Owner of Woody’s Yogurt Place freezes time remembering Redwood

Matthew Mulcahy

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In 1958, Michael Woodson, now the owner of Woody’s Yogurt Place in Strawberry Village, was a senior at the newly constructed Redwood High School. Lacking adequate athletic facilities and boasting only two wings of classrooms, Michael’s expectations for his last year of high school were low. Little did he know that his senior year would provide him with a strong foundation in organizational and communication skills that would prove vital to his lengthy career in politics, including working for President Ronald Reagan, and as the owner of his own frozen yogurt shop.

During his freshman, sophomore and junior years of high school, Michael attended Drake, as Redwood was not constructed yet. Michael recalls his first introduction to Donald Krepps, Redwood’s first principal, at the end of his junior year in 1958. Krepps held assemblies at Drake and Tamalpais high schools during the end of Michael’s junior year where he showcased the proposed plan for Redwood High School, which was set to open the next fall.

 

Smiling, Michael Woodson poses for his senior year yearbook photo in the 1959 Redwood Log.

Smiling for a photograph, Michael Woodson poses for his senior year yearbook photo in the 1959 Redwood Log.

“We were looking at this and [thinking], ‘Oh my god, it’s got swimming pools, and football fields and running tracks and everything we had at Drake. And it’s gorgeous, just gorgeous,’” Michael said.

For freshman and sophomore students attending Drake and Tamalpais who lived in certain cities, transferring to Redwood was mandatory. For all juniors, including Michael, the transition was optional. The decision to switch high schools seemed easy to Michael and other athletes from Drake when popular football coach Bob Troppmann and basketball coach Dick Hart announced they would be coaching at Redwood.

Michael’s excitement to attend Redwood was dampened a few days before school opened when he and his football teammates drove down Doherty Drive for their first football practice. Not only was a football field nonexistent, but the school campus was still only sparsely developed.

“We drive in and they’ve got a parking lot, the west building looking at Mount Tam, the south building, the gym and nothing [else] but dirt,” Michael said. “We are all looking at it like, ‘Uh, what happened?’”

Standing in front of Woody's Yogurt Place, Michael Woodson holds his 1959 varsity swim team captain's flag.

Standing in front of Woody’s Yogurt Place, Michael Woodson holds his 1959 Redwood High Swimming Captain flag.

With limited facilities in Redwood’s first years, the student body faced some difficulties.

“We didn’t have any uniforms for the band so it was Levi’s and a white long sleeve shirt,” Michael said. “But it just didn’t matter. We didn’t have a school song. We didn’t have anything. But we just had a good time.”

Michael ran for the Rally Chairman student body position at Redwood, a position without clear guidelines on how to fulfill the intended duties. To cultivate school spirit, Michael utilized his leadership position to organize pre-game rallies.

“All the girls lined up in [Redwood] football jerseys and they did little skits and songs. We’d dance around, and just have fun,” Michael said.
Michael further expanded the role of Rally Chairman by providing the Marin Independent Journal with information about upcoming and past sports games, including scores and mentioning valuable contributors from the matchups.

“I was like the PR (public relations) guy for the school,” Michael said.

Michael noted that once he started promoting Redwood through the Marin Independent Journal, students from other local high schools did the same.

Michael credits the integration of Drake and Tamalpais students at Redwood with helping him navigate new social environments.

“I walked into USC and I didn’t know a soul,” Michael said. “But Redwood sort of prepared me for that. Because here we are meeting all these Tam kids and kids from Belvedere and Tiburon who we had never met before. It gave us an introduction to our next step.”

Woody's Yogurt Place's customer-favorite vanilla custard soft serve ice cream.

Woody’s Yogurt Place’s customer-favorite vanilla custard soft serve ice cream.

Michael’s spirit and organizational skills continued with him on his journey to USC. As an upperclassman, Michael served as the school’s Rally Chairman, scheduling and running events including the 1962 Rose Bowl parade.

These leadership skills transferred to his careers associated with national and state level politics from 1968 to 1996. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Michael served as a White House advance man. His role required exemplary organizational skills to plan all activities the President engaged in during his visits away from the White House.

So how did Michael parlay his experiences to become the owner of Woody’s Yogurt Place in Strawberry Village?

After losing his father and wife, Michael looked after his mother in Tiburon, who was experiencing a sciatic nerve problem. Michael wanted to start his own business in the local community so he could stay close to his family. A walk down Main Street turned his aspirations into reality.

“I saw this sign go up on this small, little unit on Main Street and thought, ‘Well, I love frozen yogurt,” Michael said.

The name, Woody, was thought up by Michael’s grandmother before the shop opened on Main Street in Tiburon. Michael said he spent nearly $100,000 renovating the unit into a food service facility. The expenses mainly included installing new power and plumbing.

In 2000, Michael moved the business to Strawberry Village facing Highway 101 before relocating to behind the center in 2006. Woodson’s son, Brian Woodson, took over managerial duties three years ago while also helping his father’s shop on and off since the Main Street shop opened.

Ordering ice cream, 1984 Redwood varsity swim team captain, Chuck Muller, and his son, Charlie Muller, debate over ice cream sizes to order.

Ordering ice cream, 1984 Redwood alum, Chuck Muller, and his son, Charlie Muller, debate over ice cream sizes to order.

“My dad needed me to come back and become more involved with the shop. I was ready to move on from the jobs I was working in Novato to coming back here so it just worked out,” Brian said.

Brian and Michael both agree that the best aspect of the shop is being able to give back to their own community with their products. The duo host multiple Ice Cream Social events and promote their annual fundraiser for the Mill Valley School District with Woody’s 50 percent Day through the Kiddo! fundraising program. Customers are encouraged to leave their receipts so the total may be summed and 50 percent of it will be donated to local schools. The Woodsons have recently partnered with the Sausalito Lions Club that hosts some events for the Boys and Girls Club in the Sausalito, Marin City community.

“Through that, we have a connection to Marin City which is great—that’s another potential customer base to come up to us,” Brian said. “But we do it regardless of whether they are coming up to us or not. One of the great things about our job is being able to do different events with the community.”

Enjoying their ice cream from Woody's Yogurt Place, Chuck Muller watches his son, Charlie Muller, indulge in a large bite of his cookies and creme ice cream order, topped with peanut butter cups and brownies.

Enjoying their ice cream from Woody’s Yogurt Place, Chuck Muller watches his son, Charlie Muller, indulge in a large bite of his cookies and creme ice cream order, topped with peanut butter cups and brownies.

Michael estimates that he has hired over 400 local teenagers to work for his shops since starting in 1998, including Redwood students. Sophomore Ava Coven is currently working at Woody’s Yogurt Place and enjoys the nature of her work in the store.

“I love working here,” Coven said. “I feel like everyone working here is pretty happy because it’s an ice cream store and everyone is in a good mood.”

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