From the Director — March 2020
From all of us at the Oral History Center, we are wishing you our best in these challenging times. We hope that you’re doing your best to get through the coming days, and above all, you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy.
In a recent oral history, George Miller discussed the idea of the dreaded “Black Swan” event that might strike at a moment’s notice, leaving destruction and disruption in its wake. But Miller has artfully crafted a healthy sense of informed detachment and thus always used these events as an opportunity for learning and reflection. Perhaps the greatest lesson from the Black Swan events he experienced in the world of finance was that we always came out the other side — maybe a bit bruised but ready to face another day. So, as many of us sit at home, self-isolating, I invite you to take a break from the constant news feed of what is happening right now and instead spend some time in the past. Delve into the OHC archive of transcripts and recordings and expose yourself, for example, to many individuals who achieved great things in their lives but who each experienced Black Swan events of their own. Trial and turbulence, patience and perseverance.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the most remarkable of these stories come from women we’ve interviewed, in particular those women who broke glass ceilings in the workplace and the realm of politics. We’re currently developing a database documenting the hundreds of women we’ve interviewed over the years who were connected to the University of California — as part of the 150 Years of Women at Berkeley celebration. And we continue to contribute to this history with plenty of recent interviews, including female students who were active in the SLATE organization on campus in the 1950s and 60s. And then many more interviews with women who persevered while working in support of the arts (Kathleen Dardes), the environment (Michelle Perrault), and public service (Anne Halsted). You’ll see a handful of those stories referenced in this newsletter but I encourage you to just jump in, browse the collection (our Projects page is the best way to do this), and allow the thousands of life stories we’ve collected give you reassurance, perspective, and company.
Finally, we’ve made the decision to postpone our annual Oral History Commencement in which we invite our interviewees to campus for a lively celebration of oral histories completed in the past year. We still want to express our gratitude to our narrators, so stayed tuned.
Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center
For students across the country, college is a time of political awakening. And perhaps no other university has earned its reputation for radical student politics quite like UC Berkeley. Indeed, mid-century political activism around civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the Free Speech Movement has shaped how students, faculty, and administrators experience life at Berkeley today.
However, one important part of Berkeley’s political history that often gets left out of the conversation is the New Left student political party SLATE. SLATE — so named because the group backed a slate of candidates who ran on a common platform for ASUC (Associated Students of the University of California) elections — operated between 1958 and 1966, and ignited a passion for politics in the face of looming McCarthyism and what many perceived as the University of California’s encroachment on student rights to free speech. These students translated political theory they learned in the classroom to action, even when it went against University policies. Perhaps SLATE’s most important ideological contribution to Berkeley’s campus and to other social movements is the “lowest significant common denominator.” This concept allowed the group to form a big tent coalition between Marxists, liberal Democrats, and others by only choosing political positions and actions that the whole group could agree on. As a result, the group became involved with civil rights, labor organizing, and anti-war protests on campus and across California. Most notably, in May of 1960, SLATE and other student activists protested the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings at the San Francisco City Hall. In response to the peaceful sit-in, police blasted students with fire hoses and dragged them down stairs before placing them under arrest. This event was emblematic of SLATE’s commitment to activism, even when it came at personal risk.
In recent years, the Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library has conducted a series of interviews with members of SLATE to keep alive memories of the group’s influence on ideology and political infrastructure at UC Berkeley.
An essential part of SLATE’s story is the contributions of its women members. SLATE operated at a time before the women’s movement, but its work became an important introduction to political organizing for a generation of women students at Berkeley. These women were dedicated members of the group, but often felt sidelined in SLATE leadership. And yet, their work helped to change political culture and campus life at Berkeley. Three of these groundbreaking Berkeley women are Cindy Lembcke Kamler, Susan Griffin, and Julianne Morris.
Cindy Lembcke Kamler was just a freshman when she connected with SLATE in the spring of 1958, drawn in by the political ideals of the group dominated by male upperclassmen and graduate students. Susan Griffin and Julianne Morris were among the second generation of SLATE activists and joined the group around the same time in 1960 — after the famous HUAC protest.
All of these women came from politically left families who feared encroaching McCarthyism. Griffin and Morris also had connections to Judaism. These backgrounds helped ignite a political consciousness in these women that led them to SLATE.
Certainly Kamler, Griffin, and Morris’s oral histories contribute to the larger archive of SLATE history, but they also speak specifically to their experiences as women in this group. For instance, Griffin and Morris recalled instances of feeling marginalized and of being left to do what Morris called the “scut work,” like mimeographing fliers and cooking for hungry activists. This work, while essential to maintaining operations, felt to them like gendered tasks. For her part, Kamler doesn’t remember gender discrimination in SLATE. She insisted, “Oh, no, I never made coffee or any of that stuff.” And yet, Griffin recalled that several years later at a meeting of SLATE women in the 1970s,
“We were recounting how there was this prejudice against us and we were never allowed to have leadership positions. And husbands and boyfriends and guys from SLATE showed up at this meeting and started making fun of us and broke the meeting up. They thought that was the end of the story. Little did they know, [laughs] that was just the beginning of the story.”
These tensions came to a head at a 1984 SLATE reunion in which women newly empowered by feminism expressed displeasure with the way they had been treated while working for the campus political group. Many of the men denied there had been discrimination, but others took it to heart and sincerely apologized. Morris explained, “There were a lot of women who were really angry about how it had been. I don’t know that I was angry, in the sense that I really felt it was a different time and one can’t judge one time by another. But there was no question that that’s the way it was, and that’s what kind of was accepted.” Watching these events unfold, Kamler recalled, “I was just sitting there stunned. I didn’t do any of that stuff. I ran for office, I got elected, I was chairperson.”
Indeed, while there may have been invisible barriers for many of the women involved in SLATE, there were still opportunities to grow as individuals and leaders. Kamler ran for second vice president in the spring of 1958 and lost, but ran again for representative-at-large in spring of 1959 and won. She also served as the chair of SLATE for some time, helping to shape the group’s platform and activist agenda. Even Griffin and Morris were encouraged to run for ASUC office in the early 1960s, and had to learn how to campaign and feel confident in public speaking. Morris especially found running for office to be a formative experience. She remembered,
“And that was, for me, a big experience, because as I said, I was shy in terms of speaking out and I didn’t think that I could do it. And Mike Miller kept urging me to do it and saying, ‘You can do this. I’ll help you if you want, but you can do this! You’re going to be able to go to all of these fraternities and talk to them about ROTC. I just know you can do it.’ So I did it, and I really was very frightened about doing it, and I actually did fine. So that was, for me, kind of a breakthrough, that I was able to do something like that, because it wasn’t easy for me at the time.”
But as their lives became less centered around the UC Berkeley campus, these women drifted away from SLATE. Kamler married and left the group after the spring of 1960. Griffin and Morris had decreased their participation in SLATE or left campus entirely by 1964. And yet, as their oral histories reveal, the experiences these women had as Berkeley undergraduates in this student political party shaped their perspectives about politics and activism for years to come. For both Griffin and Morris, this activism took shape as involvement in the women’s movement. Griffin explained, “The guys may not have known it, but they were training feminist activists in all that period.”
Thinking about the longer arc of SLATE’s impact on the lives of its dedicated members, Morris recalled of a reunion in the 1990s:
“One of the things that we did was that we went around as a group and talked about what our lives were like now. And no one in that whole group went into business. Everybody was an organizer, a teacher, a social worker, a psychologist. It was so interesting that this group of people kind of, in some ways, stayed true to what we all went through in college. It really formed our lives.”
But most importantly, what these women learned from their time with SLATE was the importance of building and sustaining community in activist groups. For Morris, joining SLATE helped her find a place where she belonged. Griffin pointed to organizations of politically like-minded individuals as ways to create belonging and “joy” through an almost spiritual experience of protest.
And yet, the political work of Cindy Lembcke Kamler, Susan Griffin, and Julianne Morris wasn’t just personally fulfilling. For these individuals and generations of other women students, their political activism at UC Berkeley left an indelible mark on the campus. In thinking of this legacy, Morris reflected, “…it was one of the first…of the Left student movements. And I think it influenced a lot of people in that regard…I’m not at all sure that the Free Speech Movement would have happened without SLATE.” She concluded, “I think we were very successful in those years. We got a lot of people elected to the campus political organization, and I think people started thinking, at Cal, a little differently. They got woken up in a way that perhaps they would not have been.”
To learn more about these activist women at Berkeley and the history of this early student political party, check out the Oral History Center’s SLATE Oral History Project.
The Getty Oral History Project includes interviews with individuals across the spectrum of the Getty Trust, including the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), which does international work to advance the field of art conservation. Of the four programs in the Getty Trust, the GCI stands out both for its scientific collaboration with other Getty entities, and its dedication to sharing conservation information worldwide. Kathleen Dardes’ lengthy career working in various GCI training programs is emblematic of this mission.
Kathleen Dardes is the head of Collections at the Getty Conservation Institute. She studied art history and classics at Temple University in the 1970s, and then went on to study art conservation at the Courtauld Institute of Art in the 1980s, specializing in textile conservation. Dardes then worked as a conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She joined the GCI in 1988 as the senior coordinator for the Training Program.
When Dardes joined the GCI in 1988, this Getty program was only three years old and trying to establish itself in the field. Dardes recalls working to build credibility as an international art conservation organization, and struggling against “skepticism” about this new Getty entity:
“I think part of it had to do with the fact that we were so darn rich, and we could buy pretty much anything we wanted and could do anything we wanted, and we weren’t beholden to anyone except our trustees. That gave us a certain freedom, which I think was sometimes resented in the broader field. So we had to prove ourselves.”
Part of the way the GCI proved itself was investing heavily in the international training programs Dardes helped create to share conservation best practices worldwide. These included the idea of preventive conservation, or delaying the deterioration of objects through procedures like managing collections environments. Dardes explained the need for this training, saying,
“In the field, you’d hear these funny stories about people making all sorts of elaborate measures to control environments in a gallery space or storage area, but the roof was leaking [laughs] or there was a pest issue or something. So we were looking at the small details, and not the larger system that the museum is.”
In recent years, the GCI has undertaken a project called MEPPI or Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative. Dardes explained that the GCI and several partners worked hard to establish much-needed photograph preservation courses throughout the Middle East to help institutions protect these collections. This project included many challenges, not the least of which is political instability. In her interview Dardes shared the inspirational story of one MEPPI participant’s dedication to conservation, even in the midst of the Syrian Civil War:
“When we arranged a follow-up course in Lebanon, which was open to people from throughout the region, one of the participants in Syria, at great personal risk, got on a bus with her father, who was there to protect her, and took a bus from Syria to Beirut. Took her two days to do that, a trip that normally takes half a day. Couldn’t fly because it was too difficult to go to the airport, too risky, but came to Beirut to be with her old colleagues and take a course—which we all found absolutely stunning. But that’s how committed she was, not only to the course itself, to the collections she was in charge of, but also to the network that was forming. She wanted to see her old colleagues and be involved in this thing called MEPPI. So it sounds very pollyannaish, but it was a wonderful thing. People who don’t often have the opportunity to be involved in projects like this don’t take them for granted. It was something that we all thought was remarkable.”
Though she has not explicitly used her skills as a textile conservator while at the GCI, Dardes has found opportunities to engage with the larger implications of cultural heritage around the world. Indeed, being a part of the Getty Trust has opened global opportunities for her—and the GCI—to share and teach conservation best practices on an incredible scale.
To learn more about her work with the Getty Conservation Institute, check out Kathleen Dardes’ oral history!
By Miranda Jiang
Miranda Jiang is an Undergraduate Research Apprentice at the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. She is a UC Berkeley history major graduating in Spring 2022.
“I just can’t go out there with my Indian costume, because when I do that they might think, you know, oh, here comes a savage Indian.” — Irvin Shiosee
In 1942, Irvin Shiosee, a member of the Laguna Pueblo of the Southwest, moved with his family to Richmond’s boxcar village. Along with many members of the Acoma Pueblo, members of the Laguna Pueblo moved to this village (often referred to both as the Santa Fe Indian Village and the Richmond Indian Village) beginning in the 1920s. This migration followed a verbal agreement with the Santa Fe Railroad in California, which promised them employment in railroad maintenance and construction.
As part of the “Rosie the Riveter” project, the Oral History Center has conducted over 250 interviews with individuals who lived in the Bay Area during World War II, including people who lived in Richmond’s boxcar village. In his 2005 interview, Shiosee recalls his childhood there: he describes rows of around sixty boxcars placed along the railway, each housing one or more families. The children’s playground was a small “swamp” where they would take makeshift rafts and search for tadpoles. Among other anecdotes, Shiosee describes how his father built his family an oven to make sure they didn’t “lose any of [their] traditional food,” such as sweet “Indian pudding” made in the oven overnight.
Shiosee’s life within the village often seemed like a separate world from life outside and public school. Whereas day school at his old reservation was with other members of his tribe, at Peres Elementary School, there were Richmond-area children of many ethnicities. He had to learn English through Dick and Jane, and indigenous students were only allowed to speak English. He describes how students would “squeal on [them]” if they heard Shiosee or other Pueblo kids speaking Keresan. Subsequent punishments included standing against the wall or completing chores such as wood-chopping and cleaning the bathroom.
Shiosee also encountered stereotypical perceptions of indigenous people through his interactions with other children. On the first day of school, the teacher couldn’t pronounce his last name while introducing him to the class. He could see the surprise on his classmates’ faces upon hearing that he was an “American Indian boy.” The media only represented people like him in stories of “cowboys versus Indians,” so to these American children, indigenous people were the enemy.
“So that’s how they saw me,” he says, “as a savage Indian, I guess.”
Neither did the administration show much support. Children viewed him as a figure from fables and histories, and they would come up to pat him. When he whacked their hands away, teachers would send Shiosee to the principal’s office where he would be disciplined for fighting.
As Shiosee grew older, he became more and more aware of two separate realms. In his life outside the village, he knew he would face hostility if he showed his Pueblo identity. He describes walking to junior high school in the morning:
“I had to take off my Indian costume and hang it on this fence that I had to go through, and then put on my street clothes… ”
Yet despite going to school in an English-speaking environment and being pressured to assimilate, Shiosee remained closely connected with his culture and language. At the end of the interview, Shiosee describes his relationship with English and Keresan:
“English language to me is like I’m copying somebody. It’s not my natural language. The language that I speak comes from my heart on to you, you know. But to imitate somebody is not really from the heart. It’s coming from the mouth.”
In 1982, the Santa Fe Railroad shut off the power to the village. Although Richmond’s boxcar village was populated for around 60 years, it is now a relatively little known piece of Bay Area history. It has been documented in a number of writings, including essays by emeritus Oregon State University professor Kurt Peters (see “Boxcar Babies: The Santa Fe Railroad Village at Richmond, California, 1940-1945”). An event at Richmond’s Native Wellness Center in 2009 included three former inhabitants of the village as speakers, two of whom have interviews with the Oral History Center.
The boxcar village no longer exists physically, nor does it seem present in the Bay Area’s public consciousness. Although the inhabitants of the village attended local schools and events, and were spatially near other Bay Area neighborhoods, the Pueblo people preserved their culture and ways of life within the Richmond boxcar village. Ensuring knowledge of the Pueblo’s long history in the Bay Area is an important step towards recognizing what Shiosee already states in his interview: that rather than being faraway relics of history, he and his people are part of the present.
As a first step to learning more about the lives of Laguna and Acoma Pueblo people at this remarkable settlement, I encourage you to view the Rosie project’s compilation of interview segments related to the village. I further recommend reading and watching the full interviews, such as Irvin Shiosee’s interview.
“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.
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.
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
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.
From the OHC Director:
The staff of the Oral History Center wishes everyone a happy and productive 2020!
After a long winter’s rest for the Berkeley band of oral historians, this year has jumped off to a running — and even wild — start.
For one, we have begun the unveiling of our lengthy life history interview with four-term California Governor Jerry Brown. Done in partnership with KQED Public Media, this oral history also serves as the first interview conducted for the relaunched California State Government Oral History Project, a project of the Secretary of State. Read more about the interview background and context — or the interview itself. Here’s the page that serves as clearing house for all information about and coverage of this important oral history
We are in the final phases of preparing a number of new interviews for release in the coming weeks and months, including new releases for our projects with: the Sierra Club, the East Bay Regional Park District, the Presidio Trust, San Francisco Opera, the founders of Chicano/a Studies, and the Getty Trust African American Artist project.
Along with our usual oral history work, we are preparing for our annual Introductory Workshop (Leap Day! February 29th) and Advanced Summer Institute (August 10–14). Applications for the Introductory Workshop and Advanced Institute are both now open.
Come back in February for a more substantive column from your’s truly. Until then, back to that reservoir of unread emails!
Martin Meeker, Oral History Center Director
“Jerry Brown, I found, to be a man with a largely unwavering set of core values and principles who sometimes appears to choose contradictory ways in which to express those drives.”
— Director Martin Meeker, Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, reflecting on his experience interviewing Jerry Brown
Bancroft Roundtable: Thursday, February 20 at noon in the Lewis-Latimer Room of The Faculty Club
Brown, Behind the Scenes: Contending with Governor Jerry Brown and His Oral History
In this presentation, OHC historians Martin Meeker and Todd Holmes will provide the behind-the-scenes story of a remarkable interview with a singular Californian and offer an initial perspective on how this oral history might influence our understanding of California and its political culture.
Inside the Jerry Brown Oral History
There are very few individuals who are what might be called a “shoe-in” for an Oral History Center life history interview. Governor Jerry Brown is one who easily qualifies. Brown’s career as an elected official began in Southern California in 1969 when he was elected to the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees and then continued for nearly the next fifty years through a succession of high offices; in 2018 he concluded his record fourth term as governor.
In forty hours of interviews, there are at least three main areas of study of the life of Jerry Brown, and politics much more broadly, that might be impacted by the contents of this interview from today’s vantage point: the historical trajectory of key social and political issues; the influence of creative and unique ideas upon Brown and his agenda; and what might be called the philosophy of realpolitik — of how politics really works, at least according to Brown.
The Jerry Brown oral history was made possible by funding from the State Government Oral History Program, A Project of the California Secretary of State, State Archives.
Dive deeper into the political life of Jerry Brown through the Jerry Brown oral history.
“20 Shades of Jerry Brown” UC Berkeley Podcast
“We had 20 interview sessions, and I would say that in those 20 interview sessions, we had 20 different shades of Jerry Brown,” explains Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker in UC Berkeley’s 9-minute Fiat Vox podcast, “Berkeley oral history project reveals 20 shades of Jerry Brown.” Get a taste of the oral history — hear Brown talk about the medfly invasion, Linda Ronstadt, and politics past and present. Martin Meeker provides insights into this “extraordinarily detailed, thoughtful, self-critical, broad, and sweeping oral history.”
Jerry Brown Interview History
For the historians at UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center, the question was not, “Should this interview be done?” but rather, “How might it be done at all?” Get the inside story about the making of this riveting 40-hour oral history from interviewer and Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker.
Governor Gray Davis Foreword to the Jerry Brown Oral History
When Gray Davis tried to have a hole in the governor’s rug repaired, Jerry Brown responded, “That hole will save the state at least $500 million, because legislators cannot come down and pound on my desk demanding lots of money for their pet programs while looking at a hole in my rug!” Find out why Gray Davis, the 37th Governor of the State of California, who served as chief of staff to Jerry Brown during his first two terms as governor (1975-1981), thinks Jerry Brown is one of the most consequential governors in California history.
California State Government Oral History Program
The Jerry Brown oral history is a part of the State Government Oral History Program and is the cornerstone of the re-launch of the program under California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. All of the oral history materials (recordings and transcripts) will be deposited with the California State Archives and available to users through their website as well.
Read the transcript of the 40-hour oral history. In this oral history, the following topics are discussed at length: family background and upbringing; education, religion, and friendships; the political career of Pat Brown; college, seminary, and law school; California statewide elected offices, including Governor of California; campaigns for elected office, including for US President; election reform; taxation, budgets, and deficits; law, the courts, and criminal justice reform; immigration; the environment and climate change; education reform, charter schools, and higher education; Oakland, CA; popular culture, journalism, and political campaigns; political philosophy, theories of governance, and applied politics.
KQED Forum Podcast Featuring OHC Director Martin Meeker
Politics was the family business. The Democratic party was tribal for Brown. Listen as Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker, and KQED interview partners Scott Shafer and Guy Marzorati, talk about the unique political perspective and interviewing style of Jerry Brown.
KQED Podcast: The Political Mind of Jerry Brown
From KQED: The Political Mind of Jerry Brown brings listeners the wisdom of the former Governor, Mayor, and presidential candidate. The Oral History Center’s Martin Meeker and Todd Holmes, and KQED’s Scott Shafer, interviewed Brown for more than 40 hours, covering the former governor’s life and half-century in the political game – and Brown has some lessons he’d like to share. Premiering January 8 with hour-long episodes on KQED 88.5 FM every Wednesday at 8pm through January 29.
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.
This year’s annual meeting of the Oral History Association (OHA) was hosted in Salt Lake City, Utah, where we caught just a glimpse of the region’s famed winter season, but were kept warm by invigorating discussion of oral history best practices and challenges.
At the OHA conference I was especially impressed by the number of panels on doing oral history with indigenous people. In the roundtable session “Native American Stories of Peoplehood,” panelists grappled with how they incorporated oral tradition from their indigenous communities into oral history. It left me with a good reminder: narrators’ histories do not necessarily begin at birth, and their ancestors may play a large role in how they frame their own lives. One audience question from this session also asked when and how to include proprietary information about tribes in oral histories (i.e.: sacred stories, songs, ceremonies). One panelist remarked that this complicated area is something to review with both narrators and tribal elders. And yet, even when not interviewing in indigenous communities, it is important to discuss parameters for interviews long before pressing record!
Another highlight was the keynote speaker Isabel Wilkerson. The session was standing room only as Wilkerson spoke about her 2010 book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Wilkerson walked the audience through her process of finding and interviewing individuals whose life experiences humanized the stories of the twentieth-century Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North, Midwest, and West. I groaned in sympathy as she recalled difficulties in finding narrators. But most importantly, I was drawn to Wilkerson’s understanding that oral histories are precious and time-sensitive products that often need to be prioritized over extensive archival research. I, too, have lost narrators before being able to interview them, and I have often wondered what stories they could have told to change the historical record as we know it. In short, Wilkerson validated the work of oral history, and reminded us that the most important work oral historians do is to help others tell their stories, especially when they change how we view the past.
After attending sessions on making oral history a sustainable career, I walked away from this year’s meeting with an even greater sense of the importance of building a community of oral historians beyond the academy and formalized training programs. Often it is the practitioners on the ground who best connect to under acknowledged individuals with important stories to share. So, as an interviewer with a seat of privilege, my questions to other practitioners are: how do we support oral historians working in the field? How do we further democratize oral history? I look forward to continuing these discussions next year in Baltimore!
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.
A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District, Beverly Ortiz, and Brenda Montano
The following is a written version of the episode.
There’s 730 photographs in this collection. Pelicans, waterfalls right in Tilden. I didn’t even know there were waterfalls in Tilden.
Yeah, that looks like something out of Yosemite, not in downtown Berkeley.
Yeah. Taken in February 1986. Aerial shots of the city. This is incredible. It’s quite the collection
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.
Right. Bob Walker started out—he came west from the Midwest. He came west basically just for an adventure.
That’s Judy Irving, a documentary filmmaker who met Bob in the 1980s.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
There was a reason for Bob’s urgency.
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.
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.
Horses are very special creatures. …They all have personalities, and they’re all different, and they’re just wonderful creatures.
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.
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.
Eventually, Bob Lorimer moved, leaving the Riding Academy behind. That’s when Judi had an idea.
It was about that time that we needed a facility for this regional rally.
She wanted a place to hold a type of horse show called a three-day event.
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.
She reached out to the park district.
We made arrangements with East Bay Regional Park to use it for a week.
A week turned into another week, and then another. Judi and her equestrian friends struck a deal with park district.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Casey, actually. She was a six-year-old quarter horse,
She and Casey went on long trail rides, exploring remote areas of the park district.
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.
She volunteered with Las Trampas for 17 years, part of which was spent on the mounted patrol.
Malary Anderson was the police officer who was organizing that at the time.
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.
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.
Becky tried to get another one of her horses, Whiskey, used to these obstacles.
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.
Becky remembers the first time they took the test.
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.”
They ended up passing the second time around, and together becky and whiskey patrolled desolate areas of the park.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Never underestimate a small group of dedicated people.
These events brought together equestrians from all over the east bay.
I think at one point, Contra Costa County had the most concentrated number of horses [laughs] in the state, or something like that.
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.
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.
Don was fascinated by ranch life. His first jobs were picking hay, mending equipment and feeding animals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And, in terms of athletics, Don was pretty good.
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.
He asked an older bull rider to watch and level with him. Could he do this?
“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.”
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.
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]
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.
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.
Don joined the Livermore Rodeo Association — which got its start in the early 1900s.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!