Arline Bloom – August 17th, 2012

I met with Arline at her home on Highway 128 in Boonville. It was a hot day and so the peaches and fresh water were perfect as we sat down to talk at the dining room table.
Arline was born in 1957 in San Francisco in Mt. Zion Hospital – “A Jewish baby in a Jewish hospital” – to parents George Bloom and Sally Fleishman, who had their second child, Steve, a couple of years later. Both sides of the family were originally from Russia and her father’s side changed their name from Blum in 1954, although not legally. “My paternal grandparents were both from the same area in Russia but they met in New York having come over around 1917 or so. The story goes that, in 1927, my grandmother was in a deli, when her water broke. She thought she had peed her pants. She took the train to their home in Brooklyn, not knowing anything. Days later, after eating a pickle she developed a severe abdominal pain, finding out at the hospital she was pregnant and about to give birth, to my father. He later went to the same school as comedienne Carol Channing The family moved to San Francisco in 1942 where he attended Lowell High School and served in the army during the Korean War although he was never deployed over there. He came out of the army as a Sergeant and became an accountant.”
Arline’s maternal grandparents also came separately to the U.S. Also around 1918 entering the country in New Orleans going to Chicago. “It is a bit vague, I believe my Grandparents met, married and moved to San Francisco, where my grandfather’s sister lived. In 1927 my mother was born at Mills Hospital, San Mateo and her sister and brother soon followed. My mother graduated at 16 in 1943 from Washington High School, but soon afterwards the family moved to Los Angeles as the fog in San Francisco was affecting my Mom’s sister’s asthma. Those days in L.A. anyone could be an extra. My Mother spoke of being an extra in films along with her sister. The most famous one was on the tennis court as extra in the film “Pat and Mike’ with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Days before my Mothers death we happened to catch the movie on KQED public television where my Mom was able to point out my Grandmother and my Aunt. Early in 1955, my mother went back to San Francisco. Looking for work she interviewed for a Receptionist/Bookkeeper position with George Bloom. She got the job and they were married that summer, living in San Francisco on 28th Avenue, between Clement St. and California St.”

Arline attended the Mother Goose nursery school just a couple of doors away from their home but they moved from the Richmond District to the Sunset District, across the other side of Golden Gate Park, where they still lived on 28th Avenue but now between Noriega and Moraga Streets. “I went to Robert L. Stevenson from kindergarten thru’ the first part of 1st grade but in 1963 we then moved out of the City to Burlingame on the Peninsula. Like lots of Jews at the time we moved to the suburbs where we could afford to buy a house of our own. We were in the hills with great views of San Francisco Bay. There were few cars around, with no sidewalks there, so we could bicycle safely all over the place.”
Arline enjoyed a childhood with quite a degree of freedom and would spend hours with friends on their bicycles, riding without helmets, or exploring the huge construction site that would become Mills Estates. “I was outside a lot, always on my bike, or playing softball, selling Girl Scout cookies, climbing trees. It was a very white neighborhood and I remember when some African Americans were bussed in to school for the first time. We lived close to the Temple and my brother and I both went to Sunday school. He had a Bar Mitzvah but I did not want a Bat Mitzvah for myself and had no idea about the concept of it being a rite of passage.”
“My mother’s parents did not speak English, they spoke Russian and that was my mother’s first language but this changed over the years – they had come to America to be American. My mother taught her parents English and I never heard them speak Russian. They did speak Yiddish when they wanted to say something they did not want us to hear! As for the Jewish men I knew, I had lots of male friends when I was growing up but often their Jewish-ness bothered me. In fact I have yet to meet a great New Age Jewish man, but I am still looking!”
Arline learned to play the violin as a child but other girls were much better so she was asked to switch to the string bass – “carrying that on the school bus did not go over well with me. Eventually my mother started to drive me and my bass around. She always found the time to play a part in our lives, and that included being the Brownie and Girl Scout leader, but I never related to that instrument until I was an adult.”
For her 7th and 8th grade Arline went to Burlingame Intermediate School before entering Mills High School. In the meantime she had found about a Jewish Youth group that she joined and at the age of 13 was the 3rd Vice President. She was soon very involved with this group, became President of the local chapter by her sophomore year at high school, and the President of the Bay Area’s 20 chapters by her junior year. “It was called B’nai Brith Girls, an international group, and was a natural fit for me. I was the President for two years. Most of my friends were made there, girls and boys, and we’d organize dances, ice cream socials, visit the elderly, and discus some religious topics but it was not a group that practiced any serious dogma. Sure, we’d honor our traditions with songs and folk-dances but it was not about that. It was like a youth-led high school sorority for Jewish girls; more about friendships, leadership, and fundraising for a variety of causes. The commonality was our Jewish heritage, not the religion. My time in that group was a really nice bonding experience, much more real than at high school. The end of high school also signaled the time for girls to leave the group. However, for a time I attended meetings as a counselor and advisor. I was the main leader of this group for two years and it’s a trip to meet up again as they all remember me as their leader.”
Arline had done well at school, getting A’s in Home Economics and high B’s in History, English, and Spanish, not so well in Science. In June 1975, she graduated. “The youth group had been my life. Apart from a few chores around the house, when not at school it took up all of my time. I had meetings two or three nights a week and had my driving license and my blue ’67 Bonneville and I’d travel all over the Bay Area to chapter meetings, functions, conventions, and conclaves. The Group took up, like, everything, and I became a skilled organizer and planner, not to mention the fact that I made lifelong friends there.”
Arline’s family observed all the Jewish holidays – “there were certainly plenty of them” – and they would all get together. They would often vacation in southern California where the Fleishman grandparents lived, along with many aunts, uncles, and cousins. “I was a good kid, rarely in trouble. I had little money and there was very little drinking in the Group. Doing ‘U’eys in the middle of the street in my car was about the craziest thing I’d do. Later, at college, I got a ’65 New Yorker – it was like a Sherman tank, you could fill the trunk with water and have a hot tub.”
“My parents were liberal and open, giving and kind, very accepting. I remember a close male friend of mine came out of the closet and was disowned by his Jewish parents. My father told him that if he ever needed anything he should not hesitate to call him. Our house was always open to everyone, but in some ways they were strait-laced and I was not experienced in the ways of the world.”
Upon graduation, Arline was interested in psychology but did not really know where to go or what to do so she planned to take some classes at the College of San Mateo in the fall. That summer she got a job at ‘Home Yardage’ fabric store and after six weeks as a ‘cutter’ of the materials, she had made a good impression with her analytical skills that she was offered a job as a bookkeeper. She stayed there for two years, taking classes at the J.C., and living at home, and in June 1977 she graduated with an associate arts degree in Psychology.
“I applied for various colleges even though my maternal grandfather, an old fashioned Russian Jew, said he could not understand why girls would want to go to college. His daughter, my aunt, had disobeyed him and got her teaching degree and he never got over that. Anyway, I was accepted at a few universities to study psychology and decided on U.C. Berkeley. I had been kind of sheltered up to that point in my life and was not prepared for the Berkeley scene – certainly not the co-operative mixed housing and its ‘hippy’ lifestyle. I had seen hippies of course, in fact our family outings on many Sundays in the late sixties would be to San Francisco where we’d drive around looking at the hippies in the Haight and the gays in the Castro and Polk Street, the gay center in those early days.”
“Anyway, living in the promiscuity of the Berkeley co-op was way more than I could handle. I moved into a boarding g house on campus and shared a room with another girl. I was a pretty straight virgin at this point – listening to John Denver, Barry Manilow, Barbara Streisand, and Styxx! Berkeley seemed to be a place where others were taking drugs to wake up, drugs to stay awake, and drugs to get to sleep. I had a very difficult time there.”
In her senior year at Berkeley, Arline became a member of the Jewish sorority AEPhi, which was working its way back on campus. This did not mean she would spend more time on campus. “I was stressed there and was not really fitting in. I kept in touch with all my friends at home, about 20 miles away, and would return there often in my car on weekends. Hanging out on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley was just not for me, I never felt I did fit in there.”
Going into her final year at the university, Arline was struck with spastic colitis, and then ulcerative colitis, a chronic gastrointestinal illness. She was on heavy medication and found herself constantly falling asleep. During this time a class that was needed for graduation requirements was missed and although she received her diploma at her graduation ceremony in June 1979, she was told in the fall that she would have to complete that class in the following spring. She finally graduated in the spring of 1980 with a psychology degree. “Looking back clearly Berkeley was not the right school for me. It was all about the science whereas I was more into a holistic approach to the subject.”
Arline returned to Burlingame and found an apartment for herself. She got a job at the nearby Hyatt House hotel coffee shop. “I worked as a Hostess/Cashier for a couple of years, mainly doing the graveyard shift. I was settling back into my scene and although my colitis was still a problem it was becoming easier but I was still stressed and not happy. I was being scheduled for a colostomy, not dating and still a virgin. A friend of mine from the Jewish youth group thought that marijuana might help me medically. He was right. My illness was gone in a month and it never came back. I smoked a little every day after my graveyard shift and it calmed me. I became introspective in a healthy way and the marijuana took care of what I needed it to take care of. I laugh now, living where I do, that I do not smoke anymore!”
In 1981, Arline got a job as a receptionist at a C.P.A. firm in San Francisco, later becoming a bookkeeper for them. The company, Reuben E. Price and Co., had five accountants and when they disbanded in 1983 one of them moved to open his own practice in San Mateo and Arline went with him.
In the summer of 1984, Arline, now a field worker for BBYO, B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, took a group of the girls and boys from the organization to Israel – “an unforgettable experience. We worked on an architectural dig and the trip was a hoot, lots of fun, and a spiritual journey for me. I went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and found it a very powerful place; very intense and fascinating. I liked my cultural upbringing but was still searching. Judaism had taught me to be open, kind, caring, giving but I was now looking to expand on that and looking into different spiritual things.”
On her return, Arline began to explore. Workshops were in abundance in northern California. She had met some people involved in groups like EST and LifeSpring, and other self-help and improvement activities, at her job in the hotel but had never attended any workshops. “Through a class I had at CSM a women/friend recommended ‘Sex. Love, and Intimacy’, a Human Awareness Institute workshop at Harbin Hot Springs in Lake County, northern California and I decided to go – I don’t know why. It was a weekend retreat and I really felt at home there. I opened up and new horizons became apparent to me. I got really involved and attended all four of the weekends in the series, becoming an Intern/volunteer helping assist at the gatherings. There were about 100 people at the workshops and about 12 assistants. I connected with many of these people. It was another place for long lasting friendships.”
Arline had been dating a man since January of 1984 and in April they had gone to Elk on the north coast for the weekend – it was her first time passing through Anderson Valley. “I had never come this way before. My family had always gone south for our vacations. We made a couple more visits that saw me go through the Valley again but apart from noting its beauty I didn’t think about it anymore after our trips were over. He wanted to marry me but following my trip to Israel in the June and July, it was never the same. It just did not happen for me and I broke up with him in the October”
At the fourth and final weekend for the ‘Sex, Love, and Intimacy’ workshop, a friendship with a married man was moving beyond that, into a physical relationship also. “He and his wife were in an open relationship and it worked for all of us. It was what I needed. I was a late bloomer and had experienced no real relationships of any note. It was not as if anyone else was banging on my door – the Jewish doctor or lawyer had not shown up! I told my mother the truth and didn’t think twice about doing so. It was not about the sex, it was much more than that. One person cannot always meet all of your needs and I knew about his wife and she knew about me from the beginning. We were all friends. The long and short of it is that I moved to the Sacramento suburbs and lived with them for five years. It was also my first experience of rural living.”
While in Sacramento, Arline got her manicure license and worked as a custodian for the school district. In 1987, she began her ‘real’ career, one that she continues to do today, in Medical Education work. This involves her visiting various medical schools and colleges where, using her own body, she teaches nursing students, nurse practitioners, medical students, and physicians’ assistants on how to correctly do breast and pelvic examinations on patients. These days she continues to do this work along with scheduling, hiring, training, and coordinating both men and women to do this work
In February 1989, Arline went to San Francisco to speak. Prior to this, “I had told some friends that I was thinking of having a surprise birthday for myself – stemming from a conversation about how I like everything perfect. The thought of a surprise party would be not knowing who or how many would be at the party, therefore unable for me to plan it perfectly. At the meeting, a guy by the name of Ray Langevin announces that he is planning a surprise party for himself. Who does that? It piqued my interest that we were thinking the same thought. I went to his party. We had met a few years earlier, around 1984, when he was looking for a bookkeeper – yes, that job cropping up once again! – and I did some work for him, once a month for a few months. At his party I told him if he needed a friend I would be there for him. We went our separate ways. Well that September he called me and wanted to take up my offer of friendship. We clicked and as I was now doing catering he started to give me a hand with that. We were friends at first. When the earthquake hit the Bay Area that October I was very concerned with his safety and I realized I had developed some deep feelings for him.”
Aline’s relationships in Sacramento were closing down and she was spending more time back in the Bay Area, bringing more and more of her belongings to Ray’s place in the outer Richmond District. “My father had committed suicide in 1986 but my mother was still alive and I’d visit her quite often, plus many of my teaching jobs were in the area. Soon Ray and I were dating seriously and I moved in with him in late 1989.”
For the next ten years Arline lived in San Francisco while she continued to do her teaching work, plus run her catering business and work for the Department of Public Health, and Ray worked as a general contractor/handyman. For a time, she helped take care of her ailing grandmother, who died in 1992 after living with them for a few months in hospice care. Their place on 46th Avenue had a large meeting hall which they called ‘Center from the Heart’ which they rented out to various groups if it “felt right in their heart” to do so – things such as healing circles, small concerts, talks/discussions. “For those ten years we were completely immersed in the Center and did not really take part in the San Francisco lifestyle and events very often. We lost everything in a fire at the building at one point but returned a few months later and resumed our activities. When not catering or teaching I was doing something for the Center but by the late nineties we were looking for something else.”
In 1998, one of the renters of the Center was running a workshop at the Shenoa Retreat for a week in Philo, Anderson Valley, and needed a caterer so she asked Arline and Ray. “We accepted and obviously did a good job because Shenoa asked us to return the next year for the whole summer and be the house caterers at the retreat. Ray came up that winter and worked on the place we were to stay in. In February 1999 I had a tumor removed from my breast and was thinking it was really time to make some changes. We sublet the Center out in the summer of 1999 and came to the Valley. I am thinking we’d be back in the City later in the year. Ray somehow knew the Valley would be our new home. A week before we were to leave the City our landlord changed his mind about the sublet. We had to move up here with everything we owned. Fortunately, in the May, we met Carolyn Short who owned the Chevron Gas station in Boonville and the property behind it – now Mi Esperanza store. We were able to put our things in storage there.”
They worked the summer and lived on the property in a cabin that Ray had worked on – “he made it functional for the princess in me.” She had started to make friends here, including Carolyn, Leslie Hummel at ‘All that Good Stuff’ store, and Kevin Jones at the Boont Berry store. After the job closed down for the winter, Lauren Keating, of Lauren’s Restaurant, told them of a house that was for rent in town at the corner of Hwy 128 and Mountain View Rd., owned by Vicky Centers, and in the November they moved in and were in the Valley for good.
Arline began to do catering at events in the Valley, at such venues as Highland Ranch and others, and also worked in the kitchen at the Drive-In for owner Cheryl Schrader for a time. Then on February 21st, 2001, Ray, who had been working in construction and as volunteer for the fire department, had a serious fall at the County Dump when dropping off a load of trash. He suffered severe head injury and he’d broken a number of bones. He was in a coma for a few days before coming out of it and starting on his long rehabilitation.
Arline has now been in the Valley for 13 years and has catered for most of those. She now does the bookkeeping part-time (no surprise there!) for Londer Vineyards and did two years of that at Taylor Roberts in Philo. In the fall, she works in the Bay Area with her medical education program.
“I love my life here in the Valley, doing what I do and working on how to create my possibilities. We did not come here to retire. We bought this house, across the highway from the rental we had, in September 2005 and moved in during the spring of 2006 – it’s the house with the large sign out front that says, ‘Peace on Earth; Goodwill to All’. Socially, we host a weekly poker game and have been doing so for 11 years now, and once a month I go to my Bunko evening and get to meet up with a bunch of friends including Diane Heron, Gaile Wakeman, Sandy Creque, the Lombards, the Ridleys, the Leals, and others. I used to do the Trivia Quiz when it was on Wednesday evenings but when it changed to Thursday’s and poker night got a little earlier it clashed and I had to stop going.”
“I like the one degree of separation here; even if you’re not on someone’s ‘A-list,’ you are still involved and connected. I never go to the post office and get out of there in a few minutes – there is always someone to talk to. I like that about the Valley. The bad side is that sometimes people believe everything they hear and fail to check the truth out with the source.”
I asked Arline for her thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation… The wineries and their impact? – The Valley needs to have income sources for those of us who need employment – the wineries provide that. I believe that Hwy 128 will keep them at a certain level; only so many people will come”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – I love the fact that it’s there and we can get local information but… I’m very confused. I don’t know what to think about it anymore. The Valley should be thankful and proud but…” … The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I am thrilled about having a local paper, although I double-check sometimes to make sure things are true”…
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Arline and asked her to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “My dogs.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – “Constant negative projection.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – Waterfalls, birds singing, the wind in the trees, my dogs licking my toes!”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – Dogs in distress; the ‘Boom! Boom!’ sounds of heavy bass music.”
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – “I just completed a 21-day fast so this is tough… Err, oh, yes – my English toffee.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “One more time with my Mom and Dad.”
7. If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “The dogs, money; my mother’s things. Having been through that experience I can say that a pen and paper is very useful too, pictures mean nothing.”
8. Does anything scare you? – “The future; outliving my money.”
9. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Places with warm water to float in.”
10. Do you have a favorite song or one that has influenced you? – “A song would be ‘You can do magic’ by America or perhaps ‘Time in a bottle’ by Jim Croce.”
11. What was your favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? – “Back then probably sewing and needlepoint; now it’s knitting or playing ‘Draw Something’.”
12. Do you have a favorite word or phrase that you use? – “It’s all good.”
13. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A motivational speaker.”
14. What profession or job would you not like to do? – “A custodian – never again. Or perhaps a plumber – yucky.”
15. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I have never really had a date. I guess I had a blind date when I was 18 but I cannot remember anything about it.”
16. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I would have gone and seen my father on the Friday before he committed suicide. We had arranged to meet but it didn’t happen and he killed himself on the Monday.”
17. Tell me about a moment or period of time you will never forget. – “Those first few months in the Valley, in the summer of 1999.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “The medical education work I do. I feel like I’m making a difference in 1000’s of people’s lives on a very subtle level.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “My presence, I am really there for people. I do not pretend. I give 100%. The friend that I am to my friends.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well done – you didn’t give up and you did a good job.”

The next interview will appear on the 4th Thursday of the month – September 27th
The guest interviewee from the Valley on that occasion will be the recently retired Philo Post Master – Joe Dresch

Published in: on September 14, 2012 at 5:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

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  

Sharon Sullivan – July 21st, 2012

I met with Sharon last weekend at her lovely and peaceful home on Guntley Road on the Holmes Ranch at the northwest end of the Valley. She served up a delicious garden salad on what was a very hot afternoon, and we sat down to talk…
Sharon was born in December 1948, in Athens, Ohio, the eldest child of three born to parents Daniel Sullivan and Doris Baker. Her father had a son from a previous marriage, Sharon’s half brother, also called Daniel, who despite his efforts to work on the family history has not come up with much and Sharon knows very little about her Sullivan heritage. On the Baker side there is not much more to share. Her grandfather died of cancer but Sharon knew her grandmother well, a Swedish woman, among other nationalities, and “a very tough woman to reckon with”. The Bakers lived in Kirtland, Ohio, a tiny rural town about forty-five miles from Cleveland, and Sharon’s father, who was a salesman, met her mother on one of his business trips to the town and they were married a year or so later. Both of Sharon’s full siblings, Leslie and Timothy, have now passed.
The family lived in Kirtland while Sharon was growing up and when her father died of stomach poisoning they moved into her maternal grandmother’s house. “My grandmother never approved of her family moving out – her dream was for all of her family to live at her home. She hated outsiders. My mother’s sister Lois ‘escaped’ from the family home, as did my uncle, grandmother’s favorite who could do no wrong in her eyes. It was difficult for my mother and at various times we were briefly put into foster homes and, for three years from the age of six to nine, I went to live with my Aunt Lois and her family in Germany where my Uncle was a captain in the U.S. Army. This made the local papers in Kirtland where there was a photograph of me packing my suitcase! My aunt and uncle were strong Catholics so during those years in Germany I had my first communion, and had to go to mass every Sunday and catechism on Saturdays. I hated it and have never followed any organized religion since – I am agnostic. Apart from that I liked being with this ‘normal’ family and my aunt knew that my life at home was not good and wanted to adopt me but my mother refused and I returned to Ohio in 1957. My mother stayed at home for a few more years and was dominated by my grandmother, who one day shared with me that she ‘hated men’. This was around the time that my mother was re-marrying, to a man called Wiley Bishop, who became our stepfather when I was about eleven. He and my mother then had a child, my half-brother, Robert.”
Kirtland was home to about 1200 people, mostly farmers, and it was where Sharon attended elementary school, which was a short walk down a dirt road from her grandmother’s home. “My memories of those days are very scattered. I remember the deep snow in winter, breaking my arm twice, a girl dying in the school hallway, and being a member of the local 4-H group. My mother worked as a waitress in a Cleveland restaurant that was near to a wonderful old theatre/movie house where my stepfather later took me to see the film ‘Cleopatra’ starring Elizabeth Taylor. My mother was not at all strict with us, that duty was left to my grandmother. We loved Grandma though and played tricks on her all the time.”
The family moved around quite a lot during Sharon’s early years but after her mother married Wiley Bishop, the family moved to Cleveland Heights in the Cleveland suburbs. “It was a big beautiful house with lots of rooms. It turned out that the money for this came from my stepfather’s embezzlement activities, for which he eventually spent time in jail. However, for four years or so, until I was about fifteen and he went to prison, I thought he was the best Dad. I could really talk to him. I remember one night coming in two hours late from a date and he was very understanding, realizing that I knew I had done wrong and that was punishment enough.”
After doing time in jail, Sharon’s mother and the kids saw Wiley one more time and that was it. “We never saw him again. My grandmother hated him and my mother told me many years later that he was gay but that kind of thing was never discussed in those days. I attended the local schools but as had happened throughout my life to that point, we continued to move every few years and I was at three different schools through my junior and high school years. I made friends at each but always left them. I was also quite shy, actually insecure would be a more accurate thing to say.”
Sharon hated math but did like art yet felt she couldn’tdo it very well. As for sports she only did them if she had to, mainly because the P.E. teacher was “mean, mean, mean.” During her sophomore year at Cleveland Heights High School, she had a part-time job on the candy stand at a movie house owned by the father of her boyfriend at the time but she then spent her final two years of high school at Warrensville High School and did not work during that time. She was more social at this school and enjoyed a couple of ‘wild’ years that included partying and a number of boyfriends, one of whom was the football team captain.
Sharon graduated in 1966 and further education was never really thought about. “I had no real ambitions. I wanted to go and live with my aunt and get some discipline in my life because I was aware that I did not know who I was or what I wanted. I needed some structure in my life. I moved to live with Aunt Lois in Cincinnati and found a job as a waitress at a Marriot Restaurant. I soon started dating a guy and in late 1966 became pregnant. Abortion was illegal and there was no other option than to have the baby. My aunt and uncle, good Catholics, immediately packed me off back to my mother’s in Kirtland and I ended up in a Salvation Army home for unwed mother’s. I was, and always have been, very practical, and I made the decision to give up the baby to adoption. To me, bringing a life into the world where that life was gong to be so unstable was wrong. My mother wanted to adopt the baby but I was adamant about the child not being in that environment. I knew there was a good home for the baby to be found somewhere else. I gave birth to a baby boy in August 1967 and was with him for fifteen minutes before I signed the adoption papers. He was then taken away from me.”
“I do think about this sometimes and wonder if he will ever try to find me. He would be about to turn forty-five now so I guess not. I did give my name to a registry some years ago but if it happens, it happens; it is beyond my control. I was together mentally; I was very practical. It was not some sort of hysterical decision. The father and I had split up and I had a new boyfriend who knew the situation and came from Cincinnati to visit me in Cleveland at my mother’s. He proposed to me and I accepted. Unfortunately it did not last and I broke off our engagement a few months later.”
Sharon returned to Cincinnati and started a job at the Coca Cola plant where she was a production assistant and tour guide for this well-known bottling factory. She found an apartment to live in above a pharmacy in the area around the University of Cincinnati. “It was a very nice area with lots going on and it was fun for a time. Then in 1970, I returned to Cleveland to live with my Mom at her place in something of a hippy area with health food stores, cafés, and cinemas showing independent films. I got a job as a waitress at a deli close by and started to date a hippy guy. A neighbor of mine said I couldn’t be a hippy because I didn’t dress like one. I thought it was not about the clothes, rather about where your head was. I was right but I did start wearing the hippy clothes soon after anyway. I did all the things that were the part of hippy life at that time – the hippy boyfriend and lifestyle, the ‘look’, and experimenting with the drugs of that time. It was all part of life’s learning process. I enjoyed the ‘scene’ and had always possessed that way of thinking, despite my conservative upbringing and appearance up until then. I moved into a house with a bunch of people, hung out at coffee shops and music scenes, and it was a good time.”
Unlike the philosophy of some hippies, Sharon always had a sense of responsibility and work ethic. She worked at a bar in the financial district of Cleveland “for which I wore a different set of clothes!” Then in 1971, she and her boyfriend, Vic, decided to head west. “He had a brother in Phoenix, Arizona and I packed lots of peanut butter and jelly and bread and we headed out in our car that had no headlights, meaning we had to drive from dawn to dusk. We ran out of gas in Albuquerque, New Mexico and had to panhandle for gas which got us to Flagstaff when we ran out again but a cowboy gave us $5 and we finally arrived.”
Sharon ended up staying in Phoenix for three years. She worked in a pub as a bartender and she and Vic lived in an apartment in town. She eventually found a job at Savin Business Machines, initially as a filing clerk and later as the production manager’s secretary. They had some friends who were from Vallejo, a little north of San Francisco and so when she heard that Savin’s location in Brisbane, California, a little south of San Francisco, was hiring she applied for a transfer. “That was great – we could go to San Francisco and I would already have a job. We left Phoenix in 1974 and came out to the Bay Area. For a time I commuted to work from our friends house in Vallejo before we found a place to live in the Bernal Heights district of San Francisco. I broke up with Vic and by 1975 had moved to live in Brisbane with some friends from work.”
Sharon left Savin and started to work for a hotel chain as an administrative assistant and reservations secretary. She also found a whole new set of friends who were bikers – the Brisbane Burnouts, whose logo or patch was Hagar the Horrible – the cross-eyed Viking. “The group were not hardcore bikers but we did love to ride and had Harley’s and Triumph motorcycles. I was not a biker myself; I was a biker chick, and started to date a biker called Ace Chernoff. It was on one of our rides north that I first found and traveled through Anderson Valley – around 1976 or ’77, I guess. We stopped at The Boonville Lodge and somehow had a verbal altercation with a local guy. He followed us in his truck and not long afterwards he tried to run us off the road by Gowan’s Oak Tree. He tried again a little further along the highway and two bikes ended up off the road. The police came, called it a ‘civil dispute’ and didn’t pursue the case any further. I did not come back for a few years.”
Back in Brisbane the Hell’s Angels wanted the Burnouts to join them and there were a number of parties at which both groups talked. “Those were wild parties with all the obvious stuff going on. I was no longer with Ace and now dated Chopper Tom. I liked the Angels but they were too much for me, particularly after I had seen them beat people up. The rest of our group didn’t want to join anyway – too many meetings. We just wanted to ride and have fun, and did not want to get too serious about it and make it a lifestyle. I still had my good job and chose the times when I wanted to party; in fact our whole group had regular jobs. For all the wild stuff around me I was able to handle it and still function well in the ‘real world.’ Around that time, early 1978, I became close friends with a woman called Jay. We decided to quit our jobs, take a break, and after Ace loaned me his Cadillac off we went, to a biker friend’s house in Starrett Hill near to Guerneville on the Russian River, an hour or two north of San Francisco. We claimed unemployment and at some point that summer we went on a trip to Pennsylvania with a friend of ours, Steve, whose sister lived in Blooming Grove, PA. Our road trip was fun but Jay came back after we had reached Cleveland while Steve and I continued to Pennsylvania and then went up to Montreal in Canada for a time.”
“After a month or so, I returned to Blooming Grove and ended up staying there for over two years. It was a very small town in the Pocono Mountains, just a bar, a general store, and an auto shop. I found work at a nearby honeymoon resort as a cocktail waitress for a time before settling into a better job selling vacation rentals where one of my co-workers was the original ‘Marlboro Man’, who later died of lung cancer. I enjoyed my time there but in 1980 I was at a wedding where I met a hippy guy with a van who lived in Guerneville! I hitched a ride with him and returned to California.”
On her return to this area, Sharon stayed with her friend Jay in Ft. Bragg on the Mendocino County coast. “Jay left for New York so I found a place in a house with a bunch of people. I worked at a couple of bars, one was where all the fishermen would go – The Basin South Bar – where I became a really good pool player. I met and dated a guy called Bear for a time and when we broke up I got a job at The Rosebud Bar and moved into the apartment upstairs. I was drinking a lot at that time. Fortunately, I then met a guy by the name of Dan Bender and he helped me. After initially being just friends we started to date in 1985. He lived in Navarro in Anderson Valley and with our good friends, Ed and Donna Ronne, the Playboy ‘Playmate of the Year’ in 1964 (as Donna Michelle), who also lived in the Valley, they helped me move from the coast, where I had lived for five generally good years, to Dan’s house. I had become a close friend of Donna’s and gradually met other Valley people. After a year at Dan’s, although we were in a solid relationship, I moved into my own place on Gschwend Road, a cabin owned by Kathy Bailey, where I was to live for many years, until 2004, in fact.”
While Dan continued to work as a mechanic at Starr Auto in Philo, Sharon worked at the Elk Cove Inn on the coast and also the Oasis Bar, also in Elk. Then the Floodgate Restaurant was opened near to Navarro by Franklin and Francine and she began to work there as a waitress, just a few minutes from her home. She and Francine would also do catering jobs, one of which was for Roederer Estates, the sparkling wine producer in the Valley, and it was there that Sharon first met Michel Salgues, the winemaker. “I had been at Floodgate for a couple of years I think when Michel said Roederer were planning to open a tasting room and they needed to hire some people. He offered me a job there and on May 13th, 1991 I started. I have been there ever since.”
In September 1992, Dan became sick. “We thought it was just the flu. It wasn’t, it was liver cancer. My mother came out to help with his care but there was little we could do. He was too weak to do chemotherapy and Dr Apfel here in the Valley was great in his care for Dan in that short time. In November 1992, Dan died, just two months after diagnosis, He was just forty-three. We had been together for seven years – the longest relationship I had been in.”
Sharon continued her work at Roederer, eventually becoming the tasting room manager, working for Michel until his retirement in 2002 and since then for Arnaud Weyrich, who had been an intern there in the 1990’s. “I hoped I was nice to him back then because he became my boss!” Her current title is Director of Hospitality and Tasting Room Operations and she does this for Roederer and their sister winery Scharffenberger Cellars in Philo.
With her job came various social interactions and Sharon made a number of new friends in the Valley. “I was a part of the wine-growers association, made friends with Linda Baker at Handley Cellars and Pat Daniels at Navarro Vineyards, and my activities in the wine business led me to being more social and active in the community in terms of attending events. I dated Larry Blackshere who lived here for a time in the late 90’s and got to know some of his musician friends such as Mitchell Holman, Pilar Duran, and Jennifer Schmitt. Larry was later murdered by an intruder into his home in San Leandro. I then went out with Burton Segal, another musician and KZYX local radio presenter, and got to know his crowd of friends too.”
On Good Friday, 2004, Sharon’s friend Donna Ronne died of a massive heart attack at the age of fifty-eight. There had been a will that left everything to two friends who had not been around Donna for ten years or more. A piece of paper was found in the house that was called a holographic will, one signed and dated by the now-deceased but without any witnesses. It is valid in about half of the states, including California. “This second will left everything to Donna’s pets, myself, and another friend of ours, Buffy Paula, who had helped take care of Donna’s dogs. The pets received 51%, and Buffy and I the remaining 49% – the house. The animals would therefore be taken of financially and I agreed to do this. Buffy then sold me her share of the house, very generously, at 24.5% of the house’s value, and I have lived here since. All of Donna’s pets have passed now, except two of her cats who are outside cats, and I have been so very fortunate to have this wonderful home on twenty peaceful acres.”
Sharon had broken up with Burton and in 2004 she started to go out with local contractor, Steve Mize. They are still together. “Neither of us feels the need to get married. We both still have our own homes. We like it that way, it suits us. It is the longest time I have been with someone, and my time here in Anderson Valley is the longest time I have ever lived anywhere. I love the Valley’s peacefulness and its people, their diversity and sense of community. I do not like those who have little respect for the Valley and its ways.”
I asked Sharon for a memory of her mother. “I remember that when Marilyn Monroe died, I made the comment that it was ‘no great loss.’ My mother was furious and laid into me. I never forgot that and it turned around my life in the way I thought about people. My mother was wonderful and kind but was depressed for most of her life, with dementia affecting her later years. She tried to commit suicide a couple of times and I knew she was never really happy apart from fleeting moments. I always wished I could have won the lottery so I could take her to Italy for an opera – a dream of hers. She was a good person, but she was lost. She died a few years ago and my remaining family all live in the Cleveland area and I am in touch with my nephews.”
I asked Sharon for her thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation… The wineries? – “Too many”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I love the idea but sometimes the monotone talking is not what I want to listen to and I often turn to other channels”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I love it. I know some people say it is full of gossip but it is actually very informative, particularly the local pages. As they say every week on the front page, ‘Newspapers should have no friends’ – I agree”… The schools? – “Well I have no direct connection but I love that they are so highly rated against other similar-sized schools”…
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Sharon and asked her to just reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “My home, my job.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – “Politics, prejudice, hatred.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – Birds singing; the quiet mornings I have here.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Gunshots.”
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – “Duck, served with a bottle of Roederer’s 1998 L’Hermitage.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “John Lennon.”
7. If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “Photographs of loved ones; my collection of mirrors – I love the way mirrors reflect so much light; my two cats – Etta and k.d.”
8. Does anything scare you? – “Being incapacitated and unable to help myself.”
9. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal.”
10. Do you have a favorite film/song or one that has influenced you? – “Films would be ‘Fried Green Tomatoes or any with Bette Davis, particularly ‘Dark Victory.’ A song would have to be John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ that sums up what I feel perfectly.”
11. What was your favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? – “I have never really had a hobby. I never had the patience to really pursue one particular thing.”
12. Do you have a favorite word or phrase that you use? – “Apparently that would be ‘Absolutely’.”
13. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A vegetable farmer.”
14. What profession or job would you not like to do? – “Anything that is monotonous – assembly line work in a factory.”
15. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I was fifteen and we went to see the movie ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ and then sat and talked in a coffee shop for hours. I cannot remember the boy’s name though. That has not really changed, I can never remember people’s names.”
16. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I would have gone to college.”
17. Tell me about a moment or period of time you will never forget. – “Donna’s passing and the way my life changed as a result.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “That I survived!”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “My sense of responsibility. A quality I also have is that I am a little shy and perhaps people think I am stand-offish, but I am not.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “ I think ‘Welcome – you lived a good life’ would be just fine.”

The next interview will appear on the 2nd Thursday of the month – August 9th.
The guest interviewee from the Valley on that occasion will be
Walt Valen

Published in: on July 26, 2012 at 4:56 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 July 26th when my guest will be Sharon Sullivan of Roederer Estates and so much more…
Thanks for your continued positive comments and support,
Kind regards, Steve Sparks.

Published in: on July 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Jim Taylor Roberts – June 29th, 2012

I met with Jim a couple of weeks ago at the property he owns just south of Philo on Hwy 128. He lives in a beautiful house alongside The Madrones small business complex, home to some of the Valley’s lesser-known but up-and-coming wineries. We sat down to talk in the kitchen with a cup of tea and some freshly made deli sandwiches that Jim had kindly picked up at The Boonville General Store.
Jim Taylor Roberts was born in Upland, in Riverside County, southern California although he basically grew up in nearby Orange County – “behind the orange curtain.” His parents were Rosemary Taylor and Herbert Roberts, “My father was second or third generation Californian, and although my grandfather was in banking, they were mostly farming people outside of L.A. They were very working class and suffered in the Depression along with many others. My mother was Cherokee/Scots/Irish and she can be traced back directly to Pocahontas. Some branches were what were known as Black Dutch, a group with a mixture of Cherokee and African American who were mainly in Alabama. My grandparents all died when I was young and my mother went into ‘show business’ after running away at fourteen. A Jewish family took her in and her talents encouraged. She was Miss Florida 1954! She joined a dance team and on one trip to a gig in California she decided to stay and found work at a restaurant. This was where my Dad was the manager. He had been married and had a daughter, my half-sister Connie, but his wife committed suicide. He and Mom hit it off and were married in 1957.”
Jim’s father worked at a famous restaurant called The Stuft Shirt and he and Rosemary started a family with Howard and Diane coming along four and six years before Jim and then they moved when he was two from Upland to Tustin, near to Newport Beach and the nationally known restaurant. “The restaurant was fine dining in those days with many celebrity guests such as John Wayne, among others. It was an ‘event’ restaurant where many people went to celebrate special occasions and had a really good reputation. On many days my Dad wore a tux and dickie to work – he was the manager and president of the corporation that had three restaurants. My mother had her own catering business for a time and she would host at the restaurant in the evenings.”
“I had a really nice upbringing and we lived in a big old Spanish-style house that had been abandoned and which was not in vogue at the time. I have lots of fond memories of that property – climbing the trees, raising chickens and rabbits, bicycling, the veggie garden. Apart from the fact that the house had some property it was a typical L.A. lifestyle I had, with lots of hanging out at the beach. We also had a house in Mexico and would go there as a family sometimes.”
Jim attended the local schools from elementary all the way through Tustin High School. His father worked many hours and his mother was often working too. “I guess I was something of a latch-key kid. My parents certainly instilled the work ethic in me. I was close to my siblings and had a good, happy upbringing and have no negative memories. I was a little introverted, and still am kind of that way. I had good friends but did spend a lot of time alone, not unlike today. My mother had an antique store and I became very interested in this as early as the age of nine or ten and would go along with her to auctions in L.A. to get inventory.”
The Stuft Shirt closed in the late seventies, the primary owner decided to purchase vineyard land and pursue a wine business. Jim’s father was laid off. “We had some financial hardships around that time. I was about twelve or thirteen and it was not easy for an ‘old school’ restaurant man like my father to find a job. We were not from money on either side of my family, my parents had earned what they had and now Dad was out of work. My parents had certainly been middle class and successful but then it was tough for a couple of years.”
“I was a fair student at school, I guess, but did not really enjoy high school and dropped out in my senior year. I was simply more interested in not being there. I smoked a little pot, hung around with my best friend and his hippy brother; we had eclectic taste in music, listening to Billie Holiday and the Rolling Stones. By that time my parents had broken up and I was living with my Dad near to Laguna Beach. I had enjoyed horticulture and art at school and wanted to explore my creative side. Strangely, as it turned out, I wanted to move to either Maine on the north east coast or more likely Mendocino in northern California – I had read about the area or the rugged coastline and wilderness really appealed to the southern Cal boy in me as something very different. I could not wait to get out of southern California. I had always felt somewhat lost there; it was so vast, track housing for miles on end. I would go on long bicycle rides and some parts were beautiful but by the time I was eighteen I was ‘lost’ and had no sense of myself. Sure I did some partying there but it never really appealed to me. I wanted out.”
With this in mind, at eighteen, Jim set out alone in his car with $400 and headed north. “I had never lived alone, nor traveled alone. I got as far as Carmel when a very bad storm hit. I had never seen rain like it so I stayed around town. A few days later I decided to get a room there and then found a job at a landscape nursery, with a waiting job in the evening at a restaurant – I had bussed tables at my Dad’s restaurant so knew some things about the business. I worked at the nursery for a year and then told my boss I wanted to go it alone and started my own business. I did o.k. and one customer was Mrs. Nordstrom, of department store fame. I lasted about a year before returning to L.A. but during that time I did manage to make one trip up to the village of Mendocino. It intrigued me but I was not quite ready for the move; it probably felt a little remote, now I think about it, and there were still things I needed to do.”
Jim’s mother had moved to Hawaii and so he moved into her house. He enrolled at Irvine Valley College to study art and did quite well. “I was an o.k. artist and was one of just twenty out of twelve hundred artists to be invited to the Laguna Beach Festival of Art. However, I was struggling to make ends meet although I was selling a little of my art and waiting tables part-time. I decided to visit my Mom in Hawaii and rented a studio in the red light district there.” Jim painted street people and was represented by three or four galleries and helped my mother with her home design business. He soon grew to dislike the gallery system and somewhat abruptly gave up his painting.
“Looking back, I gave my art up almost overnight. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It seems like I have always been able to re-invent myself easily and have thrived on doing that. I like it. I have always had opportunities and although I have had some good fortune, mostly I have created those opportunities as opposed to just going out and getting any job as my default move.”
Now in his mid-twenties, Jim decided to utilize his art abilities in the world of film and commercial post-production. “I had a couple of very lucrative years in L.A. and San Francisco but I don’t think I was ever quite trained well enough in that field and fell short in some areas. I left the business and moved full-time to S.F. where I waited tables at some high-end restaurants such as The Elite Café and worked for the artist Marco Sassone. I made good money but still drove my old ’68 Volvo and prayed it would run every day. Then in 1986 I was laid off and decided to spend a summer in Mendocino. I worked at both 955 Ukiah and The Hill House restaurants, often doing a double shift a day. I had a good time that summer but it was too foggy and the coast was not for me. However, on returning to the Bay Area, I came through Anderson Valley and just fell in love with it, and the weather was so much nicer than at the coast. I think I decided then that I’d like to live here one day.”
Upon the suggestion of his mother, Jim next moved to Hawaii once again and this time he worked full-time alongside his mother in her interior design business. “It was the right time. She worked on many unbelievable homes and I was her assistant, doing everything from hanging wallpaper to deciding on design and hardware. It was the time of the Japanese purchasing boom and they would come over with suitcases of money and buy luxurious homes on the waterfront that we had been involved in building from the ground up – spec houses that we had put together, working with two or three developers who would each have a couple of houses on the go at the same time. The business had a huge following there and we were also hired to help market finished houses that were not selling. The business was Rosemary Roberts Design and we worked out of her house. We never got caught up in all the razzamatazz and did very well indeed. We would fly to L.A. and buy the furniture, sending it over to Hawaii in large containers. We might have as many as a dozen or more houses on the go at any one time and I learned a lot about the industry which was to help me in my own business later.”
However, by 1991 the Japanese recession had hit and the whole market collapsed. “We were on a buying trip for some multi-million dollar projects and almost overnight the market just shut down. It was like the market here in 2008. I returned to San Francisco and got a job with the Orkin Pest Control Company at their interior plants division – quite a change! Prior to leaving Hawaii, in the days of that Japanese boom, as a result of being so impressed on earlier visits, I had bought two acres on Hwy 128 just outside Philo and my mother had bought a 160-acre ranch in Yorkville. I figured it might be good to have some commercially zoned property here as I might want a little art shop here at some point – an art, antiques and garden item shop, called ‘Sun and Cricket’.”
Jim lived in a small apartment with a partner in the Noe Valley district of San Francisco but it was a tough couple of years for Jim in that he could not find a decent job where his expertise would needed. “I did land the Macy’s account for the company and learned how to cold call and how to have nothing and yet sell it as something.” In 1994 Jim became the director of design for Model Home Merchandising but realized there was a clash in business styles with the owner of the company. “It was like a three-ring circus and after a year I had had enough. I figured if I stayed there any longer I wouldn’t be able to maintain a good reputation in the industry, so I left and after a break decided to go it alone.”
In 1996, Jim knew it was time to start his own interior design business. With $1200 he began Taylor Roberts Inc, an interior design company, based in his kitchen. “I soon had two projects, one in the City and one in El Sobrante. ‘How did I do that?’ I ask myself looking back. It was a very competitive business and hard to get off the ground but the timing was perfect with the housing market on the rise With a couple of projects a year I would have created a job for myself in my field of expertise. I did not expect to it to get any more than that.”
Meanwhile, Jim was developing his property in Anderson Valley. He planted trees, improved the building, and had tenants. He visited for weekends every couple of months or so but eventually moved on to the property himself and stayed for longer periods of time. He had been in a serious personal relationship in the late nineties but that had broken up and in 1998 he decided to bring his new business to the Valley – “To ‘get out of Dodge’ as it were. I hired my first employee, Barry Chiverton, as the bookkeeper, and we were installed in an ugly trailer that I bought for $300. As Barry would say, ‘it was either an ice box or an oven depending on the time of year.’ Taylor Roberts of Philo was born and it just kept on growing. I continued to work on the property and my house. Offices were built, remodeling done, gardens put in. I had made a sketch of what I would like many years earlier – a little mission-style development. I was ‘Father Whatever’ and that is what we created.”
“We soon had ten employees and had a number of builder clients, mostly in the Bay Area, with one in Hawaii. Our expertise was merchandising and market, studying the psychographics and behaviors of new homebuyers, as apposed to just staging a home and making it look nice. We wanted to know how society was living; what their homes meant to people. We had many growing pains and it was a challenge to get good staff here, where very few had any training in the design world. I had never had employees before but eventually we had a staff of forty here and in the warehouses in Ukiah. We had a great run for quite a few years.”
By 2008, after a number of years of great success, the economy took a dive and the interior design business was adversely affected as much as any industry. Jim says he worked very hard to keep things going. “I did the best I could. For the most part I treated people very well and the staff were well paid. I introduced profit sharing, bonuses, flexible workweeks, and a social responsibility committee to organize donations to the community. It is tough for country businesses and ours was deadline driven making it even tougher. The staff worked really hard and we created an efficient corporate environment in an area where most had never had a corporate job. We had a really good team and remained very down-to-earth with no attitude, which is refreshing for that industry and we created a pleasant work environment. It was miserable having to deal with the lay-offs and I handled the first one horribly. We needed to work smarter and make adjustments when the workload went down. I did not do this and did not realize that this was a business not an employment agency. I had a very hard time saying no to hiring and had many staff and took on many new jobs – opportunity is one thing that can wipe your life out if not handled effectively and I was flattered into performing more.”
Anyway, that all ended, people lost their jobs and I was crucified in the local newspaper and did not respond well. Meanwhile, along with the dive in the economy, I found out that the company’s accounting was way off. It was very hard to stay on top of where we were financially during the jobs we had. Nevertheless, it was my ultimate responsibility. The economy changed, and people made mistakes. We all contributed and were not prudent but even if we had been it was ultimately the market that killed us and we may not have recovered anyway. It was a fun ride but I wanted out. I felt really responsible and took it all on and internalized it.”
“Money has never been my main motivation. It was always the by-product of working hard and doing a job well. It gives you a chance to succeed of course and I liked that we did things well and created jobs. In the end I felt so bad about the lay-offs and we had just eight staff left. I felt so bad about it; it was difficult to even go into a local restaurant or store and face the community, so I decided to leave the Valley. I returned to the Bay Area where I lived for two years, visiting the Valley occasionally but I didn’t have many ties here and I’m sure a number of employees did not want to see me. I basically took a couple of years off. I worked out, lost weight, took a mental retreat, and thought about what I could do next. A few jobs still came along that I ran from down there and I was very fortunate that a few employees stuck with me to do those. I still do a couple of jobs a year.”
With the steady demise of Taylor Roberts, Jim sold his property in the Bay Area and endured a bad financial period. “I decided to return to the Valley in 2010 and ‘save the farm’ as it were; and save myself at the same time – I had put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the property in one way or another. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I had empty buildings and a big mortgage and it was like walking into a time warp with everything exactly as I had left it.”
Jim decided to rent the space to various small wineries. They were struggling as distributors dropped them if they were not big enough and a number of such wineries were interested in taking a space at what was called The Madrones – the converted offices of Taylor Roberts. Lula, Drew, Bink, and Berridge wineries opened tasting rooms in the complex, although Berridge has now left. Jim also got to do his shop ‘Sun and Cricket’, as well as a couple of guest accommodations for travelers “It has worked out and it seems as if these small wineries with links to the Valley are doing well here. I am enjoying what we have here and I am able to enjoy the area and the community again. I work a couple of days at the shop and am meeting more and more people. I am going out in the Valley a little more although I am not a very social person. Given the choice between attending an event or working in my garden, I would choose the garden.”
I asked Jim for a quick verbal image of his father. “A really nice man; patient, quiet, with a great dry sense of humor. He died about twenty years ago and I have very fond memories of him, he and I would go to Mexico together, although he did work a lot and was often not around. He was of that generation – they worked and provided”… And Jim’s mother? – “She is still going very strong; definitely a can-do-it-type. She is enthusiastic and works really hard at whatever it is she turns her hand to. She moved here to love about fifteen years ago and I have a lot of fun with her. She has a few close friends and spends lots of time in her garden.”
“I love the Valley’s natural beauty and the connection to nature you can have here. I love farming and gardening, the country life. I plan to put on a number of workshops in rural practices = food preservation, olive oil, birding, foraging, etc. I am able to pursue hobbies such as mountain biking and paddle boarding on the river. I have met a number of wonderful people here and near points beyond. There is little I do not like although sometimes there is some small-mindedness here and an unwillingness to embrace outsiders. I have no thoughts of moving on at any time soon, although I would like to live in Europe at some point, Italy particularly. I would like to get to Hawaii over the winter months on a regular basis too.”
I asked Jim for his thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation… The Wineries? – “I like farm-based businesses. It is a hard business and while grapes are the thing here now, perhaps it will be something completely different in twenty/thirty years. I don’t think the winery industry is an evil thing. I enjoy the beauty of the vineyards, though I want to see the natural beauty of the valley maintained”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I think the point of view has softened in the last few years. I thought it was a bit of a bully-pulpit at one time but not now”… KZYX local public radio? – “It provides a good service and I am glad we have it even though a lot of the programming is not to my taste”… Changes in the Valley in recent years? – “All-in all, people think it has changed a lot but in reality I don’t think it has. However, old timers passing and new people arriving is a big change and I feel for the old-timers who may not like the changes. Personally, I have never been afraid of change, I like it.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Jim and asked him to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “A new project and spending time in nature.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – “Negativity, intolerance, petty gossip.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Wooden bells on sheep or cattle; the huge set of chimes on my deck.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – Music played openly with a heavy base; the sound of guns – I never really hunted although my Dad and I had matching hunting jackets!”
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – “Probably a pasta dish of some sort.”
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 or some friends I have lost.”
7. If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “My two dogs – Winston the French bulldog and Charlie the Pug, and my laptop computer.”
8. Does anything scare you? – “My temper.”
9. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Katmandu in Nepal.”
10. Do you have a favorite film? – “Harold and Maude.”
11. What was your favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? – “I played a lot of tennis as a teenager but these days it would be gardening or perhaps mountain biking or paddle-boarding.”
12. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “The other side of the design process – the construction design.”
13. What profession or job would you not like to do? – “Anything repetitious.”
14. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “To the high school dance when I was sixteen.”
15. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I don’t really have a ‘rear-view-mirror’ and have not really lived my life that way.”
16. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “I have always tried to treat people fairly.”
17. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “I am a kind person.”
18. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Spirituality is important to me although I do not follow any organized religion. Yes, I have a few ‘woo woo’ things about me. I believe we are brought ‘back to the fold’ and so ‘Welcome back’ would work for me.”

The next interview will appear on the 4th Thursday of the month – July 26th
The guest interviewee from the Valley on that occasion will be…
Sharon Sullivan

Published in: on July 12, 2012 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kevin Crane – June 18th, 2012

Kevin was born on July 4th, 1958 in Long Beach, California, to parents June Manning and Donald Crane. Both sides of the family had come to this country in the mid-to-late 1800’s, with the Manning’s settling Utah and the Crane’s in Idaho. While Kevin’s mother was not a Mormon, his Grandmother Manning was and the community where they lived, American Fork, was one dominated by Mormons since the 1850’s.
The Manning’s moved to McGill, a town in north east Nevada, after World War 2, where there was plenty of work to be found in the huge copper mine that dominated the area around three small towns – McGill, Ely, and Ruth, where the two-mile wide pit was located. “These towns were company towns run by the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company and in total had about two thousand people. Ely had the train depot; the smelter and mill were in McGill, and the open-pit mine was in Ruth. The Kennecott Copper Corporation bought out the company in the thirties and were running things when the Manning’s arrived. The Crane’s also came to town for the work and my parents met and were married.”
Kevin has an older brother, Roger, born in 1954, who lives in southern California, and another half brother, Lane, who died in Vietnam in 1968. “Before she met my Dad, my mother had a child, Lane, in 1949, born out of wedlock. The father of the child was a church elder’s brother and he broke of the relationship to try and save face. For a time she was a single mother and then she met my father and they were married and he legally adopted Lane. My parents and two brothers moved to Southgate, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, where my father’s brother Bill lived. It was a time of great development down there with thousands of box houses in every direction. Uncle Bill got my Dad a job with the Bethlehem Steel Corporation as a structural steel worker on skyscrapers that were going up in the L.A. area. They moved into a house very near to my uncle’s and I was born a year or two later.”
Kevin grew up in these inner suburbs of Los Angeles. “It was a good place to grow up with pretty good schools and I attended Hollydale Elementary for K thru’ 6th grade. It was tough at home and I rarely saw my father. My parents divorced when I was six years old, in first grade. My mother remarried a year or so later to a man by the name of Ed Creedon. My Dad came around occasionally, making his commitments to the family, sort of. He would show up but was not really excited about it. He had alcohol problems, as did my Mom somewhat too. My stepfather Ed was an overbearing jerk; loud and obnoxious. But he did take care of us, I guess, although he basically drove my brother Lane, who could not stand him, out of the house and back up to McGill to live with Grandma Manning. I have very few recollections of Lane – I was nine years younger, but I do remember Ed having a heart-to-heart with him and Lane not buying any of it. One vivid memory I do have is of being in Ely to see him on to a plane after he had gone through basic training and was heading off to Vietnam. His girlfriend was there and she was crying. He told her he would see her later – but he didn’t. He might have been drafted but I sense that he had enlisted. He was a medic in Vietnam for ten months and wrote many letters to my grandmother, my mother, and his girlfriend, Linda. I have them in the basement here and will get around to looking at them all one day.”
“Lane was planning to meet up with my uncle and three cousins in Hawaii for some ‘r & r’ but three medics had recently being killed and they were in short supply so he could not get away. It turned out that not longer after that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I found out forty years later, following my mother’s passing in 2008, that this was how he had died and that he had been adopted – I had no idea. My aunt believes he killed himself in reaction to a ‘Dear John’ letter from his girlfriend. There was a note that said, ‘Sorry for doing this; sorry for what I did to Linda.’ Lane was a smart kid and very likeable.”
In his elementary school days, the family would often visit Grandma Manning in McGill. “She was a grumpy old lady who lived until she was eighty-nine, but we had lots of fun there. There was so much wide-open space for a kid from urban L.A. It was just a little splotch of a couple of hundred houses and we could wander around the old mill buildings and train depot day after day. Up until the sixties or even seventies there was no sewage system there and everything went into the slide ditches, human waste and the chemicals etc from the mining operations. It all flowed down into Steptoe Valley – all sorts of stuff was deposited there for sixty, seventy years. The area was also in the fallout area from the nuclear testing sites in the forties and fifties. My family has lost several people to cancer – my mother had lung cancer, my father throat cancer, my grandfather renal cancer, and an aunt died of breast cancer. They call such a situation, death by ‘cancer clusters.’ May be this was all the smoking some of them did, but maybe not.”
Kevin went to Alondra Jr and High School for 7th and 8th grades. “These were overcrowded because the school district had very little money and had to combine schools. We did just four-and-a-half hours a day. I then went to Paramount High from 1972 to 1976 when I graduated. That was fun and I really liked it. It was an interesting school and near to the area of L.A.’s early gang activity. It was predominantly white but there was a significant Hispanic presence, a few black kids and quite a few Samoans. Just across the L.A. River from the school was Compton, where the Crypt gang was formed, and beyond that was Watts where the Bloods’ gang began and where the riots of 1965 took place – I remember all the smoke coming from the buildings that were on fire. We were aware of these gangs but just regarded it as ‘just a bunch of black guys fighting each other’ and were not aware of how it was to spread. At that time it was mainly fistfights but guns gradually arrived on the scene and on more than one occasion the school was in lockdown when a gun was found on campus. Certainly by the time I graduated gang peer pressure on the black kids was increasing and a friend of mine and his brother were shot and wounded on a street corner. This was pretty shocking at the time.”
Kevin graduated in 1976 with a grade point average of over 3.5, and among the top twenty-five in a class of four hundred. His favorite subjects had been industrial drawing and mechanical sciences and he had been working part-time after school at a machine shop, running lathes and drill presses. He worked there part-time for three years and during the summers also.
He had done well at school and was expected to go to college. He enrolled at Cerritos Jr College in Norwalk, southeast of L.A. where he studied Mechanical Engineering. He continued to work at the machine shop making parts for the booming aerospace industry while continuing to live at home with his mother and stepfather. After a year or so, through a connection from one of the instructors at the college, he was hired as a drawing room tool designer in Anaheim, where he produced molds and trim dyes for plastics – such as the trays used at McDonald’s. “ I was doing six days a week there and still going to night classes for three hours, four times a week. I was spending my whole life with a pencil in my hand and although it was good money I got burned out after a couple of years.”
In 1979, Kevin started a new job with the Endocrine Services medical laboratory in the town of Tarzana in the San Fernando Valley. His job was a supervisor of the couriers the lab used to collect samples from various doctors’ offices and hospitals. He also ran the medical glassware washing operation. “It was a nice family-run operation that turned out well-regarded, quality work and we soon became a very well-known lab for anything related to endocrine disorders. I moved out of the family home and rented a room with my uncle in the Valley. I made many good friends at work and most of my social life was connected to the extra-curricular activities and functions shared with co-workers.”
The business expanded and by 1990 a new facility of 40,000 square feet was constructed in the Calabasas Hills in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. “This was a custom built structure that was totally built for our operation. I was the representative for the construction branch of our company and was very involved in getting this accomplished. I had continued to take some night classes over the years at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, mainly science and math related with a possible view to a job in forestry or wildlife management. However, I eventually realized that what I was doing at the lab, with its hand-on mechanical type of focus, was going to be my future.”
Over these years, Kevin had maintained the backpacking hobby, mainly hiking and fishing, that he had first enjoyed with the high school and his family. “That was one of the few things that my stepfather did with us. I did a couple of trips at school for which you got credits, and then after I left school the teacher allowed me to accompany the group as a sort of aid. I did that for two years, as the aid with the girl’s group – twenty-three girls, all just a year or two younger than me – damn!”
Kevin rented a house in Northridge area with a co-worker and remained in regular touch with his mother who had split from the stepfather but continued to live in the same family home. (His brother Roger has been a regular substance abuser since he had been sixteen and alcohol was continuing to play a large part in his life. He been married and had a child but in their mother’s will, Roger was isolated from the assets so that the money would not go on alcohol, or child support and hospital bills. Kevin now owns that home and Roger continues to live there). Meanwhile, he had re-connected with the teacher he had gone backpacking with many years earlier who was now into touring bikes. Kevin bought a Honda Gold Wing touring motorbike and for a few summers in the eighties, the two of them took trips on which they visited the western U.S. states and Canada.
On another motorbike trip, this time with a girlfriend in 1985, Kevin drove through Anderson Valley and camped at Hendy Woods. “We did this two years in a row and realized that the Valley was very cool. I had the aim of camping at all of the redwood campgrounds in the northern part of the state and Hendy Woods was one of our favorites. I then started dating a woman who worked at the lab who I had known for a time – Vydell Wetzel. We had dogs so I gave up the bike trips and we came up in 1993 with the dogs and a tent trailer and camped the weekend after Labor Day at Hendy. We went on to other campgrounds but on our way back we stopped at Hendy again and the County Fair was taking place in Boonville. Vydell said that maybe we should start looking for property around here. I had been thinking the same. We looked at Rancho Navarro but didn’t find anything we liked and then stopped at the T.J. Nelson realty office, meeting Chris Hayward the realtor. We gave him our vague criteria for any purchase we might make and he said there was a parcel we might like – 104 acres on Signal Ridge that had been on the market for two years with no offers. We wanted a ridge top, some open land, a possibility of some vines. He showed us the flyer on the property and it was more than we could afford and bigger than we wanted. We returned to southern California where a friend of ours, Dana Weber, asked me if I was intending to die on this property. I said ‘Yes!” and so he agreed to be a partner on the property – we could now afford it.”
A couple of months later, over the Thanksgiving Weekend of 1993, Kevin and Vydell came up to the Valley and stayed at the Boonville Hotel. They visited the property they were going to buy for the first time. “It was solid trees everywhere. I could see maybe twenty useable acres out of the one hundred and four if it was cleared – but we loved it. We would talk more and make an offer. Well, not longer after that visit, a couple of months later, the Northridge Earthquake hit near to our home and work in southern California – we lived on one side of the epicenter and worked on the other side, with the freeways in-between having fallen down, The new building at work suffered severe damage that would take many months to rebuild – there simply weren’t enough workers to repair all the damage in the area.”
By August 1994 their plans in northern California resumed when escrow was opened on the property on Signal Ridge high above Anderson Valley. Due to easement issues with the neighboring property owned by Louisiana Pacific Lumber it took until January 1996 to finally complete the purchase of a legal parcel of land. “For the next few summer vacations and lover many long weekends we worked on the property, clearing an area with a neighbor’s bulldozer to build a house, meanwhile staying in a travel trailer on the property. It was hard work and I don’t think I could do it now – dawn to dusk, sometimes nine days in a row. We had working parties of friends come up and stay, working all day and eating and drinking at night. Over those four or five years, we made roads, put in fencing, planted orchards, built walls, etc, etc., returning to our jobs down south after each visit.”
After the events of September 11th, 2001, the company had been sold to venture capitalists and had turned very corporate. “Many friends of ours were gradually laid off and that December my boss, the President of the company, who I had worked with for twenty-two years, was ‘retired’, his replacement being a real asshole. I was shocked at the announcement and went to my office and Vydell came in. ‘What do you think?’ she asked. I said I thought our three to five year plan to move up had changed and that it was now a six-month plan. I needed to get a job in Anderson Valley. ‘Can we do it? she said. ‘We have to’. I replied. I was forty-four, it was a good time. We decided that the best quickest way to get a house done would be to get a manufactured home and set it on a basement – we had a four-bedroom house down there with a whole load of crap to put somewhere, we would need that basement!”
In March of 2002, Kevin began his job search in the Valley, resume in hand. “On one trip I checked out the brewery and the wineries and then on my next visit, on the way up to the property on a Friday afternoon, I stopped at Jack’s Valley Store outside Philo to get a couple of things for my weekend stay. There was a ‘Help wanted’ sign up and I spoke to owner Bill who said it was just a feeler to see who was out there. They wanted someone a little older and wiser to run the store at weekends so he and his business partner Jack could take a break. He gave me an application and I handed him my resume, showing I was the facility and logistics manager of a pretty big company. He said he’d let me know. I continued on up to the property and found out I already had the things I had stopped at Jack’s for!”
“The following Monday, I was back in L.A. and Bill called. He said we needed to talk and I said I’d call him that evening. We talked and I came up in the April and met with him and Jack and they hired me. I gave notice to my company after twenty-three years and put the house on the market – which the realtor himself bought. It all fell into place. I moved up and started work at Jack’s on May 15th, 2002, over ten years ago now. Vydell stayed on at the house and at the company until the October before joining me up here.”
“Jack’s is a great place to work for someone like me. One of the fun parts is talking to people who are doing what we did – moving here to live in the country. I really enjoy helping them and sharing what I learned. I wish we had everything at the store they want but we are small and we do our best. I used to work more but since last September I have been doing three days a week – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Vydell got a job in a tasting room. She did not know much about wine but soon learned and settled at Brutacao Winery with Jill Derwinski as her manager. She is now the tasting room manager herself and tries to work the same three days as me so we have time off together. There are still many projects to get done around here.”
I asked Kevin what he most liked about life in the Valley. “Just the general all-round rural lifestyle. I always was a ‘frustrated farmer’ even though I was a city boy. I love having so much ‘room to breathe’ here on our acreage. The seasons here are all good in different ways and I love living up on a ridge top.”
Any dislikes? “Having to go to Ukiah. I realize you have to for some things but we try to limit it to once a month or even less. It always puts me in a bad mood.”
What memories do you have of your father? “He was never there.” And your stepfather, who, with your mother, raised you from the age of six? “Let’s say he wasn’t my idea of a father-figure. I would look at him and think that I hope I never end up like that.”
What comes to your mind when you think of your mother? “She was a good Mom but basically her take on life was not to be a doting, mothering type. ‘You do what you gotta do, kid’ was her philosophy. She did visit this property in it’s very early stages of development but I really wish she could have made it up here in the later years to see what goes on in a community that is probably similar to where she grew up in many ways and to see what we eventually accomplished here.”
I now asked Kevin for his thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation?… The Wineries? – “I know this can be a controversial issue. I don’t have any problems with them; it’s what the economy is up here at this time. It has a fair amount of wineries now and people visit here precisely because it is not Napa with so many. The Valley will not become Napa so people should stop worrying about that. Things will change but not in that way”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “It has some good articles in it and gives readers lots or pertinent information to the area. Some of the information is simply not true but I do like reading it every week and it comforts me by not being in the weekly sheriff’s log”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I don’t listen very much. I try to catch the weather in the mornings but that is my total radio input for the day. I will read the newspaper headlines sometimes at work.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Kevin and asked him to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “Our dogs – all Springer Spaniels – Echo who is thirteen; Cassie eleven; and Manning four.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – “Cell phones – I don’t need to elaborate.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “The wind in the trees; the sounds of nature.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Thankfully there’s nothing that I hear every day but I don’t like the noise of traffic when I am at work.”
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – “Beef Wellington – done correctly.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “John Muir, the naturalist and early advocate of preservation of wilderness. I love that he would go into the woods or mountains with some bread and a blanket and ‘communicate’ with nature.”
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? – “Apart from my personal documents it would be the three urns containing the ashes of my Mom, and two dogs – Skidmark and Peanut.”
8. Does anything scare you? – “Yellow jackets.”
9. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “I’d like to visit the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. before I die.”
10. Do you have a favorite book or one that has influenced you? – “In light of current times, I’d say ‘The Creature from Jekyll Island’ by G. Edward Griffin, which examines how the Federal Reserve was formed. It reads like a detective story about the most blatant scam of all history.”
11. What was your favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? – “As a teenager it was certainly back-packing and related activities. That continued as an adult for many years. Now it would be camping, although I don’t go very often these days, or perhaps gardening, which is very therapeutic for me and puts food on the table. We just got some chickens for the first time a month ago and their eggs are delicious.”
12. Do you have a favorite word or phrase that you use? – “Bastards!”
13. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A park ranger.”
14. What profession or job would you not like to do? – “A t-bar ceiling installer – I did it after the earthquake – never, ever again!”
15. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “ I was about sixteen and I took a girl called Marcie to Disneyland which was about fifteen miles away from where we lived.”
16. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I guess I wish we had moved out of the city sooner than we did.”
17. Tell me about a moment or period of time you will never forget. – “Watching the forest fires on ridge opposite our property, threatening to come this way during the lightning fires of 2008.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “Being able to accomplish, with Vydell of course, what we have done here, and making the move that many people wish they could make.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “Being able to talk comfortably to anyone I meet.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I’d like to hear him say, “Glad to see you made it. You’ve done a good job. Now here is everyone you had to say goodbye to – family, friends and dogs you have lost.’ That would work for me.”

The next interview will appear on the 2nd Thursday of the month – July 12th, 2012. The guest interviewee from the Valley on that occasion will be
Jim Roberts, formerly of Taylor Roberts, the interior design company,
and owner of The Madrones small business complex outside Philo.

Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment