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Archive for January 25th, 2009

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My wife, Barbara Degenhardt Kovach, started making day trips from San Francisco to Bolinas in 1951. Her sister, Paula Gower, had a sister-in-law, Mavis Gower Lundmark, living on the “Little Mesa.” Mavis’ husband Herb Lundmark was the manager of RCA’s Bolinas transpacific transmission station which was built by Marconi in 1913 and sold to the new American company in 1916 (today the buildings are owned and used by Commonweal).

I started going to Bolinas in 1956 because a cook in the Mount Zion Hospital kitchen, where I worked, told me of the wonderful small seaside town and, in particular, of Tarantino’s, a good seafood restaurant there.

I became acquainted with Barbara while working with her staging staff art shows at the hospital. In the spring of 1958 we got together, married in the spring of 1959 and had our son, Alexander Frederick Kovach, in the fall of 1960. By the time Alex was three years old, we were renting a small guest cottage from Glory and Bob Berry above Terrace Avenue, a main road in Bolinas. Later, we time-shared a somewhat larger cottage about a block away from the Berry’s with another young couple from San Francisco. That turned out to be more trouble than it was worth because Barbara was so compulsive about leaving the place immaculate after a stay that she spent all her time cleaning and didn’t get much pleasure from our weekends there.

In 1967 I left my job at the US Naval Supply Center, Oakland to work at PG&E, which I did for a little more than year and then, in July of 1968, started working for the President’s Office at the University of California. I cashed out my federal retirement fund of $5,000 and with it bought a house, still in the frame, from the builder, Bob Callagy. We continued living on Lyon Street in San Francisco but after a while that didn’t seem to make much sense. To ease the financial burden we rented our Bolinas place to a college instructor for about a year which meant we couldn’t use it. When we regained possession Barbara would wait for Alex at the Grant School on Friday afternoons to get to Bolinas as soon as she could for the weekend and I would leave University Hall and drive directly to Bolinas. We also spent every holiday and Barbara and Alex would spend the entire summer there. After two years of this, I decided we were paying extra rent and putting Barbara and Alex under unnecessary stress just so I could have a shorter commute to Berkeley. In April of 1970 we moved in full time to our Bolinas house and I started fifteen years of long distance commuting (after Berkeley to Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Sunnyvale). In October of 1980 we moved to our present house, across the street from the cottage we time-shared fifteen years earlier.

Somewhere in the course of the year following our move to Bolinas a young man from Philadelphia, named Dave Duffin, arrived. He took a job with the local school driving one of their buses.

Bolinas was, and is, an artists’ town. If you were not a musician or a painter or sculptor you could just say you were a poet because there was no way to deny your claim. We have well known specimens of all of these. Of course, the school was (and is) heavily biased towards the arts and there was little to no provision for the kids not inclined that way. In his youth, Duffin had been a motorcycle racer so he decided to set up a biking program. He got nervous and conditional permission to set up such a program from the school administration.

A shed adjacent to the school property on Ellen Bourne’s parcel was generously loaned by her to be the workshop. Dave went “over the hill” to East Marin to cadge parts from all the local motor cycle vendors. Then the kids built a motorcycle. Dave taught them sensible and responsible riding – wouldn’t let anyone throw a leg over the saddle without a helmet on, for example.  Pretty soon there were a number of little motorcycles (70-75 cc engines) all over Bolinas (because of the hair styles and costumes at the time it was sometimes difficult to tell a boy from a girl – my rule of thumb was ”if it’s on a horse it’s a girl – if it’s on a motorcycle it’s a boy”)

Then the fighting started.

At the school there were fights over the track, its size, location and surface and fights over scheduling of riding because of the noise and dust (and, I suspect, because of fear of the competition for student attention). In the larger community there were complaints about the noise mainly. I tried to get the kids to stop their habit of riding in a limited circuit – “spread the pain as much as possible” but was only partially successful.

A number of meetings were held to try to negotiate some sort of compromise. The most amusing – and productive – was held at the local public utility’s building after a couple of the kids accused some of the men on the Mesa of chasing the riders brandishing baseball bats and hammers. When I stated this accusation to one of them he said “that’s a lie and if you say that again I’ll punch you in the nose!” That absurdity became a watershed moment, defused the situation and a real understanding and compromise was reached.

Some of the group. My son Alexander is the one standing above the gas tank.

Some of the group. My son Alexander is the one behind the gas tank.

The whole gang. Duffin is in the rear. All photos were taken by Dave.

The whole gang. Duffin is in the rear. All photos were taken by Dave.

Dave used his familiarity with the motorcycle racing world to have the kids meet with a couple of then current racing champions notably Kenny Roberts who became national champion three times (and is in the motorcycle hall of fame) and Brad Lackey a cross country racer who lived in Richmond across the bay. The kids also became interested in dirt-biking and Dave arranged cross country rides at Alvin Gambonini’s ranch east of Marshall and several camping trips in the Sierra foothills. They got to meet Roger Decoster a living legend in cross-country or motocross racing. There were also trips to Laguna Seca and Sears Point (now Infineon) to watch races.

Meeting Kenny Roberts, 1971. He won 3 champioships in the early '80s

Meeting Kenny Roberts, 1971. He won 3 champioships in the early ’80s

With Roger Decoster, five times world champion motocross racer

With Roger Decoster, five times world champion motocross racer

After a couple of years, with most of the original participants gone, the program was terminated. Dave went on to have an interesting hop-scotching career.

(Post Script sent to me by Dave today, Sept. 22, 2010, on the origin of the motorcycle shop program at Bolinas School:
Story within the story:

Dave Callagy crashed his mini bike on Dogwood one Sunday afternoon as I read the Chronicle on my deck at 365. I took him to Pt. Reyes to get his thumb cleaned up. Two weeks later a knock on the door brought David, Sean, Eddie Hansen, Randy Bourne and John Barrow. Their question was “Can you help us start a motorcycle shop at the school?”

I had to think fast because I could see an outcome and reaction from the school being NO followed by laughter. I told them I’d write a proposal.

Two weeks after that anther knock at the doors brings the same kids in with the announcement “you have to attend the School Board Meeting tonight”.

Later that night when the Board asked “When can you start” I realized I was on auto-pilot. The idea for the program came from the kids and after a year the school asked me to drive a bus for them too. I believe many of those cowboys decided they did not want tie-dye class.)

He worked for Carolyn Brown (a local personality) at The Growing Mind, a school for children with learning difficulties in Berkeley, for a couple of years. At the time I was commuting to University Hall so Dave rode with me every day.

With his GI Bill scholarship funding about to expire, Dave decided to use it to get a pilot’s license. He went on to get an instructor’s rating and then taught nearly all the old motorcycle troupe to fly, gratis. Two of them went on to become commercial jet pilots.

Alexander Kovach as a flyer.

Alexander Kovach as a flyer.

After that he owned and operated AAA Photo on First Street (between Mission and Market) in San Francisco. The principal business was passport photographs for patrons of the US agency just around the corner on Market. His staff was mostly made up of Bolinas kids working part-time.

Then he worked for movie production companies doing on-location shoots in the Bay Area (and further afield in Northern and Central California) finding suitable sites and arranging all the logistics, equipment, food and so on. He may still be doing this work at least part of the time. A consequence of this is he is now Chairman of the Alameda Film Commission whose mission is to encourage film production in the area.

He started Oasis for Kids, a nonprofit concerned with providing learning and travel experiences for young teens. Motorcycle trips are featured prominently in the program – so this is a blending of Dave’s previous experiences in Bolinas and Berkeley.

************

Shortly before Martin Luther King’s eightieth birthday (he was born four weeks after me) Dave sent an email to a list of friends containing this extraordinary photograph:

Martin Luther King jr at the Penn Center

Martin Luther King jr at the Penn Center

There was no explanation given. In response to my demand that he provide some sort of background he sent this note:

Hi Roger,

I finished boot camp at Parris Island, SC in Dec. 1964 and then returned to PI after Advanced Infantry Training at Camp Lejeune, NC. Because of my previous training and background I was put into the base PR offices. I became our two-star’s favorite photographer. I also had a chance to take a photo one day of Dorothy Lamour and her son who was graduating. When I used the well-worn photographer’s phrasing “One more Miss Lamour?” she smiled demurely and said “you’re real cute General”.

As we move along, I was out one Sunday (Spring ’65) exploring the moss-lined back roads of some one of the coastal islands in my MG-B and came across a sign indicating PENN COMMUNITY CENTER. I drove into the gravel entrance and was soon met by Courtney Siceloff the director. We found out we were both from Philadelphia. I knew the name Penn well from the history of my city and state and also the connection to the Quaker religion of which Courtney and his family were members. The center was established by Philadelphia Quakers in the 1860’s. I came to be a frequent social guest for dinner and they let me use their guest house on the beach many times. They never mentioned their views about conscientious objection nor did I mention much about my USMC training. I also ended up volunteering my photojournalist skills and helped the center produce two brochures about the center and the social work they did in the (very) poor low-country areas of South Carolina (Google – “Gullah”).

One afternoon I got a call from Courtney to see if I could come out that evening. He said a special event was taking place but to “keep it quiet”. When I got there at dusk I was ushered into their sitting room and there was MLK. I had a chance to shake hands, talk about the photo project and about my background. I asked him if he would mind if I took a photo. I called in the Siceloff’s and made the photo with my Nikon-F with TRI-X and no flash. Later that night King gave a talk to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff (including Andy Young, Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, Joan Baez, and others). His oratory was spellbinding and he warned the group to stay on the non-violent track. He was an utterly calm soul.

I showed their son John my cameras and gave him some lessons in photography – that’s him looking at Dr. King in the photo. I recently contacted the center and learned Courtney was retired in a senior residence in Savannah, Georgia, his wife passed and son John was now a producer for PBS NOW and Bill Moyer’s Journal. The center had heard of the photo so I recently sent them a copy and gave them the publication rights. I have now been in the same room as JFK, MLK and RFK, but that’s another two stories.

And that’s the way it was,

Dave

PS: I also contacted John Siceloff (NYC) and he told me I inspired him to become a photojournalist. I like surprises even if they are not “wrapped”.

David Duffin
344 Westline Drive – Suite C113
Alameda, CA 94501
415 999 5322 cell

Director: Oasis for Kids, Inc.
See: www.oasisforkids.org

Chairman: Alameda Film Commission
See: www.filmalameda.com

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