Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Wallen Summers
by Steve Sparks, February 24, 2010
I met with Wallen at his home on Vista Ranch Road to the east of Hwy 128, a beautiful spot up in the hills looking down over the Valley from way above and to the north of Breggo Cellars winery.
Following Doug Reid (Soviet Russia) and Kyllikki ‘Kay’ Clark (Finland), Wallen becomes our third guest from the Valley who was born outside the US. He ‘arrived’ in Shanghai, China, in 1932, the second child of Sarci Chen and his American wife, Ann Summers. “My father was a sophisticated, modern guy of the 1920s who had been educated at Worcester Tech in Massachusetts and upon his return to China he became an electrical engineer with his own business. My older sister and I grew up in a middle class household and we were very close. She is a retired psychiatrist in San Francisco who has hung on to her Chinese roots far more than I have. She even changed her name from June back to Mai Long and to this day continues to have very negative feelings towards the Japanese after our experiences in the Second World War, perhaps because she is four years older than me and was a teenager at that time."
During the 30s, Wallen’s father became increasingly involved in politics as an important figure in the opposition Nationalist party led by Chiang Kai-shek. The Japanese had made several incursions into Chinese territory and backed the Chinese puppet government of Wang Chin Wei. Apart from these two parties there were the Communists of Mao Tse Tung who at that time were still up in the hills, waiting to make their move.
“I grew up in the city of Shanghai, a very cosmopolitan city with a large international community, mainly dominated by the Brits and French. My parents were divorced in 1937 with my mother re-marrying a year or so later to a Dutchman, Jules Winkelmann, from a very well connected family. My mother was a great character, the heroine of my life, for reasons you shall hear about later. She was from an Austrian Jewish family who lived in New York City, a typical New York woman who was determined to make her mark. She taught dance in Shanghai at her own school. She was very talented and beautiful and when she married Jules it was a good match. His father was a General in the Dutch army who ran their government when the Queen of the Netherlands left at the beginning of the Second World War in 1939.”
Jules Winkelmann ran a large company in the export/import business that had offices in many places in the Far East and elsewhere. China was growing rapidly in the mass production of cotton goods — socks, t-shirts, handkerchiefs, etc and he was a very successful businessman. “I still saw my father on every weekend during those years but Jules decided to move the family on and we left Shanghai in 1939. From then on I was out of touch with my father and would actually never see him again. Not long after we left he was kidnapped off the street in the city of Nanking by political rivals and was shot and killed by them in 1941. He was a guy whom everybody loved. He was very successful had been well educated in America and people saw this as a plus. The puppet government wanted him on their side but he refused to join them. I must have had some idea of his kidnapping and the fact that he was in great danger because I can vividly remember my mother saying, ‘It’s been confirmed. They have shot your Dad,’ as if this was somewhat expected and I was prepared for it. My stepfather was a great admirer of my Dad and always told me good things about him; how decent, charming, and honest he was.”
Jules Winkelmann had a two-year plan to travel to various offices of his company starting in Hong Kong. From there the family were to go on to Hanoi in French Indo-China (Vietnam), and then on to spend time with Jules’ family in Holland, before heading to San Francisco where his business partner had an office. “We were delayed in Hong Kong because, as was explained to me at the time, the French authorities were discouraging people from going to Hanoi. Our visa applications were turned down several times and we ended up being there for quite some time. It had a very nice culture there, a very pleasant place with good schools. The Brits know how to run a nice colony and I am a big admirer of theirs. Of course there were some unpleasant things but their style of colonial government was pretty decent in its humanity. There was plenty of food and good healthcare and once they had ‘captured’ the residents’ hearts and minds, they pretty much let the local population run the every day life there.”
It was 1941 and the war in Europe was raging, with the British colonies of Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong getting increasingly involved with varying levels of support for the ‘mother’ country. “All the news we heard was about the war, obviously, as Hong King was British. My mother was very nervous about us being there. Then on Dec 8th, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor (but just a few hours later because of the international dateline), the Japanese bombed Hong Kong. It was a Monday morning and I was on the way to school on a bus. The planes suddenly appeared without warning and dropped bombs everywhere, while strafing the ground with their machine guns. Their troops landed and we were cut off from the main town.” There were many atrocities committed against civilians; the Japanese were not taking prisoners at that point and they terrorized the local population, murdering many, raping thousands of women, and carrying out much looting. “Hong Kong was in chaos. We decided to try to get to town and on the way we saw the bodies of many dead British soldiers strewn everywhere. The Japanese decided to round up people so my mother, sister and I hid out with about fifteen other people in a small house. It was definitely a case of safety in numbers — they would not be so ready to rape and kill if you were in a group. There was a theory going round that they would be soft on children so my mother sent my sister and me back to our home to get some food. We were there when some Japanese soldiers arrived and started to tease and threaten my sister. I pleaded with them to leave her alone, tugging at them to stop touching her. They became distracted and we got away unharmed. I remember that so well, along with seeing all the bodies of the British soldiers, some of whom we knew.”
Wallen, his mother and sister were soon captured and put in the civilian internment camp, made up of the administration buildings and the grounds for what had been a British penal colony for the whole of the Far East. Over the next few months many truckloads of prisoners arrived with a total of around 3000 interned there by the end of the winter. “My mother decided to go with our Dutch family connection, as opposed to the American or Chinese ones we also had, figuring this would afford us the best opportunities for survival, so we were put in the Dutch Block. We thought we’d be out in a few months but remained there until the end of the war, almost four years later in August 1945.”
It was a very tough time in the camp with little food provided by the Japanese authorities, and it was of poor quality, frequently containing dust, mud, rat and cockroach excreta, cigarette ends, and sometimes dead rats. Wallen’s mother learned to grow things and the family lived partially on nasturtium leaves. “People were simply allowed to die, there was no food really and it was vital to avoid cuts that might get infected. Some starving teachers set up a school; they were real heroes. At one point my mother was given the choice to offer my sister and me to the Allies as part of an exchange for Japanese prisoners held by the Brits. She decided against it, as she did not trust what might happen with us, and we remained with her there — a very hard decision for her I’m sure. It was a time I shall never forget. You had to learn how to survive somehow. My mother was wonderful and I cannot imagine what she had to go through, having us two kids there with her and knowing what the Japanese were capable of.”
In late 1945 the Japanese surrendered, the guards disappeared, and soon afterwards ships arrived in the nearby harbor. “The first people we saw were Australians from a mine sweeper, the HMS Canberra. They were the healthiest people I’d seen in my life! Strong, smiling people. It was an amazing day!”
Stepfather Jules showed up in the next couple of weeks and took the family briefly to Shanghai before taking a ship across the Pacific to Tacoma, Washington then a train to San Francisco in early 1946. “At first I attended Polytechnic High School by Golden Gate Park then George Washington High from where I graduated in 1949. Because of my experience in the camp I wanted to grow things and to be away from big crowds of people, in the wilderness and outdoors of Zane Grey novels, so I enrolled at the California College of Agriculture, now UC Davis. There were 1500 students of which 50 were co-eds — that was tough! That summer I got my first job milking cows on a dairy farm and I loved it. I learned a lot about the connection between human survival and Mother Nature at college. I paid my way all the way through, getting a job with a tree pruning company at weekends. I was a hard worker and made my way up to the highest pay rate of $2.11 an hour. I was very proud of that. I enjoyed the social scene at college and was an above average student I guess. I dated a little but didn’t have a car so there was little ‘social life’ on the back of a motorcycle.”
A turning point in Wallen’s life happened in his third year at college. He signed up for the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), making him eligible for a commission upon graduation. “It was a big event in my life. It was a good fit for me and I loved it. I became a Distinguished Military Graduate and received a commission in the regular army, not the reserve. My family was not keen and my stepfather told me that if I wanted to be in the Army I must take the ‘royal road,’ in other words, West Point. I called his bluff, applied to the Military Academy, and three weeks after graduation I was there in West Point.”
By 1957, four years later, after “a damn good education,” Wallen graduated with a degree in science with an emphasis on engineering, and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry. For the next 22 years he served in the US Army as Platoon Leader, Company Commander, Battalion Commander, Instructor at West Point, even a student at Harvard Graduate School where he received a PhD in Economics. In 1979, he retired as a full Colonel from a career that had seen him do tours in Hawaii/Thailand/Vietnam (1963), Vietnam again in 1968, and Korea twice in the early seventies, where he and his company patrolled the DMZ between North and South — “playing games.” “I had followed two muses during my time in the military, one getting my boots muddy with the troops, the other studying and being a military academic.”
Many years earlier, in 1947, Wallen and a friend had hitchhiked from the Bay Area to Dos Rios in Mendocino County. “I loved the wilderness and the deer hunting up this way. On one winter break from school I even found work on a ranch in Laytonville. So, as my retirement approached I began to think about where I could retire to and, of all the places I had been to, Mendocino County still stood out, even more so than Hawaii.”
He had bought a house in Santa Rosa and was commuting to SF on his final tour of duty at the Presidio in San Francisco. “I had a base from where to look into heaven on earth, Mendocino. I visited the town of Mendocino and instead of returning to the 101 corridor along Highway 20, I decided to go back a different way, via Highway 128 and Anderson Valley. I had never driven that way before and I was amazed at the beauty. Coming from the Far East where trees are scarce, this was stunning. I am a tree freak and between the coast and Yorkville the trees are truly beautiful. I thought ‘this is the most beautiful place in the world.’ Through a realtor I found a piece of property on Vista Ranch Road and bought the ninety-five acres in 1977 where we live today, adding six more a few years later.”
Wallen was divorced not long afterwards, a marriage that had seen he and his wife raise two daughters. Then when he retired in 1979 he moved up to the Valley full-time, living in a travel trailer. There was little work in the Valley so for a short time he worked as the Director of the Indian Health Center in Ukiah before joining a trucking company in San Pablo in the Bay Area as the Controller. It meant he was up here just at weekends but he took over the company in 1983, eventually selling it and creating his own trucking company in Santa Rosa — Reliable Liquid Transport, allowing him to spend more time here. “I am still on the payroll to this day but do very little on a regular basis. My daughters have run the company for many years now.”
In 1981, while attending labor meetings between the trucking companies and the Teamsters Union in Reno, Wallen found himself having a drink after a long day of negotiations. “This fantastic blonde woman bought me my glass of Chardonnay. Her name was Elizabeth and we got on really well. I found out she was teacher getting her credentials and working as a waitress while she did so. Like myself she had two kids from a previous marriage, but unlike me she was planning to soon get married again. It was like two ships in the night and we parted.” Over the next few years Wallen continued in the trucking business, coming to the Valley for weekends. Between 1990-93, the house was built and he gradually made more social contacts in the Valley. “Then, around 1994-95, I happened to be in Reno again and I decided to see if Elizabeth was still in town. I called her, she was now a teacher in nearby Sparks, and so we met up. We were now both single — she had not remarried — and one thing led to another and after a long-term relationship lasting several years we were married in 2002.”
As for Valley life, Wallen was one of the founders of the AV Wine Growers Association and drew up the original AV Appellation map with Hans Kobler formerly of Lazy Creek Vineyard. He remains an associate member and now leases out his own 2.5 acre vineyard. Elizabeth is more social than Wallen and he readily admits that his social life has taken off since her arrival. Their children and several grandkids are a big part of their lives, although none of them live here in the Valley.
“I love that we actually have a community that exists here. If there is a need to do something around here then it seems that this community can and will do it. I have put my roots down here — a beautiful place. I am not a great social guy but when I started to raise sheep here I really enjoyed that the community as a whole, through Floyd Johnson at the Johnson Ranch, would sell its lambs as a community. People like Floyd made me realize what a community is; he made sure I was involved in the decision-making. Who was I? A newcomer, and yet he always included me. There are lots of community-minded people here like Floyd. However, I am concerned about the increasing population here. I see a lot more lights in the hills these days, and there is a glow in the distance over Yorkville way — yes, Yorkville! But I have to ask if I have a right to criticize this. The other thing that concerns me is growing old in a rural valley like this. Many folks live up in the hills, somewhat isolated. What happens when they can no longer do the necessary chores, etc? Many do not want to leave the Valley to go and live in Ukiah or wherever, so I hope the Elder Home is able to take this into account and expand if it possibly can.”
I asked Wallen for his views on some current Valley issues.
The wineries? “Making the land productive is a positive thing, I believe. Of course, putting in vines has externalities, to use an army economic term. It affects those not concerned in the process of making wine. Some of these externalities can and have caused problems and unrest. I was a sheep guy but that saw no income so I too planted some vines. The wineries have certainly changed the Valley and will continue to do so. Many of the wineries come in and do everything they can to mitigate the effects of their imprints here and bring something positive to the Valley. Roederer Winery for example. The family of the headman there, Arnaud Weyrich, is a credit to the community, a part of the community. Roederer is obviously a big business but I don’t mind them being here because they have made efforts to do it right as a winery and to get involved on a personal level.”
The AVA? “I cannot say that I like it. I used to think that owner and editor Bruce Anderson was a bit of a bully. I hear he has changed these days and Elizabeth sometimes reads the paper and tells me some of the news.”
The tourists and changes in the Valley? “The changes are inevitable and as for the tourists, they have a low impact overall and, per dollar spent against the costs, I think that they are beneficial.”
I posed a few questions to Wallen devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, featured on TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.”
Favorite word or phrase? “When I look out of the window across the Valley I often murmur, ‘Aahhh’ with great satisfaction.”
Least favorite word or phrase? “Maybe ‘profitability.’ So much is excused by the use of that word.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Trees.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Waste.”
Sound or noise you love? “I don’t have one.”
Sound or noise you hate? “An animal in pain.”
Favorite curse word? — “Like many others probably, ‘Oh, shit’.”
Favorite hobby? “Growing vegetables.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? “Livestock rancher.”
Profession you’d not like to do? “Penitentiary guard.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “There have been so many. I know that the day I married Elizabeth I had never been that happy before.”
The saddest? “I’m not sure if it is the saddest but I always remember the day when my Great Dane dog died in 1964.”
Favorite thing about yourself, physically/mentally/spiritually? “I like to think I’m able to consider myself as being not selfish.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “As I get older I have become so disenchanted with everything I’ve seen to do with organized religions that I am agnostic. Therefore, I imagine he’d say ‘Surprise!’”
To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee will be Bill Holcomb.)