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Anyone who met them always came away saying, “They’re the ideal couple!”

Donald Beck and Geoffrey Webb met in Monterey, Calif., in May 1992, at a religious conference.

“I would always go to Los Angeles to see Geoffrey,” says Beck, “and he had never been to Palm Springs. He finally came down on a day when it was 120 degrees, but when I want somebody, I want them. There’s no choice. By Thanksgiving that year, he had moved here.”

Beck, now 86, was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio.

“My real parents were Czechoslovakian. The family had come over in the late 1800s. I was what was known as a ‘change-of-life baby.’ The next older, my sister, was 16 when I was born. When my parents died, one of my older brothers became my legal guardian. I was about 5 when my mother died, and I have one strong memory about her. In those days, the dead were in the coffin at home, and I remember being raised up to see her. I remember a maroon veil with gold fringe.

“My brother and his wife had wanted children, and I became their child. They adopted me, and I totally think of them as my parents. They’re who I know as Mom and Dad. They were very loving—I could do no wrong. They gave me the confidence I have to this day.”

Beck attended Youngstown State University, and because he carried a “B” average, he was not subject to the draft during the Korean War. “Then I got into a fraternity,” he remembers, laughing, “and my grades dropped.

“I got drafted into the Army for two years, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, but I never did get to Korea. I volunteered to type reports, and they sent me to personnel school.

“When I got out of the service, I thought about living in Youngstown, but I decided to move to Los Angeles and go to beauty school. I used to brush my mom’s hair all the time. I had chipped teeth from opening bobby pins! She always went to a beauty shop in a woman’s home, and I’d watch her getting her hair done. By my last year of high school, I was cutting the hair of all my female relatives.

“I won first prize in a contest that was being judged by the Pagano brothers, who had a well-known salon. When they asked where I was going to go after school, I said, ‘With you!’ At that time, they had a salon at the racquet club in Cheviot Hills (in L.A.), and I was there for seven years.”

Beck came to Palm Springs in 1980 to escape what he describes as “too much of everything” in Los Angeles: “too much drugs, traffic and smog.” He spent three months looking for the right place, traveling around the country in a van. “When a friend who lived in Palm Springs had lost his partner and wanted some company, I came down. A friend of his needed somebody to house-sit, and I ended up living there for two years.”

Geoffrey Webb, from Keyworth in Nottinghamshire, England, was the youngest of 11 children, and was a performer from a young age. At 17, he joined a touring ballet company and danced his way through Europe for six years. He performed with London’s Festival Ballet Company and at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Beck describes him as a “triple threat performer, excelling in dance, song and acting.” Webb came to America in a British musical, stayed and appeared in major stage shows, and then portrayed the butler in the soap opera One Life to Live. He appeared in the Palm Springs Follies for nine years, and became a U.S. citizen in 2000.

Beck’s career in the desert as a stylist includes his role as wigmaster for the Follies. “Geoffrey was already in the Follies, and I crashed an opening party. Their hairdresser had just quit, so I took the job,” he said. “I started out doing 30 wigs, and at the end of eight years, I was doing about 156. I would alternately bring them home to wash and dried them hanging on trees in the backyard. It was a sight! When I left, they needed two people to do the job.”

Beck and Webb married in 2008. “It was when (Gavin) Newsom first allowed gay marriage in California,” recalls Beck. “We had fought for these rights, so I thought we might as well take advantage of them. … Geoffrey and I were together for 27 years.”

Webb was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and Beck believes the symptoms had been there for at least 10 years before he was diagnosed. Webb died in November, and Beck was not only his spouse, but also his full-time caregiver and best friend. I was lucky enough to attend the memorial service held in Webb’s honor, where Beck talked about their time together. His admiration for Webb’s talent and his sense of loss were palpable to all.

Webb was a poet, among his other pursuits, and Beck shared some of Webb’s poetic words: “Time passes. Time stands still. The time, oh where did it go?” Beck was poignant in talking about that which you give away, that which you cannot keep, and having that which you can never lose.

Beck’s tender care-giving for his beloved partner stood as an example to all who know them.

“I became facilitator of a group of caregivers for those with Parkinson’s,” says Beck, “and learned all the symptoms to be aware of: colorblindness, loss of sense of smell and swallowing ability, and ultimately dementia.” Beck and Webb were regular attendees at SongShine, where Webb’s voice was prized, and at the Dementia-Friendly Café, which I help organize; that is where I met them. Webb would often spontaneously stand and sing for the gathered group, in a sweet, clear sound that lifted everyone, and always with a special glint in his eye.

“There are so many wonderful memories,” says Beck. “We traveled a lot together, and it was so much fun to share the companionship and our impressions of favorite places like Venice, and Mo’orea (an island near Tahiti), where there’s a great story about a tarantula.”

At the memorial to his beloved partner, Beck quoted the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu: “What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

“I can’t beat myself up, or be angry or aggravated at his loss,” says Beck. “I just wanted him to be around as long as possible.”

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Occasionally, you meet someone who seems to have been destined to do the work they do—someone who not only is good at their job, but who also loves doing it.

Dierdre Wieringa—better known as Dee—is one of those people.

Wieringa, 60, a Palm Desert resident for the past seven years, serves as administrator/executive director of Caleo Bay Alzheimer’s Special Care Center, a residence facility in La Quinta dedicated to serving those coping with a form of dementia. Built in 2013, Caleo Bay is designed to provide comfort and security to those who can no longer be cared for by family or who can no longer live independently. It includes 24/7 nursing staff, motion sensors in each room to ensure no guest is left on their own, and specialized training for staff to deliver “patient-centered care” with attention to building relationships with clients. 

“The layout is designed to provide a sense of security and continuity,” says Wieringa, “so that no guest ever feels disoriented. As they move freely about, they find continuity in living rooms, dining rooms and activity rooms no matter which corridor they’re in. They never feel like they’re lost.”

Each guest room has a collage of pictures posted outside the door, including a current photo, and pictures from their past supplied by family and friends.

“Guests can find themselves in the pictures as they often see themselves, somewhere in the past,” says Wieringa. “It’s also a great way for us to recognize who they are and what their past history is, so we can better relate to them on any given day.”

The facility also has display cases with artifacts from past decades—from World War II memorabilia to wedding mementos to an old typewriter—because these are things with which those with memory issues can relate.

Wieringa was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She met Ben, her husband of 30 years, and had three children before moving to the United States in 1996.

“We wanted a better life for ourselves and our family,” she recalls. “Ben was offered a chance to work here, so we decided to make the move.”

Wieringa’s educational background was in public relations. Her first job was in property acquisition, then she did paralegal work, and finally she opted to be a stay-at-home mom while her sons and daughter grew up. Once in San Diego, Dee, whose daughter had just gotten married, “wanted to be out there doing things.”

A senior living facility was being built nearby. It was an unfamiliar concept to her—she doesn’t remember any such approach to senior living in South Africa—but she asked if they had any jobs available.

“They hired me as the assisted-living director and then I became executive director,” she says. “Eventually, I was offered the chance to manage the desert facility of Segovia, a high-end independent and assisted-living country club environment.  So, Ben and I came to the desert in 2009.”

Wieringa also served as executive director and administrator at Stonewall Gardens Assisted Living in Palm Springs before moving into her current position at Caleo Bay.

“We strive to find the lighter side of Alzheimer’s,” says Wieringa. “Our staff training includes teaching how changes can cause frustration or turmoil in people who need a sense of stability and continuity. People with dementia often act out or lash out with agitation when they get confused or are faced with the unknown. There are communication skills, like diversion, that can really make a difference to those whose short-term memory is so fleeting. You have to live in their reality and realize that every day is different. I believe in ‘meaningful moments,’ and the staff is trained to facilitate that philosophy. We celebrate something each day, no matter how small, for each resident.”

Caleo Bay also utilizes volunteers from church groups and students, as well as animal therapy, music and dance. Wieringa is also involved in other volunteer activities on her own: She runs a Parkinson’s disease support group and participates in the Dementia-Friendly Café (which I help organize), held monthly for the past two years. 

There are several different types of senior living facilities: independent living; assisted-living, where guests need some help with daily activities; and memory-care facilities dedicated to supporting those in various stages of dementia-related illness.

“The problem,” says Wieringa, “is that people aren’t prepared for the cost of long-term care. Medicare doesn’t cover it, and even skilled nursing facilities limit how many Medicaid beds are set aside. Families always ask, ‘What happens when Mom or Dad runs out of money?’ There is no good answer. Unless the younger generation invests in long-term care insurance (which often include caps on expenditures), especially with dementia diagnoses rapidly increasing and people living so much longer, the baby boomers and millennials are going to be faced with an impossible situation. Even if Medicare did cover long-term care, the cost would certainly break the bank.

“Families often are the only recourse, and they don’t realize that … many caregivers die before the person they’re caring for. Plus, there are so many dysfunctional families or people with nobody to care for them. Whenever a guest dies, even in the middle of the night, I make sure I’m there. I saw them come in through the front door, and I see that they leave the same way.”

With a high-stress job, what keeps Wieringa going? “You can’t teach passion. I love my job. It just makes me feel good to know I’m really helping others and making a difference. There are a lot of lonely old people out there with no one to turn to. One person can make a difference. Working with dementia is hard, but a moment of making people feel good about themselves makes me feel as if what I do was meant to be.”

How many of us can truly say that?

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

Published in Know Your Neighbors

How do you start up something new? No matter how worthy the cause, you need individuals who see a need and are willing to volunteer a substantial amount of time to satisfy that need.

A local coalition has cropped up committed to creating a “Dementia-Friendly Coachella Valley,” composed of individuals who represent local nonprofit organizations, those diagnosed with or caring for someone with a dementia-related disease (like Alzheimer’s), medical professionals and interested citizens.

The DF-CV group recently sponsored the first Dementia-Friendly Café as a way to expand awareness that those living with a diagnosis of a dementia-related disease are still able to enjoy life, socialize and be in a public setting without fear. They wanted to create a “safe space” in which people could come together for a purely social event.

What is a safe space? To me, it’s a place where one can be truly oneself, relaxed and able to be fully expressive without fear of ridicule, judgment, embarrassment or stigmatization based on sex, race, ethnicity, orientation, religion, age, physical disability or any other arbitrary characteristic.

Cathy Greenblat, author of Love, Loss, and Laughter—Seeing Alzheimer’s Differently, was the catalyst for the coalition after the exhibit in Palm Desert of her remarkable photographs of patients with dementia-related diseases in state-of-the-art treatment facilities.

Dee Wieringa, executive director of the new Stonewall Gardens in Palm Springs, made the arrangements for the café with Albert Morales, manager at PF Chang's China Bistro at The River. Morales was enthusiastic about the idea.

“Our company is always telling us to get involved with our community,” he said.

A dining room at the restaurant would be set aside from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Those attending could order off the menu if they chose to, get drinks at the bar, or just socialize with others who could relate.

Rupert Macnee, a filmmaker who lives in Rancho Mirage, did the first draft of a flier. With minimal tweaking, it was ready to distribute online, at hospital rounds and on counters and bulletin boards at businesses and organizations throughout the Coachella Valley.

Pat Kaplan, of Palm Desert, one of the honorary co-chairs of the 15th annual Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, came up with the idea of coalition participants wearing purple ribbons, typically an Alzheimer’s disease symbol, so those attending the café would know whom to ask if they had questions or concerns. She greeted attendees warmly, and generally acted as the unofficial hostess.

Other coalition participants who worked the room included Anne Gimbel, regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association; John Wisor, of Palm Springs; Kae Hammond, executive director of the Dementia Help Center and the author of a definitive book, Pathways: A Guidebook for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers (if you need answers and guidance, this is THE book); Soo Borson, a geriatric psychiatrist; and yours truly, who prints nicely and thus did the name tags.

The expectation was that if we could turn out 15 to 20 people on our first outing, that would be a good start. We wanted to learn what the community needs—and what the community will respond to—when it comes to the potentially touchy subject of dementia. Imagine our surprise when more than 50 people showed up! The staff at Chang’s brought in extra tables, added another waitperson, and generally made it a good experience. People were sitting with others they didn’t already know, making new acquaintances, sharing stories and laughing. There was a lot of laughing.

Two women who attended came alone, without their husbands who are living with dementia-related diagnoses. The wives, being sensitive to what their husbands might require, wanted to make sure it would be a safe space. They were thrilled and plan to bring their husbands to the next café. Other attendees included people from all over the valley, ranging in age from their 40s to their 80s—daughters and sons, caregivers, spouses and live-in partners, gay and straight, long-time and new desert residents. It was a noisy, fun, purely social couple of hours with good food, good company and the comfort of a safe space. One attendee described it as “warm and fuzzy.”

The next Dementia-Friendly Café is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 3, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Chang’s. Morales is eagerly looking forward to making everyone comfortable, and the coalition members are planning to spread the word far and wide.

How do you start something new? You come together with people who know how to get things done—people who genuinely care about the issue you’re addressing, people who make time in busy schedules, people who are your neighbors. When’s the last time you got involved in something new?

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors