Mark Fontaine – May 15th, 2010

I turned into the driveway exactly opposite Lazy Creek Vineyards on Hwy 128 and was greeted by Mark, wife Ellen, and their dog, Jasper, the rat catcher. Settling down with a never ending supply of coffee, some delicious ginger snaps, and a bowl of really outstanding grape crisp cobbler, Mark and I began our chat…
Mark was born Arthur L. Fontaine in 1940 in the town of Rochester, Vermont, the oldest of four children born to Maurice Fontaine and Phyllis Russell, with brother Maurice (now deceased) next, then Joan and finally Mary, the two sisters still living in Vermont. The Fontaine’s were of French heritage out of Quebec with Mark’s grandparents coming to the States and settling near to the Canadian border in a town called Richford. Mark’s grandmother lived to the age of 103 and had five husbands and twenty-three children although many died as children and most had gone by the time they were fifty. Originally they were a logging and faming family but they moved to central Vermont and Mark’s father became a foundry worker during World War Two, making munitions for the war effort.
On his mother’s side, the family was of English descent and they had arrived in the States in the mid-1800’s and settled in Vermont where they too were a logging family. Phyllis was born in Montgomery and at the age of eighteen she met and married Maurice, who was in his thirties. Maurice had become a law-abiding citizen by this time, following quite a few years during prohibition when he was involved in the bootlegging business. “He worked out of Smugglers Notch, a very steep-sided valley about fifteen miles long in Vermont, a notorious place for passing and receiving illegal liquor. That area of Vermont is now a ski resort owned by the Von Trapp family whose story was told in The Sound of Music. One of my Dad’s best customers was J.F.K.’s father, Joe Kennedy, who ran speakeasies all over Massachusetts.”
After the war the family settled on a farm in a very rural area near to Richford where Mark’s first memory is of riding a bicycle without a handlebar. “That was scary but it just didn’t have one and I wanted to ride a bike. We had a dairy farm with hay and corn for silage. I was driving farm trucks at fourteen and was given a license to do that with the result that when I got into racing cars at sixteen I was already a good driver. Me and my buddies were hell-raisers but I had my farm chores to do each day, getting up at 4am, milking the cattle, having some breakfast and then off to school. I was in a one-room schoolhouse from 1st-3rd Grades, then a three-room school from 4th-8th Grade. I went to Bradford Academy in town for my high school years and that is when I started to get a little out of control, doing all kinds of pranks at school. Around that time I bought a ’49 Ford from a highway patrol officer and put a 12-cylinder Cadillac engine in it and changed the whole rear end. I also installed a loud wolf whistle for the horn to scare the girls and added a muffler that was rigged to have fire roar out of it. I remember once stopping outside the sheriff’s office and seeing him dozing inside. I set off the mufflers and sped away. He tried to catch me in his car but had no chance. He confronted my grandfather about this but granddad backed me up and said I was with him so it couldn’t have been me in the car. After the sheriff left my grandfather gave it to me though.”
Despite this mischievous side, Mark enjoyed school and was a good student, graduating second in his class – “and I found out later that the girl who was first had been sleeping with the teacher!” His favorite subject was history and he played on the baseball team. His family was Catholic but apart from a few occasions they rarely went to church and it played little part in his upbringing.
He graduated in 1958 and had the opportunity to enter the Air Force Academy but chose instead to go straight into the Air Force. “I just wanted to get in and didn’t face the big picture. I couldn’t see past where I was on any particular day. I worked on the farm that summer, realized that farming and animals weren’t for me, and in August enlisted in the Air Force. I went to Texas, then Saudi Arabia for a year, before being re-assigned to Albuquerque, New Mexico to work with the B57 Canberra Jets. I was there for two years and during that time I did some bull riding. I fell off all the time and always seemed to land on my head, always leaving a mark for a few days that people could see – people started to call me ‘Mark’ and it has stuck ever since. There’s no connection with my real names at all. That’s the story… Anyway, some point, another airman committed suicide on the base. The Office of Special Investigations (O.S.I.) guys came in and I was very impressed with how they handled themselves. They were so professional, I thought they were just great – military men but in civilian clothes. I was told they were looking for agents and so I applied. They accepted me and I went to Washington D.C for training, specializing in counter-intelligence. I graduated in 1961 and became an agent in the O.S.I. with my first assignment in Korea at the Osan Air Force Base, situated outside in a nasty rundown village full of prostitutes.”
Mark was very gung ho about his well-being, the kind of agent the O.S.I. needed for its spying network. “I would accept any assignment, particularly those that might get me killed – that’s the way I was at that age. I felt I was indestructible and wanted to see how far I could push it. For a time I was the personal bodyguard of a U.S. Colonel who the North Koreans wanted dead. I figured, if I get killed too, so be it”… During this period the North Koreans had been building underground tunnels around the South Korean government house – The Blue House. This was discovered by the South Koreans and Mark was the agent chosen to go down the tunnels to set charges. The bombs exploded and the tunnels were permanently blocked… For the next five years he was responsible for coordinating the under cover operations between the U.S. and South Korean special investigation units from his base in Osan which included investigations into the smuggling operations between Korea and North Vietnam. In 1967, he was re-assigned to Sweetwater, Texas for nine months to investigate a smuggling operation involving a 2-Star General who was using an air crew and a C130 transport plane to load up pot and heroine in Vietnam and bring it back to the States, dropping it off in the desert beyond Sweetwater. As a result of Mark’s investigations, the General and his crew were exposed and sent to Leavenworth prison but it was felt Mark wasn’t safe after this so he was sent back to Korea. “The authorities felt my life was in danger so I returned to Korea. The smuggling operations were massive and there are still aspects that I cannot talk about. I was also involved in political assassinations during this time but I cannot say more than that. For years I was in and out of Southeast Asia and after all my work there, the South Korean customs department gave me a medal – I was the only American to get such a medal before or since.”
In 1963, Mark was married to Beverley and together they had three children – Scott, Brent, and Tracy. “Once we started the family I told the O.S.I. that I no longer wanted to do these dangerous missions. I had changed, calmed down somewhat, and wanted to be there for the family. They refused to re-assign me and insisted that I had to go on and finish some of the assignments I had started. They had other plans for me and strongly implied that I either agreed to this or I would never see my family again – a full Colonel said that to me. My wife and I split up – this was no life for her. She re-married and I did not see my kids for a long, long time – until the last ten years. They were out of my life for over thirty years but I have seen both Scott and Tracy in recent times – she traced me through the F.B.I. Brent prefers not to contact me at this point.”
Mark remained in Korea for a few more years, continuing to perform many dangerous assignments. He became a black belt in karate and really enjoyed the culture and food of Korea. One of his most dangerous jobs was to set up a listening post over the border in North Korea. “I has lost my family, I had nothing to go back to the States for really. I thought ‘what the hell.’ I made my way up the coast and then cut inland, I was alone and carried just a backpack containing the equipment. There is no doubt I would have been shot as a spy if anyone saw me. I set up the listening equipment in a tree a few miles inland, about thirty miles from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. It was my last significant assignment and when I asked to be let out to spend time with my father, who had had a heart attack, they agreed.”
Mark returned to New England in 1971 bringing with him a Korean woman, Kyong-ae, with whom he had worked closely on many investigations. “I married Kyong-ae so she could stay in the country and we ended up together for eighteen years, although for much of it we were not really doing things together. I intended to return to Korea but Dad passed and I took over the janitorial business he now owned and ran out of Dartmouth, New Hampshire. It was quite successful but a fire burned down the buildings we had and so I started an electrical company. That was fine for a time but I couldn’t settle so I tried real estate but ended up selling that too. I needed something different and was tired of the cold winters so in 1981, after ten years of not knowing what I wanted to be or do, we headed for California and initially settled in Milpitas where I bought a ranch and set up a horse boarding business with about seventy horses at a time. My wife, who was a practicing Buddhist, turned out to be a real fruitcake. She ran the martial arts school, that I had started, into the ground while I was too busy with the horses, and she started her own spiritual school. People would give her thousands of dollars to attend.”
Although Mark and Kyong-ae were divorced in the late-eighties, it was not before they had driven up into Mendocino County and had passed through Anderson Valley. “We fell in love with this place and in 1986, after seeing there was some land for sale, we bought it – six hundred acres, eight miles back up Peachland Road, on part of the Rawles Ranch. When we divorced she got the school and the horse ranch and I got to keep this property in Anderson Valley. I lived there in a trailer where there were a couple of ponds and I had some sheep, cattle, and horses. Of course the coyotes got the sheep and the cougar got the calves. It was tough back up there all alone and I eventually sold and moved to Redwood Valley in 1989 but not before I had made some good friends in Wayne McGimpsey of an old Valley family, the Hiatt boys – Charlie and Wayne, and Ray Ingram. They had some stories to tell and we’d hang out at the Horn of Zeese restaurant in Boonville and talk for hours. Unbeknown to me, Ray had a daughter who would later become my wife but I did not meet her for some time.”
When I was still at the ranch, a woman called Nancy had come down to get a horse from me. She was with two young girls, Jodie and Jenny, and she chose a horse that I thought was very difficult to ride. It wasn’t difficult for her as it turned out. Anyway, we became friends and I moved in with Nancy and her husband in Redwood Valley. It turned out that Nancy’s co-worker was Ellen Ingram, Ray’s daughter, and we met in 1990. She was the mother of the two girls I’d met when Nancy came for the horse and she also had a third daughter, Amanda. I had not had any luck with women for many years and Nancy and Ellen jokingly decided to try and help me find one by making out an application form for anyone who might be interested – ‘to protect me from myself’, they said. I thought about this and instead I asked Ellen out, telling her Dad Ray to keep the door open in case I changed my mind. Ellen agreed but she was concerned about daughter Jenny accepting me. She had not taken to Ellen’s second husband (her first, the father of the girls, had died in a drowning accident) but she soon did, saying ‘He’s got horses, he’s a cowboy, he’s fine.’ Ellen and I were married in 1991 in Redwood Valley, my sister and brother came out from Vermont for the wedding, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Ellen’s family, the Ingram’s, is amongst the oldest families of the Valley, settling here in the late 1850’s. Ellen had gone through school here before leaving for college in 1970. She had been raised in the old Ingram house but felt she did not want to raise her girls here where there was little for them to do. So even though Mark wanted to move back to the Valley, they stayed in Redwood Valley for many years before moving on to the Ingram property in 2008 where they live today. During those years in Redwood Valley Mark was involved in several business enterprises including a newspaper, a bakery – both retail and wholesale, and most successfully a advertising mapping company producing maps of local towns with various businesses paying to have their locations highlighted. This went very well and Mark was able to retire in 2006. “For most of those years over there I was into the family and our horses, and the girls’ 4-H activities. We had a great time.”
Since moving to the Valley Mark has become involved in the American Legion where he has been Commander and is now the Adjutant. He and Ellen try to get to the Senior Center for lunch/dinner a couple of times a week, and they are both docents at the A.V. Museum for the Historical Society. The big thing that has happened in recent times has been Mark’s conversion to a Born Again Christian. “I was converted two years ago and we attend the Valley Bible Fellowship in Boonville twice a week where we concentrate on the study of the Bible. We have a congregation that can be anywhere from twenty to fifty and I have accepted Christ as my savior. I sometimes preach and lead the singing of hymns. I studied on-line to get my Bible Study degree and the church has become a very big part of my life in recent times, both spiritually and for social events. I feel I have found my religion. I married a Jewish girl, dated Baptists, there was the crazy Buddhist girl, and now I am content with what I have found here.”
As a result of his experiences in the military, Mark still sees a psychologist. “I was very bad for a time but I greatly improved over the years. Then when 9/11 happened I went to pieces. Watching those Towers come down was so distressing; I cried for a week, I just couldn’t handle it and some of the memories that I had overcome and put behind me came flooding back. In those Cold War years I was involved in assassinations. Certain ‘enemies of the state’ were targeted and I was in the right mindset at the time to be one of the guys chosen to do this. I really didn’t give a damn what happened to me. These memories returned and I was on medications to stop the dreams and help me sleep. I was in a bad way and hit out at Ellen in my sleep, smashing the headboard behind her. The Veterans’ Administration referred me to a wonderful doctor in Ukiah called Paul Otto and I saw him every week for quite a few years. Now I am down to just a couple of times each year. My soul is wounded but my mind is much better.”
“Having said all that, I am proud of my service and was glad to finally get my ‘Black Patch’, acknowledging my service for the O.S.I.” (Mark showed me the patch along with his medal from the South Korean Customs department). “For years I never talked about being in the Far East – to many people back then we were seen as ‘baby killers’ and soldiers returning were not accepted like they are today when our military personnel receive very warm welcomes on their return. These days the soldiers wear their cap and medals with pride despite the fact that things are done the same today as they were back then. When the kids come back to these heroes’ welcomes it is hard for me when I reflect upon how things were for us when we came back.”
Mark is now settled back in the Valley and wouldn’t change is physical location “for all the tea in China”. He feels accepted here and when he spent time in hospital last year all the seniors signed a get-well card for him. “I just love the people here. They have such warmth and show concern for each other’s lives, without necessarily getting involved… And I think our new Deputy Sheriff, Craig Walker, is a wonderful addition to the community. We try to get away for a short time every summer in our 5th wheel R.V. that connects to the truck bed. We’ll be heading out in July to attend family reunions in both Modesto and Tahoe and we’ll take some of the grandchildren with us too.”
As I do each week, I now asked my guest for his brief responses to various Valley issues… The Wineries? – “I think they’re great – some beautiful wines are made here in the Valley and they add a lot to the local economy”… The A.V.A. Newspaper? – “It’s controversial but I enjoy it”… The School System? – “I am not happy with the drastic change in the demographics at the school in recent years but that’s the way it is. I just hope all the kids at the school get equal attention from the staff. The Mexican community is here to stay and they are wonderful people. They get into trouble like anybody else and they are prepared to do the jobs many white people won’t”… The changes in the Valley over recent times? – “I am not a fan of so many Brightlighters (city people) coming through the Valley but if they support the local stores that’s something I guess.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself many months ago. I have also recently added a few more new questions and hopefully you will find Mark’s answers interesting and illuminating…
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “I love my dogs and horses, and just love the smell of horse manure”…
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Stupid people saying stupid things”…
What sound or noise do you love? – “The sound of my grandchildren playing”…
What sound or noise do you hate? – “The noise of traffic, motorcycles especially – they go past us down the hill at about 90 mph”…
What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Rice and kimchi – a very spicy cabbage. In Korea they bury it in a pot in the ground for months until it ferments. I love to add spicy and hot sauces to my food”…
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that be? – “My father-in-law, Ray Ingram. He knew so much about so many country things. He never went to college but was as smart as anyone – my favorite person”…
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, with provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “The Bible; a fishing pole; and a good book refuting evolution”…
Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “I am a voracious reader of religious books, I guess The Bible is my favorite; I love the movie ‘Dances with Wolves. As for music – western music is my favorite – something by Clint Black”…
What is your favorite hobby? – “Horse shows and reading”…
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “A lawyer. I’m not afraid to talk to people and I like to argue my opinion, in a constructive way of course! I like to argue with Ellen. She usually wins but I get the last words though – usually ‘O.K.’! “…
What profession would you not like to do or are glad never to have done? – “I wouldn’t want to be a logger. I love the woods but wouldn’t want to take the trees down. And I’d hate to be a rattle-snake rounder upper”…
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day I met Ellen. And then I got to marry her, my best friend”…
What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When my father and my father-in-law died – those are my two saddest days. I was in a fog for quite a time on both occasions”…
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I keep myself busy. At this time of my life that is a good quality to have”…
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “If he said ‘Welcome home; that would be good”…

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Published in: on May 26, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Comments (1)  

Cheryl Schrader – May 10th, 2010

I met with Cheryl on a wet and windy morning at Mosswood Market in the heart of Boonville and with several customers sitting around we sat down with a coffee and began our chat in hushed tones…
Cheryl was born in San Francisco in 1946, the middle child of Edgar Chatham and Doris Green, who also had the older Sandra and son Steven… On her father’s side the family were English and they had settled in the South in the mid-1800’s. They were wealthy but the family ostracized Cheryl’s great-grandfather following some trouble with the law and he moved to Texas, and then on to migrant work in southern California where he settled. Cheryl’s grandfather was born and raised there, eventually having a family of his own – eight children, including Edgar. The mother of these children, Cheryl’s paternal grandmother, was from Germany and had been sold to a cattle rancher in Texas when the family came over from Europe. She too eventually moved to California and worked on the farms where she met Cheryl’s grandfather and they had Edgar in 1905. “I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for farm workers”… On her mother’s side, the Green’s were descendants of the Graves’ family who had come to California as part of the ill-fated Donner Party that was stranded in the Sierras in the winter of 1846-47, leading to the death of over half of the ninety adults and children making the journey. Cheryl’s great, great grandmother was one of the survivors and eventually settled in the Sacramento area where, a few generations later in the 1930’s, Doris met Edgar Chatham and they were wed.
“I had a wonderful childhood; I don’t think I could have had a better one. I am very fortunate. We settled in Oakland and my mother ran a pre-school out of the house and Dad worked as a civilian for the Navy at Hunter’s Point in the San Francisco Bay. From 1947 on, we took a family vacation to Tahoe every summer and my parents bought two lakefront lots on Donner Lake not far from there for $25K with $5 down and $25 a month. It was fantastic and I have many great memories of running all over the mountains with friends who would stay with us. We camped for a few years but eventually cabins were built and it was a great place, not really discovered until the 1970’s.”
Cheryl went to schools in Oakland and while she was not a particularly good student overall she enjoyed her school experience. It was during these years that she started to take in stray cats, often hiding them in her bedroom, sometimes ending up with several at a time. “My parents always found out but they let me keep them as far as I can remember, despite the fact that my sister was allergic to them. It’s all a bit vague now but I do know we always had cats around.”
Cheryl was in her junior year at Skyline High School when she started to ice skate at the rink in Berkeley. “I had my driver’s license and would drive there for a two hour practice practically every day before school. We were let out of P.E. by the school because of this activity and I really began to take it seriously and entered competition in ice dance – both in singles and pairs. I was paired up with Allan Schrader and we did very well together, often winning the Bay Area competitions before being eliminated at the State level – we never made it to Nationals.”
After graduation in 1964, Cheryl had no intention of going to college. “It never entered my head. My parents hadn’t finished high school and most of my girlfriends didn’t consider it either. It just wasn’t the done thing for most people I knew. I was a ‘C’ student anyway and with algebra conflicting with my home economics and typing classes at school I never got the necessary math, even though I did like it… Skating dominated my life and as we entered more and more competitions, Allan and I got closer and fell in love. We were married in 1966 and thanks to his inheritance from his grandfather’s trust we were able to buy a house in the Oakland Hills and a duplex that we rented out. He worked at United Airlines at San Francisco airport and I found a job as a typist for an insurance company in their claims department. However, when we applied for the mortgage my income was not considered – I might get pregnant was the way things were viewed – but we had $10K from the trust which was a lot of money in those days and with more added every year this enabled us to make the down payments on the house and duplex, and over the next few years another duplex, an apartment, and eventually a 12-unit building.”
Although Cheryl was living in the East Bay during the time of the Vietnam War, the many anti-war protests in nearby Berkeley did not affect her. “Allan was too old to serve, nine years older than me, and by throwing ourselves into the world of competitive skating we seemed to miss so much of what was going on in the real world. The whole hippy/peace movement did not reach me. It seems strange now but that whole movement came right to where I lived but it remained off my radar.”
Over the years Cheryl and Allan worked on the upgrading and maintenance of their properties and slowly backed off from the competitions but did maintain recreational skating and most of their social life involved friends from that scene. Neither of them were into drinking, smoking, or drugs – “I was possibly the only kid in Berkeley in the sixties who never smoked pot, although I had no problem with those that did, I still don’t. My aunt had died of tuberculosis and my parents looked after her so seeing her struggling to breathe stuck with me and I had decided nothing was going to go in my lungs which might lead me to breathe like that. It killed her.”
Cheryl and Allan started a family with Jennifer, who was born in April 1972 and then Eric, born in May 1974. Despite earning very good wages, Allan was unhappy at his job with United Airlines where he worked on propeller engines, and wanted to move out of the urban environment. They started to look for some country property and found fifty-five acres in the Yorkville area, which they bought in 1974 for $25K – where Fire Chief Colin Wilson and his wife Patty now live. “We bought the property but were not ready to move up at that time. We stuck it out in the Bay Area for a few years until life in Oakland became just too difficult to deal with and in1978 we moved up. There was nowhere to live on our land so we lived in the house on the opposite side of Hwy 128 and had plans to build on our place. We had three kids by this time, Brian was born in September 1978, and we soon came to realize we would have to find some work. We sold the 12-unit building and used that money to buy the Redwood Drive-In in Boonville and a house on Anderson Valley, where I live today. In those days the Drive-In was much smaller, just a restaurant, although having no restaurant experience at all meant that it was going to be tough no matter how small it was. How did I survive? Hard, hard work… Moving up here was not my dream, Allan really wanted to and I didn’t object. I had a hard time adjusting to country life for some time and it was not an easy transition. Allan loved it right from the off. There was no going back, the die had been cast.”
“At that time, in 1980, there were really just us and the Horn of Zeese Restaurant in Boonville. The Hotel was temporarily shut down – it was a wreck and undergoing renovation although I do remember Mike Shapiro, the realtor, running The Sundown Café for the hippies and back-to-the-landers out of there at one point. What is now Lauren’s was a Mexican bar and, err, well brothel, I guess you’d have to call it… My place and the Horn of Zeese catered to the old Valley families and I worked many hours to make it a success. I was there at 4am to let the loggers in for breakfast and coffee. We were often packed by 5am. There were still lots of logging trucks coming through here in the early eighties. Over time I hired a staff as I became more involved with the kids’ activities at school and Allan became more reclusive. He was getting out less and less, hiding in his garden and working on the remodel of the house on A.V Way. He was hermit-like and looking back he was probably sick at the time and I didn’t realize it.”
Over the years when the three children were in school Allan was known for his Blue Van as he and Cheryl transported their kids and many others around the Valley and often way beyond. “We were into bribing kids with trips to A’s games or skiing trips to the Sierra’s if they got good grades. We helped with the senior trips and thinking back we always seemed to be driving kids somewhere for many years… At the Drive-In we had opened the gas pumps in 1982, added the mini-mart, and by 1998 the new regulations came in and we had to install new pumps. This would be a major expense. The Drive-In was almost paid off at that time and to this day I’m not sure if it was the best thing to do. I felt like I had a gun to my head. If we didn’t add the new pumps we would have gone out of business like the Chevron Station down the street had to. The government would give us half the $400K that it would cost but that was still a lot of money on our part. I didn’t think doing just the restaurant was an option so we added the new pumps…. Business was good for a time but following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the tourist trade dropped off dramatically. People just stopped coming to the Valley in the same numbers.”
In 1999, Cheryl was driving through Boonville when she saw some puppies running lose at the side of the road by the Mannix Building property next to the firehouse. “Apparently they had been running loose for a few days, crossing the roads to the Fairgrounds and back with nobody aware of their owners. I wasn’t sure what to do. There were three of them and I collected them in my truck and called the Animal Care and Control in Ukiah. The officer came over the hill and told me he’d taken them away and said that in all likelihood they’d be killed in a week. It was a 100% kill rate at that time at the AC & C. It’s about 17% now. Anyway, on hearing this, I refused to hand them over to him. I knew nothing about animals really, other than that I had always had compassion for them. In fact I knew as much about looking after them as I had about the restaurant business when I started that. However, it turned out to be the start of the A.V. Rescue.”
Cheryl spayed and neutered the pups and found homes for them but not before two more dogs were handed in to her at the Drive-In. She has never been without homeless dogs since. During the days of the expansion at the Drive-In she had to be around the jobsite so her staff had coped very well with the restaurant side of things. She found herself not wanting to return there after the construction was finished but needed justification for this – starting Animal Rescue provided this.
“At the beginning it was all my own money that supported the cause. I had lots of help from our bookkeeper at the Drive-In, Kay Jablonski – it could never have been done without her. We started by getting our employees’ pets spayed and neutered and word spread very fast. If you found an unwanted pet or stray, it was a case of ‘call Cheryl’. The number of cats and kittens was overwhelming in those early days. I would take between 25-30 of them from the Valley to the S.P.C.A. in Kelseyville every month to be spayed or neutered. It was an all day job – The Spay Run. Their owners would drop them off the previous evening and I’d have them all inn baskets/crates in my truck, take them over there, and bring them back for pick-up in the late afternoon. It was nearly all cats – it still is.”
“A few months later I was outside Leslie’s ‘All that Good Stuff’ store in Boonville with some kittens up for adoption. A woman came up and wrote me a check for $100 to show her support. I was shocked. I passed it on to Kay who was even more surprised – it was actually for $1,000! I called the lady, Katherine Evanson, who lived in Yorkville. She told me she would give more if we were a non-profit and offered to help me set that up. We set up a board of myself, Katherine, Gina Barron, and Linda Martz, then wrote the bye-laws and sent a check to the I.R.S. for $800 and in 2001 became a Non-Profit.”
With Cheryl the driving force behind the organization, the A.V Animal Rescue grew quickly. “Gina knew dogs better than I did and taught me a lot, and she knew many people in the Valley which was also a huge benefit. Katherine helped when she could and she continued as a huge benefactor, giving us $1,000 every month… By 2003 we knew we had to set up some sort of adoption agency and I approached Petco in Santa Rosa to see if they would allow me to set up with pets for adoption outside their store on Saturdays. They agreed and from may be five cats and one dog in those days I have now have a regular crew that goes every week and takes may be as many as twenty cats and seven dogs.”
There have had many dog walkers over the years and Cheryl wanted to mention Dan and Harumi, Gina of course, Joel, Bridget, Sheriza, and of course Jim who is big part of Animal Rescue today. “I can’t remember them all now, I’m sorry.” Once again Katherine came through with funds when they put in the pens behind the Drive-In and Petco still donates $10,000 a year. The A.V. beer Festival has also given very generously since the beginning, as have many local organizations, such as the Lions Club and the A.V. Film Festival.
Gina Barron died from a brain tumor in 2005 and this was a real blow to the dog side of the operation. Cheryl found it very difficult to carry on Animal Rescue without Gina and the ups and downs of running such an operation continue to this day. “However, from 2004/05 I started to go to the A.C. & C in Ukiah and take dogs out for adoption. Because we were Non-profit and the new Hayden Bill that had passed I could now do this. I did it in memory of Gina – ‘we’re gonna save more dogs’ was my motto in memory of her. It was almost out of anger at her loss; I was going to stop them killing dogs… I was in the A.C. & C office one day and a dog owner was handing over their pet to have it killed. I told the officers I’d take it. They wouldn’t let me have it. A big scene developed that ended when they forcibly took the dog out of my arms and took it out back and killed it. I was furious. I went to see Supervisor Colfax and two others and wrote a letter to the Ukiah Journal with a photo that had been taken during the struggle. Things changed after that and also following the arrival of John Morley as the new boss at the A.C. & C. Now the officers cannot euthanize the animals; it has to be done by a vet… Add to this the addition of Sage Mountainfire as Adoption Coordinator for Animal Services and the relationship between Animal Services and us had never been better. She and I are in constant contact and she does a great job. Her efforts have saved many dogs lives.”
“Why do I do it? Well I have compassion for animals that drives me on; I simply don’t want to see them die. That’s what keeps me going. I do get tired but I have to be tough. I accept the fact that no one person or organization can save them all. At this point I am so happy we are very close to no-kill with the cats. In 2009 approximately 350 were killed in the County – far too many, but ten years ago it was about 10,000 – all because of the work of A.V. Rescue. We have fought with the County on many issues and now, with Bliss Fisher as Director of Animal Services the future is looking as bright as it ever has. She will do everything she can to ensure cats are not killed.”
In May of 2007 Allan, who had suffered from severe diabetes but did not really accept his condition and change his habits, passed away following a heart attack. Then in 2007, Katherine died and left her entire estate to A.V. Animal Rescue. This has allowed the website to be expanded and Internet adoptions are now possible. It also led to the free spay and neuter program that was introduced between November 2009 and April 2010 during which time 1100 animals were seen. “Our goal is to become the first No-Kill County in the State. That is a little overwhelming but we’re going to give it a go.”
In 2008 Cheryl sold the Drive-In and bought a house in Grass Valley about three-and-a-half hours away. “I need a place where I can be when I get older and have family nearby – my daughter lives up that way. However, this has meant the loss of the pens behind the gas station and so dogs found in the Valley have to go over the hill to the A.C. & C. in Ukiah – not as bad as it used to be and I am involved in decisions regarding their future. This is not ideal and we would love to find someone who could donate a small space in the Valley for some pens. I would pay for the installment obviously – help anyone?? The A.V. Rescue is not going to go away, although it might have to be more centered in Ukiah if we don’t find a space for the pens over here. The Petco connection is covered by my crew and for a time yet I will have my house on A.V. Way as my base and of course the 895-3785 number is still in effect.”
I turned to other Valley issues and asked Cheryl for her brief responses… The wineries and their impact? – “Well, like many others my biggest concern is with the water. I used to have plenty at my house but not now, and the quality of the water may be an even bigger problem. I could drink mine but now I can’t – it makes me sick. I wonder. Vineyard workers don’t get paid as much as the loggers did, so with the wine industry taking over it means that the divide between the working people of the Valley and the landowners has become greater”… The School System? – “My kids all went to the A.V. schools and did well. I think the school is good but at least 50%b of the children’s education has to be the responsibility of parents. I think we all need to support the schools. The demographics have changed a lot and it seems to be human nature that once a group has been in the majority they find it hard to be seen as a minority but we all must adjust”… The A.V.A. Newspaper? – “I like the A.V.A.; I like Bruce’s style of writing – a telling-it-like-it-is-with-tongue-in-cheek kind of writing”… Marijuana? – “It should be legalized”… Supervisor Colfax? – “He’s always been a supporter of the A.V. Rescue and I like him. I’ve no idea who I will vote for this time.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself many months ago. I have also recently added a few more new questions and hopefully you will find Cheryl’s answers interesting and illuminating…
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Seeing my grandson… Seeing an animal who has been in ‘jail’ getting a good home… Walking the dogs on a beautiful day in the Valley”…
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “The attitude of some animal control officers towards animals… The fact that humans think we own the planet – we need to allow space for others even if it is a little inconvenient… We need to be more tolerant of each other too”…
What sound or noise do you love? – “Wildlife noises… The music of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart”…
What sound or noise do you hate? – “All the dogs barking at the same time… Motorcycles… Guns – more often than not it means something is dying… May be I’m a weird old lady?”
What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Anything sweet… A last meal – some really good bread and butter, a great Danish, some delicious coffee, and some ice cream – simple”…
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that be? – “The founders of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. They do it themselves and have done so much to help the welfare of animals”…
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “A good book; a soft mattress; and a dog – you’ve got to let me have a dog.” It does break the rules but for Cheryl I made an exception.
Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “I like the Star Trek films – I like the hope they offer… And any music by Beethoven”…
What is your favorite hobby? – “It used to be hiking and I’d love to do that again up in the Sierras when I get some time”…
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “A marine biologist – studying the ocean”…
What profession would you not like to do or are glad never to have done? – “A cook in a restaurant – never, ever again”…
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The births of my children…Our family trips up in the mountains when I was a kid”…
What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “Many with animals obviously but overall I’ve not had a lot of sorrow in my life… Gina’s death when she was in her thirties was very upsetting”…
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “My compassion, my ability to work hard – that I just keep going”…
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Assuming that when I get there my parents and a whole lot of dogs and cats are there too, I ‘d like to sit around with them and hear him say, “You can take a break now, find a cloud, sit down, and enjoy your family and friends”…

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 12:03 am  Comments (2)  

Tom McFaddon – May 1st, 2010

I met with Tom at his home on Hwy 128 in Boonville and following a brief tour of his wonderful workshop we sat down with a cup of coffee and a delicious ham and cheese sandwich made by his wife Kathleen using bread baked by Tom that very morning.
Tom was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1942 to Tom Sr. and Margaret Butzow, who thirteen years later had another child, son John. The McFadden’s are of Irish descent who came to this country in the late 1700’s and settled in western Pennsylvania. Tom’s grandfather, also Tom, married the girl-next-door and worked in the coal mining industry and their only son, Tom Sr., became a heavy equipment operator earning enough to put himself through Ohio State University where he studied journalism. The Butzow’s were German and Tom’s maternal grandfather was a doctor in Chicago during the flu pandemic following World War 1. Margaret studied nursing at Ohio State where she met Tom Sr.
“The McFadden’s were a big family and we spent a lot of time around them when I was growing up in the Carrollton, Ohio area. When I was very young, during the war, my Dad was in Lebanon working for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) as a spy, although this was never spoken about around the home at the time. He did tell my mother that he was undercover as a writer preparing a book on the Arab press. He had been turned down by the military because of an injured arm that he could not straighten following a car accident so he joined the O.S.S. My Dad returned at the end of the war and worked for the O.S.S. in Washington until 1946, always telling us that he was sworn to secrecy about what his job entailed. We had moved to the Washington D.C. area and as a family we visited Lebanon after the war – I have vivid memories of the beach and the snow-covered mountains not far away.My grandfather, Dr Butzow, became ill and I flew back to America with my mother but grandfather died soon after our return. ”
Tom attended elementary school in Arlington, Virginia but then the family bought the weekly newspaper in Covington, Ohio so they moved there and Tom went through the rest of his schooling in this town in suburban Ohio. “Covington is about eighty miles north of Cincinnati and twenty miles east of the Indiana border. It was rural and conservative, and very ‘white.’ I suppose we were viewed as middle class and my Dad was pursuing his journalism dream but it was a struggle. Because my Dad was Tom I was always known as Tam (Thomas Arthur McFadden) at home and this name stuck all the way through school and beyond until I moved to California. I liked school and really enjoyed English, Social Studies, and Biology. I hated Speech and didn’t play any sports. I had planned to take Shop in my senior year but I was seen as college material and I had to make sure I passed Math and with my algebra being poor I had to do that instead so woodworking was put off for a time. I had several part-time jobs at my Dad’s newspaper when I was at school and also worked in a lumber yard during my senior year.”
“I was a loner apart from one close friend, David Powell who lived kitty-corner from us and was from a working class family who worked on the railroads. He had flunked 1st grade somehow and then broke his leg so he was two grades behind me and the biggest kid in his class! We often fished together in the Stillwater River that ran along our five acres and even though we were not supposed to swim there we did ‘fall in’ quite often. We hunted together but then one day I shot a rabbit and it screamed. I never hunted again. I had a garden on our property and raised worms to make compost – an organic garden was weird in the fifties, but not now!… In many ways my parents did a great job of picking out a place to raise a kid. One day they offered me the choice of getting a pony or having the wooden boat that was parked near to our house. I chose the boat. Some time later we left it on the river and the winter ice crushed it but Dave’s father said he could repair it so I swapped it for Dave’s wooden canoe that also needed repair work. I read how to steam bend wood and taught myself how to fix the canoe. I was fourteen and had a small wood shop in the basement of our house. This was my first experience with woodwork and I’m still learning today.”
Tom and Dave had many adventures on the river after that, sometimes going as far as fifty miles away. “We’d go for miles each day then build a fire and cook dinner before sleeping under blankets – there were no sleeping bags then. We’d finally stop after a few days and call one of our mothers and she would come and pick us up and take us back home. Yes, it was a wonderful place to grow up, living this Tom Sawyer-like life. At fifteen, my brother John was born and while we would never be close due to the age gap, I did help in taking care of the youngster… I was a good kid, I think – a little mischievous but nothing serious. Dave dropped out of school in the 9th grade and I started hanging out with a guy called Larry Fogt from the town of Piqua nearby. I had my driver’s license at sixteen and I remember one night when Larry and I drove to India Lake Amusement Park to meet girls. It was very uneventful in that regards but driving home some guy was tailgating and I decided he wasn’t going to pass me. It turned out to be a cop car and I lost my license. After that my Dad took me on any dates I had and I guess he pretended I wasn’t there in the back seat! He and I became close in my teens and for three years in a row we two went canoeing in Michigan; just us and plenty of cans of Dinty Moore Stew in case we didn’t catch any fish.”
Although Tom’s father was liberal in his political leanings they lived in a Republican stronghold and he had to be careful what he wrote in his paper’s editorials so as not to upset his advertisers. “It was tough for him. He worked seventy hours a week and had a lot of staff to support. Eventually the paper became a ‘home shopper’, which did well financially but wasn’t what Dad wanted. He sold it and made enough to support himself for the rest of his life.”
Having followed quite a religious upbringing and realizing that religion had played quite an important part in his life to that point, when Tom graduated in 1960 he attended Defiance College in the town of Defiance, Ohio – a school run by the Congregational Christian Church of which his family were members. “It was a very liberal church but I remember feeling bad for our preacher when he was ran out of town for having an affair with a married parishioner. However, growing up if I needed someone to talk to there was always someone at the church who would listen.”
Although the school was only ninety miles away Tom found himself with a mild southern accent compared to most of the other students. He soon had more friends than ever before and settled in well, maintaining a solid 3.5 G.P.A. in his studies of Botany and Biology. However after a year he wanted a more exciting scene and transferred to Ohio State and joined a fraternity. “The girls were a bit wilder there too”. His major was English Literature with a minor in Journalism, and he found some paying work in the data processing department. In his sophomore year Tom decided he didn’t like the fraternity scene and started to hang out with the beatniks from the English department. He started to think about California for the first time. “I knew I didn’t want to go back to Covington after college. It was a bigoted place – there was even an ordinance that black people could not stay overnight in the town! My Dad got into trouble when a black friend of mine from University, Jim Thompson, stayed for a night at my parent’s house. I remember he and I drove into town with my girlfriend whose name was Merrily. I stopped to get a haircut and the barber saw Jim and Merrily walking down the street and said, ‘My God! There’s a black man with a white woman.’ I spoke up and said, ‘That’s my girlfriend and he’s a friend of mine.’ The place went deathly quiet.”
Early in his senior year at college Tom dropped out. “I wanted to get my feet wet in the world and an opportunity had come along. The owner of the newspaper in nearby Carrollton had died and his widow had asked my Dad for help. He suggested me and in the fall of1963, at the age of twenty-two, I became the editor of the newspaper. There were a few thousand people in town but beyond that it was many miles to the nearest place of any size. I remember going to work on the day that President Kennedy was shot and crying. The printer commented, ‘That’s what the whole bunch of them deserve.’ Yet another reason to leave this rural Ohio scene, I thought.”
It turned out to be the final straw because shortly afterwards, in January 1964, the newspaper was sold by the widow. It was the right time to go. Tom and Jim picked up a drive-away car in Detroit and headed west with no plans other than to get out of Ohio. They arrived in San Francisco and rented an apartment on McAllister Street near to the Civic Center. It had a small basement area where Tom set up his skill-saw and some tools and started to make some furniture for their apartment. “I had taught myself quite a bit more by this time.” He found work as a fry cook at ‘Lot-a-Burger’ but two weeks later it closed and he moved to Brooks’ Cameras on Kearney Street where he worked in the basement as a receiving clerk, earning $55 a week. “We spent a lot of our social time in North Beach but by this time most of the beatniks were carrying briefcases.”
After a few months they moved to Leavenworth Street after neighbors complained about his noisy carpentry projects and he found a new job at The States Steamship Company on Pier 15 earning $85 a week and wearing a tie to work every day. He moved again, this time to Sacramento Street where he had a small wood shop in the basement and could now finally afford to buy new tools. “Around this time I read an article in Life Magazine about Art Carpenter, a veteran of World War 2 and a woodworker. It really inspired me a great deal and I quit my job and decided to become a furniture maker simply because I didn‘t want a ‘job’; not because I wanted to be an artist, not because I loved wood, I just didn’t want a normal job.”
Needing just nine units to complete his degree, Tom attended S.F. State and finished up. While there he met Lisa Farr and they fell in love, moved in together in the Haight-Ashbury district, and got married in the summer of 1965 in Muir Woods in Marin. “I made furniture in the basement once again but now I started to actually sell my stuff. The hippies were moving in and then in 1966 our daughter Maegan was born. The scene soon changed and was becoming too crazy for a young family; too many drugs, too wild. My folks lent us $1950 as the down payment on a house in Fairfax, Marin County that we bought for $19500 and I worked in San Rafael at a place that made office furniture. I learned a lot there – my first professional outfit. However, our friends from the City would hang out with us there and we’d still visit the City often. Maegan came to be this naked little hippy child in all of our photos. Moving away had not stopped the wild scenes and, as I was one of the few who had a job, I found myself housing and feeding all sorts of ‘losers.’ I moved to a job making kitchen cabinets but was laid off and so I started to work for myself. Eventually it all became too much and Lisa and I split up sometime in 1967. I moved to Forest Knolls in West Marin and left the house for Lisa and Maegan. Things got worse, we were divorced, debts mounted up, I owed lots in taxes, and I filed for bankruptcy.”
Things picked up for Tom after he found a job working for the architect Leslie Stone as the foreman in his shop. He was allowed to work on his own projects in the shop and soon after he met Marina Delfino, a potter, who became his steady girlfriend. “We went to the ‘Renaissance Fayre’’ every year from 1968 to 1971 and each time I’d get enough orders for about eight months of work. I had bought a house in Forest Knoll for $5,000, payable over five years. There was a second ‘house’ on the property and I remodeled it into a shop for my woodwork. After the five years was up I still owed $3,000 which I didn’t have so I sold the house for $18,000, paid off my debt and we went traveling.”
Tom and Marina bought a camper and went to Mexico for a few months before returning and visiting his family in Ohio, then on to the Appalachians, Kentucky and Georgia. “We had no plans about where to settle but the later part of the trip made me realize we had to go back to California.” In 1973 they settled briefly in Potter Valley and began to look for property to buy. “I had been to Anderson Valley in 1964 with Jim and commented that I’d like to live here some day and I had made several day-trips after that. In June we passed through the Valley and saw a sign for 20-acre parcels of land for sale. We camped that night in Dimmick State Park on Hwy 128 and returned to what we came to find out was the Holmes Ranch. We found a great spot and bought for $16,500 with plans to build a house by the fall. After his initial suspicion of my hippy-like appearance, Art Gowan agreed to let me have some wood from a broken down mill worker’s house and we moved into a basic structure on September 19th, 1973. It was all to code with permits and we didn’t grow any dope on the property – I guess that means we weren’t hippies.”
Fortunately Tom had a commission worth thousands of dollars to build a huge oak table for the Wine Museum of San Francisco and they survived on that for quite a time. “Marina worked in the apple sheds at Gowan’s and with my skills continuing to improve I was able to work on my furniture in an empty machine shop in Navarro owned by Jerry Waggoner. I attended many craft shows and my work was finally getting out there.”
In 1974 Tom and Marina split up and within a month a new girlfriend, Peggy Miniclier had moved in with him. “She had been dating my friend Brian but we just clicked and fell in love almost overnight. Over the next few years we built a workshop, a barn, a 45-foot water tower, and a chicken house. We went to Art Fairs all over the place and I joined the Mendocino Woodworkers Association whose show I exhibited at for several years. Clyde Jones opened his gallery, The Guild Store’ in Ft. Bragg and I showed there too, a wonderful outlet for me as I continued to grow as a furniture maker, now steaming my own wood and learning to make curved things, as well as doing complete kitchens. Clyde’s space moved to Mendocino an even better location and later I showed at Highlight Gallery out there too.”
Daughter, Christina, was born in 1978 with son Cameron following in 1981 by which time they had four horses, goats for milk, chickens, bummer lambs that shepherds would give them, and pigs. “The hippies were now being slowly accepted in the Valley, and the ones I knew didn’t steal from Gowan’s Oak Tree Stand. I picked up some extra work teaching woodwork in night classes at the High School. Talking of the school, Cameron had some learning difficulties and he was greatly helped by both Sharon Shapiro and Jill Rathe at the school in Boonville.”
After some unsettling times, Tom and Peggy split up in 1994 after eighteen years of marriage. ‘I went to work at Navarro Vineyards to get extra money to support the kids. Peggy’s reliable salary had allowed me to pursue my furniture making on many occasions over the years. Furniture makers aren’t guaranteed money all year round. I remained on the property, having built an apartment above my shop because I wanted to be near the kids and I stayed there for six or seven years.” In the early nineties, with Tom cutting and drying his own wood, his work gained more exposure, not to mention prestige, when it was shown at the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore (he and Cameron took a train trip there when the boy was nine) and his client base was greatly expanded to customers all over the country following this.
Tom had several relationships in the years following his split with Peggy but they remained friends and have always been comfortable around each other in social situations. In December 2001, shortly after his recovery from colon cancer, Tom was corresponding with three women through the on-line dating service, Match.com. “I entered the Ukiah zip code in the website and up popped Kathleen. We had a date in the January at The Broiler in Redwood Valley and had a very nice time together. The second date was when she came to pick me up from hospital after I’d suffered a heart attack due to clogged arteries. Peggy would have come but she was out of town so it was Kathleen, and we’ve been together ever since – I feel like I’ve looked for her all my life.”
Tom had bought property in Boonville in 1995 and after fixing up the dilapidated house he rented the place out for a few years. “There was no shop there so I stayed up at the other place where I could be near the kids and work in my shop at the same time. In 2002 Kathleen and I moved here and began building the new shop. We were married on the shop’s back porch in December 2002 and I work inside there five or six days a week for about six hours each day.”
Tom has always socialized quite a lot in the Valley from his days doing lunch and having a few beers at The Floodgate store in the early seventies, through the hippy times at The Sundown Café in the Boonville Hotel, to more recent times which have seen him and Kathleen as regular customers at Lauren’s and Libby’s and prior to that The Highpockety Ox, The Lodge, and The Buckhorn Saloon. Tom loves the Valley’s scenery and the variety and friendliness of its people. “I also like the remoteness of this place and that it’s nearly twenty miles to the nearest traffic light! I don’t like the way some people speed through town though. The speed limit should be 25 m.p.h. all the way through.”
I asked Tom for his brief responses to various Valley topics of discussion… The wineries and their impact? – “I’d much rather see wineries than trailer parks or sprawl. I don’t know if the water shortages are due to the wineries. Many people have moved here and have dug wells too”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I like it now. Because of my own brief history in newspapers and journalism, I take a negative view of papers making things up. I think the A.V.A. used to do that on occasion but not anymore”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I don’t listen anymore. Everyone seems to want to grind their own particular axe at this point. It was useful during the wildfires but moist of the programming does not interest me and is not of a high standard”… The Changes in the Valley? – “Well I’m delighted that the hippies were finally accepted and nobody is kicking their asses any more”… The school system? – “They did a fine job with my kids.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself many months ago. I have also recently added a few more new questions and hopefully you will find Tom’s answers interesting and illuminating…
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Woodworking.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Stuff from China – even the metal for the Bay Bridge renovation is from there. It’s ridiculous – a pet peeve of mine.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “Water in a creek, or river, or waterfall.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Leaf-blowers.”
What is your favorite food or meal? – “Wild shrimp.”
Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world?
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one, who would that be? – “J.F.K. – he was the last leader who gave so much hope for America. Obama may still come through too.”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My canoe, my fishing rod, and a frying pan.”
Do you have a favorite song? – “The music of Bob Dylan – ‘The girl from the north country’ is a particular favorite.”
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “I think that would be ‘Holy shit’…”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Either ‘you should’ or ‘you need to’…”
What is your favorite hobby? – “It used to be model railroading; these days gardening for sure; writing too.”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A serious fiction writer.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Almost any job – I don’t’ consider furniture making a job.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day I married Kathleen or days my children were born. I now have four grandkids and another on the way.”
What was the saddest? – “The days my parents died. My parents separated when he was sixty-five and he married a woman just a year older than me. My mother was fine though.
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “My ability to teach myself to do things.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I think if he said ‘Come on in, Tom, I need another carpenter’ would be just right.”

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 10:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sheila Hibbs – April 24th, 2010

I met Sheila at her unusual but very quaint home in an A-Frame building on the Mathias Ranch a few miles south of Boonville. After showing me just a few of her many different collectibles, we sat down with a couple of soft drinks and began our chat…
Sheila was born in 1954 in Crescent City, California, the youngest of five children born to Samuel Moore and Bernice Grimes. Her siblings are Shirley, brother Tony, Donna, and Inky (Patricia). Her mother, born in 1925, was the youngest in a family of ten who had moved to the Bakersfield area of California in 1937 from Oklahoma to work on whatever crop was available, figuring it had to be a better life than the one they had in the poverty stricken rural town of Tahlequah, south of Tulsa. Her father was from Arkansas and his family had moved to California earlier. Samuel and Bernice met and married in Bakersfield and later moved to Crescent City, but when Bernice was pregnant with Sheila they split up and her father returned to Oklahoma – Sheila would not meet him until twenty years later. Sheila’s pregnant mother was left alone to raise the family and then five days after Christmas 1953 their home burned down. “Mother sought help from the Salvation Army for clothing and one of the workers there also gave her a chalk painting of a deer. I still have it. It means a lot to me. She did meet another man, Lewis Hunt, whom she married and he became the only Dad I knew.”
Crescent City was a small coastal town, not unlike Ft. Bragg today, and Sheila was born in the seaside hospital that was later destroyed when a tidal wave hit the town following the famous earthquake that struck Alaska in 1963. Lewis Hunt worked in the sawmills and the family moved to where he could find work, spending a year in Redwood Valley when Sheila was four, before settling in Willits where she went through elementary, junior, and high school. Here, Sheila’s stepfather, who knew everything there was to know about redwood trees, assisted Ed Burton who designed a recycling program using redwood bark in a filter system that was later used on the space shuttle.
Sheila loved school where she was an honor student and a member of the choir, the Glee Club, and the Pep Club. “I just soaked up as much knowledge as I could and my favorite subjects were math, civics, and music of course. In my senior year I was chosen to be one of the twelve girls in The Madrigal Group, an a cappella singing group that appeared at special events in town. I’d always enjoyed singing, sitting in front of my mother with my brother and sisters as she played guitar. In my teens I started to write all the lyrics of her songs down – thank God I did. As for the music itself, that’s in my head and I can play the songs on my banjo as long as it’s in C or G – I pretty much taught myself to play the banjo on my own. The banjo I have now is the one I bought in Oklahoma City for $50 on a visit there back in 1976. My brother was the ‘real’ musician though – he could play piano, accordion, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and my Uncle Henry, Mother’s brother, used to play gigs in Crescent City.”
Growing up, the family lived several miles out of town in a house that had been an old stage stop. “We had the freedom of the countryside and had all the usual country chores. We planted everything you could can – beans, tomatoes, apples, plums, and we all helped in the harvest and the canning. We also had chickens, goats, pigs, and occasionally a cow. Mother was a good provider and she’d spend all day Sunday baking bread and doughnuts for the week. My Stepfather, who I called ‘Lew-Lew’ (Lewis), was a curmudgeon but he was nice to me. He’d always make sure there was a tootsie roll in the glove compartment of the car for me. However, he’d drink and then get very mean, usually on paydays. We found out later that he’d had a successful trucking business back in Illinois but had drunk away the profits. When I was fourteen, mother and he split up and he left. My oldest sisters had left and Tony was in Vietnam so there was just Inky, mother and myself in the house. Lewis would visit sometimes and pay mother child support – we had his last name – but she wouldn’t let him get close enough to her to get back with her, as he would have liked. On one occasion, I remember he wanted her to sign off on the child support payment without actually giving her the money. She refused and her grabbed her. Tony was at home and he picked up my baton from Pep Club and hit Lewis with it, breaking his nose, and then he started to hit him. He broke two of Lewis’ ribs and gave him two black eyes.”
Sheila graduated in 1972 and had a scholarship to attend Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo to study to be a vet. “I had worked at a vets in my junior and senior years and had even assisted in some minor surgeries, but being a stupid seventeen year old I opted for marriage instead of college.” She married Kenneth Shannon (“an Irish boy”) who was three years older, and even though they could have moved close to where she would have studied, “he didn’t want to leave his mommy” so they stayed and got an apartment in Willits, both of them working in the saw mill, where Sheila worked as a trim saw operator. “My job at the dry cleaners, where I’d been part-time during school, did not pay enough so I worked at the mill for six months but then he decided he didn’t want his wife working and I was stupid enough to believe in that too. I was flattered I guess – ‘he wants to take care of me’, I thought. Yeah, right… I was eighteen and he was twenty-one and we were going to whip the world. It was young love and maybe I was afraid of being alone like mother. We had two kids – Brandie Lynn born in November, 1976 and Rebecca Kathleen born in October 1979.”
In 1974, when Kenneth got a drunk driving conviction he thought he’d get his license back sooner if they lived elsewhere so he and Sheila moved to Oklahoma City where he earned $2.50 hour at a ball-bearing factory and Sheila found work at Dairy Queen Restaurant – “it was o.k., I guess and you could get four chili dogs for $1.50!” While they lived there, Sheila’s biological father contacted her. “Mother had passed on our phone number and address to him so we went to see him – I was twenty and it was the first time I had ever set eyes on him. It was strange. When we met he shook my hand. He had photographs of all us kids as we went through school, sent by mother. He had remarried and I had three half-siblings. He gave me a sewing machine as a gift, which I thought was a strange first ever gift from my father – oh, well, I guess all the young women in Oklahoma had one!?… We spent the weekend there and visited the graves of various relatives and then went fishing. That was strange too. We didn’t take a picnic but instead took chicken and potatoes and cooked it right there on the riverbank. We also ate rattlesnake, turtle, and possum for dinner – now I knew why mother stayed in California! I kept in touch and visited every few months and two of my siblings, Tony and Shirley also visited him.”
Sheila and the young Brandie returned to California in early 1978 but Kenneth stayed in Oklahoma. Sheila stayed with friends for a time and then got an apartment in Willits and claimed welfare. Several months later Kenneth showed up and they lived together in a trailer in Willits. Their second child was born in 1979 but then they split up for good in 1980. “There were too many drinking episodes. For support I had my mother nearby in Willits, a sister in Ukiah, and several good friends. I returned to my job at the sawmill but this time I was on the night shift. Around that time I suffered toxic shock syndrome from which I could have died. That was a tough time in my life… In 1981 I met Alan Hibbs in Willits Park one Sunday afternoon when there was a country music band playing there. Some friends of our family passed by and this strange guy was with them. We all went back to my trailer and he later said that he was attracted by how clean it was! It wasn’t particularly clean but apparently his previous wife was a real slob. We started dating and I filed for divorce from Kenneth in 1982. Alan’s parents lived in Arizona so, along with his daughter from a previous marriage, we moved there in 1983, getting married in Vegas on the way.”
Alan found work as a brick-mason but it meant working in Laughlin, Nevada during the week and returning to Phoenix at weekends. Sheila raised the girls and found odd jobs so that they were able to buy land in Apache Junction outside Phoenix, living in a trailer with plans to build a home there. In 1985, she settled into a steady job with U-Haul where she worked in the warranty department. “I enjoyed the job. I had always been mechanically inclined and that helped. With my Dad watching from a lawn chair telling me what to do, I had overhauled our ’56 Ford pick-up when I was fourteen. I became the specialist for our G.M.C. vehicles when they need repair work done. There was far more repair work on those than the Toyotas, Fords, and international cars put together. G.M.C. were the biggest pieces of crap on the road.”
As Sheila moved a little way up the corporate ladder it took its toll on her health, not helped by the fact that she was also exposed to many ruthless corporate practices that annoyed her. She left U-Haul in 1989 and shortly after split up with Alan. “The house never did get built while I was there and I took my furniture and headed back to California with the girls. He kept the property and was supposed to buy me out – he never did. He died last summer and didn’t leave anything for me or the girls, despite what he’d promised us. His daughter got everything. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; after all, when we got married she had asked who would get the property if her Dad died. She was twelve at the time”… Sheila re-joined U-Haul in Santa Rosa, commuting from Ukiah but now on the desk dealing with the public on the retail side, rather than behind the scenes at the corporate level. “I stayed there for a few years but by 1993 my vehicle was on its last legs and I was a single parent with two teenagers and little money. Mother now had cancer and I needed to be with her so I quit the job. Unemployment and my savings got us through but those next two years are a blur. Mother died in January 1994.”
Sheila began to work part-time in catalog marketing and for Fetzer Winery during ‘crush’, driving a tractor for them. She had a third part-time job with U-Haul at night where she transferred trucks from one location to another. “1994 was a terrible year – mother died, twelve other extended family members passed also, I had double by-pass following a heart attack in April, my brother Tony died. My girls got to the point where they couldn’t cry anymore.”
However, in June of that year Sheila had taken and passed a test to work for the post office but it was not until two years later that she was finally offered an interview. Then, in the summer of 1996, following an interview with Philo post master Richard Shuffleton she was offered the job. “I had been interested in working for the post office since living in Arizona and so I was very happy to get the job with its good rate of pay and benefits”… Sheila did not know Anderson Valley very well at all. However, she had been to The County Fair here and had stopped at Gowan’s Oak Stand for fruit and produce on many occasions as she passed through on her way to the coast.
In April 1997 Sheila moved to Navarro and rented a place on Wendling Soda Creek Road where she stayed for over six years. “I had been commuting between Ukiah to Philo and then became a Deep Ender for six years or more. Navarro is a very colorful and interesting community, depending on what time of day or night you look out of the window. Brandie and her girlfriend at school, whose name was Brandy Lee, had tried to get me together with Brandy Lee’s father, Earl Schleper after he and his wife split up. He moved to southern California for a time and we kept in touch by phone. I had a boyfriend who I dumped and Earl moved back up and into the place in Navarro along with his three daughters and their kids, and his brother. Earl has four grandchildren and I have three through Brandie and another one who is Rebecca’s but who has been adopted out in Ukiah. It is a long and traumatic story, a very bitter pill to swallow, but hopefully one day it will have a happy ending for us all.”
From 2004 to 2007 Sheila and Earl lived at Tucker Court north of Philo on Hwy 128 and since then they have been where they live now. She has been pretty much a homebody for the last ten years, venturing out to play music at various gigs with Billy Owens or just sitting outside the ice cream store in Boonville strumming along with friends. “Captain Rainbow got Billy and me together for the Variety Show in around 2000 with Bill on guitar, me on banjo, and both of us singing. We practiced just before in the parking lot and I knew a lot of the songs he knew because Bill and my mother both grew up in rural Oklahoma. Since then we have also played at many birthday parties, house-warmings, funerals, at The Highpockety Ox in Boonville, Labor Day and Memorial Day events, and even at The Co-Op in Ukiah where they passed around the bucket and we made $150. Bill has lots of music in his head but I only know the songs mother passed on.”
Sheila has now been at the Philo Post Office for fourteen years and expects to retire from there when she is sixty-five. “I love my job and knowing people when they walk in the door. I talk to everyone who comes in and while I don’t need to know all of his or her business if someone has a problem it’s nice to know I could help if I was asked. Joe Dresch has been a great boss since he took over in 2000 and we moved into the new facility in 2001. We have a good time at work, with Ann Carr and Amy Bloyd too, and I will get a good pension and have other savings plans, so as long as the government doesn’t go broke I’ll be fine, otherwise I’ll be living under a bridge somewhere”…
I asked Sheila for her brief response to a few Valley issues that people around here seem to discuss fairly often… The Wineries and their impact? – “I love what they’ve done in terms of jobs and bringing in tourists but they have taken too much from the water table. There has been a drastic change in just the fourteen years I’ve been here as wine has taken over from the timber industry and the apple and cherry orchards”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I read it and love that it tells the ‘other’ side of the story, even if some people might not like to hear it”… KZYX & Z local public radio station? – “I try to support them when I can afford it. I do listen sometimes, especially to the bluegrass played by Jimmy Humble and Diane Hering”… The school system? – “I am indebted to the Rancheria Continuation School; they have helped many other people in the Valley too. Wendy Patterson does a wonderful job all by herself; thank god for Wendy”…
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself many months ago. I have also recently added a few more new questions and hopefully you will find Sheila’s answers interesting and illuminating…
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Grandchildren and animals – especially baby lambs… Music of course, particularly country and bluegrass, hillbilly stuff… And my sweetie, Earl”…
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Screaming grandkids; people who let their kid scream or misbehave in public”…
What sound or noise do you love? – “Birds singing; water in the creek behind the house here; my collection of wind chimes”…
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Honking horns; rap music booming out of cars”…
What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Fried chicken, mashed potato, and crackling gravy – it’s very bad for you so I rarely have it anymore… Earl’s pineapple upside down cake… Seafood”…
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that be? – “Shakespeare, I think. I really enjoyed reading him at school… And we have the same birthday, April 23rd”…
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My banjo; the complete set of books by mystery writer V.C. Andrews; and an unlimited amount of yarn so I could do my crochet work”…
Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “Films that have stuck with me are ‘Bridges of Madison County’, ‘Field of Dreams’, ‘Scent of a Woman’… As for a song, it would be one I have been singing for many, many years and it means a lot to me, ‘If I could hear My Mother pray again’… A book would probably be ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley…”
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Well I know ‘I’m hanging in there’ is something I say a lot in the post office”…
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “When people repeatedly say ‘err, err, err’ as they are talking”…
What is your favorite hobby? – “Music; crochet work; my collecting – all sorts of things – salt and pepper shakers, eagle figures and pictures, chicken shaped candy dishes, clocks, dream catchers”…
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “A veterinarian – I really wanted to do that at one point but got married instead. I used the wrong part of my brain for that decision”…
What profession would you not like to do or are glad never to have done? – “Work in a hospital or around sick people. I admire those that do”…
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The birth of my children stands out… Being with family and friends… Playing in the Variety Show that first time – I hadn’t played music in about twenty years”…
What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “The death of my mother. We had always been very close but it was for the best. When she went it was a relief after all her suffering over the previous two years but I couldn’t cry for a few days”…
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am smarter than I let on; that I have a big heart and that my loved one’s needs are important to me – friends have always told me I need to look after myself a little better”…
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I think ‘Welcome home’ would be good”…

Published in: on May 5, 2010 at 6:09 pm  Comments (1)