My friend, Paul Moeller is in a physical therapy unit in Sonora after a fall that broke his femur at the hip. He is 88 years old. I met him in 1980 when he was putting together a calendar of local activities and events to promote interest in the county. He did this as a volunteer and he came to visit my writer’s workshop. I had a batch of kittens at the time, and he took one of them home for his wife.
In 1982, he asked for volunteers to videotape events in the county and I answered the call. I later joked, that once he got his grip on you, there was no escape. Hardworking, indomitable, always a positive thinker, results oriented…it is to his vision and credit, a small rural county has a Public Access Studio while large cities like Stockton and Modesto do not.
The Paul Moeller Studio was built by all we volunteers on an undeveloped lot owned by the Calaveras County Water District. The CCWD Board granted permission for the studio out of respect for Moeller’s dedication and hard work. He taped the North Fork dam, a federal project with CCWD as one of the integral water interests involved. The video taping continued for over a year during that project.
The County Board of Supervisors named the Studio after Moeller years later as a thankful honorarium. He has so many visitors, people at the rehabilitation center, ask,”Is he famous?” We laugh and say, “yes.”
Yesterday, I met with Ed Lark, the studio manager and Robert Creamer, an engineer from CCWD. Our volunteer group is negotiating to buy the land under the studio which involves separating the “back lot” from the rest of CCWD property. They want to sell their old office buildings. They’ve moved to new quarters but our interests are tied together.
It involves, relocating water lines, surveying and conveying a new lot, access to the property that doesn’t go through the front part of their lot and so on. Negotiations have been ongoing since 2005. There are three volunteers left. None of us do programming anymore. Government works slowly. I rarely visit the studio for any length of time, but yesterday, I wanted to tromp the property and see for myself what the engineer had in mind.
The engineer is very knowledgeable and accommodating and I got an education in planning. While interesting to me, probably boring to anyone else. But, the way the studio was built is an unconventional story.
We had no funds so we charged $60 to put a program on channel. That money came from local businesses. There was no advertising, but the sponsors got credit for supporting each program. We operated that way for about ten years.
Moeller and a supportive business man, Mearl Lucken, talked the bank into giving us a loan to build our studio. The plan was for the Bret Harte High School woodshop class to build the studio labor free, for their education. When the foundation was done, school was over, the kids disappeared and Moeller decided we had to have a new plan.
The economy was in a slump. Enter local contractor Gary Hensley from Valley Springs. He had very little work. He quizzed Moeller about how much money he made from CCTV. When he learned that Moeller and all 230 volunteers, received nary a penny, he agreed to build the studio. His crew of five came early each morning, and worked for half a day. Volunteers handed up boards as the studio rose. They made the workers lunch. It was a jolly time. The inside, sheet rock, plumbing and air conditioning and so on, was done by contractors who worked for reduced prices to support our non-profit. The complicated electrical was done by Moeller himself. The rest, as they say, is history. An amazing community effort. What keeps me involved is respect for Moeller, and knowing that he accomplished all the above by dint of his personality and at the same time, he did other volunteer work in the county. Indefatigable.