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Anita Rufus

At 69, Gina Bikales is the embodiment of the word “indefatigable”: She’s seemingly incapable of being tired out.

Gina leads Script2Stage2Screen (S2S2S), the theater company which presents staged readings of new works at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage. (Disclosure: I have acted with S2S2S before.)

“We (the Coachella Valley) have theater going on year-round now, (as opposed) to when I came to the desert in 2000,” Bikales says. “(We have) community theaters presenting ‘chestnuts’ (older hit plays that always attract an audience); professional companies doing edgier works; three great full-time companies; and S2S2S taking it a step further, doing only new, unpublished works. We want scripts that speak to current issues.”

Bikales came to her role with S2S2S—running the program as well as casting, directing and occasionally taking a role herself—with a lifetime of connection to the arts. Born in Topeka, Kan., and raised in Kansas City, Gina graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in theater education and language arts.

“I came from an artsy family,” she says. “My mom was a sculptor, and my dad, although a psychiatrist by profession, always designed and made jewelry. They provided an artistic education for all of us (an older brother, and a younger brother and sister). We started piano at 5, and by second-grade, we could choose a second instrument to learn.

“I’ve done theater since I was young. At 12, I signed up to go to the Midwest Music and Art Camp. Once there, I hurt my foot, and there was no way I could dance, so my dad talked to them and got me into the theater group. I was the youngest one, but they took me under their wings, and I fell in love with it.

“When I got to college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, because I loved science, but I hated math. When I realized how much math was required, I didn’t want to go forward. I now realize part of my feelings about math were associated with it not being a ‘feminine’ thing to be good at. Anyway, my college adviser literally stood in front of his office door and said, ‘You can’t leave until you declare a major,’ so I focused on theater education. After college, I left Kansas City for North Carolina to teach at a prep school.”

Bikales subsequently married and moved to Santa Clara in the Bay Area, and “put my husband through law school.” She later divorced and returned to Kansas City to raise her three sons, all of whom are now professional musicians.

“I worked as a teacher, but the arts were always an important part of my life,” she says. “At 16, my first summer job was teaching at the only performing-arts camp at that time in Kansas City, Camellot Academy. Just after college, they asked me to take over running it, and until about 2005, I went back to Kansas City and ran Camellot every summer.”

Bikales left Kansas City after marrying “a desert guy” and has been in the Coachella Valley since 2000, currently residing in Palm Desert.

“Much to my surprise, I fell in love with the desert and decided to stay after that marriage ended,” she says. “I was basically a retired lady, but one day, I went to a local meeting of the Coachella Valley Alumnae Panhellenic Association. I was seated with Jeanette Lyons and Lynn Talbot, who were doing a show at the Joslyn Center. I got cast, and from then on, I’ve been involved in theater here.

“Acting came easily for me, and I loved it. The first time I did it, I was hooked. I put acting on hold when my kids were young, but began doing community theater once they were old enough to be left at night.

“Once I left Kansas City and came to the desert, I still returned to the Camellot program, but I was ready to work with adults. Ron Celona had been running the theater at Joslyn Senior Center, and when he left, they asked me to take his place. I said, ‘Absolutely!’ Meanwhile, my divorce attorney was saying, ‘You need to get a job.’ His partner was development director with the Visiting Nurse Association, and he hired me as development manager to support the hospice program. You can’t get a better reason to be willing to ask people for money.”

Bikales’ experience as a teacher, actor and manager has influenced her ability to direct.

“When you’re acting, your primary focus is on character, and how that character relates to others on the stage,” she says. “When you direct, you have to pick up lots of other threads and concerns in a script: lighting, costuming and the ability to tie it all together with a bow so it works to communicate what the playwright intended. A show needs to look seamless and effortless to the audience. It’s both a creative and management kind of position.”

S2S2S began as a project to feature the work of gay Coachella Valley playwrights. Bikales began working with the group in its first season. After the two founders retired, she was asked to take over the program.

“We have so much talent here, from retired actors to accountants who’ve always wanted to act,” she says. “We have people who’ve never been onstage before, and some who’ve won awards for performing. Being in an S2S2S production only requires three weeks of evening rehearsals, and it’s fun.”

S2S2S, now in its 10th year, may be the most economical theater experience in the valley, at only $10 a ticket. Usually the playwright is in the audience to gauge reactions, as well as take questions and comments after the production. The number of shows presented each season depends on how many plays are submitted and considered worthy of a first outing. Play-submission information is at the website, www.script2stage2screen.com.

“It’s been my mission for the last few years to push women, especially women of color, into directing. For some reason, it’s difficult to find women who want to direct,” Bikales says.

“Because the plays we put on are new and unpublished, we can work with the playwright, something you can’t do with a published work. We get submissions from all over the country, and there are a lot of local writers who want to get an audience’s reactions to a work in progress. I’m in it from the submission phase to the final curtain call. I’ll do S2S2S as long as it’s a joy to do, and it is!”

S2S2S, under Bikales’ direction, has garnered 17 Desert Theatre League awards. She served as president of the DTL for eight years, and has been on the boards of other local organizations. Despite recent health issues, she directs individual plays, carefully casts local talent, scrounges costumes and props, and occasionally returns to the stage.

Gina Bikales is, indeed, indefatigable.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

Some people are heroes without meaning to be, and modestly claim afterward: “We got lucky!”

Robyne McCarthy Taylor was flying for Qantas, based in her native Australia. Born and raised in Victoria, Robyne, now 66, joined Qantas after trying a secretarial job in Melbourne after high school.

“I was 21 when I joined Qantas,” she recalls. “I trained with a group of really quality people—we were the youngest girls they had ever employed. We’ve remained really close throughout the years. It was when the (Boeing) 747s came in. I was one of three girls, ‘flight hostesses,’ who flew on each flight along with 12 male ‘stewards.’

“We had to sign a contract on our application about whether we wanted to retire at 35 or at 55. I was only 21, and thought that surely by 35, I’d be willing to go. But the stewards didn’t have to sign a contract. They also could get promoted into cushier jobs. We had the babies and toilets, and didn’t get counted for seniority that would lead to better positions and pay.”

Taylor was a member of the union specifically for the “girls,” while the “boys” had their own as well.

“I attended meetings, and we finally said, ‘Let’s go after them.’ We wanted equality, access to promotions, the chance to rise to be pursers and more money. Australian men were very chauvinistic, and they would say, ‘I’m not taking any orders from a Sheila!’ They didn’t think we’d win it.

“We got a female judge … and we got lucky!”

Taylor is a 25-year resident of The Springs in Rancho Mirage. She and her late husband, banker David Taylor, moved to the desert from Chicago after some friends convinced them to come and visit.

The couple met, naturally, on a plane.

“I had gotten fed up with flying and got a cushy job—I was kind of a flight spy,” she says. “I had been involved with a London-educated gentleman from Bahrain. … He wasn’t part of a royal family, but high up there. Anyway, I was sitting in first class on a Sydney-to-Singapore flight, heading to Bahrain. David was sitting in front of me heading to London. I thought, ‘What a nice-looking gentleman. Why can’t I meet someone like that?’ There was a magazine rack in front of him, so I got up to see if he had warts or anything like that. He didn’t. I said, ‘Didn’t I see you last week in Tahiti?’ He said, ‘No,’ and went back to his Wall Street Journal. At our stop, I stayed on board, but he was walking around and had time to think about it. When he came back … well, we were together for about 24 years, married for 20 of them.

“He was living in New York at the time, and he didn’t like me being away so much, so I asked for some leave-of-absence time. I told him he had to come to Australia to meet my mother. She actually said, ‘What are your intentions with my daughter?’ He was a total gentleman with such a good sense of humor. He said, ‘I intend to sleep with her as much as I can.’ Once his divorce came through, which had begun before me, I stayed in New York.

“After we were married, we were in London. Because I was still in the union, I said I wanted to go to Paris to help choose the new Qantas uniforms. For 12 years, we had worn lovely dresses designed by (Emilio) Pucci. I didn’t speak French, but I thought I had made it clear at Yves Saint Laurent that I didn’t want to see a single kangaroo anywhere! Three months later, when we opened the boxes, there were kangaroos all over. It was the worst moment of my life,” she says, before suddenly going quiet and serious. “Other than the death of my father. We were very close.”

Robyne and David traveled all over Europe while living in London, and after he retired, they took lots of cruises. “To be honest,” she smiles, “I never want to see another airplane as long as I live.”

Worst passenger ever? “David Frost,” she says without hesitation. “He insisted on sleeping on the floor.”

Best passenger ever? “Sammy Davis Jr. He was wonderful!”

Taylor’s involvement in the local community largely revolves around animals. “I was on the board of Guide Dogs of the Desert and with Loving All Animals, and I’ve supported the Cancer Center for Animals in Chicago. I’m also very lucky to have my little Lola (her dog) in my life. My husband died nine years ago, and Lola has been with me 7 1/2 years while I’m on my own.”

Taylor says she has tired of being charming since David’s death. “I had to be all my life. I’ve become a bit of a recluse,” she says. She hates computers, still sends handwritten notes, and stays in touch with a large group of good friends. Plastered to her garage’s inside walls are pictures, large and small, of key events in settings all over the world, surrounding her chic red convertible.

Taylor is not afraid to stand her ground and fight, no matter how blithely she waves off her accomplishments. She recalls when the settlement check from Qantas—after the case had finally been resolved six years later—arrived in the mail.

“I opened it, and you know those phony checks they send to rope you into something? I thought that’s what it was. David looked at it and said, ‘It’s a real check, for $50,000!’

“We were just lucky.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

Doug Dean had no idea that a Woody Herman concert his concert-pianist mother took him to when he was 14 would change his life.

“My mom was an amazing woman,” says Dean, 78, a Palm Desert resident for 10 years. “She played on a radio station in Chicago and also taught piano. I remember hearing her on the radio when I was about 5. She started teaching me piano and how to read music. I played on and off until she took me to that concert—and I decided then and there that I wanted to study the drums.

“I was in the hospital at about 10 or 12 years old, and I remember listening to Daddy O Daylie,” the first African American with a syndicated jazz radio show in Chicago. “He used to say he was ‘the musical host who loves you the most’ and ‘I’m as nice as a mother’s advice.’ I never forget that, and I absorbed that music.

“In junior high in those days, there was always a music teacher. Mine was one of the best on the planet! I studied with him all through high school, and I learned to combine reading music with technique on the drums. A lot of drummers don’t really read music and only play the rhythm staffs, so I had an advantage that helped me get jobs.”

Dean and his older sister were born and raised in Winnetka, Ill. “My dad had played the saxophone in 1920s Chicago, but when he heard how good others played, he pawned all his instruments, because he realized he would never be as good as they were. For him, money was more important than anything, and he ultimately bought a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade and continued in that until he was almost 100.

“My dad never approved of anything I ever did, but he became an example of how not to be. I guess that’s what I learned from him.”

After getting an associate’s degree from Los Angeles Valley College, Dean went on to UCLA for a year—and then began drumming for a living.

“My first real work was when I was 27 with a group called The Sandpipers, an acoustic trio that had a hit with ‘Guantanamera.’ From there, I was lucky enough to go with a 35-piece orchestra with Anthony Newley on his first gig doing a nightclub act. (See the photo to the right.) When I auditioned for that, I got the job, because I could read. We were at the Waldorf Hotel in New York, and people like Barbra Streisand and Sidney Poitier would come in. It was probably the best job I ever had!”

Dean spent about 20 years working on cruise ships and has been all over the world, including the Caribbean, Mexico, and a world tour from San Francisco to Quebec, Hawaii, Australia, India, Singapore, Thailand and Burma.

“We were halfway across the Atlantic heading toward Nova Scotia when Sept. 11 happened,” he says. “There were 28 747s parked there in a row unable to take off. It was like the end of the world.

“Maybe my favorite place was Juneau, Alaska. When I was first there, it was 65 degrees, crystal clear, and snow on the mountains. The salmon was awesome—I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

Dean can drop names with the best of them: “Sarah Vaughan was once working in Reno, and I would go by about 2 a.m. every night for about two weeks. A couple of months later, I met her piano player, Chick Corea, before he went with Miles (Davis), and I remember he said to me, ‘There’s work out here.’

“I worked with Julie Andrews, Caterina Valente, Robert Goulet, Liberace, Florence Henderson, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca—that one was fun! I was blown away when working with Jackie Evancho. She was about 12 at the time, and it was a 45-piece orchestra. She is amazing.”

Dean was influenced by people like Papa Jo Jones, known for his use of brushes, and Philly Joe Jones, who played with Miles Davis.

“They are the two incredible jazz drummers on the planet. The brushes on a snare are felt with no rebound like sticks on the snare. And, of course, with rock ’n’ roll, it’s a thump,” he says with a laugh.

Does Dean ever plan to retire? “I play locally with Ted Herman’s 16-piece big band on Sunday nights (at the Indian Wells Resort Hotel), and I still get calls because I can read. For example, I was asked to do a benefit at Shadow Hills by Alexis Gershwin, George Gershwin’s niece. (I’ll play) as long as I have my health, and as long as somebody wants to hire me. I hate to admit that I actually enjoy it; musicians usually like to complain. I come alive when I start playing.”

There’s another skill that makes Dean come alive: flying. He got a commercial pilot’s license through the G.I. Bill (“I probably should have gone back to college, but I didn’t!”) and then got his glider license.

“I was in Las Vegas with Robert Goulet and was asked to fly the tow plane, which was the only time I actually got paid for flying,” he says. “I remember once I took a girlfriend up. She managed to hold it in until we landed—then she threw up.

“I once flew under the Golden Gate Bridge. That was really something!”

His mother’s influence is key to understanding how he found his passion. “My mom took me to hear classical artists, like Arthur Rubinstein, but she liked jazz and almost every album she bought that we listened to was jazz.”

The Woody Herman concert when he was 14 changed the course of Doug Dean’s life forever. What did it for you?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

Back when the news was being dominated by the federal “zero-tolerance policy” which was resulting in family separations at the border, I attended a presentation by the writers’ group at Coachella Valley Repertory—always a great way to experience local talent.

The final writer performing her original work was Barbara Fast, the new pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, doing a piece she called I Am Miriam. She told the story of Moses’ journey down the Nile in a reed basket, into the arms of the Egyptian princess who adopted him into the royal kingdom, from the perspective of Miriam, Moses’ sister.

In Fast’s version, Miriam followed her brother’s journey and then suggested to the princess that she could get a Hebrew woman to breast-feed the baby—enabling their real mother to suckle her own infant. When Fast said her line about how no child should ever be separated from its mother, the audience gasped—a collective intake of breath at the ironic current relevance of that age-old story. I still get goosebumps when I recall the moment.

Barbara Fast, 67, has been in the desert for only a year and a half. She was born and raised in New York City, the only child of working parents.

“I was what used to be called a ‘latch-key kid,’” says Fast. “My mom and dad were big influences on me. I would get to go to work with my dad sometimes, at the Veterans Administration, and I learned to have respect for those who serve in any capacity in our government.”

In high school, Fast specialized in math and science. She then attended Sarah Lawrence College, majoring in philosophy, and went on to earn a law degree from Georgetown University.

“My senior high school year was 1968, when so much was going on, particularly the King and Kennedy killings,” she says. “I had already become involved in local political campaigns, and then once I was in college, there were the Kent State killings, bus riders in the South, and marches. Fairness and justice were always really important to me.”

As a lawyer, Fast went into trial practice. “It was what I seemed to be good at, and I loved the thinking,” she says. “I became a prosecutor in New York state—not a defense lawyer, because I was all about justice and discretion on behalf of the people. In the late 1970s, New York was coming out of bankruptcy; graffiti was everywhere. I felt I was participating in upholding standards. Every day, there were ethical issues.”

The work required an enormous commitment. Fast and her husband decided to move to Connecticut to start a family, and she began to teach law.

How did Fast go from law to religion?

“My husband is Jewish, and I’m sort of Catholic (from a mixed marriage),” she says. “We decided to raise our children in the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Westport. I was doing lots of volunteer work on environmental issues and was asked to give personal witness at the church for Earth Day. I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing to do five minutes, but I realized then that although I had always been standing in the back, I wanted to be in front of the church. I wanted to engage the hearts of the people.

“We live in this world, and it’s about how to live with integrity and joy. We don’t know for sure what happens afterward, so we can only imagine and wonder. What I do now is about how we live our lives. If we can ask the right questions, we can get to the right answers.

“Somebody once said to me, ‘If it knocks more than once, it could be God knocking.’ I’ve never forgotten that. I applied to go part-time to Yale and felt at home in divinity school, studying the Old Testament and ethics.“

Fast met her husband, Jonathan, in college, but it wasn’t until they met again at an alumni event that they got together. They have now been married 35 years.

“I have three wonderful children: Molly, my stepdaughter, and two sons, Ben and Dan. Jon was a novelist, but we both made career shifts at about the same time. He started teaching social policy, and I went into divinity school.”

What brought them to the Coachella Valley?

“About two years ago, we decided to retire, after kicking it around for about a year. I had served churches in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and then back to Connecticut, and I was tired. After the Sandy Hook shootings happened nearby, I was in a state of trauma. It was all just so sad.

“Jon was retiring, and our son Ben was in Los Angeles, so we looked around there. Then we came over the mountain originally thinking it was ridiculous—it was August, and the temperature was about 114! But we fell in love with this area. It’s affordable, and there are so many creative people here. We wanted a place that was near a UU church, and when we attended, we found a great group of people, friendly and smart. We knew the church was in transition; they weren’t ready at that time for a full-time pastor, but I did preach there a few times.”

Shortly after arriving in Rancho Mirage, Fast sought out the CV Rep Writers’ Group, run by Andy Harmon.

“It’s wonderful,” she says. “I had crafted stories as part of sermons, not just about individuals, but about human beings in general and the human condition, trying to make connections with how we are living now. I had presented stories, after gathering evidence and analyzing it, as a lawyer. Then I did it in sermons. Now I wanted to expand my capabilities. Biblical text is very compact, so when I was writing about Miriam, I asked myself, ‘Why did she go into the water? How did she get there, down the Nile? What must it be like to sacrifice your child?’”

Fast says a “calling” is when your greatest love meets the world’s greatest need: “It takes different shapes at different times of your life.”

Lucky for us, Fast’s current time of life is here in the desert. She shares stories with her “audience” every Sunday, making a difference in the community, and bringing goose bumps to her listeners.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

She was born 63 years ago as Laurence Meeks.

“While I was growing up, my mom called me Laurie,” Meeks recalls. “I think she read Little Women too much! I didn’t want to be called Larry, like the character in Leave It to Beaver, and I had a female cousin named Laurie, so everybody shortened it to Laur. That stuck even when I was grown and in the Air Force.

“That is, until I became Laura.”

Born and raised in Wayzata, Minn., into a family with three brothers, “I was raised in a totally male environment,” Meeks says. “I was second oldest of two boys from my mom’s first marriage, which ended when I was quite young. Then, when she married my stepfather, they had two more boys.

“My mom and stepfather are both gone now, but my dad, who had been a stockbroker, is still alive at 90 and was always in my life as well.”

Meeks’ mom was an advertising executive who had studied in the Harvard program created for women; Harvard at that time was all-male. “My mom faced big-time discrimination, but she had perseverance. She taught me to never give up, no matter how bad a situation might be. She always did whatever it took to make it as a woman in a man’s world.”

As a child, Meeks would lie in the fields and look up at the sky. “I decided early on that I wanted to get out of Minnesota. Looking at the planes flying over from Minneapolis, I thought that if I could be up there, it would be my ticket out. I dreamed of being a pilot, so coming out of high school, I wanted a college that was co-educational, near skiing, and with an Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program.”

Meeks settled on the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.

“Originally, I was going to major in Spanish, but I found out the Air Force took any degree, regardless of major. I had read a book by Abraham Maslow, and found I loved the subject, so I decided to get my degree in psychology. Ultimately, for me, it was all just about being able to get into flight training school.”

Meeks’ first marriage was to Cathy.

“We began dating in college, and being a kid of a broken marriage, I was determined never to get divorced,” she says. “I knew if it were a choice between marriage and flight school, I would choose the training. We married after college, and I did go into flight-navigation school.

“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, leaving little time for a life. It reached the point where Cathy wondered where she fit into the picture. We were in Sacramento by then, and it wasn’t really working for her, because between training and studying, I was just never there. I actually thought about quitting the program and called everybody I knew to get advice about what to do. My stepfather said, ‘What are you doing? This is your dream. You can do this. You’ll get through this.’”

The marriage survived for another seven years.

“Pilot training was even harder than navigator training, and Cathy felt as if she was raising our sons by herself. My goal put so much pressure on her. I passed at the top of my class, and we moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where we hoped all the work would finally pay off. Then I got the best assignment I could ever get: squadron officer school.”

At that point, they had two sons. “By then, she was so angry; we just couldn’t keep it together.”

Meeks has now been with her second wife, Annie, since 1986. They have called Rancho Mirage home since 2005.

“We met in the military,” she says. “She actually outranks me: I retired as a major; she as a lieutenant colonel. We know who the boss is!

“When we were still dating, stationed at different bases in the Pacific, we started writing lots of letters, making up stories and telling each other our sexual fantasies. Some of my stories were leaning toward me as a woman.

“I always knew I was somehow different. Growing up in a family of boys, I never wanted to be a ‘sissy.’ I was in an all-male high school, joined a frat and lived with guys at college, and was in the military with guys. In college, it became clear that I thought much differently from other guys. Their focus was on conquest and winning; mine was about feelings and bonding.”

Annie brought her daughter, Shellie, to the marriage, and Meeks adopted her. (I wrote about Shellie several months ago.) By then, they were in Guam, and Meeks had discovered internet chat rooms with frank discussions about gender issues.

“It hit me like a lightning bolt! I felt like a woman, and realized other people felt the same way,” she says. “I felt I was in the wrong gender, and now I could look up information and talk to others. It was like solving a puzzle. Now I knew why I felt different. I learned the term ‘transgender,’ which was exactly how I was feeling, and I realized I am one of them.

“Annie and I were able to make my transition together. We talked about it a lot. I said, ‘It’s about me, but I’m also married to you, and I love you. If this is a deal-breaker, I won’t go down this road.’ She wasn’t sure what it meant, but said we should go down the road together.

“Most male transgender stories are kept secret, but at some point, you can’t hold it inside anymore. For me, it was a secret for about 10 years, but when I retired from the service, I felt free to begin making some changes. The first was to stop getting haircuts. It got to where I felt comfortable dressing as a woman at home. I had to find time to practice being Laura.

“I learned that sexuality is about whom you go to bed with, while gender is whom you want to be while you’re in bed. Annie is a heterosexual female married to a transgender woman, and we’ve made it work. We both know it’s important not to lose our contact based on who we know we are inside. Our souls haven’t changed.”

Meeks now does professional coaching: “Fly High Living is where I’m taking everything I’ve learned and helping others.” Meeks is also writing a book with Annie, and has a show on iHub Radio (where I also have two shows).

“Everybody has a dream. Maybe it’s repressed or avoided, but it’s in you, and my work is to help you find it and achieve it,” she says. “My mission is to help people bring their unique gift to the world.”

Laura Meeks is a formidable woman who has transformed her life, followed her dreams, and wants to share what she has learned.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

When you meet Sharron Stroud, you immediately see the light that surrounds her: It’s not just the light blonde hair, but a radiance that shines from within.

Stroud, 74, a 17-year resident of Palm Springs, is minister at the Innerfaith New Thought Spiritual Center, which meets Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at Temple Isaiah.

“I was always spiritual,” says Stroud, “from the time when I was young. A neighbor used to take me to church, where I always found a sense of community that I didn’t have at home.”

Born in Oklahoma, Stroud arrived in California at 3 months old and grew up in the San Fernando Valley.

“It was a home filled with alcoholism and domestic violence,” she recalls. “My dad was a World War II vet who worked as an artist at Disney. But he had problems. He used to say, ‘You’ll never amount to anything.’ My mom, on the other hand, was a pretty amazing person. She worked at Douglas Aircraft Company, and she was also an artist. She always said, ‘You can do anything!’”

By the 10th-grade, Stroud was named the most influential person by her speech instructor, who said she would be a great orator someday. She also participated in debate leagues at UCLA. “I always won,” she laughs, proudly.

“As a result of my home environment,” says Stroud, “I wanted to end it all when I was 19. I took some pills, but I just woke up groggy and with a terrible headache. My mom had a book called The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale, and I read it through. I felt literally transformed. I couldn’t believe it years later when I actually found myself sitting next to Peale at a dinner party, and I was able to tell him that at 19, he had changed my life.

“I became an overachiever, to prove my dad wrong,” says Stroud. “Unfortunately, my younger sister did commit suicide.”

A communications major at Cal State Northridge, Stroud began teaching self-image psychology to college students; others who had heard her speak told her she had a gift and should share what she believed in. She ultimately received a doctor of divinity degree from Holmes Institute, and later became the first female president of their School of Ministry.

“Dr. Ernest Holmes’ Science of Mind philosophy was a big influence to my ministry,” she says.

Stroud came to the desert in December 2001.

“There’s such an energy here,” she says. “I came to take over the group that had been meeting with Terry Cole-Whittaker (a strong supporter of self-realization, affiliated with the United Church of Religious Science). I’ve also been influenced by Joseph Campbell (author and coiner of “follow your bliss”), who maintains that religion can actually stand in the way of spiritual experience. Our group is not about religion; it’s about spirituality.”

Stroud adds: “Jesus was about loving one another; Buddha believed in a heart of compassion; Muhammad said there is one God in the name of peace; and Judaism is all about shalom (peace). ‘Oneness’ is the key to all of that. It’s about drawing the larger circle.”

Stroud has lectured in South Africa, Korea, Canada, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Scotland and Germany.

“My greatest commitment is in activism for peace. When one is at peace with oneself, then one can be of service to others,” she says. “I learned that based on my own background, and I’m so pleased to be able to share it with others. People tell their ministers what they will never tell anyone else. We all need to see that we are worthy, and that we have the power of choice regarding our lives.”

Stroud and her husband discovered he had Stage 4 cancer when their daughter, Tricia, was only 3 days old.

“He was with us for another seven years,” recalls Stroud. “I now have a 9-year-old grandson, Tyler Neil, and I am constantly reminded that joy is a manifestation of God.”

During an interview I did with Stroud on my radio show, I found that a conversation with her is rife with quotable lines based on her many sermon topics.

On non-resistance: “What you resist persists, and when you surrender what you want to achieve, you can find that it’s already there.”

On giving and receiving: “It’s all part of the law of circulation. If I meet a man without a smile, I give him mine. When you receive, pay it forward.”

On forgiveness: “It is always a gift to resolve conflicts. Amazing things happen when you don’t become embittered.”

On spiritual unfoldment: “The difference between confidence and conceit is humility. Where your thought goes, energy flows.”

With all Stroud has achieved, one unfinished goal is to publish her book, A Long Day’s Journey Into Light: The Path to Self-Healing and Enlightenment. “I’d also like to get to Spain and Bali, and,” a gleam comes into her eye, “speak at Carnegie Hall!”

Stroud puts her ministry above all else, and is quick to say that the only true doctrine of the Innerfaith community is the Golden Rule.

“I believe we get back what we give out. Right now, somewhere in the world, there is a Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, a soul somewhere in the jungle pursuing the many pathways up to the mountaintop,” she says. “The view is the same from the summit.”

Sharron Stroud is living her truth and sharing it. If you’re lucky enough to be in her company, it radiates from within.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

When you meet John McMullen, one thing becomes immediately clear: He likes to talk. Considering McMullen has spent his life in radio and alternative media, it’s clear he recognized his direction very early.

McMullen, 55, and a Palm Springs resident since 2007, began his obsession with media arts in elementary school.

“I had always been fascinated by the people’s voices coming out of the box on the dashboard,” he recalls. “My uncle was a well-known radio personality (in the Seattle area), and I remember sitting in his lap while he was on the radio. I told my uncle, ‘I’m going to go into TV—you can get awards!’ He said, ‘Why not radio? There are awards there, too.’ He relished having me want to follow in his footsteps. My cousins and I spent summer vacations from age 12 working at my uncle’s radio station.

“I remember in the fourth-grade, my best friend and I terrorized the principal when we discovered they had video equipment. We insisted they let us make game shows. By the seventh-grade, a guy I’m forever grateful to—Dick Dunbar, who taught English, media arts and journalism—let us begin producing a TV show. KING-TV was the station in town, and we got to see behind the scenes. We did our own version of a show, and they came out and did a story on us.

“When I was a sophomore in high school, my uncle’s radio station affiliated with Mutual Radio Network. I wanted to build a high school radio station. I picked up the phone and called the affiliate-relations department at Mutual and asked, ‘If we build a station, can I get programming from you?’ They ended up donating studio gear to the project. I even got to be a guest on Larry King when I was 16!”

McMullen and his younger brother, Matthew, were raised in Seattle. His mom was a housewife and then became a human-resources manager.

“She taught me that we need to be kind to others, sensitive to people less fortunate, and respectful of others’ feelings. She was also a big influence in my being a Democrat,” McMullen says.

Along with McMullen’s grandfather, his father ran a hide-curing business.

“Dad was a life-long Republican, never intolerant but more about how government shouldn’t dictate what happens,” he says. “I watched his metamorphosis into voting for Obama, which blew my mind. It was such a positive thing for me to see him change about public policy out of sheer common sense. His main influence on me was about work ethic and the importance of family. He taught me to never judge a book by its cover.”

During his junior year, a teacher put a halt to the broadcasting.

“He said they were going to bill our parents for the equipment use, or I would be suspended,” McMullen says. “After spending Christmas with my grandparents, who were then in Tucson, they said I could come and live with them the rest of my junior year. I walked into the principal’s office and said, ‘I’m not going to pay, and you’re not going to suspend me.’ They gave me my transcript; I flew to Tucson; and I started school there in the media-arts program. I was in heaven.”

McMullen’s career began to take off while he was a senior in high school.

“A guy from the Seattle radio station was then running KMPC in Los Angeles,” he says. “He asked me to return to Seattle. He had a Christian station they wanted to turn into a Top 40 station, and he wanted me to come back and help him build it. I got to be operations manager for what became KUBE-FM. One of the best things I learned there was that when you think you know the answer to a question, ask it anyway.”

A turning point came when McMullen heard that a man on another station had committed suicide. “He had left a note mentioning that he was an old man in a young man’s game. It made me stop and think: ‘What would I do if I didn’t do radio?’

“I took a vocational test that showed I had an aptitude for desktop publishing, so I got a temp position doing user testing. When the company merged with Adobe, I got the chance to go to Europe for a couple months.

“That led to Reel Networks, which ultimately came out with audio/video streaming software where I got to create a project doing LGBT programming. A friend had just launched Planet Out, and I started doing five-minute drop-ins and a two-hour talk show, Hangin’ Out. Next, I started my own company and built an audience of over 2 million with all-talk for LGBT audiences. That’s when I fully realized the power of digital media.”

McMullen’s radio and media experience includes stints in Honolulu, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, San Diego and New York City, where in 2002, he became director of news/talk entertainment programming at what would later become SiriusXM Radio. In 2005, McMullen moved to Los Angeles, still working for Sirius, and in 2007 accepted the position of director of news, talk and sports programming with KNews Radio, then owned by Morris Media, in Palm Springs.

“At KNews, I was committed to building as much local content as possible,” he says. “Local advertisers want to reach a local audience. When I started, KNews had only three hours a day that was local; when I left five years later, we had seven to nine hours seven days a week.”

McMullen has now started iHubRadio, a streaming radio network with locally generated programming, in conjunction with the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), which helps entrepreneurs provide local jobs through their Palm Springs iHub “incubator” for startup operations. (Full disclosure: McMullen hired me to work at KNews in 2007, and I am now on iHubRadio.)

After spine-fusion surgery in 2014, McMullen had another health setback earlier this year: a mild stroke.

“I opened my mouth to speak and only heard gobbledygook,” he says.

Now fully back on the job, McMullen is building iHubRadio into what he hopes will grow and expand into other markets.

“My focus now that we’re up and running is less on the product itself and more on where it goes next. CVEP’s mentorship has shown me how much personal and professional growth I still need to do, like learn to delegate,” McMullen, says with a laugh, “but I could do this the rest of my life and be happy.”

As long as he can talk.


A PERSONAL NOTE: In my article about Jeanie Ribeiro, I accidentally transposed her age: She’s a vibrant 67 years old, not 76. My apologies.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

I am incensed that the president of the United States may have been caught on tape saying the “N” word, and that his administration can’t “guarantee” that such a tape won’t surface.

He ran a campaign that cast “political correctness”—the progressive notion that we should recognize the impact of language relating to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation—as having run amok.

The “N” word inherently assumes a sense of superiority to those being thus described. I steadfastly maintain that the word, and its hateful presumption, cannot possibly be said or even thought unless it’s already programmed into your thinking.

Racism is a cancer at the core of our culture. It’s in our cultural DNA.

I was lucky enough to be raised in a household where racist language was never heard or used. I had a mother who always used any situation to inculcate the equality of every individual. If we drove past some men digging a hole in the street, we often noticed that the one down in the hole was usually black, while those watching him work were white. My mom would say, “Isn’t it a shame that those guys are just standing around watching the other guy work?” I got the message that nobody should be considered better than anybody else, particularly based on the color of their skin.

That concept is what got me to volunteer as part of the 1960s civil rights movement. I worked with the Black Arts Workshop in Pacoima, a diverse suburb in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, participating in what we called “confrontations,” gatherings held in the living rooms of middle-class white people, most of whom thought they were not at all prejudiced. They were always shocked to realize they harbored deep-seated biases, even though most of them never said offensive words (at least never in public), and proudly proclaimed they had never acted in any way that might be seen as prejudiced. But had they ever spoken up or acted when they had been around others expressing those thoughts? Almost never.

I have black stepchildren who came into my life for a few years in the early 1970s—with whom I have warm, loving relationships to this day. I still remember my shock that 5-year-old Kim had never had a black doll. When I brought one home for her, I remember the look of wonder and delight on her face when she realized the doll looked like her. Yet social research has shown that black girls prefer white dolls—because those are the “good” ones. This is what our culture teaches them.

My own children never batted an eye when I began living with Milt, and they readily accepted his children as members of the family. My kids had grown up learning what I had learned from my mom: The only difference was in skin color, not unlike hair color or eye color or height.

Milt had been raised in a black community in northern Louisiana, and he grew up seeing himself equally valued relative to all those around him. His experiences later in life in a largely white society came as something of a surprise, especially because he had never internalized that he was somehow “lesser.”

We need to actively root out the racism at the core of our culture. What curriculum is your school district using to teach American history? In some school districts, slavery is minimized, and its ultimate impact on our culture is never mentioned. In bridge clubs and book clubs and social-service organizations, people drop words or phrases or raise their eyebrows when race is an issue, and they need to be publicly called out on that. It’s enough sometimes to just say, “I find that really inappropriate.” Staying silent should never be an option.

The “N” word has never, and could never, come out of my mouth. I never learned it. My children don’t have it in their heads, either. But we all know it’s a pernicious part of the American culture, and it must be excised as we would remove a tumor. It’s about making it never acceptable anywhere. It’s about realizing we inherit racism as part of our cultural DNA, and it’s up to each and every one of us to recognize it and call it out, so future generations won’t have it in their heads either.

Teach your children and grandchildren to be “politically correct”—if it means they won’t have denigrating words and concept in their heads, and that they will call out others who feel free to express prejudice. That way, perhaps we won’t perpetuate the cancer to yet another generation. We must improve mankind and move our society always forward.

Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike than we are different.”

For me, it’s personal.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

Our families influence who we become—and like many women who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, the conflict between the politics of the era and what she saw in her own home shaped Jeanie Ribeiro’s life.

Ribeiro, 67, was born and raised in Onset, a village that calls itself “the gateway to Cape Cod,” about an hour outside of Boston. “It’s not far from where the Kennedys have their enclave. We used to say we were on the poor side of the bridge,” she laughs. “But we were only about two blocks from the beach. As a kid, I could go to the back bay all by myself and just hang out.”

Ribeiro and her siblings—two sisters and a brother—lived around lots of family. “We had aunts and uncles and cousins from my mother’s family all around us, and my father’s family lived only about 20 minutes away,” she says.

Ribeiro’s forebears emigrated from Cape Verde, an island nation off the northwest coast of Africa, in the early 1900s, when the islands suffered a severe drought and famine. The islands were colonized by the Portuguese, and were a pivotal location in the early slave trade. It was also a haven for Jews and others who were victims of the Portuguese-Spanish Inquisition. The population, with a mixture of European, Moorish, Arab and African backgrounds, developed its own unique Creole culture and language.

“When I was young, a lot of the kids I went to school with came from immigrant families,” says Ribeiro. “Everybody seemed to have grandparents, or even parents, who spoke a language other than English. … There were so many backgrounds in our own family. We were black and Portuguese. My grandpa was a citizen of Portugal. One of my grandmothers was English. I always used to ask, ‘What are we?’”

Ribeiro is described by everyone who knows her as fiercely independent.

“I always felt as if I were an only child, even from about the age of 2,” she says. “I really liked being on my own. My mom instilled in me a desire to be independent. She was in a traditional-role marriage with my dad. She had a beautiful voice, and people always said she was as pretty as Lena Horne. I don’t remember my dad ever being really kind to my mother. I remember when all she wanted was to get a job, and he absolutely forbade it.

“My dad was a hard-working man who was basically living the American dream. His mother had died when he was very young, and the only memory of her that he had was when they lowered him to kiss her in her coffin. Can you imagine? His primary focus was taking care of and protecting his family, but he was something of a playboy. In fact, I met a young woman who was actually a child of my dad.

“Dad got abusive toward my mom, and she threatened to leave him several times. I just know that she never had the chance to live the life she might have wanted. I learned that independence meant being happy by doing what you want to do.

“To this day, I always go everywhere alone. Of course I have friends, but they know not to put any demands on me. I never wanted to be tied down to anyone. I do things when I want to. Even when I had boyfriends, I never lived with them. I didn’t want anyone taking over my world the way my dad had with my mom.”

Ribeiro prides herself on being self-educated and a voracious reader. After she graduated from high school, she wanted a way out of the small town where she was raised. “There were maybe 2,000 people in the whole area, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women, especially women of color,” she said. “I had a friend who had a management job at the telephone company in Boston. When I went in for that interview, I knew they would give me the job. They needed younger people. I may have been the first woman of color they had hired.”

Ribeiro came to California in 1975. “I had a cousin in Los Angeles, and we roomed together for a while. I realized I didn’t want to live right in the city. I found a job in Santa Monica and a place where I could walk to work.”

Ribeiro later moved up to Big Bear Lake and loved it. “It was the air up there, especially after being in Los Angeles,” she said. “I’m totally an outdoor person. I skied, biked and hiked. In fact, it’s because the air was so clean that I stopped smoking!

“Fun to me means getting up early to walk, reading two or three books at a time, and going to cultural events, the museum, art exhibits. And when you go places alone, you meet interesting people. Conversations don’t happen easily when you’re already with someone else.

 “I moved down to the desert because I’m starting to age, and I wanted to be closer to medical facilities. I love living my life here in my own way.”

Ribeiro realizes the women of her generation fought to avoid living their lives in the same roles as their parents. “Men are attracted to my independence—but then I can’t be what they mean by ‘wife,’” she says. “Between the propaganda (of feminism) in the 1960s, and my mom’s marriage, the message that came through to me was that unless you find the right fit, you don’t have to be married. I’ve been asked, ‘Are you a lesbian?’ since I’ve never married. I’m not, but my response is, ‘Sex is sex. If you love someone, what difference does it make?’

“I think I was born with a positive attitude. I’ve always been focused on what’s happening right now. People who glorify the past are boring. Sure, we have memories, but I’m always open to the next new thing coming down the road. Right now, I’m joyful, happy and healthy, and I’m free to do anything I want.”

Thanks to the lessons of her own family and of the changing cultural norms for women in her generation, Jeanie Ribiero lives her life to the fullest.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

Coachella Valley Repertory, the quality theater company currently performing in Rancho Mirage, has a writers’ program, and each year, those writers read or enact their own works during a presentation. Andy Harmon heads the writers’ program, and this year, one of the participants was Anita Harmon—who recited her very personal poetry.

The work, and her presentation of it, was mesmerizing.

Anita, 73, was born and raised in London, and educated at Le Lycée Français.

“I didn’t go on to college because, after all, it was the 60s!” she laughs. “I met Andy when he was on a ‘grand tour’ of Europe on his first summer break while studying at Brandeis University. He was 18, and I was 19. I was waitressing to fund my traveling. I went to France, Italy, Spain, North Africa—all over. Andy and I stayed in touch for four years after that. He came over every summer, and we’d travel together.”

Anita’s mother had an important influence on her daughter, an only child.

“My mom was probably the most unprejudiced woman I’ve ever known,” she says. “She would talk to anybody and everybody. I remember once, in the 1950s, she brought home a very large, black African man. He was studying in London and didn’t really know people, and she just said to him, ‘Come home with me.’ He turned out to be Robert Mugabe.”

Mugabe was a Zimbabwean politician and revolutionary who served as prime minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987, and then as president from 1987 to 2017.

 “I grew up that way, and to this day, as long as somebody will talk to me, I’ll talk back,” Anita says.

Her father instilled in her a love of reading. “He was a bit of a difficult man, but he ran a bookstore for a while, and I could always have any book I wanted to read,” she says. “I was drawn to natural science—insects and animals, things that live under water, and human anatomy. I’d just look at all the pictures. I also read a lot of children’s books. My favorites were Through the Looking-Glass—I liked that one better than Alice in Wonderland, because she met all different kinds of characters—and The Wind in the Willows, because of the friendships. Friendship is the most important thing to me. My best friend, until she died, was someone I met when I was only 7.”

At 23, Anita moved to Boston to be with Andy, and lived there from 1968-1977.

“Andy was majoring in theater arts at Brandeis,” she says, “and I couldn’t work since I didn’t have a green card, so I got swept up in the theater work he was doing. My first job was sewing costumes. Then they asked me to go onstage as an extra. For me, it was like going to the best party ever. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t afraid at all. I felt like the Roadrunner just running straight off the cliff!”

Anita credits her lack of stage fright to the sense of responsibility she felt toward the other actors onstage:. “I never wanted to let anybody down. If you mess up, it’s more complicated for everyone else. That’s why I didn’t really like doing scripted parts.”

Anita and Andy got involved in improvisation, and she considers it her first love onstage: “You go onstage without the faintest idea of what might happen. You just have to take care of each other. It’s like being the catcher in a trapeze act.”

Anita and Andy have two children, one in England and the other in San Diego, and now a granddaughter, Cordelia.

“After 10 years raising my kids, I went back to school and got a degree in psychology,” says Anita. “I practiced for about 10 years. Then Andy and I put together a business doing management training, and brought our improv skills to companies to help with communication.”

Anita has been a resident of Rancho Mirage since 2006. “We lived 35 years in London, and in 2006 decided to come back to California. We’ve basically been retired for 12 years now.”

But retired doesn’t really describe Anita’s life today. While Andy is running the writer’s program for CV Rep, Anita got involved with the poetry workshop sponsored by the Rancho Mirage Library for several years, and has been writing with the hope of publishing her very personal memoir in poetic form.

“When I retired, I finally got serious about writing. I was inconsistent about it until then,” she says. “As much as I’ve wanted to do my memoir, now I’m interested in writing personal essays. I got involved with Andy’s group at CV Rep this past year, because I wanted to be pushed a bit. I’ve also been doing a writing class with friends for the past six years. Every Friday morning, we get together and just write.”

Where does Anita find inspiration? “One thing that always works to inspire me is travel. I went to England for a month last summer and just pulled out my laptop and started writing. A change of scene always stimulates me. And when I’m stuck in one place, I go to a museum or art gallery. Looking at other people’s work gives me a new way of looking at something. When I read other writers, my own voice goes off underneath. I also have a big file where I just keep adding things that I’ve read or overheard that I might want to write about.

“One of my preoccupations is time, not just because time runs out, but because of how ancient the Earth is. … We all tend to forget that.”

Time the soldier toiling up a hill knows his death or life

is all the same to the grass at the summit. Life and Death

The two sides of time, stood still for one moment,

Like the antlers of a deer holding up the moon.

Anita Harmon is a special person who brings the beauty of the world as she sees it to those of us lucky enough to hear her words.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

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