Lives & Times: Ruby Patricia ‘Pat’ Hulbert
by Steve Sparks, December 23, 2009
I drove about 1⁄4 mile up the driveway opposite Gowan’s Oak Tree fruit stand to arrive at Pat Hulbert’s home on the Hulbert Ranch. She welcomed me into her cluttered yet very well organized kitchen and offered me a delicious slice of zucchini bread as we sat down to chat.
“I can’t remember much stuff, I’m afraid. These golden years are not what they are cracked up to be. I am terrible with nouns and names but let’s see what happens.”
Pat was born in November 1933 to parents Clarence Hulbert and Ruby Price. She was the second of six children whose forefathers are amongst some of the earliest settlers in the Valley. Her elder sister, Marietta, passed away a couple of years ago but the rest are still around — Butch, Carol, Harold, and Dale. On her father’s side the Joneses and Hulberts, who moved to the Valley from Cloverdale in 1927, while on her mother’s side there are the Prices (who arrived in the Valley in1890), the Studebakers (1866), the Browns (1862), and the Beesons (1852) — some of the very first white people to settle here. Pat’s great, great grandmother, Rhoda Crouch was married to Isaac Beeson and they lived in Boonville, Missouri. When he passed, she married Walter Anderson in Missouri and they came to California together and settled in Anderson Valley in 1852. The Valley is named after him. Meanwhile her son from the first marriage, Henry Beeson, had been one of the leaders of the “Bear Flaggers.” This was the group who declared independence from Mexico in 1846 and joined the war effort in the Mexican-American War. They formed The Bear Flag Republic as they raised a flag containing a bear emblem and the words “California Republic,” both of which remain on the flag of California to this day. This, along with much, much more is well documented and researched by Pat herself, all of it accompanied by large volumes of family history, neatly presented in files, as she continues to be the family archivist and historian. It is an amazing collection, extremely well organized, and a must-see for any Valley historian.
The Hulberts originally settled at the Diamond-D Ranch in Yorkville and Pat’s father was a farmer with cows, sheep, and vegetables. Meanwhile her mother was from Philo where she was born in 1915. Clarence was several years older than Ruby when they married in 1931 and started a family. “In 1946, on the day that my brother Dale was born, my parents had moved into what then became the Hulbert Ranch here in Philo where I live today. In those days the family had lots of apple and pear trees and we’d dry our own in the dipper and dehydrator which is where Tony and Melanie Pardini now live. We had prunes on the Ranch, they were French Prunes, and yes they were called prunes before they were dried. We picked them up, dipped them, dried them and took them to Healdsburg and sold them. They were the main income on the Ranch...I was very much into 4-H in those days and my parents started their own branch and organized the meetings, Sam Prather, the Valley’s long-time sheep farmer, was a member, if I recall correctly. I had lots of chores to do around the ranch such as milking cows, feeding the chickens etc. but sometimes my parents would just turn around and say we were all going to the movies, in Ft. Bragg or Ukiah, and off we’d all go. We were a close family.”
Pat attended the Little Red Schoolhouse, which is now the AV Historical Museum, where all classes (1st - 8th) were taught together by Blanche Brown. She was there through 3rd grade and then went to the schoolhouse in what is now the Veterans Building/Senior Center in Boonville for 4th through 6th grades, and then finally to the high school when it was where the Elementary School is. “I loved the social side of going to school, and the sports too. I was not a great student. Eva Pardini (now Holcomb) and Gloria Friberg (now Ross) were in my class and we all graduated together in 1952. I really wanted to go to college but my grades were not great so the Methodist Church in Philo provided me with a scholarship and I went to San Jose State to study to be a Home Economics teacher. For the first two years I lived in a boarding house near to the campus and then in my third year I got an apartment with two other girls, one of which was Janice June from here in the Valley. After three-and-a-half years we ran out of money and I had to leave without getting my diploma but I had learned a lot.”
Upon leaving the college Pat managed to get a job with the sister of Susan Richards, whom her family knew as the founder of the Clearwater Ranch treatment center for emotionally disturbed children in Anderson Valley. “I worked for her at her home as a housekeeper and also as a secretary for her husband who was a psychiatrist in San Jose. I liked it but after a year or so, in June of 1956, I returned to the Valley and got a job at the Clearwater Ranch itself in Philo. That was the first year in which it became more than just a summer camp. I started there as a cook and we had to pasteurize our own milk and bake our bread from scratch — things I had learned in college, and meanwhile Susan trained me so that I soon became a counselor, living with five kids in my cabin full-time. Other counselors at that time were Ruth Brickett and Carl and Marrian Kinion. I was to stay with Clearwater for nearly ten years and from 1962 onwards I was in charge of opening new group homes for them in Cloverdale (Town House), Santa Rosa (Country House), and Sebastopol (Lake House).”
In 1965, Pat went to work for Sunny Hills Treatment Center for adolescents in San Anselmo, Marin County. “When they found out I had been trained by Susan Richards, the job interview was a formality. My job was my life. I was a workaholic and my personal life suffered I guess and even though I was close to marriage a couple of times it never happened. I had one day off a week at Clearwater and slept in the cabins with the kids, aged 6 to 11, some of who were blind and I had learned Braille, which I even taught during my final couple of years. I worked with many kids over the years some of whom I am in touch with to this day.”
Pat lived in various towns in Marin County from 1965 until her retirement from Sunny Hills in 1991. “I was in San Anselmo, Fairfax, San Rafael, and I bought a mobile home at some point — the first home I owned. Any spare time I had was spent in the garden and although Marin was the center of all this self-discovery and New Age stuff, I was too busy to get involved. I visited the Valley often during those years — most of my family was here. My sister Carol’s kids, Mike, Mark, and Michelle, were like my kids and now their children call me ‘Nana Pat,’ and we’d get together during every vacation and camp in our favorite spot on the land. Even as a young child, my niece Michelle said she would always look after me and whenever she had a boyfriend she would tell them that I was part of the package. She and her husband have now built a nanny unit on their property in St. Helena for me to move into one day.”
Pat moved back to the Valley and on to the Ranch into a trailer next to her parents home. “They were in pretty good health and my father was still a sheep farmer into his 80’s and did lots of maintenance around the ranch with help from Harold my brother. Mother and I would spend hours in the greenhouses, ‘playing’ with the plants. It was not work and we always referred to it as ‘playing.’ We would set up a stand alongside the Oak Tree fruit stall and sell plants but sometimes she would stay in the greenhouse and ‘play’ so that when I returned from the stall with the unsold plants there was no room to put them.”
Pat got involved with some of the Valley’s community groups, in particular the Professional Business Women, the forerunner to the Independent Career Women that exists today, the Unity Club and its Garden Section that puts on the annual Wildflower Show. When her mother started to get ill in 1993, Pat became involved with the pie bake for the County Fair. ‘We make 210 pies and I soon learned that we’d need a schedule rather than just hope that people showed up at some time to help. Organizing is something that comes quite easily to me and without the schedule I could not sleep with worry the night before. My mother trained me in pie-baking and now its come to the point when I am looking to train someone else to take over from me!”
Pat’s mother passed away in 1995, on Mother’s Day, a month before her 80th Birthday. “We had a millstone rock with ‘80’ engraved on it. It’s now used as a doorstop for the bathroom. My father died in 2002 at the grand old age of 93 and he was in good health for most of his later years. They both lived in the house until they died. Carol, Harold’s daughter Melanie, and I took care of them most of the time towards the end.”
As mentioned above, in 1995 or so Pat took over the running of the ‘Country Kitchen’ stand at the Fair for three days each year. “We bake all those pies and also serve ice cream, cakes, cookies, and coffee with the help of several other volunteers such as Rainbow, Charlie and Maureen Hochberg, Shirley Tomkins, Ken and Joanadel Hurst, and others I can’t remember at this moment... I also work the Holiday Bazaar put on by the Unity Club where I rent out a table and raise money for the Philo Methodist Church by selling my huckleberry and apple pies. My mother taught me how to make her Huckleberry Pies. We pick the berries in the hills and freeze them for my pies then I sell them at the Bazaar, the Old Fashioned 4th July Event, and the Bake Sale at Lemons’ Market. They really sell fast as does the zucchini bread you enjoyed earlier. People often say how much they love that.” (I imagine they do!).
“Another big part of my life is the Philo Methodist Church. I attend every week of course and although the congregation is now only about nine people, religion has always been a big part of our family life. I do the bake sale every month from March to October on the front porch at Lemons’ Market to raise money for the church. We start at 10am and stay until all the pies and cookies are sold. Both this and the Country Kitchen are possible with the help of many volunteers. Almost every year someone new will come and ask me to put them on my phone list. That is one of the best things about the Valley, people step up and help each other. I guess I’m following in the footsteps of my parents who had a pie business in the Valley for years. It’s in my blood. They were called G.G. Pie and would make 27 different kinds of pie and sell to various restaurants. They baked them all at home but once health regulations stopped allowing this they had to move the operation to the Fairgrounds and it gradually fell away.”
As for the future Pat will stay on the ranch until it sells. It has been on the market for some time but there are no takers yet. It appears top be a wonderful property with half mile of frontage on Highway 128 and lots of flat land with some hilly acreage. “When the property sells I will move into my Nanny unit in St. Helena but for now I am happy here. I love to hang out and ‘play’ in the greenhouses behind the house or sit on the front porch counting the cars on the highway along with my cat, Lucky, who is a great hunter. I’m actually not sure who the lucky one is, her or me.”
“What I love most about the Valley is the people who live here and the way they always pitch in and help each other out. If you need something you can just ask and you’ve got it. The church roof was leaking last week and the next day my nephew Vincent, along with David Norfleet and Bill Harper, were working on it. People here are right there for you. It’s always been that way around here. I still go to some of the Valley events and attend the Senior Center but I am not a regular. I love to go to the monthly Barn Sale, mainly to see old friends like Eva and Gloria and to enjoy one of Bill Holcomb’s hamburgers. One thing that has annoyed me lately is that I hear people talking about ‘Octopus Hill’ outside Boonville. We used to hike up that hill and it’s not called that. It is Tarwater Hill, named after C.A. Tarwater. There is no need to call it by any other name.”
I asked Pat for her brief responses to some of the issues often discussed by Valley folks.
The wineries? “Well, something had to come in and keep the Valley going once the apples and sheep started to disappear. Of course taking the water is an issue and winery owners who actually live here is much more preferable. As a plant grower myself I do like to see the greenery, but that means the use of lots of water doesn’t it. It is a difficult issue certainly.”
The school system? “I am not in a position to talk about the academic side of things but I do know many alumni were disappointed when they decided to change the school colors unofficially. We have always been brown and gold and they went to black and gold or white. They said it was because it was hard to get brown and gold but that explanation is for the birds. It needs to be brown and gold again!”
The AVA? “I don’t buy it regularly but I do get to see it most weeks. I did tell some friends about this interview so may be you will sell a few more issues this week. Like most Valley folks I talk to I like the Valley People section and the local stuff, and Turkey Vulture and of course the Sheriff’s Log.”
KZYX Public Radio? “It is set on my alarm clock so if I have to get up early I will hear it and it is on the car radio too. Otherwise I don’t listen to it much.”
Tourism in the Valley? “I appreciate the tourists when they buy my baked goods. They come into town and we call them ‘The Pilgrims’ when they arrive and then park incorrectly out in front of the stores. We do need the people to come here to help our small business survive.”
I asked Pat whom she would vote for Mayor of the Valley if such a position was to be created. “Probably Captain Rainbow or David Norfleet. They seem to have a lot of common sense. They seem to appreciate the old ways of the Valley and new ways forward. They also help me out with the bake sale and the Country Kitchen.” And if Pat were Mayor? “I’d reduce the maximum speed limit from 55 mph. It’s crazy sometimes in Boonville. Also the roadside turnouts need to be patched up so that people do not mind pulling over to let others past. It’s no wonder that the big campers do not pull over. It annoys me when I do let others past and they don’t thank me. If they do I say ‘God bless you.’ When they don’t thank me I don’t say ‘God bless you’ — it’s their loss.”
I posed a few questions to Pat from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert” Bernard Pivot, featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.”
Favorite word or phrase? “Hey, you wanna help?”
Least favorite word or phrase? “I hate the ‘f’ word. Hate it. Thank goodness I never got into that habit.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Feeding the cat in the morning. Working on the family tree, our history, and sorting out the pictorial history of our family.”
What turns you off? “Cold weather.”
Sound or noise you love? “The birds singing. I can sit and listen to them in the big tree out the front of the house. Cats purring is another great sound.”
Sound or noise you hate? “A mouse or rat knowing at the wood inside the walls.”
Favorite curse word? “Sugartoot is a word I’ll use instead of ‘darn it.’ That’s the word I use if I’m upset at someone or something.”
Film/song/book that has greatly influenced you? “A book called ‘Fate is the Hunter’ by Ernest K. Gann, an adventure book about a pilot in the early days of flying. I read it in college and it told of fate’s role in flying and I’d love to read it again.”
Favorite hobby? “Stamp collecting, coins too. ‘Playing’ with the plants, the family history, picture-taking, now that I have a digital camera.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? “I never did become the Home Ec. teacher I wanted to be so that would be it.”
Profession you;d not like to do? “A cop. Nobody seems to like them.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “When I retired. Now I wonder how I ever found time to work. After 37 years in that profession I had had enough.”
The saddest? “My mother’s passing.”
Favorite thing about yourself, physically/mentally/ spiritually? “Oh, sugar. Oh, err… I guess being able to organize things and get things moving in the direction they need to go.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Welcome, Pat, I guess you have earned your way here. Ronnie and Gizmo, your old cat and dog, have saved both you and Lucky a place here near to them.”
If you would like to read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee will be William ‘Bud’ Johnson.