For the past 28 years, Weott resident June Patton has been greeting visitors and helping them enjoy their stay at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Over those years, June has served nearly 15,000 hours, the most hours of any state park volunteer in California. At the age of 93, she's at the Visitor Center, located on the Avenue of the Giants between Myers Flat and Weott, at least four and frequently five days a week, helping folks find the right hike or activity, sharing her knowledge of the redwoods, ringing up gift items at the cash register, and - time permitting - having a friendly conversation about the visitors' homes and travels.
Recently Jody Gargiulo, manager of the Giant Redwoods RV Park and Camp in Myers Flat, and David Pritchard, executive director of the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association, conspired to honor June by planting a redwood tree near the entrance of the RV park.
"I'm not much of a talker," June told the Redwood Times during our interview, but this reporter knows better because (full disclosure) I have the pleasure of working with June every Thursday at the Visitor Center.
June may not talk much about herself, but she clearly enjoys talking with visitors, drawing them out and hearing their stories. In fact, it's her favorite thing about the visitor center, where she's met people from all over the world.
One memory that gives her a good chuckle is the day a man from Maine told her he had met her during a previous visit 10 years earlier and remembered her well. "He offered to take me back to Maine and feed me lobsters," she said, adding, "And his wife was right there."
June was born in San Jose and lived in the South Bay Area until her husband, Ben, was sent to Eureka to take over management of McBride Auto in 1960. June became the bookkeeper and "delivery boy" at her husband's shop, and two of their three daughters continued their schooling in Eureka while the third went to work for Georgia-Pacific.
The Pattons bought a summer place on the banks of the South Fork Eel River in Myers Flat and spent vacations there. When they retired in 1973 they decided to live on the Myers Flat property.
A few years later a flood forced the Pattons, along with most of the residents, to evacuate. The Pattons were able to pull out their mobile home, and June insisted that they relocate on higher ground, so they moved to a mobile home park on a Weott hillside, where June still lives.
After Ben Patton's death in 1985, June's friend Fran Clever, who was manager of the Humboldt Redwoods Visitor Center at the time, persuaded her to volunteer at the museum and gift shop. June started coming in twice a week and found it so much to her liking that her regular schedule is four or five days a week now, plus extra hours when needed or when she finds too much time on her hands at home.
Besides helping visitors in the museum and gift shop, June works in the back office folding t-shirts and putting price labels on newly-received items, an endless job, especially in the summer season when merchandise flies off the shelves.
Social life at the center is a bonus. The volunteers have monthly potlucks after hours in the summer, and there are many special community events, most notably the annual Christmas tree lighting and Smokey the Bear's birthday party on the Sunday closest to Aug. 26.
Whenever Smokey makes an appearance, June is there. "I have a thing with Smokey," she said. A mini-Smokey rides in her car wherever she goes, and she and her pal the life-sized, walking, talking Smokey are often seen together on social and ceremonial occasions.
Visitors come and go, and some years are busier than others for reasons no one can explain, but this past summer has been exceptional. "I've never seen anything like it," said June.
This past July 4th saw nearly 1000 visitors come into the center, an all-time record. Numbers hit record marks all summer long, with many days when 700-800 visitors were counted coming through the center doors.
At the same time for a combination of reasons, a volunteer shortage struck the visitor center just as summer was getting going, and June put in many extra hours during her namesake month.
June has seen many physical changes in the visitor center since 1985. "It all used to be in one little room," she recalled. Extensions were added gradually through the next two-and-a-half decades, and today it's a sizeable building with the museum occupying three full rooms, a room for the gift shop, and a theater/meeting room with a small kitchen, as well as a wrap-around deck with a picnic area.
But when it comes to the service, education, and enjoyment it offers, it hasn't changed much, June observed.
"Visitors find it good," she said. "It's not just a visitor center. It's got history and a museum."
During the busiest months from April through October, the Humboldt Redwoods State Park visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Winter hours from November through March are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The center is open every day, seven days a week, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Stop by between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. just about any day except Friday and Sunday, and you're likely to be greeted by June.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SHARON GEORGE
June Patton of Weott, who has served nearly 15,000 volunteer hours at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, stands beside a young redwood tree planted in her honor at Giant Redwoods RV Park and Camp in Myers Flat.