Gerald Walburg was born May 5, 1936 in Berkeley, California to Stanley Stanford Walburg and Ida May Samuels; his mother divorced his father when Gerald was quite young. When World War II came, Stan Walburg enlisted in the Coast Guard; although he could have stayed stateside, he chose to enlist and became a gunner on a landing barge in the South Pacific. He was killed in action.
Gerald’s mother, was constantly busy, working at an office job, so Gerald was, for all intents and purposes, raised by his mother’s sister. His aunt Elizabeth, married to Charles Sheriff, could never have children, so she willingly accepted the duties and devotions of raising Gerald, and, later, his half-brother, six years his junior. Gerald lovingly recalls his Aunt Betty as the “perfect mother.”
Gerald attended Montclair Elementary School in the Oakland hills, where he passed time by drawing cars and boats and other “boy things.” After two years in Catholic parochial schools in San José and Salinas, he moved with his family back up into the Berkeley hills and attended the public Claremont Junior High School, where he took a compulsory art class but was more interested in his elective metal and wood shop classes.
Although his aunt suggested he think about continuing his education after high school, he shortened his sights and registered for as many classes as possible in “shop” and drafting. At this time he had little, if any, intention of continuing on to college. Auto shop, besides providing him with important mechanical skills, was a vital social link both to physical independence and to the female sex.
As high school drew to a close in the spring of 1954, he decided to follow a fellow student to the California College of Arts and Crafts. Thanks to the governmental military survivor benefits paid to his family following his father’s death, he had funds available for college. Self-conscious about his lack of sufficient math skills to support a career in architecture, he decided to focus on industrial design.
Meanwhile, he had been enjoying himself with his car and his girlfriends. His aunt and uncle had a small cabin up on the Russian River, a popular resort area a couple of hours north of the Bay Area, and from the age of nine, he would spend summers up there with his family. He helped to fix up the cabin, went to the beach, canoed, and—as he got older—used his car to try to pick up the girls summering there with their families. He had known Ramona Crinella, the younger sister of a good friend, since she was nine years old, but when she turned 13 or 14, he “finally noticed her.” They began hanging out, and then dating, and by the time she was 17, she was pregnant. Walburg dropped out of CCAC to start working; by 1956 they married, and their son Frank was born. Gerald was just barely twenty years old.
Living in San Francisco’s Panhandle district, Walburg decided to go back to school and to try something “more academic.” He had much to make up, so he attended the Drew School by day, taking classes in algebra and geometry, and the University of San Francisco at night, taking history, logic, and the other solids he needed. That spring quarter of 1957 he was completely engulfed by his school work and his young family. Then came the recession of 1957, so he dropped out of school again; he and his family moved to Petaluma, Ramona’s home town, and he went back to work. Her family was well established there, able to provide not only a support system for the young couple, but contacts that led to jobs, crucial in the middle of an economic turndown for a young worker who soon had three children eleven and thirteen months apart.