Bruce Hering – March 6th, 2009

GEDC0126Last Friday morning, I met with Bruce Hering (who amongst other things, was the founder of Bruce Bread) at his home on Hutsell Road at the south end of Boonville. He lives in a very quaint cabin and we sat down to chat at the kitchen table, each with a cup of tea…
Bruce was born in 1935 in Buffalo, New York, to parents of predominantly German descent with a little English thrown in at some point, although all his grandparents were born in the United States and had little to do with their heritage once they were here. His father was a manager in the manufacturing of building materials industry and found his skills in great demand. As a result the family moved around constantly and by the age of fifteen, as well as New York, Bruce had already lived in New Jersey, Connecticut, Tennessee, Ohio, and even California (Los Angeles). “I believe that all the moving around meant that staying in one place became so important to me in later years…It also meant that I never had the opportunity to make lasting friendships as a child – we were never in the same place for any length of time. On top of that my sister and brother were six and nine years younger than me, so I was a bit of a loner growing up.”
The family finally settled in South Bend, Indiana in 1950 and Bruce attended Central High School. “It was quite a big school and I did well with my studies, particularly math and the sciences. I didn’t play sports, I was a fairly sedentary kid.” He graduated in 1953 and attended Purdue University a couple of hundred miles away in Lafayette where he studied Engineering Science. “I did well at college. Many kids in Indiana came to university from small towns and had a hard time adjusting. My high school had prepared me well; the level of education had been better than for most. In my second year I joined a fraternity and for the first time in my life I discovered ‘partying’ and had some wild times. However, despite the partying, I didn’t have too much trouble with grades and managed to graduate on schedule in 1957.”
During breaks from college Bruce had returned to South Bend and had met Yvonne Schryer, who was a nurse in the town. They had fallen in love and just a week after graduating they were married. With a wide smile Bruce comments, “Nine months and one day later our first daughter, Diane, was born. I continued on the traditional path that had always seemed to be the way for me and I went to work in the corporate world as an engineer for Bendix Corp where I specialized in solving engineering problems with the use of the early computers.”
In 1961 a second daughter, Ellen, arrived and four years later a third, Alicia. ”It was the early sixties and I was a Republican. My upbringing and background had led me to being that way – I even voted for Goldwater in the ’64 election when he lost by a large margin to Lyndon Johnston.” I asked Bruce if he had therefore voted for Nixon when he had lost to Kennedy in 1960. “I suppose I must have but I don’t remember doing so…However, I was really beginning to question my view of the world and not longer after the ’64 election my political ‘conversion’ came about. I had begun night school studies for an M.B.A., believing that the engineering degree coupled with such business qualifications would set me up for life, However, during the course I had changed my opinions although I did decide to stick it out and get the damn thing anyway.”
“In 1969, three colleagues of mine at Bendix and I started Carleton Financial Computations that used computers to design and print various financial tables. We had a niche in the market at that time and I owned 5% of the company. It was a big success and we made good money. I lived a very ‘normal’ life, raising a family, working regular hours, but I continued to question what I wanted to really do. This thought would not go away and after ten years I had had enough. I sold my 5% for not that much money and left. It would later sell for $20 million so I guess I missed my chance to be a millionaire.”
He continued, “Yvonne and I were unhappy together and we got divorced. It was basically due to the major mid-life crisis I was in. Now I was forty-six years old, my marriage of more than twenty years was over, and I had quit my job. Thus ended my first life…I really wasn’t sure what I wanted so I drove out to California and arrived in Boonville in the fall of 1981 to begin my second life. I had always tried to equate success with money but could no longer rectify this. I decided that I did not want to be a rich man.” Bruce hesitated before adding with a laugh, “You might say I’ve succeeded there!…Joking apart, I deem my life to be successful – I’m a very happy guy.”
Bruce and the family had previously visited the Valley to see his brother-in-law, Ron Schyrer, who lived here, and then daughter Diane had come out a year earlier to visit her uncle and had stayed. “What was not to like about Anderson Valley? I had no idea what I wanted to do but thought ‘why not stay?’ I loved the environment and I guess if you don’t know what you want to do with your life you might as well do it in Boonville!”
Initially Bruce tried to make a living by teaching computer studies to local home-schoolers. He quite enjoyed this at first and had some money from his ‘previous life’ so he managed to get along fine. However, he soon found out that he was not a good teacher and quit that line of work. “I knew I needed to get completely away from the computer world”…Meanwhile, Diane had married Joseph Petelle and started a family and he moved in with them. With her encouragement, Bruce soon took up baking as a hobby. “I found out that I had a new passion. I really liked the idea of working with my hands – seeing the end results of your labors. Soon I was trading my bread for firewood, eggs, dinner, etc and had enough ‘fans’ to warrant a whole day of baking. It was nice to hear people say how good the bread was – the whole experience was very rewarding.”
Then came along “St. Burt of Boonville” as Bruce refers to Burt Cohen of the Boont Berry Farm store in the heart of Boonville. “Burt said he would love to sell the bread but it would have to be prepared in a ‘legal’ kitchen. He asked if I would bake the bread if he installed an oven and provided a mixer. My second daughter Ellen had come for a visit and she agreed to stay and join in this venture with me if I agreed to make it a legitimate business. Well we started Bruce Bread in 1984 and it just took off. We would move into Burt’s kitchen every afternoon at around 4pm and work through into the wee hours, paying a pittance to rent the space. We stayed at Burt’s kitchen for a few years by which time we were too big and besides he needed his kitchen for his own things so we moved into the three rooms behind ‘All that Good Stuff’ just down the street.”
Bruce loved the work and in the later years particularly enjoyed delivering the bread each day to people all over the area – out to the coast, north and south, and inland too. “I really got into that aspect – meeting cool people all over Mendocino county. I did it six days a week. I guess I kinda liked people who work at the back of grocery stores!…I made many poor business decisions though – driving to the coast to deliver two loaves is not a moneymaker! – I knew this didn’t make business sense but I did it anyway… We had never made any money – perhaps one year we did, may be $8 an hour…In the late nineties we finally sold up. One of our long-time staff, Mary Loftsgaard, knew the business inside out and she bought it from us. She still has it I believe but it’s no longer here in town…I haven’t baked a loaf of bread for more than five years now.”
Since then Bruce has had a very enjoyable retirement and continues to live in the cabin he has rented for twenty- five years. “I enjoy it even more now that I have met Jo Mueller – the woman I expect to be with for the long haul. She lives in Berkeley, close to her six grandchildren, and I have three of my six grandkids there too, so it woks out very well. I love Berkeley – there are a lot of people walking around who look just like me…And so we have a city and a country ‘estate’!
I asked Bruce about his political activism, for which in recent times he is perhaps best known. “The availability of marijuana was an attraction initially to the Valley I must say. I did not discover the stuff until I was thirty-five. So when the time came I was very involved with the movements to pass both Measure G – legalization of marijuana for personal use and Measure H – to prevent G.M.O.’s in the county’s agricultural industry – “Both of these are examples of Mendocino going up against the State and Federal governments’ wishes. We were successful with those campaigns although the forces of repression have come back with Measure B that has reversed G at this point in time….During the Measure G campaign, along with several others, I was arrested outside Wall-Mart as part of a citizens arrest by the manager of the store. After an initial ruling against us, the case went to the appellate court and eventually the eight of us each received substantial damages against Wall-mart – they had no right to do such a thing on ‘commons’ property. That was great – nothing made us happier than getting the better of them… At one time I was very political and also naïve enough to think that a third party, such as the Greens or Ralph Nader, could seriously try for a shot at the Presidency. It was very idealistic of me – I still follow their beliefs and ideas but as a political force they can forget about it.”
What about your Uncle Sam persona? – “Well that came about as a result of an arrangement with Michael Addison who organizes the July 4th event at the Fairgrounds every year. He told me I looked just like Uncle Sam and rented a costume for me to wear every year. I picked up on this and eventually stopped renting and bought the costume for myself. I got a U.S. flag and added a peace sign where the stars would normally go. I have worn the outfit and carried that flag to many, many demonstrations and protests – in San Francisco, the Burning Man Festival, etc., etc. I like the idea of a ‘peaceful United States’ although often it seems like an impossible dream. Around the time of the Iraq war I was at Burning Man and someone took a photo of me in the middle of a dust storm wearing the outfit and holding the flag– I’d say it was a very appropriate picture. I should add that although I have been arrested many times it never happened when I was dressed as Uncle Sam!”…
“Talking of Burning Man I have probably been to my final one. I have been several times and seen many incredible things and had great times. However, since meeting Jo I have settled down quite a lot and don’t need to go out partying so much. I have had some serious surgery in the recent past and I realize that perhaps that’s enough Burning Man for me. Yoga has become a big part of my life and I meditate every day. Running used to be something I enjoyed for many years – those who do not recognize my name on this article may remember the skinny greybeard that used to jog up and down 128 many a morning who can now be seen doing the same route but on a bicycle. That ‘first life’ of mine took its toll and I had to have some ulcers removed and then this past year I had a blood clot and then had open-heart surgery. It was a complete success and I feel better than ever. I can’t believe it – actually, what is left of me is in good shape!”
I next turned to some of the topics that I touch on with most of my guests…What do you most like about life in the Valley? – “This environment and the community who live here are just what I was looking for when the time came for me to move on in my life. I am very content here. This cabin is special to me although I do wonder which will go first – the house or me!! Thanks to our great social security system – I paid in quite a lot of money during my days in the corporate world – I can live as comfortably as I want. I don’t need much. I love living on Hutsell Road and never tire of walking around here.”
The wineries? – I have not been keen on the new wineries arriving but I have to say they do seem to be doing a responsible job in most cases. Locally owned and operated wineries are what I don’t mind although I’ve never been a mono-culturist and believe we need to produce a wider range of products here.”…KZYX & Z? – “I was on the board for six years and have been the public affairs programmer. I think it’s a great source of information and they have some exceptional staff – Christine Aarnastad for example. They do a good job, however there have been many staff changes and on top of that it seems the technical problems will not go away. Some of the staff’s on air abilities are not what they should be so I think some of the programmers need more direction and training.”…The A.V.A. – “I don’t buy the paper regularly and often just scan it rather than read the whole thing. Like many others, I think, I check out the Valley People pages and that’s about it.”…And if there were such a position, whom would you vote for Mayor of Anderson Valley? – “Probably Jerry Cox – I have a lot of respect for that man. May be Jeff Pugh – I see him most mornings so I know he’s o.k.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Bruce 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? – “It would probably be ‘at this point in time’ – it used to be ‘now’ “…

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Either ‘absolutely’ or ‘totally’, or perhaps ‘like’…

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Mainly seeing things in nature that are new to me.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Violence”

What sound or noise do you love? – “I love the sound of the creek after a good rain – Robinson Creek, right here besides the house.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Screeching brakes”

What is your favorite curse word? – “I like them all at different and appropriate times – I have no particular favorite.”

What is your favorite hobby? – ‘Playing scrabble on the computer – I’d like to play with humans but haven’t found any scrabble players yet…I also like chess and sometimes go to the Veterans Hall to play on Tuesday evenings.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “Something outdoors, something to do with nature – a Forestry guy of some sort.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “A job in a factory.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “There have been so many…May be it was November 15th, 2008 – when I came out of the anesthetic after my heart surgery. There was a chance that I may not have come out at all. It was amazing – I was alive! I came to and there was Jo – I immediately asked her to marry me and she said ‘yes’…”

What was the saddest? – “Well, that’s tough to answer. I try not to recall those moments.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I like to think I am a very friendly person. I guess during my days at Bruce Bread in particular I believe that was how I was viewed. I was the guy making bread – I must be o.k.!”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Bruce – not you again!”

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Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 10:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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