You know her.
She’s that indefatigable woman with the reddish hair who takes photographs at every Bishop event.
And you couldn’t replace her with two women half her age if you tried. She’d outwork ‘em. Outsmile ‘em. Outdo ‘em.
Her name is Gayla Wolf.
She lives in a beautiful home on Running Iron Road in Bishop. In her backyard, there’s a lovely pond which holds goldfish as big as sea bass.
Her photography studio is located in her garage—her favorite portraits line the walls. Portraits of people you undoubtedly know.
If you sit down for even a moment in that garage, you’ll find a cat in your lap.
And the cat doesn’t like you to move. So I stayed and visited for a spell.
And that’s how I heard this wonderful love story which I’ll share with you for Christmas.
Gayla Wolf was born in Santa Monica during the Great Depression. She married at 17, and had three kids in succession over the next three years. And then a fourth.
She was a housewife with two goats in the backyard living in Woodland Hills.
What that looked like in the early 1950s is different than what it might seem now.
She was dirt poor.
“My husband had a car crash on Sepulveda and he was never the same again. He got hooked on pain meds, and then, hooked on other stuff. The house was in foreclosure every month. We had no power, no water. We got the electric from one neighbor and water from another.”
She stuck it out in the marriage for 17 years, and when it was over, she was a mother of four with no job and no prospects and no child support. But she told herself, “As long as I work hard, I will never be poor.”
She started taking classes at Pierce College and supported her family by selling 8 x 10 prints door-to-door for $4.95 —sittings for baby and family photos.
She did this for eight years.
In the meantime, she earned an A.A. degree from Pierce and transferred over to Cal-State Northridge and eventually earned an A.A. degree.
She would’ve earned a bachelor’s degree but couldn’t pass the swim test – a whole other story.
When she first started selling door-to-door, she met a man named Martin Wolf. His wife had recently died of cancer. She sold Mr. Wolf a photo sitting, and then, as she typically did, she canvassed the neighborhood.
“I’ve got Mr. Wolf at 3 p.m. How about you take 3:30?” Etc. It was like filling out a dance card.
But at the mention of Mr. Wolf, every woman in the neighborhood would chime in about what a wonderful man and father Mr. Wolf was.
So afterward, she circled back and asked Martin if he and his five children would like to come over and join Gayla and her four children for a barbecue.
He said yes. They began dating. He asked her to marry him.
She said no.
He was a college professor, she explained. “I felt like I wasn’t … in his league. And maybe I also didn’t want to go back to being a housewife and a mother of … nine.”
She needed to live her life, prove herself to herself.
Fast-forward to 1979. Energy crisis. She couldn’t really afford to drive door-to-door, so Gayla took a job setting up a friend’s photography booth in Encino for a B’nai Brith holiday craft show.
A person walked by and admired the photos. She wondered whether Gayla ever came to Bishop.