Marcia Lowell Leonhardt: A Life of Surprises

January 5, 2023

Marcia has rolled with a few surprises and big events in her life, which include living in Switzerland for 13 years, becoming a young single mother, and then buying a Burlingame home back when women weren’t often doing that on their own!

She started life in a tropical paradise. “I was born in Hawaii before it was a state. It was still a territory then!” says Marcia. “Dad was in the Navy.” Her family soon moved to California and Marcia grew up in San Diego and Sherman Oaks. She attended Van Nuys High School, whose other alumni include Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford, Natalie Wood, and Don Drysdale.

Marcia’s life of independence really began when she was accepted to UC Berkeley in 1954. Planning to pledge a sorority, she arrived before school began for Rush Week. “My parents dropped me off at a hotel and headed up north on vacation,” she remembers. “I’d never lived in a hotel before. It was a bit of a shock!” Soon she joined Delta Zeta and was very happy. “I made some very good friends.”

“I wanted to be a doctor, but my parents said no way were they paying for med school,” she remembers. “So, I started off in Poli Sci, thought I’d be an ambassador, but I hated it.” However, one class she really liked was Economics. In her second year, one of her Econ classes had an interesting teacher’s assistant. “I happened to get a German fellow with big brown eyes. We had a few coffee dates. One thing led to another, and we got married.”

Her new husband wasn’t making a lot of money, but they found an apartment over a garage where they lived for free by doing the gardening and cleaning. At the end of her third year, an unexpected pregnancy changed everything. Soon her daughter Karima was born and when the baby was just 5 months old, Marcia became pregnant again. 

On a whim, her German husband had applied for a job in Geneva, Switzerland at GATT, which later became the World Trade Organization, and was completely surprised to get the job. So, Marcia, just 21 with a new baby and another on the way, moved to Europe. “My parents paid the plane fare.”

The first stop was Berlin where Marcia’s husband left her and the baby with his parents for three weeks while he searched for a home in Geneva. “They were lovely people,” said Marcia, though communication was difficult as they spoke only German, and she barely knew a word. They believed in getting out and filling your lungs with the cold winter air, but that led to California-girl Marcia coming down with pneumonia.

Soon after she joined her husband in Geneva, their son Andre was born, and her husband had to fly off to Japan on business. Often it was friends who not only helped get Marcia through the tough times but also babysit her children while she went to French classes. They were a tightknit and international group, with one of Marcia’s best friends being Pakistani. They also went to some fantastic parties including dinner at the Japanese ambassador’s house. They traveled to Berlin every two years where she would see her in-laws. She was also there before, during, and after the Berlin Wall was built, so it was an exciting era. During this time, in 1966, they also had their third child, Marc. When Marc was 2 years old, Marcia got an au pair to stay with the children while she went to work for Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals. Things had changed and the marriage was no longer working. In 1972 they divorced, and two years later she and her children flew back to California, where a surprise was waiting for them.

“My wonderful sister opened her home to us,” says Marcia of her older sister Joan. “She went out of her way to make her home perfect for the kids!” After a year and a half, Marcia borrowed a little money from Joan and bought her own house. She and her oldest son Andre fixed it up and sold it to buy the home she lived in for the next 40 years. None of this was easy for a woman in the early 1970s.

“As a single woman, I couldn’t get a credit card,” says Marcia. “Except a Shell credit card, which started my credit history. When I got a loan to buy the second house, it was at 9 percent interest!”

During this time, Marcia had a variety of jobs including as a secretary but then found her niche in pharmaceutical sales, where she worked for 20 years. “I was working for Burroughs Wellcome, the company who developed AZT, the first AIDS drug,” says Marcia. “I found it very interesting. I wanted to be a doctor, remember?” She also worked as a secret shopper at Safeway but didn’t like giving negative employee reviews. During this time Marcia went to night school and completed her degree in economics.

“I like to work!” says Marcia. She has also been involved with many organizations including the League of Women Voters, the San Francisco Symphony, the Burlingame Hillsborough Neighborhood Club, the AAUW, the Auxiliary to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and volunteers driving for the Villages of San Mateo County.

She met a wonderful man named Dan who was a member of the World Jurist Association and together they traveled to meetings around the world including in Syria, China, Qatar, Bulgaria, Poland, and the Philippines. After Dan died, Marcia’s daughter insisted she try online dating where she met Francesco, a lovely man who also lives at Sterling Court and enjoys going to the symphony. Now they’ve known each other for 10 years.

Marcia decided it was time to move when she realized she was only living in a small part of her Burlingame home. Plus, with the sale of her house, she has been able to help her children. It was an easy decision to move to Sterling Court. “I have friends who are already here,” says Marcia. Also, she likes that if you haven’t opened your door by 10 o’clock, the staff checks on you. “I’m very pleased with Sterling Court. It’s so close to Burlingame Avenue, the same shops and friends!”

Marcia sums it up philosophically. “You live through a lot in life. I’ve always thought of myself as an optimistic pessimist,” she laughs. “Life is still good.”

Joan Warner’s Understated Energetic Enthusiasm

December 7, 2022

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When Joan Warner talks about her life, she isn’t sure where to start because, as she says, “I’ve kind of done a lot.” That, as it turns out, is a huge understatement. 

Joan grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York. A memory that springs to mind is from when she was about 10 and she and her brother traded chores. Her brother gave her a quick lesson on how to drive the tractor and off he went. She drove the tractor fine but forgot how to stop it and soon found herself climbing the side of the barn before the tractor flipped over with all four tires turning in the air. Amazingly, no one got hurt or in trouble. “After dinner my dad said, ‘Come on Joan, you’re driving,’ and he taught me to drive the tractor,” says Joan. “I had a wonderful dad.” 

That same can-do, tractor-driving attitude seems to have stayed with Joan because after the dairy farm, Joan worked as a nurse in New York, Germany, Connecticut, Hawaii, Oregon, and California, lived on a leprosy island, started a preschool, became a nanny, and has volunteered for a California women’s prison, a Romanian orphanage, and the Veterans’ Home. Plus, she had 8 children – 7 boys, 1 girl – 20 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild. 

But back to that dairy farm in New York. After graduation she went to nursing school in Buffalo and then worked at a Buffalo hospital where she met and married a young intern named Bob Warner. Bob had to work two years in the service to repay his GI loan, so they were stationed in Germany where he was a captain and general practitioner. “He delivered 240 babies, and I was his nurse,” says Joan. They also had their first child there, a boy named Jay. 

They next settled in New Milford, Connecticut, for about six years and added three more boys – Greg, Peter, and David – until Bob decided to move to Hawaii. “But to practice medicine in Hawaii, you have to be a resident for a full year,” says Joan. However, Bob got permission by living on the island of Moloka’i in Hawaii and working at Kalaupapa, a leper colony, while his family lived “topside” on the island. “Now they’re turning it into a National Park,” says Joan, “but with thousands of graves.” 

They moved to the Big Island and soon added two boys and one girl – Paul, John, and Molly. But tragically, Bob was climbing a cliff when a boulder came loose and took him down with it. Joan was now a 36-year-old single mother who didn’t feel she could go back to nursing as she’d have to work nights. So, Joan started a nursery school where her own children could attend. “We had 28 students our very first day,” says Joan. “The school is still running today!” Once her children were older, Joan went back to nursing. 

During this time, Joan did marry again and had her youngest son, Philip, but the marriage didn’t work out. She had always said that when the kids got to college age, she would move back to the mainland, so in 1975 she moved to Oregon with her eight children and two stepsons, and her oldest began college. She also housed out-of-state and foreign gymnasts. When her youngest was ready to attend college and wanted to study aerospace engineering, she moved to California to be near his school. Joan’s nursing skills transferred anywhere. 

Joan retired from nursing in 2001 to become the nanny for the children of two doctor friends. Those children are both in college now. Her own children have gone on to impressive and varied professions including a talented woodworker in Hawaii, an architect working on President Obama’s new home, one in the clothing industry in Oregon, another in Texas, a teacher in Seattle, one in Redwood City who works for the airlines, and a military drone specialist who just flew to the Netherlands. She is so proud of all of them. 

After she stopped working, a big part of Joan’s life was volunteering, often through her church. One organization, called “Get on the Bus,” helps children visit their mothers in prison and Joan has ridden on many of those buses. After meeting two boys from a Romanian orphanage, she was inspired to go to Romania to help. (She had already made 40 baby quilts to send there.) She also volunteered at a veterans’ home in Yountville where they had over a thousand residents. 

How did Joan, who had her 90th birthday in June, come to Sterling Court? “I had just taken a long walk, mopped the floors, then went to the garage to do a load of wash, but I fell and fractured my hip,” says Joan. That is when her kids decided she should be in a place where she’d be looked after. “I’m trying to obey them as they were so good at obeying me,” she says. And Sterling Court? “I really do feel that this is a wonderful place.” Still, she misses being around young people. “I might be tempted to volunteer at the local school,” says Joan. “I’m thinking about it. I like to volunteer.” 

And that’s how this hardworking, extremely generous soul ended the interview – with another huge understatement. 

 

 

Colin Pegley: The Very Model of a Modern English Gentleman

November 2, 2022

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Colin Pegley loves living in California, and while he may have called the United States home for the last 20 years, if you sit down to talk with him, the first thing you will notice is that he is English – very English.

“I was talking to someone here and she said, ‘I like your accent’ and I had to tell her, ‘With all due respect, it is you who has the accent.’ Then I gave her a little history lesson,” Colin laughs.

Born in North London in 1933, Colin was a child during World War II but still has very strong memories of the era. When Britain entered the war, they feared the cities would be bombed, so they sent children to safer rural areas. Colin was just 6 years old when he was sent away from home to a farm 60 miles northwest of London carrying a government-issued gas mask and a chocolate bar. Cadbury gave each evacuee a bar of chocolate – and there were millions of evacuees.

“For nine months I didn’t see my mother or father,” says Colin, but still, he enjoyed living on the farm. The older couple, who he called Uncle Jack and Aunt Sybil, were very kind to him. “I saw cows for the first time!” he laughs. “I always thought milk came out of bottles, but it came out of these strange creatures with horns on their heads.”

At the end of the nine months, his parents bought a house in the country and the whole family, which also included Colin’s two older sisters, his younger brother, and his two grandmas, moved there. His father, who had a successful automobile repair business in London, slept in his office all week, then came home on the weekends where they had evacuees of their own.

“My mother, God bless her, had 12 people to feed and 12 ration books,” remembers Colin.

The countryside had its dangers too. One Sunday, around the 4 o’clock teatime, a bomb landed close enough to their home to shatter windows. His grandmother, who was about to take a sip from her cup of tea was left holding just the handle! Colin remembers he and his little brother jumping on their bikes and being among the first to arrive at the bomb’s crater. They both found some shrapnel from the bomb and were delighted that it was still warm.

Colin was 12 years old when the war ended, and he gives the United States due credit for coming in and saving them. He even remembers US troops marching by. “I shouted, ‘Have any gum, chum?’ and they threw us candy!” But his mother wouldn’t let him eat it as she didn’t approve of chewing gum!

When he was 13, Colin and his brother were sent to boarding school called St Lawrence College in East Kent. He was a bit lonely at first and remembers that as he was getting into bed at night he’d say to himself, “Look on the bright side.”

After he left school, he did a 5-year engineering apprenticeship at Vauxhall Motors Ltd, part of General Motors. In his last year, his father died suddenly. The board of directors at his father’s company looked to him to take over, but instead, he joined the army and became a second lieutenant in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers serving with the Rhodesian African Rifles and the First 7th Gurkhas in a jungle war with Chinese Communists. “I was proud to serve with them because they’re fabulous people.” While serving, he learned that his rugby club had elected him captain. “I was 10,000 miles away!” he laughs.

Colin played rugby and cricket for many years, and those clubs have been responsible for some very important events in his life. When he got out of the army and was unsure what to do next, someone in his cricket club said they had a vacancy in their department and would he like the job. Colin accepted, and that’s how he ended up selling advertising for 10 years in The Times, London’s most famous newspaper. Playing sports is also how he met his wife.

“I was playing cricket, and two young ladies were watching,” he remembers. “My mother was also there so I asked my mother, ‘Who is that girl?’ and asked her to get me an introduction as I was still playing, to which my mother said, ‘Do your own dirty work!’” Colin laughs.

He must have done a good job because he learned the girl’s name was Pam and that she was a teacher. They married the following May and honeymooned in Italy. They bought a 16th century cottage in Amersham and had two children, Nick and Anthea, in the first three years.

Colin continued to commute by train to London for work at The Times until he left in 1967 to start his own business selling advertising space in charity magazines for companies such as the National Trust, Boy Scouts, and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

“I had a staff of 10, and I did that for 34 years,” says Colin. “When I retired, I said to Pam that I thought we’d be better off in America.” Both their son and daughter had married Americans. One was living south of San Francisco and the other near New York. They moved to Oakmont, California where they lived for 20 years.

They moved to the Bay Area when Pam became unwell. Colin has lived at Sterling Court since May and Pam is living with their son’s family “just up the road” in Burlingame and he gets to see her often. He has a nice routine at Sterling Court which includes a late breakfast, skipping lunch, and then dinner. “The chef, Denis, is from France and very good!” said Colin. “Also, all the residents and staff are very nice.”

Colin is happy to share his lifelong philosophy – and it’s what got him through World War II and those lonely nights as an English schoolboy, “Look on the bright side”. And if you ask him how he’s doing he’ll answer, “I never felt better!” What else would you expect from a true English gentleman?

 

Dee Mellander: On Her Toes and in the Swing!

October 4, 2022

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Delores “Dee” Mellander has an amazing zest for life and when she likes something, she puts her whole heart into it. “Everything I do, I’m gung-ho at!” says Dee.

Over the years, these have included ballet where she was mentored by a famous Russian teacher, and golf, where she has scored two holes in one (!), work, and of course her wonderful family!

Dee started life on her grandparents’ farm in Ohio. Tragically, Dee’s father died in an accident before she was born so her mother moved back home.

“We lived with my grandparents, my mother’s brother and sister, and my great-grandparents,” says Dee. “It was a huge farmhouse.” When she was 4 years old, her mother remarried, and Dee’s stepfather adopted her. That same year, Dee began ballet lessons, and her life took a literal turn.

“I started dancing on point in toe shoes when I was seven,” says Dee. “They wouldn’t start that early now.” She showed tremendous promise and auditioned for Sergei Popeloff, a Russian émigré who once danced with the great Anna Pavlova and now had a school in Cleveland Heights. Soon she was making the 30-mile roundtrip to his school on the bus several times a week.

“He only took people he thought would go on to dance and he was very strict,” she remembers. “He had a stick, and you better have your hips under and your shoulders back!”

In the summer, Popeloff’s dance company performed at the outdoor theater at Cain Park and the dancers had to live there. “It was beautiful in the park at night!” says Dee. “I was about 13 and always the youngest dancer.”

Dee danced in numerous recitals at other locations throughout her dancing career. “My mother would make my costumes and sometimes costumes for other dancers.” Dee has kept the many newspaper clippings and photos from the time.

She kept dancing and performing until a fateful Thanksgiving weekend when she was out driving with a girlfriend and they passed two young men whose car was stuck in a ditch. They threw them a rope to get them out, which led to a cup of coffee. Soon Dee was dating Howard Concoby, who had graduated a couple of years ahead of her and had just been discharged from the army.

Soon they were married and agreed Dee should stop dancing. “Everyone was shocked. Popeloff was shocked.”

The day after they were married, Dee and Howard moved to an apartment in downtown Detroit, but the neighborhood was so bad they didn’t unpack and moved to a nicer place. They both worked for Chrysler, with Dee working as a secretary until she was 7-months pregnant, rare in those days. (Her boss couldn’t seem to replace her!) They soon had a son, Gary, born in 1952, and then a daughter, Beth, born in 1956.

Howard traveled a lot for his job but in 1965 they moved to Orange County so Howard could become general manager at a Dodge truck dealership. By then, Dee’s dad had passed away, so her mother came to live with them. It was a great arrangement and they all loved living in Orange County. They moved to the desert in 1975 and lived happily like that for many years. Then Dee’s husband passed away, leaving her a widow at just 56 years old. Two years later, her mother died.

It was around that time Dee decided to work at the Chaparral Country Club in Palm Desert. Dee was already a member at Shadow Mountain Golf Club and played in many tournaments as a golf team member. In fact, it’s how she met her second husband, Bob Mellander. Friends asked her to play with them and a single friend. After the game, Bob invited her out for a sundae. They married a few years later and although Bob passed away 12 years ago, Dee is still close with his four children.

Dee kept working at the country club until she was 70 because, again, they just couldn’t find a replacement! She stayed in the desert, still playing 18 holes of golf until she turned 90. Then she switched to 9 holes. She maintained her shadow golf membership for over 40 years. Earlier this year, she decided it was time to move nearer family and her daughter found Sterling Court.

“We couldn’t have found a better place!” says Dee. “There is something going on every day and I am with wonderful friends. I take the exercise class every day. I play bingo and pinochle.”

She also loves that it’s close to the driving range and Mariners Point Golf Course! “My son-in-law calls me,” says Dee, “and says, ‘Want to go?’ and I say, ‘Sure!’ and we go to the driving range or play 9 holes. He’s so good to me.” Dee has wonderful things to say about all her family including her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Many of them came to celebrate her 94th birthday last month!

“I’m very happy here,” says Dee. And then adds, “I would like to make a third hole in one.”

Dee Mellander in her dancing days.

Jeanie’s Lifelong Song

September 2, 2022

Jeanie Bertrand did not volunteer for this interview, she was drafted!

“I was talking to Sarah and she said I was a colorful person and should be interviewed,” laughs Jeanie. The first thing that she does volunteer about herself is that she’s a singer and has sung since grammar school at Ulloa Elementary. She grew up in San Francisco’s Sunset District near the beach and the zoo, and both her parents loved music. There was always music in the house and they sang in the car. Her dad even had his own band. Later Jeanie began performing.

“Three friends and I sang around the upright piano in my small bedroom on 46th Avenue,” she says. “I taught them to harmonize and we sang in three-part harmony.” She said they sang songs like In the Still of the Night. Then she sings just a little of the haunting melody in her clear, lovely voice.

The four girls used to walk home from school singing and were soon performing on stage, first at Giannini Junior High and later at Lincoln High. “We were called The 4 Belles,” says Jeanie. “My mother thought of that name.” She’s still friends with two of the Belles now.

In 1966, when she was just 20 years old, Jeanie married Phillip Meade, but sadly he died just 4 years later. She’s still close to Phillip’s sisters and brother, though they live far away.

In the early 1970s, Jeanie attended a performance at a coffee house and was enjoying singing along from the audience. After the show the performer, Denny Presson, asked her to step into a closet with him. Just as Jeanie was about to say, “I’m not that kind of girl!” it turned out he wanted to hear her sing and needed to be away from all the other noise. He must have liked what he heard because that is how Jeanie began singing with Denny at The Orion café on Cedar Alley near San Francisco’s Tenderloin area.

The performances were at night, and, as it was cold in the City, Jeanie wore a long monk’s robe she had bought in Ghirardelli Square to keep her warm. It wasn’t a very good neighborhood so a girlfriend would come with her to the café. “One night I said to her, ‘I’m so scared’ and she looked at me in my monk’s robe and said, ‘You’re the scariest thing here!’” Jeanie laughs.

In 1989, Jeanie met Gene Bertrand and they were together for over 11 years. They moved to Yachats, a small city on the coast of Oregon and bought a little house on the beach where they lived happily for years. They married in 2001, the same year Gene became ill with pancreatic cancer. They knew they had to move back to San Francisco, so they sold the little house and packed up everything. Gene started the long drive but pulled the car over suddenly and walked away. Jeanie had no idea where he went but then he came back holding a cappuccino and muffin, which he gave to her. “He was hardly eating by then but that was one of the last things he had, a sip of my cappuccino.” They moved back to their San Francisco home, near where Jeanie had grown up, and Gene died at the VA Hospital two days later.

Jeanie has two people in her life she calls her rocks, her cousin Tom Toschi and best friend Cheryl Cooper. And they get together often. “I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she says.

Another very important part of Jeanie’s life, are the pets she’s had over the years. All either adopted from shelters or found on the street. She had two dogs, Gus and Cliff, and two cats, Willie and Floyd. “Floyd came to us covered in thorns, so I started picking them out. Then he became Willie’s protector,” she says. She and Gene adopted Cliff when they lived in Oregon. “I don’t mean to discount my husbands, but my animals were the loves of my life,” says Jeanie. “Animals are so innocent.”

In 2015, Jeanie began singing at the Far Out Gallery (FOG) in her neighborhood with her singing partner Peter. “I’m by nature a harmonizer and that’s the most fun for me,” she says. Over the years she has made a lot of her own jewelry and inspirational art for the gallery even creating some to put in the gallery’s window during the Covid lockdown.

In 2022, Jeanie suddenly got double vision. Then couldn’t open her left eye. “I was diagnosed with left cranial third nerve palsy and had it for three months. Then I got nerve pain from my spine down my left leg and I could hardly walk.”

Even though Jeanie was beginning to heal, she decided it was time to move. She looked into a couple of senior communities but liked Sterling Court best. “I like the camaraderie. We kind of have a group,” she says. But says they also move around and have lunch with other people too. Jeanie is a vegetarian but always finds enough choices to make it work.

Now that she’s settled in, there’s even talk of a future performance here by Jeanie and her singing partner Peter! That’s no surprise, because as Jeanie says, “I’m happiest with friends and family. And when I’m singing!”

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850 N. El Camino Real San Mateo, CA 94401 Phone: (650) 344-8200 Fax: (650) 344-7395 sarah.stcharles@sterlingcourt.com