China Camp has a treasure. Before you get out your metal detectors and shovels, it’s not gold in our hills, but rather a person who shines brightly throughout our park. It’s Georgette Dahlka, who grew up at China Camp. Stop by the cafe on a weekend, and you are likely to see her serving up hot coffee and snacks to visitors, many of whom are eager to learn more about the village’s rich cultural history from someone who actually lived it.
Most Friends of China Camp docents have learned our park’s story from historical documents, whereas Georgette tells the village’s history from her own first-hand account. Truly, she is our park’s living historian.
A recent visit by a group of Boy Scouts shows how special it can be meeting Georgette on site. While visiting the China Camp Village cafe, the scouts met a radiantly grinning Georgette. The young visitors gazed wide-eyed as Georgette shared stories about growing up at China Camp.
“Me and my cousins ran this place,” she says of the cafe. “It was a family operation. The girls would run the cafe and the guys would run the boat business and go out shrimping.”
Keeping an enduring family legacy alive
Georgette is a member of the Quan family, descendants of Chinese shrimpers that settled along the Point San Pedro shoreline in the mid-1800s. Georgette lived here in the 1940s and ’50s, raised in the “Wild West” of the village. After school, she worked alongside her sister and cousins, sorting and drying shrimp and tending the family’s bustling cafe. She fondly remembers serving fresh shrimp cocktail and hot dogs for 15 cents.
Georgette followed her passion for novels and became a librarian for Hamilton Air Force Base, just north in Novato. She married Raymond Dalkha and moved to a nearby home in San Rafael. As most of the Quan family left the village and relocated to other parts of the state, her cousin Frank Quan remained as the last village resident.
Dedicated to her family and community, Georgette continued to spend her weekends tending the cafe with Frank, who lived in the village until his passing in 2016. Since then, Georgette, along with volunteers Ernie Stanton, Andy Fletcher, Dave Walker, and Claire Golan, keeps the cafe and village open and their stories alive.
A champion for our community
Apart from sharing the park’s historical legacy, Georgette has been a longstanding force in keeping the China Camp community connected. Invitations to Quan family barbeques and bountiful picnics are warm memories for the cafe’s regular volunteers and visitors. Not to mention Georgette’s unfaltering memory for birthdays: For those lucky enough to be in her circle, they can expect Georgette to gather regulars into a huddle to sign a card and then hand out slices of colorful cake for all to enjoy.
As volunteer Ernie Stanton states, “We are here because Georgette and Frank adopted us into the community. She is the heart and soul of our group. The coffee pot is always full when Georgette is around, and nobody’s birthday goes uncelebrated.”
We are so lucky and grateful that our park has a treasure like Georgette, who has dedicated more time working in the village throughout her life than any other current volunteer. Thank you, Georgette, for sharing your energy and heart, and for providing our visitors with accurate and entertaining details about the history of China Camp.—Sheila Coll/FOCC Program Director