Occupation/Title: Officially retired—now local history buff.
How did you end up here in Visalia?
I was working as a police officer in a Los Angeles area beach town and wanted to leave the crowded big city and the hustle and bustle that goes with it. My wife and I took a California road trip my senior year in college and discovered Visalia. We liked it and I was hired by the Visalia Police Department on Nov. 1, 1972. We have lived here ever since.
How did you get your start as a local historian?
Long before I retired from Visalia PD, I met Annie R. Mitchell, premier Tulare County and Visalia historian. We developed a friendship and I enjoyed talking with her very much. She was so knowledgeable about our history and her excitement was contagious. Before I realized it, I was hooked on local history. Our friendship grew and so did my interest in learning more about our past.
What is it about Visalia history that you find most fascinating?
There are so many aspects of our history that are appealing to me. I especially like to focus my research on our buildings. We have so many interesting structures with amazing stories. These old timers provide us with tangible, physical evidence that we are a historic town. If only the walls of these buildings could talk! One more thing—I also like stories about our lawmen and the outlaw element, probably not a surprise, given my 25-year career as a Visalia peace officer.
Walk us through a day in the life of Terry Ommen:
My days in retirement tend to be much slower than when I was with the police department, and understandably so. However, I still experience excitement, but now it comes in different forms. Researching, studying, and sharing local history is a passion. Answering or researching a historical question for someone is exciting, and so is solving one of the many historical mysteries on my list. But fortunately, rarely are there historical emergencies.
Tell us about a single moment when you realized that sharing Visalia’s history was what you were meant to do:
On Oct. 5, 1996, I asked Annie Mitchell to sign her Visalia book for me and when she did, she wrote, “I pass the torch to you.” When I arrived home and read what she had written, I was flattered that she trusted me with that responsibility, but at the same time, unsure as to whether I could live up to the challenge.
What is the most challenging thing about what you do?
To many, retirement means relaxation with no deadlines. But I like to stay busy. To me, spending time with my family and working on all of my interests is important and finding time to “do it all” is a challenge. One more challenge is to recruiting another “torch carrier” to take over.
Do you have other hobbies?
I have so many interests, but probably the most important of them all is being around my family, which includes my wife Lari of 46 years, daughter Lyndsay, son-in-law Chad, and our grandkids Maggie and Lars. So nice to have them all close.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I get credit for local history research and writing, but my wife is my best supporter and my most constructive critic. Her helpful fingerprints are on everything I do, although her name rarely appears.
What is it about Visalia that makes this a great community to live and work?
Lari and I are at the point in our lives that we can live wherever we want and we choose Visalia. We love this town and really everything about it. I had a great career, we raised our daughter here, we have a wonderful church, and oh, did I mention the town’s amazing history?
Just for fun, if you were stranded on an island, what three objects would you take with you?
- Smart phone with WiFi connection
- Paper and pencil
- Sunflower seeds