Supervisor Roger Rodoni, who was killed in a car accident last week, was a Renaissance man — an artist, rancher, historian and politician. He made an impression on thousands of people during his 67 years. Here are just a few stories.
If you get this paper Wednesday morning, you might want to know that there will be a memorial for Roger Rodoni at Bellotti Hall (Humboldt County Fairgrounds, Ferndale) at 2 p.m., Wednesday, April 30. Memorial contributions can be made to the Roger Rodoni Scholarship Fund, which is being handled through the Fortuna Rotary Club. The address is PO Box 273, Fortuna, Calif., 95540.
I've known Roger pretty near my whole life. I lived out on Rainbow a couple of times; my Uncle Irv ran the ranch up there in the '50s, way before Roger had it. My family knew his family. It was a pretty tight community with the ranchers.
So, back when I was 11 or 12, my Uncle Irv was helping Andy Amsbaugh with some of the rodeo stock. We hauled all these horses up to Crescent City for a rodeo up there. I believe that was Roger's first year at Cal Poly, so he'd been gone. I hadn't seen him for a while. I was there helping work the chutes and stuff, whatever an 11-year-old kid could do at a rodeo. They ran all the first section of bulls, then they ran the calf roping. Then the first section of saddle bronc riding. They saved out one horse. They said there's a kid coming up; we're saving a horse for him.
Andy and Roger were very good friends. Andy had been one of Roger's mentors throughout his life.
So all the cowboys were kind of pissed. "What's this saving a goddamn horse for some guy?" They went ahead and ran the barrel race, the team roping. Then here comes this guy they've been saving the horse for. Well, it's Roger.
And Roger, you know he had that swagger. I was a little guy and kind of looked up to him. He come in there and he rode that horse. I'm gonna tell you what, it's still in my mind, and I've seen lots of buckin' bronc riders, I've rode a lot of buckin' horses, I knew guys like Monty Henson, Larry Mahan, great bronc riders. I've seen some great rides. But that's the one that sticks out in my mind.
There was Roger; he made the most beautiful saddle bronc ride ever. I mean it was just perfect. He was sittin' up straight as an arrow. He was spurring that horse from the money to the buck. I don't know whether you know what that means: The money's up in the mane, up in the neck; the buck's all the way back behind the flank. He was just boom, boom. It was just incredible. He won the rodeo. That epitomizes Roger to me. He was a winner.
He was one of the first people I really met when I moved here. We were both in a nighttime watercolor class at CR, and he'd only been a supervisor about a year, year-and-a-half. He had this belt buckle that said, Bronc Riding Champion of 1962, and I saw that and I went, "Whoa, that's cool!" and he kind of looked at me kind of weird, with my hair down to my belly button, he looked at me kind of funny and he goes, "What do you think is cool about that?" and I said, "I dunno, it sounds kind of exciting and adventurous." He goes, "Well, if you'd like a story, I'll tell you a story about it," and so, we were on our break, so he told me the story of his championship year.
We would hook up and we would go out to do some painting together, and it was always an adventure. He would usually pick me up in Eureka and we would head out to Petrolia — the first time I ever went over the Wildcat — and we would just go to all of these nooks and crannies. Up the Mattole, the Eel River. He had property that bordered on the Eel River, and I was really just impressed at how he was such a roughneck. In the summertime he cooked his dinner outside on a campfire and he set the picnic table outdoors, with all the stuff you'd have in your cupboard except he'd have it on the table.
We went for a weekend up to his properties up on Rainbow Ridge, where he has cattle, and up there there's no electricity. It's just bunk houses. Every time we went, he always would introduce me to somebody. He introduced me to Hobart Brown one time, we went over to Hobarts and we just did it up that night. The McBrides. People with big ranches around here, big landowners. Curly Wright — here was a guy, he'd probably be like 100 now. You're just meeting guys who were real roughnecks, you know, guys who probably didn't go to school past 8th grade.
Roger's art — his art looked in some ways just so simple, but it was very descriptive, it was very narrative, it was the way he talked. His pictures told stories the same way he did, and everywhere we went, if it we were on the Eel River or the Mattole or the ocean, if we were looking at a ridge, a certain peak, there's a story of Humboldt history around every corner. And he physically would cross paths with that. He was such a good storyteller — he looked around him. He could see the beauty of Humboldt County where other people just put their nose to the grindstone and never look up. Everywhere in Southern Humboldt he was at home. His sense of who he was and where he comes from was so clear.
One of the first times I went to his place in Stafford, he was there with his wife, Johanna, and we sat there by the river. And it was just so beautiful, and he was just describing things — history. And then they go to make dinner and it's just a campfire. So he's tenderizing the meat and stoking the fire and just cooking it up, and this was dinner. It was like camping. He loved to have people over, playing instruments and things like that.
Then when [Bobby's wife Jennifer Savage and kids] came out, we were sitting by the river painting, and then my kids went skinny-dipping in the river, and he was laughing. He thought that was great.
I think people kind of thought it funny, me being the long-haired hippie guy and him being the old redneck, but there was never an argument. Our discussions — it just got down to people, and we kind of saw things pretty much the same way. I could understand where he was coming from. It wasn't like a father-son relationship. It was definitely two friends. Even though he was 22 years older than I was.
His sense of place and who he was and what he knew. He wasn't just a rancher. He did so many different things. He was so well-rounded. I remember thinking, that's how I want to be, that's how I want my kids to be — that lust for life.
We were going out to paint, we were up in the mountains, I think off of Rainbow Ridge, and he straps a 22 to him, and I said, "What's that for? And he said, "Mountain lions." And I'm thinking, a 22's not going to do nothing to a mountain lion. So we were just jostling that one around, and he was like, "You're the one that has to worry." I go, "Why me?" He goes, "Because you're a vegetarian, you smell like rabbit." I said, "Rabbit? I don't have to worry about the mountain lion, I'll just run." He goes, "What, you think you can outrun a mountain lion?" I said, "No, but I can outrun you." He said, "What did you think the gun was for? I just have to wound you!" That's what he said! I don't know if I said it exactly, poetically as he did.
He just had a way of talking. He didn't sound like a politician. He didn't teeter back and forth on one leg or the other; he would stand well-balanced. And he'd kind of sit back, round his shoulders a little bit, give a little squint and then start his story with this slow pace that would build a little.
He wasn't just some old redneck. He did have that artistic side, and he was very narrative and he was very rich in history. Sometimes he seemed like he was a lot younger than he was, and other times he seemed like he could be from the 1800s.
I discovered him as an artist in two ways. One, while he was getting to know me, he made some drawings and mailed them to me. They were cartoons of environmentalists and loggers, like one had an environmentalist under the boot of a logger. I wish I could remember the caption. So I knew he could sketch well. Then I had a chance meeting with him at an art show at CR. It was student digital art and drawings. There was Roger, carefully looking at all of the work by the students. He and I had a long discussion about art. I don't think it was very well known how well he could draw.
His wife Johanna and I were both members of a group called the Mattole Watershed Alliance. I got to know Roger there. This was way back. He had a real curiosity about the environmentalists, and about all sorts of people who were different from him. You'd see him at Reggae on the River and things like that. People told me, if he gets elected to office we'll never be rid of him.
Once he was a supervisor, he'd always come down to Garberville on Thursday afternoons. That really kept him in touch with the district. He'd come down and set up office. I would ask him for support on one thing or another. His first question for me was, "Who's against you?" That was the first thing he wanted to know, not about the content of the project or who supported it. He was such a superb politician, before he'd take a step toward considering a project he wanted to know who the opposition was. That was the politician in him.
(From his blog: eddenson.blogstream.com)
I met Roger in 1992 when we were both running for County Supervisor for the Second District. I was the hippie, he was the cowboy — you can't miss us. The voters could, because they elected Roy Heider. But Roger and I became friends during the endless debates that brought the candidates together. He was jovial, friendly and loved to talk about interesting things — a good recipe for making friends. Next election, in 1996, I was studying law, and he won the job and held it until the day he died. I thought he did an excellent job of it, too.
He loved to shock people by crossing the various cultural lines that divide our county. One evening during the timber wars he took Darryl Cherney and me to dinner at Parlato's, where the Fortuna heavyweights become more so. I was apprehensive at first, but Roger was in his best form, introducing us to other people and keeping up a good flow of conversation. The point was to show the regulars that he was able to talk to "the other side," and perhaps to show both sides that we had a lot in common and could eat under the same roof.
Another day he took us to a friend's ranch for some Rocky Mountain Oysters. Delicious.
Below is a painting of his which he gave me. I keep it in my law study.
After I became a lawyer and began hanging out in the courthouse, I got the chance to go see Roger from time to time. His supervisor's office was way back through a maze of corridors in the courthouse at that time. He was always willing to take the time to sit and talk for a half-hour or so about county affairs, and general courthouse gossip.
One of my first jobs was representing the Hemp Connection in Garberville. Their sign, featuring a green hemp leaf, was controversy. The Design Review Committee of Garberville had said it had to come down. I contacted Roger, he did some reviewing of the status of the DRC, and came and read them the riot act. It turned out they had no power to enforce their prejudices at all — they were advisory only. The sign stayed, and you can see it to this day on Garberville's main street.
Over the years I didn't get to see Roger as often. But from time to time as I came into the courthouse I would pass the supervisor's meeting chambers, and there they would be, listening to presentations. I was always able to catch Roger's eye, and give him a salute, which he would return. It felt good to know I had a friend on the board.
I am still in shock from hearing of his death last night. The loss of a man of Roger's stature is going to change the county. I hope his successor will keep up Roger's tradition of standing up for the rights of rural people, of medical marijuana users and of folks who have run afoul of the county bureaucracy. I suppose the last quote of Roger's that rings in my ears is a comment he made at the Code Enforcement hearings to the effect that we are not going to have bulldozers destroying people's homes in this county.
We have lost a champion in every sense of the word.
I've known him all the time that he was supervisor. I happened to meet him — well, I belong to the grange, and at that time we had a grange in Garberville. The California State Grange, which is over all of the granges in California, made me the legislative representative for Humboldt County, which meant that when they wanted some certain legislation supported or, maybe, didn't want it supported, then you were supposed to go to your supervisor and explain it to him and ask for his cooperation in supporting or not supporting something. I knew his mother slightly because his mother used to make lovely little craft things and Christmas ornaments, and every year at the grange they'd have a Christmas Bazaar, and that's how I met her. And she's just a lovely lady and I bought a few of the things that she made.
A couple of weeks after he actually took office, I got a call from Sacramento to go and see him to talk about certain legislation. Which I did. And I was very impressed at the time about how knowledgeable he was about the particular thing they wanted to know about. To tell you the truth, I was just scared to death to go see him. I thought, oh my gosh, I have to get along with this guy. I hope he won't hate me. And so I went in and introduced myself, all proper — and I'm old enough practically to be Roger's mother — and he jumped up and came around the desk and he said hello to me and everything and I was so overcome by how nice he was. I fell for him like a ton of bricks right then on the spot. And I haven't stopped loving him since. I've told him since then, and he knows, I said, "Well, you know, I've loved you right at the start and I've spent all the time since finding out a thousand reasons why."
And so I saw him almost every week after that. He had an office down here, he came every Thursday. I'd go in there and visit with him. I just decided, never mind if the grange ever called me again, I'm just going to see him anyway because he was just so adorable. And I thoroughly enjoyed him, he had a wonderful sense of humor, we had a lot of laughs.
I can think of one time — and I'm not sure this should be in the newspaper, I'm supposed to be a proper church lady — but anyway, this one time I heard a really funny off-color story that had to with — you know, he was a professor at CR for many years, then after he became supervisor he still taught a few classes, and one of them was horse husbandry — so, this story had to do with horses doing things that horses do ... and, so, I laughed so hard when I heard this story, and I knew he taught that class, so I came to him and I said to him, "You know, I am not in the habit of telling off-color stories to gentlemen ..." So I told him the story, and he laughed so hard the tears rolled down his face. And so from that time on, let's say that we were really good buddies.
We had a lot of happy times, and of course I got acquainted with Johanna, and I'm very fond of Johanna, and we just had lots of happy time together.
Another thing that was very nice to me, there was a period of time when I had a lot of eye problems and I had to go to Santa Rosa to specialists and I had to have several operations, and I couldn't drive. And so he used to drive me from his office here, over to work [at the Humboldt House Inn in Garberville], and his truck was so big — he had a big, high truck — and I'm short, I'm about five-foot tall, and so he would let me out and I would have to slide, slide, slide and hope my feet would ever touch the ground. So when he began to realize my feet didn't touch the ground too well, he got so he could drive right up to the curb so I could get out without going a mile down in a hole or something.
I'll tell you, I'll miss him terribly. Such a wonderful pal.
Mary Lou Willits
I took a class that Roger taught a long time ago, a forage crops class. He told us this story — it may be a tall tale — but I think about this story all the time when I think of Roger. The story was about how his son was hiking off in the woods somewhere and he came across a cave or a tree stump that had a baby bear in it. There was no mama around, just the baby. He reached in and grabbed the bear cub and wasn't sure what to do next. He ended up running home with this baby bear.
So, what do you do with a baby bear? They raised it. They put it in the barn and built a pen for it and fed it. It would follow Roger around when he was doing his chores; it was his little bear. When it grew up, they couldn't leave it home alone, so Roger built a pen in the back of his truck and whenever he went anywhere, he'd drive this bear around with him, like when he'd check the cattle or when he'd go to town.
Then he said, "I don't know, but some people can't drive by Pierson's without stopping, and that's how my wife is. So we're driving home. We've been gone all day, and we've got this bear who's hungry and mad in the back of the truck, and she wants to go to Pierson's."
So they parked the truck and she went off to shop for something and the bear is in the back of the truck. He starts bawling and carrying on, shaking the truck. And there's Roger sitting in the truck with everyone looking at him, and he has an illegal bear in his truck. So, every time I'd see him on TV on the Board of Supervisors, I'd think about this illegal baby bear. I have no idea if the story is true, but he told it to the class. I always wondered how he felt about all those people knowing he'd done this illegal thing.
I'm in real estate, and he was extremely helpful with things I was working on. On my own house ... when I built my house six years ago, I got a building permit, and then another building permit for my garage, and I added a room in between, and the building inspector said, go get another building permit. I didn't realize it, but I had a heart condition at the time. And I went in and talked to the chamber, and I said [to the chamber director], "I don't know what to do. I'm running out of funds, I need to get a loan, I can't get a notice of completion and if I have to go through the permit process it'll be another six months." And she said, "Let me e-mail Roger and see what he can do." And I said, "What can Roger do?'
The next day, the head of building called me and said, "I have your permit ready. Have your engineer bring up a set of plans and you can take it home with you."
And it was Roger that did that. And I've always felt that Roger saved my life. I had surgery three weeks later — open heart surgery. I wasn't well, but I didn't know it at the time. I've often thought, if I'd had to go through the stress of trying to get another building permit, it could've caused enough strain on it where I could've died. So I said, "Roger, you saved my life. I'm yours forever."
It was a wonderful thing to do. And you know, I don't think people realize how much he did for individuals. It never made big news or anything. There are dozens of people down here who were helped by Roger. It's so frustrating and heartbreaking to deal with the county sometimes. But Roger could smooth things out. He was wonderful. And a good friend. And I'm just really sad about it.
People that didn't know him very well thought he was very aloof. But he was warm and understanding, and you could just go over to his office and talk to him.
Now, see, the reason why I ran [in 2004] was because I knew that certain issues would not be brought up into public discourse unless a person like me ran. Now, I wasn't under the illusion that I could win against Roger Rodoni.
The neat thing about Roger was that he made me feel, after it was over, like I had achieved my goals. That I was successful in what I wanted to have happen, and that was to bring certain issues into the arena of public debate. Of course, I got to know Johanna, and to know Roger, in the different debates we had, and I really got to like them a whole lot. The day after the election I called him and left a message on his phone and I congratulated him on his victory, and I think it was probably the following day, he gave me a call and talked to me for quite a while and he told me he had a great amount of respect for me because I was straightforward and honest.
He had a way of making a person feel good. He made me feel good about losing.
It was 20 years ago, this spring. I was trespassing on PL land, on Rainbow Ridge, the Mattole area. I had just hiked up this hill; it went from 800 feet elevation to 3,800 feet, like in two horizontal miles. I got to the top and I was in this massively steep meadow, just beautiful. The wind was howling. I was walking on this dirt road up there trying to find an easy way out of the area. There was no easy way. And here come this truck around the corner. It almost hit me; I couldn't hear it because of the howling wind.
The guy in the driver's seat says, "What are you doing up here?"
I said, "Oh, I was just hiking the headwaters of the Bear River in Humboldt Redwoods State Park," which is pretty far away, but that was the best excuse I could come up with. I told him I got turned around. Of course I'm wearing camouflage fatigues and a military pack, I had a beard. I didn't look like a state park hiker. We're talking and he says, "You know, you talk pretty fast, but I'm starting to catch up with you." It was Roger, of course, driving up near his place. It may have been on the land he leased from Pacific Lumber. I was looking at their old growth on the Mattole, doing photo reconnaissance. I didn't know who Roger was.
He says, "You know what? I want you to get in my truck. I'm going to take you down to my neighbor Jack's place. Jack will know what to do with you."
I say, "You want me to go with you to Jack's? Well, can I just get in the back of the truck?"
He says, "Yeah, I don't care. Just climb in."
So I start to step onto the back bumper, but then I run. I run up the hill and realize I'm going the wrong way. I needed to go down. It was steep going up and brushy, and he has three hound dogs in the back of his truck. I figured he'd just track me and I'd be toast. He was parked, watching me. I'm thinking, what am I going to do? So I ran back across the road and went down this super-steep hill into this place they call Devil's Hole, an incredible wild nest I never would have thought to hike into. But that was my encounter with Roger: He was going to take me to see Jack and let Jack decide what to do with me. I escaped.
We talked about that meeting at Tracy Katelman's wedding a few years ago. We sat and discussed it. It was kind of funny.
Then my last encounter with Roger was on this job at the NEC. He came to me. He wanted the NEC to back up the county on Williamson Act enforcement on the Tooby Ranch case. It was funny talking with him. I was not thinking we'd do it. It was the county's bailiwick. When we were talking I could see this look in his eye; I knew he was thinking, "Can I really trust this guy?" But he came to me. It was very much an old-school horse-trading politics kind of thing. He wanted to do some horse-trading. I wasn't going for it. Not a chance. I wasn't going to get us involved in that.
Simon Frech & Darryl Cherney
(During the KMUD pledge drive, Friday morning)
Cherney: Do you remember the name of Roger's show, Simon?
Frech: "Life in the Country."
Cherney: "Life in the Country." That's what I thought it was.
Frech: And you know that little window over there? Do you know what the name for that window is? It's the Johanna Rodoni window. At least the builders called it that — the folks who redid the studio.
Frech: So she could keep an eye on Roger. She was not in here while he did the talk show. She was usually out there.
I was sorry that he didn't continue doing the show, because he was great. Actually, one time he brought in someone off the street — this young man who was hitchhiking around the country without money. He later wrote a book called For the Kindness of Strangers, I think. He was just traveling around the country, and he came in and talked on Roger's show.
Sometimes Roger would have people from Garberville, or some ranchers from somewhere. It was really great because it brought another element to KMUD. Just another side of the county that didn't usually access KMUD, and I really wish it would. It was kind of a bridge-building.
Cherney: I sat around many campfires with Roger Rodoni, and with Judi Bari, and also went out to Bridgeville to hang out with Lauren and Mel Shuman, who were sort of progressive ranchers out there, who Roger knew.
One time I was sitting around with Roger, Lauren, Mel — I don't remember if Johanna was there, but Judi Bari was there — and we were just all sitting around the living room. I'm munching on these little things. I'm kind of a nervous guy — I eat corn chips, or potato chips, and these look like Chicken McNuggets or something ... As I'm kind of wolfing them down off the coffee table, Roger says to me, "How do you like the calves' nuts?"
And I just stopped, mid-chew. And of course the place broke out laughing. And that was my first and only experience eating ...
Frech: So-called mountain oysters?
Cherney: Rocky Mountain oysters, absolutely.
I spent a lot of time building bridges with Roger. I've cooked beans around the campfire with him. I hung out in his supervisors' office and talked politics with him, right up to this year.
Frech: Where did you go, to the Garberville office?
Cherney: No, no, when I was in Eureka I'd stop by and visit him there. We'd sit around and chew the fat, talk the issues of the day. I really, really liked Roger. Roger enjoyed hanging out with people of different philosophies, different political persuasions. I think he particularly enjoyed that — as I really like hanging out with people who are not the usual fare. Because it's not just about the political perspectives, but sort of the different culture that goes along with it.
So Roger and I judge people by their character, not their politics.
It's a great loss to all of us.