Audrey Frechin Ayers, a Sonoma Valley resident who lived a life of public service — to her family, community, country and beyond — died of heart failure Nov. 5. She was 87.
Ayers was born in Bremerton, Wash., a small city on one of Puget Sound's numerous harbors and the home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Her father was a crane operator for the naval yard and her mother was a homemaker.
Those early experiences on the Sound, the pebble beaches, trilliums, Douglas firs, and breathtaking mountain tops, would leave her with a lifelong appreciation for nature.
She had completed about a year-and-a-half of college when she left school after the start of World War II to join the WAVES, the Navy's women's division. Ayers, tall, blonde and intellectual, seemed to have her sights on much bigger world beyond Bremerton.
"I think she felt a little bit out of place in her small town," said her oldest daughter, Lauren Ayers of Sonoma.
After the war, during the occupation of Japan, Ayers took a civilian job at General MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo. At a cocktail party, she met a young lieutenant named Leslie Ayers, a West Point graduate who served under Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger.
It took almost three months before Ayers would accept his proposal for marriage because she wanted to be sure that she was making the right decision, he daughter said. She had returned to the University of Washington when she sent word back that she would marry him.
They married in Seattle and moved back to Yokohama, Japan, where they soon started a family.
The young couple did a lot of moving during those early years. Ayers, a military wife with "three kids in diapers at one time," often bore the responsibility of moving the family and possessions after her husband had already been transferred, Lauren Ayers said.
Although they lived in many parts of the world, including Japan, Brazil, and throughout the United States, California was their primary home — Pacific Grove in the late 1940s, Lafayette in the 1950s and then the North Coast.
When the kids were in grade school during the late 1950s, Les Ayers went to work for the Atomic Energy Commission at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Later, he got a job with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in Washington D.C..
In Washington D.C., Audrey Ayers became involved with the League of Women Voters, organizing league conferences and traveling across the country.
After her husband's retirement in the late 1960s, the couple first traveled to Europe, then bought a Volvo station wagon and drove through Afghanistan all the way to India, picking up hitchhikers as they went.
When they returned, they decided to settle in Sonoma County.
"We were just thrilled with this little farm and little tiny house, four acres of zin grapes," said Les Ayers. "I was going to build us our own home and we would live there forever. Well, it did come to pass."
Audrey Ayers returned to school and received a bachelor's degree in English at Sonoma State University.
The couple joined the Peace Corps together and traveled to Guatemala, where she worked with women and children's groups. After their two-year Peace Corps stint, the Ayers moved to Antigua for six years and continued their service work, helping to build libraries and clinics.