When Catherine Munson and her husband Bill departed Middle America and their native Nebraska for Northern California in 1953, Catherine had anticipated that her double masters degree in microbiology and microchemistry would be put to good use laying a foundation for a conventional American family reared under a conventional American roof.
As the story goes, Catherine's three daughters arrived in rapid order, but the masters degree was retired early, a framed artifact in a house—a flat-topped Eichler that dared both tradition and the cookie-cutter formula—which led the young lady astray on an impassioned love affair for the next four decades.
Even though Catherine's infatuation with Eichler living would steer her, in a few short years, to enlist in Joe Eichler's sales staff, this was not an episode of love at first sight. That fact was substantiated in late 1954, shortly after the Munsons had purchased their first California home, a rather traditional one, in Mill Valley.
"After visiting a friend who had a new Eichler home up in Terra Linda," she told us, "we went home that night and agreed it was simply the worst house we had ever seen. Whatever could have possessed them to buy this dreadful thing, we thought. "But, in the midst of remodeling our own house, something kept pulling us north to those Eichler model homes for inspiration. The more we went back there, the more we realized that we just loved those houses, and that they really expressed what our dream of living in California was all about. That began a saga of being absolutely stricken with Eichler homes."
As a result, the Munsons put their Mill Valley house on the market in 1955, and enjoyed the good fortune of selling it for twice their original purchase price. "We quickly ran to the nearest Eichler home in Terra Linda," she recalled with lingering satisfaction in her voice. "What's more, it was larger, and cost us less."
With one child in the crib and another on the way, Catherine appeared to have a grip on her immediate role in life. That all changed, however, when the late Bud Sthymmel, the enthusiastic Eichler sales rep who sold the Munsons their home, took advantage of Catherine's fondness for the Eichlers, piquing her curiosity when he offered her a fluff position, as a part-time hostess, in the Terra Linda sales office.
"I had never been somebody who plotted my course terribly clearly," Catherine said with a grin. "Consequently, thanks to Bud, my traditional life lasted only a few short weeks. I was being sucked into a vortex."
In spite of her humble beginnings in the organization, Catherine accepted her Eichler role gracefully, sensing that she had become a part of something very special. "It was a traditional 1950s attitude," she added, then laughed.
"And the Eichler organization had this concept that these hostesses were to be some sweet, little housewives who told the potential buyers as they walked through how groovy it was to live in an Eichler home. We were supposed to look pretty and decorative, demonstrate the swivel table, and serve chocolate milk and graham crackers to the kids."
In 1958, as the hostess concept caught on throughout the company and the role began to evolve, Catherine, now with three toddlers at home, found new ways to make her two days a week in the office more of a challenge.
"I got my real estate license and started setting a goal for myself of selling a house every Friday," she said. "I wasn't competing with the salesman or cutting into his commission, because I was still getting $3 an hour whether I sold a house or not. He got the commission, which was probably all of $200. I didn't sell a house every Friday, but those were good days and I sold one often."
So intrigued by all the activity, Catherine continued to put her science research career on hold to ride the whirlwind alongside Sthymmel, jumping between Terra Linda and Marinwood (and later Upper Lucas Valley) opening and selling a series of new subdivisions. As her role expanded to that of a full-time salesperson, Catherine had become well aware that even though she had gained the respect and appreciation of her peers, she stood alone as the only woman from the hostess corp to have moved up.
"I don't think Joe Eichler discriminated against me in any way," Catherine offered firmly. "He had a cadre of established salespeople, and they just all happened to be men. "I was totally comfortable. I didn't think much about it [being the only woman], because in my background I was always the only one -in college, in graduate school, and in my science work."