Lives & Times Of Valley Folks: Judith Dolan

by Steve Sparks, April 6, 2011

I drove into the Boonville “suburbs” to meet with Judith Dolan at her home on Airport Estate Drive and after a friendly greeting from her Labradoodle (half Labrador; half Poodle) Hachi, we sat down to chat.

Judith was born in Long Beach, California, the oldest of the six children of Dorothea Hill and William Dolan Jr. On her mother’s side her grandfather (Bill Hill) was one of seventeen (17!) and her grandmother (Edith) the only girl in six, who all hailed from Minnesota, south of Minneapolis/St Paul. “My grandfather was a salesman for International Harvester while my grandmother taught piano and was a free spirit. She left home for a time and traveled in Europe and they were divorced when my mother was in her teens... On my father’s side, my grandparents had come over from County Cork, Ireland, settling originally in North Dakota where he worked on the railroads and was a big union man, later becoming the Vice President of the Brotherhood of Railroad Workers Union. My paternal grandmother was a teacher and very religious indeed, going to mass every day.”

Judith’s uncle and aunt were a priest and nun respectively and her father had wanted to enter the priesthood at one point also. However, he was the oldest of five and with his father often away in his job as a brakeman on the railways, he had responsibilities to take care of his younger siblings. “After high school my mother went to nursing school in Minneapolis and my father was at the University there. My mother then found a job working for an oral surgeon in Chicago. The Dolan’s moved to Chicago at some point and when my father was at home from school he met my mother there. My Dad graduated and joined the navy in 1942 but then took a year as part of his officer training course to study at the Harvard Business School and, with my mother converted to Catholicism, they were married that year in Boston. They moved to San Diego with his navy job and in June 1944 he shipped out to war — on the day I was born. My mother then returned to live with my grandparents back in Chicago.”

After the war, the family moved to north Minneapolis and bought a house there. “We were about fifty blocks from downtown in an area that was developed in the post war housing boom and my Dad worked for Arthur Anderson Accountants as a CPA while Mom was having kids — six in total, and doing a bit of ‘nursing’ in that she gave neighborhood kids their shots. I grew up in that aspiring middle class neighborhood and we had the Studebaker car with the running boards that has always stuck in my kind for some reason. It was an idyllic childhood in many ways. I went to the local Catholic school, which I loved, and where I had many friends. However, in the summer of 1951, when I was seven, I went to stay with my Grandfather Hill and his new wife in Wisconsin and when I returned my parents had bought a house in south Minneapolis and had moved. I was so upset at having to leave all my friends and I cried and cried — my Dad spanked me to stop me, I remember it well. Leaving all that behind was so painful for me at the time. I enrolled at Resurrection Catholic School nearby and had scrambled egg sandwiches each morning before attending mass virtually every day before school. I was very much into the Catholic Church and went to mass of my own free will. I did that from 3rd through 8th grade.”

Judith went on to Holy Angels Academy High School where she made good friends, enjoyed being involved with the school newspaper, and took part in school plays. “I got on well with the nuns and did well academically, but over time I gained a lot of weight and was quite chubby. That was really hard. I did not have an athletic bone in my body, unlike my siblings who were all good at sports. I skated a little but not in competition or performance and while the rest were doing such things I would sit and read, becoming a bit of an outsider.”

She graduated in 1962 at which point she wanted to be an actress. However, that idea never really materialized and she went to nursing school instead where she could also earn some money as a nurse’s aid at St. Mary’s Hospital. She also continued to attend mass every day. She moved on to St Catherine’s Nursing School in St. Paul from where she graduated in 1968. “It was a very volatile time in this country, I was very aware of the Vietnam War and attended several anti-war protests. For a time I was involved with a group that helped get potential military recruits across the border to Canada to avoid being drafted. It was a tough time and I Iost friends who did not come home from the war... At home politics were never discussed because my father was a Democrat and my mother a Republican. He was a big supporter of George McGovern in the 1968 General Election won by Nixon, and was an acquaintance of Hubert Humphrey, the U.S. Senator from Minnesota. My Mother meanwhile was very active in the Catholic League and was later the President of the School Association.”

Judith found a job at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul in the I.C.U./Coronary Care unit and a year later she was one of the nursing instructors. Then in the fall of 1970, she went to graduate school at Yale University to study Psychiatric Nursing on a full scholarship. “I lived in a dorm in the first year and then got a part-time nursing job so that in the second year I moved into an apartment. I just loved it there — the best time of my life. It was very good for me, meeting so many interesting people, all doing so many different things. I still went to mass, although by this time it was just on Sunday, but I did bake the bread for the service — yes, as you will have gathered, I was very Catholic for a very long time.”

At one point Judith was set to study in Edinburgh, Scotland and had interviewed and been accepted by the Dean there. She had finished at Yale and was preparing to leave when she received a telegram to say that the college had pulled the money from the Psychiatric course she was planning to take and the offer had therefore been terminated. “I was in a big quandary. I had been dating a teacher at Yale, one of the professors, but decided I was not in love with him. He lived in New York City and we had many wonderful times there but I was not in love and therefore not willing to be part of his divorce. I called a friend of mine from nursing school, Jean, in San Francisco, and she suggested I move out there. I agreed — I needed to get away — and so in August 1972 I drove across the country in my little VW, stopping in Minnesota to pick up my sister, and we went to live in California, settling initially Mill Valley in Marin County, north of the City, across the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Judith soon got a job at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco, in a program for the elderly with both psychiatric and medical problems. “I had been doing that for a few months when I bumped into Harvey Weinstein, whom I had known as a psychiatrist in training at Yale. He’d moved to the City and suggested I come and work with him at the Pacific Medical Center (PMC), which I did in January 1973. I was the Assistant Director of the Outpatient Department and that was another fantastic experience for a time. However, I had wanted to work with kids and families, as I had done at Yale, and this hospital had no plans to set up a Children’s department so in the summer of 1974 I accepted an offer from the Menninger Foundation to work in Topeka, Kansas. I was to be in the children’s department at a private psychiatric hospital for half the time and setting up a childcare training program at nearby Washburn University in the other half.”

“I lived in a cute little house and loved my students and much of the work there. I met some really good people and it was one of the best training experiences of my life but. It was a cultural desert there. I had no social life. I was thirty but everyone else was married at eighteen and those that weren’t married with children were into cocaine. I could not stay there and after nine months I returned to San Francisco, later learning to my delight that every one of my students had passed their exams.”

After another job opportunity failed to materialize at PMC, Judith became a night nurse on the adolescent unit at Mt. Zion Hospital. “That was chaotic and not well run at all so when I had the chance to leave psychiatry and become the night supervisor of the hospital I seized it. Some aspects of that job I liked, particularly my co-workers, although it could get very hectic, like the night of the Chinatown Massacre in 1976 when the whole city was on triage, sorting patients out according to their chances of survival and needs... After a year or so there, one evening I was at a baby shower where I happened to meet a girl from my high school, Pat, who had been my ‘Big Sister’. She told me that the director at the Children’s Hospital was leaving and so I went to apply. I couldn’t not go! I got the job and began running the Adolescent Day Treatment Center (ATC) where I stayed for 15 years, apart from one year out in 1979. It was a wonderful place to work, which is what I did with my life for that whole period of time.”

In that year away that Judith mentions, 1979, she was recruited to become the Director of Youth Campus, a residential program for troubled teenagers in the City, those who had committed murder, arson, rape, and other serious crimes. This was set up in the Visitacion Valley area of San Francisco — the district served by Supervisor Dan White, who had won election to the Board in that working class neighborhood based to some degree on his promise to close that establishment down. (It was a largely white, middle-class section that was hostile to the growing homosexual community of San Francisco and White openly saw himself as the board's ‘defender of the home, the family, and religious life’, positioning himself against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics. While White was strongly opposed to the facility, Supervisor Harvey Milk, a very influential advocate of gay rights, supported it, and this difference caused a conflict between the two that eventually led to White’s assassination of Milk and Mayor George Moscone in November 1978 and his subsequent imprisonment by the time Judith was recruited.)

“We ran a wonderful program there and once we got rid of the punitive staff we made great progress. However, forces were against us. That Christmas the California Licensing threatened to close us down because the eight foot high fences that were promised had not been built. I was in meetings every day or so with Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Head of Social Services, Eddie Sarsfield, and Head of Health Services, Mervin Silverman. It was a tumultuous time and the decision was made to close the Campus and we moved out. Then Feinstein reversed that decision and the kids came back, but a year later it was closed for good. During that time I was harassed, followed home, my tires were slashed, and some of the previous staff threatened me.”

In 1980, Judith returned to the ATC and stayed there until the end of 1990. During that time she bought a house in the Outer Richmond District on Anza Street and had a steady relationship for several years. “He and I split up in 1984, it was a tough time and I went to Paris for a break. I had been traveling annually since the late seventies, mostly to Europe. On that occasion I had a fling with a married guy from Mexico! Other than that I continued to work long hours, five days at the ATC plus weekends and evenings in my private practice. It totaled anywhere from sixty to eighty hours a week. I did occasionally get to the ballet or symphony but basically I never really got to relax.”

In February 1986, a mutual friend of theirs, Gunilla in Paris, introduced Judith to Martin Fritze. “I was very skeptical about it all but nine months later we were married — December 3rd. I was 42; Martin was 58, being born in Berlin, Germany in 1928. We each sold our houses and bought one together in the Glen Park district. Martin owned a store that imported goods from all over the world called the ‘Seven Seas’ that he was to close by the late 80s. In 1989/90 the Pacific Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital merged and lots of problems arose. I decided to leave at the end of 1990 and took a ninth month severance during which period I had a fabulous time, although I still kept up my practice and did some consulting... Martin had opened another store, importing carousel animals called ‘Carousel Kingdom,’ but in 1991 he had open heart surgery and had to close that down too. In the October, following my break from a day job, I started work as head of a big mental health department at the Lincoln Child Center in Oakland where I was to set up several day treatment programs during the five years I was there.”

By 1993, Judith and Martin had been looking to buy a loft in downtown San Francisco but Martin decided he would really like a some land and a garden. “For many years we had been coming to Orr Hot Springs in the hills northwest of Ukiah and also generally hanging out in that area of Mendocino County. It was one of our favorite places to visit. We had driven along Hwy 128 on a few occasions and had stayed at the Anderson Creek Inn just outside Boonville, had been wine tasting, and had dinner at The Boonville Hotel. In 1994 I left Lincoln and worked part-time at Family Mosaic in a program providing intensive care management and wraparound services to seriously emotionally disturbed children and youth, and their families, but by1995 Martin had decided he really wanted to move away from the city and, while I was not so sure, I wanted to be with Martin so I agreed and we started to look seriously in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

“We had inquired about some properties and in the summer of 1995 Mike Shapiro at North Coast Realty showed us this house on 1½ acres here on Estate Drive. We loved it. The house was a beautiful three-bed and two-bath home and there was plenty of room for a good-sized garden. With Martin’s health not good it was important that we were near to the Health Center, which it is, and so we made an offer contingent on us selling our house in the City. Well, unfortunately at that time nothing was happening in the City’s housing market and our offer died. However, things were different by February 1996, just eight months later, and we put our house on the market again and it sold in two days. We called Mike Shapiro, and he told us that the house was still available and we made the deal, moving up in April. I kept an apartment in the city and worked at Family Mosaic three days a week and in the evenings at my practice. Martin stayed up here full-time and started his garden, and continued his other hobby, photography.”

Martin was not enjoying being up here alone so often, so Judith looked for work in this area, applying for many jobs in the mental health field. She was becoming very discouraged when suddenly, in 2000, three jobs came along in one week and she accepted the job offer as Executive Director at the AV Health Center. “The commuting had been getting very tiring so it came at the right time. I soon became friends with our neighbor, Lucille Estes and Mary Ryder, who has since left the area. I was invited to join a book club that meets once a month on Saturday afternoons and includes such people as Lyn Sawyer, Gwen Smith, Cherry Jones, Ann Rogers, and Susan Addison before she left town. Martin and I socialized with the Addison’s and Jones’ and also Sue and Wally Hopkins, who did some work on our house.”

Martin suffered strokes on and off from 2002 until 2006 when he passed away at 78. “At times in that period he could still bake, cook, and even drive and was quite mobile but in the end he had lost the use of language and his ability to listen to music. It was a really ugly existence for him. He was a wonderful man.”

Since 2000, Judith and her staff have been trying very hard to keep the Health Center going. Here are some of the things that have been done — a partnership with the AV Housing Association to get a grant from the Rural Communities Assistance Corporation for a pilot to start an agricultural worker organization (now known as Sueno Latino); received a congressional appropriation to start Healthy Smiles Dental Center in a rented space in downtown Boonville and also started with a state grant evening and weekend clinic; sponsored a Health Fair and conducted a needs assessment survey; started Telemedicine connection with UC Davis for Behavioral Health Services; received several Tides Foundation Grants to develop IT Information Technology at AVHC including a Local Area Network; all staff and the front desk got computers; received Tobacco Settlement Grants to develop architectural drawings for an expanded health center; received another Tobacco Settlement Grant for the Ambulance to develop drawings for a facility adjacent to AVHC; began the Capital Campaign to help expand the health center and from 2007-2008 built the expanded health center and ambulance facility—includes dental on sit; installed new practice management software and an integrated electronic health record; opened the behavioral health unit.

“On top of that I have successfully written and received 25 grants over the past eleven years. However, we have been unsuccessful in our applications for several federal grants and we are currently on very tenuous ground, particularly since the State pulled revenues in 2009, one third of our income, and that has left us in a very precarious position. We are bringing in money but it is not enough and it does not look will we be getting any federal money at all anytime in the near future. It is too bad. We have a wide range of medical and dental healthcare here for the people of the Valley but the future is of great concern to me... I plan to retire on August 1st this year and hope the results of all the work that I and many others have put in at the Health Center will continue to benefit the Valley for many years to come.”

I asked Judith for her brief responses to some issues often discussed by people who live here in the Valley.

The wineries and their impact? “Many of them have been really generous to us at the Health Center. It would be great if some of them would get into health insurance for their workers and their families.”

The AVA? “They have also been generous although we have had our difficulties over time. I no longer subscribe but I read it quite often.”

KZYX & Z radio? “I love it. I don’t know how anyone can ‘survive’ without it, although I must say I did listen to it more when my fiends had shows on the air.”

The School System? “We have wonderful schools here. We worked very closely with the AV Education Foundation to set up internships at the Health Center, paying them $500 for eighty hours of work but that has now come to an end. We provide free dental screens for the students, sports physicals at a reduced rate, and a nurse visits the school once a week.”

Changes in the Valley? “The gentrification of downtown Boonville is probably a good thing, although the increase in the number of wineries and ponds at the expense of other agriculture and livestock is not so good. The influx of really interesting and socially aware people to the Valley really contributes a lot too.”

I posed a few questions from a questionnaire featured on TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “My dog, Hachi — it means ‘eight’ in Japanese and had that name when I got him.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Worrying about the survival of the Health Center. We’ve worked so hard to keep it going to this point...”

Sound or noise you love? “Music — classical particularly, also chimes, bag-pipes, the flute...”

Sound or noise you hate? “Someone in pain.”

Favorite food or meal? “Something cooked by Martin.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Eleanor Roosevelt — a powerful woman, ahead of her time. She was very creative and you don’t see people like her in modern politics.”

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? “Hachi; as much of the art in this house that I could get out in time; and some photographs, both of Martin and some of the photographs he took himself.”

Favorite film or book or one that has influenced you? “The film would be ‘Star Wars’ — not that is is my favorite but I do have very fond memories of taking some kids from the home to see it and we had a wonderful time; the book would probably be a collection of Emily Dickinson poems.”

Favorite hobby? ‘I probably don’t have one, although I do like to read. In the past I did lots of silk-screening and had a small greeting card business. I might get back into that when I retire.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? “An actress — I think I might have been a good one if I ever could have got there.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “A maid.”

Something you are really proud of and why? “The programs that I started for many kids and their families. And my work at the Health Center here in the Valley.”

Happiest day or event in your life? “Meeting and marrying Martin and my years with him.”

Saddest or hardest day or period of your life? “August to November 2006 — Martin died; I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery; and my Mother died.”

Favorite thing about yourself? “That I care deeply about anything that takes my interest — people, things, tasks.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “The gang is all here, we have been waiting for you.”

To read the ‘stories’ of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Wes Smoot, Valley resident for virtually his entire 78 years.

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