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Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Deanna Apfel

I drove a few miles up the Philo-Greenwood Road to the Apfel house where I was warmly greeted by Deanna and 12-year old Sheltie dog, Rosie. We sat down with some homemade lemon juice and began our conversation.

Deanna was born in Maryland. Her father's family was of English/Scots heritage and had come to this country in the 1800’s. Deanna’s grandmother died when her father was very young and her grandfather remarried. Her father did not get along with his stepmother, so he left home in Ohio at the age of sixteen, never graduating high school, and joined the navy by lying about his age. Her Mother's family was German/Austrian/Irish. They were farmers in Virginia and in the years before World War 1. Deanna’s mother grew up in Virginia where her father was the overseer of a large tobacco farm. “My grandfather saved his money and they moved to Pennsylvania where he bought a farm of his own, without my grandmother, seeing it. She said she would not move there because of the busy road, so he sold it for a profit. My mother was one of nine siblings – she had four older brothers and four younger ones. They said she had spoiled the perfect baseball team! And she did love baseball and was the only one with her own room as she was the only girl. There were always a ton of family and friends around and she always said she had a great upbringing despite not being close to her mother who doted on the boys.”

The farm was a busy place and the family all sat down to dinner together, often with workers and her brothers many friends. “My mother said there were frequently more than twenty people for the evening meal. It was a self-sufficient farm with everything from livestock of all kinds to fruit and vegetables, wheat, etc. It was in a small town near York, Pennsylvania, about the same size as Boonville. Our cousins owned a farm nearby and we were always around each other – our vacations were even spent on the farm when I was growing up and we rarely saw my father's side of the family. ”

Deanna’s father had become an aircraft mechanic in Washington DC after his time in the navy. Her mother had been a dental assistant out of high school in Pennsylvania and then went to beauty school and a job as a hairdresser which she didn’t like so she moved on to work as a telephone operator for National Geographic. My parents met at a dance and started to date, with my father staying in the boys’ bedrooms when he visited the family farm. He had three jobs at one point —mechanic, parking garage attendant, handyman. They had talked about marriage but my grandmother was opposed to the marriage because she thought he would not be a good provider. My grandfather liked my Father. My Grandfather was a very sweet man and we all loved him very much. Anyway, my parents eloped and got married in 1938, and for a time they kept it a secret.”

After settling down in DC Dean and Reba started a family. They had three daughters Elizabeth (Betty), Dorothy (Dotty) and Deanna coming along after the war. “My mother was a ‘mom’ and Dad became a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. We moved to Pennsylvania, to Shiloh, a town near to Dover, when I was young and Dad got a better job as a car salesman. He was very funny and had a great sense of humor. His outgoing personality suited his job well... Then when I was three, we moved to Richmond, Virginia and Dad ran a pet store for a time before we moved again, to Maryland where he found work for the Navy Department. My mother was a bank teller when I was in fifth grade. My father finally got his GED as an adult and, now in his thirties, he became an accountant for the navy.”

The family lived in suburban Maryland, not far from Washington DC. “I bicycled to school and back, in fact I was always on my bike. I was a very social kid and there were many children my age in the neighborhood. We were always out playing and it was quite idyllic. Then, when I was about ten or eleven, two high school girls, both very popular girls in my sister’s class were murdered and their bodies found in the wooded section of the park we used to play in, not far from our house. It was the last day of school for them and they had been shot many times. This had a major impact on the whole neighborhood for a long time and I had a hard time staying at home alone. Actually, about five years ago, a classmate of the girls, who had been an outcast at school, confessed on his deathbed to their murders... After the murders, we were given a lot less freedom, particularly because no suspect was found. The park had been an important part of my life and now it was off limits. They cleared many of the trees and we weren’t allowed to go ice skating on the pond and school summer programs were cancelled there.”

Overall, Deanna had what was a life fairly typical of most white suburban families of the fifties era. “We sat down to dinner as a family every evening at 5:30pm and you could not be late for that. I enjoyed my elementary school and junior high years and did very well over that time. As a young teen, during the holidays and summers I was a candy-striper volunteer at a local hospital, among a number of other part-time jobs in department stores and five and dime stores. I had to clean house on Saturdays although this was not onerous. We expected to have to do our chores in those days. Dad had a quick temper so it was left to Mom to enforce the discipline and she would occasionally spank us if necessary. Then when I hit high school age I went a little crazy. In DC the drinking age was eighteen and we all had false ID’s at the age of 16 so we’d drive into the city, just twenty minutes away, and drink and smoke. My parents had only ever taken us to a restaurant occasionally and that would have been a Howard Johnson’s so it was great to go to an Italian restaurant, drink some wine and then head off to a bar for the rest of the evening... This behavior had its consequences and ultimately my grades were affected in a number of subjects, dropping from A’s to C’s. However, although my parents were disappointed, the end result was never in any real doubt and I graduated on schedule in 1964.”

Deanna’s parents had not graduated from high school and her one sister had done some time at the community college so there was no emphasis from the family to go on to university. However, Deanna enrolled at the University of Maryland to study business but after just one semester she dropped out. “Again my parents were disappointed and told me they were never paying again for me to go to college. I was just not ready for it. Not all kids are. National service of some kind would have served me better. I found a job as assistant to the bookkeeper in the office of a real estate developer in DC. I met her son who had graduated from the University of Maryland and would start medical school in the fall and we started to date. It soon got quite serious although his mother, the bookkeeper, stopped liking me when it did. I left the job, left the apartment I had with friends, and moved back in with my parents. I took some night classes in shorthand and typing while there. This led to me getting a job at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore as an assistant to the treasurer. My boyfriend was now at the University of Maryland Medical School and we’d hang out with people, many of whom had college degrees, except me, so I took some more evening classes in liberal arts and math over the following couple of years. My parents moved to the suburbs between Washington and Baltimore and I would commute to work from their home until we got married in 1969 and bought a row house for $12,000 in Baltimore, right across from Johns Hopkins. We took a honeymoon month and traveled across the country and back, camping in the national parks. I had never been camping before; my family had never done that. As I said earlier, we stayed on the farm for our vacations. Visiting the farm was my summer vacation; farming is in my genes. Those were turbulent times in the US and yet I was not involved at all really. My parents were conservative and I wasn’t part of the anti-war movement, apart from being barricaded in at work one day by the protesting students.”

While in medical school, Deanna’s husband was safe from the draft but after graduating he was liable once again and so he took an internship with the Public Health Service, which was considered military service. He did an internship in Baltimore and a residency in San Francisco, part of which rotated through Tulane University. We had an opportunity to live in Alexandria, La., Columbus, Ga. and New Orleans, which was great fun. Good food too!

When he finished his residency, he began to look for a practice in California. "We almost ended up in Marysville, but found the perfect practice in Ukiah. We bought a 30-acre property with 12 acres of vines and an old house south of town. It was a wonderful rural property and I was in heaven.”

Deanna soon made friends with a neighbor, Diane Shugart with whom she shared a cow that they would both milk every day for five years, one on each side. She worked hard on the garden and took classes at the com-munity college, including viticulture, feeds and feeding, a butchery class, a pottery class. “We were also trying to get pregnant during this time but were unable to do so. Then we were given the opportunity to adopt and in 1978 one-day old Essie arrived. My husband knew a Dr. Apfel and his wife Susan, who had adopted too and I met with Susan and passed on some of Essie’s baby clothes for their daughter Lily who was 13 months younger. When Essie was 3, my husband and I split up and I moved into Ukiah.

Deanna had attended the community college for her remaining credits in accounting. “I decided I needed a profession pretty fast and after finishing at the community college in1983, I went on to Golden Gate University to get an accountancy degree, graduating in 1985. In the fall of 1984, a friend of mine, an emergency room doctor, and I went camping with our kids to Hendy Woods in Anderson Valley in order to go the to the annual Men-docino County Fair in Boonville. The girls were on the merry-go-round when a guy walked by with his daughter and said ‘hello’ to my friend. She knew him as the local physician, Dr. Apfel, whom I had never met. It turned out he had been the doctor in the Valley since 1976 and his wife had passed away when Lily was just one year old. We chatted and it was love at first sight. I told him it was cold in the woods and he looked at me with his hazel eyes and invited us to come over for coffee the next morning. I had fallen for this man and knew there was a mutual attraction. That evening I talked about this with my friend and the next morning we left the campgrounds but were unsure of the directions and went the wrong way. We ended up a few miles further north on Highway 128 at what was at the time Steve and Janet Anderson’s home, now the Blue Meadow Farm of Pam and Roy Laird. Janet, with baby Emily in her arms, obviously knew the doctor and where he lived. We drove up here and there was no answer at the house. I went in and walked through. Mark was outside at the back in the garden, surrounded by beautiful flowers. Be still my heart! We had coffee, exchanged phone numbers, and my friend and I and the kids went back to San Francisco.”

On the following Tuesday, Mark was in the City to observe a surgical procedure on the daughter of a local family. That evening Deanna was really not sure if he would call her as arranged. She was on the phone talking to her friend and the line was therefore busy. Meanwhile Mark was equally as nervous wondering if she would know him. Finally they got to talk and he came over for dinner to her house on Irving Street and 7th Avenue. “He came over the next evening for dinner too — bringing a bouquet of flowers, wine, and shrimp, which he cooked! It was all too good to be true. He even has a gift for Essie. That Friday I had a court date in Ukiah for my divorce and I met up with Mark at the Boonville Hotel, then owned by Vern and Charlene Rollins. Mark had arranged for a baby-sitter for Essie and Lily, Annie Stenerson. Essie and I ended up staying for the weekend. I didn’t want to leave. I definitely knew this was the guy for me. We saw each other every weekend either in the Valley or San Francisco where I lived and on June 1st, 1985 we were married, the same day as my graduation ceremony which I therefore missed.”

Deanna needed to work for two years for a CPA firm, which Mark encouraged her to do. She was hired by Arthur Young in San Francisco and they moved down to Berkeley in August for two years, where they bought a house and rented the property on Greenwood Road, although they did visit most weekends and stayed in their guest house, a 100 year old schoolhouse. “We had lots of fun for two years in Berkeley. It’s not as frantic as the City but close enough to all that if you feel like it. We made friends, the kids made friends, and Mark worked in urgent care facilities in the Bay Area. I finished my CPA qualifications in 1987 and we returned to the Valley for good.”

People were not interested in hiring Deanna part-time as an accountant; in fact after all of her efforts she never really did pursue this career. She became a stay-at home Mom with the kids in elementary school and took art classes by Paula Gray and creative writing with Jan Wax. “Mark worked locally and also worked a few days a month in the emergency room in Ukiah earning more than I could as a part-time accountant. I did do one audit for the Senior Center but other than that I was a busy mother. I volunteered at the school and was on the elementary school site council for a couple of years. Socially Mark and I would go to the film nights put on by Eric Labowitz and Melvin ‘Woody’ Wood at Brad Wiley’s barn – that was a lot of fun. We also went on regular camping trips with friends the Goodell’s (Rob and Barbara), the Anderson’s (Steve and Janet), the Duvigneaud’s (Jean and Anne), and Rob Giuliani and Lee Serrie and would visit friends in the Bay Area too. Then our neighbor, Jean Duvigneaud, decided to run for school board and suggested I do so also. I did and ended up being on the Board for eight years. It was hard work and not an easy position to be in.”

As well as attending many Valley events and benefits, Deanna’s love of travel further afield has been an inspiration for one of her main interests, quilting. Her trips to Mexico, France, Spain, Egypt, and South Africa have been particularly memorable and more recently she and Mark have been to Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. A color and composition class with Paula Gray led to her being exposed to a book on Amish Quilts that really got her into that world. “I had always sewn, done crafts, knitting, embroidery, etc. Then the light bulb went off: ‘I can do quilts,’ but not necessarily in the style of my grandmother.’ These would be designs with color, lots of it. I met Joyce Patterson who was in a quilting class on the coast and after I had made one I joined too and have now been in the Mendocino Quilt Artists since 1995. Everyone in that group has become an important part of my life and there are currently thirteen of us who meet twice a month. I was very pleased with the reception my recent show at Lauren’s Restaurant received. I am also in a women’s book club with people such as Karen Altaras, Denisse Mattei, Kathy Cox, Mary O’Brien, Janet Anderson, Jill Myers, Gail Wakeman, Helen Papke, and others. We meet at each other’s homes, there is no dinner, and we discuss the book for two hours. We do have an annual pot luck, hosted by Mark and me, to which husbands are invited and the Cheescake ladies host our Christmas party.”

Other than all that, Deanna is kept very busy in the garden and with the goats, chickens, and fostering of cats, not to mention Rosie the Sheltie dog and her volunteer efforts continue with her role on the AV Housing Association Board. “My mother was in assisted living in Maryland at the age of 92. My father had passed many years earlier in his late 60s), but in 2001 she had a minor stroke. I visited her every few months or so but she decided she wanted to move out here and stay with us. Mark became her care provider and she decided she never wished to go into a hospital again. She lived with us for three years, a time that was very special and precious. She was always such a cheerful person to be around and she loved Rosie, for who she always carried treats around. She died peacefully just before her 96th in November 2004.”

I asked Deanna for a verbal image of her father. “Meticulous, handsome, totally in love with my mother, but a traditionalist in terms of the male/female roles.” And her mother? “We all adored her; warm, nurturing, funny. She had a great laugh and I always enjoyed being around her.”

What do you like about life in the Valley? “The sense of community is first; the natural beauty is important to me. I also enjoy the solitude and quiet, and that we are not far from the coast.” And anything you do not like? “The noise of logging trucks and that it takes too long to get to an airport.”

Next were Deanna’s brief feelings about a few valley issues.

The wineries and their impact? “Being on the Housing Association, I wish they would be more supportive of us and more interested in providing decent housing for low income workers in the Valley. We need land and buildings, not just on their properties for their workers. We are getting some help now and I hope this is the beginning of a more effective relationship.”

KZYX radio? “Fabulous – a total asset for the Valley and so entwined in Valley life at this point. I cannot imagine the Valley without it.”

The school system? “They do the best they can. It makes me so angry, the lack of money spent on schools in California.”

I posed a few questions to Deanna.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Just a beautiful day – one that makes me feel like skipping. I often feel really joyous.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Long, cold winters.”

Sound or noise you love? “Birds singing, the owls at night, the wind in the trees. The palm trees in Hawaii.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Dump trucks backing up to collect their load of gravel, all noisy vehicles on Greenwood Road.”

Favorite food or meal? “A healthy breakfast — papaya, mango, with yogurt, and lime juice, with a little granola.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Nel-son Mandela. Traveling around South Africa in 2002 we could see and feel what he did for that country and it had a big effect on us.”

If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? “My computer. It has all of my photos on it, my quilts, and Rosie too, of course. I assume Mark is safe, otherwise he’d be first, or may be Rosie!”

Favorite book or one that has influenced you? “I read ‘The Secret Garden’ when I was nine and it made me a reader. It was also the inspiration for one of my quilts.”

Favorite hobby? “Well, gardening, I’d say. Quilting is a passion and even a necessity. Traveling too of course.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? “As a kid I wanted to be a nurse. And in my imagination perhaps a veterinarian.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “A job inside all of the time, and in a city. An accountant!”

A memorable moment; a time you will never forget. “Meeting Mark and falling in love.”

Something that you are really proud of and why? “My quilting, my art. Having the show at Lauren’s and seeing what I’ve been doing for ten years or so.”

Favorite thing about yourself? “That I'd rather be a giver than a taker .”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Mark is right over here.”


To read the ‘stories’ of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Valley resident of over 30 years: Jose Luis Orozco Espinosa.

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