History is more than names and dates in a book, dots on a map, lines in the sand. Ask John Copeland a simple question and chances are excellent his answer will lead down a colorful path of history, full of characters and stories that defined eras and created the present.
At a gala dinner slated March 24, the television producer, olive farmer, and community volunteer will be among a handful of Santa Ynez Valley personalities placed in the local annals of history.
For his dedication to the community, the Santa Ynez Valley Foundation and Santa Ynez Valley News have named Copeland Volunteer of the Year for Community Enhancement. He will join honorees at the 22nd Annual Awards Gala at Santa Ynez Valley Marriott. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. with a reception and dinner following at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person, and may be reserved at www.syvalleyfoundation.org.
“I feel quite strongly that you have to give back to your community where ever you live. That’s the way I was raised. I feel like, throughout my career and my life, folks have extended a helping hand to me. I just feel like it’s part and parcel of being a good community member,” Copeland said.
Copeland has spent more than 40 years in the television industry, and co-owns Rancho Los Olivos with his wife Shannon Casey. Sine 2011, he has volunteered as secretary for Los Olivos Community Organization (formerly known as Santa Ynez Valley Grange #644), and serves as an administrator for Santa Ynez Valley Master Chorale.
Copeland became familiar with Santa Ynez Valley from the back of a horse half a century ago.
“I grew up riding horses. When my dad was 50, he decided he wanted to do something other than trail ride. He wanted to learn to ride cutting horses, so we did,” he said.
They competed through the California Cutting Horse Association, and later Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association, which included events in Santa Ynez and Lompoc.
In 1999, Copeland and Casey purchased their ranch on North Refugio Road where the olive groves were planted in 2000. They had their first harvest in 2005, and opened their farm stand in 2010.
All the while, they were also becoming increasingly involved in the community.
While he doesn’t mind his secretarial duties, and enjoys providing posters, tickets, maintaining the website and social media for the chorale in which his wife performs and serves as president, Copeland’s heart remains in film-based projects.
“I like focusing on stories. If you’re looking at a stagecoach, big deal. But if you look at the lives that lived around it, it suddenly becomes interesting,” he said.
That was his goal in re-tooling the Yosemite Stage exhibit at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum’s Janeway Carriage House, complete with a fully formed, professionally produced, 8-minute documentary. The stage was moved from its traditional museum digs to a dramatic setting, and Copeland spent more than 1,500 hours digging up source documents, writing, editing and producing the documentary.
In the exhibit that opened last November, Copeland brought back to the public eye the history of George Monroe, a stage driver sought after by three presidents during their visits to the national park. Drawing on source documents, he brought back the words of travelers and prominent figures in Yosemite Valley’s history.
“It became a much bigger deal that I thought it would be when I started,” Copeland said.
Even so, he’s already begun work on another project for the museum, continues pitching new film projects, growing oil-producing olives and raising and riding horses.
“We try to support all the Valley events, Tales of the Tavern, things like that. If I do have any extra time, I’m out on my horse riding the roads in the valley, the backcountry behind Live Oak, La Purísima (Mission). It’s so peaceful when you get out and around. You meet other people on the trail. Everyone’s always friendly. You have a better chance of seeing wildlife because you’re not making a bunch of noise,” Copeland said.