|A tribute to
1924 - 1992
First Mayor of Paradise, California
|Warren Humbert was not the kind of man who inspired lukewarm feelings in people. His friends (and there were many) admired him as a no-baloney, take-charge kind of guy. His detractors (and there were those as well) accused him of being arrogant, even bullying at times.
Born March 19, 1924 in St. Louis, Humbert was the oldest of four children. Attending several different schools before his family finally settled in Vallejo, California, Humbert enrolled in the Mare Island Apprentice School in 1942, where he learned the skills of a pipe fitter.
During World War II, he served in the Navy SeaBees, assigned to the Shore Patrol on Oahu, Hawaii. When the Korean conflict broke out in 1950, he was called back to the SeaBees, this time serving on Kwajalien, an island in the South Pacific.
A motorcycle accident once cost him most of the skin from one of his legs. The large scars left by extensive skin grafts were permanent reminders.
In December, 1948, Humbert married Joyce Schumer, to whom he was married for the rest of his life. In December, 1957, they adopted a newborn son, Michael. The family of three lived in Benicia, seven miles from Vallejo, where Humbert built a career at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. He worked his way up from the pipe shop and eventually became a planner-estimator of nuclear submarines. He job duties took him to Groton, Connecticut for eight months in 1965-66, and Humbert brought along his wife and son, driving across the continent and seeing the sights.
Humbert was an avid hunter and fisherman, and occasionally braved the rapids in a kayak he constructed himself. He was active in several organizations, including the VFW, the Boy Scouts, the Masonic Lodge, and the Elks. He enjoyed stamp collecting and do-it-yourself projects around the home. A confirmed dog lover, Humbert usually had at least one collie following him around; he had six over the years.
In 1968 he was elected the the Benicia City Council, where he served a four-year term, serving as vice mayor for two of those years. Humbert was instrumental in creating the Benicia Youth Center, which involved moving an unused two-story school building several blocks to a new location. On more than one occasion, he butted heads with local developers, and the buddy-buddy relationship they had with some local politicians.
Sitting at a desk year in and year out eventually gave Humbert chronic back problems. Chiropractors offered only very temporaty relief. Since early retirement was an option, Humbert took it, and in 1972 relocated the family to Paradise, two hours north of Sacramento. Paradise was an unincorporated area of Butte County, and had a rural atmosphere that belied its population of 25,000-plus. Humbert loved the abundance of pine trees and bought a home on an acre-and-a-third lot, which contained a variety of fruit trees and berry vines.
Humbert settled into his role of "gentleman farmer." After years of wearing a white shirt and necktie, his Paradise "look" became a sweatshirt, jeans and work boots. Humbert was happiest when puttering on the "back forty," roto-tilling, installing sprinklers, building pens for his chickens, rabbits and pigeons, and grafting fruit trees. At one point, Humbert had spliced together a tree that produced three different kinds of fruit! Humbert also enjoyed spending time in the large workshop that he built for himself. In addition, he was active in the Paradise Stamp Club, and was an adult advisor to the Paradise chapter of the Order of DeMolay, as well as serving a one-year term on the Butte County grand jury.
Once again Humbert found himself opposing developers (and their politician buddies). He saw Paradise's trees disappearing at an alarming rate, and the county doing nothing to prevent it. Paradise had a right to control its own destiny, said many Ridge locals. In reaction to the dissent, the Paradise Municipal Advisory council was created by the Board of Supervisors, with Humbert appointed its first chairperson.
In 1979, Paradise incorporated, not as a "city," but as a "town." This subtle distiction sent a message that Paradise liked its small-town atmosphere and planned to preserve it. Humbert was selected Paradise's first mayor by his fellow council members.
As mayor, Humbert had little patience with bureaucracy. Frustrated by the lack of progress in solving the parking congestion around Paradise's Olive Street post office, Humbert finally bought a gallon of red paint and painted the curbs himself. "Problem solved," he said. Unflattering political cartoons followed.
On another occasion, Humbert objected to the city treasury paying to send a dozen town representitives to an upcoming seminar in southern California. "That's a waste of money," he pointed out. "We should just send one person who can take good notes and report back." That's what was done. Some felt that the mayor had cheated them out of a free vacation.
Every year, Paradise holds "Gold Nuggett Days," its annual celebration of local heritage, highlighted by a parade down the main street. Mayor Humbert again stepped on toes when he pointed out it was unfair for some people to line the street with their pickup trucks so they could get a prime view of the parade, while blocking everyone else's view. Parking was banned on the parade route, and the displaced pick-up truck owners launched a campaign to recall the mayor. While the effort to recall Humbert failed, it started a new Paradise tradition; to this day, at any given time, one Paradise official or another is usually being recalled.
During his term as mayor, Humbert suffered his first heart attack. His doctor warned him to leave the stresses of local government; Humbert chose not to seek re-election.
Owing mostly to a lifelong battle with diabetes, Humbert's health gradually deteriorated over the next several years. While there were periods of relative strength, he became less active, less involved in the activities he used to love. It has been estimated that he was admitted to Feather River hospital a total of seventeen times, four of those times for heart attacks. His body simply worn out, he died September 13, 1992. He was sixty-eight. Reflecting his wishes, no memorial service was held, but he will always be remembered by those who loved and admired him. And, for that matter, by those who didn't.
|Grandpa Warren with grandson Xander in late 1990|
|Click here for souvinirs from the 1968 Benicia City Council election|
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