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Keeping it Real and Creative with Nona Senasac

March 8, 2023

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“I take life as it comes,” says Nona Senasac. A persistently creative individual, Nona has spent her life immersed in art. When asked about her artistic style, Nona says she has never stuck to just one approach, but “Realist” is perhaps a good descriptor for her work. It’s an apt term for Nona, whose down-to-earth and pragmatic demeanor is immediately apparent.           

Nona’s artistic endeavors began early on, growing up as a 4th-generation San Franciscan in the not-so-sunny Sunset District. She lived with her mother and father, her two older sisters, and her Grandma D. Her oldest sister was 10 years older than her while the other was only two years older. “We were raised like twins,” she says.

Nona describes her childhood as pleasant and overall typical. She spent her days playing outside, walking to the beach, and drawing with chalk on the sidewalks. “You’d draw something and then the rain would wash it away, and that’s how it is.” Grandma D taught Nona how to crochet, a craft Nona still practices to this day.

She attended school at St. Monica on 24th and Geary in the Richmond District. Her father worked as a restaurant equipment salesman. The family spent their summers visiting Nona’s other grandmother, Grandma Edie, along the banks of the Russian River in Guernewood Park, a small community in Sonoma County.

When she was 11, Nona’s family moved to Hillsborough. Nona explains that it was her father’s dream to live there, and the Peninsula’s idyllic sunny weather was the primary reason. Nona attended Mercy High School in Burlingame, graduating in 1955.

Once she finished high school, Nona headed to the verdant hills of Belmont, studying art at the College of Notre Dame. A high school boyfriend said he wouldn’t marry anyone who didn’t have a job. “With art, I could find work,” she explains. And it was a perfect match! Her art classes were her favorites, and after graduating in 1959, she became an art teacher for a number of years.

In 1961, Nona married Dolph Senasac. They first met in high school through a church-run teen club. All of the Catholic churches in the area hosted their own weekly series of social nights for teenagers, Nona explains. “There would be food and drink for about the first half hour, and then the dancing would begin.” Because Nona and Dolph attended the same church, they also met every Tuesday at the same teen club.

After marrying, Nona and Dolph first lived in San Mateo, Dolph’s hometown. Dolph worked as a stockbroker on Montgomery Street in San Francisco, and Nona worked as a teacher in Mountain View. In 1965 they left the Peninsula for the comforts of the East Bay, settling in Dublin before moving near Danville a few years after that.

The couple had seven children: Marc, Theri, Andy, Nicole, Suzanne, Danielle, and Ginette. “The Big 4 and the Little 3,” she says, explaining that they had four children and then an eight-year gap followed before they had the rest. Nona passed on her artistic inclination to her kids and instilled in all of them the value of creativity. “It’s what you do when you’re a mother,” she says. “They all have artistic talent.” Today some of her children live close by in Foster City and San Mateo, while others are as far as Los Angeles, Virginia, and France.

While some of her kids may have moved away, Nona is a Californian through and through. She has explored the state thoroughly and has driven up and down the west coast between British Columbia and Baja California. Previously, Nona and her family would gather in Monterey for Thanksgiving at a lovely hotel. She looks back fondly on the tradition as well as the coastal charm of Monterey. “I miss all the things you can do there,” she says.

Nona’s husband Dolph passed away last year, only five months after the two moved to Sterling Court. “Life changed,” Nona says, “but life goes on.” She loves living in this community and remarks that “the people are extremely nice here.”

Nona still likes to be creative, whether drawing, crocheting, or something else entirely. Looking around her apartment, she says it’s time to make something new. “That’s kind of my life,” she says. “Doing things that are fun and starting over again a couple days later.”

Dmitry Karpinsky: This Driver Enjoys the Ride

February 3, 2023

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Dmitry Karpinsky obviously loves his job as the driver at Sterling Court. He enjoys being out and about and, of course, chatting with the residents. He was born in the U.S.S.R. in the same year the country launched Sputnik, a basketball-sized satellite that became the first manmade object to orbit the Earth. Dmitry too has always been ready for adventure.

“I like to travel. The best part of my job is seeing the blue sky every day,” says Dmitry. “Sitting in an office is boring. It’s why I also enjoyed my job in television so much.” When you talk to Dmitry, you quickly learn that he is funny, direct, and has a very interesting past!

In Russia, Dmitry was an electrical engineer and used those skills first as a captain in the military and then as a technician on a TV crew. Does he have any stories from his TV days? A few spring to mind.

In January 1991, his crew was shooting a documentary about Stalin and traveling to Georgia to visit one of Stalin’s dachas (summer homes), called Cold River, which is now a museum. Dmitry talked to one of the employees who told stories from Stalin’s time.

“He said that the security of the dacha was very strict,” says Dmitry. “In addition to the numerous guards posted around the dacha, the surroundings were covered with special pebbles and when they were stepped on, they emitted a very loud screeching. No one can sneak up on that house!”

Afterward, the crew continued traveling for the documentary. Even though the Soviet Union was “coming apart at the seams” during this time, says Dmitry, they weren’t having any trouble going between countries. They knew that the Ossetian-Georgian conflict had flared up but had no idea about the severity until they reached the checkpoints. 

“Our driver was from Tbilisi and a Kurd by nationality,” says Dmitry. “One night in the Gori area we were stopped at two checkpoints. Civilians with hunting rifles were on duty. At both posts, they asked for passports and we were allowed to pass without incident. Our Kurdish driver explained that at one post Georgians were catching Ossetians, and at the other Ossetians were catching Georgians. We had only Russians and a Kurd in the car. That’s why they didn’t touch us.”

It was shortly after this that Dmitry decided to move his family to the United States and if you ask him why he decided to move, he laughs like he’s wondering why someone would ask such a silly question.

When Dmitry first got to America, 31 years ago, he continued his work as an electrical engineer including working for Hitachi Instruments. But when the company closed the department where he worked, he decided to get his commercial driver’s license, leading to his job at Sterling Court.

Outside of work, Dmitry is the proud father of two daughters, one called Yana, who moved back to Moscow, and the other Natalie, in Seattle. Yana is an architect, married to an architect, and they have two children. Natalie is a registered nurse, married, and living in Seattle. “I’d like more grandchildren, but they keep postponing it,” says Dmitry.

Dmitry also has some famous relatives. These include his great-grandfather Alexander Karpinsky, who was a prominent Russian geologist and mineralogist, and the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences. There is also his great-grandfather’s cousin, Boris Alexandrovich Bakhmeteff, an engineer, businessman, professor of civil engineering at Columbia University, and the only ambassador of the Russian Provisional Government to the United States.

For relaxation after work, Dmitry rides his bicycle almost every evening. He also loves swimming and used to swim a mile every day at the YMCA.

When Dmitry first came to work at Sterling Court, he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was grateful to meet happy people enjoying life. He takes pride in making sure that everyone gets to and from their appointments safely and on time. And after 11 years, he still loves his job.

Marcia Lowell Leonhardt: A Life of Surprises

January 5, 2023

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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?


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