CITIZEN SPOTLIGHT: Dody Lee, Havasu Pioneer

Dody Lee-Hietpas, 75, has lived in Lake Havasu City for 44 years. Her medical doctor in upstate New York advised her to move to a more arid locale for health reasons, and handed her a coupon for a free airplane ride he’d clipped from the newspaper. It was a McCulloch flight.

“We landed on the old airport on the island and, of course, you come down the steps onto the tarmac and its 112 degrees, it’s June,” Dody said. “They rushed you onto white jeeps and took you up to the Havasu Hotel. I thought ‘why are we here?’ because it was so warm. It was pretty though, the outside of the hotel. It was very green, very plush. I remember a fountain.”

Dody and her husband Bob Lee were put up at the Nautical Inn at a place called Sailboat Cove.

“We just fell in love with the Lake,” she said. “We lived on the river in upstate New York and it was one of the things that drew us was the Lake. And the absolutely gorgeous sunsets.”

The McCulloch promotion hooked them and the Lees purchased a lot in June of 1972. They flew home, listed and sold their home rather quickly, and began a four-day return road trip to Havasu in late September. At the time, Havasu’s population was about 3,000 citizens.

The Lee’s arrived in Havasu with their belongings, their two young daughters, 7-year-old Carry and 5-year-old Cynthia, and the family dog – but there was no place to stay. It was the one-year anniversary of the London Bridge dedication and Havasu was packed with visitors.

“We went to the gas station on McCulloch and Acoma and asked a person ‘how do we go about finding a place?’ because there were limited hotels at that time,” Dody said.

A converted garage rental was what turned up and the Lees called it home for that first week. It was their fourth week in town when the Lee’s found a semi-furnished home on Sunflower Drive and settled in.

Their next task of finding work proved to be even more challenging than finding a place to stay.

“It was hard to find work,” Dody said. “There was hardly any places to work.”

Bob, who was a milk man back in New York, was hired at Havasu Hotel as a houseman.

“He worked for the maids,” Dody said. “He made sure they had all of their equipment and sheets. It was a very beautiful place. He made $1.60 an hour. And, I started cleaning houses for $2 an hour. I also took in some laundry, too, washing and ironing.”

Bob’s role with McCulloch Properties Inc. soon had him working night security from 1972-1981 on any and all things owned by Robert P. McCulloch. Job sites included the golf course, the hotel, the hospital while it was under construction, and a 30-unit apartment complex on San Juan Drive.

A photo collage of Dody's life. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

A photo collage of Dody’s life. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

“I went to work for Barco, a company that taught you how to sew and how to use sewing machines,” Dody said. “Then, I worked for Mode Furniture, they made furniture for hotels, and then I worked for another company making furniture. It was on Aviation, but these places kept going out of business.”

In 1979, Dody went to work for the McCulloch Chainsaw factory. She was hired on at $2.75 per hour. In all, she worked there 20 years until the factory closed its doors for good in January 1999.

“It was a pleasant place to work, it was a good place to work,” Dody said. “The Christmas parties were out of this world. They had Santa Claus and gifts for the kids. Dolls, firetrucks, miniature doss houses … wine, turkeys, hams, they would serve you Thanksgiving dinner.”

It was a good ride, all the way through Christmas of 1998.

“We were all called back to work in January,” Dody said. “It was then that they told us they were closing the factory. They said it was a sign of the times.”

Dody was earning $11 per hour as a day-shift paint line lead person when the sign of the times arrived.

In 1980, the Lees purchased a home on Holly Avenue and moved in in January 1980. At that time, Bob worked as a fishing guide on the Lake. The couple also opened, owned and operated Bob Lee’s tackle shop – the first one in Havasu – from 1982-1986.

In those early days, the family belonged to a CB club, citizen band radio.

“It was fun,” Dody said. “It was before cell phones and house phones. We had the CBs, that’s how you knew where the gatherings were.”

The gatherings usually centered on frying fish and drinking some beer. Each person would bring their own grill and prepare their own fish. The ladies made salads.

Other outings included going out for an ice cream or going to the local café, Mundell’s Drive-In.

“I didn’t have any qualms with what was available when it came to shopping,” Dody said. “If we wanted something more intricate, we’d go to Vegas for the specialty stuff.”

Havasu did have a JCPenney catalog store. Ordered items arrived within a few weeks, she said.

“We were never bored,” Dody said.

After 1999, Dody worked as a night manager at Burger King, a special education assistant teacher at the school on Daytona, and worked for the Parks and Rec after school program.

Dody speaks at the 2016 McCulloch Chainsaw Reunion. Jillian Danielson

Dody speaks at the 2016 McCulloch Chainsaw Reunion. Jillian Danielson

Today, Dody organizes the McCulloch Chainsaw Factory reunion, which is hosted every other year. She is the club president for the New Yorkers of Havasu and Friends Club, which meets the third Saturday each month at Grace Episcopal Church, in Havasu.

Dody also currently volunteers as an usher at Grace Arts Live community theater, and she does some modeling during local charity fashion shows.

Dody’s first husband Bob passed away in 2008. In 2012, she married Jerry Hietpas. The couple enjoys going dancing together, and entertaining friends and family in their Havasu home.

 

 

 

 

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