Promise Of Paradise

3:30pm Thursdays
  • Hosted by Sarah Reith, Alice Woelfle, Kate Magruder, Laura Hamburg


Welcome to Promise of Paradise, Back to the Land Oral Histories of Mendocino County.  We are working to document an experiment that began roughly fifty years ago all across the country. In the 60’s and 70’s, young people began to “tune in, turn on, and drop out.” Anything was possible. College-educated hippies began to stream away from the cities and into the country, to put a modern twist on ancient homesteading skills. We’ll hear about the sense of exhilaration, the resilience, and how these now aging hippies recall their rush towards freedom and responsibility.

We’ll also hear about how the lack of boundaries led to tragedy and disillusionment; the racial insensitivity; and how the back to the land experiment altered Mendocino County.

Who were these people, why did they come, and what mark did they make on this county’s history?

Promise of Paradise is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, California Humanities, the Arts Council of Mendocino County, the Judy Pruden Historical Preservation Fund of the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, the Mendocino Institute, StoryCenter, and Grace Hudson Museum.


Promise of Paradise Episode 28: Norman de Vall

May 30, 2019
Laura Hamburg

Today we'll be hearing from Norman de Vall of the town of Mendocino. Norman was a four-term Mendocino County Supervisor during the building code wars of the 70s and 80s. 

It was a time when the County pushed to outlaw the very houses the back-to-the-landers called home. 

It was also a time when tensions ran high, building inspectors might be armed and planning files went missing. The cabins the counterculture community built were targeted, red-tagged and declared illegal. 

Jen Riddell

May 23, 2019 — We’ve heard a lot of stories from people who came to Mendocino County as young adults in the 60’s, 70’s, and even the 80’s, to bring a fresh perspective to a lot of old-time homesteading skills. But today we’ll hear from some ‘second gens,’ or the children of back to the landers.

Promise of Paradise Episode 27: Lynn Meadows

May 16, 2019
Contributed by Lynn Meadows

Lynn Meadows moved to the intentional communty of Greenfield Ranch outside Ukiah, CA in 1972 with her husband, Bob Dress.  They have lived there ever since.  Lynn became part of the home birth movement that was sweeping the United States in the early 1970s.  She studied to be a lay midwife, and eventually participated in more than 600 births throughout the county.  She later became a Physician's Assistant and worked in the ER for twenty years.  Now her focus is on palliative care and helping folks in their last years of life.  

Promise of Paradise Episode 26: Dorothy Cong

May 14, 2019

Dorothy Cong was born in Ft. Bragg in 1946. She grew up on the Sandkulla ranch near Elk. Her family were among the first white settlers on the Mendocino coast and In many ways her childhood represented the life that back to the land hippies were seeking. They lived off the land raising their own food and building their own houses, but unlike the newcomers of the 1960s and 70s Dorothy’s family lived this way out of necessity.

Promise of Paradise Episode 25: Leon Springer

May 2, 2019
Leon Springer

Leon Springer moved to Potter Valley in 1974 to build yurts and live communally. Now a successful businessman, he remembers how he discovered what he could become through hard work, lots of fun, and friendships that last for decades. We’ll take a journey from an iconic concert experience in San Francisco to Mothers Day blintzes on the Eel River; double digging in the garden and feeding kids and bears.


Promise of Paradise Episode 24: Bill Heil and Zo Abell

Apr 25, 2019
Bill Heil

This is Laura Hamburg with Kate Magruder for Promise of Paradise, Back to the Land oral histories of Mendocino County. Today we’re bringing you the story of Table Mountain Ranch, a commune in Albion, which lasted for 20 years.  We’ll hear from two of the commune’s earliest settlers: Zo Abell and Bill Heil. Bill, who describes himself as an aging hippie, runs a saw mill business, and Zo is a life-long educator.  Zo grew up on the East Coast with her Yiddish-speaking grandmother; Bill was a bible student in a German household in deep south Alabama.

Promise of Paradise Episode 23: John Scharffenberger

Apr 18, 2019
John Scharffenberger

This is Kate Magruder with Promise of Paradise, Back to the Land oral histories of Mendocino County. Today we’ll be hearing from John Scharffenberger of Philo whose name has become synonymous with world-famous sparkling wine and fine chocolate.  But in the early 1970s, John was just one of hundreds of young people who were drawn to Mendocino County for the wide open opportunities it offered.  

Episode 22: Stuart Greenberg

Apr 11, 2019

Stuart Greenbergs' parents were communists who were politically active in the 1930s. They moved often during his childhood and passed on their values of gender equality and communal living. He participated in the birth of the organic farming movement in Illinois before moving to California as a single dad when his children were 2 and four years old. They settled in Laytonville where he raised them off the grid. 

Live Power Community Farm.


April 4, 2019 -- Today we’ll hear from two people in Covelo, who still farm according to the principles of harmony between the garden and the gardener, the buyer and the seller, and the people and animals who use their living power to work the land.

Promise of Paradise Episode 20: Tom Wodetzki

Mar 29, 2019
Tom Wodetzki, aka Moonlight.

March 28, 2019 -- Today we’ll be hearing from Tom Wodetzki of Albion, a long-time political activist. Tom lived on a commune in Albion called Salmon Creek Farm for 15 years, the longest stretch of any of his fellow communards. He’s had a hand in just about every political and environmental movement this county has seen since the 70s. But before he arrived in Albion, Tom cut his political teeth back East in the civil rights movement and demonstrating against the Vietnam War.

Promise of Paradise Episode 19: Donna Montag

Mar 21, 2019

Donna Montag grew up in a wealthy catholic family in upstate New York.  After college she worked as a portfolios analyst on wall street, but was dissappointed with the dishonesty she experienced in that job. Searching for honesty and community she hitchhiked west to a commune in Oregon and never looked back. She arrived in Elk when she was twenty-six, met her husband and begam living off the land. When she gave birth to her daughter the idea of natural childbirth was gaining popularity, and some doctors were advocating for a natural approach to birth in hospitals.

Promise of Paradise Episode 18: Les Boek

Mar 16, 2019
Les Boek

March 14, 2019 — Les Boek is a musician who moved to Redwood Valley in 1971. He and his wife still live in the same house, where they’ve spent years raising chickens, goats, and an expansive garden, according to an agreement they made when they first met.

We’ll hear his memories about how he fell in love with bluegrass and learned how to keep the freezer full while bringing up three boys.


Promise of Paradise Episode 17: Diana Wiedemann

Mar 6, 2019
Diana Wiedemann


Today we’ll be hearing from Diana Wiedemann, an Albion architect and Fifth District Mendocino County Planning Commissioner. In the early 70s, Weed, as she’s known, helped found Trillium, an all-women’s commune in Albion.


As a girl in the 50s, Weed was forced to give up her dream of becoming a professional athlete. And as a college student in the late 60s, she saw how men, white men, came to dominate the anti-war movement. It was a time, Weed says, when the playing field for women was very narrow.


Promise of Paradise Episode 16: Renee Vinyard

Mar 4, 2019
Renee Vinyard

Midwifery was an important aspect of the back to the land movement. Expectant mothers wanted to deliver babies in their own homes, into the hands of people they trusted. Renee Vinyard was one of those trusted midwives, taking calls on a CB radio, traveling to handmade homes, catching babies as they came into a changing world.

Today we’ll hear her stories about planting trees, harvesting bullfrogs, and what to do when you’re delivering a baby and the entire fire department shows up.


Promise of Paradise Episode 15: River

Feb 20, 2019
"Dwelling" published by Freestone Publishing Company

River began her journey as Sally Shook, a 1950s Washington DC suburban housewife who had a longing for something much more.

She found it in Mendocino County in the late 60s in the feminist revolution that produced Country Women Magazine, she found it in the book she wrote, "Dwelling:  On Making Your Own," and on the Salmon Creek Farm commune in Albion, which she helped establish.  

Now 83, River lives in a Vermont retirement community.