Beverly Dutra – July 15th, 2011

I met with Beverly at her home on what used to be Clear Water Ranch, off Whipple Road in the Valley behind Philo. It is now Sweet Water Ranch and is a beautiful and secluded little cluster of buildings amongst various redwoods and oaks. We sat down to talk in her living room with its wall-to-wall books…
Beverly was born in Richmond, California, in the East Bay, to parents Adam Weisgerber and Marie Lindeberg. Her father’s side had come from Germany and settled in Wheeling, West Virginia during the Revolutionary War and there was a George Washington Weisgerber and a Thomas Jefferson Weisgerber. “The family lived in that area until my grandfather, a potter, moved the family to Tiffin, Ohio and he and my grandmother, who was from a French family who had been booted out of Nova Scotia, Canada, had four children, including my father Adam. Then in 1918, my grandfather was hired to work for American Standard in Richmond and he moved out here alone. My grandmother Amy said that ‘no man should be alone in the West without his wife and family’, and they followed soon afterwards. My father went to St Mary’s College in the East Bay and played on the football team – The Galloping Gaels, and had hopes of being a football coach. His oldest brother, a pianist, had a jazz band in the 20’s and 30’s, the sister was the secretary and only female employee at the big dynamite factory nearby, and youngest sibling, Jack, was killed in an automobile accident… My grandfather had given up the pottery business and opened a Desoto/Plymouth/Packard car dealership, and my Dad, substituting for his younger brother, found work there and never did become a coach. They were very family-oriented and eventually all three siblings worked in the family business.”
Beverly’s mother was born in San Francisco, the daughter of a Fire Department Captain who was on the team that dynamited Van Ness Avenue to stop the spread of the fire that followed the earthquake in 1906. He was also the first captain of the first S.F. Bay fireboat. One side of the family was from Scandinavia and had come to the states in the 1880’s and then to California via the Dakota’s at some point. The French side of the family, originally from Metz, France, settled in San Francisco and Berkeley where they opened a brewery – Raspillier Brewery. “My great grandparents were in the City just before the earthquake and they moved to Berkeley – and never went back across the Bay. My grandmother married the ‘sweet fireman’ down the street and had three kids, the oldest being my mother. She was vivacious and won Miss San Francisco, leading to an invite to do movies in Hollywood but my grandmother said ‘No’! Instead she met the football player and they were married in 1930. This was not her first marriage and my half-sister, Lois, had been born in 1925. I came along in 1937 with my sister Jeannie next in 1940.”
Beverly describes her childhood as being “idyllic”. Richmond was typical of small town American with a couple of significant differences – the Kaiser shipping yards and the nearby Standard Oil refinery. “It was a very safe environment. We would spend hours in the parks, bike-riding, roller-skating, etc. We went to the theatre, put on our own shows in the neighborhood, make our own kites, and did projects with the neighbors. My grandparents had quarter-horses, along with lots of fruit trees at their nearby ranch in the Alhambra Valley. I had chores around the house and picked fruit when I was ten years old, setting up and selling my goods at the side of the road. My work ethic started early – where could you do that today?”
“I was very lucky to grow up there. It grounded me, and made me aware of the community and social issues. This was helped by my father taking me on trips all over the state, even Anderson Valley, as a child. He told me there was lots of illegal booze brought down through this Valley during earlier years of Prohibition. I was very much like him in that we were interested/curious about so many things. We visited many different people and places he knew, and I remember our family had friends we’d see at a sheep ranch in Cloverdale where I spent some summers… All of my schooling took place in Richmond and I am still in contact with friends from those days. It was assumed that students at the top of the class would go to the University of California. I found this objectionable. I liked school, particularly History and English, not languages and math. I was moderately social and, as I mentioned, I still have friends from those years. I worked on the school newspaper and the yearbook at Richmond High, which was a good school for academics and the trades… At the age of six, I had scarlet fever that became rheumatic fever, and was absent from school for two years. I did lots of things with my mother and learned to read at home and became a voracious reader, which is something that has always been a big part of my life. I read lots about recent history and current events – the Depression and World War 2. Around where we lived I saw Japanese people evicted and radio equipment taken out. However, they were sent to internment camps to protect them from any backlash not because of any real threat that they posed… My father continued to expose me to lots of different things, without making judgments himself, always be asking ‘what do you see?’ and ‘what do you think?’ The family talked about the war a lot and we always listened to the radio news and read the newspapers. My parents were Democrats and supported F.D.R. There was lots of fear at that time – but to understand that you really had to have been there.”
Beverly graduated in 1955 and was planning to attend S.F. State University. “However, my father wanted me to be independent and he intervened. He really liked the new idea at the time of junior colleges and so along with some of my friends I enrolled at West Contra Costa County Junior College. He liked the egalitarian nature of the college and knew several of the faculty members. This was a whole new idea in education, there was no tracking and we had some incredible teachers, most of them veterans of the war and I liked them very much. It changed my life in a very positive way in that from then on I wanted to be a teacher in such a college – I had no idea what I wanted to do before going there. I had been a file clerk at an insurance company when at school and I knew that was not for me… Anyway, I did very well there and I received a scholarship to go to Stanford in 1957. I also took lots of extra classes in history and literature. I found Stanford not snobby, just a very intellectual climate. However, because of the quality of the education at the J.C. I was able to do some tutoring myself at Stanford whilst I was studying. I graduated in 1959 and soon after married Bob Reardon whom I had met at the J.C. I decided to get my masters in psychology and teaching and went to S.F. State and we lived near to the campus. It was great to be in the city again. I knew it well and regard myself as very lucky to have experienced it before it became so developed – it was a ‘small city’ until the mid-sixties.”
Husband Bob was an accountant in Redwood City, south of San Francisco, where he formed his own company. While at S.F. State, Beverly became a ‘Girl Friday’ for the female President of a uranium company. “She was like a movie star and treated like one everywhere we went. I was very inexperienced in the business world and I learned a lot from her… I had done some teaching during my masters at the university and San Mateo J.C. but by August 1961found a fulltime position hard to get. I was told there were no jobs for women. However, I applied for a position at Diablo Valley College Community College – the sister college to CCJC, and did a very good first interview, although I thought I’d put my foot in my mouth on a couple if issues, yet later found out I had impressed them. They believed that the heart of the school is the student and that the administration is at the bottom of the totem pole, below students, teachers and staff… I was hired to teach psychology in the Social Services ‘area’ – it was not called a department.”
However, in September 1961, just as she was starting to teach, Beverly’s parents were both killed in an auto accident by a drunk driver on their 30th wedding anniversary…
“The faculty helped me a lot and I handled the grief by throwing myself into work… I taught general social science – biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, but also history, political science, and economics. This was a yearlong inter-disciplinary course and students flocked to it. It was teaching critical thinking – back to my father’s philosophy – ‘what do you see?’; ‘what do you think?’. We tried to develop each student’s personal worldview. Psychology was changed to focus on what people needed to know about themselves and their relationships with their family and at work. The college had a clear philosophy and every action followed from that philosophy. I learned that you are what you do, not what you say you are. The sixties and seventies were a very interesting time to teach and everyone in our faculty worked very hard, with many formal and informal meetings, and constant support for student activities and as student advisors… My efforts as a teacher during those years at that unique college and in that wonderful faculty were the final gifts that my parents gave me.”
Daughter Anne Marie Reardon was born in 1964. Around that time, as the Vietnam War etc were becoming hot topics, the administration at U.C. Berkeley had denied the rights of students to distribute leaflets etc containing political opinions on the campus. The Diablo Valley C.C. however, decided that the law needed to be changed and took the issue to the State in Sacramento and won, passing the law for every campus. Beverly was a part of this effort. “Following the G.I. Bill and the opportunities that resulted, the community college system continued the progress of new ideas in education. I am angry that this system has now gone the same way as universities and colleges with so much money invested in administration – where it should not be going, the same as with the bloated administrative and governance costs in local and state government, the health system, and education as a whole. These costs should be challenged and their existence questioned.”
In 1969, Beverly and Bob were divorced although they remained good friends until he passed away years later. At that time, she moved to the Family Life Education Department, with the opportunity to take psychology into the practical area. She was chairperson there for twelve years by which time there were three full-time teachers and thirty-five part-time. “The thrust of our program was built on observation, teaching the teachers and the parents how to learn to observe the children and pay attention. It was a very successful. At one point we raised $67,000 from various events – walkathons, bake sales, etc, and this became the down payment for a second school – a Developmental Childcare Center that opened in 1974. Also during these years I learned quite a lot about political in-fighting, mainly during a battle the faculty had with the school superintendent, who was eventually fired – this experience was to help in my later years of political activism… In the late seventies, the unions came in and that led to a tremendous change. I am both pro- and anti- union. They have done some incredible things but in their governance costs, like others, they have shot themselves in the foot. Unfortunately, in a school setting, they brought a lot of shallowness into the job and any ‘extras’ that teachers had done before were no longer done. Many had side jobs and the profession changed as quality faded and money became all-important.”
In the late seventies, Beverly became re-acquainted with Marvin Dutra whom she had met many years earlier at the Contra Costa College. “I knew his former wife and four wonderful children and we moved in together in 1979, getting married in 1984. The kids are great – competent, caring, interesting people, as are their partners.”
Marvin and his brothers owned a campground in Ft Bragg on the Mendocino coast, where they had gone abalone diving many times. “One day we were headed there on Hwy 20 from Willits when we had a car crash. I was badly concussed and had broken ribs. Not long after this my adrenal glands began to fail and it was thought I could die. I knew I had to quit teaching because I could only do that job one way – giving everything. The accompanying workload, and particularly the stress, was a big issue in my recovery. I finally left the profession in 1981. It was a very hard decision – I loved teaching. The best part is that you are always learning yourself and I haven’t given that up as I continue to enjoy new challenges.”
Beverly had been living in Orinda for a time before moving to Martinez in 1978. From there she and Marvin had done some traveling in an R.V. throughout the west – Idaho, Colorado, and up to British Columbia in Canada. Once in Martinez she became involved in local politics, including a battle with the local government on the issue of late-night baseball lights at a nearby park, and another with the Shell Refinery during which she learned a lot about California’s environmental laws. She was the Chairperson of the Committee that was formed to fight the introduction of a toxic incinerator locally. It was a major battle that she and her group won and she regards this victory as a real contribution she has made in her life.
In the eighties, Beverly and Marvin bought his brothers out of the campground and became the owners of the Pomo Campgrounds on the coast in Ft Bragg. “I had made many visits to the coastal towns of Ft Bragg, Mendocino, Point Arena, and Bodega Bay over the years and remember as a child thinking as we drove out of Cloverdale on Hwy 128 that it felt we were going to a special place. I was on a deer hunt on the Rawles Ranch (now Breggo Cellars Winery) when I was just ten years old. I had been to the Mendocino County Fair a few times too – my Dad was the director of the Contra Costa Fair. By the mid-eighties, Marvin was still a lieutenant in the Berkeley Fire Department but we agreed that we wanted to move away from the rapid urbanization of the Bay Area and began to search around. In 1989 my daughter Anne and I came to the Valley to look at some property for sale. It was the Clearwater Ranch School in Philo which in these later years was being used for the treatment of thirty-five abused and abandoned kids with lots of staff working there – therapists, cooks, custodians. At times it seems like everyone in the Valley has worked there. As we looked around Anne said ‘There’s been lots of blood and pain here, but it’s been a good place, Mom.’ I knew there could be lots of problems but when Marvin came up to take a look, after twenty minutes he said ‘Yes.’ We met with the director – a psychiatrist and lawyer, and made an offer that was accepted. We began work on the big clean-up and the electricity and water situation. We have respected the history of the place and kept the old buildings with just the necessary renovations being carried out as we continued to live in the Bay Area”
In 1993, Beverly and Marvin decided to take over the running of the campgrounds/R.V. camp on the coast. “We rather arrogantly thought we could do that and lived in a mobile home on the site, while continuing to work at the Philo property, now Sweetwater Ranch, as often as we could get away from the coast.” By about 1990-91, after owning property here for a year or two, Beverly had made the acquaintance of some like-minded Valley folks, and with Diane Paget and Steve Hall, with help from Mark Scaramella, they formed the Friends of the Navarro River Watershed, with the goals of protecting the waters and controlling its extraction. “It was being pumped like crazy and wells were running dry. We made the state aware of this problem and proper studies were carried out. It was quite a fight with the wineries to get things noticed and we did a lot of work on that.”
“Currently another group works on the problem. If we owe anything to anyone on this we owe it to Daniel Myers who has done a wonderful job with his efforts on protecting the river. Unfortunately, the tendency for exploitation of the river continues. Not by everyone – some of the wineries are locally owned and the owners have had kids at the school. They have Valley sensibilities but others do not. The big fight in the West has always been water – it will get bigger and more ugly. The wineries are not the only ones to blame. There is no fishing left because the streams are full of gravel and silt due to the coast being over-logged. The monoculture of the winery’s dominance here, the lack of a slaughterhouse for cattle and sheep (for which the land is great around here) – I could go on and on, there are so many issues to discuss on this – another time perhaps. I will just ask ‘Are we going to be flushing our toilets with wine?’”
These days Beverly likes to garden, continues to enjoy her reading, and is a big fan of the music of the 30’s and 40’s – particularly the bandleaders Benny Goodman and trombonist Jack Teagarden, but also Bing Crosby’s jazz singing and Teddy Wilson the jazz pianist. She likes to write letters to lots of people and does not own a computer or watch television. Beverly occasionally attends a Valley event but she and Marvin are not very group-oriented. “Our daughter Anne, who runs an after-school program in Lafayette, comes to visit. It is special when her husband Peter and dog Francis can visit too. We have a large extended family – Marvin has eighteen first cousins, and they also come and stay, as do my former students from time to time – we have plenty of room for them… I joined the Unity Club in 1990 because otherwise I tend to be reclusive. I needed to be around female energy and I respect the historical sense of the club and it’s community orientation. We have to work to maintain quality of community here. I have ‘responsibility’ disease and this is a way I can contribute to the community.”
“I admire what fire chief Colin Wilson has done here and so I joined the Mendocino County Fire Council and was the Valley’s representative for several years. I have had to stop; it became too much work… I attend the Community Action Committee occasionally, and have been quite involved with the ‘Save our Deputy Sheriff’ Movement that has been a big talking point in the last year or so here. We need our police to be community based and hopefully we can keep things the way they are. We still hope to get Deputy Walker a canine. I grew up with German shepherds – my mother raised and sold them and I had one for many years, However, I have had lymes disease and cannot be near any ticks so we no longer have a dog… I must be careful with my health and must learn to say ‘No’ to people but, as I said, I have ‘responsibility’ disease and feel we must save the deputies so my work there continues. A capitalist and democratic society cannot work without rules and we need controls and guidelines on that. Without these and the deputies to enforce them, greed coupled with drugs can quickly destroy a community.”
I asked Beverly for her response to various Valley issues… The School System? – “I try to look at the positives. It was amazing that in the bond issue last year, a school system that is 80% Hispanic was supported by a tax-paying community that is not essentially Hispanic. That segment is clearly hoping that this support for education will lead to improvement and that the future is with the kids. From such successes, hope is offered although I am not so naïve to think that everyone does well after leaving school… I have attended the past three Elementary School graduations, well organized by staff. The children, parents and visitors were all respectful of the ceremony – well done. Then I went to the 8th grade graduation and it was very poor in comparison. There was so much noise – yelling and screaming; they were out of control. Parameters were needed. It shouldn’t be a circus atmosphere. These events should be treated seriously and with respect. The teachers are there to teach, not to be loved; teaching should be their focus and hopefully it is… Education is the freeing of people and the provision of tools to show them how to learn to be independent.”
The wineries and their impact? – “They can be destructive and continue to be of concern, excepting the few locally-owned ones such as Handley, Navarro, Greenwood Ridge… I am encouraged when I hear things such as Kurt Schoenemann putting in 10 acres of organic at his Ferrington Vineyards property just north of Boonville”… Law and Order? – “In the Valley it is very effective as it stands because it is community oriented – it is essential that is stays that way. If we keep saying that may be it will bang somebody on the head enough times so that they will keep it that way”… Drugs in the Valley? – “My concern is with the effects of drugs on the human brain, that is not completely formed until the age of twenty-four. The consequences of drug taking continue over a lifetime, both personally and socially. I taught in the 60’s and 70’s and saw at first hand the results. ‘What would you have been without it’, I find myself asking those affected”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – Wonderful! If we lost it, or the Philo Post Office crew, I would consider leaving the Valley! The A.V.A. and the New Hampshire Gazette are the only two real newspapers left in the country”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Beverly and asked her to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Seeing the faces of my husband and my daughter.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Unfairness.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “The Quiet – clouds moving.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Traffic in the Valley… And these days the Bay Area is never, for one moment, quiet…”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Lamb.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Molly Ivins – the American newspaper columnist, liberal political commentator, humorist and author, would be my choice, although Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill are not far behind…. As for the living, perhaps international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, or even Obama – I have some suggestions about junior colleges for him…”
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? – “Family photos – including those of our pets; my ‘Thou shalt not Whine’ sign – my mother always used to say, ‘I don’t care who did it, fix it!’; and the statue I have of a young women reading a book – reading has been my lifelong passion and was always important in my family.”
8. What is your favorite hobby? – “Reading – almost anything – politics, history, mysteries, romances, biographies, cookbooks…”
9. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “An investigative reporter with a degree in environmental law.”
10. What profession would you not like to do? – “Bartending and having to listen to the same stories over and over again.”
11. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I feel my life has been so blessed – there are no changes that I would make.”
12. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “The birth of Anne; my marriage to Marvin.”
13. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “My teaching – somebody said I was the ‘Julia Child of teaching’ and that made me feel very good because they knew how much I cared about it.”
14. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “My enthusiasm or maybe my listening ability.”
15. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, I wouldn’t care what he has to say but I’d say ‘I have some questions for you’.”

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm  Comments (1)  

Manuel Soto – July 9th, 2011

I met with Manuel at the family property in Goodacre Road on the outskirts of Boonville. We sat down in the garden in the shade with a cup of coffee and as we began our conversation Manuel’s wife, Lucia, and son, Justin, served up some superb freshly made guacamole and chips, then a platter of delicious chicken wings, and finally a couple of cans of Guinness!
Manuel was born in Mexico in 1963, in the state of Zacatecas. His family lived in a very rural area of the state on a ranch called Los Bajius de la Gloria, about twenty miles or more from the nearest town, which is Jalpa, a town of perhaps 10,000 people that was originally founded in the 1500’s by Spanish explorers searching for gold and silver. The Indian population inter-mixed with Spanish and other European peoples to form today’s meztisos. Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Latin America and Spain for people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent and Manuel refers to himself as one, rather than Mexican.
“Where we lived is dramatically more rural than Boonville. Our nearest neighbors were fifteen miles away. My father, Efren Soto was one of ten kids who for many generations had worked on cattle ranches. His mother had blue eyes but none of her sixty-five grandchildren did. My mother Maria Espinoza had some Indian blood and was also from a cattle-raising family, but they owned some land of their own. She was one of eighteen. My parents were married in early 1963 and I was born ten months later, the oldest of six, with Efren, Esther, Amelia, Antonio and Ernesto following.”
Manuel lived on the ranch until he was four and then he went to school in a place called La Colonia Arechiga, a larger ranch on the way to Jalpa, where he stayed with his grandfather Soto through the week and his Dad would come and get him for the weekends. “I went to school there but half the time the teacher failed to show up or he’d leave at noon. Everywhere we went was on horse trails, there were no roads. The education was very, very basic. My parents had hardly any schooling themselves and my mother had me when she was just seventeen. But they did know that education was important for us kids… We had chores on the ranch such as taking the cows out, feeding the chickens, and planting corn by following my Dad along the ditch he made by driving a mule and plough… After a year there we moved to Jalpa, a town about the same size as central Ukiah. My Dad stayed at the ranch for work and we lived at an aunt’s house in the ‘city.’ I was then sent to a better school in the town of Tepechitlan, a town about the same size as Jalpa, where I lived with my father’s brother while my parents stayed in Jalpa. Dad’s work was getting less on the ranch and so in about 1969 he decided to move the whole family – Mom, Esther, Esther, and Amelia to Tepechitlan, where there were more opportunities for work.”
Manuel enjoyed school – his favorite subjects were science and math. He was a quiet kid and had trouble with peer pressure. Bullying was tolerated and he suffered as a result. “Kids like me, kids who were not fighters, we were picked on. Then one day I had taken enough and I made a statement. After that it was fine and I enjoyed school more. My Dad had found a decent job in construction and we even had some money in the bank. Then when Antonio was born there were problems. He had eye cancer, which was diagnosed when he was just eight months old. He lost his eye. The bills for the treatment were very big and my Dad had gone to Chicago in the States to earn more money to pay for this. He had friends there, found work, and sent money back to us in Mexico. We also got some family help with the Soto family and many aunts all living in Tepechitlan.”
Manuel’s father spent a few years in the U.S. and by the time he returned Manuel was fifteen and had left school and another brother was born – Ernesto. “My mother’s brothers were legally working in the States and one day my parents sat me down and asked me if I wanted to go. I was very excited at the thought of going there. I knew some English by this time and said I’d go. The family gave me $500 and on April 10th, 1979 I met a distant uncle from Jalpa and we caught a bus to Tijuana, heading for ‘El Norte’…”
“It took a day or so to get there and we got a motel room. There were several men there and I was the only boy. I was still excited but also now anxious as I realized what was happening. My uncle told me I was on my own at that point – not what he had told my mother. Now I didn’t have anybody. I had spent half of my money and had to give the rest to the ‘coyote’ (the people smuggler). I knew what I was doing was illegal. I am not proud to have broken the law but it was not about that – it was about survival. The coyote left me without any money and I cried. I was just a fifteen-year-old boy… A few nights later we were told to leave the motel and walked to the airport that was right on the border. We were told to walk across the runways to the other side. I was near the front of the group of about fifteen guys. We climbed the cyclone fence and started to cross the runway. There was no river – I was no wetback! As we ran a plane was landing and it nearly blew us away. I was hanging on to the ground until it passed and then I ran across two runways to the fence on the other side where we climbed another fence and started to walk across desert… The coyote told us a little later that we were in the United States. I’m thinking – ‘well, where’s the marker to tell us we have crossed the border?’… I was very scared but knew I had only one way I could go. We walked for several hours and almost got caught twice by the border patrol. We also had to watch out for rattlesnakes. My uncle reminded me that I was on my own and said, ‘If we get separated, I hope you survive.’ I felt very much alone after being in the safe cocoon of my parents just a few days earlier.”
“It rained most of the night and the next morning and we took shelter under bushes for a time. We had little food and water and kept walking before reaching what I think was Chula Vista by the afternoon. A white Cadillac car drove up to meet us with a black guy behind the wheel. He said he would take eight of us and I was chosen. Three guys were hidden in a small space behind the back seat. Then four guys were told to get in the trunk – there was no room for me. The black guy said ‘Get in there!’ and I had to get in the trunk on top of the four guys lying there. There was nobody sitting inside the car except the driver. We got through the checkpoints where I assume bribes were paid. It was a terrible journey. I was close to the muffler and my shoulder was burned but I could not move away. We had no water and did not stop until we reached Los Angeles where another uncle came and collected me, paying the coyote a further $350. I felt great relief. The next day another uncle came and picked me up and drove me all the way to Anderson Valley – this time I got to enjoy the ride.”
Manuel stayed with his mother’s family here in the Valley, having maybe met them once before, and soon started work in construction with a local contractor. A few months later, by June, he was working for Gowan’s in the apple orchards. “All through the eighties people would be arriving from Mexico in big numbers. We were at the start of that. My parents came in June 1980 and my Dad started work the next day at the mill. We had two incomes and so we rented a house in Philo, across from Lemons’ Market, next to the mill. I was a regular worker by that time and had some status, I guess. The rest of my brothers and sisters came in January 1981 and all of them enrolled at the Anderson Valley schools. We moved again – just down the road to a bigger family home behind what was the old Philo Post Office.”
At the age of eighteen, Manuel started work for Tim Bates at the Apple Farm earning $3.50 an hour. “I was filled with joy – that was big bucks! They were very good to me there and I thank them to this day. I had money to go out and play pool with friends and we’d go to the bar in Boonville – Mary Jane’s or the Smiling Deer it later became. It was mainly Anglos who drank there although it was also the choice of the Mexicans in the Valley. There were not many Mexicans here back then, we were an endangered species – now it’s changed! There were, shall we say, some culture clashes. People are always afraid of the unknown and there was a reaction to us arriving and for us a consequence – often a bad one. It is human nature. Working at Gowans, I came into little contact with non-Mexicans and was not familiar with the American culture at first, so it came as a surprise when incidents happened at the bar. I was young, stupid, and naïve. I still am a couple of those things sometimes… I didn’t come here to change things. I came here to make a better living for me and my family. I have paid taxes from day one. I have paid my dues and have always gone with the program.”
Manuel worked at the Apple Farm for a couple of years by which time he was earning $5 an hour, and continued to live with his parents. “It is in the Mestizo culture that you live with your parents and then take care of them when they get older.” In 1982 the family moved to the Floodgate area, south of Navarro, on to Skip Bloyd’s Ranch, which had been bought by Randy Faulk. “I left the Apple Farm in 1983 when I was offered $11 an hour to work in the woods for a local logging company. The wineries had still not really taken off yet and logging was the main industry. I set chokers in the woods for the next seven years, for a couple of different companies – the money was good but setting chokers was the only job available to me in the woods at that time – it became different later, but the logging has almost all gone now.”
In 1987, Manuel, now with his ‘green card’ (he got his citizenship a few years later), returned to Mexico for the first time since coming to the States. He was twenty-three and drove there with his mother and brother Efren. “I didn’t see any coyotes this time – only four-legged dead ones. We visited family and friends and had a great time. One day I was asked by my friend Jose to give a ride to some people. One of these was a girl called Lucia Davila. I really liked her. We visited every year in the December/January and each time I went we would see each other as friends and I visited with her family. I had a girlfriend here in the States and she had a boyfriend there. On one of the visits, I decided it was time to ask her out as a girlfriend. She said ‘No – we live too far apart, too many things can happen and change.’ I was upset and my ego was crushed…. Then a year later she came to the States – to Los Angeles. We had been writing to each other and I went down there to see her as a surprise but couldn’t find her and she returned to Mexico. On my next visit, she said she would go out with me. She was very brave to see me – she did not know me very well. We had only seen each other a few times each year. Plus, her father was not sure about me – she was her Dad’s ‘little girl.’ He said to me ‘I hope you are doing this in good faith – we don’t know you.’ He had me in his sights but I was genuine and so Lucia came here in December 1992 and we were married in January 1993.
In 1990, when Manuel finally stopped working in the woods, he and the family still at home – Mom, Dad, and brothers Antonio and Ernesto, moved to the opposite end of the Valley, to the Martz Vineyards in the Yorkville Highlands (now Maple Creek Winery). They had a home and he worked to pay the rent there while his father was the vineyard manager. When Lucia arrived and they were married they lived in a cabin on the Martz property and son Justin was born in March 1995. “I left the vineyard in 1994 and started to work as the custodian for the school. Then in 1997 Lucia got a job as teaching assistant at the elementary school with Donna Pierson-Pugh, Val Smith, and Trish Beverley as her co-workers – she is still there today and she also works at Lauren’s Restaurant… I was custodian for a few years then became the school bus driver in 1999, working with Shorty Adams and Troy Kreienhop. I love it there but it is a challenge. I still do a couple of hours custodian work each day, an hour of groundwork, and five hours of driving. The family pooled our resources and bought eleven acres here on Goodacre Road in 1999. We have lived here ever since and sometimes it is a bit of a struggle but that’s how life often is – there are no free meals.”
When not working or doing jobs around the property, Manuel likes to work with the singing canaries that he breeds, trains, and enters into an annual competition – a hobby that has been very enjoyable for him in the past several years. The family also likes to camp and they continue to visit Mexico every other year and see the family in Tepechitlan. “We are here to stay – as my Dad says, ‘If they don’t kick us out, we’re not going back.’ I came in 1979 and we have been here as a whole family since 1981 – thirty years. We have never been a strain on the government, in fact we actually work for this country.”
I asked Manuel for an image that comes to mind when he thinks about his father. “He is my hero. He is both strict and wise – there has never been any violence in this family. He is very precious.” And his mother? “The Queen of my world. My other Queen is my wife but I had to have a Mom before I could have Lucia”… And religion? “I was raised Catholic but I am not a Catholic. My wife goes to church and that is fine. My son will make his own mind up. If you want to have friends don’t talk about religion or politics. Talk about fishing or panning for gold!”
“I like the small town atmosphere of the Valley – something I have always felt comfortable with. There are many good people here, but some bad. People gossip too much and there is too much traffic on Hwy 128.” What about the wineries and their impact? – “They provide jobs and bring in money”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I read some of it sometimes”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “It’s good for local news and information, and they did a great job when the lightning fires were happening. It’s a great tool at times like that, but KGO is my station”…The School System? – “A great place! My kid goes there and they are doing a good job with him. There are no bad teachers; there are some bad students. My Dad told me a long time ago – ‘If there is something you don’t get from the teachers, you can always get it from the library if you really want to know it. It is up to you.’ It is easy to blame others for your difficulties. It is up to you to go and get want you want, or at least try your very best to do that”… Drugs in the Valley? – “They are not a part of my life so I really don’t have anything to say. I do know we will not put up with it with Justin if he uses them. He’ll be straight to juvenile hall. He plays by our rules while he is in our home.”
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 some I came up with myself…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “My canary birds singing in the morning – I breed, train, and show the birds.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “People yelling.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Water running in the creeks; wind blowing through the trees.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Bad rock and roll; the sound of the J-brakes on trucks.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “My mother’s handmade tortillas, in a mole sauce and with chicken… Oh, and don’t forget the frijoles (beans)! You can call me a ‘beaner’ if you like – I’ve been called worse.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “My father’s mother – Grandma Teresa, a.k.a. Chita.”
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 fishing pole, a knife, and a metal detector – so I could still do one of my hobbies – and might find something useful.”
8. What scares you? – “Death – I don’t know it so it scares me.”
9. What is your favorite hobby? – “Breeding and raising my canaries. They are singing canaries – the breed is Belgian Waterslager. I am a member of the Western Waterslager Club and we meet and compete with our birds in singing competitions… I also like to work with a metal detector, mainly when I visit Mexico.”
10. 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 – planes or even helicopters, that have always fascinated me.”
11. What profession would you not like to do? – “Cleaning out septic tanks – but if I had no choice then I would do it.”
12. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I was sixteen and I took a girl to Ukiah to see a movie and have a meal.”
13. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I would have got more of an education.”
14. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “Being with Lucia – she is my best friend and companion.”
15. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “My family here – Lucia and Justin. They are who I am. I am also very proud of my parents and all they have done.”
16. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “My sense of humor – but it’s not always welcome or funny for everyone!”
17. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “He’ll probably say ‘What the hell are you doing here!?’… If he said ‘You were stubborn but you have a good heart’ then that would be fine with me.”

Published in: on July 21, 2011 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ellen Ingram – July 2nd, 2011

I met with Ellen at her home on Hwy 128, opposite the Lazy Creek Vineyard, where she lives with husband Mark Fontaine. She gave me a cup of good coffee and a generous serving of her really delicious grape cobbler and we sat down to chat…
Ellen was born in Healdsburg when her family was living on Sunset View Ranch a couple above Navarro, at the home of her grandfather Alva C. Ingram. “We lived in the two-storey home while my grandparents had the log cabin with an outhouse and a front door that opened out on to a drop of a few feet because the porch was never built – you had to use the side door.”
Ellen’s parents were Rea Ingram and Barbara Austin who had a boy and two other girls. “Amos Burgess came to the Valley in 1954 with the Beeson Family and he wrote back to his sister, Nancy, who had married Daniel Holder Ingram, in Missouri, that the family should move out here. They eventually did, in a wagon train in 1859. My great grandfather, Daniel Cass Ingram was just about old enough at the time to take responsibility for the rifle on that trip – the gun is now in the Anderson Valley Museum, along with a fiddle of my grandfather’s… The family lived in various places in the Valley and Cloverdale, although some moved to Calistoga and died in a smallpox epidemic. They could not afford the cemetery so they were buried at home and when the highway was built they just paved over them – which is where they are to this day… Seven of Daniel’s kids survived into adulthood, including my grandfather, Alva Cass, who was the youngest. He had apples and sheep in the hills above the Valley in the 30’s and 40’s. The family were all in farming, whether it was sheep, apples, picking hops, etc. My Dad was the youngest of six and he was named Rea Daniel Ingram after the man who helped deliver him – Dr Rea in Ukiah, He told us we could never use his name Rea as a first name for any of our kids as so many people had misspelled it over the years but a few relatives have used it as a middle name.”
The Austin side of the family was from the Scottsdale area of Arizona. Ellen’s grandfather, Warren Austin, owned a huge dairy farm and was also a teacher and superintendent of schools in that area. “Their ancestor was Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Austin, Texas, and my grandfather was involved in the Salt River Project – an organization bringing power and water to the region… My mother used to go to the dances at the local military base – even though she was just sixteen her parents trusted her, and at one of these she met Warren Ingram, who was in the forces. He talked about his brother and the story goes that she decided she wanted to meet him and came to Anderson Valley where she found work at the Highland Ranch, made friends with Charmian Blattner among others, and got to meet the Ingram family. She married my Dad in 1948 and daughter Mary was born in 1949, Bob coming next in 1951, then me in 1952 and finally Donna in 1955.”
Ellen and the family lived on the ranch above Navarro until 1958. In those years she remembers playing outdoors a lot, the large cherry tree in the yard, and the many family gatherings that took place. She also remembers her grandparents’ outhouse – “a two-holer – one big and one small.” Her Dad bought the property on Hwy 128 where she now lives after another prospective buyer backed off to let Rea and his young family move in. Rea Ingram was the school bus driver and he parked the bus right outside the house at the edge of the road. “On the property opposite, now the Lazy Creek Winery, lived Grandma Pinoli – a woman who had amazing healing powers. Other than that there were not many people around this area of the Valley. There were certainly no wineries then – the Nunn Ranch was where Husch and Roederer now sit, and the Bloyd’s lived on Monte Bloyd Road. My best friend, Trish Maddux lived a mile away… Meanwhile my grandfather Alva Cass Ingram had married again after my grandmother Eva passed away. This was to Grandma Katherine who also passed and later Grandfather sold the ranch on the ridge top and married Grandma Mary. I was always told that we were related to everyone in Anderson Valley except the Rawles’ and Gowans.”
Ellen’s father had been the school bus driver in his days up on the ranch during which time he parked it down near to Hwy 128 on Wendling Soda Creek Road in Navarro, driving into Boonville every day. He was the bus driver from the late forties for many years, along with people such as Reno Redding and Bill West. “I went to Kindergarten in the Little Red Schoolhouse – which was white by the way, and faced in a different direction to that which it faces now. It was painted red when it became the museum and was called the Little Red Schoolhouse Museum… I went to 1st grade at the school in what is now the Legion Hall or Senior Center – my teacher was Beth Tuttle, and then the rest of grade school was at the site where the elementary school is now… We lived in what were the boonies, I guess. We didn’t get into town much. My Dad was the head bus driver and custodian at the school and Mom taught 2nd grade and then Kindergarten at the white schoolhouse and she was also the librarian. I went to 5th through 7th grade at the old high school and for 8th grade on I attended where the high school is now, in Boonville, along with classmates such as Robert Pinoli, Stephanie Adams (born Lawson), Linda Perry (Harold’s daughter), Connie Lemons (Harding); and Ernie Pardini, who was a little younger than us. My teachers included Mrs. Farrer, Mrs. Hawkins, and Ron Snowden…”
Ellen liked school and found the classes “pretty easy.” Her favorite subjects were reading and English and she did not like typing and learning Spanish. “In 7th grade Spanish we just watched old Spanish movies, then in high school the teacher didn’t know much either and would ask Carl Gowan, who worked around the Spanish-speaking community on his family’s farm, to translate for us… “I enjoyed some sports and joined the Girls Athletic Association after school program, playing baseball and a couple of times at The Fairgrounds in Boonville I played ‘powder-puff’ football… I was quite shy but was always considered a ‘brain/ because I was an Ingram, I guess, and I certainly skated on the name sometimes and was accepted in most of the various cliques or groups at the school. My crowd were not the cheerleaders, nor the jocks, nor the brains – we were not the social types…”
The principal at the elementary school, James Dean, these days the director of Unicorn Youth Services group home in Philo, had started a summer camp for wards of the court at Rancheria Camp, south of Boonville. His counselors at the camp were former boy scouts from Modesto, where he had previously lived. Ellen’s best friend, Trish, and Trish’s mother, also helped out at the camp and one day during the summer between her junior and senior year, Trish suggested that Ellen come to the camp and meet the new horse wrangler – Danny Biggs from Modesto. “It was expected that I would go to college – my brother Bob and sister Mary had both gone to U.C. Davis – a school that was too big for my liking. Anyway, I met Danny, we started to date, and we saw a lot of each other that summer. I worked as a lifeguard at the camp and also had a job at Gowans’ Oak Tree fruit stand. But once we returned to school in the fall, it was hard being so far apart. Dating long distance is not easy so when college decisions had to be made I applied to go to school at Stanislaus State University, near to his home in Modesto.”
Danny was at the Modesto Junior College but then transferred to Stanislaus State. Two years later Ellen and Danny were married and lived in an apartment in an old house in the town of Turlock but Ellen would visit Anderson Valley every month or two and never missed the County Fair in September. In the February of her senior year of studying for a Sociology degree, Ellen dropped out of school. “I had to work at a nursing home for five days a week to support us through school – one of us had to get a job. Danny graduated and went to the University of the Pacific in Stockton where he got his masters in Chemistry. I got a job in a nursing home in Stockton and then had our first daughter, Jodie in May of 1976. In August of that year Danny got a job as a chemistry teacher at S.W. Louisiana State University and we moved to Lafayette, Louisiana – the heart of Cajun country”… In November 1978, daughter Jennie was born and Danny moved to a job with the Gulf South Research Institute in their quality control department and then in February 1980 to another job, this time with Foremost-McKesson in the Bay Area. I stayed with the girls and planned to move a month or so later…
Tragedy struck in April 1980 when Danny drowned while on a solo fishing trip on the Clavey River in the Sierra’s. He was just twenty-seven years old. “His mother told him not to go – she had a feeling about the trip and has good intuition – a few years earlier she had told Danny and me not to go out one night and we turned our car over in the snow a few hours later. Our girls were four and one-and-a-half. I sold our house in Louisiana and my parents came to get us and took us to Modesto to stay with Danny’s parents where we stayed for a time before we bought another house. We frequently visited the Valley to see the grandparents but stayed in the Modesto area close by Danny’s family.”
In 1982, Ellen met and married her second husband but it was not a good thing although third daughter Amanda came along on July 4th 1983. “It did not work out. He had drug and alcohol issues and we even sold the house to keep him happy. We moved to Redwood Valley and stuck it out for six years but it was never good and we got a divorce in 1988, with the girls now twelve, ten, and five. He has turned his life around now and he’s o.k.”
Ellen continued to keep in touch with the Biggs family and got a job with the Ukiah Unified School District as an assistant paraprofessional working with the severely disabled kids in high school for three years then a further twenty years, from 1987 until 2007 at Oak Manor Elementary School. “It was a good job, working school days and hours with good pay and benefits – the best job for me in my situation. I received social security help with the girls until they each turned eighteen. My sister Donna lived nearby to us in Redwood Valley and my parents were still in the house here in the Valley. During the summers I worked at the Redwood Empire Fair in the Fine Arts building for minimum wage but I had lots of fun with the artists. For ten or twelve years in a row I also taught swimming on the Eel River and I’d go up there along with Mom and Dad and my sisters and their kids. My parents were both on the volunteer ambulance crew for many years, my mother taught round dancing at the Grange, and they were both regularly involved with Senior events in the Valley.”
In 1990, Ellen’s best friend and fellow paraprofessional, Nancy Jameson, and her husband Ron, had a friend staying with them in Redwood Valley – Mark Fontaine. “Jokingly, Nancy and I were talking about a questionnaire that women should take if they were thinking about going out with Mark. He was not good. Anyway, it was arranged for the four of us to go out and they were to be his ‘chaperone’ – he was not sure about doing it and as they waited for me to arrive at their house he asked them to leave the back door open in case he changed his mind and wanted to suddenly leave! We went dancing at Blue Lakes on Hwy 20 and had a good time. We went there a few more times and it was kind of working out between Mark and me. However, I wanted to be sure about one thing before we moved forward – Jennie had experienced a bad relationship with my second husband and I did not want that to happen again. I needed to know what she thought of Mark and if she didn’t like him then we would stop seeing each other. I had been a single mother for too long to go through that again and end up back where I started. Jennie is strong-willed, like Mark, and it would not have worked if they didn’t get along, but she said ‘He is a cowboy and he has horses – he’s fine with me.’ We were married in June 1991, having a cowboy wedding with horses and wagons in Redwood Valley… We bought a house there, the girls had horses, and for the next ten years we raised the family.
In 1998, Jennie, who had attended Chico State University, married Chris and they now live in Redwood Valley where they have two children – Logan Rea and Jessica, losing baby Ben at a very young age. Amanda married David in 2001 and they had two – Ryan and Katie, before some difficulties arose and Ellen and Mark took the kids in and raised them for a year or so. Then a third child, Ella Rea, was born in 2007 and the family was reunited… Jodie went to U.C. Davis where she met Jens, a German student, and they were married sometime around 2004 and now have two children also – Anna and Sophie, who were both born in Holland and now the family lives in Germany… Ellen’s father had a heart attack, his second, in 1999 and passed away. Ellen’s mother moved in with them for a short time but then went to Arizona to live with her brother Bob. She was there for about three years before she passed in October 2009.
In 2008, with the house here in the Valley now empty, Ellen decided to ‘go home’ and she and Mark moved here, with Ellen commuting to her job in Ukiah for the next year. At that point, in October 2009, Mark had a heart attack when he was already in the Intensive Care Unit recovering from a femoral bypass operation. As a result Ellen retired in November, although she had been planning to stay for a further couple of years until this happened. She still does thirty days a year as a consultant for the Ukiah school district.
Since moving back to the Valley, both Ellen and Mark have become docents for the A.V. Museum and are involved in various Veterans’ events. Ellen is in the American Legion Auxiliary (she’s been in that organization since a child and her parents were involved) and Mark is the Legion adjutant. They socialize at the Senior Center and the various Valley events, and the kids and grandchildren visit. Of great importance to them is the Valley Bible Fellowship group to which they belong. “It is a Bible Study church in Boonville, at the Live Oak Building. I went to a Methodist Church as a kid, Sunday school too, although I can’t remember why. I don’t believe my parents made me go. Then when my grandson Ben died at just one month old it really hit the family. He died, while in my care, of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – crib death. It was really hard to deal with. Jennie and Chris, who are both into the church, said it was God’s way of dealing with things. I told Mark I wanted to start to go to church again and I guess we were thinking about the Methodist Church in the Valley. However, we talked to the Kephart’s, friends in the Valley, and they suggested the Valley Bible Fellowship. We went and it was like home. The church gave us great comfort and a sense of community, helping us to settle here once again and fit in. It’s been a long way home but I’m here and very happy.”
I asked Ellen for a strong image she had of her father. “The perfect father – everyone liked him. He was intelligent, fair, respected. My brother Bob is a lot like him”… And her mother? “Her cooking! Black-eyed peas and spaghetti sauce. She was a smart woman and usually laughing.”
“The Valley is home to me. I love the climate and it is such a pretty place, plus there are lots of good people here. Mark wanted to move here earlier but I was reluctant – there is not much here for the kids. For adults without kids it is great… I don’t like the amount of traffic coming through these days and the visitors not only speed but they don’t know how to handle the curves – breaking all the time instead of slowing down and taking them gently…”
I asked Ellen for her response to various issues that Valley folks seem to talk about quite often… The wineries and their impact on the Valley? – “I don’t like what it seems they have done to the water supplies, although that has always been a problem to some degree. And I do miss the apple orchards. There are too many wineries now but they make a good product and in some ways they are good for the Valley”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I have little use for most of it. I do like reading the interviews, the local pages, ‘Off the Record’, and a few of the editorials”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “Since moving back here I listen in the car, but mostly tune in to the Christian station – K-LOVE”… Changes in the Valley? – “The wineries have made the biggest changes here – both visually and culturally.” To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Ellen and asked her to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “The grandkids…”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “The lack of respect some people have for others, particularly kids for their elders… Loud, mouthy kids… It used be that the bad kids stood out from the crowd – they were the minority; now it is the good ones who do…”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “My cat purring.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “The brakes on a big truck.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – A rare steak, fried potatoes, artichokes, and a glass of red wine.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “My Dad.”
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? – “Family photographs; a quilt I made for my Grandfather; a trunk that is full of family memorabilia. We have so much stuff here. My mother was a hoarder and so am I.”
8. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “The song would be ‘Amazing Grace’… The film and book would be the same one – ‘Pay it forward’. It is based around the idea of paying a favor not back, but forward – repaying good deeds not with payback, but with new good deeds done to three new people. From this a new social movement might be created with the goal of making the world a better place”…(Interviewer’s note – The film starred Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment. The book is by Catherine Ryan Hyde and Benjamin Franklin discussed this concept in his day.)
9. What is your favorite hobby? – Sewing and quilting projects; beadwork; jigsaw puzzles. I like to have several projects going at the same time. I do have A.D.D. tendencies – only half joking!”
13. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “I’ve traveled quite a lot in recent years for the first time in my life and I really have enjoyed it. A job involved in travel would have been something I think I would have liked and at high school I did have thoughts about being an air hostess/stewardess.”
14. What profession would you not like to do? – “Work in convalescent hospitals – I am glad I don’t have to do that ever again.”
15. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I was sixteen and Danny took me to the movies in Ft Bragg to see the film ‘Charlie’. “ (Interviewer’s note – The plot concerns a retarded man who undergoes an experiment that gives him the intelligence of a genius – Cliff Robertson won the best Actor Oscar).
16. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “My second marriage was not good but I did get Amanda and three wonderful grandkids who are very special to me.”
17. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “There are many – off the top of my head, going to Germany for Jodie’s wedding was very memorable.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “My work with special ed kids for twenty years.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That I can get along with just about anyone.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome, all the family is here – Dad, Mom, Danny, Ben, and others – we’ve been waiting for you.”

Published in: on July 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm  Comments (2)  

Jim Hill – June 24th, 2011

I drove out of the heart of the Valley and headed south, past ‘downtown’ Yorkville and at the 44-mile marker I turned into the driveway of the Hill Ranch, being greeted by the waving wooden mannequin of a cowboy that has greeted passers-by on Hwy 128 for many years. Owner Jim Hill welcomed me into his house, where he lives with his eighty-six year old mother, and we sat down at the large kitchen table to have our chat…
Jim was born in 1949 at Healdsburg Hospital when his family was living on the Morrow Ranch, a mile further south on Hwy 128 than where we were sitting. It was the house that a previous interviewee and Valley ‘old-timer’, Wes Smoot, had grown up in. Jim’s parents were Harold ‘Butch’ Hill and Ruth Marie Vadon and he had one sister Kathy who has now passed away. “The Hill family were 100% English who settled in Canada, where my great Grandfather owned the first cold storage warehouse in Montreal. He did well but wanted to be a farmer and once that was decided it was a downhill spiral! He had farms in British Columbia and made contact with a man there who owned a ranch in Oat Valley, just this side of Cloverdale, about a dozen miles south of here. Our family bought that ranch in 1913 and moved down. My great Grandfather never could understand why July 1st (Canada Day) was not celebrated down here! My grandfather worked on the ranch but went back to Canada to get married and he and his new bride returned to the ranch in California where my father was born…”
“My great grandfather on my mother’s side was Irving Ingram, born in 1877, whose father had come to Anderson Valley in 1859 – in the first decade after the Valley’s discovery. It was Irving Ingram who bought this ranch where we are sitting in 1911, so it will have been in the family for one hundred years this next September. He had one daughter, Ruby, and she married Fred Vadon, of French heritage, whose family was from Cloverdale. One of their two children was my mother Ruth Marie. My parents met at school and when they married they lived on the ranch in Oat Valley. Ray Smoot and his family had looked after the Morrow Ranch for some years but when Ray died in 1948, they moved to Boonville and my father became the ranch caretaker and I was born there a year later. In 1959, when I was ten, my great Grandfather Irving Ingram died and Dad took over the running of the ranch, called the Ingram Ranch at that time. Our family moved in here from the Morrow Ranch and I’ve been here ever since.”
Growing up in the Valley meant that Jim was always outdoors playing. “My parents knew there were no threats to young kids apart from snakes. We’d be outside all day long and come in when it was dark. We had no close neighbors and I was quite a shy kid so I was alone most of the time. When I wasn’t outside I’d enjoy building toy models. My mother worked in Cloverdale as an insurance agent and I went to school there – traveling with her each way. My Dad was a sheep rancher but like most of them he had to have something else on the side and he was a carpenter. They do the sheep ‘cos they like it… I helped Dad with the sheep and he had some sheep dogs too, with me doing any of the extra running around that needed doing. We grew acres of oat hay for the sheep and I had other various chores around the land and hope. My parents hoped I’d be a hunter – it is my middle name – but I have never had much interest, despite most of my family being into it. I’d go along on hunting trips but didn’t care for it and quit when I was sixteen, by which time I’d learned enough outdoor skills to survive if I have to.”
Technically, Jim should have attended the Anderson Valley schools but with his mother working in Cloverdale and his grandparents all living there he went to Cloverdale High. “I enjoyed school at that time and pretty soon reading became a big hobby of mine – the American Civil War was my favorite subject to read about, and still is today. It was not cool to be seen reading all the time and hanging out with older people but I loved to listen to their stories of their times in the late 1800’s, a time when the Valley was developing although it was still a time of horses and wagons. I sat for hours listening to their histories and tales.”
Jim was an honor roll student with his favorite subjects being history and mathematics. “I played the individual sports like track and wrestling – I was not into team sports plus I came home with my mother every day so after school teams activities were difficult for me to take part in. I graduated in 1967 but the whole sixties scene, in which I went through my teenage years, did not have a big effect on me. I went to Santa Rosa Junior College for a couple of years and transferred to Humboldt State in 1969 to get my civil engineering degree, which I hoped would support my ranching ‘habit.’ There were student anti-war protests at Humboldt and they formed picket lines around the engineering building – the closest thing to anything military that was around. It was a very liberal college and one of the professors was a Lt Colonel in the National Guard so the protests took place. They did not affect me and I remained focused on my goal of graduating on time. I was never a party animal – my sister got those genes. My family was very conservative and I was a young Republican yet remained open-minded and I had fun watching it all going on. I respected the sense of community that comes with people joining various groups – something that is seen far less these days, although the destruction of private property that went on in those times really did bug me.”
Jim graduated from college in December 1971 and on Jan 2nd, 1972 started a job in Santa Rosa at the engineering firm of Brelje and Race, consultants who worked on several projects as city engineers for Cloverdale. “The Hill family knew some political people and put in a good word for me… I found an apartment in Santa Rosa but on most weekends I was here on the ranch, helping Dad. We had no hired help and not only had our own 760 acres but also had the 870 to maintain at the Morrow Ranch, and we leased 1100 acres for sheep at the Carlson Ranch – now Summer Winds Vineyards… I worked at the engineering company from 1972 until 1978, four years as an Engineer-in-training before getting my license as a professional engineer in 1976. Then in 1978, Dad died at the age of fifty-nine of a cerebral aneurism. He was a healthy man and it came as a shock. I spent three months thinking what to do before deciding to give it a try and work full-time on the ranch for a year and see how I felt at that point – well I’m still giving it a try thirty-three years later!”
However, Jim’s boss at the engineering company did pass a job on to Jim that involved a sub-division in Cloverdale. Jim took the job but turned down the next one – “there were too many political shenanigans…. I never had a real business plan but I did take work on at times and worked from home in the evenings. Most of this came from word of mouth and the more contacts I made the more work came in, and I ended up working for some prominent developers thanks to having worked for the city engineers and knowing all the workings and ‘skeletons in the closet’ so to speak… I worked on the ranch all day and then in the evening on my engineering projects until midnight or 1am. Then in 1981, I took over another ranch – I had social time at all. My days of cruising the backroads on a motorcycle were long gone; I never had that time again. It was ranch, engineering, and then I’d get to read a little as I ate. I should say that I enjoyed it though; I really loved the bulk of my time on the ranch. The engineering used to be 90% engineering, 10% bureaucracy; now it’s 30% engineering, 70% bureaucracy. As for the ranch I finally hired some help – Claude Rose, the former government trapper, who lived on the property with his wife, Lu. Claude was into the sheep dog trials and had many stories he loved to share. He helped with the sheep a lot although I did the fencing myself. The predators are always a problem – coyotes. With Gary Johnson, the trapper who is now running Stanley Johnson’s ranch next to ours, that helps a lot. The coyotes remain a problem but may be not as bad now that we have a llama in with each group. Some people use the guard dogs and I’ve heard good things about them – I have one in a pen out there and he needs to be trained and used.”
Jim’s father started a Christmas Tree Farm in the late sixties and that still goes today. “It was situated alongside the highway but too many trees were stolen – ninety in one week so it meant guarding them and that meant sleeping on the lot from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Eventually I moved the farm on to the ranch and we sell about three hundred a year, starting on the Friday after Thanksgiving and then weekends up to Christmas. We have about 4,000 trees up there at this point…. I have had several different ranch workers over time and this meant I had to earn more money to pay for them and so the engineering has come in very useful. I have had Martine Vargas for fourteen years now – he is an excellent worker, although he is now part-time as I cannot afford more. He runs the ranch basically as 90% of my time has been engineering for the past ten years or more. For a time I had to visit job sites and developers offices but now with the computer and a fax I can do a whole lot more from home but I have slowed down in recent years – it’s the old grey mare syndrome – ‘she can’t do what she used to do.’ I still enjoy the engineering but it is a little too much at times. As for the ranching – that is in my blood.”
Jim’s mother was very social but she often sends Jim to events now. Since 1979, he has been on the Board of Directors of the Cloverdale Ram Sale and he is in the Cloverdale Historical Society. As his time on the ranch and in engineering slows down a little, Jim become more involved more things in Anderson Valley. He is in the shepherd’s pool organized by Gary Johnson for the sale of his lambs. With various other Valley gentlemen, he often attends the monthly ‘Cannibal Feed’ in Ukiah – a lunch with a few hundred Mendocino men from all walks of county life, put on by a different group of them each month. Jim and his mother joined the Anderson Valley Historical Society and at the election of officers a few years back, Wes Smoot nominated him as President. “I hardly knew anyone very well. I did have my love of history but that was all. It was enough I guess because I was vote in and was re-elected last week for my third term… At this point in time, if I was independently wealthy, I would retire from the engineering but, as the saying goes, ‘If I had a million dollars, I’d keep on ranching until it was all gone!’ Yes, I still, enjoy it even though it gets harder as I get older and fatter, and tire easier… My primary interest when not at work is history but there are not many people to talk to about that so joining the historical societies has been good for me.”
Since the sixties, Jim and his family have been visiting a cabin they own I Modoc County, in the north easy corner of the State. “My mother first went there in 1946 and they bought the cabin in 1964. I have gone every year since 1971. The area, in the high desert, is about the closest as you can get to the Old West anymore. I go with Mom and my niece Penny (Kathy’s daughter) and her family – husband Ramon and daughter Kayla. Kathy had another child, Jake who works at the theatre in Cloverdale. The nearest town is Canby, named after the Union General who fought in the Civil War and Indian Wars – the only General killed by Indians incidentally. Custer was not a General at the Battle of Little Big Horn – he was a Lieutenant Colonel… We still have family gatherings although most of mother’s generation has gone now. We get together here for Christmas Eve and sometimes at Thanksgiving or Easter and we are slowly rebuilding a structure on the land to make it a family event center – it burnt down a couple of years ago. Last week I attended the Ingram Family Reunion in Brookings, Oregon – my great grandfather was the original patriarch – Irving Ingram. There were not only nametags but also different colored t-shirts for each branch of the family – it was a lot of fun. It seems like I am related to quite a few folks in this area – My great Grandmother, a Hiatt, used to say ‘Everyone in Anderson Valley is inbred’ – she may have been right!”
Apart from those trips, Jim has only had two vacations. Two trips he made that were Civil War related – In 1993, he caught the Amtrak to Washington D.C. and rented a car to spend two weeks visiting Civil War historic sites… Then in 1998, he went to Little Rock, Arkansas and went aboard a wooden steamboat, The Delta Queen, for a Civil War themed cruise along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers, ending up in Chattanooga.”
I asked Jim for an image he has of his father. “A very strong man – in body and mind. If I could go out and choose a Dad, he would be my ideal choice. He had those John Wayne qualities – strong, a hard-worker. He was a first sergeant in World War 2. He was not more than necessary in terms of discipline. He was very understanding but you would not want him mad at you”… And his Mom? “May be stricter than Dad. A big supporter of my academic studies – I was the first in the family to graduate from college.”
I next asked Jim about what he liked about his life here. “It is difficult to put into words – I’ve been here all of my life. I just love this type of country. I like being alone a lot and I can do that here – the country here just really suits me.” And anything he doesn’t like? “There are too many people here now for my personal liking – the traffic is too much. The breaking up of the bigger ranches also bothers me.”
As I regularly do, I now asked my guest for his opinions on various Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “The impact has been good in that they are agricultural rather than residential development. The downside to this is that they bring in outsiders. I am not a part of the anti-winery group but taking out forests to put in vines is ridiculous, showing no common sense or respect. Both sets of my grandparents had vines and they didn’t irrigate after the first year – the dry farming method still gave them good grapes and wine but just not as much. Doing it the old way worked well but I guess they were not as greedy in those days”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I read it if one comes my way and sometimes I agree with what is said. I like the local pages and the sheriff’s log”… KZYX & Z local public radio – “I don’t listen”… The A.V. school system? – “I have worked in it and there are some good people there. I am not sure if the kids are getting a good deal there or not – I am not qualified to know”… Drugs in the Valley? – “The whole drug thing gets on my nerves. I am a ‘live and let live’ kind of person but when kids think that everyone is involved in drugs and are shocked when they meet someone who isn’t involved in some way, then that is telling us something.”
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 some I came up with myself many months ago…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “When I have no aches and pains in the morning and I know the ranch is running well.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Unexpected problems and when you can’t get your body to work like it used to.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “In the springtime that would be the baah-ing of lambs; and in the winter, water running in the creek.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Traffic roaring by along Hwy 128 – it’s crazy sometimes.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Lamb chops and mashed potatoes.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Well I’d love to sit down with Abraham Lincoln, and if Confederate General Robert E. Lee was to join us that would be great.”
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? – “Family photographs, the 180 year old Grandfather clock – a family heirloom, and some old guns dating back to the Civil War.”
8. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “Well a song would probably be the Battle Hymn of the Republic… A film would be ‘The Longest Day’ set in World War 2; and a book would be something by Bruce Catton – a Civil War historian who started my interest in the subject. His writing is not at all like the dry history books you get to read at school.”
9. What is your favorite hobby? – “Reading, 90% of which is military history, mainly The Civil War but World War 2 is a close second – I have read quite a bit about Hitler and how he gained control of the country with his assorted gang of misfits.”
10. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “Some sort of fiction writer. I submitted my writings to magazines over the years but it’s always been rejected.”
11. What profession would you not like to do? – “A government bureaucrat.”
12. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “No, as a general rule I guess not.”
13. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “The first time I got to walk on a real Civil War battlefield… Or perhaps when I graduated from college.”
14. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “That I kept the family ranch going.”
15. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “I can’t think of much… I am basically honest, hopefully. I’m fundamentally an honest man – but I’m not a fool.”
16. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “It would be good if he said, ‘Hi, Jim – you were very nice to animals and so you are very welcome here’… If nothing else, I guess I’ll end up in animal heaven.”

Published in: on July 7, 2011 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment