Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Diane Herron
by Steve Sparks, December 23, 2010
I met with Diane at her home on Estate Drive in the Boonville ‘suburbs’ and we shared some persimmon cookies and soft drinks as we sat and chatted.
Diane was born in Los Angeles in 1933 to parents Lewis Kingsbury and Jeannette Krekeler. According to her family “historians,” the Kingsbury family was Pennsylvania Dutch with her father and his family moving to southern California when he was four. Initially Lewis worked in construction but he later became a dental technician, primarily making false teeth. The Krekelers were German and it was Diane’s great grandparents who came over from Europe, eventually crossing the country in a covered wagon and settling between Bakersfield and the Mojave Desert, in Tehachapi where Diane’s mother was born. The family moved to Los Angeles and Jeannette attended Manual Arts High School where she met Lewis Kingsbury. Jeannette went on to graduate from the University of Southern California with a degree in music and she and Lewis were married in 1930. After Diane, another child, Richard, came along nine years later in 1942.
“I grew up on Cimarron Street in the city and attended 59th Street grade-school until the age of nine when my father decided he wanted a complete change and moved us to a farm near to Corona in the Central Valley. His job as dental technician was tough on his eyes and with the war on and air raid safety drills being the norm he decided enough was enough with the city life. He was one of those entrepreneurs that never quite got there. It was wartime and he raised squabs (baby pigeons) on a large scale, selling them to restaurants, particularly in Palm Springs, where they were quite a popular dish for a time. He would also take live ones to the restaurants in Chinatown in LA. He had raised racing pigeons for years and so he knew the pigeon business. It was very rural where we lived and we were on eighty acres. We also had corn and other agricultural crops, a cow, some pigs, and obviously lots and lots of pigeons. I fed the pigs every day.”
Diane attended Corona Junior High and High School. “I was a pretty good student but really only concentrated on art so in the end I barely scraped through. I had a small group of friends but in the summer before my senior year, I had to go and join my family who had moved a few months earlier to Willows, a couple of hours’ drive north of Sacramento in the northern part of California’s central valley. I had been staying at my grandmother’s house and did not want to go. I was not happy. I had a boyfriend, a couple of years older than me, in Corona but my Dad decided he wanted to get into pig farming and Willows apparently gave him that opportunity so we all moved. However, in 1951, just a year later and after I had graduated, the family was off again, this time to Winton, near Merced in the heart of the Valley. Not me. I went back to Corona and married my boyfriend, Jim Herron, who worked for the California Department of Forestry — CDF, now CalFire.”
It was the time of the Korean War and her husband was drafted into the army so Diane moved to Winton and stayed with her family. “I had moved so many times at that point. The good thing about that is that you don’t collect a bunch of junk. I lived at home with my parents and brother and got a job with Farmer’s Insurance as a file clerk and typist and in the end Jim was not sent to Korea but ended up in Panama instead. He was discharged in 1954 and we moved back to Corona where he resumed his job with the CDF. By that time I was an office assistant at a sewer pipe manufacturing plant.”
Jim was transferred to the CDF station in Sonora on the far east of the Valley and Diane took some part-time office work there before she became pregnant, something she’d long-hoped for. In October 1957, son Steven was born and Diane became a mother and homemaker. “Jim was always on the lookout for promotions, and transfers that might lead to that, so we moved again, to nearby Twain Harte, and then on to Lower Lake in Lake County east of Mendocino County where he worked alongside a prison crew as their CDF guide. That was not a good situation and I remember we spent a lot of time in the local bar there. We would socialize mainly with other forestry people and then later, when Steven was older, with friends from the school. We bought our first house in Willits but not long after Jim transferred again, this time to the CDF station in Boonville, Anderson Valley, where he became the Captain. With Steven in the local school, I stayed in Willits and Jim would come to see us when he had time off. That went on until 1976 when Steven graduated and went to college and then I moved to the Valley.”
Back in 1963, when living in Lower Lake, Diane had started to represent and sell Tri-Chem Embroidery home party plans. “I would go to people’s homes and teach them how to use these special paints as a form of embroidery on table cloths, napkins, all sorts of things. I don’t like to compare them but it was something like a Tupperware party. That slowly became my social life as the afternoon visits became evening gatherings with more and more women starting to work in the daytime. I became the regional manager, responsible for the instruction of new representatives and their meetings from Santa Rosa to Redding to Eureka. I was very successful and won may trips as prizes for my sales and recruiting work — to Mexico, Hawaii, even London. I also attended conventions all over the country and although I never made a lot of money I did have lots of fun. I was able to schedule my classes and meetings so that I could be at home when Jim was off too —being the good little wife that I was.”
On moving to the Valley, Diane and Jim lived on Clark Road, on the Pinoli Ranch, and she continued to work for Tri-Chem for a time, now driving a company car. She did not know the Valley or anybody who lived here so she threw herself into her arts and crafts but eventually she joined a group for ‘Business and Professional Women,’ forerunner of what has become Anderson Valley’s Independent Career Women (ICW), and she became friends with such women as Charmian Blattner, Eileen Pronsolino and Isabel Miller. “When I became President of the ICW, Isabel called me ‘Chief’. We broke away from the other organization because their dues were too much and we formed our own group — the ICW It’s for the betterment of women and at the same time, with our sponsorships, we aim to help kids to further their education. Our monthly meetings are not just ‘party time’ like some might think they are. We haven’t always given scholarships, sometimes we have contributed to various projects in and around the Valley instead.”
Over time, Diane and Jim became good friends with people such as the Millers, June and Elmer Lemons (of Lemons Philo Market), Bill and June Ahrens, and would regularly socialize with people at the Bear Wallow Resort on Mountain View Road where they would have dinner and a drink at the bar, hosted by Ron and Nancy Jones.
In 1979, Diane and Jim sold their Willits house and bought the property where she has lived ever since, on Estate Drive just outside Boonville. They attended many potluck parties in the Valley over the years and she went to work for Ken and Kim Allen when they opened their brewpub in 1987. “I was there behind the bar on opening night — it was crazy. I enjoyed working there very much. Jim and I divorced in 1989 — the less said about that the better — and I went full-time at the pub for two or three years before working in the Brewery gift store in the building next door, where the Mercantile Store now is, eventually becoming the manager there... Then when they opened their new facility down the street, at the south end of town, I was a part-time bartender there too. I always got on very well with Kim. Meanwhile I had kept my job for Tri-Chem until 1993, by which time I had pretty much lost interest. So, with the company not doing very well also, I decided to quit. I had become an ‘Avon Lady’ in the mid-80s, working out of my home selling beauty products through a catalogue, and I have been doing that for over twenty years now.”
All told, Diane was with the Anderson Valley Brewery for 17 years, from 1987 to 2004. She took some time off and then in 2008 she noticed an advertisement in the local paper for a position at the ‘Rookie-To’ gallery and gift store in Boonville. “It was the first time in many years that I had to produce my resume but I got a job working there for Karen Altaras, and along with Via Keller. It is a really nice job. I get out of the house for a couple of days each week and see and meet many people. It is very good for me.” Apart from this part-time job, Diane is kept busy with other activities, such as her membership of the American Legion Auxiliary; treasurer for the Meadow Estate Water Company — the local water board for the subdivision where she lives, and continuing her work as an Avon Lady.
Not long after Diane’s divorce, a local high school girl, Kerri Scott (now Sanchez), whose family was no longer living here, moved in with her for two or three years. “It was good for me, and a lot of fun too. I also became good friends with a local man, Jim Bowen, and we were close companions for about ten years until he passed in 1998. I inherited his son Jim Jr., of ‘All-Phase Electric,’ and Jim’s daughter Michaela, who calls me ‘Grandma.’ My own son Steven has two children, my granddaughter Melissa who is twenty-five and my grandson Louis, twenty-one. Steven lives in Medford, Oregon where he originally moved with his job at Georgia Pacific, and where he now works as manager of a manufacturing plant for Linde Gas. Socially, I like to go out here in the Valley to various events and I am in two different Bunco groups (women’s dice evenings) that meet once a month each. I also enjoy dinners with my close friends, Carolyn Eigenman, Liz Dusenberry, and Jeanne Nickless, amongst others, and I just had a lovely Thanksgiving with Cindy and Kirk Wilder, Larry and Janet Lombard, Jim and Jeanne Nickless, Jerry and Barbara Bowers, Ross and Joyce Murray, and my son Steven was here too. I am lucky to have good neighbors here, particularly Frank Wyant and Lucille Estes, who is coming to Hawaii with me in January. I do miss my family and if I could somehow gather my friends with me I’d move us all to Oregon and have the best of both worlds.”
I asked Diane for her brief thoughts on some issues that frequently crop up in and around the Valley.
The Wineries? “I don’t think of them as being a hindrance if they can keep their water use under control. With the decline of the logging industry they have helped with employment in the Valley. I like to drink wine and some of my best friends are amateur winemakers.”
The AVA newspaper? “I read it every week — I get Liz Dusenberry’s copy and pass it on to Lucille across the street and then it goes on to Karen at the gallery.”
Changes in the Valley? “Well, it is hard to find affordable housing these days. I do like what has happened in downtown Boonville, apart from the fact that those dilapidated old buildings at the south end of town are still there and look terrible.”
To end the interview I posed a few questions to my guest. Some from television’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? “My cat, Scooter. He is diabetic and I have to give two shots a day. Being with friends is always a fun thing. I am basically a happy person.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Well this is supposed to be the ‘Golden Years’ but some parts do not want to keep going.”
Sound or noise you love? “The quiet. I also like the music of the forties and Christmas songs.”
Sound or noise you hate? — “Loud music played in cars. It’s just a thumping noise.”
Favorite food or meal? “Fried Chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Probably my Mom. I miss her the most. She died in the early 90s after going through the whole rest home process. My Dad was more fortunate. He died in his sleep in his chair.”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? “My cat; my art pencils and a sketch pad, and a stack of mystery books.”
Favorite book or one that has influenced you? “I have several favorite mystery writers.”
A smell you really like? “Vanilla.”
Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? “Much more of the US — with a driver to take me along the backroads. I went to British Columbia last year with my friend Carolyn and that was a real treat.”
Favorite hobby? “Arts and crafts. I’ve always been that way. I used to enter my knitting and artwork at The County Fair.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? “A kindergarten teacher.”
Profession you’d not like to do? “I did enjoy bartending but I never thought I’d like to be a waitress.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “When my son was born and the years that followed when I could play ‘Mom’.”
Saddest? “The period of my divorce when I also lost my brother to a major heart attack when he was just 47 years old, and then my Mom passed away not long afterwards. It was a tough time certainly.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “That I am resilient, and usually happy.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Well, I am not a believer though I was raised a Christian Scientist so I imagine he’d say ‘Surprise!’ Actually, ‘Welcome’ would be just fine.” ¥¥
(To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. There will not be an interview next week as everyone has become very busy, or suddenly gone very shy.)