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Photographer Arthur Coleman has lived in the Coachella Valley for more than 50 years, and his stunning work is known throughout the area and the world. He’s also known for helping develop the tantalizing dining section of Palm Springs Life.

“This is the place with the best light in the world,” he says. “I call it ‘sweet light.’”

Born in Seattle, Coleman—he prefers not to disclose his age (“The number is too big now!” he says)—had what he calls “an interesting childhood,” albeit a good one. Coleman’s father ran a hotel, while his mother was “a true housewife.”

“She was involved in Scouts, coaching, everything I did,” he recalls. “She was charismatic and knockdown beautiful—kind of Betty Boop beautiful. My dad worked nights, so (my younger brother and I) got him during the day.

“You know, I’ve had all these people in my life with horrendous childhoods. Not me. If I’ve had problems, they’re my own,” Coleman says. “My mom taught me what it’s like to grow up knowing you come first with someone. My dad always backed me, whatever the situation was. They raised me to know I could do anything I wanted. There were just a few rules: no guns, no motorcycles, no bartending and not a bellman—nothing requiring tips.”

The motorcycle rule was broken when Steve McQueen became Coleman’s next-door neighbor after the family moved to Los Angeles.

“I wanted a motorcycle, and my mom was willing to compromise for a Vespa scooter,” Coleman says. “McQueen came over and told my mom, ‘The Vespa has such little wheels. It’s dangerous. I’ll pick him out a motorcycle.’ She said, ‘Well, I guess it’s OK.’ I think she was blushing. Hey, it was Steve McQueen! She even cooked him some breakfast.

“He taught me how to ride the bike out in the desert, and he was also the one who got me into ‘guy’ stuff, like pumping iron to get some muscles.”

Coleman got started in photography when he was about 8 years old. “My mom was a gambler. She’d go to a country club where once a month, they’d bring in machines, and they could gamble. She won a camera and gave it to me. Also, my dad’s hobby was photography, so it was an easy fit.”

Coleman’s one marriage produced a daughter who is also a photographer.

“I’m pretty much self-taught,” he says. “I’ve worked with world-class photographers, and I’ve picked up things like a sponge.

“I’ve always worked. I started at about 11 or 12 with a little business going door-to-door selling Cub Scout stuff. I sold handmade Christmas gifts, wooden address signs, and even did asphalt on driveways. The city once came to find out who was running this company doing asphalt work, and I showed them my two buckets and three brooms.”

Coleman found himself in Las Vegas in his late teens working for Red Skelton. “My mom had met him once, and I got a job as his assistant entertainment director. It was amazing,” he says. “My dad had hit some hard times earlier on and had to sell an expensive camera, so when I got the job in Las Vegas, I bought him a really good camera. When I graduated from high school, he bought me the same Rolleiflex.”

The work with Skelton wasn’t all fun.

“I was only 18 when I found his ex-wife after she killed herself,” says Coleman. “It was so traumatic. But, hey, I’ve been in the Enquirer four times!”

Yes, Coleman has a wicked sense of humor.

Coleman attended the University of Washington and also took classes at College of the Desert, but says he was bored. “I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do. I studied architecture and a little law. But my whole thing was to be working,” he says.

By 21, Coleman knew he wanted to start working for himself. “I had been hanging out at CBS, and people asked me to do some photos, so I just started playing around with it.”

Coleman came to the desert from Los Angeles, rented a building and began using the small amount of equipment he had.

“I was dating a gal who worked for the brand-new convention and visitors’ bureau, the first one we had down here,” he says. “I suggested that they could pay for part of my studio and use my darkroom; in return, I started shooting for them, and some of my pictures went international. I’ve been really lucky.”

Coleman is realistic about the profession he loves.

“Still photography is dying,” he says. “Everyone can take pictures on their phones and make their own movies and send them around. I’m working now on time-lapse and using drones. The main thing is that I can do anything—architecture, landscapes, fashion, food, still-life, portraits. I’ve developed techniques for all of them. I’ve even been working on a musical film. I don’t ever want to be pigeonholed.”

Coleman’s home studio in Palm Desert is quite impressive. Tall cabinets contain carefully curated images, and everything is laid out with a distinct space for each piece of equipment, no matter how small.

“Everything has to be in its own place, and I don’t like extension cords or messy wires,” says Coleman. “I’m kind of ADD, but I’ve learned to work with whatever is there when I get there. When I started, I’d stop a project if everything wasn’t just the way I wanted it. I once drove all the way back to L.A., because when I looked at the prints, I realized I had punched a pillow, but hadn’t creased it to get just the right angles. Now, I feel accomplished with making it work, whatever the situation.

“My driving principle is that I finish things: If I start it, I finish it.”

Arthur Coleman can drop names with the best of them, from McQueen and Skelton to Sinatra, but it’s his craft that most delights Coleman.

“What I see is 180 degrees of whatever the view is. When I’m looking at something, I’m seeing the whole thing ‘eye to eye,’ peripherally, not just the middle,” he says.

Coleman, however, has diverse interests beyond photography. He is currently learning about prickly pears and organic tequila. He serves on the board at Sandpiper, a classic Palm Desert development, and is developing low-water xerography. He reads, but not for escape or relaxation: “I read to learn things, for information.”

Coleman is somewhat philosophical after several health scares within the past few years.

“Life itself makes me happy now. I get up, make some coffee, and get ready for the day,” he says. “I just want to be alive, breathing, eating fine food, seeing friends and doing my work. Most of all, I want to be thankful.

“I don’t consider myself highly intelligent. What I do comes from my gut. I love to create. However short the time I may have left is, I want to do my work every day with passion.”

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

Rose Mallett is known for her singular voice, her striking appearance, and her frequent appearances in local clubs and theaters. The Moreno Valley resident has entertained throughout Southern California, in Las Vegas, and onscreen, and she can be seen locally at both Woody’s and the Purple Room in Palm Springs, and will be at Vicky’s of Santa Fe in Indian Wells once season begins again.

Born and raised in Chicago, Mallett, 70, knew from a very young age that she could sing—although there was concern that she would make it at all, after she was born two months premature. She weighed just 2 pounds, 7 ounces.

Her parents owned a tavern in Chicago, so Mallett grew up around music.

“Music just filtered in,” she says. “I first got interested in the stage from watching puppet shows when I was young. I started singing in the fourth-grade in the school chorus, and sang all through high school. Plus, I always sang in my church and was president of the young people’s chorus for several years.”

In junior high school, Mallett started singing as part of a rhythm and blues girl group.

“We were ‘discovered’ by (soul/R&B duo) Sam and Dave,” she recalls. “It gave us the opportunity to do a demo at Capitol Records, during the era of Lou Rawls and Martha Reeves. They offered us a contract! The three other girls in the group were all sisters, and their parents approved. But my mom said, ‘You have to decide whether to sing for the Lord or the devil.’

“That ended my career. I recognized that I was so young, and the church was a safer place to be. I thought giving up (the contract) would mean I was spiritually dedicated, so I chose the Lord. Unfortunately for the other girls, I was the lead voice, so there went the contract.”

The irony is that Mallett was molested by the pastor in that very same church.

“That took me away from the theology of the church for many years,” she says. “My mother’s resolve helped me to realize you have to love and believe in yourself.”

Mallett talks about her mother in reverent terms.

“My mom was one of 13 children in the South,” she said. “She married at 14 and worked in the fields. When they moved to Chicago, my mom ran her own kind of underground railroad, making sure the family all made it to Chicago. Then, when she moved us to California in 1960, she was again the one who paved the way for the rest of the family. She was the matriarch of the family, for sure. I learned fortitude from my mom. She was very methodical about getting things done, and she had a strong sense of survival.”

Once in Los Angeles, Mallett studied at the famous Dick Grove School of Music. “I got vocal training from Roger Love, and learned performance from Phil Moore who also taught Dorothy Dandridge and Dianne Reeves. Talk about being in good company!”

Mallett’s vocal influences were Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. “Sarah’s range and her phrasing were so amazing.”

As her life changed, Mallett didn’t sing for years. In the mid-1980s, she found herself in a situation involving domestic abuse, and was looking for an out, so she joined a community theater, the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

“My daughter was in a dance class, and there was an acting class upstairs,” she said. “One day, the director asked me if I could sing, and I ended up with my first role in a show called Earthquake.”

Mallett’s career has included shows at nightclubs and venues around the country. She has performed in Las Vegas, opening for Ben Vereen and backing up Susan Anton. She sang “I Never Think of You” in New Line Cinema’s Now and Then, and she has appeared in other films as well.

Mallett’s daughter, Monifa Burgess, is now a teacher; she also sang for a while. “She was on Soul Train!” boasts Mallett.

Mallett has been single since 2009. “I just met someone a few months ago,” she says. “I was told to try online dating. I tried for six months and hated it.

“Ironically, one of my supporters brought in a guy. He’s younger,” she laughs, coyly.

I had to ask: Do you need to have experienced the blues to sing the blues?

“So many blues songs are about loss of a lover, but I don’t think the blues is just about that,” says Mallett. “You can have that feeling from any kind of struggle. Everybody has had some kind of struggle. You don’t go through this life without some event or bad situation. … Sometimes, your life will be blue.

“It’s all about attitude. I’m a firm believer in meditation. I believe in awareness of life and in finding what I can do to overcome. It’s very important to learn how to love yourself. Looking for approval outside, you will fall … and sing the blues.

“I also listen to Cuban jazz; if I’m feeling down, it lifts me right up!”

Rose Mallett is one of the most uplifting and positive people I’ve met. Her motto is: “Ask, believe, receive. When you master believing, you have mastered your life.”

And then there’s that fabulous, uplifting voice.

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

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

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

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

I’d like to share some of my reactions to the inauguration—rough notes I took while watching wall-to-wall coverage from Thursday through Sunday.

Think of it as a sacrifice made on your behalf.

TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

I’m a sucker for tradition and ceremonial continuity. Even parades make me cry. So when President-elect Trump and Vice-President-elect Pence visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to place a wreath on Thursday, my first tears of the weekend began to flow.

When representatives of the armed services marched out—holding the flags of their service, along with the American flag—and then executed the perfect turn and dipped the service flags just the right amount to highlight the national flag for the playing of the national anthem, I was moved. The solemnity of the event and the significance of what that location represents cannot be minimized.

INAUGURAL CONCERT

I didn’t cry at all watching this event. In fact, I must admit I occasionally laughed. Aside from the fact that the Trump inaugural committee had trouble booking any major talent … did you notice that whenever Donald Trump puts his hand over his heart during the playing of the anthem, he occasionally pats his chest, apparently attempting to keep the beat with the music? What made me laugh was the realization that the president has no rhythm at all. And who pats their heart during the playing of the national anthem?

THE INAUGURATION

Again, this is a solemn rite of passage in our democratic history—opposing members of Congress greeting each other; four past presidents attending to acknowledge the peaceful transfer of power; and a crowd of well-wishers (along with some protests that included burning trash cans—I’m still not sure what the political significance of that is).

The lasting impressions for me are the appearance and demeanor of our new first lady, and the poise and grit of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Both women did themselves, and us, proud.

The inauguration speech was unfortunate, painting a picture of a dystopian America and playing directly to the president’s election base—with little regard to the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

There was one fantastic statement made by President Trump—if only it had been indicative of the overall tone, which, alas, it was not: “No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.”

He should have stopped there.

At lunch after he was sworn in, President Trump made a gracious statement acknowledging the Clintons for attending, and saying how much he respected them. This is the same man who only a couple of weeks ago said that Secretary Clinton was “guilty as hell” and should not have even been allowed to run for president.

I guess it’s easier to trash people when they’re not right in front of you.

THE INAUGURATION BALLS

Let’s start with how truly stunning Melania Trump looked, and give her credit for having the good sense, at the third ball—honoring the Armed Services—to thank the veterans for their service and to say how proud she is to be their first lady. If only President Trump had shown that much grace—all he talked about was his crowd numbers and the assumption that those attending the ball had voted for him. His absolute favorite word is “me.”

Let’s also give a nod to Ivanka Trump, whose ball gown, hair style and demeanor was exquisite. However, watch for criticism of the way she attempts to identify with average women and their policy issues when she has never faced any of the same situations. Time will tell what influence she may be able to have on her father, but it’s somewhat telling that it’s her husband who got hired for an important job, not her.

The most glaring reality of the balls was that men can’t dance—regardless of age. Neither Trump nor Pence have any sense of rhythm, and they come from a generation when ballroom dancing was actually taught in school. The younger men in both families are hopeless, too. It did make me miss President Obama—remember his first dance with Michelle?

Also, have you noticed that Donald Trump seems to have no sense of intimacy toward his wife? She often reaches for his hand, but he almost never reaches for hers. While “dancing” with her on inauguration night, Trump could barely keep his attention on her, constantly waving to others in the crowd or doing his signature “thumbs up” gesture. Even during the playing of a romantic song, he wasn’t into her—he was into the adoring crowd. He’s the guy you meet who’s always looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anyone more important in the room. There was maybe one moment of affection, and it came from her toward him.

The catty side of me thought: I don’t care how much money or power he has … can you imagine sleeping with that man? Petty, I know, but I’m just sayin’ …

THE DAY AFTER

At the prayer service the morning after the inauguration, the president seemed to have trouble staying awake and engaged. During a prayer, he was looking around the crowd in the church, occasionally with his signature “thumbs up.” He can’t sit still or stay focused for very long. His grandchildren were better-behaved.

Then there was the visit to the hallowed wall honoring lives lost at the CIA—Trump’s first official stop, to assure the intelligence community of his support. He began by saying how much he respects them, then spent two-thirds of his time defending the inauguration attendance, bragging about having the most appearances on Time’s cover (which is not true, by the way), and blaming the media for inventing a rift between him and the intelligence community after he had compared them to Nazis.  

WOMEN’S MARCH

What can one say when millions of women, children and men take to the streets in solidarity across the world?

“What are they marching for?” asked some. As someone who has marched in the past, against the Vietnam War and for civil rights and women’s rights, here’s what: They marched to show that women’s rights cannot and must not be rolled back, and to show their lack of confidence in a president who has publicly disrespected women and the real-life issues that are important to them.

Whatever the differences in individual issues among the marchers, they all stood up for equality without exception.

Marches took place in more than 600 cities across the country, with total estimates now topping 3 million marchers throughout the U.S. More than 1,500 women marched in Palm Desert, and locals Carlynne McDonnell, of Strong Women Advocacy Group; Dori Smith, of Moms Demand Action; Amalia deAztlan, of Democratic Women of the Desert; and Palm Springs resident Eileen Stern made a trip to Los Angeles or D.C., along with many others.

Women and their supporters also showed up by the tens of thousands around the world, from New Zealand and Australia to Rome, London, Austria, Mexico City, Paris, Barcelona and even Kosovo—concerned about not only women’s rights, but also international security, which they believe is threatened under a Trump presidency. Watching this amazing outpouring of support worldwide once again brought tears.

I thought the best sign at the marches was: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” I loved the guy from Long Beach who said, “I’m marching for my 91-year-old mother and my 30-year-old daughter, who both taught me how to be a man.”

Meanwhile, amidst this historic outpouring of solidarity and concern, the new president could only talk about how big his crowd was and how he was being disrespected by “the media” in their mostly accurate reporting.

By the way, in case you didn’t understand the pink-knitted caps with pussycat ears, I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself.

If you are blasé about the changing of the guard, or disgusted with everything political, I want to remind you that your grandchildren’s grandchildren will study the current period in their history classes. We’ve seen the election of the first private-sector president—with absolutely no political experience and no apparent interest in history or traditions or self-restraint. There is much to make fun of in this unfolding reality show; in truth, when you’re worried or afraid or angry, humor can help.

It’s important to remember we’re living in unfolding history. That’s worth paying attention to, regardless of who gets the biggest crowds or who gives the better speech or whether you believe the political process works to your advantage.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but the bottom line for me is that the peaceful transfer of power transcends all else. It endures as the epitome of what we stand for as a nation.

And that makes me cry.

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

Jon Von Erb did not take a straight path from San Francisco to Palm Springs—no pun intended.

Von Erb was born in San Francisco into a theatrical family, with two gay parents who had met in New York: His mother was a coloratura soprano with the New York City Opera, and his father was a vaudevillian.

“My mom took me to the Bolshoi Ballet when I was about 3 years old,” Von Erb remembers, “and I got hooked.”

While Von Erb’s brother was an athletic football player, Jon became a dedicated dancer and choreographer. What was it like growing up in a family with a gay mother and a gay father?

“In those days, it was a societal thing,” says Von Erb. “They were both in theater during an era when everyone was a smoker and drinker, and it wasn’t really accepted to be that ‘different.’ Otherwise, it was like any theatrical family. I lived a life growing up kind of like an Army brat: I attended about 21 elementary schools and three junior highs.”

Surprisingly, Von Erb said his father was initially unhappy when Jon came out to him as gay.

“He was an avid fan of my brother, the straight football player,” Von Erb said. “I remember when I was working with a ballet company while I was finishing high school, and my final ballet performance was with a full orchestra doing a classic pas de deux with an impossible lift. When the performance was over, the audience just sat silently. Finally, someone started to clap, and the whole audience exploded with applause. My father came up to me afterward and said, ‘I’m so proud of you, son.’ That was the first time he had ever said that to me.” The memory brings Von Erb to tears.

Von Erb later taught Afro-American jazz dancing that he learned in New York and later added Russian ballet techniques when he wound up in New Orleans—where he met the man who would become his husband, Gary Williams, a speech pathologist.

Jon and Gary then resettled to Alaska. “Gary’s sister had moved there,” says Von Erb, “so we decided to try it.”

Von Erb used his background in dance to get a job teaching ballet in Anchorage, and soon after his arrival there, he was offered an opportunity to work in the arts department at the University of Alaska, where Von Erb completed a degree. He also created a dance company there.

The pair later came to Palm Springs in the same way that so many of us have: “We had friends from all over who had moved here who were always saying, ‘Come on down!’”

They’ve now lived here for the past 4 1/2 years. Jon and Gary married three years ago by their backyard pool in Palm Springs, more than 40 years into their relationship.

“We decided to finally get married for legal and financial reasons, but more important, to make a statement for ourselves,” says Von Erb.

Von Erb now works as a certified massage therapist specializing in medical and therapeutic massage techniques that he describes as “intuitive massage.”

“I deal with things like spinal injuries, sciatica, geriatric difficulties and lymphatic effects after surgery,” he says. “When I’m working with someone, my goal is to make it like a connection of rivers that run throughout the entire body. My role is to help create a healing flow. I experience it as intuitive touch. I allow the body to speak to me.”

I met Von Erb at a poetry reading at the Rancho Mirage Library in the newly opened meeting and presentation space. I was attending because my good friend Valerie-Jean Hume (also an Independent contributor) was performing while the participants, many of whom have been published, read their efforts. Participants ranged from an over-90 hale-and-hearty man to a French-accented charming woman, but one participant particularly intrigued me: Jon Von Erb.

Von Erb’s poetry began in earnest while he was in San Francisco from 1989 to 2012.

“There were so many people (in the San Francisco area) who were going through a lot of change: sick, dying,” he recalls. “I started a practice that I called ‘grief massage.’ Whatever the problem, I’d spend an hour listening and then would take the client downstairs to a darkened space, filled with music and atmosphere, and I spoke to them through massage. I’d move them on a path in a bucolic environment, encouraging them to leave behind something heavy that they’ve been carrying around. I could feel the tension going away. Then we’d go back upstairs, and I’d not only listen, but also make observations.

“After the sessions, I’d compose a poem for them about their situation. At the end of our sessions, they would not only have completed the process; they would also have an anthology of their voyage.”

Von Erb now sends poems to about 300 friends and clients every week. His philosophy is fairly simple. “There’s so much to be thankful for. I feel it’s important to pay back all those people who applauded for me all those many years ago. Every day is a new, exciting, fresh day to start.

“Everything talks to you if you learn to listen. People are all searching for someone who reaches out to them first. I’m a hands-on person.”

Literally and figuratively, the description fits him perfectly.

Lady Moon

One night

the moon winked at me

floating above the shadowed

winter skeletons of the sycamore trees.

Her gesture asked me

to scribe a poem in her honor.

In that sparkled moment

as I clutched my pen

her silver shine overtook her intention;

my intention.

Instead, my heart took my pen

and I wrote from recent memory.

Suddenly shivered by

the lack of your warmth

the moon and I

wrote of my longing for you.

—Jon Von Erb, November 2016

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

Whether your candidate for president won or lost, the good news is that the election is over.

Pundits will dig into every nuance of why someone lost or how someone won, but none of that will change where we are now. The system is what it is, and it works how it works. As important as it is to be a “good loser,” it’s even more of a show of character to be a “good winner.”

I tend to be a Pollyanna, someone of irrepressible optimism who thinks good things will always happen in the end. My philosophy includes taking every defeat—losing a job, losing a love or anything else—and figuring out what I need to learn so I won’t repeat it; each learning opportunity is meant to get me ready for an even better experience to come.

Yet I can be blindsided and feel like I took a stiff punch to the gut. That’s how I woke up the morning after the election: stunned, numb and overwhelmingly sad. I admit I cried myself to sleep, exhausted by my profound disappointment that a woman would not be president. At least not yet.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross defined what are known as the five stages of grief: denial (“This can’t be happening!); anger (“Let’s take to the streets!”); bargaining (”Maybe we can get some things done that will be productive.”); depression (“I just don’t care. I’m done getting involved.”); and, finally, acceptance (“We can make it through this. It’s going to turn out all right.”).

While consoling friends devastated by the election who thought all hope was gone and trying to get them to the fifth stage, I began hearing how some people on the winning side were responding to the election: painting hateful racist and anti-Semitic sentiments on buildings, pulling off women’s hijabs on the street, and telling Hispanic-American students that they should leave the country—their country. I was devastated by a 10-year-old Muslim-American boy who just wanted to know, “Why do they hate me?”

All of this hit frighteningly close to home when a dear friend, Ellie, a Hillary supporter, called to say her home in the San Diego area had been defaced, with the word “ASSHOLE” scratched into her garage door.

“I had no campaign signs, and I don’t even remember talking politics with any of my neighbors,” she told me. “I have no idea who did it. I’m scared.”

The Southern Policy Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, received more than 200 complaints within the week after the election. Time magazine reported that anti-Muslim incidents were more prevalent than after Sept. 11, 2001.

Many people watching demonstrators on TV—including the hundreds who showed up in Palm Springs—or hearing about incidents of hatred and violence may feel helpless. Regardless of who they supported, they want to find a way to reassure fellow citizens that they need not be afraid. But they’re not sure what to do.

Some will begin to politically organize for the next go-round; some will write letters or op-ed columns; some will volunteer to support special-interest organizations; some will find other ways to channel their disappointment into having some positive impact.

I discovered the safety-pin campaign.

After the shocking Brexit vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union—a vote which followed a campaign with racist and anti-immigrant undertones not unlike those during the U.S. presidential-election campaign—similar acts of overt discrimination were reported throughout the British isles. Regardless of how individuals had voted—for Brexit or against—many wanted some way to show their vote was not meant as being against any group of people.

Last June, individuals in Britain came up with the idea of wearing a safety pin as a way for people to quietly and unobtrusively signal that they were a “safe ally”—someone OK to sit next to on the bus, or to ask directions, or to make eye contact with on the street.

Not everyone is an activist, or able to speak publicly, or able to take time off from work, child-rearing or caretaking—and wearing a safety pin is a small way to say “I care.” It’s a way to show you believe we are all entitled to respect, regardless of our political differences. It’s a way of saying, “Hatred and violence is NOT what I voted for.”

In the Colorado Springs Gazette, a woman named Jacquie Ostrom said: “I’m wearing (a safety pin) because I believe in acceptance of all people—all colors, all faiths, all sexual orientation. It’s important … to know that we stand together.”

If wearing a safety pin is still too much of a public statement, there are other ways to get to that fifth stage. My niece, Karen, has connected to a group on Facebook that started with the idea, “What if I committed to one act of justice every day?” This approach is dedicated to making the world a better place one day at a time, and encourages peaceful acts meant to show respect for differences among us.

“I’m committing to do something positive and good for someone else every day,” said Karen. “And I’m committing to educate myself and others so I can better understand issues next time around.”  

Another—somewhat more ironic—approach is to make a donation to an organization that will probably face challenges during the next administration, but doing it in the name of someone else. For example, imagine how your Uncle Joe, a staunch Trump supporter, may feel when he gets a “Thank you!” from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, or the Southern Poverty Law Center, or Planned Parenthood.

I’ve often said that in evolutionary terms, we’re barely out of the slime as a species. As each new generation takes over, we move ever-so-slowly but inexorably forward. I continue to believe it’s going to be all right. But then, I’m a Pollyanna.

I’m wearing a safety pin.

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 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

There are people you see often and think you know: the tennis pro at the club, the barber you see every couple of weeks, the market clerk who remembers your name, the co-worker you chat with at the coffee machine.

In my case, there’s the woman who engineers my radio show: I see her every Sunday. We share laughs and stories, and I sincerely appreciate everything she does to make my time on the air run smoothly.

I realized I didn’t know her at all the day she came in with her head shaved.

“Wow,” I said. “What a change! Did you decide to do that because summer’s coming?”

“No,” she said, wiping her hand over her newly hairless head. “Mischelle has cancer and is going to have chemo, and she’s worried about losing her hair. I wanted to show her how I’m right there with her.”

Marisol Valle is a board operator and on-air personality at Alpha Media, but she is so much more. Born in Indio 37 years ago, Marisol is the oldest of two; she has a brother, David. However, her mother is the oldest of nine daughters, so she has cousins and family everywhere around the Coachella Valley.

“I could never get away with anything,” she laughs.

Marisol graduated from Palm Springs High School in 1997. She went on to take classes at the California State University, San Bernardino, and then attended the Academy of Radio and Television Broadcasting.

“I’d love to have my own talk show on the radio, specifically taking on subjects that affect women and the LGBT community,” she says.

Was it difficult coming out to her parents? “My dad says he knew all along. My mom was angry at first, but that was because I hadn’t told her. They’re fine with me. It’s just not an issue. I was always a tomboy, but I dated boys and found them attractive. I guess I would describe myself as bisexual rather than lesbian, but I just don’t like labels.

“In my 20s, I had a better idea of who I was, and when I met Mischelle, I knew she was someone special.”

At the time, Marisol was working at Desert Arc in their social recreation department, shepherding Arc participants to events like the Special Olympics. “I was moved to the behavior-modification department as an instructor, doing vocational training, and subsequently became supervisor of that area. It was there that I met Mischelle. She was one of my staff.”

Marisol and Mischelle Avalos have now been together for 10 years, the last three of them married. “We were married under the Marilyn Monroe statue when it was in downtown Palm Springs,” she laughs. “Now that it’s coming back to Palm Springs, we’ll be able to celebrate our anniversary there every year!”

In addition to her job at the radio station, Marisol today works as a special education assistant at Shadow Hills High School, tutoring in math.

“I realize math is difficult for everyone,” she says. “I understand math, but I never really liked it. I now know how important it is in every aspect of your life, and I try to pass that along to all the students. You need to know math, even if it’s only so you can help your own kids with their homework. Besides, you never really know when you’re going to need to use algebra: It’s about problem-solving, and you want people to be critical thinkers in the world.”

Marisol would like to go back and complete her undergraduate degree: “As I get closer to 40, I realize the best way to motivate my students to complete their education is by doing it myself. I like being a positive role model for the kids, but I really need to do it for myself.”

Mischelle was diagnosed with cancer in May.

“She’s had five rounds of chemo so far,” says Marisol. “The sixth round will be the last, and so far, the results are looking good. The main thing is that she’s still working (at a Palm Springs animal shelter), and she has received so much love and support and words of inspiration from everyone.”

Have they thought about having a family of their own?

“I like children … at least other people’s children,” Marisol says with a hearty laugh. “When we first got together, we talked about it, but it’s a big responsibility. Maybe we’ll adopt. There are so many kids out there who need a loving family, and exposure to the diversity a nontraditional family can bring. Maybe we’ll decide to be foster parents. It’s so important the difference you can make being part of a child’s life.”

Currently living in Desert Hot Springs, Marisol and Mischelle are great examples of people in your life whom you may not really know—but who are making an impact on the world while following their own path.

As Marisol says, “I’m looking forward to the next chapter on the journey.”

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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