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Know Your Neighbors

08 Jan 2020
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When I met Molly Thorpe, my first impression was of a coiled spring—ready to unleash energy and a positive attitude. Thorpe, 65, born and raised in Los Angeles, has been a Coachella Valley resident for more than 40 years, and is currently a 16-year resident of Rancho Mirage. One of two children, she describes her mother, a catalog-layout specialist, as an excellent role model who never had a bad word to say about anyone. “My mom was not judgmental and loved people for who they were,” Thorpe says. Her father, who did advertising for May Co. and City of Hope, was a collector of books and records. (“He has about 7,000 LPs!”) Thorpe would go with him every weekend to check out what he referred to as “junk stores” looking for collectibles. “When we were on our way home, he’d always stop for jelly donuts so mom wouldn’t be mad,”…
18 Dec 2019
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Conventional wisdom says that it takes at least four years to assess whether a startup business is viable, and seven to 10 years to make a business the success you had in mind when you began. By those standards, Jenny and Oscar Babb have beaten the odds. The Babbs own four restaurants, three in the Coachella Valley, with the oldest being more than eight years old—and doing well. Oscar Babb, 41, was born in Barcelona and describes himself as a “culinarian” (otherwise known as a chef) who cooked his way around the world—including working with Starwood Hotels in various countries—after leaving his native Spain in 2004. He cooked in the United States, originally in Seattle and then San Diego, before coming to the Coachella Valley six years ago. “The Coachella Valley is the complete opposite of Barcelona,” says Oscar. “It has a special charm of its own, which is the…
11 Dec 2019
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Susan Moeller describes herself as someone who was never an expert. “So I just asked a lot of questions—and got things done.” Moeller, now 75, first came to the desert in 1993 as redevelopment director for Cathedral City. Born in Superior, Wis., she arrived in Southern California at the age of 8. “We lived in Long Beach and could see the racetrack at Los Alamitos from our backyard,” she says. During World War II, Moeller’s father was rescued in France by Gen. George Patton. “My mother didn’t know if (my father) was alive when I was delivered by the nuns,” Moeller says. “My mom worked for BFGoodrich doing special-project work, but she never really knew how smart she was.” Moeller’s dad was a truck driver, and was the first in his family to attend college. “He was the youngest of eight kids, always known to everybody as ‘Uncle Buck,’” Moeller…
13 Nov 2019
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Julie Hirsh says she doesn’t understand why people would want to know her life story—but she’s underselling herself: From a career as a fitness trainer to her current work for Jewish Family Services of the Desert, the Indio resident has taken a fascinating route to where she is now. “I was born in Berkeley, and my parents owned a toy store,” says Hirsh, now 55. “It was fun and unique—no plastic, all hand-made toys from around the world. They sold it when I was 10, and we moved to upstate New York, where they were from, into an old Victorian house on 200 acres. My folks fixed it up. … My uncle lived up there, and although we had visited him in the summertime, my folks had forgotten how cold it was in the winter.” The family moved back to Northern California, specifically Sonoma County. “My dad was an entrepreneur,…
30 Oct 2019
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If you’ve ever wanted to see the world, you should be envious of Rolf Hoehn. Hoehn, a Palm Desert resident, is currently director of business development and sponsorships for Desert Champions, LLC, managers of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament. However, his story begins in Cologne, Germany, as the only child of an Austrian-Romanian stay-at-home mother, and a father who opened travel to South America for Lufthansa Airlines. “My mother was always open to new experiences,” says Hoehn, “and through her, I learned to appreciate exposure to different cultures. My dad taught me about what it means to have a strong work ethic. “When I was 15, we moved from Germany to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I learned Portuguese as a second language and enrolled in the American school. … About 80 percent of the children (were) of American families from, for example, the diplomatic corps in Rio. Most of…
16 Oct 2019
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She is an accomplished actress, teacher, wife and mother—a woman who makes a difference in the community. Jane Fessier, 68, was born and raised in San Rafael in Northern California. “I’m a perfect combination of my parents,” she says. “My mother was witty and an observer of life. She was the one person I could go to, always so loving and patient.” Fessier’s father was the ultimate salesman—a real estate broker and storyteller with an aggressive nature. “He could always fill up a room; everybody wanted to be around him,” Fessier says. “But he was somewhat impatient. I work on that constantly.” Her parents moved to the Coachella Valley when her father got involved in the mobile-home business—and he encouraged her to follow. “I was in my mid-20s and had been doing shows in the San Francisco area, but I wasn’t making much money,” Fessier says. “I had worked with…
02 Oct 2019
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Meeting Sandy Skinner was like getting together with an old friend: She is warm, open, candid, personable and vivacious. Skinner, 65, has been in Palm Desert for about three years. “When I retired,” she says, “I realized San Diego was unaffordable. I had a lot of friends here in the desert, and it’s a really nice place to live. I believe everything works out for a reason.” Skinner’s mother was a stay-at-home mom who later worked for the Lutheran Church. “She was very spiritual, but also fun-loving,” remembers Skinner. “She always made time for me. Unfortunately, we lost her last year to Alzheimer’s. “My dad owned a construction company dealing in heavy equipment. My younger sister, Paula, and I learned how to take out spark plugs and change tires. Dad would have parts laid out when we got home from school so we could learn how to do everything. He…
18 Sep 2019
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In medieval times, it was presumed a son would learn the trade of his father and carry on the family tradition—as a shoemaker, carpenter, fisherman or woodworker. Even in modern culture, children are often pushed to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Mario Ricardo “Rick” Gonzalez, 42, a Palm Desert resident for the past 15 years, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in Indio. He’s the fourth of five children, with two older sisters, an older brother and a younger brother. His father, George, was born in Texas but left for Mexico at 13, where he eventually met Gonzalez’s mother. “My parents met because of the jewelry industry,” says Gonzalez. “They all did silversmithing in Mexico. My dad is a traditional man who commands respect. He made his own life, with the odds against him, but he always came through. He grew up without his dad, so he didn’t really…
04 Sep 2019
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I first met someone with “sleeves” in 2001. He was a fellow law school student, and we were chatting on a balcony. “Nice shirt,” I said, not knowing I was describing his tattoos. Once I realized it was body art, I was astonished. “Didn’t that hurt?” I asked. “I guess so,” he said, “but it wasn’t all that bad.” To this day, I’m skeptical. Robert DelSol Williamson runs Flagship Tattoo in Palm Desert. He is described by a neighboring merchant as “a real artist.” Along with his wife, Amanda Marr, Williamson has been running Flagship Tattoo for four years, taking it over when the former owner decided to move on. The name Flagship came from the original founder’s father. “I wanted to change the name,” says Williamson, “but left it because it was a known name in this location.” Williamson got his first tattoo at age 17 along with his…
21 Aug 2019
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Some people drop names to impress you. Others can't help it. Jane Summer, 73, unconsciously drops names like Clint Eastwood and Janeane Garofalo. When you grow up in a company town, and the “company” is the film and television industry, you can’t help it. Summer started her career, after only six months of college, at Creative Management Associates, working with producers like Barry Diller and Leonard Goldberg. She went on to read scripts for well-known agent Mike Medavoy, who had become vice president of motion pictures for CMA, and she subsequently met film greats like director/writer Michelangelo Antonioni, and stars like Donald Sutherland and Rosie Grier. Born in Providence, R.I., Summer was raised in Beverly Hills from the age of 2, along with her older sister. “We moved to Doheny Drive,” she says, “right around the corner from Chasen’s,” then a famous Beverly Hills restaurant. “My dad used to play…

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