Beloved activist in Valley dies


By Jennifer Henderson
A prominent and well-liked community activist in Forest Knolls, Ron Thelin, died Tuesday night at Marin General Hospital of liver cancer.

Friends remembered Mr. Thelin for his intelligence, generosity, high spirits, involvement in the counterculture of the 1960s, and the tremendous pride he took in his work for the San Geronimo Valley, where he lived for 30 years.

“He was somebody who had many different phases of his life – not in a flaky way, but he was somebody who was truly interested in participating in all walks of life,” said his close friend Peter Berg, founder of Planet Drum, a San Francisco environmental organization.

“He did everything from go to Washington to participate in the exorcism of the Pentagon to starting the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group.”


Not a poster hippie
“He was a remarkable person. He wasn’t a poster hippie, standing on the corner flashing a peace sign covered with buttons; he was completely emblematic of the best of the 1960s without reservation,” Berg added.

Mr. Thelin was born in Oakland in 1938 and raised in Northern California. He attended high school in San Luis Obispo.

In 1952, when he was 17, he received an Eagle Scout award from President Richard Nixon.

“My father was really proud of being an Eagle Scout. He talked about how the values of a scout – honesty, reverence, thrift, and kindness – always influenced him,” son Jasper Thelin remembered Wednesday.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Thelin attended San Francisco City College, where he studied Mandarin Chinese and International Relations.


Eastern philosophy
In the late 1950s, he joined the Army. While stationed in Taiwan, Mr. Thelin developed an interest in Eastern art, philosophy, and metaphysics.

After his Army service, he married his high school sweetheart Marsha in New York on October 26, 1963.

The couple immediately moved to Clayton Street in San Francisco where, with his younger brother Jay, he started the first head shop, called the Psychedelic Store.

The brothers sold hippie paraphernalia such as hash pipes, rolling paper, and god’s eyes, but the Psychedelic Store was primarily a bookstore where people had access to subcultural texts on art, poetry, philosophy, and mysticism.

“The bookstore was the center for much of the literary and artistic elements of the hippie movement,” said San Geronimo Valley Attorney Marshall Krause. “It provided a sanctuary for hundreds of homeless teenagers that came to the Haight-Ashbury.

“Ron would give them free food, and help them find housing. Everyone felt at home there.”


Police harassment
But because of the prominent position the shop held in the community, it soon became a target for much of the police hatred in the Haight-Ashbury.

“The police saw it as the center of a godless culture,” recalled Krause. “Ron was very courageous. He bore the brunt of a lot of police brutality.”

In 1964, the police arrested Mr. Thelin for breaking obscenity laws by selling a book of poetry by Lenore Kandel called The Love Book.

The noted poet Alan Cohen, who worked as a clerk in the bookstore, was arrested along with Mr. Thelin.

Their month-long trial was a sensational event, covered every day on the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle.

He was found guilty by the San Francisco Municipal Court, but Krause, an attorney at the time with the ACLU, appealed, and the verdict was later overturned in federal court on First Amendment grounds.


Back to the land
By 1968 the hippie movement had lost its appeal, and Mr. Thelin joined the Diggers, a commune that over time fed and housed many of the half-million people who had come to the Haight to participate in the psychedelic revolution.

He gave up everything at the Psychedelic Store for free and staged a media event called the “Death of the Hippie,” subtitled “Birth of the Free Man.” Part of the event involved burying hippie garb in the ground to symbolize the demise of the hippie movement and the birth of the Back to the Land movement.

Soon after, Mr. Thelin moved to the San Geronimo Valley with his family. There he became an ardent environmentalist and community activist.


Planning Group founder
He was one of the founders of the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group and a creator of the Valley’s community plan, which protected the community’s rural nature.

“He stopped the development of the San Geronimo Valley cold,” noted Berg.

“Ron had a real vision [in] thinking of his life in terms of the community. His ac

tions and good deeds are something we all should be grateful for,” said Forest Knolls resident Debra Dadd-Redalia, chairwoman of the Planning Group.

Mr. Thelin also served on the board of the San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center, participated in the Open Classroom, was briefly a Boy Scout leader, and worked on the Marin Conservation League’s Water


“Our goal was always to clean up Lagunitas Creek to the point where you could drink from it,” noted Valley Planner Jean Berensmeier.


Political activism
In addition to volunteerism, letter-writing was one of his favorite methods of political protest.

“I’ve got stacks of letters he wrote to the editor of The Marin Independent Journal,” noted his son Jasper. “He was so meticulous about constructing his arguments [that] he would sit for hours in front of the computer, typing word by word.”

“Whenever he read the paper, he would always turn to the Letters to the Editor first because he wanted to know what people in the community were really thinking about the issues.”

Even after he was diagnosed with cancer, his dedication to community activism never diminished.

Last September, he was a panel member at the fourth annual Shasta Bioregional Gathering in Cazadero, where he spoke to young environmentalists about the value of community activism.


Inspired others
“He was definitely an inspiration to me and many others,” said Debbie Hubsmith, 26, development director for Planet Drum. “He was always helping, always giving, always thinking about the community and new ways to link people together,”

“He was absolutely optimistic, positive, upbeat, creative,” said Berg. “I don’t think Ron actually believed that people ever die.” Services for Mr. Thelin will be held at Roy’s Redwoods. No date or time has been announced.

Mr. Thelin is survived by his wife Marsha of Forest Knolls; his brother Jay; his daughter Kira Gapinski of San Anselmo; his sons Jasper of Forest Knolls and Ace, a student at Humboldt State; son-in-law Bruce Gapinski; and grandchildren Spencer, Thelina Jace, Toni, and Janessa Gapinski.