John Dunlap

Former State Sen. John Dunlap at his home in 2011.

My name is John Dunlap. I graduated from Napa Union High School in 1940. I’m 97 years old, and for some reason, I’m still alive and relatively healthy. I sometimes wonder why, but I continue to enjoy life with my wife, Mary Lu, and my four children, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

From time to time, I think of how I’d like to talk to some of my Napa High School friends until I realize that most are no longer with us. So it occurs to me I should share something about four of them and the ways they contributed to our community.

At Napa High, we were all members of the Chess Club. We were a little hifalutin about it. We did play chess. On the other hand, we also spent many hours playing poker and blackjack, winning and losing in gambling games. Along the way, we became friends for life.

Their names were Bob Corlett, Bob Humpert, Howard Dickenson and Howard Jewell. We all graduated from Napa High and UC Berkeley, and we all served in the military during World War II. I kept in touch with each of them until their deaths.

I’ll start with Bob Corlett who I knew from the time we were little kids. His parents lived next door to my grandparents on Seminary Street, and we were playmates. I remember Bob as a good student and a good guy. In high school we played football on the “B” or lightweight team together. Bob was better than I was. He was faster and I was slower.

After graduation from UC Berkeley, Bob took graduate work and became a certified public accountant and started a practice in Napa. During the Korean War, he was recalled to active duty as a Navy officer. Upon discharge, he returned to Napa and to his practice as a CPA and was active in the Napa community. He, among other things, served on the Napa City Council.

Through Bob Corlett, I met Bob Humpert, who lived a few blocks away in Napa. Bob H joined the neighborhood kids in playing the usual competitive games, including football and baseball in the street. We also had races around the block—where Bob H began to shine. He was a track athlete in high school— as I remember it a quarter miler. He went on to compete on the UC track team.

Later, Bob became an administrator in the Napa school system and served as principal of Ridgeview Jr. High School and John Shearer Elementary School. When I was a state legislator and he was a school administrator, we worked together to pass legislation that incorporated Bob’s ideas for making school buses safer for students.

I didn’t meet Howard Dickenson and Howard Jewell until high school, where the two Bobs and two Howards and I all became friends (as well as chess club members). Both Howards played on the Napa High football team.

I am reminded of Howard Dickenson calling me one day, and I don’t mean calling me on the phone. He stood outside my grandmother’s house and in a loud voice yelled “John!” In those days, when your friends came to see you, they often stood outside your house and yelled your name and you either joined them outside or invited them in. (Maybe they didn’t knock because they didn’t want to bother or talk to the grown-ups in the house.) I wonder if that means of youthful communication is still used today. Howard was wounded in action while serving in the Army during the invasion of Japan.

Later, he became a lawyer and a founding partner of the Napa firm Dickson Peatman and Fogarty.

The second Howard, Howard Jewell, was the son of a doctor at Napa State Hospital. He was a big guy and I was small for my age, but that did not separate us in spirit. We became good friends and I remember spending many happy hours visiting him at the family home on the grounds of the state hospital, located about a mile out of town. The town is bigger now, of course, and includes the hospital. We began a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Like Howard D and myself, Howard J became a lawyer. He ran for Congress at an early age and almost beat an entrenched Republican in Solano and Contra Costa counties.

Later, he became assistant attorney general under Attorney General Stanley Mosk. I remember reading a letter he wrote to Gov. Pat Brown warning about the uneasy relationship between the black community and the Los Angeles Police Department, about a year before the Watts riots.

Howard J and I were life-long Democrats and enjoyed sharing ideas and activities for years. I remember speaking at his funeral and recalling our shared plans, joys and disappointments.

If Napa High still has a chess club, I hope that chess club members will be as lucky as I’ve been and make contributions to our community like my friends did.

Each of these men, raised in a small town, would find ways to build successful careers and make a difference in their communities. As they were my friends, I feel blessed to be able to share something about who they were and why later generations of Napa should be grateful that they came this way.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Attorney and Napa County native John Dunlap represented Napa and other North Bay counties in the state Legislature from 1966 to 1978.