Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Harold Perry
by Steve Sparks, October 7, 2010
A week or so ago, I met with the Valley’s second oldest citizen, Harold Perry, at his home in downtown Boonville. We were joined by his daughter Linda, who sat in on our discussion to maybe help Harold remember a few things.
Harold was born in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma on November 8th, 1916, making him 93 years old, almost 94 in fact. The town is about 100 miles west of Oklahoma City and is named after an Indian Chief of the Kiowa tribe. His parents, Clabe and Nannie Perry had eleven children in total and Harold is somewhere in the middle in terms of age, with three younger sisters and Harold himself still going strong. “My Dad was from Tennessee originally and some of my siblings were born there. I don’t know where my mother was from and I can’t remember her name before she was married either – it was nearly 100 years ago, you know! I do remember that we had a small farm and we kids spent many hours picking cotton. That was what our family did for a living.”
Harold attended the local school where he was very good at sports – basketball in particular. He spent his leisure time hunting for deer. “We were a close family and on most days nearly all of us sat down to eat dinner together, those of us who still lived at home, of course. When we weren’t at school or playing sports I was picking cotton with my brothers and sisters. In 1929, when I was about 13, the basketball coach left our school and went to Pawnee, a larger town about eight miles away. He wanted me to play basketball for him there and so our family all moved there and I played on the high school team at a young age. I guess I was pretty good. Then at 16, I decided I wanted to earn some money so I quit school. Problem was, this was 1932 and the Depression in Oklahoma was real bad so I hitched rides and caught trains out west to where my older sister lived in Clovis, California, and I got work working in the fields and hauling fruit and vegetables.”
Over the next few years, Harold returned to work in Oklahoma on several occasions and frequently split time between there and California but he also lived and worked in Texas and Arizona too. He did whatever work he could find but had become a very good welder and his skills were used on the many large oil containers built in those states during those years. At some point he was married to an Oklahoma girl by the name of Stella and they had two children, Pat (Patricia) and Judson. “I can’t remember much about those days to tell you the truth. It was a long time ago, you know! I do remember working as a welder in the shipyards in San Francisco during the Second World War and staying there afterwards for a few more years until the late 50s.”
Harold and Stella were divorced and for a few years he was a single man before meeting Alma Pagel from Harrington, Kansas, and getting married in 1950. Alma had a young child, Rex, from a previous marriage and he lived with them and became the older brother to two children born to Harold and Alma – Linda, born in 1952, and Leroy in 1953.
“I had left San Francisco and gone to live in Fresno for a time where I bought a Ford truck and began hauling logs. After a few months I realized that this was not working. Logging there was not a big business and it took too long to unload and that was wasting my time so when some guy told me that there was a logging boom going on in this place called Boonville I thought I’d give that a try. My new wife stayed put and I came to Anderson Valley in 1950... I got some work with a logger called Harry Avelow in Philo and I lived behind the Live Oak Building in Boonville before, after about a year, my family came and joined me here.”
Harold and Alma lived in what had been a schoolhouse on the bend in Hwy 128 about two hundred yards north past Gowan’s Oak Tree. Their neighbors were James Gowan and his family and George Gowan and his, and Harold did some welding for Art Gowan and also continued to haul logs. At some point the family lived on the Philo/Greenwood Road and then settled on Blattner Road in Philo before, in 1959, Harold stopped working in the logging industry and went to work for the State Highways – Caltrans. Soon after that he was transferred to the Caltrans crew in Manchester out on the coast and the family moved out of the Valley for a year. “I enjoyed my ten years hauling logs here in the Valley and had some great times and hauled some mighty big logs, I can tell you. One of ‘em was over 20 feet across and I got it on my truck and took it to San Francisco. It ended up in Italy! After a year on the coast we were ready to come back to the Valley and I was transferred back here and we moved into the house where Fritz Kuny now lives, next-but-one to the Drive-In in the center of Boonville. Then in 1964 we bought this house here, across the street from that one, and have lived here ever since.”
Over the years Harold continued to enjoy hunting and fishing, particularly deer hunting in Modoc County. As a family, they would camp out on the coast between Elk and Mendocino almost every weekend when the abalone season was going on. The kids loved it and young Leroy would earn a dollar if he helped the fishermen with their catch. By the sixties, Harold had begun what would be his long association (about 40 years) with local youth sports as a referee for the new Junior Panthers program at the school. He had done a lot of work on the new gym when it was built in the fifties and then he went to ‘work the boards’ for seventeen years, refereeing high school, junior high, and town team games before, in the late seventies, he moved into the timekeeper’s seat. “I loved it all. I had to referee a few games that my son, Leroy (AV Class of 1971), played in and I’m afraid I was a little tougher on him than I should have been, not wanting it to look like I was playing favorites. He mentioned it sometimes but he understood.” For years and years he never missed a Panther game and while he will say that players have got better and better, he adds, “All in all, they are still just kids having a good time.”
In 1980 Harold retired from Catrans but continued to work around the Valley as a master mechanic and welder, making many wrought-iron gates for Valley folks. “I enjoyed my time with the guys at Caltrans – people such as Frank Wyant, Paul Titus, Donald Pardini, Johnnie Pinoli, Angelo Pronsolino, Dick Sands, Perry Hulbert, Jim Clow, and others, but it was my time to go and at 65 I called it a day. But I didn’t stop working. People would stop by my shop here behind the house and ask if I could do some welding job for them — a gate or some racks for their truck maybe, or for me to fix something for them. Just a year or so ago I did a table for Benna Kolinski and she loved it. I also kept involved with sports by coaching a women’s softball team, The Hot Sox, with players such as Debbie Sanchez, Kelley Hiatt, Gwen Smith, and many others. I did that for 16 years. Also, Alma and I started to bowl regularly with Angelo and Eileen Pronsolino on a team in Ukiah and I won many trophies over the years and didn’t stop playing until I was 89 years old. The four of us retirees would go on trips with our trailer homes too, we went to Alaska a few times, and Angelo and I would also go deep fishing and that was always a lot of fun.”
In July 2003, Harold had a stroke and then, during his recovery, a fire started at his home when roof work was being done and the place was destroyed. Alma passed in September of that year. Harold had a few fainting episodes in the next couple of years and so in 2009 daughter Linda and her husband Pete moved from their house on Airport Road to live and homecare at Harold’s. It was also decided around that time that Harold needed a pacemaker and this meant that he would no longer be able to work on his welding so that long career came to an end at that point. “I’m fine though. I miss doing those things but I like to sit here in my chair and do my word puzzles and can do that for hours. I walk around the outside of the house six times, once a day, going real slow, but I am pretty good on my feet and I can do it, even if I sometimes take a little rest after three laps to get my breath. I like to go to the Senior Center for lunch twice a week too. I have always loved living here and have many great memories of this place. I remember when there were so many trees and it was all apples and sheep, no wineries at all.”
I asked Harold for his brief responses to some Valley topics.
The wineries and their impact? “That hasn’t bothered me any.”
The AVA? “I read the Ukiah Daily Journal, but once in a while I will read the local paper.”
The local radio station? – “I listen to whatever station is on.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest from a questionnaire featured on TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself.
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Walking, reading the newspaper, working on my word-search books, going to the Senior Center, visiting my son Leroy who lives on Hwy 253 towards Ukiah.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Not a whole lot of anything.”
Sound or noise you love? “Music – I played banjo in a band back in Oklahoma with a banjo my Dad gave to me. I have now given it to my son Leroy. I met Alma when I was playing the banjo. She was there for the dance.”
Sound or noise you hate? – “Nothing I can think of. I got used to the traffic now.”
Favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? “Anything. I’ll eat anything anyone will fix for me. I did used to like to eat lots of fish and abalone back in the day.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “None that I know of. When I was younger people were always saying I looked like John Wayne so may be I’d like to have met him sometime.” (Daughter Linda showed me some photographs of a young Harold in his thirties and he did look very much like the movie star).
A smell you really like? “Flowers.”
Favorite hobby? “It used to be bowling but now it’s my word puzzles.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt if given the chance? Your fantasy job, perhaps? “A basketball player. I was never good enough to be a pro but I was pretty good.”
Profession you’d not like to do? “Never thought about that. There are some jobs I might not like I’m sure.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “Most of my days have been happy. I really loved refereeing.”
Saddest day or period of your life? “Can’t think of one.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “Getting to live this long. I’ll be 94 in November. That’s a long time to be around, you know.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “That’s not something for me to say, but if I get there I’ll holler for you and try my best to get you in too!”
Upon the completion of the interview, Harold said, “Well thanks for coming over to see me. Can I give you some payment for your time?” On my refusal, he added, “Well just stop by whenever you can. It’d be nice to talk again.” ¥¥
(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 James Dean of the Valley's Unicorn School, and more.)