Interview with Virginia Sather

Dublin Core


Interview with Virginia Sather


Hanford (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Hanford Nuclear Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)


An interview with Virginia Sather conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Missasion Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




" Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Date Modified

2016-07-21: Metadata v1 created – [RG]

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bauman, Robert


Sather, Virginia


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Northwest Public Television | Sather_Virginia

Man one: Yes. I’m recording. And okay.

Robert Bauman: Okay. We're going to go ahead and get started. I thought we'd start by having you say your name and spell your last name for us.

Virginia Sather: Virginia Sather--S-A-T-H-E-R.

Bauman: Thank you. My name's Robert Bauman, and today's date is October 16th, 2013. And we're recording this interview on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So I wonder if we could start by having you tell me what brought you to Hanford, when you came here, why you came.

Sather: Well, I was working at a Navy hospital near Los Angeles, California in what they called ship service. It's a PX in the Army. And I was more or less recruited to work in the PX at Hanford Recreation Building, and in that building, they had a beer hall, and a soda fountain, and a ten-pin bowling alley, and the PX. Just kind of a service place where everything was based on the Army. The barracks and mess halls, it was all Army language. I'd been used to Navy language. And I called my sister, and I was telling her about it in Des Moines, Iowa where I was born and raised, and oh, she said, that sounds good. They told us they'd pay our way out. And your room and board would be furnished in your pay. And if you stayed at least four months, you got your way paid back. So we thought, well, we could try for four months. Her husband had just been in the Medical Corps, and he'd been in the European theater. And at that time, they were sending some European theater people over to the Japanese theater, and she was going to be alone anyway, maybe ‘til the end of the war. So she said well, let's do it. So that's what we did. So we came into to Pasco in the middle of the night with the train. Next morning, came out to--taken out to Hanford and processed and all. Just everything, just click, click, click. And we got used to standing in line for everything. And I don't mean a little line. I mean like lines we'd never seen before--blocks long. One grocery store, one drugstore, one Sears order office. Just one of anything for 50,000, 60,000 people. That would be like having one of everything in Kennewick. So I don't know, we just--her husband—then his orders were changed, as sometimes happen in the military, at the last minute, he's actually on a ship going over to the Pacific area. And they changed, and he was sent back to the States. So she stayed her four months. By that time, she got this notice. And so she left, so I was on my own by then. And I just thought, well, I'll just stick it out because it's a pretty good job, and I met my husband-to-be, and I don't know. We kept thinking, well, when the war's over, we'll be laid off. The time came and went, and we didn't get laid off. And they shut down some reactors, and we said well, we're going to be laid off. At that time, I was working in a fuels production section for N Reactor and my husband was the manager in fuels production for the older reactors, what they called the Al-Si fuels. So we said, we're going to be laid off. They shut down the reactors, but they just took the Al-Si people and transferred them over to my section and I'm the one that got laid off. Other people got laid off. But I didn't actually get laid off, because we were on an excess list, and there was another opening in research and development. So I went there, and something—and then they dismantled that in three years. So then I went out to the N Reactor. So I was actually in several reactor areas and all the production separations areas. So when one door closed, another one opened up, and I just was flexible enough to go with the flow. And here I am, 40 years later. Well actually, I worked 40 years, so it's 70 years later because I've been retired for 30 years.

Bauman: Do you remember your first impressions when you--coming from Los Angeles to Pasco and Richland?

Sather: Well, of course, the area surrounding Los Angeles is actually a semi-desert. And of course, everything was dug up, so there was just dust, dust everywhere, just heavy equipment everywhere—the whole 600 square miles. And there was a lack of a lot to do because the hospital where I worked was about 40 miles. It'd been a former country club when the Navy took it over. And had indoor pools, outdoor pools, golf course, and the whole nine yards, so there was lots to do. And on the weekends, we'd go into LA or wherever, Hollywood, everywhere, sometimes clear to San Diego if we could--transportation was very scarce during the war. Find somebody who had gas and hitch a ride. [LAUGHTER] And yeah, that was my first impression. I guess I was like most people. I must've missed something when I was in my geography class in grade school, because I, like a lot of people, I was looking for forests and mountains. But I was used to flat-flat coming from Iowa. But of course, there was lots of woods in Iowa. I guess being young--I don't know. What was I? 21, 20, 21. I guess I was 21. Yeah, I was very flexible. I had changed jobs different times before. I guess I was kind of adventuresome for those times. Sometimes the older people criticized me because by the time I was 21, I'd been in several states. One summer, my cousin and her husband had a carnival that went all over the South and Midwest, and they took me on one summer and I travelled with that carnival. So I just got used to making do, also just making do, not expecting any luxuries, places to stay, or anything like that. So it was primitive. The barracks were just bare floors and cots and a washroom. They were H shaped, so the cross in the center was the wash rooms and the barbed wire all around. Looked more like a prison camp, actually. I know when we moved to Richland and they had a Prisoner-of-War camp out on the Yakima River near the dam, Horn Rapids, near there. And we went to Benton City by way of that road one time, and we saw that, and I said, oh, look. It looks like the Hanford—[LAUGHTER]—original Hanford. Yeah, it's kind of primitive, but I think young people nowadays may be kind of spoiled. I don't know whether they would really put up with that, what we put up with then.

Bauman: You said you were sort of recruited. What were you told about Hanford? Did you know what was being worked on?

Sather: Well, actually, they talked to me first about Alaska. And then even before I talked to my sister about it, a recruiter called me and said, oh, the weather has been so bad out there, they put a stop to everything for a while. But I've got this place that's just as good in eastern Washington. And there's going to be a lot of young people. It turned out, there was a lot of old people, too, because the middle type people were in the army or in the military. And of course, there was probably 100 men to every female. There were just very few women. And mostly because of the housing, because a lot of women in those days would be married by that time. And if they came, it was the same situation. You still had to be separated in the barracks. And the men didn't like that at all, so they'd go to Yakima or Walla Walla or someplace searching for housing. But the women liked it, because the housekeeping was all done for you. The beds were made, the linens were changed, the bathroom was cleaned, and you had the mess hall, all the food you wanted at the mess hall. I think the women really liked it. Of course, I was not married and didn't have any children, but the ones that did, I think they thought it was kind of a vacation.

Bauman: And how long did you stay in the dormitories then—or the barracks?

Sather: Well, the dormitories were in Richland, so--

Bauman: Oh, the barracks--

Sather: Yeah, we can't say dormitories because they weren't that fancy. They were built in Richland for the operation people. That's where people's going to stay. They must have opened in '45 down on Lee Boulevard. One of the buildings is still there on the corner across from the Federal Building. That was the cafeteria. Then they all down Lee and Knight Street where they had the post office and the bank. They were two-story dormitories, and I never lived in there because by that time, I was married. So then we were assigned to a house in Richland.

Bauman: How long were you in the women's barracks then?

Sather: Oh, '43, '44. Pretty close to two. We closed out Hanford like about, well, right after the war was over. We got our house in '44, and I know I was commuting for a while to Hanford, probably a year and a half. And then we got a house—couldn't get any houses ‘til probably late '44. We got a house in Richland, and we were there ten years, and then we built the house in Kennewick up by the mall, and we've been there ever since.

Bauman: You said you met your husband here. How did the two of you meet and where was he working?

Sather: Well, people laugh when they hear this story. I have one girlfriend still left from my graduating class, same age I am. She lives out in Manhattan Beach. So when I was in California, she'd gone out with her folks after high school because of the airplane factories, and so we kept in touch. And I saw a lot of her and everything, and she asked my husband about it one time. She asked him, she said, what did you like about Ginger—I was known as Ginger—when you first met her? And he said her spirit, her spirit! And Betty Jean said, have you got enough spirit yet? He said, just about. I think we'd been married about 50 years by then and now we're coming up on 70 now. But I don't know. I was on an afternoon shift at that time, and afternoon shift, we went to--we worked six days, ten to 12 hour days. Supposed to be ten, but people didn't show up. They were gone. People just disappeared. The rules and everything was so strict and security was so strict. Even after we moved into Richland, neighbors would just disappear, especially if they had unruly children. Any little infraction or anything like that, you could disappear. And the FBI, they had total control. It was really like some third world country there for a long while until the city was sold in '58. Your boss or the top guy in DuPont or General Electric, United Nuclear, they could not—caught with a weapon or drinking or any type of malfeasance, I mean, you just disappeared. I mean, no 30 day notice or anything. Looked up, the house was empty. Or maybe you'd look out and see a moving van. Yeah, it was strict. Well anyway, we would have a ten or 12 hour shift. So they had eight mess halls. They could serve 5,000 people in each one of those at a time, and the only one that was 24 hours was number eight. So usually, you'd go with some of your coworkers there after your shift. So he was there. There'd been a guy about age and my father who would come in when it was spare time. He'd talk to me there at the register, at the PX. And he kept telling me, I've got this roommate, this fellow, he's about your age. And I think you should meet him. And I kept thinking, oh my God. What's he trying to pawn off on me? And he kept it up and kept it up, and I kept telling him I was busy or I was booked up or something, anything. But anyway, I got caught dead. He came over to my table at this mess hall in the middle of the night at the end of the shift. I think we got off at midnight that night. And he came dragging this poor guy over. You could tell he didn't want to come. He just had a hold of him and actually pulling him over, and my husband's 6'3" and 189 pounds. [LAUGHTER] And this guy, Reardon, his name was Reardon, he says, this is Dick Sather, and I told him you wanted to meet him. Oh, I'm telling you, it was a good thing there was the rules. And so I said, not particularly. And he went on and so, well he said, well don't you want him to just sit down and visit with you? I said, not particularly. I remember everything he said. People still tease me about it. Not particularly. And my husband the same coloring that I am, but his face still turned red. And of course, he didn't know what to do, young, naive boy. He's six months older than I am. Anyway, so the next time they both came over to my register--and of course they bought some, I don't know, shaving lotion or something. Anyway, so then my husband started coming in. Then it graduated till we went over and sat down in the soda pop place and had soda pop and visited. Well, that went on for about three weeks, and I didn't find out till very much later that my husband-to-be was dating a gal, and he was booked up for this time. And so he was just playing it cool till he could get rid of this other gal, evidently. So anyway, I found that out. Even after I was married, this guy who got us together told me that. And so then we started, if you could call it dating when somebody drops you off in the middle of the night at a barbed wire fence with a guard. They had buses going to Walla Walla, Pasco, and Yakima, and it cost you a nickel. And they said they had to charge that because of the insurance rules. So on your day off--which usually, we got one day off--we would go, see a movie, have dinner and go back to our barracks, and it went like that. And so he bought me a ring. I think it was in March. I met him in January, I think, December. It might have been December, I think. And we were engaged, and then we married--but I didn't want to get married. He said, when do you want to get married? I said, about 30. I was thinking about 30. So then he started talking about, well, he was going to go to Alaska and all this, that and the other. So we had it set for May. My mother-in-law for years still sent my anniversary card in May, but they actually got married in June because they changed the date twice. We got married in June, so in coming June, I'll be married 70 years.

Bauman: Wow.

Sather: But that's how we met, and that's just the opposite of me. I'm a class A, he's a class B. He's mostly Norwegian and he's pretty laid back. He's one of these, whatever. Whatever you want. Do what you want. Yeah, it's worked out very well, and he's not here with me now because he's lost his memory. Because he could tell you some tales, too.

Bauman: You talked about the buses going to Yakima and Walla Walla for entertainment. And was there ever entertainment on the site at all?

Sather: No, no. But the surrounding communities did not cater to us at all. You know now, you go to a convention or some big thing in the town, have sale signs and discounts at the restaurants and do everything to welcome you. No, they were very, very provincial. Well, so many of them either got displaced or knew or had a relative or somebody who was displaced because these towns were just seven miles apart. And the families in those times were practically incestuous. I don't mean that in a bad way, but I mean, they just were cousins and aunts and uncles. And I had to be careful because I might be talking to the wrong person. [LAUGHTER] But no, no. Although they tried to make all the money they could, divided their house--just like they did in California and still do--to illegal housing, turn the garage into a room and did everything to make money off of you. They didn't turn any of that down. But no, the natives, they were not friendly. A lot of people remarked on that. We were intruders, and I can see their point of view--we were. Tearing up their land, their orchards, and their vineyards, and their little mint fields, which is all the world to them. People back in those days had never really been out of the county. People didn't travel till the wartime. They didn't marry outside. Of course, with the wartime, they not only married people from another state, they married them from another country. But my time, of course, that was just unheard of ‘til wartime. And the only ones that were halfway decent that could think outside the box enough to see that it was for the war effort, even though they didn't know what it was. They just took it in their stride. But by and large, we later got personally acquainted and socially visited with some of the old timers here that the John Dam Plaza, the John Hazel Dam. He actually came from Norway, but he'd lived here most of his life. He came here as a young man, but there were several people like that. He had a store, a general store, there on George Washington Way. And I found out that this went on all over where people were displaced with--maybe not on that scale, but I mean, an airplane factory went in, or a shipyard went in, or something was expanded, and they got displaced because the government had the right of domain. And I think during the war, the President had all the executive powers that were ever heard of.

Bauman: You mentioned that at some point, you were able to get a house.

Sather: Yeah.

Bauman: Where was that, in Richland? Or what sort of housing were you able to get then?

Sather: We got a house. It was a prefab, and I got--I think I gave them to the historical society down at the museum—where they came in sections, I think from Portland. And we were in that a little while, and I got up--it was December 1st. Turned out to be the coldest day of the year. And I smelled smoke. And they had heaters in the wall, 220 heaters in the wall. And then they had 220 wiring that ran inside a wood. Everything was plywood, and it was treated with a propellant, a subtype varnish or something. So it really went up fast. So then we got a pre-cut. And pieces like trusses and all were made in Spokane in a mill, and then came down and put together, there are not very many of those. One was two-bedroom and one was three-bedroom, so we were in that for a while till we built our house, five years I guess until we built our house. But when they did the fire investigation, we found out that's what it was, was electrical. I went in to grab some stuff out of the closets, and we didn't have closet doors, so we just had drapes across there—and they were on fire. But I just overreacted and I grabbed the hangers, which in those days were all wire, and I had blisters all over my hands, and all my hair in the front, my eyebrows were burnt off. So then we got this other house, this precut. And then the investigator came to us and showed us that. And then we went around all those prefabs and rewired them all after that. Because they said the houses they rewired, they found scorch marks in there. So there could've been a lot more fires. Yeah, yeah. So your name, your name just kind of came up. A lot of it was supposed to be your position. When they built the stick houses out here on the north end and right here, Harris Street, where they ended. When they started up there in up town, they started building--well up there about by Jefferson School, they started past there, building stick houses. They all went to management or up here on here, Harris. And in '58, when they sold the land, all that land was bare out there. And mostly, people who got the land--maybe they could afford it. I don't know why, but a lot of them said it was politics. But it was dentists and doctors and lawyers, but it was known--Davidson and Harrison, these streets out here--they were known as Pill and Drill Hill because of the doctors and the dentists out there. So a lot of it was by your position. A lot of it's the size of the family. And a lot of it, I think, just political, who you knew. You knew somebody in housing office. You really had it made. But your name would come up on a list, and they'd give you like three places to look at. Then you'd choose one.

Bauman: When did you find out exactly what Hanford's purpose was, that it was involved in production of--

Sather: Well, I was at work and—I don't remember now who it was. I was working in security at that time. I worked in security two different times early on. And then when they had the expansion and built what they called the Cold War reactors, they were going to have to process thousands of construction workers and support services out at North Richland, so I moved out there to North Richland and processed—Atkinson-Jones was the prime contractor, process all these people. So I was downtown with my first security job. The building's been torn down since. It was down in the region of the Federal Building next to the 703 Building that we also had at the Federal Building. I think it was my boss, Roy James, came in and said--and then people kind of didn't quite believe him at first there in the offices. And then, of course, I saw the newspapers--or at first, the local paper, The Villager. And it didn't really surprise people too much. I think after they heard--especially if you transferred around a bit—well, I know I was told I ask too many questions.

Bauman: So you worked in security a couple different times. What other sorts of jobs did you have?

Sather: Well first, when I went out there, my very first at the rec hall at Hanford, I was classified as a clerk. And then, let's see, where did I go from there? Oh, yeah. And then of course, then I was moved down to Richland for security. And then I went to 300 Area to instrument division. Then I went out to the hog and dog farm. When Battelle came and took over the Hanford laboratories--and I was in the laboratory building, I wasn't in the reactor building. That was F Reactor. They put up a big welcome sign there by the gate to F Area, and it said, welcome Baa-ttelle because they had so many sheep out there. They were testing. Well, then I asked for a transfer out of that because I started getting nauseated. And you know I was up there where they opened these—just like the steam would, like they just kind of boil these rats and stuff. They were trying to find out how much of that contamination would be in the bones. They had doctors, vets there, and everything like that. And I kept telling my supervisor, I don't think I can do this. And oh, he said, it's probably something else. Well, I was going out to the bus area, picking up the bus every morning, and it was in May, so I wasn't wearing a coat--because May can be pretty hot here--and I could see these other workers looking at my abdomen, and I think they thought it was morning sickness. But it wasn't to be for a long time. But anyway, I knew what he was thinking. And every area had a first aid station. Well, I'd go over to the first aid station. And I put off going out there, because you had to dress. You had booties and white coat and all that on. And I said, I get out in that fresh air and I'm fine, and I go back in—it was on the fourth floor. Well, after I left there, sometime after, I guess enough people complain that they change their ventilation system. But I know that's what it was, because I'm just kind of sensitive to scents anyway.

Bauman: And so what task did you have there?

Sather: Oh, well, of course they had all these precious metals, and they had gold, and they had silver, and they had alcohol. And all the supplies, everything. I even ordered dogs from the pound in Yakima. Had to be a certain size. And pigs—we had to have pigs a certain size. Just supplies. What did they call me? Buyer, yeah. But I had to keep track of all this, and they audited me on it. And because it wouldn't be past people to try to take alcohol, particularly. So all the supplies, ether, all kinds of stuff. And of course, your regular office supplies, medical supplies, all that kind of stuff. So I did that. Then I got transferred out of there. And I went out to 200 Areas to the separations building. And I was a secretary there. And then when I went out to BC Reactor, N Reactor, and research and development, all those places, I was executive secretary. I went to night school, CBC. And then I was an administrative assistant, and then I retired. I was a specialist, education training and development. Wrote training manuals and conducted training. Made overhead displays and stuff like that. So I was just kind of a Jack—Jill of all trades.

Bauman: Yes. You had a number of different positions, and yeah.

Sather: Oh, yeah. Well, they just asked me if I could do it, and when I said yes, and then I'd run home and call anybody I knew and say, how do you do this? Brush up on it and--

Bauman: Of the different positions you had, did you have one that you enjoyed the most, that you really enjoyed, or maybe one that was sort of most difficult that are challenging?

Sather: Well, I forgot the two in between. I was in employee relations, and they wanted somebody to go to labor relations who was not connected with any union member. This was during the strike. I believe it was '63. It was a three-month strike of all the craftspeople. Those were trying times. And of course, nowadays with all the technology, it's hard to believe how they operated back then. But the union would get a proposal, type it up, take it to the employee relations people, and they'd study it, and send back an answer, and back and forth, and back and forth. So I really for the first time in a long time was working overtime, because they would be meeting long into the night sometimes. And I guess I was one of the few women who wasn't connected. I know all my friends, most of them were married to craftspeople, and my husband was a manager of maintenance at that time. So anyway, I did that until end of that—that was a temporary assignment. But then that's I guess how I got into the education training and development, because that was part of employee relations. So I was pretty flexible. And also in my studies, I learned that when you work long time a place, they're not going to get--they said three years. They're not going to get much more out of you, and you're not going to get much more out of them. In other words, you're going to get complacent. You're not going to grow that much. And along as far as any place was at PUREX. That was the newest separations plant. I was there six years. And I left there. The boss got mad at me, because he was on vacation when I took the job out at the BC Reactor. But they had a little thing going on. When jobs would come up, they didn't want you to move. They'd never tell you about it. There was no posting. Now posting is required, and we finally got posting to be required. Well, the man who took his place, when he was on vacation, he came back from a staff meeting. And when he came back from a staff meeting, he had me type up his meeting minutes for him so he could turn them over to my boss when he came back after two weeks. Well, I said, I'd like to interview for this job. It was a one rate hire because—that was another thing; your job was tied in with your manager's rate. You couldn't advance if you stayed with the same person unless he advanced. And there was a time or two when my boss advanced and I advanced with him, but normally, you're just stuck. It doesn't have anything to do with your job description or anything. Now, for the exempt people, it was different. They had a bunch of requirements, and it was all rated, and so many points signed, this and that and the other, and you'd be at level 12. Almost like the federal ratings. You'd be at level 12, or 15, or whatever. But the people working for them, the non-exempt people working for them, no. So anyway, I went out there and interviewed, and he said, well, you've got the job. And I said, well don't you have other people interviewing? He said yes, but he said I'm giving you the job. And I said, well. Then he said, I'm going to take you down the hall and introduce you to the rest of my staff. I said--of course I had been training managers for a long time--I said, you can't do that. You're going to have to go ahead and either interview or not interview or something. You can't just all of a sudden drop this on people. Oh, he said, thank you. He's the boss I had to change a lot of his letters. He was Scotch, and he had this temper, and he'd fire off letters and everything, and I'd put them in the bottom drawer. Sometimes I wouldn't even transcribe them. They'd lay there for a while. Sometimes he'd come in and say, what about that letter to that dude over in such and such an area? I said, oh, I've been so busy. I just haven't got around to it yet. Oh, he said, thank you, thank you. Because usually, he'd fire it off to somebody that he shouldn't have, somebody at a higher level. He was so funny. But anyway, I got that job. And then after that, after the civil rights legislation and all this equality and all this business, these federal jobs had to put quarterly reports into some committee in Washington, DC about what they were doing to even the playing field. And here they were saying they were posting jobs and they were doing this and that and the other. And just imagine these people typing up these reports and sending them in and everything, knowing a lot of it was a big lie. So finally, they revolted. And they were so scared they were going to join the union that they would do most anything to keep the white collar people out of the union. So finally, they changed it and started posting the jobs. But before that, it was just quite a bit about who you knew, or who you happened to run into, or maybe just by the grapevine to find an opening. So they had to quit doing that. But I thought, here these people, a lot of them have Master's and PhDs. How stupid can they be? Don't they think we read what we type up? [LAUGHTER] It was so funny. It was so funny. There was enough levity from time to time to make it interesting. There were practical jokes and things like that that went on.

Bauman: Earlier, you talked about the emphasis on security. You worked on security and secrecy and you talked about the FBI having a presence. Were you all aware of that? I mean, it was a real focus, and--

Sather: We got reminded all the time. And all the war plants in the room my friend there I'm talking about in California who worked a long time for Hughes Aircraft, they had big signs up and everything about the enemy’s listening and all that kind of stuff, and pictures, and little cartoons. And yeah, you were just reminded of it in a subtle fashion all the time. But now, just like when I married, I looked up one day and there were two FBI men there standing at my desk. I think I was coming back from the lunchroom and they were waiting for me. And they start questioning me, and I said, well I never planned to change my name. Of course, that was unheard of. Back then--I mean, it's common now. But they said, well, you know there's a law. You're going to have to change it. Well, I'd already researched it. Not that I'm smarter than the FBI, but I think you should get your facts before you expose yourself. And there never was a law. It was like something borrowed, something blue. It was tradition. So I said show me the law. So then they came back again a little bit later, and said, you're going to have to change your name. I don't know what they got all excited about because my husband worked here and had clearance and everything. And I said, well, it's not the law. And they said, no, but it's our policy and it's job requirement. I said, well, when I hired in, I didn't see any such requirement on my papers. They said, well, it's there now. [LAUGHTER] So I let it go for a while, and my husband said, oh, don't hassle it. Don't worry about it. He said, I know your name's as good as my name. He said, don't hassle it. So I guess he thought he might get fired. So anyway, I changed my name, changed my badge and all. I had to fill out umpteen papers again, the personnel security questionnaire. Everybody had to fill out seven copies. You remember--you wouldn't know of trying to make seven copies on a manual typewriter, carbon paper. You had to start wearing dresses that were either navy blue or black because you'd get this carbon all over you. It was something else. So that's my closest encounter with the FBI.

Bauman: You also earlier talked about how during the war, there--bare bones. There really wasn't any entertainment, and the town wasn't necessarily especially welcoming. Did that change after the war? Did--

Sather: Yes, I think they knew what side their bread was buttered on, so to speak. They knew that in the long run, it was good for the communities. Yeah, I think so, because I know we mixed a lot more with it. And of course, they had their stores that you had to trade at. It just wasn't that many places to shop, and you couldn't just jump in the car and go to Spokane or Seattle because where were you going to get your gas stamps? When we were in the trailer, we ran the stove that took white gas. And my husband had a '39 Ford Coupe V8. So we're eating at the mess hall, I mean, we weren't really cooking. So we were putting the white gas allotment into this Ford, and it just about hopped up. Yeah. But we never got enough to go any great distance.

Bauman: Where did you go shopping locally?

Sather: Well, we could get the bus and go to Pasco. There was a lot of nice stores in Pasco at that time. They were like men's stores—weren't any department stores—men's stores, and lady's stores, and children's stories, like every little small town has. And same way with the Kennewick. Well, we went to Yakima. And actually, we didn't shop like you would imagine in your time because where you going to put it? Because we're more or less transient for quite a while. And also, they just weren't things available. Maybe they weren't rationed, but they just weren't available because the federal projects and the military had the priority. I was bumped from a train between LA and Fresno, and my brother from the first Marines came back from the Pacific. My sister—I was visiting in LA at the time, and I went to my sister’s at Fresno. And we got bumped. We were going to 'Frisco, and he was coming in at 'Frisco. Well, actually, he came into San Diego where the marine base was at Camp Pendleton. But then he got a ride some buddy up to San Francisco. And when he was overseas, he was on a Browning Automatic Rifle, BAR, and it's a two man thing. And he had promised his buddies that he, if anybody was lost, he would visit their next of kin. And he had a list of 22 names in the four plus years that he was in the first Marines that he lost that could've been him. And two of them were in San Francisco, and so that's why he ended up in San Francisco. So we picked him up, come to my place, and stayed about a month. And then he went all around the country, visited these next of kin that he'd promised.

Bauman: So overall, how would you describe your years working at Hanford?

Sather: Oh, I think it was a good thing. I think it was good for us. I learned a lot, did a lot of different type of jobs. And the climate was much better than Des Moines, Iowa, I'll tell ya. And the companies, overall, have been good to us. We were with DuPont first and General Electric and then United Nuclear. It's been very broadening, I'll say that. We met people from all over, just all over. And allowed us to raise our family and have a nice home, and a good retirement, and I would do it over again. Not at this age, but at 21, it was easy. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: Is there anything else that stands out in your mind from your time working at Hanford, or anything that I haven't asked you about that you'd like to talk about it?

Sather: Well, it wasn't all as stringent as it sounds. We just kind of laughed about a lot of it. Of course, we really aren't allowed to criticize much, because it just wasn't nice to do that with the war on. I had four brothers in the service. And my dad had been in the Navy in World War I. And you just kind of, well—after Pearl Harbor, the people supported the government very, very well. Before that, when England was in the midst of it and it was back and forth about whether United States would get into it, and it was—really there was no question about it after Pearl Harbor. And so most people felt we were attacked, and they felt you had to do what you had to do. I've never supported a war since then, I guess because we weren't attacked. But I feel now, now that we've been attacked again with the 9/11—I think which took as many people as Pearl Harbor. I think Pearl Harbor was about 2,500 or something like that. That other one plane went into the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania field I think was about 3,000. Yeah. Overall, I know there was critics, primarily over on the west side. And I know they visited over here, and they have no idea that we have an operating nuclear reactor out here on the edge of town. And it was just like my friend in California. We had some friends in California, so anti-nuclear and everything. So I looked it up, and I found out that the time that he was talking about, that there were 19 operating in California alone! Over 100 in the United States. And that was probably 25, 30 years ago. And he was so surprised to think--he just thought there might be one that blew up somewhere. But it just wasn't needed, it wasn't really producing that much. But now you stop to think they'd shut down all those like you see outside of Phoenix in these large cities. What would we do? Where would we get the oil or the gas for alternate fuel? Because the populations have grown. The industries have grown. I realize there's a lot of critics. I know they come over here expecting to see us glow in the dark. But they don't mind hooking up to it whenever they get a chance. But of course, they shut it down. And Oregon shut the one they had down in Oregon, and they stopped building the ones that they were building on the other side at Elma. So I don't think they realize how dependent we are. But the same way there's critics about the dam, and what's cheaper than hydropower? But on the other hand, you go to California or Arizona and they're paying $0.15, $0.16 per kilowatt. We're paying 6.5 for electric heating here. So they envy us in a way, I think a lot of us envy.

Bauman: Well, I want to thank you for coming in today--

Sather: Well, you're welcome.

Bauman: And thank you for sharing your experiences at Hanford. I really appreciate it.

Sather: Yeah. You're a very good interviewer.

Bauman: Thank you. All right.



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Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Virginia Sather,” Hanford History Project, accessed June 24, 2024,