Women of the Ojai Valley 2020

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Women of the Ojai Valley W 2020 HONOREES

Kelley Dyer Judy Vander Barbara Pops Reyna Yolanda Flores Sandra Torres PAGE 4





e in the Ojai Valley sisterhood - The Women of Ojai - are taking on the 2020s with our collective contribution, strength, mentorship, and inspiration. We are tasked with living in the now while shaping our future. We are driven by the power we hold to invent the town we wish to live in. Women around the valley strive to do better each day and actively work to find better solutions for a sustainable harmonious life. This year the Ojai Valley News is featuring five special women to honor —a mere glimpse of the amazing women in our community—and their invaluable talent and effort in the areas of music, water, hospital, education, and art. Thanks to all who participate in building our exceptional community. Laura Rearwin Ward, Publisher




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Kelley Dyer

Challenges are opportunities for problem-solver Kelley Dyer. Perry Van Houten | pvh@ojaivalleynews.com


elley Dyer likes the responsibility that comes with doing something important for the community.

In terms of importance to Ojai, it seems few things rise to the level of water.

team and understanding the issues. “We have an excellent team and staff at Casitas, with some very dedicated and hardworking people, so that makes me real “Planning excited to be here. When I met the team at for emergencies Casitas, I knew right away that that’s where I always important, wanted to be,” she said.

is and we improve our plans as we go through these experiences.”

Originally from Minnesota, Dyer excelled in math and chemistry at school, and her parents suggested she go into engineering. She got her civil engineering degree and a master’s in environmental engineering, with specialization in water resources management, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. In November, Dyer joined Casitas Municipal Water District as assistant general manager. She’d been water supply manager for the city of Santa Barbara since 2012, and previously a water resources engineer working on water supply plans with various agencies in the state and across the country. “After college,” Dyer said, “I was working in consulting and had a wonderful mentor who introduced me to water resources planning and management, and that’s what sparked my interest and when I really started loving what I do.” She and her husband, Jack, were living in San Diego but would come to Ojai to visit. She immediately fell in love with the area. “We both would just dream of moving here,” Dyer said. “We just loved the beauty of the mountains, and my husband loves being close to the ocean. Our hearts were drawn to this place and the great outdoors.” At Casitas, Dyer spent the first few months getting to know the

Dyer’s duties and responsibilities under CMWD general manager Michael Flood have her playing a utility role, helping wherever she can. “I work with staff, management and the board to find solutions to problems,” she said.

Coming on board at Casitas during a prolonged drought, while the District contends with the city of Ventura’s groundwater adjudication lawsuit and deals with the coronavirus outbreak, are issues not altogether new to Dyer. “Planning for emergencies is always important, and we improve our plans as we go through these experiences,” she said. “COVID-19, in the midst of some of the other things going on, will now be incorporated into our planning for the future. It presents opportunities to improve when you face these challenges.” Since moving to Ojai, the Dyers have felt right at home. “We love this community and we’ve met some wonderful people here,” Kelley said. Weekends often find the Dyers aboard their sailboat, exploring the Santa Barbara Channel, or hiking in the Ojai backcountry. “Anything outside makes me happy,” Kelley said. “We have a lifetime of trails to explore here. We have our favorites, but there are still many more we want to try.” The couple recently adopted a 1-year-old red Labrador puppy and named him after a local hiking trail. “We named him Gridley, since he’ll be hiking quite a bit with us.”





Tracey Williams Sutton

TRACEY WILLIAMS SUTTON Tracey is an Award-winning actress and director who has brought her passion for the arts to Ojai since 2004. Among her list of credits including touring productions, The Sound of Music Maria, West Side Story Maria, as well as Phantom Christine. Her favorite roles include Peter in Peter Pan (directed by flying master Peter Foy), Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy (with Carol Lawrence), Annie in Annie Get Your Gun, Eliza in My Fair Lady, Marion in The Music Man, and Irene Malloy in Hello, Dolly (she has appeared with Carol Channing). Productions she has directed for The Ojai Art Center Theater include: Kiss Me Kate, The Music Man, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Cabaret, Hello, Dolly!, The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, Carousel, Annie Get Your Gun, Anything Goes and Mamma Mia! Ms. Sutton first appeared on the Art Center stage as Amanda in Private Lives; since then she has appeared as Suzy in Wait Until Dark with her husband, actor Cecil Sutton, Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, Beatrice in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds, Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Rose in Dancing at Lughnasa, Mame in Mame, Morticia in The Addams Family, Gwen/Ghost of Sarah Bernhardt in Women Playing Hamlet, Mrs. Rittenhouse in Animal Crackers, and Dr. Katherine Brandt in 33 Variations. Ms. Sutton has won numerous Four Star awards as an actress, director, producer, music director and costumer. Ms. Sutton has served the community as the President/Chair of the Ojai Art Center Theater for many years. She holds a master’s degree in Theater, and has taught theater at university and high school levels. Ms. Sutton is currently the Drama Director at the Thacher School in Ojai. The Ojai community is enhanced by her visionary talents as a teacher, actress, performer and director.





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Judy Vander Time to sing Judy Vander’s praises. Perry Van Houten | pvh@ojaivalleynews.com

in Ojai have always been very enthusiastic, and the musicians love that,” she said.


ince moving to Ojai nearly 20 years ago, all of Judy Vander’s volunteer activities have flowed from her lifelong love of music.

An ethnomusicologist who has written two major, award-winning books on Native American music, Vander took her first piano lesson at age 4.

At the concerts, Vander took to singing the opening onstage announcements, such as where the exits and restrooms are, and reminding the audience to turn off their cellphones. She also baked homemade cookies for concert-goers.

“I love Darwin. He loves the natural world, he’s a terrific scientist, and if that’s not enough, he’s very poetic.”

One of the first songs she learned to play was the 1948 hit “(I’d Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China.” While living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Vander earned two degrees from the School of Music at the University of Michigan: a bachelor’s in music composition and a master’s in ethnomusicology. A 20-year period of Native American research and writing followed, Vander spending six summers on the Wind River Shoshone reservation in Wyoming, learning about the music and the culture. Following publication in 1997 of her second book, Vander returned to composing — her first love. Avid hikers seeking an escape from the gloomy Michigan winters, Judy and husband Art discovered Ojai in 2001, after Art found an article he’d saved on great spa destinations, which touted the Ojai Valley Inn. Figuring Ojai must be a beautiful place, they came and stayed for a month, taking 23 hikes and discovering the Ojai Music Festival. “After two weeks, we’re in a real estate office,” said Judy. The couple moved to Ojai in 2002 and Judy immediately joined the Ojai Community Chorus and became a member of the BRAVO! music education program, serving as secretary and overseeing program evaluations. At the time, Ojai had no chamber music concerts, so Vander created a series of concerts for the Ojai Art Center. Attendance grew from 30 people at the first concert to an overflow crowd of 125. “The audiences

When acclaimed opera singer Rebecca Comerford founded the Ojai Youth Opera Company in 2012, Vander joined the board of directors.

Meanwhile, her music continued to be performed by local musicians and groups, including the Ventura Children’s Master Chorale and the Ojai Youth Symphony.

Currently, Vander is writing a cantata, musically inspired by Bach, with a libretto drawn entirely from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” “I love Darwin. He loves the natural world, he’s a terrific scientist, and if that’s not enough, he’s very poetic,” said Vander, adding she researched the project by reading all 575 pages of the book originally published in 1859. She has now completed several songs, including a chorale with lyrics taken directly from Darwin: “Man selects only for his own good: Nature only for that of the being which she tends.” “It’s so contemporary, it’s ridiculous,” Vander said of the composition. Though piano has always been the central instrument in her life, Vander also taught herself guitar and banjo in college, and dabbled in the cello. While living in Uganda for half a year, she learned to play the a’dungu, a stringed instrument much like a lyre. “It took me six months to learn six songs,” she said. Judy and Art have three children and four grandchildren. While their kids were in elementary school, she composed songs for the school choir. What’s it like to experience kids performing music she wrote? “It’s a very sweet feeling,” Vander said. “Their enjoyment of singing my music adds a whole other level of pleasure.”


Barbara Pops


OJAI VALLEY 2020 Photo courtesy Chris Rock

Helping Ojai hospital.


Austin Widger | awidger@ojaivalleynews.com

arbara Pops has long been a member of the medical community, and upon moving to Ojai 25 years ago, her passion quickly became supporting Ojai Valley Community Hospital. Pops and her husband, Dr. Martin Pops, moved to Ojai from Enino, where they lived when they were both employed at UCLA Medical Center. Martin worked at UCLA for 36 years and Pops found her love for working in the medical industry as director of volunteers at the medical center for 14 years, overseeing a volunteer program with about 1,000 people. Pops said the two moved to Ojai because: “We just liked the rural setting, and the whole idea of a smaller valley after being in the so-called big city for so long. We also liked the idea that it was not that far away from where we had been for so many years so that we wouldn’t lose all of our contacts.”

“We raised almost $7 million toward the $21 million project.”

When Pops moved to Ojai, she joined the Ojai Music Festival Women’s Committee and was its president in 1999 and 2000. Soon, she discovered that her main passion in Ojai remained the medical field. Pops said: “When my husband and a group of other people decided that they wanted to buy the Ojai hospital and acquire it as a nonprofit institution, that was when I got interested in the hospital. I was one of the founders of the hospital guild. We started that just to support the new hospital. I was president of the guild for two years, and our main purpose is still to raise money for the hospital, and to keep the community involved in what is happening in the medical center.” In 2005, the Ojai hospital merged with Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura and became Ojai Valley Community Hospital. Pops was asked to start a foundation for the hospital. This is how the Ojai Valley Community Hospital Foundation was formed. Since the inception of the guild and the foundation, Pops is proud to say they have raised more than $11 million for the hospital. Pops said: “My other thing that I’m proud of is in 2009, we had a good friend … who was very interested in the hospital and she donated $500,000, which was used as seed money to construct the brand-new emergency department at Ojai. So I was quite involved with that at the time because I was chair of the foundation.”

Pops is now an emeritus member of the foundation. Recently, she co-chaired the capital campaign for the new continuing care center at the hospital, which is scheduled to open June 12. Of the project that has been six years in the making, Pops said: “Our charge was to raise $5.7 million, and because of the expertise of the great fundraising committee that I had, and the support of the community, we raised almost $7 million toward the $21 million project. That I think, by far, was the largest philanthropic effort ever in Ojai. The remainder of money for the new CCC came from Community Health System.” In regard to the pandemic, Pops said the foundation has not been involved with the hospital’s proceedings. However, she said: “We’ve kept a close eye on what’s been happening at the hospital, and we’re very, very pleased with the way the hospital has responded in that, with our continuing care center/nursing home, we have not had one case of COVID here. I credit our hospital administration with that.” Pops said the two most rewarding accomplishments during her time with the hospital foundation are getting the new emergency department up and running, and getting the capital campaign for the new continuing care center. She concluded: “The hospital always needs something, and it’s been our goal to be available to provide funds for things that come up unexpectedly that there’s not funding for; and we fund what we call a critical needs fund at the hospital, which is for the use of (OVCH Chief Administrative Officer) Haady Lashkari for when things come up that he didn’t expect. He has got funds to use at his own discretion. So that’s been a very rewarding thing. In addition, the foundation just recently funded ROSA the robot — to allow surgeons to perform robotic knee surgeries.

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Reyna Yolanda

Flores Making a difference.

Marianne Ratcliff | editor@ojaivalleynews.com

“This is for the whole community,” Flores said. “Everybody can go, whether they have kids or not, or grandparents.” “Yolanda has been key to COPA’s success,” Ramirez said. “She is very motivated and took COPA under her wing. I could not do COPA without her. She is very positive, very optimistic, and very good about finding resources that she can bring to share with the Spanish-speaking community.”


eyna Yolanda Flores loves helping people. It is a trait she learned from her maternal grandfather who assisted the underprivileged in his government work in Mexico City.

“It’s a necessity to help people.”

“It’s a necessity to help people,” she said. Flores and her siblings grew up in Mexico City with her grandparents and a large extended family. Another role model was her Tia Nena. “She was really nice, really kind,” Flores said. “I learned many things from her.” Flores said she was inspired by the leadership of the late Adan Lara of Ojai, a beloved community volunteer who founded the nonprofit group LUPE, or Latinos Unidos Por Educacion, in the 1990s to help Latino parents get involved in their children’s education. When her daughter Kimberly started at Matilija Junior High School, Flores began volunteering with COPA — Community of Orientation Pro Academics — a districtwide program that is still going strong, albeit on hiatus during the pandemic. COPA was formed “to help our Spanish-speaking families in the valley,” said Matilija Principal Javier Ramirez. His own experience knowing very little English when he first entered school in Ojai was one of the motivating factors in creating COPA, he said.

In all of her volunteer activities, with COPA, Parent Teacher Organization and Rotary, Flores is “extremely helpful, always motivated to help out with anything that is going to have an impact on our community,” Ramirez said. “She is always the first one to raise her hand and volunteer to do good work for the community.” In past years, both Topa Topa and Matilija schools have named her Volunteer of the Year.

Flores started volunteering as soon as Kimberly entered preschool. Her daughter cried when she went to school, so Flores stayed close and offered to assist “cleaning the children’s little tables” when they went to class. The bilingual preschool teacher helped Flores with her English. “When I came here, I started learning like my daughters,” she said. The following year, when Kimberly started kindergarten at A Place to Grow, Flores volunteered in bilingual teacher Elaine Reasor’s class, and her English improved even more. Flores also benefited from an English-language tutoring program at the Ojai Library. “I am really grateful for all the people who have helped me in my English, in my life, in everything,” Flores said. “I have met wonderful people.” When it came time to raise money for Topa Topa School’s Catalina field trip, Flores started a sno-cone fundraiser every Friday. “It was super fun selling the sno-cones,” Flores said.

“With Mr. Ramirez in the school, we had the best because people were able to be closer to the school and to the teachers,” Flores said. “People were happy. That’s the way more people got involved.”

When not volunteering, Flores works at her business — Reyna’s Cleaning — which provides her another opportunity to help people. “All my clients are wonderful,” Flores said. “I am really blessed.”

Even though her children have graduated from Nordhoff High School, Flores is still involved with COPA, inviting speakers to monthly meetings. The most recent meeting in February featured licensed therapist Socorro Madrigal offering tips on talking to teenagers.

“For me, I am happy to be at this point,” she said. “I love Ojai.”

She said she and her husband are also blessed with their two daughters, Kimberly and Kelly, and their first grandson, Grayson, born in March to Kimberly and her husband.




Lu Setnicka



y passion is working as an Executive Coach and Organizational Development Consultant to help clients identify and develop their personal strengths to achieve their highest performance in various workplace cultures.

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I am so proud to be the daughter of Maxine Robinson who was one of four Ojai Valley women who started the first animal shelter long before we had the Humane Society in town. Many of the animals lived with us, which means my brothers and I grew up sharing our home with all sorts of critters, including injured deer and a monkey with quite a personality. Maxine went on to volunteer for the Humane Society for most of her life while also working as a real estate agent and building a portfolio of residential rentals. While we lost Maxine in 2011, I am honored to carry on her legacy of finding both people and animals their perfect Ojai homes. Nora Davis

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Sandra Torres Creating and changing

Austin Widger | awidger@ojaivalleynews.com

Ojai Studio Artists group, so I decided to apply because I like the community, and I like that it’s organized and it’s kind of a communal effort.”


“Because you hold it, you can use it.”

ocal ceramic artist Sandra Torres uses a unique process to make her art, one perfected over years of study and creating in several countries. Born and raised in Mexico, where members of her family still reside, Torres originally trained as an architect and also has a background in business. She started working with clay at an experimental studio in Mexico City with a master ceramist about 20 years ago, and has worked in several studios in the United States.

She was a ceramic apprentice for Pieter Stockmans in Belgium, which then directed her to an artist-in-residence position in Hungary at the International Ceramics Studio. Torres visited China to learn about clay work as well. “At some point, I switched and I was working in business, and I really missed doing creative work,” she said. “I knew of some ceramic artists in Mexico and I always liked it, so that was kind of a way to get there. Then I just got really hooked into it.” Torres and her husband, who works for Santa Barbara City College, moved to Ojai in 2004 and raised their family here. When asked why the pair chose to move to Ojai from Santa Barbara, Torres said: “I like the size. I think it’s a very human size. The commutes are short, and it’s safe, and it has a great community in general. It’s also where my daughter was born, and she’s very attached to this community as well. So I like it a lot.” Torres said: “I had been working with clay, and I did the Ojai Detour. At some point, I had several friends who were in the

For the last couple of years, Torres has opened up her studio for the annual Ojai Studio Artists Tour, but is not sure what will happen with it this year. The pandemic has resulted in several canceled shows, including a large one in Palo Alto scheduled for July. Torres said her ways to increase exposure in general have changed. However, there are some online shows, “so that’s really great,” she said.

She now has a greater incentive to increase her online presence, so she is working on her website. Many artists have increased efforts to sell their work online, and have seen sales go up via digital purchases as a result. Her studio is in her house, “so, fortunately, I have been able to keep working,” she said. What sets her work apart from other ceramic artists, she explained, are her minimalist techniques. Torres has embraced the slip-casting technique with her clay work. She uses little glaze and varied color shades — as well as patterns and motifs — that contrast with the whiteness of the porcelain. “It’s utilitarian, and it’s small-scale, so it’s kind of domestic in a way,” she said. “Because you hold it, you can use it. I think the process I use allows me to do really thin work. My pieces are very thin, and that is very different. They’re very translucent.” Torres’ goal now is to keep up her productivity and momentum during the pandemic. She is focusing on keeping a good mindset and persevering to keep on working during this unprecedented time. She said she is seizing the opportunity “to do some experimentation, to create a new body of work.” To watch Torres at work in her studio, visit www.youtube.com/ user/torresbenavides.




Carolyn is proud to be serving the Ojai Valley as an attorney at the law firm of Waite, Jacobs & Atkinson. Carolyn is a 1993 graduate of the UC Davis School of Law, where she graduated in the top 5% of her class, earning a spot in the prestigious Order of the Coif national honor society. She clerked for United States District Judge Milton L. Schwartz in Sacramento, thereafter joining the litigation department of the international law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP in San Francisco. She went on to become a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Washington State before moving to Ojai to be near family.

Carolyn J. Vondriska, Attorney (left) Megan Davis, Law Office Administrator (right) • Estate Planning • Wills • Trusts • Trust Administration • Probate • Health Care Documents • Conservatorships • Business Law • Real Estate Transactions

Carolyn is the mother of three children. She is an active volunteer with the Ojai Valley Defense Fund, Ojai Boy Scout Troop 504, and our local schools. She is happiest when hiking or fly-fishing in the Los Padres and Yosemite back country with her family. The team includes Law Office Administrator Megan Davis, who has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography from UC Santa Barbara. Megan came to the firm in 2011 after a career in corporate management, followed by a decade of teaching throughout the Ojai Valley. Megan is passionate about the work of the Ojai Valley Defense Fund and the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, especially their commitment to the conservation and protection of the valley she loves.


As a team, Carolyn, Megan, and firm Partner Ross E. Atkinson are delighted to help the residents of the Ojai Valley and surrounding communities with their estate planning and trust administration needs.


Julie S. Gerard, Esquire


julie@jsglawgroup.com 206 N. Signal St., Suite L Ojai, CA 93023

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