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When you meet Palm Springs resident Dan Waddell, you immediately get the impression of someone who is gentle, affable, pleasant and relaxed—but the quintessential pianist will definitely confront you if necessary.

I met Waddell when I was producing Palm Springs Confidential, a comedy/musical revue, in the early 1990s. He came on board as musical director on the recommendation of Bill Marx, the noted local pianist and composer who had written the show’s music.

As the producer of the show, I had to keep the peace when Marx was at odds with Waddell over how some piece of music should work. There is an expression that comes over Waddell’s face when he doesn’t get his way—yet he is a consummate professional, and things always end with a harmonious result, “as long as the result is the best it can be.”

Waddell, 75, was born and raised in Tacoma, Wash., as the eldest of three. His mother played piano in the church, so Waddell studied piano as a kid, playing recitals that put him in front of audiences. He learned the organ as well, and played in church while he was in high school; he also worked gigs around town. However, Waddell did not feel compelled to make the piano part of his professional life—and is as surprised as anyone that it turned out that way.

“I had no idea I was going to do this for my whole life,” he says. “I probably assumed I’d go into a building trade. My dad was a utility engineer who did woodworking, which taught me how you can screw things up if you’re not precise.

“I got a music scholarship to college, and thought it was better than going to Vietnam. I had to play an audition for the scholarship, and they told me I should go into music education. I did what I could do best. If I had any real musical influence, it was my teacher, Leonard Jacobson. He made me want to do the work.”

Waddell furthered his musical education with post-graduate studies with the likes of Arthur Loesser, Constance Keene, Abram Chasins and Richard Faith.

Waddell became a member of the musicians’ union while still in high school and worked clubs while in college. He met his wife of 51 years, Robin, while they were students at the University of Puget Sound.

“I met her at a going-away party for her music teacher,” he says. “Robin also sang and played piano. We had just gotten married when I enlisted in the Army with a guaranteed assignment for two years—I actually enlisted for three—to go to their music school. It was once again the best way to stay out of Vietnam. The Army sent me to Arizona, and after my time was up, and my son was born, I became a lecturer in music at the University of Arizona in Tucson.”

Prior to settling in the Coachella Valley 27 years ago, Dan and Robin, along with their son, lived in lots of different places. Waddell worked cruise ships for seven years, “and I think the only place I haven’t yet been is Australia and New Zealand. I kind of fell into (playing cruise ships). I was playing at a club in Seattle, but (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) had put up such a fuss about people drinking and driving that people stopped coming downtown, so the club went downhill. I auditioned for a booker for Sitmar (Cruises), so Robin and I moved to Cuernavaca (Mexico), because it was a lot easier to pick up a ship in Acapulco, which wasn’t that far away.”

Over his long career, Waddell has played with such notables as Cab Calloway, Tony Sandler (of Sandler and Young) and Frank Stallone. He has been a featured concert pianist, music director, vocalist accompanist, organ designer, and judge for the local Virginia Waring International Piano Competition. He has also played organ and piano locally at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in La Quinta, and Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs, among other places.

“I’m a professional musician,” says Waddell. “I don’t play from some burning desire to create music. I play because people pay me to play. I’ve worked with many, many talented local people, and with the Desert Symphony at the McCallum Theatre.”

Waddell has been teaching others for more than 25 years at College of the Desert, leading students in basic and applied piano, fundamentals of music, and the music theater workshop. His advice for young musicians? “Learn as much as you can about music, taking into consideration that we all have limitations. You have to learn how to work around your limitations.

“I’d also have to say it’s important to move to a big city for exposure, and to meet people and network. I should have gone to Los Angeles and the Dick Grove School of Music, where I would have spent my time writing charts and working with really good musicians, but I got married and went into the Army. I would advise anyone serious about a music career to put themselves in an environment where they can hang out and get paid for it. That’s how you learn and sharpen your skills.

“It’s a given in any endeavor, particularly the entertainment business, that you have to do what you do well. You have to get out there. It’s all about diversity and opportunity.”

Bill Marx likes to introduce Waddell as “the best piano player nobody has ever heard of.” Waddell responds: “I hate that,” adding with a wry smile, “but he’s absolutely right!”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is a program offered at both the Cal State San Bernardino and the University of California-Riverside campuses in Palm Desert. Osher offers noncredit courses targeting the 50-plus population “interested in learning for the pure joy of it” at more than 100 universities in all 50 states.

Osher instructors include college professors and experienced professionals, and subjects cover a wide range of subjects, from movie-making to blogging to financial planning to philosophy. But not just anyone can join the Osher faculty; some prospective teachers “audition” with a one-day presentation, to determine whether a proposed course will meet Osher’s standards.

That is how I met Vinny Stoppia.

Vinny is the author of The Austrian Woman, aka Marie Antoinette, Queen of Versailles. Most of us know little about the infamous French queen beyond, “Let them eat cake!” Stoppia has culminated a lifetime obsession with this fascinating woman in his well-researched and enjoyably readable book. He had a tryout with Osher in front of a packed house.

How does a guy born and raised in Queens, N.Y., end up obsessed with Marie Antoinette?

“My parents weren’t readers, but when I was 8, I got a library card,” he said. “I read every book in the children’s section, and at 10, they let me browse through the adult section. I became focused on history and got interested in George Washington and the American Revolution. I found lots of references to a ‘Citizen Genet,’ the brother of the French queen’s lady-in-waiting, who came to the U.S. to try to influence America’s policy toward France. I wanted to know more about him, and no matter what I read, particularly about the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette’s name kept surfacing.

“I became an admirer of her,” said Stoppia, “when I read that when the odds were stacked against her, her response was, ‘I’m going to go forward.’ I found that so inspiring. I made a vow at 19 that I would one day write a book about her that would alter people’s perceptions of her.

“Everyone thinks of her as the pre-incarnation of the infamous Leona Helmsley of New York—self-absorbed, insular, thinking only about herself. But when she had to, she stepped up to the plate.”

Stoppia majored in French literature at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, because he had decided he wanted to read Marie Antoinette’s letters in their original French.

“I had always wanted to be a teacher, and I received two fellowships which would have taken me toward a Ph.D., but I was No. 30 in the draft lottery (during the Vietnam War),” he said. “I decided to apply for conscientious-objector status. I knew French really well, so I thought of going to Canada, but I made it past the draft board and then had to do two years of service in lieu of going into the military. Just as I was about to be assigned to a mental hospital, the United Nations took me instead.”

Stoppia wound up spending 23 years with the UN, specializing in meeting services and in keeping delegates happy. “I met all of the big world political figures from the 1970s to the 1990s,” he said.

While in New York, Stoppia worked as a volunteer with HIV/AIDS patients. “They didn’t even call it AIDS then,” he remembers. “It was a terrible experience to watch men die. People were so afraid to go near them. They even wanted us to suit up like astronauts before we went into someone’s room. I remember Easter of 1985, and one man who knew he was close to death, crying out, ‘Please, help me.’ I had to clean him up, and I remember thinking, ‘This is a privilege, a parting gift I can give to him.’ I’ve learned that not living with blinders on makes life much more interesting. There are so many stories.”

Stoppia came out to his own family at 28. “I knew it was going to be difficult. When they found out, they wanted to sell the house and move. They never got to 100 percent acceptance.

“My mom taught me about service and knowing how to get what you need, how to survive. My relationship with my dad was rocky; he always wanted to ‘toughen me up.’ I never cried as a kid; I had to ‘be a man.’ But I once had a flashback to when he was giving me a bath at about age 4, and he caressed me; I had forgotten he could be nurturing. One of my regrets in life is that I wasn’t present enough to speak with my father about his impending death, to help him on his final journey.”

Stoppia came to Palm Springs in 1993, and loves it. He has volunteered as a docent at the Palm Springs Art Museum for 17 years, teaches Spanish classes, and has given time to a local hospice.

“I got sick with AIDS after I got here, and decided, ‘This isn’t going to kill me. There’s still something important that I have to do,’” he said.

After attempting to write about Marie Antoinette during every decade of his life, Stoppia finally hit his stride and completed the book in three years. The amount of research he has done is evident—not only via the gossipy insider stories from behind palace walls that he can tell, but also via amazing photographs illustrating his presentation.

I thought Stoppia might have been a frustrated standup comic based on his flamboyant sense of humor and his ability to connect with those crowded into the auditorium, but he said he perfected his audience-friendly style in his many years of leading museum tours. “It was when I realized that those skills are what I should be bringing to my writing that the book finally just rolled out.” His take-away message: “To strive, to seek, and not to yield.”

Stoppia’s “audition” to teach the Osher course about Marie Antoinette was successful, and he is on their schedule for the upcoming season. He will show that the French queen is about much more than eating cake.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It’s a question I often get asked by people who are unfamiliar with the Coachella Valley Independent: “What sets your newspaper apart from the other local publications out there?”

After briefly mentioning the history of the alternative press (and explaining how the Independent fits into that history), I answer by suggesting what I call, somewhat jokingly, the “Independent Challenge”: “Take five minutes, and thumb through the Independent. Look at the articles, the design, the breadth of coverage, and the quality of the reporting and writing. Then, do the same with any other local publication. You’ll understand the difference right away.”

Yes, I am proud of what we accomplish every day at CVIndependent.com—and I am also proud to announce that for the second time, the Independent is receiving a national journalism award.

The Independent has been named a finalist in the 2017 Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) Awards, this time in the Column category. Anita Rufus’ “Know Your Neighbors” is one of three finalists in the category for publications with a circulation of 45,000 or less. Judges were impressed by her columns on a post-election meeting of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; the battle against cancer being waged by the wife of a radio-station colleague; and the work by Palm Springs residents to clean up dangerous explosives and other remnants of war in Vietnam via Project RENEW.

A total of 67 publications across the United States and Canada entered the competition, and we’ll find out where we placed on July 29, during the annual AAN Conference in Washington, D.C. You can find a complete list of finalists here.

Two years ago, the Independent’s Brian Blueskye took third place in the Arts Feature category.

While there are a lot of journalism contests out there, the AAN Awards are the only one we enter here at the Independent. It’s a highly competitive contest, and all of the papers we’re competing with have larger staffs and more resources—so winning one of these awards means something.

Congrats, Anita!

Perhaps one of the stories we’ve published over the last month in the Independent will win an award one day. I’m both proud of and alarmed by the article that serves as our July cover story, about the charges being pursued by the federal government against journalist Aaron Cantu. He was covering an Inauguration Day protest that got out of hand—and because he was wearing a shirt that was the same color as the shirts of many of the protesters, he’s being prosecuted. Check it out here.

As always, thank you for reading the Independent. Take the “Independent Challenge” yourself—and email me with questions or feedback at the email address below. Also, watch for our July print edition, being distributed throughout the valley this week.

Published in Editor's Note

When you approach her house, you realize it’s the only one on her gated-community block with a different front yard—stone and desert plants, rather than repetitive squares of grass.

Then she answers the door wearing a “NASTY WOMAN” T-shirt.

At 87—“almost 88, in September”—Dorys Forray is my new role model for how to age, not only graciously, but also powerfully. Dorys is a woman who laughs easily, suffers no fools, and has what seems like boundless energy to devote to the things that interest her.

A 14-year resident of Indio, Dorys moved to the Coachella Valley from Los Angeles, but still proudly proclaims, in an authentic accent, “I’m a Brooklyn girl!” Her father, who sold plastic pencil sharpeners, was lucky enough to meet and become friendly with Walt Disney. As a result, her father was allowed to use Disney cartoon characters on his items. “But my dad got sick soon after, and died,” says Dorys.

“When I was growing up, my mom was the only working mother (I knew). She was strict; you had to do it her way. But she had chutzpah. Her attitude was, ‘I’m going to show you who I am.’ My mother instilled in me that you can do or be whatever you want.”

When you get to know Dorys, you realize how much her mother influenced who she is today.

Dorys married Allen Ullman, and they had three children: daughter Jaime, and two sons, Andy (A.J.) and Marc. The marriage ended after 18 years. Her children and four grandchildren live in Los Angeles, so she has ample opportunity to spend time with them. (“We’re very, very close,” Dorys says.) However, Dorys is fiercely independent and self-sufficient.

“I went to college for a year, and then a year of business school, but I never finished,” says Dorys. “My first job was as a model on 34th Street, in the garment district of New York. My dad was angry, because he said that wasn’t a good thing for a girl to do. I was short, so I was restricted to modeling pajamas and then moved into coats.”

She laughs. “I worked in lots of jobs—insurance, publicity—but none of my jobs was a career. However, I believe that even if you hate the work, you have to find a way to love the job.

“I spent 10 years in banking, working for the English bank, Lloyd’s. It was the most interesting job I’ve ever had. One day, they came to me and said they would give me a $2 million budget to design new five-piece uniforms for the 2,000 employees throughout California. I found a company to design, fit, produce and deliver every uniform. They actually went out to each office and measured everyone. It was a great success. I have no idea why they picked me, but I was so proud of how it all turned out.”

Dorys had moved to Los Angeles when her youngest was 14, and married Edward Forray.

“He was the love of my life,” she says, with glowing eyes. “We were together almost 20 years until he died in 1984. We had just moved into our dream house in Glendale in a lease-option deal. The day we went into escrow, he told me to sign the papers, and he was going to drop them off. He died so suddenly. He came home from work at 6 p.m., and he died at midnight.”

Lloyd’s sent Dorys to educational programs, and asked her to teach new employees, because she was so effective at dealing with customers and other employees.

“That grew into my designing a program called ‘Secretary Effectiveness.’ McGraw-Hill heard about it and wanted to publish it as Professionals in the Office. They offered me a job, but it was less money, so I declined. My husband died a month before I signed a contract with them for the publishing, and what I lost in my husband’s income, I was lucky enough to make up in royalties. You never know how things are going to work out, and then they do.”

When her husband died, Dorys left the banking world to run her husband’s business. “He had been a writer for game shows, and during the ’down season,’ when they aren’t on the air, he started a business doing promotional merchandise for NBC. When he died, I took over the business, even though I had no idea what I was doing.”

Dorys and her daughter ran the business together. Because her daughter’s last name was Ullman, comedian/actress Tracey Ullman once called to see if they were related. “My daughter served that account for years!” she laughs.

Although she is retired, Dorys is not one to sit around. “I’ve been a volunteer at Eisenhower (Medical Center) for five years,” she says, proudly. “I got very active politically when I moved down here, because it’s a smaller community, and you can really touch what’s going on, unlike in a huge city, where you feel lost.” Dorys has attended many political events, and has met people like former presidential candidate, Gov. Howard Dean.

“I also got involved in the variety show put on each year by the complex where I live,” she says. “I don’t care what part I do, it’s just great fun. Next show, I’m going to be a Mouseketeer!

“I’m a putter, not a golfer, and I love mah-jongg—I still have my mother’s set. I read a lot, too. But the project I’m most involved in right now is writing a memoir about my own life. I’m at Chapter 6. Maybe I’ll live long enough to get it done!” she laughs.

“Oh, I almost forget! I once had a gift shop with a Mexican partner, bringing back pots from Mexico. And I applied in 2006 for the Peace Corps, but after a two-year process, they wouldn’t take me because I have osteoporosis. I was going to go to Belize, and I really wanted to do it.

“My weakness is that I’m never afraid to try anything. That’s also my strength.”

Dorys turns serious. “I was in an auto accident about 60 years ago. I was unconscious, lying in the street in a torrential rain. I was told I’d never walk again, and I should forget about having any more children. After six weeks, I walked out of that hospital. I conceived my daughter two years later.

“Life is so special. Never forget that in one minute, your life can change.”

The minute I met Dorys Forray, my view of my future changed. When I grow up, I want to be a NASTY WOMAN, too.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The French have always enjoyed a reputation for being much more blasé about matters of amour than Americans, yet the election of new French President Emmanuel Macron, 39, has been accompanied by publicity on his wife, Brigitte—and the fact that she’s 64 and his former high school teacher.

Older men with younger women, too often called “trophy wives,” have long been socially accepted with a wink and a nod, while older women with younger men are derogatorily called “cougars,” with varying degrees of disapproval. Celebrities like Cher, Demi Moore and Madonna have brought these relationships to the forefront, all too often with tongue-in-cheek negativity—but the presumption of sex as the key attraction is particularly demeaning to older women in serious relationships with younger men.

Social acceptance can be a big factor. Cindy Gallop, a web entrepreneur, points to sexism. “It makes people very uncomfortable … to see the gender equation reversed,” she recently told The New York Times. “Out there in the world are many, many younger men who would love to date older women, but would never do anything about it because there’s this appalling societal double standard.”

When such couples do come together, what challenges, beyond social acceptance, do they face?

June Pariano, a La Quinta resident, is married to Chuck, 6 1/2 years her junior. “We’ve been married 23 years this July,” she says, “and we were together about four years before that. I was divorced when Chuck came to work in the same company. I never dated people I worked with, but he was a very good salesman!

“Men’s roles are different now than they were when I was growing up,” says June. “When I was a teenager, I would never have thought of dating a man six years younger, but as you get older, it doesn’t make that much difference.”

Pam, also a resident of La Quinta (who asked not to use her last name), was married to a man 15 years younger. “I was divorced with grown kids when we met; I was 42, and he was ‘almost 30,’” she says. “I never noticed any problems about acceptance by any of our friends, but his family had some trouble with the fact that I was divorced with children.

“Things that mattered to me culturally were not the norm for him, because he grew up in a different era. He had come up during the ’70s, when men came to believe they shouldn’t do anything for women, even like holding doors open. Also, he had no experience with having children, and that was a big difference in our world view. On ordinary things, we were compatible, but our differences went beyond choices in music or what television shows to watch. For example, I often had difficulty relating to his friends, because they had such limited experience compared to me. We didn’t have much in common.

“I must admit our age difference mattered to me more than it did to him in the beginning. It bothered me sometimes that he was so young-looking!” she laughs.

For June, the awareness of her 6-year age difference with Chuck became apparent when they were dating. “I didn’t really know he was that much younger,” she says, “but we were at a baseball game, and they were playing music on the loudspeakers. I asked him to guess the year that song was a big hit, and when I told him, he replied with, ‘I was only 12 years old then.’ I couldn’t believe it!”

I’ve been dating a man six years younger for almost six years. Our age disparity hits me when we discuss our different music tastes and cultural references. My younger brother is my guy’s age. While I was into anti-war protests, my brother was in the Air Force in Vietnam; my music was ’70s rock, folk and jazz, while my brother was into Elvis. With my guy and me, it’s often the choice of Bob Dylan and the Stones versus Paul McCartney and Diane Schuur, or Toy Story versus Trainspotting.

June notes: “Sometimes people kiddingly say I’m ‘robbing the cradle,’ and yet they take for granted that for men, it’s often the case that when their wives reach a certain age, it’s time to get rid of them and get a younger one. There’s still a double standard.”

Pam sums it up thusly: “The differences go beyond whether our choices of music or TV are compatible. Our values were based on different eras. There were no ‘cougars’ back then, but I’m not sure society has changed all that much about what is considered ‘normal.’”

The French president’s marriage was dissected in The Daily Mail, with a newspaper column portraying Macron as a “mummy’s boy” who needs his wife to wipe his mouth and smack him for misbehaving. Ms. Macron was called a “menopausal Barbie,” and he was referred to as “teacher’s pet.”

Here in the U.S., Match.com funded a survey of more than 5,000 U.S. singles and found that 26 percent of women were open to dating men at least 10 years younger. According to Match’s Helen Fisher, “Men want a companion, and we are seeing the rise of women as intellectual partners, as sexual partners, as soul partners.”

If even the French haven’t evolved to the point where ridicule is not an appropriate response to an older woman-younger man relationship, is there hope that in the United States, we are beyond such stereotyping? Alas, not yet.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

You never know whom you might meet at a dinner party.

I was surprised when my hosts invited their excellent “caterer” to join the table. I was even more surprised when the affable young man was asked if he would sing to us after dinner. Michael Graham stood by the table and blew the group away with his resonant baritone voice in an a capella rendering of “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

We enthusiastically applauded while he modestly beamed.

Only 29, Graham is a young man who not only loves the culinary arts, but who sings his heart out with the California Desert Chorale; takes award-winning photographs; and offers personal services from organizing events to IT consulting.

“I like helping others whenever I can,” he says.

Born in Victorville and raised in Desert Hot Springs and Palm Desert, Graham now lives in Sky Valley. His motivation comes from advice he got from his mother: “She always told me to win my own race,” he says. “I judge my success in any endeavor by using my own previous success as my goalpost.”

From a young age, Graham—an only child who was home-schooled—found his voice in music.

“I was always interested in music,” he remembers. “I spent a short time in a children’s chorus. Music was in my family; my mom and grandmother were both pianists, and my grandfather, a writer, was always interested in music. I was raised on a diet of Andrew Lloyd Webber, opera, musical theater and German lieder songs. In my teens, I began to explore music from around the world. I had no confidence in my own ability to sing, but I was able to work with my grandmother when I started to learn, and that was so gratifying.”

Graham enrolled at College of the Desert. “I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue, but it was suggested I major in music,” he says.

The music program at COD offers both certificates and degrees to music majors, and includes both private lessons and public-performance opportunities.

“I had to audition, and I was so unsure about my voice,” says Graham. “There were a lot of really talented people. I took Broadway-voice classes along with jazz, and I was lucky enough to work with Mark Almy for one-on-one instruction.”

Almy is an adjunct faculty member at COD with an operatic background. He’s taught at the University of Redlands, Riverside Community College, Cal State San Bernardino and the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and has directed full operas at COD.

Currently, Graham’s passion is his involvement with the California Desert Chorale, with 60 voices of men and women between the ages of 29 and 85. The group was founded in 1986. The chorale’s artistic director, Tim Bruneau, was trained by the likes of Marilyn Horne and Beverly Sills, and has appeared as a soloist and choral singer with organizations that include the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Los Angeles Master Chorale.

“I entered the program at COD in 2009, and by spring 2010, I was invited by Tim Bruneau to try out for the chorale,” Graham says. “I was one of four interns he selected from students at COD.”

For Graham, the chorale offers a range of music that fits his background: “There is an equal mix of pop and classical music. I loved doing their program last Christmas. It had something for everyone.”

What’s ahead for young Michael Graham? “I’d love to travel and see the world. I want to know what’s out there. Music and cooking right now are more of a hobby. … I do like staying here in the Coachella Valley. I appreciate the beauty of the desert; the whole landscape is so rich once you stop to appreciate it, so I have considered my photography as a profession.”

As a man not yet 30, does Michael Graham have any advice for other young people?

“I owe so much to the great teachers at COD and to the California Desert Chorale,” he says. “I’ve been able to work with many superb people and musicians, because I learned from my family not to be limited by fear.

“It’s easy to rule something out before you’ve even tried it, saying to yourself, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ Whenever I’ve tried, I’ve found those fears are not usually valid. Try not to worry about it—just go for it!”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

When you move to a new area, there are a few services you must find: a good dry cleaner, someone who knows how to cut hair, perhaps a computer specialist, and a good mechanic.

As for that mechanic, there’s La Quinta resident Guy Allchin, who owns Cam Stone’s Automotive in Palm Desert.

It’s always refreshing to find native locals in the Coachella Valley who either stayed or came home to start businesses and raise their families. Allchin, 45, was born in Indio and raised on a “farm/ranch” with an older brother and sister. He graduated from Indio High School at 17—knowing exactly what he wanted to do.

“I had a Jeep that kept breaking down, so I learned how to do it all myself,” he says. “My dad was a mechanic who owned two gas stations and fixed everybody’s cars. I knew I wanted to own a two-bay repair shop, not just to fix cars, but also to run a small business dedicated to moral principles in dealing with customers.”

At 13, Allchin began working at a bowling alley, but moved to a pizza joint when he was able to make 50 cents more an hour. “At 15, they made me manager!” he says.

After high school, Allchiin went to Wyoming Technical Institute in Laramie, studied automotive repair and business management, and then returned to the Coachella Valley.

“I couldn’t get a job,” he says, “so I went back to the pizza joint, and they let me come back as manager. I kept asking around, got a job at an Indio repair shop, and finally ended up working with the original Cam Stone. I could have gone to work with a Honda dealership that included insurance benefits, but that meant working weekends, and by then, I had a baby at home.

“Eventually, I applied to the Small Business Administration to explore my options, because I always knew I wanted my own business. Although originally turned down, I kept working with the SBA on a six-year plan. I started working in the office at Cam Stone’s and got to understand that side of the business, as well as working the bays. I actually like the office part better than working with cars, so when Stone asked me if I wanted to buy him out, in 2008, that’s what I did.

“I had always envisioned having a shop with two bays; I ended up with nine!”

Allchin married his wife, Shelly, almost 20 years ago. They have two children, Karenna, 18, and Teryn, 14. Shelly was also born in Indio.

“Shelly committed to raising our kids,” says Allchin, “but she also worked with Marriott for 11 years, the city of Palm Desert’s Visitor Center, and is yard supervisor at an elementary school. We have a 10-year plan. I’d like to be done at 55; Shelly wants to see the country.

“The only one of my kids who might step into the business is my youngest daughter. She loved taking cars apart when she was a little kid, but I doubt it.”

Allchin’s parents had a big influence on him and how he does business.

“My mom always took us to church, and her bywords were to be honest, trustworthy and loyal. My dad always said, ‘If you’re going to do something, give it the best you’ve got.’ I still go out to their acreage in Thermal on weekends to drink a few, hang out, trim trees and fix cars.”

The business model Allchin follows is “to be able to sleep at night. I’m not into ripping people off. If someone can’t afford the repairs, I’ll work with them to do what they can afford, and be honest about what can wait.”

I can attest to that. When my car was making weird noises and needed serious front-end work, Allchin assured me it could wait a while until I could afford the repairs, and that my wheels weren’t going to fall off on the freeway. How many mechanics work that way?

“It’s a lot more difficult fixing cars these days,” says Allchin. “With computer-driven repairs, you can’t just open the hood and figure out what’s wrong. On the other hand, running the business is a lot easier now. I can pull up a car’s entire history on the computer. But management training isn’t enough; when you come in, you need to be able to talk to someone who understands what’s going on with your car. Too often, service writers are just pushing the business side.”

Cam Stone’s Automotive specializes in American and Asian cars. “I don’t do European cars, because so few mechanics really know how to work on them,” Allchin says. “It’s tough to get skilled repair technicians. You don’t always know if they’re good at what they do, and they have to know how to get along with each other. I’m a bit of a pushover. It’s hard for me to fire people, so I want anyone new to be able to get along with the guys who’ve been here for years.”

Allchin approaches his work with a strong sense of morality; he credits the way his parents raised him.

“I’m not perfect,” he says. “I have anxiety issues, and there are things I’m scared of, but I’ve found ways to handle them. I was raised to have morals, and I worry that a lot of younger people are headed down the wrong track.

“I believe you have to treat others the way you want to be treated. We have lots of long-term clients, and I care about making sure they’re taken care of.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The service people you encounter every day, to most, are basically invisible: the clerk at the cleaners, the waitress at the café where you get your morning coffee, the plumber who comes to fix a clogged drain, the salesman at the pro shop, the person who checks you in for your doctor’s appointment.

Most of us never know who these people really are, or what their lives are like, until the moment one of them displays the kind of interpersonal skills that make them not only personal to you, but also highly effective representatives of the organizations with which they work.

One such individual is Carlos Castro Jr., property manager with Public Storage in Palm Desert on Fred Waring Drive.

Castro was born 44 years ago in Indio, where he still lives. He is the oldest of four children, who grew up with the understanding that as the oldest, he had a responsibility toward his younger siblings—Monica, Vanessa and Raymond.

“My mom had me at 18,” he says, “and I saw, after she and my father divorced, how, with no marketable experience, she moved from welfare and Section 8 housing to owning her own home and her own car and independence. I’ve always looked up to her. She’s really my hero.”

Castro’s mom, Dora Rodriguez, was born in Waco, Texas. She came to the Coachella Valley and met Castro’s father at Coachella Valley High School.

“It’s really some coincidence,” he says, “because I also met the woman in my life at CVHS, but our story took a lot longer to work out.”

Castro had a crush on Claudia Macias in school, but life took them in different directions.

“What got us back to each other about six years ago, after we were both divorced, was Facebook,” he recalls. “I came across a profile of her and sent a message: ‘This is Carlos, who sat behind you.’ She was blown away, because a friend of hers had read my father’s obituary. She responded, ‘Oh, my God, I thought you were dead!’ We talked a lot after that, and then she said we should get together some time. I told her, ‘I’m available right now. Let’s get a drink.’ Then we started seeing each other.

“Claudia reminds me of my mom in so many ways. She also grew up the product of a divorce and found a way to end up owning a house and a car, raising her kids, and making her own place in the world.”

Coming from an extended family that included relatives who got into trouble and even spent time in jail, “I really decided to be just the opposite,” says Castro. His father was a strong influence to stay clean and straight. “I was raised to be respectful, to have a sense of responsibility toward others, to always act with integrity, and be self-aware. And if I did something wrong, I had to pay the consequences, at a time when that went well beyond a time-out.

“My family was somewhat reserved, a pretty typical Mexican family, so I wasn’t really raised to show my emotions. I developed that on my own. I was always interested in knowing about other people. You have to find things you may have in common. I trust people until someone gives me a reason not to. Sometimes, that backfires, and it really hurts. People can try to manipulate you, but you have to be strong and true to yourself.”

When it comes to being an asset to a company with a job that requires constantly interacting with people who may be upset or are often unsure of what they want or need, Castro could teach others how it’s done.

“I love my job,” he says. “I love meeting people and learning their history and the different experiences they’ve had. I tend to share myself, and then others share themselves with me. And I love being able to help them.”

After high school, Castro continued his education at Mt. San Jacinto College, studying information technology. He then moved on to College of the Desert to study psychology. He plans to continue on to a bachelor’s degree and hopes to go into social work to help others as a counselor, perhaps focused on substance abuse.

Castro’s bucket list? “I want to travel to Australia. It’s a very unique place. I’d like to go to the Outback and see kangaroos and koalas. I’d also like to go south and see the Mayan ruins.”

What advice would Castro give to others? “Be yourself. Be proud of where you come from. There are always going to be obstacles in life, but whatever you do, you should never change who you are just because of the actions of others. That just gives them control over you. And, of course, it’s easier with someone there with you.

“My mom always took care of us. She’s always there. I probably don’t tell her often enough.”

The next time you’re running errands, take the time to notice who is helping you, and realize how little you know about who they are, where they came from, and what their hopes and dreams might be.

That person, like Carlos Castro, might be someone you should take the time to know.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It’s been more than four years since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., yet the bone-chilling horror of what happened should never be forgotten. We can never know what those lives might have contributed to America in the future, and we can only imagine the agony of their families.

I was overcome with emotion when I walked into the main hall of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage and saw the chairs on the stage, each with a T-shirt draped over it, bearing the name and age of a victim. Only one shirt was an adult size honoring one of the teachers killed; the rest were small—almost all of them showing age 6.

The event, marking the four-year anniversary of Sandy Hook, was co-sponsored by Moms Demand Action Coachella Valley, the local group affiliated with the national group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. Presenters included the Rev. Leisa Huyck of the Unitarian Universalist Church, attorney Frank Riela of Cathedral City, Lisa Middleton of Palm Springs, Joni Padduck of Indio, and Dori Smith of Palm Desert. It included a showing of the movie, Making a Killing: Guns, Greed and the NRA.

Similar events are being held around the country, sponsored by the Not One More Project. Children’s tees are brightly colored with names and ages. Adults, such as the teachers and administrators killed at Sandy Hook, are represented by white tees. Shooters/suicides get a black shirt with no name—the group believes even those lives should be counted as the loss of yet other human beings to gun violence.

What’s perhaps even more disturbing than the killings is what has happened to the families of those killed. A Feb. 3 report by Barbara Demick in the Los Angeles Times documented the harassment families have received from conspiracy theorists and their followers, who call themselves “Sandy Hook truthers.” Perhaps the worst is the infamous Alex Jones, whose “Infowars” programs claim the Sandy Hook killings were staged, using child actors, as a means of overturning Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.

Noah Pozner’s father received death threats and was harassed with phone calls, including ethnic and racial slurs and profanities; he spent more than a year just trying to remove an online video that featured pictures of his son over a soundtrack of a porno film.

At a memorial in 2015 for Victoria Soto, one of the teachers slain, a man was arrested after demanding to know whether she had actually been killed, while shoving a picture at her younger sister.

The medical examiner who signed the coroner reports for Sandy Hook victims was bombarded with harassing phone calls to his home and office.

A man was convicted of stealing memorial signs put up in playgrounds that honored the dead children; he later called grieving parents and claimed their children had never even existed.

Most of the families connected with Sandy Hook have had to remove their social media accounts and unlist their telephone numbers. Many have moved to recover some sense of privacy and allow time to grieve.

Others connected to Sandy Hook have also been harassed: police, photographers, neighbors, government officials, witnesses and teachers who survived the horrific event.

According to Demick’s article, perhaps the worst conspiracy theorist is a 70-year-old Florida man who has spent his pension and more than $100,000 he raised online to “expose” the conspiracy which he claims includes 500-700 people, including President Obama. He believes President Trump’s election will bring a full investigation to expose what happened, since Trump has willingly accepted support from Alex Jones.

Meanwhile, Congress recently passed a bill that will allow guns to be purchased by people considered by the Social Security Administration as too mentally unstable to handle their own affairs. This would overturn a policy put in place by President Obama that allowed sharing background-check information to limit the ability of such individuals to purchase guns. ProPublica cites a study in Connecticut that found that adding more mental health records to the background-check system created a 53 percent drop in the likelihood of a person who had ever been involuntarily committed of later carrying out a violent gun-related crime. Meanwhile, the cost to American society of gun violence, including accidents and suicides, in public-health terms, is more than $5 billion each year.

Moms Demand Action works to prevent access to guns by children, calling for guns to be locked and kept separate from ammunition. They caution that children know where parents hide things and have an amazing ability to access even safes and codes. They also suggest never sending a child to someone else’s home without asking whether they have firearms, and how they are stored. Better safe than sorry.

According to Maggie Downs of Moms Demand Action Coachella Valley (paraphrasing Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times), “In the four decades between 1975 and 2015, terrorists born in the seven nations in Trump’s travel ban killed zero people in America. … In that same period guns claimed 1.34 million lives in America, including murders, suicides and accidents.”

The families of Sandy Hook and the local activists working to raise awareness want us to remember: Noah 6, Charlotte 6, Jack 6, Olivia 6, Dylan 6, Catherine 6, Avielle 6, Jessica 6, James 6, Josephine 7, Caroline 6, Benjamin 6, Chase 7, Ana 6, Jesse 6, Daniel 7, Grace 7, Emilie 6, Madeleine 6, Allison 6.

We should all say not one more.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Occasionally, you meet someone who seems to have been destined to do the work they do—someone who not only is good at their job, but who also loves doing it.

Dierdre Wieringa—better known as Dee—is one of those people.

Wieringa, 60, a Palm Desert resident for the past seven years, serves as administrator/executive director of Caleo Bay Alzheimer’s Special Care Center, a residence facility in La Quinta dedicated to serving those coping with a form of dementia. Built in 2013, Caleo Bay is designed to provide comfort and security to those who can no longer be cared for by family or who can no longer live independently. It includes 24/7 nursing staff, motion sensors in each room to ensure no guest is left on their own, and specialized training for staff to deliver “patient-centered care” with attention to building relationships with clients. 

“The layout is designed to provide a sense of security and continuity,” says Wieringa, “so that no guest ever feels disoriented. As they move freely about, they find continuity in living rooms, dining rooms and activity rooms no matter which corridor they’re in. They never feel like they’re lost.”

Each guest room has a collage of pictures posted outside the door, including a current photo, and pictures from their past supplied by family and friends.

“Guests can find themselves in the pictures as they often see themselves, somewhere in the past,” says Wieringa. “It’s also a great way for us to recognize who they are and what their past history is, so we can better relate to them on any given day.”

The facility also has display cases with artifacts from past decades—from World War II memorabilia to wedding mementos to an old typewriter—because these are things with which those with memory issues can relate.

Wieringa was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She met Ben, her husband of 30 years, and had three children before moving to the United States in 1996.

“We wanted a better life for ourselves and our family,” she recalls. “Ben was offered a chance to work here, so we decided to make the move.”

Wieringa’s educational background was in public relations. Her first job was in property acquisition, then she did paralegal work, and finally she opted to be a stay-at-home mom while her sons and daughter grew up. Once in San Diego, Dee, whose daughter had just gotten married, “wanted to be out there doing things.”

A senior living facility was being built nearby. It was an unfamiliar concept to her—she doesn’t remember any such approach to senior living in South Africa—but she asked if they had any jobs available.

“They hired me as the assisted-living director and then I became executive director,” she says. “Eventually, I was offered the chance to manage the desert facility of Segovia, a high-end independent and assisted-living country club environment.  So, Ben and I came to the desert in 2009.”

Wieringa also served as executive director and administrator at Stonewall Gardens Assisted Living in Palm Springs before moving into her current position at Caleo Bay.

“We strive to find the lighter side of Alzheimer’s,” says Wieringa. “Our staff training includes teaching how changes can cause frustration or turmoil in people who need a sense of stability and continuity. People with dementia often act out or lash out with agitation when they get confused or are faced with the unknown. There are communication skills, like diversion, that can really make a difference to those whose short-term memory is so fleeting. You have to live in their reality and realize that every day is different. I believe in ‘meaningful moments,’ and the staff is trained to facilitate that philosophy. We celebrate something each day, no matter how small, for each resident.”

Caleo Bay also utilizes volunteers from church groups and students, as well as animal therapy, music and dance. Wieringa is also involved in other volunteer activities on her own: She runs a Parkinson’s disease support group and participates in the Dementia-Friendly Café (which I help organize), held monthly for the past two years. 

There are several different types of senior living facilities: independent living; assisted-living, where guests need some help with daily activities; and memory-care facilities dedicated to supporting those in various stages of dementia-related illness.

“The problem,” says Wieringa, “is that people aren’t prepared for the cost of long-term care. Medicare doesn’t cover it, and even skilled nursing facilities limit how many Medicaid beds are set aside. Families always ask, ‘What happens when Mom or Dad runs out of money?’ There is no good answer. Unless the younger generation invests in long-term care insurance (which often include caps on expenditures), especially with dementia diagnoses rapidly increasing and people living so much longer, the baby boomers and millennials are going to be faced with an impossible situation. Even if Medicare did cover long-term care, the cost would certainly break the bank.

“Families often are the only recourse, and they don’t realize that … many caregivers die before the person they’re caring for. Plus, there are so many dysfunctional families or people with nobody to care for them. Whenever a guest dies, even in the middle of the night, I make sure I’m there. I saw them come in through the front door, and I see that they leave the same way.”

With a high-stress job, what keeps Wieringa going? “You can’t teach passion. I love my job. It just makes me feel good to know I’m really helping others and making a difference. There are a lot of lonely old people out there with no one to turn to. One person can make a difference. Working with dementia is hard, but a moment of making people feel good about themselves makes me feel as if what I do was meant to be.”

How many of us can truly say that?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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