Lives & Times of Valley Folk: Barbara Goodell

by Steve Sparks, July 1, 2009

I met with Barbara at her home on Lambert Lane and, with a bowl of cherries, some smoked albacore jerky, and a delicious glass of lemonade, we sat down on the deck to chat.

Barbara was born in July 1946 in Oakland, California, the only child of Gene Travaglio and Dot (Dorothy) Kemble. Grandfather Travaglio had emigrated from Italy at the end of the nineteenth century and had set up a printing and publishing company. “My grandfather was a writer and a philosopher-type; a public speaker and very effusive. They moved out west to Washington State where my father was born in 1914. My grandfather had been in San Francisco for the 1906 earthquake, but he didn’t feel a thing as he was on a boat in the Bay!” On the Kemble side of the family there is paternal Welsh blood and Barbara’s maternal grandmother was from Mexico, of Castilian Spanish/American Indian descent.

Her parents met in Whisky Town Lake near to Mt. Shasta and settled in Oakland where Barbara was born. From 1942-45 Gene had been in the merchant marines but following the war and Barbara’s birth, they moved to Westwood, California in the Sierras where they set up another printing business, gradually expanding into several print shops, and the production of a newspaper: The Sugar Pine Press. In her early years Barbara and the family lived in Eureka, where fishing, hiking, and camping played a big part in their routine before, when Barbara was twelve, they returned to the Bay Area and settled in San Rafael. “I was an only child so my Airedale dog, Fuzzy, became my ‘sibling.’ We got her when I was one and over many years, throughout my childhood, she went everywhere with my friends and me. She lived to be 17 years old, dying the year I went to college.”

Barbara attended San Rafael High School in Marin. “I definitely liked my schooling. We had very good teachers, many of them ex-college professors. I was involved in all aspects of school life — the yearbook editor, class officer, sports, although there were no competitive sports for girls at that time. Girls were not supposed to sweat in those days! We got a well-rounded education and academically it prepared me well for college after my graduation in 1964.”

Barbara went to UC Berkeley where she wanted to study Anthropology and PE. It was the time of research scientist Jane Goodall’s animal research in Africa and Barbara had plans to go there too. However, at some point she thought she would like to teach and to get such qualifications she would have to have an academic major. Anthropology didn’t qualify. So she changed to English Literature while still taking some classes in Anthropology and PE. “I felt I experienced the full spectrum of the college. My background in San Rafael had not been very diverse so my Berkeley experience exposed me to all kinds of new cultures and attitudes. I was particularly involved in the Free Speech Movement and at the same time the Women’s liberation/equality movement was emerging along with the Civil Rights Movement. I graduated in 1968 and left town amid all this new thinking. But by March 1969 there was violence in the streets of Berkeley, all the forward-thinking began to be questioned, and the drug scene had become very negative with the arrival of cocaine.”

During the summer preceding her senior year, Barbara visited Hawaii and found work in a pizza shop. She met a certain Rob Goodell, a San Diego native, who was into the sea and surf and she joined him and his friends touring around the islands. “We were both very ocean/water oriented and were getting along very well. Then one evening I made him some pineapple upsidedown cake. He was very impressed and we dated the rest of the summer! He was doing his Marine Corps officer training in San Diego and we continued to see each other as we went through our final years of schooling. When Rob visited me in Berkeley he had his eyes opened by all the anti-war protests and burning of draft cards. He was disturbed by this and began to question the whole Vietnam situation.”

Several of her friends were moving to Washington DC upon graduation so Barbara went along and got a job for a year at the Brookings Institute, an independent research and policy group at which she taught federal government officials about big business and vice versa. “Being in Washington at that time was a very powerful experience. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated and it was a profound experience being among and around the politicians, the Supreme Court, and federal offices, seeing them deal with this and all that was going on during those traumatic times.”

During that year Rob, by this time a Marine Corps officer, was not far away in Virginia and they continued to date. “We decided to get married in May 1969 and then the night before our wedding Rob received his orders to go to Vietnam. It was a shock and by that time he’d decided he would challenge them. At this time, we were at Camp Lejeun in North Carolina where a part of the prevailing attitude was that ‘we’re gonna go and kill some gooks.’ Rob is part Hawaiian, part Chinese and had problems with this, as well as the justification for the war. His classmates were ‘not coming back’ at this point. It was a hard year at that Camp. I was the only Californian girl there; the KKK was certainly a presence in the region. The prejudice was palpable.”

Fortunately, when Rob went to the Pentagon to challenge his orders, he found a senior officer who came up with a different option for him. He would be sent to Okinawa Island working on the supply lines for the troops — ‘in the rear with the gear.’ “By this time I was attending graduate school for my teaching credential in American Literature at San Diego State University and then visited Rob on Okinawa during the summer. The Marine Corps did not allow wives on the base so I got a little house in the local village and we would see each other in the evenings. I was the only ‘round-eye’ in the village but was accepted, even took Japanese classes, and enjoyed my time there. Rob finally left the Marines in March of 1971 and went to graduate school on the GI Bill to study creative writing.”

“I applied with ‘thousands’ of others for a job in the San Diego School System and was hired to work in an alternative school program where we created our own curriculum. It involved team-teaching and open scheduling, with an increased emphasis on units such as poetry, speech, the arts. It was the forerunner of what is known as ‘project-based education’ and the test scores were extremely successful. The program facilitated the changes the kids were going through at the junior high age. It taught them how to deal with these changes and how to learn about themselves. After five years my whole life had become wrapped up with this and the kids had become ‘my kids.’ I was seven months pregnant and I quit. Besides, I believe it’s a good thing to take a sabbatical after five years of such endeavors.”

Bon Goodell was born in 1975 and Barbara became “just a Mom.” They were living in an avocado grove in Encinitas and, with Rob teaching, Barbara focused on motherhood and gardening. They lived near the beach and for a while felt this was a place where they could continue their preferred lifestyle of water, hiking, camping, etc. Over time however, Barbara realized that she had never really imagined living in southern California permanently. “By 1977 when our second child, Kam, was born, we realized that this was not where we wanted our kids to be brought up. The malls, roads, and sheer numbers of people were getting to be too much. Northern California was far better-suited for our dreams of country living — a back-to-the land, homesteading lifestyle.”

They had become avid readers of the Sunset Book of Western Gardens and began to look for an area that would provide them with the climate to produce the most versatile garden. Financially it would have to be north of the increasingly expensive Sonoma County; the Coast was also too costly. After about a year of looking they came across a 20-acre parcel in Anderson Valley. “It had been horribly logged in about 1972/73 — the land virtually ruined. However, it seemed there was so much to like about the area. Surprisingly we didn’t really check into the actual community and only had a vague knowledge of the Valley from previous visits to the coast to fish when we’d stop in Boonville for gas or to buy some local produce. However, we did know the property had gravity fed water and the land was very versatile so we bought it in 1977 for $18,500.”

With their one and a three-year olds, Barbara and Rob moved to the Valley full-time the next year (June 1978) and immediately built a deck off their trailer and a hot tub. Fruit trees were planted, building plans designed, and Rob began the work on the house, virtually alone apart from the installation of the poles for their Island pole-house style home. They used as many recycled materials as possible and as soon as the walls and roof were done they moved in. “It’s still not finished though,” says Barbara with a smile.

In 1982 Barbara started the Peachland Pre-School with a view to offering an alternative to the regular elementary school, with parents actively involved. Their two children were then home-schooled from the 1st and 2nd grade but Bon rejoined the school in 6th and Kam in 5th. “I taught a little at the school at that time — art appreciation, music appreciation — and many parents continued to get involved over the years. The elementary school improved over the years in terms of testing and leadership and the high school became better with improved teachers.”

Barbara is perhaps best known in the Valley for her involvement with many community groups. These include being on the board of The AV Land Trust, on the Community Services District Board and starting the Community Recreation Program. I asked her talk about her commitment to these. “The schools were getting better but it was felt that activities were needed outside the school and that’s where the recreation program came into being. For example, people let us use their pools and we gave swimming lessons. My life evolved around my kids so I chose activities that helped them and others. In such a small community you can really make a difference. We then began the Adult Classes teaching yoga and volleyball and that led to our work on family literacy. We would teach the parents English after which we could teach them how they in turn could teach their kids how to learn in school. It is a joy to see those kids now graduating and to see that the attendance rate for Parent/Teacher conferences is very high.”

“In 1992, we applied for and received a grant to start the Adult Education School. It was for three years. We approached Superintendent J.R. Collins and he went for the idea of such a school. The School Board approved it too. The school was very effective and when the grant ran out in 1995 we received State Funding. However only one third of the money comes from this. We have to submit grant applications for the rest and that’s no picnic. All the proceeds from the ‘Secrets of Salsa’ recipe book produced by women at the Adult School and the film that accompanies it go to the school. It is a project I am still involved in, going to conferences and events with the film, even though I have retired from the school at this point.”

“My primary motivation in running for a position on the CSD was the water situation in the Valley and the protection of the Navarro River. Hence my work with the AV Land Trust too. We originally came up with a plan for Anderson Valley and then this was to be incorporated into the Mendocino General Plan that originally had little provision for the protection of the river. It is now ten years since the work on the General Plan was started. It should have been finished in 2001.

“I had met Gene Herr on the CSD and then Kathy Bailey who had worked on the 1981 General Plan joined us. The three of us collaborated on gathering a wide range of people’s views to come up with an AV Community Plan. Public meetings were held and opinions shared. We included a large group of people (over 200) with a variety of different interests and came up with the Alternative General Plan, which I believe is a reasonably balanced representation of what people want to see in the Valley over the next 20 years. Initially it was all very harmonious but now the Farm Bureau and the Wine Growers consider it detrimental to their interests. It has been accepted by the Planning Commission and by many other people and the final meeting on the General Plan should be soon. The Supervisors will have to put it all together. It really is time to vote on this.”

As we were on this topic I asked Barbara to expand on her view of the Valley’s Wine Industry. “At this point, a fruit stand and a winery tasting room are treated the same — neither need permits because they are ag products. However, they have very different impacts on the community. Sure the wineries bring in money and give jobs but the dichotomy of economic stimulus vs. challenges to the local resources seems reasonable to confront and is ubiquitous. The question of when do we know we have hit critical mass/capacity has to be asked. Preferring locally-owned wineries that participate in the community, especially those that use sustainable viticulture practices and are fish-friendly, is almost even positive. My thing is that we must be smart about the water situation. ‘Water is gold.’ Sustainable agriculture is tough and we just do not know if there is enough water for the future. At what point do we say ‘No’ to new wineries/vineyards? What if the wine industry fails? What’s next? We need to ensure we have jobs for the next generation. I have no problem with the small, locally owned wineries. My Italian blood dictates that I love a glass of wine and we produce some wonderful varietals here. However, I don’t think it’s fair for the big wineries with absentee owners to move in to simply make a profit off the Valley, not to mention those who do it for ego, and then they use up valuable Valley resources. Do we want to be like Napa or stay as Anderson Valley? That is what we have to decide.”

I asked Barbara for her brief responses to some other hot-button issues that are frequently discussed in the Valley.

The AVA newspaper? “I believe you should read it with your truth/lie ‘detector’ on. The paper has stimulated a lot of interest in many topics that should be discussed or at least be known to the community. The paper is not always right but it is the reader’s job to decide on that. I do think that Bruce’s personal vendettas have not been good but I’ve always liked him and his family.”

The current school system? “I am impressed. The dedication of the teachers is wonderful. Perhaps I am biased but I believe that any child can get a good education here but it is very difficult to keep good teachers and that concerns me. Both of our kids, when they went to college, felt that their education had been as good if not better than the other kids at college. Furthermore very few of the AV school kids fall through the cracks, great friendships are very often made, and from elementary school on social behavior and conflict resolution is stressed. They do a great job.”

Barbara loves the fact that the Valley community is small enough to work together to influence what our lives are like. She and Rob have traveled extensively around the world over the years but now they seldom go away, preferring to stay here in the Valley. She loves the rural nature of the Valley and believes that her work in the community came about simply because “I am someone who likes to protect the rights I think I have.”

To end the interview I posed the usual questions to Barbara 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? “That would be ‘si, se puerde’ which means literally ‘one can do that’ but more commonly, ‘Yes, we can’.”

Least favorite word or phrase? “I can’t do it.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Being outside, interacting with the natural environment, the ocean, the mountains, right here in the Valley.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Being inside four walls.”

Sound or noise you love? “The birds singing, the breeze rustling through the trees, crickets chirping, or my kids.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Fingernails on a blackboard. Having been a teacher I know it well.”

Favorite curse word? “Rats!”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? “Often the book I am reading at the time. Frequently histories or biographies. ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond has influenced me recently with its focus on the fact that the over-use of resources has led to the collapse of societies time and time again through history.”

Favorite hobby? “Gardening, hiking, growing food, volleyball, stuff in and around water. I am half fish!”

Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? “Teaching marine biology.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “A repetitive job, one without any creativity.”

Happiest day or event in your life? “The birth of my kids, and nearly every day I’ve been with them.”

Saddest? “The deaths of my parents — my Dad at 84, my Mother at 87. My Mom was still driving a car. She was such a trooper and I got my love of the outdoors, animals, and plants from her.”

Favorite thing about yourself, physically/mentally/spiritually? “I try not to be judgmental. I like to stand back and assess what’s happening and keep my emotions on hold, not displaying them directly at first.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Hello, Barbara. There’s the path to the beach and volleyball court, and here’s a map of all the trails.”

To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee will be Ernie Pardini.

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