John Leal – June 17th, 2011

I drove out of Boonville up Mountain View Road and soon pulled into the driveway at the Leal Vineyards where I met with John. He opened a couple of beers and prepared a delicious spread of prosciutto, Bavarian headcheese, and several different cheeses with a loaf of fresh bread. We chatted, opened a second beer each, and I began the interview…
John was born in 1949 in the Portuguese-administered islands of the Azores, specifically on the larger island of Terceira, in the Atlantic Ocean about 1000 miles from the Portuguese mainland. He is the second oldest of five children born to Vital Leal and Candida Simoes, having an older brother by four years, a twin brother, and two younger sisters. “My twin brother Roger and I were born on the same day, September 21st, as our youngest sister was, ten years later”… The Leal’s were fishermen over previous generations although they also worked in the fields picking fruit and vegetables. The Simoes family were lighter skinned than many Portuguese, and had blue eyes, a result of some of their forebears having come from Ireland, and they were simple farmers and tried their hand at fishing too – not very successfully. “My grandfather Simoes would try to catch fish using dynamite. Once it did not go off and he dove in to find out what had happened and it exploded, blowing his right arm off and taking his right eye, leaving a hole in his face. He was actually a very intelligent man and taught at the night school in the town… Both of my parents came from very poor families.”
John started school when he was seven years old and was done by the time he was twelve. He worked with his father for a time during the summer vacations but at nine he took a job working in the fields for $2 a month and two meals a day, hauling corn, herding and milking cows. “I worked like a man but the two meals were good and it saved my parents money on my food. We lived at my grandfather Simoes’ house in a town about the same size as Boonville, called Porto Judeu. The house had dirt floors, no bathrooms, not even outside, and was on three-and-half very rocky acres near to the coast. All the work was done by hand and we had little food, no cars or mechanized equipment, no electricity – it was very basic… At twelve I left school and went to work full-time for a gravel company on the crusher, carrying rock from the water’s edge in a wheelbarrow with an iron wheel, no tire, and loading it into the crusher. I had no gloves and did this all day long for two years. My hands were permanently in a grip-like position from doing this and if I tried to straighten them out the skin would crack, bleed, and hurt like heck. I was basically a little slave for less than a dollar a day. There was no future for me there. I tell the workers I sometimes employ here that they can make it in this country although they may have to work sixteen hours a day. I couldn’t do that in my country; sixteen hours a day was still not enough… It was a very tough life… People often remember their childhood with fond memories; not me, I wouldn’t want to go back to those days for anything.”
John’s mother was sick with emphysema and could not look after the children. Although his father and brothers were all working, the family could not support the two girls so they had to go to an orphanage. At the age of fourteen, John found work in construction, building houses out of cement blocks and stone. “That was hard too. I would carry the stone to the masons, mix the cement by hand and carry it to them in five gallon buckets, again for less than a dollar a day. I had to walk to work more than an hour each way, there was no transportation and we couldn’t afford bicycles. I worked six days a week from 7am to 4pm and then on Sundays I would do work for other people for food – this was usually the best meal of the week so I did not mind. Otherwise our diet was basically cornbread, collard greens (cabbage leaves), and maybe we’d get to kill one pig a year. There was no other meat, no dairy, no potatoes, and no sugar – that’s why my teeth are still good! We’d have a few chickens but that was for their eggs that were then used as currency to buy kerosene for lighting and heating or soap for us to keep clean. Occasionally I would risk stealing some eggs and cooking them when nobody was around. There was a little fruit but it was not very good apart from the bananas, but if you were caught stealing those the owner might kill you… I played a little soccer, we’d sit around playing dominoes and cards, and every town had a marching band that we’d enjoy watching and listening to…”
John’s mother had a brother and sister who had gone to Brazil many years earlier for a short time before entering the U.S. with the sister dressed as a man – women workers were not allowed in at the time. For reasons that are unclear, they settled in Humboldt County, north of Mendocino, and worked on a dairy farm near Ferndale, before moving to a different dairy in the Sacramento Valley town of Dixon. They worked hard and saved money, buying their own dairy farm in Lodi at the northern end of California’s Central Valley. The sister married and her husband had started the Mid-Cal National Bank in town in 1965 and a few years later had about eight branches. The aunt called John’s mother and said she had arranged work contracts for the family to come to the States legally and so, in the summer of 1968, they all came over except John’s older brother who stayed for a time before joining the rest in 1970.
“We arrived in Lodi and were milking cows the next day… I did that for the next three years, along with my twin brother, to support the family as my parents were both sick by this time. We fixed the papers so they showed my father was also working. My brother and I showed 2/3 of our income, and therefore we got 2/3 of our social security, with my father getting a third off each of us – we were stupid, but not really… After Lodi we worked in Elk Groove for a few months before taking on a herd of five hundred in Tracy. My brother and I had to milk them twice a day. We’d go to bed at 7pm and get up at midnight, prep the sheds, get the cows in and milk them until 7am, then clean up. Then we’d sleep for a time and start again at noon. It was sleep, work, sleep, work – that was our life. Sometimes we would fall asleep leaning against the cows. It was $6.25 a month plus a house on the ranch. I had one day off in two years and planned to go and see my Uncle in Lodi but I went to bed and slept all the next day – I slept on my one day off!”
In 1971, the family moved to San Jose at the south end of the S.F. Bay where John’s brother became a chef. “I love to cook too, but not for a living. I became a janitor at a McDonald’s for several months. I had a cousin in Sunnyvale who was in construction and I’d also help him when I could. His neighbor, who had a Portuguese wife, ran a drywall/sheetrock company and he was looking for an apprentice to teach; someone who was reliable and dependable and he hired me on February 22nd, 1972 – teaching me everything he knew about that business and I learned a lot over time. After eighteen months I joined the union and went to take classes at night school becoming a journeyman dry wall taper finisher. He wanted me to learn how to hang sheetrock but I said ‘No thank you’ and stayed as a dry wall finisher for the next seven years. It was 90% commercial – Safeway stores, Bank of America, plus a few high-end custom homes on the Peninsula in places like Los Altos, Hillsborough, and Portola Valley. I was the foreman for Sunnyvale Dry Wall and worked all the time, often at weekends, with little time for any social life.”
However, John had met his future wife, Jean Nunes, in 1972. She had come to the States in 1963 with her father from the Azores – Santa Maria Island, where she was born. She is one of nine children and was adopted in this country by her godmother, Gladys, when her father, Harry Nunes, returned home. He had previously bought property in Anderson Valley back in 1956 – the 249-acre property on Mountain View Road. She was working in an electronics company in the Santa Clara Valley with John’s cousin who told her that one of his cousins could cook. “She wanted to meet that one – me. We started dating and got married on July 7th, 1973. We lived in San Jose and had our daughter Jennifer in September 1974 and our son Johnnie in July 1976. Jean returned to work when the kids were still quite young, when we found a sitter across the street from our house. I saw the kids but once a week because I left for work at 6am before they were up and often returned late at night when they were in bed. We had our first vacation in 1977 – just Jean and I, to the east coast and Canada to see her family, most of whom had settled there – I had to do lots of overtime before we went so that the same money was coming in when I was away. In 1977 Harry and Gladys moved to the property he had bought in the Valley twenty years earlier. My parents had passed away by then and Jean and I would visit at weekends if I could get away, although I think the first time I had been here was not long after meeting Jean, back in 1972.”
In 1978, John and Jean left the south Bay and moved to northern Sonoma County, to Cloverdale, to be closer to her parents. John got a job with the Noonan Dry Wall Company in Santa Rosa and spent much of the eighties building track homes in the surrounding area – hundreds at a time were on the go. “I did become a lead man on a crew but it was not something I particularly enjoyed – I loved to do the work, not just organize it – that was not my thing… Our kids were in school in Cloverdale and we’d get to visit Anderson Valley more and more as the years went by. I got to know Smokey Blattner, Arthur Knight, and Bill Holcomb – the young guy who maintained the road on our property. Also Jeff and Carolyn Short who ran the Chevron Station in Boonville – he was a character. I remember that Carolyn locked him out one night when he came home late from the bar so he took a chainsaw and cut a hole in the door to let himself in! He was actually the nicest guy and she is great too.”
In 1986, John and Jean moved again, this time down to Rohnert Park south of Santa Rosa, to a house on the edge of a golf course. At some point in the following years, he took on a job in San Francisco working on Embarcadero 4 – one of the big towers that were going up in the downtown area. “It was a big job and there were lots of problems but I stuck it out, doing the job my way, and by the end was one of the last guys still working there. By 1995, when my father-in-law had passed and Jean had moved to the Valley to be with her mother, I began to cut back on the number of side jobs I had been taking on – my arm was not in good shape after all the years of hard work. I finished the job at the Embarcadero, did some work at the 101 California Street building, and then did one last job at the Bay Meadows horse race track on the Peninsula. Noonan was closing the business down and I did not want to travel and work in the City so I decided to retire. It was July 1998 and it was time.”
John sold his house in Cloverdale and moved to Anderson Valley full-time to live on the ranch in a home that had already been built there – it had been empty for about five years. “I was tired and took a few weeks off but soon got busy fixing the place up and working on the landscaping. I started to meet more people and we began spend time with the group known as the Airport Crowd here in town – Kirk & Cyndy Wilder, Bob and Sandra Nimmons, Larry and Janet Lombard, Jim and Jeanne Nickless, Bryant and Penny Whittaker, and Jack and Peggy Ridley plus others like the Charles family. We’d get together at The Buckhorn pub in town most Friday evenings for a few drinks and then go back to one of the group’s house for dinner, a different venue each week.”
John still took on the occasional job with local contractor Dennis Toohey and also did the dry wall at the A.V. Brewery’s new visitor center, plus the firehouses in Boonville and Rancho Navarro, for which he donated his time free of charge. “That is my little contribution to the Valley, I guess – may be people think that I don’t help around here but I do; I’m not all about money.”
“We attend the winery socials once a month, and go to many of the Valley gatherings such as the crab feeds and bbq’s. I grow a few vines here and produce some wine each year. I have a large vegetable garden, some sheep and some steers – Black Angus – some great meat I hope. My brother will help me with that – he is an expert with meat… I still love to do some work every day but now it is for our ranch and us. I have put my time in let me tell you, and now I love my time here… I have been back to the Azores twice – in 1980 and 2001, and I do keep in touch with the Portuguese culture here. I am involved with the Holy Ghost Society – a Portuguese cultural organization, and cook at their events and festivals. I will be in Petaluma this weekend and will cook 2700 pounds of beef. Ii will be prepared in big pots with lots of spices and served with soggy bread in a broth – it is the traditional Portuguese soup. I have been helping on that one for about ten years but I also do one in Healdsburg in September at which I have been cooking for thirty years, and one in Oakdale which I’ve done for the past thirteen years – I love doing it and seeing many old friends…”
I asked John what he most liked about life in the Valley. “I love the quiet here, and the many nice people. Some are not so nice, who we will not mention… I love the climate and being not far from the ocean – I love it there and there are many friends of ours in the large Portuguese community in Ft Bragg on the coast”… And what does he not like? – “That some people here are not taking responsibility for their actions; there are some narrow-minded people here who are like horses with blinkers on.”
I next asked for John’s thoughts on various Valley topics… The wineries and their impact? – “Great – I love the wineries; I live for wine! I have plenty of water for my few vines from the springs on the property. Fishing has stopped in the Valley and some say the wineries are to blame but I don’t think so”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I’m not much of a reader although I do check out the classifieds and reads a little bit sometimes”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I don’t listen. For many, many years KGO in San Francisco has been my station and I get my information from there”… Drugs in the Valley? – “They are everywhere here; I’m sure there is some on my property somewhere. I went looking with the deputy sheriff but we could not find any – he’s needs a dog to help him search”… The changes in the Valley? – “More wineries do not bother me – it means more work for people. Too many people here do not want any more people here, yet they came here when I was here already and I never said anything. The tourists do not bother me – they bring more money to the Valley. I love people coming here and if they want to stay that’s fine – I don’t own the world; I want to live with others. Too many people care only about themselves and their lives. I help people all of the time here if I can – I love to help and welcome people here to the Valley – they always have a place to stay.”
To end the interview, as I do 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 the rest I came up with myself…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “That I am going to get up and be happy in my home and do some work for myself.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “People who only see things their way; people who see the bug in other people’s eyes, not in their own – they say ‘it is my way or no way’.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “A small airplane flying over – it’s probably one of my friends up there.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Children in pain or crying.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Sushi – I can eat it anytime.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Jennifer Lopez… Ha, ha, ha!”
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? – “A sharp knife, a rifle, and some building materials so that I would be kept busy.”
8. What is your favorite hobby? – Making and drinking wine; having fun on the ranch with my many projects.”
9. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A photographer for Playboy magazine – that would be a good job wouldn’t it?”
10. What profession would you not like to do? – “Many of the jobs that I did as a kid – I cannot think of worse ones than that. You think that there is nothing else to do in the rest of your life.”
11. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I think I was about twenty – I had no time before that, or money, it was not because I did not want to or didn’t have offers. There were some mothers in Tracy who asked me to take their daughters out – they thought I was a good prospect, I guess.”
12. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I have no regrets. Since I came to this country I have always had a good job.”
13. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget – “My wife and I talk about our memories and how we worked so hard to raise our family. How did we do it? It has been very memorable.”
14. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “What Jean and I did together here in Anderson Valley. We have two granddaughters – Jessica who is sixteen, and Amber, thirteen, both are at the local school. Our daughter commutes to Santa Rosa where she works as an administrator for an eye doctor and our son is in San Diego, where he runs restaurants.”
15. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That people hopefully think I am a good man and say that I will help anybody that I can.”
16. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, I know I’m going to heaven although it would be nice if he sent me straight back to continue what I am doing here. I would be happy if he said ‘I have been waiting for someone like you for a long time and you’re finally here – I have a job for you’ – now that would be good.”

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 4:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ben Van Zandt – June 13th, 2011

Following a very large gathering for the latest Van Zandt family wedding at the family’s resort on the outskirts of Philo on Rays Road, I arrived to conduct my interview with Ben, the family’s patriarch, as the final guests were leaving. We sat on a deck built into a redwood glade that was constructed amongst these second growth trees about one hundred years earlier and we started to chat…
Ben was born, the only child, of Don Van Zandt and Alta Chipman, in Eureka, CA, in January, 1922 – up next will be his 90th!… His father’s family were from Germany and Holland and his grandfather, Benjamin C Van Zandt, came to the States as a nineteen year old in the mid-nineteenth century, arriving in California by way of a wagon train after he and his brother went their separate ways in Kansas – the brother going to Texas. Benjamin C. settled in the Sacramento Valley at his sister’s and he became a wheelwright, eventually opening his own shop. “At some point, my grandfather heard about a redemption claim on property in Anderson Valley and bought some land on what was called Hazel Hill, behind the property owned now by Golden Eye Winery and at the location that became known later as the Tumbling McD Ranch. My father Don was born here in the Valley in 1887.”
On the Chipman side, Ben knows little other than that they were English and moved over here around 1900. “My grandfather was a bit of a n’er-do-well and the family were fruit pickers in Oregon and then California. They never had a dime to their name. They settled around here and married into a local family – my grandmother being a direct descendent of Cornelius Prather, who founded Philo, naming the town after a relative of his, Philomena. My mother grew up here, going up to just 6th grade before leaving school, and she later married my father on Valentine’s Day 1914.”
Ben’s father had found his first job firing the boiler at Clow’s Mill and later went on to jobs cutting brush and surveying in Dry Creek Canyon. After the 1906 Earthquake, he worked as a carpenter in construction for a time, building the Sunset District in San Francisco. Then he took some college courses and got a job with the N.W. Pacific Railroad as an engineer working on the damage evaluation survey. He moved on to an engineering job with the California Highway Commission (later CalTran) and left the Valley, working on building the highway to Eureka, settling in Trinidad, CA by the time Alta was pregnant with Ben. “He was working in Willow Creek, about fifty miles east of Eureka, when he got news that my mother had been taken to hospital to give birth. He walked over some hills, rode a horse through deep snow to the stagecoach stop, caught the stagecoach to Blue Lake and then the street car to the hospital. He stopped in to see that we were o.k. and then turned right round and returned to work.”
Within a year, Don, Alta and baby Ben had moved to stay with Ben’s grandmother on Hazel Hill in the hills near to Philo. “My grandfather had lived on Hazel Hill since the late 1880’s and had started the resort there around the turn of the century. People from San Francisco would catch the ferry across the Bay (this was many years before the bridges that went up in the thirties) and then catch a train to Cloverdale before getting the stagecoach to Philo. There they would be met by my grandfather with his horse and wagon and taken to the ranch. Needless to say, they would stay for quite a time once they got here and there are stories of the women in tears by the time they arrived – my grandfather had little patience for that… My grandfather passed in 1925 and my Dad quit his job with the highways and helped my grandmother run the Hazel Hill property. Then in 1926, my parents bought twenty-five acres from I.E. McPhail for $2500 – it took many years to pay off that mortgage. This became the Van Zandt Redwood View Resort that is still going today – in fact we are pretty much fully booked through the summer once again, mainly with people who have been here many times and their parents and grandparents before them. We don’t need to advertise.”
Ben’s grew up on the property and his father built a two-bedroom home out of the remains of the old corncrib that was there. Five years later, in 1931, the resort opened after Don had built two cabins. These were originally just sleeping cabins and Ben’s mother Alta would cook three meals a day for the guests over a wood-burning stove – cabins and the meals would cost each guest $2.50 per day. Alta tired of this over time and Don added kitchens and bathrooms to each cabin and more were built in the next few years for a total of five. Although he helped on the resort, Don also had a full-time job as the foreman with the Highways Commission in Anderson Valley for twenty years.
“I attended Indian Creek Grammar School on Philo School Road that runs next to what is now Lemons’ Market in Philo, down past the mill. The road goes past where the Catholic Church is and my school was where the P.G. & E substation is now. For a time I was the only boy along with about six girls. My schoolmates included Charmian Blattner, Jack Clow, the Arthurs, Billy Phelps, and some Dakes. I remember the teacher would leave me on Hwy 128 and I would have a walk of about a mile down to our property through the woods. I was scared to death of being attacked by a panther!”
When he reached high school age Ben had to catch the bus from Philo into the outskirts of Boonville, to a location next to where the Elementary School is now situated. “I enjoyed school and was very active in sports and very social. I played on the school basketball team – we only had a squad of six so we were ran ragged in most of our games by the bigger schools. I also ran some track and played baseball – I remember that Angelo Pronsolino was a really good baseball player… When not in school I loved to be outdoors and did lots of hunting, fishing, and trapping. My Dad was an avid gun owner and hunter all his life. He hunted the woods along Rancheria Creek and bought home many bucks. He passed along this passion to me and my son, Marty. I got my first BB gun when I was eight and I would shoot birds for our cat. I then got a .22 rifle and after that, when I was thirteen I was given a 25-35 Winchester which I used to kill my first buck. I mostly trapped raccoons to earn a little money – a coon hide was worth about five dollars… I also enjoyed being in the school plays and for that we were given English credits. It was too bad because when I went to Cal I was way behind and had to study ‘dumbbell English’ in my first year. I was in a similar situation in Algebra because the basketball coach was the algebra teacher and we’d talk sports all through the class.”
“I graduated from A.V. High School in 1939 with fellow classmates that included Bill Dightman, Bobby Glover, John Edsall, and Pete Witherell… My other friends were a year older – Chester Soderland, Walter Gschwend, Norman Borini, and Jack Smith, whose parents owned the Floodgate Store. I remember I was sweet on Yvonne ‘Eva’ Modenese in my class. She was short – I could fit her head under my arm when we stood next to each other, but she was more interested in those older guys who had cars!”
“The Valley was full of apple orchards and sheep in those days – there were thousands of sheep that you could see up in the hills from the Valley floor and it seemed everyone had an apple dryer. The fishing was also plentiful in those days and the trout would be practically jumping into your net. However, logging arrived in the forties and, with no erosion control even thought about in those days, the rivers and creeks were slowly ruined. One of the resort’s big attractions was the swimming hole in the Navarro River. There were two actually, one for us and one for the nearby Pines Resort (now Shenoa) owned by Mrs. Ward. They were ten to fifteen feet deep but the logging upstream led to the river filling up with gravel, silt, and mud and the holes are no more… I remember when I was about six that Mrs. Ward hired my Dad to construct a footbridge across the river. Prior to that, wintertime crossing was by a box or platform supported by a cable. It was supported by pulleys and pulled across by hand. My Dad built a detailed scale model to help guide him in this project and he hired Ernest Whipple to help in dig the holes for the anchorages and tower footings. It was to serve for many years until the present auto bridge was installed.”
Ben graduated at seventeen and went from the Valley’s high school of sixty pupils to U.C. Berkeley where there were 23,000. “I was kind of lost and lonely and flunked out after one semester, transferring to Santa Rosa Junior College for two-and-a-half years, learning there what I should have been learning at high school. During that time I met Alice Frevert and we began to date…I eventually transferred back to Berkeley but was put on probation to make sure my grades were maintained. I registered for my junior year in 1942 but then the draft was introduced and I was summoned to Hamilton Air Force base in Novato. I had suffered with hay fever since I was eight and this allergy meant that I was given a temporary waiver but I wasn’t going to wait so I went to San Francisco to join the Navy and signed up for their flight-training program on Oct 10th, 1942. They agreed to let me finish my junior year at Cal first and following that, on the following Monday morning in May 1943, I was at the Ferry Building in San Francisco ready to do my part.”
Unfortunately things did not work out for Ben with the flight training and instead he went to the Great Lakes Training Station in Illinois for the Navy’s basic training. He then applied for midshipman school and went for more training at Cornell, in Ithaca, New York. He graduated from there on the same day that he and Alice were married – April 6th, 1945. “I got the train to Georgia for final training and then went on to San Clemente Island, CA to await further orders. I was finally sent to Seattle where I was to join my ship as a radar screen operator. However, I arrived there on V.J. Day – the war was over! I did join the crew of the U.S.S. Saidor, an escort carrier, and we sailed down the Pacific Coast and into the S.F. Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge. People were there ready to welcome back men from the war but in our case we had not even been out of the sight of American land!”
Ben was released from active duty in February 1946 but remained in the Reserve for the following twenty years, attending various activities regularly and weekend training camps. As a result, after retiring finally from the service with ‘satisfactory service’, he would eventually receive retirement pay and military healthcare when he was sixty.
Ben got a job in Eureka on a survey party with the Division of Highways, like his father, and they allowed him to finish his three final semesters of school, finally graduating with a degree in civil engineering in February 1948. He was to remain with the Highway District for the next thirty-three years. “I was up in Eureka for that time. I tried to get transferred to this area on several occasions but it never worked out. Alice and I had our first child, Martin, in 1947, and then Carol in 1950 and Bonnie in 1954. I retired in February 1981 although I did some work for the feds in 1982-83 on storm damage reviews and estimations.”
Don Van Zandt retired from his position as Maintenance Foreman for the State Highway Department in the early fifties and he and Alta continued to run the Van Zandt Resort for many more years, during which time Ben would visit the Valley frequently. Alta passed in 1972 and Don in 1978 at the age of ninety-one. “We had various and sundry people run the place after that. I came down as often as I could until I retired and then it became more often. I would cut wood and do the maintenance that is required. At one point I rewired all of the cabins. This remains a family operation is most ways although we do have people here working for us and managing the property on a daily basis. My daughter Carol does the bookkeeping from her office in Sacramento and we have Jose Delgado and his family running the place.”
In his leisure time, Ben helped raise the family with Alice as much as he could when not working. He was a very keen salmon fisherman, belonged to the local yacht club, and enjoyed duck and goose hunting. “I have always been a gun nut – my Dad was a gunsmith in his leisure time. These days my eyes are bad so I use shotguns now… We have six grandchildren and four great grandchildren but none of the family lives permanently in the Valley at this point. I like to spend as much time as possible here but age is catching up with me. As I said earlier I have often thought about moving back but these days Alice has a very full and active social life where we live in Eureka. I tend to get cabin fever there, as there’s not much for me to do, whereas I’m always busy here and I also try to get lots of walking in. I guess I felt when I was working that I could never make the same living here as I could in the area around Eureka and beyond. That was where I worked on some very big highway projects, planning and designing many of them, including the highway through the woods north of Crescent City, the bridge at Cummins Creek Bridge on Hwy 101, and then the repair work following the floods of 1964/65 that left Eureka completely cut off except by air.”
“However, Anderson Valley was a great place to grow up. My first job here was driving the pilot car for a contractor in Yorkville and later I would pick prunes for two bits (25 cents) a box. I was always outdoors. I had my own world on the ranch too, exploring the woods, the springs, making small dams, fishing, hunting with my Red Raider BB gun. My Dad had very strict rules about guns and although he was fine with me going out alone with my .22 rifle I was not allowed to go with a friend without adult supervision – that was a recipe for disaster in his mind…”
“I always kept in touch with many Valley folks and Marietta Young (Hulbert) was my Dad’s caretaker for many years and Beth Tuttle helped with my Mother. Coincidentally, my friend at the Floodgate Store, Jack Smith, was later my boss for many years in the Highway Department. Who else do I remember?… Oh, when I was a kid I turned my ankle at school and so like many others I was sent to Johnnie Pinoli’s mother who had learned to be a sort of ‘osteopath’ in the old country – Italy. She had some sort of powers because she worked on it and I was back to normal the next day. Lots of people believed in her abilities… I knew Wes Smoot real well – he is one of the last speakers of the local dialect, Boontling. So was Bobby Glover, although I think he made a lot up as he went along!… I was a good buddy of Jack Clow and I remember the time we stole a couple of pipes and some Prince Albert tobacco from his father’s store – the original Jack’s, owned by Bill Clow – and we smoked it behind the bluff out back of the store – the area known as Smackville. We got sicker than dogs!… I remember people who wanted a drink during Prohibition would go up to Vinegar Ridge to get a jug of wine – to one of the Italian families up there who had vines – the Pronsolino’s or may be the Benetti’s. Speaking of wine, for over thirty years now, I have tried my hand at winemaking. We have just twenty eight vines in total and it’s an ongoing fight to protect the vines and grapes from deer, wild yellow canaries, and wild turkeys, not to mention that my winemaking has been spotty – some o.k. and some not…”
I asked Ben for some of his thoughts on various current Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “I think it’s been great. They certainly have provided more jobs to people than the apple orchards could and many more than raising sheep ever did”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “Once in a while I do read it. I didn’t agree with some of Bruce Anderson’s rants but it’s his rag and he’s entitled to do so”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I listen once in while”… The school system? – “Like all modern schools I wonder if they are teaching the right things. What happened to the ‘three R’s – reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic? What about practical subjects also? If their car breaks down I’m sure most of the kids today would have no idea what to do.”
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 others I have added myself, asking my guest to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Well, when I’m here, it’s the little tasks that I have to do every day.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “If we’re talking about being here, then it would be the trespassers on our property.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Birds singing in the morning.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “A siren”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “A good steak and baked potato… Many years ago I would have said chicken fricassee and dumplings cooked by Mom.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “My father – he was old school and had a lot of wisdom to share.”
7. Do you have a favorite film and /or book or one that has influenced you? – “Well I always enjoyed John Wayne movies – True Grit is a favorite; as for a book, probably one of the adventure series written by Clive Cussler featuring the character Dirk Pitt.”
8. What is your favorite hobby? – “Well my eyesight is getting poor but I have always liked woodworking.”
9. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A pilot of some sort. I did get in 160 hours of flying time but never got my license. It would have meant lots of time saved coming back and forth between here and Eureka.”
10. What profession would you not like to do? – “Undertaker.”
11. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I do believe it was with Yvonne Modenese and we went to a dance in Boonville. I used to love to dance.”
12. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “My marriage of sixty six years to Alice.”
13. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “My work for the highways department, I guess. I think I accomplished many things.”
14. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “Well there are so many things I should have done and didn’t but there is nothing really, in the end, that I regret.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That is a very hard question for me… I cannot really say… I suppose I hope that I have been a truthful and upstanding person.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I hope he says ‘Welcome’ rather than ‘Get the hell out of here’!”

Published in: on June 23, 2011 at 4:49 pm  Comments (2)  

Fred Martin – June 9th, 2011

On a bright, sunny morning a week or so ago, I met with Fred at his home at the very end of the Holmes Ranch Road, four miles up from Hwy 128. He made a good strong cup of coffee and we sat at the table on his deck looking far down below on the Valley and began to chat…
Fred was born in Los Angles in 1933, during the Depression, to parents Reginald Martin and Margaret Meiners, who had a second child four years later, daughter Frances. His father was of British heritage, from the county of Shropshire on the Welsh border. The family moved to Toronto, Canada just before the First World War in 1914 and then on to Los Angeles in 1918 where Fred’s father was one of nine children. “Back in England, the family had been in the mining industry – rock and coal, although one Great Grandfather was a boot-maker, as was his brother. My Grandfather was a mining engineer and so was my Uncle Joe, my father’s oldest brother… On my mother’s side I know that my mother was born in Amsterdam and they settled in the Midwest – Chicago and Indianapolis, in the early 1900’s. She was the eldest of three girls who were from a fairly prosperous Dutch banking family. At some point, my maternal Grandmother was abandoned by my Grandfather and left to survive in relative poverty. Eventually, in the 1920’s, she moved to Los Angels with the three girls to live with her brother who was doing quite well as a mechanical engineer in the booming film industry.”
Fred’s parents met and were married, although the story goes that when Reginald’s mother died he moved into his sister’s house and needed an extra woman to take care of him so he asked Margaret to marry him. One of his other sisters had died in the sinking of the Lusitania during World War One and Fred has in his possession a copy of the letter describing the turn of events from his aunt’s cabin mate, who survived the disaster. “My father may or may not have graduated from high school, and I know my mother definitely did not. He became a journeyman welder working in the oil industry and also went on to run a trucking business of his own. He was a hard-worker but not a real hard-nosed businessman. He became a mechanical engineer and the shop foreman at oil well manufacturing company and eventually opened his own welding shop with a friend during World War 2.”
The family initially lived in southeast Los Angeles, in what later became called Watts but before the War they bought a house in Huntington Park between L.A. and Long Beach – basically the suburbs of L.A. “I went through the school system there and attended Huntington Beach High School where I was the best boy student, although a couple of the girls always came out above me. I enjoyed school, particularly physics and math. From an early age I had been intrigued by electronics and mechanical things – I would disassemble old radios and put them back together again. Also, for several summers I attended the program put on by the L.A. Natural History Museum – an internship studying marine life, particularly mollusks… My parents were relatively strict but we were fairly obedient and co-operative kids. We had our chores to do – my sister and I had to work in the garden and maintain the few barnyard animals we had, but I never had a part-time job until I went to college. We lived in a single-family home on a standard lot in the suburbs – two-bed, one-bath. During the War we had to endure food and fuel rationing and five cousins of mine plus an uncle were all involved – my uncle was in the first battalion to cross the Rhine but when he came back apparently he was never the same again… My mother was a stay-at-home Mom, and my father earned enough for us to have short vacations and occasionally go to the theater to see films, shows and operas. I saw my first opera when I was twelve – The Barber of Seville… I was not very social kid and not into girls until later – I was quite shy and didn’t participate in sports, although I was on the School Debating team for a few years.”
During those high school years Fred really got into hiking and camping. “My father would drive my mother, sister and me out to the desert, where we’d stay for a week at a family friend who owned some cabins there. My father would return to work and pick us up a week later. The cabins were very minimal – a kerosene stove, hard bunks, $10 a week for the three of us – but I loved the experience and this was when my interest in the outdoors really began – and probably why I live here now… Later in my high school years, climbing became a further interest and I hiked with some guys I knew from the summer internship program into the mountains around L.A., plus we did a rigorous backpacking trip to Mammoth Lake in 1950 and then we climbed Mt. Banner and Mt Ritter in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area in 1951.”
Following graduation in 1951, Fred applied for and was accepted to study physics at Cal Tech, Pasadena – one of the leading schools in that field in the country. “I discovered that I was not the genius I thought I was! I did enjoy most of it but, being a top school, it was very competitive. One professor referred to it as a ‘bit of a rat race.’ I persevered and graduated on time. Most of the students, all boys, were from more affluent backgrounds than myself. My father had died in 1949, at the age of forty-nine, when the rheumatic fever that had damaged his heart as a teen finally caught up with him and he had cardiac failure; he had drunk a little too much and smoked also. As a result, my mother got a job as a legal secretary and to get me through college, along with a scholarship, I worked at the college serving meals at lunch and dinner. I also worked in the summers, in a variety of jobs – a control chemist at a soda pop factory; a warehouse worker; in a machine shop operating a drill press; and on the campus assembling amplifiers for an analog computer… I was still really into climbing and one day at college I was talking about this with Professor Chuck Wilts in the Electrical Engineering Department who suggested I join the Sierra Club. You needed two sponsors so I also asked the chairman of the Biology Department, Jim Bonner. I was accepted, as were my two climbing buddies – Don Wilson and Frank Hoover and over the next few years I went climbing in the Canadian Rockies, Bryce Canyon, and Mt Zion National Park, where I climbed the Great White Throne”
Fred graduated in 1955 with average grades and was uncertain about what to do next. He owed the college $500 so took a job paying $450 a month as a petroleum engineering trainee, while living with his mother at the family home. “After fourteen months, I had learned quite a bit about engineering techniques, and also that the oil well business was not for me. The company thought the same, and following a mutual agreement, I departed… I had also decided that I no longer wanted to live in L.A. and took a job at the Radiation Laboratory at the University of California in the Bay Area – later known as the Lawrence Livermore Lab – in the nuclear weapons business. Nuclear physics greatly interested me and I worked on a small nuclear reactor before moving into the theoretical group, learning to run programs on the computer for complex calculations in nuclear physics”… In his leisure time, Fred was still pursuing his hiking and climbing interests. One thing led to another and in 1957, along with three friends, he visited Peru for a month and hiked and climbed in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, part of the larger Andes Mountain Range. Fred’s photographs from this trip were displayed at Lauren’s Restaurant in Boonville a couple of years ago, and in 2005 he donated three hundred slides from the visit to the Archeological Museum in the town of Huaraz, the State Capital of Ancash, Peru.
“After a time, while still working part-time at the Lab., I attended U.C. Berkeley as a graduate student, living at the International House there, before graduating with my master’s degree in 1959. By that time I had decided I wanted to try living on the east coast and so I moved there to study for an Advanced degree in the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland. Before leaving, however, I did make one final big climbing trip with a group of friends to Alaska where we climbed the two highest unclimbed peaks in North America, both over 15,000, north of St. Elias”
Fred worked at the University in the Bubble Chamber in the Department of Physics as he sought “glory and fame – they passed me by somehow… I did go to Kennedy’s inauguration in January 1961 and generally enjoyed living back there. Meanwhile a colleague of mine from the Lawrence Livermore Lab. had been traveling in Europe and had met a woman on a bus tour in Salzburg, Austria. This woman was half Argentine and half British, Scots actually. Her name was Frances Cowan and she worked for the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., not far from me. This was early in 1962. My friend gave me her phone number. and I called her and we went out on a date. We had similar outdoor interests and went on a few hikes together in Virginia and Maryland, and also skiing in Aspen, Colorado. It all happened very quickly I suppose and we were married in a formal service that August in Buenos Aires, Argentina, following a civil service in June in D.C. that was necessary to legalize the marriage in this country as she was on a single-entry diplomatic visa at the time.”
They found an apartment in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of D.C. and stayed there for a further year. “I knew I wanted to return to California at some point. I was really into the mountains and deserts of the West and so when a job opportunity arose to work on the new accelerator at Stanford I applied. Professor Marty Perl hired me and in September 1963 we drove across, via Canada where I visited my Uncle Fred in Toronto. On re-entering the States, there were some difficulties with Frances’ papers but they eventually let us in, although within a few weeks she had applied for her citizenship and soon had her third passport, to go with the ones from Britain and Argentina… We settled in Menlo Park south of San Francisco, on the Peninsular, and over the next few years started our family – Fiona born in 1964, Stephanie in 1966, and Geoffrey in 1969.”
Fred’s rock climbing now resumed once more with some old friends, particularly in the Sierra’s, along with many skiing trips with Frances too. However, the vast majority of his time was spent at work – at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (S.L.A.C). “I worked for Marty Perl, a very ambitious physicist, who suffered from Nobel-it is, as I called it. This was not unique to him, I should add… It was a job that required frequent intense bursts of activity, when designing and then proposing experiments to a committee had to be done. Then, if they were accepted, there would follow a very intense schedule for weeks, sometimes months, before the collection of data could be analyzed. Then there might be a slower period before the next experiment was ready for implementation. We were on a two to three-year cycle or so and I was supervising various groups, with perhaps sixty people working for me at one point. In 1968 I decided I wanted to work for another lab for a time and we moved to the Cern Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, for a year during which time Geoffrey was born. I had basically the same job and we got to do lots of skiing in the Alps, and visited Germany, France, and Italy. It was my first time in Europe, although Frances had been many times. She had gone to high school in England and was fluent in Spanish and French – I can barely manage English!”
Fred had taken a leave of absence and returned to S.L.A.C. in 1970. However, things were changing in the world of physics. There were new concepts of experimental physics that would now involve perhaps hundreds of people on a single experiment and these were changes Fred was not particularly comfortable with. He found it difficult to work in this “Cecil B Deville cast of thousands.” However, he continued at S.L.A.C. for a further ten years before leaving in 1980.
Initially he moved to a small company before finding a job at G.T.E., the telephone company, which also worked on communications for the military. “I worked with about half-a-dozen other physicists and scientists in laser physics. It was far more my kind of working environment and similar to my earlier work at S.L.A.C. and I stayed there for ten years or so before the contract with the Navy was terminated and I was ‘forced’ into semi-retirement in 1991… We still lived in Menlo Park and the kids had all moved on by that time – Fiona had graduated from Reed College in Portland, Stephanie from S.F. State; and Geoffrey from Humboldt State in Forestry – he had got my climbing bug too… We had done lots of family backpacking trips over the years, many pretty rigorous ones, not leisurely at all, and the kids all knew how to ski well…”
“Through the seventies and eighties I had become quite active on environmental issues. I had become the President of the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club and in the eighties we had introduced the recycling plan on bottles and cans to California, that was later passed by the State. I was also active on the Coastal Commission, particularly Proposition 20 to introduce planning control on the coast. With my work and all this environmental activity, I certainly led a very busy life… Frances had returned to work when the kids were entering high school age becoming a legal secretary once again, first at a law firm, then for the Stanford Law School, before getting a job in student admissions at the Department of Psychology. The kids had left ‘my welfare state’ and Frances decided to get her college degree, graduating from U.C. Berkeley in Third World Development with emphasis on South America. Meanwhile in the mid-nineties I started my own small business helping other small businesses deal with all of the new environmental regulations. I added two partners – one a marketing guy, the other a technical guy like myself, and that business is still going today, although my participation is limited.”
By 1996/97, Fred and Frances had decided that, “while we had essentially both lived our whole lives in the suburbs, we did not want to die in them. It was clear that our professional lives were winding down and we wanted to retire to a rural area. Many years earlier I had been to the north coast on a few occasions and we started to look there – initially Anderson Valley, Arcata, and southern Oregon, where my sister lived. Well, Arcata has two seasons – foggy and foggier so we soon ruled that out and the other two possibilities were to remain on hold for a time… In 1998, I was given a Fellowship by the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers to move to Washington D.C. and basically kibitz on the industry’s policy and administration to various powerbrokers on Capitol Hill. We rented out the Menlo Park house and moved to northern Virginia for a year from where I commuted into D.C. for work.”
In January 1999, the family suffered from a traumatic experience when son Geoffrey was killed while climbing in California’s Sierra Mountains – he was twenty-nine. “He had been serving in the Peace Corps in Paraguay for the previous two years and was a very experienced climber, having climbed some major peaks, including Aconcagua, the highest in the Americas. He was certainly a far better climber than me, but perhaps a little less prudent… Although the family bonded together after this, Frances was very depressed and I saw that this was the window in time that opens up in people’s lives when opportunities must be seized before they pass by. I decided we would either stay in Menlo Park or move, but we had to decide. She agreed. I saw in a real estate magazine that there was property for sale on Holmes Ranch Road in Anderson Valley. It was pricey but Frances was very positive about it. We made several visits and our daughter Stephanie thought it was great but Frances had always said she did ‘not want to live at the end of a dirt road’. Well, following the sale of our house in Menlo Park for a good price, in July 1999 we bought forty acres at the end of this dirt road, four miles off the highway.”
The house needed work, particularly the leaking windows, all forty-four of them, which Fred replaced himself, and the water and septic systems were also in need of upgrades. He went on to build a workshop for his woodworking hobby; a car port; and later a barn for the garden tools and his all-terrain vehicle… Soon Fred had made the acquaintance of neighbors, Richard and Gene Herr and with their encouragement he joined the Valley’s Volunteer Fire Fighters. “I no longer haul hoses over the hillsides but am still involved with the Fire Department. They are project oriented and that is my strong suit. I was involved in the firehouse projects in both Rancho Navarro and Philo and the new one on Guntley Road and the Chief can call me on any number of technical issues if he wishes… Meanwhile, Frances had found a job working as the Adult School Administrator – a position ideally suited to her language skills.”
As a result of these new activities they both got to know quite a lot of people in a short period of time. Frances went on to get involved in the Garden Section of the Unity Club and Fred supported her activities in that in various ways. He did think about putting in some vines on the property but in the end decided against making an investment for four or five years hence and stuck with fruit trees and a large vegetable garden… The two of them became involved with the music scene on the Coast, mainly classical, and they took an overseas vacation every year, often to wherever daughter Fiona was working as a journalist and Bureau Chief for Reuters news agency in various cities. “Plus, Frances’ family was also all over the world for us to visit – the sun never sets on her family”… Fred got involved with the watershed issues on Holmes Ranch and championed the grant for $250,000 for roadwork up there. He also became embroiled in the “pissing contest” with Pepperwood Springs (and later Esterlina Winery) but when it became obvious it was going nowhere he backed off.
In 2006, Frances was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – it was terminal and she died four years later in early 2010. “It was a hard time, particularly the last few months. After she passed I realized I couldn’t just stay up here alone on the land so I became more involved with some other Valley activities. I attended the Chess Club at the Elementary School; participated in the Navarro River Resource Center; and started to go to the weekly Quiz at Lauren’s when I was asked to join a team with Rob Giuliani and Garth and Judy Long – three people I had met with the firefighters. It’s a lot of fun… Then late last year, I met Janet Morris, through my friends at private classical music evenings on the coast. She has lived in Elk for thirty-one years and her husband had passed away about twenty-five years previously. It was a case of two people looking for the same thing. Frances and I had discussed this very scenario and what would happen if it happened to either of us – we had agreed it would be fine and Janet and I were married in March of this year…”
I asked Fred for his brief responses to various Valley issues… The wineries? – “I have mixed feelings. I concede that they are preferable to houses but I do not know how the water management will be affected – they say they are concerned but seem to be gathering up all the water for themselves”… The A.V.A. – I used to subscribe but became annoyed with the negativity. However, I am thinking of signing up again as there seems to be lots of local information about the Valley that I need to pay attention to”… KZYX & Z radio? – “We supported it and I volunteer for their fundraising. I like the classical music but am not terribly enthusiastic about the homegrown programs”… The school system? – “I have been asked to judge at the science fair and have tutored in the A.V.I.D program which was quite rewarding. Overall, I think the school does as well if not better than one can expect, although I do criticize their handling of the science teacher situation. It seems like we get a different one every year – that is not good”… And what does Fred most like about Valley life? – “The quiet and stillness; the way the fog drips out of the sky; the glistening stars on a cool night; the full moon bathing that meadow below us. I can feel that I am part of nature up here. In the city I worried about my mortality much more. I have no buyer’s remorse, no regrets. It’s great living up here, and if I die here that’s great too”…
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Fred and asked him to just reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “The physical and intellectual projects that keep me busy.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “The lack of political coherence in this country at this time. There is a lack of problem solving ability. Our grandchildren are going to have a rather different life.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Classical music; a nice cello or flute playing… Silence also.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Noisy vehicles; motorcycles with poor mufflers… Oh, and high-pitched whines hurt my ears.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Prime rib roast.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Some philosophical person, not necessarily with the same outlook as me. I dislike labels on people. I object to that – once that is done then any viable discussion ceases.’”
7. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “A book would be one by Roy Chapman Andrews, an American explorer, adventurer and naturalist who became the director of the American Museum of Natural History and who wrote about his explorations in the Gobi desert in Asia and searching for dinosaur fossils… A song would be something from an opera – either The Barber of Seville or Don Giovanni. A film would be one by the Polish director, Kieslowski – The Double Life of Véronique or one of his final films – the trilogy ‘Three Colors’ (Blue, White, Red).”
8. What is your favorite hobby? – Woodworking. I have always done some and now have a workshop with a pretty complete set of tools.”
9. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “An architect or surgeon.”
10. What profession would you not like to do? – “Any tedious or repetitive job.”
11. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I have asked that question of myself and can’t think of anything significant.”
12. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “I had a frightening experience on a mountain many decades ago that has always stuck with me… Conversely I have wonderful memories of climbing the east buttress of Mt Whitney – a high quality rock route to the top of the tallest peak in the Lower 48… And perhaps sitting in an experiment watching data accumulate that nobody had ever seen before.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “My children…. One should be careful of being too proud of things; however, I am proud that I probably fulfilled my parent’s wishes for me.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “I like to think that people recognize that if they need some help with a project they can come to me and I would try to help them carry that project out.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Good to see you, Fred, I need something to be built…”

Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tom Allman – May 26th, 2011

I met with Sheriff Allman at his office in Ukiah a couple of weeks ago. He was very welcoming, told me to call him ‘Tom’, and we sat down at a large table for our chat…
Tom was born in 1962, the youngest of four children born to Dean Allman and Norma Slagle, following sister Susan (now a school administrator in Nevada County), and brothers Dan, an equipment operator in Fortuna, CA, and Mike, who committed suicide in 2005 after a period of personal tragedy. Tom was born in Sylva, about forty miles from the city of Asheville between the Appalachians and the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. On his father’s side, his heritage can be traced back to England, from where the Allman’s moved in the mid-1700’s and settled in Carolina. Initially they were from a very poor background but Tom’s grandparents owned a car dealership and had a hotel with cabins. The Slagle’s were from Germany and they settled in Washington State before moving back east to Carolina in the 1940’s, where Norma met Dean at college.
“My mother’s family were always in the logging industry and growing up we moved between Sylva and the Garberville area of northern California on a couple of occasions – my father was an accountant for a timber company and moved with the job. My mother was a 2nd grade teacher for most of her working life. From kindergarten thru’ 5th grade I was in school in Humboldt County, California and then we moved back east, driving across country in our Ford Station Wagon, with me in the worst seat – the one that faced backwards because I was the youngest. I attended school in Carolina from 6th grade thru 10th and then we moved back again and for my final two years I went to South Fork High, from where I graduated in 1979.”
Although he was a country boy, Tom was never a hunter. “When we lived in Carolina in the seventies, we had a working ranch and I helped with the milking of the cows, the hay-gathering, raising chickens, and collecting honey from our bees, but I never wanted to hunt. When I was only in 6th grade I joined the local high school’s marching band – as the tuba player. I loved being in that band and still enjoy playing the tuba to this day – I will be playing in the Willits Marching Band for the third year at the Willits’ 4th July Parade next month. At one point I stopped playing for about twenty-five years but have gone back to it and discovered it’s like riding a bike. Having said that my family did not enjoy my first month of re-learning and did not want to be at home – I say that with humor but there is an edge of truth… At school, I was just an average student despite a good G.P.A. of 3.7 – that just showed that the school was very easy. I enjoyed civics and history, particularly the Civil War, and there was lots of history on that subject in North Carolina – the Tar Heel State, so called because the soldiers there stood their ground in battle as if their feet were stuck in tar. The Civil War was about State’s rights, as are many issues facing us today – marijuana for example, which is something I deal with extensively every single day.”
Most of Tom’s leisure time in Carolina was taken up with his farm duties and the band, which reached the National Championships in Washington D.C. and came in 2nd. “The band was an all-year round activity but when we moved back to California and I went to South Fork High in Miranda, north of Garberville, I stopped playing – it was nowhere near the same level that I’d been used to… I always wanted to see if I could make a difference, a change in something, so I entered and won the election for Student Body President. I guess I was popular but my plan to show a movie every Friday afternoon in the school cafeteria was certainly a big vote getter! I was a very social kid and spent lots of time at school, even when school was over for the day as my siblings had all moved out and I was the only kid still at home. My Dad bought the local liquor store and Mom was the 2nd grade teacher, and both were very busy… I volunteered for the Volunteer Fire Fighters for my last two summers at high school, and following graduation in 1979, I worked for the C.D.F. (California Department of Forestry, now Cal Fire) in Thorn, southern California outside San Bernardino. In January 1980, I returned north and went to Chico State and that summer worked in Garberville as a firefighter once again. It was there that the Chief, Chris Christenson, told me that if I ever smoked marijuana I would never be a firefighter anywhere. Many of my friends smoked – it was what California kids did, but he scared me to death with that threat and I never did.”
In 1981 Tom enrolled at the Fire Academy at the Butte Community College in Oroville, not far from Chico, intending to pursue a firefighting career – it was not to be. “I was at a bar-b-q and spoke to my girlfriend’s brother who was a police officer in Fairfield, in the north east of the Bay Area. He invited me on a drive-along in a patrol car and I found it fascinating. I particularly remember dealing with a situation where an elderly lady had been physically assaulted. As soon as she saw the police arrive in their uniform, she relaxed. She knew that the police arriving meant that she was safe and that all would be well. That really stuck in my mind – that cops could make a big difference in terms of making people feel secure. I decided to sign up and became a Public Safety Officer (P.S.O.), an unarmed position with duties as a firefighter too. That was the ultimate, I thought – basic police work with the exciting fire fighting too – a great job. Although I never went back to the firefighting I have great respect for those guys – they are inactive for about 90% of the time and then for the other 10% it’s ‘Wow!’ ”
Fairfield ended up hiring three P.S.O.’s soon afterwards and Tom was one of them, entering the Police Academy for a fourteen-week program, before being hired by Fairfield as a police officer in 1982. He stayed for three-and-a-half years, during which time he married northern California girl Laura, in 1984. However, in 1985, with his father in poor health, Tom applied for a job closer to his family home and was hired by Sheriff Tim Shea to be the resident Deputy in Laytonville, where he worked for two years, his father passing in 1987. “That job was very comfortable – I once went seven days without a call and my backgammon game was never better! Those days are long gone of course… I moved on to the Narcotics Task Force which was County-wide before settling in Willits, where we still live, and becoming Deputy Sheriff there in 1990.”
By the early nineties, police work in the county had changed. With the introduction of a new computer system in 1991, tracking crime and the workload greatly increased. In 1993, Sheriff Tuso promoted Tom to Patrol Sergeant. “That is the best job in law enforcement. Whether it’s before you become one or after you’ve been one, you always dream about doing things differently, the way you could if only you were a patrol sergeant… I was there for three years at which time Sheriff Tuso made me the Sergeant in Internal Affairs – now that will ruin your social life and I was no doubt taken off many Christmas Card lists! No, I should stress that we were very careful to make sure everyone was treated fairly – they are innocent until proven guilty and we were always very fair with the men. You must have an unbiased opinion, don’t let it linger, and in the end there should be no bad feelings.”
Tom was Internal Affairs for two years before, in 1998, he became acting Lieutenant in Willits and was back to patrol again. “That was great, for a time… Then one day I noticed a flyer on the bulletin board that was from the U.S. Department of State asking for four hundred police officers, nationwide, to become civilian peacekeepers in Kosovo, a southern region of Yugoslavia being fought over by the ruling Serbs and the majority Albanians who wanted their autonomy. I found this very interesting and, being in my late thirties, it refer to how it became my ‘mid-life crisis’.”
“That day I called Laura at work to ask her to join me for lunch. She only worked one hundred yards away where she was a bank manager but despite that we were always so busy we never got together for lunch. She immediately said ‘Oh, my God, what happened?’… We met up and I showed her the memo and she said ‘I think I’ll be paying for my own lunch today’… By that time we had two young children – Adam who was eight and Josh six, and the house was in the middle of being remodeled. I still wanted to go. Laura and I decided that for that to be acceptable, four conditions would have to be met – Sheriff Craver would have to agree to my one-year absence; my Mother and In-laws would have to agree; the boys would too; and the new baseboards would have to be done before I left! Well, the Sheriff said ‘Do it’; my mother was fine, Laura’s parents agreed, but only after we had called them telling them we had something to tell them and they drove eight hours to see us, thinking we were going to announce our divorce; the boys were fine with it; and the baseboards would be done. I had the whole immediate family together and any one of them could have vetoed it. I did not want anyone to say later that they had told me not to go.”
“In a weird way there was a sense of ‘romance’ to this – building democracy in another country; to make a difference, something I had always thought was the main reason for me being in law enforcement. It just really interested me and fortunately nobody said ‘no’.”
Tom applied and the U.S. government flew several thousand applicants to Ft Worth, Texas for testing – physical, psychological, firearms, etc. The four hundred were asked to stay on and took further examinations and given lessons in the history of the Balkan region and knowledge of the etiquette and customs that were necessary to fit in there. Tom was one of those.
On October 21st, 1999, the peacekeepers were flown to Macedonia under the impression that they would be training the local police officers. “They had not even hired any at that point – we were the police for the whole twelve months there, although after six months they did get some of their own. I rented an apartment from some Albanians for four months then from Serbs for the remaining eight months. I worked mainly with the Brits and became friendly with their commander – a Brigadier General who had vacationed in Napa. In fact, when I returned home for a brief break, I picked up some Mendocino wine and took it back for him. He was a very good leader. Every day at precisely 5.30pm, there was ‘The Bird Table’ – a meeting at which fifty people had to give him their daily report, all of them in twenty minutes. There could be no fluff; it had to be quick and concise. I was the only non-Brit and the main liaison between the British military and the civilian police and had to give a report too. On one occasion in late July 2000, he announced that a Captain’s promotion to Major would be retroactive to a few weeks earlier – back to July 4th. I commented ‘Will you guys quit giving us a reason to celebrate that date?’ He burst into laughter. We got on very well and he is now a Major General and in charge of N.A.T.O. forces in Germany.”
In October 2000, Tom’s tour ended and he returned to his job as Lieutenant in Mendocino. “I returned in time for the presidential election fiasco that year. Ironically we had just presided over a very successful election process in Kosovo and here in the U.S. ours was decided by the courts in D.C…. Anyway, I got right back in the saddle and while I did not want to go back a second time, I would certainly do it that first time again. My time in Kosovo changed my perspective in that I saw so many people who were happy, and who basically had nothing. The experience changed my life; it gave me a sense of proportion and gave more meaning to my existence, too. I learned that the absolute primary responsibility of law enforcement has to be focused where the people are the victims; all other crimes come after that… There were some terrible atrocities committed by the Serbian police and army – basically the same people. They threw people down wells – contaminating the water for years; created mass graves; committed widespread rape; took down street signs to cause maximum disruption and chaos; etc. There remains so much hatred between the two groups. One day I was sitting with a Serbian friend having lunch– goat cheese, hard-boiled egg, thick sliced bread, the usual meal, when an Albania interpreter I knew approached us. I introduced them and they greeted with handshakes. The next day the Albanian came to me and said ‘Do not ever make me shake hands with a Serb again – I will kill you.’ He meant it and I had to fire him.”
Tom settled back into his job here in Mendocino County but was still prepared to travel if necessary. Following Hurricane Katrina he went to New Orleans as a paid volunteer for three weeks to protect a couple of hospitals from looting. Then, in March 2006, he volunteered with members of the Rotary Club and they went to southern India to help clear up the mess left by the devastating tsunami a few months earlier and, helped by the $10,000 that he and others raised in Willits and Ukiah, the group built an orphanage. This interrupted his run for Sheriff but on his return he campaigned seriously and it was a success – he became County Sheriff in November 2006… “I have always worked for good sheriffs. I had tried to learn their good qualities and wanted to give it a shot. Laura and I agreed that I would do a maximum of two terms and I won re-election in 2010. However, just a week or so ago, I reminded her of this and said that I sure would like to be Sheriff when the budget was not the primary topic of the job. This, along with marijuana and the issues confronting us in Covelo, take up about eighty percent of my time – they are each very important obviously… Anyway, Laura and I agreed that a third term was an option – perhaps at that point my job would be less about the budget and money talk and marijuana, and I’d get to concentrate on the problems of domestic violence and methamphetamine use.”
“I try to wear my uniform every day; I drive around in a marked patrol car, and walk through the jail twice a week – I am very aware that not everyone in jail is a bad person. I like to think I’m still involved at the street level, know the trends, and keep in touch with the big investigations. I have also learned that in this job, the phrase ‘ God laughs at those people who make plans’ is very appropriate. It is hard to make plans with situations and priorities changing daily. Luckily, we have a core group here in the department who have been here a long time – that is my most valuable asset in many ways.”
Away from work Tom dabbles in a couple of hobbies (see below) and he does like to travel – to England particularly where he has been several times. “I have a friend who is Major in the British army over there and he comes here to see us too. I am the godfather to his son. Both Laura and I are so busy and always have been it seems. However, I feel like I am very lucky – I have a great job, I love it and feel I have some say in the county’s destiny, planning for a decent future.”
I asked Tom for his thoughts on various issues that are often discussed by many Valley folks… The wineries and their impact? – “Obviously from the economic point of view they are very good because of the employment they offer and the tax revenue they bring in. Unfortunately drunk driving has to be dealt with and their impact on water supplies and the use of fertilizers is a work in progress”… The A.V.A. Newspaper? – “Before editor Bruce Anderson went to Oregon he seemed to have an axe to grind but that no longer seems to be the case since his return. He told me that if I see something in the paper that is incorrect, I should notify him immediately and he will correct it. I have told him many things in confidence and they have always remained confidential. I am thrilled to see ‘major contributor’ Mark Scaramella involved with the re-districting for the County, where common sense must reign… Finally on this, let me just say you cannot out bullshit a bullshitter so I never try”… Law and order in the Valley? – “One of the best groups we deal with is the A.V. Coalition. They e-mail when things are not good and I love that. I am very satisfied with what the two resident deputies there are doing – Keith Squires and Craig Walker. We make great efforts to ensure that our resident deputies fit in where they work – that they are ‘the right hand for the right glove’, and it is no coincidence that Craig Walker has settled so well and is doing such a good job in Anderson Valley”…
And his thoughts on Marijuana, a big part of his terms in office so far? – “If I found the genie in the bottle, I would have just one wish and it would not be for lots of money – it would to please have consistent marijuana laws in California for all fifty-eight counties. This is our biggest problem. The three C’s need to know the laws and be on the same page – the Citizens, the Courts, and the Cops. I get calls from deputies in the field and sometimes I really am not sure exactly what the answer to their valid questions might be… Coming from a conservative family, I never thought I would be advocating for the rights of legitimate medical marijuana patients but, in 2005, a very good friend of mine spilled the beans and told me he used marijuana for health reasons, and now I do advocate for those rights, as long as they are legitimate. My time in Kosovo also had something to do with this change in me too… My role is not to legalize medical marijuana but to link people who want to talk about it. More and more, people want to talk. It used to be they whispered when pot was the subject. Then, they began to speak in a normal tone of voice. In the last few years, they’ve been shouting. I think history will judge us favorably and that future historians will say that opting for legal medical marijuana was the right road to take. So let’s get that consistency and get marijuana off the front page – that is my line by the way, not the D.A.’s – and I can’t think of a better legacy…”
At this moment the phone ringing interrupted the interview and Tom answered the call. It was a neighbor of District Attorney David Eyster. The man asked if Tom would call the D.A. and let Mr. Eyster know that his garage door at his home was open. Tom did so and then turned to me and asked “Where else would a sheriff get a call like that?” as he chuckled loudly…
To end the interview, as I do 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 the rest I have added over time…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “When things go together; when plans work.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Incompetence.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “A marching band.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “A surprising gun shot.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “BBQ chicken pizza at Willits’ House of Pizza – that is the bomb.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Either George Washington or John Lennon.”
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? – “The last Christmas card from my father; the latest family photograph; my wife’s dog.”
8. Do you have a favorite film, or one that has influenced you? – “Well that would be ‘The Untouchables’ (and Tom pointed out a framed poster for that film on his office wall). I like the Sean Connery character – the cop; not the Kevin Costner federal agent.”
9. What is your favorite hobby? – I don’t have much time for hobbies, working over sixty hours a week. My latest interest would be making pens on a lathe. I also enjoy welding, or raising chickens.”
10. Do you subscribe to any publications or newspapers? – “The A.V.A.; the Ukiah Daily Journal; N.R.A. – I am a member although I have never been a hunter, as I mentioned… I love humor and get the Readers Digest for the jokes – I guess I need to get a life, eh?
11. What scares you? – “Other than electricity, I do not like horror movies. Not scared as such – we get scared enough at work, I just do not enjoy them. Laura loves them though.”
12. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I don’t live with any serious regrets… But when I was young, just out of high school, perhaps I would have really enjoyed four years in the Coast Guard.”
13. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “I would love to have been a diplomat for the State Department.”
14. What profession would you not like to do? – “A waiter – that seems like very hard work.”
15. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “The islands of Fiji in the Pacific.”
16. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “March 27th, 2008 – Sipping a gin and tonic at Buckingham Palace in London as I watched the Changing of the Guard from the balcony of the Queen’s Birthday Room. A friend of mine, the major in the British army I mentioned earlier, had a good friend who was the Queen’s Equerry or personal assistant, and he set the whole visit up. They asked me if I’d like a drink and without asking what I’d like I was given the gin and tonic. It crossed my mind to ‘borrow’ the glass but they were watching me, I’m sure!”
17. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “My two sons, Adam and Josh, now twenty and eighteen. I am very proud of them. They both work here in Ukiah, one is a lineman, the other a welder.”
18. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That I enjoy meeting people for the first time.”
19. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, I hope it’s not – ‘Oh, you again… Didn’t St Peter get the memo?’… I guess something like ‘It started off kind of rough with you; but I like the way you finished’ – that would be good.”

Published in: on June 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Heidi Knott Gundling – May 21st, 2011

I met with Heidi at her home on Signal Ridge and after a delicious lunch, for which her husband Henry Gundling joined us, we sat down to chat…
Heidi was born in Los Angeles in 1949, the oldest of three children born to Lorna Duthoit and Harold Knott… The Duthoit’s were originally French Huguenots (the du Toits) who settled in England in the 1600’s. At one point a great, great grandfather was a stockbroker – as was Henry until his retirement. Heidi’s maternal grandfather, who had fought in World War One, was a house painter and general handyman in London. Although he came from a well-to-do family, because he was orphaned at 11 and was dyslexic, he never learned to read and Heidi remembers how happy he was when they got their first television in the sixties. As a young woman, Heidi’s mother worked for the American Services at the end of the Second World War.
Heidi’s paternal grandmother was of the Flower family who in England had founded the famous Flower brewery and also supported the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Their roots go all the way back to the 1100’s. The later Flowers were friends of the early English social reformer, Robert Owen, at a time when ideas about improving the lot of the industrial workers and their children were first circulating and America was the land of hope and promise. With letters of introduction to Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, George Flower, Heidi’s great, great, great grandfather, immigrated to the U.S. in 1822. He founded a new town called Albion in southern Illinois where he attempted to put into practice many of these early socialist ideas. His father Richard followed and they were both actively involved in trying to establish a just community model for the common people.
On her paternal grandfather’s side, the Knotts were also an English family of Huguenot descent. The family emigrated (voluntarily) to Australia in the later part of the 19th century. Her grandfather came to the US, attended Harvard University and later became a Protestant minister and professor of Greek and Latin. He met his wife in the Midwest, but they returned to Australia, where Heidi’s father was born in 1916. The family returned to the States in the 1920’s, settling initially in Oregon and then southern California. “During World War 2, my father worked in England in the Quarter Master department for the American services, supplying the American forces. He met my mother there and they were married in 1947, returning to the States where he worked as an accountant/auditor for the State of California. While is Europe they spent time in France and became friends with the Veuve-Cliquot champagne-producing family. My dad fondly remembered the times he would trade them a tennis ball from his army supplies in exchange for a bottle of champagne.”
When Heidi was just a couple of years old, her father decided he wanted a change of environment and took a job with Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company, in Saudi Arabia. They lived in a town situated next to the very first oil producing well, in Dhahran. “The company constructed a whole town for 3000 American employees. My father went out there and my mother followed a year later with me. My brother Barry and sister Stephanie were born there in 1952 and 1956 respectively. The American community was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and we had to sign in and out every time we left the ‘compound’. In the early days we lived in a portable house but the money was very good and my father had three months paid vacation off every two years along with two weeks off every other year. My father had always wanted to see new places and experience new things. He wanted to be part of the post-war movement of building America for the new age; my mother was fine with going there too – she was happy to be away from her mother-in-law’s religiosity… Within this community there was a movie theater, restaurants, a golf course, sports fields, tennis courts, bowling alley, and a great swimming pool – I pretty much grew up in that. There was also a corral with horses and my love for them began during this period. I got my first horse at thirteen – of course an Arabian. Those horses would come in hungry off the desert and after good care and many hours of ardent brushing by adoring teenage girls like me, they would develop into these beautiful animals.”
Heidi was at school almost exclusively with American kids although there were a few Palestinian children there also from highly educated refugee families. So the Arab-Israeli conflict is one she has always been close to. The Knotts, however, enjoyed a semi-colonial lifestyle with servants for various jobs such as for cooking, cleaning, ironing, and gardening. Heidi’s parents threw and attended many parties and played a great deal of tennis and bridge. “We would take our long vacation to visit the families in both the U.S. and England, but primarily the five of us would tour the world and travel by ocean cruise when possible. I was in Saudi Arabia from the age of two through 9th grade, and then at sixteen there was no school in the ‘camp’ for children my age, so I was sent to England as my grandparents lived near London and I attended the very upper class Harrogate Ladies College. This was a boarding school in Yorkshire in the north of the country where I was the only American student and where I spent the next three years apart from three weeks at Christmas and a couple of months each summer. It was not my favorite place – it was freezing outside and cold inside. Following my American-based schooling in Arabia I found that I was ahead in some subjects but way behind in others. I passed my ‘O’ level exams in seven different subjects after my first year and then studied English Literature, French and General Studies for my last two years before finally heading back to the States. In the fall of 1967 I enrolled as a history major at Duke University in North Carolina.”
Heidi had not lived in this country since she was two years old and had come from a very strict girls’ school in England. She was now in the ‘South’ which gave her a culture shock of one sort – the K.K.K. was a string presence there at that time and racist issues were a constant part of her life, and yet she was also in a relatively relaxed social environment at school – meaning she had a wild time dating way too much which did not exactly boost her grades. “I guess I was ‘exotic’ in some way – I had lived in Arabia and England virtually my whole life and had an unusual accent. It was a period of great social unrest and protest against the Vietnam War – the men I knew at college were anxious about their lottery numbers and being drafted. I attended a number of protest demonstrations, including the huge one in Washington D.C. in November 1969. That put me on the F.B.I.’s ‘list’ of suspicious persons – along with eight million others – 5% of the US population at the time!”
Meanwhile, Heidi had visited Arabia to see her family in the summer break and on one of these visits she had become friendly with a young German who had found work as a riding instructor at the camp – Willi Gladitz. I was a hotshot young rider and we met at the horse farm in the summer of 1968 and were soon in love. I returned to school for a time but after another year or so, two and a half through Duke, I took a leave of absence for what was originally for six months in 1970. I joined Willi in West-Berlin, where he was living and soon attended the German Film and Television Academy. I took classes at the Free University to learn German. West-Berlin was consumed by the student uprising at that time and I was fascinated by what was going on. When I was accepted for study at the Film Academy in 1971, I said good-bye to Duke and started on my film career. Soon afterwards Willi and I started to make films together.”
After the film academy, Heidi and Willi started an independent film company and began to make documentary films concerned with social development issues. One of their early documentaries led to a famous boycott of Nestle Foods and their products after they exposed the company’s efforts to get poor Third World women to abandon breast feeding in favor of the company’s ‘milk formula’. These poor, uneducated women mixed the milk powder with unsterilized water – the only kind most of them had to make milk for their babies. “The film was called ‘Bottle Babies’ – a very powerful film in which shocking images of murky water holes, expensive and consequently diluted formula were linked together with sick and emaciated babies on IV lines. That film led to some African countries changing their laws on this issue. We were bowled over by the effect that a movie could have and for many years after, following the distribution of the documentary in the States and around the world, we received revenues from this film that helped us continue our filmmaking. It was the first time that a small group of activists and filmmakers dealt such a massive blow to a huge company in this way. The World Health Organization took up the issue and put pressure on Nestle and other ‘formula’ companies to rein in their marketing practices aimed at poor, unsuspecting women who really did not need this product at all.”
Over the next few years, Heidi and Willi, who as a filmmaker went by the name Peter Krieg, made several films on health issues in developing countries, including one for the World Health Organization on the barefoot doctor health system filmed in Mozambique, another one on a similar project in Guatemala, documentaries about India’s ‘Untouchables’ at the lowest level of society, and another one exposing the plight of children in India, once they are ‘fostered’ by well-meaning people in the West. One film entitled ‘September Wheat’ about the causes of world hunger won Germany’s highest film and television awards. However, as is the case with many documentary filmmakers, it was always a struggle financially to make ends meet.
In 1980, when they were living in Freiburg on the edge of the Black Forest, daughter Nicola was born and Heidi stepped into the background while Willi became quite well known in Germany as he continued producing films and winning awards. “He used the name ‘Krieg’ as this means ‘war’ in German and he felt he was ‘waging a war’ against the establishment… When Nicola was four and a bit, in 1985, her father left us and went off with another woman. We had been together for seventeen years and it was a very hard time for me. I picked up various jobs translating, some television film work, and continued to work on the distribution of the films Willi and I had made. In 1990 I became the Director of the Ecomedia Institute that ran an International Environmental Film Festival every year. Then, this was the first festival of its kind and it really grew out of a hunger in Germany for more knowledge about environmental issues. The anti-nuke movement had started near Freiburg and we were all involved in supporting that. That was the beginning of the green movement in Germany and it was a logical step for us to start an environmental film festival in its wake – an idea whose time had certainly come.”
As well as the main festival, Heidi also organized mini-festivals in other cities around Germany, and particularly after the Wall fell, in what had been formerly East Germany. “After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 there was a society in the East that had been starved for years and years of the kind of information that an environmental film festival could provide. We also tried to bring together the filmmakers and television people through the festival, to make it a networking event linking people with a view to further environmental filmmaking. I worked very hard for eight years at the Institute, raising Nicola at the same time. With European Union support we got the best films translated into Russian and then shown in the former Soviet Republics as well. We also produced several issues of a catalogue of environmental films for schools and colleges, but by 1997 I was absolutely burned out and with new media coming in and technology changing rapidly, I left the Institute in January 1998.”
There had been talk of Heidi being involved in a Chinese Environmental Film Festival and she had flown to Beijing and met officials at the German Embassy there. At that time, however, the German government was moving from Bonn to Berlin and changing from Conservative to Social Democrat so the China project was delayed for some time. She did set a number of wheels in motion and a festival later took place, although she had left the Institute by then. She had wanted to go back to filmmaking, Nicola was eighteen and she would finally have time.
Heidi returned to the States for Christmas 1998 and stayed with family in California. She knew about the destruction of old growth Redwoods in northern California, of which less than 5% were left, and of the protester Julia Butterfly who was drawing attention against this travesty by living at the top of an occupied tree. “I thought I’d research this and make a film for German television while getting to stay in the States, which, I had decided, was were I wanted to be – I felt there was no future for me in Germany anymore. I had been there for thirty years and wanted to get my foot in the door back here.” Heidi had only ever lived here for about five years in total and she was now fifty.
“I had made some enquiries about the environmental movement in this area and had been fascinated with forests for many years, having studied and filmed them in Germany and other places in the world – fascinated, perhaps, because I had grown up in a desert. I had been given the number of a certain Henry Gundling who lived part-time here in Anderson Valley and was well informed about this topic. I called him and he said, ‘Come on up, dear, and I’ll take you out to lunch.’ He was recently widowed as it turned out and I could tell he was in deep grief. However, we met in Napa where he was living mainly at the time and he took a shine to me. He was a very respectable man and I accepted his offer to stay the night in the guest room. The next morning he said ‘Come up to my place on Signal Ridge in Anderson Valley and I’ll show you some big redwoods’ – now that’s a corny but funny line… I fell for it and made the visit. It snowed that night so I decided that continuing on to see Julia Butterfly in Humboldt was not wise in such weather with my rental car, and I ended up having a very nice time with Henry. Afterwards I went to San Diego where I was helping to take care of my sick mother but Henry and I continued to exchange phone calls.
Heidi returned to Germany and traveled on to Southeast Asia with the Goethe Institute, the German cultural organization, accompanying an environmental film package. “I came back to northern California in the March of 1999 for two weeks and sometime later Henry asked me to marry him. I couldn’t agree thinking his adult kids would never understand. However, in the August I packed up our house in Germany and Nicola and I moved over to the States permanently. Nicola enrolled at Foothill College in Los Altos south of San Francisco – it was a great place for her as it turned out and she got amazing support from her teachers – here they seem infinitely more interested in their students than in Germany. Henry was persistent and I felt that I had come home at last. We were married in October 1999. He had retired as a stockbroker – a Senior Vice President at Paine Weber – sold his house in Napa, and we moved here to the Valley. It has worked – the Radical and the Republican!”
When she first moved to the Valley, Heidi volunteered to teach English at the AV Adult School and soon returned to her filmmaking vocation. She directed the video to save Big River on the Mendocino Coast where the river banks were slated to be massively logged. That film was used to help raise money to buy seven thousand acres along the estuary from the timber company. Her next movie was made with local filmmaker Lee Serrie called the ‘The End of Silence’ about methamphetamine abuse featuring high school students talking about the drug to their peers. This film is now being shown in twenty-two states and counting. Heidi’s third film was also a cooperation with Lee Serrie called ‘Sharing Secrets of Salsa’ – a film about local Hispanic women coming together to improve their English at the AV Adult School, meeting other members of the community, sharing their salsa recipes and how they produced a great cookbook – the success of which has greatly raised everyone’s self-esteem. This film has also been very successful, was shown on TV several times and has won awards at notable film festivals… In collaboration with Mitch Mendosa, the film class teacher at the high school and who had collaborated on the methamphetamine and salsa films, Heidi’s fourth documentary was about teenage pregnancy entitled ‘Mommy, Daddy, Wait for Me’, a movie which discusses teen parenting issues again from the perspective of the teens themselves and is being used widely as a prevention tool.
Heidi was a board member of the Community Foundation of Mendocino County for three years and served a stint on the county museum advisory board, but her primary involvement in social issues has been her work with the Redwood Forest Foundation. “I have made some films for them and we were able to raise funds to buy fifty thousand acres of the badly depleted Usal Redwood Forest in the northwest corner of the county. We have been managing it ever since as we try to create a forest that will serve the community in terms of jobs, recreation, and to keep it as a local sustainable forest that will never be sub-divided. For the past 3 years our efforts have been spent on streambed restoration, roads decommissioning and improvement, tan oak control, constructing fire breaks, and redwood and fir stand improvements. It has been difficult but we are trying to make this model work despite the Mendocino Redwood Company undermining our efforts with their raw politicking – they can’t leave us alone although they own nearly half-a-million acres in Mendocino and Humboldt counties!”
Heidi relaxes by taking yoga classes with Kira Brennan here in the Valley, for three years she has been and still is a member of the A.V. Film Festival Committee and was involved with the A.V. Arts. “Henry has had a number of medical issues and my mother who is eighty-five and lives in Little River on the Coast also needs some help, so I’ve cut back on some of my activities. I still have two horses, two dogs and a cat to look after besides the property. Occasionally I take on German to English translation jobs for books and websites as for now my filmmaking is on hold.”
‘I love the landscape and small-town atmosphere of Anderson Valley. It is so nice to know people by their name when you meet at the store or post office and to take part in some small way in their lives. We are not anonymous people living here. I do miss the frank and open discussions on controversial issues that are not as common here as they were in other places I have lived, particularly when it comes to local issues that really need to be dealt with. So I both like and dislike the bucolic nature of the Valley.”
I asked Heidi for her brief opinions on some popular Valley subject matters… The wineries and their impact? – They are a very important part of our economy but their impact on river and ground water has not been good. They also drive the price of real estate properties up so that local children or middle-income newcomers cannot afford to buy here. While I do love the wines that are produced in the Valley, I feel that there are just too many wineries at this point”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I read part of it every week, mainly the local news and about events or people”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I find their news & current events programs very helpful and also enjoy ‘Fresh Air’ and some of the music. Mostly I listen when I’m driving – not so much at home where I enjoy the quiet. I don’t listen to a lot of radio or watch much television”… The School System? – “Well considering where we are in this isolated Valley and given the social make-up of the area, we are doing better than we can expect. I’m friends with several teachers and know how much they put into their job. The school is very lucky to have such excellent teachers – Kathy Borst, Mary O’Brien, Kira Brennan, Kim Campbell, Kathy Cox to name a few.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Heidi and asked her to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “My horses.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Fox News channel.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Horses whinnying; birds chirping.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Braking logging trucks.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – A large mixed fresh salad.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Eleanor Roosevelt.”
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? – “A sharp knife; my flute; and the Encyclopedia Britannica – there I would finally get to read it!”
8. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “Films by Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa – ‘Seven Samurai’, ‘Ikiru’, – I love the sense of humanity and tenderness he shows; a book would be ‘The Name of the Rose’ by Umberto Eco – for the history and the suspense; and a song might be one that I sang with the Mendocino Music Festival Choir – Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’…”
9. Do you subscribe to any publications or newspapers? – “Yes, ‘The Guardian Weekly’ – it keeps me informed on a whole range of issues here and around the world.”
10. What is your favorite hobby? – “Besides the horses that would be reading and soap stone sculpting.”
11. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A writer of fabulous fiction stories – perhaps because I have been so close to reporting reality or grant writing for so much of my working life.”
12. What profession would you not like to do? – “Work at a garbage recycling plant.”
13. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “When I was fourteen – to a prom with Steven Bates, a shy, red-haired and freckled sweetheart.”
14. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “In terms of bigger life decisions I don’t look back with any regrets.”
15. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “The exhilaration of holding hands with 100,000 people in a human chain against the stationing of Pershing missiles in Germany.”
16. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “The film work that I did in Germany and here – hopefully making a difference. I always worked freelance and told the story as best I felt the story could be told. I believe that many touched people’s lives and were helpful to them… And I am very proud of my daughter too.”
17. What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Apart from the obvious – the birth of my daughter, it would be receiving a blue ribbon in a gymkhana when I was 14.”
18. What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “The death of my brother in 1980.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That I can keep my sense of humor even when times are tough.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome back – you learned a lot this time.”

Published in: on June 2, 2011 at 4:41 pm  Comments (2)