Staff Profile: Penny Walker, Yountville Beginnings

It was 1979 and here I was driving into the Yountville Veterans Home in my 1968 Ford Pickup which weaved around these old, plain looking barrack-like buildings that were surrounded by beautiful mature trees and green grass.  Old guys hanging out in the doorways waving. The building I was looking for was the last one on the road and had a big wooden sign that said, “California Conservation Corps”.  I had never heard of this state agency before, since it was only a few years old.  I was there for an interview as a payroll clerk,  and it paid more than I was getting with Caltrans, where I was the secretary in a construction field office.  My finances were in ruin because I had left the State to work as a house manager with an non-profit agency who served intellectually disabled adults.  I absolutely loved that job but after a couple years of getting paid peanuts, I had to go into survival mode and procure a better paying job.  So back to the employment of the State of California and maybe this unknown agency called the CCC.

My Dad and my Uncle were both alumni from the original Civilian Conservation Corps. My Uncle was a bigwig with that agency as a Regional Director for several states.  I had seen a lot of their photos from that era and was enticed by the camps in the woods and the very healthy looking men who were working in the woods for $30.00 a month, 25 of that went to their homes, and they were given five bucks for spending money.

I didn’t know what to expect as I entered this large, plain looking building.  That all changed as I walked in and was met by a herd of young people dressed in brown and khaki uniforms.  Not all men, but women too!  “That’s cool!”, I thought.  They all ran out the door and headed towards a blue van and I made my way to the door that said “office”.   I had the interview, a tour of the program and the facility.  I saw a very healthy garden that the Corpsmembers’ tended and a huge chicken coop filled with fat looking hens.  Part of the curriculum program at that time focused on teaching sustained living.  I liked this CCC.  The whole idea went along with my thinking.    I liked the idea of working with a bunch of kids who worked out in the rural areas and raised chickens.  I was blessed to get that payroll job and ended up working for the CCC for twenty-two years.

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