Coming soon…

Dear readers,
There is no interview this week. The series appears on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month and the next interview will appear on September 13th when my guest will be Arline Bloom…
Thanks for your continued positive comments and support,
Kind regards, Steve Sparks.

Published in: on August 30, 2012 at 4:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Peggy Ridley – August 10th, 2012

I met with Peggy at her home just off Anderson Valley Way and we sat outside in the shade at the edge of the five acres of vines that are officially known as Ridley Vineyards.
Peggy was born in 1957 in Walnut Creek, in Northern California’s East Bay region. Her parents Joy Strong and Robert E. Lee had another daughter, Linda Lee, born in 1953 and Peggy still has a brother, Robert Jr who was born in 1960. The Strong’s had been in the East Bay for three generations, in the Oakland / Piedmont area, and Peggy’s mother had attended U.C. Berkeley. The Lee’s were of Finnish descent and had changed their name to Lee and settled in North Dakota. Peggy’s father was from a large farming family who moved to California where he found work bussing tables at the sorority house where Peggy’s mother was a member. They met, got married, and Robert Sr. started his own electronics business – dealing with hi-fi’s, stereos, televisions, etc.
“We grew up in the Sleepy Hollow area of Orinda in the East Bay and that is where I attended school all the way from kindergarten thru’ high school, living in the same house the whole time. My mother was a stay-at-home Mom who raised the kids while my Dad’s electronics business expanded to include two shops in Berkeley – ‘Payless T.V.’ and ‘Robert E. Lee’s T.V.’ and also one in Sacramento, run by his relatives.”
Although the East Bay was expanding in the late fifties and early sixties, Sleepy Hollow had cow pastures at the end of the street where Peggy grew up and she spent most of her formative years enjoying herself with the many local kids in the neighborhood. “I was definitely an outdoors kid and had many friends. We’d play in the ponds and creeks, go fishing, ride bikes, build forts, climb trees, and play on rope swings. Cowboys and Indians, and games such as ‘kick-the-can’ and ‘capture-the-flag’. I have great memories of those days.”
Peggy also enjoyed school, attending Sleepy Hollow grade school and then Pine Grove Junior High in Orinda, before going to Miramonte High School, a school of about 300 students between Orinda and Moraga. “In my early teen years I really got into tennis and played in the Junior Wightman Cup for the Sleepy Hollow Country Club which saw me traveling to play all over the Bay Area and sometimes beyond.”
Peggy was a good student, particularly excelling at math and science. She liked all sports and apart from the tennis played some soccer and softball. She continued to make new friends although she still hung out with the children she had grown up with in Sleepy Hollow, some of whom she remains in touch with to this day. Peggy made some pocket money by baby-sitting but in the summer of 1973, between her sophomore and junior year, Peggy found a summer job and became the first female to work behind the scenes at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Meanwhile, for the beginning of her junior year, Peggy had applied to go and study in Europe for a year – Finland was her first choice, given her father’s heritage. “I later found out that I was accepted but my mother said my application had been turned down. She didn’t want me to go at that time and said I would have to wait another year. So I waited and then on my 17th birthday, and for my senior year at high school, I left home and went over to the Netherlands, to the town of Leevwarden, as a foreign exchange student.”
Peggy’s sister had been something of a rebel so her parents were somewhat strict with their second daughter. “They let me go out with friends but no parties were allowed and of course my sport and studying took up most of my time anyway. I was quite self-disciplined with all of that and learned a lot about teamwork and competing, plus I wanted to work on getting good grades for myself and tried hard to do so.”
Peggy spent over a year in the Netherlands with the Kingman family who had six kids with four still at home when she was there. “I arrived in the summer and the family spoke English for a week then they stopped and I had to learn Dutch very quickly. I was getting by quite well by the time school started. The Kingman’s accepted me politely at first but when they started yelling at me I knew I was part of the family. They were not sure to expect from a California girl – they thought everyone in California picked oranges, ate cornflakes, and surfed. I didn’t do any of those things. I soon made friends at school and enjoyed the social life for kids of my age at that time. They all smoked cigarettes but I didn’t, although I soon learned how to drink beer! Apart from a history class, I had basically finished my high school education in the States in three years so I was way ahead of the Dutch kids in my class. It allowed me time to study other things and I learned German, which was very useful when I went to Austria for a vacation with the Kingman’s.”
Peggy was gone for a total of fourteen months, during which time she did not come back to the States at all, although some of her friends visited her there and she traveled to Amsterdam, London, Belgium and Germany with them. “I graduated in the Netherlands in June 1975 and stayed for a couple of months until returning home in the August. I had applied for and been accepted by U.C. Berkeley and U. C Santa Barbara but could not go to either as I did not have my high school diploma from my high school here because I had not passed that history class. I went to Diablo Valley Junior College for a semester and took the history class. Apart from that, I remember that coming back was quite a culture shock for me in many ways, particularly having to speak English again and deal with the American way of life.”
In January 1976, Peggy went to U.C. Santa Barbara to study Ergonomics. “I had always been involved in sports and this was studying the performance of the human body as I was thinking that I’d like to be a physical therapist. The school has a reputation for being a ‘party’ school and I certainly had fun there, getting into the beach scene – something very different for me, and I met ‘surfers’ for the first time. Yes, there were lots of distractions! I spent the first year in the dorm, the International Hall, which was ‘very entertaining’ shall we say. I learned to make beer and with my friends we’d have beer and croquet Sunday afternoons. I did well with my studies with A’s and B’s but had to take summer classes at the junior college because I had started a semester behind. By my senior year it was made clear that just one or two people would go on to be physical therapists for which a graduate degree was needed to get your license and there was a waiting list for the graduate school. I had stopped playing tennis because of a neck injury I received in a car accident, but I did do some gymnastics, track and field, and took golf classes. It was in those classes that I met and fell in love with a ‘surfer’ – Jack Ridley. He was studying biology with a view to possibly being a dentist. We had talked at the class and eventually he asked me out. I agreed and he made me dinner at his place at which he asked me millions of questions and I hardly had a moment to eat. He was a good surfer and on another date he took me to the beach and showed me how he could ride the waves backwards and do handstands He had the entire surfer lingo having grown up in the Huntington Beach/Fullerton area of the southern California coast. He even attended some classes if the surf wasn’t up!”
Jack graduated in 1978, the year before Peggy, and moved to work in construction with his stepfather in the Bay Area. “We had been dating but once he left who knew what would happen? One day he called me when I was at home at my parents’ house and we arranged to meet in San Francisco at the end of the cable car line close to the Trans America Building and our relationship continued from then on. I returned for my senior year and jack moved to the Newport Beach area. I graduated in June 1979 and stayed in the Santa Barbara area for the summer, working temporarily as a lab technician at the university, not really sure what to do next. So when Jack moved to San Diego in the winter of 1979, I followed and we moved into a rented house together.”
Peggy found work at a woman’s health club and continued her schooling in the form of an accounting degree at night school, while Jack got a job in the San Diego suburb of San Marcos for a medical device manufacturer that made ventilators. They lived close to the beach and this suited their leisure time activities of running, swimming, and exercise. Socially they made a number of friends through Jack’s job where he played on the softball team and the girlfriends watched, with both players and fans drinking beer. “We had a very good life in San Diego.”
After a year or two, both Peggy and Jack were working for the same company – Ivac Corporation, a medical device company making digital thermometers and I.V. pumps. Peggy had received her accounting degree and worked in the finance department. They bought a house in 1981 and had a very full social life through work, where there were lots of employees also in their mid-twenties, many of whom loved to go out together, including Peggy and Jack.
“We would often get together after work, and rarely missed a Friday night at ’Carlos Murphy’s’ bar and restaurant. We were married where my grandmother lived in Miramonte Gardens in the East Bay in September 1983 and not long after that we decided to buy some land and build a house. We bought an acre in Olivehain, a rural suburb on Encinatas, in North San Diego County; a place gradually being developed with lots that were half-an-acre or more in size. Back then it had about 200 people and 300 horses in pastures and barns. We sold our house in 1985 and moved to Olivehain in 1986. Around that time I left Ivac and went to work, not far away, for a small printer company that was developing wide format color inkjet printers for blueprints and architectural drawings. I was in charge of the accounting department having decided that promotion was not likely at Ivac where the bosses were not particularly nice.”
Peggy would remain at the printer company for the next ten years as the business grew and grew, going public during that time. “I was around for most of that huge growth period and played a big part. We started out as Enter Computer’ and later became ‘Encad.’ During those years Jack and I still found time for a full social life locally and also enjoyed our skiing trips to Tahoe and Utah. We joined a beer-making club in the mid-eighties that would meet regularly at the Stone Brewery in San Marcos and Jack won many medals and ribbons at County Fairs and other competitions with his beer, cider, and mead. The club expanded into wine-making and we planted some vines on our property, and as time passed this group took over somewhat from our previous social group at Ivac, from where Jack finally departed after fourteen years in 1994, going to work for A-Company Orthodontists where we met a new crowd.”
Jack had not been at the new job long when he was invited to go on a run after work with some co-workers. He went again a couple of weeks later. He had become linked with the Hash House Harriers, a running and drinking club that had been formed in the 1960’s by British ex-pats in Kuala Lumpur who needed to get out and do something fun and healthy at the same time. This group has since spread around the world and has twelve clubs in San Diego alone.
“Jack took me along and we runners were given a map to follow that would eventually lead us to someone’s home, a park, or a bar where we would all have a drink and sing silly songs. We were soon regular attendees, a whole new world opened up to us, and we were heavily involved in it for the rest of our time in San Diego. It was ‘a drinking club with a running problem’ we like to say, and it was to take us on runs organized all over the country and eventually the world.”
In 1996, Peggy left Encad and got a job with a large public pharmaceutical company where she “pretty much was the finance department” but stayed for less than a year before she left to work for Atcom, a small internet company with just ten employees.
Peggy and Jack were by this time going on runs with the Harriers Club all over the world and this included visits to the club’s home – Kuala Lumpur in 1998, and such places as Australia, Tasmania, Fiji, Hong Kong, China, where they ran on The Great Wall, Costa Rica, France, and England. “The runs could be anywhere. You just set out with some instructions and ran cross-country, across rivers, up hills, through tunnels, over fences, whatever. At the end, and sometimes during, you would stop for beer. There could be thousands of runners at some of the international events and everyone has a name. I am Cyberslut and Jack is Jackshit – don’t ask me why. The club became a major part of our social life and we spent a lot of time with the friends we made there.”
Peggy’s parents had split up many years earlier although her mother stayed in the family house until 1987 after she remarried. Peggy and Jack would visit her in the East Bay and often they would continue on to a trip to the north coast. They had been doing this since around 1989, often passing through Anderson Valley on their way to Mendocino Village. “We would sometimes do wine-tasting in the Valley and thought it was a lovely place but too ‘off the grid’ for us to ever contemplate living here. We liked our home comforts too much we thought. I remember the winding road to get here from Cloverdale and one time we stopped at The Buckhorn when it was still the site of the Brewery and they had those tractor seats as barstools.”
The area around where they still lived was getting built-up and they were looking for some property along with another couple. “We had looked around Paso Robles on the central coast and had even looked as far north as Alexander Valley in northern Sonoma County. On a visit in February 2001, after stopping at the new Brewery tasting room, we drove along Hwy 128 north of Boonville, and noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign on Anderson Valley Way. We took the slight detour and looked at the property. There were some vines that had been recently planted and, as nobody was around, we looked inside the windows of the small house. We spoke to the neighbors, the Minton’s, who ran a guesthouse. ‘That would be good for my mother to stay at when she visited,’ I thought. ‘Friends too.’ We carried on through the Valley and stopped for wine-tasting at Roederer. They called Pepperwood Springs Winery in the hills on Holmes Ranch Road and we made an appointment to taste some wine there too. It had recently changed hands and the new owners were the Sterling Family, with parents Murio and Doris as the hosts. We had a great time there and stayed for a few hours. We stayed in Cloverdale that night and it snowed on Hwy 128 on our way out of the Valley. It was beautiful and was the end of a magical day.”
On their return to San Diego, Peggy was very excited about the property they had seen. “Jack was just so-so but Murio had told us he would enquire about the viability of the property in terms of the vines and what to expect as a vine grower in the Valley. He came back with a positive report and we decided to make an offer. However, a higher offer had been received and so we made a back-up offer, about $50K higher than our first one, in case the other deal fell through. We then went on a trip with the running club to China.”
When they returned from their trip and opened the mail they found that their bid had been accepted and they were already in a thirty-day escrow. They became Valley property owners in August 2001. By this time Peggy had left Atcom and was working for herself with a couple of clients while Jack was doing some consulting work and taking care of his grandmother who have been stricken with cancer. “We needed to fix up our house and sell it – we were ready to leave San Diego; it was becoming so built up even though this was not happening so much in our immediate area. In February 2002 we started to move our stuff up and would sort of camp here in the house. That spring Jack stayed up here and worked on the vines and house. Then my father had a heart attack so I was coming up to help with that situation as well as coming to the Valley to help at the house, and then going back work in San Diego. It was a little crazy for a time there. My father passed in June and it was a further two years before we actually had sold our house down there and finally moved here full-time in 2004, with Jack still keeping some of his medical device clients.”
Peggy and Jack joined the A.V. Wine Growers Association and through friends there, Shirley Londer, Raye Sokolow, and Lyn Roman, she was persuaded to join the Valley’s Independent Career Women (I.C.W.) group, eventually being “cornered into becoming their President! I was in that position for four years and got to know lots of women and this, together with my connections in the wine-growers association, meant I always seemed to find out what was happening on the Valley social scene. Jack became a volunteer for the A.V. Firefighters and also soon had a number of social friends too.”
Apart from their new friends, Peggy and Jack kept in touch with those from southern California. A large group of 26 Harriers visited in late 2002 and they had a run in the Valley during the Wine and Mushroom Festival. “We ran through Hendy Woods and ended up at the Corby Vineyard at the corner of Hwy 128 and the Philo Greenwood Rd where we drank wine and had a wonderful dinner. We still keep in touch with many of those friends and encourage them to visit us here. Although we no longer do the runs in this country we still go on the international gatherings and we went to Costa Rica in 2005, Thailand in 2009, and ran the San Francisco Bay-to-Breakers on its 100th Anniversary last year.”
As a result of going in on a business deal on some wine equipment with local wine-makers John Leal, Larry Londer, Bryant Whittaker, and Ron Verdier, the Ridley’s were introduced to ‘The Airport Crowd’ who met weekly at a bar in town for pitchers of beer and then a pot luck dinner at one of the group member’s homes. “The guys still meet but quite a few of the women have stopped going. I still enjoy it and get to see Jeanne Nickless and Diane Heron regularly. I also enjoy my monthly ‘Bunko’ group and book clubs, fitness groups, and yoga are all activities I have done here as lots of these things come and go. I am still in the I.C.W. but no longer am an officer, and also the winegrowers, whom I help with their Alsace and Pinot Noir Festivals. I volunteer for the food booth at the County Fair for the Fire Department, the Education Foundation’s July 4th event, the beer booth at the Beer Festival for the Elder Home, and Jack and I also volunteer to help in some capacity at the A.V. Film Festival.”
I asked Peggy for her favorite things about living in the Valley. “The beautiful scenery, the fresh air, the food, the wine, the friendly people.” And any dislikes? “Hearing the highway traffic; neighbor’s dogs barking.”
What image or memory do you have of your father? “A very hard-working man who had little social life. He’d come in from work, read the paper, have a martini, eat dinner, and go to bed.” And your mother? “She has been, and still is, very social. She has her bridge club and a book club she has been in for sixty years! She lives in Orinda and loves her garden there. She will be eighty-five this year.”
I asked Peggy for her thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation…The Wineries? – “If they had not come here many things would not be here and we almost certainly wouldn’t. Much of the Valley’s money from tourism is because of the wineries. As a result of the County’s intended General Plan, suddenly many winery tasting rooms sprouted up a few years ago in the belief that such projects would be prevented if the Plan was introduced. It wasn’t but the tasting rooms arrived and we probably have too many now and so some will most likely not survive”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I used to read it when we first came to town. I was a bit shocked. I started to think that if you went out it might be reported in the newspaper. I still read it about once a month in the library?… KZYX local public radio? – “I listen to it in the car.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Peggy and asked her to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “My little cat, Cali – she adopted us last summer.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – “The middle of winter when I am not able to enjoy outside.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Bird’s singing – different ones at different times.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “The Hwy 128 noise from trucks and motor cycles.”
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – “A artichoke starter; fresh salmon; potatoes from our garden; fresh raspberries; and a glass of Pinot Noir.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “Alice Waters, the US chef, restaurateur, and author, famous for her advocacy of organic, locally-grown ingredients. I would love to talk to her about her concepts and ideas.”
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 cats; a flash drive of family photographs; if we were still in San Diego it would be surfboard and golf clubs.”
8. Does anything scare you? – “Heights; being on a ledge of some sort.”
9. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “The Matahari Hotel in North Bali – just a magical place.”
10. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “A song would be ‘Blue Eyes’ by Elton John; the book, ‘Devil in the White City’ about the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893; and as for a film, perhaps one I saw recently, ‘Marigold Heart’. It made me really think about age and the life we want to have.”
11. What was your favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? – “Sports back then. Now it would be gardening – both flowers and veggies.”
12. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “Something dealing with the public more than I did. Perhaps in sales and marketing.”
13. What profession or job would you not like to do? – “A janitor.”
14. Do you have a favorite phrase or word, or one that you use often? – “I think Jack might say it would be ‘I already told you that’, or some variation of that.”
15. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I was fifteen and Herbert Hall took me to a prom. My mother thought he was ‘such a nice boy’. I thought he was kind of creepy.”
16. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I don’t think I would have taken work so seriously. I did lots of overtime and should have managed it better. I guess I’m making up for that now, goofing off a lot.”
17. Tell me about a moment or period of time you will never forget. – “Lots of things… Just one would perhaps be making it to the center of Uluru, or Ayers Rock, in Australia. We not only got to the top, we then made it in to the center of this incredible natural phenomenon.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “In recent times that would be when we got our vineyard designation for our grapes – ‘Ridley Vineyards in the Anderson Valley Appellation.’ We have put lots of time and energy into them.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “That I am friendly, open, adventurous.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Just ‘Welcome to Heaven’ would be fine.”

The next interview will appear on the 2nd Thursday of the month – September 13th
The guest interviewee from the Valley on that occasion will be
Arline Bloom

Published in: on August 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Next week…

Dear readers,
There is no interview this week. The series appears on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month and the next interview will appear on August 23rd when my guest will be Peggy Ridley…
Thanks for your continued positive comments and support,
Kind regards, Steve Sparks.

Published in: on August 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Walden ‘Walt’ Valen – July 28th, 2012

I met with Walt at his home just outside Boonville, off Hwy 128 – the one with the spectacular gardens next to the Cal Tran yard. I thought I was going to be interviewing his wife Ginger but they decided to make a change. This was fine with me, although I do need to get more women for this series – I am working on it… (And Ginger is still on my list!)
Walt was born in Watertown, New York in 1943 to parents Waldemar Valen and Nathalie Putnam. “That was in upstate New York on the St. Lawrence seaway – one of the coldest places in the country in the winter – we were not there long.” Grandfather Valen had come to this country from Sweden and they had initially settled in the Seattle area. “My father was in the army air force and was the crew chief on a C47 cargo plane during World War 2. My mother’s side was French Canadian, the La Plante’s, who had settled in northern New York State. Following the war, my father left the service and in 1946 we moved out to California – ‘to make a good life’, along with many others. We cam to San Francisco and lived in what was former military housing in Hunter’s Point where many low income families lived.”
Walt’s father found work stocking shelves at Weinstein’s department store and later became a gardener for the City of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department – a job in which remained until retirement. “My brother was born in 1947and when busing became law, and he was old enough, we became the first kids from Hunters’ Point to be bussed to school. I was very young for my class because I had been moved up a grade as I was so tall – that was a big mistake. Boys mature late and I was very self-conscious with the kids older than me and those were not good times for me. In1955, we moved to Noe Street and 24th in the mid-Mission district where I attended James Lick Junior and High school for my 7th and 8th grades and the first year of high school. I did not enjoy the academic subjects but schools at that time had many other options and I did like the woodwork, metalwork, and shop classes. I was pretty good at them and thought at the time that woodworking would be my career. I didn’t do much else, no sports, and I was very shy and withdrawn.”
For his sophomore year, Walt transferred to Balboa High and during that year he got a part-time job stocking shelves. “I had a couple of hobbies – stamp and coin collecting – and was still very introverted and kept myself to myself most of the time. In the summer of 1958, my parents wanted out of the City and moved to Turlock in the Central Valley where they had some friends and bought their first house. My Dad kept his job as a gardener in the City and would come home at the weekends. I did my final two years of high school at Turlock High – I was much happier there, away from the gang-infested city school. Turlock was a small rural town with a population of about 9,000 and I loved it.”
In 1960, at the age of seventeen, Walt graduated. “I wanted out of the house and was prepared to go into the military. However, it was the time of the draft lottery and that would mean going into the army – I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to join the air force so I went to the local junior college for a year, where I did not do very well, and then in 1961, at eighteen, I joined the air force. That was as a result of my Dad’s influence, plus I had always had an interest in planes. I was stationed at Roswell Air Force Base where I became a bombing navigation specialist, working on the radar systems of the B52 bombers. It was one of the bigger bases in the country where we had forty-five B52’s, forty-five KC135’s, and twelve missile silos. The base was listed as one of the top five Soviet targets at that time. I enjoyed the work and also got to play on the volleyball team that traveled to play at other bases in tournaments, but more importantly it was the first time in my life that I ‘became myself.’ I had been really self-conscious and shy all the way through school and believe that experiencing military service or something like it could help many kids. There should be some kind of service obligation for young folks today. It builds an individual’s self-esteem. Not a draft perhaps, but something similar to the civil conservation corps that was in operation before the war.”
Walt left the military in 1965 just as involvement in Vietnam was becoming significant; in fact his wing at Roswell was due to be the next to go over there. His parents moved a few times over the next few years, from Turlock to San Francisco and back again and then later, when his father retired, they went to live in southern California, in Chula Vista near San Diego. On leaving the military, Walt found work at the American Thread Company and while he was not there very long it was significant because it was in that job that he met Virginia ‘Ginger’ Kellar. “I stocked the shelves and she fulfilled the orders and one thing led to another – we were married in April 1967.”
By that time the young married couple had each found new and much better jobs. Ginger was at the Bank of America and later Wells Fargo and on the team that introduced Visa and MasterCard at those establishments. Meanwhile Walt, who had done some work at a garden nursery when he was in Turlock, had been told by his father that there was an entrance test for a job with the Recreation and Parks Department in San Francisco. “I took that test and was placed on a waiting list. In 1967 I was accepted and began work for the school section of the department, working as Assistant Gardener at Lowell High School. A year or so later I took another test and in 1969 was accepted to a full Gardener position”.
Walt and Ginger lived on Pine Street between Hyde and Larkin, “on the poor side of Nob Hill, next to the Cala Food Market. We would go for long walks on our Friday night dates, going over to North Beach and stopping at the City Lights bookstore and the Purple Onion club. Although the beatnik scene was winding down by that time it was still a very exciting place to be. We had nothing really to do with the scene on the other side of the City during that period – the hippies in the Haight-Asbury district. Even though I worked nearby in Golden Gate Park, I was in the nursery most of the time and the Summer of Love and other stuff there had little affect on me. We had a five-year plan to buy a house and tried hard to save most of our money, although we did enjoy those walks and took in some shows and a number of the events that were always happening in the City. We liked to go to the less expensive restaurants on Polk Street, one offered Chinese dinners for about $2 and another of our favorites was the Swan Oyster Depot. We stuck to our plan and accomplished it in three-and-a-half years by buying a home in San Anselmo in Marin in 1970 – when that area was still affordable. Ginger was now working at U.C.S.F. and we commuted together across the Golden Gate Bridge to work. We ended up doing that for most of the rest of our careers. What a commute – beautiful!”
In the early seventies Walt moved up from Gardener to Nurseryman for all City parks and also worked on many special events, including the flowers for the City supervisor and mayoral functions. Daughter Brooke was born in 1976 and while Ginger took time off from her job for three years to raise her, Walt continued to dedicate himself to in his career. By 1977 he had moved on from the nursery and became a section supervisor, or foreman, of gardeners, working on the baseball fields in ‘Big Rec’ in Golden Gate Park and also the Fern Dell and Rhododendron Dell. “I had nine gardeners working for me and did 8am to 4.30pm five days a week in what was a very unionized department.”
In 1978 he transferred, as a foreman, to work in the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Garden. “I had not been there long, less than a year in fact, when the City Rec. and Parks Department and the Director of the Botanical Gardens parted ways, and the department began to look for a replacement. I applied just to show I was interested and to my great surprise, while I was away on vacation as it happened, I was offered the job. I was probably not really qualified or experienced enough, I was just thirty-six, but I think I had gained a good reputation and had been in the department for quite a while. Anyway, I accepted the job and began in 1979.”
This position soon became an all-consuming job for Walt. He was responsible for many things, including the Hall of Flowers, the County Fair Flower Show and its twenty-three different garden clubs, the Arboretum Society and its twenty-five Board members, the Recreation and Parks Commission, and of course the gardens themselves, although he moved away from the hands-on work he had done for so long. “I missed it. I kept some work trousers and boots under my desk so that I could occasionally go and work with a crew in the gardens – probably against union laws but for me a necessary ‘escape.’ I feel I accomplished a lot in my twenty years in that position, following our master plan very closely and installing a number of new gardens. In my job I also became a member of a number of international organizations and traveled to many places, including England, Scotland, other European gardens, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and all over the U.S. I met the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Princess Beatrix of Netherlands, Lady Bird Johnson, and when Princess Margaret of Great Britain visited us at Golden Gate Park I took her on a tour of our gardens on my electric ‘golf’ cart. By the end of my tenure, the gardens had become some of the most important in the country and we also created the ‘New World Cloud Garden’ collection, the first in the U.S. I had a good relationship with many growers and other gardens and worked closely with the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, which led to trips to southern Mexico and Guatemala.”
As mentioned above, Ginger had taken three years off work to raise Brooke, but generally both she and Walt were very dedicated to their jobs. Obviously they had a lovely garden at their home. “It was my hobby when I wasn’t working. Gardening was my vocation and what I liked to do on my vacation. I was very fortunate.”
Despite all of the satisfaction gained from the job, by the late nineties Walt was ready to retire. “Dealing with so many factions and politics was getting to me. Government agencies go through good and bad times alternatively and I was tired of it all. I decided I had done enough and retired in July 1999. We’d been discussing buying a second home for our retirement and had been looking around various places, from Pacific Grove – too expensive, to Ft. Bragg – a nice place but too foggy and difficult to get to. Following my retirement our search intensified. We had passed through Anderson Valley on our way to the coast and began to seriously think about it as a possibility. One weekend Ginger came up this way while I was visiting Brooke in Australia and she saw a place on Anderson Valley Way, just outside Boonville – this place. She made an offer with the contingency that I had to approve. On my return, I came up and confirmed the offer on this five acres with a small pre-fabricated home – one of quite a few in the Valley, particularly in Yorkville, that had come from the Vallejo Naval shipyard. The offer was accepted and by September 2000 we had a home in Anderson Valley. We didn’t know much about this place at all, although it turned out we did know a couple of people here – Susan Addison and John Scharffenberger were both on the Arboretum Board!”
For a time Walt came up at the weekends and it soon came to the point where he did not want to go back down to the Bay Area. “I worked on the garden, re-modeled the kitchen, put in a bigger well, and slowly improved the property. In 2003 Ginger retired and we were up here about 85% of the time. Then in 2004 we bought the Jehovah Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall next door to us. This became a rental cottage and our ‘garden room’. Since then, other than improving the buildings, it has been garden, garden, garden, and going to the A.V. Brewery for beers on a Friday evening with some of the ‘Airport Crowd’ such as Kirk Wilder, Larry Lombard, and others. Oh, and I’ve also been working on growing my beard. Ginger is more social than me and is involved in a number of Valley groups such as the Ambulance Board and the I.C.W. (Independent Career Women). She created the A.V. Garden Tour, a fundraiser for various Valley organizations, and together we started the A.V. Horticultural Forum, a quarterly gathering for garden enthusiasts. I am also involved with the Coast Botanical Garden in Ft. Bragg and I’m on their plant collections committee. Yes, we are retired, but remain very busy, fortunately doing things we love doing.”
“Anderson Valley is idyllic to me – it is me. I have been able to create a lifestyle that is a perfect fit. I don’t want to see Hwy 101; I’ve truly gone feral! It is just about a nirvana for me at this time in my life. Sometimes, sipping wine and looking across our gardens into the hills beyond, I wonder ‘Two people from poor families, in government jobs most of their lives – how did we get to be so lucky?’ I feel very ‘wealthy.’ If I died watering my plants then that would be fine. I would be happy. They can bury me right there… Any negatives? I do wish we had a Chinese restaurant and I sometimes miss the variety of restaurants we had in the City. I guess I also drink too much wine – though that’s not necessarily a negative.”
I asked Walt for a thought or image of his father. “He was not religious but very spiritual, believing that he could project his body somewhere else. He was a good Dad and guided me well. He passed almost twenty years ago.” And his mother? “She was very loving, and very affectionate with me throughout my life. Although I do remember she would hit me with a wooden spatula. It broke once and I laughed. She never did it again…. My brother has retired from his job with the National Park Service and lives in Spokane, Washington, near to the Grand Cooley Dam. Our daughter Brooke lives in the house in San Anselmo and is a landscape architect.”
I asked Walt for his brief thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation?… The Wineries? – “I am neutral. As someone who has guest cottages, I am sucking off the wineries as our visitors are often here in the Valley to taste the local wines. We are also members of the Wine Growers Association. I have long thought that the only consistent thing in life is change. This Valley has constantly changed and will continue to do so. There are pluses and minuses. The wineries have certainly expanded a lot in recent years and it does bother me that there are more corporate wineries around now and that there are many more lush green spots up in the hills these days”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I don’t listen”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I don’t read it much. I think they make some stuff up.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself. I asked Walt to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “A new flower.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – “Logging trucks.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Silence.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Jake breaks on the big trucks.”
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – “Linguini with clam sauce and a large glass of Valley wine. Ginger and I used to enjoy going out to different restaurants in the Bay Area and ordering the Caesar salad and the calamari at each one and comparing. But I’ll go with the linguini for my last meal.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “My Dad. We had a pact that as he was so much into astral projection that he would come back and visit me. He never has and so I’d like to ask him what he discovered in the next life.”
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? – “Some pants, a shirt, and my wallet… And our file of important documents… And Ginger… Not necessarily in that order!”
8. Does anything scare you? – “Losing my will to water my plants.”
9. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “South Africa has been on my list for a long time – the flora there and their Botanical Garden.”
10. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “I only read horticultural books so Hortus, the plant encyclopedia, has been very influential; a song would be Henry Mancini’s ‘Moon River’ – I still remember listening to it on the evening I signed up for the Air Force.”
11. What was your favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? – “Since my late teens, gardening has always been my hobby.”
12. Do you have a favorite word or phrase that you use? – “Little f***er.”
13. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “I would like to have been a commercial airline pilot. I never have flown a plane or got my license.”
14. What profession or job would you not like to do? – “Assembly line work of some sort.”
15. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I had a picnic with a girl when I was fourteen and living in Turlock.”
16. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “If I had been a better student, I would have liked to have gone to college.”
17. Tell me about a moment or period of time you will never forget. – “My time in the military was a real growing period for me. I came out as myself.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “I am very proud of my garden here right now.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “I am at ease with myself. I am content. I like that about myself.
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, ‘Welcome’ would be good enough, rather than the opposite. I would be his gardener in exchange for beer!”

The next interview will be published on the 4th Thursday of the month – August 23rd. The guest interviewee from the Valley on that occasion will be Peggy Ridley

Published in: on August 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Next Week…

Dear readers,
There is no interview this week. The series appears on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month and the next interview will appear on August 9th when my guest will be Walt Valen…
Thanks for your continued positive comments and support,
Kind regards, Steve Sparks.

Published in: on August 2, 2012 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment