If you’re looking for the inside scoop on life at Sterling Court, talk to Dick McKee. As a 19-year resident, he’s got the expert’s perspective on how to make fast friends and get involved! Dick, who has a quick and easy laugh, is happy to share his secret.
“You have to find out what each of you finds interesting,” Dick advises. “I’ve found getting together over dinner and just discussing things leads to a connection. Often you find out that people either have the same interests or a different interest you want to learn more about.” Dick also shares his own interests with the residents at Sterling Court and has presented videos from various lecture series, including most recently, one on British history.
Dick’s early life of moving around – he grew up in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Georgia – and then 25 years in the Army Reserves, taught him how to settle into a new place quickly. Dick started his moving around during World War II when his dad was called up for active duty. Once his dad returned to civilian life, they moved back to Philadelphia where Dick completed high school. He then went to college at William & Mary, where he majored in Economics.
Dick discovered his love of travel when he was about 20 years old. “I was at an ROTC summer camp in Oklahoma, so I thought, ‘I’ll start out from there and make a loop around the country.’” He had never been west, so he jumped on a bus and headed toward the coast. “I got to see things like the Grand Canyon, southern California, and Yosemite.” He was back home within three weeks.
When a Baltimore company where Dick worked made cutbacks, he took it as an opportunity and moved to Los Angeles and then later to the Bay Area where he worked in Oakland, San Francisco, and then Belmont, at Wadsworth, a college textbook publishing company.
By this time, Dick had met his wife Beth on a ski trip at Donner Ski Ranch and bought a house in Belmont just 5 minutes from Dick’s job. Beth worked as executive secretary to the marketing vice president at Clorox, plus she wrote and published a novel called “Ayra,” a generational saga of the Old South. Here they raised their daughter Kerry, who is now a psychotherapist living in the Santa Cruz area.
Beth, who had worked in France for two years and was fluent in French, shared Dick’s love of travel and together they toured the world including all 50 states, 8 Canadian provinces, the border cities of Mexico, Nassau, The Bahamas, and a total of 34 countries on 4 continents – traveling through most of them on trains. On one trip, he and his wife had to be familiar with five different languages.
Once he and his wife retired, they were ready for a break from home maintenance, lawn care, and cooking. They looked at 17 retirement communities and happily settled on Sterling Court because they loved its close-to-downtown location and of course the wonderful meals. Sadly, Beth began to show signs of dementia and had to move to Sunrise where she lived for seven years, and Dick walked down to visit her three times a week.
After Beth was gone, Dick returned to traveling, visiting Japan and Europe many times, usually traveling by train and tours. Dick still jumps on BART and Caltrain to get around the Bay Area. “I get around a lot and I enjoy doing that!”
“All of this,” says Dick, “is driven by three rules that I follow to keep myself oriented. First, I have a very strong religious life. Secondly, I keep busy, particularly for mental health. And I do a lot of walking to keep my health up. And third, I try to find humor in everything I possibly can.” With that Dick laughs and says, “Humor is the best medicine.” And it’s obviously working for him!
If you’re ready for a fun and fascinating conversation with Arleen and Ed, ask them about their travels. They have made 76 overseas flights, taken cruises, and driven an RV up and down the coasts, and when you talk to them, their enthusiasm is catching!
Ed grew up primarily in South San Francisco and Arleen was raised in San Mateo. They both say they had wonderful childhoods. Each went on an international trip when young and caught the travel bug early.
The couple met working for Pan American World Airways. Ed worked in engine overhaul and Arleen as a secretary. “There were 200 mechanics – and me in an office with the boss,” laughs Arleen. It will be 59 years together this month and both agree, they are still best friends.
In the early years, Pan Am gave employees a free ticket each year. Arleen and Ed’s first trip was their honeymoon to Mexico City. The next year it was Germany. When they landed in a new country, they would rent a car and never worry about speaking the language. Ed was an excellent driver and Arleen read the map. They drove in every European country, including the UK, Sweden, and Eastern Europe. Already avid skiers with a Tahoe cabin, they skied beautiful villages in Austria (getting tipsy on mulled glühwein), Switzerland, and Italy on the side of the Matterhorn. “It was so exciting and one of my best memories,” says Arleen with Ed’s agreement.
“We flew to Greece where we got lost in the countryside and were helped by a non-English-speaking man who got us back to the main highway with his pointing at our maps!” says Arleen. They flew into Iran and walked the streets of Tehran. “It was a blessed time to travel. The world was peaceful,” says Arleen. “Beirut was a beautiful city. ‘The Paris of the Middle East’ it was called and it really was,” says Arleen. Other travels included Iran, Syria, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and South America including Peru’s Machu Picchu and Southeast Asia to Cambodia and Vietnam. “The people of Vietnam were probably the friendliest we’ve met anywhere,” says Arleen.
In 1960, due to a shift in operations, Ed went to work for Coca-Cola, but Arleen stayed at Pan Am for 35 years. At 25 years, they gave her a free trip to anywhere. “Others chose Hawaii or New York. I wanted to go around the world,” says Arleen. The airline flew them first class and they were treated like celebrities during a three-week trip. They saw Bangkok, New Delhi, and Singapore, staying several days in each place to absorb the countryside.
They even took weekend trips to Hawaii, London, and Paris. To avoid jet lag, they flew on the newly introduced and nearly empty 747s sleeping on an empty row of seats. (Though they confess that on one trip they fell asleep at the Folies Bergère.)
Ed is quick to say that they know how lucky they were to have these opportunities. He adds that by traveling standby, in the off-season, and avoiding tourist spots, they traveled very inexpensively. Their favorite places to stay were little inns in small towns barely on the map. Usually, they were the only Americans in town.
When they got a little older, they drove an RV all over the coastal U.S. and into Canada. They’ve also cruised the Black and Baltic seas, to the Caribbean islands, Cuba, and the Panama Canal.
They may no longer travel as much, but still act internationally by sponsoring two children, one a 16-year-old girl in Albania (since she was just 4) and more recently a little boy in Romania, via an organization called World Vision. They love staying in touch with them and following their progress.
Before moving to Sterling Court a year and a half ago, they’d had a home in the Belmont hills for 46 years and keep a framed panorama of its view. They love their 2-bedroom apartment here, filling it with mementos and decorating every wall with photos of their travels. “I look around the rooms and hallway,” says Ed, “and I see all of the places we’ve been.”
They loved every country and said there isn’t one they wouldn’t love to see again. When you talk with them, it feels a little bit like you’ve been there too!
Chef Denis knew he wanted to be a chef by the time he was 10 years old. Born and raised in France, he loved working with his mom in the kitchen and especially loved making pastries. Even though his parents had other ideas for him (like being an electrician), his perseverance paid off. At 14, his dad found him a 4-year restaurant apprenticeship in his native region of Alsace-Lorraine that alternated 1 week of school with 3 weeks as an apprentice. The first assignment for the eager young chef: learn how to clean the kitchen. Later, of course, he advanced to essential culinary skills like deboning and butchering. When he graduated, his mentor placed him at a one-Michelin star restaurant in Colmar, France, where he trained as a pastry chef. The military soon called – fortunately for just one year – but he was still able to use his cooking skills while enlisted. After he left, he spent the next several years at two different one-Michelin star restaurants in France where he honed his skills.
In 1986, the opportunity arose to come to California, and Chef Denis quickly got a job as the banquet chef at Hornblower Yachts in San Francisco. He later became the executive sous chef at Maxwell’s Plum in Ghirardelli Square. In 1989, Chef Denis felt it was time to move his restaurant career to hotels, and over the next 10 years he had top positions at Hyatt, Le Baron Hotel, and Hilton in the South Bay.
While hotels were challenging and banquets included up to 1,000 guests, the real challenge lay ahead when Chef Denis began to take on 30,000 guests at a time at the Santa Clara Convention Center, managing some 100 employees. Chef Denis was in charge of more meals than ever before, but he was no longer intimately involved with preparing the food or with serving the people he loves – the guests – and so it was time for yet another shift, which took him to the Peninsula Regent just down the street. And then, the best thing ever happened – Chef Denis became an essential part of Sterling Court where he has prepared food with love and care for the past 11 years – his longest time at any one place during his renowned career.
It’s clear Chef Denis is at home at Sterling Court. “Thanks to the residents we have a job. We have to make sure the food, the presentation, the service, and everything is great, so they won’t leave. I’m blessed to work here and make sure everything goes well for these residents,” said Chef Denis.
Learning about Chef Denis’s illustrious experience and remarkable achievements led to some up-close-and-personal questions.
What kind of food did you grow up with? My parents cooked very simple food in Alsace-Lorraine, and Mom grew just about everything and made everything fresh. The only time I remember her going to the market was in the winter.
Do you have a signature dish? For the first 20 years of cooking, I loved making Alsatian sauerkraut. But more recently I’ve turned to jambalaya because my wife loves it!
What is your least favorite dish to prepare? Anything that is fatty or greasy. I had a heart attack in 2019, so I changed the way I ate as well as how I prepared food for others.
You mentioned your wife. Tell me about your family. I have a wonderful daughter and three step-daughters, two that live at home with my wife and I right here in San Mateo. We also have one grandson. We are fortunate to have all our children here in the Bay Area.
What is your favorite cuisine to eat? French cuisine because that is where I am from and where my heart lies. My wife is from Mexico, so I am very fond of that as well, but really, I love any kind of food.
How do you describe your overall cooking philosophy at Sterling Court? Healthy eating. We don’t use salt. There is no salt in the kitchen; it is on the tables but not in the kitchen. And there is very little sugar. I season from the beginning with spices and herbs to get maximum flavor and we adjust recipes to make the health aspect of utmost importance. We try lots of new ideas, and sometimes they don’t go over with the residents at first (I recall the first time I put fruit on a salad!) but we win them over 😉.
Name 3 kitchen tools you can’t live without. A plastic spatula to get everything out because there is no waste for me. A sharp chef’s knife is essential, and I love a spaetzle machine for making this German pasta that I used to make by hand. Once I discovered the machine, I couldn’t live without it!
If you could cook a meal for anyone in the world who would it be? I wish I could have cooked a meal for my parents. Unfortunately, in the past couple of years I lost them both, but that is who I would love to cook for.
Our conversation ended with some words of wisdom: “We all have good and bad days. Even if one resident has a bad day, I go home every night and say ‘You know what, I made that person have a better day.’” That’s what matters most to Chef Denis.
Judy and Bruce Belding are both born and bred San Francisco natives who grew up about 10 blocks from each other in the Sunset District but never met until they were both at UC Berkeley! Bruce was majoring in pre-law and Judy was studying to be a teacher.
“We met at a fraternity and sorority exchange. I was social chairman of that event. After that we started seeing each other pretty steadily – matter of fact, quite steadily. That was in 1956 – 62 years!” says Bruce.
“I would love to tell you a little snippet of a story,” says Judy. (This receives a questioning look from Bruce!) Judy said that at the event, she walked into the room with a girlfriend from another sorority, took one look at Bruce and said, “Oh, now there’s a handsome specimen of a man!” The other co-ed responded, “Do not get interested. He dates everybody on campus one or two times!” Hearing that, Judy thought, “Really? There’s my challenge!” She laughs and says, “And here I am.”
After college, Bruce fulfilled an ROTC commitment by serving two years as a military officer stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas. “The word Bliss is not accurate!” he informs. Mid-way through his stint, he and Judy got married and when he got out, he attended Hastings Law School in San Francisco.
The first year they lived in San Francisco, but the rents sent them to the East Bay where they managed apartment houses – Judy did most of the managing while also looking after their first child, and Bruce had a nighttime job parking cars. “That was three years,” says Bruce.
“But they were fun,” says Judy, “because all of us, all of our friends, everybody was flat broke, so we had a lot of fun.”
Bruce practiced law in San Diego for three years and then they came back to San Francisco, where he practiced civil law focusing primarily on business, commercial, and breach of contract until the late 1990s. It was then that he became a full-time neutral arbitrator. Companies would come to him with disputes, and he would basically act as a private judge. He would hear the evidence, handle the case, and make a decision. Bruce did this for almost 30 years and was on the arbitration panels of over 500 cases. He was involved in enough huge cases that he was invited to join the College of Commercial Arbitrators and ultimately became its president!
Judy was also working hard. She taught Junior High and implemented a Junior Great Books program where they introduced students to great works of literature. “I found it very educational for me!” says Judy.
Judy may not be a lawyer, but she has a strong interest in and knowledge of the judicial system and she brought that to the students in her school. First, she would go into classrooms to explain the legal system and various procedures. Then later, she would take the students to a San Francisco courtroom where they would observe a trial and meet with the judge to ask questions. “It was a wonderful endeavor,” says Bruce.
After several judges asked if she’d be interested, Judy applied and was selected to serve on Civil Grand Juries in both San Francisco and Marin, investigating government activities. “It’s detective work, basically. You ask a lot of questions,” says Judy of the highly confidential work. “She did it very, very well,” says Bruce with obvious pride, and Judy thanks him.
Somehow these very busy people also raised three children – a daughter and two sons. Their daughter, a trained geologist, lives in the San Diego area and is raising three children. One son was a high school teacher and the other had his own marketing/advertising business in San Francisco, which he has sold. They both live on the Peninsula. “We’re very proud of our kids and our grandkids,” says Bruce.
While raising their children, they lived in a “big house in San Francisco” but once the kids were out in the world, Bruce and Judy moved to an “adult house” in Sausalito and lived there for 25 years. “It was a lovely home with great views, but it had 20 steps on the outside of the house and 20 stairs on the inside of the house,” says Bruce. “We were getting a little old to keep going up and down those steps every day.”
It was those stairs, and of course their sons on the Peninsula, that brought them to Sterling Court. They visited many senior retirement homes, but they liked the mix of people at Sterling Court, the look and openness of the design, and the independent living!
“We enjoy our freedom and we had heard good things about the meal service here.” says Bruce. “It has lived up to our expectations and we’re very happy here,” says Bruce. “We enjoy life and we enjoy people.” And with that, these two legal eagles rest their case.
Jolene Reed has a wonderful laugh and an easy-going attitude that has served her well through life, which includes a happy marriage of 55 years, two amazing children, a career as a teacher and education administrator, and travels through the US, Europe, and Africa!
Jolene was born in Pasadena and grew up in Monrovia, a small town in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just 22 miles outside of Los Angeles and so charming that it has been used as the “hometown” backdrop for many movies.
Her father came to Monrovia when he was 12 years old and his family’s Pennsylvania home burned down. He grew up to become a firefighter and retired after 30 years. Jolene’s mom was a homemaker who was very active in the PTA, Cub Scouts, and Brownies. Jolene made good friends in Monrovia. In fact, there are 12 high school friends who meet up a couple of times a year. Currently, they gather on Zoom every other week!
Jolene wanted to be an elementary school teacher so she went to Fresno State, majored in education, and got her teaching credential. At the time she was dating her future husband Ric, whom she had first met in Junior High but didn’t start seriously dating until they “re-met” in High School. He was going to UC Santa Barbara, so she got a teaching job near there.
“I taught for six years, first 3rd grade, then I taught 5th grade,” says Jolene. Her husband, also a teacher, taught 7th grade for 38 years.
“He loved it – loved that age,” says Jolene. “It was cute, the year he retired, they let him go through graduation, saying he’d finally graduated from Junior High!”
When their son, Jeffrey, was born, Jolene became a fulltime homemaker. Then their daughter Kristen arrived very quickly afterward. Jolene stayed home about six years until they were both established in school.
Jolene’s next career was doing public relations work for Motel 6. “It really was $6 a night then!” She responded to all the customer letters – both complaint and complimentary. Then in 1985, she began working for the Santa Barbara Unified School District in the curriculum department. Providing curriculum help to the teachers. Then in 1990 she was hired for a management position. “Basically, my job was to hire, and sometimes fire, teachers. Keeping our schools staffed. It was a fun job!”
Jolene’s husband had retired in 2004 and Jolene retired the next year. “After that, we traveled!” says Jolene. On their very first trip — the Panama Canal, which Jolene had always wanted to see – they made good friends who joined them on a few future trips. “We’ve been to every western European country and a lot of eastern European countries – Baltics, Russia, we went to St. Petersburg. We went to South Africa, north to Kenya and went on safaris – exhausting but great.” They’ve taken a boat up the Nile in Egypt and been to Greece, Australia, and New Zealand.
After retirement, they stayed involved in the community, working with Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organization, active in the US and the world. Plus they continued their educations taking classes with OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) for adults over the age of 50 who want to be part of a learning community with peers.
They always returned home to Santa Barbara. “We lived there for 50 years! It’s beautiful and a great place to bring up your family.” They weren’t planning to leave but an unexpected event changed that.
Their daughter Kristen had been born with cerebral palsy, but it didn’t slow her down. “She was smart and talked early!” says Jolene. “She worked with preschool children and did recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic. She would go out to schools to promote the service.” But in 2007, Kristen developed breast cancer. Jolene says she fought it. She and Ric joined Kristen and all her friends in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. “Kristen was in a wheelchair – she pushed herself the whole way,” says Jolene. Sadly, Kristen passed away in June 2013.
It was then that Jolene’s other amazing child, Jeff, suggested they move closer to him. Jeff is a vice president at Google and lives in Burlingame. Jolene and Ric sold their home, “That was a big job!” and moved to a condo in Redwood Shores. They loved being close to Jeff’s family, which includes grandchildren Nick and Penny.
Then in 2020, Jolene lost Ric and realized she felt lonely in the condo. That’s when Jeff had another great idea – would she like to move to senior housing? They looked at a lot of places but then Jolene found Sterling Court. “I realized it was a place I could live,” says Jolene.
She’s still very involved with her son’s family but has also made good friends here and participates in activities and goes to the musical events.
“I’d never played Bingo before, but we play once a week!” says Jolene. “I like being around people and making friends.”
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