Hugh 'Wes' Mitchell
Published: Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 10:39 p.m.
In a 45-year partnership and marriage to a woman once known as the unofficial mayor of Bodega Bay, Hugh “Wes” Mitchell was the quiet one, an able contractor and stout former football player who stood as the personal and political bodyguard to his tenacious wife, Hazel.
Mitchell, who suffered a stroke in October, died Wednesday at his home in Santa Rosa, according to a niece. He was 84.
He was a former Army paratrooper who'd turned down a professional football career when he accepted a building job in Bodega Bay, where he met his future wife.
Hazel Boennecke, a waitress at the time and feisty and fearless by nature, became one of Sonoma County's pioneering community activists, beating back plans for a power plant at Bodega Head and thrusting herself into so many other issues relating to her coastal home.
The pair married in 1963 — in the thick of the fight over PG&E's proposed nuclear power plant but before Hazel's other campaigns for and against development along the coast.
“In all of her political career, Uncle Wes was always right behind her,” said his niece Connie Aust of Forestville. “Aunt Hazel couldn't have been the advocate and politically active person she was without having him as the big strong guy behind her.”
“She kind of ran the show and Wes was happy to oblige,” said Ernie Carpenter, a former Sonoma County supervisor who knew the couple well. “Wes was the sweetest guy in the world.”
Along with home construction, Mitchell built the country club and yacht club in Bodega Bay and volunteered with the town's fire department, according to his niece. Hazel Mitchell became a real estate agent and served as president of the town's chamber of commerce.
“They had a very nice partnership,” Aust said. “Him building, her selling. He was the quiet person and she was the driving force.”
A native of Yreka, Hugh Wesley Mitchell starred on the high school football team and served in the Army 11th Airborne Division after World War II. He made 40 jumps and served in occupied Japan, according to Aust.
He returned to play football for Modesto Junior College and College of the Pacific in Stockton — now University of the Pacific — and was a state boxing champion before being offered a spot on the New York Giants football team.
He turned down the opportunity because of the low pay, his niece said.
Mitchell was an avid landscape photographer whose photos often graced the weather page of The Press Democrat. Winemaking, aviation history, welding and building projects were other hobbies.
Hazel Mitchell died in 2008 at the age of 90. Hugh Mitchell is survived by a sister, Mary Haygood of Napa, and by numerous nieces and nephews.
A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Sebastopol, with a reception for friends and family to follow. Donations can be made to the Pacific Coast Air Museum at the Sonoma County Airport.
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