Cayucos Land Conservancy

Cayucos Conservancy Saved Public Lands with Cayucos in view. Photo by Jody Salamacha-Hollier

Jody Salamacha-Hollier, Program Coordinator & Creative Developer, Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce

Moving Forward: Cayucos Land Conservancy

By Judy Salamacha

When was the last time you drove north on Highway One? Did you notice the Pacific Ocean on your left, maybe a few cars parked at pull-outs, a couple of hikers, maybe a family – folks like you and me, who stopped long enough to make their way towards an overlook cliff to see crashing waves and feel their salty spray? Traveling farther, were your eyes pulled right to notice cattle grazing on miles and miles of hilly grasslands only interrupted by a few village structures, of course, called Harmony? 

Have you ever wondered why these pristine open spaces were not packed with hotels and homes? Why isn’t our north coastline drive between Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria and San Simeon filled with homes and visitor-friendly shops and restaurants like our south coastal neighbors? Blame them or bless them, you’d be wrong to assume it was the California Coastal Commission or a federal government agency that said no to development – at least for now. 

Did I hear a “thank you very much” realizing you were experiencing the same drive or ride or hike our grandparents, settlers, or our Native Americans once saw?

Truth be told, over the years this land has been discovered, claimed, acquired, retained, owned, appropriated etc. etc. etc. I don’t have time or knowledge to detail our coastal history. Suffice it to know that in March 2022 – this open space property belongs to us – we the people – to forevermore look at, cherish and care for, tread over, study, allow grazing and enjoy gasping at wildlife darting and feeding. But how and why are we so blessed? 

Well, according to the Cayucos Land Conservancy website (CLC) “…in 1979 something big happened…” when a “powerful group from southern California” bought 275 acres of “…pristine marine terrace…” north of Cayucos. These landowners were able to re-zone the land and get approval from the California Coastal Commission to develop a gated community of 60-homes, a hotel for upwards to 250 guests, plus shops and restaurants. Today we know that acreage as Estero Bay Bluff State Park because some Cayucans were paying attention and refused to accept this plan.

Recently Greg Bettencourt, a founding member and current president of CLC, explained to Morro Bay Rotarians the catalyst behind the creation of the group’s initial land trust and conservancy. Essentially, our forever coastal view was preserved into perpetuity because enough Cayucans said the Estero Bay Bluff proposal did not fit the character of a north coast they envisioned. 

“It wasn’t the homes,” Bettencourt said. “What riled up the neighborhood was their ‘gated’ intent.” These emboldened outliers were not going to get away with a financially lucrative take-away of public access on this stretch of California’s coastline.

Check out for more details about this “David and Goliath” triumph. Basically, Cayucan Susan Lyon smelled something funny going on while monitoring the Cayucos Citizens Advisory Council. CCAC is a group elected by their peers to watch over happenings within – or near – their tiny community. She asked her lawyer-husband, Roger, if the developers could be stopped. “Yes,” he said, “but I don’t think the town knows that.” Susan ran for a seat on the CCAC, then invited ten couples for dinner and recruited them to get the word out to the townspeople that Cayucos was about to change forever.

The developers needed CCAC to recommend their plan so SLO County supervisors would approve water rights on their acquired property. When they officially presented their plan to CCAC 500 people showed up. Some got rowdy. Battle lines were drawn…and ten years later the property was down zoned to agriculture land by the county. Ultimately, without approval for their plan, the developers decided to sell. However, the formation story about CLC doesn’t end here. Click onto CLC’s website for further details.    

Some of you might cry, “Foul play! Land-owners should be able to build on their land.”  Indeed, but when a proposal is at odds with the majority of the neighbors, there is another option that might (not always) satisfy the landowner, appease the public, and entrust an agreed upon supervising agency to maintain the forever use of the property in question. In the case of Estero Bay Bluff State Park, the Trust for Public Lands offered 7 million dollars to compensate the developers and purchase an adjacent parcel. The founders of CLC realized there was still work to do to preserve and conserve the property, so they established the organization that continues today. 

“Conservation is complicated,” said Bettencourt. “A conservancy/land trust is not a government agency or an advocacy organization. Our group’s original goal was to create a green belt around Cayucos or at least a Hwy 1 separator north and south of us. What we (CLC) do is conserve marketable land by finding willing landowners who will accept fair market value for the land we decide we want to buy for an amount we can afford to pay.”   

Today Estero Bay Bluffs State Park is managed by California State Parks with continued cooperative efforts with CLC to promote access for the public’s enjoyment or education about the area. Additional acquisitions by CLC have been San Geronimo Ranch, parcels on Cayucos Hillside Lots, aka Hang Glider Hill, and recently the Chevron property between Cayucos and Morro Bay. CLC, the City of Morro Bay, and Chevron agreed the property should be preserved to develop the Coastal Trails Connectors, maintain the only off leash dog beach in the county, and offer a Pacific Ocean view corridor on Hwy 1 for traveling visitors and residents. 

CLC and other land conservancy groups get their funding by CLC membership, major donor gifts, grants from nonprofits conservancy groups, Wildlife Conservation grants, Land and Water or Open Space Agriculture Bonds, and grants available from the California Coastal Conservancy Agency.

You don’t have to be a Cayucan to hang out with CLC board members and friends. To join in and get on their mailing list offer up $25.00 or more at It’s truly a family with a single purpose – protect the essence of what makes the Central Coast coastal. And when you meet up Greg Bettencourt shake his hand and say thank you for all those determined Cayucans. He was one of them, a lifelong Cayucan along with his parents, his wife Mary, their two sons and grandkids who all love, live, and play in Cayucos.  


Another Small Business Survival Story by Judy Salamacha published in 2020 by the Estero Bay News, San Luis Obispo County, CA

Note: Besides running a small business in Morro Bay, Ken has been active on the Board of Directors for the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce and Chair and Co-Chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee. Now in September of 2021 restaurants and multiple small businesses are facing an employee shortage to operate his business. He feels blessed and luckier than most to at least have his family interested in working in the business.

Ken MacMillan made an intentional decision to leave his corporate America career to move to the Central Coast and work with family. He grew up in the heart of Boston’s Italian district where Old Country traditions and recipes were passed along to the next generation at the dinner table. Many of Ken’s siblings migrated to California’s Central Valley and Coast to open their version of an Italian-style family restaurant based on Mama Rosa DiStacio-MacMillan’s 100-year-old marinara. 

Ken’s parents, Bill and Ada “Rosa” MacMillan, opened the first Rosa’s in Visalia in the 1960s then another in Bakersfield in 1972. Rosa led the way to SLO County opening Rosa’s Italian Restaurant in Pismo. Their policy at each new restaurant was to welcome patrons as family and give back to their adopted communities. On Thanksgiving, however, Mama Rosa closed her restaurant to the public and cooked for family to be together.


Chef Mark & Marci, plus Ken & Judy MacMillan at D’Stacio’s of Morro Bay

Ken and wife Judy decided it was time to permanently reconnect with their son by working together on Mark’s dream for his own restaurant. It has always been about the food for Chef Mark, already seasoned well by those who’d been in the family business for years. For Ken, his years of implementing best business practices offered a perfect partnership to create a family owned small business. 

In 2011 they decided to memorialize Mama Rosa’s maiden name and opened DiStacio’s in Los Osos. Success encouraged expansion to Morro Bay’s Embarcadero in 2015.  Following the family tradition of giving back to the community, Ken recognized an opportunity to consolidate facilities and spend more time working with Mark by restoring a City-owned longtime empty eyesore overlooking Morro Bay’s bay-front happenings. After a major investment to recreate a true taste of Italy, locals and visitors soon discovered Italian-style family friendly service with affordable cuisine and forever views. 

Then three years ago plans changed. Not totally of their choosing another move was required. And probably due to his ingrained support of community and active support on the Chamber of Commerce board for numerous years, Ken chose to stay in Morro Bay. He purchased two commercial properties on Morro Bay Blvd. and restoration began again for DiStacio’s of Morro Bay. 

“When we moved downtown, we knew we would need to change,” said Ken. Overlooking the Embarcadero, tourists easily found them, but locals would need to make DiStacio’s a preferred destination. “Business was going along as predicted. Our third year was to be our turn-around year. We were definitely on the upswing.”. 

And then Covid-19 hit hard in March. Ken said, “We thought we were safe. We had outdoor dining and could socially distance our tables. We didn’t expect a shut down and I never thought of closing down, but I knew we needed to create a take-out business we didn’t have. We were also forced to cut staff. It was Mark cooking and Marci and I handling orders.” 

Soon he realized they had achieved building their locally based clientele. “People were glad we were open and I was overwhelmed by their generosity. Some tipped almost as much as the cost of the meal. I was still spending twice as much to serve half as many, but we were making it.”

By Memorial Day we were allowed to open for inside dining. “Some wondered what took us so long. With little notice it took awhile to order the supplies we needed to offer a safe, comfortable experience.”

Then without warning in July the Governor announced another shutdown. “We were led to believe we would always get a two-three day notice when things would change, but that didn’t happen.” By design DiStacio’s had plenty of patio and parking lot space for outdoor eating. “We were set up, but I felt bad for others.” He echoed a letter from the Chamber to the City recommending they approve non-traditional outdoor space for dining. “We need to support each other if we are going to stay in business.” 

So how has DiStacio’s survive COVID-19 so far? Ken offered a few tips:

* Hire employees with personality – you can teach them skills;

* Store only 2-3 days of product. Keep it fresh, but be prepared for change;

* Limit menu items; 

* Get to know and work with business neighbors and be friendly with local customers. They will be around long after the tourists go home this fall and winter;  

* Understand, “WE DIDN’T CAUSE THIS.” Apply for the government assistance even if you put it in a CD and pay it back. It is never good business to not protect our businesses from the bad times.

* Use the slower times to look for new ways to improve business I’d tell my MBA students. 

“And for sure, not just as a longtime chamber board member,” added Ken, “but rather as a small business in Morro Bay that has benefited from the services provided by our understaffed Chamber during COVID-19, please, support the Chamber today. CEO Erica Crawford has worked nonstop for all our businesses, not just members. She’s provided the most current updates and where to find the resources we need. I hope our business community will reward the Chamber’s efforts by being as generous as our customers have been with their tipping. Please, join and participate.” 

Estero Bay News Moving Forward Series

Moving Forward: Lynsey Hansen – Finding Her Networking Niche

Judy SalamachaApr 8, 2021

Kasey Watson, Lynsey Hansen and Jody Hollier when Lynsey was working at Garden House of Morro Bay.
Photo courtesy of Lynsey Hansen

Before most of her friends and clients suspected a worldwide pandemic would impact their lives and businesses, Lynsey Hansen, the recently appointed membership director for the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce, knew something was about to happen.
“Mom warned me about a month ahead that COVID-19 was coming.” “Mom” is Linda Hansen, who owns Global Directions Travel based in Grover Beach and her worldview business insight was, indeed, global. “She said other countries were beginning to shut down and I better start saving my money because it was going to hit us and be around awhile.”
It didn’t take long. Lynsey belongs to a book group that had been meeting for Sunday brunches. As they said goodbye after their March 2020 gathering, she recalled saying, “This might be the last brunch for awhile.” Two days later the Governor mandated the lock-down.
Although Lynsey had been a licensed massage therapist for several years, it was late 2018 before she took the leap to officially establish her solely owned business in Morro Bay at 645 Main Street, Suite F. She had attended Lucia Mar Massage School, then certified at the California Holistic Institute of San Luis Obispo. But for her first seven years she saw clients at leased space with another therapist and bookings from her mobile business as she continued to take more courses to hone her skills. Once she opened her own space, she instantly joined and became actively involved in the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. Her guerrilla marketing strategy focused on networking. She joined the Ambassador Committee, attended all the mixers and helped out with Chamber fundraisers. Her strategy worked.
She said, “2019 was my biggest year. I felt I had come into my own with three-quarters of my time slots filled regularly. I was excited and knew 2020 was going to be even better.”
However, her industry was one that had to shutter. “Mom knew it was going to be long-term. I spent a couple weeks feeling melancholy. I tried to apply for unemployment, but being self-employed I was denied. I applied at Albertson’s and some other places, but wasn’t hired. Then I ran into someone I knew in a parking lot. She was recovering from surgery, and when I asked how she was doing, she said she needed help.”
This serendipitous meeting triggered help for a different type of client and opened a door for what Lynsey needed to get her through some tough times. “She hired me for some personal care support and when I told one of my friends, Jody Hollier, I had found a little something for work, she said they needed help at Garden House of Morro Bay where she was assistant administrator. It was part-time doing some weekend cleaning, shopping, and general socializing with the residence. I applied and the owner Kasey Watson offered me a position. Putting puzzles together with the residents was my favorite of many duties.”
Lynsey was able to pay the rent to keep her office and ride out the time her business was closed until summer when she was able to take in massage clients again. “I love my massage job,” she said, “but I also learned I might need to think about alternatives if this happens again or something else happens, and I can’t earn a living.”
Massage therapy as a career was actually not on her radar when Lynsey moved to Yosemite after growing up and attending schools in Los Osos and Morro Bay. “I was 22 and had lived in Yosemite a couple years trying to find myself without a lot of vision.” She admits Mom is her biggest fan and best friend, but ultimately her Mom-advice was to get her life together. “She said I either needed to find a real job or she was signing me up for Cuesta College.”
Lynsey had to smile as she added, “Living back home again and going to college without a clue what to major in was not what I wanted to do. I wanted a real job that didn’t feel like a real job and something where I didn’t have to wear shoes.”
She knew Yosemite friends who were massage therapists. Their lifestyle seemed to fit her criteria for a career. “I chose Lucia Mar Massage School because graduation day was on my birthday. It is a real job, but it is also work I found out I’m good at. And I don’t have to wear shoes while I’m doing it.”
During COVID-19 she missed her friends and networking opportunities at the Chamber. “One day I was having lunch with Erica Crawford (Chamber CEO) and she said a part time position for membership director was opening. She thought I had the skills to do the job and being local and owning my business could be helpful when talking about membership. I didn’t want to close my business, but needed the extra income so part-time seemed a good opportunity.”
Since November 2020, Lynsey has been working her way through the list of Morro Bay business visitations, renewing memberships. Next she’ll be inviting new members who she is sure will appreciate the services offered.
“I always wondered if there was a job out there that was fulltime networking and talking about our businesses. That’s what I now do. I’ve learned firsthand the challenges of being a small business, but I also know the Chamber helped me grow my business when I needed it. I’m excited I’ve been invited to be a cheerleader for our local businesses.”

Central Coast Fishermen Tell Their Stories

Moving Forward on 2021: Maritime Museum Feature Legacy Commercial Fishermen Interviews

By Judy Salamacha Author Note: I am over-the-moon excited about the Morro Bay Maritime Museum’s (MBMM) current oral history project. I served on the board of directors during its site development and heard the group had funded over 20 hours of interviews with working commercial industry representatives. In 2001-2002 AGP Video did the camera work for interviews conducted by Steve Rebuck, a commercial fisheries consultant, and Dr. Monica Hunter, a Cultural Anthropologist. It was a dream of our board to have these videos available for the public to understand the fisherman’s perspective of life on the waterfront and out to sea. I previewed those soon to be live at and on YouTube. The hour you will spend with each person is even more enlightening than I anticipated. Many thanks for the collaboration efforts of MBMM, AGP Video, and Rock Harbor Marketing for preserving and sharing these once “buried treasures.”   

Scott Mather is MBMM’s President of the Board of Directors. He and wife Lori have increased the audio-visual experiences at the museum. He said, “We are so indebted to the early founders of our association for coordinating this first person account of the industry that is our community’s legacy. We also have stories on the website by those who worked and served aboard our fleet. We intend this oral history education project for students and journalists to do their research and for residents and tourists to enjoy stories from our maritime past. It will also be a living memory for families and friends of those interviewed to see and hear individuals no longer with us.” 

Frank Brebes, an abalone diver, would free dive as would most of the divers interviewed. Hard-hat diving was risky because one had to depend on an active crew on-board not cutting one’s air hose. He opines the days when he felt Fish and Game wardens were more of an ally for the fisherman.  

Tour Avila Pier during Barry Cohen’s interview. He believes he was the area’s first commercial diver for sea urchins, a hot market for Japanese eateries in Los Angeles.  Mr. Cohen candidly discusses the impact of quota regulations on the industry. 

Marco Collini fished albacore. His Dad immigrated from Italy to San Diego to Alaska on the Star of India, which now is a major exhibit at the San Diego Maritime Museum. At 14 Collini was in the Galapogos Islands diving for live bait caught in the nets. At 17 he fished for swordfish in Alaska. During WWII he was asked if he wanted to be a Navy diver. After a fifteen minute dive, they said he was trained.

Tour a 2001 fish processing operation at the Old Port Fish Market on Avila Pier after Travis Evans’ interview. His teacher at Visalia High School recommended he study Animal Husbandry at Cal Poly. In 1939 he could afford the all boys’ school by working and sleeping in the dairy barn. He discusses his concerns for the future of Central Coast fisheries with pending regulations. 

Joe Giannini’s animated interview brought him from Newport, OR to Morro Bay in 1946. Fishing was in its heyday and the fishermen convinced him to build Marine Service & Equipment on Market Street. There were 365 fishing boats out of Morro Bay that needed servicing. He recalls he sold out of 5-inch televisions one year since the fisherman wanted to watch the World Series at sea. Sit down with Jody Giannini, too, who took over the business.  

A past president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization (MBCFO), Wayne and Diane Moody fished together for 23 yearsHe worked at Diablo and participated in competition sport diving for urchins and abalone. The couple discusses building and working their commercial fishing boat. 

Jeremiah and Trudy O’Brien talked about fishing together, diving for urchins and gill net fishing until Jeremiah took on extra duties as the MBCFO’s spokesperson and negotiator during years of difficult times as regulations impacted the industry.  

Trudy & Jeremiah working the fisheries together

Born in Cayucos December 5, 1923, Harold Biagini tells the story that his Swiss-Italian grandfather sailed around the horn to Monterey and author Robert Louis Stevenson gave him twenty-five cents to survive. The Cayucos dairy family grew to seven ranches. Harold recalls riding five miles on horseback to school every other day. Other days they wagoned cream to market. “Abalone covered the rocks and we’d fish-fry on the beach.” On display is a replica of Harold’s dive boat produced by master modeler Ken Foran. Many of us enjoyed a glimpse of one of Morro Bay’s favorite citizens, Ed Biagini. 

Master Modeler Ken Foran, now residing in Morro Bay, created the model for the Morro Bay Maritime Museum since it was due for demolition before there was a structure to store it and then refurbish and create an onsite display.

Born in 1918 Gerard Parsons is a sixth generation San Luis Obipso descendant of Jose Francisco Ortega, guide to San Diego founder Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra. Parsons was a founding father of the San Luis Obispo Yacht Club and active in the development of Port San Luis.   “…those guys were crazy” was often said about fishing partners Dean Tyler and Ernie Porter. Their interview comes with a tour of the Morro Bay Aquarium during its heyday complete with barking seals. The fishing duo had tales to tell about diving, learning to use new scuba equipment and their selvedge adventures.  

Lawrence Thomas’ original plan was a shell stand to keep young son Dave busy while keeping his eyes peeled for a Hwy. 1 property to open a shell shop and entice tourists to visit Morro Bay. He talks about his property struggles over the three lots he had title for as the Tidelands harbor district was in development. He only maintained the corner Embarcadero property for a successful Shell Shop business. But before opening it he was a fisherman and tells a gripping survival story when he and the Mrs. took their newly owned small craft to Alaska to salmon fish. A major storm outside of Coos Bay almost ended more than their adventure. Once Dave took over management of the Shell Shop, Lawrence enjoyed his travels looking for rare shells.  

Wilmer Tognazzini knew he wanted to be a teacher when he was eight years old. In 1935 he was principal of Morro Bay Elementary School with six classrooms. He built eight more. His students were mainly fishermen families. “No one has more integrity than a fisherman,” he maintained. He was always teaching — wandering from table to table at his son, Mark’s Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant talking lifestyle of fish the diner’s were eating. At the time of the interviews he had published fifteen books on local history from the columns he wrote for the local newspaper.  

Two separate interviews were completed with Eddie and Dick Sylvester who were born and grew up in San Luis Obispo. Both worked the family tugboats for the oil industry out of Avila. Dick branched out to fishing, but stayed home the year he was married then for survival income went back to sea. He told the wife she wasn’t going to see much of him and explained to the Steve and Monica if a fisherman didn’t have an understanding wife the marriage was destined to fail. 

Travis Ford wrapped it up as the project goes live, “The Maritime Museum team are remarkable stewards of Morro Bay’s maritime history. The names represented in these videos are true legacies to the very origins our city was founded on. We consider it a privilege to help them bring these interviews into the modern age of content viewing and hope that residents, visitors, and the families of those interviewed will be able to enjoy them for years to come.”

Note: Morro Bay Maritime Museum now has audio produced by Scott Mather selecting voices of individuals who had first hand experience with the vessel they tell the story about. MBMM is now open for visits on Morro Bay’s east end at 1210 Embarcadero or visit

Living Lavishly Magazine September 2020



Never say never, they say! And never could I ever believe, I would one day believe someone who had taken a human life deserved a second chance at freedom – not to mention earn my trust, respect and friendship. Indeed, never say never, as we unexpectedly learn to say. 

Sunday, June 7, 2020, Mike Nelson celebrated his second year free from prison. The 36-year-old earned parole after serving 20.5-years of a life sentence. I was invited to cover a story about New Life for Living Lavishly on the Central Coast. It meant going inside California Men’s Colony. I was curious about the training program that linked puppies with prisoners for two years, five days a week, 24-hour a day only to give them up as service dogs for Veterans and First Responders with PTSD. I believe I was even more curious what it felt like behind locked prison gates. I walked inside believing once evil exists in a man’s heart never ever will it change. I was proven wrong. The men I met that day changed my heart. I became a believer in second chances.  about the inner workings of the prison.  in the story, but even more curious about the inside of a prison.  featured Nelson in 2018 when he keynoted a graduation ceremony for New Life K9s inside California Men’s Colony (CMC). His parole was to begin June 6, but he chose to stay another day to give up Eddie, the puppy he trained most days and nights for two years to become a service-dog for former San Luis Obispo policeman Greg Gallo, who lives with PTSD.    

“Working with Eddie I learned some valuable lessons for life outside,” said Nelson. “He is a big part of why I felt drawn to move to the Central Coast. Eddie prepared me to listen to my gut and follow what I know to feel true.” The experience also introduced Nelson to brothers inside and supportive friends outside. “The quality of my life today is due to the relationships I have formed – many as a result of my experience with Eddie.” 

However, long before bonding with Eddie, Nelson “…went on survival mode,” including taking advantage of self-help and college level classes offered while at San Quentin. “The most important thing I did to prepare myself for the possibility of parole was to really do the introspective work that allowed me to have a deeper awareness of myself – my triggers, thoughts, beliefs and values.” Once paroled, he explored career opportunities in San Francisco and the Central Coast, including developing his current dog training service. His “gut” keeps leading him back to his work with humans – coaching youth offenders like himself to “…live life with accountability and commitment.” He ultimately hopes to reach out to troubled youth heading towards outcomes Nelson knows all too well. “I don’t have all the answers, but I can help them discover who they are and hope to become.”  

In 2012, Nelson was one of eight men incarcerated at San Quentin, who co-founded Kid C.A.T. After studying hundreds of programs, they realized their perspective was unique. They lived daily with issues that needed to be discussed yet ignored in other self-help programs. In 2014, Kid C.A.T. became a recognized program offered within the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. Last September it achieved 501c3 status. Nelson is its executive director.

He expanded Kid C.A.T. to CMC and until COVID-19 locked out volunteers, he led weekly group sessions and trained potential new trainers. “Kid C.A.T. is a successful program, graduating over 400 participants from its self-help class, The First Step. We have raised funds for organizations that serve youth; sponsored events to create awareness about youth issues; and have contributed our voices to impact dialogue on restoration and healing. I made a commitment to my co-founders to see this through. Now that I’m paroled, my life has grown, but I’m deeply committed to the men inside.” 

Four Kid C.A.T. team members currently live and work on the Central Coast. Like Nelson, Luis Venegas, Solomon Kim, Kristopher Blehm, and Wesley Bird are youth offenders – now brothers who lived twelve to over 25 years incarcerated. Together they experienced training and graduating New Life K9 puppies at CMC before parole. 

“Being found suitable (for parole) was the happiest moment for me,” said Kim. “I was a follower. Kid C.A.T. gave me space to be ME. New Life K9s allowed me to practice all that I learned throughout my journey, (notably) patience. My brothers are my family and give me love and support.” He values his 7-month Walmart position while continuing his education at Cuesta College to become a drug abuse counselor.  

Venegas earned his AA in Sociology. “I had done work on myself to become a better human being by the time I joined New Life K9s. Within it, I lived it on a day to day basis.” The training earned him his “first-ever job” as a host at Thousand Hills Pet Resort. 

Blehm nears finishing his college degree while working at Tractor Supply SLO. He knows “…helping people is something I’m called to do.”

Bird is also college trained, but the skill he perfected while inside was his artistic eye for animal portraits. Since 2018 his art has been displayed at Morro Bay’s Top Dog Coffee Bar. “I have had a huge amount of help – family, friends, co-workers, complete strangers I’ve asked for help. I know I will be training dogs and hopefully working hard as a commercial artist.”

Simple kindnesses and activities became treasured memories while on their reentry journeys. “The moments that stand out for me,” said Venegas, “are when my sister visited and showed me how to clean a bathroom properly or when Mike (Nelson) allowed me to use his car to practice driving when I only had my permit.”

On his first day of freedom, Nelson had to see Morro Rock since a New Life K9s weekend puppy parent showed him pictures of service-dogs-in-training romping near Morro Bay’s restorative anchorage. An In-N-Out Burger was a must-try, but now snugged into his own apartment, he “craves childhood favorites – recipes passed down from my (Japanese) great-grandparents.”   

Venegas and Kim wanted to see the “majestic” ocean, but for Venegas enjoying a family pizza at Woodstock’s came first.  Blehm and Bird preferred, “…anywhere away from prison.” Blehm went shopping with his sister and Nelson. Bird needed to see the New Life K9s facility and spend time with Patrick Bietz and Suzanne Maury, owners of Top Dog Coffee Bar. 

Currently working part-time at Top Dog Coffee Bar, Nelson said, “They (Pat and Suzanne) have been there for each of us. A strong support network – holding our hands – is critical to make it through reentry.”  

There have been disappointments along the way. Living in San Francisco was not as satisfying for Nelson as he had hoped. “People seemed disconnected and rushed…(with) very little space to connect with one another.” 

Both Kim and Venegas planned every detail only to learn protocols often over-ride plans. In prison Blehm learned transparency and trust among his brothers, but discovered, “Transparency (outside) is not as appreciated or even wanted or accepted.” And yet his Kid C.A.T. training convinced him, “I’m going to succeed…I didn’t get a second chance to waste it.”    

“Every day is a reward,” said Nelson, “…every relationship…every conflict…every new experience…every chance to go back inside prison as a free person. Life is a reward – one I do not take for granted today.”

So how did Nelson celebrate freedom on his 2-year anniversary? He chose a quiet dinner at Tognazzini’s Dockside Too – In full view of Morro Rock – sharing fish and chips with CJ, another puppy who has captured his heart. 



California’s Governor Newsom had just announced all non-essential businesses should close. Morro Bay would not escape a worldwide pandemic’s attack on small-town America’s economy. Businesses were shuttered, public events and previously planned family gatherings were canceled, Only take-out was allowed if a restaurant wanted to stay open.

Saturday, March 21, 2020 will be remembered as a day to celebrate and commiserate for Top Dog Coffee Bar’s co-owners, Pat Bietz and Suzanne Maury and their employees. The couple planned to surprise their family-friend and barista, Mike Nelson, on his birthday. Joyful festivities, however, were followed by an impromptu employee meeting.

“I remember Suzanne was giving food away – crying because they had never laid off employees before after fourteen years in business,” said Mike. “As she said goodbye, I took Pat aside and said it didn’t make sense. They should sell off what they had just stocked.”

Pat and Suzanne had traded their fast-paced lives in Southern California to purchase SLO County ranch-land. Pat “trained with one of Saucelito’s best roasters” before they opened a coffee-based business on Main Street, in the heart of downtown Morro Bay. Dog-friendly, it became a go-to place for wifi-work and friends and visitors to meet-up and solve the world’s problems – often with Pat included in the conversation.

Top Dog’s signature premium coffees were sourced worldwide and roasted fresh daily. The menu would expand to offer a wide variety of fresh-baked breakfast pastries, unique morning and lunch-time specialties, teas and chai, and several draft beers on tap. Pat and Suzanne had trained hundreds of high school students, graduated college kids, and gave meaningful work to single Moms and men who needed a second chance.

“NO! We will not give up! We will not give-in, This is your livelihood,” Lindi Woods recalled telling her employers.

Mike had convinced Pat to take it day-by-day. Suzanne encouraged anyone uncomfortable with the risks to apply for unemployment. Most did. They survived by opening mornings with a skeletal crew – Lindi , Mike, Pat and Suzanne.


Mike, Lindi & Elizabeth helping Pat & Suzanne keep the coffee flowing during COVID-19 LOCK-DOWN.

“In the restaurant business you need to be there for your customers to keep them coming back,” explained Pat. “Covid-19 has been a strange time. We thought we might focus on Rescue Me Coffee, our coffee subscription service. It had grown to hundreds of subscribers who were worried about us and ordering even more coffee. Then by being there every day, we learned It was our local customers who kept us going. They would come back day after day, buy more off our menu and tip generously.”

Suzanne explained few downtown businesses were open mornings. “They would find us and while waiting for an order would learn our story watching the New Life K9 video. Pat would explain how the dogs were trained by CMC inmates to become service dogs for Veterans and First-Responders. Team Cooper was another program that funded a puppy to train in the prison program.”

Once Mike called in with possible symptoms, the crew was down to three. “Lindi stepped up,” Pat said. “It was also Lindi who introduced us to the New Life K9 graduation at CMC that changed our lives. We developed Rescue Me Coffee on the way home. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Lindi loved and respected working with Pat and Suzanne. “I retired from 23 years with the California Department of Corrections.” Her last assignment was SLO’s California Men’s Colony where she volunteered for all CMC’s activities to help Veterans. “I have sons active in the military. One came home with PTSD. I know Vets need help.” Lt. Nolan is a Vet who also supervised the K9 program in a different unit than Lindi’s area of CMC. “I told him Pat and Suzanne were looking for a way their business could help. Who wouldn’t love dogs helping Vets with PTSD?”

Lt. Nolan hosted them for the New Life K9 graduation, Lindi continued, “We met Mike Nelson that day. His parole was due that day, but he asked to stay in to participate in the graduation of the dog he trained for two years. Giving his dog, Eddie, to a First-Repsonder and the other men giving up their two dogs to Veterans was very emotional. We were convinced the program helped the Veterans – and the inmates. I began to change my thinking that day. When I guarded inmates, I kept my distance. Mike would come work for Top Dog and is now a good friend.”

Once California reopened for socially distanced dining service, new protocols meant new training for all. “The rules kept changing daily,” said Suzanne. “Lindi got us through Memorial Day. She moved to Florida to be with family and we miss her every day, but Mike has come back part time.”

It is now August with California’s COVID-19 numbers skyrocketing. Governor Newsom closed inside dining again, but Suzanne and Pat know Top Dog Coffee Bar will stay open. “Our local customers are still coming in several times a week,” said Suzanne. “We’re back up to making our summer numbers. Our community proved to us they want us to stay.”

“The thing is, you never know when you are giving a lifeline to someone,” said Pat. “During COVID-19, we realized we created our own community – a family who loves dogs and are commited helping good people needing a second chance in life. That’s what Rescue Me Coffee is all about. I hope more folks in Morro Bay find us. We thank our local friends who have kept us in business during this time. They were our hope – our lifeline.”



Celebrating Sherrye Haynie in Morro Bay

Sherrye Haynie will be remembered Monday, August 12, 2019 at the Morro Bay Yacht Club from 3-5pm. Friends are welcome to bring their favorite stories, an appetizer if they would like to share, and tip a glass to Sherrye.  There were so many stories out there to tell.

The following is the 2nd story I wrote about Sherrye. The first one she had framed and kept prominently in her Morro Bay beach-designed home. It also got Bob and I invitations to all her wonderful gatherings — or maybe it was Bob she was inviting. She loved to flirt — harmlessly! Tom was the love of her life!

She might have been the first person I met at the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce when we moved to Morro Bay sixteen or so years ago. She was the ultimate Ambassador welcoming all with a big smile and encouragement to get involved. It was sincere. She wanted to sponsor us to join the Morro Bay Yacht Club, which we eventually did because the people were so friendly and Bob thought he might like to learn to sail. He did love to kayak with his new friends.


My favorite memory of Sherrye is what could have been. I wanted to work with my daughter Jody on a coffee table book that included Sherrye in one of the many outfits/costumes she had hanging in her garage-conversion into a mega closet. There had to be hundreds and she could fit in any of them. The text would be her memory of wearing the outfit for the movie or event it was designed for. I’m confident it could have been a best seller — at least in Morro Bay and maybe Hawaii where she still has family or even among Hollywood friends of Tom Selleck, Sherrye’s long time friend when she and Tom lived in Hawaii. We would have asked Tom to contribute to the Forward.

Oh well! Those chances pass us by if we don’t grab them. Marlene Duncan, a good friend always to Sherrye was willing to be her dresser on the project as Sherrye was definitely aging, but still had the memories to share and the body to model the clothes.  She would have been thrilled to do the project since she could always smell a camera in the room ready to preserve her smiles.

At the very least, enjoy my story of …

Sherrye Randall Haynie: A Morro Bay “Living Treasure”

By Judy Salamacha

Many community Chambers of Commerce take time out to annually recognize a worthy citizen and supportive business.  And thus, sincere congratulations are in order to Morro Bay citizen Bill Peirce and Albertson’s Sean Emerson for all they have done.

However, newly installed chamber president Andrea Klipfel was this year’s designee to announce the most cherished prize of all.  A regal nod is given to someone who has lived life to its fullest, yet continues to dedicate talent, time and devotion.  A better pick for this year’s ‘Living Treasure’ could not be found than former citizen of the year and ambassador extraordinaire – Sherrye Randall Haynie.

Still at every ribbon cutting and mixer the Chamber schedules, Haynie never meets a stranger and if she suspects the slightest inkling one might share some time with the Chamber, her winning smile and welcoming attitude builds a base for a strong future member and a new friend. She will “treasure” this newest honor and not just because she’ll get her picture in the paper again.

What an amazingly charmed life she has led so far!  However, probe a bit beyond the actress who’s Rita Hayworth-style locks and photogenic smile allowed her so many Hollywood experiences and she’ll humbly credit good parentage, a strong marital partnership, and her personal ethic to do what was expected of her as a daughter, wife, parent, and citizen of Hollywood and the world.

A voting member of SAG(Screen Actor’s Guild) Haynie’s bio sheet boasts 35 films as recent as 2008 working at 20th Century, MGM and RKO; 40 television commercials, 12 travelogues, and 10 soaps. Mostly an extra or walk-on she’s appeared in Cannon, Manix, Hawaiian Eye, Magnum PI, and Hawaii Five-0.

Johnny Weissmuller taught her to swim in the famed Fleishhacker Pool in San Francisco.  This skill got her many bits to swim in movies, including Baywatch and recently for the television series Lost.

She photographed for print ads for Camay Soap, Lucky Strike, Gordon’s Gin, and Black Label to mention a few.

“With my dark red hair and bushy eyebrows, I photographed better than I look,” she said pointing to portraits looking more like famed movie stars than the friendly Chamber ambassador.

Haynie’s done theatre in New York, Philadelphia, Hollywood, Hawaii, Laguna and Pasadena.  She’s performed in major events such as Las Vegas Tappers, USO Shows, the Hollywood Palladium and “the Academy Awards just before 911.”

Frank Sinatra personally picked her out of a show at the Surfrider Club in Hawaii to meet for a quiet dinner for two.  Some of her best buddies were Tom Selleck and William Holden.

“Bill asked me to get him into the exclusive Outrigger Club and I said I would if he got me into the Mount Kenya Safari Club.” When she fulfilled her end of the deal, she was invited on safari with her friend Bill Holden.

She’s worked with Bogart, Hepburn, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, Esther Williams, Betty Grable, Alice Fey, Sandra Bullock and the list goes on.

She adored her mother and father, but admits, “My mother was a stage mother. She was from Paris and beautiful.  She had an affair with Adolph Zukor (head of Paramount Pictures) to get me into the movies. In those days you had to be part of a studio and they taught you their way of tap dancing, voice and acting.”

Her first speaking part that determined her lifelong membership in SAG was in Song of Bernadette. She laughingly will perform her one-liner, “Hither she cometh.”

And yet her lifelong Hollywood flirtation has not defined her career. “I could never have been a stuck up movie star. Tom is more famous and has done so much for the country.  My career was fantasy.”

Tom Haynie’s achievements opened doors for the love of his life beyond her Hollywood associations. Holding the Michigan State NCAA 1937 and 1939 220 and 440 Freestyle records, he qualified for the Olympics in 1936 and 1940. World War II interrupted one of his appearances. He was also the acclaimed Stanford coach who won the PAC 10 ten times in a row between 1947 and 1960.

They enjoyed homes in Palo Alto, Laguna and Hawaii where they still maintain a home and visit annually when in good health. Ultimately, the beach beckoned them away from northern California.  He quit coaching to teach school at Panahou School in Hawaii, recently famed as President Obama’s school.

“How I met Tom is funny,” she said. Haynie interviewed Sherrye for a lifeguard position at a municipal pool in Palo Alto where she was living to help out her ailing mother.

“I dressed up in one of my film bathing suits and knocked on his door for the interview.  He just lived around the block from us. He answered, took one look and said ‘You’re hired’. We were married about a year later.”

With three girls and one son, their family and social lives centered on his coaching career at Stanford. Herself a member of the Crystal Plunge Swim Team of San Francisco where Esther Williams and Olympian Greta Anderson trained, Sherrye always loved swimming and enjoyed going to her husband’s meets.

She continued to dabble in film, commercials and even had her own television show in San Francisco, but her life was wherever Tom was.

As the daughter of a naval officer, her childhood wanderlust whetted her appetite for world travel. Due to his Olympic experience, Tom and Sherrye received some very interesting invitations to travel worldwide.  A member of the Mensa Society, she always researched the lands and people she visited and is actually a graduate of the American Institute of Foreign Studies.  The wildlife of Africa and Samoan and Egyptian cultures hold her fondest memories.

Sherrye enjoyed her childhood living in Samoa when her dad was alive. Her father was U.S. Navy Captain George Bertram Landenberger (Landy), who commanded the U.S.S. Indiana. He received the Navy Cross and served as the Naval Governor of American Samoa from 1934 to 1936.

“He almost married Lillian Russell,” said Sherrye pointing to a picture of the couple, “but he married my mother, Julianna Moody. They were very good parents. President Roosevelt appointed my dad governor of Samoa.  I remember sitting on Roosevelt’s lap in between the braces.”

Sherrye says life in Samoa ruled by the chiefs prepared her to deal with future Hollywood directors.  “I learned there is order in life. The director gives an order and you have to stand your mark…sometimes for hours.” She noted making movies is not always as glamorous or easy as one thinks.

Almost eleven years ago the Haynies invested in acreage in Paso Robles. They would travel back and forth to Morro Bay longing to be near the water.  Ultimately they invested in their “Hawaiian” hide-away in Morro Bay.

Life has been about getting involved in the Chamber of Commerce and the Morro Bay Yacht Club – enjoying new friendships and maintaining former relationships in Hawaii. Sherrye continues to do film whenever the opportunity presents itself.  And Tom recently was recognized for his support for youth swimming in San Luis Obispo.

When asked how she wanted to be remembered it was not for her many titles – Miss Teen Queen, Miss Santa Cruz, Miss Palo Alto, Miss Malibu, Miss Samoa, Miss etc. etc. etc., Morro Bay Citizen of the Year, and now Morro Bay Living Treasure.

She wanted to be remembered as a happy young bride surfing in Hawaii on her honeymoon with the love of her life – Tom Haynie. Congratulations to the happy couple today and many tomorrows.


Reach Judy Salamacha at or 801-1422.



Farmstead Ed: The Family Farm

Farmer Bill and Barbara Spencer love what they do. They produce organic fruits and vegetables at Windrose Farm, just east of Paso Robles, near Creston.  They also enjoy welcoming guests to experience farming the way it used to be – the only way they have tilled their land since 1990.

Recently, in collaboration with Lynette Sonne of FARMstead Ed, the Spencers held the 11th annual Heirloom Tomato Festival adjacent to their farmhouse surrounded by producing fields, barns, and farm-stand, which regularly offers whatever happens to be harvested for sale. Barbara set up several tables and cut toothpick sized samples of more than 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes for tasting. Favorites were picked by attendees not for top tomato bragging rights, but to bag up and take home for salads and sandwiches.

The Windrose Farm “festival” is too casual and comfortable to mimic most festivals. There are other collaborating FARMstead Ed partners set up with samples of their products like Templeton Beef Company’s “to-die-for” hamburger sliders, Wine Diva Jams and YES Cocktail Company’s tasty Sriracha Salt that Barbara set out near the tomatoes to offer another flavor to the heirloom tomato bites. It felt more like going back for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon food-fest visiting Gramma and Grampa’s closest neighbors.

And if you wanted to learn about rotating crops, organic farming, north county water issues or what makes the soil at Windrose Farm produce the best of winter and summer squash, potatoes, stone fruits or apples such as Gravensteins, Farmer Bill invited guests to listen and learn during his walk-and-talk-around-the-farm-tour.

Bill grew up in the area. Barbara is an active professional musician originally from southern California. The couple met on a blind date. In the 1990s Bill was selling north county real estate. “I was good at convincing people not to buy or not to sell,” he joked. “A friend had the (Huer Huero Valley) acreage fall out of escrow. The owner couldn’t make it with everything planted in baby’s breath and barely a market to sell an acre’s worth. Barbara and I were interested in organic farming. We have the finest property with sweet water in this county.”

Their website describes their back-to-basics lifestyle and sustainable farming advocacy. “The 50-acre farm consumes the unique Huer Huero Valley — 12 are in vegetable rotations, 6 are in apples and stone fruit and 5 are sheep pasture. The rest is habitat – full of animal, bird and insect life who usually help them…clean for 20-years (the farm was) certified organic from August 1999 to 2009 until they decided to transition to biodynamic culture!…For the first three years, Bill worked to bring life back to the soil with compost and cover-cropping yearly…

“The longer we farm, the more enthralled we are with the old traditional seeds and plants. We strive as much as possible to use open-pollinated or heirloom varieties and have begun our own seed-saving program. Every day brings us more knowledge and a stronger belief in the principals and practices of sustainable organic farming. It is complex and labor-intensive – but the burst of life in the soil and the habitat of our little valley is astonishing.”

FARMstead Ed ( offers seasonal events for the general public to learn more about traditional family farming. They produce a high profile display at the TASTE event the evening before the AVOFest coordinated by the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. Early in December 3 is their annual Holiday on the Farm at Windrose Farm.

Sonne diligently gathers FARMstead Ed partners to bring their products out for talk and tasting events. Besides a Farmer Bill tour and Barbara-style product displays, vendors have included YES Cocktails Co., The Groves on 41 Olive Oil, Leo Leo Gelato, The Chocolate Stache, Talley Farms has produced interactive events. Making goat cheese and harvesting lambs wool has been a focus

close up photo of white baby goat sleeping

Photo by Couleur on

Check for more details.

Sonne has promoted locally grown & made products through “pop-up events” since 2014. The growing collaborative invites visitors out to the farms, ranches & production facilities where the food is grown or readied for distribution. Each FARMstead Ed event invites guests to mix and mingle onsite with the producers as they experience the products. And there’s always lots of tasting going on.

Indeed, Bill and Barbara love what they do, including taking their products to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market weekly, but Bill contends they’d love to find someone to buy their acreage who believes in what they are doing and will promise to carry on their legacy of sustainable farming.

“I often see folks inherit some money and buy a farm and then realize they have to work it,” Bill said. “Farming is an 8-day a week job. Barbara and I are sure someone got the calendar wrong.”








On The Road Yet Ever Close to Home

Reprinted from Biz Matters by Simply Clear Marketing & Media on September 12/13, I wanted to share the positive experience I had while traveling in the Chicago, IL area. A bonus is when you meet someone from home. The No-Hitter opportunity is when you discover a story that links to home — even marginally — that can be shared locally once home from vacation.IMG_0632

I have this thing about going to baseball parks. I don’t really watch most sports (except NASCAR) until the final series so I booked a trip where we would visit five ballparks within a week. It was a tour offered by America By Rail that allowed us to attend high profile games towards the end of the season and see several communities we had not yet explored. So with all handled except the extra time we spent in Chicago, we saw some great games and ultimately recognized names during the playoffs of 2018 that we had seen play. But the hit-it-out-of-the-park bonus was meeting Lowell Bassett — a treat and a memory to be shared.

Here’s the reprinted story:

You meet the most interesting folks while traveling – sometimes with direct connections to the Central Coast. This reporter traveled all the way to Chicago only to meet-up with Michael Motta, a retired elementary school principal from Fresno who spends half his time at his home in Cambria and then there were the Bassetts – Lowell, DeAnne and son Douglas. Over the years they have visited DeAnne’s cousins, Genie and Lee Pando in Cayucos. In fact, recently they checked out the Pando’s remodeled home near the Cayucos Community Church, but the couple’s most vivid memory was the year the Tsunami hit in 2011.

There were 43 of us on tour with In trains sporting dining and observations cars, we looped major-league baseball parks featuring the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals. Milwaukee and St. Louis have energized their downtown’s economies with new ballparks, while the “Cubbies” still play Wrigley Field, a modernized gem of tradition.

Our guide Dennis Fedor was a retired Amtrak conductor so knew how to navigate us through the summertime travel maze, but baseball history, stats, and even insider stories were shared by fellow-fans on tour particularly Dennis Smith, a retired librarian from Bowling Green, OH. He spent his early years playing college baseball at Miami, OH, then minor league ball, but never got the call to the majors. Additionally, John Baxter shared his baseball expertise, a lifelong student of the sport from Mendham, NJ traveling with wife Ellen.

But the most memorable story was told by Lowell Bassett. Once a year during the mid-1960s he began a 37-year history singing the National Anthem and America the Beautiful 48 times for the LA Dodgers. He recalled when Dusty Baker helped the Dodgers win pennants in 1977 and 1978 and became World Series champions in 1981.  Basset recalled, “Dusty once remarked how I had the brightest blue eyes not knowing I’d just gotten contacts.

Bassett continued, “I’ll always be a Dodger fan. They respected their people. Even singers got the good seats. The first 14 years I sat next to the dugout.” He proactively got the 40-year gig himself. “My son’s piano teacher knew the manager of the LA Lakers. After I passed their audition and sang for them, I decided why not call the Dodgers? Since I sang at the Lakers I was invited to give it a try. A favorite night was being there when Fernando Valenzuela pitched his no-hitter.”

Once they offered Bassett a perk to switch his annual singing date. He could invite 20 of his family and friends to a $3,000 Dodger hospitality suite with all the trimmings — Dodger-dogs and more. “I agreed. A Little League team was hosted that night. The kids were all introduced to the players on the field before the fans. Two of the kids couldn’t make it so they asked if my boys wanted to join the group.”

Whenever he sang, Bassett wore a coat and tie. “They’d show me on the big screen when I sang. One night a kid came up and asked for my autograph. I tried to tell him I was nobody, but he recognized I was part of the show.” His favorite players were 10-time All-Star Steve Garvey, nicknamed “Mr. Clean” for his wholesome image and famed pitcher Orel Hershiser, who helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1988. Why? Bassett said, “They were always friendly.”

Bassett loved sports and even played basketball on two teams that went to Nationals – one while studying education and music at Pasadena College and the other while serving in the U.S. Army, but he felt he got his biggest career break one semester in college when he met Ted Bahu. “I never heard the guitar played like that and he showed me how.” This brief encounter served him well for 48 years as a youth music minister and elementary school teacher in California and Oregon.

He has fond memories of teaching famed cartoonist Charles Schulz’s children. Schulz was head of the PTA and asked Bassett to be the spiritual advisor for the group. He agreed “only if I could do some good” so he regularly read a Bible chapter and sang. “For nine months,” he said, “there was standing room only at the meetings.” Schulz also created a treasured cartoon strip featuring Linus and Lucy at the PTA meeting where he delivered “joyous news.”

In 1993 Bassett retired from teaching. He and DeAnne relocated from Camarillo to Sun City, AZ and took their music ministry on the road through 38 states and three Canadian provinces. Most often they would be invited to participate in Sunday services. “We had no schedule, but always had a place each week to park our 40-foot motorhome. We met many kind and generous people.”

So it was on an Amtrak to Kansas City to watch the KC Royals play the Detroit Tigers that Bassett said, “I almost gave up on them (LA Dodgers) a month ago, but they’re coming back.” He smiled a smile that made everyone around him feel good. His blue eyes seemed to flash back to half a century of memorable moments at Chavez Ravine singing, “…And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!” Applause, Applause! Let’s play ball!
















Colonel Baker’s Field: An American Pioneer Story Reviewed…

Blog Author’s Note: Camille was a colleague and friend of mine in Bakersfield. However, she was always a journalist so it was, indeed, an honor to have her review our book when it was published in 2013.

Since then it has gone into 2nd print and based on multiple comments “this book should be in our schools, 1,200 copies were donated to the middle schools in of Greater Bakersfield in November 5, 2016 on Colonel Baker’s birthday with the support of many local contributors, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools and former Mayor Harvey Hall.

As Chris states in the last paragraph of this review, the story is far from over. The goal is to make sure all residents know Colonel and Ellen Baker as the namesakes of Bakersfield — today and tomorrow.

The book is available on Amazon, Russo’s Books in Bakersfield and Coalesce Book Store in Morro Bay or Volumes of Pleasure Book Store in Los Osos. The authors are available for presentations — just leave a comment!  

The real Colonel Baker: Writers sift fact from fiction

Col. Thomas Baker and Chris Brewer.

“Colonel Baker’s Field: An American Pioneer Story,” a new book on the life of our city’s namesake, is interesting in terms of its content, its structure and its genesis.

Primarily, it’s a biography of Thomas Baker, tracing his life from his birth in Ohio in 1810 to his death in Bakersfield in 1872 — and the man’s achievements as well as the obstacles he faced during the 62 years of his life.


Lead author Judy Salamacha has written the text in a style often referred to as “creative nonfiction” or “interpretative history.” Such a technique helps to make the story more readable than an ordinary textbook and gives life to its principal subjects.

In this case, it also makes it easier to present two stories — one that took place in the 19th century, the other in the 20th century and beyond. What readers will find is imaginary conversations based on personal diaries, newspapers and other documents as well as family lore and present-day interviews with Baker’s great-great-grandson, Chris Brewer.


It also corrects errors in previous treatments documenting the elder Baker’s life, Brewer said, like the fact that Baker was a true colonel in the Iowa Territorial Militia. Some historians have suggested the title was merely honorary.

“In those days (the 1840s), the United States didn’t have an army,” Brewer said in a recent telephone conversation about the book. “Each state was responsible for protecting its borders with its own army or militia.”


Also, as pointed out in “Colonel Baker’s Field,” before moving westward Bakersfield’s founder served in several elective offices in Iowa, including today’s equivalent of lieutenant governor. In 1841 the self-taught lawyer became the first U.S. district attorney of Polk County in Iowa Territory.


The book’s prologue begins with a rather formal dialogue between Baker at age 18 and his father, Nathan Baker. It takes place in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1828, and emphasizes the young man’s adventurous spirit and his love of books and reading.


In Chapter One, the time frame shifts to 1976 and a conversation between Brewer and Frank Capezio, a friend and fellow musician. It takes place backstage at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. During their talk, which is filled with lighthearted humor, Brewer tells Capezio he’s ready to give up his successful career as a trombonist with Paul Anka’s band and become a historian, devoting himself to researching his family’s role in the development of Bakersfield.


It continues with the introduction of Chris’ father, the late Harold Baker Brewer, who thinks that everything about their ancestor is already known and there’s no need to do any further research. Chris proves him wrong with a document verifying Thomas Baker’s standing in the Iowa armed forces during a border battle between Missouri and Iowa.


The book goes on to recount Baker’s experiences in California and the San Joaquin Valley, including being arrested for treason in Visalia — a charge that turned out to be false –and the fact he had been married three times and had nine children.

It concludes with the Baker family’s move to Kern Island, as our city was then known. It got the name because although most of the area was swampland, fed by the meandering Kern River, the only inhabitable place was a low-level knoll in the area of present-day 19th and M streets.


The book is enhanced by colorful artwork done by the author’s daughter, Jody Salamacha-Hollier. In an explanatory note, the artist said: “I used black and white historical photos as a base image, retouched and added color to the images, and then used Photoshop brushes to create a painted look.”


It also contains a timeline of the colonel’s life as well as an extensive bibliography that includes websites as well as written sources. However, the book has no footnotes or endnotes to acknowledge sources and it lacks an index, which would have been helpful.

Salamacha gives full credit to Sandy Mittelsteadt, president of a company that connects businesses to education, for coming up with the idea for the book and for guidance as it was being written.


The two women first met when they worked together on projects in Bakersfield. At the time, Salamacha held public relations and marketing positions with KGET-TV, Channel 17 and Castle & Cooke. She now lives in Morro Bay and writes a weekly column for the San Luis Obispo Tribune. She also is the director of the Central Coast Writers’ Conference at Cuesta College.


Obviously, much of the information in the book came from interviews with Brewer or from sources he made available to Salamacha and her collaborators. But according to him, there’s even more digging to do and more stories to tell.


“Although we worked pretty hard on the book, there is a ton of material that hasn’t been published,” he said. “The joy of this one is going to be the next book, with all the material in it that I’ve been gathering for years.”