In Guerneville, only ol' man river is a more constant and admired presence than the steady, playful lady who's worked at downtown's Lark Drugs longer than anyone can remember.
It was 1947 when Irene Strombom, then 25, landed a summer job at the predecessor to Lark. That means she has worked at the Main Street pharmacy for a few months shy of 66 years.
"It's gone awful fast," she said with a smile and mild shake of her head. It doesn't seem all that long ago to her that a summer weekend would bring in a fair number of women tourists seeking something for covering up on Sunday morning.
"They wanted to get to church and they needed to get scarves for their heads," she said. "We sold a lot of scarves."
The drugstore was also a hot spot for folks to pick up something to read while soaking up the rays on Johnson's Beach.
"Boy, that was a big business -- magazines and comic books," she recalled. She can only guess how many hours she spent at the drugstore's former gift-wrap corner, taping paper and bows onto presents for people lucky enough to have birthdays on summer vacation.
Irene remembers Jimmy Neeley ferrying her across the swollen Russian River, twice a day, so that she could get to work and then back home when floods cut off access to the bridge. She remembers how grateful she was when computers came into use in the store and her bosses told her she need not bother with them.
Lark Drugs has been so good to her, she has mixed emotions about her decision to retire at the end of this month. But she's close to 91 years old, and she has moved slower since the hip surgery that followed a fall at home last April.
"I can't imagine working any other place all these years," she said. "I feel fortunate to have found something that would support me."
One of Irene's bosses, Lark Drugs co-owner Jim Gaffney, said he half-expects her to dabble with retirement and then come back to work.
"She's sort of like the rock of the store," he said. "Everybody in town knows her."
Gaffney and partner Al Staszel bought the store in 1997, the same year as the party that celebrated Irene's 50th year of working there. "We naturally assumed she would be leaving us soon," he said.
Well, that's now 16 years ago. Since then, Irene has continued to come to work every day and do the banking, accept customers' phone-company and cable-TV payments, help out at the register and cheerfully do whatever else needs doing.
"It wouldn't be the same without her," Gaffney said. "And it's not going to be the same without her."
Irene hasn't lived all her life in Guerneville, but she made her first trip or two to the river town before she was born. Her folks, Andrew and Gerda Strombom, had begun leaving the East Bay for Russian River respites well before their daughter was born in July 1922.
Irene was 5 when her dad, who worked on pipelines and pumping stations for Standard Oil, built a vacation cabin on a piece of land near Vacation Beach, across the river from town. As a youngster, Irene spent a lot of time in that house with her mother and her brother.