I drove up to the top of Holmes Ranch Road last Friday morning and turned into the High Shams Ranch home of Rod and Judy Basehore (actually pronounced as it is written but most people say ‘Bayshore’). They have a beautiful home and having admired the virtually 360-degree panoramic views of the Valley, Rod poured a couple of ice teas and we sat down to chat.
He was born in 1935 in Hershey, Pennsylvania of Dutch origins. Ira, his father, was raised in the Amish lifestyle whilst his mother Kathryn was a Mennonite Christian who later turned to the Lutheran religion. “My parents always taught me and my sister that a philosophy of hard work and honesty was the way to live your life…Some, but certainly not all, of the Amish ways have played a part in my way of life and beliefs ever since then.” His father was an entrepreneur who raised horses and growing up on a thoroughbred horse farm meant that Rod’s lifelong love of the animal began at an early age. His father also started a potato chip/popcorn/pretzel factory and sent the products overseas to the troops in Europe fighting in the War. Ira was the oldest brother and so was exempt from military service but two of Rod’s Uncles did serve, one of whom died over there.
In 1947 the family went to Hawaii on vacation and liked it so much they decided they’d like to stay. His father got a job on the railways there and by 1949 he had become the C.E.O. of a company hauling sugar and pineapples. Rod attended Roosevelt High School in Honolulu where he was into the drama program and also found time to play roles in the Honolulu Light Opera Company. “It was the rival school to the one that was later attended by President Obama – he went to the white boys school, I went to the locals’ school.”…During the summers he worked at the racetrack and at one point, being only 5’ 2”, he had wanted to be a jockey. “I fell off my first horse at 5 years old and my mother said, ‘You alright? Good, that’s as bad as it gets, now get back on.’ It was good advice and I never looked back.”
Rod had a hard time at school in the early years as he was an outsider, being the only non-islander, but after many fist fights – “I won some, I lost many” – he was eventually accepted and did judo with all the other kids. He loved to go coin-diving as the cruise ships departed from the island and the passengers threw coins into the ocean. “We dove down and put the nickels, dimes, and quarters in our ears, and the half-dollars in our cheeks – you could collect quite a lot of money and with the movies only costing 15 cents a time we felt quite rich…It was a very good life out there but once I graduated in 1953 it was time for me to move on.”
Rod received his graduation certificate from the ‘Territory of Hawaii’ – it was not yet a State, and entered Pacific Lutheran University near to Tacoma, Washington, with the idea of becoming a preacher. However, in his first semester the hypocrisy of so many people around him, their prejudices because he was tanned and spoke with a strange ‘island’ accent, and the fact that a fellow student stole his beautiful bible, resulted in a change of plan and he began studying education and communication skills in the theater arts program. Whilst at college he fell in love and got married but it didn’t work out. Rod was hit hard by this turn of events. “I took my dog, my guitar, and some hot dogs and went to stay in the desert for a while…On my return my father tried to console me. He pushed out a large roll of butcher paper on the floor and told me to start penciling 1’s on it. After I had gone a few yards down the paper he stopped me and circled the first ‘1’, saying, ‘That’s your life today – the rest of your life has a long way to go – tough this out and you will be fine.’ He was right.”
Rod graduated with a B.A. specializing in Theatre and Speech Education and then went on to San Diego State to get a Masters in Theatre Arts and his California Teaching Credential where he studied under Hunton D. Sellmen – one of the top teachers of the day in this field. He then attended U.C.L.A. where he received a Masters of Fine Arts with an emphasis in acting.
He did not wish to “play the film industry game” and wanted creative control and freedom over whatever he did, both in terms of the facilities and the finances. He started teaching at Indio High School where he was hired to create a speech and drama program. He was to remain there for thirty-four years until retirement in 1994.
In1958, Rod met Judy and “we lived together in sin when it actually was regarded as a sin.” Judy had two daughters from her previous marriage – Melodee and Marilee (both now teachers) and, following their marriage in 1960, their son Scott was born in 1961 – he is micro-biologist in San Diego. They have five grand daughters, one grandson, and one great grandson…
His teaching of drama and speech continued throughout the sixties…“I established the Circle Theatre Acting Company, a self-supporting student group and set up a curriculum to educate them in communicative skills with Theatre Production as the catalyst. It was not just for entertainment, it was an environment for learning.” The teaching of speech was also very successful and during those years Rod received awards as a Speech Coach and became Vice-President of the California Speech Association. As a result of his efforts the Speech teams from Indio High won State Championships in several events, also finishing fourth in the nation two years in a row.
By 1970 Rod’s love of horses finally found an outlet and he began to breed Appaloosas on a forty-acre ranch he bought in the desert. This line of work seemed to do well side-by-side with his teaching. “Raising horses is just like bringing up kids – if you give the right foundation they will turn out solid. As a teacher you give the options and hope to see people grow – that’s why I taught. With horses I have always looked for the trainable mind and I was fortunate to find a superb two-year old stud – A Musical Tradition was his name – he was Teddy to us. We bought forty acres for $15 K and bred him with thirteen mares and they turned out great. We sold the lot, except Teddy, and then bought four world class mares and greatly improved the breed, placing high at The Appaloosa World Championships year after year.”
In 1972, Rod heard of property for sale in Anderson Valley – on the new Holmes Ranch sub-division between Philo and Navarro, which had opened two weeks earlier. He and Judy came up and looked at it but they were told there was no water on the property. After a restless night spent in Ft. Bragg, they returned the next day to walk around the property. They found a spring – a very healthy one at that – which the survey had missed. He contacted the agent and paid $18K for twenty acres. Shortly after he was offered another twenty alongside. He did not have the money so offered $7K on a piece valued at twice that. Following some bartering he managed to get it for $10K. “We started building barns and putting up fences but it was a slow process as we still had our jobs down south – Judy was an elementary school teacher in the Palm Springs school district – plus we had the southern ranch to run. We came up in the summers for a couple of months and I would work on the construction and weed-eat my ass off and we’d stay in a horse trailer until the first barn was built.”
Meanwhile, by the early seventies, Rod had stopped teaching speech to concentrate on the school’s theatre program. He had written and produced a touring show called ‘the Brass Menagerie’ and had toured seven countries in Europe for six weeks with the students. Then in the mid-seventies he campaigned heavily on behalf of a bond issue that resulted in the building of a facility containing three theatres. “I was permitted to play a large part in the design of the complex and its success resulted in me being hired as consultant for the district’s two other theatres in new high schools. I created a drama curriculum that produced several major shows a year and also a scene design program to create all the sets for the various schools’ programs. I also directed and acted at U.C.L.A., San Diego State, College of the Desert, The Palm Springs Theatre, and The Cathedral City Players. That was my life for many years.”…Rod retired in 1994 having directed over two hundred plays and many of his students have had successful careers in all aspects of theatre as well as many other professions where communicative skills are necessary…
Following the sale of the southern ranch in 1995, Rod quit the horse- breeding business and concentrated on the northern ranch on Holmes Ranch Road. He designed the house and with the help of local carpenter Mark Triplett and his crew, and Judy of course, the new property slowly took shape…They lived off their horse-sale earnings as they had been providing world-class horses for years and were widely known for the quality of their animals. Rod talks with great passion and knowledge about his time in the horse-business. “I couldn’t get by without horses. Our success was all down to Teddy – he had a wonderful set of manners, a real gentleman… I was present at the birth of all the horses – all but two were born on to my lap so we bonded immediately. This made training so much easier – there is a lot of psychology involved with the method we use in the training of horses and connecting with them mentally is vital.”
In 2005 the house and surrounding buildings were complete. Rod had only two horses left and had been out of the theatre world for over ten years. It was time to jump back in and, with the Valley not having a community theatre for both entertainment and educational purposes, Rod founded the Anderson Valley Theatre Guild in 2006. Their first production was ‘You’re a good man Charlie Brown’ based on the work by Charles Schultz and then Chekhov’s ‘The Good Doctor’ followed in 2007, with another Chekhov short play along with Rod’s own work, ‘Harry Pollack’ produced last year. In a few weeks’ time this year’s production, ‘A Thurber Carnival’ will take place at The Grange here in the Valley.
‘I love living here in this beautiful Valley – I love the openness, the space. I like the honesty of the majority of the people who live here. I like the fact that many people here work so hard and with their hands, not just buying their way through. The hands and mind are a measure of a person, I believe. I am glad to see that there’s an increasing assimilation of the Mexican community into the rest of the Valley – a little more each year…I do miss some of the social interaction we used to have when we lived down south and the fact that there is no dance or gathering on a weekly basis for like-minded people to see each other and talk and share experiences. It’s difficult in rural areas to achieve this regularly but we live in hope. We do have get-togethers here and we don’t invite kids – we want an evening of adult conversation without interruption. Don’t misunderstand, I like kids – but in their place.”
I asked Rod for his responses to various ‘hot-button’ issues that are of concern to many on the Valley…The wineries? – “They do a good job – a class act in terms of their appearances, but I do worry about the Valley having a monoculture and of course the issue of water is an on-going concern. I do like having a farming community of any sort over the alternative of too many people.”…The local public radio station, KZYX & Z? – “I like it and listen quite a bit. We support it and Judy helps out during their pledge drive.”…The A.V.A.? – “I that too – I like Bruce and what he has done in recent years now that he’s not so negative and these days he does a lot to pull the community together”… The School System? – “It’s a good school, I think. We have friends whose kids have attended there and gone on to do well. Like many things, you get out of it what you put in – there should be no excuses.”…I asked Rod if he were Mayor what would he change. “I’d investigate the possibility of a sewage system for the Valley. With people putting in second homes on their land, we have so many wells and septic systems that they will overlap and that’s obviously not good – it’s a problem we will face in the future.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Rod, many of which are 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? – “Honesty and hard work.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Look what I bought.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “A bubbly personality; sincerity; thinking outside the box…
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “When people say ‘I can’t’…”
What sound or noise do you love? – “I love the sound of silence. At night up here when I sit outside on the deck there is not a sound – perfect…Oh, and I also like the sound of a contented woman!”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Acid rock music.”
What is your favorite curse word? – “That would probably be ‘shit’. I am not a religious person but I very seldom use God’s name in vain. I’m a spiritual person and my religion is ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – if you live life that way you won’t go far wrong.”
Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “A song would be ‘God must be a Cowboy’ – ‘cos he needs wide open spaces and horses to be our friends…A book and film that influenced me would be Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ – wonderful.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Well I have to say horses, although for much of my life it was a job too. We now have just two left – Finbar Magee and Popeye – and Judy and I still love to go for rides on the trails back behind the property.”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A stage actor in a professional company”
What profession would you not like to do? – “ A stockbroker”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – When I met Judy forty-nine years ago. I was getting over my marriage, done with women, and was out in a bar with friends. I heard a laugh across the bar and saw this woman standing by the jukebox. I was certainly taken by her but she left soon after. We went to another bar and there was a woman singing a Japanese song in the bar – it was the same woman. I spoke to her in pigeon Japanese. She laughed – a great laugh. I asked if I could walk her to her car and there was definitely a spark between us. She told me she had two little girls; I told her I was in $45K debt from loans. Neither mattered. We met again the next day and have been together ever since. We are still like newly-weds – we are soul mates.”
What was the saddest? -“I can’t think of one – I accept sadness and loss and move on.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I suppose it would be that I have been successful at whatever I have set out to do – it’s an attribute I’m very glad to have.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “If he said, ‘Hi, Rod’, that would mean he’d been watching me and think I’d done o.k. I suppose…I do not fear facing him/her, whoever. My Amish upbringing was good for me – it took away the greed, the route to evil. I did not follow all the religious aspects but was around it all growing up. I had three aunts – Faith, Hope, and Charity, who rode around in a buggy. My family would not take medicines – they would pray away illness. Nevertheless, their morals and ethics were a big part of my upbringing and have always played a big part in my life.”