John Spevak: Two hoots and a holler

September 14, 2012 

Tomorrow, at the Los Banos Fall Downtown Street Fair, I plan to visit at least three places, involving two hoots and a holler.

I'm going to start the morning at the Miller and Lux Building for one of the best value meals of the year, the Los Banos Rotary Club Pancake Breakfast. For six bucks I will enjoy pancakes, ham, scrambled eggs, coffee and juice.

I give a hoot about Rotary, because they use all the funds raised from the pancake breakfast and other events to support local causes like the Boy Scouts and the library.

I also give a hoot about our local library, which does so much to encourage reading among all people, young and old. So I'll also visit the Friends of the Los Banos Library booth tomorrow.

Unlike the spring street fair, the fall fair will feature a Friends' display of not 20 tables of miscellaneous books but one or two tables of some of the best used books in the Friends' vast collection.

At the library booth I can also ask the Friends about their "Small-Art Sale" fundraiser on Oct. 25, their annual membership drive, and their donation jar. With library funds so depleted, every dollar raised or donated is important for the purchase of needed magazine subscriptions and books.

Speaking of books, my last stop is where I'll find a "holler," to be exact, a new book written by Darrell Wilcox about a life that began in a West Virginia holler.

In this case, "holler" means "a hollow place or valley." It's a term that's used more in West Virginia coal mining country than in California.

Darrell will be manning a booth at the street fair, where he'll be selling his autobiography, entitled "Up in the Holler: Memories of a Coal Camp Kid."

Wilcox is a resident of Los Banos who came to California in a roundabout way, from West Virginia, through Cincinnati and Korea. His book tells that story in a friendly, informal style.

"Up in the Holler" was co-authored and edited by Annette Savage Williams, a graduate of Los Banos High School who is now an editor, writer, and publisher in San Diego County. Her firm, Williams Savage Books, published Darrell's book.

Darrell was born in 1931, but he told me with a smile, "I'm only 62." He added, "A lot of people who heard me talk about my experiences urged me to write a book about my life. So I did."

The first five chapters deal with growing up as a kid in Wyco, a West Virginia coal mining town also known as the "Wyco Holler." As Darrell said, "We were all poor growing up in the holler, but we just didn't know it."

Darrell's experiences include his years at Mullens High, where he was the first in his family to graduate from high school; his time working in a coal mine; his determination to leave the holler to attend a barber college in Cincinnati; and his adventures in the Navy during the Korean War.

He eventually courted and married Dorothy Lloyd and moved to Newman, close to her family, where he opened a barber shop, working at a job he thoroughly enjoyed. Besides his success as a barber, Darrell became a talented entrepreneur in other businesses.

Darrell is now enjoying life in Los Banos with his wife Sherma, whom he met 11 years after Dorothy died from cancer. Darrell describes Sharma as "a great Christian lady."

"One of the reasons I wrote this book," Darrell said, "was to show people, especially young people today, that no matter how hard life your life is, you can succeed if you work hard and have faith."

Darrell is a congenial conversationalist as well as storyteller, as visitors to his street fair booth tomorrow will discover.

One another note: Los Banosans have a chance to vote for a good cause. Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally) is a national non-profit organization based in Los Banos that is in the running for a Chase Bank Community Grant.

Winners will be those that get the most votes online. Voting takes place between Sept. 6 and 19. You can vote if you have a Facebook account at

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to

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