Remembering our fathers

Editor’s note: Though often dismissed as a “Hallmark holiday,” I honor Father’s Day. I miss my dad, who died in May 2007 at age 81. We have other amazing dads in our community.

Some who have shared delightful stories with me about their children that come to mind include Eric Alexander, Michael Anderson, James and John Arbaugh, Richard Baker, Nate Beason, Robert Bergman, Rich Bodine, Chris Bishop, Gregory Diaz, Ben Emery, Ike Frazee, Shawn Garvey, Bob Haberger, Hal V. HallJeff Hamilton, the late John Kane, Matt Margulies, David McKay, Don Pelton, Phil and Jackson Starr, Duane Strawser and others.

Many of my other friends, who weren’t dads, would have been extraordinary in that role. Happy Father’s Day!

Joseph Pelline: A lifelong friend

Joseph Emmett Pelline, my “pal forever,” died last week in Grass Valley. He was 81.

Among other things, my dad inspired me to become a journalist. Dad had a bachelor’s degree in naval technology and master’s in geology, but he taught me self confidence and encouraged me to be independent in choosing a career more than any child could wish for.

Of course, he asked me to take a year’s worth of engineering calculus and chemistry in college, because most journalists were lame at math and science.

Needless to say, my dad was extremely perceptive, another admirable quality.

Dad was born in Sebastopol, Ca., in western Sonoma County, a bucolic upbringing that he longed to revisit later in life. His father, also named Joseph, came to the area from the Ticino region of Switzerland, among the immigrants who helped establish the Italian Swiss Colony winery.

His dad and his mom, who survived the 1906 earthquake, bought some Gravenstein apple orchards. Along with my dad’s brother, they lived in a big, brown house on Main Street. His mom owned the local coffee shop.

The family later moved to Santa Monica, and my dad was drafted into the Navy out of high school. He served as Lt. JG on the U.S.S. Little Rock (a light cruiser with the 6th Fleet in 1946) that crossed the Arctic Circle, among other places. My father earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and his master’s degree from UCLA.

Dad went to work as an oil exploration geologist for the Humble Oil and Refining Co. in downtown Los Angeles, where he met my mom. My dad worked at Exxon, Humble Oil’s successor, as well as British Petroleum and the Stanford Research Institute, holding numerous management positions throughout his career.

He was a dedicated father. Dad joined me in many activities: YMCA Indian Guides, Boy Scouts and Little League. He was a coach on all my Little League teams. In Y-Indian Guides, a father-son program started in the ’20s, the slogan is “pals forever.” Nothing more aptly described my relationship with my father.

While growing up, we lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Denver and San Jose. We moved to Denver when I was in high school, a difficult age to be uprooted from friends.

But Dad wasted no time helping me to adjust. He and my mom signed me up for the “Eskimo Ski Club,” where I learned to ski. Dad would gleefully wake me up before dawn on Saturday and shovel out the driveway, so we could drive to the Denver railroad depot for the train ride to Winter Park. “And now reveille!” he would shout, rousting me from bed.

Dad encouraged my journalism career. In Denver, my high-school English teacher drafted me for the school newspaper and asked me to write a column. Dad helped me choose the topic: Too many people are over-educated; we also need ditch diggers. He edited this one and the others that followed. It helped build my self confidence and establish new friendships.

My father helped me with my homework throughout my childhood and youth. We would get together after dinner, and he would check my algebra, help me with the math “story problems” and let me use his slide rule for math. (This was before calculators). It always was a collaborative effort.

For years, my dad and I fished together throughout Northern California. My favorite memory is landing a 25-inch steelhead trout at the mouth of the Smith River near Crescent City when I was a teenager. I was so shocked that I hooked the fish, I asked him to wade out into the river to help me land it. After that experience, I joked that he was “my personal valet.”

My dad also was a dedicated husband and grandfather. Not long after my mom and dad retired in Bodega Bay, Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This slowed him down but did not deter him.

When we moved to Nevada County from the Bay Area more than two years ago, we brought my parents with us. The past few years of Mom’s life were difficult because of her declining health. But Dad did a fabulous job of keeping Mom comfortable and well fed, cooking many of her favorite recipes. My wife and I greatly admired his efforts.

My dad and my five-year-old son shared many memories. He was an avid stamp and coin collector, and the two of them relished looking at the coins together. Last Christmas, my dad bought my son a metal piggy bank like the one he had as a child: it was an elephant, whose trunk propelled the coin into his body. The two of them also liked watching cartoons together, most notably “Lazytown.”

My dad loved my wife. He cried at our wedding, and he was so proud of her. He greatly admired her sailing prowess on Lake Tahoe and her strong sense of motherhood. He was forever grateful to her for helping out her in-laws as she did.

We moved my parents into our Nevada City home shortly before my dad died. A major stroke had further diminished my dad’s health. We attempted to rehabilitate him at the Golden Empire Convalescent Hospital and return him home, but he had a relapse. Dad got pneumonia and died peacefully on May 21 with my wife and I at his side, holding his hands.

“We’re all going to miss grandpa,” my son said when we told him. I already miss him terribly.

Joseph is survived by Jeff Pelline, his son; Shannon, Jeff’s spouse; and Mitchell, their son, all of Nevada City. A private memorial service for Joe and Marilyn Pelline will be held this summer in Sebastopol, Ca., near their home for many years. In lieu of flowers, tax-deductible donations can be made to their grandson’s favorite charity, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum to help build a real “Little Engine that Could.”: NCNGRR Museum – Locomotive Fund; PO Box 2392, Nevada City, CA 95959. Call 530-470-0902 or go to http://www.ncngrrmuseum.org for information.

About jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.
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One Response to Remembering our fathers

  1. Don Pelton says:

    Jeff, thanks for the very touching remembrance of your dad. I can see why you are proud of him, and he has plenty of reason to be very proud of you.

    Don

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