William ‘Bud’ Johnson – December 19th, 2009

I met with Bud at his home on Anderson Valley Way, just north of Boonville, and as I drove up he was practicing his roping on a dummy cow. “I get out here nearly every day to work on it – I’m getting pretty good” he said with a smile – Bud is a former professional rodeo roping expert.
Bud was born in 1930 in the central Valley town of Arbuckle, California, the second of two children to William Johnson and Anna May Petrie who the previous year had their first child, Betty. “My father was in the army and had been stationed in Ft. Benning, Georgia and whilst on weekend furlough in Knoxville, Tennessee he’d met Anna May who was from nearby. They were married at the end of that weekend!”
His parents moved to California in the late twenties and settled in the Central Valley before moving up to Humboldt County near to the town of Alder Point when Bud was 8 years old. His father had always worked on ranches and he now was the foreman on a huge series of ranches owned by the Tooby Brothers, totaling 100,000 acres with 10,000 cows. “In the late thirties, my sister and I rode to school together on a horse, eight miles each way. We had to cross a deep creek and sometimes the water in that son-of-a-bitch would be too high so we’d have to ride an extra seven or eight miles to the bridge. Them horses were pretty well broke by the time we rode them to school a few times. The ranch was in a remote area with nothing but sheep and cows for miles and we had no electricity in our cabin that was built of logs held together by wooden pegs, not nails. There were just five kids in the school and when one graduated the school closed – some county rule, I think. The two other kids, Cudney and Hornaby, did not have horses and had been walking five miles each way until then.” Bud then attended a school in Blocksburg and it was while there that he remembers his mother saying that the U.S was at war with the Japanese.
“We got food stamps during the war and also hunted a lot for food – everything we killed we ate and we also had a big vegetable garden, canning everything from buck meat to vegetables and then breaking them out in the winter. My folks and everyone around us were hard-working people. After school most days I would usually have to take a horse or two to the blacksmiths and I’d be told to keep the furnace going while the guy would work with the horses. I would often get told off – ‘you little bastard, it’s too hot!’ I’d much rather have been shooting rabbits at the time. Anyway, that’s when I learned about horse-shoeing – something I have done ever since to this day.”
Bud went to South Fork High School near to Garberville where he had to walk two miles to catch the bus, and then he moved to Fortuna High School where he stayed all week. “I was in a bunkhouse by myself on a farm and I milked the cows before and after school every day, and cleaned the barns out. From the age of 12 I never stayed at home and I would see my folks just a couple of times a year.”
Bud graduated in 1948 but two years earlier he had gone with his father to get a driver’s license so he could drive trucks between the ranches. “Although I had been driving trucks since I was eight I had never driven in town. My Dad pretty much told them I had to be given the license and they gave it to me and then when I left school I went straight on to ranch work.”
“We had some great dogs on the ranch, mainly McNab Shepherds – I had not heard of Border Collies at that time. The McNabs have short, sleek hair but the collies have loner hair and herding can be tough on them on a hot day. Dogs would sometimes get a good kicking from the cattle and we worked them hard but they loved it. You didn’t pet them dogs, they just wanted to work. To this day, I believe that if you don’t have enough work for a working dog then you shouldn’t have one.”
“I was paid $60 a month by the Tooby’s in those days, and given room and board too. I was in a cabin with about twenty other guys. That was good money then because I was very experienced on a ranch compared to some guys. We had about 300 horses and I’d break ‘em and distribute them to the other ranch hands. We didn’t break them until they were four years old in those days (it’s two now), and we never had the round corrals to work them that you see today. I loved breaking horses and herding cattle. It was tough work, in open country around Ridgeville, and we would drive cattle for miles, hauling everything we needed on mules. Once we drove 500 head right down Hwy 36 for five days – there was little traffic. We would have about four guys, 8 dogs, and go from dawn to dusk. On one occasion we were driving 800 head of cattle and, as I drove alongside the Wilburn Ranch, Lassie Wilburn introduced herself and invited me in for dinner. We still had fifteen miles to go that day so I couldn’t. Then on another occasion I did go in. I just stayed for dinner and left, but soon after we went to the fair together and began courting. We got married in 1949 and lived in Carlotta on the Tooby Ranch.”
Not long afterwards, Bud and Lassie went to a rodeo and Bud entered the bronco-riding competition – and won! “It was $169 in prize money and I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, why am I working for a living?’ I started to go to lots of rodeos and seemed to win some money every time. I began to get well known and when people said, ‘How’s it goin’, Champ?’ it made me very proud. I quit my job and was signed up by the promoter to join the rodeo tour. They paid my food, lodging, expenses, and entry fees and I became a professional rodeo guy.”
Bud traveled all over the country with the tour, from Madison Square Garden in New York City to all the big rodeo shows from Wyoming to Oklahoma to Chicago. “I was pretty handy, I guess. For a time I would ride bulls and horses but when one of the top guys told me that bull-riding would always leave me ‘sored up,’ I quit that part and soon after my bronco-riding had improved 100%. I had learned a lot from all my years breaking horses on the ranches and I felt I could compete with the best of ‘em, all the big names – K.C. Tibbs, Jim Shoulder, and the Lenderman’s, Bud and Bill.”
A number of people know Bud not so much through his rodeo and ranch work as through his music. “My dad got me a guitar when I was 8 for $3 and I learned to play from hanging out with a couple of kids who were from Oklahoma and Arkansas and their families were always playing music around their houses. We played in bars for a kitty that would be passed around. When I was 16 or so I paid $65 to catch the train from Northern California to Knoxville where my grandmother lived and I got a job playing at a barn dance all summer and had a great time but I kept thinking about my life on the ranch working the horses so I returned and my music was shelved for years. Then once I joined the tour and money was coming in, the music remained in the background as I started to buy property with my winnings.”
Bud had worked for the Christianson Brothers out of Eugene and then moved to the tour promoted by Max Barber out of Williams, Oregon. “I was on the road all the time and they liked having me as I could be depended on to do all the jobs that needed doing. I remember Max telling me to make sure the horses got plenty of alfalfa hay because it made them ‘buck higher and fart louder.’ He was a great guy who took care of me and I was very sad when he was shot and killed in an alleyway in Reno.”
To supplement his earnings Bud applied for and got a job as a Mendocino Trapper based in Ukiah. “It was fairly central to the locations of many of the rodeos so we moved the family – Lassie and I now had two daughters, Kelly and Christy – and settled in Potter Valley outside Ukiah in 1957. A little later we went out to Westport on the coast for a few years and lived in a cabin on a bluff over the ocean. At some point Lassie and I split up and she moved to Texas with the girls where her mother bought her a ranch. Kelly returned to live here when she was 12 whereas Christy was with both of us at different times. She died at 36 in the line-of-duty as a narcotics detective.”
“I needed to get out of the fog on the coast and had hunted and trapped in Boonville many times so I knew I’d like to live there. Around 1959 I bought 5 acres for $5,000 at Con Creek, just north of what is now the A.V. Museum and elementary school site. Then I got to hear that the new Hwy 128 was going to run right through my property and although I was pissed off I sold the land for $45,000. With a chunk of the profit I then bought 12 acres on Ornbaun Road, next to where the airport is now, it is called ‘Kelly’s Place’.”
In those days the Valley had many bars and lots of people working in the logging industry. “Those Arkies and Okies may not have had a pair of socks sometimes but they knew how to work hard, and how to have a good time in the bars. Talking of that, I was in The Boonville Lodge getting drunk one night and I got talking to Shorty Rawles who had 12 acres that had been cut off from the rest of his property between the new highway and Anderson Valley Way. I offered him $10,000 for it and he said, ‘bully’ and the deal was done. I moved my parents on to that property but my Dad died after just a year when he had a heart attack when hog-hunting on Elkhorn Road. My Mom stayed on alone but it got tough for her so I moved in to keep an eye on her. I finally quit the rodeo business as my knee had been giving me problems – it was an injury I had gotten many years earlier when bull-riding. I had earned a lot of money and didn’t need to keep going so hard.”
Bud kept sheep on many acres throughout the Valley, having as many as 7,000 at one point, some in partnership with the Rawles family, spread out at places like Horse Haven, Guntly Road, Reilly Heights, Robinson Creek, and the Piper Ranch on Mountain View Road. “I had about eight dogs at any one time. I have a very good dog now. Bo is his name but he has slowed down a lot. I’ve had some great ones, Arkie comes to mind – he could herd even the most difficult of wild goats out of a pasture if they were eating the sheep feed and had to be moved… I also had a great horse, Yeller, who died aged 26 after working with me virtually every day of the his life. We won the roping title three times, last time in 2008, and I wanted to get one more ‘Buckle’ this past year but it was not to be.”
Bud was still trapping, the sheep business was bringing in decent money, and by around 1960 he had begun to play music again, “along with some pretty handy musicians. We worked gigs at various County Fairs and eventually I hooked up with various recording stars such as Glenn Campbell, Buck Owens, and a young Merle Haggard who was in Buck’s band before he ran off with Buck’s wife!… One time I went to Nashville with my guitar and went into the studio to play with Glenn Campbell and I played the ‘Grand Ole Opry.’ I would sit around with Glenn and come up with songs sings and he will still call me if he’s in the region and I’ll go and play with him and his band sometimes. He’s a fabulous guitar player and singer… In recent years I have played local gigs and the Mendocino County Fair with Dean Titus’ band. He used to work for me when he was at High School – I used to kid him that he was the only person I knew who would sit on a wool pack and try to pick it up at the same time – he’s a good kid.”
During the mid-sixties Bud was married for a second time, “to a real crooked gal. She stole money; she was a thief and a bad drinker and I’d try to figure out how she could take people for their money, but I somehow was with her for eight years.”
In 1974, he bought a bar in Ukiah called ‘Cliff’s Place. “I was having a few beers and shooting pool with the owner who was complaining about the cost of running the bar and the problem of his wife running the bar and flirting with male customers. He figured if he sold the business he would solve all his problems – he didn’t know the facts of life I guess! I bought it for $30,000 and called it the ‘Happiness Is’. It was a very different sort of life to what I’d known ever before but we did well for five years before I sold it to four loggers in 1979 for nearly ten times what I’d paid.”
It was while at the bar that Bud met Vicky, a customer, who became his third wife in 1977. “I’d known her folks for years. Her father promoted small-time rodeos with smaller horses than the ones I normally rode – the 1400-pounders. It was like riding Shetland Ponies and I made some easy money… But the bar scene was rough and I began to drink a lot so with Vicky not being a drinker it was a good move to sell when I did… I went back to rodeos and Vicky competed in roping and ran barrels – she was one of the best and still competes today, as does my daughter Kelly and granddaughter Amanda. Vicky has been great for me. She understands me. We have two boys – W.T. who is now 28 and works at Starr Auto in Philo and for the County Roads Department and Houston who is 20 and works at Maple Creek Winery in Yorkville.
After selling the bar, Bud also quit trapping and concentrated on the sheep business here in the Valley and several hundred head of cattle in Willits. “The livestock industry has always been up and down with many difficulties. I also did some horse trading for a few years but the market is no good these days. I used to buy horses cheaply in Texas, keep them for a few months and then sell them for five times the amount.”
Fifteen years ago Bud had a heart attack. “I had just told someone that I was in as good a shape as any guy my age could be and then a couple of days later I had the heart attack! I was shoeing about ten or so horses. I was doing the last one and thinking I was nearly done and could show that place a clean ass and go. Suddenly my chest began to ache, spreading to my shoulder and arm. My eyes were not right either. Fortunately a shepherd was nearby and he took me to the Doctor in Cloverdale and then to Healdsburg. There was a big vein blocked and luckily at the hospital they had a ‘clot-buster’ and saved me. I fully recovered and these days I am in pretty good shape and can still shoe about four or five horses a day.”
“I have always loved this Valley. I got lucky living here. We raised two kids here, although to do that these days it may be harder. Our kids are clean and have turned out o.k…. I don’t really drink anymore, apart from with dinner or just one or two, and I never go to the bar for a night of drinking… I used to know everyone around here, the loggers, the ranchers, but not any more. Still, these days many people will say, ‘Hi, Bud,’ and I have no idea who they are… I did go to the Senior Center the other evening for the first time and saw a lot of people I know. It was a very good time and I’ll go again.”
I asked Bud that if he were the Mayor and had the power to change anything, what would he change about The Valley? “I have no grief with anything around here. Besides, we already have a Mayor – that’s what I call my buddy, Wayne Hiatt!”
As I do every week I asked my guest for their responses to various Valley ‘issues’… The Wineries? – “Other than them taking my water they are o.k. and I have nothing against them. I haul grapes for some of them and so it brings in a little extra income”… The A.V.A. Newspaper – “Vicky reads it all and likes the local stuff. I’m not a big reader but she lets me know if I need to know something”… Tourism? – “Well there’s a lot of ‘em – and they are all taking pictures. Of what? I must have missed something all of these years”…
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Bud 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? – “I like to call someone a ‘little bastard.’ My son, W.T., once told a friend that the guy couldn’t call him a little bastard as he’d seen his mummy and daddy get married!”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “The f-word”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Playing guitar. It is hooked up all day and night, right next to where I like to sit. I practice a lot so I can still step out and play at any time. I had to learn how to play again without a finger when some nylon rope cut it off. It fell on the floor and I was going to put it on ice and see if it could be sewn back on but the dog got to it first and ate it!”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Kids not working hard. In my day we would see what was needed and we’d just do it. Kids today don’t seem to help people unless they get paid.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The sound of nature when I’m out riding a colt in the hills and woods.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “God dam motorcycles.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “ ‘Shucks’ or ‘Son of a biscuit’ “

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “Songs by Ernest Tubbs in the forties.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Roping and shoeing – that’s not working to me. You hold a horse like you’d hold a woman. If you don’t they will pull away just the same. It’s not about strength; it’s about both of you relaxing… I am still learning about shoeing, even though I’ve done it since I was 7 years old. Roping too – I practice every day.”.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “I always wished I’d been a great guitar player. I’m still learning.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “A hospital worker…Or any job involving ‘babysitting’ adults.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Anytime I won a roping competition.”

What was the saddest? – “When Yeller died at 26 I was very sad. I’ve lost a few other good ‘uns and it is always sad – Bucky and Hammerhead come to mind – both great horses.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “That I have got a lot of friends and a good sense of humor – I love to sit around with them, all of us telling a bunch of lies!… That I strive for perfection in music and horse work – knowing and reading people and animals is crucial in both of these and I do pretty good at ‘em.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “ Welcome, Bud – you done your best.”

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 7:30 pm  Comments (1)  

Ruby Patricia ‘Pat’ Hulbert – December 12th, 2009

I drove about ¼ mile up the driveway opposite Gowan’s Oak Tree fruit stand to arrive at Pat Hulbert’s home on the Hulbert Ranch. She welcomed me into her cluttered yet very well organized kitchen and offered me a delicious slice of zucchini bread as we sat down to chat.
“I can’t remember much stuff, I’m afraid. These golden years are not what they are cracked up to be. I am terrible with nouns and names but let’s see what happens”…Pat was born in November 1933 to parents Clarence Hulbert and Ruby Price. She was the second of six children whose forefathers are amongst some of the earliest settlers in the Valley. Her elder sister, Marietta, passed away a couple of years ago but the rest are still around – Butch, Carol, Harold, and Dale. On her fathers side the Jones’s and Hulbert’s, who moved to the Valley from Cloverdale in 1927, whilst on her mother’s side there are the Price’s (who arrived in the Valley in1890), the Studebaker’s (1866), the Brown’s (1862), and the Beeson’s (1852) – some of the very first white people to settle here. Pat’s great, great grandmother, Rhoda Crouch was married to Isaac Beeson and they lived in Boonville, Missouri. When he passed, she married Walter Anderson in Missouri and they came to California together and settled in Anderson Valley in 1852 – the Valley is named after him… Meanwhile her son from the first marriage, Henry Beeson, had been one of the leaders of the ‘Bear Flaggers’. This was the group who declared independence from Mexico in 1846 and joined the war effort in the Mexican-American War. They formed The Bear Flag Republic as they had raised a flag containing a bear emblem and the words ‘California Republic’ – both of which remain on the flag of California to this day. This, along with much, much more is well documented and researched by Pat herself, all of it accompanied by large volumes of family history, neatly presented in files, as she continues to be the family archivist and historian. It is an amazing collection, extremely well organized, and a must-see for any Valley historian.
The Hulbert’s originally settled at the Diamond D Ranch in Yorkville and Pat’s father was a farmer with cows, sheep, and vegetables. Meanwhile her mother was from Philo where she was born in 1915. Clarence was several years older than Ruby when they married in 1931 and started a family. “In 1946, on the day that my brother Dale was born, my parents had moved into what then became the Hulbert Ranch here in Philo where I live today. In those days the family had lots of apple and pear trees and we’d dry our own in the dipper and dehydrator which is where Tony and Melanie Pardini now live. We had prunes on the Ranch, they were French Prunes, and yes they were called prunes before they were dried. We picked them up, dipped them, dried them and took them to Healdsburg and sold them. They were the main income on the Ranch…I was very much into 4-H in those days and my parents started their own branch and organized the meetings, Sam Prather, the Valley’s long-time sheep farmer, was a member, if I recall correctly… I had lots of chores to do around the ranch such as milking cows, feeding the chickens etc. but sometimes my parents would just turn around and say we were all going to the movies, in Ft. Bragg or Ukiah, and off we’d all go. We were a close family.”
Pat attended the Little Red Schoolhouse, which is now the A.V. Museum, where all classes (1st thru’ 8th) were taught together by Blanche Brown. She was there through 3rd grade and then went to the schoolhouse in what is now the Veterans Building/Senior Center in Boonville for 4th through 6th grades, and then finally to the high school when it was situated alongside where the Elementary School now resides. “I loved the social side of going to school, and the sports too. I was not a great student. Eva Pardini (now Holcomb) and Gloria Friberg (now Ross) were in my class and we all graduated together in 1952. I really wanted to go to college but my grades were not great so the Methodist Church in Philo provided me with a scholarship and I went to San Jose State to study to be a Home Economics teacher. For the first two years I lived in a boarding house near to the campus and then in my third year I got an apartment with two other girls, one of which was Janice June from here in the Valley. After three-and-a-half years we ran out of money and I had to leave without getting my diploma but I had learned a lot.”
Upon leaving the college Pat managed to get a job with the sister of Susan Richards, whom her family knew as the founder of the Clearwater Ranch treatment center for emotionally disturbed children in Anderson Valley. “I worked for her at her home as a housekeeper and also as a secretary for her husband who was a psychiatrist in San Jose. I liked it but after a year or so, in June of 1956, I returned to the Valley and got a job at the Clearwater Ranch itself in Philo. That was the first year in which it became more than just a summer camp. I started there as a cook and we had to pasteurize our own milk and bake our bread from scratch – things I had learned in college, and meanwhile Susan trained me so that I soon became a counselor, living with five kids in my cabin full-time. Other counselors at that time were Ruth Brickett and Carl and Marrian Kinion… I was to stay with Clearwater for nearly ten years and from 1962 onwards I was in charge of opening new group homes for them in Cloverdale (Town House), Santa Rosa (Country House), and Sebastopol (Lake House).”
In 1965, Pat went to work for Sunny Hills Treatment Center for adolescents in San Anselmo, Marin County. “When they found out I had been trained by Susan Richards, the job interview was a formality… My job was my life. I was a workaholic and my personal life suffered I guess and even though I was close to marriage a couple of times it never happened. I had one day off a week at Clearwater and slept in the cabins with the kids, aged 6 to 11, some of who were blind and I had learned Braille, which I even taught during my final couple of years. I worked with many kids over the years some of whom I am in touch with to this day.”
Pat lived in various towns in Marin County from 1965 until her retirement from Sunny Hills in 1991. “I was in San Anselmo, Fairfax, San Rafael, and I bought a mobile home at some point – the first home I owned. Any spare time I had was spent in the garden and although Marin was the center of all this self-discovery and New Age stuff, I was too busy to get involved. I visited the Valley often during those years – most of my family was here. My sister Carol’s kids, Mike, Mark, and Michelle, were like my kids and now their children call me ‘Nana Pat’, and we’d get together during every vacation and camp in our favorite spot on the land. Even as a young child, my niece Michelle said she would always look after me and whenever she had a boyfriend she would tell them that I was part of the package. She and her husband have now built a nanny unit on their property in St. Helena for me to move into one day.”
Pat moved back to the Valley and on to the Ranch into a trailer next to her parents home. “They were in pretty good health and my father was still a sheep farmer into his 80’s and did lots of maintenance around the ranch with help from Harold my brother. Mother and I would spend hours in the greenhouses, ‘playing’ with the plants – it was not work and we always referred to it as ‘playing.’ We would set up a stand alongside the Oak Tree fruit stall and sell plants but sometimes she would stay in the greenhouse and ‘play’ so that when I returned from the stall with the unsold plants there was no room to put them.”
Pat got involved with some of the Valley’s community groups, in particular the Professional Business Women, the forerunner to the Independent Career Women (I.C.W.) that exists today, the Unity Club and its Garden Section that puts on the annual Wildflower Show. When her mother started to get ill in 1993, Pat became involved with the pie bake for the County Fair. ‘We make 210 pies and I soon learned that we’d need a schedule rather than just hope that people showed up at some time to help. Organizing is something that comes quite easily to me and without the schedule I could not sleep with worry the night before. My mother trained me in pie-baking and now its come to the point when I am looking to train someone else to take over from me!”
Pat’s mother passed away in 1995, on Mother’s Day, a month before her 80th Birthday. “We had a millstone rock with ‘80’ engraved on it – it’s now used as a doorstop for the bathroom. My father died in 2002 at the grand old age of 93 and he was in good health for most of his later years. They both lived in the house until they died. Carol, Harold’s daughter Melanie, and I took care of them most of the time towards the end.”
As mentioned above, in 1995 or so Pat took over the running of the ‘Country Kitchen’ stand at the Fair for three days each year. “We bake all those pies and also serve ice cream, cakes, cookies, and coffee with the help of several other volunteers such as Rainbow, Charlie and Maureen Hochberg, Shirley Tomkins, Ken and Joanadel Hurst, and others I can’t remember at this moment… I also work the Holiday Bazaar put on by the Unity Club where I rent out a table and raise money for the Philo Methodist Church by selling my huckleberry and apple pies. My mother taught me how to make her Huckleberry Pies. We pick the berries in the hills and freeze them for my pies then I sell them at the Bazaar, the Old Fashioned 4th July Event, and the Bake Sale at Lemons’ Market. They really sell fast as does the zucchini bread you enjoyed earlier – people often say how much they love that.” (I imagine they do!).
“Another big part of my life is the Philo Methodist Church. I attend every week of course and although the congregation is now only about nine people, religion has always been a big part of our family life. I do the bake sale every month from March to October on the front porch at Lemons’ Market to raise money for the church. We start at 10am and stay until all the pies and cookies are sold. Both this and the Country Kitchen are possible with the help of many volunteers. Almost every year someone new will come and ask me to put them on my phone list. That is one of the best things about the Valley – how people step and help each other… I guess I’m following in the footsteps of my parents who had a pie business in the Valley for years – it’s in my blood. They were called G. G. Pie and would make 27 different kinds of pie and sell to various restaurants. They baked them all at home but once health regulations stopped allowing this they had to move the operation to the Fairgrounds and it gradually fell away.”
As for the future Pat will stay on the ranch until it sells. It has been on the market for some time but there are no takers yet. It appears top be a wonderful property with ½ mile of frontage on Hwy 128 and lots of flat land with some hilly acreage. “When the property sells I will move into my Nanny unit in St. Helena but for now I am happy here. I love to hang out and ‘play’ in the greenhouses behind the house or sit on the front porch counting the cars on the highway along with my cat, Lucky, who is a great hunter. I’m actually not sure who the lucky one is – her or me.”
“What I love most about the Valley is the people who live here and the way in which they always pitch in and help each other out. If you need something you can just ask and you’ve got it. The church roof was leaking last week and the next day my nephew Vincent, along with David Norfleet and Bill Harper, were working on it. People here are right there for you – it’s always been that way around here. I still go to some of the Valley events and attend the Senior Center but I am not a regular. I love to go to the monthly Barn Sale, mainly to see old friends like Eva and Gloria and to enjoy one of Bill Holcomb’s hamburgers… One thing that has annoyed me lately is that I hear people talking about ‘Octopus Hill’ outside Boonville. We used to hike up that hill and it’s not called that. It is Tarwater Hill, named after C.A. Tarwater, and there is no need to call it by any other name.”
I asked Pat for her brief responses to some of the issues often discussed by Valley folks… The wineries? – “Well something had to come in and keep the Valley going once the apples and sheep started to disappear. Of course taking the water is an issue and winery owners who actually live here is much more preferable. As a plant grower myself I do like to see the greenery, but that means the use of lots of water doesn’t it. It is a difficult issue certainly”… The school system? – “I am not in a position to talk about the academic side of things but I do know many alumni were disappointed when they decided to change the school colors unofficially. We have always been brown and gold and they went to black and gold or white. They said it was because it was hard to get brown and gold but that explanation is for the birds. It needs to be brown and gold again!”… The A.V.A. Newspaper? – “I don’t buy it regularly but I do get to see it most weeks. I did tell some friends about this interview so may be you will sell a few more issues this week. Like most Valley folks I talk to I like the Valley People section and the local stuff, and Turkey Vulture and of course the Sheriff’s Log”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “It is set on my alarm clock so if I have to get up early I will hear it and it is on the car radio too. Otherwise I don’t listen to it much”… Tourism in the Valley? – “I appreciate the tourists when they buy my baked goods. They come into town and we call them ‘The Pilgrims’ when they arrive and then park incorrectly out in front of the stores. We do need the people to come here to help our small business survive.”
I asked Pat whom she would vote for Mayor of the Valley if such a position was to be created. “Probably Captain Rainbow or David Norfleet – they seem to have a lot of common sense. They seem to appreciate the old ways of the Valley and new ways forward. They also help me out with the bake sale and the Country Kitchen.” And if Pat were Mayor? – “I’d reduce the maximum speed limit from 55 mph. It’s crazy sometimes in Boonville. Also the roadside turnouts need to be patched up so that people do not mind pulling over to let others past. It’s no wonder that the big campers do not pull over. It annoys me when I do let others past and they don’t thank me. If they do I say ‘God bless you.’ When they don’t thank me I don’t say ‘God bless you’ – it’s their loss.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Pat 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? – “Hey, you wanna help?”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I hate the ‘f’ word. Hate it. Thank goodness I never got into that habit.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Feeding the cat in the morning… Working on the family tree, our history, and sorting out the pictorial history of our family.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Cold weather.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The birds singing – I can sit and listen to them in the big tree out the front of the house…Cats purring is another great sound.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “A mouse or rat knowing at the wood inside the walls.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “Sugartoot is a word I’ll use instead of ‘darn it.’ That’s the word I use if I’m upset at someone or something.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “A book called ‘Fate is the Hunter’ by Ernest K. Gann, an adventure book about a pilot in the early days of flying. I read it in college and it told of fate’s role in flying and I’d love to read it again.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Stamp collecting, coins too. ‘Playing’ with the plants, the family history, picture-taking – now that I have a digital camera.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “I never did become the Home Ec. teacher I wanted to be so that would be it.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “A cop – nobody seems to like them.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When I retired. Now I wonder how I ever found time to work. After 37 years in that profession I had had enough.”

What was the saddest? – “My mother’s passing.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “Oh, sugar… oh… err… I guess being able to organize things and get things moving in the direction they need to go.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome, Pat, I guess you have earned your way here. Ronnie and Gizmo, your old cat and dog, have saved both you and Lucky a place here near to them.”

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kyllikki ‘Kay’ Clark – December 4th, 2009

I met with Kay a couple of weeks ago and the first thing we sorted out was her first name. “It is Finnish and we pronounce it ‘Koolikki’ but that is difficult to explain all the time so since I have been here I just ask people to call me Kay – it is much easier that way”…
Kay was born in 1929 in Terijoki, a resort area near to Finland’s coastline on the Baltic Sea. Her parents, Eino and Aili, were of Finnish descent for as far back as anyone can trace. Kay had a sister just a little younger and another one who is eleven years younger. “I was born during a period of great national pride. Swedes and Russians had invaded us for most of our history but in the twenties and thirties there was an awakening of our culture and a celebration of our arts, poets, and history. I was named Kyllikki after a character in an epic Finnish folk story – she was a beautiful woman, naturally.” Kay added with a wide smile.
Kay’s forefathers were all from the far northwest of Finland but, due to her father’s job as a Training Officer at a military school, her parents had moved to the Baltic region in the east by the time she was born. “Our home was just a few miles from the Russian border but we never went anywhere near there. My sister and I went to the small school nearby, although apparently I was a little mischievous and ran away from home a few times. I had been in elementary school for a couple of years when, in 1939, the war started and soon after the Russians invaded. We Finns were not going to make it easy for them but being so close to the border we had to be evacuated from our home and went all the way across the country to the area of our forefathers in the northwest where three of my four grandparents still lived. We were fortunate to be on the last train out. It was very upsetting and we did not know what was going to happen.”
Once there Kay’s family built shelters for protection from the increasing number of bombing raids being carried out by the Russians and over the winter of 1939 they were also under attack from fighter planes that would fire down on anyone on the ground – soldiers and civilians alike. “We also lived in fear of Russian soldiers parachuting down into our community.” She showed me some of her drawings, which vividly depict this period of her life, and several years ago, following encouragement from highly regarded Valley Artist, Paula Gray, these childhood memories were presented in Kay’s own art shown held at Lauren’s Restaurant in Boonville.
“Food was very scarce but we would be sent out to pick fruit in the woods, mainly blackberries and lingon berries which are a staple of the Finnish diet. We were in an area of many lakes and my sister and I were also sent on our bicycles to the towns near the lakes to meet up with the fishermen. We would get in line and wait to receive our one pound of fish. Because there were two of us we got two pounds to take home to the family… We Finns are hardy people, we are very proud of what we are able to endure. During the war there was a severe coffee shortage and people made it out of grain. Finns love their coffee; we’re crazy about it… The weather is very harsh in the winter and of course at that time it hardly gets light at all, just as in the summer when it is virtually daylight all the time apart from a couple of hours a day. This takes its toll and in Finland there has always been a lot of mental difficulties for many people, particularly in the north”
“In 1941 there was a ceasefire – we had to make peace before the Russians overran us completely. We could not have survived much longer. They took a big chunk of Finnish territory, including many important cultural areas plus the only port we had that did not freeze over in the winter. It was very important to us but it had to be in the peace agreement. They also took our old town, and the area around it where I grew up. We had signed a deal with the Germans against the Russians so that they would be pressured into negotiations with our government. The German air force had even bombed the Russians in our country. It was a tragic thing to make a deal with Hitler but our country had to be saved. Our prime minister who negotiated this was never forgiven even though his decision stopped the Russians. He was put in prison for the rest of his life. He was in a very difficult position.”
The War came to an end in 1945 while Kay was in High School. “We had been lucky, my father had been away fighting for most of the war but he came home unharmed. Many other relatives had not returned, some of whom we never heard from again and had no idea what happened to them.” The family moved to southern Finland with her father’s job once again and she graduated from school there in 1947. “I had liked school but was not a good student – my sister was!”
There was no money for Kay to go to university and she had not been a good enough student to earn any kind of scholarship so she looked for work. There was a shortage of teachers and at that time qualifications were not too important so she applied for a job as an elementary school teacher and was accepted. “I had cycled twenty miles in my best dress and high heels to apply for the job and then when I was accepted I moved out of home to the town where the school was. I had no training and found it very difficult at first. I sometimes wanted to jump out of the window into the potato field next door to the school but over time it got easier and I grew to really enjoy it.”
During one summer she and a few friends from school decided to visit England where they got temporary jobs working at a Y.W.C.A. Hostel as maids. “We knew a little English but that trip really helped improve it. A posh Englishwoman called Lady Pringle ran the hostel and she would sometimes let us sit with her for dinner where we learned correct manners and all about English history. She called us ‘the barbarians from Scandinavia’ but overall she was wonderful to us.”
“When we returned to Finland I moved to work in a bigger school close to my parents’ house but after a couple of years I began to wonder what I was going to do with my life. I decide to go to the capital, Helsinki, and enrolled at a commercial college on a two-year business studies course and then, after graduating, I got a job in the accounts department of a big company.”
Some years earlier, Kay’s great uncle had gone to the United States and settled in Minnesota. “I wrote to him and asked if I could come and visit. He said I could and I arrived in 1954, getting a job at a Co-operative store in a small town. While I was there, the boss from my job back in Finland came over and paid me a visit. He told me my job was still available back home if I wanted to return but I’d need to get more experience first if I wanted to advance. He then went on to see his friends in Berkeley, California, one of who was a Finnish-American who owned a Co-op in town. My boss talked to his friend and I was offered a job. I moved to California and became a checkout girl on the register at a co-op in Berkeley… I met many wonderful people there, mostly young idealistic people of a new generation with a new way of thinking – the idea of a Co-op was a very good one to them.”
Kay gained a lot of good work experience so when she returned to Finland in 1955 she became a consultant for her old firm and was sent out to many branches to train the staff. Before leaving the States however, she applied for a green card with the Immigration Department. “After a couple of years I wanted a change from being sent away all the time to different places. I was young and childish some might say, but I missed my friends. They moved me to the Personnel Office where I stayed for a few years. Then, out of the blue, my Immigration papers arrived and in 1963 I returned to Berkeley.”
Upon her return Kay went straight back to work at the Co-op. “An elderly couple, whom I had met during my previous time there, were still customers and one day, after I had been back for some time, they came in with their son – a tall man who I learned had been a forester in Alaska. His wife had died and he had two young sons about 12 and 6 years old. The younger one said he liked me and soon after their father asked me out. Not very long afterwards I married this man – his name was Burton Clark.”
This was in 1965 and they bought a house in Richmond and spent a lot of time renovating it. Burton’s parents, sister, and nephew all lived there and it was too crowded so Burton and Kay bought another house in Kensington, near to Berkeley and the relatives moved in there. Burton worked in timber management out of San Francisco and he was often called out to various projects all over the State. Meanwhile, Kay remained at the Co-op. Over time Burton began to talk about retirement and knew he did not want to retire in the City. “I said we had a big back yard and the neighbor has a big tree but I knew it would not be enough!”
“We would come up to the Ft. Bragg area for family trips and gradually spent more time looking at properties up this way. We loved the Anderson Valley and I started to get the local newspaper – you can tell a lot about a place and its community from its local paper. I have subscribed ever since. Homer Mannix was the publisher/editor in those days and I remember the print was very pale some weeks and difficult to read. We used to have a cat who was light grey and white, the same color as the paper so he was called Mannix.”
Eventually they decided to buy and having seen a property of 16 acres on Nash Mill Road they bought it. “It had wonderful views but was on some steep slopes. You could not carry a bucket of water without spilling it but Burton really wanted it and it was a good price. We bought in 1975 and Burton built a one-room cabin for us to stay in. We had been coming to the Valley for a time, to the Fair and other events, and knew a few locals such as John Pederson and Lyle and Grace Lucat. There was a hippy commune next to us and they would sometimes sleep in our cabin when it was raining and we were not there. Then they messed it up and we put a stop to that. For some time, while Burton built the cabin, we came up and camped and then when that was finished he began work on a main house. I was now part-time at the Co-op and also stayed in town to look after Burton’s ailing mother.”
They moved here full-time in 1979, living in the cabin for four years or so until the main house was finished. “Moving to the Valley was worth the wait. I love it here. We planted apple and pear trees and always had a vegetable garden – that was Burton’s hobby. I was the homemaker and joined different groups in the community and I’m still in the Unity Club. We used to go to all the Valley events… Burton passed away in 2002 but I manage here fine on my own, with my cat, Tigger, as company. I am in no hurry to go into any old people’s home, although the Elder Home in Boonville will be fine one day but not yet. Our oldest son, Brian, lives in Little River and comes to see me regularly, the other son, David, is in Virginia. I get picked up and dropped off twice a week by the Senior Bus driver Natalie and taken to the Senior Center for lunch where I see many friends. I like the meals and even if it’s something I don’t really like there is always the wonderful salad bar prepared by Gloria Abbott. And there is always my friend, Maire – a Finnish lady I can talk to in our own language. I love doing that.”
“I used to go back to Finland every three years or so but I can’t remember when I last went – it has been a sort of tapering off. My parents did come here once and my sisters – they are both widows too. My father asked me, ‘I know Burton likes it here but do you?’ I said, ‘I do,’ and father accepted that. I am not on the computer but I do write letters to my sisters and call them a few times every week – it is very inexpensive now.”
“I am not allowed to drive anymore as my eyesight is not good, but I think it might be my brain! Not being able to drive frustrates me in that I cannot join in more with Valley life. The lack of independence is annoying but I do not want to kill anyone by driving. I am not worried about being alone here – I entertain myself with my art and crafts. I took a class with Paula Gray and found it very inspiring and encouraging. My show at Lauren’s was the result and I have also taken art classes in Ukiah. After Burton died I moved my studio in to the living room where the light is better and I can enjoy the views. I am very positive about my life and think I have been very lucky to have the friends and neighbors I have here. People such as caregiver Judy Nelson and other helpers like Wendy Patterson, Martha Hyde, Sheila Columbane, and Kyle Clarke make it possible for me to live here. This is my home.”
As I do each week, I asked my guest for her thoughts on some of the ‘hot topics’ of Valley life… The wineries? – “They look very nice of course but I hear that the children of families who have been a long time can no longer afford to buy property here because it has become so expensive due to the vineyards presence. That is not good. I am not blindly against alcohol but I do wonder about its affect on youngsters – look at that vandalism at the high school last week. I enjoyed the days of apples and sheep when we first came here. I hope there are some limits on the wineries and that they do not completely take over the Valley”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I enjoy it very much and more or less read it all every week. I love the interviews you are doing and how they let us know a little bit more about people we have known for many years. It gives us more of a community feeling when you know something a little extra about each other’s background. When Burton died, Bruce Anderson at the A.V.A. asked me if I was going to be o.k. and said that if I ever needed any help let him know and he’d come right over – he’s not like some people think he is”… KZYX local public radio? – “I don’t listen. I’ve nothing against it but I am useless with radios and televisions. I am an idiot with such things. I’d rather read or draw.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Kay 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? – “My English is not very good so I do not say anything enough to have a favorite word.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I have the same answer to this.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “The sun coming in through the window makes me feel very good and uplifted. I am a Lutheran but religion is not where I get my inspiration. That would be from nature and wildlife. Burton used to talk to the deer around here and over time some of them became like family.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Rudeness and disrespect to people and animals.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “The birds singing; the quietness of living up here; a soft breeze blowing.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Gunshots… In Finland a sound I hated was drunken people shouting and swearing. Many Finns cannot hold their liquor and they drink a lot.”
What is your favorite curse word? – “It is a Finnish word – ‘Perhana’ – which means approximately, ‘drunken devil.’ It helps to say it out loud if I have something annoying on my mind.”
Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “I love the classical music of Finnish composer, Sibelius. And I shall always remember the Finnish national anthem…The book that most influenced me is the epic Finnish story, ‘Kalevala’.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Drawing things that depict my childhood in Finland… And making greeting cards.”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “Teaching – I really enjoyed teaching the little kids. You can get so much from being around them.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Housekeeper. I am no good in my own house so it would be very tough to do it elsewhere… I would also not like to be a taxi driver or a bus driver.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Our wedding day. Or the day Burton’s youngest son said, ‘I like you’… Or when the other son, Brian, had run away and then came back.”
What was the saddest? – “Burton’s passing. I had got used to knowing he was going to pass but it was still very sad. I would loved for him to have got better and still be around. Death is so final.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I can’t give myself too much credit for anything. That is a very hard question for me to answer – it is much easier to find something negative.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “ Well if he were to say, ‘Welcome in, what would you like?’ I would reply, ‘Can I have another pair of walking sticks – this time with wings on’.”

Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

J. Robert ‘Bob’ Mathias – November 28th, 2009

I met with Bob at ‘Alpine Meadows’, his home a few miles south of Boonville on Hwy 128, and we were joined for part of our chat by his secretary, Nancy Wolf, who is helping him write his memoirs, several editions of which, covering various aspects of his life, are already in print.
Bob was born the oldest of four (one brother and two sisters, one of whom has passed) on June 4th 1921 in the mid-western town of Rochester, Indiana. His paternal forefathers were Swiss who, as an extended family of 33 people, had come over the States in 1849, settling amongst the Pennsylvania Dutch, one of whom his grandfather married. Five of the brothers, including Bob’s grandfather, moved further west and settled in Indiana where they acquired some land. “It was worthless. It was very cheap because it was in a swamp, and they struggled to get by.”
Bob’s father was born the youngest of ten and the whole family lived close by, on the edge of the swamp – “like a bunch of turtles.” During World War 1, his father was away but on returning he met and married a local girl of Scots/Irish descent by the name of Goldie Collins. “I guess she added a little spice to his life – as they usually do… It was very rural around there, with few roads, a one-room schoolhouse, and of course a church. We grew up with the church a big part of our life. Everyone did whatever they could to survive with livestock and crops of all kinds.”
At some point his father bought 160 acres with a house from one of his brothers in the nearby town of Burton. He also bought what was called a ‘milk Base’ or large dairy, and the family moved in. “That’s where I grew up and attended the local elementary school. I had not even heard of basketball but when I was seven or so, during the late 20’s Depression, the government introduced the Work Project Administration which created projects that put people to work, generally on bridges, roads etc. However, in our little community they decided to build a gymnasium! It went up right next to our little school, just ¼ mile from our house. So I was seven years old and already convinced that the Lord was alright. I watched them build it and then learned the game of basketball very quickly. I attended Rochester High in the ‘big town’ and I did very well. I liked school and was good at most subjects although my favorites were history, economics, life sciences, and P.E. of course – I played basketball at a high level for many years.”
Bob graduated in 1940 and attended Wabash College. Meanwhile, with World War 2 “rumbling on the horizon”, Bob had met and married the 20 year old, Lois Mercer. “She was footloose so I was afraid somebody else would grab her. We both thought we needed each other. I guess we were right as it lasted 67 years”… I fully intended to continue with school and my Daddy was encouraging me to do so but following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 I quit and signed up for the Army Air Force – I was going to snuff out some Japs. The whole country was in a frenzy and everyone was trying to join up.”
As there were so many applicants, along with many others, Bob’s service was initially deferred and he returned to school for a few months. Then he was called up to do some testing in physics, chemistry, and advanced math at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia. “Most of the people there went on to work in Intelligence but I still wanted to be a pilot and went to training school to be a B17 bomber pilot. Just when I thought I’d be soon called up to fly, a newspaper headline came out saying ‘55,000 new troops needed for the infantry.’ This was following the D-Day landings in Europe in the summer of 1944. I was now going to be a pee-on in the army with little or no training.”
Bob was assigned to the 106th Infantry Division and because of his schooling in biology and the need for medics he became one. “We crossed the Atlantic in the late summer of 1944. It was an inopportune time as we were immediately rushed into the fighting in the Ardennes and were completely inexperienced. On Dec 11th we were sent into the frontline and on Dec 16th Hitler launched a massive counter-attack in what became known as The Battle of the Bulge. They sent hundred’s of tanks and an army of 122,000 men against us and we were completely overrun. It was Hitler’s final thrust and for a time we were unable to deter him. It was a furious time of fighting.”
Bob was placed in a prisoner of war camp and then along with two other medics and an American Doctor, he was sent to help at a temporary hospital catering to about 700 seriously wounded soldiers from both sides. Eleven nuns were the only other workers there. “Conditions were terrible. It was bitterly cold, there was 4’ of snow was on the ground and we had few supplies. Those nuns did a wonderful job. After a few weeks the 82nd Airborne arrived and we were rescued. We had to leave the dying and wounded. Over the next few months I was sent to various hospitals around Western Europe, wherever they needed medics. There were some terrible places and I saw lots of suffering. I had heard during the battle that Lois was pregnant and in July 1945 I got a message from home that Lois had given birth to a baby boy, Conde, and the medical officer saw to it that I was soon allowed to go home.”
Just a couple of months later, Bob enrolled at DePauw University on the G.I. Bill, studying Economics and History and he graduated in 1947. He immediately got a job in Shipshewana, Indiana, teaching and coaching at the local school where most of the kids were Amish or Mennonite. “We became very well known for some great basketball teams at that school and this was in a State that is obsessed with its basketball of course. I went back there in 2008 for Bob Mathias Day – that was very special.”
Bob felt he could go higher in the educational system; he was somewhat ambitious if not overly so. He moved to his alma mater, Rochester High, and taught and coached very successfully there too. A second child had been born, Sheri, but Bob still had some time on his hands and missed the farming lifestyle he had grown up with. “I bought a farm from my Greta Aunt Susie who had not had any kids. It was a great success and some years later, around 1954, a guy from Chicago bought it from me and with the big profit I then bought another farm near to my Daddy’s place. With sheer hard work and good fortune we soon found ourselves well ahead with 500 bountiful acres, several hired hands, teaching a full load, and being a successful coach… I guess something had to give.”
Bob was gone six evenings a week and he was missing his family. “Two more kids had been born – Lucinda and Tim, and we had a lovely family life but I was away all the time and felt I was not seeing enough of them. We needed a complete break so I stopped coaching, leased the farm to the hands, and we moved to Delta, Colorado on the western slopes of the Rockies. I taught once again and did a little football coaching but I also became a sheep buyer and sent flocks back to Indiana where sheep had virtually disappeared. They were sent to the F.F.A. (Future Farmer’s of America) people who would breed them and soon sheep had returned to the State in numbers.”
While living in Colorado, the family took a trip to see the West and Lois particularly wanted to get to the Pacific. They set out with the four kids and a collie and crossed California to San Francisco, and then up through Santa Rosa and on to Cloverdale. “We thought it was getting better all the time. We asked about the ride to the coast and a guy told us it was a ‘weird road ahead.’ I wanted to turn back, we had been gone almost as long as we had originally planned, but Lois said, ‘What about the redwoods and the ocean?’ We thought about it and decided to see if there was any work out this way. It was just on a whim but I called the Mendocino School District Office in Ukiah and asked if they needed teachers anywhere around here. I was told there were two jobs – one in Covelo and one in Anderson Valley. Well Lois wanted to see the redwoods so we drove over the hills and into the Valley. It was not even in our thoughts a few days earlier but I took the job as teacher and coach.”
“We had to return to Delta to get our stuff and while we were there we got news that a tornado had hit our town back in Indiana. We had to go back there. The place was bad. One of our two houses was reduced to rubble, we had lost over 100 animals when the barns had collapsed, and the sizeable orchard had disappeared. We sorted it all out and came back to California, intending to give it a year. This was September 1957 and the Valley had sixteen working mills at the time, with the workers being mostly from Oklahoma and Arkansas – good hard-working folks that I could identify with. All our relatives and friends were back in the mid-west but the Valley was a hustling place and it worked out for us that first year. At that point I was offered the Superintendent of Schools job in this area. We had no plan to be permanent residents, we were still thinking of going back, but I was somewhat ambitious and to get such a job in Indiana would take me twenty years. On top of that the kids loved it here – we decided to stay.”
Bob and the family stuck around for ten years during which time they bought some property south of Boonville, where he continues to live, and all went very well. He was involved in the building of the new highs school, became immersed in many aspects of Valley life, and started the now famous ‘Redwood Classic’ high school basketball tournament. “That began in 1957 and I will be at the 52nd event this coming weekend. The Athletic department was down to the nubbins at that time and with the new gym going up I thought we should open it with a flourish and so we invited a bunch of schools to compete and it’s been going ever since.”
It was also during this time that Bob hired the infamous Jim Jones (of People’s Temple fame) to teach at the school. “Yes, I hired Jim Jones. Lois loved to invite the teachers over for dinner at various times, sometimes in couples, or just the single ones, and we had Jones over one evening with his family. It was a very nice evening with everyone swapping stories and jokes. His wife was a very nice lady and following the wonderful meal we sat around as Lois played the organ and we all sang hymns. It was a very nice evening. He had been the head of Adult Education in Ukiah and had come with a very good resume, glowing reviews, and was obviously a very bright guy. He did a very good job in that first year following his hiring. He taught my son Tim, who said Jones was the best softball coach he ever had. I guess I did not know about some of the stuff he was involved in down in San Francisco and when some of the other teachers attended his church in Ukiah they said, ‘he is a little different at his church than when he is at school.’ Then during his second year people started to question his behavior but by then I had left.” Bob then added, “He was from Indiana, he had to be a good guy I thought – I guess it doesn’t always work that way.”
However, “wonder-lust had returned in the mid-sixties” and, with their eldest, Conde, in college and Sheri married, Bob, Lois and the two younger kids moved to Brazil! “I had been thinking about working outside the country and had made several inquiries. I finally accepted a job as headmaster at The American School in Sao Paulo, where there was an American community of about 40,000 in a city of 10 million – a huge city, one of the world’s biggest and obviously a long way in every sense from Boonville! It was a dandy of a job and Sao Paulo was a great city, a financial, industrial, and cultural center, and we lived a fantastic life in excellent accommodations.”
Bob and the family almost made the decision to not return to the States at all at one point. “I had the opportunity to join a consortium with three very wealthy and influential guys down there. The plan was to buy 33,000 acres and several packing plants and then plant soybeans. The family was not sure of this as it would mean selling everything we had in the States and making a permanent commitment to being in Brazil. We had grandkids here and family in Indiana. I guess blood runs thick and our ties were too strong to break because we decided to come back. That company is huge today.”
On their return to California Bob became the Superintendent of Schools in Chowchilla in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where he stayed for five years, overseeing the building of new schools, before returning to the Valley for good in 1980. “I had a wonderful time in Chowchiila but I needed a break. We moved back into our home here and I took a break from the world for a year. Over that time I took thousands of potted trees and planted them on my property. Each morning I would go out with the dog and plant trees until noon. Then we’d break for lunch and I’d do the same in the afternoon, in all weathers. It felt great. I began to feel better and it gave me strength. I also now knew that this was our ‘home’.”
During that year Bob took the time to get his real estate license and in 1981 he founded Rancheria Realty based here in Anderson Valley. “That was pre-meditated since my Indiana days. The mills were going strong, the prices of property was still fair, it was a delightful place to live. Many people bought beautiful places during those early years at very decent prices.”
Over the ensuing years Bob was in the Valley’s American Legion branch and The Lions Club and being School Superintendent he was involved in many Valley activities and events. He also started the now defunct flight class at the school. “I have watched a myriad of different people come to the Valley. The Okies and Arkies in the 50’s, then in the 60’s came the hippies – a bewildered bunch of people, then the Free-Livers arrived – working hippies if you like, and then the Mexican community of course – dear people, disoriented people for a time, with few grounds to stand on”… Bob ran the realty office until 2001 when he had a stroke while walking up in the hills on his property. “I stopped working at that point and became a simple-minded soul. Tim took over the business – he became the broker and I became the Dodo. It got worse and worse and they tell me I had Alzheimer’s for two and a half years. I was in a black cloud. However, they have managed to stabilize it and I have slowly crept out of that hole.”
Lois passed away on September 26th, 2006 and in recent years Bob has spent most of his time dictating his memoirs to a secretary, at this time it’s Nancy Wolf – “a very good one too.” These cover various aspects of his life and some are on show at the A.V. museum and various stores. He also likes to visit many of the friends he has in the Valley. “Just to go and talk to them, ask them about their families. We humans like to connect with each other. It is important.”
I asked Bob for his responses to some Valley issues… The wineries? – “Well, first off let me say that I have made a lot of money because of them being here. I have never had enough to get drunk on wine although I do sip a little sometimes. The wineries were a godsend for the Valley at one time. After the decline in logging and the virtual disappearance of the sheep and fishing, nothing remained and the ‘glamorous romance’ between the wineries and the Valley started. Of course, for many of those capable of supporting themselves without the wineries they were not a welcome. The most prosperous are those who can do it in a big way and it has accelerated into a profession for the very wealthy. The smaller guys are more likely to fail and that’s too bad. In the long run it’s a good thing they are here and I am not adverse but in the end of course those with the most money will make the most’… The A.V.A. local newspaper? – “It is a most needed commodity in this remote little Valley but I hardly ever read it. Nancy reads these interviews to me most weeks and I like to hear about the people who live here, many of whom I know of course. Some stuff that has been written in the past has been harmful but I think it is better to say nothing more”…
The school system? – “By and large I think they have kept up with the times. I am gratified for the care that has been given and the improvements that have been made. I am no longer in any position to comment on the instruction but I do observe that the graduates do reasonably well in college. A small school in this location has many inhibiting factors working against it but I do think the administration has maintained the dignity of the A.V. school system but of course the negative comments are still going to be heard”…
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Bob, 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? – “That may be ‘consarnit’ – a word I got from my Dad which is a made up curse word and I use it rather than use bad words.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Life; hope…I see a new day each morning and question ‘how can you desert that?’ You have to get up and go, whatever troubles you may have. Each morning tells you that there is hope, that it has not all gone.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Negative people. As a little boy I always was aware of those who would mislead me or harm me in some way, particularly among those who would call themselves your friend. I was fortunate to have good role models in my parents.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The singing of the birds.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Loud television commercials.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “ I don’t curse. I might say ‘Dang it’ or ‘Baloney’ or ‘Mutton head’ but that’s about it. ‘Consarnit’ is my favorite though.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “I used to do a lot of gardening but it got too big and I stopped. These days it would be writing my memoirs – the stories just roll out pretty easily. It is a gift I had no idea I had until just a few years ago.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “As a kid I wanted to be a lawyer but now I am not sorry I wasn’t… A philanthropist would have been marvelous. I think providing some real honest to goodness help for a large segment of people is a wonderful thing. If it is with your own money that is even better. Once I had a fair bit and wish I had made more so I could have given help to many more churches and local charities. My wife and I lead simple lives and did some of this with our money but now the grandkids and great grandkids are the limit generally.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “ A flag man on the highway.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “There have been lots of them. I have been a very fortunate and lucky guy. I found a wonderful wife, had great friends, and good jobs. Divine guidance has had an influence on my life. I have tried to do things right as far as I know. I am as bad, evil, and ornery as the next guy but I have had a guide.”

What was the saddest? – “ Well, I would have to say it was when my pony got her eye put out with a nail when I was a little boy. I was devastated and it took me a couple of years to completely get over that.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “ I guess I would say my self-discipline and my sense of soul and self-worth.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “This must be a mistake.”

Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gloria Abbott (nee Ornbaun) – November 21st, 2009

Gloria and I sat down to talk at The A.V. Senior Center a couple of weeks ago and, like many of her generation, she was very surprised that anyone would be interested in her ‘story’. She is very modest and polite, very respectful of others and has no pretension whatsoever. Having assured her that everyone has a tale to tell and that the stories and insights, no matter how inconsequential they may seem at times, which these interviews provide about all sorts of people, are a source of oral history that is of interest to many.
She was born, Gloria Ornbaun, in Schellville, California, (Sonoma County) in 1932 to parents Grant Ornbaun and Elsie Larsen. Her paternal great grandfather, John Shipley Ornbaun, the youngest of fifteen, had come to this country from Germany and moved to the Valley around the turn of the century, discovering the Ornbaun Valley off Fish Rock Road between Yorkville and Boonville. He married Lucy Ann McGimsey, who was from one of the very early Valley families and they founded the Ornbaun Springs Hotel in 1910 “She had fifteen kids and then became a mid-wife herself!” Gloria’s grandfather, Horace Ornbaun, one of the fifteen, married Meda Hale and they had four children, her father Grant, the oldest, being born on the Ornbaun Ranch, known as the Mailliard Ranch from when it was sold to that family in the 1930’s. “It was a hunting lodge and even had its own cemetery where all the Ornbauns can be buried if the family wishes. This was provided for in the sale”… Gloria knows less about her maternal side other than that they had come over from Denmark in the early 1900’s and settled in Cloverdale.
The family moved into the town of Boonville in 1936 and Gloria has hardly ever left since. She attended the Elementary School inside the same building, now called The Veterans’ Building, at which she know works as custodian for the Senior Center. She was there from 1st-6th grade before going to the little red schoolhouse, now the A.V. Museum, for her junior high years and then to high school in the building alongside what is now the Elementary School. “I like to read but didn’t really enjoy school. Some of the kids in my class were Wes Snoot, Marianne Mackerbie, and Tom Burger. We lived just out of Boonville on Hwy 253, just past where the Brewery is now – it’s where I still live. In those days the creeks were high and the woods and fields unspoiled. We spent most of our time outside. My Dad worked for a sheep rancher up on Hwy 253, just past Soda Creek. The house on the left there – it was called the Singley Ranch and there were thousands of sheep up there, as there was all over the Valley… During World War 2, work dried up around here so we all had to pick apples, the whole family. There were orchards everywhere then of course – no logging or vines at that time. My Grandmother, my mother’s mother, was an invalid and one of us was always at home taking care of her. It was either me, my older sister or my younger brother who did that.”
In 1948, during her sophomore year at high school, Gloria, who had always been a very sensible and well-behaved child, met a young man, Andrew ‘Bud’ Abbot who had moved here, along with many others from Arkansas and Oklahoma, to work in the woods. Bud was seven years older than Gloria but they fell in love and she suddenly decided she’d had enough of school and they eloped to Reno and got married. She was 16. “I was never a reckless child and my parents were not happy, certainly. It just felt right though. We were together for over forty years until he passed so I guess it was.”
Bud had come from Hot Springs, Arkansas, and had been in the Valley for a year or so before the logging boom began in earnest, and had worked in various jobs with his brother, “At first he got a job at the sawmill on Mountain View Road, opposite where the airport is now, and then he went into the woods where he was a choke setter and then he became a cat-skinner, driving a bulldozer moving the big logs to the landings to be taken away. Over the next few years the Valley just exploded. There were lots of jobs, a lot of people moved here, and many of them made a lot of money I’m sure. Bud and I lived in a little house on the family property, across from what is now Eva Johnson’s house – she was one year behind me at school.”
Gloria and Bud had three children, a daughter Shirley, who was to marry Harold Hulbert, and live in the big white house on the property, and two sons, Gary, who lives in Boonville with wife Linda, and Andy who lives with Gloria, now that he is divorced. They all went through the Anderson Valley School System. “I have 7 grandkids and quite a lot of great grandkids – I’d have to sit down and study to come up with all their names. The oldest grandson just came back from Iraq – Steven Alvarez, and he now has a really good job with Lockheed. We have a family reunion quite often, every couple of years or so, and I was close to my cousins on my mother’s side when we were growing up. I really didn’t go out much or travel around. If I wasn’t raising the kids I was looking after my grandmother, who was a complete invalid for most of her life. Then my mother also needed care in her later years. Sometimes the family would go to the Coast, particularly Albion, and enjoy camping and fishing trips – that was when you could go anywhere it seemed, but overall I didn’t do much socializing and didn’t go to many places. We rarely went out of Boonville and I didn’t even know many people at the other end of town. I guess I’ve had a dull life to some. I was a housekeeper, wife, and mother – that was it. I never had a real flourishing social life,” she added with a laugh.
Despite this, Gloria and Bud did have friends they would socialize with on occasion. Their favorite place was The Last Resort bar/restaurant in Philo. “We’d go there with his friends from Arkansas, his cousin Clarence Woods and his wife Marcy, and Claude and Lucille Blake, We also would sometimes go to The Boonville Lodge or The Track Inn, and Weiss’s Restaurant which was a nice place here in Boonville. The Lodge was a rough place but Bud would like to go there for a beer or two with his friends. When the Arkies first arrived in town the old-time locals would razz them and people would go and be entertained by the fighting between the two groups. That was when the name ‘Bucket of Blood’ came about. Although some families had moved here it was mainly lots of young guys in town, all full of the devil, and the ‘entertainment’ they gave was often better than a movie in Ukiah!”…
Bud became ill with cancer and in 1989, during his second set of chemotherapy treatments, he caught an infection and died at the age of 64. “It was a shock, it did happen very quickly. Then an opportunity came up at the Senior Center as a janitor in the Veterans’ Building so I applied for it and got the job. My life had been so dull before then that when I first went I hardly knew anyone there. Soon afterwards the Center was given a salad bar and I began to work that for all the various events we have here. The salad bar has been my thing for years. Then I always do the dishes and clean up, of course. It has become my social life too and I have a wonderful time here, both working and being among all the other wonderful people.”
Throughout the marriage, Gloria and Bud would travel back to Arkansas regularly to see his family and friends there but it was not until Bud passed away, twenty years ago, that she really began to travel all over the country with daughter Shirley and daughter-in-law, Sharon. “We go on trips to all kinds of places and always stay busy on our visits. My favorite is Branson, Missouri, where we’ve been about four times now. It’s a country music festival and they have Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede too. There are livestock shows, covered wagon parades, and a buggy show. There are lots of finger foods and we have a great time. If you like to see young people singing and dancing, good comics too, then you should go to Branson. We normally go everywhere by train, which adds to the trip. Then last year they got me on a plane for the first time in my life when we went to Kansas City. We’ve also been to Washington State, New York, Washington D.C., and then New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina – my grandson lives there. We are deciding between the Carolinas or the upper mid-west – Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota – for next year. The plan is to go to every State. We raise money from our concession stands at various Valley events such as The Wildflower Show, The Holiday Bazaar, etc., where we sell sandwiches, desserts, soup and lasagna in the winter, and of course, cookies and coffee – they are a big seller. We save as much as we can and that pays for our trips.”
I wondered if Gloria had ever traveled outside the country. “Ooh, no, I would never do that. No, and I definitely wouldn’t fly outside the country…Unless I had to get dental work, then I’d go to Mexico maybe. A lot of people in Boonville do that. There is a place there that is just doctors and dentists and it costs very little compared to what you pay here. Even after the plane fare you are still way ahead… I did cross the border once from San Diego. It was very scary and the bus driver made it worse, saying that we should make sure all our papers were in order. Two people were taken off the bus and were not with us when we came back over the border. I won’t go again – I’m not going to worry about that.”
I asked Gloria for some of her responses to various issues that constantly seem to come up in and around the Valley… The wineries? – “I don’t like wine. How’s that? I guess they are good for the Valley in some ways but taking all the water is not good. I saw all the saw mills come and go and a lot of people made money and now it’s all gone. The wineries may have a longer life than them though’… The local radio station? – “I don’t really listen to the radio very often. I watch television mostly. I like my soap operas in the daytime and programs like ‘Survivor’ and ‘Amazing Race’ at night. My son Andy lives with me, as does my grandson Jason. We all have our own rooms and there is a television in each so most times it is o.k.”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – I read it nearly every week. It is right where I can’t miss it when I go to the store. I like it and I know I’m not the only one – Jim Dunn reads my copy every time I have one!”… Tourism in the Valley? – “Again I guess it helps the Valley if they stop and spend some money. It gets a little out of hand in the summer sometimes though, but I guess we have roads and they should be used.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Gloria 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? – “Oh, shoot.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I don’t really talk to too many people so I don’t have a word that is used enough to annoy me.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “ Coming here to the Senior Center – I like it as much as ever… I also like to walk the dog, Mattie, in the mornings.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “When my grandson changes my television station without asking.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “I like to hear kids playing and the noises my great grandkids make.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Nails scratching on a something.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “’Oh, shoot’ – I guess my favorite word is my favorite bad word too.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “I like to read the books by Sylvia Brown. They make me think. She is a psychic and I went to hear her talk in San Francisco… I like many country music songs but can’t remember which ones they are unless I hear them.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Doing puzzles.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A hairdresser. If I had not got married that’s probably what I would have done.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “A housekeeper for someone else. I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking care of someone’s house. It’s different at the Senior Center. It’s not someone’s home. I take my time. I sweep one day, mop the next. I am here five days a week and sometimes I’d rather be here than anywhere else. It was a lifesaver after Bud died. Everybody who is here is so nice; I haven’t met anyone here who isn’t.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day I got married as a young girl and the days I gave birth to my kids.”

What was the saddest? – “The day Bud died. It was sudden. I needed to do something and the job here came up – in exactly the same place where I went to grade school. So I was here when I was 5 years old and here I am again, at 77!”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “Ooh, I can’t say… Err… Err…That I would help anyone who needed help. There are very few people I have not liked, may be one or two in all my life and I can’t even remember who they may be.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Come on in, Gloria, Bud’s here.”

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 8:38 pm  Comments (3)