Story and Photos by Ken Warren (ISN)
July 6, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – Welcome to the eleventh article of Ken’s Blog, where historian Ken Warren takes us through some of his childhood memories, sharing with us the lives and times of his sports oriented family growing up in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the 1900’s and beyond. In this article Ken takes a leave of absence and heads for California.
Our second son, Keeley Russell Warren, was born January 6th, 1976; delivered by Dr. Dave MacNaughton with me in the room again. When Keeley was born, we were still living on Monnington Place, but our time there was running out. Kathy had a Cake Pan store in the basement of our home, but the only revenue we had to support purchasing all the equipment was my teacher’s salary, and all she was earning in the store was about $40 a week. We were going broke. The equipment had cost thousands and the store was netting peanuts. I had a solution, even though my extended family (my parents, married brothers, and their families) were probably embarrassed when a lengthy news story about me having balls and chains made in order to chain two runaway sons in my basement went national. People in Canada and parts of the USA must have thought I was crazy. In fact, I was: crazy like a fox.
Ken showing the balls and chains for stag rentals in Kathy’s wedding cakes store – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
Since Kathy’s cake pans and decorating store were losing money on our difficult-to-find cul de sac street which was too far from Victoria, I went to Capital Iron to get balls and chains made. I knew that they made them for themselves to rent or sell for bachelor stags, so I suspected they wouldn’t make a set for me if they thought it was for my wife’s store to rent out. Nevertheless, I did ask them to do it for her store. When they said they couldn’t make a set for me, I told them I was only kidding about the store; what I really needed the balls and chains were for two runaway boys that I wanted to chain in my basement. They made me a set, took my money, and then reported me to the police. I complained to the Minister of Consumer Affairs and took my complaint to the media. The story went national. The government minister, Rafe Mair, wrote and told me he supported the store. I wrote him a hot letter back and took it to the newspaper. Another story appeared in the newspaper. Now, each time there is a news story, the address of Kathy’s store appears in the story with pictures. The Hon. Mr. Mair then responded to my letter saying that he was turning the matter over to the Attorney General. I wrote him back pretending that I thought he was suggesting that a charge should be laid against me. I managed to get another story out of that and once more, the store was featured. Mr. Mair wrote to tell me that he was finished writing to me. I never bothered responding, but a year or so later I identified myself to him and apologized for pulling his leg so. He wasn’t the least bit bothered by it, he said. Kathy’s sales jumped to $4,000.00 that month. And sales continued well into the next month.
What I hadn’t counted on was Kathy spending the money on buying herself a new fur coat. Then to top that off, she showed Sandy McNeil all of her material. “That must have cost thousands of dollars,” Sandy said. “About ten thousand,” Kathy replied. “What does Ken say about that expense?” Sandy asked. “He doesn’t know,” said Kathy. “I told him I buy the stuff at Goodwill.”
Eventually we started growing apart. I had been assigned by the School Board to William Head Prison as a teacher, an assignment that I requested, but the prison warden said ‘no’ to my assignment because he wanted a biology teacher who could carry on the program established by the previous teacher. It would mean taking my work experience job back, but Gordon McIntosh was so looking forward to it, and it seemed a return to the classroom would be the death of Gordon; so, I took a year’s leave of absence and headed for California. Kathy and I stayed together for the sake of the kids.
On the way, we stopped at Kathy’s Mom’s in North Van. and Kathy and the kids stayed there while I took Steven to Calgary to get a job and stay with Kathy’s brother ‘Little’ Lyle. I had found a big truck that needed to be dropped off in Calgary, so away we went. I found a job in a pet store for Steve, and Lyle took him in. When I got back to North Van we took off for Sacramento to visit my cousin Bob Corke. As we drove, we stopped at different towns in Washington and Oregon to meet folks and square dance. We also stopped at the Oregon beaches and wasted three or four days trying to find Kody who had run away. Little did we know that he was already back in Canada, having caught a ride with two girls who were going to Vancouver.
We carried on to Sacramento and I found a job advertisement for house parents in Sonora, California. We set up an appointment and drove to Sonora, about seventy miles from Sacramento in Tuolumne County. The job was to run Whispering Pines Home in Twain-Harte, 12 or so miles up in the Sierra Mountains from Sonora. Based on the fact that we had good success raising therapeutic foster children on Monnington, we were selected over a dozen American couples who had applied for the job. For the next year we faced a continual threat of deportation because U.S. Immigration said Americans should have been given the job, and my bosses fought back that when it comes to parenting the best people should be given the job.
Richard and Semisi have buried Keeley. Babies up top Keeley, my bro Dave, and me – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
So we had a two-bedroom (no kitchen) suite in a 10-bedroom home on seven acres just outside the town of Twain-Harte, named for writers Mark Twain and Bret Harte, both of whom wrote extensively in the area. Up the mountain 15 minutes away was good skiing, and down the hill 15 minutes away oranges were growing. It may sound great, and it was, but I can tell you that almost every adult Californian we talked to said: “Why would you leave a place like Victoria to come and live here?” Hope that makes you feel a little better about BC, if you needed it. Anyway, the ten boys we were looking after were a handful. When we first got the job we had two assistants. Bob Fink was about 40 and had been in child care for several years. The other was a girl, about 23 and quite pretty. I don’t remember her name, honest! They helped us mainly by giving us weekends off. Otherwise, the boys were totally our responsibility 24 hours a day, five days a week. It seemed to us that we had most of our trouble with the boys from Monday to Wednesday, by Thursday they were better, and by Friday quite good. Then Bob Fink and the girl took over Friday night and we went square dancing. We joined both the Square dance clubs in Twain-Harte and Sonora.
The junker van we had had pulled our 23-foot trailer with us, and we parked that in a nearby trailer park where we could have some peace and quiet on the weekends. When we got back to Whispering Pines, we knew the kids would act up for the next few days and then calm down. A couple of months into this kind of routine however I got suspicious. Why were they always acting up like this? Something Bob Fink said about my children, Kit and Keeley, got to me. He suggested that they would be in danger around the teenage boys just like the previous house parents’ kids had. What bothered me was that he said it coldly, almost like a threat. I started asking the boys about the things they did on the weekends. Bob always wrote a list of bad behaviours, but the boys gave me the distinct feeling that Bob bad-mouthed us. As I encouraged the kids to expand those thoughts, the mystery began to unravel. Bob Fink and the girl wanted to be the house parents. Bob to my surprise admitted that he bad-mouthed us so the kids would cause us enough problems that we’d quit. Whether or not he did the same with the previous parents, I don’t know. However, I found myself in the unusual place of being threatened with deportation for taking an American couples job, and now, firing two Americans, one of whom had been in this business for years. I was supported in firing them by my own bosses, who found me John Groom, as a replacement. John was about 25 and we liked him. The kids called him ‘Groomburger’, because burgers and fries were what he made when we had our days off..
With Bob Fink gone, we no longer had to worry about mutiny from all of the boys when we returned on Mondays, however that’s not to say there weren’t problems. The nature of these group homes is trouble, because we’re dealing with troubled youths. For instance, Ron was a boy that the company bent over backwards to assist. He had been in care since he was four, and taken from his family with three siblings in Las Vegas. He hadn’t seen the siblings since, and we were trying to find out where they were. By this time he was over 18 and shouldn’t still have been in care, but the authorities were having difficulty finding his older sisters because of name changes if married. Anyway, this lumbering 230-lb 18-year-old got angry with Kathy and swung the butt-end of a pool cue at her head, fortunately missing her. I intervened, and as we both went down, Ron fell on me. He cracked my ribs, but I thought it was a heart attack, so I fought in earnest to make certain that he didn’t want anymore. When he went upstairs in tears, we called our boss, Bob Chandler, supervisor of both our house and the one in Sonora, and I went to the hospital and Ron to another facility.
Two of our most successful boys were George and Jim, both Mexican Americans. We met them in a Stockton, California, Youth jail. They later told me: “We saw this bear of a man and a little angel of a woman coming to interview us. We were scared,” they said. “Then it turns out that the woman is the bear, and you are the little angel.” That was funny, but simply meant that Kathy made the rules for the house because it was her domain.
George was 17 and had five bullet holes in his body, AND GET THIS: They were from five different shootings. While most were small calibre, like different sizes of .22 slugs, and in the arms, thigh and back; one was a .38 bullet too close to the heart to operate. George’s papers suggested he required a suicide watch because he had accidentally killed a 2-year-old girl coming out on the road between parked cars. He was in jail because his gang was involved in a rumble with another gang and George was armed with a machete. Sound like a nice guy? He was. He was a natural leader. In fact, if Groomburger wasn’t around on days that Kathy and I had something we wanted to do with the boys that wouldn’t include Kit, 5,and Keeley,3, then we left them with George, who was in charge of the entire house, as well. George thrived on the responsibility and became leader of the group. Often he would advise the other boys, and an outsider would have mistaken him as their counsellor.
George sometimes was left to look after the house and Kit and Keeley – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
What made me proud of Jim was his success in school. I took the kids in the van every school day. I would drop Keeley off at pre-school, then Kit (kindergarten) and six of the boys off at the elementary school. While most were still in grades six and seven at 14 and 15 years old, you can imagine how interrupted their education had been. Even though Jim only had a grade seven, because he was 16 and bright, I asked the high school to let him challenge Grade 10. They allowed it, and Jim passed it. What had Jim, whose home was Lodi, done to find himself in the Stockton youth jail? For more than a year, he and his buddy drove around and held up people at gunpoint and stole their wallets or purses. Their last robbery attempt was at a gas station where they tried to rob a man pumping gas. He put the pump back, was getting his money from the glove compartment and took off in his car. They shot up his back window, but were caught by the police.
George and Jim had been interviewed by many group home parents, but their bio sheets were so violent that nobody wanted them. That’s partly why Kathy and I took these kind of guys. We knew that they had been disappointed enough that they would try to change. George and Jim did change. So did some of the other boys. Some though, couldn’t be helped.
Larry and Phil were particularly hard cases. They respected us, but didn’t seem to have an understanding of right and wrong. They broke into the deputy sheriff’s house and stole his guns, live hand grenades (what were they doing there?), and ammunition. After shooting off some of ammo at targets, they threw everything left over in a large slough. They were caught and put in an adult jail in Sonora, since there were no juvenile facilities there. I went to see them, but they couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. They hadn’t killed anybody. Then the jailers made a mistake that could have cost Ettie Lee (my company) or the city of Sonora millions in a lawsuit. Another juvenile was put in the cell with Larry and Phil and he was forced to do disgusting sexual and toilet things while being tortured if he balked at performing these tasks. Finally, when he refused after a few days of shameful assignments, he was badly beaten and taken to the hospital. Had the parents of that 16-year-old laid charges against the jailers or us, neither of us would have had a leg to stand on.
Three other of our boys: Gary, Darryl and Brett kind of raped the Sheriff’s 13-year-old daughter. (The Sheriff, not the deputy sheriff above). The girl consented to sex with Gary, the youngest at 14, but Darryl and Brett kept interrupting the proceedings with a stick at her behind, and they demanded turns. “Not the black guy,” she said. (I think the black boys that we had were the only blacks in the entire county. We had Samoans, Filipinos, Mexicans, blacks and whites). Anyway, both the other boys took a turn — so there was some dispute as to whether sex had been consentual or not. The matter was dropped at the investigation stage and never became an actual charge.
Because we had so many brown coloured boys, and blacks, we often had difficulties at entertainment places like movies and rodeos with so many of the white, stetson-wearing, pick-up truck white boys who were 18 and 19, and wanted to start trouble with our little group of younger boys. Since the cowboys girlfriends were often looking on, an insult like: “You think your girlfriends are going to be impressed if you lay a beating on these 15-year-olds.”, would often end the hostile challenges. However, at one rodeo we were followed and challenged wherever we went, so I finally found a cop to intervene.
The first six people seated on the ground are visitors. The other 14 people are Ken, bottom right and his 13 boys – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
As I was driving the van to Modesto, I heard on the radio that airline tickets from San Francisco and Los Angeles were being sold round trip to Hawaii for $65.00. I hadn’t gone far, so I hurried back home to tell Kathy and our attempts to get in on the bonanza failed because the lines were totally busy until the deal was no longer available. However, now that the Hawaii seed had been planted in us, we decided to go anyway, and try to find a group home to operate there. There happened to be a four-day seat belt and child’s safety seat convention in Sacramento, so we told our boss, Bob Chandler, that we’d really like to go to that. Bob and his girlfriend agreed to take Keeley for the four days, and the mother of a little friend of Kit’s agreed to take him. John Groom and Pat, the company’s psychologist agreed to look after the home. WE WERE BAD, BECAUSE OF COURSE WE WERE GOING TO HAWAII. When we got on the United Airlines flight, a stewardess said the flight was over-booked, so if anyone would agree to leaving on another United flight, they would be given return tickets to fly wherever in America they wanted to go. Kathy and I left the plane, got on the other one an hour later, and landed in Hawaii shortly after our original plane had. And we had free tickets that we would use a year later to fly to Houston to visit Bill and Nora Corke, my cousin and his wife. After four days of enjoying Hawaii and searching unsuccessfully for a home-parenting job, we returned to Whispering Pines and our many children.
“Well, how was the convention?” Bob Chandler, my boss, asked, as I was picking up Keeley.
“You know what conventions are like,” I said, in a bored manner.
“Yeah,” he replied, knowingly.
That was all that was mentioned about that, except that Kit and Keeley were totally upset to learn that we hadn’t gone to boring Sacramento, and had in fact gone to Hawaii without them.
“We were trying to get jobs there so that we could all go there to live, guys. C’mon, a little understanding needed here.”
In an attempt to get the Immigration Dept. to quit threatening us with deportation,I went to the San Franciso Examiner and told our story to Dwight Chapin, a columnist. His entire column was on our plight. After people in Sonora and Twain Harte read Dwight’s column and complained to their Congressman, the latter got the Immigration department to grant us special status.
Here’s Dwight Chapin’s column:
Dwight Chapin’s column from the San Francisco Examiner was ammunition enough to kick U.S. Immigration Services’ Ass and end their deportation threats – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)