Women of Ojai Valley 2022

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Publisher’s Note


Ethel Percy Andrus

PAGE 10 Laura Denne PAGE 12 René Nakao-Mauch PAGE 14 Mariana Peirano PAGE 16 Stephanie James PAGE 18 Blair Braney PAGE 20 Bonnie Patton PAGE 22 River Sauvageau ©2022 OJAI MEDIA LLC | TEAM@OJAIVALLEYNEWS.COM | 805.646.1476

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.



Integrity, knowledge and experience you can trust

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Nora Davis DRE 01046067



Publisher’s Note P eople have been asking me: Who are the “Women of the Ojai Valley” and what does it take to be celebrated as one of them for this long-standing Mother’s Day publication? In a small town, we have the opportunity to encounter so many special people beyond our immediate circle. Scores of their stories inspire us. Just imagine if we could tell them all! Because we are such a small community, we tend to see some of the same busy people, wearing as many hats as time allows, getting involved in service to make Ojai a special place. Others we notice are deeply committed to one focus or talent. Their hard work — what they create, build, make or teach — brings understanding and benefit to others. Still other women we know in our valley are remarkable for their generosity of spirit — giving their love and kindness to family and friends — one person at a time. Sharing that inspires affection in others. The Ojai Valley News can highlight only a few of these local heroes each year around Mother’s Day, though we look to tell the stories of extraordinary people all year round.

Why is telling their stories so important? It is not a contest. It’s a glimpse into a few windows in our town. Knowing the story behind a person is to gain some understanding and affection for her. Our community is the better for every story we know, every local connection we build. The story is a path to understanding and breaking down the barriers between us. Appreciation and empathy grow where a stranger once stood. This edition focuses on eight women, and our community has shared about many more on these pages. Here, you will read about some of the women among us, along with one before us — Ethel Percy Andrus. All hold deep affection for the Ojai Valley. As readers, participating in this decades-old local tradition, we come together and nurture a greater appreciation for each other and what we bring to our community. Please say hello when you see them next. With affection and admiration,

Laura Rearwin Ward

Capturing carbon through soils and plants! A vibrant, healthy garden can be yours - We can make it so!


Thank you Ojai Valley Community for keeping your beloved local gardening and landscape company viable through these past 28 years. We are grateful for the opportunity to make an impact in this Precious Valley. We offer our skills in improving the soil health, collecting surface water and planting woody plants that capture carbon from the air and water from the sky and return them back into the soil where they belong. Can you imagine if all Ojai gardens followed this method? Our air quality would highly improve and our water holding capacity in the soil would allow a more verdant, vibrant valley to be actualized! Love to all who Love this Valley! Jessica Thompson and the Green Goddess Crew




in Leadership

To our Head of School, Jodi Grass, and all the women in places of leadership at Oak Grove School, we recognize you. — The Oak Grove School Board

oakgroveschool.org 7

Ethel Percy Andrus Enriching generations of Americans By Craig Walker


be accomplished by groups inspired by courage and vision. Grey Gables is r. Ethel Percy Andrus was 72 years old when she moved to Ojai in a realization that retired folk need not wait to be served by their younger 1954. She didn’t come here to retire, however; she came to create an innovative new retirement home. Along the way, she also built brethren but can build and administer their own future.” an organization that would revolutionize aging and retirement in In addition to Grey Gables, Dr. Andrus offered her NRTA members America. health insurance, travel programs, disAfter a successful 40-year career count medications, and many other in education, which included 28 years benefits. Soon, non-teacher retirees as principal of Lincoln High School began asking for these same benein Los Angeles, Dr. Andrus turned fits. In 1958, Dr. Andrus formed a new her attention to the plight of retired organization open to all retirees. She teachers, most of whom lived in povnamed it the American Association erty following the Great Depression. of Retired Persons, or AARP. In 1947, she founded the National For several years, she ran AARP Retired Teachers Association and out of her NRTA offices at Grey devoted the next few years to raising Gables. The organization grew so teacher pensions. quickly that the Ojai Post Office had One day, Dr. Andrus discovered to expand, and the Bank of America a retired teacher living in a chicken hired two new tellers to process the coop. She vowed that no retired memberships that rolled in. teacher would ever have to live like In 1964, Dr. Andrus built a pavilion that again. She set a new goal for at the New York World’s Fair where NRTA: to create a new kind of retireshe displayed a scale model of Grey ment home, where retired teachers Gables of Ojai. It was billed as “the Submitted photo future of retirement living in Ameron fixed incomes could live with Ethel Percy Andrus independence, dignity, and purpose. ica.” The next year, Andrus worked She wanted it to be a model for future with President Lyndon Johnson to retirement homes. pass the Older Americans Act that For two years, Dr. Andrus searched for guaranteed the rights of the elderly just the right location to create her new and instituted nondiscrimination Some of the dragons retirement home. She envisioned the laws. residents volunteering with NRTA and in Today, The Gables of Ojai is still we saw and resolved the local community. She saw the whole a beautiful and caring retirement operation as an experiment to discover home, though it is no longer owned to slay were loneliness, what retired people were capable of by NRTA. The organization that Dr. boredom and the and what kind of life they could build Andrus founded in Ojai, AARP, is now for themselves. She felt strongly that America’s largest nonprofit memterrible sense of the home should be located in a small, bership organization, with nearly 40 insecurity.” vibrant town where retired teachers million members. It stands as a legacy could continue to interact with peoto one Ojai woman’s vision of the ple of all ages and remain active in the new retirement — a retirement we community. can all look forward to with anticipation, instead of dread. In 1953, Dr. Andrus discovered Ojai. “Ojai is a small town with a big In his remarks following Dr. Andrus’ death at age 85, President Johnson vision,” she observed. Just the place to pursue her own sizable vision! She wrote: “The life of each citizen who seeks relentlessly to serve the national purchased a run-down old inn named “Grey Gables” that was located on good is a most precious asset to this land. And the loss of such a citizen the corner of Montgomery Street and Grand Avenue. She moved the is a loss shared by every American. In Ethel Percy Andrus, humanity had a NRTA offices onto the property, opened the facility to retired teachers, trusted and untiring friend. She has left us all poorer by her death. But by and set about to transform their lives. her enduring accomplishments, she has enriched not only us, but all “Some of the dragons we saw and resolved to slay were loneliness, succeeding generations of Americans.” boredom and the terrible sense of insecurity,” she wrote. “Grey Gables is To view the pdf of the new book about Dr. Andrus, visit: more than a residence or clubhouse of retired folk. It symbolizes what can https://www.aarp.org/content/.



We Are

Up to what’s possible. What are you up to? We would love to hear from you. Give Christine a call today! 805-272-0001

Independent Living, Concierge Services, Assisted Living, Special Needs and Respite Care 701 N. Montgomery St., Ojai, CA | 805.646.1446 | GablesofOjai.com RCFE# 565800551


Laura Denne Conducting a beautiful life

By Perry Van Houten | pvh@ojaivalleynews.com


ince moving to Ojai more than 30 years ago, many of Laura Denne’s Back in Ojai, Denne was reunited with the Ojai Band, for which she contributions to the valley have been centered around her love of had played since its relaunch in 1991. music. The band’s first director, Bill Wagner, was followed by Joe Boccali, Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Denne moved to the Los Feliz who retired in 2015 and asked Denne to take over. “What a joy it’s been area when she was 4 and graduated for me to plan, rehearse and present from John Marshall High School, these wonderful concerts to our which had an excellent music procommunity,” she said. gram. This July and August, in Libbey She earned a bachelor’s degree Bowl, Denne will again lead the in education from the University of band in a series of seven summer Southern California, with a minor in concerts sponsored by the Rotary music education. Club of Ojai West. “I don’t know A piano player from the age of what’s going to happen when I 6 (she also plays clarinet and string finally hand my baton off to somebass), Denne noticed upon moving one else. I don’t know who it’s going from Glendale with her husband, to be. Hopefully, somebody will Bob, and their three boys that there step up and keep that band going, was no band in Ojai for kids to play because it’s a part of the summer,” in, so she started the Ojai Youth she said. Band. For years a mecca for artists and And she soon found her way musicians, Ojai has a strong feeling back into teaching, working for of community and neighborhood, Montessori School and then starting according to Denne. “Part of the Ojai Valley News photo by Perry Van Houten a homeschooling program run by soul of Ojai is caring about the Laura Denne is perhaps best known for sharing her passion for music Ojai Unified School District. people who live here and the beauty with elementary school students. From there, she segued into teachthat we have here,” she said, hoping ing music in all five OUSD elementary that younger people moving to the schools. “Seeing so many of my students valley will carry on the tradition. find success playing an instrument or singing Citing Brahms as her favorite comwas my joy,” Denne said. poser and Stravinsky as her favorite What a joy it’s been Learning to play music is an important “contemporary” composer, Denne part of a child’s education and can help kids said her favorite piece of music to for me to plan, with other subjects, such as math, according play is “any Beethoven symphony on to Denne. “There’s been so much research the string bass.” rehearse and present done that proves that music is just an inteOver the years, Denne has been these wonderful gral part and helps kids organize so much active with the Ojai Education Founbetter,” she said. dation, the Ojai Festival’s Women’s concerts to our In 2010, Denne earned a master’s degree Committee, the BRAVO music educacommunity.” in music education from the University of tion program, and the Music Van. Hawaii, completely online. She would have In 2012, the Rotary Clubs of Ojai been ready for distance learning during the named Denne an Ojai Living Treasure. pandemic had she not retired from teaching in the schools in 2012. “It’s After discovering last year that a relative had fought in the Revolunice being a trailblazer,” she said. tionary War, she joined the Daughters of the American Revolution. After retiring, Denne continued teaching music privately, which she Denne plays organ at her church and enjoys sharing great literature still does occasionally. with her book group. For the next several years, Laura and Bob (who passed away in 2018) Now she’s trying to resume her travel schedule and perhaps take up were always on the go, traveling the world and visiting family in Maine, some art projects, like the stained glass she used to do. “Trying to Maryland and Arizona. discover the new me,” she said.




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René Nakao-Mauch Adding up a career of teaching, coaching, inspiring By Marianne Ratcliff | editor@ojaivalleynews.com


f you want a workout, just try to catch René Nakao-Mauch — players from 2017 to 2021, which she dubbed “The What-If Team.” Nordhoff High School athletic director, head girls’ volleyball and Their 2019-20 junior year, the girls made it to the CIF State Girls swim coach, math teacher, CrossFit aficionado, and hiker. Volleyball Championships after a remarkable season, and lost to Aptos. Between preparing for playoffs and CIF tournaments, holding “They wanted to come back (their senior year) and show what they had twice-daily swim practices, and learned from that,” Nakao-Mauch winding down the school year, recalls. In their senior year, the girls Nakao-Mauch is covering a lot of were ranked in the top 5 in the CIF ground, from the pool at dawn Southern Section Division 5. to math classes, athletic director Because of the pandemic, “they meetings, games and swim meets. never had the opportunity, which “Tuck your head in,” directs was hard,” she says. Despite all the Nakao-Mauch to one of 10 challenges: “We enjoyed our time swimmers in the steaming Nordhoff together. It taught a life skill: How pool on a crisp early morning. “It’s do you adjust?” a really fun group,” Nakao-Mauch “It’s the kids and the people I says, before sprinting off at 8 a.m. get to work with,” she says of why to teach her math class. she enjoys her work. “It’s their Nakao-Mauch has high expectaenergy they bring.” Having been a tions for her students and players, volleyball setter and swimmer in and sets the bar by example — for high school and college, she says 32 years and counting with the Ojai she loves teaching her athletes Unified School District. “how to swim, play volleyball, see Nakao-Mauch ascribes her them progress … taking raw talent success to her parents demonstratOjai Valley News photo by Marianne Ratcliff and making something of it.” ing by example that “if you worked Nordhoff High School Athletic Director René Nakao-Mauch on the pool One of Nakao-Mauch’s star deck after swim practice. hard, if you persevered, you could swimmers was Jermaine Britton, achieve.” who is now head boys’ and girls’ In turn, Nakao-Mauch instills that water polo coach and assistant in her students, cherishing the memory of swim coach at Nordhoff. Nakao-Mauch is Find out what you Gizel Reyes, UC Davis math major, who wrote: part of a winning team of volleyball and swim “Thank you for teaching me to love math.” want. Determine the coaches, including her husband, Jim Mauch, a “How do I get there from here?” Whether retired Nordhoff science teacher, who coaches path and get there.” it’s solving a math problem, finishing a sudoku the Nordhoff swim team with her, Cher Glass, puzzle, building a successful team, teaching Travis Watkins, Sean Clark, Jermaine Britton, and or dead-lifting 192 pounds, Nakao-Mauch is figuring out the path from Leah Walters. Point A to Point B. As a mathematician, she uses logic to plot success Put a new Nordhoff math teacher in the classroom next to a for herself and her students and athletes. It’s like “solving equations,” Nordhoff science teacher and watch out for that chemistry. The two she answers to the question of what math problem her success were married in 1997. “I couldn’t imagine coaching without her,” Jim calculation most resembles. It’s like this: “You have a problem. You have Mauch says, while strategizing for the next swim meet, poolside with all these tools. How are you going to attack the problem? Find out what Britton, while Nakao-Mauch is away at an athletic director meeting. you want. Determine the path and get there. …” Britton notes that René and Jim “were both my coaches and both Like when Nakao-Mauch, who has done CrossFit for five years, pracmy math and science teachers.” ticed for two years to do an Olympic lift, which is “snatching 75 pounds “One of the best teams I ever saw — a very special group of kids,” from the floor and throwing it over my head.” She also hikes the 17.5Jim says, referring to Britton’s 1999 team. mile Half Dome and 14-mile Clouds Rest trails in Yosemite on annual “I still feel like I’m learning from them,” Britton says, wiping away a outings. Pursuing new challenges is “how I improve myself,” she says. tear. “I feel my time here was so great. One of the reasons I’m at “Goal-setting and problem-solving go hand in hand,” she explains. Nordhoff now is to try to give back what they gave me.” “Sometimes you get a monkey wrench and you have to adjust.” In all her pursuits, including teaching, coaching and inspiring, You mean like a pandemic? Nakao-Mauch is looking for the next challenge, figuring out how to get Nakao-Mauch coached a dream team of winning girls’ volleyball there from here — showing everyone else the path.





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Ojai is a very special place to live and we were fortunate to arrive here over 25 years ago when my daughters were young. Now as adults they are both living here again as they were drawn back to the warmth and support of our community and the beauty of the valley. My granddaughter is now the lucky one being raised here and is surrounded by many friends and family. We love Ojai as it is a safe place to be - for everyone! We have all gone through a lot in the last four years but living here somehow made it easier. Thank you to all of our clients and friends who continue to support us and work with us, it is greatly appreciated.


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Mariana Peirano Connecting people to the planet through art By Pamela Zero | Special to the Ojai Valley News


ariana Peirano is an expert at building pathways, creating con“This new series was triggered by everything that is happening with nections and helping people find common ground. She did so climate change,” she explains as we head to her studio in the back yard. for more than 30 years as an elementary school teacher, using “It’s called “Pachamama,” which means “Mother Earth” in Quechuan — art to bridge the gap bethe language of the Argentinian tween immigrant children and the native people. The subject is school system. “One of the first Indigenous women and the things they do away with in public relationship they have with earth, education is the arts. The children and nature itself.” crave it, and in elementary school Her studio is neat and comthey need it. For a lot of them, it’s posed. Paintings cover the walls their only outlet.” and a wide range of art supplies We’re meeting in her art-filled hints at her current experimenhome tucked in Meiners Oaks. tations with different materials. She is a mix of energetic speech The new work is vibrant, with and calm regard, as if one of her patterns weaving through and own paintings has come to life. around her signature faces. “I’m Mariana’s roots are here now, trying to do something a little bit but she was born in Argentina. looser, combining both fantasy “My family moved to the U.S. and realism.” Blocks of wood cut in time for me to start middle by her husband lean against each school,” she said. “Having suffered other, graphite features peering through the immigrant experiout of the wood to stare at a work ence, I dedicated the earlier part in progress perched on an easel of my life to education, in particacross the room. ular English Learners.” These days Over the years, she has been a she’s retired from teaching and part of the BuenaVentura Art Asher focus is on using her art to sociation, taught classes for Focus connect people to the planet. on the Masters, and is currently “We have gotten so far away a part of Rootless, a global group from the land we live on that of women artists who have been we’re disconnected. I think part of working together since 2015. Ten Submitted photo what we need to do to get back women from all over the world Mariana Peirano on track is to learn what native peocome together every year to do a ples have done to connect with the collaborative piece, then show it earth.” both here and abroad. We have gotten In 2010 she took a year off teaching Though she identifies as an introvert, she’s to study at the Los Angeles Academy of embedded into the local art community. “For so far away from Figurative Art. “I was pretty much selfme, joining groups is important because they taught, so I needed to refine my skills.” Her help me get out in the world. It’s why I joined the land we live eyes light up as she talks about honing the Ojai Studio Artists.” She’ll be a part of their Secon that we’re craft of painting. “That year at the AAFA ond Saturday tour in August and just finished a was very intensive. Some of the poses show at the Ojai Coffee Roasting Company. disconnected.” were 10 weeks long so you really had to be The faces in her new work watch as we extremely detailed and exact. I enjoy that, leave her studio, some somber, some wise. and it’s the only way I know how to do the Mariana is reflective as she guides me back faces.” along the path to her house. “With my art, it’s almost like I’ve come The training shows. With a strong focus on expressions, her work is back to my roots. At one point I had this goal of refining my technique compelling, intimate, and emotional. Her technique is classic atelier, to a certain place. I’m trying now to work a little bit more from the with layers of paint and color providing a grounded base for the esinside. I want to do more insightful work, work that connects what is sence of her subject to show through. happening in the world with my art in a positive way.”





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y passion working as personal an Executive Consultant to identifyis and develop their strengthsCoach to achieveand their Organizational highest performanceDevelopment in various workplace cultures. identify and develop their personal strengths to achieve help clients their highest performance in various workplace cultures. I use a “personality-strengths” based coaching system to identify their talents and how they work and are affected by others. My clients already have the answers; they simply have not asked themselves the right questions...this I use a “personality-strengths” based coaching system to identify their talents and how they work is where I can help. and are affected by others. My clients already have the answers; they simply have not asked Prior to going out on my own in 2012, I was the Global Director of Human Resources for Patagonia, Inc., plus themselves the right questions ... this is where I can help. working in various other roles in my 25 year career at Patagonia.

Prior toBefore goingPatagonia, out onI worked my own in 2012, was the Global Director of Human Resources for Patagonia, for fifteen years Ifor the National Park Service in Yosemite, Everglades, Grand Teton, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Parks, first as a ranger, later in various roles in park “Personnel” Offices. Inc., plus working in various other roles in my 25 year career at Patagonia. education includes a Master’s Degreeyears from Antioch University, a Bachelor’ degree from the UniversityEverglades, of Before My Patagonia, I worked for fifteen for the National Park sService in Yosemite, California at Berkeley, and a graduate of the Hudson Institute Executive Life Coach program of Santa Barbara, Grand Teton, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Parks, first as a ranger, later in various roles in park CA. I occasionally work as an adjunct Professor in the MBA programs both at Cal State University (Channel “Personnel” Islands)Offices. and Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA . I’ve lived and worked inaOjai since 1998 which thefrom next best thing toUniversity, living in a national park. My education includes Master’s Degree Antioch a Bachelor’s degree from the The best way to contact is throughand Linkedin www.linkedin.com/lu-setnicka or “From Within Coaching,” University of California at me Berkeley, a graduate of the Hudson Institute Executive Life Coach www.fromwithincoaching.com program of Santa Barbara, CA. I occasionally work as an adjunct Professor in the MBA programs both at Cal State University (Channel Islands) and Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA . • PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT COACHING

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Stephanie James Sharing unfiltered truths on ‘Topa Talk’ By Grant Phillips


tephanie James and Cody Creighton’s goal for their podcast “Topa to include business owners and more diverse voices.” Talk” is “to have fun, meet amazing people, and inspire our listeners.” Topa Talk continues to give me an entry point into people’s lives,” James “We kind of talk about nothing and everything at the same time,” said. “It has allowed me to meet incredible people, get close with business James explains in the podcast’s one-minute trailer. owners, and help others. Helping people is the biggest motivator in my life Their funny, irreverent banter, with and continues to provide meaning a liberal sprinkling of swear words, has for me. attracted a diverse following. “It has sparked a fire in me to get Now in its fourth season, Topa even more involved, and what that Talk’s “nothing” to “everything” looks like for each one of us will be includes surfing during a tsunami, different. We recently talked to a proper snacking, conspiracy theories, mother of three who watches every podcast fans, chatting with the mayor, school district and City Council and much more in 117-plus podcasts meeting on Zoom; our mayor who and counting. is focused on fire readiness and Topa Talk is all about give and take. sustainability; and then you have me, In the Feb. 10 podcast on the who will continue to use the podfuture of Ojai, when the mayor said, cast to further these conversations “We’re in the same boat, we’re on and share opinions.” the same team….,” James responds: Ojai’s powerful women inspire “Something that jumped out to me, James. too, when you said that we’re in this “Blair Braney, who is the Ojai together, and we’re on the same team Valley Democratic Club secretary, is and we’re in the same boat, I would one of the curious women I know only edit that and say that we all have and she continues to find ways to different boats. We are in the same make an impact in this community,” Photo by Brandi Crockett ocean, we are in the same sea, in the James said. “Watch out for her in the Stephanie James same storm, but we do all have differcoming years, she will be a name you ent boats. We have different resources know. and stuff, and I think that’s an important “Grace Buetti Malloy of Poco part of this piece of this puzzle, which is Farms and the head of the Thursday how polarized everyone is. It’s just realizFarmers’ Market is the pure embodiing how different we all are, and it’s OK, ment of a woman. She is kind, fierce, We have been hyperfocused on and to help people when we can. …” and has so many skills, you’d be what Ojai was, where it is now, James explained about the podcast: surprised she’s learned them all in this “We have been hyperfocused on what one life. She’s the reason we have a and where it is heading.” Ojai was, where it is now, and where it Thursday Farmers’ market and she has is heading. In the last few years, a lot of done so many other great things for local events have sparked these converthis community.” sations and the takeaway for me is that we have a town full of passionate, James moved to Ojai from Ventura in 2017 and enjoys “the quiet smart, and opinionated locals who will be protecting Ojai with bravado.” mornings drinking tea on my porch, long walks on the bike path, running Among the many guests featured on the podcast are small-business into friends at a coffee shop or a brewery, knowing people’s names, what owners. they do, what they care about, learning how to garden. ...” “When I was first creating this podcast in 2019, I reached out to a handOjai is “the first place I have ever lived where I feel like I belong,” said ful of business owners to be on the show and they all said yes. I really James. “I feel at home, and accepted, wanted, loved. It’s all the sweet, small couldn’t believe it,” James said. “It’s those yeses that kept me motivated and moments in life, and Ojai provides that for me. inspired. I see small-business owners like most people see celebrities and “I want to ask the people who live in this town and share a vision for get so excited to see them out and about or to involve them on the show. Ojai what their unique approach will be, because it takes a whole commuWithout dedicated, diverse, and inclusive businesses in Ojai, we have no nity of creative people to get it done.” culture and no heart.” Topa Talk Podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts, including James said she wants to expand “our conversation on the ‘Future of Ojai’ https://apple.co/3M5dZzS.




I’m beyond grateful to know and work with so many talented and inspiring women.


Michala Kepple | Realtor Cal DRE 02142422 805.836.2225 michala.kepple@sothebysrealty.com

Waite, Jacobson & Atkinson Carolyn Vondriska 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 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 flyfishing in the Los Padres and Yosemite back country with her family.

From left: Megan, Denise, Mary, Carolyn

• Estate Planning • Wills • Trusts • Trust Administration • Health Care Documents

The team includes Senior 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. Mary Clark rejoined the firm in 2020 as a Law Office Administrator. Mary has enjoyed working as an administrative assistant for over 20 years, including 15+ years in the Ojai Valley.

2011 THROUGH 2021

Denise joined the firm in 2021 as a Legal Office Administrator and continues her twenty-year career in the legal field. As a team, Carolyn, Megan, Mary, Denise, with firm Partner Ross E. Atkinson, are delighted to assist our clients with their estate planning and trust administration needs. This work has been particularly meaningful during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. We remain focused on supporting our clients and the community we serve, safely and without disruption. We are grateful for our community, now more than ever.

603 W. OJAI AVENUE, SUITE D • 805-646-7263 • WWW.WJALAW.COM 17

Blair Braney Getting schooled in how to make a difference in her hometown


By Kimberly Rivers | kimberly@ojaivalleynews.com

chool district seats have the most immediate and direct school enrollment, Braney said she would like to participate in finding impact on the lives of families in any community,” said Blair solutions. Braney of Meiners Oaks. She has lived in the Ojai Valley for She spoke about the importance getting involved in city gover32 of her 37 years, leaving nance. only for college. “I was born and “I’d love more people to find raised in Ojai…. As my oldest son a single issue that moves them entered kindergarten in Ojai Unified most, speaks to their values, and — the same school district both get involved in that one thing. my parents and I attended — I got Whether it’s your kids’ classroom, much more interested in the school PTA, the environment, art, music, district and its workings.” or sports, and check in on how Braney credits her political you can help.” With so many interest with watching presidenissues needing engagement, it’s tial campaigns when she was in common for the core group of grade school and high school. That volunteers and advocates to feel that led to her volunteering for stretched thin. “Oftentimes, so presidential campaigns in her 20s. many of the activities or programs Recently, the Ojai Valley Democratthat serve so many people in our ic Club elected her as secretary, a community are run by a handful position she has embraced. of volunteers who would love a “I switched careers during the helping hand. Extra time is hard early months of the pandemic, to come by, but when the issue is leaving communications at a global close to your heart, it’s easier to trade-show company to focus on find the time.” being a mom, volunteering at my kids’ schools, and serving on the Time can be hard to come board of the Ojai Valley Democratby, but as anyone who spends ic Club,” she said. enough time in Ojai comes to In thinking back on growing up understand, inspiration and motiPhoto by Jen Luce in Ojai, and now living here as a vation to get involved can be just Blair Braney parent, she said, “Ojai has changed one public meeting away. and stayed the same all at once.” “The main thing that inspires With fewer families with children in me to be involved and show up Ojai, the school district has shrunk, is the knowledge that decisions The main thing that inspires she noted. “Home inventory has will be made with or without your stayed the same — very little! There me to be involved and show up input,” said Braney. She emphahasn’t been any meaningful building sized the value of decision-makers is the knowledge that decisions of homes for a few decades.” hearing diverse perspectives and She said she is concerned that will be made with or without the importance of simply showing the lack of housing is going to have up. “Your mere presence shows a long-lasting impact, affecting the your input.” those decision-makers who they’re character of the entire valley. affecting, and I believe that’s useful…. Regular, real people are making “I think Ojai is headed toward (becoming) a community for the decisions on behalf of you, whether you’re there or not, and I really older, wealthy and elite with much less room as a haven for artists, believe it’s useful for those decision-makers to have input from many spiritual searchers, farmers, and families than ever in its history,” she perspectives.” cautioned. “We have to actively fight against this trend if we want to As for why she’s showing up, and choosing to volunteer in local polkeep Ojai accessible to the people who” she describes as “the heartitics, she said, “I feel so fortunate to be a small part of such a unique beat of the town.” and beautiful community and want to do my small part of leaving it While she said she does not have the answers to Ojai’s housing crisis, declining numbers of young families in Ojai, and decrease in better for generations to come.”



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Bonnie Patton

Celebrating Independence Day and helping others By Mimi Walker | Special to the Ojai Valley News


onnie Patton grew up both in Ojai and with Ojai. Her parents, During the peak of the pandemic, Patton also ran a weekly food Chuck Bushman and Patricia Bushman-Nelles, were key figures giveaway at St. Thomas Aquinas Church every Monday. “I love it,” she in the founding of the Ojai Independence Day Committee. Her said. “Nobody in this country should go hungry or without a roof father was chairman up until the last year of his life in 1979. over their head. … We’re seeing more and more people because the Patton followed in his footprice of groceries has skyrocketsteps, chairing the committee for ed. We give probably three weeks’ 14 years. “I kind of grew up on the worth of groceries: frozen meats, committee because my parents eggs and milk when we get it, were involved from the get-go (in laundry detergent…. the ’60s),” she said. “I loved grow“I have a fantastic team, we ing up with the parade. When I really work in all areas. Some peohad kids, I wanted it to continue ple are retired, some are working on. We weren’t funded by the full-time. Everybody does what city; we had to raise all our own they can do to make it happen. As money. It was such a wonderful long as I can do it, I’m going to do thing to pass on. I still see people it because there’s a need. We’re and they’ll tell me they always seeing a lot of elderly, and people remember the Fourth of July. with young children. The elderly Actually, the Fourth of July brings can’t go to work, and the really people back to Ojai because they young kids … well, they can’t go to remember it and they want their work, either. They count on us. kids to experience it. There aren’t “We do an open pantry now; a lot of events like ours that are any time anybody calls the church free. For us, it’s been a real family (St. Thomas Aquinas), somebody event.” will make sure they get food. We Patton’s daughter, Kristi Adewill never let anybody go hungry. jumo, is now president of the InThere’s always several people who dependence Day Committee, and can drop pretty much everything hopes to show her own daughter and meet people. We’re really a the ropes in the hopes of conOjai Valley News photo by Holly Roberts team … we are totally, 100% voluntinuing the patriotic tradition. teer.” Bonnie Patton For Patton, the spirit of family St. Vincent de Paul also assists and service also thrives in the work with housing resources. “We have she does as president of the Society a helpline (at St. Thomas Aquinas) of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Thomas that people can call if they need Aquinas Church, a position she has assistance with rents, utilities. … Nobody in this held since 2011. “It was very small for We help people stay in their home a very, very long time. When I took and have a roof over their head, country should go over, there were only two to three basically. We have resources in members in the group. We grew it order to get clothing, stove, bed, hungry or without a and now we have more members etc. … We can connect with the LA roof over their head. ” and are able to do more outreach,” Chapter that has those resources.” she said. In addition to her storied histoEvery third Saturday of the ry with food assistance and Fourth month, St. Vincent de Paul runs a of July festivities, Patton served food pantry. Also, on the first Thursas a Girl Scout troop leader for 21 day of the month, it holds a “Share the Harvest” produce giveaway years and serves now as site supervisor at Child Development with fruits and vegetables provided by Food Share and local ranches. Resources’ Topa Topa Head Start Center.





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River Sauvageau Dreaming of mandalas going global


By Mimi Walker | Special to the Ojai Valley News

hen River Sauvageau arrived in Ojai in April 1978, she knew she friends had copies,” Sauvageau said. “We used those images as inspiration had found a place of true vocational awakening. “What has in the mandala. I ended up painting the center that year. When I painted been really helpful for me, and what attracted me here in the the center, I literally had this full-body experience (of) awakening; I felt first place, was community,” she said. “There’s an openness here a connection to the center of the Earth, the universe above, this energy that I wasn’t finding in other places. moving through me. I had a vision of There’s a strong spirit of cooperation Julie Tumamait-Stenslie praying with and mutuality and reciprocation.” sage on the mandala.” Naturally artistic and talented, Twenty-four years later, an openSauvageau began doing volunteer cosing-prayer ceremony with Tumatume designing in the Illusions Theatre mait-Stenslie came to pass. The project program, founded by Betti Ridenour. has evolved in the years leading up to “We were doing animal costumes and that; some of the symbolism in sacred all kinds of odd shapes and things. Chumash imagery is difficult to trace, That’s how I got really good at pattern and may not be suitable for stepping making,” she said. “It was a great entreon. preneurial schooling for me.” “What it evolved into was more inSauvageau further honed her clusive: all of the things we love about unique patterning skills in a brief career Ojai, and it includes all people of all as an inflatable costume designer for times. When we do the mandala, we Entertainment Research Group in the ask people who don’t know what to mid-1980s. “We used to make blow-up paint to think of the elements: earth, Kool-Aid men and M&M characters for air, fire, water, and there’s also ether parades and promotionals; the biggest (spirit).” piece I ever made was a 14-foot-tall According to Sauvageau, the Uncle Sam hat. I moved back to Ojai mandala project has been invaluable with even more experience and skills in her own self-actualization. “Two under my belt.” weeks after painting the center of the In 1989, she bought a new industrial first mandala, I ended up in my first sewing machine to work with heaviNative American ceremony. It’s been Submitted photo a concurrent development for me in er fabrics, and made several bags of River Sauvageau all shapes and sizes. Sauvageau then my life where many of the values that packed a tent and drove up the coast I came to understand and be able to of California and into Oregon to try articulate have been informing in all to sell her bags at storefronts. of my work, but most especially in After she returned with several orthe mandala work.” Sauvageau shared For me, good things are meant ders, Studio Sauvageau was born. After her dream of mandalas going global. operating a storefront for nearly two “I have a vision of these community to be shared. ” decades, Sauvageau said: “I’m working mandalas all over the world as points out of my home now…. I have the best of connection and peace.” workroom I really might have ever had The ongoing experience of comin all these times.” Still making her bags and running small creative sewing munal art proved so impactful, Sauvageau — French-Canadian by blood, classes, she acknowledged, “I’m really in a process of evolution.” with additional native roots — has discovered another calling: spiritual Evolution is another kind of art Sauvageau deftly stitches into Ojai’s counseling. fabric — namely, through the mandala community art project at Ojai Day. Through Greater Goods, she does a “Sacred Circle Gathering” once Now entering her 30th year of leadership in the project (alongside Mary a month. She described it as “two-and-a-half hours of sharing from the Kennedy and Susan Evergreen Hericks), Sauvageau explained how her heart” that brings in the teachings of feminine principles and the Native involvement started in 1993 (the first Ojai Day after many years) with the American “red road” philosophy. goal of honoring Chumash people. At the time, Campbell Grant’s book, Said Sauvageau: “For me, good things are meant to be shared. I think “The Rock Paintings of the Chumash: A Study of a California Indian Culthat really exemplifies my attitude about a lot things in life and why I do ture,” was out of print. “I happened to have a copy of it, and some other what I do.”




Connect with Community, Get Inspired, Be Uplifted, and Enjoy Live Music from the Deborah King Band! The Deborah King Center is excited to host its first postpandemic, live, in-person, retreat, right here in Ojai! Our 4-day event brings together people from all around the world: people seeking a higher truth – people seeking to improve their lives in all aspects – to receive joy in their personal relationships, grow in their careers, and max emotional and physical health. And as a special thank you to the community that we call home, we are offering a Saturday only day pass to locals for just $25.

Come spend Saturday, September 3, with us. Learn, connect, and enjoy live music from the Deborah King Band! Meet Deborah and her Soul Family, gather transformative knowledge, connect with community, and uncover your most powerful, transcendent self. We’d love to meet you in person. And we hope to see you there for what promises to be a truly remarkable day.

Space is limited – sign up at: deborahking.com/ojai2022