by TRACEY BARNES PRIESTLEY
I AM ONE OF THE MANY PEOPLE WHO CAME to Humboldt County for my college education. Thirty-one years later, I never want to leave. But why have I stayed in a place that is wintertime-soggy, summertime-foggy, economically challenged and at times politically goofy? (Just think of the different shenanigans of every single local government body over the years!) It's simple. Like so many others, I stay here because I love it here.
For this New Year, I was curious to discover just what it is that keeps all of us living behind the Redwood Curtain. I started asking around and here's what your Humboldt County "neighbors" had to say.
Thirty-four years ago, Bruce Smith, a Berkeley Police Academy graduate, was looking for a new career and a better place to raise his family. He and his wife decided on Humboldt County, realizing "there were few places more desirable than what Humboldt County and the North Coast had to offer. It looked like a great place for children to grow and prosper and a fine place to easily enrich and renew one's own spirit."
Bruce discovered "the local population was sparse yet richly diverse . . . the people warm and friendly, always helpful. The population base included many fine minds from the academic community, musicians, artists, crafters, free spirits and curmudgeons! You could live and let live."
Local resident Catherine Andrews, vice president and general manager of Holly Yashi, Inc., moved away for a few years, but like many finally made her way back "home."
"We live in the most beautiful place in the world. There's a peace here." This mother and new grandmother went on to say, "I love the Plaza! And all of the college students, the lovely way the young people are so open."
One of those college students, affectionately known as "BB" to her friends, moved to the United States with her family when she was 12. She believes "the rain here is a good thing because without it, we wouldn't have the forests. The nature here, when it's sunny, is gorgeous . . . the clean air. And the community, such a conscious mentality."
That "conscious mentality" plays itself out in some intriguing ways, as Jackie Foote, career and college center coordinator for Arcata High, pointed out. "Using my Fire and Light glassware every day, I wonder if I am actually using any of my recycled jars!"
Registered nurse Liz Sousa returned to the area because "Humboldt County is home. I love that I go shopping at Safeway and it takes me 45 minutes to do 15 minutes worth of shopping because I see friends and visit. I love that Humboldt County has great art, music and theater, with the price of admission often under $10 and the parking free. I love that even when I meet someone I don't know, we often have mutual acquaintances."
Well-liked and respected educator Paul Gossard, Washington Elementary School principal, had this to say: "People in Humboldt County know how to take care of each other. There is a high level of concern for others, as evidenced by the high level of volunteerism in schools and other community organizations."
He cited quite a few examples of Washington School volunteers: Crossing guards stand in the rain to help children get across busy streets safely; senior citizens read with children; high school cross-age tutors help primary students at classroom learning centers; a fifth-grade chorus sings under the direction of a parent; library books are reshelved by a community member; local businesses donate equipment, time and expertise to a school playground project.
One of the most impressive people around is Lt. Randy Mendosa of the Arcata Police Department. His take on life in Humboldt County? "I most always run into a friend when I am out and about. I like that! It's a safe community and a great place to raise kids. There are countless services and opportunities available, many of which are made possible by people who volunteer their time and resources . . . I can't imagine living anywhere else!"
Leslie Lollich, familiar to many of us through her work in local television, had a list of "why she loves living here" a mile long. "If your kids do something wrong, you hear about it. If your kids do something right, you hear about it. When Ringo Starr comes to town, 80-year-old women in high heels and 10 year-old boys in tennis shoes attend the concert with everyone in between. You can go to a potluck wedding reception one week and a fancy, catered affair the next. It's okay to proudly shun modern conveniences. People often tell me, `I don't have a TV.'"
There were many heartfelt replies from many different people. But what struck me was the consistency of their responses. Obviously, those of us who choose to live in Humboldt County do so because we appreciate a community full of caring, hard-working, generous, tolerant people, one that offers education, art, music, theater and magnificent natural surroundings.
Each and every day, we hear about what's "wrong" with our community. Taking stock of what's "right" about Humboldt County strikes me as a worthwhile way to begin 2003. Perhaps your own list of why you live here will help you through this wet winter. Better yet, you may be encouraged to take an action that will ultimately eliminate something from that nagging "wrong" list.
Happy New Year!
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