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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,” she laughs.

Thorpe has been with Jay, her “partner in crime,” for 24 years; they share four children and two grandkids between them.

“When we began doing charity events,” says Thorpe, “he’d get the to-do list, and he was always very good about it.”

After graduating from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, Thorpe completed a degree in liberal studies at Cal State Northridge. She got a job that brought her to the desert: teaching fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Rancho Mirage Elementary School. She later completed a master’s degree at Cal State San Bernardino.

In 2007, Thorpe started a running program for students in the alternative-education program for at-risk students.

“Students Run LA had started, and more than 3,000 students participated through the Los Angeles Unified School District. I called them and wanted to start something like that out here,” she says. “We had students who had been expelled from Palm Springs Unified and Desert Sands. Many of them had never had any discipline to be on time or meet goals. I call it ‘Swiss cheese education,’ meaning they had missed lots of school, weren’t doing homework and had real holes in their education. They needed more personal time with teachers and a sense of camaraderie in class to form bonds. It helped that they had someone to talk to.

“They were afraid to be in the running program, but we assured them they didn’t have to be athletic, just determined. I figured if we could do one mile a day on week one, and get up to six miles a day, it would be good for them.

“My attitude was that instead of teaching them what they were ‘supposed to know,’ I would accept them wherever they were and take them as far as they could go. My thought was that if you could train students to run a 26-mile marathon, there was no reason they couldn’t graduate high school. Our high school graduation rate went from 62 percent to 90 percent!”

Thorpe taught at the Ramon Alternative Center and brought the running program to them. “The teaching situation was these were kids nobody seemed to want,” she says. “We had what was like a one-room schoolhouse, with grades 4-8 all in one classroom, at the most 20 students. It was an amazing opportunity to develop like a family.”

Thorpe worked with another teacher in what was known as the Rebound Program. “I had the younger kids, and she had the high school students. We did triathlon training with them for an event in Loma Linda for kids with physical challenges.

“When we heard about the shooting of a police dog called Ike, I wished there was something we could do. I thought about it and decided if we could run 10 miles and get sponsors at $1 a mile, we could raise $1,000 and donate it to the Police Department in Ike’s name. I managed to get two other teachers involved, and thought we could make this a 5k race within three months. We got lots of support from the community and raised over $16,000 for the Palm Springs Police Department K-9 Corps to purchase and train dogs.”

The event wound up becoming a regular event—and the 10th annual Run for Ike 5k is slated for Saturday, March 28.

Thorpe retired from teaching in 2016 but has stayed active through the Palm Springs Marathon Runners; she also continues to sponsor runs to raise money for charitable programs throughout the Coachella Valley.

Palm Springs Marathon Runners hosts six annual events that benefit programs like SOS Rides, for service members needing transportation to get home; the Mizell Senior Center’s Meals on Wheels program; the Student Scholarship Fund for the Palm Springs International Film Festival; Guide Dogs of the Desert; and the Run for Ike. Their “Red Carpet Run” includes tutus and tiaras for girls and women, tuxedo T-shirts for boys and men, and Gatorade in champagne glasses for all.

One event Thorpe is very proud of is her participation in One Run for Boston.

“It was a very cool cross-country race put on by two people from the UK as their way to honor and support the (victims of the) Boston Marathon bombing,” says Thorpe. “The run began in Santa Monica and ended at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Each participant ran a segment of the course, handing off a GPS baton from one person to the next. I ran the portion up Highway 62 from Palm Springs to Morongo Valley. It was a great experience and raised a lot of money for those who sustained injuries and the families of those lost.”

Thorpe accurately describes herself as athletic: She hikes at 5 a.m. every morning with a group of friends; she also swims, works out at the gym and cycles.

“I like to be busy,” she admits. “What made me who I am are my experiences and a lot of luck. I can admit it when I’m wrong, and people might be surprised to know that just about anything can make me cry.

“I find I appreciate life more now—and what you see is what you get. I try to be good to other people—loyal and goal-oriented—and I don’t like to see people hurting. I don’t understand why so many people don’t see the rewards of being kind.

“We take for granted the cards we’re dealt, always looking for excuses, but we live in a beautiful place in a great country. Look around. We’re very lucky.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

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 greatest reason people have been coming here to vacation and retire for so long.”

Oscar has a sister, and he describes their mother as “a lovely woman and a fantastic therapist, hard-working, with a thirst for life and accomplishment.” He says his father loves discipline and order in his life (“He liked everything where it was supposed to go!”), but his passion is cars. Oscar recalls that after his father’s business career, he dedicated himself to auto classics, like his ’65 Dodge convertible.

“He would even polish the key!” Oscar says.

Jenny, 34, first remembers coming to the desert in 1985.

“I’ve always loved the Coachella Valley culture,” she says.

The eldest of three, she was born and raised in San Diego. Her parents have been married for 36 years, and her father is also a native San Diegan.

“My dad was very hard-working,” she says, “and a real leader of the family. He is stoic, even shy, and very ethical. His message was, ‘Do the right thing.’

“My mom was the bubbly free-spirit. I got that from her. Her message to me, way back while I was in high school, was, ‘Don’t let people get your goat.’ I’ve taken that to heart.”

Jenny earned a degree in business and marketing from San Diego State University, while waiting tables to help support herself.

“After school, I worked for a while at my aunt’s travel company doing sales management,” she says, “and then moved to The Broken Yolk, where I was managing by the time I left.”

Now married for seven years, Oscar and Jenny met in 2008 while both were working at a Broken Yolk location in San Diego. After helping other locations of the breakfast/lunch restaurant open, they decided they wanted to open some restaurants of their own: The Babbs agreed to take on Riverside County, to which The Broken Yolk wanted to expand. They opened their first franchise in Temecula. They later opened a Broken Yolk in La Quinta in 2014, and the Palm Springs location in 2016.

The downtown Palm Springs location, at 262 S. Palm Canyon Drive, includes an upstairs bar/restaurant space that has seen various owner/operators come and go. When the Babbs decided to open The Broken Yolk on the lower level of that location, they decided to open Moxie Palm Springs on the upper level.

“I always wanted to open a bar named to honor our beloved dog,” laughs Jenny, “and I think the name fits well with the Palm Springs spirit. We wanted the space to tell us what it wanted to be, and we came up with a neighborhood bar that reflects Palm Springs culture. We have bar food, are known for our craft cocktails, and have a very diverse offering of live entertainment every Thursday through Saturday, including acoustics, jazz, rock and Top 40 cover bands. We sometimes have a DJ—and it can get loud.

“Two Prides ago, our manager was talking about what we could do that would be different for the community—not just having rainbow flags. We threw a ‘Flamingo Party’ with lots of pink flamingos everywhere and a massive drag show. It was such a great party! Then Ross Mathews, from RuPaul’s Drag Race, heard about it, and some RuPaul ‘girls’ appeared that night. We now have a drag show every Sunday, along with a Bubbly Brunch.”

Oscar jumps in: “As a couple, we’ve always been around other people, making friends and experiencing new things and styles. The idea was to have everybody from every culture welcome—American, Mexican, LGBTQ. We’ve had an Irish fiddler, and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.”

The Babbs expect to have children someday, but for now, they’re focusing on their business and their two English mastiffs. They describe themselves as huge animal lovers, and have bird-feeders all around their house. They love to hike with their dogs, and have already conquered Mount Whitney and Mount Everest (to the base-camp area). Amazingly enough, they also love going to new restaurants.

Jenny and Oscar Babb are having the time of their lives. They’re busy, successful and still expanding their horizons into new business ventures—like a partnership in a brewery in Mexico City.

“I really do enjoy the work,” says Jenny. “I’m a people-pleaser. I hate conflict, and that’s where Oscar comes in; he’ll confront things I don’t want to. Also, my friendships are important. We spend so much time together, it’s good to have some separate time. Sure, we want to (eventually) slow down. It would be nice to be able to go to bed early once in a while. We bit off so much so fast.”

Then both Oscar and Jenny agree: “But it’s our community and our friends—this is what we do,” Jenny says.

And they’re doing it well.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

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 says. “He was a good man, and would always help anybody who needed it. My dad died when mom was 60, and she lived into her 90s, always doing projects and keeping herself busy. That’s the main lesson I got from her: ‘Just keep on keeping on.’

“My younger brother and sister and I were always encouraged to follow our dreams. My sister became a teacher and coach, my brother a CPP (certified payroll professional). I just always wanted to have a ‘me.’”

After attending California State College at Long Beach, majoring in English with a minor in drama, Moeller joined an improv group and performed at colleges throughout Southern California. After some time as an English teacher, Moeller was hired as a project aide for the city of Fresno. She found herself working for a man from India who had been trained at the United Nations; he was impressed with Moeller’s communication skills.

“Because of my teaching background, he had me review whatever he wrote,” she says. “I’m very intuitive, while he was very methodical. What I learned was how to write grants for federal funding. We needed to find solutions for housing, infrastructure, redevelopment and education, but it was the 1960s, and we were able to get money for drug-prevention and treatment programs. I learned to identify problems and think from the perspective of what we could do to fix them. We would then talk to officials in the field to figure out what would work.”

Moeller’s career later took her to Santa Ana, where she wrote and reviewed grants as director of the South Orange County YMCA (“It was the first time I had worked with a board of all women; we got a program for mature women adopted!”); and, after almost 10 years in Cathedral City, to Redwood City for another decade, where, Moeller says, “It all came together. We could get to a point where projects would start to fall apart, but I thought of myself as an opportunity broker, and it all just jelled. I know about redevelopment, and I loved it.”

Moeller says, somewhat surprisingly, that spirituality was an integral part of the work she did with city governments. “It was a kind of synchronicity. I was able to make good things happen for people. I’m particularly proud of the investment in downtown Cathedral City.”

Moeller’s affection for Cathedral City shines through when she talks about her time there. “I watched community faces as they toured what we had done to downtown. People were so proud. They were worth the investment, even though, here in the valley, there is still prejudice against Cathedral City. When I first got here after having worked in seven other cities, I felt like the Coachella Valley was (behind) 10 years, regarding everything from housing to civil rights to agriculture.

“The city manager was Bruce Liedstrand, and he was my mentor. He was willing to work with the community for two years to come up with a vision. In the other cities down here, it would get to a point where the community wouldn’t even know what the planners were doing. Bruce made sure the community ‘owned’ the project.

“There’s still a lot to be completed, and the proposed casino will help if it’s connected to downtown, and people can take advantage of that connection.”

Moeller is now retired.

“There are things I like about retirement, and things I don’t,” she says. “I retired in 2012, but I guess I didn’t really retire. I depleted myself with care-giving when my mom died, and then my son broke his leg. (Moeller has two sons, as well as step-children from her current marriage.) And now I’ve had a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. When the tremor started, I was told to slow down, and to think of it as just stuck energy. I’ve finally shifted my attention to me as a project.”

While talking to Moeller, one gets the sense that she’s a gentle soul.

“I’ve always wanted to see people come together, and I think people yearn for community,” she says. “I guess I’m a Pollyanna: I like to see the glass half full. I believe people want to do the right thing and be part of something bigger than themselves.

“My bottom line has always been: Don’t be afraid to ask the questions that might make you uncomfortable, but which can lead you where you want to be.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

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, and kind of a genius,” says Hirsh. “He would get bored very easily, so anything he did, it was full speed ahead. For example, he was interested in gardening, so he got a horticulture degree. But the toy store was still in his blood. He decided to make cute, whimsical wrapping paper with toy images, and he created posters; we had thousands around the house all the time. Then he got into woodworking and carving. Any hobby had the possibility of becoming a business. My father’s message to me was to put my dreams to work. Whatever I had an interest in, I shouldn’t let it be out of reach.

“My mom became an international folk-dancing teacher and created her own career at a junior college in Santa Rosa. Her message to me was to never give up on doing what I wanted to do. She taught me about tenacity.”

Hirsh received her bachelor’s degree at UC Santa Cruz in community studies, with an emphasis on social change and activism. “Actually, as far as the activism, although I was raised in the Berkeley area, and I remember the riots (in the 1960s), I was too young to have participated,” Hirsh said. “I was into physical fitness, at the time when aerobics was the thing, and I fell in love with it.

“I was living at home, and my mom said that if I got a job, I could move out, so I started looking. As a starving student, I got paid to work out, and then became a fitness professional for 27 years. After that, I went into physical therapy as an aide for about nine years.”

Hirsh felt she was working too much; she decided she wanted a normal job and to enjoy life with her husband, Robert, now of 21 years. “We were always talking about doing this or that and ‘when we retire,’ so we moved to the desert in 2009,” she says. “We’d had a timeshare here for a couple of years, and had experienced how hot it is in the summertime. In 2009, we decided to look at houses, just for fun.”

As was the case for so many of us who settled in the Coachella Valley, that’s all it took.

“My first job was with Agua Caliente, and then I moved on to the Desert Recreation District,” Hirsh says. “I was doing fitness as a personal trainer as well as teaching classes. I’m still focused on being fit; I work out every day, but now, it’s just for me. My husband, who works for the Desert Recreation District, is an avid pickleball fan.”

In 2012, Hirsh joined the staff of Jewish Family Service of the Desert, a nondenominational agency founded on the Jewish principle of “healing the world,” wherever in the world one may be. JFS has served social-service needs of the valley for almost 40 years, providing mental-health counseling, food assistance, support groups, services specifically focused on seniors, and youth programs targeted toward at-risk children. Hirsh oversees community outreach.

“I do presentations so people can know who we are, and I oversee the volunteers, including recruitment and training,” she says. “We drive people to medical appointments, have a ‘friendly visitors’ program for those who are isolated, and we provide social activities for holocaust survivors.”

Hirsh also describes herself as an animal-lover, with four cats “and a few strays who live outside,” she laughs. Turning serious, she says: “I’m committed to helping make shelters no-kill and finding safe places for animals who need homes.”

Hirsh had a child before she married. “I didn’t let my parents know I was pregnant until I was about six months in, because I knew it wouldn’t go over well. Something in me said, ‘You’re going to be a parent,’ and not because I don’t support choice, but because that was my choice.”

Her child, Gab, is now 29. As Hirsh describes it: “Gab doesn’t identify as only female. I was the one who opened the conversation with Gab about identity. I had a feeling by the time Gab was in the fourth-grade that it didn’t feel like Gab was in the right body. Gab came out as gay while in college, and now Gab and Yanet have been together for quite a while, living in Long Beach.

“Robert is accepting and loving, no matter what. He just rolled with the punches. I’ve learned about pronouns. It’s not necessary to say ‘he’ and ‘she.’ It’s ‘they’ and ‘them.’”

What advice would Hirsh give to her own young self? “Be a good person. Treat and respect others as equals and individuals. Take the time to make informed decisions. And accept your child, no matter who they feel they are, or how they are comfortable identifying themselves.”

If anyone ever had a story to tell, one that could make a difference to others, it’s Julie Hirsh.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

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 the rest were foreigners, like me, and a small number were native Brazilians. I also hung out with Brazilian friends, so I learned the ‘good’ street words as well. It was a very different experience from my upbringing: different routines, different customs, basic things like different times to eat. I think the best thing I got from that experience was appreciating the way they taught us about what it meant to live in a community.”

Hoehn’s father transferred to Chicago and later Los Angeles, but Hoehn stayed in Rio for his senior year of high school before joining his parents.

“I thought I wanted to be a journalist, but my father cured me of that when he took me on a visit to the Los Angeles Times,” he says. “I decided to work in my father’s office at Lufthansa, at the time when it was a great period of growth, as the airline industry transitioned to the jet age. It was a glamorous business. “

Hoehn next went to Wisconsin to attend Lawrence University. “It was a good liberal-arts school, and I had a couple of friends from Rio who were there,” he says. “I went full-time for two years and spent summers working at JFK Airport in New York for Lufthansa, doing baggage, catering, whatever. But after two years, I couldn’t find a job to help me pay for my education. My parents were in Hong Kong, and I returned to Los Angeles and transferred into USC, studying business management.”

After working as a AAA dispatcher (“It just didn’t pay enough”), Hoehn—whose parents were then in Pakistan—got a full-time job with Lufthansa and was accepted to New York University.

“I went to Karachi to stay with my parents for two months, then to New York. I worked at the airport as a customer-service rep, but because I was working full-time, I had to drop some classes, so I got a draft notice in 1966 for the Vietnam War,” he says. “I had the choice to enlist in New York, but because I had originally registered for the draft in L.A., I went back to California. Unfortunately, Fort Ord, where I would have trained, had closed, so I was instead sent to El Paso, Texas.”

After two years in the Army, Hoehn returned to New York and back to Lufthansa, in marketing management. He worked his way up and eventually became the marketing manager for North America. His parents by then had been in Belgrade and Nairobi; after they divorced, his father went to Peru.

“I took advantage of their various locations and visited Belgrade, Hong Kong, Karachi, Nairobi and Lima,” Hoehn says.

In 1981, Hoehn transferred to London as Lufthansa’s deputy director for the United Kingdom. He was later based in Kuwait, in charge of operations for three years.

“This was a very interesting period, during the Iran-Iraq war,” he says. “Being in that environment, I was exposed to the Middle East cultures. I was in Kuwait, Bahrain, the Emirates and Oman. Then it was back to New York, and I was promoted to general manager for sales and marketing for North America.”

So … how did he get involved with tennis?

“My father was an avid tennis player, and very good at it. I grew up playing tennis,” he says. “Part of the Lufthansa marketing portfolio was sports marketing, and my boss in Germany was also an avid tennis player. Lufthansa became the sponsor of the ATP Tour, later sponsoring other tournaments as well. My introduction to tennis here in the Coachella Valley was in 1986, when the site was at Hyatt Grand Champions. I developed a great relationship with tennis greats Charlie Pasarell and Ray Moore.”

In the early 1990s, Hoehn was head of sports marketing for Lufthansa, with offices in both Los Angeles and Frankfurt; during that time, Lufthansa was named the official airline of the International Olympic Committee.

Hoehn took early retirement in 1996 and began a consulting group in Los Angeles—but after a call came in 1998, he got back into the airline business, running the western division of Aeromexico.

By then, Hoehn and his second wife, Christy, were looking to move away from L.A. With their connections to the Coachella Valley, they settled here in 1999, with Hoehn commuting into L.A. Then, in 2000, he was asked to take over all operations in the U.S. for Aeromexico; he commuted back and forth from Palm Desert to the office in Houston and, every Wednesday, Mexico City. By 2004, Hoehn had tired of the constant travel and returned to private consulting.

After rekindling his relationship with the local tennis venue, in 2006, Hoehn became director of sales, and is now in charge of business development and sponsorships, working on everything that generates revenue—ticketing, hotel package programs, sponsorships, etc.

Hoehn is currently Palm Desert’s representative on the Palm Springs International Airport Commission and is vice chairman of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When asked if he has a bucket list, Hoehn immediately responds: “I want to be able to get in the car and take three weeks of vacation at once, uninterrupted and disconnected.” He also beams about his step-daughter Ashley’s 18-year-old son, Hoehn’s only grandchild. “He’s taller than I am now!”

So will Hoehn ever fully retire? “I’ll work as long as I’m having fun,” he says. “I can’t see myself living to just sit around or play golf. If you slow down, your body slows down as well. I intend to stay active as long as I can.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

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 my dad before, and he said, ‘You have to come down here. The market is upscale, and there’s lots of money to be made.’ I lived with them in a mobile home. I remember the highlight of my day was coming home and seeing what my mom had made for dinner! I wanted to make enough money working with my father so I could go back to the Bay Area.”

Fessier was often named the most-humorous student by her classmates.

“I could be goofy and silly,” she laughs.

After learning to play the cello, her mother encouraged her to study theater. While attending community college, Fessier was exposed to Stanislavski’s “method” style of acting—a way of getting into the motivation of a character to develop a realistic portrayal, employed by actors like Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro and many others.

“I remember once I was told to think about something that I felt bad about, so I thought about how I had once hurt somebody, and I started crying,” Fessier says. “I realized you have to really feel it.”

Once in the desert, Fessier tried out for some local theater roles. During the 1980s, she worked in Palm Springs productions of Death of a Salesman, Oliver and Man of La Mancha, appearing opposite veteran actor Nehemiah Persoff.

“When I was doing Man of La Mancha, the director told me I had done fine in rehearsals, but that each time, I had done the same performance,” Fessier says. “Persoff was waiting for me onstage, and I was to sing the song about what was happening after my character had been raped. The director told me to close my eyes—and then he slapped me, literally knocking me against the wall. Then he told me to go out there and sing it. And it worked. I was totally in the moment.” While the move worked, Fessier says she was outraged the director resorted to violence to motivate her—and that at that time, she did not feel empowered enough to object.

Fessier’s plans to return to the Bay Area fell by the wayside when she met the man who would become her husband—Bruce Fessier, who recently retired as the arts and entertainment writer for the The Desert Sun.

“In 1983, the director of Man of La Mancha ushered me into a room where Bruce interviewed me,” she says. He later reviewed the show. “I hoped I’d be good—I never wanted to be an actress who wasn’t good. Well, when the review came out, it was a rave! Then Bruce called and asked me out to a party with Kirk and Michael Douglas. I said, ‘I’ll let you know.’ My mom said, ‘Are you crazy?!’ Six weeks later, we were sharing an apartment.”

After 35 years of marriage, Jane acknowledges that Bruce is the local star.

“Being married to Bruce, I find I’m standing next to him when he’s the one people want to interact with, so I can either be very shy—or the life of the party, without feeling any pressure,” she says. “I joke about how my father married me off, and then he and my mother went back north.”

After their two sons came along—Clay, now 31, and Parker, 29—Fessier began teaching youngsters.

“I had done some shows in the Bay Area with kids, and I enjoyed it,” she says. “Bruce is a great writer, and I directed and starred in one of his musical revues before the kids were even in kindergarten.”

Fessier taught children’s theater at St. Margaret’s School in Palm Desert.

“I remember when a parent told me her child wasn’t so shy any more. I love that I can make a difference in kids’ lives based on acting and performing,” she says. “It can help them to be happier and more well-rounded. My goal is to make it fun. I’ve worked with children with social anxiety, handicaps and learning disabilities, and it’s very rewarding to bring them out of themselves. As a teacher, I think about how to be the person I might have needed when I was a child. I teach children the Stanislavski method, helping them find ways to get into the emotion they want to portray.”

Fessier worked with the CVRep Conservatory for six years, training classes of 25 to 40 young students.

“I built an incredible program, and I’m so proud of it,” she says. “Unfortunately, I was somewhat shocked, even insulted, when they decided to shake up their pay structure, but the truth is that I had outgrown the program by then. I’m so excited about starting to work now with the Musical Theatre University at Rancho Mirage High School, where I’ll be working with third- to eighth-graders through the Palm Springs Unified School District. The MTU students are being prepared to pursue a career in musical theater, and some of them will go straight to Broadway. The program is that good!

“When David Green (the founder and executive/artistic director of MTU) called me and asked if I would consider becoming part of their family, I didn’t have to hesitate for a moment before saying yes,” Fessier says, adding that she will also continue working privately with adult actors.

Fessier projects a calm, warm, open personality. She and her husband are clearly in love and have built a family anyone could envy.

“We both know we’re very lucky,” she says, “and we don’t take anything for granted. We respect each other. We’re very close with our sons as well. Parker is an entrepreneur in San Diego, a real math whiz. Clay is a successful animator in Los Angeles. He has a girlfriend of five years.”

Fessier laughs. “I honestly wish they’d get married so I can be a grandparent. I want a grandchild while I can still hold one! I have to say, this is the best time of my life—right now.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

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 thought those skills were good for his daughters to know. My dad also loved sports. He played tennis and was ranked No. 9 in the senior league. He used to hit balls to us on the court as if we were playing dodge ball. I really learned about the work ethic from him. Unfortunately, we lost him young.”

Born in Inglewood, Skinner graduated from West High School in Torrance. “I regret not going on to higher education, but I’ve had a great career,” Skinner says. “I thought about going back to become a court reporter; then I got married the first time. I always thought when I got older I might go for classes in history, because I’ve always liked reading about it—although, I must admit, in high school, I hated it!”

Skinner’s career began in 1975 in a hospital lab. “My job was to pick up blood samples, things like that,” she says. “Then I started to study phlebotomy, learning how to draw blood. But I got a great job at GTE (a phone company) and stayed there for almost 25 years. I started in telephone repair, moved on to dispatch, then assignments, and then maintenance. I did have a very brief second marriage—a big mistake. My third husband, Gary, and I both worked at GTE.

“At one point, Gary had been reassigned to Hawaii, and I took a leave of absence for six months to see how (Hawaii) would work out. Our girls, Ashley and Brittany, were little then. I remember it seemed like it was all beach all the time; we lived near Waikiki. After six months, I realized I could only take being at the beach for so long.

“We lost our jobs within six months of each other when the downturn hit telephone companies. We moved on to Las Vegas, where I worked as an executive sales rep for Sprint Cellular. There was a lot of money to be made in that industry.

“Gary and I were married for 18 years (before divorcing), and I’ve always been glad I had my children with him.” Skinner’s eyes twinkle with humor: “Our relationship now is probably better than it ever had been.

“I now have seven grandchildren, and the hardest thing is to not see them very often. Getting together for holidays is especially hard,” she laughs, “since I’m spoiled and don’t want to go to Canada in the wintertime.”

Skinner elaborates: “Brittany had a great career at Bally’s in Las Vegas, and she always wanted to see part of the country, so she lived in Kentucky for a while, and is now in Indiana with her family. Ashley was working at a spa in Vegas. The man who is now her husband walked in one day, took one look at her—and that was it. She and her family live in Alberta, Canada.”

Skinner suddenly becomes quiet and somber. “Sadly, Ashley and her husband, Eric, lost a child, my second grandson, to brain cancer when he was only 2 years old. It hit us like a ton of bricks. I guess God wanted him for a reason. Now they have a little girl and another boy. Once again, everything works out for a reason, although we don’t always know it at the time.”

Are there things Skinner thinks people would be surprised to learn about her? She laughs. “I can do oil changes on heavy equipment, and I was a runway model for the Sears catalog, My mom sent me to charm school, and since I was 5 foot 9, it just worked out.”

Skinner loves to travel. She fondly remembers a trip with Ashley after the death of her grandson. “We went to Vancouver, British Columbia, for a couple of weeks, and it was good for my daughter to get away for a while. I love to travel. My sister, who works in San Diego, and I go up to Big Bear, and I’ve been all over Canada. I like to cruise; I’d love to go to Europe and see Italy and Greece. My sister just got back from Italy and Berlin, and I’m just waiting for her to retire so we can travel together. Although people are always saying it’s fine to go alone, I haven’t done that … yet.”

If money weren’t an issue, what would Skinner want to do? She answers immediately: “I’d move my whole family into one cul-de-sac where we could all live together. I’d have my grandchildren around me, and we could spend holidays together. That would be heaven.”

Skinner and I have so many things in common—a brief second-marriage mistake, a love of travel, working in telecommunications, and hating being far away from grandchildren. When Skinner confessed that she sometimes doesn’t remember things well, I shared my new mantra: “Aging sucks!”

I really relate to Skinner’s bottom line about life: “Everything works out for a reason.” After chatting with Sandy, I really came away feeling like I had spent time with an old friend.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

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 know how to be a dad. I understand. He’s very old school—machismo. I respect that to this day; he lives his life the way he wants to.”

Gonzalez describes his mother, Teresa, as very patient, quiet and a good listener, a woman who values loyalty to her family above all else. “From her I got an understanding of unconditional love,” he says.

After graduating from Indio High School, Gonzalez went to Cerritos College then into the Army Reserve. He worked for a time in the hotel and hospital industries. “When I worked at the local hospital, I learned how to talk to people, and to listen, and the importance of customer service,” he says.

Gonzalez then went to work with his dad at Jewels by George for a year before heading to the Gemological Institute of America at their main campus in Carlsbad.

“It’s the Harvard of jewelry,” he says.

After four years working for a jeweler in Carlsbad, he then returned to the desert in 2003 to once again work with his dad.

“I had more ideas and experience then,” he says, “and it was easier and more rewarding. I listen to what people say they want, and I look at someone’s finger and can see how a ring should fit. I know what a stone can do and can’t do. When it comes to gold, I can manipulate it. I couldn’t change a sink for the life of me, but I can see what a design would look like on someone’s hand.

“I stick to what I know and what I’ve learned from my dad. He likes challenges, and I do, too. It’s about how to get from nothing to a design that will work. My dad taught me that nothing’s impossible.

“When people come in for jewelry repairs, there’s always a story. It really matters to me when a piece of jewelry means something to somebody. When it comes to repairs, my job is to make it look like nothing ever happened, that they not see any change. It’s important that they know I’m going to take good care of their piece. We also take some special pieces on consignment.

“Jewelry is sentimental. I even cry sometimes when I give it back and see their reaction. I can’t remember names, but I can remember the story of that ring or pendant. People tell their stories through their jewelry.”

The shop is truly a family affair. It was originally established in 1984. He describes his mother as “the finisher. She has patience when it comes to intricate jewelry. I do everything—design, marketing, soldering chains. And people like to talk to me.”

What’s the most challenging work he’s done? “Repairing filigree,” he says. “It’s hours of work, and sometimes so fine and intricate.” He showed me a lacy filigree pendant; it was impossible to see where repairs had been made or how anyone could have manipulated the finely detailed work.

Gonzalez had mentors—but he bitterly recalls working for jewelers who took credit for work he had done.

Gonzalez was married for 10 years and has two daughters, now 13 and 16. “They have some artistic talent,” he says proudly, adding with a laugh, “and they don’t complain when they’re here at the shop.”

Gonzalez takes great pride in showing off the Incogem pendants the shop carries, with acrylic-encased diamond initials floating inside gold pendants. They were originally designed in 1978 by Charles Weinstein, a Belgian separated from his family during World War II (later reunited when the war ended); he eventually located in the Coachella Valley until his death in 2013.

Gonzalez is a soft-spoken young man who clearly takes his job seriously. How does he handle working with his traditional father? He smiles as he says, “He will sometimes say to me, ‘Good job, boy.’ He probably never got that himself in his life.”

Going into the family business is not always easy, but Rick Gonzalez is clear: “When I came to work with my dad, one day, everything just made sense.”

When you see his commitment and the quality of his work, you know Gonzalez made the right choice.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I 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 best friend, also named Robert.

“It’s kind of a funny story,” he recalls. “The age of consent was 16 at that time, so we walked into a shop holding hands and said we had just met on the Internet and knew we were in love. We wanted to get each other’s names. We drew up each other’s tattoos—mine a cactus with a sombrero as the “O” in the name, on my left ankle, and his as a wiener dog peeing into a Santa Claus hat with the pee spelling out ‘Robert’ on his shin. It hurt—no tattoo exactly feels good. We were young.”

Williamson, 30, was born in Tucson, Ariz., and raised in Silver City, N.M. He graduated with a master’s degree in art from Western New Mexico University, after attending the University of Arizona and San Diego State.

“I was always obsessed with drawing,” he says. “When I was young, I used to draw the flags of all the different countries in the world.”

Williamson is the youngest of five children. “I was raised by my mom, a hospice nurse and a real survivor. She taught me how to make the best out of life, because it’s over quicker than you expect.”

He describes his dad as “cool,” although they were estranged and had little contact until about two years ago. “I learned from my dad that actions affect people,” he says.

Marr, also 30, the eldest of two, was raised in the Palm Springs area. Her dad was a plumber, and her mom was involved in the horse industry and made sculptures. Marr and Williamson met in a photography class at College of the Desert, where she is working to complete an associate’s degree.

“I took a photography class at COD,” says Williamson, “mainly so I could use the darkroom. I love taking pictures. After we met,” he laughs, “I started really going to class.” Marr runs the administrative side of the business.

Williamson began his tattoo career while still in school, working “here and there on impulse. Then, one day, I decided I wanted more and got involved in the industry. I started asking lots of questions. The experienced tattoo artist I was working with found out I was studying art, and after I finished school, I served an apprenticeship for two years with him.”

Williamson has never done ink on Marr. “She has two tattoos that she gave herself, one on each leg. I won’t do a tattoo on her. What if we didn’t stay together,” he laughs, “and I knew she was walking around with pictures I had done? Or worse, it’s too easy to criticize my own work, and I’d have to be looking at it every day. Besides, she’s more artistic than I am. She has a geometric pink tattoo on one thigh, and she’s very into Japanese culture, so she has a ginkgo leaf on the other.”

When a client comes in for a tattoo, Williamson makes a drawing based on what the customer describes. “I work on the picture with them, and then draw something up to make a pattern. I have a Thermofax machine that puts out the pattern on paper. Then I put it on the customer and press it on so the lines transfer to their skin when I remove the pattern. It takes about 30 minutes to do a small tattoo. There are times when someone has to come back because of how long it will take. If they change their mind, they’re stuck with half a tattoo.”

Williamson, who has family connections to Norway, has recently established residency there, and his goal is to open a shop in Europe.

“I wanted to pick a place in Europe that would allow me to open a shop, perhaps in Belgium or Germany, and Norway was a good choice to establish residency,” Williamson said. “Amanda would have preferred Japan, but everything there is super-structured, and the lifestyle is so different. We plan to keep both locations going once we’re established in Europe.”

Williamson’s current passion is photography. “I take pictures of things I find attractive to the eye,” he says, “mostly people. I also do site-specific installation art that’s meant to change the feel of a space for a period of time.”

What’s the most challenging tattoo Williamson has ever done?

“I did a koi (fish) sleeve,” he says. “Doing Japanese tattoos involves lots of structural rules, so it’s difficult to get it right.

“Maybe the one I’m most proud of is the one on my neck, with the founding year of the Socialist Workers Party that I wanted to memorialize. I once thought about changing the name of the shop to something like The Red Star, but,” he laughs, “Amanda said it might not be right for Palm Desert. She was right, of course.

“I think the most difficult one I’ve done is the magical Japanese Daruma doll (a magic symbol of revival and never giving up, which is believed to bring good luck) on my leg. It’s so intricate.”

I always thought I wanted a tattoo, perhaps a small heart on my hip. I’m still skeptical, but if I ever decide to cross that off my bucket list, I’ll definitely seek out Robert DelSol Williamson. After all, as his neighbor says, he’s a true artist.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

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 cards with Dave Chasen. I remember back in those days, we could buy a pickle for 5 cents at the deli on Beverly Drive, and ride our bikes to school. The milkman and the vegetable man would come around, and of course there was the Helms Bakery bread truck.

“It was a different time and a charming place to grow up. You saw stars and others on the streets and in the restaurants. When you grow up there, you know people in the industry. It wasn’t a big deal, just part of the hometown experience

“My mom was very beautiful and talented. She was an actor and ballerina whose father ran a carnival. My dad was from an upper-class wealthy family that didn’t approve. My dad had a furniture store, and then he bought a Cadillac car lot. I remember when he got a 1954 turquoise El Dorado with a leather top and seats! We belonged to the Sand and Sea Club in Santa Monica, the only beach club which would accept Jews at that time.

“My family fell apart when I was 8, but throughout all the drama and trauma, he never walked away. My dad had a great sense of humor. I learned about perseverance from him.”

From the ages of 11 to 16, Summer lived at Vista Del Mar, a Jewish agency that provides residential care and education, along with other services. “I had good influences there,” says Summer. “I may not have been privileged, but I grew up in a privileged environment, which saved me and sent me on my way. It was definitely an interesting part of my life.”

Summer moved back in with her father from ages 16 to 18—and then was on her own. She left the talent agency when it merged with another company and became ICM.

“I had a great friend who worked for (agent and producer) Freddie Fields. She then went to work for the Cousteau family, and I ended up taking her job as Philippe Cousteau’s assistant—setting up productions, helping the crew get equipment, and things like housesitting. When they moved their headquarters, since I had been doing writing, I had a friend who introduced me to Los Angeles Magazine, and from there, I went to Playboy Magazine, where I worked as an assistant story editor. The story editor then was Mimi Roth, whose son, Eric, wrote (the screenplay for) Forrest Gump.

“When Playboy closed its Los Angeles offices, I met someone who worked for the Smothers Brothers. I just had beginner’s luck. After 10 years of doing public relations, I went out on my own, because it turned out I was good at creating a story and selling it for media coverage. I worked with restaurants—and the irony is I don’t cook at all.

“I’d had a short marriage earlier that I left at 40 with a dog and a bed. Around that same time, I met my husband, Bruce, who was a restaurant reviewer. His wife had died, and I asked him, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ He said, ‘Yes, you can come out to Malibu and walk my dog. He’s very lonely.’ I drove out on a Sunday, and it turned out we knew so many people in common. Bruce and I were married for 12 years. He died in 2006.”

By 2011, Summer’s business had diminished as a result of social media.

“I’m basically very introverted. I had to be extroverted in my business, but I didn’t want to be constantly ‘out there’ anymore,” she says. “I started working when I was 13, after school, and I’ve always worked, no matter what was going on in my life. It’s just that I began to realize I wanted to change my life.”

In 2014, Summer relocated to Palm Springs for two years before settling in Palm Desert.

“My friend was going to school (here in the valley) and told me I could possibly get a scholarship,” she says. “I’ve been attending College of the Desert part-time working toward a liberal-arts degree, focusing on things like creative writing, theater arts, the history of jazz and art classes. This semester, I may take some time off. I don’t necessarily want to stay in school and complete a degree, but I know it’s good for me, and it’s always bothered me that I never finished school.

“Sometimes, I think maybe it’s time to go back to work. I do take care of dogs for people; I call my place Casa Dog Mom. And, of course, there’s my (dog) Lancelot. I’d like to get more involved in politics, with everything that’s going on. I just know I’m not finished yet.”

Summer has traveled to London, Paris, Canada and Mexico, and all around the United States. If money wasn’t an issue, she says, she would want to go everywhere.

“I speak some French, and would love to live in Paris,” she says. “I want to see Spain and Italy, and it would be great to be able to take an around-the-world cruise. I really regret that based on how I grew up, I’ve always been somewhat fearful.”

What is something people would be surprised to know about her?

“I love to sing,” Summer says, with her face lighting up. “I’m really good at it. I took voice classes, and this is what I should have done my whole life—be a chanteuse. One day, maybe I’ll muster up the courage.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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