By Luise Gleason
Morro Bay’s Bill Huntington, known as “Boomer” to family and friends, is a fixture at Morro Bay’s monthly Food Bank giveaway, held the third Wednesday of the month at the Morro Bay Vet’s Hall.
Boomer, 97, says he’s been volunteering since the beginnings of the Food Bank back in 1989. Intrigued, we at the Food Bank Coalition wanted to hear more about his experiences. Little did we know that his desire to give back to the community comes from a touching personal story that shaped him in his early childhood and brought him to this area where he’s been ever since.
Have you ever wondered what Morro Bay looked like 80 years ago? Well, Boomer remembers everything as if it happened yesterday and enjoys talking about it.
“Back then, it wasn’t really a town,” he says. “When I arrived, there were only five houses in the whole area. Most of the countryside was just bare hills. “We used to call it Morro Del Mar. It was a fishing village. People from Arkansas, Missouri or Texas would come to dive for abalones.
“There was one big hotel called The Cloisters Inn [which burned down long ago] and to get to it you had to pass between two huge eucalyptus trees. The rich and famous from Hollywood would come to vacation here or visit Hearst Castle. When the war broke out, they closed down Route 41 and turned it into a military highway. Troops sent to this area would then stay in the hotel.
“After the attack on Pearl Harbor,” Boomer recalls, “the navy moved in to patrol the beaches. The access to Morro Rock was made when they finished the breakwater. Before that, you couldn’t get to it; it was surrounded by water on all sides. When the war ended, people began to settle.”
Boomer never knew his father and does not possess a birth certificate. He assumes he was born in San Francisco, but he does not know for sure and he quickly explains why. “My mother had five children in less than 5 years, but she didn’t care about us. She was a party girl, just like the ones you see hanging around the saloons in cowboy movies.”
Instead, he and his two older brothers grew up in a Catholic orphanage. “The sisters there were mean to us,” Boomer notes with absent eyes, as if he is talking about someone else’s life. “Luckily, they could not speak English very well, so I managed to outsmart them every now and then.”
But meals were scarce and he would often go hungry. Sometimes, when hunger grew unbearable, he and his older brothers would seek help in the neighborhood. A woman there took them in and fed them alongside her own kids. Another man, who was keeping rabbits, served them rabbit stew.
Abandoned by his family and unwanted in the orphanage, he set out on his own when he turned 14. He landed in Morro Bay by accident in 1938.
“When I was 17,” he says, “I worked for Luke’s tractor company in Santa Maria. When they went bankrupt, I put everything I owned in my Model T Ford and drove north. My car broke down in Morro Bay, so I pulled into a gas station and the nice lady there gave me a job for one dollar a day.”
The years that followed kept him in the area, but he slept mostly in a tent. When his curiosity made him scout out new houses that were being built, he met a family that left him a 1-room shack, which was partly burned. Boomer tore it down and fixed it with whatever he could find.
“I used to collect bent nails and straighten them,” he says in a half-serious, half-joking tone. “One day they told me that they were going to foreclose the property my little house was standing on because I was 3 months behind in paying for the lot. So I got a big tractor and towed the building down the road to another lot.”
He kept moving this way until he finally found a lot that he was able to buy for $125.
Around that time he met Edna — the love of his life. She was a farm girl whose family cultivated many acres and grew food for the population of San Luis Obispo County.
“My friends and I were hanging out at a bar one night,” Boomer says, his face beginning to light up, “when a girl walked in and told us that her best friend was sitting outside in the car waiting to drive her home when she got drunk. I walked outside to see her for myself, and truly, there she was, sitting in the driver’s seat with a dreamy look on her face. I knocked on the door and she rolled the window down. We introduced ourselves, talked for a bit, and then I bent over and gave her a kiss. It took her completely by surprise, but she liked it. What followed where many thousands of kisses more. We still have our good morning kiss. When we got married in 1941, my house was still on a trailer with no bathroom or anything.”
He and his “charming wife of 77 years,” as he calls her, shared a strong bond that helped him change his fate. Meeting Edna finally showed him what love was and together they raised three sons in a strict but loving family home.
It was not always easy for him since he had never known a father figure or motherly love, but to this day they still live happily in that same house he built by himself. “I know every nail in these walls,” he says proudly with a laugh.
Knowing what it means to be barely able to get by motivated Boomer to help people in need and so he started handing out food in Morro Bay in the late 80s. The donations mostly came from the local grocers, but Boomer and his friends would drive to the Food Bank in Paso Robles to get additional supplies.
In the very beginning,” he says, “the Food Bank had only two employees. One of them was actually a volunteer who helped us load the food into our picks ups. I had exactly 31 deliveries to houses in Morro Bay. Only people 55-years or older were allowed to receive food.”
Many things have changed over the past 30 years, but he still shows up every month to greet people with a warm smile at the food distribution at the Vet’s Hall in Morro Bay. Nowadays, Boomer likes to bring food home as well, but only what he really needs — maybe a couple of peaches or other diced vegetables.
Unfortunately, Edna developed dementia about a year and a half ago. Boomer, who is still going strong, takes care of her. “I counted 10 things we do every morning,” he says. “First, I get her up and fill her water bottles. I open the curtains and turn the lights on because she likes them. After that I get the laundry going and a little while later I put the clothes in the dryer. Then I make her breakfast and put her in her wheelchair, but she usually gets in and out of it on her own. In the morning she can eat here in the living room, but for dinner she has to be at the table in the kitchen.”
Boomer’s heart-warming story is a great reminder that through all the hardships we encounter in life, the love in our hearts will continue to guide us if we only give it space to unfold.
Despite his early difficulties, Boomer’s resilience, relentless spirit, and work ethic eventually paid off. Many Food Bank volunteers carry this mindset with them week after week, month after month and year after year. They know that the most vulnerable among us need the love we have to share the most.
Boomer has a number of historical photos of Morro Bay posted online, see: www.oldmorrobay.com/bill_huntington.html. A video of the interview with Boomer is also posted online, see:
Luise Gleason is the marketing and communications coordinator for the Food Bank Coalition of SLO County. She wrote this for the Food Bank’s blog and submitted it to The Bay News for publication. See: slofoodbank.blog.