Profile Interview by NCL Board Director & NCL Newsletter Editor, Annemarie Hastings.
Interview appeared in the Fall 2021 NCL Quarterly Newsletter.
“We thought that NCL followers would be interested in knowing more about the accomplished professionals that make up the Napa County Landmarks Board of Directors. With that, we’ll be profiling members in our quarterly newsletter, starting with our President, Ernie Schlobohm. I sat down with Ernie – sadly, not in person, but over a Zoom call – to get a little more insight into the person who leads our mission in preservation and restoration here in Napa Valley.
Tell me how you first got involved with NCL.
My wife, Carol, and I purchased our primary Napa home in 2003. We were nearing completion of its three-year restoration in early October 2006, when we were contacted by NCL about showing our house on the December 2006 Candlelight House Tour.
We agreed, with only about six weeks’ time to move in permanently and decorate the house for Christmas. Soon thereafter, we were invited to join NCL’s Preservation Action Committee and volunteered as Docents for subsequent Candlelight tours.
What is your first memory of something related to appreciation and preservation of historic buildings?
I was raised in San Francisco, in a two-level Edwardian, built around 1898, on Third Ave and Lake St. on the border of Pacific Heights. It was a great house and neighborhood to grow up in. The house had a front parlor with Doric pillars, three sets of dual pocket doors, a large dining room with a built-in china closet, a fireplace with original tile, and beautiful woodwork and coffered ceilings. The upstairs had tall ceilings with medallions in the center, and second, original fireplace and bay windows. Many of my classmates lived in gorgeous homes all over SF in Pacific Heights, St Francis Woods, and Sea Cliff, so I was introduced to amazing architecture at a young age.
Many homes had a lot of wood finishing and trim – some had dark wood paneling with a dark finish. When I was 14, the summer of 8th grade or freshman year, I took it upon myself to remove all the dark shellac in our home’s hallway and walls. I spent all summer removing all the dark wood stain – and might have destroyed a lot of brain cells with the paint remover!
What is the best and/or worst thing to happen since you started working with NCL?
I took office of the President and one week later, we had a 6.0 earthquake that rocked Napa and did so much damage. Those were challenging times since I was just immersing myself in understanding the job and familiarizing myself with our finances. The building that we worked out of was red tagged but fortunately we relocated to another office space. I quickly self-educated in all aspects about the internal operations of NCL, SBA qualifications, building codes, and working with the planning department, among other things. Looking back, it was the best way to learn the job as I had little time to ponder decisions but had to take action and make things happen.
Tell me about where you grew up and a little about your family life.
I was born and raised in San Francisco. My grandfather was German and I am of German & Filipino descent. My parents immigrated from the Philippines to the US just after WWII, when my older brother was an infant. My brother and I were educated in parochial schools from Kindergarten through High School. Growing up, I was captain of traffic control, played football and was even chosen as the altar boy to the Archbishop!
Who have been your strongest influences in life?
My mother was a strict disciplinarian, so she kept my brother and me in line. That influence, along with a parochial education was a big influence. My brother and I attended St. Ignatius College Prep which, at the time, was an “all boys” high school. We received an excellent education by really amazing teachers who stressed the importance of achievement. I enjoyed the camaraderie of friends at school, many of whom became prominent professionals, (attorneys, doctors, accountants, politicians, etc.). The person who influenced me most, I believe, was my legendary football Coach, Mr. Vince Tringali. He raised the bar and drove us to compete to the best of our ability – no excuses. (Laughing) Actually, [what he taught] helps anyone: that life is competitive, work is competitive. Know your talents and abilities and do the best you can.
What do you find most challenging about NCL?
Helping people to understand the mission of NCL and recruiting younger people to appreciate and support the cause of preservation. It is for them that we strive to preserve the history to enjoy and reflect on when my generation passes.
How is being President of NCL different than running a business?
Nonprofits are critically different from corporations because they are driven by a mission and aim to fill a society’s need and also have a social impact. For long-term survivability, nonprofit organizations must invest in themselves through responsible financial oversight, good team members and management, marketing, good customer/donor service, and achievable goals, which is also what businesses do.
For me, running NCL is much like running a business; I handle the operation like a business in terms of financial oversight. And though I have much experience in running businesses, I do not have a specialized background in Preservation. I have been able to serve and represent the organization with genuine effort and am deeply respectful about the preservation of historical sites and buildings.
I am fortunate to be surrounded by a group of Directors and Committee members who provide passionate support and expertise when needed.
What accomplishments are you proud of since joining NCL?
Formerly, it seems the position of President was more of a figurehead position. NCL was so financially mismanaged, I had to put in a lot of extra work when I took over as President in 2014. While owing over $350K in liabilities, our bank account was down to nearly $1000 in early February 2015. Cash flow is like blood to a business. My action was to enact austere and disciplined plans to slash the burn rate, manage our assets, start new fundraisers and improve old events (Porchfest and Holiday House Tour). When we needed to lay off our manager, the response was “I understand, you guys are bankrupt!” I continued overseeing NCL like a doctor monitoring the pulse of a patient, I managed NCL to regain its health by improving the revenue streams, stabilizing the expenses, paying off all short/long term debt and back taxes. I am proud that by 2018, the financial condition of NCL completely flipped from negative to positive. We have continued to improve and we are currently a very healthy organization worthy of envy.
What do you wish other people know about NCL?
There was a redevelopment plan in Napa during the 1970’s in which many buildings were demolished. NCL’s founder, Mr. John Whitridge, worked in the planning department at the time and stepped in to prevent the demolition of so many more buildings with striking architecture. If not for him, we would not have as many of the historical structures and sites that people enjoy today. It was because of his crusade and efforts to raise awareness and gather support that he was able to save and continue to preserve many of our remaining landmarks.
What is your life philosophy?
Live by the golden rule, do the right thing and be independent. I am happy to give my opinion or advice, if asked; but respect that people critically think for themselves and choose to do what they decide. We each have to live with our decisions.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
My forte is international business, the export industry. I have traveled the world and found that with everyone you meet, you accumulate experiences; you learn about diplomacy. International business is quite sophisticated.
Another thing is that I like all pets but my preference is for cats, which I consider smart, curious and overtly affectionate (when they want to be). I have a Ragdoll breed of cat named Sophie.
What are your thoughts on COVID and this past year?
Well, to be versatile you need to adapt…that’s a philosophy of mine. And you have to be pragmatic. These are the cards we‘ve been dealt and you have to try to deal with it as best we can. Some get morose or say, “the sky is falling” but I have affirmations, like “There’s nothing to it but to do it.” Most issues are temporary…you have to be confident and eventually things will work out.
Where do you hope to see NCL in 5 years?
I hope to increase our membership as well as recruit younger people to NCL, not only as members but also to be involved with our organization and join our leadership committees. I hope to reach more people with our mission and continue the work. For example, we have historical buildings and bridges which might potentially be demolished by civic and private interest players that could be saved. Their attitudes are it is easier to demo and build new rather than restore and preserve. In order to retain the treasures we have, changing the mindset is a constant challenge and there is more work for us to do to keep things from slipping away.