I set the world record in gold panning – women’s division in 1978, and because of that, I’m in the 1979 Guinness Book of World Records. It was a competition that started in the fifties and went until the eighties.
In the late sixties my husband and I decided we wanted to start gold panning, so we had been doing it a while. We joined a prospectors’ club out of L.A. so we ended up going to the championships, which was based out of Southern California. Everyone came from all over the world!
My ex-husband was the male world champion at one time, I was the ladies’ world champion, and my son was the junior world champion another year. Also during that time, I ran the California State gold panning championship in Ahwahnee. I did that for eleven years, and we would get three TV live stations there, two radio stations, and several newspapers to cover the event. Every year it took nine months of work to produce that, so eventually I grew tired of it and stopped.
So I made the Guinness book of World records until someone broke my record, who was actually a girl I taught. Then they moved the competition to Georgia because Georgia is the very first place in the U.S. where people found gold.
Another book I’m in is called Hackers–Heroes of the Computer Revolution, by Steven Levy. I’m one of the heroes in there. When my son graduated from high school and I was forty, I told him to get into computers because I knew they were going to be the next big thing. I, myself, had closed a couple of businesses and didn’t really have anything to do and, then I thought, I’d really love to learn computers, too. My ex was very controlling, so I was only able to do something if he wanted to do it, too, and thankfully he was also interested in learning more about computers, so we took the classes together.
It’s funny, when we first tried to enroll they said we couldn’t because we were too old (they could never say that now). The young man told us that the average student was 19-21, and some of those students had three years of college already. I didn’t dare tell him that I ran away at fifteen to get married and never graduated high school. I did have my GED, though, and had run several companies. So I asked if he had a test we could take, and he gave me a test. I took the test and came out in half an hour and he said, “Oh, did you decide not to take it?” and I said, “Nope, I’m done.” He said, “You can’t be done, that’s a two-and-a-half-hour test,” and I said, “I read fast.” Ultimately they had to let me take the class because, not only did I pass, but there were only three students who had higher scores than I did on that test. Ever.
I just took to programming. If they told us to write one program, I’d write three. A month before the class ended, Sierra On-line–the computer video game company–moved up here and we basically just walked into their offices asking for a job and they hired us. We helped make educational games for kids. When the owner of the company, Ken, called my computer instructor as a reference, the instructor told him I was a genius. I’m not a genius; programming was just my forté.
This is Us is a series of local profiles with first-person stories, written in a way we can get to know the people in our community on a little deeper level. Click here for more information about this series.