Jerry Lunsford, hippie from Olema, dies at 63

07/11/2019

Jerry Lunsford, who was well known in West Marin for his community involvement and weekly “Hippy from Olema” radio show, died on June 11 while travelling from his home in Flagstaff to a bluegrass music festival in Colorado. The 63-year-old lived for over 25 years in West Marin, where his passions for music, food and the outdoors converged.  

“He was one of the pillars,” said Amanda Eichstaedt, station manager of KWMR, which Jerry helped launch on FM radio. “It was a ragtag group for sure, but he was one of them. He poured his heart and soul into it, and he took it very seriously.”

After he moved to the area in the late 1980s, Jerry tackled a wide range of jobs and volunteer work. He was known as a “llama man”—he owned llamas in Olema and used them as pack animals for group lunches that he would cater himself—and he spent time as both an oyster farm manager on Tomales Bay and a fire captain for the Inverness Volunteer Fire Department.

He volunteered for KWMR in its early days, broadcasting bluegrass and folk music on his weekly show. “Hippie Jerry” was a fitting nickname for him, with his beard, long hair and peace-loving manner. After KWMR started broadcasting on FM radio in 1999, Jerry was there for technical support, engineering remote broadcasts and helping to establish the small station.

Amanda bonded with Jerry over his English shepherd, Mika, because she had two of them herself. Their pups would play in the yard while they sat and talked about West Marin. She said Jerry often brought Mika with him to work, to the point where it’d drive people a little nuts.

Jerry’s father, Jack Lunsford, wrote in a tribute, “No matter what Jerry was working on, the one constant was his dog Mika. She was his light, love and his partner. We know they are now together, watching over each other in the afterlife.”

Mika was his companion at his off-the-grid cabin on Highway 1 in Bivalve. Although the place was primitive, it was enough for Jerry, who installed solar panels and tended a vegetable garden. 

He was gifted Mika by his friend Megan Phillips, who reminisced about two weeks they spent together reconstructing a solar panel system at her own cabin. “He never missed an opportunity to help somebody or do something for somebody, to bring some light into their day and make them smile,” she said.

Jerry brought his handy and helpful attitude to his job at the Dance Palace, where he worked as the technical director for over a decade. He was an essential player in installing the solar panels on the roof of the community center, where he gave every group that played there the best technical support possible, his boss from the time, Carol Friedman, said.

At KWMR, Jerry set up remote broadcasts when amateur baseball teams played at Love Field. Alongside Gus Conde and Charlie Morgan, he announced Little League games, the Fourth of July tug-of-war and amateur baseball games at the Giants stadium. “I wish there were more people like him, who had the skills like he did, with electricity and wiring and radio and solar panels, and just a pretty cool guy behind it all,” Charlie said.

Because he was so involved in the community, most of Jerry’s friends can’t remember how they met him—he was just always around, helping out.

He was on his way to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival from his home in Flagstaff, Ariz., where he lived with his dad, when he lost control of his pickup while speeding around a curve. He collided head-on with a 10-wheel tar tanker, according to local newspapers. He was wearing his seat belt at the time and drugs and alcohol are not suspected.

Jerry was a fixture at the festival, where his expertise in cooking large and delicious spreads was appreciated by his camping crew, called “Camp Run-A-Muck.” Barbecued and smoked foods, oysters and sourdough pancakes were his specialties.

When Jerry left West Marin for Colorado in 2012—he was offered a job as the station manager of a community radio station there—Amanda held his Monday night slot for him in case he wanted to return. 

Last month, KWMR played a 2003 broadcast of his show in memoriam. Like all of his shows, it kicked off with the eponymous song by the Youngbloods and ended with Harmony Grisman’s “West Marin Song.” The lyrics of the namesake song captured his feelings about living in West Marin: “Well I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema,” the song goes.

“He was sentimental about living in West Marin,” Charlie said. “He was a real neighbor.”