Danny Kuny – February 13th, 2009

GEDC0119I met with Danny Kuny at The Boonville Lodge in the heart of Anderson Valley last Friday morning. It was a cold day and Danny had on his Anderson Valley Football Cubs hooded sweatshirt, in the traditional school colors of brown and yellow. He accompanied his firm handshake with a wide smile and we sat down in the restaurant area to chat.
Danny was born in Ft. Bragg, California, in February 1955, the second of four children to Fritz and Wanda Kuny, his father being of German-Irish descent and his Mother a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. His paternal grandfather had come over to the States in 1912 from Germany and after a spell as a cowboy in Montana and a time in Washington State, he moved to Comptche in 1940 where he opened a bar, ‘Kuny’s Cozy Corner’, serving beer and sandwiches to the thriving logging community of those days. Danny’s parents had met at Mendocino High and his father became a logger immediately after leaving school and Danny was to follow in his footsteps. “I knew I would be a logger all my life”. His mother died of cancer aged 53 in the early nineties but Fritz, now in his late seventies, continues to live in Boonville.
The family moved from Comptche to Anderson Valley in 1967, living in Navarro at the recently torn down red/pink house beside Hwy 128 on the Horse Haven Ranch property. Danny attended the elementary school and his friends included Tony Pardini, Teddy Waggoner, and Mike Brendlen – “the first hippy kid in the Valley. One day we grabbed him and took him to the bathroom where we were going to cut his long hair off. Just as we were going to start he offered us his knife – he said it was very sharp and would do a good job. This impressed us so we decided he was o.k. and let him go!”
Football was by far Danny’s favorite sport once he was at A.V. High School although he did give both basketball and baseball a go. “I kept getting fouled out at basketball where my physical style was not suited and Coach Irvine kicked me off the baseball team when I was messing about and hit a ball at Gary Johnson and then called his name and when he turned around the ball smashed him in the face and broke his nose. I guess I was meant to concentrate on football.” He was a starter as a freshman and over the next four seasons, in the early seventies, he was on “probably the best team to ever to represent the school. We won our first league title for fifteen years in my senior year with my good friend Tony Pardini at quarterback, calling nearly every play himself and throwing for over 1500 yards and running for 900 more. We even beat Geyserville 103-0 with every offensive lineman scoring a touchdown. Many years before, when Harold Hulbert was playing, they had a good team but maybe ours was the best. I was a guard on offense and the middle linebacker on defense. Jim Miller was head coach in the senior year with Keith Squires, yes the sheriff, as his assistant. Those were some of the best days of my life.”
As soon as football was over in his senior year Danny left to work in the woods with his father. He was on a school program that allowed this to happen whilst still accruing school credits and he graduated in 1974. Danny was a timber feller and used a Homelite 650 chainsaw with a six-foot blade to take down trees with seventeen to eighteen feet stumps. “I loved going to work, I still do. Being a logger is very special – there is a very unique bond between us. There’s no doubt it’s dangerous – when you leave in the morning there is a chance you will not return. I have lost a few good friends in the woods. I’m not afraid of dying; I’m afraid of what I’m going to miss if I do die, but logging is something that I have loved being a part of for all my life.”
At the age of eighteen, whilst still at school, he married local girl Judy Waggoner. “We were so young – too young. I wasn’t ready for it really and would never recommend that kids so young get married. Life is too short to settle down with a wife and have two kids before you are twenty-one. Nine times out of ten it doesn’t work – it didn’t for us and we were divorced when I was twenty three.” Judy and Danny had two children, Lisa, born in 1974, and Bobby, born1976, who was tragically drowned when just three years old. “That will be with me forever. He lived for fourteen hours in a coma and the doctors said his life would be severely impaired if he survived. They offered to unplug him from the life support system. I unplugged him myself”…
“It will always hurt that I did not get that time with him; never got to watch him grow up, to coach him, to see him develop into a man. It’s been a big lesson for me to not take anyone in your family or amongst your friends for granted – you never know…It’s also a big reason why I do what I do with my youth football program for the kids – the A.V. Cubs…. Kids shouldn’t take their parents for granted – we know that, but parents should never take their kids for granted either – they should support them at school and in sports and go to watch them play. Every time I played I would look into the stands before a game and see my Mum and Dad there. It inspired me and made me the player I was. Parents need to play a part in their kid’s lives not just as disciplinarians but as fans too. We have had some great parents involved with the program this past couple of years – Judy Hayward, Cindy Hollinger, and Jennifer Espinoza come to mind immediately. Many of the Hispanic parents have also played a bigger part than in the past, bringing big pots of tomales to some games and everyone has had a good old time – yes, it’s been really great.”
Danny admits to being a “wreck” for five years following the loss of Bobby. “I didn’t give a damn about myself or anyone else. I would take risks every day and was always in fights. I met Sue (Peterson) and we got married – she was a great help in my recovery, as was Tony Pardini who really kept me going when I was at my lowest. He was like a brother to me.”
Unfortunately, even though Danny calmed down in some ways, he turned his attention to rodeo and playing semi-pro football for the Nor Call Loggers. He says, “Sue was twenty and I was twenty-six and still not ready for marriage. We split up after less than two years with rodeo, football, and The Lodge being pretty much my life when I wasn’t in the woods.”
During this time he worked for many different logging companies including Charlie Hiatt (for nine years), Manchard Pardini, Willis Tucker, Schuster Logging – always in northern California apart from a brief spell in the Sierra’s where some cousins live and work. When not at work or in The Lodge – “those were the days when it was called the Bucket of Blood for good reason”, he began to coach the Junior Varsity Football team which included such players as current coaches/teachers Ben Anderson and Jason Paige. Then, when he returned from the Sierra’s, he was offered and accepted the head-coaching job for the High School team. “It was very hard because we had no youth program and I was having to spend all my time coaching the fundamentals to juniors and some seniors. Other teams were far ahead of us. I quit as coach in 1993 and started a program for the younger kids. It worked well for a few years before the number of kids playing fell and I returned to the High School team in 1996. We then had a very good team for the next four years, reaching the play-offs in 2000 before losing to Calistoga, the eventual winners. In 1998 I invited Jack Graves to join the coaching staff as he had several of his group-home boys at the school and playing football. It was not a good decision as it turned out and within a couple of years I had been ‘let go’ shall we say?”…
Before talking to Danny at greater length about the school and in particular its football program, I wanted to first touch on a few other topics. I asked him if he had a favorite place to hang out in the Valley and what he liked about the Valley. “I love to go to the Redwood Drive-in and sit and talk to old friends, often guys who I worked for or alongside or was at school with – people who have all played a part in my life…This Valley is a great place to live or be from, people here will help you if you are in need. When Bobby died the reaction of friends was amazing. I will never forget it…Sure you can disagree with other people in the Valley – it’s a small place so that’s going to happen. We’d have disagreements and often fights but it was nothing and we’d be back at work together the next day. Growing up here in the late sixties and seventies was great. It still is, I think, and the kids should appreciate that and know how lucky they are to live here…No matter where I live, this Valley gave me some of the best parts of my life and you couldn’t find better people anywhere.”
What about your memories about growing up in the Valley and attending the High School in the early seventies?…”Well, my Elementary School teacher was the famous Jim Jones, who ended up with his People’s Temple and killing hundreds of his followers. He was a real nut but I could see why people would follow him. He was very well dressed and a very slick talker – even parents were taken in by him. He had a way of talking and convincing you he was right. He tried to convince me and some other kids that he could walk through walls – we almost believed him!…One day he caught me and some others pee-ing up the wall in the bathroom to see who could go the highest – he beat the hell out of us all with a paddle…Another strange guy who I met in those days was the one who gave me my first ever beer – Charles Manson. He lived on Gschwend Road with all kinds of people including college girls who walked around with their tops off. We were in 7th grade and he gave us a can of ‘Lucky Logger’ beer and we went back four days in a row until someone told our parents and we got a real ass-whipping. It was awesome while it lasted – drinking beer around pretty topless girls. Thanks to Charlie Manson we were in heaven – I’d much prefer to be around him than Jim Jones for sure.”
“Of course lots of our nights at the bar would end up in fights in those days. No weapons of course, just good fist fights. There were so many nights of craziness – one time a bunch of us just decided to get naked and we all sat in the bar in nothing except our boots and hats before going to the Mexican bar down the street, ‘Mary Jane’s’, and all the Hispanic guys ran out. We walked back down the street where Sheriff Squires met us and said, ‘I got out of bed for this – go back to The Lodge where you belong’…Tony Pardini and me were tough guy, bad-asses in our early twenties, although neither of us was much more than 140 pounds. I remember one Friday night at the County Fair some guys were in the Lodge dressed like Billy Jack – you know, not real cowboys but in the black cowboy hats. There were four or five of them – they were carnies – and for some reason we just said. ‘Let’s kick the hell out of them.’ Tony’s idea was for me to throw him on to their table and go from there. I did. We got the hell beaten out of us…Talking of Tony, I remember that during a football game against Emeryville he got hit so hard that when he returned to our huddle he didn’t know where he was. I told him he was in the wrong huddle and he walked over to the other team’s huddle where he said, ‘that son of a bitch black kid really hit me hard’ – he then realized he was in a huddle that was all black kids!”…
As I often do, I now turned to asking Danny about a few topics that are frequently discussed in the Valley…The Wineries? – “Well they have definitely bought a lot of work to the Valley but I believe they should be more involved in the community and, from my point of view, in the sports programs. A small community like this needs financial help – please don’t give wine, we need money – and I feel they should play a bigger part. They are in this Valley, in the community, making lots of money out of being here, and they should help out.”….The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I have known Bruce Anderson since 1969 or ’70, when I was in 9th grade. In that time I have done a lot of crazy shit, been involved in many fights, and maybe have caused more trouble than anyone around here. Not serious stuff, not bad crimes or stealing, not harmful really, but still…and yet Bruce has never said a bad word about me. I have a lot of respect for Bruce. He once wrote that I was ‘the toughest guy in Mendocino County’. I got so many calls after that – guys questioning it, guys challenging it, friends kidding me. I still get that! The next time he saw me he said, ‘Do you want to hit me now or later?’…He has also always supported the high school football program and has been interested in the welfare and education of the kids in this Valley. He tells it like he sees it and that is something I respect.”…Law and order in the Valley? – “Keith Squires and I have often butted heads but as Sheriff I think he has done a great job here. He has made many good decisions and given many young kids a break for doing stuff all young kids do. He’d often let them go if nothing serious was being done. We also helped to break Dennis Miller in when he was first here many years ago. I remember we had ‘borrowed’ a mannequin from outside a store in Ukiah and put red paint on it and laid it in the road in the middle of Boonville. Traffic was stopped back up to Hwy 253 and we spread the rumor that a woman hadn’t paid her bill at The Lodge and had been shot and dumped in the road. Miller turned up and dragged her off to the shock of many motorists backed up who thought it was a real person and couldn’t believe how badly he was treating the body.”
In 1987 Danny met a very attractive woman in Ukiah. Her name was Tammy and she didn’t really want to know him at first – “I was just being an idiot in a bar”. He did manage to find out that she worked in a bank and went to see her there to ask her out. Despite being warned off by friends to not go out with him and being from southern California and not really knowing the rodeo/football world that was such a big part of Danny’s life, she agreed to go to a rodeo with him on a date.” It worked out great. She is a very classy lady and we’ve been together for the last twenty-one years, apart from a little blip that was my fault. She is very special. My lifestyle was not easy for someone like her to understand but we have adapted to each other’s ways. Tammy already had a son Brendan and then we had a beautiful daughter, Brittany. I am very lucky and love my life with her and our family.”
As for whom Danny would vote for Mayor if such a position existed in the Valley, he hesitated briefly before saying, “I might just have to say Manchard (Robert) Pardini. He has lived here longer than most and has seen many changes – good and bad. He will say what needs to be said and not necessarily what people want to hear. He tells you how he thinks it is and if you don’t like it that’s too bad – he’s a good man.”
We now turned to a topic that is very near and dear to Danny’s heart – the High School and it’s football program. “People in power at the school need to step up and do what’s right for the school. If they do not the current problems that exist will continue. When changes next occur, the new leaders should probably be from outside the Valley. The new people should be very honest and have strong convictions and a mind of their own and no pre-conceived ideas about the Valley…Teachers should also play a bigger part in the after-school activities and sports programs. The kids would perhaps have greater respect for them and everyone would benefit. All these teacher’s aides? In my day we had the seniors as teacher’s aides and so much got done during the day that homework did not take up too much time and so the kids had time after school to do other things such as sports etc.”
“It seems to me that the leaders and teachers at the school should have more respect from the kids than they do. And the dress code is not enforced – it’s ridiculous. Kids have lots of fun there, which is good, but there should be more discipline. They should not be allowed to walk round talking on cell phones in school or at practices for sports teams. They should be concentrating on their studies or on improving their game.”
“Meanwhile, the School Board needs to check things out at the school on a regular basis – to be at the school, in the classrooms, at games. Not just attending meetings and voting on stuff they have not seen for themselves. If they cannot do that then they should not be on the Board. The current head of the Board needs to take a break. People like Ed Slotte and Tony Sanchez would do a great job on that Board. They would be fresh voices with new ideas. They love the school and have its best interests at heart…As far as the football program is concerned, the School Board needs to step up and encourage the whole community to get involved with the program and this would be helped by having Board members who went to school here and have lived here a long time”
“Athletic Director Robert Pinoli also has my backing although I sometimes feel he has his hands tied. Maybe he’s between a rock and a hard place, as they say, and I question if he has the full support of the decision-makers.”
“As for the involvement of Jack Graves in the workings of the football program, this is wrong. He should not be as powerful as he is. As owner of the Group Home he is a ‘parent’ and should act and be treated like one – parents belong in the stands not on the sidelines. He pulls too many strings. He wasn’t supposed to coach again after certain things happened a few years ago when he ran things yet he still has his hands all over the program and threatens to pull his kids off the program if he doesn’t get his way. Many referees think he hurts the team when he is on the sidelines berating the officials and they have told me they are shocked by his attitude. Maybe the people in charge are afraid of what card Jack might play if they censure him in some way. It’s wrong and ultimately the kids are the ones suffering as a result of all the politics that surround the program.”
“I suggested to the Principal, J.R. Collins, that he should stand up to him and let Graves know that it’s the community’s school and his input should only be as a ‘parent’. I said things to J.R. that were my honest opinions and were man-to-man, with the best interests of the football program my only concern. They were not to be taken personally and certainly did not affect my ability to coach. He told me I’d never coach at the school again while he was there and apparently the School Board think the same.”
“It’s too bad. I believe I know what coaching should be about. It is not just coaching the game. You are the kid’s parent, their counselor, and their guide. Kids shared stuff with me that they felt they could not with their parents and I’d get everyone together and sort it out. Teachers should also do this and have this role –somebody there for the kids. At the same time my coaching philosophy is all about discipline and respect – for your teammates, your coach, the opposition, the officials, and the game. If you don’t have that on a sports program you are in trouble.”
“I would dearly love to coach the High School football team again. It’s my school; it’s my passion. There are many people like me in the community who are tired of what’s going on there; people who would help out if things were different. Having said that, I think the two young guys, Logo Tevasu and John Toohey, who did most of the coaching this past season, know the game well. I wish them well.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Danny 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? – “ ‘Respect and discipline’ – each has been a big part of my life.“
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I don’t like to hear people say ‘I can’t do that’ – especially kids.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Seeing a parent enjoying a loving relationship with their kid; being there for the kid no matter what.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ”Parents screaming and yelling at kids – you don’t do that, especially in public.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “The sound of my chainsaw…And my daughters calling me to say they love me…And my wife phoning me and saying, ‘where are you?’ “
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Any kind of emergency vehicle’s siren because you know it’s not good – someone is in trouble and it may be a family member or friend…Also a phone call at 3am is never a good thing.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Son of a bitch.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “My family is my hobby.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “I would love to have been a pro football player…Or maybe a U.S. Marshall.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Working on a County Road crew. I did it for nine months and it was nine months too long.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “Good friends and good family – it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome Danny – you know your son Bobby and your Mum have been waiting for you…And we do need a good football coach.”

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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