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The Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society:
Holly Hoods and the Volunteers

If you've got a job to do and need to stay directly on course, you might avoid the downstairs of the Healdsburg Museum. Because you'll get sidetracked. Holly Hoods, Research Curator, and Charlotte Anderson, Volunteer Association Chair, are self-proclaimed co-presidents of the "Sidetrack Association." But they'll give you a warning if they know you're coming. Boxes, files, microfilm, photos, stories and storytellers are waiting. Lots of education and lots of laughs.

In an attempt to actually initiate our interview, I ask Charlotte how long she's been working at the museum.

"I don't know..." she begins. "When I retired from teaching, June Jones suggested I become a receptionist here for two and a half hours a month. But my real love is writing... I wanted to research Fitch Mountain and now I've accumulated a huge Fitch Mountain folder, and it's purple because when I'm old I'll wear purple. And right now I'm searching for the 'H' in Fitch Mountain."

"Every year the Senior Class would erect a giant 'H' on Fitch Mountain, and now Charlotte is on the quest," Holly adds, in response to my very puzzled look.

"There used to be a register on the mountain for people to sign," Charlotte continues. And she's off in search of old editions of the Russian River Recorder, handing me an article she wrote entitled "Road to the Top of Fitch Mountain" in the Winter 2002 publication. But, hold on. Now I'm getting sidetracked.

"It took years for me to write 'Floozies, Fistfights and Flames,' Holly now mentions. "While researching for a visitor, I found an article about a woman named Lucinda Walker being fined for using vulgar language. And I thought, 'That's interesting... I'd better start a file on her. Once I started a prostitution file, I began seeing trends. I'd see the words 'suspicious fire,' for example, and my mind went right to 'Walker stable.' "

Now Charlotte points out that we're sidetracking again. So I ask Holly to tell me what they do here.

"People come in looking for a picture of their house--hoping to find the perfect photo with a history already done by someone else. But usually what they get is the fun of the find. Usually they must begin with ownership history and then they find fascinating things along the way," Holly explains.

"Nicole from Oakville Grocery came to find information on a house she'd rented in which she'd had some disturbing, possibly ghostly, things happen. She'd actually seen something. So I said, 'Okay, let's find out who owned that house.' We learned that Ole Johnson, an Evangelist from the early 1900s, had built the house on North Street. We couldn't find any photos of him in the 'J' binder. So I got out the churches binder..." (Oh, oh. She accidentally produces a photo of Pete Foppiano as a child...)

"Embrace the sidetrack!" Holly instructs me, continuing: "Nicole went through the churches binder and stopped at an unidentified group photo from the Methodist Episcopal church, circa 1900. 'There. That's the guy!' Nicole pointed. I can't prove that's Ole Johnson, but Nicole sure recognized that face," Holly concludes.

Unexpected delights such as these are daily occurrences with the Sidetrack Association because Holly is a virtual magnet for the serendipitous.

Today, for example, Victoria Raffetto calls because she's found an old bottle from the Sanitary Dairy in her yard and is looking for photos of the dairy truck. Having interviewed Lois and Marian Hoy, whose dad owned the dairy, I'm excited because I've actually seen a photo of that truck. About an hour later, who happens to walk in with an original Smith Robinson article? Marian Hoy Jones. Holly makes a date for Marian to meet Victoria Raffetto and I make a date to interview Marian for the Smith Robinson Project.

And then volunteer Fran Schierenbeck stops by. Fran helps with research and architectural history for the walking tour. "I love looking up houses for people," she tells me. "I'd been researching Barbara Tuscany's house which was one of three similar houses, the middle one having been moved. One day, while I was flipping through the archives, I found a photo with the three houses intact in their original location on North Street."

And then who walks in? Barbara Tuscany. Out comes the archival photo of the three houses. Plus Holly's prostitution file which is about two inches thick.

Fern Naber drops by. She's the one who writes thank you notes to folks who donate money. Charlotte mentions that Fern comes in to see what work to do, but then takes the work home so she won't get sidetracked.

And all this is happening while Mel Amato's buzzing around working on the Instant Wine Cellar, the museum's biggest fundraiser.

"Mel's very solution oriented," Holly tells me. "He actually changes things. He began doing research on the Chambaud Building, and next thing he's hooked and donating a microfilm reader/printer."

"I won the big prize in 2001," Mel fills me in. "I was critical of there being only one prize and one winner so I was told to take it over, which I have."

Now Barbara Baxter checks in. She's in charge of the Flashbacks section in the Tribune. "I always keep the '100 years ago' part for myself. Here's an example of one I'd use," she says, pulling out a 1906 Tribune. Under the title "New Firm in Healdsburg" reads, "G.R. Harrison purchased a half-interest in a furniture and undertaking business..."

"I look for information from old council meetings, local names and grocery store ads--like this one which reads 'Tonsorial Prices: Shops closed all day Sunday. The man who neglects his face on Saturday will have to carry a sprouting beard to church... haircut 35¢, tonic 10¢, neck shave 5¢.'"

At one point Darla Budworth is searching through microfilm, Mel's making copies, Judy Johnson and Jim Marcolina are working together on the photo preservation project, Holly is helping Jane and Jim Wood find photos of Josefa and Henry Fitch, Barbara Baxter and George Clough are in and out, Marian is showing Victoria photos of her dad's Sanitary Dairy truck while Charlotte is showing me a photo of herself playing the guitar in bare feet at the all town party for Smitty. I meet many more volunteers and will introduce them next time when I focus more on Dan Murley, museum curator.

For now, I've saved the best for last. Holly, the "Queen of Serendipity" has her own special story, which I can only briefly summarize here:

"When I was a child, a teacher got us kids interested in Vietnam POWs. And I had a POW bracelet that I wore every day and every night for many years with the name Tom Kobashigawa on it. I tried and tried to locate him, but finally had to put that thought aside and leave the bracelet in my jewelry box. Then on Veteran's Day 2003, Dan Murley was putting up a Veteran's display and I offered my bracelet. Once again I was inspired to search for Tom. This time I googled him, finding him alive!

"I wanted to write to him about how I was affected by wearing that bracelet, but I didn't want to intrude or retraumatize him. Then one day while at work here, I heard this man out in the hall talking about the famous Adopted Battalion. It was Fred Weyand, the commander of Smith Robinson's Adopted First Infantry Battalion, here visiting from Honolulu.

'"Are you Fred Weyand?' I asked, jumping up and down, telling him it was my very favorite story in Healdsburg history. Then I told him that I had someone I'd never forgotten--POW Tom Kobashigawa. And Fred offered to find Tom in Honolulu! Fred then arranged an unforgettable meeting in which I presented Tom with the POW bracelet with his name on it that I'd had since I was a child."


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