As a kid living in the country west of Healdsburg in the 1930s, Florence Bates rode her family’s horse, Lady, 6 miles to one-room Daniels School on Mill Creek Road.
“She got oats at lunchtime,” Bates recalled among several pages of autobiographical notes that she wrote years ago. As she rode to and from the school, which opened in 1883, she’d talk to herself — “which I still do” — and peek into bird nests to see if eggs were inside.
“If I saw a rattlesnake, I killed it,” Bates recounted to a Press Democrat reporter in 2015. “That’s what you did in those days.”
Bates was in high school when Imperial Japan’s attack on U.S. forces in Hawaii drew the country into World War II. In 1943, she married a survivor of Pearl Harbor. For decades a central focus of their lives was the national fraternity of veterans who were on Oahu the morning the bombs dropped and the world changed.
Florence Bates died Feb. 9 in Santa Rosa. She was 92.
She was born Florence Bernice Nylander in San Francisco on May 3, 1925. Times were terribly lean, she wrote in the narrative for her children and grandchildren, but her father fished and hunted, and her mother canned, so “we were never hungry.”
“We did lose our home,” she wrote, “and in 1935 came to Sonoma County. We lived on the land my father had homesteaded.”
She attended Daniels School through the eighth grade, then her parents arranged to board her in town so she could attend Healdsburg High School. Two years into her education there, her parents moved the family back to San Francisco.
Florence Nylander graduated from Mission High School in 1942 and went to work in a Western Union telegraph office. Late in ’42, she met Tom Bates, a seaman from New Orleans who’d witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor from the destroyer USS Ramsey. They fell in love and began exchanging letters.
The war was still on when the couple married on Aug. 31, 1943. Tom Bates was honorably discharged in October 1945 and became a partner in a moving company in San Francisco. He later moved his family to New Orleans to train as a plumber.
He followed work from state to state until 1959, when he was pleased to find union work in Sonoma County. He and his wife bought and restored an old farmhouse in Santa Rosa.
“While the children were going to school,” Florence Bates wrote in her life story, “Tom and I attended classes at SR Junior College.”
She earned a vocational nursing license and went to work at the Oakcrest psychiatric emergency services center.
The couple became active in the regional chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Florence Bates served as the archivist, creating scrapbooks full of photos and mementos of Pearl Harbor survivor reunions, school presentations, parades and social outings.
Son Michael Bates of Santa Rosa said his folks bonded tightly with other couples from the veterans group and traveled far and wide for gatherings of Pearl survivors.
“They went every five years to Pearl Harbor,” Michael Bates said.
His father died in 2009.
He said his mother, who until just months ago continued to attend monthly luncheons of Santa Rosa’s much dwindled Pearl Harbor group, adored online crossword puzzles and books.
“She was a voracious reader,” Michael Bates said. “She would go through six books a week from the library.”
In her biographical notes to her family, Florence Bates wrote in 1997, “Let no one sing sad songs for me. My life is, and has been, a great adventure.
“When it ends, hopefully, I will be ready for the next adventure.”
In addition to her son in Santa Rosa, she is survived by her daughters, Pam Bates of Kenwood and Carolyn Watson of San Antonio, Texas, and six grandchildren.
At her request, there will be no services.