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Before Western Hills

Articles: Before Western Hills

Lester Hawkins on the steps of the Big House. Jim Hickey at right, Fran Hodge seated. (July 30, 1978) Photo: Jim Flack

Lester Hawkins (1915-1985) and Marshall Olbrich (1920-1991), founders of Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery in Occidental, California, came from distinctly different worlds and backgrounds.

Born in New York State in 1915, Lester Hawkins was raised in Olympia, Washington where his father ran a small grocery store. He went to live with an aunt in Texas who was married to an oil millionaire. The plan was for Lester to attend the Colorado School of Mines to study geology and enter the oil industry but instead he moved to New York where he lived on 40 cents a day. Charismatic, opinionated, and with strong views on the ills of the capitalist system, Lester studied economics in the public library and made plans to write a book on the topic. Three years later, he moved again, eventually arriving in San Francisco where he worked as a journalist and edited book manuscripts.

Robert Marshall Olbrich and a twin brother were born into the family of prominent Madison, Wisconsin attorney and civic leade...

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