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Know Your Neighbors

26 Dec 2018
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Anyone who met them always came away saying, “They’re the ideal couple!” Donald Beck and Geoffrey Webb met in Monterey, Calif., in May 1992, at a religious conference. “I would always go to Los Angeles to see Geoffrey,” says Beck, “and he had never been to Palm Springs. He finally came down on a day when it was 120 degrees, but when I want somebody, I want them. There’s no choice. By Thanksgiving that year, he had moved here.” Beck, now 86, was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. “My real parents were Czechoslovakian. The family had come over in the late 1800s. I was what was known as a ‘change-of-life baby.’ The next older, my sister, was 16 when I was born. When my parents died, one of my older brothers became my legal guardian. I was about 5 when my mother died, and I have one strong memory…
12 Dec 2018
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At 69, Gina Bikales is the embodiment of the word “indefatigable”: She’s seemingly incapable of being tired out. Gina leads Script2Stage2Screen (S2S2S), the theater company which presents staged readings of new works at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage. (Disclosure: I have acted with S2S2S before.) “We (the Coachella Valley) have theater going on year-round now, (as opposed) to when I came to the desert in 2000,” Bikales says. “(We have) community theaters presenting ‘chestnuts’ (older hit plays that always attract an audience); professional companies doing edgier works; three great full-time companies; and S2S2S taking it a step further, doing only new, unpublished works. We want scripts that speak to current issues.” Bikales came to her role with S2S2S—running the program as well as casting, directing and occasionally taking a role herself—with a lifetime of connection to the arts. Born in Topeka, Kan., and raised in Kansas City, Gina…
14 Nov 2018
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Some people are heroes without meaning to be, and modestly claim afterward: “We got lucky!” Robyne McCarthy Taylor was flying for Qantas, based in her native Australia. Born and raised in Victoria, Robyne, now 66, joined Qantas after trying a secretarial job in Melbourne after high school. “I was 21 when I joined Qantas,” she recalls. “I trained with a group of really quality people—we were the youngest girls they had ever employed. We’ve remained really close throughout the years. It was when the (Boeing) 747s came in. I was one of three girls, ‘flight hostesses,’ who flew on each flight along with 12 male ‘stewards.’ “We had to sign a contract on our application about whether we wanted to retire at 35 or at 55. I was only 21, and thought that surely by 35, I’d be willing to go. But the stewards didn’t have to sign a contract.…
31 Oct 2018
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Doug Dean had no idea that a Woody Herman concert his concert-pianist mother took him to when he was 14 would change his life. “My mom was an amazing woman,” says Dean, 78, a Palm Desert resident for 10 years. “She played on a radio station in Chicago and also taught piano. I remember hearing her on the radio when I was about 5. She started teaching me piano and how to read music. I played on and off until she took me to that concert—and I decided then and there that I wanted to study the drums. “I was in the hospital at about 10 or 12 years old, and I remember listening to Daddy O Daylie,” the first African American with a syndicated jazz radio show in Chicago. “He used to say he was ‘the musical host who loves you the most’ and ‘I’m as nice as a…
17 Oct 2018
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Back when the news was being dominated by the federal “zero-tolerance policy” which was resulting in family separations at the border, I attended a presentation by the writers’ group at Coachella Valley Repertory—always a great way to experience local talent. The final writer performing her original work was Barbara Fast, the new pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, doing a piece she called I Am Miriam. She told the story of Moses’ journey down the Nile in a reed basket, into the arms of the Egyptian princess who adopted him into the royal kingdom, from the perspective of Miriam, Moses’ sister. In Fast’s version, Miriam followed her brother’s journey and then suggested to the princess that she could get a Hebrew woman to breast-feed the baby—enabling their real mother to suckle her own infant. When Fast said her line about how no child should…
02 Oct 2018
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She was born 63 years ago as Laurence Meeks. “While I was growing up, my mom called me Laurie,” Meeks recalls. “I think she read Little Women too much! I didn’t want to be called Larry, like the character in Leave It to Beaver, and I had a female cousin named Laurie, so everybody shortened it to Laur. That stuck even when I was grown and in the Air Force. “That is, until I became Laura.” Born and raised in Wayzata, Minn., into a family with three brothers, “I was raised in a totally male environment,” Meeks says. “I was second oldest of two boys from my mom’s first marriage, which ended when I was quite young. Then, when she married my stepfather, they had two more boys. “My mom and stepfather are both gone now, but my dad, who had been a stockbroker, is still alive at 90 and…
19 Sep 2018
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When you meet Sharron Stroud, you immediately see the light that surrounds her: It’s not just the light blonde hair, but a radiance that shines from within. Stroud, 74, a 17-year resident of Palm Springs, is minister at the Innerfaith New Thought Spiritual Center, which meets Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at Temple Isaiah. “I was always spiritual,” says Stroud, “from the time when I was young. A neighbor used to take me to church, where I always found a sense of community that I didn’t have at home.” Born in Oklahoma, Stroud arrived in California at 3 months old and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. “It was a home filled with alcoholism and domestic violence,” she recalls. “My dad was a World War II vet who worked as an artist at Disney. But he had problems. He used to say, ‘You’ll never amount to anything.’ My mom, on…
05 Sep 2018
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When you meet John McMullen, one thing becomes immediately clear: He likes to talk. Considering McMullen has spent his life in radio and alternative media, it’s clear he recognized his direction very early. McMullen, 55, and a Palm Springs resident since 2007, began his obsession with media arts in elementary school. “I had always been fascinated by the people’s voices coming out of the box on the dashboard,” he recalls. “My uncle was a well-known radio personality (in the Seattle area), and I remember sitting in his lap while he was on the radio. I told my uncle, ‘I’m going to go into TV—you can get awards!’ He said, ‘Why not radio? There are awards there, too.’ He relished having me want to follow in his footsteps. My cousins and I spent summer vacations from age 12 working at my uncle’s radio station. “I remember in the fourth-grade, my best…
22 Aug 2018
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I am incensed that the president of the United States may have been caught on tape saying the “N” word, and that his administration can’t “guarantee” that such a tape won’t surface. He ran a campaign that cast “political correctness”—the progressive notion that we should recognize the impact of language relating to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation—as having run amok. The “N” word inherently assumes a sense of superiority to those being thus described. I steadfastly maintain that the word, and its hateful presumption, cannot possibly be said or even thought unless it’s already programmed into your thinking. Racism is a cancer at the core of our culture. It’s in our cultural DNA. I was lucky enough to be raised in a household where racist language was never heard or used. I had a mother who always used any situation to inculcate the equality of every individual. If we…
08 Aug 2018
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Our families influence who we become—and like many women who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, the conflict between the politics of the era and what she saw in her own home shaped Jeanie Ribeiro’s life. Ribeiro, 67, was born and raised in Onset, a village that calls itself “the gateway to Cape Cod,” about an hour outside of Boston. “It’s not far from where the Kennedys have their enclave. We used to say we were on the poor side of the bridge,” she laughs. “But we were only about two blocks from the beach. As a kid, I could go to the back bay all by myself and just hang out.” Ribeiro and her siblings—two sisters and a brother—lived around lots of family. “We had aunts and uncles and cousins from my mother’s family all around us, and my father’s family lived only about 20 minutes away,”…