from ATG. And I read that note, and I thought, you know, maybe I should go back now.
But I kind of knew going back that there was things that I wouldn’t tolerate if I go back. Because it was majority—I was sometimes the only woman on the whole crew, with all men. And you know, growing up with boys kind of made me thicker-skinned for some of the stuff. So when I went back, one of the guys, the leads, was saying, you know, you’re going to be on a respo all day. And I said, yeah, I know. And he—I guess he didn’t realize I had worked there before, and he thought he was trying to scare me, intimidate me. I just looked at him like, yeah, I know. He didn’t know I had worked there and I let him know—I know. So some things like that would happen. And I guess, like you say, you’re a woman and lunchroom chatter and belching and farting and the cursing and everything. And the first time, they go, oh, sorry. And I’m like, it’s okay, I’m used to it. I worked here before. But if it became racist or slightly, I usually nipped it in the bud. Because that’s something I’m not going to listen to or tolerate. So pretty much indirect now, people know with me. Oops, I’m sorry. But they usually—right now, we got a good bunch of people I work with and it’s a minority-type—so I’m still the only black person there but it doesn’t affect me like before. Because throughout the years there were other black males there and a few black females, and they kind of gradually left to go out further to the Hanford Site.
I remember one of the workers there was from Louisiana—one of the male workers. He came to my office one time and said, Rhonda, I’m leaving you. And we were the only black male and female on the site. And I said, it’s okay. And he said, I really feel bad. And I’m going, it’s okay. I go, I’ve been here before. This is nothing new to me. So I let him know, hey, it’s okay. But he really did feel bad that he was leaving me. He felt like he was really leaving me. And I told him, no, you got to do what’s right for you. This is okay for me to be here, and I accepted it. I don’t feel—I don’t know. I was gone for two weeks here just a month ago and I had emails from coworkers, females, males, saying, when are you coming back? We miss you. How’s your arm—I had arm surgery. They were happy to see me back. I do bring a little life to the party, so, I mean—
Franklin: Yeah, I can see that.
Franklin: I can see that, awesome. In what ways did security or secrecy at Hanford impact your daily lives?
Bryan Rambo: When we worked out there? When I was working out there?
Franklin: Yeah. Or—well, maybe starting with your father, if any, and then kind of progressing to when each of you have worked out there.
Bryan Rambo: Like I said, for my father, he was, like I said—
Rhonda Rambo: Pretty quiet.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, he didn’t talk much about work.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: He just, not that out there. Not Hanford.
Rhonda Rambo: I just remember one time we went on a trip, he’d point to those mountains. And say, you know, there’s missiles out there. And that’s what I remember.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah. He didn’t tell me that one, but I’ve been the one ‘til I got out there—
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, he said if we were ever to be under attack, he said, there’s silos out here that are going to shoot missiles that are going to come up. And I still believe that today, that’s probably true what he was saying, but you know, you ain’t going to hear it on the news. But I can’t imagine them not having something out there to protect the Site if need be. But that’s all I remember Hanford work that he’d be saying—we were driving down the road going to Yakima or something, and he’s like, you know there’s silos out there with missiles that would shoot them.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, he never told me that when we were driving through on a drive-around. He didn’t tell me that, so you got something I didn’t know about.
Rhonda Rambo: I don’t know, I just think both our parents were strong Afro-Americans and I think that they wanted us to grow up and be strong Afro-Americans in society. And I remember my mom saying, whatever you do in life, whether it’s garbage pickup, working in a fast food restaurant, whatever, do the best you can. And that’s what I believe in today. You give it your all, good or bad, you try your hardest. If you don’t like it, try something else. And I believe in sticking through the thick and thin of things. And when you have a family, I think you have to learn to take a lot of stuff to put food on the table and learn that life’s not that easy sometimes and you have to take whatever’s dealt out to you in life and make it the best that you can. I try to, again, instill that in my family, that, yeah there’s good times and there’s bad times and you just have to learn to strive as a family knit and grow old and learn from your mistakes if you have some. And have faith. I think that’s a lot of it.
Franklin: Yeah. How did you feel—how do you feel about your experiences working on the Hanford Site, given the mission of Hanford was to produce material for nuclear weapons, and that larger connection to not only national security but also this element of mutually-assured destruction and the destructive power of nuclear weapons?
Bryan Rambo: Ah.
Rhonda Rambo: Oh, yeah.
Bryan Rambo: Let’s just start with her again. You.
Rhonda Rambo: I guess I understand that we have to have something. But how much do we have to have? And what’s the point? Why threaten other countries with annihilation when it’s going to not affect just where you shoot it but everything else around it that may not ever come back? I don’t think that life should be taken so lightly. When you say, oh, I’m going to shoot this and take care of this, when you know once that thing drops, it’s going to take care of a lot of other stuff, too. And I don’t think that we should use that as a means of controlling or getting your way, like a bully type of situation. That, to me, is like—that should be the last streams of something to be used, I would think. But I know we have to say we can protect ourselves. But I don’t know. I just think that that’s—I know my dad was in the era of when they were building the plutonium for the bomb. But he probably didn’t care about that. He cared about putting food on the table, I’m sure. I mean, that was probably the last thing on his mind. He’s probably thinking, I’ve got seven kids I’ve got to feed. And that’s probably all he was thinking about. And the job, it was a good job to have at the time. I don’t know if he was worried about it like that. If he did, I never saw it.
Bryan Rambo: He did keep the food on the table, that was important. We never went hungry. Never.
Rhonda Rambo: Never.
Bryan Rambo: Mom and Dad, they kept it going. For me, it’s different. My sister’s saying a lot that I agree with. It’s just, again, as a patrolman, I can see national security’s very important to me. But the same token, we’re on a—especially here at the Hanford Area now with the cleanup, I want everything to be safe for everybody. And even my sister, she does her part; her part is cleanup. And the plutonium in the Area, that happened, it was the time for it, and I guess they’d consider me a Cold War warrior like my dad was. And making plutonium and stuff was—we needed to have it. But again, do we need it that much? Who’s to say? The way things are going now with North Korea and the other countries—Russia’s even changing their philosophy on how many nukes they’re going to need. But I believe for us right now, for me, it was like my dad’s philosophy probably was. Just, hey, it’s there, it’s a good job. Even more paying job at the time than my father did and it helped me and my family. It kept, again, food on the table and got them to school. Did things I needed. But I do care a lot about the security. But I do also care about cleaning the stuff up, keeping it clean and minimizing it. Less nukes would be better. But on the same token, I’d like to clean up what we have and maintain that and try to not make new ones if we don’t have to. But right now it’s the way it is.
Franklin: Yeah. What do you think is the most important legacy of the Hanford Site?
Rhonda Rambo: The most important?
Bryan Rambo: Oh, this is—well, it was needed during the war—the big war, World War II. It ended it. Questions whether it was needed to make the bombs for the bombing of Japan for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those are questions that wasn’t part of my era, but I know it was important then. It was always going to be part of the history of America that Hanford did this. One of the bombs, at least, was built here and produced.
Rhonda Rambo: I think that—
Bryan Rambo: Its legacy, though, is—right now is that—
Rhonda Rambo: The energy.
Bryan Rambo: The energy it still produces. And we had good things that we produced too. Our nuclear reactor that was both producing electricity and made nukes, which was very interesting. The N Reactor.
Franklin: The N Reactor, yeah.
Bryan Rambo: And the B Reactor, of course, was one of the big first ones built out there. I’m just thinking, it’s a part of our history. You can’t get away from it.
Rhonda Rambo: No.
Bryan Rambo: If I go to Hawai’i and I visit there—when I went there just to go visit, and when I went to school there, too, you bring up the name—you brought up the names and you live in the Tri-Cities, they wouldn’t say Tri-Cities to me. Oh, you live near Hanford. They wouldn’t even think about saying Pasco, Kennewick or Richland. Oh, you live in Hanford. This is in Hawai’i. This is in Honolulu, with tourists and I’d say that name. Say, I live in Pasco or I live in the Tri-Cities, they’d bring that up. I mean, the ideal of Hanford is, it’s abundance of opportunity for this area to grow, and it did. But then you got—like you said, you got your negative connotation of whoa, it’s the place we built the nukes and also this place has got to be cleaned up because it’s one of the biggest areas of cleanup in the country. So it’s got its goods and bads.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, I think it’s developed—I think due to the energy that it does produce, still, is good. If you think about all the people that has been employed through there—this place would be a ghost town if that was to go away. So I think that Hanford is—it’s a plus, but it’s a negative, too, because we have to have it. We need to clean it up. We got the energy from it, but we also got the nuke side that was bad, too. So it’s kind of a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t.
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hm.
Rhonda Rambo: So, I think we’re thankful for what it has given and even what it’s still taking. Because a lot of lives are being lost due to the exposures that are being done out there. And that’s what’s scary, too. When we, like you said, you go traveling and you say, oh, I’m from Washington. Some people say, oh, Seattle? And then you say, no, Tri-Cities. They’re saying, Tri-Cities? And then you say, Hanford, and then they get it. So that’s the stigma of knowing what does happen here and what goes on here. People say, oh you’re going to glow at night. And I go say, yeah, sure.
Franklin: I’ve heard it, too.
Rhonda Rambo: So. That’s the good and the negative.
Franklin: What did you guys know or learn about the prior history of African Americans at Hanford during the Manhattan Project?
Bryan Rambo: There was segregation going on. A lot of segregation. They would work there, particularly in B area, I heard they had—
Rhonda Rambo: Separate.
Bryan Rambo: You know, your white area and your black area and the folks would stay there and work. They was some interaction but not a lot of interaction. But they all did the same mission, but they had their own—they were still segregated because of the situation during that time. And at the time, Richland, as far as I know, there was no any blacks there. And in Kennewick, I know there wasn’t, or if there was, very few. And of course Pasco was the place for all the black were living at the time. But other than hearing a lot about B area at the time when B reactor was running, I didn’t hear—I was hearing at the time, there was even prison areas out there, believe it or not. We had areas there, just different spots and things were going on that I didn’t know were out or realized were out there that the Army was using and had out there. It’s just interesting. But they—it’s hard to explain other than—just from some of the older folks, though, he was saying, that have been out there. But then they wouldn’t say too much about it.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. I don’t even remember the bridge being—I remember them saying that there was a sign that said no blacks after a certain time. But like I said, my mom shielded us from a lot of it. So I think we were going to church so much—[LAUGHTER] I don’t think we had time to worry about what was going over on that side of town. I just remember sports stuff, there would be sports after some of the games from the different local—from Richland and Kennewick. I remember there was a riot in Memorial Park.
Franklin: When was that?
Bryan Rambo: That was in—
Rhonda Rambo: Oh, god, that had to be back in—
Bryan Rambo: ’60--?
Rhonda Rambo: The ‘70s, wasn’t it?
Bryan Rambo: I think it was ’70 or ’69 or ’70, but—
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, but—
Franklin: Did either of you participate?
Rhonda Rambo: Not me, but my—
Bryan Rambo: Older brother.
Rhonda Rambo: Older brother, yeah.
Bryan Rambo: Artis.
Rhonda Rambo: And Dwayne, they were in it, you know.
Franklin: What—do you know what--?
Rhonda Rambo: It was—well, rumor had it that something—one of the guys from Navy Homes had an issue with somebody over here on the west side. All of Navy Homes kids showed up here at the park, in Memorial Park. And all the west side kids, which was one of our brothers or two of our brothers, had all our neighbor kids go there, and it was a big brawl.
Franklin: Oh. So it was more like a neighborhood type of beef than like a civil rights demonstration?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, it was more like a beef between one—the Navy Homes and the west side.
Franklin: Ah, okay.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. But—
Franklin: That kind of leads me into my next question. What were the major civil rights issues for African Americans at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities during your time here when you were growing up in that era?
Bryan Rambo: Well—
Rhonda Rambo: Civil rights? I can’t think of any. Maybe the high school one with Whittier.
Bryan Rambo: Well, the high school, it was an issue, too. Artie was more or less—our older brother—was more or less involved in that. But for myself at the time, I was in middle school at the time at Stevens, it was some issues going on. Because it was during the civil rights of the Watts thing, riots were going on. ’68 was the assassination unfortunately happened there, and Kennedy and Martin Luther King further in there.
Franklin: Yeah, Malcolm X, too.
Bryan Rambo: Things were really static but I was still just going into middle school. Nothing was per se, I was just hearing a lot, hearing a lot of what was going on, but didn’t see a lot of major instances I can remember.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah.
Bryan Rambo: But my older brother could, he could probably tell you more insight on that.
Franklin: Were either of you involved in any civil rights efforts? Marches, protests?
Rhonda Rambo: Nope.
Rhonda Rambo: No.
Bryan Rambo: No, we were—I was part of the black African American scholarship group. They got that, but—
Rhonda Rambo: AA.
Bryan Rambo: AA. You weren’t—you were a part of that, too, weren’t you?
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, but I didn’t participate in too many—I mean, I’ve never been in any kind of walks or protests. No. I was a good girl. I was.
Bryan Rambo: But again, like—the situation with us, because we were living in the fringe of the west side, I was stigmated myself—I don’t know if my sister wouldn’t say so much or my older brothers—but when I would go there they would say, you talk like you’re a white guy, you talk like you’re black, you’re on this side of town. And there was some—because you moved and you’re over there, now you’re part of them kind of—
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, I do remember that kind of atmosphere.
Bryan Rambo: Oreo stigma, I would call it.
Rhonda Rambo: You think you’re better because you’re living on the west side. That kind of stuff, you know.
Franklin: They maybe see you as being kind of whitewashed.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, yeah, exactly. That’s what I would say.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah. You don’t have to ride a bus because you’re in walking distance of the schools, that kind of thing.
Franklin: So you were seen as being maybe in a position of privilege
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, and that kind of put a stigma on me, or tried to. But like I said, it’s something that you just get over, but.
Bryan Rambo: But that was our situation.
Rhonda Rambo: Yeah, I remember that. I remember that feeling, too, of—you know. But again, my mom taught us, again, it’s only words, so you can’t help but where you were raised. I mean, your parents chose you to live on the east side of town, there was an opportunity for my dad to buy a house, he bought a house. He wasn’t worried about what side of town. I guess maybe he might have been worried about what side of town, but maybe it was closer to work. I don’t know. I mean. I just thought that they just wanted us to have a home. It wasn’t a mansion. It was just a home. A four-bedroom home. Imagine that, trying to put six boys in a four bedroom home. Somebody didn’t get their own room, so.
Bryan Rambo: Bunkbeds, it was bunkbeds!
Rhonda Rambo: Bunkbeds, you know.
Franklin: Yup. Yeah. I forgot to ask, were your parents both from the same town?
Rhonda Rambo: Yes.
Franklin: Was that how they knew each other?
Bryan Rambo: Yes.
Rhonda Rambo: Yes.
Franklin: Okay, okay, that makes a lot of sense. So I just have a couple kind of large-scale questions and then, I guess this is for both of you. What would you like—this is usually a Cold War question, but I’ll kind of open it up to now and cleanup—but what would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford? During the Cold War and then during this cleanup phase.
Rhonda Rambo: During it?
Bryan Rambo: Like I said, being out there. You mean, opportunities for the folks coming in now?
Rhonda Rambo: Or just the opportunity of—
Franklin: I guess if you had the chance to reflect on your experience and you could talk to someone in the future and someone was like, wow, what was that like to work at Hanford? What was your contribution, or what do you think Hanford’s contribution is? How would you answer that question if you had to tell a future generation what it was like, or what would you want them to know? What’s the most important thing for them to know about?
Bryan Rambo: Well, like you said earlier, it’s a long—of course you got to go from the beginning, and you’re part of that, you’re part of that generation, that long generation from the war, World War II times to now, and the cleanup. You’ve got several various spots you got to look at. Because you got the war, then you got the Cold War era, then you got the cleanup. Each phase has its own—people will probably say different on each phase. Me, being out—again, I’m from the Cold War era because we stopped making a lot of the material, and then to cleanup, I would say, it was a job opportunity and it was a job that had to get done. And it still is. I mean, it’s still—you can’t let it sit out there and not have nothing done with it. You’ve got to be safe, and I trust all the time on my time, those years I’ve been out there, safety was one of the most things—safety and security. You don’t want to take that stuff home. You don’t want to get contaminated. You didn’t want to bring it home to your family or your cars or stuff, like I’ve been hearing about today, last few weeks. Very disturbing to me.
Franklin: God, yeah.
Bryan Rambo: I think that the newer generation coming in, I think the folks from the older generation that were operators and that stayed out there, been out there, and leaving, like I said, security and safety was the utmost, personally for me. And my feelings now is that the folks out there now is kind of going away from a lot of security. They want to clean, clean, clean and not be safe, safe, safe. I hear a lot of safety, but I think that we need more of doing real protection of the worker to get the job done and not use—if it’s got to be slowed down, so be it, or stop it. But it’s got to be slowed down. Because during my years out there, we’ve had—there have been incidents out there, unfortunately. There have been cleanups that have taken place there that have helped. And then also there’s times there that they could’ve been better, more diligent in the cleanup as far as how to do it and how to protect themselves and all of that. And it hasn’t been done. It hasn’t been done properly. Particularly, areas that as patrolmen, some areas that I would go and check out, areas that I was really worried about, things—a farm that my vent, like they’re talking about now, a lot of venting and things going on—things could happen. And you’re just doing a security check and you don’t know what you’re going to get, you know? I just think, it’s more safety needed out there. And give the folks the tools that the people that are out there, that know, have been out there, give them more of the tools they need. If they say they need masks or they need more equipment to do protection, so be it. Don’t—do it now, don’t wait. Just do it. And do all the proper procedures and do all the procedures. Your full stop, your operational, and then after it’s all done, you do an evaluation and make sure everything’s done right. And what didn’t, what could’ve been done better? Do it even better. As my sister would agree with her job, the same thing, you just have to—
Rhonda Rambo: The safety.
Bryan Rambo: I just think, the less we hear about it on the news, it’s better for me, always better for me, hearing about it. Especially PUREX that just—that brings some history back there about that issue, about that tunnel. And I’m not too happy about that. Because that could’ve—that situation should’ve been done properly through the years, taken care of. And PFP and things like that. They need to slow down and just do it properly and safely so everybody’s happy, so everybody comes home. That’s the important thing. You want to come home. You want to come home to your family.
Bryan Rambo: And it is a good job, and it is an opportunity, and it is good, because you’re taken care of, not only yourself, but you are taking care of your environment, your future environment in your surrounding in the future as well as the present. It just has to be done right.
Rhonda Rambo: Mm-hmm. That’s what I think, too. That it’s important for the generations—I’m sure that if my dad was to talk about it, he probably would’ve said, you know, if you ever work out there, be safe. My mom’s biggest fear was where I’m at now because of our dad working at Hanford. She just kept saying, you know your dad worked in there. You know what he went through. I don’t want to see someone suffer like our dad did. He didn’t die fast. So when I talk to the young people at my job, I specifically tell them, you don’t want to be on an oxygen machine with your lungs collapsing in bed and your family watching you. For me, that’s all I remember of my dad, is really laying in a bed, on oxygen. I remember him being at the veteran’s hospital in Walla Walla and me and my younger brother were so young, we weren’t allowed to go in there to visit. So the older ones would prop the door and we’d sneak in and say hi anyway. You don’t—that’s a legacy you don’t want to leave your family when you’re working out at Hanford. You don’t want to have to think about the ifs and the ands from what could happen to you from coming home—from being exposed. So safety, to me, is a main important thing.
And the cleanup is also necessary. We don’t want it in our drinking water. We want this environment—the river runs through all these counties. Everybody enjoys it. Everybody wants to be out there fishing and boating. I tell my kids, I don’t—if you go out to the water, waterskiing with your dad, try not to drink that water. Because we don’t know for sure it doesn’t have the potential of that. Every time the wind blows around Tri-Cities, I worry, because that’s not—everything’s not fastened out there. So a dust storm comes through, that stuff is lifting. So, where is it going? In our air.
So we have to think, it’s always here. It’s always around us. The mindset of what people have to think about out there is that same way. Just because you can’t physically see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, and you just have to take all the precautions of if it was there. Safety is the first thing. Training is important. And health is everything. So I want the people to think that it’s a good thing. It’s provided a lot of things in Tri-Cities. The growth is because of Hanford, mainly. Like I said, I don’t think it would be anything here if that was to shut down completely. So the generations of families that come through here, generations of families—children are working in the Area and making better money than probably their parents did and enjoying better things than their parents did. So Hanford is a blessing but it’s also something we really have to be cautious about, too, and treat it safely in the right way.
Bryan Rambo: Mm-hmm.
Franklin: Yeah. Great. Is there anything else you would like to mention related to migration, segregation and civil rights and how they’ve impacted your life at Hanford and the Tri-Cities?
Rhonda Rambo: I just believe that my parents moving here, they moved here because they heard the good news. This project here. To come here and work and the families that moved here were close-knit in some ways. Yeah, they had—most of them—multiple people were in different churches, but those churches still fellowshipped in some way. So those families still hooked up and saw each other and talked about how they grew up and when this happened and when that happened. I just think that they saw it as a big opportunity for black families to come and raise their families in a safe environment and make some kind of living. I think that’s what brought us here today, is that I believe that same token. I tell people all the time, it’s a great place to live. You can make good money here if you apply yourself and look for it, it’s here.
Franklin: Yeah. Agreed.
Bryan Rambo: And the same—same thing my sister was saying, like I said, it was the great migration. They could’ve easily went north to Chicago or New York, too, at the time, because folks were moving—California, even. I’m glad that our parents moved here. I’m glad that they did. Because we had the opportunities galore here. Even recently, hearing on the news that folks are just moving into Pasco itself is just growing extremely fast because of the housing opportunities, it’s cheaper, and the living conditions is a lot better, everything. And Hanford is a big part of it. Would I like to have Hanford as the big part in the future? Less, I think. I think hopefully we diversify more into less Hanford but more maybe scientific, I would say R&D, more or less. And less of—and things that we learn how to clean up will help other areas across the country and around the world. But I would like it to be less emphasis on Hanford and more emphasis on other products and other things. I know we got a big agricultural base, too, here, that helps also. But looking back, I just—I wouldn’t have any other way, either. I love it here. I mean, I’ve got our children here—we had our children here, we have grown here. From my father, like I said, he got me a good work ethic, my mother had a great work ethic. It helped me get through a lot of racial barriers. If there were, I—I worked harder. My mother said, work harder and Dad said, work harder, and I did. And I succeeded. I feel like I succeeded a lot in life. We’re very blessed and thankful for that. So looking back, I have—I think it’s a great opportunity and I’m glad they did move here and advanced our life and our kids’.
Franklin: Great. Well, thank you so much, Bryan and Rhonda. I really appreciate you coming to interview with us and talk about your life and your parents’ life.
Rhonda Rambo: Thank you.
Bryan Rambo: Yeah, thank you.
200 East Area
Plutonium Finishing Plant (PFP)