Marlene Bumgarner publishes memoir about raising a family in South Countyby Jan Janes on Aug 7, 2020
A gift community college instructors bring to their work is the diversity of experience, skills and talent they offer to their students.
Marlene Bumgarner, long time Child Development instructor for Gavilan College, published her fourth book this summer. “Back to the Land in Silicon Valley” is her memoir of 1970s South County life, raising a young family in the hills. Morgan Hill and Gilroy were growing up, people were waiting in line to pump gas, the Yom Kippur War was raging, and the technology boom was just beginning 30 miles to the north.
With her first husband, John Bumgarner, she moved from Southern California to the foothills outside Morgan Hill. Along with other intrepid individuals in the rural area, they lived on the land without running water or electricity.
John Bumgarner, standing, with Marlene Bumgarner and children, seated, on
their property in the hills outside Morgan Hill.
“I was percolating an idea for 20 years,” said Bumgarner. “I have a remarkable family.” Twice married, her first two children grew up as hippie kids. She would tell stories about those times to her younger children, who were not raised in the hills. As early chapters of the book progressed, she presented sections to critique groups. The story blossomed.
“Colleagues asked for more information and detail than I originally planned to write,” she said, and found herself researching historic details. She collaborated with her ex-husband, John, on a timeline, which he worked on while undergoing lengthy chemotherapy treatments. She tracked down former neighbors for their recollection of events. Her children offered their memories. The book became a commentary of the times.
“Creating a memoir is challenging,” said Bumgarner. She had to decide whether to ask family for permission to include them. “Ultimately this is my story, from my perspective, and I included them where it associated with me.”
While living off the land, Bumgarner opened a natural food store, Morgan Hill Trading Post, and started writing her first book, “The Book of Whole Grains.”
Marlene Bumgarner, far left, with staff and young friends in front of the store
she started in 1975.
Bumgarner’s teaching career started at a private school, to bring in income. She earned her teaching credential and later, her MA in Early Childhood Education and Ed.D in Early and Middle Childhood.
“I began teaching at Gavilan part time, in the evenings,” she said, crediting Donna Avino for the opportunity. “I taught child health and nutrition, then added children’s literature.” Teaching was an outgrowth of having children and wanting to be with them more often. Combining her love of children and knowledge of nutrition, she also gave talks to young mothers.
Bumgarner taught child development, became lead faculty and was instrumental in establishing the Child Development Center at Gavilan College. The center served as a lab for the students in the program. Retired from full time in 2013, she returns to teach online classes, including the recently ended summer session.
“My kids ask, ‘when are you really going to retire?’” she said. “I tell them, ‘sorry, I’m still having fun.’ Teaching keeps me alive and alert. I get to know a new group of students since 1975. And I’ve never seen such enthusiastic students.”
Asked what’s next, and she talks about walks on the beach with her grandchildren and her Border Collie, Kismet. Bumgarner has three additional books in progress, with plans to turn her pen toward historic fiction and a novel about industrial England.
A scheduled road trip to promote the book is on hold during COVID-19, and it is now available in print and e-book formats. Register in advance for a virtual reading and hear Bumgarner's stories and social commentary of the times from “Back to the Land in Silicon Valley” on August 26.