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Lives & Times Of Valley Folks: Robert ‘Bob’ Klindt

I met with Bob at his home on Guntley Road between Philo and Navarro, nestled among vines just above the Valley floor off Hwy 128. We each drank some water and shared a plate of salami and cheese as we chatted away.

Bob was born in 1945 in Bozeman, Montana, at the nearest hospital to where the family lived in the small town of Big Timber. His father, Hank was from a German/Danish family from the Schleswieg-Holstein region between those countries who came over to the States and had settled in Iowa and Nebraska in the 1850’s. Bob’s grandparents, William and Henrietta, settled in Big Springs, Nebraska where William became a bank teller. They had six children and Bob’s father was the youngest of the four boys. “They grew up during the Depression and were very close. I have been around them and they are a bunch of goofy guys, always laughing together, with many memories of their antics growing up.”

Bob’s mother, Carol Ankeny, was from a primarily French family who had come over before the Revolutionary War. Some were ‘Daughters of the Republic and one was a French officer who fought the British in that war. “My maternal grandfather was in farming and always with plans to get rich. He lost everything in the Depression and then decided to look into the oil business, driving around Colorado and Nebraska and wherever he saw wildcatters drilling he would check it out and perhaps invest. He never quite found a good one and the best he ever got was some mineral rights on some properties... That side of the family was strict Presbyterians, very formal — very different to the Klindt’s. My mother was very matronly and became a teacher in Big Springs. My father went to pharmacy school in Reno, Nevada and became a pharmacist in Big Springs where my parents met and were married in 1939.”

First son Jan was born in 1941, by which time they had moved to Wyoming, and then after the move to Montana, along came Bob in ’45, sister Mary Ann in 1949, and Tom in 1950. “My father had some conflict in Wyoming when his local competition claimed his pharmacy credentials were not valid there so he opened a store on the Lodge Grass Indian Reservation, where drugs were sometimes secured by livestock as collateral until money could be found... After a pharmacy in Big Timber closed down, my parents got a loan from my maternal grandfather and opened a new pharmacy there. My Dad was the new business guy in a very close-knit community and it was hard to get accepted for a time. He overcame this by working 14 hours a day and always being available, day or night, for both his customers and their animals, if they needed drugs. He eventually joined the city council and was on the school board.”

“We went to church every Sunday with my mother. My Dad did not go but never discouraged us form going. He worked all the time. I went to the kindergarten there and some of them are still friends. It was the same gang of kids all the way through school, up to an including Sweet Grass High School — home of The Sheepherders! Yes, we had a mascot who was a shepherd with a corncob pipe in his mouth. That has caused some problems for some people in recent times. The town of Big Timber had about 1500 people, and the whole county, which was pretty big, had only 2500. Our high school was about 200 kids... I have many very positive memories of growing up there. Football was my sport at school when I would be a ‘nice guy turned angry’. I played full back and linebacker on defense and was the team captain. Academically I was pretty good, B average — it was a tough school, with the parents of many of the kids being well-educated from back east. The community was primarily of Norwegian descent, farmers and ranchers and in a beautiful spot with the Crazy Mountains to the north and Yellowstone to the south. Personally I was never into horse-riding or cattle work, I was a town kid although I did enjoy hunting for deer for a few years.”

“I starting mowing people’s lawns when I was about 12 or 13 and would drive the mower in the car trunk to my jobs. I also helped people to get the hay in at harvest time but thought there had to be an easier way to earn money so I did some house painting and went on to do that for two summers at high school and for two more when I went to college... Big Timber also hosted a rodeo every year — the biggest one-day rodeo in the northwest, with parades, a dance, and rodeo. It was a big deal in town and Gene Autry attended along with the top riders from around the country. They would set up ‘The Longest Bar in the World’ — four blocks long! Beer drinking with friends was a big part of my life in Montana; camping and drinking beer. We’d hunt for deer but the whole thing was more about being with buddies and drinking beer together. Later I decided that hunting wasn’t really a sport and turned to fishing — I wished I’d found that earlier.”

Bob’s high school years occurred during some turbulent times in this country and they played a big part in his life at that time. I was very interested in the civil rights movement despite only ever seeing one black person in Montana. Even though I had grown up there my opinions were different to those of many of my friends. I was amazed at some of their attitudes. Sometimes it seemed like it was me against the class and I was called ‘nigger-lover’ but it never went any further than that. I studied the topic at home a lot and was influenced by my parents and the liberal church that we were now going to — a congregational church that became the United Church of Christ, with young ministers, liberal thinkers on civil rights issues. It was a broad-minded church and open to discussion to their beliefs. I once gave a sermon about the church’s role in civil rights — it received a polite response.”

Bob graduated high school in 1968. It was expected that he would go to college and he went to the University of Montana. His older brother had gone to the campus, to the engineering and ‘cow college’ in Bozeman. “I did not know what I wanted to do except that I wanted to get away and did so, to the liberal arts school in Missoula, Montana. I took a double major in Economics and Political Science but was more into partying than anything else when I was at college. I was arrested for being drunk in public just two weeks into my first semester and my friends and I soon took full advantage of 10-cent beer Mondays at the pizza parlor, and nickel beer Thursdays somewhere else. I joined a fraternity, which made the drinking even more acceptable. I did o.k. in the first year but gradually my grades declined. My Dad had become mayor of Big Timber to collect the $100 month stipend that went towards my college payments. There was lots going on politically but my interest had faded a bit and I was not really involved anymore. It was a waste of time in many ways and I missed many classes but I did study the books and somehow I maintained adequate grades.”

As graduation approached, Bob still had no idea what he wanted to do. He had worked part-time at a paper mill in his last two years at university and knew he wanted to get out of Montana and experience more of the world. “A buddy and I planned to go to New York City but he backed out at the last minute. I graduated in 1968 and, despite knowing I’d flunk the physical if I was drafted because of a heart issue, I still did not apply for any jobs. Instead I borrowed some money and headed to San Jose, California where another buddy from the fraternity lived. I drove out there and turned up at his parent’s house to find out that he had left to go to the University of Texas. They invited me in and I stayed with them for a few weeks anyway.”

Because of his heart issue, Bob failed a few physicals for jobs he applied for until one accepted him — a finance company in East San Jose. For a time he became a debt collector and ‘Repo’ man! In November 1968, Bob started a new job in social work for the Santa Clara County Social Services, earning $600 a month. “I started working with people I had been collecting money from! I had no experience and received little training but soon settled right in and made great friends in the department. We were like a family and I stayed there for 15 years.”

During those years, Bob resumed some of the political activism of his earlier years. He was involved with Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers Union and their boycott of Safeway; he was part of the ‘Free Angela Davis’ movement that worked to secure the release of the civil rights activist; took part in anti-war marches; and became a union steward in the Social Services Employees Union. “Our union was very well organized and we won in two cases against the State that followed strikes along with nurses and transport workers.”

Bob stared to date neighbor Val and, following the birth of daughter Nichole, they were married in 1972 and lived in an apartment before buying a house in East San Jose. “I liked it there, there is much more to it than the appearance. My activism dropped off after getting married but I kept in touch with many people from that and my work during that time.”

In the seventies, Bob had taken up the hobby of beer making which moved on to wine making. “With Val, I made apricot wine and blackberry wine and in 1973 at the Home Winemakers Competition we won blue ribbons and the apricot wine won Best Fruit Wine in Show. We did it again the following year but it wasn’t very good. Over the next few years, we would get friends together and pick grapes and make wine in our garage and by the late 70’s I began to look for abandoned vineyards. We got hold of some very good grapes in the early 80’s as the hobby became more serious and we would always have five or six barrels in the garage. Then in 1983 Val and I were divorced but I maintained visitation rights to my barrels for a time!”

Now that Bob was single and, having been laid off following governor Reagan’s cutbacks, he made plans with a friend to open a bistro but had no collateral so this was dropped and he came up with an idea for an antique business. This opened in 1984 as ‘Time Bandits’ and while “it never made any money to speak of, it did o.k., although it did mean that our house soon became filled up with all sorts of junk... Meanwhile I continued to look for a place to start my own winery.”

In 1985 Bob moved to a new job at the Santa Clara County Medical Center. “Governor Reagan had laid off many social workers but due to length of service some were eligible for rehire. I was one of those and joined a training class being taught by Claudia. We were a lazy group who didn’t make much effort while she tried very hard to help us. I liked her but thought she was just not interested in me. We would all play volleyball at lunchtime and one day she knocked me down after blocking my spike right back at me. She helped me up and pinched my ass as she did! I asked her out to a San Jose Earthquakes professional soccer match and afterwards we went to the Saddle Rock cowboy bar in downtown San Jose. We had a great time and she was not just my boring teacher anymore. However, she still did not show any real interests so I pursued her until she relented and we start to date regularly, and we were married in 1985.” Claudia and her two kids by previous relationship, Kevin and Kelly, moved in with Bob, and later Nichole joined them.

The search for a winery was still going on and in 1989 the ‘Time Bandits’ store was closed — “it had been a lot of fun but there was no money in it. That summer Claudia planned a getaway weekend for the two of us to some place called Boonville. I had never heard of it. We came up with two friends and went to the Buckhorn brewpub and had a great time, ending up with me singing on stage. The next day we took a look at this property, then owned by Milla Handley (Handley Cellars Winery) and Rex McClellan. It was twenty acres with a house and a 1000 gallon wine tank. We all loved it and decided we would go into this together. Three weeks later our house in San Jose was up for sale. Our offer was accepted in the fall of 1989. Our friends backed out of buying the property, which we did alone, but we formed a company with them in a winery business there, each couple investing $20 K in that. We stayed in San Jose in a rental house after our house was sold — the kids were still in high school there. We came up virtually every weekend for five years before moving here full-time in 1994. Nichole was out of school and the younger kids stayed with their father in San Jose — they didn’t want to move here.”

Moving up the Valley was a “no-brainer” for Bob — “I had always kept my small-town mentality, I guess. It was very different for Claudia — she was from a military family and had lived in Europe for a time also. She had been a manager and supervisor in social services at a hospital and was on a good salary. I got a job in social work with Child Protective Services based in Ukiah and found out at first hand that there were some crazy things that happen in this county — it’s another world here. I was with them for five years until 1999, and after being the social worker solely responsible for the coast from Westport down to Gualala when I started; by the time I left there were four social workers and several aides covering that area. It was probably the most important five years of my life. Wine is just wine. That work was very hard but very important and meaningful.”

Over the next few years it got to the point when doing the wine-making and the job became too much and in 1999, through total exhaustion, Bob decided he could not give enough time to the job and retired to concentrate on the wine making. “I still think about many of the kids and their families that I worked with in those days, particularly the reservation kids in Point Arena, many of whom were totally emotionally destroyed. I hope they have survived.”

Bob and Claudia soon made many friends in the Valley, in the wine-making business particularly — the Koblers at Lazy Creek, Alan Green at Greenwood Ridge, Phyllis at Pepperwood (now Esterlina), Pat Daniels and the Bennett’s at Navarro. “We have never had a huge social life here, mostly amongst the winery folks. We do attend many local events such as the beer festival, the Fair, various fundraisers. We have not had as many people over here as our house is not as nice as most of theirs — it is still a work in progress... We have always struggled financially here, ever since the beginning and we still are. We had a strained relationship with our partners and eventually bought them out. They were the marketing side and we are not very good at that unfortunately... Then there was a period of time when a movement began trying to stop wineries on this road and the rest of Holmes Ranch. It was frustrating but seems to have stopped at this point. We had a tasting room nearby at the Floodgate for a year or so then shared one with other wineries in Boonville for four years or so before returning to our own again in 2005 at the Floodgate. This has helped in some ways but does mean more costs. Small wineries are always going to struggle. I was a volunteer for the fire department for three years or so before my heart issues surfaced once more and I have had three major hospitalizations but feel ok now and hope to get lots of jobs done around here this year, ones that have been on hold for a long time.”

I asked Bob for a verbal image of his father. “Always working — either at the pharmacy or on the house or at meetings. We were not close and did not buddy- around but I had great respect for him and had no sense of alienation. My parents were very social and were at the center of the town’s community and progress. My Dad led groups to get lights for the sports fields, for cable television in town, for a sewage plant and landfill, when prior to that it was all dumped into the river.” And his mother? “Very patient and tolerant. She raised us and was a great cook — she told me about the birds and the bees.”

I asked Bob for the reasons he liked the Valley. “It is small like Big Timber. The sense of community.” And dislikes? “It is very isolated from many cultural events. The continued antagonism with some people on Holmes Ranch.”

What about Bob’s responses to various Valley issues?

The wineries and their impact? “They have had a positive impact in terms of providing jobs and income. It seems that young people were leaving but in recent years there has been a steady increase as they find work in tasting rooms. Tourism is about the same I would say but there are more wineries sharing that business now.”

KZYX radio? “I don’t listen that much.”

The school system? ‘It seems to be a decent school with dedicated teachers but…”

Marijuana and drugs in the Valley? “It has gotten out of hand. It seems to be a major talking point and the county’s reputation is centered on it. Lots of people seem to be sitting around most of the time and growing pot, seeing it as an easy way to make some money. I am not against it and legalization should happen. Methamphetamines are a different issue of course.”

I posed a few questions to Bob.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Enjoying the view from our deck with a glass of wine or beer. This is a beautiful place.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Having to worry about finances.”

Sound or noise you love? “The ‘cha-ching’ of a cash till! Making Zinfandel while listening to rock and roll, or Pinot Noir listening to jazz or classical music.”

Sound or noise you hate? “The humming of a computer. It reminds me I have things to do.”

Favorite food or meal? “Braised short ribs.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King — people dedicated to their cause and struggle.”

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 — my life is on there! Art work we have here, old family photographs.”

Favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? — “The movie would be ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe?’ with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I like challenging films like that; a book would be ‘Catch 22’ by Joseph Heller or ‘The Magus’ by John Fowles; a song — perhaps ‘Aquarius’ from Hair or Scott McKenzie’s ‘San Francisco.’ I have lots of memories the late 60s of going to the Concerts in the Park. One of my favorite bands was ‘A Beautiful Day’ with Mitchell Holman, now a long-time Valley resident. I also had a crush on 1963 Playboy model Donna Ronne — another Valley resident in later years. I thought she was the perfect woman and there she was at a Valley pot luck one day, by that time working at the County Dump in the Valley.”

Favorite hobby? “Woodworking — I’m finally getting some done.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? “An attorney. As a social worker I found myself often doing that sort of job.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “All day in an office.”

A memorable moment; a time you will never forget. “My first year in California. It was such a cultural shock and change.”

Something you’d do differently if you could do it over again? “I probably would not have started a winery of my own and stayed as a winemaker.”

Something that you are really proud of and why? “The gratitude shown to me by the families who thanked me for the work I did that gave their kids a life.”

Favorite thing about yourself? “That I try to be open-minded to new ideas and people’s values.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what’d you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “You did alright. You had good values & tried to follow them.”

If you would like to read the ‘stories’ of other Valley Folk, visit the archives. Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Beverley Bennett.

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