This winter, when it snows on Mt. St. Helena, Calistogan Jim Flamson said he’s going to drive up there and “hike in the snow. I haven’t done that in 44 years.”
Jim and Kathy Flamson are retiring next month: Kathy on Dec. 28, Jim three days later on Dec. 31. Jim has been in business since 1974, most recently as a tax preparer, prior to that as an insurance agent, when he took over his father’s business. Kathy has had a varied career and most recently has served as Calistoga city clerk since February 2014.
“I’m looking forward to a February or a March day when it floods. I hate to say this, but I’m actually going to go out and watch it, instead of being in my office, hoping that the power doesn’t go out,” Jim said. “Those are the kind of silly things I want to do and I’ll get over that.”
Preparing for retirement has been interesting, he said, adding he bought the same amount of firewood this year that he has bought in the past. “Wait a minute, we’ll probably need more firewood, because I’m going to be home during the day all winter.”
Both Jim and Kathy are early risers and Jim said it’s going to be hard to break the habit of getting up at 4:30 in the morning, especially during tax season. But, he added, “I’ll bet I still get up early. I love sitting out in the morning with a cup of coffee reading the paper.”
Kathy said she’s looking forward to retirement. “We have about six months of almost freedom, then on July 1, I’m going to be District Governor” for the local Rotary region, she said. “That will keep us busy for a year. Then, after that, we know what we want to do …”
Jim broke in, “We’re taking it a day at a time right now.” He added their long-term plan is to buy a little trailer that can be towed behind a pickup truck. “It’s got a bathroom, shower and it’s small enough that I can back the thing up,” Jim said. “We’re gonna travel. We want to go back to some of the places we visited with everybody’s children when we were Scout leaders. This time without the Scouts.”
In October, Jim Flamson sent out a letter to his clients and friends, saying he had sold his tax preparation and bookkeeping business, “James Flamson Tax Service,” to Calistoga CPA Ron Koscielak, who has lived and worked in Calistoga since July 1989. Over the past few years, Flamson said he would go to Koscielak to discuss particular tax issues. “I was real comfortable going into his office and saying, ‘You got a minute?’ And he’d stop what he was doing and we’d talk about it or do the research together,” Flamson said. When it was time to sell the business, Koscielak was “the first and only person I went to,” he added.
Flamson said Koscielak will take over his physical offices at 1422 Lincoln Ave., where both Jim and his father before him had their offices. For a long time, the Flamsons’ offices were in the front part of the building; today, they are in the rear.
Flamson said his parents, James H. and Dora Flamson, moved to Calistoga in August 1950, when Jim was 4 months old. James H. was a teacher in Calistoga from 1950 to 1963, when he went into the insurance business and started his agency. Jim said the original plan was for him to work for two years for an insurance brokerage in Anaheim and then move up and form a partnership with his dad, who would eventually retire.
Halfway through his second year, his dad developed brain cancer and passed away suddenly, Flamson said. “So Kathy and I quickly moved back to Calistoga, not because we were ready for it, but because we had to. We helped my mom hold the agency together and the rest is history,” he said.
Jim and Kathy were married in 1972. Their two sons, Tom and Dan, were raised in Calistoga. Today, Tom is 41, works as an anthropologist for the State of California, and is married. Dan, who lives in Angwin, is married, and is a juvenile probation supervisor for Sonoma County. Both Tom and Dan each has a son and daughter. “They both love their jobs,” Jim said.
When asked if the sons ever wanted to take over the business, Kathy added, “They made it real clear they didn’t want to take over the business.” Furthermore, Jim added, “I have to do their taxes.”
Learning the business
Today, Dora is 94 and lives in Calistoga. She had been the local justice court clerk — when the court was in Calistoga — and after her husband’s death, she became a licensed tax preparer. She started doing taxes in 1968.
A few years later, in 1976, Dora asked for Jim’s help. “It’s time you learned the tax business,” she told her son.
Flamson said he learned the business by using an old typewriter, typing the original tax forms she filled out with pencil. “Back in those days, there were no computers, we did them in triplicate with carbon paper. Make a mistake, and you erase three copies. I did that for a few years, that’s how I learned the tax business,” he said.
Dora retired in 1979 and after that, Jim says, “It’s been all me.”
At the beginning, Dora did 50 or 60 returns and the business has grown, so for the last 10 years, Flamson has been doing “well over 400 every year, but never over 500.”
Kathy said, “I remember when I was doing them, when we did 250 that was a big year. Kathy worked with Jim in the office right after their two children were born until Flamson sold the insurance agency, at the end of 2007, to Tom Lincoln of Lincoln-Leavitt in Lakeport.
During the day, while Jim was running his insurance agency, Kathy worked at St. Helena Hospital. During the tax season — from January to April 15 — at the end of the day, Jim would gather up the taxes that had been brought in that day and split them up. “I’d say, these are mine, these are hers,” he said. During those years, Kathy was a student at Capella University, seeking to earn her bachelor’s degree. She would do three or four hours of homework, and then at 10 p.m., she’d work on the taxes until 1 in the morning, Jim said. Kathy added, “I’d get up at 6 and go back to work at St. Helena Hospital.”
Those were long, 16-hour days. Their kids were little and Jim said, “We were working hard just to make ends meet.”
Kathy started working as deputy city clerk for the City of Calistoga in September 2013, working under City Manager Richard Spitler. She became city clerk in February 2014. “He wanted to make sure I was comfortable and knew what I was doing,” she said. “I had one city election under my belt and he said I could have it.”
After arriving in Calistoga in 1974, Kathy first worked at Hurd’s Candle Factory, which was adjacent to Freemark Abbey in the 1970s. Then she worked at Bank of America and then Napa Valley Bank, the year after it began. She and Jim were members of the volunteer Calistoga Fire Department and then became Emergency Medical Technicians, when Jim drove the ambulance.
Afterwards, Kathy worked for Jim and then was an advertising rep for The Weekly Calistogan, working with Pat Hampton. Together, they started a Hispanic page. “That was my passion,” Kathy said. “My grandparents came from Italy, they didn’t speak English and my grandmother was the only literate one. She would get her Italian newspaper every Friday and she’d read everything to my grandfather.”
Kathy was a masseuse at Nance’s, one of Calistoga’s former hot springs and spas. For a couple of years and during her training, she would have to give Jim massages at home, to learn her trade. “That was the best tax season I ever had. Every night I got home and got a massage.”
Then, Kathy spent 18 years working at St. Helena Hospital, ending her career there in 2012.
Summing it up, Jim said, “She’s had an interesting career. Me, I just did the same thing for 44 years. That’s why I can’t wait to be done. It’s going to be weird. It’s funny, Kathy posted a thing on Facebook the other day that said, ‘When I retire, I’m going to live off my savings. What I’m going to do the next day, I don’t know.’”
Both Jim and Kathy have been volunteers for years, with Cub and Boy Scouts and with the fire department – Jim served as volunteer chief – and with Relay for Life and with Rotary, both with the local club and the district. But, that’s another story for another time.
Editor’s Note: For years, the Stonebergs have known the Flamsons, partially because they have prepared our taxes.