When I met Molly Thorpe, my first impression was of a coiled spring—ready to unleash energy and a positive attitude.
Thorpe, 65, born and raised in Los Angeles, has been a Coachella Valley resident for more than 40 years, and is currently a 16-year resident of Rancho Mirage. One of two children, she describes her mother, a catalog-layout specialist, as an excellent role model who never had a bad word to say about anyone.
“My mom was not judgmental and loved people for who they were,” Thorpe says.
Her father, who did advertising for May Co. and City of Hope, was a collector of books and records. (“He has about 7,000 LPs!”) Thorpe would go with him every weekend to check out what he referred to as “junk stores” looking for collectibles.
“When we were on our way home, he’d always stop for jelly donuts so mom wouldn’t be mad,” she laughs.
Thorpe has been with Jay, her “partner in crime,” for 24 years; they share four children and two grandkids between them.
“When we began doing charity events,” says Thorpe, “he’d get the to-do list, and he was always very good about it.”
After graduating from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, Thorpe completed a degree in liberal studies at Cal State Northridge. She got a job that brought her to the desert: teaching fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Rancho Mirage Elementary School. She later completed a master’s degree at Cal State San Bernardino.
In 2007, Thorpe started a running program for students in the alternative-education program for at-risk students.
“Students Run LA had started, and more than 3,000 students participated through the Los Angeles Unified School District. I called them and wanted to start something like that out here,” she says. “We had students who had been expelled from Palm Springs Unified and Desert Sands. Many of them had never had any discipline to be on time or meet goals. I call it ‘Swiss cheese education,’ meaning they had missed lots of school, weren’t doing homework and had real holes in their education. They needed more personal time with teachers and a sense of camaraderie in class to form bonds. It helped that they had someone to talk to.
“They were afraid to be in the running program, but we assured them they didn’t have to be athletic, just determined. I figured if we could do one mile a day on week one, and get up to six miles a day, it would be good for them.
“My attitude was that instead of teaching them what they were ‘supposed to know,’ I would accept them wherever they were and take them as far as they could go. My thought was that if you could train students to run a 26-mile marathon, there was no reason they couldn’t graduate high school. Our high school graduation rate went from 62 percent to 90 percent!”
Thorpe taught at the Ramon Alternative Center and brought the running program to them. “The teaching situation was these were kids nobody seemed to want,” she says. “We had what was like a one-room schoolhouse, with grades 4-8 all in one classroom, at the most 20 students. It was an amazing opportunity to develop like a family.”
Thorpe worked with another teacher in what was known as the Rebound Program. “I had the younger kids, and she had the high school students. We did triathlon training with them for an event in Loma Linda for kids with physical challenges.
“When we heard about the shooting of a police dog called Ike, I wished there was something we could do. I thought about it and decided if we could run 10 miles and get sponsors at $1 a mile, we could raise $1,000 and donate it to the Police Department in Ike’s name. I managed to get two other teachers involved, and thought we could make this a 5k race within three months. We got lots of support from the community and raised over $16,000 for the Palm Springs Police Department K-9 Corps to purchase and train dogs.”
The event wound up becoming a regular event—and the 10th annual Run for Ike 5k is slated for Saturday, March 28.
Thorpe retired from teaching in 2016 but has stayed active through the Palm Springs Marathon Runners; she also continues to sponsor runs to raise money for charitable programs throughout the Coachella Valley.
Palm Springs Marathon Runners hosts six annual events that benefit programs like SOS Rides, for service members needing transportation to get home; the Mizell Senior Center’s Meals on Wheels program; the Student Scholarship Fund for the Palm Springs International Film Festival; Guide Dogs of the Desert; and the Run for Ike. Their “Red Carpet Run” includes tutus and tiaras for girls and women, tuxedo T-shirts for boys and men, and Gatorade in champagne glasses for all.
One event Thorpe is very proud of is her participation in One Run for Boston.
“It was a very cool cross-country race put on by two people from the UK as their way to honor and support the (victims of the) Boston Marathon bombing,” says Thorpe. “The run began in Santa Monica and ended at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Each participant ran a segment of the course, handing off a GPS baton from one person to the next. I ran the portion up Highway 62 from Palm Springs to Morongo Valley. It was a great experience and raised a lot of money for those who sustained injuries and the families of those lost.”
Thorpe accurately describes herself as athletic: She hikes at 5 a.m. every morning with a group of friends; she also swims, works out at the gym and cycles.
“I like to be busy,” she admits. “What made me who I am are my experiences and a lot of luck. I can admit it when I’m wrong, and people might be surprised to know that just about anything can make me cry.
“I find I appreciate life more now—and what you see is what you get. I try to be good to other people—loyal and goal-oriented—and I don’t like to see people hurting. I don’t understand why so many people don’t see the rewards of being kind.
“We take for granted the cards we’re dealt, always looking for excuses, but we live in a beautiful place in a great country. Look around. We’re very lucky.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.