born Dec. 12, 1918
died Nov. 29, 2009
A Gem in the Desert
Last October, Borrego Springs’
former honorary mayor
Robert Cassidy proudly handed over
a toy stoplight to successor Robert Piva. Although it
lacked the hoopla of a presidential changing of the
guard, the multi-colored ornament stands a symbol of the
California town’s dedication to a way of life.
“It’s the only stoplight in town,”
Cassidy says with a chuckle. “And it’s the mayor’s job
to keep it that way.”
“We don’t have a stoplight or a
mall, but we could go to a mall and stoplight if we have
to,” Piva jokes.
Of course, the lack of a stoplight
has a lot to do with its location—smack dab in the
middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which, at
600,000 acres is the largest state park in the Lower 48
states. Residents have been known to jokingly describe
their town as the state park’s “doughnut hole.”
This remote desert location isn’t
lost on its 2,789 residents.
“Everybody in Borrego Springs
wants to be here,” says
84-year-old Cassidy. “No one
ends up in Borrego Springs by accident.” To offer some
perspective, the nearest supermarket or movie theater is
a 90-minute drive away.
“And if you don’t like the
desert,” Cassidy says, “don’t come to Borrego Springs.”
“People who love the desert really
love it here,” adds longtime resident Kelley Jorgensen,
“and people who don’t usually leave.”
As you might expect, for most of
the year it’s hot . . . really hot. The temperature
usually tops 100 degrees every day for four months of
the year, with summer temperatures frequently reaching
110. A typical year features just 7 inches of rain.
“You actually can fry an egg on
the sidewalk,” Jorgensen says. “But it’s really
small-town life at its best. No crime to speak of,
everyone knows each other—and boy do the stars come out
Another part of Borrego Springs’
appeal lies in a vibrant arts community. The Performing
Arts Center hosts a resident theater company, the
Community Concert Association brings musical groups to
town, a dance studio offers classes and concerts, and a
dozen or so galleries display a vast variety of
paintings and sculptures.
The town also sits amid
breathtaking desert scenery that, in wet years, can draw
5,000 visitors on springtime weekends, when desert
wildflowers bloom. The desert scenery is what first drew
Piva to the area. “We had four kids and in 1961 we
started taking them on trips to the desert,” he recalls.
“I love the vast openness of the desert.”
There’s also plenty of hiking to
satisfy the most ardent trekker. The Pacific Crest Trail
passes near town, as well as one of California’s best
The Borrego Valley had its first
European visitors in 1772, but the town didn’t really
get started until the first successful well was dug in
1926. The discovery of a year-round water source
prompted the establishment of a thriving citrus-growing
industry. If you’ve ever had a grapefruit from Harry &
David’s Fruit of the Month Club, you’ve sampled the
town’s main export. In fact, citrus farming remains
Borrego Springs’ biggest industry, followed by tourism.
Scenic landscapes and manicured golf courses make the
town a popular destination for retirees.
New residents are often struck by
Borrego Springs’ civic-mindedness. Donations paid for
the high school’s new gymnasium, as well as a
world-class skate park for skaters and skateboarders,
and booster clubs continually fund civic projects.
Although there are plenty of
vacant lots in town, Jorgensen says growth is limited
because the town is surrounded by the park. And for
residents, that’s just fine.
“We like it here because it’s so
unique and serene,” Piva concludes. “We have the
openness and the small population. That’s just how we
Love that Bob
by Judy Meier,
Editor, Borrego Sun
Sept 3, 2009
capacity was reached soon after the reception started
Aug. 23, 2009 as dozens of friends of Borregan Bob
Cassidy crowded into his Villas Borrego condominium to
bid him farewell. The small living room was just oozing
I am not surprised at the range of
activities in which Bob participated during his 29 years
in the valley, or the high regard this community holds
for him. Bob has been a part of untold areas of the
valley, continuing a tradition of caring that dates back
to his long career as a registered nurse specializing in
He moved to Borrego in 1980 and dived
into the local scene, volunteering at the state park,
serving on the board of the Civic Foundation – including
as president, joining St. Barnabas Episcopal Church and
filling many roles there. He joined Rotary Club and
worked with the Performing Arts Center and Golden Share
food distribution program.
The Chamber of Commerce officially noted
Bob’s contributions to Borrego Springs by naming him
honorary mayor in both 2001 and 2002. “Borrego has been
so good to me,” Bob said at his party. “Serving two
times as honorary mayor was a real honor.”
Lynn Wilderson, who coordinated Bob’s
farewell party, met him when they became neighbors at
Santiago Estates. “He’s my ‘kissing cousin,’ ” she said,
noting that Cassidy is also her family name. “We just
fell in love.”
Now 90, Bob is relocating to Indiana to
be closer to his family. “Borrego has provided me with a
wonderful, wonderful retirement home. Borregans are
wonderful people,” he said, shaking his head in wonder
at all the people who stopped in to wish him well.
With the nonstop kisses and hugs Bob’s
friends bestowed upon him at the party, it was obvious
those warm feelings were reciprocated.
Vol. 58, No. 25
Borrego Springs, California December 10, 2009
Two-time honorary mayor Bob Cassidy dies at 91
people around here knew him as “Mayor Bob.” Robert
Thomas “Bob” Cassidy, a two-time honorary mayor of
Borrego Springs and longtime community volunteer, died
Nov. 29 in Elwood, Ind., only two months after leaving
the desert he loved dearly. He was 91.
Mr. Cassidy had just celebrated the
Thanksgiving holiday with 24 family members in Indiana
when he fell ill and was hospitalized with pneumonia,
according to his son, Thomas.
“He died suddenly, but very peacefully,
and surrounded by family,” his son said.
Relishing the role of mayor during the
seasons of 2002 and 2003, Mr. Cassidy “lived and
breathed Borrego,” according to his son. A local
resident for 29 years, Mr. Cassidy bought a home
sight-unseen at the Silver Dons (now Santiago Estates)
when he read an
L.A. Times article about Anza-Borrego Desert State
Park. Having lost his 56-year-old wife to pancreatic
cancer in 1979, Mr. Cassidy relocated to Borrego from
Indiana in August 1980 and spent hours walking the
valley as a way to heal his grief.
A volunteer for ABDSP, a member of the
Rotary Club, Civic Foundation, and a past board member
of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce and Borrego
Springs Performing Arts Center, Mr. Cassidy immersed
himself in all things Borrego. He also worked for awhile
at Palm Canyon Resort’s Mercantile and for Mort’s
He attended both St. Richard’s Catholic Church
(Saturday nights) and St. Barnabas Episcopal Church
(Sunday mornings). A celebration of Mr. Cassidy’s life
will be held locally later in the season. A funeral mass
was celebrated at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Elwood
Born Dec. 12, 1918, in Dubuque, Iowa,
Mr. Cassidy graduated high school in 1937 and attended
an all male nursing school in St. Louis. He joined the
Army and served as a surgical nurse from 1942 to 1946,
obtaining the rank of master sergeant with the 123rd
In April 1946 he married his wife, Ida
“Joan.” The couple moved to Indiana where Mr. Cassidy
worked for 33 years as a registered nurse for the
Veteran’s Administration in a psychiatric hospital in
Marion. He obtained his master’s degree in psychological
counseling from Indiana University.
Mr. Cassidy’s job included providing
group and individual therapy for returning Vietnam War
veterans who suffered a myriad of problems. He once
shared, “We really didn’t have a clue as to how to help
them. It was the time of experimental medications that
would make the patients sicker than when they came in.”
Mr. Cassidy had said that when his wife
died and he first moved to the desert he was “very angry
with this world,” but the valley and the people who live
here helped him to recover from his grief.
“He just kind of brought the whole
community together. Everybody in Borrego loved him,
because he was Bob,” said his longtime friend Borregan
In addition to his son Thomas of Elwood,
Mr. Cassidy is survived by his daughter, Kathleen
Cassidy Murphy of Olathe, Kan., his brother Francis of
Winter Park, Colo., a sister Barbara Frommelt of Iowa;
seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The family suggested memorial donations
be made to the Guatemala project of East Main St.
Christian Church, 1801 Main Street, Elwood, IN 46036.
Sign Bob Cassidy's Memory Book
Robert Thomas "Bob" Cassidy
Dec. 12, 1918
- Nov. 29, 2009
SPRINGS, Calif. — Former Elwood resident Robert T.
Cassidy, 90, of Borrego Springs, Calif., died Nov. 29,
2009, at St. Vincent Mercy Hospital in Elwood.
He served in
the U.S. Army.
include daughter, Kathleen (husband, Pat) Murphy; and
son, Thomas J. (wife, Angela) Cassidy.
His wife, Ida
Joan (Allaire) Cassidy, died Dec. 5, 1979.
10 a.m. Friday at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Elwood.
Burial in Garden of Memory Cemetery, Marion.
to 8 p.m. Thursday at Dunnichay Funeral Home, Elwood.
East Main Street Christian Church Guatemala Project
through the funeral home.