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Del Norte People: Uncle Paul, be patient. I will meet you there

Hi, folks. This is a story about a friend, a mentor and a man I considered family. His name is Paul Connor. My good friend Larry Holcomb and I were both mentored as young guys, and we both called Paul “Unk.” Paul died in the state of Washington at 88 years old. Larry passed away several years ago in Paradise, Calif.

My father and I drove into Shorty’s Camp in June of 1949 and met Paul and Shorty Connor, who owned Shorty’s Camp. Paul had just served in the Army in the war in Korea. Shorty was a great old Irishman with a black derby hat on his head and a colorful Irish scarf around his neck. Although we were just passing through on the way north, our stay was only for a couple days. We were living in a tent on our adventurous trip to Canada. 

Something happened in those couple of days. Dad rented a boat and purchased an old Johnson 10 outboard motor. We went fishing for salmon each day, and each of us caught one at the mouth of the Klamath. Dad also let me run the boat and helped me in starting the old thing with a wraparound starter cord. Dad also gave me the opportunity to take the boat up the river by myself. I had turned 13. I always wore a life vest, which was Dad’s wish. I have worn a Stearns life vest since that time, in 1949, until today both as a river guide and a sports fisherman. What a blast — racing up to Klamath Glen and back. I learned quickly about reading water to avoid protruding rocks and snags and to stay in the deepest depression in the riffles. 

After about a week, Dad asked me about going on to Canada, and my response was, “I love the Klamath.” 

I didn’t know it at the time, I would turn into a Klamath Boy. At the end of the summer, Paul asked Dad if I might be interested in working as a dock boy during the summer of 1950. I told Uncle Paul I would love to work for him and Shorty. That fall I entered my freshman year at Jefferson High in Daly City, excited about returning to the Klamath with Dad and working as a dock boy for Paul and Shorty.

My father taught me early on the responsibilities of life and the importance of working hard and doing your best. Uncle Paul was from the same school. Up in the morning at 6 and down to the dock to prepare the boats for the salmon fishermen to go the 2 miles to the mouth of the river. Fill the 10-gallon milk cans with gas at the old hand pump at the campground and load them on the tractor and trailer for the trip to the dock. I had to carry those 10-gallon cans about 100 feet down the boat ramp to the dock and pour the gas into the storage tank where we provided mixed gas and oil for the outboard motors. Six in the morning until 6 at night all summer. A little time for fishing, a little time to race up and down the river in my racing hydroplane. All of this in the early ’50s, from 13 to 18 years old. 

“Yeehaw!” I was a Klamath Boy.

When I completed my education at San Mateo Junior College and we won the state junior college golf title, I passed up a scholarship opportunity down south. I called Unk and he said, “ You belong up here.” It was January of 1957 and I would not enroll at Humboldt State College until September. I lived with Unk at his small home at the front of the new Circle 5 Trailer Ranch. It was great living with Uncle Paul. I enrolled at Humboldt State in September after guiding on the Klamath. A year later, Paul and Larry Holcomb also enrolled at Humboldt. All three of us ended up as educators, with Larry and Paul going into counseling and, for Paul, a position of vice principal at Arcata High School.

We all went our way but stayed as friends and family. Paul met and married the love of his life, Raleigh, in 1972. 

Paul had many friends in this community and used to drive the high school bus from Klamath to Del Norte High. He even transported Wally Macie’s basketball teams to games around the area.

Earlier this summer I got a call from Raleigh and said that friends and family would like to meet on the banks of the Klamath to return Paul’s ashes to his favorite place. I found a special place upriver and worked out a date and time for our gathering. I was excited to see Raleigh again after many years away. We met at the Roy Rook Boat Ramp at the Glen and decided to walk to a private place downriver. There were 10 of us, including Bert Van Duser from Arcata, a wrestling champion at Arcata High under Unk’s tutelage. After a stint at Humboldt State, Bert became head wrestling coach at Arcata High with Paul as his assistant. In 2006, Paul was inducted into the California State Wrestlers Coaching Hall of Fame.

I was proud to be with Raleigh and folks reuniting Uncle Paul and the waters of the Klamath. Tales tell that the lights at Shorty’s Camp all came on that night as Uncle Paul floated by. My message to both Paul Connor and Larry Holcomb: “You are both in a better place. Be patient. I will meet you there.”

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