"My name is Anton Zientek and I am a student at Humboldt State University who is majoring in History. I am from Los Gatos, a town located in the Bay Area here in California. I am submitting a recording and transcript of Seniors I interviews for my Humboldt in Time of COVID project. The seniors that I interviewed are Marjorie Malcolm, Jessie Wheeler, Gayle Olsen-Raymer, and Vicki Silkies. I was able to get in contact with them through the Redwood Coast Village, a nonprofit organization in Humboldt County that supports Seniors to live independently in their homes while helping them engage with the Community."
Oral History Student Projects
"For the “Humboldt in Time of Covid” project, I decided to focus on senior citizens living in Humboldt County at the time of the Covid 19 pandemic. The goal of this project is to get a general understanding of what life has been like for the retirement community during the pandemic. I decided to focus on seniors because they are the age group most vulnerable to the pandemic. I was interested in what precautions they had to take in order to get through the pandemic avoiding infections. I also thought that since they have lived longer, their life experiences would give me some valuable insights on what's it is like in Humboldt County during covid. Every senior I interviewed responded to an ad I put on the Redwood Village Coast Village newsletter. The Redwood Village Coast is a nonprofit volunteer-based organization in the County. This organization’s mission is to support seniors to live independently in their own homes while helping them engage with their local communities. Within The Village, four seniors, Marjorie Malcolm, Jessie Wheeler, Gayle Olson-Raymer, and Vicki Silkiss, agreed to share their experiences with me. Jessie, Gayle, and Vicki wanted to participate in one-on-one interviews while Marjorie wrote me a long email detailing her experience throughout this pandemic. The interviews were done through Zoom a video conference platform that allows for its users to connect online through a computer or phone tablet. Throughout the pandemic, Zoom became the number one form of communication. Unfortunately, I was unable to record my interviews on Zoom, so I just recorded using my phone instead. While I never ask about their backgrounds before retirement because it did not seem relevant, I did learn that Vicki is a former schoolteacher; Gayle is a retired history professor at Humboldt State University who specializes in domestic terrorism, and Marjorie before covid spent her time volunteering at the library. I did not learn much about Jessie’s experience prior to Covid. Their outlook in regard to Humboldt in the Time of Covid differed greatly. However, through these interviews, I gained some valuable insight. It seemed quarantine had some positive impacts on the social lives of many of these seniors. Covid brought them closer to their family and friends. With Zoom they were able to keep in touch with family and friends in distant places more than before Covid. Rather than being isolated during quarantine, they made an effort to reach out to their community for support. Everyone I interviewed supported the mask and vaccine mandates here in Humboldt County. However, many of them were concerned about those who refused to get vaccinated or wear masks. All interviewees shared their concerns about how the Covid 19 pandemic became a political issue rather than a public health issue. They were all disappointed by the response of Americans, specifically, Conservatives, who refuse to get vaccinated on the grounds that it infringed on their rights as Americans. Even in Humboldt, California, a liberal hotspot, at the time of Covid many locals refuse to get the vaccine. One pointed out that on a local bridge above Highway 101, there is graffiti that said 20,000 vaccination deaths and no vaccine mandates. None of them understood why Americans were acting this way because my interviewees were alive before or at the beginning of past campaigns to get vaccinated for other diseases. Some of the seniors remember diseases like mumps, measles, and polio that plagued their childhood. Some of them like Jessie witness firsthand what these diseases could affect a person; when vaccines originally came out, my interviewees claimed that everyone despite their political beliefs got them. They were just grateful for a cure. None of the seniors support the ideals of individual rights regarding COVID vaccines because it contradicts with their rights to be protected. Jessie pointed out that her parents grew up during the second world war, a time were Americans banded together to support the war effort. Now many Americans are fighting for their individual rights rather than following health mandates. I do regret not asking about other health mandates seniors might have experienced in the past; for example, how the American publicreacted towards the polio vaccinations versus how the public is reacting now. Another interesting point is that although the hospitals are filled with the unvaccinated, only Margery was personally affected by the lack of medical resources. I would have thought that seniors or at least the ones who wanted to share their experience with me would have been more affected because seniors tend to have more health problems. Marjorie’s story on this point stood out to me. Marjorie's mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and her husband could not travel because he needed hip surgery. There was a waitlist because the hospitable were overbooked so her husband could noy get surgery in time to see his mother before she passed. What has even more disturbing is the scene Maggie described when she went to visit her mother-in-law after she died: “After she passed, I returned to Tucson to collect her belongings and found that in the previous week they hadn't even taken trash, bloody bandages, or the many canisters of oxygen out of the room”. This type of situation is another impact of the pandemic that I was interested in. Based on what I heard, I can say Covid alone is not all that dangerous, but with seniors, it has a much bigger impact because not only are they more susceptible the effects of Covid, but they are also at a higher risk of being neglected which further impacts their health. I do wish I spent more time interviewing seniors outside the Redwoods Coast Villages to understand impacts of being a senior and isolated because I do not believe isolation was as severe for participants in the Villages. One thing every senior I interviewed had in common is that Covid showcased how politically divided our country is, and that the life changes in response to the pandemic also brought people together.Families and friends would get on zoom and communicate with each other more frequently than before. Because seniors were in quarantine, they were put in a position where they had to rely on technology to socialize, and the convenience of this may have induced them to socialize more often, especially with friends and family outside of Humboldt County. I do not believe Covid 19 will have a major impact on Humboldt County’s future, however, Covid did bring to the forefront a significant political divide in this country and how far people are willing to go in order to hold on to their political beliefs, even at the expense of others."
Dowload is a transcript of the interview (PDF).