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RIVERSIDE m ag a z i n e

o c to b e r – n ov e m b e r 2 015

ALSO Mat Baker’s musical journey Kermit Alexander looks back Family tastes at Miguel’s

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contents O C TO B E R - N OV E M B E R 2 015 • VO L U M E 8 , I S S U E 5









b roug ht to you by:



Don Sproul

8 IDEAS & COMEDY Physics, nature and a teenage girl’s curiosity about “carnal embrace?” — surely, that’s drama enough. But throw in a second storyline in a different time, a touch of Lord Byron and Tom Stoppard’s play, “Arcadia,” explores themes tragic and comic in an incisive evening at The Box.


Jerry Rice EDITOR



Amy Bentley, Brian Goff George A. Paul, Canan Tasci

A SHARED MISSION Life is more than juice boxes and sleeping in the back of a Jeep — especially when you’ve served your country. The Riverside community agrees, and, with the support of local and national organizations, resources are being brought to bear to help homeless vets.

editori a l gr a p h ic D E S I G N

Steve Ohnersorgen


James Carbone, Micah Escamilla Jennifer Cappuccio Maher, Frank Perez, Eric Reed

Tom Paradis, Jack Storrusten 20 SACRED DUTY “It’s time to have a monument to the American Indian veteran.” A dedicated group is striving to build a long-deserved memorial at Riverside National Cemetery.

24 26

HOMECOMINGS & FAMILY 24 From grunge rock to music lessons, Mat Baker traveled far to discover a sound close to home. 26 Years after a tragic attack that shattered his home, former NFL star Kermit Alexander cherishes his adopted family. 30 Family puts the flavor in the food at Miguel’s Cocina and Cantina in Corona.


Carla Ford-Brunner, Cindy Martin Willie Merriam, Adil Zaher S A L E S A S S I S TA N T s

Vikki Contreras, Dixie Mohrhauser Victoria Vidana m a r k eting

Veronica Nair, Ginnie Stevens

LANG Custom Publishing Frank Pine EXECUTIVE EDITOR CONTACT US Editorial: 951-541-1825; fax 909-885-8741

Departments From the Editor 6 Hot List and Calendar 10 Seen and Nonprofit Calendar 32

or Advertising: 909-483-9312; or Riverside Magazine is produced by LANG Custom Publishing of The Sun and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Single copy price: $3.95. Subscriptions $14.95 per year. Postmaster: Send address changes to 2041 E. Fourth St., Ontario, CA 91764. Copyright ©2015 Riverside Magazine. No part of this magazine may be reproduced without the consent of the publisher. Riverside Magazine is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts, photos or artwork even if accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope.


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On the cover Carolyn Oler plays a boy-crazy genius in “Arcadia.” Cour tesy Adriana Tomeu Photography


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S AT U R D AY, O C T O B E R 1 7 , 2 0 1 5

frOm the editOr Albert rivera, left, and Gregory Coffos pause for a moment near the Santa Ana river during a recent outreach to homeless individuals. Photo By eriC reeD

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reaching out, helping those who have served n the morning of what would become a 100-plus degree summer day, Albert rivera and gregory Coffos could probably think of more enjoyable places to be than in the brush along the Santa Ana river. But that’s exactly where they were in late August — with photographer eric reed and i in tow — as they went to catch up with individuals who make their “home” in that out-of-the-way area of riverside. As part of the outreach team at U.S. Vets-inland empire, rivera and Coffos knew by name nearly everyone they encountered, along with their situations, needs and hopes. rivera and Coffos have been to the area before. many times. other places, too. Behind shopping centers, by freeway overpasses and even an open area referred to as the “Devil’s Armpit,” they go pretty much anywhere the homeless congregate, offering assistance to everyone, particularly veterans. homelessness is a human

tragedy. given the national initiative to end chronic homelessness among our vets, we wanted to find out how those efforts are shaping up locally. While researching the story, which starts on Page 14, reed, reporter Canan tasci and i met dedicated people, working for government agencies, nonprofits and other organizations, who are committed to improving the lives of those who stepped up to serve in the military. “i have a heart for others, so i don’t want to see them in those situations. i love having the opportunity to get out there and help,” said Coffos, echoing statements that were made by several sources we talked to. “When we see the fruits of our labor — somebody getting placed in a house, getting benefits or getting a job — that’s an amazing feeling.”

Jerry Rice 951-541-1825, @Jerryrice_ie

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on stage

‘Arcadia,’ a tale of two eras Written by Amy Bentley


om Stoppard’s “Arcadia” has been described as a haunting and disturbing tragedy that’s also funny, charming and heartwarming. All of those elements will come into play Nov. 6-15 when a production of the critically acclaimed work comes to The Box theater at the Fox Entertainment Plaza. “’Arcadia is highly intelligent, it’s very demanding and very challenging,” said Patrick Brien, executive director of the Riverside Arts Council and the play’s director. “I think people will be haunted by this story and will allow themselves to be taken along for this ride,” he added. “It’s a comedy and a tragedy, like a French farce. There is lots of word play, double meanings, and it’s fascinating.” The plot revolves around the activities of two modern scholars and the current residents of an English country estate, juxtaposed with the lives of those who lived there from 1809 to 1812. One prior resident, Thomasina Coverly, is a brilliant daughter who has modern ideas about nature and physics. In the present, writer Hannah Jarvis and literature professor Bernard Nightingale are investigating people from the past, and they learn about events from Thomasina’s time. There’s also a tragic twist. (No plot spoilers here!) “You are left with an incredible connection to these characters that supersedes the plot of advanced mathematics and chaos,” Brien said. 8

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Photos by Fr ank Perez

Carolyn Oler plays Thomasina and Ethan Park plays Septimus in an upcoming production of “Arcadia.”

“You wind up falling in love with the character that actress Carolyn Oler is playing, Thomasina.” Casting the role of Thomasina posed a challenge for Brien because in the play

she is 13 years old and then later she is 16. However, Brien wanted the actress playing the part to be a legal adult (because of a kiss) who also can convincingly portray someone in her

Director Patrick Brien says “Arcadia” is heart-warming and challenging.


“I think people will be haunted by this story and will allow themselves to be taken along for this ride.” early teens. Oler, a fresh-faced and petite brunette who stands five feet tall, is 24 but fits the part well. Brien, one of the founding members of the Gestalt Theatre Project, which is staging “Arcadia,” met Oler five years ago when she appeared in a performance of “The Music Man” at the Redlands Bowl. Oler lives between Oak Hills and Mission Viejo, where she works as a substitute K-12 teacher while also doing theater and attending auditions. She has a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance and a master’s in musical theater and aspires to work full-time as an actress. And when it comes to portraying Thomasina, Oler faces her own challenges. “As an actress, I’m trying to figure out at what point

her genius stops and she is just a kid,” Oler said. “She’s curious and silly and funny, but also her brain works on another level. At 16, she’s a boy-crazy genius.”

‘Arcadia’ Where: The Box, Fox Enter tainment Plaza, 3635 Market St., Riverside When: Nov. 6-7, 13-14 at 8 p.m., Nov. 7-8, 14-15 at 2 p.m. Tickets: May be purchased online Information: www.




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hot list: halloween edition FRIGHTFUL FLICKS OCT. 8-29  –  Double features: “The Exorcist” and “Poltergeist,” Oct. 8; “Saw” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Oct. 15; “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” Oct. 22; “House of 1,000 Corpses” and “Devil’s Rejects,” Oct. 29. Municipal Auditorium, 3485 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; 951-779-9800;

GHOST WALK OCT. 23-24  –  Original tales of ghosts and ghouls, featuring local high school drama groups and noted community speakers, and incorporating local landmarks. Five tour options set out from the Main Street Pedestrian Mall, including two family friendly excursions. Downtown Riverside; 6-10 p.m.; 951-787-7850; DANCE MACABRE MASKED BALL OCT. 24  –  Don your mask and finest grim attire and dance the night away. The “grand unmasking” happens at midnight. First Christian Church, 4055 Jurupa Ave., Riverside; $25; 951-781-3168;

calendar MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM THROUGH DEC. 17  –  Buckcherry, Oct. 9; Halestorm, Oct. 16; Common Kings, Oct. 18; Seether, Oct. 23; Sharon Jones & The DapKings, Nov. 4; Falling in Reverse, Attila, Metro Station, Nov. 7; Extreme Midget Wrestling, Nov. 12; Ozomatli, Nov. 13; Collective Soul, Magnets & Ghosts, Nov. 14; The Cult, Primal Scream, Nov. 19; Machine Head, Dec. 17. 3485 Mission Inn Ave.; 951-779-9800; LAKE ALICE TRADING CO. THROUGH SEPT. 30  –  Skatterbrain (classic rock to current), Oct. 9 and Nov. 6; Pac Men (1980s tribute), Oct. 10 and Nov. 20; Alyce Bowie (classic rock), Oct. 16 and Nov. 28; Pop Roqs (1980s tribute), Oct. 17; Cloudship (original music), Oct. 21 and Nov. 4; Hunter & the Dirty Jacks (classic rock), Oct. 23; The Groove (classic rock), Oct. 24; David Paul Band (classic rock to current), Nov. 5 and 14; Runnin’ on Funk, Nov. 21; Brewers of Grunge (1990s rock), Nov. 25; Band of Brothers (classic rock), Nov. 27. Also: Dream Karaoke, Monday nights. 3616 University Ave., Riverside; 951-686-7343; ‘PLEASURES AND TERRORS’ THROUGH JAN. 30  –  Six decades worth of images by Aaron Siskind. Gallery talk, Oct. 29; 10 | | october-november 2015

fall reception, Nov. 14. UCR/California Museum of Photography, 3824 Main St., Riverside; 951-827-4787; Also: “Flash: Whitney Hubbs,” through Nov. 14; “CMP Projects: Penelope Umbrico,” through Nov. 28; “Reproduction, Reproduction,” through Jan. 2. ‘CHASING THE SUN’ THROUGH AUG. 7  –  Photographs, taken from 1880-1930, show the early days of Riverside and the entrepreneurial spirit of the city’s pioneers. Metropolitan Museum, 3580 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; 951-826-5273; Also: “Cahuilla Continuum,” “Discovery Days” and “Nature Lab,” all ongoing.

HALLOWEEN PARTY OCT. 30-31  –  Costume contest and prizes, with music (classic rock to current) by Eclipse on Oct. 30 and All In on Oct 31. Lake Alice Trading Co., 3616 University Ave., Riverside; 951-686-7343;

Center, 3801 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; 6 and 9:30 p.m.; 951-779-9800; Also: Amy Grant, Oct. 11; Margaret Cho, Oct. 23; Michael W. Smith, Oct. 30; Matisyahu, Nov. 8; Comics from “Last Comic Standing,” Nov. 28; Merle Haggard, Dec. 3; Kidz Bop Kids: Make Some Noise, Dec. 4; Masters of Harmony: Believe in Christmas, Dec. 6; Mythbusters: Jamie and Adam Unleashed, Dec. 7; So You Think You Can Dance Live Tour, Dec. 15; Chris Tomlin Adore Christmas Tour, Dec. 17.

CUPCAKE FARE, BAKING EXPO OCT. 4  –  Cupcake tastings; taste, eating and decorating competitions; cooking and cake decorating demonstrations; giveaways; entertainment and kids’ zone. Convention Center, 3637 Fifth St., Riverside; noon to 4 p.m.; 909-257-8862;

BRITAIN’S FINEST OCT. 10  –  Beatles tribute band. Romano’s Concert Lounge, 5225 Canyon Crest Drive, Riverside; 10:30 p.m.; 951-781-7662; Also: The English Beat, Oct. 17; Anna Nalick, Oct. 22; The Spazmatics, Oct. 23; Bonfire (AC/DC tribute), Oct. 24; Voodoo Glow Skulls, Assorted Jelly Beans, Oct. 30; The Curse (The Cure tribute), Oct. 31; Punk Rock Karoke, Nov. 14; Everlast, Dec. 4.

ARTS WALK OCT. 8  –  Browse more than 20 art galleries, studios and museums with exhibits in various art mediums. Special performances, poetry, theater, hands-on art activities, refreshments and more. Continues the first Thursday of every month. Downtown Riverside; 6-9 p.m.; 951-682-6737;

FESTIVAL FOR THE ARTS OCT. 10  –  Music, exhibitions, dance, performances by Riverside’s arts organizations and cuisine prepared by some of the city’s top chefs. Benefit for arts programs. Fox Entertainment Plaza, 3635 Market St., Riverside; 6-10 p.m.; $25; 951-680-1345;

ADRIAN URIBE OCT. 9  –  In concert. Fox Performing Arts

RIVERSIDE COUNTY PHILHARMONIC OCT. 10  –  “Stars of the Philharmonic,”

featuring Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme” and, showcasing Eileen Holt, The Phil’s principal flute, Nielsen’s “Flute Concerto.” Concert was postponed from an earlier date. Fox Performing Arts Center, 3801 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; 7:30 p.m.; 951-787-0251; CITRUS CLASSIC BIKE RIDE OCT. 11 – Rides of 28, 50 and 100 miles in addition to a 7-mile family ride and a kiddie ride. Free bike festival for everyone featuring music, food, vendors, beer garden and other activities. Proceeds benefit the Riverside Educational Enrichment and Alvord Educational foundations. Riverside Plaza, 3535 Riverside Plaza Drive; first ride begins at 6:30 a.m.; PIERCE STREET JAZZ OCT. 14 – Jazz trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos in concert. Castellanos has worked with Natalie Cole, Dizzy Gillespie, Diana Krall, Wynton Marsalis and others. La Sierra University, Zapara School of Business, 4500 Riverwalk Parkway, Riverside; free; 7 p.m.; 951-785-2148. CLASSIC CAR SHOW OCT. 18 – Monthly event, continues the third Sunday of each month. Canyon Crest Towne Centre, 5225 Canyon Crest Drive, Riverside; 1-4 p.m.; 951-686-1222; Also: Second annual Wine Walk, Nov. 7.

‘MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE’ OCT. 24 – Sunny Thompson stars as the Hollywood sex symbol who longs to be respected for her talent and loved for who she really is rather than the character she has created. Fox Performing Arts Center, 3801 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; 2 and 8 p.m.; 951-335-3469; Also: “Bullets Over Broadway,” Jan. 27; “The Producers,” Feb. 14; “Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking,” March 12; “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” April 10. RAINCROSS CHORALE OCT. 25 – Cathedral Echoes, a concert featuring sacred music written especially for the acoustics of a cathedral. Calvary Presbyterian Church, 4495 Magnolia Ave., Riverside; 3 p.m.; $15; ‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN’ NOV. 6-15 – Performance Riverside adaptation of the Mel Brooks comedy. Landis Performing Arts Center, 4800 Magnolia Ave., Riverside; 951-222-8100; Also: “Big Fish,” Feb. 5-14; “Big River,” April 1-10. DAY OF THE DEAD NOV. 7 – 12th anniversary celebration of the traditional Mexican festival includes art, music, dance, food and beautifully decorated and personalized altars honoring loved ones who have died throughout the year. Division 9 Gallery, 3850 Lemon St., Riverside; 3-10 p.m.;

“Cone of Memory” by Mark Ryden ‘BABY TATTOOVILLE: FADE TO BLACK’ THROUGH JAN. 9 – Pop surrealist exhibition organized by Bob Self of Baby Tattoo Books returns in what will be a finale for its eight-year association with the RAM. Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave.; 951-684-7111; Also: “Members’ Exhibition: Drought,” through Oct. 16; “Leap of Faith,” a mixedmedia installation by Andrea Borsuk, Oct. 10-Jan. 11. free; 951-965-4392. MISSION INN RUN NOV. 8 – 38th annual event featuring a halfmarathon, 5 and 10K runs, 5K walk, and shorter events for kids. Clark’s Nutrition Health & Fitness Expo happens Nov. 7-8. Start/finish downtown Riverside, between Mission Inn


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calendar Long Night, great fun Avenue and Sixth Street; VETERANS DAY NOV. 11 – Annual ceremony begins in the amphitheater at 11 a.m. Riverside National Cemetery, 22495 Van Buren Blvd., Riverside; 951-653-8417; Also: A Flag for Every Hero, 8 a.m. Nov. 7; Wreaths Across America, 9 a.m. Dec. 12. ARCHAEOLOGY DISCOVERY WEEKEND NOV. 14-15 – Seventh annual event focuses on the immense archaeological wealth under siege in Syria. Presented by La Sierra University’s Center for Near Eastern Archaeology. 4500 Riverwalk Parkway, Riverside; 951-785-2632; discovery-weekend. DOWNTOWN FARMERS MARKET ONGOING – Fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and more. Downtown, Main Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, Riverside; 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays; 951-826-2434.


itH Riverside being the city of arts and innovation, it’s only appropriate that many aspects of both will come together during third Long Night of Arts & innovation on Oct. 8. Visual and performing arts, science, technology and the culinary arts will be on display throughout downtown Riverside. Some highlights: COURTESY PHOTO • Stuart Sumida, an anatomist Long Night demonstrations and displays include hands-on activities for all ages. and paleontologist from Cal State San Bernardino who worked on “the Lion King,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and other movies, shows how science plays a role in animation and visual effects. • Sarah Horn, a vocal instructor at California Baptist University who became a YouTube sensation after singing on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, talks about the intersection of preparation and opportunity. • An exhibit by Rick Lee of General Atomics demonstrates scientific concepts including magnetism, electronics, plasma and the four states of matter. in all, there will be more than 400 presentations, from 5 p.m. to midnight, plus a range of food and dining options. information:




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Photo by Jennifer Cappuccio Maher

Norman Tigner, who served in the Marines from 1976-80, at his home in Riverside. 14

| | october-november 2015

Shelter … because they served Riverside embraces national initiative to get homeless vets off the streets


Written by Canan Tasci and Jerry Rice

hen Norman Tigner found himself sleeping in the back seat of his Jeep, surviving on fast food and juice boxes, he knew he needed help. As a Marine, he served aboard aircraft carriers and was part of the mission that attempted to rescue 52 American diplomats and citizens who were held during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979-81. After the military, Tigner then spent three decades as an ironworker, connecting high rises, retrofitting bridges and working on large convention centers. But in 2007, he became ill with a disease that affected his bone marrow. Unable to work, medical and other bills started piling up. “A lot of people don’t realize that if you get sick and if it’s disabling enough it can change your whole way of life,” the 57-year-old said recently. “It doesn’t just affect you the individual, it affects the whole family.” No longer married and with his three adult children living on their own, Tigner found himself homeless and down to a few possessions, including some clothes, a pillow, blanket and his Jeep. After a year of dejection and hopelessness, Tigner in December 2013 turned to the United States Veterans Initiative, or U.S. Vets, at March Air Reserve Base. Programs offered by the organization helped him move from the back seat of his vehicle into a one-bedroom

Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood When blackness was a virtue the road was full of mud I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form Come in, she said I’ll give ya shelter from the storm Bob Dylan, “Shelter from the Storm” from “Blood on the Tracks,” 1975

apartment near UC Riverside. “I needed to do what I had to do to live my life and feel normal,” he said. “I took advantage of every single resource, and now I’m on my own in a place that’s fully furnished. I’m grateful for that.” National directive Tigner’s story has become all too familiar. While the overwhelming majority of veterans do just fine after leaving the military, in 2009 there were nearly 75,000 veterans throughout the country living in cars, under bridges, in tents, on the curb or otherwise homeless, according to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report. The following year, the White House and the Department of Veteran Affairs launched an initiative with the goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. The ambitious plan would require the collaboration of government at all levels, community groups, business and property owners, and volunteers.

october-november 2015 | | 15

“For me, this is personal. These individuals who volunteered to be in harm’s way, we owe them a great deal of gratitude and respect.” — William “Rusty” Bailey, Riverside mayor

Sebastian Munoz, right, leads the U.S. Vets outreach team of Gregory Coffos, left, and Albert Rivera who are handing out bags with toiletries and other items to homeless individuals.

priority, there also is a local goal to end chronic homelessness in the area in 2017, says Davis, who admits that challenge represents a much larger population in need of even more resources. “Making sure our veterans are no longer homeless was our first hurdle, and this will be our second,” she said. “It’s ambitious, but we’re confident we can do it now that we have the right tools in place.”

Locally, the effort includes city and county governments, the VA Loma Linda Healthcare System and nonprofits such as LightHouse Social Services Centers, Path of Life Ministries and U.S. Vets. Mayor William “Rusty” Bailey, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served as a helicopter pilot and platoon leader in the Army, says the issue is a priority. “For me, this is personal. These individuals who volunteered to be in harm’s way, we owe them a great deal of gratitude and respect,” he said. “It’s inexcusable to have homeless veterans in this country.” Riverside is part of the VA’s 25 Cities Initiative, a program that assists communities with high concentrations of homeless veterans, and also has been participating in the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, which is part of the Joining Forces initiative. That program brings together the public and private sectors “to ensure that service members, veterans and their families have the tools they need to succeed throughout their lives,” according to the White House. The efforts are showing progress. From 2009-14, HUD reported there

Reaching out Unlike Tigner, who sought help on his own, sometimes there is pushback among homeless veterans, says Albert Rivera, a U.S. Vets outreach coordinator. Since 2013, he has gone to out-of-theway places in the region where he believes they are living, and while many accept offers of assistance, others turn him away, not wanting to feel like a charity case. “Most (homeless) veterans like to isolate themselves and stay in secluded spots where they’re not bothered,” he said. Despite the resistance he sometimes encounters, Rivera and outreach specialist Gregory Coffos in late August were accompanied by a reporter and photographer as they went to the Santa Ana River basin northeast of Fairmount Park. Drivers passing nearby along Market Street may only see trees and brush, but a hike of less than a few hundred yards reveals much more. “This location is typically good for them because there’s a water source,” Rivera said. “The company to the north has sprinklers, so a lot of time they tap into the system to create showers, or reservoirs so they have a consistent

Photo by Eric Reed


| | october-november 2015

was a decline throughout the country in the homeless veteran population, to fewer than 50,000 men and women. Figures dropped “most dramatically,” the agency said, in California where the number fell by 5,877, representing a 33 percent decrease. In Riverside County, as of Jan. 1, 2014, there were 399 homeless veterans, including 86 in the city of Riverside, according to Michelle Davis, the city’s housing authority manager. Since then, places to live have been secured for 237 of them, and another 145 were working with housing navigators who expect to find homes and apartments for them by the end of the year. Also part of the effort to reduce those numbers have been local nonprofits. U.S. Vets, for example, hosted its second annual Riverside Area Veterans Expo & Stand Down at March ARB’s Army National Guard Armory in late September. The event brought a variety of service providers to one location so they could help veterans apply for benefits, check their credit, and locate housing and other services. While the national directive made finding places for homeless veterans a

Photo by Eric Reed

Jimmie Taylor, 66, left, homeless off and on for about a decade, and Munoz, 48, visit recently in front of Taylor’s tent near the Santa Ana River northeast of Fairmount Park. Munoz has been living in the area for about six years. They are among the homeless men and women that outreach teams from U.S. Vets and other organizations try to help.

flow of water.” The area where Rivera and Coffos were walking is down a hill from the Walmart Distribution Center and Lineage Logistics, a facility with cold storage warehouses that support Southern California frozen food manufacturers. For a couple hours, they handed out small, blue nylon bags filled with essential toiletries and other items including socks, a hat, sunscreen, toothpaste and toothbrush, shampoo, conditioner, comb, shaving cream, razors, soap, deodorant, nail clippers and Kleenex. During a given month, U.S. Vets representatives distribute up to 300 of these bags at various outreach events. “Even though we’re a veterans’ organization, we give one to everyone because that person needs what’s in it just as much as a veteran,” Rivera said.

Challenging transitions A veteran himself, Coffos says that transitioning from the military back to civilian life can be a hard process, which is how many veterans become homeless. “Relationship issues start to develop because they don’t know how to deal within the society they’re coming back into,” he said. Coffos, who served in the Navy from 2005 to 2010, was aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, stationed in the Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Working as a logistics specialist, he ordered everything from bombs to pencils. “Veterans often go from some kind of supervisory role in the military to being told that you have to start at the bottom again. Those veterans are coming back and have a different purpose and role in life,” he said, adding that often getting

veterans to tap into the resources they’re entitled to is not easy. Homeless veterans can range in age from teens to grandfathers who served recently or decades ago. “They need to get back on their feet, and they’re looking for work,” said Coffos, who estimates that fewer than one in 10 of the homeless veterans he encounters are drug addicts or alcoholics; the rest are just having a hard time. “They’ve either been dealt a crappy hand, and for some of them, it’s a mental health issue.” Eddie Estrada, executive director for U.S. Vets-Inland Empire, echoed those remarks, saying that after getting out of the service many veterans initially stay with family, but because of issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental health condition that’s often triggered by a terrifying event, they leave. october-november 2015 | | 17

PTSD sometimes brings on mood swings and sleep deprivation because of the vivid dreams, which can lead to drinking or the use of drugs as a way to self-medicate, Estrada says. Some get caught for driving under the influence; others have domestic violence issues. “Often, there’s no choice but to live with friends or relatives and do what’s called ‘couch service,’ and when they finally burn those bridges they hit the streets,” Estrada said. “What we’re finding in the younger generation is that it takes about a year and a half before they are out on the streets, and, in the process, they develop an addiction but that’s because of the self-medication,” he continued. Helping hands Tigner, who volunteers at U.S. Vets three days a week mentoring fellow veterans, says that one of the messages he tries to deliver is that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, especially since there are resources. “But some people get in their own way,” he said. “When you need help and there is someone who will help you, and willing to give you a hand up, not a hand out, there is nothing wrong with that. “Letting your pride get in the way of your livelihood is not fair to you.” U.S. Vets offers several programs, including job placement and employment services, at its March ARB facility, along with computers that are free to use. For veterans with legal issues, advocates help them through the court process. “We’re looking to start a social model enterprise and secure funding to start a catering and handyman business,” Estrada said. “This way, veterans who can’t get a job because of legal issues, who can’t be hired at corporations, can still make money and provide for themselves and their families.” Another piece of the puzzle is affordable housing. At the U.S. Vets facility, there is an old Air Force barracks that serves as a transitional or long-term option for single males. There also are programs available that provide housing assistance. 18

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Photo by James Carbone

At March Air Reserve Base, U.S. Vets offers housing in a former Air Force barracks. In November, the nonprofit will break ground on a $33 million affordable housing project.

In addition, a $33 million affordable housing project is expected to break ground at March on Nov. 9 — two days before Veterans Day — which would allow U.S. Vets to help even more people. “Having somewhere to live really sets the foundation for many of these veterans in terms of the next steps in their lives. Having a roof over their head makes them feel less lost and makes them feel like they are on their way to having a better life,” Estrada said. “It also makes them feel as if goals are more attainable. Having your own place to live means you’re able to have a meal, put your head down to sleep, put your clothes somewhere and feel safe.” Local government also is offering assistance, with staff at both the city and county levels routinely coordinating efforts. Conference calls and meetings, which often include the 25 Cities Initiative team, help identify veterans in need, the barriers they may be encountering and what resources they’ll need to tackle it all. “You’ve got these servicemen and women fighting for our freedom, and now they’re coming home and they’re

homeless,” Davis said. “They shouldn’t be living on the streets. They should have the opportunity to achieve housing stability, and we want to be able to provide that end goal to them.” The city of Riverside is allocating $600,000 in funds from its federal HOME Investments Partnership Program to help chronically homeless individuals. For veterans who may not have access to benefits because they have been dishonorably discharged, the city has allocated another $300,000 from the federal block grant program. Getting every veteran into a home is a difficult task, admits Davis, which is why they look to city residents for help. In addition to asking for donations of clothes, furniture and appliances such as refrigerators, the city’s housing team also reaches out to landlords. “If there are rental units they can commit to the cause, that would be wonderful,” Davis said. “For those who are skeptical (of how it may work), we ask if they can rent just one (unit). We will pay fair market value for the rent and a two-month security deposit if it makes them feel more comfortable.” [Continued on page 21]




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Photo by Eric Reed

Sharron Savage, left, Angelo Schunke, Frank Johnson, Dominique Lombardi, Alex Tortes and David Roman at the site of the planned American Indian & Alaska Native Veterans Monument at Riverside National Cemetery,

Building a monument to honor heroes Written by Amy Bentley


ith the highest rate of military service of any ethnic group in the United States, Native Americans have regularly answered the call to duty. “We want to defend the land,” said David Roman, a member of the Taino Indians-Arawak Nation in the Caribbean and a retired Marine. “We don’t want this land to be taken over by any other nationality. We want to also preserve the reservations that we have.” While one in every four American Indian males is a military veteran, there


| | october-november 2015

is no memorial at any national cemetery honoring their service. Roman, who works as a drug and alcohol counselor at juvenile hall in Indio, wants that to change. About a year ago, he joined a 25-member committee seeking to raise funds to build the American Indian & Alaska Native Veterans Monument planned for Riverside National Cemetery. “It’s past time to have a monument to the American Indian veteran. It’s been talked about for years,” said Sharron Savage of Hemet, a committee co-chairman and a tribal first descendant from the L’Anse Band of Chippewa (Ojibwa) Indians, Keweenaw Bay Indian

Community, Mich. Several members of Savage’s family have served in the U.S. military. Her husband was in the Navy; her grandson was a Marine, and one of her uncles was killed during World War II. A committee to win approval for the memorial and to raise funds for its construction was formed in 2005-06. After a few years the National Cemetery Administration approved the project. In 2009 and 2010, committee members wrote to about 560 federally recognized tribes (there are nearly 570 now) to inform them about the effort and to seek their support. However, the recession derailed much

of that work, Savage says. A new committee was formed last year, with Alex Tortes from the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians as co-chairman. To date, they’ve raised about $1 million, with the Morongo and San Manuel tribes donating $250,000 each, and have a goal of $4 million that they would like to reach by next year. Organizers are seeking 111,000 donations of $25, with 111,000 representing the number of American Indian and Native Alaskan vets who have served since World War I. Donors receive a set of commemorative dog tags featuring a spread-winged eagle. Contributions at higher levels also are welcome, Savage says. “We’d like to get donations from every tribe just to show support,” she said. Committee members also are seeking grants from corporations, elected officials, cities and others. They are attending events, such as powwows, to spread awareness in the Native American community. [Continued from page 18]

Services go beyond housing and include case management, she says. “If there is ever a problem, the landlord can call someone who can step in and help or find solutions,” she said. “I will tell you this: If someone takes in one of our veterans, the rent will be (paid) on time. That’s a guarantee.” Feeling at home Tigner says he learned from a young age about hospitality, how to be respectful, use the words “please” and “thank you” — and the meaning of a home-cooked meal. His great grandmother and great uncle were both restaurant owners, and his mother and aunt were selfproclaimed chefs. “That’s how I was raised. If you come over to my house and it’s dinnertime, you might as well sit down because you’re going to eat,”

Riverside National Cemetery is home to several memorials, including the Medal of Honor Memorial and also the National POW/MIA Memorial and Veterans Memorial. At nearly 1,000 acres, it’s the third largest national cemetery in terms of size and is the most active by numbers of interments, with an average of 8,000 per year. Riverside was selected for the new monument due to the large number of Native Americans living in the Los Angeles area and the many tribes in the Inland Empire. The design calls for a circular monument on the south side of the lower lake near the entrance with a series of obelisks, each representing a region of tribes and listing some important military engagements and tribal heroes. An eagle would sit on each obelisk. Inside the circle, on the ground, would be a map showing the 12 Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal regions. Across the lake, connected by

Tigner said with a laugh. There’s nothing better, he adds, than walking into your own home, having your own couch to lounge on, a bed to sleep in and a kitchen where you can prepare meals. For Tigner, it represents self-worth, self-esteem and freedom. And, he admits, probably none of it would have happened if he didn’t reach out for help. “No matter what happens I feel like I can finally be integrated into society and become a productive citizen again,” he said, adding that he’s saving to buy a car and has visions of starting a food truck business, with a rotating menu that includes ribs, chicken tacos and jambalaya. And over the past year, he has been working on a book. “I now have my own place, my own food, I’m not under the stress I used to be in or have to worry about when my next meal is.”

a pathway around the water, visitors would see a bronze sculpture on a pedestal of a Native American man, wrapped in a Continental American flag and with a feather in his hair. The 10- to 11-foot-tall statue, called The Gift, was designed by A. Thomas Schomberg, a Colorado sculptor who created the bronze Rocky Balboa statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The statue at Riverside National Cemetery will be donated in memory of the late Morongo tribal Chairman Maurice Lyons, an early supporter of the project who died in 2013. Roman is confident the American Indian & Alaska Native Veterans Monument will become a reality. “We’re not going to stop. It’s not going to be a project we are going to put aside,” he said. To learn more What: Fundraising for the American Indian & Alaska Native Veterans Monument at Riverside National Cemetery. Info:

Resources Agencies, organizations and programs that assist homeless veterans and others. City of Riverside • Homeless program: • Mayor’s Challenge: mayors-challenge.asp • Riverside Access Center: 951-715-3434 County of Riverside Depar tment of Public Social Services Information: LightHouse Social Services Centers 1003 E. Cooley Drive, Suite 205, Colton Information: 951-571-3533;

Path of Life Ministries • Community Shelter (for individuals), 2840 Hulen Place, Riverside; 951-683-4101 • Family Shelter 2530 Third St., Riverside; 951-275-8755 U.S. Vets 15105 Sixth St., March Air Reserve Base Information: 951-656-6892; inland-empire Veterans Administration VA Loma Linda Healthcare System 11201 Benton St., Loma Linda Information: 909-825-7084;

october-november 2015 | | 21


‘Spirit’ of the IE


ary Parks, the longtime Inland Empire correspondent at NBC4, soon will be back on the air with a new series that focuses on ordinary people doing great things. “Exploring the American Spirit with Mary Parks” will tell stories that she believes don’t get the attention they deserve — whether it’s a mother and daughter distributing food and blankets to the homeless, Habitat for Humanity Riverside volunteers building homes for veterans or Forever Wild executive director Joel Almquist caring for exotic animals at his sanctuary in Phelan. “There can be so much bad news on TV, and if it’s a good story it gets maybe 30 seconds,” says Parks, who likens her show to Huell Howser’s “California Gold.” “I’ve seen both the depth of resolve and generosity of spirit possessed by the residents of Southern California. We have so much to be proud of in this region, and there are a multitude of inspiring stories just waiting to be told.” For Parks, the 12-episode series is a passion project that she is working on outside of her role as spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Public Social Services. She also has brought in former TV colleagues; her husband, Lee Fraley; and a talented young video editor, Taylor Winchell, to produce the show. – Jerry Rice “American Spirit” Where: Debuts on KVCR/Channel 24 on Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. It also may be seen on Char ter Communications. Information:


| | october-november 2015

Courtesy photos

Mary Parks’ new show has her interviewing guests throughout the Inland Empire.

october-november 2015 | | 23



Written by George A. Paul Photo by Gianni Neiviller

Indie artist Mat Baker has traveled the world, finding inspiration for ‘Overcome.’

musical discovery of


journey of self-discovery can often lead to a creative breakthrough — and that definitely was true for Mat Baker. From 1995-2005, the Riverside native — who attended Poly High School at the same time as Mayor William “Rusty” Bailey — did two stints as front man for the band Agnes Gooch. The Los Angeles post-grunge band released an album distributed by Warner Bros. (1997’s “Blind”) and another one


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independently (2005’s “Now I See”). They also received local alt-rock radio airplay, played prominent events (Lollapalooza, X Games, KROQ’s Weenie Roast) and shared stages with Incubus, No Doubt and others. Then the singer/guitarist realized being on a major label wasn’t what he expected. “I thought once you got signed, you were taken care of and everything [the record company] told you was the truth,” Baker said. “It was a big learning experience.

I was burnt out by the whole industry and all the promoting. I was soulsearching and that’s when I started to travel.” During the next few years, the musician led a nomadic existence across multiple countries throughout Asia and Europe. “I knew I’d find something — didn’t know if it would be a girlfriend, a job, a career or just a place to live,” he said. But this much did happen: All musicmaking stopped. “I was labelling myself too much as a writer, a suffering artist,” admitted Baker. “Traveling got me out of my own head, showed me how big the world is, how small I am and how my problems relate to other people.” Upon returning to Riverside, he went to night school at Chapman University and attained a teaching credential. An Agnes Gooch bandmate’s wife happened to be opening an alternative neighborhood school in LAUSD. “She got me in. I did my internship as a second-grade teacher, and the music position came open. I jumped in, and they let me do what I want. This will be my seventh year at Larchmont Charter School.” Meanwhile, a visit to a faith healer in Guatemala resulted in a crazy and emotional two-hour session. “I wrote a song that night. Then [the inspiration] came back. I swore that I wouldn’t abuse it. I was just trying to let everything flow out of me. A lot of my writing comes from opening myself up from doubt.” Baker’s friend Ondi Timoner, a Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning filmmaker, pushed him to finally make music again in 2012. “I had all these songs from the travels and new ones from the revelations I was having,” he recalled. “I knew I had to do it.” After connecting with bassist Gianni Neiviller, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to help fund the album recording of “Overcome.” (Baker’s dad also chipped in). They recruited more

Batmaker Music “Overcome” is available via iTunes and, stream it at Spotify and visit In person Where: Hotel Café, 1623½ N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood When: Nov. 13 Information: 323-461-2040

than a dozen musicians, including keyboardist Jason Yates from Ben Harper’s Innocent Criminals, former Morphine sax man Dana Colley and fellow Riversider John Hoskinson. The latter’s sister, Judy, was a high school friend of Baker’s. She is now married to Riverside’s mayor. Baker met Bailey while playing soccer in school. “He was a younger classmate, so I didn’t hang out with him that much,” Baker recalled. “But he always seemed like a [real] go-getter.” Around that time, Baker was in Threat, a heavy metal group that frequently played the DeAnza Theater and won a couple Battle of the Bands contests there. After graduation, Baker toured with Inland Empire punk outfit Justice League and later got into heavier rock sounds. John Hoskinson previously played with Baker while attending Notre Dame High in the 1980s. He contributed backing vocals to most of the “Overcome” songs after being one of the initial funders and plays live in Batmaker. Among the strongest local indie releases last year, “Overcome” features introspective pop/rock (“Echo Park Tsunami”), rollicking Squeeze-type textures (“Time to Go”), some grooving R&B with true life lyrics (“Baker Baker Baker”), McCartney-esque chamber pop (“Sunshine State”) and a fun, countrytinged number (“Soap on a Rope”). “Mat’s songs are playful and energetic while also being incredibly earnest and thoughtful,” noted Hoskinson. While a couple songs already used sax, Baker really wanted the real deal for “More Morphine,” his alluring, jazzy

tribute to Colley’s late bandmate Mark Sandman. So Baker contacted him through Facebook and explained about being a big fan. It touches upon Baker’s time living in Boston while a student at Berklee College of Music, going to Morphine gigs and shrewdly incorporates several of that group’s song and album titles into the lyrics. “I sent him the track. He mailed it back to me, and I kept everything — just amazing. I used it all.” The epic “All Alright” veers from dreamy to chugging Cheap Trick rock territory, though Baker says he was “trying to rip off The Pixies.” “I love the abrupt changes of mood and tempo in that song and the lyrics are just great,” enthused Hoskinson. “Gianni’s bass playing is also sublimely wonderful.” Cello-enriched closer, “Ballad for William Walker Atkinson,” is loosely based on the author/pioneer of the 19th Century New Thought movement. Baker says he “learned about him when I took a meditation course in Guatemala and somebody gave me a book.” The endearing music video stars Baker’s young Larchmont students. “I asked the kids if they’d be interested and then the parents individually,” he said. “These are my best kids who are really good in class. I wanted it to be a nice experience.” A loose, relax and enjoy life theme runs throughout the CD. “I write songs that are mantras I need to say; what I’ve learned,” said Baker. This past summer, he embarked on a wide-ranging, cross country solo acoustic tour that encompassed fans’ living rooms, a yoga studio (he is a licensed instructor), distillery/art house, baseball diamond and beyond. Using a storyteller format, Baker felt more people would get into the show. He was right. “When they heard the words, they were more intrigued. I got a great response. It inspired me to continue with this.” october-november 2015 | | 25

From darkness to hope


Photo by Fr ank Perez

Kermit Alexander’s new book retraces a path of tragedy and inspiration

Written by Brian Goff


ermit Alexander has always been a man of few words, choosing to let his actions define him. From his playing days at Los Angeles’ Mount Carmel High School and UCLA and in the NFL, “action” meant violently bringing down ball carriers with reckless abandon. Alexander recalls when he was playing for the San Francisco 49ers, and delivered the infamous debilitating hit on Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers. “(Sayers’) teammates all went back to the huddle, and he was lying there all messed up,” the 11-year NFL veteran said. “I helped him over to the sidelines, and the coach came running up, ranting and raving, cursing me out. “I looked him right in the eye and said, ‘You need to bring in another running back, this one


| | october-november 2015

is all used up.’ ” A man of few words, but they could be just as biting as his hits. Religious, unassuming These days, the 74-year-old Alexander spends time with his family in Riverside, doing charity work, always looking for opportunities to help others. His Super Bowl parties, featuring several of his former Rams teammates, annually raise thousands of dollars to help fight child abuse. On Wednesday nights, the unassuming gentleman with the salt-and-pepper hair walks into the men’s Bible study at The Grove Community Church without much fanfare. He works the room, greeting everyone with a firm handshake and a shy smile. It’s difficult to imagine this is the same guy with a notorious reputation for delivering vicious hits on a regular basis.

Such a transformation is not achieved overnight, and usually involves some form of tragedy. Alexander’s story is no different. In his new book, “The Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption,” Alexander describes losing his light for life in the darkness of a deep personal loss, only to find it again decades later on a mountain top in Haiti. It is a journey that has led to Alexander finally being able to tell his story to the world. “I had tried to work on this in the past,” Alexander said. “But it was all too emotional, too raw. “I knew these guys from my work with the parole board and courtroom drama,” he said of co-authors Alex Gerould and Jeff Snipes, who are criminal justice professors at San Francisco State. “It was easier for me to tell them what I wanted to say, the message I wanted to deliver.” The story centers around the senseless murder of several family members, but also delves into his childhood, a glimpse of life in South Central Los Angeles in the 1950s and ’60s and an inside look at the criminal justice system. The tragic tale is one that leaves a mark on those involved. In the morning hours of Aug. 31, 1984, armed gang members stormed his family’s house in South Central. It was a brutal attack, as Alexander’s mother, Ebora; sister, Dietra; and his nephews, Damani and Damon were murdered. His brother, Neal, fought with one of the gunman, but escaped. A third nephew, Ivan, survived by hiding in a closet. “That morning, the killers did not just take my family, they killed me,” Alexander states in his book. “Any Kermit that lived before that day died that morning. All that he carried with him — trust, joy, hope — went with his relatives to their graves.”

Alexander made the Pro Bowl with the 49ers in 1968, when he had nine interceptions.

A two-sport athlete at UCLA, Alexander was a standout in both football and track.

october-november 2015 | | 27

At one point Alexander took to the streets at night, working his old contacts from the neighborhood, trying to track down the killers himself. The LAPD eventually caught those responsible for the fatal shootings, which turned out to be a failed hit, as the crew went to the wrong house. Two of the young men were convicted and sentenced to life without parole. The shooter, Tiequon Cox, was someone Alexander had encountered before as a troubled youth playing in a football league in the neighborhood. Cox was found guilty and received the death penalty. With his appeals exhausted, he still sits on death row. ‘I had no motivation’ All of which was of little solace to Alexander. The ordeal had taken its toll, sending him down a dark path that would consume him for decades. His marriage and family life fell apart and he retreated into his own head, where he had plenty of company. Ghosts of his past had taken up residence,


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“And that was the moment, the first glimpse at a second chance. The Path was lit, I could see a way out of the Valley. Shed the ghosts of Watts in the Land of High Mountains.” continually reminding him of mistakes. Riddled with guilt, he kept hearing the voices in his head, “You should have been there, you could have stopped what happened.” Members of his own family pointed fingers at him, asking what he had done to bring this on. Why had Kermit not reached out to a troubled kid years earlier, before he would become the monster that laid waste to the Alexander family. These were just a few of the voices keeping him awake at night. “I had no motivation. I no longer saw possibilities,” Alexander writes. “I just couldn’t visualize a future, or anything that could bring peace or contentment.

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I couldn’t imagine deliverance.” Years went on as he traveled the country, sometimes sleeping in his car, trying to strike up get-rich-quick schemes. It was a renewed relationship with his current wife, Tami, that began the healing process. Tami was heavily involved in charity work and made routine trips to Haiti to work with the Mission of Home orphanage. It was on one of these trips that Kermit’s head finally cleared. In the eyes of a little Haitian boy named Clifton, Kermit found peace and hope. “And that was the moment, the first glimpse at a second chance,” Alexander writes. “The Path was lit, I could see a way out of the Valley. Shed the ghosts of Watts in the Land of High Mountains.” When they realized Clifton had four siblings at the orphanage, they were unsure of what to do. Kermit, the oldest of 11 children, drew inspiration from his late mother, who was known for saying, “There’s nothing worse than an empty house.” Kermit’s response was simple: “We take them all.” But the drama wasn’t over. International adoptions can be long and arduous. As the Alexanders waited to bring the children back to the U.S., Haiti was struck by hurricanes and storms and then the topper — a devastating earthquake in January 2010. It would be days before they knew the fate of the children.

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Alexander file Born: Jan. 4, 1941, New Iberia, La. High school: Mount Carmel, Los Angeles College: UCLA. Played football and track; NCAA triple jump national champion, 1962 Pro career: Drafted in the first round of both the NFL (49ers, eighth pick) and AFL (Broncos, fifth pick) drafts in 1963. He signed with the 49ers and played in San Francisco for seven seasons as a defensive back and kick/punt returner. Was named to the Pro Bowl team in 1968, finishing the season with nine interceptions. Was traded to his hometown Los Angeles Rams in 1970, where he played for two seasons. Finished his career with the Eagles in Philadelphia, where he also began his work with the NFL Players Association. Notable: In 1968, he delivered a hit on Bears running back Gale Sayers, setting up the

storyline for the famed TV movie “Brian’s Song.” ... Served as director of the NFLPA in 1975-76, and spent several years post-retirement working for the union. ... On the board for the Lott Impact Trophy, a college football award named after 49ers great Ronnie Lott. ... Kermit was a close friend of former five-term Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who was a beat cop in the Alexanders’ neighborhood. Book: “The Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption,” by Kermit Alexander, co-authored by Alex Gerould and Jeff Snipes, published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Online extra: Kermit Alexander shares his thoughts on the current state of football, including UCLA quar terback Josh Rosen, concussions and the NFL labor talks.

Kermit’s ghosts began to return, as another possible tragedy loomed in the darkness of not knowing. Flashes of past heartbreak and an empty house, combined with the voices condemning him to eternal sadness. “If they were all gone, I was done,” he said. “There was no way I was going to make it through that kind of tragedy again.” The good news — “They’re alive!” — was soon followed by the even better news that the children would be coming home soon. Five years later, the house is alive and vibrant. The children are growing up fast. Clifton is 17 and in high school with Zachary, 16. Semfie, 15, is in the eighth grade. Manoucheka, 21, attends California Baptist University, and Jameson, 20, is at Riverside City College. Now surrounded in a house full of love, Kermit can breathe easy. He journeyed through the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” and emerged with a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

Alexander was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1963 and later played against them when he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams.

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Family values Miguel’s, started by Mom and Dad, keeps growing through the efforts of the next generation By Amy Bentley


or a family that knew little about the food industry, the Vasquez clan has done well with a restaurant they were given decades ago to satisfy a debt. The story: Mike Vasquez was working as a carpenter and loaned money to a family friend, who at the time was operating a Corona restaurant called Chili Pepper.

After the place closed, the friend couldn’t repay the loan, and when the landlord learned about the debt he asked Vasquez if he wanted the restaurant as payment — with a year’s free rent. The idea of running a business “was very scary,” recalled Vasquez’ wife, Mary, who knew a lot about cooking and Miguel’s in Corona years earlier had worked as a bookkeeper at a restaurant in her hometown in Central Mexico. At the time of the offer, in 1973, the couple was raising three youngsters — 5, 7 and 8 years old — and she was concerned about working outside the home. Still, they took a chance, renamed the restaurant to honor Mike’s grandfather, and Miguel’s was born. Almost right from the start, the Vasquezes made sure their children — a fourth came later — were involved in the family business, doing everything from washing dishes to serving customers.

Heart-a-Taco at Miguel’s California Mexican Cocina & Cantina Photos by Eric Reed

Today, the younger generation is running three Miguel’s restaurants (two in Corona, including a beautifully redone location that faces the 91 Freeway, and another in Lake Forest). Also, there are 14 spin-off fast-food locations called Miguel’s Jr., 11 of which are in the Inland Empire, including one at the Galleria at Tyler. The other three Miguel’s Jr. eateries are in Orange County. Work is underway to open two new restaurants by early 2017, one in Riverside and the other in Yucaipa. Even with all that growth, the company, which has more than 450 employees, remains family-run. The youngest son, Javier Vasquez, is president of Miguel’s; daughter Carolyn Alderete is the chief financial officer; son Michael Vasquez is the vice president of Miguel’s Jr., and daughter Silvia Vasquez is the director of distribution. Mary still thinks about the days when the kids were little and she would bring them to the restaurant, often splitting her time between working and keeping the kids quiet. “I used to tell them, ‘Don’t run around. Just color or something,’ ” she recalled. Since Day One, Mary has been involved in developing the recipes, inspired by the family specialties she enjoyed growing up. She takes particular pride in her mole, chiles rellenos and carnitas. Miguel’s also is known for its salsa, prepared using a special recipe that only a few family members know. Hundreds of gallons of it are made

Photos by Tom Hollar

Mary and Mike Vasquez, left, with Michael Vasquez, Carolyn Alderete, Silvia Vasquez and Javier Vasquez.

daily at the central kitchen in Norco. While daughter Silvia oversees those efforts, mom continues to have an important quality-control role for the entire operation. “I still walk around and make sure that the food tastes good,” said Mary, 72, who makes regular visits to the restaurants. (Mike has scaled back his involvement due to health issues.) Mary and Javier insist on the use of fresh ingredients, such as Haas avocados, and say that the chefs do not use preservatives, additives, food coloring, dyes or frozen products. In fact, there are no microwaves and freezers are only used for the ice cream. At each location, beans are slow-cooked twice a day. Good food, prepared fresh on the premises, and affordable prices are the company’s keys to success, says Javier, adding that nearly two-thirds of the business is derived via the drive-through

service at Miguel’s Jr. The restaurants are open seven days a week but closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter and July 4 so employees can be with their families — a rarity in the restaurant industry, Javier says. Miguel’s also treats employees who have worked for the company three years and longer and their families to an annual employee picnic with food, games and toys. The Vasquez family has been generous to the community, delivering food to fire stations to thank firefighters, helping with school fundraisers and student enrichment programs, and sponsoring athletic teams. In 2008, the family contributed $250,000 to the completion of the Citrus Splash Zone waterpark in Corona. Mary Vasquez is proud of her children and how they’ve grown the business that she and her husband worked so hard to establish. “I wish that they can keep going but at the same time, not too much,” she said. “Just enjoy life because life is too short.” Miguel’s California Mexican Cocina & Cantina 1920 Frontage Road, Corona 951-520-8911; Miguel’s Jr. 1301 Galleria At Tyler, Riverside 951-352-1895;

Far left, pescado con rajas Left, flautas october-november 2015 | | 31

seen The American Heart Association recently held its 13th Inland Empire Heart & Stroke Walk at Rancho Jurupa Park, raising more than $400,000 — the largest amount in the past five years of the event. Funds will be used to finance medical research in the region, as well as cardiovascular health prevention and education programs. Information:

Inland Empire Heart & Stroke Walk 1





(1) Members of Riverside’s Fit4Mom Team get ready to start the walk (2) Sean Ceballos (3) Matthew Webb, left, Monique Stensrud, Nicole Orrand and Ted Stream (4) Jay Orr (5) Tania Martinez, left, a representative from Cub Scouts Troop 1230 and Debbie Walker (6) County of Riverside staff and families, the top fundraising team of the event


Ph o t o s by R C Ph o t o C l u b

sav e the date CHARITABLE EVENTS

Oct. 12 – Smar tRiverside’s ninth annual charity golf tournament to suppor t and expand programs and services offered by the nonprofit organization. Victoria Club, 2521 Arroyo Drive, Riverside; 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; 951-826-5441; www.smar

and enter tainment by student performing groups. RSVP by Oct. 8. UCR Highlander Union Building’s third-floor ballroom, 900 University Ave., Riverside; 5:30 p.m. reception, 6:30 p.m. dinner and program; $200; 951-827-5667,

Oct. 17 – Light the Night Walk to suppor t effor ts by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to fight cancer. California Baptist University, 8432 Magnolia Ave., Riverside; 4 p.m.;

Nov. 7 – Red Dress Stroll, featuring a mile-long walk, health screenings, fitness booths, goodie bags, dance demos and prizes. Promenade Community Park, 615 Richey St., Corona; 8 a.m. to noon; 951-756-9015, 951-531-5601.

Oct. 17 – UC Riverside Chancellor’s Dinner, a benefit for UCR scholarship initiatives, includes a desser t reception 32

Nov. 8 – Lung Force Walk, Inland Empire. Mathis Brothers Furniture, 4105 Inland Empire Blvd., Ontario;

| | october-november 2015

909-321-3285, Nov. 19 – 16th annual Raincross Trophy Dinner, by the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce. Convention Center, 3637 Fifth St., Riverside; 6 p.m. cocktail reception, 7 p.m. dinner; $50; 951-683-7100; Nov. 19 – Tastes & Toasts to End Hunger, presented by Feeding America food bank serving Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Wilson Creek Winery, 35960 Rancho California Road, Temecula; 5:30 p.m. reception, 6:30 p.m. dinner and program; $150; 951-359-4757, ext. 109; Nov. 21 – Keep our Gardens Clean & Beautiful volunteer day,

sponsored by Friends of the UCR Botanic Gardens. Drinks, snacks and most project tools will be provided. Please bring rakes, shovels, hand spades and pruners. UC Riverside Botanic Gardens; 8:15 to 11:30 a.m.; 951-784-6962, Nov. 21 – Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes, sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. Fairmount Park, 2601 Fairmount Blvd., Riverside; 619-234-9897, ext. 7435; stepoutriverside. Dec. 1-15 – Celebration of Giving, 27th annual toy donation drive by Children’s Fund. Drop-off locations to be announced. 909-379-0000;

october-november 2015 | |



is for z mbie


very Halloween season, Riverside’s take on “The Walking Dead” comes to life during the Zombie Crawl, which invades the Main Street Pedestrian Mall from 2-6 p.m. on Oct. 17. Organized by Riverside Downtown Partnership, the popular event features carnival games, activities for children including face-painting and balloon art, and DJ Albert Figueroa spinning tunes (“Monster Mash” anyone?). A highlight is the Zombie Crawl Parade when the undead trudge in step with survivalists through downtown. Information: 951-781-7335, Last year’s Zombie Crawl brought out lots of freaky and fun looks. Gabriel Rizk and his son, Torres, go for a stroll during the parade, above; and three young women, including Summer Zamudio, center, and Tanya McDonald, right, get into the spirit of the day. At right, Victor Martinez, 7, shows off his dance moves. Photos by Micah Escamilla


| | october-november 2015

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Riverside Medical Clinic leads the area in providing families a single source for all of their health care needs. It starts with ensuring you have the right primary care physician. A physician and supporting staff who will work with you to maximize your well-being. Referrals to specialists are simple. Any lab work or imaging services that are needed can be accomplished right at Riverside Medical Clinic. Urgent care, pharmacy, and vision centers are also part of the offering. Riverside Medical Clinic, providing legendary care for over 80 years. For more info call: 951-782-3602 For Southern California Residents Call Toll Free at 844-550-5721


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Riverside Magazine  

Life is more than juice boxes and sleeping out in the elements -- especially when you've served your country. With the support of local and...

Riverside Magazine  

Life is more than juice boxes and sleeping out in the elements -- especially when you've served your country. With the support of local and...