Third Gradeitis

I don’t need to flip my calendar page to June to know that the end of the school year is near. I merely need to look at my alarm clock to realize that I’m running alarmingly late in getting my son to school again. We’ve got a bad case of third gradeitis at my house.

I know we’re supposed to wake up chipper and happy now that sunny days are here, but we’ve been taking advantage of those sunny days with leisurely late nights and now the waking up early is killing me.

My first sacrifice to the snooze button was making the beds–you’re just going to mess them up, anyway, right? Next was my every-once-in-while practice of actually “cooking” breakfast. Now we’re lucky if any of us sits down for an apple or a Starburst before we run out of the house ’cause we’re late. And I’m sure the teacher has noticed that Koss has worn his baseball uniform for three days in a row. There are just too many games. I don’t have the time to actually peel it off of him and wash it.

I can hear the beach calling my name, but every time I pick up the phone, it’s someone from the PTA, or the school, asking for help with something or other. I’m sure my public declaration of yes-aholism didn’t help. Our home life is falling to pieces and I haven’t got the time–or the energy–to put it back together right now. Besides, that beach looks so enticing. Maybe just a few hours on the sand after school, we’ve got lots of time before it gets dark.

Our slow deterioration is evident everywhere you look. My son’s backpack is held together with yards of finger knitting (thank you Mrs. Brown for teaching him such a useful skill). His lunch box smells like rotten eggs, even though I swear I’ve never packed them. Still, I refuse to replace those fall essentials till school starts next year. Same with his pants, which are now the pedal pushers I try to convince him that all the cool boys are wearing.

Meanwhile I’m all stocked up on swim goggles and sunscreen. Isn’t it summer yet?

I can’t believe Koss actually had homework last night. I thought California state law was that all reading, writing and arithmetic stopped immediately–so party time could begin–once the standardized testing was over. The aim may be “no child left behind,” but the target for the last month of school is more like my college spring break in Mazatlan, where many of my brain cells still reside.

I can’t believe how many parties and activities they cram into the last few weeks of school. Just this month we’ve had Spring Sing, a golf tournament, a Noche Mexicana celebration, two PTA meetings, three foundation meetings, a read in, an open house, a school board meeting, the Spring Boutique, talent show signups (which mean talent show talent development), Science Night, a beach party, the talent show, an end-of-year party and various teacher appreciation tidbits to buy, bake and accidentally burn in the oven.

“Uh, Mommy, the smoke alarm’s going off again!”

Not to mention how many checks there are to write. Do they really still want money for the ad in the program of the fundraising event that got cancelled because the whole school came down with a bad case of third gradeitis?

I can’t wait for summer, when I’ve got ten whole weeks to work my magic spell of sun, Slurpees and sleepovers to undo all the good habits Koss’s teachers have worked so hard to inspire in him.

Sorry guys. You had your turn with him and now it’s mine. We’ll be sleeping in mornings and hanging out on the beach in the afternoons. I can hardly wait.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 30, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Marcia Meier

Marcia Meier (Cathy Rowell/Noozhawk photo)

Marcia Meier (Cathy Rowell/Noozhawk photo)

As owner/director of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, Marcia Meier is more than up to the challenge of retaining the legacy of excellence the conference has enjoyed for the past 36 years. She recently added a poetry conference, a young writers program and master classes designed just for professional writers.

Leslie Dinaberg: I want to compliment you on what you’ve done with the Writers Conference. You’ve been able to retain the flavor of what Barnaby and Mary Conrad created, but you’ve also made some really nice changes.

Marcia Meier: I’ve really worked hard to do that. I really wanted to maintain that sense of community, that sense of encouragement that the faculty give to the students and the welcoming feel that most people have, but I also wanted to improve and increase the offerings in terms of what we offer for classes and workshops. And also bring in more varied speakers–from literary to commercial fiction to poetry to nonfiction writers. I also wanted to start a Young Writers Program. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of.

LD: That’s great. What ages are the young writers?

MM: High school kids. And they come and for a pretty deeply discounted rate they get to do the entire conference. … Plus we do a special Young Writers Program, so they meet with an agent from New York for pizza. They get to meet with several agents over the course of the week. They get to meet with some of our speakers on an individual basis … I put them together with those kids for an hour and it’s just really cool.

LD: That’s one of the things I find so frustrating is there’s so little instruction in schools for creative writing.

MM: It’s interesting that you bring that up. I’m going to start a program in the high schools next fall. It’s called SBWC in the schools.

LD: That’s great.

MM: It’s offering free after school creative writing classes taught by our faculty for the conference. We’re going to Start with Dos Pueblos next fall and hopefully Santa Barbara…I’m working with donors right now to try to get the money together. … There’s very little place for creative writing in Santa Barbara schools. I mean they have the curriculum that they have to teach and they just don’t get much chance for that kind of outlet.

My hope is that it will get to some kids who don’t have any other way to express their feelings and there is no judgment. Hopefully the way it will work is they will come, they’ll have an hour to come, write for half an hour and then have an hour to have some feedback from the instructor and amongst themselves to improve their work and bring it back the next time. Kind of essentially what we do at the workshops. I think it will be really great for the kids.

LD: Let’s talk about your own writing. You’ve got this wide background as a reporter, a writer and an editor. What’s your favorite kind of writing to do?

MM: That’s a really interesting question. I have done almost every kind of writing and right now I’m doing some freelancing for Central Coast Magazine and Santa Barbara Magazine and I just got an assignment from the Los Angeles Times travel section, so I’m doing a lot of nonfiction, but I think what feeds me most is my poetry and my fiction writing. …I’ve written more poetry in the last few years than I probably have in the last 20, and I think I’m almost going to pull it together as a collection and call it “Parking Lot Poetry,” because most of them I’ve written have been sitting in a parking lot waiting for my daughter to get out of basketball practice or waiting to pick her up from school or waiting to take her to piano.

LD: It sounds like the nonfiction writing you’re doing is pretty deadline and assignment driven. Do you find it hard to transition to writing things that are not so deadline driven?

MM: Yes. You know what my biggest problem is? I put them off. The stuff I think that really feeds me more than anything else I put off because I have all these other things I’m working on and I feel like I’ve got responsibilities to follow through with. And because I have a teenage daughter and my mom lives with me, she’s in her 80s and needing more care. …One of my biggest challenges this year I’ve really tried hard to set aside time to write. So Tuesday mornings I say I’ve committed myself to writing on Tuesday mornings. It doesn’t always work that way but sometimes it does.

LD: That was always an interesting thing for me in the past when I’ve gone to the Writers Conference because you get such a mish-mash of sort of people who make their living as writers, people who do something completely different and people who are kind of doing that and something else. There’s always that balance.

MM: I think, one of the things that brings people back all the time is it gives them that week of time to actually write. There are some people that come to the conference and they don’t even go to the workshops. They just take that week off so then they can write, absorb, network with other writers and then maybe take an occasional workshop, but also listen to the speakers and have that freedom to not have to feel like you’re obligated to take care of the day-to-day stuff, but you’re free to write.

LD: So talking about your book about Santa Barbara (“Santa Barbara: Paradise on the Pacific”), what are some of your favorite local spots?

MM: I spend a lot of time at Hendry’s Beach, because I have two dogs and we walk every day and I love to walk on the beach. I try to do it around the tides, I watch for the tides and we walk as far as we can. And I love Ellwood …I love to go up to the mountains; Santa Ynez Valley is also one of my favorite places to go. I love to go downtown in the evening on the weekends. I go to the movies and then go hang out at Borders and have coffee and look at the books. I really love to do that.

LD: Tell me a little bit about this year’s conference.

MM: We have great speakers coming. Of course, Ray Bradbury, he’s been coming for 36 years. He’s amazing. … We have Joseph Wambaugh… Luis Alberto Urrea, who wrote “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” he’s a wonderful literary writer. We’ve got Jane Heller. … We’re going to give Sue Grafton an honors award …Gayle Lynds is going to do a workshop for us, Catherine (Ryan Hyde) is going to do a master class. We’ll have agents and editors day as usual.

LD: What are master classes?

MM: We ask an author of relatively accomplished author to come in and teach a three-day workshop where we focus on a particular aspect of writing and it’s a little more in-depth.

LD: How many volunteers do you have?

MM: Last year we had about 40-45 volunteers, and this year there will probably be fewer only because we one of our sponsors is Borders and they have offered to do all of the conference merchandise for us. …They are also doing a pre-conference launch party at the downtown store on the Friday night before the conference. That’s going to be open to the community.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

MM: Tall, that’s kind of the obvious one. I think optimistic and, all of these things are running through my head, but I think probably kind.

Vital Stats: Marcia Meier

Born: Muskegon, Michigan.

Family: Daughter Kendall, 15, and mother Helen, age 83, who has lived with her for seven years.

Civic Involvement: “I’ve cut back over the last couple years. I don’t do a lot. I try to go to book gatherings and stuff that is related to the conference. For a long time I was involved with a lot of groups like the Mental Health association and Transition House, I sat on their board for a while and I cut a lot of that out. My life is too busy.”

Professional Accomplishments: Reporter/Editor with a number of newspapers in California; Editorial Page Editor, Santa Barbara News-Press; Director of Marketing/Community Relations and Journalism Instructor at Westmont College: Freelance Writer; Owner/Director Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

Little-Known Fact: “I was horse crazy in high school. My horse, Ginger, was the love of my life all through high school.”

Originally published in Noozhawk (click here) on May 26, 2008.

A Passion for History Brings Heroic Tale to Life

Refusenik documentary has West Coast Premiere at the Plaza de Oro Theater

Finding a career that combines her interests in art, social justice, history and international politics is a dream come true for filmmaker Laura Bialis. Her documentary, Refusenik, ( which chronicles the thirty-year international movement to free Soviet Jews, opens Friday night at the Plaza de Oro Theater. The movie will run for a week and Bialis will be there on Sunday at the 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. screenings to answer questions about her experiences making the film, which has been described as “a tapestry of first-person accounts of heroism, sacrifice, and ultimately, liberation,” as told through the eyes of activists on both sides of the Iron Curtain–many of whom survived punishment in Soviet Gulag labor camps.

The screenings are a coming home of sorts for Bialis, a 1991 San Marcos High graduate, whose parents–Ellen and Gary Bialis–still live in Santa Barbara. She had her first job as an intern, working for Rod Lathim at the now-closed Access Theatre. “It’s interesting because that was a nonprofit, and now I’m running a nonprofit for the arts and Rod is on the board of my nonprofit,” said Bialis.

She’s certainly come full circle.

An avid historian and film buff, Bialis created the Foundation for Documentary Projects ( as a way to fuse her love of history with her passion for filmmaking. Her 1999 film, Tak For Alt– Survival of a Human Spirit, ( told the story of Holocaust survivor turned Civil Rights activist Judy Meisel, a Santa Barbara resident. The film chronicles Meisel’s journey back to Eastern Europe to re-trace her wartime journey: from the Kovno Ghetto through the Stutthof Concentration Camp, and ultimately on to Denmark, where she was liberated and restored to health by an outpouring of Danish compassion.

Tak For Alt enjoyed a brief theatrical distribution, aired on PBS and won many awards–from Anti-Defamation League and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among others–and is now being used by teachers in over thirty states, and has been implemented into history curricula in many school districts.

The seeds for the development of “Refusenik” were actually planted at a screening of “Tak For Alt” in Omaha, Nebraska. After every screening, people would come up to me and want me to make a movie about them or their grandmother or someone else they knew, laughed Bialis. ” We were inundated with all these requests, but these people in Omaha were just adamant that I meet this activist, Shirley Goldstein. She actually gave the first seed grant for the movie. We used it to do a trailer which we used to raise the money to make Refusenik.”

While the story of the “Refuseniks” isn’t widely known, it’s a powerful one. In the early 1960s, reports came to the West of blatant anti-Semitism in the Communist-controlled Soviet Union. For example, the government was closing synagogues, the study of Hebrew was forbidden, Soviet Jews were required by law to carry “internal passports” identifying their Jewish heritage, and they were barred from studying at many universities and refused entrance into selected professions. Yet those who asked permission to emigrate were told they could never leave, effectively making the Soviet Jews prisoners in their own country.

Bialis interviewed more than 100 people and shot more than 200 hours of interview footage to tell the story of the “Refuseniks,” who took the unprecedented step of publicly challenging the communist regime. The film chronicles their stories of courageous activism and tales of hardship: the development of an underground Hebrew school; risky smuggling of information to the West; fear of being arrested; shock of being brought to trial on trumped up charges; and suffering in prison or in exile merely for demanding freedom.

“My first degree (she did her undergraduate work at Stanford, followed by USC film school) is in history, so I actually approached it like I was doing some sort of archiving project,” she said. “I started out by asking people about how they were involved … it was such a grassroots movement. The rallies would get hundreds of thousands people involved.”

Eventually, the activists’ incessant demands pushed the issue and legislators enacted a law limiting the amount of business the United States would conduct with countries that violated human rights–the first time the United States placed restrictions on a country for rights abuses of its own population. Nuclear disarmament negotiations with the USSR included American demands for a change in Soviet emigration policies and in 1989, the Soviet Union finally succumbed to international pressure and the gates were opened.

“It might be the most successful human rights movement of all time,” said Bialis. “At the end of the movement 1.5 million Jews got out of the Soviet Union. It was a very inspiring thing.”

She worked on the project for five years, traveling around the world to track down different pieces of the story. “Though it’s about a historical movement, this is a really timely issue because there are still human rights violations going on around the world. Sometimes we need to be reminded of what is possible if you believe that what you’re doing is right.”

Refusenik opens Friday, May 23, 2008 at the Plaza de Oro Theater, 371 South Hitchcock Way, Santa Barbara, 805.963.9503 (

Originally published in Noozhawk on May 20, 2008.

Dos Pueblos Inaugurates New Theater Complex with Beauty and the Beast

Belle (Emily Day) and Beast (Blake Bainou) play leading roles in Dos Pueblos High’s production of Beauty and the Beast this weekend. (Dos Pueblos High photo)

Belle (Emily Day) and Beast (Blake Bainou) play leading roles in Dos Pueblos High’s production of Beauty and the Beast this weekend. (Dos Pueblos High photo)

The long wait is finally over. When Dos Pueblos High School opened in 1966, a lack of funds prevented the construction of a theater, and for more than 40 years students made due with a 135-seat converted classroom for their productions.

Now those original Dos Pueblos students can finally take their grandchildren to see the school’s first production in its new $14 million Performing Arts Center. Dos Pueblos Charger Theater will present “Beauty and the Beast” on May 22, 23 and 24 at 7 pm, with an additional matinee on May 24 at 2:00 pm.

“The purpose of this show is basically community outreach and to get people aware of the department and the new theatre,” says Theater Director Clark Sayre.

The crew has been hard at work behind the scenes getting the production ready for it’s Thursday night debut in the new 749 seat theater, which was funded by the Measure V bond and includes state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment, an orchestra pit, two side stages, dressing rooms, a construction room and prop room, as well as drama and choral classrooms.

While the students are thrilled to be in the new performance space, the adjustment is not without its challenges.

“It’s really cool because it’s big, but it’s really hard because it’s big,” says Megan Harris, who is co-stage manager, along with Ana Zarate.

“Coming into this we had a lot of people with absolutely no experience whatsoever, so simple construction techniques that even someone who’s done one show before would know had to be taught,” explains Gabe Rives-Corbett, one of two student technical directors, along with Tim Jenkins. Typically productions work with modular, pre-made set pieces that just need to be painted for each new show. “We had to build everything. Even the workbenches are new,” says Rives-Corbett.

“In the old space we could never build anything that was higher than three or four feet,” says Sayre. “So we could never do a second story for anything. Without Gabe and Tim, we would not be moved into this theater and the lights wouldn’t be running and the sound wouldn’t be running. They’ve just made this whole thing possible.”

“The first time we set foot in here was the end of November and it was still heavily under construction. They were still screwing the stage down when I first walked in,” says Rives-Corbett.

“It’s coming slowly together,” says Harris.

“It always happens somehow. Sometimes no one is really sure how,” says Rives-Corbett.

” Theatre magic,” explains Zarate, whose father stops by with her computer so she can make some last minute changes to the program. She also designed the yellow posters seen around town.

These students and many of the more than100-members of the cast and crew have been working around the clock to bring “Beauty and the Beast” to life. It’s a complicated show with 133 different costumes to create, an effort led by costume designer Miller James, who is the costume designer for Opera Santa Barbara. “I just treat them like any other costume crew. I don’t consider them students … I expect them to work just like a regular costume house,” he says.

Putting on a production like this is a huge organizational effort, explains Sayre. “I always tell people that being a theater director in high school is like running a theater company, basically. You do everything that the theater company does but you do a lot of it yourself, so I’m bookkeeping and writing grants it’s just crazy.”

Other professionals involved with the production include choreographer Carrie Diamond, who is the Artistic Director of Ballet Santa Barbara and a former teacher at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City; set designer Daniel Girard and musical director Sarah Phillips, who both work with Stage Left Productions; and Sayre, who directs Rubicon Theatre’s Young Playwrights’ Festival, in addition to teaching theater full-time at Dos Pueblos.

Key cast members include Amy West and Emily Day as Belle, Anna Englander as Mrs. Potts, Lev Allan-Blitz as Gaston, Matt Parker as Belle’s father, Blake Bainou as the Beast, Claire Gordon-Harper as Chip, Rachelle Clarke as Babette, Mason Kopeikin as Cogsworth, Kristi Ware as Madame De le Grande and Trevor Dow as Lumiere.

Through a strange twist of fate, the Dos Pueblos production of “Beauty and the Beast” comes just a week after a Santa Barbara High production of the same show. Sayre explains that he has been working on doing the high school premiere of another Disney musical, “Aladdin,” but it was delayed, so he wanted another really big show to open the new theater.

“I wanted something that hadn’t been done. And then the ironic thing is that Otto Layman, the director at Santa Barbara High also chose it. … The reason that happened was nobody’s fault at all. He had heard that I was doing ‘Aladdin’ and I heard that he was doing ‘Hair’ which he is in the summertime. We didn’t talk directly and then we both just chose this and then by the time we both chose this it was way too late for either of us to go back, because we started this way back in December or November in terms of the planning,” Sayre says.

“You know what’s great is our kids all showed up on their opening night and I think are very supportive and they’re noting differences, just stylistic differences, which is great to take one script and realize there’s lots of different ways you can go with this. And then their kids are coming to our opening. So it’s really I think it’s a school building thing rather than anything else. It’s turned really positive,” Sayre says.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors and can be purchased online at Tickets are also available at the school’s business office from 8 am to 4 pm Monday — Friday. For more information, please call 968-2541 ext. 228.

Originally published in Noozhawk on May 19, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg sits down with Sara Miller McCune

Philanthropist and entrepreneur Sara Miller McCune has taken her passion for public policy and poured it into her newest venture, the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media & Public Policy and its magazine and Web site. (Helene Glassman photo) (courtesy Noozhawk)

Philanthropist and entrepreneur Sara Miller McCune has taken her passion for public policy and poured it into her newest venture, the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media & Public Policy and its magazine and Web site. (Helene Glassman photo) (courtesy Noozhawk)

At a time in her life when many people are focused on hitting the links, Sara Miller McCune has instead hit the ground running with her newest venture, the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy, which produces a magazine and website that meld the worlds of academic research with hard-hitting reporting. It’s a perfect fit for Miller McCune, who also co-founded (with her late husband George McCune) SAGE Publications in 1965, an international publisher of academic journals and textbooks, and the nonprofit McCune Foundation, in 1990, which focuses on social justice issues in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

Leslie Dinaberg: Tell me about your new magazine, Miller-McCune? Where did the idea come from?

Sara Miller McCune: I’ve been thinking about doing it since the 1980s when we started what I call an idea file … then it became two files because we had too many ideas. We actually talked (about a merger) with a couple of magazines over those years … but it didn’t happen.

Finally the SAGE Publications board, after hearing me talk about this dream that I’ve had all these years, just said, “shut up. Here’s x much money, go and start one.” So that’s this all came about.

LD: Congratulations. So you’ve got two issues down?

SMM: Two issues out and another issue in preparation. We’re going to do six this year and then either six or seven. The plan is by the time we’re in year five to do ten issues a year.

LD: Is there some sort of organized synergy with the authors that you work with at SAGE Publications and Miller-McCune Magazine?

SMM: No it’s a disorganized synergy. They really have no responsibility as a SAGE author or a contributor to one of SAGE’s journals, to publish anything in the magazine. It’s more a matter of do they want to be read by 100,000 people and for a lot of social scientists that’s very attractive. For example, this lead article is by the outgoing president of American Academy of Political and Social Science, where he is comparing European policies to American and showing why Europeans are doing better.

LD: What is the target audience for this magazine?

SMM: There are several target audiences: leaders of youth organizations; elected officials, state, local and federal; social scientists who are interested in their research affecting and influencing public policy; public policy workers at all levels, who are interested in using research to make policy, and then they’re not just kind of guessing or experimenting on their own; people who are involved in substantive work; NGOs; philanthropists; and then a certain number of scientists from things like Environmental Studies; there’s an emerging area of interdisciplinary research out at UCSB that is, say at the Sage Center for Study of the Mind, it’s gathering people from all different disciplines. It’s not just neuroscience and it’s not just the classic sense of political science and ethics, it’s a melding of that with people who are interested in language and how it affects people, people who are interested in how the brain works and how that affects the body and affects behavior and then affects the behavior of individuals meshing together into what we call societies.

So the audience keeps getting bigger and bigger from the molecule to ultimately the globe. I have never been very good at science, so I’m not really someone who works with molecules and I don’t think that one person necessarily comes up with solutions to global problems and actually makes those solutions happen. For that you need a collection of linked individuals and I hope this 100,000 eventually becomes, say 500,000 and makes a difference in that–but then I’ll be six under.

I’ve already bought the plot. That’s another story. I had 45 minutes to spare one day.

LD: Where did you go?

SMM: The cemetery that overlooks the ocean, because there wasn’t a Jewish cemetery in town. So I walk in and I say, “I’ve got 45 minutes … Do you have any with a view?”

We get in the golf cart and he takes me to look at two parcels. There was one on the side overlooking the ocean and there was one on the other side of the path where still you could see the ocean but not as well, and the price is $2,000 difference. … So I said, “How come there’s a $2,000 difference when they’re just on different sides of the path but within six feet of each other?” And he said, “Oh well in that one you have an ocean view.” And I said, “I’ll be six feet under, what do I care?”

He says, “Well you can put a little bench in like those people and your children will come and visit you.” I said, “You don’t know my step-kids. Let’s go back to the office and I’ll either buy the one which is cheaper or I’m outa here.” So he made out the paperwork, I wrote the deposit and that’s my lot.

LD: Ocean-view adjacent property.

SMM: Yes, the one that’s across the path from the ocean. (Laughs) With no bench.

LD: Can you tell me about some of your humanitarian work?

SMM: This September, Mollie of Trattoria Mollie and I and a couple of people in Montecito are going to start a school for girls in Africa, which is another place I’ve worked, and I think Direct Relief International is involved in that.

LD: It’s great that you’re doing that.

SMM: Yeah, it’s interesting and I think in time these things can be replicated in other areas. That is a lot of the basis of things that I publish, the boring stuff that is all about evaluation, replication, can we get the same results in different places.

LD: The magazine does seem like a good opportunity to get some of that kind of information into the more general public’s hands.

SMM: You’re right. That’s the whole purpose of it.

…The print magazine has a slightly different character than the website partly because Michael Todd (editor of the website) and John Mecklin (editor of the magazine) are very different and their networks are different and the things that people are interested in are different, and also, of course, the deadlines are enormously different between having six issues in print a year and going five times a week online.

LD: I know at one point you were interested in purchasing the Santa Barbara News-Press, is that still an interest?

SMM: Well, I think that A, I never got an answer, and B, they are involved in a lawsuit which is going to run for several more years, according to something I was reading in the papers. I’ve never been a big fan of publishers trying to settle things by litigation. I think it’s a waste of subscription money and that’s other people’s money, whether it’s advertiser’s money or subscriber’s money, it’s other people’s money. Now I think you know Wendy has enough money that she may choose to spend on litigation but I’ve never felt that that was a good use of my resources…

And in the meantime the community suffers, and this is a great community. I don’t like to see a community as terrific as ours being punished by this sort of thing, so that’s another reason I said I would buy it. But there was no answer, there’s obviously no interest there. There must be other items on the agenda. I don’t think it’s going anywhere and I’ve got other fish to fry.

We only have so many years on this earth and my stepson has a saying that money is a renewable resource, time is not. And as a breast cancer survivor I agree with him.

LD: What else do you do when you’re not working?

SMM: I love going to the theatre and I love reading. I always make sure I have at least 40 unread books within reach of whatever bed I am in.

LD: A woman after my heart.

SMM: Because there is a chance that I might get up at 2 a.m. and the bookstore won’t be open and I will be frantic. And have nothing to read. We cannot allow this to happen. And even a pile of unread New York Times that always seem to be around will not do at 2 a.m. It has to be a mystery or it has to be a biography of somebody that I really, really, really like. Or it has to be some kind of bodice ripper or something.

…Then, in more normal hours I take people to the theatre. I like plays, I like opera, I like musical comedies, and I like farces. The more farcical, the more I laugh. I love Shakespeare when it’s performed well, so usually I see that in either London or Oxford.

LD: How much of your time do you spend in Santa Barbara?

SMM: I would say at least half.

LD: How did you end up coming to live in Santa Barbara?

SMM: I was widowed 1990, and George and I had always loved to come to Santa Barbara to work and still have a lot of authors and friends on the faculty at UCSB. I am, in fact, on the USCB Foundation and have been since around 1993, and I’ve given money and we still have a lot of authors at UCSB, it’s a very good school, it just keeps improving.

I was having a New Year’s Eve dinner with three faculty couples … and we must have worked our way through a lot of champagne, a lot of champagne, and so we were making our New Year’s toasts as 1992 became 1993 and the words just came out of my mouth, I didn’t expect them to. But I said, “by this time at the end of the year I’m going to be living here,” and then we had more champagne. That May I started looking for a house and by August I had one. And then I had 103 boxes of books in my living room…If I moved again, which I’m not going to, it would be 200 boxes.

LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, where would you go and what would you do?

SMM: That’s a weird question. Do you ask everybody that?

LD: I do actually.

SMM: I don’t like spying on people. I don’t do it. I mean I’m either there visibly and vocally or I’m not there at all.

Vital Stats: Sara Miller McCune
Born: Manhattan, February 4th

Family: Widowed in 1990, husband was publisher George McCune. Stepmother to four grown children, four grandchildren and two great grandsons “so far.”

Civic Involvement: President of the nonprofit McCune Foundation; President of the nonprofit Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy; UCSB Foundation; Granada Theatre Restoration Project; Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts; American Academy of Political and Social Science; Lifetime Fellow, Fielding Graduate Institute.

Professional Accomplishments: Founder and Executive Chair of SAGE Publications, a leading international publisher of academic journals and textbooks with more than 800 employees in the United States, New Deli, Singapore and London.

Favorite Book: Collected Plays of Shakespeare

Little-Known Fact: “I was once the star of an off, off Broadway production, when I was a teenager. It was based on a book by Henry James called The Innocents. Instead of the lead being the brother Miles, the role was Millicent, and that was me. I got to be really mean and nasty although on the outside I was all good.”

Originally published on Noozhawk on May 10, 2008.

Smashing Success

Las Aletas 17th Annual Spring Smash Tennis Tournament

Las Aletas served up aces yet again with its 17th Annual Spring Smash Tennis Tournament Fundraiser. “I’m happy to say we raised almost $10,000,” said Heidi Stilwell, who co-chaired the event with Jan McGuire.

“This popular tournament, luncheon and fashion show–yes, it’s a pretty full day–is the group’s primary fundraiser, with all of the proceeds going to support philanthropic projects. “Two of the programs we fund are geared towards children,” explained Stilwell. They are Operation School Bell, which provides clothing for low-income children in the Goleta school district and Kids on the Block, which brings puppet performances to local schools to educate children about subjects such as safety, bullying and getting along with others.

“These programs are important since they target children, and will hopefully impart meaningful memories and lessons to our community of young citizens. As recipients, these kids are exposed to charitable acts and valuable societal lessons in their early and formative years. The hope is to not only provide them with much needed clothing, but also a lasting impression of kindness delivered in a very respectful manner,” Stilwell said.

Las Aletas’ third philanthropic project is Operation Bookshelf, which provides homebound patrons with books from the Goleta library. “Children are our hope for the future, but we can’t ignore the elderly who have already paid their dues to society, so we also nurture them by delivering books to elderly shut-ins that can’t get out on their own easily. The books are important to them, but the visit itself is often the highlight of their week. We recently were able to donate $5,000 to the Goleta Valley Library to help them purchase more large print and audio books for not only our use, but for anyone else in need,” Stilwell said.

Tennis competition was held at private courts around town, with the team of Janine Lambe and Tina Brown coming out on top of the A Division; Suzi Johnson and Sandy Thornburgh winning the A-2 Division; Carole Leiff and Marlene Beckerman taking the B Division title; and Jill Briggs and Julie Meynet winning the C’s.

After a morning of tough competition on the courts, the ladies were treated to a luncheon/fashion show at the Hope Ranch home of Kristi and Bill Parrish. Las Aletas/Assistance League members and family members Jeanette Brooks, Julie Cannata , Bianca Castro, Marisol Castro, Cathy Cox, Linda Edgar, Jack Gay, Tricia Hiemstra, Susan Miller , Kelby Pintard, Thea Sandrich, Lisa Stanich, Mary Stilwell, Tomi Topinko and Barb Walker modeled fashions from the Tennis Shop of Montecito and Natasha Boutique, while guests enjoyed a catered lunch from Savoir Faire Catering and wine donated by Fess Parker Winery.

Also “playing to serve” (the theme of the event) were committee members Patti Beal, Ann Brinker, Sherrie Burgher, Carolyn Callahan, Diana Chaves, Barb Kennedy, Linda Logan, Kathie McClure, Mary Minore, Harriet Phillips, Beryl Schoenfelder, Alyson Spann, Lisa Stanich (who also modeled) and Pam Vander Heide.

For more information about Las Aletas visit

Originally published in Noozhawk on May 9, 2008.