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In times of pandemic, St. Helena's Rianda House turns to a virtual car show

In times of pandemic, St. Helena's Rianda House turns to a virtual car show

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A beautiful, restored and raced 1966 Porsche 906 Carrera, owned by St. Helena vintner Dann Boeschen, is just one of a half-dozen cars that are a part of the 2020 Rally4Rianda.

This year, the car show is a virtual one, because of the coronavirus pandemic, although it is still a fundraising event for St. Helena’s Rianda House Senior Activity Center. Entries are still being accepted, photos and the car’s story can be sent to Cars can be viewed at Entries will be accepted in the next two weeks and will be on display through June.

The event’s theme is Concurso del Corazon, celebrating the role cars play in our lives and personal stories.

Boeschen’s Porsche 906 was raced on the West Coast from 1966 to 1979 – it crashed in 1973 – and was restored from 2002-2005 and then Boeschen raced it in vintage events from 2005-2012. It is special to Rally4Rianda as it was a part of the inaugural event, which featured 28 classic cars, held Oct. 24, 2015 in a parking lot at 675 S. Main St. – now the home of Tre Posti. More than 100 people attended the first event, and its $125,000 fundraising goal was reached.

Also a part of the first event, and all the ones afterward, were the members of the Saint Helena Dixieland Band, a part of the Saint Helena Community Band. This year, however, their music sadly will be missed.

Cars & stories

Peter Working, who has gathered the cars for the show for the past two or three years, said, “Rianda House, like every organization and perhaps even more for the nonprofits, is struggling with how we are still going to maintain touch with the community. The very best and most visible way in the spring is to have a car show in the park, or in the earlier years at Tre Posti.” But, a car show wasn’t possible this year – so the virtual car show was launched.

“This offers the advantage of being able to host more people,” on the Rianda House’s website, Working said. Maybe, people have lovely cars that aren’t ready to show, but are still loved. Both Working and Julie Spencer, Rianda House’s executive director, said both the cars and the stories behind them are important.

St. Helenan Tom Belt, for example, has entered two cars, a 1934 Ford 3-window coupe that he bought for $350 in 1972. It was only the body and he spent the next 45 years restoring it. It has the original 1934 Ford V-8 engine.

Belt’s second car is a 1960 Porsche roadster, found sitting on milk crates in St. Helena in the 1980s. Belt said his father’s master autobody skills brought the roadster back to life. Talking about the Porsche, Working said, “I wanted people to get a feel for what these cars mean to people. Clearly, the Porsche meant something to him, but it means even more that his Dad helped him to restore it. I want people to see that.”

What’s needed to enter a car in the virtual car show? Working said, simply a photo and a story. “I’d like that from everybody in town. If we got 50 of them, we’d find a way to get them online,” he said. In fact, Working said he will put his 1972 Oldsmobile convertible in the show – not that it’s special, except to him – but because of the story. Working and his wife were going to buy one when they got married in 1972, but because they lived a quarter of a block from Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley at that time, they didn’t buy it. “It was not the place to have a big American convertible in those days,” he said simply.

They bought their Oldsmobile in 1984 from a friend in North Carolina. “And, we’ve had it ever since. It was exactly what we were going to order,” he added.

A Mustang & Corvette

Another car in the virtual show is a 1965 Ford Mustang coupe, which Andy Gridley bought for $3,200 in 1981, when he was a sophomore in high school. He drove it for a while, broke it and parked it for 30 years. It was restored in 2015.

For John Wright’s 1962 Chevrolet Corvette, you’ve got to hear the story to believe it. Wright worked for 84 hours a week following the summer he graduated from high school in 1962. With the money he earned he bought the Corvette brand new, but sold it sometime later, to pay for his master’s degree.

Fast-forward a few years, and Wright missed the car. Because he remembered the license plate number, he was able to track it down in the Central Valley. Although the owner didn’t want to sell it, he told Wright to come by anytime to see the car. He did, and surprisingly was able to buy back his Corvette, but only with a suitcase full of cash. He’s owned it for the second time since 1987.

‘Challenge Match Team’

“We just launched the Rally4Rianda webpage,” Spencer said at the end of May. “We’re trying to make it a very successful fundraiser, tied to the Older Americans Month, which is May, and we’re running it until the end of June. Like we’ve done in the past, we’re trying to raise $130,000 to help us with our programs, both at the moment and throughout the rest of the year.”

As in years past, the “Challenge Match Team” is matching the first $65,000 in donations, Spencer said. “Most of these folks have done it year after year,” she added, “They are fabulous donors, they get what we’re about.”

This year, Rianda House is honoring the late vintner John Shafer and are showing three of his vehicles, a 1967 Corvette, a BMW K-75 motorcycle and his beloved 1990 Miata, which he bought new.

Spencer said she loves the comment from his daughter, after seeing the online exhibit, “I guess Dad was a car guy after all.”

The initial Rally4Rianda classic car show was in 2015, and plans were made to have a second event in 2016, but rain canceled it. The last event at the Tre Posti parking lot was in 2017, when the temperature reached 100 degrees. The following year, for the 10th anniversary of the Rianda House, the classic car show moved to Lyman Park, which is where it was held last year.

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