Nevada City Advocate
At first glance, Dick Mentzer’s office looks like the Starship Enterprise, that is until you look out the window at a sweeping stand of pines instead of stars.
His desk is surrounded by four video screens and there are enough nobs and switches to thrill the most jaded video techie. The walls are filled with pictures of exotic locations, lived in and visited. And in the corner is a trombone, on a stand, facing a single sheet of music.
“I play for myself. I thought about playing with the Nevada County Concert Band until I heard how good the trombone section is,” he says. “They’re beyond my skill set.”
But one talent he does excel in is video editing, arranging sound and images in a way that creates a seamless presentation.
His customers include pretty much all the major non-profits, especially those focused on the arts: Hospitality House, InConcert Sierra, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, KVMR Community Radio, Nevada City Rotary, Music in the Mountains and Interfaith Food Ministries. He also works with local musicians, which includes live streaming video over the Internet.
You’d think a guy with those big-time clients would be raking in the dough, but Mentzer’s skills come at a very reasonable cost to non-profits.
“The mission is to help non-profits get their message out, to expand the range of their communications, especially with Internet streaming,” Mentzer says. “There are only a certain number of people who give. Can we expand the reach of the non-profits if we get the word out?”
Like many retirees who have made Nevada County home and brought their special talents to help make this a better place to live, Mentzer has led a very interesting life. He has what we call a “back story.”
For starters, he was born in Yosemite National Park.
His father worked there as a part-time laborer in the 30s. He would dump garbage on a platform facing some bleachers and the park visitors would come to watch the bears dine.
His family started migrating to Northern California in the 1850’s from Pennsylvania and later from Los Angeles and settled in Coulterville. His father later worked in the gold mines; his grandfather was a carpenter who did finish work on the interiors of railroad Pullman cars.
Mentzer went to high school in Vacaville where he played trombone and developed a longtime interest in cars that continues to this day. (He has owned a Porsche and a classic Mercedes.)
He graduated from Chico State with a degree in industrial arts and taught auto shop for two years at Mira Loma High School. It was at Chico State where he met his wife, Ann.
“It was a great marriage because she had a car and I didn’t,” he says. They’ve been married 57 years.
Motivated by President Kennedy and the activist youth movement, they joined the Peace Corps in 1963 for no specific post. They trained at Georgetown University and were invited to join a project in Iran.
“We had to look it up on a map to find out where it was,” he says. He taught auto mechanics in a boy’s school and she taught English as a second language and American literature and worked with deaf children in a girl’s school.
“The Iranian people were so hospitable. One of the most impactful experiences of our lives. The shop teacher I worked with was this terrific guy. He spoke no English and I spoke no Farsi, so I didn’t cause a lot of problems.
“When they were doing a tune-up on a car, they would put a button on each of the spark plugs to improve their life. There were a lot of practices to make repairs without having all the parts,” he says.
While there, Mentzer put together a vocational school for a local orphanage.
‘For a 25-year-old to make that leap from teaching to building a school was unique,” he says.
During the two years they were stationed in Iran, they traveled throughout the Middle East: Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.
“We took away a lot more than we gave. The objective of the Peace Corps is not to only provide a resource but also bring back some understanding of the country, the culture and the people,” he says.
When they returned, they worked for the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., as recruiters, traveling around the country giving presentations to universities.
After the Peace Corps, he worked briefly for Litton Industries, and then returned to Chico State to get a masters degree in industrial arts education.
From there, he went to work for a small multimedia company in Palo Alto where he developed programs to train middle managers and supervisors how to be more in tune with minority initiatives.
He next landed in Manhattan where he worked for the Equitable Life Insurance Co. developing new techniques for training people.
“It was about how people learned, a departure from “teaching” to” learning.”’
It was also the place he started working with video as a learning tool.
“1970 was the birth. We started using video for the first time. It was very crude and experimental.”
After 10 years in Manhattan, where Ann managed a learning center, they moved to Boston where he worked for Commercial Union Insurance Co. in a corporate role.
They retired in 1999 and moved to Nevada City where they built a house. But Mentzer continued to work with video.
He got involved with NCTV and its predecessor, FCAT, to create public access programming.
And now, as the go-to guy for non-profit video editing, he enjoys working with the many talented local videographers and is always busy with one project underway and another circling for a landing. Editing is extremely meticulous and time-consuming, and he needs to carve out time for travel with Ann.
Their desire is to visit Iran, a country they love, a country that set them on their life’s course. But a lot of political water has traveled under the bridge since their Peace Corps days.
“We want to go back on vacation. We’re trying to make plans, but it’s pretty restrictive for Americans,” he said. “They’re making it difficult to travel.”
Which may be why that sheet of music on the stand next to the trombone is “The Impossible Dream.”
About the photos: Previous page:
Dick Mentzer in his office editing bay.
Photo by Michael Young
Dick and Ann Mentzer circa 1965