A Glimpse in their Lives
In condensing his feelings about a lifetime of ministering to people, Rabbi Sidney Akselrad sounds remarkably like that other, younger, more distant Jewish voice--Anne Frank. "I really believe there is a basic goodness in people," said Akselrad, former senior rabbi and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. And his job as a rabbi, he believed, was to bring out that goodness.
Now a reform Jew, Akselrad was raised as an orthodox Jew in a large family in Pittsburgh, Pa. But by 15, Akselrad had already began to struggle with the strictures of orthodox Judaism. "I became disillusioned when Coca Cola became kosher," he said. "I didn't like the idea of a rabbi paying so much attention to a (soft) drink." He also didn't like the idea of rabbis paying more attention to "what people ate than what people worried about."
In weaving together the various threads of Akselrad's life, one finds several strands repeating: family, the civil rights movement, reading, singing, Judaism and service to community. "'Do not separate yourself from the community,'" he recited. "I believe that."
During his 14 years at Beth Am, the congregation grew from 250 to 750. "Of course, every rabbi likes to say that the congregation got bigger when he was there," he joked.
Formerly a rabbi in Berkeley, Akselrad's debut at Beth Am was remarkably inauspicious. Scheduled to give a lecture there, he left Berkeley in time to arrive 45 minutes early. "I wanted to look around, get comfortable." Instead he arrived late, the result of having spent an hour driving up and down Arastradero Road searching for the synagogue. "There was no sign, no light," he said.
The misadventure didn't hurt his chances later when the temple was looking for a rabbi. But it did convince him to get better lighting and a bigger sign at the entrance to the synagogue.
He was a radical rabbi, in his way. He married Jews to non-Jews, opposed the war in Vietnam, marched for farmworkers with Cesar Chavez and traveled to Selma, Ala., with the Freedom Riders in the 1960s. Through his civil rights work, he met Dr. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and leading clergy of the day.
Being chosen as a Lifetimes of Achievement recipient has made him feel like his "cup runneth over.
"I thought people would have forgotten about me. I've been retired for so long," he said.
Retired since 1986, Akselrad leads services at Channing House, leads discussion groups for elderly Jews, reads, and spends time with his family, particularly his wife, Marge. "She is my strength, and my mate and she feeds me books," he said.
As mental exercise, he memorizes things: poems, songs, the Gettysburg address, passages of German literature. "Some who retire are embittered by experience, but I feel good about what I did, about my family," he said.
"I always tried to share in people's simcha and be available in their times of stress," he continued. "Even today, people come up to me and say, 'Remember 17 years ago? You married me.' Of course, other times they come up to me and say, 'You didn't do such a good job marrying me. I'm divorced.'"
Throughout his working life, John Beahrs knew that talking about his work was not likely to earn him a reputation as a cocktail party bon vivant. "Most people would have no idea what I was talking about." Beahrs, a retired naval commander, is an expert in the field of admiralty law. For 40-odd years, he put that knowledge to work as a marine insurance broker and underwriter in San Francisco.
These days, Beahrs' marine activities don't involve any crafts larger than canoes, kayaks, rubber rafts and a sloop. "We haven't had much time for boating," he said. "I hope to get back to it when I have my hips repaired."
It is no wonder Beahrs didn't have time for pleasure boating. Besides his time as a naval officer and insurance broker, the 81-year-old Palo Alto resident has been a journalist, husband, father, church vestryman, City Council member, board member, volunteer and--these days--grower of gargantuan roses.
Raised in a newspaper family in Alabama, he worked as a journalist for several years, then spurned an offer at the San Francisco Chronicle to go to work for the marine insurance firm of Marsh and McLennan in 1939. "What could I say? They offered me 25 percent more money."
In his 40 years of commuting to San Francisco, he estimates he rode 450,000 miles on Southern Pacific railroad and walked 20,000 miles to and from the train station to work.
Irritated by what he perceived as legislative dawdling, Beahrs ran for the Palo Alto City Council in 1964. "The Council was not performing," he said. One of his first actions as an elected official was to mount a campaign to recall the entire Council, which he viewed as an effective means for breaking the gridlock. "I signed a petition for my own recall," he said. "But my wife, she wouldn't sign it.
Along with all the other Council members, Beahrs was recalled and made to stand for re-election. He won back his seat on the Council, and went on to spend 14 years on the Council. For Palo Alto, they were turbulent years. "We had riots, we had lawsuits, we had fighting over Oregon Expressway and Stanford Industrial Park," he said.
In a town crawling with Democrats, Beahrs is a Republican who doesn't mind showing his stripes--or changing them. "You might say I'm more conservative," he said. "But I did change sides periodically."
He certainly is a sterling example of the Grand Old Party's family values platform. He dotes on his wife, Virginia, and loves talking about his three children and seven grandchildren.
Retirement--in 1977--gave him the time to volunteer. And volunteer he did, serving on the boards of the Santa Clara County Hospital and Health Facilities Planning Agency, Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, the Palo Alto Historical Association, the Senior Coordinating Council and the Palo Alto Public Library.
"The night before I retired I felt like a schoolboy on the eve of a summer vacation," he recalled.
If his life serves as any sort of a model, he hopes it convinces younger people to participate more in the life of the community. "I know it's difficult raising a family, but I wish more young people took a greater interest in public service," he said. "It's very personally rewarding. But more than that, it benefits everyone."
Marianne Crowder believes that the human body thrives on use and deteriorates with disuse. At 88, Crowder is a Gumby-esque advertisement for the practice of that theory. In the 45 years she has been teaching dance at the Menlo Park Recreation Center, she has never missed a class due to illness.
A native of Colorado Springs, Colo., Crowder began studying dance at age 4, because her mother suggested it. She soon found her own reasons for staying. She studied during the school year, and she studied during the summer. To her early training in ballet, she added tap, soft-shoe, jazz, classical, pre-classical and modern.
She attended a junior college for a few years, then began touring the United States and Canada with the Perry-Mansfield Dance Troupe. When not on tour, Crowder taught corrective dance classes to actors and dancers at the company's studio in Steamboat Springs, Colo. One teaching job led to another, and from Steamboat Springs she went on to teach at Bennington, Colorado and Mills colleges.
In 1939, she married and moved to Palo Alto with her husband, writer Paul Crowder. Here, Crowder juggled raising two daughters with working as a choreographer for the Stanford drama department and teaching corrective dance classes through Palo Alto Adult Education. In 1969, the civic-minded dancer produced a dance extravaganza for Palo Alto's 75th birthday.
Crowder seems to do nothing short-term. She was with the Stanford drama department for 19 years, the city of Palo Alto for 36 years and--her longest-running gig--Menlo Park Recreation Center for 45 years.
Crowder's first job at the Recreation Center was teaching dance to little girls. "The first week we had 20 girls. The next week we had 40. And the next week we had 60," she said. "This went on and on until we had 300 girls."
Like Crowder, the classes still sparkle with vitality. The difference is that her students have aged--considerably. "After 17 years of teaching young girls, I thought I was too old to teach children," she said. "So I started to teach their mothers. Some of the mothers are still here."
Those mothers, and her other loyal students, like their teacher so well they planted a Japanese maple tree in her honor in the recreation center courtyard. The tree has a plaque made from Colorado rock with Crowder's name inscribed on it. "Many of my students are my best friends," said Crowder. "I admire my students; they are productive, intelligent people."
Crowder attributes her good health and vigor to seven principles, all of them set forth in her 1987 book and video, "Mariantics."
And yes, she practices them all.
Sitting in her living room surrounded by photographs of her family and wearing a prim wool suit, Bea Hubbard doesn't look like the kind of woman who would emit an inner light when talking about "feeling the power" of her Jeep Grand Cherokee. But light up she does. "I like a car that really responds," she said. "This one drives like a dream."
Hubbard, who won't say her age (she claims not to have known her mother's age until a nurse told her accidentally), came to Palo Alto after Pearl Harbor. She and her husband, Bud, (the Hubbard of Hubbard & Johnson hardware stores) were one of the first families to live on Fulton Street, now best known as Christmas Tree Lane. "There were empty lots on the street," she recalled. "You looked out and saw fields."
Hubbard, who is being honored for her contributions to the community as a volunteer, considers herself a wife and mother first. She has four sons, one daughter and 12 grandchildren.
Yet it was family that drew Hubbard to volunteer work. "When you have children, you do all kinds of things," she said.
She started with the PTA, and quickly became president. "I can't tell you how many newspaper drives and carnivals and traffic boy picnics I worked on," she said.
In between driving her children around, that is. "You have no idea how tired you get of baseball until you have four Little League games to go to each week," she said.
PTA work led to work at the Red Cross, which led to the Junior Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Junior Auxiliary to Children's Hospital at Stanford, Site Committee of the Palo Alto School Board, board of directors of the Christian Science Church, Senior Coordinating Council, Gamble Garden Center and the Commonwealth Club.
She was also a tireless campaigner with her husband, a six-year Santa Clara county supervisor and head of Richard Nixon's presidential campaign in the county. Bud died in 1982.
Between her volunteer work, helping with the family slate business in Placerville, traveling with her grandchildren, going on wildflower walks, and cruising in her Jeep, Hubbard has no shortage of activities. "There always seems to be a project at the Senior Center," she said. "And money. There's always the problem of finding money."
Remind Mary Lanigar that the stereotype of certified public accountants is a collection of gray-suited drones, and she won't even rise to defend them. "It's probably an apt description," she said. Indeed, the 75-year-old Lanigar, a CPA since the '40s, considers herself a bit of a gray-suited drone as well. "I've had a pretty quiet life," she admits. Her life may have been quiet, but it was trend-setting nevertheless.
Certainly it was a succession of firsts. Lanigar was one of the first women in California to become a CPA; she was the first woman to become a partner at the Arthur Young & Co. (now Ernst & Young) accounting firm in San Francisco; and she was the first woman to be chosen as a director of Wells Fargo Bank.
Lanigar graduated from Stanford in 1938, but found the masculine field of accounting closed to her. She took a job as a bookkeeper with the Stanford Athletic Department and stayed until the war broke out. As men left to go to war, jobs opened up for women in all fields, including accounting, providing just the opportunity Lanigar needed.
Women CPAs were so rare in those days that before sending Lanigar to see a client, a partner would call to find out if it was all right to send a woman. "As far as I know, no one said no," said Lanigar.
When the men returned after the war, the majority of women who had entered the field left to marry and raise a family. Lanigar stayed, building a career that lasted nearly 40 years. Along the way, she got her law degree, taking night classes at Golden Gate University.
Lanigar retired in 1976. Since then, she has combined volunteer work with corporate directorships.
It helps to take in a deep breath before listing all the agencies she has worked for and titles she has held: Mills College trustee, Palo Alto Medical Foundation trustee, Walter S. Johnson Foundation trustee, Children's Health Council director, Wells Fargo Bank director, TransAmerica Corp. director, Pacific Lumber Co. director, Lucky Stores Inc. director, Castle & Cooke director, Pacific Stock Exchange director, Advisory Council member for Stanford Business School, Business Advisory Group member of the Career Action Center, Stanford Institute for Research on Women and Gender director, CPA Society, Women's Forum West.
"Oh, and a business luncheon club," she said.
If Lanigar were entering the field of accounting today, she would find a far more female world. "Fifty percent of the people hired by firms now are women," she said.
The numbers hearten her. "It's a good field for women," she said. "It's flexible, and it pays well. I always knew it would be a satisfying profession. And for me, it was."
Among Lifetimes of Achievement recipients, Lanigar scored another first: She is the only honoree who doesn't live in the area.
In 1992, after 54 years in Palo Alto, Lanigar moved to a retirement community in Santa Rosa. She does come back, however, partly because her various corporate and committee responsibilities require it, but also because she is attached to people and places. "My watch broke recently, so I brought it to Gleim's. It seemed easier than finding a new jeweler in Santa Rosa."
Don Winbigler has a soft spot for two kinds of students: virtuous ones and scofflaws. "I have very happy memories of kids in trouble," he said. The former Stanford University dean of students doesn't have happy memories of all scofflaws, only those who accepted the consequences of their actions and were chastened by the experience. "I've said many times that every student is entitled to make a mistake. But I've also said many times that there are consequences they could not be spared."
Winbigler came to Stanford in 1940 from the University of Iowa expecting to teach speech and drama to teachers in the school of education. But after two years, his "seduction," and that's exactly how he describes it, to administration began. "The first year, administrative work took up a third of my time. The next year it was 50-50. And the next year I was a regular administrator."
He was, in fact, registrar. Five years later, he became dean of students, a position he kept for 17 years. "If anyone had told me at the time I was changing my career from teaching, I might not have taken it."
During his time at Stanford, Winbigler oversaw "hundreds of changes," among them developing the residential counseling program, the career placement center, financial aid programs and residential education programs.
Winbigler, now "pushing 85," retired in 1974, although he certainly didn't sever his affiliation with Stanford. He continued to serve the university as secretary of the Faculty Club, chairman of the Committee on Parking and Transportation and member of the Centennial Committee and the Historical Society. "After I retired, one of my cliches was that I knew I was retired because my paychecks were so small."
Beyond Stanford environs, he served on the board of directors of the YMCA and the regional board of the United Way and was a member of the Commonwealth Club, the Kiwanis Club of the Peninsula, Fellowship Forum and the Palo Alto Club.
The same year he retired, he planted a flower bed of candy tuft, California poppies, Linus, flax, wild sweet peas and Clarkia that he continues to fuss over. "The weeds are driving me crazy," he said.
Winbigler also spends time tracking events on "Rudolph," an apricot tree stump on his property whose reindeer-like silhouette has prompted neighbors to decorate it with Santa Claus caps, Easter bonnets and valentines. When vandals recently decapitated Rudolph, children from the neighboring school brought presents, get-well messages and books to the stump. "It's quite something," said Winbigler.
Mary Elizabeth, his wife of 57 years, was exactly the kind of undergraduate he would have loved: a good student with an independent streak. After graduating in music from the Damrasch School (now the Juilliard School) she told her father, "Now I'm going to do what I want to do." She promptly went to Spain, studied Spanish dancing and formed her own Spanish dance company in the United States. The couple has one son and one grandchild.
One thing is certain. Working as an administrator at Stanford curtailed his time in the limelight. "I did perform in 'Of Thee I Sing.' It was my only performance."