Sometimes it takes getting away from a hometown to appreciate what is actually there.
It was the case of then Patty Nelson, Banning High School alumna, Class of 1968.
Patty Nelson Limerick, while taking graduate studies at Yale University, the San Gorgonio Pass was brought up during a history lesson.
“There, all the way out in New Haven, they were talking about our railroad — my hometown!” she said excitedly during her lecture last weekend at the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center.
Limerick, a professor and director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, conducted the inaugural convocation for the Banning Centennial speaker series Feb. 9.
During her talk, “Beginning with Banning: From conquest to civil rights; from stagecoaches to VW Bugs; from the Old West to the new western history,” expressed how unimpressed she was with her hometown when she lived here.
She believes that she is the second person to ever be born at San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital.
She showed yearbook photos of some of those in attendance who graduated with her, and showed a copy of her senior report card, in which she only got a C in Donald Cutler’s physical education class, and a C in English IV.
“As teens, we were convinced that we were born into a boring town that was the butt of many not-so-memorable jokes,” she confessed. In college, her views regarding Banning were “transformed,” and she discovered that her experiences growing up in Banning were richer than those expressed by her peers in college who came from large metropolitan areas.
“I had to leave Banning for someone to point out that, where I came from was a very important place,” particularly when it came to logistics and railroad and stagecoach transportation, she said.
Part of her talk was inspired from concepts of her first book, “Legacy of Conquest,” published in 1987, speaking about “reaching against a rigid set of ideas of what ‘western history’ is supposed to mean — and advocated the inclusion of the west as part of the rest of the United States.
While the City of Banning is named after Phineas Banning, there were a few others in Banning’s past, she suggested, who contributed significantly to its history, and should be considered, for discussion, as part of “the Banning family.”
They included Katherine Siva-Saubel, co-founder of the Malki Museum and one of the last preservationists of the Cahilla language; Daisy and Fred Wing, whose family of attorneys is credited with having drawn up the legal papers for the incorporation of the city; Dorothy Ramon, a preservationist of the Serrano language and culture; and advocated at length on behalf of poet and and modernist Sadakichi Hartmann, a colorful and worldly man who lived on the Morongo reservation that was revered in Hollywood and despised by the FBI, who threatened to intern him during World War II because of his Japanese ancestry.
Hartmann, whose daughter, Wistaria, married a man from the Morongo reservation, is credited with having been among the first to explore photography as art.
“You live with people,” and “we should recognize the hybridity and mixture and muddle of racial categories in overcoming our narrow perception” of folks such as Native Americans and people of the American West, Limerick suggested.
Among those who attended the lecture was Richard Hanks, who has published a book, “This War is for a Whole Life: The Culture of Resistance Among Southern California Indians, 1850-1966” through the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center’s Ushkana Press. He will be the Centennial program’s speaker at the center on May 18.
“She really expands the story of Western America,” he said, and suggested that Limerick broadened the west as “not a place where we all went to escape — it’s a place where we all met. Hopefully my book, too, gets people to look at Native Americans a little differently.”
Robert Lippman, director of the Banning Public Library, seemed entertained by her talk.
“You know the book, ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ — about the novelist discouraged from returning to his small town after writing about it? Patty’s speech was nothing like that. There was a lot of love in that room, both for the people of Banning, and the famous historian that grew up here. It was heartwarming to see so many fond memories being relived, from a classmate who was killed in Vietnam, to a school report card.”