CVIndependent

Tue12102019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Coachella Valley is a place where retired celebrities, in some ways, are taken for granted. Among us are retired movie and television stars, business tycoons, writers, NASA scientists and sports professionals—including Shirley Spork, one of the 13 original founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and a renowned sports-education professional.

Spork, 90, is a long-time resident of Palm Desert. The red-haired girl from a working-class family would go on to, through personal determination, break ground and help make a lasting contribution for women in a sport that had never been friendly to females.

Spork was born and raised in Detroit, the only child of parents who did not play golf. At one point in her early childhood, the family lived next to a golf course.

“There was nothing much to do in the neighborhood,” she says. “I saw the boys caddying, but I wanted to play the game.”

Spork’s first club was a putter she bought for a dollar she had earned by selling, back to golfers, the golf balls that had gone into the water between her home and the course.

“I was about 11 when I was constantly going onto the course, and the ranger kept chasing me off,” recalls Spork. “I sold the used balls to some of the golfers, and they got to know me. Their ticket to play was supposed to get punched after the first nine holes, but sometimes it wasn’t, and they’d give me their ticket so I could play as if I had paid.

“I read about people like Babe (Didrikson) and Patty (Berg) and thought, ‘If they can do that, maybe I can do that,’” Spork says about the female golf pioneers. “I bought that putter because it looked good among the other clubs in the $1 bin. The guys all laughed at me.”

Spork actually built a small green so she could practice: “I cleared a space, dug a hole, stuck a flag in it and played by myself!” She later got some used irons from the friendly golf pro, and her uncle found a golf bag someone had thrown away.

“I wanted to compete in junior golf, and the Detroit Free Press said the PGA was giving free lessons. Whoever showed the most improvement got a $10 gift certificate. I won, and that got me my first distance club, a Louise Suggs driver. I was 12.

“Lots of girls came from families that belonged to country clubs, and they would compete in the city championships. I wanted to join the Women’s Professional Golf Association (an LPGA precursor), which was the only game in town at that time, but I was still in high school. The WPGA only lasted about three years, and then it ran out of money. There were no pro tournaments for women back then.

“Women now compete much as the men do, even if they don’t make as much money, but back then, women made their way as trainers and testers, and a lot of time was spent trying to find companies that would sponsor tournaments.”

Spork has documented her story in a book, From Green to Tee, released earlier this year.

“I call it that, because I actually started on the green, with that putter, but I made it to the tee,” she says.

The book includes stories about Spork’s rise to prominence in the game, and it also sets out the history of women’s golf and the challenges faced by the women who were trailblazers.

Spork graduated from Eastern Michigan University, where she received a teaching degree.

“We had moved back into the city when I was in high school, and the lady upstairs had a daughter in teacher’s college,” she says. “I didn’t want to go. I wanted to be a golf pro. But I went, and I studied physical education.”

She also competed in and won tournaments, and was honored not by her school’s women’s physical education department, but by the men’s.

“When I finished school, I started teaching, because my parents had sacrificed to send me to college, but my heart wasn’t really in it,” Spork says. “My mom said, ‘You should be doing what you want to do, not what we want you to do.’ I spent many years teaching part of the year and golfing whenever I could.”

Spork’s educational background served her well in establishing the LPGA Teaching Division, dedicated to working with young people, and educating golf pros about how to teach effectively.

“People may not realize that just because they play well, that doesn’t mean they can teach others,” Spork says. “When it comes to women golfers, we have to educate about smaller hands, less height, less body strength, club length—things like that. And you have to teach people how to teach; it takes five years to become a Class A teacher.”

From the time when she was young and wheedling her way onto golf courses, Spork has met many golfers who helped her find opportunities to get more time on the links—and to find her way into tournaments and jobs.

“Golfers I met could see that I was going to be a golfer,” she says. “Some of them helped me get privileges at country clubs so I could qualify for city and state tournaments. Sometimes I had to go in the back door. I did whatever I could to be able to play.”

Spork’s career includes tournaments around the world, corporate sponsorships, helping design golf courses, being a golf pro at country clubs, and teaching generations of golfers.

The second annual Shirley Spork Pro-Am Golf Tournament was held at Palm Valley Country Club this past April, with the proceeds supporting The First Tee, a youth-development organization introducing golf and its values to young people through in-school and afterschool programs.

“I was never a great player,” Spork says, with charming modesty. “When I started, there were so few women who stood up for themselves.”

However, Shirley Spork did stand up for herself—and it paid off.

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 at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Dana Saks was born in Palm Springs, and raised in Cathedral City, where she graduated high school.

“I’ve always loved the desert,” says Dana, now 37, and always upbeat and vivacious. “There’s something about it. It’s quiet here. My soul is at peace here, in a way that it isn’t anywhere else.”

I first met her at a pro-choice rally when she was 14. She wanted to make a difference, even at that young age.

“Politics and activism were always discussed in my house,” she recalls. “My cousin, Anita Richmond, was very active in local politics, serving on the Rancho Mirage City Council. My mom was pretty liberal in her attitudes, my dad less so, so we used to have lively discussions whenever the family got together.

“I guess I had an innate sense of justice, and I didn’t like it when things were unjust. My first letter to the editor was published when I was 13!”

Dana grew up going to gay-pride parades.

“My mom had friends in New York who were closeted gay, and she couldn’t stand it that they couldn’t be who they wanted to be. After I wrote the letter to the editor, about an anti-gay letter someone else had written, my family asked if I was gay. I was pretty much in denial then, although I always knew I was different. Even in kindergarten, I liked girls.”

Dana’s sister, Victoria, is 4 1/2 years younger.

“We fought like crazy,” she says. “People in the family always said we would never be close. I had always wanted a baby sister, but then she could walk and talk, and started following me around and copying everything I did. My dad finally gave me a room of my own at 11 to separate us. We once had a fight, and somebody was stabbed with a fork. We both claim, even to this day, that it was the other who did it! We’re close now.”

Dana decided to leave the Coachella Valley after high school.

“I thought if I stayed here, I’d be stuck here forever—an 18-year-old mind at work,” she says. “I was accepted to Mills College in Oakland, and I liked the idea that the students were all female. I wanted the experience of a liberal environment.

“I came out as gay after my sister came out. I had the feeling she might also be gay, but I didn’t want to come out first and then have her be accused of copying me again. Plus, in high school, I had seen the way some of my friends’ families had reacted when someone came out, and I didn’t want to chance that my own family might react that way. My mom had already suspected. My dad had a harder time, but only because he was worried for us.”

After more than two years at Mills, Dana decided she wanted a break.

“I had reached the point where I was cutting classes more than I attended, and I was bored to death,” she says. “Everything I was studying was theory-based, and I wanted practice and action. Besides, I was receiving financial aid that could have gone to somebody else. I liked the Bay Area, but I had to figure out how to stay there without being in school.”

After a stint working at Starbucks, Dana’s political activism and her volunteer work on political campaigns made her a valuable addition to work with Medical Students for Choice, a nonprofit that taught abortion surgical techniques to medical students.

“Can you believe they were getting no training, based on the political climate, even though it was necessary that they know what to do if a patient had a miscarriage and needed similar procedures?” she says. “After about five years, I had been promoted to program manager.

“My boss was constantly encouraging me to return to school, and I was finally ready to go back. My first stop was at San Francisco State, where I noticed that the women in class, when they would deign to raise their hand and be called on, would always start by saying, ‘This may sound stupid, but … .’ The men never did that; instead, they would ask questions that were legitimately stupid! It was so different from what I had gotten used to, so I went back to Mills and completed a degree in sociology.”

Dana spent a month in Oaxaca, Mexico, learning Spanish, and then returned north to work with the California Wilderness Coalition. Her next vocational experience came after volunteering at Sankofa Academy, a public school in Oakland: “Sankofa is a Ghanian term for the concept of knowing where you come from so you can know where you’re going.” Dana spent six years there, becoming an after-school program coordinator.

Dana recently decided to return home to the Coachella Valley.

“In the Bay Area, there’s so much happening; it’s harder to find community,” she says. “My grandmother died, and I felt called to come home. I wanted to be closer to my family. My soul is at peace here in a way that it isn’t anywhere else. I intend to spend the rest of my life here. Now I just have to find a job.”

Dana’s latest passion—in addition to her abstract, emotion-filled painting—is the Palm Springs drag community.

“I found Toucans and was blown away by the art of it,” Dana says. “I always found drag to be impressive, but it never resonated with me the way it does here.”

Her advice for local young people: “It’s good to get away and experience somewhere else, but be open to the idea that you don’t really know what you want to do. Goals are nice to have, but you don’t have to plan your life out. Just remember that it’s OK to change your mind.

“I never wanted to be in an office in a suit. I knew you had to have money to survive, but from the experience of my own life, I know money doesn’t mean you’ll have a great life outcome. It may mean the ability to have a different lifestyle, but it doesn’t lead directly to happiness or longevity. I believe it’s possible here to earn a living and have a life.

“I’m not into the spotlight. I like to be behind the scenes. I just want to make a difference.”

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 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

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

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

After 30 years of working as a civilian employee with the Department of the Army, John Reece, 73, of Palm Springs, finally feels like he’s home.

“I spent 25 of those 30 years overseas, from Japan to South Korea to Saudi Arabia to Greenland,” says Reece. “I’m finally in a place where I feel I can be totally myself.”

Reece was born and raised in Missouri, to a minister father with strict religious standards.

“It took me a long time to get over that,” says Reece.

Reece was around church music throughout his childhood, with his father playing the organ and directing the choir. “My mom insisted we all take piano lessons when we were young,” he recalls, “and my older brother played trumpet and tuba and my younger sister was in the band.”

It’s not so strange, then, that Reece worked as an entertainment director with the Army throughout the world.

“I handled community theater and did logistics for USO shows and cultural tours,” he recalls. “I learned enough Japanese to get my job done while in Tokyo for six years, and knew basic conversational Korean to handle my four years in South Korea.”

After his years in Korea, Reece moved to Washington, D.C., and eventually moved on to Hawaii and then returned yet again to South Korea.

“I also spent three years in Saudi Arabia,” says Reece, “which was a wonderful experience. Working in a Muslim nation and learning to respect the country and their culture was terrific.”

Eventually, Reece landed in Greenland.

“I was six miles from the North Pole,” he recalls,” where it was sometimes 50 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 100-below. Of course, when it gets to below zero, it really doesn’t matter anymore. And it was dark from October to January.”

How did Reece handle being gay during such a long affiliation with the military?

“I knew all my life that I was gay,” he says. “Of course, back in those days, it was known as being ‘homosexual.’ With the church, it was a real guilt process. I would pray to be made ‘normal.’ My first experience was with gay bars, which at that time were all very underground. It just wasn’t an easy thing back in the 1960s and 1970s.

“While working with the Army, I was always very aware of looking over my shoulder. I didn’t want to do anything concrete that could have hurt my career. That’s a stressful way to live.”

Reece says he never came out to his family. “It was just never discussed, although I do remember my mom saying, ‘Son, you’re special. You may never be married, but there’s one thing worse: being married to the wrong one.’ We just didn’t talk about it.

“My sister knows through my Facebook page, and one day, she said, ‘I hope you can find a partner as wonderful as mine is.’ The only one I’ve really talked to openly about it is my niece.”

After finally finding a home base in Washington, D.C., and living in northern Virginia, Reece retired in 2002.

“I came to Palm Springs for a while from 2009 to 2013, and returned to live here full time in 2015. To be honest, I left in 2013 because I felt like Palm Springs was just too gay for me,” he laughs. “I had a hard time meeting straight people. I went back to D.C., but I got tired of the weather and decided to come back.”

Going back to that church choir during his childhood, Reece said music has always been a big part of his life. In fact, he studied music at Oklahoma Baptist University and the St. Louis Institute of Music. It’s not surprising that he finally found his place in the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus.

“I’m so glad to have such support now. Back in my day, there was nothing like counseling or support groups. I’m so glad for young people today who don’t have to live in the shadows,” he says.

Reece’s affiliation with the Gay Men’s Chorus has changed his life.

“Some of the best people I’ve met in my life are in the chorus. We can talk about anything and everything without worrying about offending anyone,” he says. “It’s not just a beautiful professional group, but it’s like being in a brotherhood. They care about you as a person. We even made history—imagine a gay group singing at a memorial service in a church!

“I don’t have anything to hide anymore,” he says. “I’m just me now. Here I am, finally at 73, and I can be openly proud with my head held high and happy.”

After traveling and living all around the world, John Reece has finally found a place to just be himself.

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