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02 May 2018

Know Your Neighbors: Anita Is Grateful for Her Fellow 'Divas'—Who Met Over Politics but Now Just Gather to Relax and Talk

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The Dem Divas, in a photo from 2015. The Dem Divas, in a photo from 2015.

Medical professionals—backed up by numerous studies—say that socialization is important to healthy physical and mental aging.

Too often, retirees or widowed individuals become isolated, don’t want to attend events alone, feel cut off, or are dependent on others to push them to get out and be around others. One antidote we are fortunate to have here in the desert: many informal groups that routinely meet to share friendly talk over a meal—the aging comedians, businessmen, show biz vets, university alums and many others.

About 10 years ago, I returned to the desert after seven years in San Diego, where I completed law school, and I was looking for activities that would engage me to jump back into the local scene. The newspaper said the Democratic Women of the Desert was meeting, so I went.

This was a group of positive, motivated women who wanted to make a difference—they weren’t attending to show off their latest outfit or to dish about absent friends. I was ultimately invited to join the board, and looked forward to the board’s monthly working meetings over dinner at local restaurants.

There’s a special bond that is built when you‘re part of a small group committed to a common goal. That bond was the catalyst for a core group of us to continue the monthly dinners after we left the board. We hadn’t just worked together; we liked each other. This is a group of women who are frank, funny, educated and very much alive. I originally called the group “Dem Dames,” but we came to think of ourselves as “Divas,” recapturing a word too often used as a pejorative and giving it a meaning more akin to strong, focused, take-no-shit women.

Each month, one person volunteers to find a place that can handle 10-plus people in a setting where we can hear ourselves talk, preferably at a round table—and the place should be willing to do individual checks. Surprisingly, we have found many local eateries that meet those criteria and have terrific food.

Perhaps the best part of being a Diva is that, although we are all different ages with varying backgrounds—married, divorced, widowed, still working and long since retired—the camaraderie and shared values make our dinners totally relaxing and comfortable.

Although we share the same political persuasion and are active with campaigns, we seldom talk politics; rather, we share aches and remedies, family joys, funny stories, relationship concerns, good/bad movies and books—and all of the other the topics you freely discuss with good friends.

In April, retired teacher Marlene Levine, a La Quinta resident who’s called the desert home for 50 years, invited us all to share in her 80th birthday celebration as the Diva event for the month, and what a party it was!

La Quinta resident Pam Covington (“No, don’t give my age!”) came to the desert from Santa Barbara five years ago, and shared the name of a terrific dermatologist with me.

Anita Hoag, 74, came to the desert in 1989 from West Coast cities including Newport Beach, Malibu, Westwood and even Hawaii—all a far cry from her native New Jersey. Anita was a registered nurse, but subsequently became a buyer with Max Factor cosmetics. She always looks stunning!

Jan Seiden, 77, has been in the desert for 18 years. Currently living in Palm Desert, she describes herself as “the original valley girl,” having grown up in the San Fernando Valley. (“I can say ‘like’ a lot!”) After her career as a nurse, Jan became an electrologist and an expert witness for the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

Palm Desert resident Dori Smith, 68, has been in the Coachella Valley for 19 years. Her career was in marketing and communication, but she is known for having founded the local branch of Moms Demand Action, supporting sensible gun safety. I’ll always remember: “It’s easier to lock up a gun than it is to grieve a dead child.”

I’ve written about Dorys Forray before—she’s one of my role models for how to age well. A resident of Indio, Dorys is originally from Brooklyn and has been in the desert for 15 years. At 88, she is one of the most vital, interesting, delightful people I know.

Another friend I’ve introduced through this column is June Pariano, 73, also a La Quinta resident. June came to the desert in 2000 by way of Wisconsin and South Dakota. Her career went from manufacturing to advertising, but her local experience in a cosmetic dental practice might explain her perfect teeth. (When I mentioned that, she responded with a broad smile … and those perfect teeth!)

Phyllis Greene, a surprising 80, lives in Palm Desert. She’s been in the area for 21 years. Born in Chicago, Phyllis moved to the desert from Northridge. Her sharp wit must have served her well teaching science and mathematics to middle school students.

Priscilla Richards didn’t make Marlene’s birthday party, but she is another original Diva known for her wonderful laugh. And then there’s me—in the desert since 1985 (except those years in San Diego), a year older as of mid-May, and with so many careers it would take far too many words to include them here.

There are lots of special interest groups, nonprofits, committees and civic boards that meet to discuss and strategize on common subjects, from politics to health to education to LGBTQ issues to the arts to any policy topic you can imagine. And then there are groups that hang together because they share a common interest—a book club, chamber of commerce, animal rescue group, religious denomination or so on.

The Divas are none of these, regardless of what originally brought us together. We are lucky enough to have at least 10 best friends with whom we can relax, talk confidentially, and share our fears and foibles, while transcending age, background and financial status.

Happy Birthday Marlene, and thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to be a Diva!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal” Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

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