The Next Interview…

…Will appear here on Thursday, June 14th… The guest will be Patrick Ford, former basketball ‘star’, Senior Center Board member and custodian, and soon-to-be Commander of Boonville’s American Legion Post…

Published in: on May 31, 2012 at 4:39 pm  Comments (2)  

Marvin Schenck – May 13th, 2012

Marvin was born in 1947 in San Francisco, the third of four boys born to parents Fred Orville Schenck and Agnes Anderson. Older brothers Gary and Bill were born in 1940 and 1941 and it was hoped the third child would be a girl – it was Marvin. Six years later, in 1953, a fourth boy, Richard, came along as a complete surprise!
The Schenck name was originally from Germany and family lore tells it that a Schenck who was in the Hessian army (Germans hired by the British) was captured in the Revolutionary War when fighting alongside the British. He stayed in the country after the war, the name changed from Schenck to Shank, and the family settled in Michigan where they farmed the land (in the 1930s Marvin’s father changed the spelling of the name back to the original Schenck at the request of his dying father). Marvin’s father’s parents moved from Michigan out west to Washington where they were migrant farm workers and where Fred Schenck was born in 1907. . Later in the 1900s they moved down to San Francisco, where Marvin’s grandfather found work as a stevedore on the docks. “If the truth be told my father considered himself a ‘Heinz 57’ – having many different European backgrounds.”
“On my mother’s side the family was Swedish. My grandmother came to the U.S. around 1910 and got married in New York City. They had a baby girl, Effie, but the marriage did not work out. My grandmother, Hildur Anderson, then left with the baby and moved out to San Francisco to stay with her sister. She met a Swedish seaman, also an Anderson. Albert Anderson, who was from the same rural area as Hildur (indeed they had even met once), was a seaman who worked up and down the west coast on various freighter ships (my family’s first connection to Mendocino County). They were married and in 1913 a daughter was born – Agnes. However, when my mother was just seven years old, her father Albert, who was a first mate by this time, was washed overboard and although he was rescued he had a six-month battle with bronchopneumonia but eventually died. My grandmother never recovered from this loss and for income she would take in kids who had working parents and do housekeeping. They said she could lift a piano with one hand and sweep underneath with the other!”
Marvin’s father did not graduate from high school but his mother did and had gone on to business school and found work as a secretary and bookkeeper. By the time they met and were married in 1936, the year the World’s Fair started in San Francisco, Fred was a streetcar motorman and Agnes was working in the Emporium department store. Fred later was a fireman on a steam engine and then a welder, his main profession. He was also a drummer in a band and played piano. “They had the four boys – my poor mother! The oldest, Gary had asthma and so in 1948, when I was a few months old, my parents sold their house in Bernal Heights in the City and we moved for his health to a little ranch in Penngrove by Petaluma in the North Bay. Both sides of the family had farming heritage although neither of my parents had any experience themselves. I guess they had ‘the call’, as indeed I did many years later.”
Life was not easy on the “ramshackle” ranch, even the turkeys managed to drown themselves looking up in a rainstorm! Marvin’s father worked as a welder in Petaluma while his mother, even with baby Marvin, took a part-time job as accountant for the local slaughterhouse. “My father got a severe stomach ulcer – probably due to the worry, and needed an operation. It was decided that I should go and stay with my Aunt Effie, my mother’s half-sister, and her husband Fred, in San Bruno, south of San Francisco. They basically raised me for the next few years although my parents and brothers would come and visit quite often. When my father recovered they wanted to take me back but Aunt Effie said my parents were in no position to do so. My mother was afraid of Effie – the family lore was that ‘you don’t want to make Effie mad’. I ended up staying there for four years, until I was five years old. Eventually, my father got a job as a custodian for the City of San Bruno and Mom found a job at a real estate office. They sold the ranch and bought a house and I returned to live with them. My Dad thought Effie and Uncle Fred had spoiled me and I had to adjust to being back. Unfortunately the damage had been done and Effie and my mother stopped speaking to each other. My aunt and uncle had no other kids and apart from the odd occasion when I would see Aunt Effie around town, that was it. They never reconciled – it was very sad.”
Marvin has fond memories of his schooling in San Bruno – “when the California Education system was at its peak.” They lived in suburbia but in the early years there were still cattle on the hillsides. He was a good student and when not at school his hobbies included model railways, drawing, helping his Dad with the garden, and raising lots of pets, cats mainly, but dogs too. He was not a very social kid. “I was a geeky kid with geeky kids as friends. I did not do sports although I was physically fit and good at running. From the age of ten to seventeen I had a paper route, following in the footsteps of my two older brothers who had started the routes in the area. I then got a job at an art supply store in my final year at high school. I enjoyed most of my classes, especially art, stagecraft, and history. I got lots of A’s but not in P.E.”
Marvin’s oldest brother Gary went on to community college and got a job in sales with the Lee clothing company. Second oldest, Bill, went into sales too. “We all had the gift of the gab, I guess. I had seen the California College of Arts and Crafts and really wanted to go there. I graduated from high school in 1965 and attended San Mateo Community College where I would decide which major to take at art college – art or set design for the theater. My parents supported all of this. My brothers had ‘blazed the trail’ and kept them on their toes but I was a good kid, with good grades and so they were happy for me to do what I wanted to do, which was something creative.”
Following two years at the community college, Marvin entered the California College of Art in Oakland in 1967. I had enough money for one semester but then got a partial scholarship and the beginning of a student loan. It was $385 a semester at the time and I supplemented my income with a part-time gardening job at the college for $1.37 hour. Those were the years of many anti-war protests and I was a part of that movement. I marched against the Vietnam War, and following the invasion of Cambodia and Kent State, the CCAC students went on a week-long strike. The printmaking studios became poster factories for the Bay Area marches.”
While at college, Marvin met and married Lou Dell, a painting major. “We ‘eloped’ to the county courthouse and moved into a two-room apartment a few blocks from the college. Our best man and bridesmaid, Adrian and Mary, lived on the floor below us. Several years later they moved to the Sonoma Valley and after visiting them a few times, the bee was in our bonnet about living in the country.”
Marvin graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in printmaking in 1970. He and Lou Dell had been living in the Oakland Hills, working their own organic garden, raising chickens, following the whole back-to-the-land concept. They moved to a place in the Sonoma Valley where they could take this to the next level. Marvin had already started his studies for a Master of Fine Arts Degree at Mills College in the East Bay and in the second year was on a full scholarship and teaching assistantship. However, this was a long commute from Sonoma and, together with the gas crisis that was in full swing, it resulted in him staying over more often than not. “This was detrimental to our relationship and Lou wanted me to quit my studies and get a job. I could not agree to do this – I felt I would never be able to go back. We separated in 1973 and I moved down to Oakland, finishing my studies the next year. We were finally divorced in 1976 or so.”
Following graduation, Marvin got a job at the frame shop at the back of the student store at the California College of Arts and Crafts. He supplemented this with some work at the college’s student wood shop and did handyman work for his landlord, to whom he paid just $75 in monthly rent for a run down old summer cabin in the Oakland hills. In 1976, he and a buddy decided to drive across country in celebration of the country’s Bicentennial. “In Arkansas my buddy decided to stay on with his family there so I carried on alone, in the classic VW bus and with the obligatory long hair of the time. I was in Washington D.C on July 4th and then went on to stay with friends in New York City before visiting some Schenck relatives in Michigan, and then heading back to the Bay Area.”
Printmaking actually led Marvin into curatorial work. “In the summer of 1973 for the World Print Competition, sponsored by CCAC, I was hired with the title of curator which meant basically organizing the jury process for the thousands of entries from around the world. “The Kaiser Corporation in Oakland had given us a huge space and I hired about twenty printmaking students from CCAC to process the entries. We made very little money but it was so much fun. I met a Japanese print collector who was on the board of the Competition and he later offered me a job helping him organize his collection. In 1976 he asked me to be the curator of a show for his collection at the Walnut Creek Civic Arts Gallery in the East Bay after my trip across the country. Having completed that show in October, I applied for the job as exhibition Specialist at the Gallery in November. They offered me the position and this was the real beginning of my career in the museum world.”
“I did many great shows there, coming up with many new ideas and exhibitions. In 1981 I was offered a position as exhibits coordinator for the Scottsdale (Arizona) Center for the Arts. I knew the director there from my job in Walnut Creek and he kind of recruited me. I was looking for a change and Scottsdale was a much bigger operation. I had dated over the years but had not found a soul mate so there were no ties to staying. I wanted that change and it was time. Scottsdale, a few miles east of Phoenix, was a very cool place. The Art Center had been exclusively showing contemporary art and I decided to create a balance between that art world and Historic Western Art (the other major art realm in Scottsdale). It proved to be a big success for the Center.”
Throughout these times, Marvin continued to do his own work – printmaking and a great deal of painting – watercolors, oils, and later Acrylics. “I met lots of artists down there and, in 1984, one of them, Ká Graves, invited me to the filming of a performance piece at her house that would feature a dinner with everyone in costume. She had arranged for a certain Colleen Conley to also attend – intending this to be a blind date for Colleen and me. Strangely, Colleen had previously been married to a man by the name of ‘Scheck’ – I kidded her that she didn’t quite get the name right the first time. Colleen had been a high school teacher outside of Chicago and was by this time running the art department at Grand Canyon College in Phoenix. We started dating and hit it off. I was working many, many hours – at my job at the Scottsdale Center; teaching part time at the community college; and trying to do my own art, and at some point Colleen said ‘I will not marry you if you still have that job.’ I left the Art Center, did more teaching, worked on my own art, including a one-man show at a gallery in Phoenix, and we were married at a Halloween party in 1986. We had invited many friends to the party without telling them we were getting married that night. The wedding photographs are quite unusual to say the least.”
After a couple of years, they were thinking of making a change. “In 1989, we went to a College Art Association conference in San Francisco with the idea that we’d be open to any opportunities that may arise with regards to a new job for either of us. My freelance work was not bringing in much money due to a recession and Colleen was not happy in her job at the very conservative college. Well, I was offered and accepted a job as the curator at the Hearst Art Gallery at St. Mary’s College in Moraga in the East Bay. Colleen got a job as educational director at the Richmond Arts Center soon after. We stayed at those jobs for nine and ten years respectively, living in Oakland’s Maxwell Park district, and having our son, Nathan, in 1993.”
In July 1997, Marvin and Colleen were heading to the Mendocino Art Center on the coast to see a friend’s one-man show and drove through Anderson Valley. “About five years earlier, Colleen had taught at a workshop at the Art Center and prior to that, in around 1991, both of us had stayed at the Albion River Inn, again passing through the Valley but not really taking it in. However, on this occasion, as has happened to many people before and since, it just hit us. We had been looking to move to another place for Nathan’s schooling and even when we lived back in Arizona we had talked about the idea of a bed & breakfast in the country. On this occasion we saw that the Philo Pottery Inn B & B was for sale. When we got to Mendocino, I found a copy of the local real estate guide and checked it out. The inn was more expensive than we wanted to pay and we’d researched this option before, finding that you needed eight rooms to be successful – the Inn had five or so. Anyway, we took the guide back to Oakland and looked at other properties in the Valley. We were looking for a retirement business opportunity, perhaps a property near to the main road at which we could have a gallery for our art.”
“At one point many, many years earlier, before I was born, my Dad saw an ad for Anderson Valley property and with a friend he drove up here to take a look, just after World War II. Apparently he was gone all day and when he returned very late at night he told my mother that it was nice country but too far and isolated. Anyway, I made a reservation at the Boonville hotel for the following weekend and we came back up. We met with Bob Matthias of Rancheria Realty and told him what we wanted. He showed us this house at the corner of hwy 128 and Clark Road. It had been on the market for some time and was owned by Doc Hand. It was originally Bobby Glover’s parents’ house, built in 1927 after the original one on that spot burned down. It had been left somewhat abandoned by Hand and there was a re-possession note on the door. The place was a mess but we loved the view, the barn as a gallery location, and the property’s possibilities. We looked at other properties but none matched this – the gallery idea was a big part of our thinking. I figured out all the work that needed doing and made an offer. I heard from the realtor that Hand tore it up!”
That would seem to be the end of it and Marvin and Colleen started looking elsewhere, within a 150-mile radius of the Bay Area. In the end they decided that Anderson Valley was where they wanted to be and, by late summer, “I made a revised offer. After much haggling and Hand asking for more money but throwing in his Ford Bronco and 1957 Harley Davidson motorcycle, we completed the purchase. We would put lots of money into the house over the next fifteen years, all of the profit from the sale of our house in Oakland and plenty more besides. We would come up on weekends, working on the place, and then in November 1998 I got a job as Director of the Mendocino Arts Center and moved up at that time, camping at the property with the dogs. Colleen stayed in Oakland with Nathan. It was tough and then when we decided to sell our house down there I had to spend weekends working on that place. It sold quickly when it was listed and Colleen moved up too, and also found work at the Arts Center, as Educational Director.”
Following cutbacks at the Center they both left the end of September 1999, although Colleen later went back on a part-time basis. Marvin became the part-time curator at the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah in March 2000 and went full-time in 2001. “I have been there ever since, working five days a week, sometimes more, although last year city staff went to a four nine-hour day schedule. That gives me a three-day weekend and time to spend on my acrylic landscape paintings. There is also still plenty of work to do around our place and the gallery idea is still in our future. Meanwhile Colleen was a director of the Mendocino Art Council for two years before being hired by Mendocino County’s Public Health Department to run grant-funded programs at the Anderson Valley School District such as after-school art programs, assisting the Community Action Coalition in it’s dealings with the methamphetamine problems in the community, plus the work to keep the second Sheriff’s Deputy in the Valley and the setting up of the Teen Center. And apart from one semester in Mendocino, Nathan has gone through the school system here in the Valley and graduates high school next month and will be attending Columbia College, Chicago, in the fall to study audio recording and music.”
In the community, Marvin has been a founder and organizer of the annual Open Studio Art Tour that takes place for the tenth time this coming weekend, May 26th – 28th. He has also been an active member of the Anderson Valley Historical Society Board for about six years now. He likes a number of things about life here in the Valley. “The beauty of the Valley is quite something – it’s a gorgeous place; the climate is close to perfect; the people are great! Our interest in art links us closely to the art community; it is such a rich area culturally. We love coming back here if we have gone away on a trip or just to work. Dislikes? Well, it would be nice to have a D.S.L. Internet connection, satellite is slow but not as bad as dial-up of course – other than that I have no gripes.”
I asked Marvin if he had ever thought about leaving once he had moved here. “Not really, although I never say never. There is a draw of family in the Chicago area and with Nathan now going there for school who knows what the future will hold. Having said that this place is so special and we have no serious thoughts of moving.”
I now moved on to talking about various frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation?… The Wineries? – “What works agriculturally and financially has changed and the wineries now bring in the visitors and their money. I know several very nice people in the wine business here but I would not like to see it get too exclusive like it is in Napa. The tasting rooms here seem very welcoming”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I am a big supporter, I listen all the time, and it was a big plus when we were thinking of moving here – I was a big supporter of community radio in the East Bay”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I subscribe and am very glad we have it. I don’t always agree with it but enjoy the Valley news sections, particularly the interviews with Valley folks”… The School System? – “It’s very good and they have done a great job educating my child. The teachers are dedicated and hard-working and do amazing things with the resources they have.”
I asked Marvin for a visual image or memory of his parents. “My Dad loved to work on repairing televisions. I remember him doing this, always with a cigarette in his mouth. I did a digital story on him for a workshop I took and called it ‘Where were you, Dad?’ I think that sums it up. We did very little together… My mother was really great, very hard-working. When everyone else was out, she and I would sit together in the kitchen, drink coffee, and talk. She was a real sweetie. She passed in 2000 at the age of 86, living long enough to see this place. She really liked it here and wished she’d had a kitchen like the one here (the existing 1950s version before the remodel) in the house in Penngrove, although my brothers couldn’t see why I bought it.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Marvin and asked him to just reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “Making art, listening to music, and admiring the landscapes of the Valley.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – “Current politics.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Birds singing in the garden.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – A cat scratching at the window to go out when I still want to sleep
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – “Colleen’s tacos.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “Grace Hudson, the artist for whom the museum is named – I know quite a lot about her but it would be very cool to talk with her.”
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 painting of the family farm in Sweden; a painting by August Gay – the biggest influence of my own work, and a family photograph album.”
8. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Sweden and Ireland – to see family stuff.”
9. What was/is your favorite hobby? – “I have been into model trains since I was about eleven and I still am.”
10. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “When I was younger I thought I might like to be an archeologist. In later life I think I would have been a good vet. I have a real rapport with animals.”
11. What profession or job would you not like to do? – “Selling insurance.”
12. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “Well it would have been awfully nice to have pushed my own art more rather than putting so much energy into helping others show theirs. The museum world has been remarkably rewarding but very time consuming.”
13. What is something that you are really proud of? – “Nathan.”
14. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “That I love animals… And that I have a really good eye for visual things.”
15. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I believe that I have done lots of good work for artists and in preserving history. Perhaps I’d like him to say ‘You’ve really helped many artists – and you have shared your own talents. You have left the world a better place’.”

Published in: on May 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

It’s next week!

As I am sure many readers will be aware, I am now publishing the interviews every other week. As a result, there is no post this week but my recently conducted interview with Marvin Schenck will appear next week on May 24th. Thank you for your continued support.
Kind regards, Steve Sparks

Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Frank Wyant – April 28th, 2012

Frank was born in the town of O’Neill in northern Nebraska on February 21st, 1936 to parents Frank Wyant Sr. and Mabel Ross, who five years later had another son, Alan, and then eleven years after that came daughter Connie. The Wyant’s were originally from Germany and it was Frank’s great Grandfather who came over to the States in the late 1800’s. Frank Sr. had three brothers and two sisters and worked for a beer and ice distribution company.
The Ross family are of French/Irish/English ancestry and they originally settled in Iowa in the 1800’s where Grandfather Ross was a farmer before he moved the family to Nebraska. He had two sons from his first marriage and then two boys and Mabel with his second wife. While at high school in O’Neill, Mabel worked at a restaurant/bakery. “One day the ice man made a delivery, it was my Dad, and the two of them kinda hit it off and started dating. He took her on a delivery to Omaha – he used to go as far as South Dakota and all over northern Nebraska, and they visited his aunt in Omaha. While they were gone he asked her to marry him and she said yes so they did. He told a friend of his back in O’Neill that he and Mabel were married but it was to be kept a secret. Well the friend decided that was not going to happen and he called the local radio station and announced it on the air so that the family and most of the town knew when they got back to town!”
Frank and Mabel bought a house and Frank Jr was born a year or so later. When he was four years old Frank Sr. found a better paying job as a heavy equipment operator working for a construction company building roads in Cheyenne, Wyoming so the family moved there for a year. Then, in November 1941 he was offered a job working for Boeing, the aircraft manufacturers, in Seattle. Frank Sr. took the job and went our west to start and look for somewhere for the family to live. In the meantime, Mabel, Frank Jr., and the newborn Alan, went back to Nebraska, staying with Grandpa Ross until Frank Sr. found them a home in Seattle. “In December 1941 the Japs hit Pearl Harbor and with the talk about further attacks or even an invasion Grandpa Ross refused to let us go out west – there was a real fear of a Japs bombing the west coast at that time. Eventually he changed his mind and we lived out there for the duration of the war.”
The climate in Seattle did not suit the young family and so in 1946 they returned to Nebraska, where they lived again with Grandpa Ross and picked corn on the various farms in the area. The following spring they moved in with Grandpa Ross’ mother, eight miles out of town, where they lived for four years, working on the family ranch. At that time, when Frank was ten years old, his father fell off a wagon when the horses bolted as they crossed a bridge and he broke his back. He could no longer work in the fields so they moved to Aurora in southern Nebraska where the Wyant family owned two gas station/stores “I was sad to leave where we were, I had many friends, but the store was in a great location and the business was a success. My Dad bought one of the gas stations from his father and then a few years later had saved enough to buy one of the Ross family ranches back up north too. We moved back, to a few miles north of O’Neill, and were living on the ranch during the ‘Great Blizzard of ’48-’49’ It hit when I was at school and we were snowed in at a farm across the road from the school for two weeks. The school only had seven kids but we were all stuck there. Normally you could see for miles and miles across the plains but visibility was just a few feet. We ran out of fuel and used wood from fences. We had some chickens and a couple of cows – I never got so tired of homemade ice cream in my life!”
Frank had attended quite large schools in Cheyenne and Seattle, where they had worn dog tags like soldiers, but back in Nebraska he was at one-room schoolhouses, out on the plains. “I rode a horse to school every day. It was about four or five miles away, out on the plains, and there was a barn for the horses while we were in class. There was nothing except fields and an occasional farmhouse for as far as you could see in every direction. No trees, just wild grass, hay land. In the lower lands, alongside the rivers, there was corn, oats, barley, and alfalfa, but out on the plains, nothing… The ranch was 410 acres, less than two hours drive from the South Dakota state line on the Niobrara River, north of O’Neill, which was the Holt County seat of about 2000 people back then. I guess the nearest sizeable town was Kearney, about eighty miles away, then a town about the same size that Ukiah is today, and it was where the university was for anyone able to go to one. Quite a few girls took Teachers Ed. at the local high school and this allowed them to become teachers for a year after leaving school despite not having full credentials. I remember during 7th and 8th grade having some teachers who looked pretty good to us kids!”
“I lived a typical country boy’s life. I had my chores, cutting wood, feeding the cattle – we had about one hundred plus about twelve dairy cows that had to be milked. We had chickens, about thirty hogs that we sold every year, and at twelve I was driving a tractor – before that we had horses to do all the work that the tractor did. In the winter we skated on the frozen over ponds or get a horse to pull our sled half-a-mile up the hill to our mailbox and slide all the way back down, and at night we’d sit around and listen to the Lawrence Welk show and Amos and Andy on the battery operated radio that could only pick up the station out of Yankton, South Dakota. We did not have electricity until 1952. We had kerosene at 10 cents a gallon to keep our ‘Aladdin’ lamps going; the fuel for the tractor was 18 cents a gallon… We’d fish for bass and carp and I’d set trap-lines and hunted for various animals and hope to sell their furs. Beavers were worth $50 each! Minks $35, and skunks around $3 – you were pretty smelly after skinning them. You could only kill beavers if they were damning up rivers and causing hardship for the farm and there was a limit of twelve a year. There was no deer season although we’d usually get one a year illegally and bury the hide and bones. The meat was canned – we had no freezing capability. We always sat down together for dinner at night and the Ross’s were a big family, gathering together a couple of times a year for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
In 1951, Frank graduated from grammar school and went to Lynch High School about ten miles north. “I was fourteen and my Dad had bought a car for the family –a 1940, four door Sedan, and even though I did not have a driving license I was allowed to drive it to school. Most of the roads at that time were still just gravel, in the towns and on the highways.”
Franks’ mother had visited her brother in Weaverville, California and found the climate to be very much better for her health than living in Nebraska. As a result, following Frank’s sophomore year at high school, in the summer of 1953, the family, with newborn baby girl Connie, moved out to the west coast. “My brother and I did not like the idea, we had a great life where we were and I guess we thought it would be tough but it was a new experience and we soon got to enjoy it.”
Weaverville was in California’s Trinity County, a logging town between Redding and Eureka about the same size as Cloverdale today. Thanks to his uncle having some contacts, Frank Jr. was promised a summer job for the forestry department at the campgrounds in Willow Creek so when they arrived in Weaverville he was packed off to the job. However, he was soon missing his family and quit. That fall Frank went to Weaverville High School where he finished his final two years of schooling. “I made friends easily and soon settled in. Some of them got jobs the following summer with the forestry department but because I had quit the previous year they refused to take me back so I worked in construction instead.” Frank enjoyed school overall and his favorite subjects were Geography and Math. He did not like English. He had played football at the school in Nebraska but once he moved California at sixteen it seemed like he was more interested in girls and he stopped playing sports.
Frank’s father worked at the sawmill with Frank’s uncle and there were other families who had moved out from Nebraska who they knew. They would socialize with these families, playing pinochle, fishing, panning fro gold, and having parties at which Franks’ buddy, Gerald Bailey would often entertain everyone – “he was a gifted musician and could play many instruments.
“Before my senior year began, Gerald, who was dating a girl I had known in Nebraska, introduced me to his sister who was visiting from Texas where she lived with her mother. The girls name was Jo Ann and she was staying with her father and Gerald in Weaverville. Anyway we went together for that year and Jo Ann did my English homework for me! Just a week after graduation in 1955 we went to Reno and got married. I had got a job with the phone company but had only been there a week and had not even got my first check so I had to borrow $100 to pay for our trip!”
Frank’s family soon got over the initial shock and accepted the marriage. Frank and Jo Ann moved into an apartment in town, then they bought a trailer before selling that and buying their first house. “Jo Ann worked two nights a week at the library and I worked for a private phone company for $1.50 hour. The house cost us $4000 and we paid a mortgage of $30 a month. We didn’t have a car but our family was close by – my uncle was right across the street and we were just down the road from my parents’ house. The phone company laid me off after a year or so and I found work as a laborer in the tunnel at the Trinity Dam. Jo Ann’s father worked for the state in the winters and a foreman friend of his suggested that I take a Class 2 license to drive a truck and apply for a job with the Division of Highways. I did this but there was a waiting list so after finishing at the dam I worked in a gas station for a time. We had started a family by that time with Cathy being born in 1956.”
On May 26th, 1958, Frank was called in to their Woodland office by the Division of Highways (later Cal Tran) and hired. He was given the choice of three places to work. “Well Colusa was always flooded; Woodland too busy for a country boy like me; and so I chose Esparto, which was almost two hundred miles to the south” (in Yolo County north of Sacramento). “Jo Ann, Cathy, and I moved there, with Jo Ann pregnant with Rick. It was a tough pregnancy so Jo Ann and Cathy moved back to Weaverville to live with my mother and her grandmother but after Rick was born later that year they all returned to Esparto. Bryan was born there two years later in 1960.”
Frank and the family stayed in Esparto for eight years. During that time he continued to work for the highways department and Jo Ann worked as a manager for the local drive-in in Esparto. He worked mainly on road maintenance on Hwy 16 between Rumsey, Guindo and Capey. Jo Ann worked five days a week starting at 4pm each day, so they would get a baby-sitter for half-an-hour, and then Frank would get home from work at 4.30pm and have the kids in the evening. “She then moved to the camera department at a supermarket and after that at the check-out in a grocery store. Most of our time was spent raising our family and working, although we did love to go camping at the weekends whenever we could.”
Frank had applied for various promotions and, in October 1964, he took a temporary promotion, until May 1965, working on a crew on Donner Summit, high up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. He returned from that job and completed two more years in Esparto before interviewing for a job in Boonville in June 1966. “We had camped once in Ft. Bragg and had driven down to Bodega Bay on Hwy 1 along the coast, but we’d never come along Hwy 128 through Anderson Valley. The countryside looked real good and there were no big freeways – that suited me. Four days after the interview I was hired. The family stayed in Esparto while I came over to look for accommodation. I stayed in the motel that used to be where the apartments are now – across the road from the Senior Center in Boonville. I found a place up on the Greenwood Road near to the rock pits and the state paid for the family to move over. Our neighbors were the Pronsolino’s and me and Angelo Pronsolino, who worked on the highways also at that time, would take it in turns to drive us to work. We stayed there for about a year but with the kids all in school we wanted to move into town, near to the schools. We rented the house that was in the spot behind Weiss’s restaurant before Weiss’s burned down. It’s still there – behind what is The Buckhorn now. There was no restaurant there at the time we lived there, just a big cactus patch.”
“In 1969, we visited Dan Godfrey and his wife on the new development on Estate Drive, just out of Boonville by what would later become the airport. It was mostly fields back then. They told us they were moving out and were selling for $22,000. We had put our place in Esparto up for sale, after renting it out for a couple of years, and had to wait for that to sell before we could finance any new house. It soon did sell and when we came back to them a month or so later, we got it for $19,500 – property was not moving at that time. It was a four-bedroom house – which was just as well because soon afterwards our fourth kid came along – Renée! I think it was 1969 – I didn’t keep a track of that stuff, Jo Ann did! I could have thrown Jo Ann off a bridge when I found out she was pregnant again. Or even jumped off myself!”
Frank and Jo Ann were kept busy raising the four kids, particularly with the two boys heavily involved in sports. “All of us would go to the games, including baby Renée – hey, she had come to live with us, that is what we did so she had to come along! Cathy and Rick were also really into 4H and we certainly had a very busy life for quite a few years. During this time Jo Ann worked at the post office in Philo with Thelma Pinoli on Saturdays and so most of our camping trips stopped. She also worked at the Redwood Drive-in and briefly at the A.V. Market. But most of the time she was being a mother.”
Frank ran a crew as the lead worker, mostly on Hwy 253 over the hill, to Ukiah, nineteen miles away. “After a time I found myself all over the area, along Hwy 128 and out to the coast and Hwy 1. Going out to Pt. Arena was not going to work for me so for a couple of years or more I worked on a special striping crew out of Ukiah, doing stops and lines from southern Mendocino County all the way up to Leggett in the north and across to Lake County. I was able to plan my own schedule – it was a good job and I really liked it even though it involved lots of driving. Eventually the driving was too much and after Johnnie Pinoli retired I returned to Boonville. I felt like a dog who was tied up after running loose for a long time but I knew all the guys and gradually accepted it and stayed here.”
Frank likes to be social and shortly after arriving in the Valley he joined both the A.V. Lions’ Club and the A.V. Grange. Meanwhile, Jo Ann found an outlet with the Boontown Players, a group who regularly played music and put on plays and skits – people such as Emil Rossi, Eva Holcomb, and Dick Sands. “I actually appeared once – with Smokey Blattner and Dick Sands, performing a ballet dance in a tutu!… As I mentioned earlier, 4H played a significant part in our lives, with many of our friends’ kids also involved. I taught a ‘small engines’ class in 4H and Jo Ann was a Cub Scout den mother along with Betty Pronsolino and Berna Walker. The Lions did many events – they still do, and we’d often end up at The Boonville Lodge bar afterwards, dancing and drinking, before staggering home – that was when we lived closer to town at the Weiss’s place, which was very handy.”
By the seventies the Okies (from Oklahoma) and Arkies (from Arkansas) had been settled for a generation. “Quite a few had left though. The work in the woods was still good but it was definitely going down. The hippies and back-to-the-land’ers were arriving in numbers, and many are still here – they’ve cleaned up quite a bit by this time though! Most of them lived in the woods back then and would bathe in the river and hang out on the sand bars – lots of them. Johnnie Pinoli, Jim Clow and me would take our breaks down by the river and take a look at the naked girls while we were there. Paul Titus and Donald Pardini would join us sometimes. I remember once we were there and Donald and Johnnie decided to go for a closer look at the girls. Donald left his lunch with us – it had a fruit pie in the box and we ate it. When they returned he was mad and asked who had eaten it. We all denied it but Donald looked at Paul Titus and said, “You lying sucker, it’s all over your cheek!” And it was! I had lots of fun with those guys but we always did our work, in all weathers, and we did it well.”
As far as a social life in the Valley, the Lodge was the main place through the seventies and early eighties. The Track Inn had closed by then, as had The Last Resort in Philo. “I think I went to the Boonville Hotel once, after it had been re-modeled. They made it clear that it was not built for locals – and we have always obliged them… I have socialized with the same people for over forty-five years – Gene and Berna Walker, Wes Smoot, etc. I remember when I used to make out the time cards for the crew how there seemed to be so many Italian names on them – some of them are still here, of course. When I first started here most of the guys were older than me and I was a little nervous at first. They knew the area better than me and after a day’s work sometimes I would get them back late to the yard. That was not good and I learned quickly not to do that!”
Frank retired in at fifty-eight in November 1994. “I received a lump sum of vacation pay at my retirement and invested most of it. A few years later, when my mother passed, I invested more money in municipal bonds and they have done very well. For years, every time I received a pay raise I would put it in a 401K plan and later used that money for vacations after retirement. We had some great vacations for thirteen years or so. That is a good lesson for young folks I think. Put money aside for your later years and enjoy them. Two of my grandsons, Renée’s boys, Garrett and Drake, have planted garlic here in my garden, maintained it, harvested it, and sold the crop at market, with the money being invested in mutual funds. They will thank me one day.”
All four of Frank and Jo Ann’s kids went through the A.V. school system and they have each gone on to have families of their own. Cathy was married to Jamie and they had Trevor and she is now married to Frank Keach; Rick married Schevilla and they have Jennifer and Clinton; Bryan married Diana and had son Derek and daughter Ashley before getting married to Elizabeth; and Renée was married to Angelo and had the two boys Garrett and Drake before marrying Kevin Lee. Frank also now has four great grandchildren.
Frank continues to go to lots of Valley events and be involved in many activities. After retirement he joined The Fair Board and continues to play a role for The Lions and The Grange, for whom he was on the building committee when the old Grange burned down. He and Jo Ann went on many vacations together in the time following his retirement, before her illness and then her untimely passing in 2010. He remembers each of them vividly and with great fondness. “We went to Yellowstone National Park and on to Texas and Colorado; drove to Alaska with our trailer; took a cruise to Alaska; went with the Walkers to Ft Lauderdale and then a cruise through the Panama Canal; another cruise from Los Angeles to Hawaii; virtually every winter we’d go to Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada with the Walkers; Death Valley, Oregon, Montana, Idaho… We took Garrett and Drake to Yellowstone and on to Mt Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument and then to Nebraska – we took all our kids back there at some point – I still have some cousins there. It was quite sad – our ranch was bought and most of the buildings are gone and it’s not been kept up.”
Jo Ann was seventy-three when she passed in 2010. “She had had heart issues since her thirties – she had no artery on one side of her heart, just a vein. Then, following lower spine problems and a mistake in the surgery that followed, there was a blood clot in her lungs. Some of this was dealt with but not all of it and it hit her heart, maybe it stuck in the small vein, and she died. I saw her on the Friday in hospital and said I’d be back on Sunday. She died on the Saturday – October 31st, 2010 – Halloween…… That was a rough old pill to swallow. It was very lonesome after fifty-five years of marriage. I started to go to the Senior Center more often but it was not the same without her. I was getting lonesomer and lonesomer… I went crabbing with my son Bryan in the November and then the whole family was around for that Thanksgiving but it was just not the same… I had this big family giving me love and support but it was in my mind that perhaps I would like to have a companion from my generation – the walls don’t talk to you. I think the same happened to my friend Wes Smoot after his wife died. I believe you have to move on and continue a life. I will always have Jo Ann – she is with me every day.”
“Then one day, a few months after Jo Ann’s passing, I drove into the parking lot at the Center and Joy Fraser was in the car next to me. I had known her for many years but we’d never really talked much – she and her husband Don had not been part of our group. He had passed in 2008. I asked if she’d like to go out to dinner and a show and she agreed. We went to Ukiah and ate at the Calpella Club and saw a movie – I can’t remember which one. We had a few dates and then I took her on a trip to Reno. It was not easy on the family perhaps – so soon after Jo Ann’s passing, but they came to accept it. We then went on a vacation with Bryan and Elizabeth and at one point the two of us went on alone. People were wondering where we were and when we were coming back home. Joy had never really been anywhere and we were enjoying each other’s company… Joy has been a wonderful companion and we enjoy ourselves together. We plan another trip this fall to Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, and into Canada. I like to spend my money on vacations – I earned it.”
I asked Frank what he most liked about life in the Valley. “The people here and the country atmosphere”… And dislike? “All the grapes, but I can’t do much about it. It was much prettier when it was apples and sheep, more natural looking.” I inquired if he’d ever thought about leaving the Valley. “That first winter there was 68 inches of rain and I thought about moving if we had another one like it. But soon the kids were into their schools and the thoughts went away.” And what if he was the Mayor and had some political power? “I think a water system for the Valley would be good. In 1967 this idea was in the works, and the state would have funded it, but the apple growers and hippies didn’t want it.”
I now inquired about Frank’s thoughts or comments on some frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation?… The Wineries? – “They look nice and they bring in people and their money”… The public radio station, KZYX & Z? – “I’ve listened may be five or six times. That’s it. I have my radio set for Ukiah’s western station, KUKI – 103.3fm”… The A.V.A. Newspaper? – “I’ve nothing against it but they should have more local stuff”… The School System? – “I used to be very involved and go to every school board meeting. Not anymore. They’ve done a good job overall”…
To end the interview, as I have always done, I posed a few questions to my guest, some of which are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “I’m just glad that I wake up every day!”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – ‘Parents who do not correct their kid’s manners… And cashiers in stores who do not count out the change back to you.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Equipment running.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – Groups of kids shouting and being rude.”
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – “Steak.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “My Mom and Dad – they both had pretty sound advice for us.”
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 urn with Jo Ann’s ashes, family photographs, my guns.”
8. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “The South and the Carolina’s.”
9. What was your favorite hobby? – “Gardening – it’s when I relax; or in my shop doing my woodcrafts.”
10. Do you have a favorite word or phrase that you use? – “Well from my son I got ‘Busha-busha’ – it means hurry up. I like it.”
11. 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.”
12. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “Hindsight is great of course, but I would have bought some lots here on Estate Drive… And I wish my kids could have experienced a farm life like I did. It was not always fun at the time but looking back I have many good memories.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “I am proud that I gave Jo Ann a nice home to live in – she was from a broken home and had nothing. I am proud that I worked hard to ensure we could raise a family and then have time together to travel when I retired. Jo Ann and I worked hard as a team, saved hard as a team, and played as a team.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “I was always taught that your words are worth more than your money and I’ve tried to live up to that. I hope I have succeeded.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I hope he’d see my good qualities, I assume I have some, so ‘Welcome, come on in’ would be fine with me.”

Published in: on May 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment