The young men of Croatia–and other European countries–often first came to the United States as hands on merchant marine ships in the early 1900s, says 91-year-old Anna Konatich, whose father and stepfather did exactly that. When their ship arrived at an appealing harbor, the men would hop off with no belongings but what they carried in their pockets. The lucky ones were met by more established emigrants from their homeland, who helped them get a start and send money back to their families. Anna grew up in the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia while her father worked in Pennsylvania building bridges. Thanks to him, and others like him, their village on the isle of Iz had amenities like electricity and paved streets.
Anna came to the United States as a young woman, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area after first living in Seattle. On the shores of Tomales Bay, she and her new husband helped his father to start Tony’s Seafood restaurant, bought in part from the proceeds of shark fishing. The restaurant still exists today, perched on pilings above the pristine waters of Tomales Bay, and still serves some seafood that is caught fresh by Anna’s sons.
Join us in the Story Shed to hear Anna talk with her son John about the family’s past, and making a living off the sea. Listen to the show by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.
In 1892 a scrappy 17-year-old boy left Switzerland, hoping to find his fortune. Young Dominic Grossi did indeed find fortune–as a result of hard work as a dairy farmer in California. He also found a wife, and raised 10 children, making sure each was set up with a ranch of their own. Today that dreaming teenager has well over 100 descendents, most of whom still live within 50 miles of his original ranch.
Join us in the Story Shed as we listen to Ed and Ralph Grossi talk about their grandfather’s life and legacy, and their own experiences growing up on a ranch. Listen to the show by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.
Dina Angress went to high school with Anne Frank in Amsterdam, and came to California as a 19-year-old bride just a few years after surviving the German invasion of World War II. In 1948 her husband Herb – also known as Hans – got a job working for Bill Straus, founder of the now-renowned Straus Family Creamery. The two soon became business partners, and Dina and Herb spent two decades living, working, and raising their family on the shores of Tomales Bay, an hour north of San Francisco in the small country town of Marshall. It was a world away from Dina’s cosmopolitan childhood in Amsterdam, and from the year and a half she spent cut off from her family, in hiding from German soldiers during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
In this episode of the Story Shed, we join Dina and her daughter Ingrid Noyes as they talk about Dina’s childhood in the Netherlands, and life raising six kids on a Marin County dairy. Listen to the show by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here. Learn more about Ingrid’s music camp here.
Ruth Rathbun is the granddaughter of aspiring gold miner William Wallace Wilkins, who came to California in 1849. After failing to find his fortune in gold, Wilkins turned to timber and then dairy ranching. He married at age 55, sent two daughters to college at Stanford in the early 1900s, and periodically got so drunk enough at the local bar that his horse had to find the way home for both of them.
Now 90 years old, Ruth spent her childhood summers on the family’s ranch on the edge of the Bolinas Lagoon, just north of San Francisco. In this episode of the Story Shed, we hear Ruth and her son Dan share family stories, childhood memories of the ranch, and how she returned there with her own family in the 1970s. Listen to the show by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.
Eileen, Bill and Anna Jensen at the family’s ranch
Highway 101 was a little two-lane road when 81-year-old Anna Jensen was growing up in Ignacio, located just north of the Golden Gate. In this month’s program, we’ll hear her talk with her son Bill about growing up there in the 1930s and 40s, when the restaurant down the road ran a bootlegging operation, and Hamilton Field was a thriving military post during WWII. The soldiers bought eggs and turkeys from her family’s ranch, before the military took it over; Tomales Bay was also used for bombing practice during those years. Anna also describes what it was like to move to the remote town of Tomales as a 19-year-old bride, where she helped her husband drive cattle trucks. The Jensen family, formerly the Irvin family, was one of the first to settle the town. Today Bill runs sheep and cattle on the ranch that has been in his family since 1856.
Two teenagers eloped to California from Italy in the late 1800s. Guiseppe Martinelli had a dream of making wine, and once he and his young bride Luisa arrived in the Russian River area he began scouting for the place he would eventually plant his first vines, on a few acres cleared from the forest. Today, his descendents are still farming, and growing grapes (as well as some apples). In this episode of the Story Shed, we will hear from Lee and Carolyn Martinelli, in conversation with two of their four children. Listen here for stories of how grape vines took the place of apples–as well as tales of smuggling illegal fruit in the dead of night, and how one of their premier wines came to be called Jackass Hill.
In 1852 the five Marshall brothers came from Ireland to Marin, where they founded the town that still bears their name. Though the family once owned land from Tomales Bay to Bodega, it was gradually sold off, piece by piece. Today, the thousand-acre “home ranch” is the last of those original properties. Today beef cattle and sheep graze on the rolling hillsides, and chickens cluck around the 150-year-old barn.
In this interview we talk with Gary Thornton and his daughter Marissa, who are the descendents of the Marshalls, about their struggle to keep the ranch in the family. Since Gary’s father passed away in 2001, the family has been dealing with massive inheritance taxes – a common problem that make it hard for ranchers to keep the family property. When Gary sold the development rights of the land to the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) in 2010, things got a bit easier. The family gets to keep their land, while the organization essentially pays them for the drop in property value that comes from limiting development potential and guaranteeing that they will keep the land in agriculture.
Gary and Marissa also talk about the amazing voyages the Marshall brothers took to get here, what life was like back when the San Francisco Bay Area was still a rugged frontier, and how Marissa plans to take the business over some day. Listen to the show by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.
Pam Jensen and Theresa Harlan at the former town of Hamlet
Pam Jensen was raised on her family’s oyster farm in the train-stop town of Hamlet, on the northern shore of Tomales Bay. Her great-grandfather immigrated from Denmark in the 1880s and bought the farm that included the train stop and its town. Pam’s mother was of Coast Miwok descent and many of her relatives still lived around the bay when she married Henry Jensen in 1955.
Today there is no trace of the town, the farm or the restaurant that the Jensen family operated for over 50 years, and all of her relatives (on both sides) have left the area. In this episode of the Story Shed, we join Pam and her cousin, Theresa Harlan, as they visit Pam’s childhood home and reminisce about the old days. Join us to hear their conversation about picking and shucking oysters, and what it was like to be a Native American kid in a mostly white community. Listen to the program by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.
For more information on the town of Hamlet, you can read a detailed history that was prepared for the National Park Service by Dewey Livingston.
This show originally aired on KWMR radio station on June 21, 2012.
Theresa Harlan and her husband Tiger at Laird’s Landing
Theresa Harlan’s mother grew up on the Point Reyes Peninsula during the 1920s in a mixed race household. Her father was Swiss-Italian and her mother was of both coast Miwok and Filipino descent. The family lived on the edge of Tomales Bay at the place now known as Laird’s Landing, and both her parents worked on nearby ranches. In this show, Theresa talks about their life there with her cousin, Pam Jensen, who grew up across the bay (at the oyster farm that had been in her family for generations).
Today, neither Theresa nor Pam have any close family left in the area. Theresa says that many Native America families moved away during World War II, including her mother. Her grandmother passed on, and her uncle lost the land to a local rancher after a court battle during the 1950s. In this show, Theresa talks about her mother’s stories of her childhood on the point, and what it meant to her mom as an adult when the tribe finally gained Federal recognition. Listen to the show by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.:
Photos of Theresa’s family’s homestead are below, taken when her mother was young. And tune in on June 21 for the next episode of Story Shed. In it, we will go with Pam Jensen to visit the place where Jensen’s Oyster Company once stood and hear about her family’s life on the shores of Tomales Bay.
The Campigli family home at Laird’s Landing
Theresa’s mom, Elizabeth Campigli, with Henry Jensen
Bertha Felix Campigli with her cow at Laird’s Landing
In this episode of the Story Shed we hear from 77-year-old Rich Gallagher, in conversation with his nephew, Matt Gallagher. Rich is the last of his immediate family to still be in the ranching business, and it’s likely to stay that way, since his son Tim doesn’t plan to take over. Though he sold his property in 2001, Rich still ranches under a lease on the land where he grew up – right at the intersection of Point Reyes Petaluma road and Nicasio Valley Road. This spot is known to many locals because of the American flag that always waves from the top of a roadside rock formation.
Rich describes the old days in the small town of Nicasio, where he says their life was a model of sustainability before the idea had become popular. Click the arrow below to hear to him talk about the dances and peddlers of his childhood, and how he came to sell the ranch, or download the mp3 here.: