OHC February Book Club Discussion Questions

The Oral History Center launched a new book club in 2019, where we read a book that draws on oral history interviews.

Our February selection is Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich. We’ll be discussing the book next week and posting a not-so-transcript of our conversation shortly after.

Voices from Chernobyl

 

Here’s the discussion questions if you’re following along:

  1. Narrators in this book often point out where their stories diverge from official narratives about Chernobyl.  What role do politics play in telling stories about Chernobyl (even after the fall of the Soviet Union)?  And how does this compare to other oral history topics?
  2. Why is it important that Alexievich shared these stories as oral history “transcripts,” rather than as narrative prose that employs quotes from oral histories?
  3. Alexievich does not always provide names or much information about narrators. Why do you think this is, and how did that impact the way you read the book?
  4. If this collection of oral histories has a thesis, what do you think it is? What story is Alexievich trying to tell?
  5. How did you think about the cultural practice of storytelling in these communities represented in Chernobyl, as compared to Western communities?
  6. Do you consider this to be oral history? Why or why not?
  7. What impact did this book have on your perspective about the potential of oral history?
  8. If you have memories of the Chernobyl disaster, how do these stories compare?

Never Forget? UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center documents memories of the Holocaust for researchers and the public

“It’s too late now because there’s nobody I can ask.”
— Katalin Pecsi, child of Auschwitz survivor

The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is on January 27 of this year and 41% of Americans don’t know what Auschwitz is — including a whopping two-thirds of millennials. A recent survey found a stunning lack of basic knowledge in the United States about the Holocaust — defined by the US Holocaust museum as “the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews” that decimated the Jewish population in Europe. Almost one million Jews were killed in Auschwitz alone, the largest and most infamous of the death camps. With fewer and fewer Jews who experienced the Holocaust first-hand alive to tell their stories — the youngest survivors with memories of the camps are in their eighties and nineties today — the cry of Holocaust remembrance not to forget depends on a clear historical record.

Throughout the Oral History Center’s vast collection of interviews are more than 200 that reference the Holocaust. While there is no specific Oral History Center (OHC) project dedicated to documenting the Holocaust, interviews can be found within projects about food and wine, arts and letters, industry and labor, philanthropy, and more. Furthermore, our oral history collections about the history of UC Berkeley include memories of the Holocaust and its impact, including projects about the Free Speech Movement, the student political party SLATE, and faculty interviews. These oral histories document memories of the Holocaust from a multiplicity of perspectives, from the first-hand experiences of Jewish refugees who fled from Europe before it was too late, to Americans who first heard about the atrocities after the liberation of the camps. The Jewish narrators in particular talk about how the Holocaust was the driving factor in their careers, philanthropy, Israel advocacy, and political activism. These oral histories may be particularly interesting to scholars as they provide a different lens for looking at the Holocaust, capturing the histories of those who were being interviewed for other reasons, but nonetheless spoke about the impact of the Holocaust on their lives.

There are oral histories in the collection that preserve the experiences of Jewish refugees who managed to flee Europe before it was too late and build new lives for themselves in the United States. Alfred Fromm fled Germany for the US in 1936 and went on to build a successful wine distribution business; he became a philanthropist supporting numerous educational, cultural, and Jewish organizations, including UC Berkeley’s Magnes Museum. In 1939, violinist Sandor Salgo had a sponsor in the United States but was denied a visa from the US consul in Hungary, who said the Hungarian quota was filled until 1984; Salgo cried to a patroness that he would probably die in a concentration camp and she was able to intervene on his behalf; his brother died in Auschwitz. Berkeley Mechanical Engineering professor and dean George Leitmann escaped Nazi-occupied Austria in 1940 at the age of 15, a few years later to return to Europe during WWII as a US Army combat engineer. He was in the second wave of soldiers who liberated Landsberg Concentration Camp, and later served as a translator during the Nuremberg War Crime Trials. All these experiences influenced his scientific area of study in control theory — measuring risk, probability, and how to avoid catastrophe.

“We certainly got there in time to see the smoldering bodies they were trying to burn and the skeletons. That probably hit me more than it hit the rest of the guys, because here my father was still missing. I still had hopes to see him among the DPs [displaced persons].” — George Leitmann on the liberation of Landsberg concentration camp. His father did not survive.

Bodies at Landsberg Concentration Camp
Photo of Landsberg Concentration camp taken by Professor George Leitmann on day of the liberation. Photo courtesy of George Leitmann

The one collection of interviews that addresses the Holocaust in the most detail is that of the the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation Leadership. Here can be found the oral history of William Lowenberg, a Holocaust survivor, number 145382 of the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing complex. His interview details how as a teenager luck, good health, and his own survival strategies enabled him to survive his harrowing journey through extermination camps, the Warsaw Ghetto aftermath, and a death march, until he was liberated from Dachau concentration camp at the age of 18. After an attempt to go home (like so many, his house had been taken over), Lowenberg eventually settled in San Francisco, where the Jewish Family Services Agency helped him secure a job collecting rent for a realty company. He went on to become a major figure in industrial real estate in the city. Lowenberg gave back to the agency later, serving on the same committee that helped him, in the 1970s finding jobs for Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. Of his life dedicated to philanthropic and political activism on behalf of the Jewish community and Israel, Lowenberg reflected, “I feel that Jewish survival depends on the Jews.”

“I was young, healthy, and I kept clean. I kept as clean as I could all of the time.” — William Lowenberg on his survival strategies

The OHC collection also includes interviews of those who were present for the liberation, like Berkeley History Professor Emeritus Richard Herr, who was serving in the Signal Intelligence Corps and visited Buchenwald shortly after the liberation. He describes the displaced persons wandering the streets, survivors in their striped pajamas, the pile of dead bodies. “I was told they’d died after the liberation. They’d just been in such poor shape. They were just skin and bones. It was terrible.”

The collection also includes interviews of those who didn’t directly experience the Holocaust, but heard about it through family, friends, teachers, even work acquaintances. Oral histories are unique in that they can include off-hand comments and asides that illuminate an era. Six million — two thirds of Europe’s Jews perished — but three million survived and many dispersed to other countries including the United States. Narrators would encounter these survivors, the tales of depravity would sear in their memories, and the narrators would sometimes make offhand remarks. Other narrators provide more details about the many facets of the Holocaust — resistance and the underground, escapes, refugees and displaced persons, concentration camps, the murder of entire families — such as the oral histories of Laurette Goldberg, who taught music at UC Berkeley; Berkeley MBA Ronald Kaufman; wine writer Mike Weiss; winery manager Morris Katz; economist Lester Telser; poet Carl Rakosi, and Berkeley student activist Danniel Goldstine.

Women and children on the way to gas chambers
Hungarian Jews on the way to the gas chambers, Auschwitz. Photo courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum photo archive. From Hungary, Katalin Pecsi’s mothers’ entire family were killed.

Among these are the oral histories of children of Holocaust survivors, including Berkeley History Professor Emerita Paula Fass, Paula Kornell, and Katalin Pecsi. All of them attributed their careers to their parents’ experiences. Growing up in Hungary, Katalin Pecsi knew her father had survived Auschwitz, her uncle Buchenwald, and her paternal grandmother Dachau; but had been told they were political prisoners because of their affiliation with the Communist Party. She later learned that she was Jewish, that her mother’s entire family had been killed in the Holocaust, and began to question what she had been told. “When I was a child I was told that they were political prisoners because they never told me that we were Jewish… but I’m not sure that’s true that they arrived as political prisoners. I don’t know, it’s too late now because there’s nobody I can ask.” Learning about her Jewish heritage combined with her longing to know about her own family propelled Pecsi into a career in Holocaust remembrance, becoming the director of education at the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center.

“My parents were both survivors of the concentration camps. They had lost families. Not just their parents and siblings, but in fact, husbands, wives and children. They were married to other people, and my mother had a son who was taken from her when he was three. My father had four children who were all taken away and died in Auschwitz. One of the things that’s very, very clear is that I became a historian because of it. I became a historian because history was always around.” — Berkeley Professor Paula Fass

“What the concentration camp [Dachau] instilled in my father was just the beauty of life, and I think he helped to instill…was the beauty of a vineyard or of a vine growing, or beauty of your garden or the beauty of winemaking.” — Paula Kornell, winemaker

The OHC collection includes numerous oral histories that touch on narrators’ reactions to learning about the Holocaust. Interviewers for the Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront Collection, for example, frequently asked narrators, who came from many walks of life, when did they first learn about the Holocaust and what was their reaction. Like Beatrice Rudney and Bud Figueroa, narrators interviewed for the Rosie the Riveter collection generally responded that they learned about the horrors of the genocide after the war, sometimes mentioning newsreels (films of piles of naked corpses, survivors of skin and bones). Other narrators, sitting for longer life-history interviews, addressed this issue when talking about their childhoods. Oral histories of Jewish narrators reveal more knowledge about what was happening during the war itself, particularly those whose families housed refugees, or who received letters from family with news of mass killings — 13 family members gone — or whose letters from family in Europe just stopped one day, such as former Dean of Berkeley Law School Jesse Choper, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Howard Schachman, Laurette Goldberg, Lester Telser, as well as Quaker activist Gerda Isenberg. Schachman observed, “I was certainly aware of what was going on to the Jews in Europe…. I doubted those people who claimed they weren’t aware of the Holocaust — it wasn’t called the Holocaust then.”

“I understood it during the war. There were always leaks of information of what was happening. Some people would escape from the concentration camps and come back and tell it.” — Jesse Choper, Dean Emeritus of Berkeley Law

The oral histories provide researchers with information about the range of feelings people had when they learned about the atrocities in the camps. Many of these are short responses to a direct question, such as in the Rosie the Riveter collection. Daniel Levin recalled a “sickening feeling;” DeMaurice Moses described being “inured to savagery by that time;” and as David Dibble remembered it, “You have to sort of genuflect and say, true, it was the worst thing that ever happened. And it was.” Some narrators recalled how other people talked about the Holocaust, and these interactions were indelible moments for them. Berkeley alumna and student activist Susan Griffin recalled an incident about four years after the war where her fellow Girl Scout Brownie troop members were laughing, saying Heil Hitler, and making the Nazi salute. She recalled the driver pulled over, emotional, and scolded that they must never do so again; and her grandparents, whom she described as “passive anti-Semites,” explained to the six-year-old “what an evil man Hitler was.” Berkeley History Professor Emeritus Larry Levine recalled being “shocked” when he was an undergraduate five years after the war ended, and an English professor told the class, “Don’t let the Jews tell you they are the only ones who have suffered.”

Some of the oral histories provide a glimpse into how the Holocaust affected Jewish Americans in the Baby Boom generation, living in its shadow. Berkeley alumna and student activist Julianne Morris, Adrienne Asch, and Wayne Feinstein recall how the Holocaust was something they always knew about, part of the culture. As Feinstein put it, “The first twenty or thirty years after the Second World War I think the Jewish community was in shock. And I grew up in that environment.” He described the Holocaust as “the primary motivation” for his lifelong dedication to Jewish education, cultural programs, and support for Israel.

“You couldn’t be a Jew in post-Holocaust America without knowing about the Holocaust. I mean, you grew up, you knew about the Holocaust, you knew about Israel.” — Adrienne Asch, disability rights activist and professor of bioethics

Massive pile of clothes
Scene after the liberation of the Auschwitz camp: a warehouse of clothes that belonged to women who were murdered there. Photo courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum photo archive. Berkeley Professor Lloyd Ulman felt horror after seeing piles of teeth on a visit to Auschwitz.

Finally, at least a few oral histories describe how narrators reacted upon visiting death camps as tourists years, even decades, after the end of the war. Through visiting these camps in person, these narrators came face to face with the scope of the horrors. Berkeley Economics Professor Emeritus and past director of the Institute of Industrial Relations, Lloyd Ulman, along with Marty Morgenstern, past director of Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, were taken to Auschwitz on a work trip to Poland. Ulman recalls how Morgenstern went outside and “put his head between his legs. He thought he was going to throw up or faint.” Ulman recalls “terrible things like seeing a whole collection of false teeth” [taken from the dead for their gold fillings] and feeling the “horror” that General Eisenhower had felt upon seeing the camps. Annette Dobbs also lived through the war but the enormity of the Holocaust really hit her when she visited Mauthausen Concentration Camp outside of Vienna in 1971. Expressing the sentiment of many of the narrators who spoke about the Holocaust, she said, “That day I made my own personal commitment to spend the rest of my life to see that nothing like that would ever happen to my people again.”

January 27, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.


OHC Advanced Oral History Alum Spotlight: Meagan Gough

by Shanna Farrell

@shanna_farrell

Meagan Gough attended the Oral History Center’s Advanced Summer Institute in August 2017. We recently caught up with her to see how her time with us helped her develop her project around the Semá:th First Nation in British Columbia, who an indigenous to Canada.

Meagan Gough
Meagan Gough

Q: You attended the Summer Institute in 2017. What were you working on when you joined us?

MG: The Semá:th Traditional Use and Occupancy Project (“TUOS”) invited the participation of Semá:th community members from the Semá:th First Nation in British Columbia, Canada to document their connection to, and care-taking responsibilities over, natural and cultural resources within Semá:th traditional Territory and beyond. The TUOS project combines oral history interviews, GIS Mapping historical research and community engagement and events to accomplish the following goals:

  • To record and map how access, use and occupancy of important cultural and natural resources is determined and understood by a diverse group of Semá:th Knowledge Holders made up of men, women, Elders, youth, political and spiritual leadership.
  • To add layers to the existing historical record about Semá:th culture, history and identity through the transmission of two main types of Semá:th oral history: Sqwélqwel (genealogy or “true news”) and sxwōxwiyám (stories of long ago, origin stories).
  • Engage Semá:th Knowledge holders in vision for future caretaking of land, water and air to reflect Semá:th history, culture and protocol.
  • Assert Semá:th Right and Title through policy and practice, including Specific Land Claims.
  • Celebrate and promote Semá:th cultural identity, knowledge
  • Strengthen the capacity of the Semá:th Lands & Resources Department to respond to development referrals in Semá:th Territory.
  • Draw upon community input to create and support opportunities for lands-based activities and programs in the community.
  • Support seeking solutions to the mental health and suicide crisis in community using lands-based teaching and oral history.

 

Q: How did your time at the Summer Institute inform your project?

MG: Participation in the Advanced Institute provides  a unique opportunity for general learning, reflection and engagement with oral history methods, practices and projects but also to workshop our own individual projects. This allowed us as participants to move between the macro and big picture methods, debates and teachings of oral history which inform our work and the practical individual application of this knowledge into practice in our own projects.

I found this to be a deeply enriching experience, particularly because my small group was comprised of scholars and researchers from diverse disciplines. As a scholar who draws simultaneously from disciplines of cultural anthropology, history and oral history, the input provided to me about my project during our small group presentation was extremely helpful and came into practical use since. Given the central importance of oral record in the Semá:th community,  I came to the Advanced Institute with questions about ideas of how to engage community youth and elders using oral history interviews and storytelling to draw upon this record.

One suggestion was an Elder-Youth storytelling circle. A version of this became one of the central activities in Phase 3 of our project. Our Elder-Youth Storytelling event invited Elders and Youth to take turns in the roles of speaker and listener: We matched Youth and Elders and first the Elders shared lands based knowledge and oral history. The youth then had a two week period to reflect upon and interpret this oral history and present it back to the Elders and the group via a medium of their choice: writing, poetry, spoken word, song, dance, performance, and visual arts were all encouraged. The Elders then assumed the roles of listener. The circle had multiple goals: to fortify relations between Elders and Youth, to provide a unique opportunity for the transmission of traditional and historical cultural knowledge, and to encourage the exploration of the dialogical elements of such an exchange. How did the youth interpret the stories? Did the speakers feel their stories were understood as they intended them? The Youths’ art projects are currently displayed in the Semá:th Band office.

The second primary way that participation in the Institute informed our project was the inspiration I took from some of our key presenters, especially the Oakland Chinese Community Oral history project. This is where I learned about the concept of a Storymap – a digital multimedia platform to preserve and present community maps. In 2018 and Phase 3 of TUOS project, we commenced the creation of our own Storymap. Through the use of oral histories and photographs shared via TUOS interviews with Semá:th Knowledge Holders, the Semá:th Genealogy Mapping Storymap was aimed at using geneology to map the movement of ancestors of the Semá:th First Nation.

 

Q: What is the status of the Semá:th Traditional Use Study now?

MG: We have received successful funding from BCCI our funding agency, and commenced Phase 4 of the TUOS project. To date, we have recorded over 25 oral history interviews with Semá:th Knowledge Holders, as well mapped over 500 traditional use sites. We have created a database to archive and preserve this information so it may be used by Lands Department staff to respond to the overwhelming number of referrals from government and industry involving Semá:th Lands. We have also conducted historical and archival research and created a Semá:th historical photo collection, also housed in the database. We have hosted a number of community events which sought to seek input from Knowledge Holders as well as to keep them informed about the status of the project.

 

Q: You’ve described the Summer Institute having ripple effects on your work. Can you tell us more about this?

MG: My participation in the Advanced Institute was, without exaggeration, by far the most enriching professional experience I have had in terms of a course or workshop. Having practiced oral history interviewing for over 15 years, I came away generally feeling inspired, refreshed and also extremely appreciative of having my practical workshop questions answered. I was able to continue to build upon the input of my small group colleagues to integrate it into our project. I made professional contacts from around the world, some of whom have gone on to become friends. The ability to workshop our projects with a small group truly allows a deep insight into the workings of other oral history projects and by virtue of listening how technical, ethical and practical elements are addressed and resolved. The ripples of my participation are evident in tangible form via the practical application of my learning at the Institute into the creation of the Storymap as well as our Elder-Youth Storytelling Circle Event.

 

Q: What’s next for the project? What’s next for you?

MG: We are currently in Phase 4 of our project, we are building another “layer” of our Storymap this year which maps how traditional caretaking responsibilities extend far beyond the borders of reserve (reservation) lands across the Province, country and Internationally into the United States. We are also contributing chapters to a forthcoming publication exploring hidden histories of British Columbia. (Working title, stay tuned!) The interviews are being used in a number of capacities, asserting Right and Title to Lands, including specific land claims, on reserve lands based policy, negotiation with industry and Government.

For myself, I have just become a first time mom, so life is busy and I am full of joy and gratitude. As I write this now, I consider it a dispatch from “babyland” a unique space of the spirit and one which provides a new lens on everything in life. I hope to share the beauty and power of listening, of stories and of learning with my baby as she grows. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Berkeley Institute and all those whose hard work make it come to fruition. “All things Flow, Nothing Stands Still” – there is always something more to learn, another story to listen to, another perspective to understand. Oral history is endlessly inspiring!

 

 

 

 


David Lamelas: A Pioneer in Conceptual Art

New Transcript Release: David Lamelas

Signaling of Three Objects
Signaling of Three Objects by David Lamelas, 1968

In 2017, the Getty Center initiated the exhibit Pacific Standard Time: LA / LA, a multi-gallery art exhibition throughout the Los Angeles area that showcased the interconnections between Latin America and the Los Angeles. In its continuing partnership with the OHC, the Getty Trust sponsored oral histories with a few of the artists featured in the year-long exhibition. David Lamelas was one of the selected artists.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1946, Lamelas would earn international recognition over his career as one of the leading pioneers of conceptual art. He graduated from the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1963 and soon became a key member of the Instituto Torcuatro di Tella, a group that stood at the center of Argentina’s avant-garde scene. With political turmoil on the rise, he left Argentina in 1968 to study at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, stopping along the way to represent his home country at the famed Venice Biennial. There his installation, The Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels, garnered wide praise and attention, introducing Europe to the themes of time, communication, and media that Lamelas would explore in much of his work in the decades to come.

Over the next fifty years, Lamelas continued to push the boundaries of conceptual art. From photography and installations to an impressive array of films, he continually found new ways to explore the topics of media and popular culture, as well as his favorite themes of time and space. He also has continued to be a “citizen of the world,” often splitting his time between Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, and Europe. Indeed, such travel offered ample inspiration for his work. It also made him a fitting choice for the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA / LA exhibition.

For Lamelas’ full oral history transcript, please visit our website.


Episode 1 of OHC’s Berkeley Remix Explores the Connection Between Private and Public Land in the East Bay

Episode 1: You Really Love Your Land, Don’t You: Expansion of the East Bay Regional Park District

Set in the parks of the East Bay hills, the Hidden Heroes podcast season is about people who have made a difference: fighting fires, breaking gender barriers, preserving the land. 

In season 5 of the Berkeley Remix, we’re diving into the long history of the East Bay Regional Park District, which was founded in 1934. All of the episodes are set in the East Bay parks and are about people who’ve made a difference. Some are stories that you’re already familiar with, but haven’t heard quite like this. Over the course of three episodes, we’ll explore the park district’s integral role in fighting the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, of being on the forefront of gender equality in the workplace, and how the districts efforts to preserve land benefited the public — through the lens of the local equestrian community.

The first episode of the season dives into public use of the park. Since the district was formed in 1934, it has acquired 125,000 acres that span 73 parks. The episode begins with the role that one special volunteer-turned-employee played in convincing ranchers and landowners to sell their property to be preserved by the park district. Without the work of this man, and others like him, the  public would not have access to this land. This includes the local equestrian community, whom we hear from in the rest of the episode, exploring how the district became a haven for horse lovers. 

All episodes feature interviews from the East Bay Regional Park District Oral History Project. A special thank you to the East Bay Regional Park District, especially Beverly Ortiz and Brenda Montano. Photos taken by Bob Walker from the Bob Walker Collection of the Oakland Museum, courtesy of the East Bay Regional Park District. This episode includes interviews with Judy Irving, Don Staysa, Judi Bank, and Becky Carlson All music by Blue Dot Sessions: “Dorica Theme” and “A Palace of Cedar.”

To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District, Beverly Ortiz, and Brenda Montano

The following is a written version of the episode.

 

Narrator:

There’s 730 photographs in this collection. Pelicans, waterfalls right in Tilden. I didn’t even know there were waterfalls in Tilden.

Francesca Fenzi:

Yeah, that looks like something out of Yosemite, not in downtown Berkeley.

Narrator: 

Yeah. Taken in February 1986. Aerial shots of the city. This is incredible. It’s quite the collection

Narrator:

We’re looking at the Oakland Museum of California’s website and that’s producer Francesca Fenzi you hear in the background. The page we have open looks a bit like an Instagram account — rows and rows of beautiful landscape photos.  There’s aerial images of Tilden park, shots from Pleasanton Ridge, the Black Diamond Mines, Mount Diablo. All bay area landscapes. All taken by a man named Bob Walker.

Judy Irving:

Right. Bob Walker started out—he came west from the Midwest. He came west basically just for an adventure.

Narrator:

That’s Judy Irving, a documentary filmmaker who met Bob in the 1980s.

Judy Irving:

He started out taking pictures and walking his dog. His photographs are still on the wall at the park district headquarters. [They were really impressed with his photographs.] They’re fabulous. 

Narrator:

Judy met Bob when she was making a film about the greenbelt for the East Bay Regional Park District. She saw a few of his photographs, and knew he was perfect for her project.

Judy Irving:

I went over to his apartment on Clayton Street in the Haight, and on his wall were two framed photographs that he had taken in the East Bay parks, hills and trees, in the fall and in the spring. Beautiful, same frame. I’d been wanting to do seasonal special effects in this greenbelt movie. I wanted to do spring, and six months later I wanted to do fall, and I wanted to try a long, long dissolve between the two. This was something that nobody else had tried. I just thought it would be beautiful, and in the East Bay parks with their fabulous, golden rolling hills, you could film a scene in the dry fall and watch it green up in the spring. All these things are in, now, the greenbelt film. It’s our seasonal special effects sequence, and Bob Walker did most of them.

Narrator:

By the time Judy found Bob, he was like the East Bay’s equivalent of historic photographer Ansel Adams. Bob had spent years photographing the natural bay area landscape, and was now an expert.

Judy Irving:

He had a good sense of where things were because he had been there. He had these huge maps, and he’d come home from every trip and he’d make little marks and little pinpoint areas.

Narrator:

He also cared deeply about the land. He’d take people like Judy, who were interested in his work, on walks through the scenery of his photographs.

Judy Irving:

He got so active, he would take folks to an area that he thought should be bought by the park district. Everybody would fall in love with this area, and then he’d give them postcards to write to the district. They would be stamped already. They’d write them. He started his own lobbying campaign to get these places bought.

Narrator:

This was Bob’s sales pitch: Isn’t this place beautiful? Wouldn’t you like to see it preserved? Help me make this public land.

And it worked.

 Judy Irving:

He was always positive. He was always civil. He did make a lot of friends in the East Bay and he was responsible for a lot of land being purchased.

Narrator:

At the time, much of the land Bob photographed still belonged to private ranchers. But Bob’s charm, and the fact that he was constantly taking photos, made him unlikely allies.

Judy Irving: 

He would go to the ranch house, he’d knock on the door, and he’d say, “Hi. I’m Bob Walker. I just took a picture of your ranch.” Or, he would do an aerial at that same beautiful time of day, of their land. They’d look at it and say “Wow, that’s beautiful. Yeah, I recognize that.” He’d say—I’m really shortening what his rap was—but, he’d say, “You really love your land, don’t you? You’d love it to continue to look like this forever, wouldn’t you?’ And they’d say, “Yeah. Come on in, have a cup of coffee.” He’d say, “Well, you should really consider selling your ranch to the park district because then it would be this way forever, and it would be a legacy. It would be your legacy and you could be proud of that.”

 Narrator:

Little by little, Bob was collecting bits of land for the growing park district. Eventually Bob Doyle, the park supervisor in charge of purchasing new land, decided to hire him on as an official contractor.

Judy Irving:

Bob Walker just was constantly telling Bob Doyle, this ranch is for sale, that ranch is for sale. He was out there, walking around with his dog, and he often knew what was for sale before Bob Doyle did. So, that was Bob. He was really intense and focused.

Narrator:

There was a reason for Bob’s urgency.

Judy Irving:

He was in a hurry because he had known since 1985 that he was HIV positive. And so, he was on a roll. He wanted to save as much land as he could before he got sick. He just knew that the clock was ticking, and I wish I had that kind of fire under me all the time because I saw how much he got done.

Narrator:

I’m Shanna Farrell, and you’re listening to the Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. 

This season we’re heading to the East Bay Regional Park District for a three part mini-series. All of the episodes are set in the East Park parks and are about people who’ve made a difference. Some are stories that you’re already familiar with, but haven’t heard like this. Other stories you might not know, but should. We’re calling this series “Hidden Heroes.”

In this episode, we’ll be exploring the connection between public and private land, and the communities that have formed out of this relationship. We’ll be featuring interviews from our East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History project, which is archived in our home at The Bancroft Library.

I’m a Bay Area resident, but, like Bob Walker, I’m a transplant. I’m from New York, and I rode horses growing up. When I moved here six years ago, I was looking to start riding again. I began with a Google search. The first thing to pop up was a stable in Las Trampas. Right in my backyard.

I was surprised to learn that there was a stable so close to me, a short drive from my house in downtown Berkeley. I didn’t even need to cross a bridge to get there!

It turns out I’m not the first person to have thought about this. For 85 years, since its founding in 1934, the East Bay Regional Park District has become a sort of urban safe-haven for horse people.

Like Bob Walker and myself, Judi Bank was a transplant to California. She moved here in the 1960s. And, like me, she had been riding horses since she was a little girl. 

Bank:

Horses are very special creatures.  …They all have personalities, and they’re all different, and they’re just wonderful creatures.

Narrator:

She made her way to the East Bay, where she rode her horse, Bucky, behind the Oakland Riding Academy, which was owned by another Bob – Bob Lorimer.

Bank:

He had people boarding there who wanted a jump course. He had some sort of arrangement with East Bay Regional Park, but they basically went to the hill behind the Oakland Riding Academy. You’d sign a release. You’d pay him ten dollars. He’d give you the key, and you could go up there.

Narrator:

Eventually, Bob Lorimer moved, leaving the Riding Academy behind. That’s when Judi had an idea.

Bank:

It was about that time that we needed a facility for this regional rally. 

Narrator:

She wanted a place to hold a type of horse show called a three-day event. 

Bank:

Originally it was the test of a military horse, and there are three phases. One is dressage, which is fine control of your horse, and that would demonstrate that you could control your horse in a parade and in other maneuvers. Then the big part of it was cross-country, where you would go across rough terrain, you would jump strange fences, to show that the horse was bold and brave and fast, and would be a good field horse. You finished up on the same horse in the ring with knockdown fences, and that would show that the horse could represent this country in horse shows. Your whole score is compiled from the three phases, to get to the horse that had done the best overall.

Narrator:

She reached out to the park district. 

Bank:

We made arrangements with East Bay Regional Park to use it for a week.

Narrator:

A week turned into another week, and then another. Judi and her equestrian friends struck a deal with park district. 

Bank:

We went up there with the pony club parents, and we kind of cleaned up some of the fences. We brought in portable stalls that come in units of twenty, ten stalls on either side, and we put two of them on the longer court, and we put one out on the shorter court, so we were able to handle as many as thirty horses. 

Narrator:

This newly improved area became known as the hunt field.

While the hunt field was being built, another mid-West transplant was discovering the wonders of horseback-riding in the east bay parks. 

Carlson:

When I came out here, we looked for someplace where I could rent horses, and we found Las Trampas Stables, which is in the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness Park. They had a program where people could volunteer, clean stalls, feed horses, and trail guide, and get to go out riding.

Narrator:

That’s Becky Carlson. She moved to Alameda in 1983 during her enlistment in the Navy. She quickly began to volunteer at Las Trampas, the same place that popped up in my Google search.

Becky took every opportunity she could to get out and ride on her horse. 

Carlson:

Casey, actually. She was a six-year-old quarter horse, 

Narrator:

She and Casey went on long trail rides, exploring remote areas of the park district. 

Carlson:

Well, Las Trampas actually had a number of set trails. They went out the Valley Trail and back along the Creek Trail, they went up Bollinger Trail and around on the hill, or up to Elderberry and down the center.

Narrator:

She volunteered with Las Trampas for 17 years, part of which was spent on the mounted patrol. 

Carlson:

Malary Anderson was the police officer who was organizing that at the time.

Narrator:

Malary set up a series of obstacles for riders to pass to ensure that their horses could handle situations that might come up while they were patrolling the parks.

Carlson:

Malary insisted that it start off that everyone who is in the patrol first had to pass her entrance test with their horse. You had to open and close a gate. You had to pick something up, not necessarily from the ground, but somebody had to hand you something and you had to hand it back, from both sides of your horse. You had to mount and dismount from both sides. You had to do a trail ride with Malary, and do trail obstacles that were there, hills, doing hills in a safe manner, go up and down, going under trees and through brush, and that kind of stuff. She put down a tarp you were supposed to walk over, to go by the nasty plastic bags. You had to load and unload in a trailer. As she’d find things, she’d add them or take them away and whatever.  

Narrator:

Becky tried to get another one of her horses, Whiskey, used to these obstacles.

Carlson:

What got me interested in that was my little Morgan. He needed a job. He needed a job badly. My little Morgan would never walk on the blue tarp. He looked at it and he said, “I don’t know what’s under that. I’m going around it,” and he walked around it. 

Narrator:

Becky remembers the first time they took the test.

Carlson: 

Whiskey, he failed. He failed miserably the first time we tried. She had plastic bags on a stick, and she was waving them, and he just went, cowabunga, goodbye, [laughs] said, “I was not going to be anywhere near that.” 

Narrator:

They ended up passing the second time around, and together becky and whiskey patrolled desolate areas of the park.

Carlson:

If we went into Anthony Chabot we’d generally run into people, because that’s in Oakland and lots of people using that park. But, Las Trampas, unless you’re down in the valley, you very rarely see anybody, which is another reason for us to be there, because we were letting the park know what was going on in that park. There are places in Las Trampas I have been that I swear there has never been a ranger there.

Narrator:

While Becky was keeping an eye on remote parts of the park, Judi Bank was making progress on the three-day event with the park district. 

Bank:

I worked with East Bay Regional Park to make the jumps safe. I found telephone poles. We capped all of these stone structures either with a railroad tie or the telephone poles, and the wall we couldn’t do much about, so we made that an oxer, which means that we put a rail in front of it and a rail behind it so that the horse would jump the rails and not the wall. There was a nice variety of jumps up there. We had ditches. We had water jump. We had post and rail. We had banks. It was a great, fun place.

Narrator:

Judi had designed the jump course while her friends were recruiting riders to compete on it. They got sponsored by a couple professional organizations like the Metropolitan Horseman’s Association and the United States Combined Training Association. With this support, the events were official. 

Bank:

Never underestimate a small group of dedicated people. 

Narrator:

These events brought together equestrians from all over the east bay. 

Bank:

I think at one point, Contra Costa County had the most concentrated number of horses [laughs] in the state, or something like that.

Narrator:

Riders like Judi and Becky had brought horse culture in the East Bay from a casual past-time to formal sporting event. But they weren’t the only ones embracing equestrian life. Horse sporting culture had begun to mingle with the existing ranch culture of the East Bay.

Don Staysa grew up in Livermore in the 1950s and remembers his first introduction to ranch animals.

Staysa:

Livermore, at that time, was basically an agriculture town, other than the rad lab, the Lawrence Laboratory. It was all farms and ranches surrounded the city. There was the stockyards, where they used to load the cattle on the trains, were right down on Main Street now, where Safeway is. That was all stockyards. We used to play in them when we were kids. I can remember the cattle coming in and every boy in the world was sitting on fences around like blackbirds, trying to see what was going on, look at the cowboys and the ranchers.

Narrator:

Don was fascinated by ranch life. His first jobs were picking hay, mending equipment and feeding animals.

Staysa:

I always worked outside with my hands. Nothing very glamorous; fixing fence and cleaning out stalls, but stuff that needed to be done. That’s basically was my childhood. 

Narrator:

Don’s old school, raised on hard work. As he got older, he channeled the lessons of his early ranch experiences into another tough job: in the U.S. Marine Corps. He enlisted before meeting his wife Lynn.

Staysa:

Lynn’s brother was an amateur bull rider, a very good bull rider, and he talked me into coming to some jackpot rodeos with him. I don’t know if it was as luck would have it or bad luck would have it, I rode the bull and I really liked the excitement. It had flashes of the Marine Corps in it to me; the excitement, the adrenalin high. I thought, well, I’m going to take up this sport. I started riding amateur and jackpot bull riding.

Narrator:

Don hadn’t owned horses or cattle growing up, but he was used to being around them, and now he threw himself into rodeo culture.

Staysa:

Rodeo cowboy is a way of life. Rodeo cowboy and a ranch cowboy are to different things. Now it’s more prevalent, the distinction between them, than it was then because a lot of rodeo cowboys were ranch hands also. But, the rodeo has become a professional business, and now the cowboys—and I’m not saying that they’re not ranch hands, some of them—but a lot of them are just great athletes that participate in the sport.

Narrator:

And, in terms of athletics, Don was pretty good.

Staysa:

I thought maybe I could be good enough to make a living out of that. I talked to some big name cowboys, to one champion cowboy, “Would you take a look at me? I think I can make it on this, but I need you to tell me, give me the heads up, because I’m not going to continue to break my body up and not make a living.

Narrator:

He asked an older bull rider to watch and level with him. Could he do this?

Staysa:

“You know, you can win some money and you’ll do good around here in the smaller venue, but you can’t make a living off of it.”

Narrator:

It was a hard moment for Don, but one he’s grateful for looking back. Bull riding is a brutal sport, filled with broken bones and torn muscles — or worse. And he and Lynn were just starting a family.

Staysa:

I quit riding bulls, because I didn’t need it for that. I wanted to make a living which is probably why I can still walk. [laughter]

Narrator:

Don’s bull riding days may have been done, but that didn’t mean he’d given up on rodeo culture. He decided it was something he wanted to preserve for future generations.

Staysa:

I had rode in Livermore and knew some of the board members and ranchers that were on the board at the time, and so, I became a volunteer there at the rodeo.

Narrator:

Don joined the Livermore Rodeo Association — which got its start in the early 1900s. 

Staysa:

During World War I, the Red Cross put a toll on each city that they had to pay a certain amount of money to provide the services for the boys over in France and Germany. Our town was small; a little agriculture town. They didn’t have any money. They put on a rodeo to raise the money, and that’s how our rodeo started. 

Narrator:

Don loved that story — and that the mission the rodeo association represented. It was a way to raise money for the country, build community, and preserve local heritage.

Staysa:

We’re carrying on the tradition of what the rodeo was started for, and that’s important to me. We’re also providing history. We’re giving little kids a chance to see what the West was a little like, you know? They get around the animals, and we have our rodeo set up that there’s petting zoos, there’s contact with the cowboys and cowgirls, and it just—it’s a good way to give kids a different aspect of what life is, and I think it’s important to continue, especially when you’re getting into a bedroom community where you don’t get out, you don’t get to do this stuff. We give them a chance.

Narrator:

I can relate to this. Growing up, horses gave me a chance to get outside, build skills that shaped my identity, and become more confident in myself. It also gave me an opportunity to bond with horses, which are special animals. When I interviewed Judi Bank, she also said something that I could relate to. 

Bank:

Horses are wonderful animals for young people to learn how to take care of them, to groom them, to take care of them, to learn how to ride.

Narrator:

Talking to Judi and Don, I realized that it isn’t just about his or my or her childhood. They’re trying to preserve the lessons of animals, and land, and history for generations to come. The Livermore Rodeo just celebrated its 100th year anniversary — but Don says the work can’t stop there.

Staysa:

Well, everybody for the last twenty-five years have been working towards the 100th rodeo. I, on the other hand, have been working for the 101st rodeo, because the 100th is important, but what’s more important is that there’s a 200 year rodeo. I won’t be around, but I’ll be observing it, and I’m hoping that that’s what we do. That’s what we’ve worked for. I want my great grandsons and granddaughters to someday sit there on the rodeo grounds and say, “My papa used to be in this.” That would be worth every minute of the work I ever did. That’s what I’m hoping for.

Narrator:

The park district is now 125,000 acres and home to 73 parks. There’s hiking trails, there’s swimming pools, there’s camping grounds, and of course — there are riding stables.

Now, when I look at the landscapes in Bob Walker’s photographs, I picture horses dotting the hills. It makes me understand why this land was so sacred to him, and why he cared so much about preserving it.

Bob Walker succumbed to HIV in 1992 at the age of forty. But not before he helped the park district buy almost 40,000 acres of land. A month before he died, the park district renamed a section of the Morgan Territory “Bob Walker Ridge,” his favorite place in the district. His efforts in land preservation laid the groundwork for much of what we see in the park system today. He put it best in an interview for “After the Storm”, a book featuring his photographs.

“Find something outside yourself that is yourself,” Bob said. “Then devote yourself to it with all of your heart.”

Thanks for listening to the Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 1954, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. This episode was produced by Francesca Fenzi and me shanna. 

it features interviews with Judy Irving, Judi Bank, Becky Carlson, and Don Staysa that are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. A special thanks to the district and Beverly Ortiz. To learn more about these interviews, visit our website listed in the show notes. Thank you for listening to The Berkeley Remix, and please join us next time!

 


Episode 2 of OHC’s 5th Season of the Berkeley Remix Explores Gender Equality in the East Bay Regional Park District

Episode 2: There’s No Crying in Carpentry: Gender Equality in the East Bay Regional Park District

Set in the parks of the East Bay hills, the Hidden Heroes podcast season is about people who have made a difference: fighting fires, breaking gender barriers, preserving the land. 

In season 5 of the Berkeley Remix, we’re diving into the long history of the East Bay Regional Park District, which was founded in 1934. All of the episodes are set in the East Bay parks and are about people who’ve made a difference. Some are stories that you’re already familiar with, but haven’t heard quite like this. Over the course of three episodes, we’ll explore the park district’s integral role in fighting the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, of being on the forefront of gender equality in the workplace, and how the districts efforts to preserve land benefited the public — through the lens of the local equestrian community.

The park district employs hundreds of people, many of whom are women. This episode digs into the history of gender equality at the East Bay Regional Park District. It follows the stories of two women who worked in the Tilden Corp yard, which houses heavy machinery, and how they challenged traditional gender roles in the workplace. They each have their own stories of growing their careers during affirmative action, and the impact that their work had on equality for all district employees. 

All episodes feature interviews from the East Bay Regional Park District Oral History Project. A special thank you to the East Bay Regional Park District, especially Beverly Ortiz and Brenda Montano. Photos taken by Bob Walker from the Bob Walker Collection of the Oakland Museum, courtesy of the East Bay Regional Park District. This episode includes interviews with Julie Haselden, Rachel MacDonald, and Stephen Gehrett. All music by Blue Dot Sessions: “Dorica Theme” and “A Palace of Cedar.”

To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District and Beverly Ortiz. 

The following is a written version of the episode.

 

Narrator:

We’ve been talking about equality in the workplace for decades , especially when it comes to gender. Throughout the 20th century, certain fields were perceived  as “masculine,” by nature. Jobs like construction, carpentry, engineering, and landscaping were seen as physically demanding — men’s work.

But  there have always been women who  challenged the status quo. We’ve all heard the story of Rosie the Riveter. During World War II, women at home took over factory jobs from men heading to war. These women worked as rivetors, welders,  machinists and woodworkers. Even professional baseball players.

And when the war ended, some women weren’t thrilled about giving their jobs back. By the 1960’s women began demanding equal opportunities  from employers. And they weren’t the only ones. 

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an Executive Order requiring  government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Four years later, “sex” was added to that list.  

Affirmative action has come to mean a lot of things to different people, which we’re not going to look at in detail. The important thing is that, by the 1970s, it meant employers in California were paying new attention to the composition of their workforce. And hiring women into positions that had previously been held by men. One of them was Julie Haselden.

Haselden:

The park district at the time was interested in implementing affirmative action and trying to get women into nontraditional jobs. 

Narrator:

In an effort to hire more women, the East Bay Regional Park District sent  park rangers to attend classes at local colleges and recruit female employees.

Rachel McDonald was one of these early recruits. Rachel was a single mother who needed to work.  She decided to apply.

McDonald:

Well, I applied and I got an interview. Mostly I was asked appropriate questions based on my application and the job. I think the only one that I thought was inappropriate was when the head of personnel asked me if I thought I’d be able to be dependable since I had a child. Since someone else said, “Well, she’s been working all these years with a child.”

Narrator:

Despite a few interview hiccups, Rachel got the job in 1974.

McDonald:

I kind of fudged a little bit. I said I’d taken out a tree when I hadn’t. [laughter] But I really lucked out being hired. I really did.

Narrator:

As a struggling single parent, this job was significant.

McDonald:

Well, it was a whole change. I had been on welfare. When I was hired, I remember telling my social worker from welfare that I didn’t need it anymore because I had this job. He was so happy and impressed because I was going to be making more money than him. 

Narrator:

Rachel went from spending her days in a classroom to working outside,  performing maintenance work. 

McDonald:

I loved that work for most of the time I was on it. It was really hard physical work. We’d pave roads and prune trails, work with the heavy equipment operators on trails. I operated heavy equipment sometimes. That wasn’t really my thing. I talked with another ranger once that was on the crew. I said, “Oh, I hate it because of this. I don’t like all the fumes.” He just loved it. He said, “It makes me feel more manly.” 

Narrator:

Rachel was one of the first — and only — women to be hired into a  position that involved physical responsibilities. The women who worked for the district were mostly in administrative and educator roles. 

McDonald:

A bunch of us women were hired in ’74. It was mostly clerical and naturalists. I think maybe in planning and design. But in the field no.

Narrator:

Rachel was still largely unique in the district. Until, A few years later, when in 1980, Julie Haselden was hired by the park district. 

Haselden:

I was absolutely delighted when I got the job. It was tough.

Narrator:

Julie was hired as a truck driver and forklift operator. She’d learned to operate heavy machinery from her boyfriend who was a sculptor in West Oakland. Julie’s a self-described tomboy. She wasn’t worried about what her male coworkers would  think.

Haselden:

The guys that were working there, a lot of them were like, “Well, women can’t do that” I think I might have been hired by a guy who wanted to prove that women couldn’t do the work. “You want me to hire a woman? I’ll hire a woman. Watch this!” 

Narrator:

Both Rachel and Julie worked out of the Tilden Corp yard, which was where the district kept their heavy equipment and maintenance supplies. Julie describes it as a bit of a boys’ club, where she  was a novelty. 

Haselden:

My first day, I guess I was loading a truck, and all these guys from the main office came to see this chick. These guys were watching me, leaning up on the warehouse wall, and they’re smoking cigarettes [makes murmuring noises] and holding the clipboard and kind of pretending like they were actually doing some work, but they were actually just watching the new kid. One of the guys, who later became my manager, said, “So you think you can do a man’s job, huh?” I said, “You mean, smoke a cigarette and hold a clipboard and watch somebody else work? I can do better than that.” [laughter] Anyway, I said something along those lines. Everybody laughed, and so that kind of broke the ice. 

Narrator:

Rachel says a sense of humor was a necessity at Tilden Corp Yard.

McDonald:

I think it might have been easier for me than for some women because, for some reason, I really got along with the guys. I didn’t let the way some of them talked, I didn’t like shutdown or get, “Arrrgh,” about it. To some point I could kid back about it. I joked a lot with people so that they enjoyed being around me. Plus, I just tried to do a good job. I’d have things happen where men would make comments, like the guy at the place where we’d pick up the base rock. But mostly, for me it was okay. I just really got along well with people.

Narrator:

But not every interaction was as easy for  Rachel to manage. When she first started with the district, a co-worker made  unwanted advances toward her. 

McDonald:

He wanted to be more involved with me than I wanted to be and it was very unpleasant. 

Narrator:

Rachel reported this to her supervisor.

McDonald:

He said, “It doesn’t matter in terms of the best interest of the district. You should just work it out or go somewhere else.” 

Narrator:

She chose for the second option, and  went looking for another job in the district. But switching roles wasn’t easy — not every supervisor was willing to hire women. One manager even told her not to apply. 

McDonald:

He was the guy that the roads and trails supervisor reported to. I told him I’d like to apply for that opening and he told me that he really didn’t want a woman on the crew because I wouldn’t be able to do as much work as the guys or something. 

Narrator:

Discouraged, but not dismayed, Rachel  took the matter higher up the chain. She went to the chief of administration, who was under the general manager. 

McDonald:

He told the chief of maintenance that, “You can’t say that kind of thing. If she wants that job and if no one else has applied, she gets the job.” The chief of maintenance wasn’t happy with me about it but I wanted that job.

Narrator:

Julie had less trouble fitting in, even if the space was clearly dominated by men. 

Haselden:

The mechanic shop at Tilden at the time, great bunch of guys, liked them all, but they had a lot of pornography on the walls. I mean, like, pornography. I didn’t really even hardly notice it. My years being a Teamster, I was surrounded by it; it was just like wallpaper. 

Narrator:

But it bothered other women who she worked with. One  named Maggie, in particular. So Julie decided to step in. 

Haselden:

I felt if someone else is going to be offended, then I will absolutely support them. She was going, “No, that is absolutely not acceptable.” “Really? Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s offensive, isn’t it?” You wouldn’t want anyone to come in here and feel uncomfortable. 

Narrator:

Julie and Maggie’s male co-workers weren’t happy that the women were rocking the boat.

Haselden:

So the guys were very resistant. So these guys were going, “No, no, what are you talking about? We just love beautiful bodies. It’s nothing ugly; they’re beautiful bodies.” And then some other woman—I can’t remember who—got a picture out of a male gay porn pinup and went down when no one was looking, put it up on the wall, because it was a beautiful body. They ripped that thing down, tore it in little tiny pieces, said how disgusting that was. 

Narrator:

This seemed to open some of the men’s eyes. 

Haselden:

That was kind of, they kind of went, Hmm, wait a minute. Maggie was the one that made that happen and got it to be a G-rated place. They resisted, and Maggie prevailed.

Narrator:

Julie encountered other setbacks at Tilden, but she always seemed to approach it the same  way. She dug into her work, determined to do her job well. 

Haselden:

I was never going to play the girl card. I became really good at the forklift. It was an old forklift that you had to double clutch, and it was really hard to operate, but just doing it so much, I got really good at it. 

Narrator:

Rachel, by comparison, leaned into her feminine side.

McDonald:

It’s embarrassing to say but I acted more cutesy then. Like that. I always had my shirt unbuttoned one button too many. It was actually my husband, when we were getting to know each other. He told me once, “You’ve got to button that one up because if you want to be respected, that’s part of it.” From then on I did. I was competent, I was knowledgeable, but sometimes I undercut myself by acting too cutesy. 

Narrator:

Rachel learned to command respect by being more confident in herself and her abilities, and by compartmentalizing parts of her professional identity.

McDonald:

I still liked to joke and have fun but that part of it, the “sexy” part of it stopped. 

Narrator:

Eventually , both Rachel and Julie found their groove. Both were tapped for a carpenter’s apprenticeship, which meant higher pay. Rachel applied in 1978.

McDonald:

I spent a lot of time around the carpenters in the Corp Yard, talking with them or fooling around. I just thought, “Well, it might be fun. I might enjoy the work.”

Narrator:

Julie applied in the 1980s. 

Haselden:

There were lots of people that applied. They had two positions to fill. Again, it wasn’t the primary focus, but they wanted to implement some more affirmative action. But the two guys that they chose, Fred Porter and Dennis Waespi both happened to be white guys. It was over that day, we found out that they were named, but somehow—I don’t know how, it was heaven—there was a meeting after that, and somebody went to bat saying, “We need to get a woman in the trades.” They figured that I was the best candidate for that, so they included another position, which was huge in funding and planning. I was delighted.

Narrator:

The carpenters apprenticeship was a big commitment.

Haselden:

The program included seven thousand hours on the job, sixteen one-week classes, so it was four classes a year for four years, and each one of those classes was one week on.

Narrator:

Julie remembers her first few weeks. 

Haselden:

I had aptitude and energy but I had no building skills. I mean, I had delivered a lot of tools, I had handled a lot of tools, I had watched a lot of work, but I just didn’t really have a lot of experience. Which is kind of a good thing, I think, because I was just open. I was open. The first few weeks and months were very bloody fingers, [laughs] blisters, hard work.

Narrator:

But Rachel found that she didn’t enjoy the work. 

McDonald:

Well, I didn’t like being up on a roof. Not a flat roof.

Narrator:

Rachel also wasn’t getting much respect from the men in the program. 

McDonald:

All the guys pretty much were these old farts who really didn’t treat me with respect. They wouldn’t let me do anything really. Also the person who was head of all the crews like that, he didn’t treat me very well and he didn’t like having a female there.

Narrator:

Things hadn’t changed much when Julie started the program a few years later.

Haselden:

People weren’t as nice there. They were more competitive, young—and I was thirty at this point—no, I was thirty-five. These guys are all young and crazy. Anyway. It wasn’t always easy… It was uncomfortable. At work, I knew people, I just felt comfortable, I felt accepted. There were always a couple jerks, but I would avoid them, and no problem there. Even the teachers at the apprenticeship school would make wisecracks and just be pretty much unpleasant and kind of let me be in the class. It was just a very competitive, very guy thing. 

Narrator:

After two months, Rachel ultimately decided to withdraw from the apprenticeship.

McDonald:

When I’d go to work in the morning I was so depressed. I thought, “This really isn’t for me.” 

Narrator:

Julie, on the other hand, decided to stick it out because the payoff was worth it for her. 

Haselden:

If we had completed our apprenticeship, we had earned that job.

Narrator:

After completing the apprenticeship, Julie went on to work as a journeyman for the next 19 years. 

Haselden:

It felt really good. I felt good. It was well compensated, as far as the pay.

Narrator:

Rachel took another path. After she left the apprenticeship program she went back to the Roads & Trails crew. While she was deciding what to do next, she and her friend Dennis got to talking.  

McDonald:

We both realized we wanted to do something different and we came up with this idea. we’d do an exchange for two months, where he would work on roads and trails and I would work on Redwood. We didn’t see past that. We thought, “It’ll be a change for us, that maybe it will help us to decide what we want to do next and to try it out.” 

Narrator:

This switch gave Rachel the opportunity to do more administrative work, which she enjoyed. 

McDonald:

I discovered that I was really good at dealing with personnel and was really good at treating everybody the same. I got feedback about that during the years.

Narrator:

Rachel found that she had a talent for managing people. 

McDonald:

I just discovered I was really good at planning the work and figuring out what people liked to do and what they were good at and giving them opportunities to do it, to do new things. I would always meet with staff and ask them what their interests were and if you could do whatever you wanted on the job, what would you like to do? I tried to find something that fit in with that.

Narrator:

Motivated by this discovery, Rachel began taking management classes at UC San Francisco. This earned her a promotion to unit manager, where she got to play to her strengths. 

McDonald:

I was in the office more. I was always really clear about what I expected. When I was a unit manager I made sure everyone in my unit had a job clarification. I met with each crew and we went through and just talked about and agreed upon what the expectations were because I think that’s a big deal. A lot of people don’t know what their boss wants.

Narrator:

Her male colleagues gave her more respect, which was evident when she encountered sexim outside of the district. 

McDonald:

When I was a supervisor at Redwood I again had to deal with a lot of sexism because we had a lot of contractors doing work now. I remember on a few occasions where I’d be standing with the contractor and maybe one of his guys and then with some of my crew. I remember the contractor looking to one of my male staff and saying, “So what do you want to happen here?” He said, “You’re talking to the wrong person. She’s the supervisor.” They were good about it and they didn’t seem to be resentful.

Narrator:

Her response to this treatment changed, too.

McDonald:

Like I had to tell one guy, he worked for PG&E. He was the supervisor. Because they have to come in every year and trim trees for their power lines, I’d go with him out in the field first and we’d talk about what was going to be done. This guy had a habit of always calling me babe. I had to tell him more than once, “Don’t call me babe.” Finally he stopped. 

Narrator:

Julie and Rachel made different decisions about the apprenticeship program, but their choices had a lasting effect on both of their careers. after completing the apprenticeship program. Julie  went on to work on the Roads & Trails crew, in a management role.  

Haselden:

I was also running projects. I didn’t have any experience with asphalt, but I went to some classes, went to some seminars, and I started designing. I would do the drawings, I would do the scope of work, write up the contract, write up the bid proposal, get the contractors to come on site, select the contractor, develop the contract documents, run the project, be on the job, and then pay.

Narrator:

Julie’s work earned her praise from her supervisors, including Stephen Gehrett, her manager of several years. 

Gehrett:

Julie Haselden became the first woman carpenter, and she did, [laughs] and the reason why is she could dish it out like she got it, which was nice. And at the end of her career, I don’t think there’s anybody who disliked her. She’s just a wonderful lady.

Narrator:

She continued working on the Roads & Trails crew until she retired in 2011.

Affirmative action ended in California in November of 1996 when Proposition 209 was passed.  It amended the state constitution to prohibit state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public employment, public contracting, and public education. 

However, affirmative action had lasted long enough to get Rachel and Julie into the district. The two women had a lasting impact on the culture of the organization. While Rachel made changes at an administrative level, prioritizing equal treatment, Julie was a trailblazer in the field and has seen more women entering the trades.

As a result of these two women, and others like them, the district became a leader in gender equality.

Haselden:

I think the park district was really a forerunner for including and appreciating women, and they were given opportunities to go up in the hierarchy. Yeah, a lot of women have become supervisors and managers, and they’re doing great jobs. You wanted somebody that was a good worker and knew how to get along on a crew. Gender and color and size and shape does not matter.

Narrator:

For a short window of time, women like Rachel and Julie gained access to jobs that had previously been out of reach. And the ripple effects of those hires have been paving new pathways for women into this type of work, and redefining what is and isn’t possible in certain roles.

Thanks for listening to the Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 1954, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. This episode was produced by Francesca Fenzi and Shanna Farrell. 

This episode features interviews with Rachel MacDonald, Julie Haselden, and Stephen Gehrett that are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. A special thanks to the district and Beverly Ortiz. To learn more about these interviews, visit our website listed in the show notes. I’m your host, Shanna Farrell. Thank you for listening to The Berkeley Remix, and please join us next time!

 


The Oral History Center Launches Season 5 of the Berkeley Remix Podcast

Set in the parks of the East Bay hills, the Hidden Heroes podcast season is about people who have made a difference: fighting fires, breaking gender barriers, preserving the land. 

In season 5 of the Berkeley Remix, we’re diving into the long history of the East Bay Regional Park District, which was founded in 1934. All of the episodes are set in the East Bay parks and are about people who’ve made a difference. Some are stories that you’re already familiar with, but haven’t heard quite like this. Over the course of three episodes, we’ll explore the park district’s integral role in fighting the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, of being on the forefront of gender equality in the workplace, and how the districts efforts to preserve land benefited the public — through the lens of the local equestrian community. 

 

Episode 1: You Really Love Your Land, Don’t You: Expansion of the East Bay Regional Park District

The first episode of the season dives into public use of the park. Since the district was formed in 1934, it has acquired 125,000 acres that span 73 parks. The episode begins with the role that one special volunteer-turned-employee played in convincing ranchers and landowners to sell their property to be preserved by the park district. Without the work of this man, and others like him, the  public would not have access to this land. This includes the local equestrian community, whom we hear from in the rest of the episode, exploring how the district became a haven for horse lovers. This episode includes interviews with Judy Irving, Don Staysa, Judi Bank, and Becky Carlson who are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District, especially Beverly Ortiz and Brenda Montano. 

Photos from the Bob Walker Collection at the Oakland Museum of California

All music by Blue Dot Sessions:

  • “Dorica Theme” 
  • “A Palace of Cedar” 

 

Episode 2: There’s No Crying in Carpentry: Gender Equality in the East Bay Regional Park District

The park district employs hundreds of people, many of whom are women. This episode digs into the history of gender equality at the East Bay Regional Park District. It follows the stories of two women who worked in the Tilden Corp yard, which houses heavy machinery, and how they challenged traditional gender roles in the workplace. They each have their own stories of growing their careers during affirmative action, and the impact that their work had on equality for all district employees. This episode includes interviews with Julie Haselden, Rachel MacDonald, and Stephen Gehrett who are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District and Beverly Ortiz.

All music by Blue Dot Sessions:

  • “Dorica Theme” 
  • “A Palace of Cedar”

 

Episode 3: (Once in a) Career Fire: The East Bay Regional Park District Fights the Tunnel Fire

This episode explores the role of the EBRPD Fire Department in fighting the historic 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. It explores how the fire got so bad, and the early work that district employees did to prevent large wildfires. It features interviews with district employees who managed the land and, later, who fought on the frontlines of the fire, including Anne Rockwell, Stephen Gehrett, Michael Avalos, Paul Miller, and John Nicoles who are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District and Beverly Ortiz. 

All music by Blue Dot Sessions:

  • “Dorica Theme” 
  • “A Palace of Cedar” 
  • “Drone Birch” 
  • “Feather on the Crest”

OHC Director’s Column, October 2019

by Martin Meeker

@MartinDMeeker

Recording, transcribing, and making oral histories accessible represents only a portion of the work that we do at the Oral History Center. We relish the opportunity to engage with these raw historical materials and fashion them into a variety of interpretative works too. 

The 4,000 oral histories in our collection have been used by OHC staff in the writing of conference papers, articles, and books for sure. And while we remain committed to our mission of creating quality first-person historical accounts that might be used in the most rigorous of academic studies, we also recognize—and applaud—the use of these interviews across a much broader field. Now, OHC interviews are used in podcasts, documentary films, dramatic productions, and more.

Bob Walker Photo
Photo by Bob Walker, courtesy of the East Bay Regional Park District

As the ability to preserve, edit, and distribute audio and video productions becomes ever easier, ever more democratized, we at OHC have also utilized these resources to create videos and podcasts that draw heavily upon the collection. We are on the verge of releasing our fifth podcast season, Hidden Heroes. This one focuses on the East Bay Regional Park District and is being produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi. Previous seasons have looked at the history of the University of California at 150 years, the early response to AIDS in San Francisco, and the long history of women in politics. 

Our main goal with these podcasts is to offer robust yet widely accessible narrative interpretations—pivotal moments in history that our collection can illuminate. We are historians, and this is what we do. But we also have an important alternate motivation (or two) in spending hundreds of hours required to produce these podcasts. While our 4,000 oral histories (amounting to tens of thousands of hours of interviews) are readily accessible through our website, we are well aware that, say, a 30 hour interview with a scientist might be a tad overwhelming and many who could find something of real value in these life histories might never know to look there. With these podcasts and the many other interpretive materials we create, we are seeking to distribute breadcrumbs around the internet—breadcrumbs that might lead users back to the collection and back to the lengthy but otherwise invisible oral histories. We know that there are many people who are passionate about history but who aren’t trained researchers. These breadcrumbs help steer these folks toward these free and substantive and lively interviews.

I know I can speak for the whole oral history team at Berkeley that we endeavor not just to create excellent interviews in collaboration with our narrators but that we strive to make that work known to the widest public possible.


New OHC Release : Anne Halsted

The Oral History Center is pleased to announce the release of Anne Halsted’s interview, a leading community advocate.

Shanna Farrell conducted thirteen sessions with Anne throughout 2018. Below are her reflections about meeting and interviewing Anne, and the enormous contributions she has made to the city of San Francisco.

 

Anne Halsted: A Leading Community Advocate

Anne Halsted
Anne Halsted in 2018

I had heard a lot about Anne Halsted before I met her in person. Her name came up, repeatedly, when I interviewed former SPUR Executive Director Jim Chappell. He spoke about her with such high regard that I couldn’t help but take notice. When I later learned that I’d be interviewing her, I was delighted, and slightly intimidated by her extensive and impressive work as a leading community advocate. 

But from the moment she welcomed me into her home, she made me feel comfortable and at ease, with help from Nelson, her adorable black lab. Over the next four month, she made space for me to ask her about her childhood, her education, her move to San Francisco, and her long career in Human Resources. We talked about her initial interest in civic engagement, which was ignited by zoning issues around the North Point Sewage Plant in her North Beach neighborhood. We discussed how this experience led to more and more engagement in local politics, including her time on SPUR’s board, which she spoke about with passion and fondness. 

I learned about her natural way of cultivating networks and fostering collaboration. I learned about her dedication to the environment and the million little things that she’s done to advance equity. I learned about her desire to lift up other women and give them space to become leaders. I learned that she’s a smart, driven, kind, and generous woman who loves the city she calls home. 

As an oral historian, I have the privilege of getting to know people over weeks and weeks, asking them to reflect on how they understand the world and their place in it. There are times when these interviews help me understand my own place in the world, and, when I’m lucky, time that I leave feeling inspired by the stories my narrators have shared. I felt this way about Anne and her interview. Not only did she help me to see the city where I live, and my role in it, in an enlightened way, she left me feeling inspired to leave it a better place than I found it.

It was a pleasure to be the person who got to record her oral history, with help from my colleague Amanda Tewes, and an even greater pleasure to get to share her interview with the world. I hope that you will all learn as much as I did from Anne and walk away feeling just as inspired, and that blazing your own path is possible. Through this interview, its place in the Oral History Center’s esteemed collection, and its home in The Bancroft Library’s archive, Anne will continue giving to the Bay Area for decades to come. 


Reflections from the OHC’s 2019 Graduate Student of Color Fellow

Rudy Mondragón is the Oral History Center’s 2019 Graduate Student of Color Fellow. He  is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles working on a project that looks at the sport of boxing and the ways in which black and brown boxers politically and culturally express themselves via the famous ring entrance.

During the summer of 2019, he traveled to Rhode Island to interview professional boxer Kali Reis. When complete, his interview will be archived in our collection.  Below are his reflections on this experience and how this will shape his graduate work.

“The Heart Beat of Our People”: My Experience With a World Champion

By: Rudy Mondragón

I spent three days in Rhode Island with a world champion. Kali “K.O. Mequinonoag” Reis is a fighter who is of Seaconke Wampanoag, Cherokee, and Nipmuc heritage as well as Cape Verdean. In her 11 years of boxing professionally, Kali has earned the International Boxing Association (IBA), Universal Boxing Federation (UBF), and World Boxing Council (WBC) middleweight world titles. In addition to these prestigious accolades, Kali made history, alongside her opponent Cecilia Brækhus, in becoming the first woman to be on a televised Home Box Office (HBO) fight card. This was the first time in their 45 years of televising fights that HBO showcased a women’s fight.

Kali Belts
Kali Reis with her IBA, UBF, and WBC world titles. Photo by: Rudy Mondragón

My research examines the ways in which boxers (un)intentionally utilize the ring entrance as a political space to communicate their politics, new identities and subjectivities, and at times the performance of dissent and resistance. I first heard about Kali leading up to her May 5, 2018 fight against Cecilia Brækhus. The way she centers her indigenous identity demonstrates the possibilities that exist in ring entrances for boxers to express themselves in a plethora of ways. My initial thought was that she is a curator of her ring entrances, creatively using fashion and style, music, and her entourage to communicate a powerful message of belonging, dignity, empowerment, and storytelling. When I saw her ring entrance that night, I knew it was necessary that her story be documented and incorporated into my dissertation research. 

The timing of the UC Graduate Oral History Center Fellowship was perfect. Being a recipient of this award allowed me to do two things: First, it gave me the necessary resources to make the trip to Rhode Island and meet Kali in person and second, to document a 6-hour oral history that would be archived in The Bancroft Library for future use and public access.

Kali in Ring
Kali Reis training at Big Six Boxing Academy under heat lamps used to simulate
the conditions of fighting under the hot lights. Photo by: Rudy Mondragón

I made the trip to Pawtucket, Rhode Island in mid-June. Immediately after landing in Boston, I hopped into my white Hyundai rental car and made the drive an hour south in the pouring rain to Kali’s home. There were warehouse buildings to my left and to my right was McCoy Stadium, the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox minor league baseball team. I finally arrived at her home, which was on the corner of a residential intersection. I knocked on the front door and out came Kali with a big smile and welcomed me inside.  

I waited in the living room as she prepared for our first of three interviews. In her living room were her three championship belts as well as a signed purple 8-ounce Cleto Reyes glove that she intended to wear for her fight against Brækhus. Due to boxing politics and the demands of her opponents’ team, Kali was forced to wear 10-ounce gloves instead. 

Kali called me over and walked me down to the basement of her home, which is a multifunctional space. In the room is a meditation tapestry wall hanging, a buddha, massage table for her reiki healing treatments, and tranquil waterfall sounds. The other part of the room is used by her partner, Stephanie, for her hairdressing and nail-tech work. The time had finally come for our first conversation.

Kali Day 3
Day 3 of interview with Kali Reis. Photo by: Rudy Mondragón

As a critical sports studies researcher who uses ethnographic methods and conducts in-depth interviews and oral histories, centering the voices of professional fighters is a critical priority. The stories that fighters share are not simply stories. They are a way to remember the past and connect it with the future. Storytelling, according to Russell Bishop, is a useful and culturally appropriate way to represent multiple truths because the storyteller retains control of their narrative.  

In the three days and six hours of interview time with Kali, we were able to peel back the layers of her elaborate ring entrance. She described the parallels of her ring entrance with her experiences in attending powwows and fancy dancing: 

“It’s a grand entry. So, at the beginning of a pow wow, to open up ceremony of a pow wow, you’ll have your warriors, your veterans, and you have the tribal flags. And there’s usually no video taking. It’s very sacred, you’re opening up the circle, you’re allowing your elders and everybody to open up that circle for you. So, basically my (ring) entrance is the same way. It’s becoming a grand entry, because every time I fight at home, there’s more and more dancers. But it’s a grand entry into that battlefield, into that square circle.” 

Kali’s breakdown here demonstrates the ways in which her lived experiences as an indigenous person directly inform and manifest in her ring entrance. Her ring entrance is very similar to a powwow’s grand entry, the only difference, as she states, is that the end of her entrance marks the beginning of her battle inside the ring. 

Her ring attire, created by Angel Alejandro from Double A Boxing, consists of a process that includes Kali sharing her vision for her ring robe and trunks with Angel. That is followed up by conversations between the two so that visionary and designer are on the same page. The ring attire she wore in her fight against Brækhus for example, included the colors white and purple, which represent royalty. Purple is the color of wampum shells, used for jewelry and belts made for Sachems and Chiefs. On the back of her sleeveless robe are two feathers, which represent her two spiritedness. Since the feathers are placed upward, they signify war. Feathers down, she states, symbolizes peace.

Kali Trunks
Kali Reis’s ring attire for her May 5, 2018 fight. Photo courtesy of Kali Reis

Kali’s entourage is something that is created on a fight to fight basis. In addition to making sure that she has “strong women dancing” her to the ring, she also believes “that the creator will send the right people to dance in front of me.” This is exactly what she did for her fight against Brækhus. The week prior to her Cinco de Mayo showdown, Kali put out a call on her social media platforms, calling on all “CALIFORNIA NATIVES.” She specifically asked if there were drummers and dancers willing to walk her to the ring. On the night of the fight, she had three dancers walk her to the ring. Two were of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara heritage and one was Mashpee Wampanoag. 

And in terms of her music, Kali described the drums in her ring entrance as “the heartbeat of our people” and “the voices that sing those songs are the cries of mother earth.” If Kali has indigenous people walk her to the ring, she allows them to pick whatever drums and songs they want. She does this because she firmly believes it’s the right way to honor them for honoring her and the collective of indigenous peoples around the world.

The original vision for my dissertation was to breakdown chapters thematically, intersecting boxing with how boxers deploy fashion and style, music and soundscapes, and entourages in their ring entrances. In the six hours I spent with Kali, she deconstructed her ring entrance to the extent that the three themes of expressive culture I analyze in my research were strongly articulated. This presented a new possibility, which has inspired a shift in the vision for my dissertation to add an additional chapter on oral history as a method and case-study that will focus solely on Kali Reis.

I reflected on my trip to Rhode Island a couple of days later and remembered a moment that meant a great deal to me. As Kali and I drove back to her home after enjoying a delicious vegan meal at the Garden Grille, she asked me who I thought would win in the upcoming fight between Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman. Here I was, sitting in a car with a professional practitioner of the sweet science, asking me for my thoughts on an upcoming fight. She asked me a meaningful question that resulted in a rich conversation. It made me think of the first time I ever reached out to Kali via Instagram and subsequent conversations that followed. Since then, Kali and I have built rapport and collective trust that contributed to the in-depth stories that she shared with me. 

I can never see Kali as solely a research subject. I see her as a multifaceted and complex person who is the narrator of her story. She’s also become a friend of mine. There is no distancing myself from Kali as I begin the process of analyzing her oral history. On the contrary, there is going to be ongoing communication as well as ever increasing pressure. This pressure that I feel is not bad at all. I see it as an ongoing reminder that I have an obligation and responsibility to represent Kali’s story in an honorable, humanized, and just way.  

This approach, in my opinion, is the right way to honor Kali’s story.