My first conversation with Wayne Pietila was on a Sunday afternoon in June 1970, during my second visit to the church in Redwood Valley. I was a little uncomfortable with all the attention the members were directing towards us newcomers from San Francisco. We had finished our Sunday community dinner, and a lot of people from the congregation had gathered outside to meet and greet each other in the parking lot. I noticed that a lot of the youth were involved in lively conversations and appeared to be joking and genuinely enjoying each other.
I found myself just wanting to just observe from a distance and take in the dynamics of the different groups. Well, that was not to be the case. A young man with an easy smile and gentle demeanor came over and introduced himself to me. His name was Wayne, and he took me to meet the people that he had been talking with. That group turned out to be many of the people I later attended college and enjoyed dormitory life with. Terri Cobb, her sister Ava, Kathy Stahl and some others were a part of the group in the parking lot that day, and it was Wayne who broke the ice and invited me to be a part of them. Wayne and Terri were a couple and were a lot of fun to be around. We all enjoyed trips to Cold Creek and long hikes organized by Wayne, along with Jim Cobb and Mike Cartmell.
In August 1970, we moved into the Peoples Temple-operated dormitories. We did our best to follow the rules and stay out of trouble. Wayne was attending college – he was one of the younger students – but he also had responsibilities in his position as the bookkeeper for the dormitories. This was not a job to be taken lightly, and Wayne seemed to handle it extremely well. I remember him neatly printing all the entries – the items purchased and the amounts they cost – in precisely aligned columns in his burgundy and brown ledger. I am sure Wayne was meticulous by nature, but I really believe the sheer fear of Rheaviana Beam and the potential wrath that she could unleash on him should he screw up her sacred “books,” was more of a driving force behind his “dedication.”
Good people, good times, so many memories.
On December 15, 2011, Wayne was taken from his family and friends in a horrific accident. It seems unreal to this day. Often my emotions, already close to the surface, overwhelm me whenever I remember some funny story that he told during one of the barbeques that he and Lena had at their place. I think of his patience with children and the way he loved adventure. He encouraged my son to ride his Harley and even got him his own helmet.
We miss our Brother, Comrade, Friend, Wayne. You live on in our hearts and thoughts. You’re gone, but you will never be forgotten.
(Vera Washington was a member of Peoples Temple for several years but left in 1973 because of conflicts she had with the leadership of the group. Her previous stories for the jonestown report may be found here. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)