CARDIFF BY THE SEA — As the sun rises high over the Pacific, a couple with strong ties to the community emerge from their vintage Airstream to greet the campers at San Elijo State Beach campground. Their friendly dispositions and generosity have helped thousands of visitors and locals alike enhance their experience at one of the premiere beaches in the state.
For Frank and June Nuttall, the routine was set in motion more than 23 years ago as they stumbled upon the site during a driving tour with their family. But their tenure as the longest consecutive volunteers at any state park is coming to a close at the end of February.
“We wouldn’t be leaving except for her,” Frank said pointing to a picture of one of their great-grandchildren. “Our family is in British Colombia and our great-granddaughter sent us a letter saying she wants us to be there to watch her play hockey,” he said. “She’s the captain of the team,” Frank said proudly. “We’ve had a good run here.”
In fact, the couple has made so many friends in their 23 years as camp hosts at the park that they plan to return as visitors. “We’ve met many generous, kind people,” Frank said. “Our family calls us ‘Yankee lovers’ and they’re right.”
Bill Mahoney, founding board member of the Friends of Cardiff and Carlsbad State Beaches and the lead camp host at San Elijo, said the couple has had an immeasurable impact on the camping experience. After working with them for eight years, Mahoney, like most people who know the couple, said he admires their contribution to the community.
“Their longevity as volunteers amazes me,” he said, having worked with the couple for the past eight years. “It’s longer than most people have a career. If you add up all of the hours they’ve volunteered I guarantee you it exceeds 10,000 hours.”
“They’re so unique I don’t think we’ll be able to replace them,” he said referring to the Nuttalls. “We can learn from the experience and help other people form a volunteer connection with the park and connect them with the people, the campers.”
“San Elijo is like Cardiff’s front yard,” he said. “The locals, who aren’t even camping there, have made a connection to the place,” he said.
On a recent Saturday morning, several locals stopped by to say hello to the couple. “We see the same people here year after year, day after day and it’s kind of like a family,” Frank said. “Yes, we even know all of the animals,” June replied.
Visitors who came to the camp as children and remember the Nuttalls are now bringing their own families to the park. “San Elijo has been part of their family experience,” Mahoney said. “People recall Frank and June working in the gardens when they were kids and now they’re here as parents themselves.”
The couple began their traveling odyssey in the 1950s when they drove through Europe on a “motorbike” for two months. “Oh, that was a time we had,” June recalls fondly.
Originally from Lanashire, England, the Nuttalls eventually settled in Canada and worked together in the furniture manufacturing industry before retiring 24 years ago. “We’ve been married for 63 years, worked together, traveled,” Frank said. “I think she’s a keeper,” he said as he looked at June who agreed with a nod of her head and a smile.
As the accolades from various groups and agencies line the walls of the vintage Airstream the couple calls home for most of the year will attest, the Nuttalls are in a league of their own. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long,” Frank said, referring to the 23-year volunteer run. “People ask how we can do all of this work and not get paid and I say ‘look at this’,” as he motions to the ocean glistening in the sun, dotted with surfers catching waves. “That’s priceless, that’s worth more than you could pay us.”