CVIndependent

Sun09242017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congrats, Anita!

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

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

Published in Editor's Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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

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

We enthusiastically applauded while he modestly beamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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