Allan Green – November 12th, 2010

I met with Allan at the Greenwood Ridge Vineyards tasting room on Hwy 128, a couple of miles north of Philo.
Allan was born in Los Angeles in 1949 to parents Aaron Green and Jean Haber, with a younger brother, Frank, coming along in 1952. The Greens were originally from Russia, Allan’s grandfather coming to the States in the early 1900’s and settling in the south – Allan’s father being born in Mississippi and growing up in Florence, Alabama before moving to Chicago and staying with an aunt for his final two years of high school. Aaron then went to Cooper Union School of Art in New York City’s East Village to study architecture and that was where he was introduced to the work of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright… The Haber’s were from Germany and had been in this country since the mid-1800’s and Allan’s grandmother’s family were all native San Franciscans. “Her maiden name was Pauson and I spent a lot of time around that side of the family. My grandmother and her two sisters were artists whose talents were supported by a brother who was an oil and real estate investor.”
Aaron had not yet finished college when hometown friends, the Rosenbaum’s, asked him to design a house for them in Florence but he said he was not qualified yet. He suggested they ask F. L Wright, they agreed, and so, with nothing to lose by asking, he wrote to the great architect and asked. Wright said he would as long as Aaron would help with the on-site management of the project. After the house was completed, Aaron was invited to be an apprentice to Wright at the master’s foundations at Taliesin East (Wisconsin) and West (Scottsdale, Arizona)… A while later, Allan’s artistic great aunt, Rose Pauson, hired Wright to design a house for her in Phoenix. She visited the job site with her niece, Jean, and working on the job for Frank Lloyd Wright was Aaron Green. Jean and Aaron met and their romance began.
After serving in the Air Force in World War 2 in the Far East, Aaron returned home and decided he wanted to move on from the Foundation. He got a job in Los Angeles for an industrial design firm, working primarily on department store interiors, getting his architectural license in the process. Jean went to medical school in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles and marrying Aaron in 1947. Then Aaron opened an office in San Francisco and Frank Lloyd Wright suggested they make it a joint office. “My father was thrilled and opened Aaron Green and Associates at Grant and Sutter Streets in the City. He and Wright shared the office but had separate businesses. However being right there meant that my father took care of Wright’s projects on the West Coast, including one of the most famous – the Marin County Civic Center, for which my father was in charge.”
Allan grew up in Los Altos, thirty miles south of San Francisco. “It was a great place to grow up. We lived on a rural property in the middle of an apricot orchard although more and more houses gradually surrounded it. I went through all my schooling in the area, graduating from Los Altos High in 1967. My father was at his office in San Francisco and mother worked as an anesthesiologist at Stanford Hospital and El Camino Hospital. I loved sports and played baseball and basketball in particular. I enjoyed school and was a well behaved kid. Like most others at that time though I was into the new rock music but not the drug scene that came with it. I went to see Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in San Francisco at the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom, and collected the posters from lots of the shows at those venues – I still have them.”
After graduating high school, Allan attended U.C. Riverside in southern California for two years – ‘it was far enough away from home and I had an uncle and cousins down that way” – before transferring to U.C.L.A. from which he graduated with a degree in painting and sculpture. He also took graphic design courses and it became clear to him that his abilities were better suited to that field rather than fine art. He went on to get his masters in Industrial design and ended up spending a total of six years in the Los Angeles area. “I played a lot of intra-mural basketball in those years and I was at U.C.L.A. during the years when John Wooden was the basketball coach and they had a great team. It was a very exciting time and the peak of my own career was probably hitting six straight free throws to win an intra-mural game at Pauley Pavilion where the university team played. I also went to watch them many times, getting a student season ticket – $4 for 16 games, 25 cents a game. Not bad to watch the best team in the country.”
“I never had the intention of staying down south and knew that I would return to the Bay Area after getting my masters in 1974… Meanwhile, back in 1971, with my brother at Stanford near to home, he talked my parents into looking for some property for a rural retreat. They had driven north of the Bay Area and at one point picked up a hitchhiker. He was heading for Anderson Valley so, not knowing exactly where they wanted to look for property, they took him there and came to Boonville. They found a local realtor, T.J. Nelson, and he showed them a place about seven miles off Hwy 128 up on Greenwood Road. They loved it. They were shown a few other places but ended up buying that first place.”
One of the first things Allan’s parents did was to engage a caretaker, Steve Wood – “Now there was a coincidence – our name is Green, his name was Wood; the property was on Greenwood. It was a good omen.” They had bought what was an old sheep ranch with the remains of an old vineyard that had been in operation during prohibition, up on what was euphemistically known as ‘Vinegar’ Ridge, 1400 feet above sea level. The adjacent property was owned by Tony Husch who in 1971 bonded his winery in the Valley where he grew the grapes best suited to the climate there – Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir – cooler weather varietals. Up on the ridge next to the Green property, above the fog, Husch’s eight acres were better suited to Riesling, Merlot and Cabernet. Tony Husch realized he had too much going on with his vines and winery on the Valley floor and so in 1973 he sold the vineyard to the Green’s.
“I was still in college at that point and had nothing to do with any of this, apart from occasionally visiting the property in the summer time. I did love being there and had some vague interest in the vineyard, as did my brother, who was also still in college. We both graduated in 1974 and he decided to travel a little, which ended up with him getting jobs in Asia and staying for eight years. I opened a little graphic design studio in a cabin on the property in Los Altos and occasionally did some work in my Dad’s office, but I was spending more and more time at the property up here. Then in 1976 I had to make a big decision. I had been offered a job as assistant Art Director for Sunset magazine which would mean quite a commitment, leaving little time for being up here. I turned down the job offer and moved up to the Valley.”
Once here, Allan realized that he needed some sort of career and began to get involved with the vineyard. “The first year saw the entire crop eaten by birds. In 1977-79 we sold our grapes to Edmeades, although by that time I was doing some home winemaking and had built a small facility to do that in 1978 with the help of a couple of local teachers, Brian Schreiner and Jeff Miller, and a student, Richard Palmer. My homemade Riesling even won a gold medal in that category at the Orange County Fair. I falsely thought ‘this is easy, anyone can do this.’ I took some classes at U.C. Davis, read a lot, learned on the job, and when Jed Steele (the winemaker at Edmeades) spoke, I listened. The 1979 Riesling was not so good although the Cabernet was. I should mention that in 1980 I was married for a year but the statute of limitations is up on discussing that… That year, I bonded the winery and went commercial. I have been through many learning stages of what works and where and in fact the whole business is still a learning process and our Cabernet remains an ongoing experiment up on the ridge.”
Through the seventies, Allan met many Valley folks through playing softball. “There was a viable league in the Valley at that time. We were the Philo Winos, and there was also Hiatt Logging, the Iteville (Navarro) Clams, and a team from Summit Painting. It enabled me to meet local people from entirely different and frequently opposite philosophical points of view; those who I would not have met otherwise, I’m sure. Let’s be honest, there was a big disconnect between the local logging community and old-timers and the new immigrants to the valley – the city folks and back-to-the-landers. Softball helped to bridge that gap. It was a huge deal in the Valley and lots of fans came to watch. It was a big day of entertainment here.”
By 1980, Allan was spending all of his time growing grapes and making and selling wine, and the winery’s reputation for good Riesling began at that time. In 1985, he noticed the A.V.A. newspaper’s ‘Eyesore of the Week’ photograph of an old mobile home on seven acres of Hwy 128 frontage. The property was for sale and Allan immediately thought that this would be a good place for a tasting room so he bought it. His father designed the unique octagonal pyramid tasting room, taking advantage of the prominent and visible location. “Jim Boudoures was the contractor on the job; I think it was his first big job as the Philo Saw Works. We milled a fallen redwood on our property and that provided all of the wood. The ranch was too far off for a tasting room and there were only three or four tasting rooms at the time – people could stop at them all. There is a big difference now – this has become significant to those of us who traditionally have sold a high percentage of our wine out of the tasting room. There must be twenty or so now, yet traffic has not increased five fold…”
In 1984, Allan had hired Fred Scherrer as a winemaker. Fred had grown up on a family vineyard in Alexander Valley where the Zinfandel vines are now ninety-five years old. “Those were the only grapes we used that were not from the Valley. After Fred left I hired Van Williamson who was to later move on to Kendall Jackson in 1993 when they bought out Edmeades. I had learned a lot from those two guys and so I took over the winemaking duties at that point and have been doing it ever since. We have expanded our line and try to have something for everyone so we planted Pinot Noir and Syrah on the ranch, which is where we have all of our grapes; there are none grown at the tasting room site.”
In 2003, Allan received a jury summons. “I did my civic duty and was selected to serve on the jury for a two-day domestic violence case. We convicted the guy and were told that the prosecuting attorney would be available for questions on the trial afterwards. I wasn’t really interested in that but I did ask the attorney out. She said ‘no’. After some persistence on my part she said she would discuss the trial over lunch. I never brought up anything about the case and then asked her out for dinner. She said ‘no’ once again. It turned out she had a boyfriend… Anyway, about four months later she called me. They had broken up and we started dating, getting married in 2006. Her name is Marianna Lehr and she has now moved from the Mendocino County District Attorney’s office to Sonoma County in Santa Rosa. We have a house in Healdsburg and I am up here a lot of the time so for the time being we maintain two households.”
In 1999, a friend recruited Allan to play in the Santa Rosa hardball league. He joined midway through the season and they never won a game the rest of the way. They went 2-18 the next year with Allan in center field. The following year Allan began to sponsor the team and they became the Greenwood Ridge Dragons, playing in the Over-28 Division. “After a couple of seasons we started the Redwood Empire League’s Over-48 Division. We began to recruit players from Mendocino County, such as Tom Rodrigues (Maple Creek Winery), Dennis McCroskey, and Jesus Renteria. This past season we moved up to the Over-55’s…
“We enter tournaments all over the place including the Senior’s World Series in October/November in Scottsdale, Arizona where we play on the beautiful fields that are used by the major league teams in spring training. We’ve won the Men’s 50-Plus title twice there and also won the 52-Plus in Florida in 2009. This year in Arizona we were runner-up in the 55-Plus Division, out of thirty-two competing teams from all over the country.”
“Meanwhile, our league here negotiated with the Giants to play games at A.T. & T Park and I have played about eight games there now. I have also played at the Padres’ stadium in San Diego and twice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, where I went 4 for 6 – I own it!… We have a good team and we have a lot of success but they are a good bunch of guys and we enjoy each other’s company and that is very important too of course. Baseball has become a big part of my life now, although my wife is an avid golfer. I play in a casual way and have fun. I also realize that golf is something I will be able to play when my baseball days are finally over, although they do have a World Series for the Over-70’s!”…
As I do each week I asked my guest to respond to a few of the topics that often crop up when Valley folks get together… The wineries and their impact? – “I believe that people here who are involved in the wine and grape business would consider themselves to be environmentalists, and they generally are. They really appreciate the environment here. The Farm Bureau does not represent the sentiment of the Anderson Valley grape and wine industry. Just because you have vineyards or wine does not mean that you are unconcerned about the environment. Wineries get a bad rap because ultimately we do not use much water. Irrigation is minimal and the ponds are full after winter and that is what we generally use. Little is taken out of the creeks except in winter to fill the ponds and at that time there is plenty of rain available. For me personally at Greenwood Ridge, we are above the frost so we do not use the frost protectors that have upset many people”…. The A.V.A. – “I used to play softball with Bruce a long time ago. I like the AVA much better now that it contains fewer personal attacks”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I was one of the founders along with Sean Donovan and others and did a show on there for eleven years – ‘Straight Ahead Rock ‘n’ Roll’, although I played upbeat blues and country as much as rock. I stopped when baseball took over all of my spare time. I still listen a little bit but it is disappointing that it cannot reach a larger audience. My other complaint is that the talk shows on there are preaching to the converted; it would be more interesting if more debate was held with arguments from both sides. I’m afraid that the station’s image prevents a large part of the moderate population from tuning in. Too many remnants of their agenda remain and are pushed, sometimes at the cost of providing good radio”… Changes in the Valley? – “Despite the proliferation of vines and wineries, the Valley is still very isolated from the population centers. I do think that there’s been a shift from the old-time population and they have become overwhelmed by the new arrivals. It has caused some issues but we can solve these over time I’m sure.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Allan and asked him to just reply off the top of his head…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Crossing projects off my list. I am very goal-oriented and love getting things completed.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Egotists who are all talk and don’t know when to listen.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “Rockabilly music. I still listen to the same stuff I’ve always listened to.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “My mother tried to indoctrinate me with classical music. I just do not like it… I also really dislike commercials on television and radio.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? – “Chocolate chip cookies, hands down. I could live on them.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one-on-one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “My great aunt Rose Pauson. I am publishing a book about the house that she had Frank Lloyd Wright design. I have the correspondence that went between the two of them. I would love to talk to her and working on this book has given me lots of questions I’d love to ask her.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “Drawing or painting materials, a book collection to keep my mind active, family photographs and archives – I did take them out of my home for safekeeping during the Valley fires of 2008.”
8.What is a smell you really like? – “Well, what comes to mind is the odor from fermenting red wine that I smell from the open tanks when I do the nightly punch-down of the grapes. It is a wonderful deep plum jam smell.”
9.What is your favorite hobby? – “Baseball… Producing books – my book design background helps.”
10.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – “Graphic designer. I still do some as a sideline occasionally.”
11.What profession would you not like to do? – “Coalminer – that would be so brutal and claustrophobic… It might be fun to go to the moon but sitting in a space capsule is not for me, so astronaut is out too.”
12.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “My wedding day.”
13.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “My father dying at 84 in 2001. We were close and had planned to work together the next day. We would spend time together working on various projects. My mother is still living in Palo Alto at the age of 91.”
14.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am good at looking at the positive side of everything. I ignore the negative.”
15.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “We’ve got some room for you if you’ve brought some of that good wine with you.”

Published in: on November 25, 2010 at 4:44 pm  Comments (1)  

Kent Rogers – November 6th, 2010

I met with Kent at his home high above the Valley, approximately six miles up Peachland Road. After meeting his dog, Amy, a six-year old Labrador mix who Kent originally took in as a foster ‘parent’ from Cheryl Schrader’s Animal Rescue here in the Valley, and who is now his permanent companion, we sat down with a cup of coffee each and began our chat…
Kent was born in Sidney, Nebraska in November 1929 to parents Raymond Rogers and Elsa Marie Johnson. Kent was their middle child, born two years after brother Richard and two years before sister Eleanor. On his father’s side the family was originally English but for some generations they had settled in Tennessee before his grandparents moved to Missouri and then on to Denver where his father initially worked at a Ford Agency. He moved to manage a Ford dealership in Sidney where he went on to become the accountant for Western Ice and Storage, working as a mechanic for the company too. Kent’s mother’s side were of Swedish descent and had settled in Boulder, Colorado and the surrounding gold mining country. His mother had graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder and found a teaching job in Sidney where she met Raymond Rogers and they were married in 1924.
“I grew up in Sidney and went to kindergarten and a couple of years of grade school there. Then in 1937 my father was tragically killed when he was crushed to death while working on a truck and so with my mother now left alone with three young kids we moved to live with her mother in Boulder. I went through all my schooling there and then attended the University of Colorado, as did both of my siblings… We lived on two acres in the country outside Boulder and it was a great place to grow up. It was a farming area and we had a cow, a couple of pigs, some chickens and were quite self-sufficient. My brother and I had farm chores like milking the cow, and we had a wood stove and coal furnace. We remained in touch with my father’s family quite regularly in those early years and I was close to my cousins, and my grandparents were also around at that time. Meanwhile, my uncle had bought us a car and an aunt in California had paid off our house… I did lots of fishing and during my high school years I worked at my uncle’s Rainbow trout farm that supplied restaurants and lakes, including a stream that ran through president Eisenhower’s hideaway property – you had to keep him happy!”
Kent played lots of sports during his junior high and high school years including basketball, football – in which he was an all-conference end, and track, where he competed in the half-mile, the high jump, and the shot-putt. “I maintained a B-average during my time at Boulder High where my mother taught Latin and would drive us kids to school. I had jobs such as lawn mowing, window cleaning, gardening, and in construction and as a result always had my own spending money. We still had the farm chores to do and we had the cow until I was in college – you know the Swedes, they start something and they keep it going. I was so happy when we finally sold the cow. We could buy milk by that time and it was a chore I didn’t need when I had college work to do.”
Kent graduated high school in 1948 and began his architectural engineering degree at university later that year. “The possibility of war in Korean was increasing and some buddies and I had joined the National Guard towards the end of high school, not really thinking we would ever see action. However, although we had lots of fun and were paid for it, I did feel that I could help defend the country in some way. We would get together one weekend a month and then have a three-week course in the summer. Then in my junior year at college my unit was activated as part of the Air Force’s central air defense and we were sent to San Antonio, Texas as a radar outfit. I became the squadron’s draftsman and moved up from corporal to sergeant. I actually had a great time there – it was very social, dancing and drinking beer at the weekends.”
Kent had signed up for four years and this ran out when he was still activated so he was able to get an honorable discharge on June 22nd, 1953. “That summer I sold Fuller paints and realized I definitely never wanted to be a salesman of any kind. Thanks to the $110 a month from the G.I. Bill, I attended summer school and then returned to college to finish my course which I did in the fall of 1953.”
There were few jobs available and those that were did not pay, expecting graduates to work without pay for two years and learn on the job. It was time for Kent to leave Boulder. In his freshman year at college he had traveled to Kodiac, Alaska, via Seattle, to work on a friend’s uncle’s dairy farm. He had liked Seattle and so he now signed up with a drive-away company to drive a car from Denver to Seattle. “It was time to be out on my own. I wanted to shoot pool whenever I felt like it without hearing about it from my Mom. I found a job as a draftsman in an architect’s office but as so often in that business things slowed down and I moved on to work for one of their consulting firms and began to do design work, basically learning on the job.”
Meanwhile, Kent had met Anne Streeter, a woman from Pittsburgh, on a blind date and they began to go out. In December of 1955 they were married and lived in Anne’s apartment. A year or so later, they both quit their jobs (Anne worked for the phone company) and headed out in a ’53 Chevy that has cost them $400, crossing the country and visiting relatives before putting the car on a ship and crossing the Atlantic to Europe. For six months in the summer of 1957, they drove all over – Italy, Spain, France, England, Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia, mostly camping and seeing the sights.
On their return, following a short period of time when they could not find work, they were both hired back by their previous employers. “I was to stay with that company for the next thirty years, becoming an Associate, then a Senior Associate, then a Senior Vice President, and finally a Partner. I had a good relationship with our clients and managed to get the firm lots of work as a result of this and that is why they eventually made me a Partner. The fact that I did many hours of overtime also helped!… By the early seventies the company, ‘Skilling, Ward, Rogers, Barkshire’, had offices in Seattle, Anchorage, Alaska, and New York City. In fact we did the structural design on the World Trade Center, based around Yamasaki’s design for the building – that was a huge job for us. I was a Senior Vice President at that point and as part of this project I went to Ft Collins to do studies in the wind tunnel there.”
During these years, Kent and Anne had two children – Stuart who was born in 1961, and Jenne born in 1963. When not working and raising the family, their social life was quite full with get-togethers with several other couples, bridge nights, traveling, and later with the kids’ school activities. Stuart played soccer and baseball and Kent coached both teams for a time as well as still playing basketball himself at the Y during his lunchtime. Jenne also played soccer and the family would often go camping, fishing, and hiking. Anne was a homemaker for several years and then became very involved with the P.T.A. The Episcopal Church played an important role in the family’s life for some years and the kids attended Sunday school every week. Kent was also on the church committee and headed up fundraisers for the church.
In the early eighties, the company had a huge project at Stanford University and Kent visited to see how the job was coming along. “In 1984, it was decided that we would open an office in San Francisco with the thought that the Stanford job would lead to other work. I was the one who took this on and I hired another engineer, Reinhardt Ludke from Berkeley, and began to pick up some other jobs. Our kids were at college or beyond and so Anne and I rented an apartment on Nob Hill, not far from the office in North Beach. We loved San Francisco and spent a wonderful six years there. We enjoyed the lifestyle and went out to many of the excellent restaurants. After a year or so we bought a condo in the Richmond district on 24th Avenue and Lake Street with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from our roof. Anne helped out at the office and found herself in various societies that sometimes led to more business contacts. However, we never really got any more big jobs – they would go to the more established S.F. firms, and so the company was not breaking even. The business partners wanted to close the office down and suggested I return to Seattle. I didn’t want to do that so I made an agreement to finish up the jobs we had going and then I would open up my own firm there – Rogers Ludke Structural and Civil Engineers.”
In his leisure time Kent was still into running and exercise and joined the Dolphin Swimming and Boat Club. “I did the Alcatraz swim, the Golden Gate swim – the water temperatures in the Bay could be 62 in the summer and 47 in the winter – and that whole scene was a big part of my life for several years but I no longer attended church – I wondered if there was a God at that point.”
Kent also competed in triathlons and one weekend, after completing such an event in Sonoma, he decided to bicycle up to Mendocino County and camp at Hendy Woods which he had previously heard about. “I had breakfast in Navarro with a bunch of locals and then grabbed some apple juice from Gowans’ Oak Tree. I looked around and thought ‘Wow, these hills and this countryside is really something.’ Anne and I had talked about getting an acre or two for a getaway place and so we then contacted Rex McClellan at T.J. Nelson Realty who over the next few months showed us a few parcels when we’d come up for the weekend. One day we were way up Peachland Road where there was a new property that had come on the market. It was behind a locked gate but Rex snipped the chain with some cutters and we checked it out. It was a stunning piece and Anne immediately asked if she could pay by credit card or check. We eventually negotiated back and forth for several months for this 100-acre parcel, camping on the property when we’d come up, and finally in the fall of 1988 the deal was done… In the next few months we’d visit a lot and on one such trip we ate at the Floodgate when Johnnie Schmitt was the owner/chef – I had a great hamburger. We chatted and he told us that he was taking over the Boonville Hotel and was making some changes to the building. Anne told him that if he needed a structural engineer I was the one! I ended up helping on that project and in the meantime got to know quite a few more Valley people who worked at the hotel at the time, including Lauren Keating (of Lauren’s), Gail Moyer, and Tom Cronquist.”
In 1990, Kent’s partner Reinhardt Ludke took over the company and Kent moved up o the Valley full-time, while Anne stayed on as a business manager for an architect firm, living in their condo. “I hired a couple of carpenters – Mark Triplett and Bill Raphael – and started to build a home. I did the roofing, the wiring, and the finishing, but they did the majority of the work and we hired a plumber. In 1991 it was finished and Anne moved up too.”
Over the next few years both Kent and Anne were involved in the community in various endeavors. Anne had her show featuring classical music on the local public radio, KZYX & Z, and was on the Board of Directors, as well as being on the Land Trust Committee and playing a part in the organizing of the Mendocino Music Festival. “She did all of that until her dementia became too much. The disease progressed and by 2000/2001 it was advanced Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile I became the part-time bartender at the Hotel in Boonville, working Mondays and Tuesdays. It was lots of fun – we had Libby (of Libby’s) and Lydia in the kitchen, Tom as waiter, myself on the bar, and a dishwasher. Jeanne Eliades did the books and at that time her daughter Elena would be in her crib and sometimes her and Johnnie’s son, Willie, was a waiter – a good one too. I met lots of people in that job but eventually I tired of it and thought someone else can do this.”
Kent ‘retired’ to work in his large garden high in the hills, where his fruit trees and tomato plants provided him with a ‘full-time job.’ By 2004, Anne’s illness also took up much of his time. “She was this beautiful, intelligent woman, but acting like an eight-ear old child. It was very hard to see this happening. I had support from Tania Green who would sit with her and allow me to get some things done around the property. Otherwise I was watching her the whole time apart from when she was napping or asleep at night. We went to the Ukiah Senior Center a couple of mornings a week but she could not really join in with anything. Her conversation was very limited at that point and we’d sit here every night playing Yahtzee but that also became hard for her. We got a dog at that time – Amy, and she was a good companion for both of us. Eventually we had to find a care home for her and that was the Winkle Care Home in Ukiah where she was to stay for one-and-a-half years. I visited often but she did not know me and I’d spend the time talking to other visitors and the staff. Her brain slowly closed down and her organs deteriorated and ceased to function. She had hospice care for the final week and passed in May 2009. I had grieved a lot by that time and realized that she was much better off.”
Neva Dyer and her husband Dennis had become friends with Kent and Anne after Kent had met them at the Pinot Festival in the Valley and then again in the fall of 1998 at the Hotel. Then ten years later in 2008, Jeanne Eliades invited them both to dinner and with Dennis now ill with Alzheimer’s too they had some common ground. Dennis passed two months after Anne and Kent and Neva met for dinner at Lauren’s Restaurant in Boonville, started dating, and continue to do so today. “We have so much in common – we both love nature, enjoy doing crosswords, hiking, cooking, and we even wear the same glasses! Neva has her own home in the hills above Yorkville, about six miles up the Yorkville Ranch Road and we split time between there and here. Both places have stunning views.”
Kent’s son Stuart is now 49 and works for N.A.S.A. as an aerospace engineer while daughter Jenne is a psychologist in Oregon, south of Portland. Kent himself has developed his skills as a photographer from just a hobby to that of a professional portrait photographer. He also does weddings and has taken many snapshots of the Valley for which he has won various awards at the County Fair. “I used to do more in the community but these days I tend my garden, enjoy the local wines, take a few photographs – I recently had a show at Handley Cellars Winery, help out at the occasional fundraiser, sometimes do the Quiz at Lauren’s, and go to school sports events, particularly the soccer games… I was ready for that transition in my life from the City to here twenty years ago. It was the right place at the right time for me. It is a beautiful area that grows on you more each year. It’s a wonderful place to live where there are so many really nice people from all walks of life.”
I asked Kent for his brief thoughts on various Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “I enjoy wine. I am not a fan of the out-of-area owners operating here – Handley Cellars is what it should be all about, locally owned and operated. The wineries are certainly beautiful to look at although I do fear that the water problems will get worse but hopefully we can work it out”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I love it and get it most weeks. There is so much interesting stuff, particularly the local news and stories”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I have always enjoyed it and listen a lot. I support them and KPFA in Berkeley too”… The changes in the Valley over the last twenty years or so? – “It’s inevitable, natural even. This is a very desirable place to live.”
After Kent had made a delicious lunch of buffalo burgers, we sat back down and to end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions and asked him to just reply off the top of his head…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Neva Dyer…. But also the sunrises and sunsets I get to see up here – man, they turn me on. Unbelievable!”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “The hypocrisy of the people in power.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “A hummingbird ‘zooming’ two inches from my ear.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Loud noises; loud music in cars.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Fresh salmon.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “My grandfather Rogers – a wonderful man whom I wish I’d known after I became an adult myself.”
7.If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “My ‘Office in a Box’; as many wine bottles as I could get out, and Amy.”
8.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “I love the movie ‘Same time next year’ with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn; a book would be ‘Tale of Two Cities’ by Dickens and all of the works of James Michener; and as for a song how about ‘When it’s springtime in the Rockies’” – my mother used to sing that.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “A turkey cooking in the oven.”
10.What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – Anne’s was ‘baloneyshit’ and I kind of like that too, but I guess my favorite phrase would be ‘Love is a lesson in how to correct your mistakes’ – yes, I like that a lot.”
11.What is your favorite hobby? – “Photography – I have been interested since I was a kid.”
12.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “An actor or a geologist.”
13.What profession would you not like to do? – “A lawyer.”
14.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “I have had many happy days… My whole fifty-three years of marriage to Anne; watching my children grow from babies to adults and still enjoying each other’s company.”
15.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “Taking care of Anne. I still cry, particularly if watching a movie that triggers some memory.”
16.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That at 81 years old, I’m still in pretty good shape and can go hiking… And my relationships with family and friends.”
17.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Come in and relax; enjoy yourself without stress or pain.”

Published in: on November 18, 2010 at 8:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Mark Scaramella – October 30th, 2010

Mark was born in 1944 in Palo Alto, California, the older of two sons of Mary and Gene Scaramella. “My father was the youngest son of an Italian immigrant dairyman from the Mendocino Coast. His father had come to the United States from Delebio in northern Italy. Six years later he sent for his wife, my grandmother, who came over with their first two sons, Joe and John, entering the States through Ellis Island, and crossing the country by train to San Francisco. After their first night in the City my grandmother and her two kids awoke to the 1906 Earthquake on April 18 and they ended up as refugees in Oakland. My grandfather eventually tracked them down and they made their way back to Point Arena where he had settled.”
Mark’s grandmother subsequently came to dislike the US. “She was a dutiful peasant woman who refused to learn English and resented her husband for bringing her here. They had two more sons, Charlie, who lived on the ranch in Manchester all his life until he passed in the 1980s, and my father Gene, who lived to the age of 92, dying on the last day of 1999. My mother was of English/German heritage, the youngest of seven children. Her father was a doctor who had a general practice but he was primarily a homeopath.”
As the youngest of four brothers, Mark’s father went to College at UC Davis and then became a professor of Dairy Science there, going on to a long, successful career as a creamery manager, retiring as CEO of Challenge Cream & Butter, the largest agricultural co-op in the US. “My mother was a Hoosier, from Peru, Indiana, and a housewife most of her life, but she was very well read, as people were in those days. She spent three happy years as society page editor of the Willows Daily Journal in the 50s which is when I was first exposed to newspapers,” Mark half-explained. “She would impress the hell out of me as I got older with all the things she knew about authors and literature.”
Mark never spent more than two years at any one primary school. “We lived in Hawaii for two years before school, then in the Bay Area, then to Willows through the 7th grade, and then on to Fresno where I went to high school at Clovis High and McLane High. Growing up, we used to regularly travel to Mendocino County to visit relatives on the Coast. The visits were great fun with all the snipe hunting and abalone diving, but the travel over those windy, dirt roads that my father took always made me and the dog sick. We had to stop periodically so the dog or I could puke on the road.”
“I liked many aspects of school and when I applied myself I did well. I had many other interests outside school though and they took up a lot of my time. Swimming was a big part of my life then. I was a lifeguard and a water-safety/lifeguard instructor for a while, and then became interested in music. I taught myself to play the organ and the piano, basically with a tape recorder at my side to learn from. During college in Fresno I played the pipe organs at the theaters in town. I even got a job as an usher at the theaters so that I could get to play the theater organs. I played intermissions and before the show, playing show tunes and production numbers while coming up on a lift from the pit, facing the screen, and playing rousing tunes like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Chess was another big activity in high school. At one time I was a ranked amateur in the California State Chess Federation. I took it quite seriously. At school I enjoyed Latin because I had a very good teacher, and English to some degree. I played tennis, some basketball – another thing I wasted a lot of time on. I had an accurate set shot but was a weak ball handler. I tend to get obsessed about whatever I’m involved with, from an early age until today. I prefer to learn things on my own and not in a classroom environment.”
Mark graduated from high school in 1962 and attended Fresno State as a Chemistry major. “I liked the high school Chemistry teacher. His experiments would often go awry, frequently in humorous ways, and the lessons would turn into learning experiences to figure out what had gone wrong. I liked the teacher, not chemistry particularly, but still I chose to major in it in college, probably not the best idea. I was disconnected from the frat parties and the social scene in college and began to lose interest in chemistry. I played varsity tennis, did a little dating, mainly outside college, did not drink and I was out of Fresno and into the Air Force by the time the hippie-pot thing arrived in the late 60s.
“After graduating from Fresno State College in 1967 with a degree in chemistry and enology, it seemed that the Vietnam War was scooping up every able-bodied college student available. “Like most of my friends, I didn’t want to get my ass shot off in Vietnam, so I tried to get into the Air Force as a keyboard player. They auditioned me and gave me a slot as a musician, but the recruiter said that since I was a college grad I should apply for Officer Training School. I aced those tests and ended up, after months of technical training, as an aircraft maintenance officer at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. I was put in charge of hundreds of military and civilian aircraft technicians and mechanics. I learned fast and did pretty well considering how young and inexperienced I was. I’m working on a novel set in those days. But recreating realistic dialog from that time is hard.”
While in Biloxi, Mark cross-trained into logistics and did both maintenance and logistics command and staff jobs for most of his time there. “In December of 1972 I got orders to Vietnam as a crash recovery officer. That would have involved going out to crash sites to see what could or should be salvaged for spare parts, sometimes in combat zones. But Nixon announced the military withdrawal from Vietnam almost the same day I arrived at Cam Ranh Bay and I was quickly sent back to the US and was assigned to the Air Force Plant Rep Office at the McDonnell-Douglas plant in St. Louis. I had just read Barry Commoner’s groundbreaking environmental book, ‘The Closing Circle,’ and when I discovered that his ‘Center for the Study of Biological Systems’ organization was based in St. Louis I volunteered and was involved with them for my nearly three years there. It was strange because the Air Force people scoffed at the environmentalists and the environmentalists scoffed at the Air Force. Both organizations thought I was nuts to be involved with the other. I thought there were common elements through logistics systems analysis techniques and wrote several technical papers that were published by the Commoner outfit in their ‘Environment’ magazine on subjects like re-usable standardized packaging, design for recyclability, energy content reduction, manufacturing process improvements, internal combustion engine fuel efficiency, etc. It was an idealistic time. There were so many areas that needed conservation, reform and increased efficiency. Still are. I worked with several senior engineers at McDonnell-Douglas as well as some professors and senior scientists at Washington University in St. Louis. We actually thought industry would listen to our ideas for conservation of materials and fuels. Obviously, as it turned out, we were wrong.”
In 1974 Mark lined up a job with the EPA and filed papers to resign from the Air Force but that fell through when the mid-70s energy crisis hit. “After the big (fake) oil embargo, all the vacant positions in DC were taken up to create the Energy Department. Lots of military people ended up with those jobs, but not me. So I stayed in the Air Force for three more years.”
Mark was then assigned to ground and airborne radar programs at Hanscom Air Force Base outside of Boston, Massachusetts where he spent his last three years in the Air Force in the mid-70s. While there he was sent on a couple of short TDYs (temporary duties) to Iran as part of a study team advising the Shah’s Iranian Air Force. “I actually briefed the Shah on the pros and cons of airborne vs. ground-based radars, but it seemed like he was asleep during most of our presentation.” During that time Mark met Major General Richard Secord who was in charge of the Military Air Advisory Group (MAAG) in Tehran. “Secord is the man who was later exposed as one of the key masterminds of the Iran-Contra affair. I learned more about what was really going on then much later when I read Andrew and Leslie Cockburn’s excellent book about Secord called ‘Out Of Control.’ That was an understatement. Secord was a nasty piece of work. No doubt about it. But we didn’t know about the secret behind-the-scenes maneuvering while we were there at the time.”
On April Fool’s Day of 1977 Mark resigned from the Air Force rather than take an assignment in Alaska for the Strategic Air Command. “It wasn’t Alaska that I refused; it was SAC. They don’t do anything but rehearse for doomsday,” Mark explains. “Several top generals tried to get that assignment changed but they failed, so I quit.”
Mark then worked as a logistics specialist and staff engineer for a military training equipment company on the East Coast for a few years, rising to Vice President of Engineering. Then, after a dispute with a new top management team there when they reneged on a promise they had made to him, Mark returned to California in 1981 where he took a job as a logistics and industrial engineer for a small engineering company in San Jose. While there, he got in on the ground floor of personal computers in Silicon Valley, learned programming, developed a number of commercial computer database applications, taught computers and computer applications at the local community college and became somewhat of an expert in PCs. “When the engineering company went bankrupt due to some really bad management decisions, I freelanced and consulted in inventory control systems, database applications, and technical writing until 1990.”
“A few years ago I tried to think back over all the paid jobs and assignments I’ve had since high school. It’s a long and varied list. Swimming instructor, lifeguard, boysenberry picker (a short-term job, to say the least, but very educational), cottage cheese maker, cold storage warehouse worker/manager, college tennis player/instructor and coach, organist/pianist, lab technician, chemist, aircraft maintenance supervisor, squadron commander, logistics engineer, contracts manager, quality control manager, aircraft support systems project manager, radar program manager, training equipment service manager, engineering director, database programmer, graphics designer, senior staff engineer, industrial engineer, facilities manager, technical writer, consultant, junior college teacher, and writer/reporter. And I’m sure I’ve left some out.”
In most, if not all of these endeavors, Mark would throw himself into whatever he did. “Once I reached a certain threshold I would find myself wanting to learn something else. C.S. Lewis, in commenting about romance in ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ once wrote ‘Some people prefer the diving to the swimming.’ That’s how I felt about many of the things I have done. The excitement is there at the beginning or in getting there but then it becomes more of a job. Having said that, many of the changes were simply due to circumstances at the time, not necessarily giving up on something. And once you’re out of something technical for a while it’s hard to get back into it.”
In 1986 Mark’s parents retired and moved back to Mendocino, and his evolving anti-Gulf War I politics and their aging condition led him to say goodbye to all that technical stuff and move to Boonville in 1990 where he hooked up with the AVA. “And the rest is a matter of record.”
“My Uncle Joe had always subscribed. He was an autodidact with no college education – a very smart and clever man. He was proud of the fact that he ran and lost election for Supervisor five times before he finally won in the early 50s. He liked Bruce Anderson’s AVA right away, even if he didn’t necessarily agree with it. I’d visit my parents where Uncle Joe usually dropped off his copies of the AVA at their house. I thought it was wordy, dense and provincial at first, but I started to like it and subscribed when I lived in San Jose and wrote a few letters. Meanwhile life in San Jose was getting very expensive and I’d reached a point where I felt uncomfortable – my politics were very different from most of my technical associates. I had been through Anderson Valley to visit my parents in Irish Beach. I didn’t want to live out there – it was too remote and too close to my parents. So I met Bruce Anderson at the AVA, started writing and doing copy preparation. I lived on Lambert Lane in Boonville for a couple of years, then to Philo, on Kevin Burke’s property and now back to Boonville. I had no expectations; I just knew I was tired of everything in San Jose. Being a lifelong bachelor, I never gave much thought to long-term planning – what’s the point? Things change anyway. If I see something I like I pursue it until it runs its course. I’ve never owned a house; I have owned only three cars in my life. As the saying goes, ‘you don’t own property, property owns you.’ I liked having the option of being able to pick up and leave. But that’s in the past now too.”
Bruce Anderson’s wife Ling came up with the nickname of ‘Major’ Scaramella; there were already other ‘Captains’ around. However, there’s more to it than just a play on words. Sometimes he has been kiddingly referred to in the paper as ‘Major, USAF (retired).’ Mark was a captain when he left the Air Force after ten years; he would have been a major in a matter of months had he stayed. “We called it a ‘field promotion’,” Mark jokes. But in retired military circles people know that if you retire after 20 years and haven’t made it past the rank of Major then you are probably an alcoholic (with a few exceptions). “So the ‘Major, USAF, retired’ thing is amusing but to those who know the background it’s also a joke on a joke.”
“I do almost everything here but the editing. It is not the best analogy but I think of myself as the engine and Bruce Anderson as the driver. It’s a weekly grind and can run up to sixty to eighty hours a week. We’re a newspaper after all and I’ve always been good at meeting deadlines — not one missed in over 20 years. The Editor used to say I’m a connoisseur of tedium – unfortunately it’s true. Albeit selectively. I’ve always been a maverick and fairly anti-authoritarian since I experienced so much management incompetence during my regular career. So I’m skeptical of officials and never give those in authority a free pass. I just don’t like stupid officials wherever they are. It’s very irritating; I want it fixed. As Uncle Joe often said, ‘If there’s no criticism how can anything improve?’ He had many such aphorisms — ‘It’s good to know the other side’s argument better than they do,’ and ‘People don’t appreciate it when you shoot straight with them,’ for example. I tend to be hypercritical but I don’t wear it on my sleeve. KZYX, the Board of Supervisors, the schools – they’re not going to magically get better. I know that. But they have to be called on things they do that are not in the public interest. They may not like it, but I cannot ignore it. They’ve taken a position of public authority and should be held accountable. I try to be fair. If I’m wrong I am prepared to admit it. I hope I’m wrong about this latest batch, but so far…”
When not working, Mark likes to watch classic movies via Netflix, listen to the SF Giants on the radio, and regularly attends the weekly General Knowledge and Trivia Quiz night at Lauren’s where his ‘services’ are often in demand and at which he is pretty good. “I would like to get back into music in some way if the opportunity arose, but so far the pickins are poor and time commitments are hard. As for the Valley itself, I like the weather and a lot of the people. I like the live-and-let-live attitude that prevails. But of course I have a lot of complaints about how things are run. Having said that, over the years the Community Services District (which I report on and for which I’m a member of the budget committee) runs about as well as anything in the County I’ve seen.”
I asked Mark who he’d vote for as Mayor of the Valley. “I’d say Andrea LaCampagne – she has a good sense of humor, she’s smart and down to earth, she gets bothered by the right things, and she argues very well.” I then asked him what he’d change if he were the Mayor of the Valley with some political power. “Two things I can think of right away – I would try to incorporate the Valley and limit the size of vineyards to, say, twenty acres. Outside ownership would be prohibited. There are many pros and cons about incorporation and I lean towards the pros. My Uncle Joe leaned the other way because he felt the community was too divided on many major topics. I don’t think that there is that much division nowadays. Uncle Joe also felt it would be too expensive to staff such an entity. But I don’t see how it could be any worse than it is. It is up for debate, but I’d vote for incorporation.”
I asked Mark for his views on some local issues.
The wineries and their impact on Anderson Valley? “My critical views of the wine industry are probably known to AVA readers. I’d settle for a bit of real regulation and enforcement, maybe a limit on the size of vineyards in the Valley and a limit on how much water they can draw and when. But those reasonable things are not even on the horizon. Even though there’s lots of vague complaining about water, pesticides, labor practices, land use, corporate control, etc., there’s no serious opposition like there was to Big Timber’s clearcutting. The enviros seem reluctant to actively oppose people from their own economic class, even though Big Wine does as much if not more damage to the landscape than Big Timber ever did. But I’ve stopped being too concerned about it. It’s here. I get along fine with some of the local wine people. It’s a very fragile industry, environmentally and economically. It will probably self-destruct and contract soon enough, just like all the other industries that have come and gone on the North Coast. One hopes that something more useful or productive will have space to develop after that. Who knows?”
The AVA? “That’s like asking Donna Pierson-Pugh about the schools or Mary Aigner about KZYX. There’s really no point in my commenting.”
KZYX public radio? “It used to be amusingly bad. But it’s become boring and irrelevant to most people in the last couple of years.”
Law and Order in the Valley? “There’s not that much crime, really. Our deputies do a good job with what there is.”
The school system? “It suffers from the general decline of education across the state and the country. But the cronyism and cult-like thinking here makes it uniquely worse. There’s very little attention to serious academic subjects, and way too much on edu-fru-fru like rallies, trips, activities, and we-wuv-the-kids exercises.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Mark.
What excites you; turns you on; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “I’m too old to be ‘turned on’ by anything. But I like well-written essays and books, especially local ones.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Turns me off? I’ll take ‘annoy.’ That’s a long list these days. Inconsiderateness. Rudeness. Stupidity. Irresponsibility. Incompetence. Apathy. Boring people. Happy talk. And the tendency some people have to tell you more than you want or need to know when you don’t even know them and without them even asking you if you want to hear it. Just to name a few.”
What sound or noise do you love? “Absolute silence.”
What sound or noise do you hate? “Paul Hanson.”
What is your favorite food or meal? “Anything Bruce Anderson’s wife Ling cooks.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “I’d like to spend more time with my late Uncle, Joe Scaramella. He was Mendocino County Supervisor for 20 years and I learned important things from him every time I spoke to him. For example, I’ll always remember the time he told me, ‘People don’t like it when you shoot straight with them, Mark.’ On the national scene, I think I’d like to have met Roberto Clemente, the great baseball player and humanitarian. Maybe one late night jam session with Art Tatum in Harlem.”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three things would you like to have with you? “A computer, a decent piano, and somebody smart to argue with.”
Do you have a favorite film or book or one that has influenced you? “Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is very good. I also liked ‘A Civil Action’ by Jonathan Harr, but the movie version starring John Revolting was revolting. Ted Conover’s participatory journalism is consistently good. Tim Weiner’s recent CIA expose ‘Legacy of Ashes.’ I could go on and on.”
What is a smell you really like? “Blooming lavender. My mother’s popovers smelled great too.”
Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? “Perhaps Delebio in Italy – there are lots of Scaramellas there I understand, one of three family names that dominate the town.
What is your favorite word or phrase? “Meeting adjourned.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? “Kendall Smith.”
What is your favorite curse word? “Shoot. I like ‘heck’ and ‘darn’ and ‘dangnabit’ too.”
What is your favorite hobby? “I still like to play keyboards and accompany singers, but I’ve had trouble finding singers around here who can let a vamp build up, catch the pick-ups and then keep the beat and stay on pitch. There’s also a tendency toward too-loud which I shy away from. These days I listen to a lot of recorded books, mostly non-fiction and classics.”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? “I think I’ve done enough. As a kid I wanted to be a dentist, but I grew out of that. Later it would have been a full-time musician but I was never quite good enough.”
What profession would you not like to do? “Sales and accounting. Never did it. Won’t do it.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? “I think personal happiness, as such, is overrated. But I still vividly remember my first public performance as a theater organist and my first day as Squadron Commander of Field Maintenance at Keesler AFB in Biloxi.”
What was the saddest day or period of your life? “When I got a letter from my first love that she had decided she didn’t want to get married.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “Dangnabit. I don’t know. That’s kind of a silly question.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “If we’ve made God in our own image then He’d probably say, ‘This is off the record, right?’ Actually, I doubt there’s a God. If there is, He certainly doesn’t need any advice from me on what to say. But I think He’s got a lot of explaining to do.”

Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 9:52 pm  Comments (2)  

Dick Browning – October 23rd, 2010

I met with Dick at his home at the Cheesecake complex a mile or so down the Philo/Greenwood Road and after he had served up some fine pastries and a hot cup of English Breakfast tea we began our chat…
Richard ‘Dick’ Browning was born in the Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles in 1935 to parents Anna Marie Reinhard and Richard Browning. On one side of his mother’s family, Dick’s heritage is from England by way of Canada and on the other they are from the Alsace region of Germany (now France) – his Great Grandfather Reinhard having to leave Germany after ‘upsetting the Kaiser’ in some unclear way. Dick’s maternal grandfather was born in L.A. and had delivered newspapers on horseback… Meanwhile the Browning’s were originally English and both grandparents were from Mississippi, meeting in Mexico where they had worked for an American mining company, before settling in Redondo Beach near to L.A.
“My parents had known each other at high school and after attending college they were married at the age of twenty-one during the Depression. My father had gone to business school and went to work for Texaco where he started as a clerk/stenographer. He worked for them his entire working life until retirement at sixty-five. My mother had gone to Berkeley and then U.C.L.A. and after they were married they settled in Manhattan Beach and started a family – I was first, then 3½ years later my sister Judy was born and then another 8½ years after that my brother Jim was born.”
Dick grew up in what was a quite rural Manhattan Beach although it was a tourist town with many beach houses for the wealthy amongst what was basically a working class neighborhood. “I attended the local school but in the middle of 9th grade I transferred to parochial school. My parents were Evangelical Protestants, fundamentalist Christians, and we had always attended Sunday school and Bible study, and my parents’ social life was largely connected to the church, although having grown up in the area they had many other friends that were not church-goers… My family had lots of roots in L.A. and I had a huge extended family. We were always at weddings and family gatherings and I had over one hundred cousins… I was a pretty good kid and got into very little trouble, although I did a few dumb things as any kid does. I was more adult oriented than many other kids and was not at all rebellious. I loved sports and ‘wasted’ many hours shooting baskets and hitting baseballs, and spent a lot of my time on the beach – swimming, fishing, playing volleyball. I was never really coached although I did play on neighborhood teams and in church leagues.
Dick’s parents gave him plenty of freedom to do what he wanted. “It was amazing, I guess they trusted that it would all work out. I remember being eight years old, during World War 2, and catching a bus on my own into L.A., twenty miles away, to meet up with my Dad whose office was there, and then going to a baseball game together. It was the Chicago Cubs Triple A team – the L.A. Angels – there were no major league teams until 1958… By 9th grade I was hitchhiking to school and by the next year, for my 10th grade, we had moved to Pasadena and I hitchhiked to my new school. In my letterman sweater and with a bag of books I always got a ride pretty quickly. I once got a ticket from a policeman and they called my mother in to talk to her about my hitching. They told her all these horror stories about bad people abducting kids and how dangerous it was to hitchhike. Following the meeting my mother promptly drove me to the freeway where she dropped me off to hitch a ride to the L.A. Coliseum where I had a job selling programs for USC football games. She was clearly not listening to the police and knew in her mind that I would be fine.”
Dick had a paper route from the age of nine to twelve and managed to save $300 in that time. “My Dad suggested I buy Texaco stock with that and said he’d guarantee it. Ultimately that money became the down payment on my first house that I bought in Hermosa Beach. It was during the war that the government first introduced income tax across the board and this became a job opportunity for my Dad. He set up as an income tax preparer, working out of our dining room. He has been doing this ever since, for sixty-seven years, and this year, at the age of ninety-seven, he prepared the taxes for eighty clients – that must be a record!”
Dick liked his years at the parochial school. “I was religious, no doubt about it. I said my prayers every night and read the bible with friends, discussing what it said. I still played sports though and played on the school basketball and baseball teams, although I would probably not been good enough to play on those at a regular high school. Academically, I did what I needed to do to get into the U.C. system and maintained a B average. In my junior year I began dating a girl, Louise Price, and soon afterwards got my first car. I graduated in 1953 but had received bad advice with regards to college. I had always assumed I’d be going to U.C. somewhere. I had not discussed it with my parents. I was suddenly faced with a decision to make. My father asked me where I was going. The Bible Institute of L.A. and Pasadena City College were briefly considered but in the end a friend of mine told me about the University of Washington where he was hoping to go. I applied and was accepted. He did not get accepted. I was there for two years where I studied liberal arts – history, anthropology, sociology, and any public speaking courses – I wanted to be a church minister. However, as time went on I seriously began to question my faith.”
Louise worked at Texaco for a time before joining Dick at Washington for his second year there. At that point they tripled the tuition for out-of-state students. “I wanted to be independent and not ask my parents for money and Louise probably couldn’t have stayed up there either so we returned to L.A. where she found a job as a clerk at Standard Oil – in retrospect probably not the best idea for her. I attended U.C.L.A. from which I graduated in 1957 with a history degree. We had married in June of 1956 and Louise gave birth to our son Michael in December 1958, son John arriving in July 1960. I began to work on my teaching credential after college and then my masters before becoming a teacher in 1958 at a junior high school in the L.A. Unified School District, where I was to work for the next thirty-eight years.”
Louise and Dick had both been very religious but by this time they were having more and more doubts. “Things didn’t add up. I talked to a minister about many things. He suggested I read a book that would set me right, as it was the best argument in the defense of the faith, according to him. This, however, only served to increase my doubts and I became more skeptical, particularly as the book was supposed to put forward the best arguments for following the faith. My undergraduate thesis at U.C.L.A. led me to reading the works of a bishop in Africa who studied biblical theories in a mathematical way and now things really stopped making sense to me. I also had a problem with a God who said that I should ask Jesus Christ to be my own personal savior, or go to hell. My mind was becoming more and more secular and I discussed this with Louise. She was not as enthusiastic as me with her religion. Generally she was very independent but in this area she was not bothered either way and would go with whatever I decided. We decided to cut back on our time spent with our faith although we continued to attend the Hollywood Presbyterian Church for a while until 1957 when we finally cut our ties and ceased to go. The final straw, I guess, was when I asked a friend of mine if he could ever ask anything that would question his faith and he said he could never do that.”
Dick was at the junior high for five years before moving to a high school teaching position for a further three years before getting his first vice principal position in 1967. By 1975 he became a Principal and over the next eleven years he held that position at Fremont H.S., Dodson H.S., Narbonne H.S., and finally Westchester H.S… Louise had returned to school and in 1975 she graduated and became a teacher herself, eventually become an assistant principal. “In the early sixties, with our two kids at kindergarten age, along with other parents we formed the Manhattan Beach Co-op Nursery School. We hired a director to teach the parents how to teach the kids and the parents ran the school. Among the mothers were Helen Papke, Jill Moyer, Sophie Otis, Gail Wakeman, and Louise Price of course. Even after their kids had left the nursery, Louise and Jill continued to teach there. From this school, a whole network developed and we spent some wonderful times together socially too. Those women and their husbands became great friends and that is the group that now live together here at Cheesecake in the Valley – we have seven of the original eleven here.”
Apart from this group, Dick also spent time with his friends from his days at U.C.L.A. when he worked in the library there. He also took up golf for a while but it became too time consuming so he turned to tennis. In the summers he would take part-time jobs as a ticket seller for various sporting events and also drove taxis. Dick has always been interested in doing physical activities and feels better when he is active. In the seventies and eighties he did a lot of running and entered many 10K races in those years. “I always loved playing sports and socializing afterwards – it’s a great combination and provided me with an important release from my work at the L.A.U.S.D. – that work was at times all-consuming. The school district contains 13% of all the school children in California and is the biggest bureaucracy in the western world. By 1986 I had moved right into the heart of it.”
In that year, Dick decided he wanted to move out of the teaching environment and went to work in the central office of the L.A.U.S.D. He was to remain there for nine years working as a supervisor of high schools in various capacities including the athletics departments, the evaluation of principals, the finances and fund-raising by student bodies, the schools’ accreditation, and student government. “The school district had 30,000 employees and fifty high schools. I was the assistant superintendent in everything but the name and I really enjoyed it for many years until I retired in 1996.”
One of the reasons Dick retired was because he wanted to get away from the city life and to become more involved in what was known as the Cheesecake group. “I felt that in significant ways my life had been limited because I had focused so much on my career. I had never taken a sabbatical, although I certainly could have done of course. I had been trying to improve the education system in L.A. for thirty-eight years and it was time to do other things in my life. I liked L.A., the job, a lot of stuff, but I wanted to retire to something instead of from something.”
On a personal note, Dick wanted to share a few thoughts about his parental experience. “One day, our eldest son, Michael, came in from walking our golden retriever and announced to Louise and me, ‘Mom and Dad – I am gay.’ He had been accepted into college and wanted to tell us before he went away, to prevent us from assuming this was because he had gone to college. It was a real jolt to us. We were shocked. He had dated girls, had gone on prom dates, and it had not occurred to us at all. It was very hard for us to accept. This was 1977 and still not nearly as ‘acceptable’ as it might be today for many. We told him we would not be telling any of our friends but that we still loved him. John also came out some years later. We went through a time of being ‘in the closet’ about this but eventually we came out as parents of gay children and became very active in P.F.L.A.G. – Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays. I am not proud of the way I reacted in those early days, and although we did the right thing eventually, we should have done it sooner. I am still active in P.F.L.A.G. and Louise became a member of its National Board and the Director of the Northern California, Nevada, and Hawaii section – she attained something approaching heroic status to many gay people. As for me, I have tried to do my bit too and in my job at the school district I had a position of influence and approved and assisted in the organization of the first gay prom in the L.A.U.S.D. At my retirement I was very proud to introduce my sons and their life partners – Michael and John have now been married for twenty-two and fifteen years respectively, and are in very stable relationships. Recently at Michael’s 50th Birthday party held here at Cheesecake, I knew about 75% of the eighty or so gay people here and felt proud to be a part of my kids’ life – it would be so sad if I was not.”
Many years ago, among the group of friends who had started the Manhattan Beach Nursery, some had talked about living together after retirement. One of the group, Sophie Otis had moved to San Rafael in Marin County, north of San Francisco. She had visited a retreat called Wellspring in Anderson Valley and on one Thanksgiving a few of the others joined her there. In the early eighties, this became a regular occurrence for this group and their families and friends and they began to familiarize themselves with the Valley. Over time they decided to buy a place around here and found the Cheesecake property. Five of the group (Sophie, Daniel and Jill Moyer, and another couple) asked others if they wanted to join in with this. Two other couples – the Brownings and Dave and Helen Papke, plus Gail Wakeman and another woman, said they would. These eleven “‘Cakers” bought the property in 1990 and hired an architect to design the complex to their specifications. Over time the other couple backed out and the other woman was replaced for a time by Sophie’s sister before she too leftr. They had a completion date of April 1993 and it was completed just three months after that, in July 1993.
“That was a great achievement. Each couple or individual has their own bedroom suite, some share bathrooms. There are several communal rooms – the kitchen, dining room, living room, television room, workshop, and library… At first we were cautious about it working so while we were still working in L.A. we kept our house there and even after retirement we continued to do so, spending half the year here and half down in L.A. However, it became apparent that all was working very well and we felt we would have to move here full-time to really connect with the Valley and its community so we rented out our house in Manhattan Beach and moved here full-time in 2000.”
Both Dick and Louise became involved with the community from that point on. They were a part of the P.F.L.A.G. movement in Ukiah and Dick became a substitute teacher in the school district when needed and then joined the ElderHome Board for a time. In 2001 he joined the A.V. Education Foundation and is now the President; in 2004 he joined the A.V. School Board following Danny Kuny’s resignation; and since 2002 he has been the coach of the high school tennis team.
In 2004, Louise was diagnosed with cancer. “She was ill for three years until passing in 2007. She received lots of love and wonderful care both here and at U.C.S.F. medical center in the City. We both found it very fulfilling to be so involved with Valley life and the community gave us so much support during and since those difficult times, along with our partners here at Cheesecake of course, who have all been such great friends.”
“I have made lots of good close friends here and as I said I am very grateful for the support and friendship of Cheesecake… Socially, I do my yoga classes with Kristen Walker, I like to go to the trivia night at Lauren’s, and go to lots of athletic events at the school, not just the tennis. I like the plays and many other events that are held here in the Valley – I enjoy being social and often volunteer to help out in some minor capacity. I also like to walk as often as I can, with either Dave here at Cheesecake or my friend Lanny Parker.”
As I do every week, I asked my guest for their brief responses to various Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “Well they are certainly good for the economy and employment and I have been known to enjoy their products! I do hope that by there being just one crop here it is not going to be a bad thing for the Valley in the future”… The A.V.A. newspaper – “I subscribe to it and my favorite parts are those articles about people in the Valley. That’s good enough”… KZYX & Z local public radio – “I like the national public radio shows, and Jimmy Humble’s show”… The School System? – “We have an outstanding school system with very dedicated and competent teachers. The community has been very supportive of everyone’s efforts, as witnessed by the recent passing of the school bond issue”… Changes in the Valley? – “In recent times, overall the Valley has been upgraded in my opinion. It has been spruced up in a good way. Change is inevitable so if that change is good then that should be something to be pleased about. We cannot expect to simply say ‘we’ve got ours’ and ‘lock the gates’ to the Valley. I’ve liked the changes, particularly the new businesses in downtown Boonville. It is not upsetting to me. What I do not like is being in a long line of traffic because someone refuses to pull over – and that seems to be getting more frequent.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Dick and asked him to just reply off the top of his head…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Walking in the woods.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “If we have too many windy and stormy days in succession.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “Birds singing.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “The noise of heavy machinery – particularly if it is near to my home.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “A pesto dish made by my son-in-law, Marco.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Thomas Jefferson – but I doubt I’d understand half of what he told me.”
7.If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “My dog Minnie; family photograph albums; and a bottle of Boont Amber.”
8.Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Antarctica – I have developed an interest in it in recent years and would love to go before it melts.”
9.Do you have a favorite book or one that has influenced you? – “That would be ‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck.”
10. What is a smell you really like? – Coffee brewing in the morning.”
11.What is your favorite hobby? – “Woodworking.”
12.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “During my wife’s illness, I gained a deep appreciation for those in the healthcare profession. I imagine it could be a very rewarding job at times.”
13.What profession would you not like to do? – “A church minister.”
14.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The birth of my two sons.”
15.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “The death of my wife.”
16.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I’m honest and have integrity.”
17.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “There’s been some mistake.”

Published in: on November 4, 2010 at 7:20 pm  Comments (3)