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Lives & Times Of Valley Folks

First, an important change to the previous interview with Patrick Ford, who actually served in the US Marines for three years, seven months, and four days. My apologies to Pat for shorting him by one year in the original article.

* * *

Kevin was born on July 4th, 1958 in Long Beach, California, to parents June Manning and Donald Crane. Both sides of the family had come to this country in the mid-to-late 1800’s, with the Manning’s settling Utah and the Crane’s in Idaho. While Kevin’s mother was not a Mormon, his Grandmother Manning was and the community where they lived, American Fork, was one dominated by Mormons since the 1850’s.

The Manning’s moved to McGill, a town in north east Nevada, after World War 2, where there was plenty of work to be found in the huge copper mine that dominated the area around three small towns — McGill, Ely, and Ruth, where the two-mile wide pit was located. “These towns were company towns run by the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company and in total had about two thousand people. Ely had the train depot; the smelter and mill were in McGill, and the open-pit mine was in Ruth. The Kennecott Copper Corporation bought out the company in the thirties and were running things when the Manning’s arrived. The Crane’s also came to town for the work and my parents met and were married.”

Kevin has an older brother, Roger, born in 1954, who lives in southern California, and another half brother, Lane, who died in Vietnam in 1968. “Before she met my Dad, my mother had a child, Lane, in 1949, born out of wedlock. The father of the child was a church elder’s brother and he broke of the relationship to try and save face. For a time she was a single mother and then she met my father and they were married and he legally adopted Lane. My parents and two brothers moved to Southgate, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, where my father’s brother Bill lived. It was a time of great development down there with thousands of box houses in every direction. Uncle Bill got my Dad a job with the Bethlehem Steel Corporation as a structural steel worker on skyscrapers that were going up in the L.A. area. They moved into a house very near to my uncle’s and I was born a year or two later.”

Kevin grew up in these inner suburbs of Los Angeles. “It was a good place to grow up with pretty good schools and I attended Hollydale Elementary for K thru’ 6th grade. It was tough at home and I rarely saw my father. My parents divorced when I was six years old, in first grade. My mother remarried a year or so later to a man by the name of Ed Creedon. My Dad came around occasionally, making his commitments to the family, sort of. He would show up but was not really excited about it. He had alcohol problems, as did my Mom somewhat too. My stepfather Ed was an overbearing jerk; loud and obnoxious. But he did take care of us, I guess, although he basically drove my brother Lane, who could not stand him, out of the house and back up to McGill to live with Grandma Manning. I have very few recollections of Lane — I was nine years younger, but I do remember Ed having a heart-to-heart with him and Lane not buying any of it. One vivid memory I do have is of being in Ely to see him on to a plane after he had gone through basic training and was heading off to Vietnam. His girlfriend was there and she was crying. He told her he would see her later — but he didn’t. He might have been drafted but I sense that he had enlisted. He was a medic in Vietnam for ten months and wrote many letters to my grandmother, my mother, and his girlfriend, Linda. I have them in the basement here and will get around to looking at them all one day.”

“Lane was planning to meet up with my uncle and three cousins in Hawaii for some ‘r & r’ but three medics had recently being killed and they were in short supply so he could not get away. It turned out that not longer after that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I found out forty years later, following my mother’s passing in 2008, that this was how he had died and that he had been adopted - I had no idea. My aunt believes he killed himself in reaction to a ‘Dear John’ letter from his girlfriend. There was a note that said, ‘Sorry for doing this; sorry for what I did to Linda.’ Lane was a smart kid and very likeable.”

In his elementary school days, the family would often visit Grandma Manning in McGill. “She was a grumpy old lady who lived until she was eighty-nine, but we had lots of fun there. There was so much wide-open space for a kid from urban L.A. It was just a little splotch of a couple of hundred houses and we could wander around the old mill buildings and train depot day after day. Up until the sixties or even seventies there was no sewage system there and everything went into the slide ditches, human waste and the chemicals etc from the mining operations. It all flowed down into Steptoe Valley - all sorts of stuff was deposited there for sixty, seventy years. The area was also in the fallout area from the nuclear testing sites in the forties and fifties. My family has lost several people to cancer — my mother had lung cancer, my father throat cancer, my grandfather renal cancer, and an aunt died of breast cancer. They call such a situation, death by ‘cancer clusters.’ May be this was all the smoking some of them did, but maybe not.”

Kevin went to Alondra Jr and High School for 7th and 8th grades. “These were overcrowded because the school district had very little money and had to combine schools. We did just four-and-a-half hours a day. I then went to Paramount High from 1972 to 1976 when I graduated. That was fun and I really liked it. It was an interesting school and near to the area of L.A.’s early gang activity. It was predominantly white but there was a significant Hispanic presence, a few black kids and quite a few Samoans. Just across the L.A. River from the school was Compton, where the Crypt gang was formed, and beyond that was Watts where the Bloods’ gang began and where the riots of 1965 took place. I remember all the smoke coming from the buildings that were on fire. We were aware of these gangs but just regarded it as ‘just a bunch of black guys fighting each other’ and were not aware of how it was to spread. At that time it was mainly fistfights but guns gradually arrived on the scene and on more than one occasion the school was in lockdown when a gun was found on campus. Certainly by the time I graduated gang peer pressure on the black kids was increasing and a friend of mine and his brother were shot and wounded on a street corner. This was pretty shocking at the time.”

Kevin graduated in 1976 with a grade point average of over 3.5, and among the top twenty-five in a class of four hundred. His favorite subjects had been industrial drawing and mechanical sciences and he had been working part-time after school at a machine shop, running lathes and drill presses. He worked there part-time for three years and during the summers also.

He had done well at school and was expected to go to college. He enrolled at Cerritos Jr College in Norwalk, southeast of LA where he studied Mechanical Engineering. He continued to work at the machine shop making parts for the booming aerospace industry while continuing to live at home with his mother and stepfather. After a year or so, through a connection from one of the instructors at the college, he was hired as a drawing room tool designer in Anaheim, where he produced molds and trim dyes for plastics — such as the trays used at McDonald’s. “ I was doing six days a week there and still going to night classes for three hours, four times a week. I was spending my whole life with a pencil in my hand and although it was good money I got burned out after a couple of years.”

In 1979, Kevin started a new job with the Endocrine Services medical laboratory in the town of Tarzana in the San Fernando Valley. His job was a supervisor of the couriers the lab used to collect samples from various doctors’ offices and hospitals. He also ran the medical glassware washing operation. “It was a nice family-run operation that turned out well-regarded, quality work and we soon became a very well-known lab for anything related to endocrine disorders. I moved out of the family home and rented a room with my uncle in the Valley. I made many good friends at work and most of my social life was connected to the extra-curricular activities and functions shared with co-workers.”

The business expanded and by 1990 a new facility of 40,000 square feet was constructed in the Calabasas Hills in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. “This was a custom built structure that was totally built for our operation. I was the representative for the construction branch of our company and was very involved in getting this accomplished. I had continued to take some night classes over the years at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, mainly science and math related with a possible view to a job in forestry or wildlife management. However, I eventually realized that what I was doing at the lab, with its hand-on mechanical type of focus, was going to be my future.”

Over these years, Kevin had maintained the backpacking hobby, mainly hiking and fishing, that he had first enjoyed with the high school and his family. “That was one of the few things that my stepfather did with us. I did a couple of trips at school for which you got credits, and then after I left school the teacher allowed me to accompany the group as a sort of aid. I did that for two years, as the aid with the girl’s group — twenty-three girls, all just a year or two younger than me - damn!”

Kevin rented a house in Northridge area with a co-worker and remained in regular touch with his mother who had split from the stepfather but continued to live in the same family home. (His brother Roger has been a regular substance abuser since he had been sixteen and alcohol was continuing to play a large part in his life. He been married and had a child but in their mother’s will, Roger was isolated from the assets so that the money would not go on alcohol, or child support and hospital bills. Kevin now owns that home and Roger continues to live there). Meanwhile, he had re-connected with the teacher he had gone backpacking with many years earlier who was now into touring bikes. Kevin bought a Honda Gold Wing touring motorbike and for a few summers in the eighties, the two of them took trips on which they visited the western U.S. states and Canada.

On another motorbike trip, this time with a girlfriend in 1985, Kevin drove through Anderson Valley and camped at Hendy Woods. “We did this two years in a row and realized that the Valley was very cool. I had the aim of camping at all of the redwood campgrounds in the northern part of the state and Hendy Woods was one of our favorites. I then started dating a woman who worked at the lab who I had known for a time — Vydell Wetzel. We had dogs so I gave up the bike trips and we came up in 1993 with the dogs and a tent trailer and camped the weekend after Labor Day at Hendy. We went on to other campgrounds but on our way back we stopped at Hendy again and the County Fair was taking place in Boonville. Vydell said that maybe we should start looking for property around here. I had been thinking the same. We looked at Rancho Navarro but didn’t find anything we liked and then stopped at the T.J. Nelson realty office, meeting Chris Hayward the realtor. We gave him our vague criteria for any purchase we might make and he said there was a parcel we might like — 104 acres on Signal Ridge that had been on the market for two years with no offers. We wanted a ridge top, some open land, a possibility of some vines. He showed us the flyer on the property and it was more than we could afford and bigger than we wanted. We returned to southern California where a friend of ours, Dana Weber, asked me if I was intending to die on this property. I said ‘Yes!” and so he agreed to be a partner on the property - we could now afford it.”

A couple of months later, over the Thanksgiving Weekend of 1993, Kevin and Vydell came up to the Valley and stayed at the Boonville Hotel. They visited the property they were going to buy for the first time. “It was solid trees everywhere. I could see maybe twenty useable acres out of the one hundred and four if it was cleared — but we loved it. We would talk more and make an offer. Well, not longer after that visit, a couple of months later, the Northridge Earthquake hit near to our home and work in southern California — we lived on one side of the epicenter and worked on the other side, with the freeways in-between having fallen down, The new building at work suffered severe damage that would take many months to rebuild — there simply weren’t enough workers to repair all the damage in the area.”

By August 1994 their plans in northern California resumed when escrow was opened on the property on Signal Ridge high above Anderson Valley. Due to easement issues with the neighboring property owned by Louisiana Pacific Lumber it took until January 1996 to finally complete the purchase of a legal parcel of land. “For the next few summer vacations and lover many long weekends we worked on the property, clearing an area with a neighbor’s bulldozer to build a house, meanwhile staying in a travel trailer on the property. It was hard work and I don’t think I could do it now — dawn to dusk, sometimes nine days in a row. We had working parties of friends come up and stay, working all day and eating and drinking at night. Over those four or five years, we made roads, put in fencing, planted orchards, built walls, etc, etc., returning to our jobs down south after each visit.”

After the events of September 11th, 2001, the company had been sold to venture capitalists and had turned very corporate. “Many friends of ours were gradually laid off and that December my boss, the President of the company, who I had worked with for 22 years, was ‘retired’, his replacement being a real asshole. I was shocked at the announcement and went to my office and Vydell came in. ‘What do you think?’ she asked. I said I thought our three to five year plan to move up had changed and that it was now a six-month plan. I needed to get a job in Anderson Valley. ‘Can we do it? she said. ‘We have to’. I replied. I was forty-four, it was a good time. We decided that the best quickest way to get a house done would be to get a manufactured home and set it on a basement - we had a four-bedroom house down there with a whole load of crap to put somewhere, we would need that basement!”

In March of 2002, Kevin began his job search in the Valley, resume in hand. “On one trip I checked out the brewery and the wineries and then on my next visit, on the way up to the property on a Friday afternoon, I stopped at Jack’s Valley Store outside Philo to get a couple of things for my weekend stay. There was a ‘Help wanted’ sign up and I spoke to owner Bill who said it was just a feeler to see who was out there. They wanted someone a little older and wiser to run the store at weekends so he and his business partner Jack could take a break. He gave me an application and I handed him my resume, showing I was the facility and logistics manager of a pretty big company. He said he’d let me know. I continued on up to the property and found out I already had the things I had stopped at Jack’s for!”

“The following Monday, I was back in L.A. and Bill called. He said we needed to talk and I said I’d call him that evening. We talked and I came up in the April and met with him and Jack and they hired me. I gave notice to my company after twenty-three years and put the house on the market — which the realtor himself bought. It all fell into place. I moved up and started work at Jack’s on May 15th, 2002, over ten years ago now. Vydell stayed on at the house and at the company until the October before joining me up here.”

“Jack’s is a great place to work for someone like me. One of the fun parts is talking to people who are doing what we did — moving here to live in the country. I really enjoy helping them and sharing what I learned. I wish we had everything at the store they want but we are small and we do our best. I used to work more but since last September I have been doing three days a week — Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Vydell got a job in a tasting room. She did not know much about wine but soon learned and settled at Brutacao Winery with Jill Derwinski as her manager. She is now the tasting room manager herself and tries to work the same three days as me so we have time off together. There are still many projects to get done around here.”

I asked Kevin what he most liked about life in the Valley. “Just the general all-round rural lifestyle. I always was a ‘frustrated farmer’ even though I was a city boy. I love having so much ‘room to breathe’ here on our acreage. The seasons here are all good in different ways and I love living up on a ridge top.”

Any dislikes? “Having to go to Ukiah. I realize you have to for some things but we try to limit it to once a month or even less. It always puts me in a bad mood.”

What memories do you have of your father? “He was never there.” And your stepfather, who, with your mother, raised you from the age of six? “Let’s say he wasn’t my idea of a father-figure. I would look at him and think that I hope I never end up like that.”

What comes to your mind when you think of your mother? “She was a good Mom but basically her take on life was not to be a doting, mothering type. ‘You do what you gotta do, kid’ was her philosophy. She did visit this property in it’s very early stages of development but I really wish she could have made it up here in the later years to see what goes on in a community that is probably similar to where she grew up in many ways and to see what we eventually accomplished here.”

I now asked Kevin for his thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation?

The Wineries? — “I know this can be a controversial issue. I don’t have any problems with them; it’s what the economy is up here at this time. It has a fair amount of wineries now and people visit here precisely because it is not Napa with so many. The Valley will not become Napa so people should stop worrying about that. Things will change but not in that way.”

The AVA? “It has some good articles in it and gives readers lots or pertinent information to the area. Some of the information is simply not true but I do like reading it every week and it comforts me by not being in the weekly Sheriff’s log.”

KZYX radio? “I don’t listen very much. I try to catch the weather in the mornings but that is my total radio input for the day. I will read the newspaper headlines sometimes at work.”

To end the interview, I posed a few questions to Kevin.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? “Our dogs — all Springer Spaniels — Echo who is 13; Cassie 11; and Manning four.”

What annoys you; brings you down? — “Cell phones. I don’t need to elaborate.”

Sound or noise you love? “The wind in the trees; the sounds of nature.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Thankfully there’s nothing that I hear every day but I don’t like the noise of traffic when I am at work.”

Your ‘last supper’? “Beef Wellington — done correctly.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? “John Muir, the naturalist and early advocate of preservation of wilderness. I love that he would go into the woods or mountains with some bread and a blanket and ‘communicate’ with nature.”

If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? “Apart from my personal documents it would be the three urns containing the ashes of my Mom, and two dogs — Skidmark and Peanut.”

Does anything scare you? “Yellow jackets.”

Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? “I’d like to visit the Smithsonian in Washington DC before I die.”

Favorite book or one that has influenced you? “In light of current times, I’d say ‘The Creature from Jekyll Island’ by G. Edward Griffin, which examines how the Federal Reserve was formed. It reads like a detective story about the most blatant scam of all history.”

Favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? “As a teenager it was certainly back-packing and related activities. That continued as an adult for many years. Now it would be camping, although I don’t go very often these days, or perhaps gardening, which is very therapeutic for me and puts food on the table. We just got some chickens for the first time a month ago and their eggs are delicious.”

Favorite word or phrase that you use? “Bastards!”

Profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? — “A park ranger.”

Profession or job would you not like to do? “A t-bar ceiling installer — I did it after the earthquake — never, ever again!”

Age when you went on your first date? Where did you go? — “I was about 16 and I took a girl called Marcie to Disneyland which was about 15 miles away from where we lived.”

Something you would do differently if you could do it over again? “I guess I wish we had moved out of the city sooner than we did.”

A moment or period of time you will never forget. “Watching the forest fires on ridge opposite our property, threatening to come this way during the lightning fires of 2008.”

Something that you are really proud of and why? “Being able to accomplish, with Vydell of course, what we have done here, and making the move that many people wish they could make.”

Favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? “Being able to talk comfortably to anyone I meet.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “I’d like to hear him say, ‘Glad to see you made it. You’ve done a good job. Now here is everyone you had to say goodbye to — family, friends and dogs you have lost.’ That would work for me.” ¥¥

(To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at The next interview will appear in the July 11 AVA with guest interviewee Jim Roberts, formerly of Taylor Roberts, the interior design company, and owner of The Madrones small business complex outside Philo.)

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