5619 Black Olive Drive, Paradise, CA 95969

Ward Habriel


Ward Habriel

Born and raised in the Bay Area, mostly 42 years in Castro Valley, graduated HS 1964. Joined the USNR 1963 (to avoid the draft), tried one semester of JC, didn’t like it. Signed up for active duty in Feb 1965, I chose Pearl Harbor, or Bremerton WA, or San Diego for home port. Instead, I got Alameda Naval Air Station, about 15 minutes from my home.

I made three tours to the South China Sea on a refrigerated stores ship, USS Pictor AF 54, primarily to provide food and sundries to the troops in Nam and other Navy vessels. I was on the deck crew first as a signalman, then became a winch operator for underway replenishment. Since I had three stripes already, I was over several recruits (at age 18!). In home port, I could actually go home. (Boot camp is a very separate story)

I left active service in Jan 1967; told my HS sweetheart we were getting married next month (which we did). I had rented a small house in Castro Valley, and started moving furniture from my folks’ house to mine. After our wedding I thought I should get a job (although I was enjoying my freedom).

After three rejections (PGE, ATT, and the local water Co.) I ended up at the Coca-Cola Bottling plant in Hayward CA as the “assistant night shift chemist”, four months later I was the day shift chemist, and two months later the lab supervisor, wow, from $2/hr. to $2.50 to $2.75 in six months. I was in heaven compared to Navy pay. This canning plant was the primary supplier of soft drinks to ship to Vietnam.

Then I found out that this plant was closing, the LA company could meet all the overseas requirements.

However, I was asked to relocate to the brand-new plant in San Leandro, as the day shift lab tech (and more money). Four months later I was the lab supervisor, two years later I was the lab manager. The Company liked my growth and wanted me to get additional education. I signed up again at the JC and in two years I had a Certificate in Supervision, followed by a Certificate from the American Management Assn. Our Company acquired the plant in Salinas, Oakland, and Vallejo and guess who was selected to oversee the lab operations in all those plants? With the implementation of OSHA, I was asked to oversee the mechanical portions of plant operations and make suggestions for compliance. We then became part of a massive strike by 10 Bay Area unions that basically shut down beer and soft drink operations for nearly six months. Our management was frustrated that we had not done a better job in labor relations and looked for managers that could be trained to handle difficult labor relations issues. Yep, me again. I attended a special school in SF by Atty Sam Kaggle (the arbitrator that became famous by settling the NFL walkout). I became the Company Fact Finder in all grievance matters and contract disputes, reviewed every disciplinary action by all supervisors, presented the Company’s case at arbitration hearings, and conducted training of supervisors on labor relations.

In 1976 the Company liked the work I did identifying hazards in the workplace and asked me to take over the Maintenance Engineering Dept. overseeing our mechanics and outside contractors to ensure the plants ran smoothly and on schedule. Some of our improvements to safety and operations were noted by representatives from the Atlanta head office. After about the third visit in two years they wanted me to move into a corporate position and oversee safety in all plant and distribution operations.

Failures in labor relations as well as the damage from the strike created numerous legal issues including lawsuits against several beverage companies. I was designated the company’s “expert witness” to appear in court and testify when needed. Which I did over thirty times.

Heavy insurance claims lingering on from the strike and subsequent plant closures created a chaotic situation in both labor and management. Trucks were being wrecked, back injuries were rampant, customer complaints were on the rise, and I was supposed to figure out how to fix it. My responsibility covered 20 locations, 1200 employees, 900 vehicles and the corporate office in SF. My charge was to recover a million dollars additional in our insurance premiums in the next three years. I spent nearly all my time training supervisors and managers how to manage people and reduce accidents and injuries. When that was accomplished in a year and a half with a 1.5-million-dollar reduction in insurance premiums; I got great praise from the Atlanta office and a job offer there. Unfortunately, as we had closed several operations and significantly increased profits, I had worked myself out of a job. So, with 21 years invested, I left Coke to try retirement. And no, this California boy did NOT want to go to Atlanta GA.

I had been recruited from our insurance company while I was the Corporate Safety Director, but never planned on leaving Coke. But eventually they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. And became the West Coast safety representative for Kemper Insurance Company.

The western states from Colorado to HI, and including Kwajalein IS.

I found a whole lot of companies that had basically ignored OSHA requirements and were constantly under pressure to reduce accidents and injuries. I was very comfortable with travel away from home 15 – 20 days a month and writing reports until midnight. However, I had a family and they missed me. I had made some significant improvements with the Kemper clients, many of which were then paying lower insurance premiums. The rep in the LA region had done the same thing; so, with lower premiums going to corporate, they didn’t need two west coast reps.

I was ready for a break, and to spend more time with family. Cheryl had a good job, and we could get by without me going back to work any time soon. That gave me plenty of time to get things done around the house (our fourth one after trying two other Alameda county cities) and yard work. We loved our garden, and Cheryl would often say “do you have any compost so we can plant this weekend”. I was making my own compost but not as fast as she thought it was needed. Until I heard about a challenge published by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority that the UC Berkeley Soil Sciences lab was researching quicker ways to make compost on a small scale. I was already doing a pretty good job but not following any special recipe, so I signed up to take the challenge. When I explained what I was going to do with their recipe and make a hot, quickly decomposing pile, they got very interested. I did make a hot compost pile in 14 days, then submitted the samples and got a report that indeed it was a completed composting cycle.

This generated interest from the ACWMA and could I do it again. I said yes. They sent a film crew to record what I was doing over several days and through the composting process. They also followed other composter folks demonstrating different methods (mine was the only hot/rapid composting demo). Ultimately, the film “Do the Rot Thing; The Simple Art of Home Composting” was produced and distributed throughout Alameda County. I was considered the ‘star’ of the video, was interviewed by local TV stations, and was asked to volunteer for public demonstrations held by ACWMA.

The ACWMA was also advertising for local folks to take a course to become Certified Master Composters (similar to UCCE Master Gardeners), with the objective that when finished with the class, you would go find people interested in home composting and teach them how to do it. I applied and was accepted into the class. Four and a half months, one night a week, four Saturday field trips, homework and helping to staff at public events. I had a background in training and conducting classes, so much of what we were supposed to do came naturally to me. I passed the tests and at graduation I was voted “Vermidictorian” the most distinguished award. I was ready to go find an audience and start teaching home composting.

What I didn’t expect was that ACWMA would offer me a job managing one of the organic gardens, like being employed again (so much for retirement). The hours were pretty flexible at about 24/week, and it would include benefits. That sinched it, I gave up retirement to become a Certified Master Composter and help educate our community. They liked how I worked with people and looked for more areas to continue efforts to reduce the waste stream in Alameda County. A big concern was waste from construction sites and there were no programs directed at contractors, builders, and suppliers.

The National Assn of the Remodeling Industry was sponsoring a class to create Green Building Professionals that would incorporate numerous ways to reduce waste and build better houses using less energy, etc. So, they sent me to the class, I took notes asked questions, passed the final exam, and got a Certificate as a Green Building Professional. The ACWMA asked me to take on additional hours and help folks better understand about Green Building and reducing waste. I worked out of their office in San Leandro for over 8 years conducting compost workshops all over the County, in schools and businesses and at numerous public events. As their Environmental Educator, I was also training other office staff and attending college courses at Cal State Hayward.

The notion to get retired again was looming, the grand daughters had moved to gramma’s old house in Magalia and if we wanted to see them, we had to come up (they refused to come back to the Bay Area). We got tired of staying in motels here and looked to buy something where we might later retire. But the Waste Mgmt. Authority wasn’t done with me, they asked me to come back for special events a few times a month. I worked way beyond the borders of Alameda County, going into SF several times, plus Sacramento and other counties around the Bay Area. ACWMA is now known as StopWaste.org.

We bought our first property in Paradise in 2000 after looking for over a year. It was a great location, and the older mobile home was in excellent condition. Not what we wanted but certainly acceptable for temporary housing when visiting the kids. Later bought another property so we could live there while removing the mobile and building our forever home. I still traveled to do compost demos or lecture about green building, and after retiring, they called me back for over three years. I was actually retired at 58 and ready to do all those retirement things you don’t have time for when working. Learning to garden in the pine forested foothills was a lesson in itself, but we learned to make things work including still make our own compost. Shortly after moving here, I got invited to conduct compost demonstrations for the Herbarium Society at Chico State and was a frequent interview on “In a North State Garden” radio show.

I looked for someone to ask about what Butte County does about the waste stream and was directed to Supervisor Yamagucci. He interviewed me for an hour, then offered me a position as his appointee to the Local Task Force of the Butte Regional Solid Waste Authority, a position I still hold having been reappointed by Supervisor Teeter.

Joining the Paradise Garden Club was really helpful in better understanding how to work the soil, irrigation and living in a forest. The Garden Club also gave me opportunities to help others understand the benefits of home composting. Somehow, they thought I would be good at serving on the board of the Paradise Garden Club and after a few years I was elected as the president, a position I have held for six out of the last eight years. In addition, as a member of the California State Garden Club I was elected as a committee chairman and put on the board of the California club. Three years ago, I was appointed to a position on the Pacific Region Garden Club. And then I ended up on the BCFSC as a board member.

I have been a guest speaker all over CA and in Oregon helping spread the word about fire prevention and Firewise landscaping.

So technically, I retired from work at age 58, 16 years ago, it just doesn’t seem like retirement.

Sorry dear, I’ll be outside with the chain saw, or in the compost pile.