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Gibbs continues lifelong appreciation for hometown

November 20, 2010

Photo submitted by Steve Gibbs – Steve Gibbs with his grandsons, Jack, left, and Tyler.

Steve Gibbs is someone with many different jobs, interests and adventures during his life.
One thing has stayed constant, the warmth he has for his hometown of Ridgway.
"Ridgway is special," Gibbs said. "There's no place like it, the homes, the environment, the people. I'm growing to appreciate it more and more as I get older. It's my hometown. I think Ridgway is a unique town, it really is. I had a wonderful childhood, a happy childhood. I never had the perspective of how good I had it until I left Ridgway and traveled around."
Gibbs is currently a teacher at Benicia High School in Benicia, Calif. along with being a weekly columnist for the Benicia Herald. He has written an 800-word column for the paper for 26 years and has 1,352 columns published. He said probably 100 are about Ridgway. He writes about things that upset him or make him happy.
"They give me space and you write whatever you want," Gibbs said. "That's what I do, whatever's on my mind. A whole lot of it is about my travels because my wife and I are out running all the time, I do a lot of exploring. I drive through small towns, try to meet strange people, I try to find something to write about. I complain about oil spills, I complain about industrial farming issues, what's on my mind."
Gibbs teaches journalism at the high school.
"I had a young man a couple years ago who graduated and worked his way to the (San Francisco) Chronicle, his mother just sent me the front page of the Chronicle, he's got his first front page article," Gibbs said. "I got two guys who worked at the Chronicle and one worked for Time Magazine for a while. I keep my fingers busy by typing in the newspaper so I'm not all talk and no walk, I actually do what I teach."
Teaching was not something on Gibbs' mind when he relocated to California after college at Penn State, he said he was more interested in writing. He began work at AT&T and while working the all-night shift he received the same phone call multiple times which led him to a teaching opportunity.
"I would get this phone call this is back in the old cord board days where you got the headset and the cords and you plug them in and the lights come on," Gibbs said. "Every morning, I would get this same call from this woman, she'd make a string of credit card calls, six, seven, eight, nine at a time."
It turns out she was looking for substitute teachers and Gibbs decided to give it a shot, stopping by after work to sign up.
"I went down at 7 a.m. and signed up and I started subbing," Gibbs said. "I fell in love with it. It was more fun than working for the phone company. About two years later, I quit the phone company, got my credential and I've been teaching ever since."
Gibbs also taught a summer course at Sonoma State University this past summer and has worked at Chapman University, working with teachers going through the credentialing program. He also runs a mini-storage business and an animal rescue.
"Through a strange adventure, I ended up in the middle of the Nevada desert and found an old mini-storage business for sale, 30 full garages," Gibbs said. "It was cheap so I bought it and fixed it up so now I run a mini-storage business. I had the guy next door, he ran a dog kennel. I had hired him to watch over my mini-storage."
Acquiring the mini-storage business led to Gibbs buying the dog kennel.
"A year later he calls me and said, you know what, the owner of the dog kennel wants to sell, I'm afraid they'll chase me out, tear the building down or something, so I bought the dog kennel so that I wouldn't lose my manager," Gibbs said.
Gibbs also maintains vacation rentals in south Lake Tahoe along with other properties. He admits there isn't much time to rest but when it gets to be too much for him, he returns home.
"Ridgway is my only solace. If it wasn't for Ridgway, I would go insane," Gibbs said. "When I just can't take it anymore, I come back home and sit on my mother's porch and let the world go by. It's so peaceful and quiet. A week in Ridgway, reclining, relaxing, just gives me the energy to make it through another year."
Gibbs is well-traveled, speaking about his trips across the United States, Canada and Mexico. California stood out to him which is why he lives there, but a part in the Golden State that stood out to him is a part which reminds him of the Keystone State.
"The part of California that I like best is the part that reminds me of Pennsylvania," Gibbs said. "I like the foothills where there are trees and rivers and trails and a little bit of wilderness. That's where we intend to retire in that kind of environment. Big beautiful clean rivers, great swimming holes, camping and it's just great right here."
He said Italy is another place which was enjoyed greatly, making multiple trips over there.
"I love Italy. Growing up in Ridgway, I was surrounded by first-generation Italians that didn't even speak English or very little English," Gibbs said.
Gibbs said he is currently working on a book entitled "Ridgway USA" which is based on his life, growing up and his childhood. He said many people had told him to write down some of his childhood memories but encouragement from his wife helped to kickstart the project.
"For years, I've told people stories of my childhood, wild escapades that I engaged in growing up in Ridgway," Gibbs said. "When I was growing up, nobody ever locked their car, nobody ever locked their house. Nothing was ever locked. Usually keys were put in the ignition so they knew where they were. In California, people don't live like that. Back in Ridgway, everyone was so laid-back. Everyone knew the local cops, they knew you, you knew them. No hassle, no crime. Here, it's not like that, it's pretty violent, pretty scary and you have to be on your toes."
When Gibbs and his wife first started returning to Ridgway, it was not thriving.
"I have to say it was pretty depressing for quite a while to come back and there was nothing going on," Gibbs said. "It seems like lately, Ridgway seems to be revitalizing. I bring my wife, she was born in Berkeley, [Calif.]. Her first few times back here, she wasn't comfortable. There was nothing going on and all these closed shops and everything was for sale. She didn't like it that much. Things seem to be jumping in Ridgway now. Things are opening and stores are going and houses are selling. My wife is now falling in love with Ridgway and she's been saying, 'You know what, if you ever want to come back there at least during the summers when we retire, I would be in favor of it.' A Berkeley, Calif. girl was falling in love with Ridgway.
"When we sit on the front porch at my mother's house up on Metoxet at night, it's so quiet and calm and peaceful," Gibbs said. "You just don't get that out here up in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's just a mad house all the time. There's just always noise and sirens and traffic on the highway. It's fine, I've been living this way for 30 years. The peace and quiet, the tranquility and calm, the increased economy was extremely attractive to us. We're ready to come back again next summer and spend about a month, we're going to bring the kids and bring my grandkids and hang out."
Gibbs is looking forward to retirement in five years and usually comes back to Ridgway during the summer. Coming back home for Gibbs brought an unexpected and big moment for him. He said whenever he came back he would ask people their name and would get responses such as "Yeah, I went to school with your dad" or "Yeah, I went to school with your mom." Gibbs said he saw Alana Martin at the Ridgway YMCA and found out Alana's parents were both close friends with Gibbs. Gibbs said he "almost fell down the steps" when Martin told her of who Martin's mother was. He spoke about the tight friendship he had as well with Martin's father.
"I bumped into Alana Martin at the YMCA. I asked her name and she said Martin. I didn't know any Martins," Gibbs said. Then she said, 'That's my married name, my father was Alan Mitcheltree and I'm Alana, named after my dad.' Alan Mitcheltree was my best friend growing up. He lived across the street from me and we were tight. We spent every day together for years until I went out to college and he got married and had kids. I never saw the kids, I never saw him when he was married, I never once laid eyes on his children, I never saw him again and then he died. Their flesh and blood was Alana and the next day and I'm talking with another girl about meeting Alana Martin and how exciting it was. She said, 'That's my mom.' That was special, that was a big moment for me. It brought me to tears, it was good to see her."

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