Remembering Bob and Gena
As Glen Ellen began to change 30 years ago, during the soaring eighties, community concern began stirring in reaction. In 1986, the Glen Ellen Association was formed and residents began developing a town plan to preserve our legacy. Among them were Bob Glotzbach and Gena Van Camp, life partners who meant a great deal to one another, and a great deal for us.
A memorial was held last month for Bob, who died this past year, with guests drawn from a gathering he had put together the year before to celebrate Gena’s 90th birthday. As I write this, Gena is now resting in hospice with kind and attentive people, and may soon be joining Bob. They were remarkable people, visionaries and activists who helped guide the changes that have taken place in our valley.
I don’t know much about the life Bob and Gena lived before they came to Glen Ellen, but I do know how much the village changed after their arrival. He had already retired from his career as a chemist, and after receiving a graduate degree in Sociology and serving a stint as college professor, Bob had begun a second career as a community organizer. When he met Gena, he recognized a woman who was easily his equal.
Gena had received her graduate degree in Anthropology, and had accumulated a great deal of experience with intentional communities. “Everywhere I go,” she once wrote, “I hear people agreeing that community might be a desirable goal, but I also hear very little that might indicate that any one knows what that really means… It may take an emergency to galvanize us. Maybe the emergency is already upon us and we don’t get it yet.”
We first met when Maria and I joined the local food co-op they had established in 1991. That same year Bob helped establish the popular Glen Ellen Village Fair, and soon afterwards he began interviewing resident “old-timers” (as he called them) for his book Childhood Memories of Glen Ellen. The book has since become a treasured classic in local oral histories.
That same year General Wagner’s Civil War era cannon – which had graced downtown Glen Ellen since 1905 – was sold to a New Jersey gun collector. The community came together very quickly to make certain the cannon would not be removed, some chaining themselves to their beloved howitzer. Bob and Gena were very much a part of this now-famous incident, keeping watch over the cannon “in the wee hours of the morning” as Gena later described it, “to keep the new owner from trying to collect his treasure.”
In 1994 Bob helped put together the 100 year commemoration of the Glen Ellen Community Church, at which he said: “What I say to people is that I’m not a historian; I’m a sociologist. My interest is more in community than it is in history per se. However, these two social sciences are closely aligned… the history of the community is full of stories of what community was like at an earlier time.”
Another local issue that galvanized the community in 1994 involved preservation of the Chauvet Hotel, which had been vacant since 1987 and was gradually becoming a huge and useless, hazardous eyesore – and was in imminent and seemingly inevitable danger of being demolished. In response, Bob helped draft bylaws for the Glen Ellen Historical Society to “preserve and celebrate the history of Glen Ellen.” It worked and is still working – the Chauvet stands proudly renovated at the center of the village, and the organization continues to maintain its vision of preserving the legacy of the region.
Bob wrote two fascinating short novels about Glen Ellen, each demonstrating his caring, and his concern. In A Glen Ellen Adventure; Journey Into the Past, three friends found themselves transported a hundred years back to the end of the 19th century. Then, in the companion novel 1999 Is the Good Old Days in 2049, the time travelers were reunited 50 years later – in a dark future that featured 40 story residence halls in downtown Glen Ellen, and a sky filled with hovercraft.
Before moving from Glen Ellen to Sonoma, Bob and Gena assembled a time capsule filled with artifacts from the end of the 20th century. It still rests there, waiting patiently to be opened in 2049. That will be 33 years from now, and like Bob – and many of you – I’ll not be here; but there will be people here to open the gifts that had been set aside for them with typical forethought and generosity.
An article by Bob appeared in The Kenwood Press in 2004, as they were leaving for Sonoma, in which he said, “I would encourage all Glen Ellenites to add your own memories of the town, by participating in town activities now with whatever skills, talents and interests you have… You’ll not have a more satisfying experience nor a better resource for lasting memories.”
This would be, I think, the most fitting way to remember these two fine examples of the best of us. Without folks like Bob and Gena to remind us of what needs to be done, and start us doing it, it simply does not get done. Remembering is the putting back together of something that once had been cut off, dismembered. Visionaries like them know what needs to be done to make the community whole once again, and activists like them are the ones that help us do it.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also a writer and poet, and the executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.