Robert “Bob” Griffiths, a proud veteran of the Civilian Conservation Corps who dedicated himself to preserving the heritage of the Depression-era work program, died Dec. 6 at 97.
His death was reported by the California Conservation Corps, which was founded in 1976 on the model established by the national program that President Franklin Roosevelt created in 1933.
Born in 1916 in New York Mills, N.Y., Mr. Griffiths was 18, poor and desperate when he signed up for the Civilian Conservation Corps in January 1935. His father was ill and his family was hungry in the middle of winter in upstate New York.
“It was 35 degrees below zero,” he wrote in a 2007 email to the California Conservation Corps. “A bunch of inductees traveled in the back end of a World War I Army truck with a canvas top 60 miles” to a forestry camp.
He spent three years in the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was one of Roosevelt’s New Deal measures for saving the economy during the Great Depression. The program put young men to work planting trees, building wilderness trails, erecting fire towers and fighting erosion. Each participant received $30 per month, of which $25 was sent home to his family.
Enrollment topped out in 1935 with 500,000 men in 2,600 camps in every state, including 150 camps in California. But the program was never permanently funded, and the CCC was abolished in 1942 as the United States turned its resources to fighting World War II.
Mr. Griffiths, who served briefly in the Army, went on to a civil service career in the Air Force and rose to the top civilian position at Griffiss Air Force Base in New York, his daughter Marlo Butters said. He retired in 1965, bought a trailer and traveled throughout the United States with his wife, Barbara Jane Wood.
He settled in Citrus Heights in 1970 to be near Butters’ family and devoted many years to keeping alive the story of the “CCC boys.” He co-founded the National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni, which counted about 8,000 members at its peak, and started a CCC museum in San Luis Obispo.
In 1983, he planted a tree at the state Capitol with Gov. George Deukmejian to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the CCC. For the 75th anniversary, he raised most of the $20,000 cost for a bronze, life-size statue of a “CCC boy” that was unveiled in a 2008 ceremony and housed in the lobby of the California Conservation Corps headquarters in Sacramento.
He also traveled widely, speaking to young people about the importance of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression and its legacy of environmental conservation.
“What the CCC did was it saved our youth and our land,” he told the San Mateo County Times in 1985. “There were millions of young men like myself who had no place to go and nothing to do. It gave us back our self-esteem, because we earned our way. We didn’t take handouts.”
Mr. Griffiths’ wife of 60 years died in 1998. He lived for the last year and a half in an assisted-living home in Stanislaus County near one of his grandchildren.
In addition to Butters, he is survived by another daughter, Nola Singleton, seven grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
A celebration of his life was held Dec. 13. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni, the American Diabetes Association or the Sacramento SPCA.