Paul Moeller

Paul Moeller is considered the grandfather of public-access TV in Calaveras County. He’s the grand marshal of the Arnold Independence Day Parade Saturday.

Enterprise photo by Mike Taylor

Paul Moeller is the grand marshal of the Arnold Independence Day Parade, which steps off at 10 a.m. Saturday on Highway 4 in Arnold.

Linda Baker of the Greater Arnold Business Association chose Moeller, who has long been remembered in the county for his enthusiastic founding the Calaveras Community Television Public Access Group.

Under his guidance, volunteers built a television studio considered the “jewel of the Mother Lode.” The San Andreas studio, which bears his name, is a major source of community pride for volunteer producers who still create programs for cable TV. The nearest public access studio to the foothills right now is in Sacramento.

“His accomplishments are so widespread throughout the county, I just felt he is someone under the radar, a person who should be recognized,” Baker said.

At 89, Moeller is retired. During his 30 years of “putting this county on the map,” he videotaped just about every major community event from Wilseyville to Arnold. He was always visible on the sidelines with a big tripod on wheels, peering into a camera amid a snarl of wires wearing old-school earphones under his signature beret. He produced more than 5,000 shows and taught hundreds of people and students the art of video production.

His interest began in war-torn East Berlin. Moeller used his skill as a boxer to attend a match in West Berlin and never returned. After his escape, he met and married Martha Baumbach and they settled in Cologne in 1947.

“There was no income to speak of,” Moeller said. “Just to get enough to eat, we became active in the black market. I still remember all the friends who helped me. I wasn’t a good student, but they helped me through the University of Cologne and helped me hang on until I got a diploma in photographic engineering. I go back once a year to visit my peers in Germany.”

Moeller came to the United States in the early 1950s.

“We had an apartment, a job and a Volkswagen,” he said. “My company wanted me to go to America to learn American advertising. We had to give up our apartment and car. Our families thought we were crazy. But a job was waiting for me in San Francisco. We Flew into New York City and went to the car rental. They checked my passport, German driver’s license and gave me the keys to a great big Chrysler. This is it? I didn’t know how to drive it. We had a map and got on the freeway and off we went, amazed at the lack of paperwork and no restrictions. But, this is America!”

The sailing wasn’t so smooth once the Moellers reached the West Coast.

“Martha laughed as I learned how to get it out of second gear,” Moeller said. “But, in San Francisco, the job was no longer available. Martha got a job in a house of pancakes for $1.25 an hour while I visited every ad agency I could. On that $1.25 an hour, we had an apartment and neighbors that spoke to us each morning, including Jewish people. In Germany, you wait months for an apartment and nobody talks to you. I eventually found work with Kodak. Those two things, the friendliness of people, the low cost of living, we decided then we would never return to Germany.”

In 1978, Moeller was living in a cabin he had built from scratch on Fullen Road near Avery. He read the paper and visited anyone who hosted meetings or dis something of interest in the county. He put together a calendar of events, printed with his own money, and distributed them free to hotels and businesses. He volunteered for the Calaveras Big Trees Association and translated that nonprofit’s handouts into five different languages.

From his yearly trips to Germany, Moeller would make a photo travelogue and show it at rest homes to entertain residents.

In 1982, Fred Honold entreated the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors to allow him to install cable television in Calaveras County. Moeller asked Honold at that public meeting, “Will you allow public access?” Honold said yes and Moeller immediately began to form a public access group. Calaveras Community Television was registered as a nonprofit in 1983.

Moeller then educated the Board of Supervisors on what public access television was. Given no funds, Moeller charged businesses or individuals $65 per show that he videotaped. At its peak, CCTV had 230 volunteers. Winemaker Bardon Stevenot once claimed he got more inquiries from television programs Moeller had created than from other forms of communication in the day.

“I found that youngsters from the local grammar and high schools, with guidance, could creatively develop their talents to cover their own school activities and performances, spelling bees, art and sports events with a great deal of eagerness,” Moeller said. “I realized that the abilities they learned in a video class would be helpful for their total future.”

Moeller learned as much from his students as they learned from him. And as many young people who learned from him, Moeller has never sought recognition.

See Moeller Saturday in the parade that he leads on Highway 4 through Arnold.

The parade finds the California Highway Patrol closing the highway at Meadowmont Center at 9:30 a.m., so viewers are encouraged to arrive early and stake out their viewing spots.

Signs will help motorists around the parade route. The parade ends at Cedar Center and CHP will direct traffic during the hourlong parade.