In Loving Memory of
Eleanor Gerstmyer Fehn

Maiden name: Eleanor Lucille Gerstmyer
Former Married name: Eleanor Gerstmyer Castleman

Eleanor Lucille Gerstmyer was born on August 17, 1916 in Towson, Maryland to Elmer and Ada (Larkin) Gerstmyer. Her sister, Katherine (Willett), was 6 years older. Eleanor attended Towson Elementary School from 1922 to 1929 and graduated from Towson High School in 1933 with a Commercial diploma.

Early Adult Years in Maryland:
In 1933, she took a position with a law firm in Towson at $30 per month. In November, 1933, she transferred to an insurance agency run by the sister of the attorney she had worked for at a salary of $40 per month. She left this position in September of 1936 because there were no advancement possibilities. After several interim positions, she decided to work in Baltimore and had several jobs with accounting and secretarial duties, each successively at a better salary. From June, 1940 until March, 1942 she was employed by a law firm for legal secretarial work at $25 per week. She met a handsome Army 1st sergeant from Berryville, VA named William Laurence (Larry) Castleman who was stationed with field artillery at Fort Meade, MD. They were married on November 7, 1941 in Rock Hill, SC.

Eleanor (left) and sister Katherine in early 1920's

Eleanor as teenager in the 1930's

Eleanor at home in Towson at 19 or 20 years of age (1935)

Eleanor in 1941 on an outing with Larry Castleman

Eleanor's engagement/wedding announcement photograph in 1941

Eleanor with husband Larry in early 1942 while he was still a 1st sergeant

Wife and Mother of Young Children During World War II
She left her legal secretary position in March, 1942 when Larry was reassigned. Larry was selected for officer candidate school at Fort Knox, KY and was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in May, 1942. He was assigned to the U.S. Army 5th Armored Division (AD) stationed at Camp Cooke near Lompoc, CA (Now Vandenburg AFB). Eleanor's official residence during the war was her parent's home on East Joppa Road in Towson. However, she traveled to California to be with Larry at least part of the time his division was training at Camp Cooke. This must have been very happy time for them since they decided to move to San Bernardino at the edge of the Southern California desert after the war.

Eleanor's first child, Wendy Lynn Castleman, was born in Tennessee on May 7, 1943 while Larry was on maneuvers with the 5th AD in that state. The 5th AD was transferred to Pine Camp, NY (now Fort Drum) for additional training. Eleanor joined him in NY for at least some of his leave time, and they took a trip to Canada. The 5th AD moved to Indiantown Gap, PA prior to Christmas, 1943 for final training in preparation for their embarkation on February 11, 1944 from Brooklyn to England.

Eleanor was home raising infant Wendy and carrying her second pregnancy while Larry was undergoing further training in Wittshire, England from February through May, 1944. Larry was assigned as a replacement officer in the 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron several days after D-Day landings and was in combat in June and July and participated in the breakout of the Normandy invasion force from the hedgerow country and Operation Cobra near St-Lo, France in July. Eleanor told her children that she sensed the time when Larry was seriously wounded by sniper fire on 26 July, 1944 near St-Lo (Many wives of service men reported being aware when their husbands were wounded or killed in action during World War II). Larry underwent surgery and initial recovery in Europe before being transferred in November, 1944 to hospitals in Richmond, VA and Washington, D.C. for further surgery, recovery and physical therapy.

Eleanor gave birth to Sandra Lee Castleman on November 14, 1944 while Larry was still hospitalized.

Eleanor and Larry out on the town in California in 1942.

Eleanor with Wendy and Larry in 1943

Eleanor in the early 1940's.

Eleanor and Wendy with Larry (now 1st lieutenant) at the end of 1943 or very early 1944.

Eleanor took this photograph of Larry with Sandra while he was on leave in 1945.

The San Bernardino Years
After Larry recovered and was discharged from the Army in August, 1945, the family moved to San Bernardino, California in 1946 where he established a contracting business as a homebuilder.

Son William Laurence Castleman, Jr. was born on March 28, 1949, and daughter Jennifer Susan Castleman was born on February 26,1951.

In addition to raising 4 young children and moving and establishing homes in 5 separate houses in San Bernardino by 1956, Eleanor studied and qualified for her California Real Estate license. Eleanor and Larry Castleman gave their children wonderful memories of warm, beautiful homes on Valencia Avenue and Edgehill Road in San Bernardino and summer vacations spent on the beach at Diver's Cove in Laguna Beach, California.

The marriage to Larry Castleman ended in February, 1956 in divorce.

Eleanor and Larry at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in the early 1950's

Family portrait from 1954 or 1955.

Eleanor met Charles Henry Fehn in 1956, and they were married on April 2, 1956. Charlie Fehn was an inventor and businessman, and the Castleman children moved into the 6th home that Eleanor established for them on I Street in San Bernardino. Charlie had made his first money in turkey farming in Devore, California during World War II and in gold mining in the late 1940's and early 1950's in Nevada and Alaska. He then established successive businesses with partners that included his first stepson, Donald Chance, in his hometown of San Bernardino including an earthmoving business (Crown Lee Corporation), a brief movie producing effort, and then established an aircraft component refurbishing business (Arrowhead Aircraft Company) for U.S. Air Force heavy transport planes. The company was established at the Shandon Hills Airport in San Bernardino and resurfaced fabric-covered control surfaces (rudders, elevators, ailerons) for C-133 and C-124 transports in addition to performing other contract work (e.g., C-47 and C-54 components).

Charlie and Eleanor plunged into the previously unknown details of stripping, re-canvassing, riveting, doping and painting aircraft fabric control surfaces. Eleanor played a key role in problem solving during the early years of the business and supervised the predominantly female work force in the canvas and doping shops to make the business a success.

Eleanor and Charlie loved to go camping and trout fishing in streams (Walker Creek) on the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada above Mono Lake. They introduced Eleanor's younger children, Bill and Jennifer, to the elemental pleasures of early morning and late afternoon trout fishing as well as the majesty of high Sierra sunrises and sunsets.

Eleanor loved to sing and had a beautiful voice. One of her day-dreams was to be a torch singer. There was a piano in the home, and Eleanor and Charlie took pleasure from singing together (and going to piano bars). They enjoyed dining out, and Eleanor continued her development of taste for the outstanding Mexican food that was available in San Bernardino. A special treat for the whole family was to go to Mitla's Mexican Restaurant (a family tradition started by Eleanor and Larry) to enjoy the freshly hand-made corn tortillas, chili and hot sauces with the meals. Eleanor loved her many dogs and had two boxer dogs (Zee-Zee was the last), an airedale dog (Michael McTavish), a collie dog (Shep), cairn terrier dog (Mr. McNamara, the head of her Department of Defense), and German shepherd dogs (Brian, Captain Nemo and Foxy).

Eleanor and Charlie developed and shared many dreams surrounding his inventions (Welding Combo T-square and Trailmaker two-wheel drive motorcycle [marketed as the Trail-Breaker]) and surrounding his business schemes. They made plans to build a house on land they purchased in Devore near the Cajon Pass. Charlie was the inventor/dreamer, and Eleanor helped provide the supporting text, brochures, and other written materials to make his presentations and correspondence look professional and served as the bookkeeper. She also helped him make photo displays and movies of the Trail-Breaker in action in efforts to find investors to manufacture and sell it. They established TOD-O Manufacturing Company to manufacture and sell the Combo T-square from their San Bernardino machine shop. For big orders, Eleanor would go into the machine shop to help lathe, mill, box and ship Combo T-squares. Production of Combo T-squares became a small family industry.

Wendy went to college at UC Berkeley in 1961, and Sandra married and established her own home in 1962.

Eleanor and Charlie Fehn in 1956 after their marriage.

Eleanor sitting on Charlie's 1954 Cadillac after their marriage in 1956.

Eleanor with their catch during a 1957 fishing trip with Charlie to Mazatlan.

Eleanor riding the first prototype of Charlie's Trailmaker at Shandon Hills Airport in late 1958.

A photograph that Eleanor took of Charlie riding the first complete demo prototype of the Trailmaker (Trail-Breaker) in 1959 at sand dunes in the San Bernardino County desert.

Eleanor with Mike and Shep in her San Bernardino home in December, 1958

Eleanor with Jennifer in 1961 or 1962

The Move to Thousand Oaks
In 1962, after Charlie's parents had passed away, properties/businesses were sold in San Bernardino and Devore. Eleanor and Charlie bought 4 acres of hill property in Conejo Valley and moved the home with Bill and Jennifer to Thousand Oaks, California. Eleanor initially established a home on Cunningham Road where Jennifer could own and ride her own horse, and Bill could go hiking and hunting everyday in the surrounding hills. Charlie was working on several inventions (Trail-Breaker with Nethercutt Industries and the Pistolite Cylinder). The Trail-Breaker is still in production and is produced now by Rokon.

Charlie and Eleanor planned, designed and then built a beautiful hill-top home on Sundown Road with Spanish tile floors, open beam ceilings, beautiful stone work and a spectacular view of Conejo Valley. During this time at Cunningham Road and Sundown Road (1962-67), Eleanor worked at successive secretarial positions at Rocketdyne in Canoga Park and the Science Center in Thousand Oaks.

From 1964 through 1967, Charlie started a paving business with a new partner (Boone Paving Company), and Eleanor was the bookkeeper and co-owner while also working most of the time in salaried job.

The Move to Ventura
When Boone Paving went bankrupt in 1967, Eleanor got a job with the County of Ventura and established a new home at 4399 Sweet Briar St. in Ventura. Bill left for college at UC Davis in 1967. Eleanor was able to secure better jobs at Boyle Engineering and then Vetco Offshore Industries in Ventura in 1967-8 and rose to the position of Senior Executive Assistant at Vetco. She enjoyed her position the most when she was organizing the writing of the Vetco Secretary Manual.

One of Eleanor's co-workers at Vetco, Rosemary Beilschmidt in a letter to Jennifer wrote, "Your Mom was a real classy 'broad' - synonym for classy lady, so independent and way ahead of her time without the aspect of women's lib. Very few women in the business world can have all four attributes and succeed (survive?), i.e., Good Looking, Intelligent, Well Educated, and Very Competent. In the 1970's, very few successful women had the combination of being competitive and collaborative at the same time. But Eleanor did."

Jennifer left for college at Chico State University in the Fall of 1969.

Charlie was able to re-establish his finances in the late 60's and early 1970's in a gold mining business. Eleanor and Charlie purchased hilltop property in Carpenteria, California with long-term plans to build another home. Those plans ended when Charlie died from complications of heart disease in 1972.

From 1972 to 1982, Eleanor lived independently at Sweet Briar and worked at Vetco. She loved her flowers that grew robustly in the temperate coastal humid environment of Ventura. She had had gardens in San Bernardino and Thousand Oaks. Every time she moved, she would dig up the bulbs and carefully re-plant them at the new home. Eleanor had lovely fuchsias and honeysuckle surrounding her back porch at Sweet Briar and jonquils, iris and gardenias in the surrounding flower beds.

Jennifer moved to a job in Los Angeles after college, and Jennifer and Eleanor became very close during this period. She would drive to Eleanor's home every weekend, and they shared each other's company and planned adventures. Jennifer recalls one of Eleanor's last trout fishing trips. On June 22, 1975, Eleanor and Jennifer loaded Captain Nemo into Jennifer's Toyota station wagon, and they drove across the Sierras to Lee Vining where Bill met them for a few days of trout fishing in local streams. Many trout were caught, and all enjoyed the meals that Eleanor prepared and the conversation in the evenings.

Jennifer recalls Eleanor's fabulous holiday special prime rib when family members could get together at Sweet Briar. A sumptious meal would be laid out for the family. Half-way through dinner, Eleanor would ask everyone, "What do you want for dinner?", and we would all laugh.

Bill, Charlie, Jennifer with Eleanor in December, 1970

Eleanor on her back porch at Ventura on Aug. 17, 1974.

Eleanor with Bill at UC Davis Veterinary School graduation in 1977

Eleanor with her last dog (Foxy) in 1979.

The Move to Oakland and Claremont House
Eleanor's health declined in 1980 when she had her first stroke. Subsequent periods of recovery, rehabilitation, and additional strokes left her with right-sided hemiplegia and aphasia. In 1982 she sold her home and land and moved to Claremont House in Oakland, California where her eldest daughter, Wendy, lived with her husband and their two daughters. At Claremont House, Eleanor could maintain semi-independence in her own apartment. Meals, basic housekeeping support and other services were provided.

Eleanor was a strong-willed woman with a tenacity of spirit and joy for life that was only slightly diminished by strokes that left her with a spoken vocabulary of very few words and only limited controlled movement of her right upper and lower limbs. Her intellect, humor, sense of style as well as her will to live as full a life as possible within her limitations were left intact.

Eleanor and Wendy had a standing date for lunch out in the surrounding community on Fridays and an afternoon adventure that might include shopping or going to the movies. Wendy became the primary communicator for Eleanor and developed a sixth sense for her feelings, opinions and desires. Few daughters achieve the level of close communication with their mothers that Wendy had with Eleanor or see the world as clearly through their mother's eyes.

Eleanor had two Buick convertibles over the years and insisted on taking her 1961 Buick convertible with her to Claremont House. Wendy would take her daughters to soccer games with Eleanor in the Buick and go on other trips. The car was in great condition and eventually was sold to a car collector in Southern California.

Eleanor loved good food, the spectacular panoramas that could be viewed by car in the San Francisco Bay area, and the company of her family and grandchildren. She took immense pleasure from shopping ( the couture section of Nordstrom was her favorite.) She developed a passion for 49ers football games and kept a poster of Joe Montana on her wall for several years. During her first years at Claremont House, Eleanor traveled to Hawaii and to Canada and took a cruise through the Panama Canal with her first home-helper, Charlene Griffing.

Supported in Claremont House and with the loving care of Wendy, Eleanor was able to live relatively stably after major strokes for more than 22 years.

Eleanor with her children at the wedding of her granddaughter, Kamla, in Walnut Creek, CA in 2003. Standing: Bill, Sandra, Wendy. Jennifer is next to Eleanor.

Eleanor with her granddaughter Kamla.

On the evening of December 9, 2004, Eleanor passed away following sudden complications of a bacterial urinary infection.

She leaves behind her children Wendy Ferrari, Sandra Castleman, William Castleman and Jennifer Castleman and 4 grandchildren. On January 8, 2005, her family scattered her ashes at sea off San Francisco, and memorial services were held for her at Claremont House.


Posted 12 January 2005; updated 29 December 2006