Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Bob Nimmons

by Steve Sparks, January 21, 2010

Bob Nimmons

Bob Nimmons

I met Bob at his home on Ornbaun Road in Boonville and as we sat down to talk, his wife Sandra offered us some delicious cookies and a nice hot drink, tea brought from China by daughter, Dana.

Bob was born in Great Falls, Montana, in August 1931, the only child of Wilma Webb and David Nimmons. Both sides of his family trace their roots back to England but have been in this country for several generations. His father’s side also has some German/Italian heritage, but Bob has no firm information on this. David was a contractor by day and a musician by night, his mother a homemaker. When Bob was just two months old his parents were divorced. “I was to see my father just one time after that when I was 21, home from the Korean War, and he had finally decided to get in touch. He started to tell me what I should do with my life and I basically said, ‘See ya.’ I did not see him ever again.”

Bob’s maternal grandparents were in San Francisco so his mother brought him to the City by the Bay at the end of 1931, and she re-married a couple of years later. “She married five times in all and as a child I never knew who my father would be when I came home from school! She was quite a force to reckon with. I think I might have killed her if had been one of her husbands. As the saying goes, ‘If I’d shot you when I first thought about it, I’d be out by now!’ I was never that close to any of my stepfathers. My mother was not with any of them for more than ten years.”

Bob attended Glen Park Grammar School in SF. While there he clearly remembers the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into World War 2. “There was quite a panic in San Francisco at the time. People really were convinced that the Japanese were going to cross the ocean and appear at the Golden Gate Bridge. There were constant patrols and lookouts were manned round the clock. The entire City felt under threat and many gun emplacements were built along the coast facing to the west.” Bob went on to attend a couple of City Junior Highs — James Denman J.H. and James Lick J.H., which another Valley resident, Walt Valen, also attended in later years. “I didn’t like school although we did have a lot of fun there. Most of the men were in the service at that time so I went for a job as a bus boy at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in the City. I had been a paper delivery boy for the S.F. Examiner but I got this new job. I was only 13 years old. San Francisco was a big port and so very busy during the war and consequently the Hotel was always full, mostly with officers in the dining room. There were no waiters, only waitresses — an interesting group of people. I was virtually the only male — had I been a couple of years older I’d have thought I’d died and gone to heaven!”

“On the home front everyone had jobs to help the war effort. My mother was working in a factory that made parts for hair dryers but in the war she made parts for airplanes. My stepfather was at Hunters Point shipyard working as an electrician on the ships. Everyone had income but during the war many items were rationed — gas, sugar, meats, etc, and so there was little to buy. Then when the war ended in 1945, following V.J. Day in August, everyone seemed to be spending like crazy.”

During those years, Bob would catch the ferry to Oakland and then the train to visit his grandparents who had moved to Sacramento where his grandfather worked at McClellan Air Force Base. He found summer work at a bowling alley there. “I was a pin setter for ten cents a game — that was hard work.”

“San Francisco was a great place to live in those days; I wouldn’t give you two cents for it now. There were very few street people in those days — winos we’d call them.” When the war ended, Bob’s mother and her second husband moved to Fortuna in northern California, taking Bob with them for his high school years. “What a contrast! I loved S.F. but life up there was great. Fishing for salmon on the Eel River in Humboldt County was phenomenal. Summers up there were wonderful. We’d go to Redway near Garberville and swim in the river and sleep on the beach. Swimming from morning to night — a great time. We had not been there that long when my mother divorced, got out of the dress shop she had started just six months earlier, and remarried — this time to the local hotelier and we lived in the hotel. I had to help around the place, mainly with janitorial duties such as unplugging the toilets — even pin setting was better than that.”

Bob quickly made lots of new friends at his new school but he was constantly is trouble for various mischievous things; nothing too serious but drinking beer was frowned upon and with his parents on the local Chamber of Commerce, “I probably threatened their prestige with my antics. I remember once at a basketball game in Willits we got into trouble when I ran on to the court and stole the ball during the game. They wanted to ban me from the school but thanks to my parents position in the community the local businesses would not let the school do it — even though, looking back, the school had every right.”

Bob graduated in 1949 and immediately joined the Marine Corps. “I had no plans for further education and, with the Korean War on the horizon, a friend and I thought we’d like to do our bit together. Initially we were sent to Japan on occupation duty — US troops were still there at that point. We were sent to the southern tip of Japan and then ordered to pack our gear and get on what was a converted Japanese luxury liner. Although there were no chairs and we had to eat and sleep on the deck and it was a nice ship. We were then moved to duty on Landing Ship, Tanks — LSTs — ‘low, slow targets’ as my friend here in the Valley, Kirk Wilder, calls them. They were used to land tanks and troops onto beaches. We had outstanding food I remember, but then it was a case of ‘oh, we have something to tell you — you are going to Korea.’ We knew the North had invaded the South but did not know we were going to be a part of this war until in 1950 when President Truman announced it and said we were going to kick the asses of the communists.”

“If you are a marine, whatever job you may have been assigned, when it comes down to it, essentially you are an infantryman, a mud marine. We were part of the Inchon Invasion of September 1950 and I was in the war for a year. War is war, a terrible thing. Korea was the coldest place in the entire world, I felt. We were stationed at the Hwachon Reservoir with the job of keeping the supply route open. It was so cold you could hear the ice expand as it was freezing hard. We were supposed to break this up but it was four feet thick — explosions, torpedoes, nothing really worked. Morale was good despite the cold and the suffering. It was miserable over there, just terrible conditions. You can’t believe how cold it could get, 50 below. Our equipment would not work and every 15 minutes you had to make a conscious effort to wiggle your fingers and toes to make sure they were not frostbitten — a cause of many casualties. I have many vivid memories of my time there and wouldn’t wish those conditions on anyone.”

“We suffered lots of casualties, over 45,000 dead and over 90,000 wounded and yet it has become known as America’s ‘Forgotten War.’ That’s too bad. I was lucky. I lost three cousins in World War II, two twins and their brother, all killed within twelve hours of each other. They were my Mother’s sister’s kids and were close to my Mother. They were the Hollisters and a destroyer, the USS Hollister, was named after them. This, together with the tragedies of the five brothers from the Sullivan family who were also killed, resulted in the law preventing siblings fighting alongside each other being introduced.”

After his year in Korea, Bob returned to the States and was sent to Camp Pendleton near San Diego and then on to El Toro Air Base in Santa Ana. “I was there until being discharged in 1953 but then they tried hard to get me to re-enlist. I absolutely did not want to and went home to Fortuna but there I would receive phone calls from the Corps offering me promotion to join up again. I was not interested. If I had re-enlisted I would in all likelihood have ended up in Vietnam a decade later.”

Bob was done with the military. Using the GI Bill he went back to school, attending SF State in the fall of 1953 to study accounting. While there he met a very attractive student from UC Berkeley at a football game. Her name was Sandra and after dating for a few years they married in 1957, and daughter Dana being born a year later. They initially lived in San Francisco but with the birth of Dana their apartment was too small and they could not afford anything bigger in the City so they moved to Oakland. Bob found work as an outside auditor for Crocker-Anglo Bank earning $350 a month and, although he was based at his office on Van Ness Avenue in S.F., he would be gone at various places all over the State during the week. “I would audit anyone wishing to borrow more than half a million and it was not bad for a time but with a new wife and newborn baby all that traveling got old fast. Still, I stuck it out for five years or so.”

In 1963 Bob moved to a job with General Motors in their truck and coach division at the Oakland Truck Center. “At first I was a sales engineer but eventually ended up back in accounting for most of my time there. At one point they wanted to move me to the head offices in Detroit. I told them ‘I’ve never left anything in Detroit so I have no reason to go there’ — I would have resigned if they had insisted. I ended up moving to the zone office in San Leandro in the East Bay. I did attend many conferences and meetings in Detroit though and I found it an interesting town.”

In 1987, at the age of fifty-five, Bob was offered early retirement. “They suggested I talk it over with my wife. I did not have to do that. Once they had satisfied my demands I was out of there. I got my tax license and went to work for H&R Block, first at a franchise office then for the corporation where I eventually ended up teaching taxes to prospective accountants. I managed the Martinez office until quitting in 2000.”

During their years in the East Bay, Bob and Sandra had bought a house in Martinez and became avid Oakland Raider fans. “We rarely missed seeing a game.” For many of those years Sandra was an office manager and progressed so far that she was recruited by a headhunter and became the Commercial Manager for Lucky Stores, N. California. She retired in 1999. “We had thought for some time that there were too many people where we lived. We had often come up this way to camp at Van Damme State Park in Little River so when I asked Sandra where she wanted to retire to she answered Boonville without hesitation. ‘Are you out of your mind?’ I said. Although we had often driven through the Valley we had never even stopped in town. I was thinking somewhere on the coast but we realized that there was little sun out there. To hell with that. We contacted Mike Shapiro and he found these 3.5 acres with a lovely house and after selling our home in Martinez, we moved up. We did not know a soul here but we threw a ‘get-to-know-you’ party and soon we knew quite a lot of folks.”

Since their move they rarely get back to the Bay Area. “We sometimes go to a play or the opera. Our friends and family come and visit us here. Our daughter is in the East Bay with her husband, Massood, and we have two grandkids. Dana is a Certified Public Accountant, our granddaughter Ladan, who graduated from Cal, is also a CPA and our grandson Farhad will graduate from San Diego State this summer and he wants to be, guess what? A CPA too. I am very comfortable living here; I wouldn’t go back to the City for anything. I work in Ukiah during the tax season for H & R Block and teach Finance at the adult education center here in Boonville, helping people with credit card issues, taxes, and reconciling bank accounts.”

When not working, Bob has been the Commander of the American Legion Post in town on three occasions and he is currently a member of the Mendocino Sheriff’s Department’s Search and Rescue. He originally rode a motorcycle around town but Joe Fox said, ‘Get rid of that, you’ll kill yourself. Airplanes are a lot safer.’ So Bob learned to fly and bought an airplane, spending many social hours with the group fondly known as ‘The Airport Crowd.’ “We put on the Hangar Party each year and this gives many people in the community the chance to fly over the Valley for nothing. We gave 147 rides last year. I also like to attend the various fly-ins around the state with other friends in the Airport Crowd. They are a lot of fun with everyone standing around telling lies to each other. That’s the best part.”

Other than these activities, Bob and Sandra are also in charge of the docents who work at the AV Museum and they are both on the Museum Board. “I feel this is a very important part of Anderson Valley. It is a big issue for us. We rely completely on grants and donations. Ken Allen at the Brewery always gives us a substantial amount from his annual Beer Fest.”

“I love the small-town flavor of this Valley. The people are great and we have made many friends here. Sandra is also very busy with her pottery classes, her roles as Chairwoman of the Independent Career Women and President of the American Legion Auxiliary, and her exercise class ‘Young at Heart’ twice a week under the wonderful guidance of Linda Boudoures. Actually we are kept busier than hell.”

I turned to Bob’s responses to some Valley issues.

The wineries and their impact? “Well I am an Associate Member of the AV Winegrowers Association and some of our winery owners are wonderful people. I love visiting the wineries. However, I do believe we have too many at this point and the industry is in trouble. The water is a big problem in the Valley. Putting water into ponds is getting too much. There are no fish left; they cannot live on wine. Napa has become one huge vineyard and we can’t have that here.”

The AVA Newspaper? “I have always liked it and we subscribe. I enjoy the local stuff and Mark Scaramella does a hell of a job with his reports on the Board of Supervisors, keeping them honest!”

The School System? “Well the upcoming bond issue is not a good thing. Asking for $12.5 million at this time is asking a lot. This should have been dealt with over a period of time, not all at once. Hindsight is 20/20 I know, but the problems should have been addressed earlier and they weren’t.”

What changes would Bob introduce if he were the Mayor and had some political power to make a difference? “I pretty much like the Valley the way it is. Besides, I don’t think it is susceptible to too much change. We recently received a letter from the CSD (Community Services District) asking for suggestions for the increased safety and beautification of Boonville — pedestrian crosswalks, wheelchair access, murals, flower displays, etc. They want us to offer time and/or money. I don’t think many people got the letter. Why us? I don’t know. Anyway, the first thing I would do would be to get rid of that eyesore at the south end of town, the Ricard building. I’d get a match, set fire to it, and then call Fire Chief Wilson.”

I posed a few questions to Bob from a list devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert” Bernard Pivot, featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.”

Favorite word or phrase? “I guess ‘I love you’ would be the one.”

Least favorite word or phrase? “May be ‘I don’t like you’ would be it.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Just staying alive is something I am glad to do every day. Then of course the views in this Valley are a turn-on and I never get tired of them.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “I don’t like anger. I do get upset by a few things but not substantially.”

Sound or noise you love? “The noise of an airplane. Classical music. I love to play it when I drive to Ukiah which is an even more beautiful drive with some Beethoven or Mozart playing.”

Sound or noise you hate? “The honking of car horns and boom boxes.”

Favorite curse word? “That would be ‘Oh, shit.’ It’s universal.”

Film/song/book that has greatly influenced you? “When Sandra and I were first together ‘The Twelfth of Never’ by Johnnie Mathis was part of our romance. It started the whole ‘thing.’ 52 years later I don’t particularly like the song but I still love Sandra.”

What is your favorite hobby? “I used to cut bottles in half and make planters out of them. I also did macramé for a time, a form of textile art that uses knotting techniques instead of weaving or knitting. That was many years ago and then when I was with GM. I love to mess around with trucks.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? “I’d like to go back to school to study mechanical engineering. I never really knew what I did want to do, even when I was in college. I just sort of fell into my job. My counselor at college had a PhD in Accounting so I guess that influenced me.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “When I was at High School in Fortuna I had a summer job at a mill pulling green chain (taking finished lumber off the conveyor belt). I remember the older guy next to me saying, ‘Bob, get out of this job because it will soon make an old man of you.’ It was very tough and I’m glad I didn’t have to do that for the rest of my working life.”

Happiest day or event in your life? “When I met Sandra.”

The saddest? “I had a very close friend, a girl friend, in High School. She was a family friend too. When she died many years later it really affected me.”

Favorite thing about yourself, physically/mentally/spiritually? “That I don’t like to find fault in others. I am not saying I don’t do this sometimes, but I really don’t like to.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “I’d say, ‘I would have called you earlier but I didn’t have the courage,’ and he’d probably reply ‘Get out of here!’”

To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee will be Tom Towey of The Boonville Lodge.

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