Eileen Pronsolino – February 27th, 2009

GEDC0124Last Friday morning I drove to the Pronsolino Ranch up on Signal Ridge where I was cheerily welcomed by Eileen Pronsolino at her home on the ranch – a home she has lived in for sixty years since marrying Angelo Pronsolino in 1949. Eileen made some coffee and we sat down to chat…
She was born in 1930 in Crescent City, California, the second of four children (two brothers, one sister), to parents whose families had lived in this country for many generations. Her father, John Anderson (no connection to the Valley) Brown was from a Texan family of long standing and had attended the high school in Blanco with former President Lyndon Johnson – “I have a letter from the President from when my father died”. Eileen’s mother, Dorothy Eileen Wells, was from Cape Junction, Oregon and her family tree can be traced back to settlers in New Hampshire back in 1636 – Eileen can obviously say she is as American as they come – “My parents were always disappointed that my sister and I didn’t join the “Daughters of the Revolution” organization!”
John Brown was an educated man and in the late twenties was a highly respected bridge engineer working in the North West for the California Division of Highways, later Cal Tran. One day he walked into a local grocery store, set his eyes on a twenty-year old Dorothy Wells behind the counter and the rest is history. They were married and shortly after began a family. In 1933, when Eileen was just two-and-a-half years old, they moved to Anderson Valley where work on roads required some experienced men and John Brown certainly fitted the bill. He became Superintendent. “We stayed at the Boonville Hotel when we first arrived and it’s strange but I can still remember running up and down the long hallways to and from the bathroom. We stayed for a week and then moved into a house on the Cal Tran property besides Highway 128 just past the Anderson Creek Bridge as you drive out of Boonville.”
“At that time, the road to Ukiah was just a dirt road and my father was in charge of projects all over the area from Ft. Bragg to Pt. Arena, all through the Valley to Cloverdale and back up to Hopland and even Leggett Valley. In those days the river here flooded every year and not just for a day or so. In fact during the winter of 1936-37 there was flooding right up to the old bridge near to where we lived. It was lower than the bridge we have there now and I remember my pregnant mother was put in a boat and rowed from our house at the back of the yard to the highway and then taken to what is now Tom McFadden’s house in Boonville, that was then the doctors, Dr. Jordt, to have her child – my sister. In those days the whole west side of Anderson Valley Way was often under water. Eventually, around 1941, right before we entered the war, they re-routed the creek and built a retaining wall.”
In 1936 Eileen went to Con Creek Elementary School, a one-room schoolhouse that is now the Anderson Valley Museum, and then on to the High School in Boonville which was where the Senior Center is today. “At Con Creek there was just one teacher, Blanche Brown, and she was a remarkable person. When I first went there were nineteen kids but at different times there was anything between fifteen and forty children and she did everything. She ran the lessons and took charge of the games on the playground at lunch-breaks. I went to the school in Boonville for 7th and 8th grade but the High School then moved to the buildings behind the current Elementary school, where the district offices are and where the buses are parked. I was there for two years when my father was asked to move to Eureka for work. We had to go even though it was my junior year, I was Class president, playing on the basketball and baseball teams, and had many friends at school.”
During her school years in the Valley Eileen enjoyed the benefits of living in a small, caring community. “I had a wonderful childhood here. The community was such a friendly place and we would go to many events. In those days there was a dance for the whole family held one Saturday a month. A band would play, always The Alberts, and it was a potluck so everyone would bring food and we’d have a big feast. Everyone knew everyone else and we all looked forward to it. The whole community joined in; young and old…Also at that time a man called Ray Wheeler would organize movies to be shown every Saturday and Sunday morning at the Apple Hall. We’d get to see people like Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers. We also had the skating rink and various trapezes and gymnasium things set up for us, plus a basketball court. Kids were kept very busy in those days –we even did most of the harvesting of apples in the Valley, with a few adults to supervise us, of course”
Understandably, Eileen was very upset at having to leave the Valley at such a wonderful time of her life. “I went to Eureka High and it was a real shock to me. The school was very big – over two hundred and seventy-five kids just in my grade alone. I was lost. They didn’t have a girl’s basketball team so I learnt to play field hockey and badminton. The one thing that helped was that another girl from Anderson Valley, Betty Bahl, had also moved there earlier so she introduced me to many new friends. I eventually settled in, I was a good student so that helped and I joined the Pep Band, playing clarinet, and we’d travel all over the place with the football team. I am still in touch with a lot of those people – we had our 60th High School reunion last June.”
After graduating from Eureka High, Eileen briefly studied at Eureka Business College before getting a job at Bank of America. In the meantime she had met Angelo Pronsolino whose family had been in the Valley since 1923. “I knew the Pronsolino girls – Angelo’s sisters, and his brother Guido, but not him. Then one day, it was my 15th birthday actually, December 1945, and I was working at the High School booth that was a part of the Valley’s community bazaar to raise money to build a bowling alley in town. It sounds strange now I suppose but it wasn’t at the time – we already had a skating rink at the Apple Hall…Anyway, this young man introduced himself and I learned later that he had bet his friend, George McAllister, that he’d marry me one day. When we moved to Eureka he used to drive up to see me every three weeks. The Valley never did get its bowling alley – the people who decide such things ultimately said there were not enough people here to support it – but Angelo and I did get together and we will celebrate our 60th wedding anniversary in July this year!”
Angelo proposed to Eileen in 1948, when she was seventeen. He was nearly ten years older. She said “yes” and they married in the summer of 1949 and returned to Anderson Valley. He built a house on the family ranch and over the next few years their three children were born – David, Gary, and Angela. Eileen and Angelo have lived there ever since. Angelo was a timber peeler in those days as well as helping out on the ranch with the orchards, vines, and sheep, whilst Eileen became a full-time mother but still helped out on the ranch, working in the orchards and fields. “We had sheep all over the ranch – it’s 270 acres now, bigger then – but the coyotes have put an end to all that. Now we have them in small fields around the house and may be have a hundred or so.”
When the children were in their late teens she returned to work part-time in the bank that was situated in Boonville at that time. It was the First National Bank of Cloverdale and was at the site currently occupied by the Elegante Video Store in downtown Boonville. The bank opened in October 1966 and Eileen began working there in February 1967. She remained with the bank until 1986, gradually becoming a full-time employee. However, her last year or so was spent in Ukiah as the Boonville branch had closed in 1984. “The bank had made some bad decisions about certain loans and debts were mounting up. It was too bad that it closed. The winery business was really growing plus a bank in town had been very useful to many local people. A small community needs a bank, just like it needs a school.”
Angelo had been taken seriously ill in February 1985 and was sick for a lengthy period of time. “I stopped commuting to Ukiah and took a job closer to home with Alan Green’s Greenwood Ridge Winery in their tasting room. I was the manager there for ten years before retiring, although I still work now and again!”
Over the years Eileen has been involved with several Valley organizations, primarily the Parent Teacher’s Association and the American Legion in the past and more recently the Independent Career Women (I.C.W.). “I was the Head Officer of the Room Mothers at the school – we used to put on fund raisers. Also in those days the school cheerleaders were not allowed to travel with the teams so guess who drove the girls all over to support the sports teams?!…In 1981 we started the I.C.W. here, it had previously been the Business and Professional Women but that was more of a national organization and we sent our money to them. The I.C.W. is local and raised money for all sorts of good causes in the Valley. I remember the handicapped trail in Hendy Woods was one thing we did before we stopped fund raising – we were getting a little too old. In recent times it’s more of a social group and the average age has dropped a lot in the past five years with lots of forty-somethings and even younger women joining the old ladies like myself, Frida Fox, Gwen Sidwell, Jeannie Nicholls, Joyce Murray, Donna Reilly, and Charmian”…
“These days we are around the house a lot and Angelo still puts all the sheep away in the barn every night but we love to bowl and go to Ukiah every Wednesday evening and play with the same group of friends. He started in 1986 and also goes to play in the Tuesday Morning League. I started again in 1994 and although I’m never going to be that good I still really enjoy it. And I even watch it on television, along with some football…I also like to fish on the coast and in the past we’d go to Lake Mendocino and water-ski”
I asked Eileen what she liked most about her life here in Anderson Valley. “I think I could be content anywhere in this Valley but I really like just being here on the ranch. I love the sense of community and the people who live here. It is a laid back way of life – it is for me anyway!…People ask me what I think about all the newcomers over the years and I simply say, ‘I couldn’t care less as long as they mind their own business and don’t tell us how to run ours’. Over the years we’ve had people telling us that the logging is terrible for the environment or that shooting coyotes is bad and they are doing what is natural when they kill all the sheep. Well, I don’t think breaking up the ranch on Guntley Road into sixty-four parcels and building roads for all those lots was very good for the environment either. And the coyotes are often just killing the sheep for fun when they kill so many. If some of those who complain would spend some time seeing what happens at the sheep ranches like Sam Prather’s or the Johnson’s etc, they would may be think differently. One person I know who was defending the coyote rights did just that and she soon changed her mind about the need for the sheep to be protected.”
“I think the Valley is fine despite all the changes in recent years. As long as the land is still used for agricultural things I am fine with it. We do not need more houses though and I believe the Valley Plan or zoning law does not allow anymore houses on the Valley floor except in certain spots and a particular size, limited to two per parcel.”
Eileen rarely listens to the local radio show but does buy the A.V.A. newspaper occasionally. She does think our high school does a decent job and thinks the teachers are poorly paid – “we have many teachers in our family over the years, in different locations, and I’ve seen how they often get the short end of the shaft…I do feel the adult education that is offered here to the new population is done well and will be very important for the future of the Valley.”
“I have traveled quite a lot – my main traveling companion is Christine Clark – and I’ve been to England, France, Italy, Australia, and Mexico. I’ve seen some wonderful places but you know, I would never think of leaving here – this is my favorite place of all…As for a Mayor of the Valley, I’d vote for Kevin Crane who works at Jack’s Valley Store. He seems to have an answer for every question I’ve ever asked and besides, he always asks me to vote for him when I go there!”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Eileen 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? – “I always like to hear people say, ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day’. I like to think it is whatever the weather – just because we are here.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I couldn’t repeat it”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “The paintings of Malcolm West – his art captures the essence of this Valley. I have a couple of his works and our family has a few more.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “People trying to prove a point when I know they don’t know what they are talking about.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The sound of the ocean waves. The sound of a stream or waterfall.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Barking dogs.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “Oh sugar!”…My family never cursed although I did hear my mother say a bad word when she was in her eighties.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “I am a big reader. I also like to sit watching the history channel on television with an atlas on my lap. I am a very curious person about the world. I still want to learn. I love fiction books and just finished a wonderful book by Ken Follett about the 1100’s in England called ‘Pillars of Earth’…I also love my bowling night and, when I get round to it, gardening of course.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A doctor. My father was against it – ‘it’s not a job for a woman’ he said. He didn’t mind me working at the bank – he thought it was an honorable job. He hated the thought that I might end up being a waitress!”

What profession would you not like to do? – “Digging ditches; working on a road crew.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “I’ve had many but nothing can compare to the thrill of holding your newborn child in your arms.”

What was the saddest? – “The day my mother died on 2004. She was ninety-five and we knew she was ill. She had encouraged me to go on a trip to Canada and so I went. She died while I was away and I’ve always regretted that I wasn’t here.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – “I can’t answer that!… Err…Err… Well, let’s see… I try to be fair and see both sides to any argument or discussion. You can’t always be right and I can say that over the years that I’ve learnt that you should never assume that something will happen – so I try not to.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome, Eileen, you’ve lived a pretty good life – with a few exceptions!”…

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Published in: on March 4, 2009 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

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