by Susan Couso
Medford Roop Arnold is one of our Lassen County natives who was well-known and well-liked and well-respected for his entire life. Now, very few people seem to know who he was.
He was born January 25th, 1885 in Susanville. His parents were Alexander Thrall Arnold and Susan Engle Roop Arnold, and he was the youngest of their eight children.
Being the grandson of Susanville’s founder, Isaac Roop, didn’t seem to matter much to Med. He made his own way. He was athletic and smart and dedicated to his community.
As a young boy, he spent his spare time with his school friends, sometimes doing things that he shouldn’t. His escapades as a youth weren’t necessarily bad, but they may have bordered on the delinquent, and they were ‘learning experiences’. Perhaps being the baby of the family gave him a little more freedom than most.
One of the stories of Med’s youth tells of his involvement, with some other boys, in harassing some of the local Chinese community members. Susanville’s Chinatown was located roughly where the Catholic Church is today.
The Chinese were a close-knit group, probably for self-protection. One day Med and one of his friends threw a rock at a Chinese man and hit him in the head. It was all in fun, but not much fun for the victim of the prank.
Unfortunately, the rock hit the man in the head, and he fell to the ground. Med and his friend thought that they had killed him, and left town to try to have an alibi. But on their return, all was well. There was no dead man.
Perhaps these childhood memories and mischievousness were a lesson well earned, for Med turned out to be a very fair and just man.
Med attended Lassen High School where he was student-body president, class poet, athletic manager, and a three-sport athlete. He graduated from the first ‘regular’ Lassen High School class of 1907. In August of 1907, Med left Susanville to attend Stanford University.
Right behind Med went his parents, Alex and Susan Roop Arnold, who rented out their home in Susanville and left their business in capable hands, so that they could protect their baby boy in the outside world.
Maybe this is why Med left Stanford to attend the University of Southern California, where he obtained an athletic scholarship and competed and lettered in football and baseball. At USC he attended the College of Law, and there he learned that he had more than one passion.
He received numerous accolades for his astute understanding of the law as well as his athletic prowess. On June 20,1910 Medford Roop Arnold was admitted to the California State Bar.
Med had met the love of his life back home in Susanville. Zella May Spalding, granddaughter of pioneer doctor Z. N. Spalding, and Med Arnold, grandson of Isaac Roop, married on June 4,1911 at the home of the bride’s parents. They were a very popular young couple who eventually grew their family to include three children: Medford Spalding Arnold, Louis Hall Arnold, and Zellamae Arnold Miles.
Med had grown up on the family fruit and dairy farm in Susanville, and after returning from college, he took over the operation of the family business. He also worked as a bookkeeper. He was appointed Justice of the Peace of the First District shortly after his law school graduation and his return to Susanville. His appointment was to fill the vacancy left by the death of James Branham.
He became City Judge, and was appointed U. S. Court Commissioner. Med Arnold held the position of Commissioner for 48 years, serving until his death. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living U. S. Commissioner in the country.
Med taught high school classes and coached. That was his main passion. It was said that he would conduct City Court early in the morning, teach classes during the day, and coach sports in the afternoons. For over 20 years he coached football, baseball, track, basketball, boxing, wrestling and tumbling… with no assistants.
Med was so well-liked and respected that Lassen High’s ‘Arnold Field’ was named for him in 1939, while he was still working at the high school. Later, Med coached at Lassen Junior College.
In 1944 he retired to become vice-principal at Lassen High and to coach the football team. He helped to form Little League baseball in Susanville and served as the Little League Commissioner for many years.
Med’s stories give us a glimpse back into time at the ‘turn-of-the-century’. His life spanned one of the most changing eras in our history. He saw electricity, telephones and automobiles come to Lassen County, and he must have been amazed by the aerospace industry. From horse-drawn wagons to space flight, Med was there.
He died in 1967, and is buried among many family members in Susanville’s Pioneer Cemetery.
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