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After 30 years of working as a civilian employee with the Department of the Army, John Reece, 73, of Palm Springs, finally feels like he’s home.

“I spent 25 of those 30 years overseas, from Japan to South Korea to Saudi Arabia to Greenland,” says Reece. “I’m finally in a place where I feel I can be totally myself.”

Reece was born and raised in Missouri, to a minister father with strict religious standards.

“It took me a long time to get over that,” says Reece.

Reece was around church music throughout his childhood, with his father playing the organ and directing the choir. “My mom insisted we all take piano lessons when we were young,” he recalls, “and my older brother played trumpet and tuba and my younger sister was in the band.”

It’s not so strange, then, that Reece worked as an entertainment director with the Army throughout the world.

“I handled community theater and did logistics for USO shows and cultural tours,” he recalls. “I learned enough Japanese to get my job done while in Tokyo for six years, and knew basic conversational Korean to handle my four years in South Korea.”

After his years in Korea, Reece moved to Washington, D.C., and eventually moved on to Hawaii and then returned yet again to South Korea.

“I also spent three years in Saudi Arabia,” says Reece, “which was a wonderful experience. Working in a Muslim nation and learning to respect the country and their culture was terrific.”

Eventually, Reece landed in Greenland.

“I was six miles from the North Pole,” he recalls,” where it was sometimes 50 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 100-below. Of course, when it gets to below zero, it really doesn’t matter anymore. And it was dark from October to January.”

How did Reece handle being gay during such a long affiliation with the military?

“I knew all my life that I was gay,” he says. “Of course, back in those days, it was known as being ‘homosexual.’ With the church, it was a real guilt process. I would pray to be made ‘normal.’ My first experience was with gay bars, which at that time were all very underground. It just wasn’t an easy thing back in the 1960s and 1970s.

“While working with the Army, I was always very aware of looking over my shoulder. I didn’t want to do anything concrete that could have hurt my career. That’s a stressful way to live.”

Reece says he never came out to his family. “It was just never discussed, although I do remember my mom saying, ‘Son, you’re special. You may never be married, but there’s one thing worse: being married to the wrong one.’ We just didn’t talk about it.

“My sister knows through my Facebook page, and one day, she said, ‘I hope you can find a partner as wonderful as mine is.’ The only one I’ve really talked to openly about it is my niece.”

After finally finding a home base in Washington, D.C., and living in northern Virginia, Reece retired in 2002.

“I came to Palm Springs for a while from 2009 to 2013, and returned to live here full time in 2015. To be honest, I left in 2013 because I felt like Palm Springs was just too gay for me,” he laughs. “I had a hard time meeting straight people. I went back to D.C., but I got tired of the weather and decided to come back.”

Going back to that church choir during his childhood, Reece said music has always been a big part of his life. In fact, he studied music at Oklahoma Baptist University and the St. Louis Institute of Music. It’s not surprising that he finally found his place in the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus.

“I’m so glad to have such support now. Back in my day, there was nothing like counseling or support groups. I’m so glad for young people today who don’t have to live in the shadows,” he says.

Reece’s affiliation with the Gay Men’s Chorus has changed his life.

“Some of the best people I’ve met in my life are in the chorus. We can talk about anything and everything without worrying about offending anyone,” he says. “It’s not just a beautiful professional group, but it’s like being in a brotherhood. They care about you as a person. We even made history—imagine a gay group singing at a memorial service in a church!

“I don’t have anything to hide anymore,” he says. “I’m just me now. Here I am, finally at 73, and I can be openly proud with my head held high and happy.”

After traveling and living all around the world, John Reece has finally found a place to just be himself.

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

Jon Von Erb did not take a straight path from San Francisco to Palm Springs—no pun intended.

Von Erb was born in San Francisco into a theatrical family, with two gay parents who had met in New York: His mother was a coloratura soprano with the New York City Opera, and his father was a vaudevillian.

“My mom took me to the Bolshoi Ballet when I was about 3 years old,” Von Erb remembers, “and I got hooked.”

While Von Erb’s brother was an athletic football player, Jon became a dedicated dancer and choreographer. What was it like growing up in a family with a gay mother and a gay father?

“In those days, it was a societal thing,” says Von Erb. “They were both in theater during an era when everyone was a smoker and drinker, and it wasn’t really accepted to be that ‘different.’ Otherwise, it was like any theatrical family. I lived a life growing up kind of like an Army brat: I attended about 21 elementary schools and three junior highs.”

Surprisingly, Von Erb said his father was initially unhappy when Jon came out to him as gay.

“He was an avid fan of my brother, the straight football player,” Von Erb said. “I remember when I was working with a ballet company while I was finishing high school, and my final ballet performance was with a full orchestra doing a classic pas de deux with an impossible lift. When the performance was over, the audience just sat silently. Finally, someone started to clap, and the whole audience exploded with applause. My father came up to me afterward and said, ‘I’m so proud of you, son.’ That was the first time he had ever said that to me.” The memory brings Von Erb to tears.

Von Erb later taught Afro-American jazz dancing that he learned in New York and later added Russian ballet techniques when he wound up in New Orleans—where he met the man who would become his husband, Gary Williams, a speech pathologist.

Jon and Gary then resettled to Alaska. “Gary’s sister had moved there,” says Von Erb, “so we decided to try it.”

Von Erb used his background in dance to get a job teaching ballet in Anchorage, and soon after his arrival there, he was offered an opportunity to work in the arts department at the University of Alaska, where Von Erb completed a degree. He also created a dance company there.

The pair later came to Palm Springs in the same way that so many of us have: “We had friends from all over who had moved here who were always saying, ‘Come on down!’”

They’ve now lived here for the past 4 1/2 years. Jon and Gary married three years ago by their backyard pool in Palm Springs, more than 40 years into their relationship.

“We decided to finally get married for legal and financial reasons, but more important, to make a statement for ourselves,” says Von Erb.

Von Erb now works as a certified massage therapist specializing in medical and therapeutic massage techniques that he describes as “intuitive massage.”

“I deal with things like spinal injuries, sciatica, geriatric difficulties and lymphatic effects after surgery,” he says. “When I’m working with someone, my goal is to make it like a connection of rivers that run throughout the entire body. My role is to help create a healing flow. I experience it as intuitive touch. I allow the body to speak to me.”

I met Von Erb at a poetry reading at the Rancho Mirage Library in the newly opened meeting and presentation space. I was attending because my good friend Valerie-Jean Hume (also an Independent contributor) was performing while the participants, many of whom have been published, read their efforts. Participants ranged from an over-90 hale-and-hearty man to a French-accented charming woman, but one participant particularly intrigued me: Jon Von Erb.

Von Erb’s poetry began in earnest while he was in San Francisco from 1989 to 2012.

“There were so many people (in the San Francisco area) who were going through a lot of change: sick, dying,” he recalls. “I started a practice that I called ‘grief massage.’ Whatever the problem, I’d spend an hour listening and then would take the client downstairs to a darkened space, filled with music and atmosphere, and I spoke to them through massage. I’d move them on a path in a bucolic environment, encouraging them to leave behind something heavy that they’ve been carrying around. I could feel the tension going away. Then we’d go back upstairs, and I’d not only listen, but also make observations.

“After the sessions, I’d compose a poem for them about their situation. At the end of our sessions, they would not only have completed the process; they would also have an anthology of their voyage.”

Von Erb now sends poems to about 300 friends and clients every week. His philosophy is fairly simple. “There’s so much to be thankful for. I feel it’s important to pay back all those people who applauded for me all those many years ago. Every day is a new, exciting, fresh day to start.

“Everything talks to you if you learn to listen. People are all searching for someone who reaches out to them first. I’m a hands-on person.”

Literally and figuratively, the description fits him perfectly.

Lady Moon

One night

the moon winked at me

floating above the shadowed

winter skeletons of the sycamore trees.

Her gesture asked me

to scribe a poem in her honor.

In that sparkled moment

as I clutched my pen

her silver shine overtook her intention;

my intention.

Instead, my heart took my pen

and I wrote from recent memory.

Suddenly shivered by

the lack of your warmth

the moon and I

wrote of my longing for you.

—Jon Von Erb, November 2016

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

I recently read an amazing story about the improbability of coincidence.

A French writer was once treated to a plum pudding by a stranger. Ten years later, the writer ordered a plum pudding while in a Paris restaurant, but was told the last one had just been served to another customer—who turned out to be that original stranger, sitting at another table. Many years after that, the writer was at a dinner with friends and again ordered a plum pudding, telling his companions the earlier story. At that moment, the same stranger entered the room.

“Coincidence” is defined as a remarkable concurrence of improbable events or circumstances which have no apparent causal connection with each other. Most of us write off such occurrences as merely accidental, but occasionally, we hear a story like the one told by the French writer, and we can find no way to explain the vagaries of fate.

This brings us to La Quinta resident DeAnn Lubell-Ames. At 18, while studying journalism in college, Lubell-Ames read about the 1902 eruption of Mount Pélée on the isle of Martinique, an overseas region of France located in the eastern Caribbean. In the space of about four minutes, about 30,000 people lost their lives. The port city of Saint-Pierre was destroyed.

Lubell-Ames became obsessed with the devastating event and decided she would one day write an historical novel about it.

“I’m a natural-born storyteller,” she says. “I think I came out of the womb with fingers looking for a typewriter. I actually tried to write a novel when I was 10. I was affiliated with journalism all through junior and senior high school. I was always fascinated with Nancy Drew investigation stories and with islands.

“While at college, I was reading a book that documented the eruption of Mount Pelée, and focused on the story of a man named Fernand Clerc. I was hooked and wanted to write about the event, but I swore I wouldn’t write about it until I had actually set foot on the island. Over the years, although I planned it many times, something always got in the way.”

Fast forward many years. Lubell-Ames and her husband were selling their home in Boca Raton, Fla. A man walked in, took a look around, and said he thought he had the perfect person for the house. He returned with Yves Clerc, grandson of the same Fernand Clerc in the story who had entranced DeAnn. “I fell to my knees,” she says. “They had to pick me up from the floor!”

When Clerc heard about Lubell-Ames’ intense interest in the story, he invited her to visit Martinique as his guest, staying at the old plantation grounds of his family.

“Because I was Yves’ guest, I wasn’t treated like a regular tourist, although the island natives were somewhat guarded,” she said. “I met the island historian ... and she helped me research and edit my book. I also met Marcel Clerc, Yves’ grand-uncle, who was 5 years old when the volcano erupted and was an eyewitness to what happened.”

Among the things Lubell-Ames learned and wrote about, in addition to the extraordinary natural beauty of Martinique, was the political corruption that existed at the time of the volcanic eruption in 1902.

“There was a lot of racial intolerance, and corrupt policies had been placed above the welfare of the people,” says Lubell-Ames. “The government actually prevented people from leaving Saint-Pierre, in spite of warnings that the volcano was becoming active, and kept telling the people that everything was OK. People were starving and diseased, and if they had just been evacuated, one of the most destructive natural events in history could have been avoided.”

Her historical novel, The Last Moon, has won several awards, including first place at the 2016 Amsterdam Book Festival.

“I claimed the story,” Lubell-Ames says. “I didn’t want to lose the history—95 percent of my story is based on fact, but I wanted to put my spin on it in creating and fleshing out the characters in the story.”

In addition to her writing, Lubell-Ames has been involved in many other creative activities.

“As strong as my urge to write was, I was also very involved in dance,” she says. “I taught dance and modeling while I was a full-time college student, and actually have not only staged ballets, but even wrote one myself!”

Lubell-Ames has also been involved in education projects, creating and distributing support materials for schools throughout the United States, and doing public relations for local organizations such as Angel View and the Rancho Mirage Library. She served for 10 years on the Auxiliary Board for the Eisenhower Medical Center and is a member of several other local organizations, including the Palm Springs Women in Film and Television and Palm Springs Writers Guild. Lubell-Ames is currently a publicist for the McCallum Theatre.

Originally raised in Denver, Lubell-Ames has lived in the Coachella Valley since 1991, when she and her husband, Joe, moved here. Her daughter lives in Los Angeles, and DeAnn revels in being grandma to 11-year old Jake. After Joe’s death in 2010, she met Lee Ames in 2012, and they married.

“We were the fairy-tale couple,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for anything, but you just never know what’s going to happen.” Lee died in October 2015.

Does Lubell-Ames have any advice for aspiring writers?

“Don’t ignore your gut. If you have a tendency to be interested in something, pursue it,” she said. “Whether it’s music, sports, politics, animals, even writing—if you have that nature, stay on track and be true to yourself. Concentrate on your own specialty; everyone has one. If you can find your talent, it will carry you through.”

And a belief in coincidence couldn’t hurt!

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

Whether your candidate for president won or lost, the good news is that the election is over.

Pundits will dig into every nuance of why someone lost or how someone won, but none of that will change where we are now. The system is what it is, and it works how it works. As important as it is to be a “good loser,” it’s even more of a show of character to be a “good winner.”

I tend to be a Pollyanna, someone of irrepressible optimism who thinks good things will always happen in the end. My philosophy includes taking every defeat—losing a job, losing a love or anything else—and figuring out what I need to learn so I won’t repeat it; each learning opportunity is meant to get me ready for an even better experience to come.

Yet I can be blindsided and feel like I took a stiff punch to the gut. That’s how I woke up the morning after the election: stunned, numb and overwhelmingly sad. I admit I cried myself to sleep, exhausted by my profound disappointment that a woman would not be president. At least not yet.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross defined what are known as the five stages of grief: denial (“This can’t be happening!); anger (“Let’s take to the streets!”); bargaining (”Maybe we can get some things done that will be productive.”); depression (“I just don’t care. I’m done getting involved.”); and, finally, acceptance (“We can make it through this. It’s going to turn out all right.”).

While consoling friends devastated by the election who thought all hope was gone and trying to get them to the fifth stage, I began hearing how some people on the winning side were responding to the election: painting hateful racist and anti-Semitic sentiments on buildings, pulling off women’s hijabs on the street, and telling Hispanic-American students that they should leave the country—their country. I was devastated by a 10-year-old Muslim-American boy who just wanted to know, “Why do they hate me?”

All of this hit frighteningly close to home when a dear friend, Ellie, a Hillary supporter, called to say her home in the San Diego area had been defaced, with the word “ASSHOLE” scratched into her garage door.

“I had no campaign signs, and I don’t even remember talking politics with any of my neighbors,” she told me. “I have no idea who did it. I’m scared.”

The Southern Policy Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, received more than 200 complaints within the week after the election. Time magazine reported that anti-Muslim incidents were more prevalent than after Sept. 11, 2001.

Many people watching demonstrators on TV—including the hundreds who showed up in Palm Springs—or hearing about incidents of hatred and violence may feel helpless. Regardless of who they supported, they want to find a way to reassure fellow citizens that they need not be afraid. But they’re not sure what to do.

Some will begin to politically organize for the next go-round; some will write letters or op-ed columns; some will volunteer to support special-interest organizations; some will find other ways to channel their disappointment into having some positive impact.

I discovered the safety-pin campaign.

After the shocking Brexit vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union—a vote which followed a campaign with racist and anti-immigrant undertones not unlike those during the U.S. presidential-election campaign—similar acts of overt discrimination were reported throughout the British isles. Regardless of how individuals had voted—for Brexit or against—many wanted some way to show their vote was not meant as being against any group of people.

Last June, individuals in Britain came up with the idea of wearing a safety pin as a way for people to quietly and unobtrusively signal that they were a “safe ally”—someone OK to sit next to on the bus, or to ask directions, or to make eye contact with on the street.

Not everyone is an activist, or able to speak publicly, or able to take time off from work, child-rearing or caretaking—and wearing a safety pin is a small way to say “I care.” It’s a way to show you believe we are all entitled to respect, regardless of our political differences. It’s a way of saying, “Hatred and violence is NOT what I voted for.”

In the Colorado Springs Gazette, a woman named Jacquie Ostrom said: “I’m wearing (a safety pin) because I believe in acceptance of all people—all colors, all faiths, all sexual orientation. It’s important … to know that we stand together.”

If wearing a safety pin is still too much of a public statement, there are other ways to get to that fifth stage. My niece, Karen, has connected to a group on Facebook that started with the idea, “What if I committed to one act of justice every day?” This approach is dedicated to making the world a better place one day at a time, and encourages peaceful acts meant to show respect for differences among us.

“I’m committing to do something positive and good for someone else every day,” said Karen. “And I’m committing to educate myself and others so I can better understand issues next time around.”  

Another—somewhat more ironic—approach is to make a donation to an organization that will probably face challenges during the next administration, but doing it in the name of someone else. For example, imagine how your Uncle Joe, a staunch Trump supporter, may feel when he gets a “Thank you!” from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, or the Southern Poverty Law Center, or Planned Parenthood.

I’ve often said that in evolutionary terms, we’re barely out of the slime as a species. As each new generation takes over, we move ever-so-slowly but inexorably forward. I continue to believe it’s going to be all right. But then, I’m a Pollyanna.

I’m wearing a safety pin.

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 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

There are people you see often and think you know: the tennis pro at the club, the barber you see every couple of weeks, the market clerk who remembers your name, the co-worker you chat with at the coffee machine.

In my case, there’s the woman who engineers my radio show: I see her every Sunday. We share laughs and stories, and I sincerely appreciate everything she does to make my time on the air run smoothly.

I realized I didn’t know her at all the day she came in with her head shaved.

“Wow,” I said. “What a change! Did you decide to do that because summer’s coming?”

“No,” she said, wiping her hand over her newly hairless head. “Mischelle has cancer and is going to have chemo, and she’s worried about losing her hair. I wanted to show her how I’m right there with her.”

Marisol Valle is a board operator and on-air personality at Alpha Media, but she is so much more. Born in Indio 37 years ago, Marisol is the oldest of two; she has a brother, David. However, her mother is the oldest of nine daughters, so she has cousins and family everywhere around the Coachella Valley.

“I could never get away with anything,” she laughs.

Marisol graduated from Palm Springs High School in 1997. She went on to take classes at the California State University, San Bernardino, and then attended the Academy of Radio and Television Broadcasting.

“I’d love to have my own talk show on the radio, specifically taking on subjects that affect women and the LGBT community,” she says.

Was it difficult coming out to her parents? “My dad says he knew all along. My mom was angry at first, but that was because I hadn’t told her. They’re fine with me. It’s just not an issue. I was always a tomboy, but I dated boys and found them attractive. I guess I would describe myself as bisexual rather than lesbian, but I just don’t like labels.

“In my 20s, I had a better idea of who I was, and when I met Mischelle, I knew she was someone special.”

At the time, Marisol was working at Desert Arc in their social recreation department, shepherding Arc participants to events like the Special Olympics. “I was moved to the behavior-modification department as an instructor, doing vocational training, and subsequently became supervisor of that area. It was there that I met Mischelle. She was one of my staff.”

Marisol and Mischelle Avalos have now been together for 10 years, the last three of them married. “We were married under the Marilyn Monroe statue when it was in downtown Palm Springs,” she laughs. “Now that it’s coming back to Palm Springs, we’ll be able to celebrate our anniversary there every year!”

In addition to her job at the radio station, Marisol today works as a special education assistant at Shadow Hills High School, tutoring in math.

“I realize math is difficult for everyone,” she says. “I understand math, but I never really liked it. I now know how important it is in every aspect of your life, and I try to pass that along to all the students. You need to know math, even if it’s only so you can help your own kids with their homework. Besides, you never really know when you’re going to need to use algebra: It’s about problem-solving, and you want people to be critical thinkers in the world.”

Marisol would like to go back and complete her undergraduate degree: “As I get closer to 40, I realize the best way to motivate my students to complete their education is by doing it myself. I like being a positive role model for the kids, but I really need to do it for myself.”

Mischelle was diagnosed with cancer in May.

“She’s had five rounds of chemo so far,” says Marisol. “The sixth round will be the last, and so far, the results are looking good. The main thing is that she’s still working (at a Palm Springs animal shelter), and she has received so much love and support and words of inspiration from everyone.”

Have they thought about having a family of their own?

“I like children … at least other people’s children,” Marisol says with a hearty laugh. “When we first got together, we talked about it, but it’s a big responsibility. Maybe we’ll adopt. There are so many kids out there who need a loving family, and exposure to the diversity a nontraditional family can bring. Maybe we’ll decide to be foster parents. It’s so important the difference you can make being part of a child’s life.”

Currently living in Desert Hot Springs, Marisol and Mischelle are great examples of people in your life whom you may not really know—but who are making an impact on the world while following their own path.

As Marisol says, “I’m looking forward to the next chapter on the journey.”

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

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The concept of “dementia cafés”—places where people, who all too often feel isolated and socially separated from their communities, can come together to relax and enjoy good company—has evolved and spread from Australia to England to Holland to Japan to San Francisco to Seattle to Santa Fe. It’s estimated that there are currently about 200 such cafés throughout the United States, designed to address the social implications of a dementia diagnosis on individuals, families, friends and caregivers.

Starting anything new is always a gamble, so as one of the founders of the Coachella Valley’s first Dementia-Friendly Café, I am proud to announce that the café is beginning its third year of operation this month.

At the first café, we thought we’d be lucky to have 15 to 20 people; 52 showed up. Clearly, there was a need.

Dementia cafés are not support groups or seminars or daycare. There are no presentations or literature, and no commercial promotions are allowed. It’s simply a place where people can meet others with similar experiences and concerns, and a place where everyone understands the need to just relax and enjoy being out in public without fear or embarrassment. The café is for spouses who need a break from their daily routine, or people who have been diagnosed but are still vibrant and independent, or friends who want to support other friends who are concerned about going out alone.

Too often, those with dementia (and their closest loved ones) tend to sever social connections at a time when they are needed most. There are lots of online sources for information as well as local organizations that offer support groups or counseling, but the café offers a chance to leave the disease at the door and just enjoy an afternoon with others who are happy to be able to do the same. 

According to Palm Desert resident Lynne Bailey, “Socialization opportunities diminish with the disease—for the one with the disease and the caretaker, also. The café is a welcoming place and gives our loved one with Alzheimer’s an opportunity to socialize without explaining, without judgment.” 

One of the first challenges of the founding group was figuring out where to hold the café. Palm Desert resident Dee Wieringa, administrator at Caleo Bay Alzheimer's Special Care Center, worked with management at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro at The River in Rancho Mirage to establish a safe, social atmosphere, where people can come together in a relaxed environment. “So many people feel isolated,” says Wieringa. “There’s so much satisfaction in seeing them come out and socialize.”

We were amazed that some local restaurants with suitable space—and far from busy on a Wednesday afternoon—said our “clientele” wouldn’t be appropriate for their establishment. That kind of attitude was exactly why we decided to call it the Dementia-Friendly Café instead of using a euphemistic name. We were committed to finding ways to destigmatize the word “dementia,” since we all remembered how recently people would only whisper the word “cancer.”

Many of those who attend are dealing with Parkinson’s disease. One is Karen Kramer, a resident of Sun City Palm Desert. “We love coming to the dementia café,” she says. “We meet our Parkinson’s group there as a social event, and it is truly a lift.”

All too often, caregivers get into a routine that becomes self-perpetuating. One founder is Rupert Macnee of Rancho Mirage: “My role with the café was to greet folks and to circulate, bringing people together. The experience went a long way in helping me, along with my sister, to effectively manage our father’s care.

“I became much more understanding of his flights of fancy. I learned to accommodate his dreams and perceptions, without blocking them, or trying to make him ‘normal.’ My expectations of how I expected him to behave changed. I knew that to allay his fears was a No. 1 priority.”

Dementia in its many forms is an ever-increasing reality for many families. With that in mind, Dr. Soo Borson, another member of our original group, is beginning a Memory Café in Palm Springs in conjunction with Temple Isaiah. The first gathering is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 25, from 3 to 5 p.m.  Snacks, beverages and music will be offered. Everyone is welcome at no charge.

Meanwhile, the original Dementia-Friendly Café, held on the third Wednesday of each month from 3 to 5 p.m., is entering its third year at P.F. Chang’s. There is no cost to attend. Participants can order drinks or food from the happy-hour menu with separate checks, but no purchase is necessary.

I don’t really believe in horoscopes, although I read them every day. As I began this column, I read mine, which said: “Relationships are not simply about getting your needs met; they are about the profound impact that you have on others and how you are, in turn, affected by their stories.” That has been true for me these past two years as I have greeted everyone who has come to the Dementia-Friendly Café each month. 

Please feel free to join us as we move into our third year.

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

A great theater experience allows us to see our human selves reflected back—in a way that moves, informs and enables us to relate to the realities of the lives of others.

When I was 17, my father threw me out because I had stayed out all night. Shortly thereafter, I got pregnant out of wedlock and contemplated suicide. I remember despondently standing in front of a bathroom mirror, ready to slit my wrists, and suddenly saying out loud to my reflection, “If it’s that bad, it can only get better.”

And it did.

Those feelings were overwhelmingly brought back when I attended the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre production of Push, written by George Cameron Grant, and directed by Cathedral City resident Jeanette Knight. The play was this season’s Youth Outreach Production. I first experienced this CV Rep program last year, when the focus was on female bullying.

The theater buses in students from throughout the area to see a one-act play about issues to which they can personally relate. After the production, the audience discusses the play’s themes with the actors and the director, to explore their own reactions and experiences. It’s more than a learning experience: For some students, it’s the first time they have attended dramatic theater and realized its ability to impact an audience.

Push revolves around a young man who comes out as gay to his parents and faces immediate rejection by his stern father. After the boy is thrown out, he subsequently suffers another rejection—by the boy he has fallen in love with—and commits suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming subway train. The play follows the anguish suffered by his sister, who runs away from home and is discovered at the same train station, contemplating ending her own life. As she struggles with her own feelings, she questions whether her brother made a choice, or whether he was “pushed” by others to feel he had no other options.

The performers in Push were almost all students, some of whom have never acted before. Their ability to inhabit the roles and then discuss with the audience the impact of those roles as it relates to their own lives and experiences was not only educational, but also very moving.

Ron Celona, the founding artistic director of CV Rep, participated in the after-play discussion. He noted that the 1,400-plus students who had seen Push were not so focused in the after-play discussions on the bullying and rejection of the boy’s sexuality; instead, their focus was on the suicide, an issue they and their friends had already encountered, either personally or through troubled acquaintances.

Jeanette Knight, originally from Michigan, has been in the desert since 1997.

“My mother dragged me to dance classes, and I now thank her every day for it,” she says. “I stayed with dance, and that’s how I got into acting.”

Knight began doing musical theater, and “I fell in love with the whole theater crowd.” She completed a degree in theater at UNLV, but says, “I’ve learned so much more from doing it outside of college.”

Knight’s local experience includes working at McCallum Theater as the education program manager, running the Beaumont Actors Studio, teaching acting and improvisation at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and teaching classes in improv at CV Rep. “I’ve learned so much about acting by teaching it,” she says.

When Ron Celona approached Knight about directing Push, she jumped at the chance. “I really like doing this kind of theater,” she says. “We can’t sweep these issues under the carpet. The kids who come to see these shows are our future.”

There are two local efforts devoted to assisting young people who feel unsafe or who are aware of someone else who feels threatened or hopeless: Sprigeo is an anonymous reporting and investigation service to deal with bullying, harassment or intimidation in or out of school, with which the Palm Springs Unified School District is affiliated. SafeHouse of the Desert helps teens in crisis; those who feel threatened can go to any Sunline bus stop or McDonald’s and get free transportation to SafeHouse.

My parents finally allowed me to return home, but only if I gave my child up for adoption. In those days, there was no real way a teenage unwed mother could make it, so I lived with the hope that my son had indeed been able to live a better life than I could have given him. My first-born son and I were happily reunited after over 40 years. He is a gay man.

At the end of Push, when the sister decides her life is worth living, and her father apologizes for having rejected his son and contributing to his death, I was overcome with tears. All I could think was: I am so thankful that something inside of me knew it would get better, and that my son was adopted into a family where he was loved and accepted.

CV Rep is truly making a difference. In Jeanette Knight’s words: “It’s rewarding to have a hand in art not just for art’s sake, but to be a part of theater that can help make the world a better place.”

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

Whenever I mention Janet Newcomb to anyone who has met her, one word always comes up: “Nice.”

Newcomb believes she’s considered “nice” because she grew up with traditional Midwestern values.

“I don’t even really think about it,” Newcomb says. “It’s so embedded in me: ‘Be a lady.’ ‘Say thank you.’ ‘Remember to pat people on the back.’ It’s just who I am. I want everybody to be happy.”

Raised in Grosse Pointe, Mich., Newcomb graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in psychology.

“It interested me,” she says. “I got married to my first husband and went to Washington, D.C. I got a job there with a defense contractor who was doing psychological warfare research.”

Newcomb’s job later moved her to Los Angeles ,where she completed a master’s degree at Pepperdine University. She met her second husband, Don, and they married in Hawaii. Newcomb moved to the desert from Los Angeles after Don was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“Some friends had retired here,” says Newcomb, “so we decided to come down and settle.” Don died in 1990.

“When I decided to stay in the desert after my husband’s death,” she says, “I needed a job.”

Newcomb opened Siena, a shop in Indian Wells selling specialty Italian cookware.

“For about a year and a half, it was great—but then the recession hit, and people weren’t buying expensive cookware. My friend, Gayl Biondi, told me I should do public relations. By then, I had made a lot of friends, so that was the incentive that sent me in that direction.”

For more than two decades, Newcomb has been representing local businesses—specializing in restaurants.

“My passion was always cooking and eating,” Newcomb says, “and I especially like to support local family-operated businesses.”

Newcomb’s father had been a columnist for a local newspaper while she was growing up. “His column was called, ‘I’m Telling You,’” she says. “It was kind of a social column.” It’s no surprise, then, that Newcomb became society editor for Palm Springs Life magazine, covering fundraisers across the Coachella Valley for more than five years.

“I’m very curious about things,” says Newcomb. “I’m interested in what’s going on in life. I like people, and there are so many interesting people, especially in the local charity world.”

I first met Janet Newcomb when she was doing a live weekend show called Walking on Eggs at the same radio station where I work.

“Food wasn’t getting much attention,” says Newcomb, “so I thought it would be fun. I had guests and talked about local agriculture. People could call in, and I tried to always make it informative. People just cook and eat, but I think hearing about how others do it is interesting.”

Newcomb’s relationship to local charities has not been restricted only to writing about them. She served as president of the board of Shelter From the Storm; she was involved with the World Affairs Council of the Desert, a local group that focuses on international issues. She is currently a member of the Roar Foundation, actress Tippi Hedren’s big-cat rescue organization, and is a board member of the Cal State-San Bernardino Palm Desert University Associates, working to raise money for student scholarships.

Newcomb and I have the same manicurist, Paula Vaughn, who describes Janet as “warm, always with a smile. She’s one of the most humble people I’ve ever known. Be sure to ask her about the ballet and fencing.”

Ballet?

“Coming from a family with a history of heart disease, I’ve always been interested in health and exercise,” Newcomb says. “When I was a young girl, my mom insisted my sister and I take ballet lessons. I did ballet in D.C. just for the exercise. Then, when I was transferred to L.A., I went back to ballet again with a small company. I even had a couple of times onstage!”

Fencing?

“When I came down to the desert,” says Newcomb, “I met Leslie Taft, the fencing coach at College of the Desert, who has the Desert Fencing Academy in Palm Desert. It’s great exercise for coordination and balance, plus it’s aerobic. But it’s very tricky; you have to train your body to be alert so you don’t get stabbed!”

What’s next for this active woman? “I’m still doing some PR work, especially for restaurants,” says Newcomb, “but I’m definitely slowing down. I look back and think about my life and what it means to mature. In my 30s, there was always competition. In my 50s, I had enough experience to have calmed down and just be who I was.

“Now, I’ve mellowed. I don’t see any point in ever saying anything bad about anybody. Everybody’s doing the best they can with what they have. I’m not God; I can’t change you. You are who you are. Like me, or don’t like me—it’s your problem, not mine.”

Pattie Daly Caruso (yes, she’s Carson’s mom) is one of Newcomb’s closest friends.

“There are so many incredible things about her,” says Caruso. “Janet is one of the most special people I've ever met. She’s been warm and wonderful from the beginning of a friendship that began decades ago. The word ‘awesome’ is so overused, but it applies to her. She’s loyal, genuine, interesting and interested. I feel blessed to have known her!

“And she’s definitely nice.”

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.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The Peace in the Streets Global Film Festival offers young people around the world an opportunity to share their experiences and ideas about creating peace—by making films.

Carole Krechman, a 12-year resident of Rancho Mirage, is the driving force behind this transforming project, which is sponsored by her group, The Peacemaker Corps, a non-governmental organization established as a result of Carole’s experience as chairman of the board of the Friends of the United Nations.

Carole took a rather circuitous path to this endeavor. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School and went on to study architecture at UCLA. She spent many years redoing homes for famous people in the entertainment industry (she can drop names with the best of them!) before moving her specialty to roller-skating rinks, and then in the 1990s, to “family entertainment centers” including ice rinks, bowling alleys and so on.

“I’m especially proud of working in the late 1970s to establish the World on Wheels in South Central Los Angeles,” she recalls. “After the Watts riots, there was a need to rebuild the community. We convinced local politicians and the police that we could provide a safe environment for kids to come. We installed metal detectors, and ended up with a place that was safe and self-integrated, where young people could find companionship and community.”

Carole spent nine years working on projects in China, and as a result was asked to join the board of the Friends of the United Nations, a nongovernmental organization. In 1995, she was made chairman of the board.

“That was the year of the 50th anniversary of the UN,” she says, “and our role was to tell the world what was going on at the UN, to disseminate information that would help to build civil society around the world.”

Carole remembers the impact of listening to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. “He called for a decade of peace and tolerance,” she says, “and the Friends of the UN thought about creating a tolerance award. I left Friends in 1997 and spun off the Peacemaker Corps as a stand-alone NGO specifically focused on young people and those goals.”

Carole was able to secure a grant from Department of Housing and Urban Development and worked in partnership with malls around the country to offer restorative justice programs for youth.

“Our goal has always been to bring people together as colleagues instead of enemies,” she says. “We use education to empower youth to be actively involved in peacemaking in their own communities. When they attend mall events, they can download a free app to participate in global networks and activities.”

The Peace in the Streets Global Film Festival allows young filmmakers to use any technology available to share their own stories. Entries must be no more than five minutes long, and are judged in three categories: age 8 and under, 9-13, and 14-18.

“It hits my heart,” says Carole, “to get a film done on a cell phone from a young boy in a refugee camp, talking about the conditions and expressing his hope for a better life.”

Among the 2015 award winners are two local films made by participants in the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. Ashelly Alvarez, of the Boys and Girls Club of Coachella Valley, took second place in the 8 and under category with her film, “Coachella Valley Peace in the Streets.”

Tiwahna Whyte, Vanessa Ledezma and Hayden Poulain of the Boys and Girls Club of Palm Springs won third place in 2015 in the 14-18 category. Their film, “Finding My Strength,” is a powerful personal statement by Tiwahna, who was bullied; she shares the way she handled her reactions. She first talks of confronting a bully and opening a dialogue that led to them becoming friends.

“All I did was stand up for myself. It was the first time I felt powerful. I said, ‘This is how I feel, and you can’t do anything about it, because I’m still going to do what I’m put on earth to do,’” she says in the film. Later, when she was again subject to bullying, she developed coping skills that included writing and sharing her feelings. Her film is a compelling testament to the difference it can make for youngsters to learn from others facing similar situations.

I urge you to go to the film festival website or scroll down to the end of this article to watch the amazing award-winning films submitted by young people from all around the world. The messages include one young man’s response to bullying: “Turn around and look at yourself.” A young girl walked around the streets of New York asking, “If you could change the world in one sentence, what would it be and why?” and submitted responses that vary from eating healthy to making peace. Another boy’s film, depicting physical confrontations, concludes, “You always have a choice, and it can change your own and everyone else’s lives.”

Carole Krechman has created and nurtured a wonderful organization dedicated to educating young people about their ability to influence each other to make a better world.

“I want kids to know they can walk anywhere in the world and know they’re not going to die, that violence won’t end their life,” she said.  

What have you done lately to make a difference? Supporting the Peacemaker Corps might be a good way to start.

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.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Some columns are more difficult to write than others. This one will attempt to transcend partisan politics while I examine my unexpectedly overwhelming emotional reaction to the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president.

In June, I wrote about the reactions many local women had as they voted for a woman for president in the California primary. However, voting in a primary is not the same as actually watching a major party select a woman to be its candidate. That was history being made in real time, and many women I know—as well as some men, and many of my Republican friends—were similarly astonished at the intensity of their emotions while watching the Democratic Party officially nominate Hillary Clinton.

The gains achieved by the suffrage movement have always been incremental—countries where women were allowed to vote locally but not nationally; situations in which women could vote but not run for office; places where voting rights were granted only to certain races or classes. For example, Britain granted unmarried women who were “householders” the right to vote in local elections in 1869, expanding that to include married women in 1894.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to grant full equal voting rights to women. Australia followed with women receiving incremental suffrage between 1895 and 1908, based on where they lived in the country.

Finland adopted full female suffrage in 1906; Norway followed in 1913, and Denmark and Iceland in 1915.

In 1917, when the czar was overthrown in Russia, universal suffrage was declared. Great Britain was still struggling with class distinctions in 1918, empowering women based on being older than 30, or those with a university degree or those who owned certain property. (All men 21 and older were then given the right to vote.)

The United States finally granted women the vote in 1920, when on Aug. 26, the state of Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment. It’s worth acknowledging that this occurred less than 100 years ago.

Black women didn’t gain full suffrage in South Africa until 1994. Qatari women received the right to vote in 2003; Kuwaiti women followed in 2005. In 2011, King Abdullah issued a decree ordering that Saudi Arabian women be allowed to stand as candidates and vote, but only in municipal elections. Their first opportunity did not come until December 2015.

Today, many women still do not have the right to fully participate in their government. In Brunei, there are no national elections at all, although there is universal suffrage for those 18 and older in elections for village leaders. In the United Arab Emirates, just a small percentage of men and women were allowed to vote for the national advisory council in 2011—in fact, one woman was elected to the council—but neither men nor women can vote for the nation’s leader.

There are women we know here in the Coachella Valley who were born before the right to equal agency was achieved here in the United States—and now they have seen history made again. While my own story has always included the right to vote, it has not always included things we now take for granted, such as getting credit in one’s own name, have access to birth control without anyone else’s consent, qualifying for a loan even if one has children, or being able to apply for any job for which one is qualified (as opposed to sex-segregated “help wanted” ads that were the norm when I graduated high school).

Given all of this history—both my own and that of women around the world—I was still not prepared for the overwhelming intensity of my reaction when Hillary Clinton’s name was announced as the official candidate for president by a major political party. Whether you support her or not, she made history—and that’s worth savoring as indicative of how much has changed in a relatively brief period of time. In evolutionary terms, 100 years is a drop in the bucket.

There are still those who resist the idea that a woman can be president, including a 50-ish woman I saw interviewed on television who said, adamantly, “The president has to be a man. Women have hormones, so it has to be a man.”

In other words … we still have a long way to go.

The impact of the nomination of the first woman as a serious candidate for president is not ultimately of importance merely because it is a “first.” It’s important because, whether Hillary wins or loses, never again in America will any little girl have to set her sights lower than any little boy.

That is what brought my unexpected overflowing tears. I admit to having been taken aback upon realizing how much it mattered to me.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that transcends politics.

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.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors