Mary Aigner – December 27th, 2008

GEDC0099Last Friday afternoon, I met with long-time KZYX & Z. program manager, Mary Aigner, in the production room at the local public radio station. She made us coffee and we began our chat…
Mary was the third of eight siblings born to Frank Aigner and Eileen Sheedy. Her father is of German (Bavarian) descent whilst Eileen, who passed away in 2000, has Irish heritage – “and yet I don’t like beer!” says Mary…They lived in the western Pennsylvanian town of Altoona, a railroad town with strong southern influences – hence the area’s ‘Pennsyltucky’ designation. In the early 70’s, the family moved to Holidaysburg, a smaller town a short distance away, where Mary initially attended a Catholic girls school. “My father’s side was working class with little schooling whereas my Mum’s was educated and somewhat wealthy. I was Catholic on both sides – priests everywhere – and it was the various churches that were the focal point for each of the different ethnicities in the area – German, Irish, Polish, Italian. We would gather at the Bavarian Aid Society for social events – this was a group that would often help southern Germans to settle in the area.”
Mary really disliked the Catholic school and “finally bailed on the Catholic church in the tenth grade” and attended a public school – which, as it turned out, she hated even more. “It was where the teachers didn’t seem to care too much about education – it seemed like the dim bulbs had become teachers”, she added with a laugh. Mary may have disliked school but it was during this time that she was a fifteen year-old keyboard player in a rock ‘n’ roll band. The band, ‘Pulse’, played at lots of bars and the drummer had to act as her legal guardian!…She graduated a year early and began attending a college in the Penn State system back in Altoona. She studied various liberal arts including anthropology, astronomy, and she particularly enjoyed a course called ‘Science, Technology, and Society’. “Basically I studied the most interesting stuff I could find but when I graduated in 1985, (the keynote speaker at my graduation was legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno), there were few jobs and it was some time before I could save enough to get to the Bay Area – Berkeley in particular – a place where I had known I wanted to be from an early age in rural Pennsylvania. The politics and music in that area of northern California had always appealed to me.”
It was during her couple of years in the East Bay that Mary met partner Joseph Leon-Guererro and they frequently traveled to Mendocino for getaway weekends, initially discovering the south coast area around Pt. Arena and Gualala, before realizing that Anderson Valley was “gorgeous, really beautiful” and they decided to move here in the summer of 1989. At that time Mary was pregnant with daughter Maya and they rented a cottage from Diane Paget and partner Bill Seekins, who had said, “Joseph and Mary? Pregnant? – We should definitely rent to them!”…A couple of years later, daughter Sara was born, but Mary and Joe were to split up a couple of years later in 1993.
Mary worked as a ‘bun babe’ at Bruce’s Bread (“when they had real handmade stuff)” and then in 1993 joined KZYX & Z, the local public radio station, with Phil Tymon as Station Manager and Brian Wood as Program Director. She initially worked on the underwriting side before becoming Program Director herself in the late nineties – the job that she has performed ever since.
In her first year up here she was involved on the periphery of the Earth First movement during the Redwood Summer Protests of 1990. “It was a polarizing time – very interesting and often quite tense. I was involved with setting up a network to gather food from people’s gardens that would eventually make its way to the demonstrators on the front lines in the Headwaters Forest who were protesting the logging of the last large unprotected redwood ecosystem in the U.S.. I also went to various demonstrations during that time – a big one in Ft. Bragg stands out in my mind – cops on the roofs of building watching the developments below, logging families venting their anger at us – it was very tense indeed”.
When I asked Mary about her favorite place to hang out in the Valley she had no hesitation in saying that it was certainly her home. However, when visitors come to see her she does all the “touristy things” that, despite being a local, she never gets to find the time to do otherwise. Her favorite place to take visitors is the walk amongst the old growth redwoods in Hendy Woods and it is this kind of natural beauty that is Mary’s favorite aspect of Valley life, “along with the real sense of community that we have here.” Mary does go to many of the Valley’s events and never misses the Variety show – the good and not so good being part of the “variety” but as a result she needs to be near to an exit to take a break – “some acts have to ask themselves if its about them or are they providing entertainment for others”. I nodded in agreement…She has never really though about moving away from here since her arrival but she’d like to travel more at some point. “Sailing around the Mediterranean for an extended period sounds great…Or the Gulf of Mexico perhaps – places that are warm and tropical”
As for anything she does not like about life here, Mary believes it has become too crowded in recent years – “having said that, the global population won’t peak until 2050 so I guess should get used to it. But I do not like the arrival of people who come here to just make money. This county was fine before the money found it around ten years ago or so. The whole ‘’ thing led to a big influx of money and people who have strived for many years to make a living here find it hard to own their own property these days – the Valley is a little too beautiful and close to the Bay Area for its own good…Of course, if some of this new money was given to KZYX & Z then that would be great!” she added, bursting into a raucous laugh…
I now turned to asking Mary for her responses to various Valley entities and organizations…The Wineries? – “Well,” she hesitated for several seconds, “They do make a good product but I am very concerned about the water issues and I certainly do not want this to become Little Napa and in the meantime they must give back to the community”…KZYX & Z? – “It’s mostly pretty good. I’d like to see our programming evolve to a higher level but it’s very difficult. Our 20th anniversary is coming up in the fall of 2009 and we’re constantly working on such improvements. Getting more young people involved is important, along with people who have a different perspective. I’d love to hear people come on the air in response to something we have said and reply, ‘I completely disagree with you’ – it makes for better radio. We do provide access to much good information that is not influenced by the corporate interests. Not a lot of rural communities are like ours and we try to be as community-based as we can and we like to think that our community is much better informed as a result of our efforts”…The A.V.A.? – “Like other media sources, it is both good and bad. Bruce Anderson has mellowed on his return to the Valley. He was very mean-spirited but is not nearly so much these days.”…The local school system? – “I feel that both of my kids received a good education here. We have some strong programs and some not so strong. The school is under-funded and many wonderful people have left the system because it has become so expensive and they are unable to afford to buy homes here. I would also like to see more enrichment programs in the field of the arts – having to choose between music and art is too bad. Also parents pulling kids out of our school to attend private schools elsewhere is disappointing. It is elitist and it would be so much better if the school and community could work together to make a model public school. Of course the School District and the Board should be open to such community involvement and to getting input from that source”…
As has become a custom in this series of interviews I now turned to my guest and asked whom she would vote for Mayor of the Valley, if such a position existed? – ”Oh I don’t know,” she replied, “Err, Geraldine Rose perhaps – but there’d have to be a strong system of checks and balances”, she added with a wide grin…“Or perhaps Bert Cohen from Boontberry? – He’s very fair-minded and seems to have the ability to see different sides of the issues…Actually I believe the Valley should incorporate – we should have more local control instead of dealing with the ineptitude of county government”…And what if you were Mayor, Mary, what would you do? – ‘Well I’d make it a felony for any slow-moving driver who does not use the turnouts when there are vehicles behind them!” she chuckled loudly…“And somehow I’d like to keep our population to a reasonable level here in the Valley. We have plenty of people here right now. As I said earlier, those here just making money and not contributing are not welcome in my book.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Well then…”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “That would have to be “You betchya!’ – thanks to Sarah Palin”…
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Good music, art, literature, conversation…The higher expressions of the human experience.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Greed and stupidity…And the Bush administration has got way with so much. It is disappointing to me that more has not been done to protest his wrong-doings but I’m afraid that as a society we seem to have lost our sense of righteous indignation”.
”What sound or noise do you love? – “Hearing nothing but the wind in the redwoods…Or a really good Grateful Dead song.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “When a KZYX & Z hosts says ‘Are you there’ to their guest instead of welcoming them correctly…And audio feedback of course.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Probably ‘Goddam it!!!’ – We lapsed Catholics tend to use the Lord’s name in vain quite a lot.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Cooking, gardening, playing piano.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “I think I would like to work for some sort of international development group with regards to world population issues.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything that would require me to work in a cubicle in the corporate world.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “It’s not all about you.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  – “Come on in, Mary – the party’s just starting!”…

Published in: on December 31, 2008 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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