Wally Ohles died Monday at age 73. I’m too late now to properly thank him.
He wrote the book “The Lands of Mission San Miguel,” and in it I found lots of information for my columns. But, I can’t remember ever giving him credit.
I bought a copy of that book soon after it was published in 1997. It’s about the size of a phone book. Sticking out of my copy are many sheets of paper, bookmarks, paper napkins and whatnot. They mark pages where I found information.
I feel worse about failing to credit him because he mentioned me on that book’s acknowledgements page. He thanked me for telling him, in 1969, “where El Paso de Robles Adobe had been located.”
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I don’t even remember doing that. I was probably just showing off, being pedantic. But, he mentioned me along with all those other people who actually helped with the book or provided historical records. Wally was generous.
Mission San Miguel Arcángel was founded in 1797. It started with 3,000 square miles of open space. Wally’s book tells in detail how those mission lands morphed within 100 years into a collection of surveyed, privately owned ranches, farms and towns.
Mission San Miguel prospered at first. In 21 years, it celebrated the construction of its big church building. But just 24 years later, it had deteriorating buildings, no priest and only 30 Indians.
The book explains that the California missions didn’t own their lands. Spanish law said mission lands had to be returned some day to the Indians. But when Mexico became independent, Mexican officials sold the land or gave it away. The book then follows the story of those former mission lands until the early 20th century.
Wallace V. Ohles was born on the Klamath Indian Reservation in Oregon. He came to Paso Robles High School in 1967 to teach world history. In 1968, he also became swimming coach and, in 1970, he restarted the water polo team, although he’d never played the sport.
My son Mike played on that team and warmly remembers Mr. Ohles. Mike said he was approachable and understanding and even the freshmen felt they could relate to him. Mike said Mr. Ohles was sort of a kid himself.
Mike remembered a few nights when Mr. Ohles packed several boys into his Camaro to look for ghosts. He would stop on a back road near a barn. They watched for blue lights but never saw any.
Wally Ohles, however, did find many long dead characters in the history of Mission San Miguel.
Reach Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.