Lives & Times Of Valley Folks: Beverly Dutra

by Steve Sparks, July 27, 2011

I met with Beverly at her home on what used to be Clearwater Ranch, off Whipple Ridge Road in the Valley behind Philo. It is now Sweetwater Ranch and is a beautiful and secluded little cluster of buildings among various redwoods and oaks. We sat down to talk in her living room with its wall-to-wall books.

Beverly was born in Richmond, California, in the East Bay, to parents Adam Weisgerber and Marie Lindeberg. Her father’s side had come from Germany and settled in Wheeling, West Virginia during the Revolutionary War and there was a George Washington Weisgerber and a Thomas Jefferson Weisgerber. “The family lived in that area until my grandfather, a potter, moved the family to Tiffin, Ohio and he and my grandmother, who was from a French family who had been booted out of Nova Scotia, Canada, had four children, including my father Adam. Then in 1918, my grandfather was hired to work for American Standard in Richmond and he moved out here alone. My grandmother Amy said that ‘no man should be alone in the West without his wife and family,’ and they followed soon afterwards. My father went to St. Mary’s College in the East Bay and played on the football team, The Galloping Gaels. He had hopes of being a football coach. His oldest brother, a pianist, had a jazz band in the 20s and 30s, the sister was the secretary and only female employee at the big dynamite factory nearby, and youngest sibling, Jack, was killed in an automobile accident. My grandfather had given up the pottery business and opened a Desoto/Plymouth/Packard car dealership, and my Dad, substituting for his younger brother, found work there and never did become a coach. They were very family-oriented and eventually all three siblings worked in the family business.”

Beverly’s mother was born in San Francisco, the daughter of a Fire Department Captain who was on the team that dynamited Van Ness Avenue to stop the spread of the fire that followed the earthquake in 1906. He was also the first captain of the first SF Bay fireboat. One side of the family was from Scandinavia and had come to the states in the 1880s and then to California via the Dakotas at some point. The French side of the family, originally from Metz, France, settled in San Francisco and Berkeley where they opened a brewery — Raspillier Brewery. “My great grandparents were in the City just before the earthquake and they moved to Berkeley — and never went back across the Bay. My grandmother married the ‘sweet fireman’ down the street and had three kids, the oldest being my mother. She was vivacious and won Miss San Francisco, leading to an invite to do movies in Hollywood but my grandmother said ‘No’! Instead she met the football player and they were married in 1930. This was not her first marriage and my half-sister, Lois, had been born in 1925. I came along in 1937 with my sister Jeannie next in 1940.”

Beverly describes her childhood as being “idyllic.” Richmond was typical of small town American with a couple of significant differences — the Kaiser shipping yards and the nearby Standard Oil refinery. “It was a very safe environment. We would spend hours in the parks, bike-riding, roller-skating, etc. We went to the theater, put on our own shows in the neighborhood, made our own kites, and did projects with the neighbors. My grandparents had quarter-horses, along with lots of fruit trees at their nearby ranch in the Alhambra Valley. I had chores around the house and picked fruit when I was ten years old, setting up and selling my goods at the side of the road. My work ethic started early — where could you do that today?”

“I was very lucky to grow up there. It grounded me, and made me aware of the community and social issues. This was helped by my father taking me on trips all over the state, even Anderson Valley, as a child. He told me there was lots of illegal booze brought down through this Valley during earlier years of Prohibition. I was very much like him in that we were interested/curious about so many things. We visited many different people and places he knew, and I remember our family had friends we’d see at a sheep ranch in Cloverdale where I spent some summers. All of my schooling took place in Richmond and I am still in contact with friends from those days. It was assumed that students at the top of the class would go to the University of California. I found this objectionable. I liked school, particularly History and English, not languages and math. I was moderately social and, as I mentioned, I still have friends from those years. I worked on the school newspaper and the yearbook at Richmond High, which was a good school for academics and the trades. At the age of six, I had scarlet fever that became rheumatic fever, and was absent from school for two years. I did lots of things with my mother and learned to read at home and became a voracious reader, which is something that has always been a big part of my life. I read lots about recent history and current events — the Depression and World War II. Around where we lived I saw Japanese people evicted and radio equipment taken out. However, they were sent to internment camps to protect them from any backlash not because of any real threat that they posed. My father continued to expose me to lots of different things, without making judgments himself, always asking ‘what do you see?’ and ‘what do you think?’ The family talked about the war a lot and we always listened to the radio news and read the newspapers. My parents were Democrats and supported FDR. There was lots of fear at that time — but to understand that you really had to have been there.”

Beverly graduated high school in 1955 and was planning to attend SF State University. “However, my father wanted me to be independent and he intervened. He really liked the new idea at the time of junior colleges and so along with some of my friends I enrolled at West Contra Costa County Junior College. He liked the egalitarian nature of the college and knew several of the faculty members. This was a whole new idea in education, there was no tracking and we had some incredible teachers, most of them veterans of the war and I liked them very much. It changed my life in a very positive way in that from then on I wanted to be a teacher in such a college. I had no idea what I wanted to do before going there. I had been a file clerk at an insurance company when at school and I knew that was not for me. Anyway, I did very well there and I received a scholarship to go to Stanford in 1957. I also took lots of extra classes in history and literature. I found Stanford not snobby, just a very intellectual climate. However, because of the quality of the education at the JC I was able to do some tutoring myself at Stanford while I was studying. I graduated in 1959 and soon after married Bob Reardon whom I had met at the JC. I decided to get my master’s in psychology and teaching and went to SF State and we lived near the campus. It was great to be in the city again. I knew it well and regard myself as very lucky to have experienced it before it became so developed — it was a ‘small city’ until the mid-60s.”

Husband Bob was an accountant in Redwood City, south of San Francisco, where he formed his own company. While at SF State, Beverly became a ‘Girl Friday’ for the female President of a uranium company. “She was like a movie star and treated like one everywhere we went. I was very inexperienced in the business world and I learned a lot from her... I had done some teaching during my master’s program at the university and San Mateo JC but by August 1961 I found a fulltime position hard to get. I was told there were no jobs for women. However, I applied for a position at Diablo Valley College Community College, sister college to CCJC, and did a very good first interview, although I thought I’d put my foot in my mouth on a couple of issues, yet later found out I had impressed them. They believed that the heart of the school is the student and that the administration is at the bottom of the totem pole, below students, teachers and staff. I was hired to teach psychology in the Social Services ‘area.’ It was not called a Department.”

However, in September 1961, just as she was starting to teach, Beverly’s parents were both killed in an auto accident by a drunk driver on their 30th wedding anniversary.

“The faculty helped me a lot and I handled the grief by throwing myself into work. I taught general social science — biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, but also history, political science, and economics. This was a yearlong inter-disciplinary course and students flocked to it. It was teaching critical thinking — back to my father’s philosophy — ‘what do you see?’; ‘what do you think?’ We tried to develop each student’s personal worldview. Psychology was changed to focus on what people needed to know about themselves and their relationships with their family and at work. The college had a clear philosophy and every action followed from that philosophy. I learned that you are what you do, not what you say you are. The 60s and 70s were a very interesting time to teach and everyone in our faculty worked very hard, with many formal and informal meetings, and constant support for student activities and as student advisors. My efforts as a teacher during those years at that unique college and with that wonderful faculty were the final gifts that my parents gave me.”

Daughter Anne Marie Reardon was born in 1964. Around that time, as the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, etc. were becoming hot topics, the administration at UC Berkeley had denied the rights of students to distribute leaflets etc containing political opinions on the campus. The Diablo Valley CC, however, decided that the law needed to be changed and took the issue to the State in Sacramento and won, passing the law for every campus. Beverly was a part of this effort. “Following the GI Bill and the opportunities that resulted, the community college system continued the progress of new ideas in education. I am angry that this system has now gone the same way as universities and colleges with so much money invested in administration — where it should not be going, the same as with the bloated administrative and governance costs in local and state government, the health system, and education as a whole. These costs should be challenged and their existence questioned.”

In 1969, Beverly and Bob were divorced although they remained good friends until he passed away years later. At that time, she moved to the Family Life Education Department, with the opportunity to take psychology into the practical area. She was chairperson there for twelve years by which time there were three full-time teachers and 35 part-time. “The thrust of our program was built on observation, teaching the teachers and the parents how to learn to observe the children and pay attention. It was a very successful. At one point we raised $67,000 from various events — walkathons, bake sales, etc, and this became the down payment for a second school — a Developmental Childcare Center that opened in 1974. Also during these years I learned quite a lot about political in-fighting, mainly during a battle the faculty had with the school superintendent, who was eventually fired — this experience was to help in my later years of political activism. In the late 70s, the unions came in and that led to a tremendous change. I am both pro- and anti-union. They have done some incredible things but in their governance costs, like others, they have shot themselves in the foot. Unfortunately, in a school setting, they brought a lot of shallowness into the job and any ‘extras’ that teachers had done before were no longer done. Many had side jobs and the profession changed as quality faded and money became all-important.”

In the late 70s, Beverly became re-acquainted with Marvin Dutra whom she had met many years earlier at the Contra Costa College. “I knew his former wife and their four wonderful children and we moved in together in 1979, getting married in 1984. The kids are great — competent, caring, interesting people, as are their partners.”

Marvin and his brothers owned a campground in Fort Bragg on the Mendocino coast, where they had gone abalone diving many times. “One day we were headed there on Highway 20 from Willits when we had a car crash. I was badly concussed and had broken ribs. Not long after this my adrenal glands began to fail and it was thought I could die. I knew I had to quit teaching because I could only do that job one way: giving everything. The accompanying workload, and particularly the stress, was a big issue in my recovery. I finally left the profession in 1981. It was a very hard decision. I loved teaching. The best part is that you are always learning yourself and I haven’t given that up as I continue to enjoy new challenges.”

Beverly had been living in Orinda for a time before moving to Martinez in 1978. From there she and Marvin had done some traveling in an RV throughout the west — Idaho, Colorado, and up to British Columbia in Canada. Once in Martinez she became involved in local politics, including a battle with the local government on the issue of late-night baseball lights at a nearby park, and another with the Shell Refinery during which she learned a lot about California’s environmental laws. She was the Chairperson of the Committee that was formed to fight the introduction of a toxic incinerator locally. It was a major battle that she and her group won and she regards this victory as a real contribution she has made in her life.

In the 80s, Beverly and Marvin bought his brothers out of the campground and became the owners of the Pomo Campgrounds on the coast in Fort Bragg. “I had made many visits to the coastal towns of Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Point Arena, and Bodega Bay over the years and remember as a child thinking as we drove out of Cloverdale on Highway 128 that it felt we were going to a special place. I was on a deer hunt on the Rawles Ranch (now Breggo Cellars Winery) when I was just ten years old. I had been to the Mendocino County Fair a few times too — my Dad was the director of the Contra Costa Fair. By the mid-80s, Marvin was still a lieutenant in the Berkeley Fire Department but we agreed that we wanted to move away from the rapid urbanization of the Bay Area and began to search around. In 1989 my daughter Anne and I came to the Valley to look at some property for sale. It was the Clearwater Ranch School in Philo which in these later years was being used for the treatment of 35 abused and abandoned kids with lots of staff working there — therapists, cooks, custodians. At times it seems like everyone in the Valley has worked there. As we looked around Anne said, ‘There’s been lots of blood and pain here, but it’s been a good place, Mom.’ I knew there could be lots of problems but when Marvin came up to take a look, after 20 minutes he said, ‘Yes.’ We met with the director — a psychiatrist and lawyer, and made an offer that was accepted. We began work on the big clean-up and the electricity and water situation. We have respected the history of the place and kept the old buildings with just the necessary renovations being carried out as we continued to live in the Bay Area”

In 1993, Beverly and Marvin decided to take over the running of the campgrounds/RV camp on the coast. “We rather arrogantly thought we could do that and lived in a mobile home on the site, while continuing to work at the Philo property, now Sweetwater Ranch, as often as we could get away from the coast.” By about 1990-91, after owning property here for a year or two, Beverly had made the acquaintance of some like-minded Valley folks, and with Diane Paget and Steve Hall, with help from Mark Scaramella, they formed the Friends of the Navarro River Watershed, with the goals of protecting the waters and controlling its extraction. “It was being pumped like crazy and wells were running dry. We made the state aware of this problem and proper studies were carried out. It was quite a fight with the wineries to get things noticed and we did a lot of work on that.”

“Currently another group works on the problem. If we owe anything to anyone on this we owe it to Daniel Myers who has done a wonderful job with his efforts on protecting the river. Unfortunately, the tendency for exploitation of the river continues. Not by everyone — some of the wineries are locally owned and the owners have had kids at the school. They have Valley sensibilities but others do not. The big fight in the West has always been water — it will get bigger and more ugly. The wineries are not the only ones to blame. There is no fishing left because the streams are full of gravel and silt due to the coast being over-logged. The monoculture of the winery’s dominance here, the lack of a slaughterhouse for cattle and sheep (for which the land is great around here)… I could go on and on, there are so many issues to discuss on this — another time perhaps. I will just ask ‘Are we going to be flushing our toilets with wine?’”

These days Beverly likes to garden, continues to enjoy her reading, and is a big fan of the music of the 30s and 40s — particularly the bandleaders Benny Goodman and trombonist Jack Teagarden, but also Bing Crosby’s jazz singing and Teddy Wilson the jazz pianist. She likes to write letters to lots of people and does not own a computer or watch television. Beverly occasionally attends a Valley event but she and Marvin are not very group-oriented. “Our daughter Anne, who runs an after-school program in Lafayette, comes to visit. It is special when her husband Peter and dog Francis can visit too. We have a large extended family — Marvin has eighteen first cousins, and they also come and stay, as do my former students from time to time — we have plenty of room for them. I joined the Unity Club in 1990 because otherwise I tend to be reclusive. I needed to be around female energy and I respect the historical sense of the club and it’s community orientation. We have to work to maintain quality of community here. I have ‘responsibility’ disease and this is a way I can contribute to the community.”

“I admire what fire chief Colin Wilson has done here and so I joined the Mendocino County Fire Council and was the Valley’s representative for several years. I have had to stop; it became too much work. I attend the Community Action Committee occasionally, and have been quite involved with the ‘Save Our Deputy Sheriff’ movement that has been a big talking point in the last year or so here. We need our police to be community based and hopefully we can keep things the way they are. We still hope to get Deputy Walker a canine. I grew up with German shepherds — my mother raised and sold them and I had one for many years, However, I have had Lyme disease and cannot be near any ticks so we no longer have a dog. I must be careful with my health and must learn to say ‘No’ to people but, as I said, I have ‘responsibility’ disease and feel we must save the deputies so my work there continues. A capitalist and democratic society cannot work without rules and we need controls and guidelines on that. Without these and the deputies to enforce them, greed coupled with drugs can quickly destroy a community.”

I asked Beverly for her response to various Valley issues.

The School System? “I try to look at the positives. It was amazing that in the bond issue last year, a school system that is 80% Hispanic was supported by a tax-paying community that is not essentially Hispanic. That segment is clearly hoping that this support for education will lead to improvement and that the future is with the kids. From such successes, hope is offered although I am not so naïve to think that everyone does well after leaving school. I have attended the past three Elementary School graduations, well organized by staff. The children, parents and visitors were all respectful of the ceremony; well done. Then I went to the 8th grade graduation and it was very poor in comparison. There was so much noise, yelling and screaming; they were out of control. Parameters were needed. It shouldn’t be a circus atmosphere. These events should be treated seriously and with respect. The teachers are there to teach, not to be loved; teaching should be their focus and hopefully it is. Education is the freeing of people and the provision of tools to show them how to learn to be independent.”

The wineries and their impact? “They can be destructive and continue to be of concern, excepting the few locally-owned ones such as Handley, Navarro, Greenwood Ridge. I am encouraged when I hear things such as Kurt Schoenemann putting in 10 acres of organic at his Ferrington Vineyards property just north of Boonville.”

Law and Order? “In the Valley it is very effective as it stands because it is community oriented. It is essential that it stays that way. If we keep saying that maybe it will bang somebody on the head enough times so that they will keep it that way.”

Drugs in the Valley? “My concern is with the effects of drugs on the human brain, that is not completely formed until the age of 24. The consequences of drug taking continue over a lifetime, both personally and socially. I taught in the 60s and 70s and saw the first-hand the results. ‘What would you have been without it,’ I find myself asking those affected.”

The AVA? — Wonderful! If we lost it, or the Philo Post Office crew, I would consider leaving the Valley! The AVA and the New Hampshire Gazette are the only two real newspapers left in the country.”

To finish up, I posed a few questions to Beverly.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Seeing the faces of my husband and my daughter.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Unfairness.”

Sound or noise you love? “The Quiet — clouds moving.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Traffic in the Valley. And these days the Bay Area is never, for one moment, quiet.”

Favorite food or meal? “Lamb.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Molly Ivins — the late American newspaper columnist, liberal political commentator, humorist and author, would be my choice, although Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill are not far behind. As for the living, perhaps international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, or even Obama — I have some suggestions about junior colleges for him.”

If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? “Family photos — including those of our pets; my ‘Thou Shalt Not Whine’ sign — my mother always used to say, ‘I don’t care who did it, fix it!’; and the statue I have of a young woman reading a book. Reading has been my lifelong passion and was always important in my family.”

Favorite hobby? “Reading — almost anything — politics, history, mysteries, romances, biographies, cookbooks.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? “An investigative reporter with a degree in environmental law.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “Bartending and having to listen to the same stories over and over again.”

Something you would do differently if you could do it over again? “I feel my life has been so blessed — there are no changes that I would make.”

A memorable moment; a time you will never forget? “The birth of Anne; my marriage to Marvin.”

Something that you are really proud of and why? “My teaching — somebody said I was the ‘Julia Child of teaching’ and that made me feel very good because they knew how much I cared about it.”

Favorite thing about yourself? “My enthusiasm or maybe my listening ability.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Well, I wouldn’t care what he has to say, but I’d say ‘I have some questions for you’.”

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 professional artist, Antoinette von Grone.

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