2016 Honoree Biographies
CATHEDRAL CITY – LOUIS “LOU” PEREZ
Lou, 81, was born and raised in New York City. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1952 and served for three and a half years, reaching the rank of petty officer second class. At 24, at the recommendation of a friend, he and his wife, Mercy, moved from New York to Los Angeles. He didn’t know anyone or have a job awaiting him, and he came without references.
In time, he started meeting people and volunteering, becoming active in the community. It started with the Venice Athletic Club, coaching the peewee league. He eventually joined the Santa Monica Elks Lodge and held leadership roles. During his time with the Elks, Lou had the opportunity to stand at home plate and present Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday with the Citizen of the Year Award, in front of 45,000 fans at Dodger Stadium.
Lou realized his dream of owning a business when he bought an upholstery and drapery shop from a friend who wanted to retire. He owned and operated the shop for 20 years. His business catered to the entertainment industry. He proudly recounts Cary Grant as one of his clients. At 62, Lou sold the business. However, his wife didn’t retire for another four years so Lou went to work at Home Depot in the design department.
Lou and Mercy first met in New York, in 1959, while working for the United Transformer Corporation. She worked on the fourth floor and he worked on the second floor. He admits, “I spent more time on her floor than I did my own.” Lou credits her with making the biggest impact on his life, and they have been married for 54 years.
After years of weekend visits to the Coachella Valley, Lou and Mercy decided they wanted to live in the desert permanently. They purchased a home and have spent the last 16 years here.
In April 2006, Lou joined the Cathedral City Citizens on Patrol to give back to his community. Whether he is helping with special events for the city or is called to block off traffic at crime scenes, the whole experience has increased his appreciation for the police department.
He has served as president of Citizens on Patrol for the past two years. He says that it “gives me great civic pride knowing that I’m helping the City. I enjoy the fact that I’m helping the Cathedral City Police by relieving some of the burden from the officers on patrol; what could be more rewarding?”
Lou and Mercy have four children and 10 grandchildren.
COACHELLA – JOSE VALADEZ
Jose, 81, was born and raised in Jalisco, Mexico. At 20 years of age, he immigrated to the United States and settled in the City of Coachella. He came to the United States with a dream of being able to one day buy a house for his parents.
Jose has been employed as a chef and an irrigation foreman. He worked for Sun World, overseeing the grape farms for 18 years. He also worked for Winter Green Farms for seven years before retiring.
While working as a foreman, Jose met his wife, Beatrice. They got married in 1959. It wasn’t a large wedding but it was beautiful and is Jose’s favorite memory. They were married for 53 years before Beatrice passed away in 2012.
Jose likes to stay active and is always busy helping others. For the last 15 years, he has been a volunteer at the Coachella Senior Center. Jose does all the gardening and recently replaced all the roses with desert landscaping. He is responsible for organizing the Wii bowling teams and Mexican bingo. Senior center staff proudly note that Jose is the first to arrive to ensure the earliest visitors can have a cup of coffee or toast.
Jose has remained an active member of Our Lady of Soledad Catholic Church for 55 years, where he serves as an usher. He has also spent time working with the F.I.S.H. Food Bank of Lower Coachella Valley, helping distribute commodities throughout Coachella.
Jose’s favorite vacation spot is Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with its beautiful beaches and its folklore.
When Jose looks back on his life, his family, which includes two chihuahuas, brings him the most joy. Jose found success in America and fulfilled his dream when he bought a house for his family in Mexico. Witnessing the birth of his first child made the biggest impact on his life, which he can’t explain in words but says it was the best feeling.
Jose and Beatrice raised five children, 13 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
DESERT HOT SPRINGS – ALICIA MOYA
Alicia, 74, was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico. From 1961 to 1963, she studied nursing while in a convent, Hermanas de la Caridad de San Vincente de Paul Escuela de Enfermeria, in Puebla, Mexico.
After leaving the convent, Alicia moved to Lomita, California and started working as a private nurse. Since then, she has helped with multiple baby deliveries. Witnessing life being born is an experience she cherishes.
Alicia went on a religious mission in 1989 for one year in Mexico, coming home early to help her daughter’s growing family. She moved to the Coachella Valley in 1999, after being drawn to the relaxing, small town atmosphere. Alicia moved to a spacious five-acre property, which her family loved.
Last June, Alicia founded Baby or Not Pregnancy Choice with a board of four other community members. Their mission is to help pregnant teens and families through counseling. Within four months of the board’s formation, the group opened an office in the City of Desert Hot Springs. Although the organization started with very little – not even a diaper – the response from the community has been positive. Alicia speaks to various groups about pregnancy and helps staff the organization’s 24/7 hotline.
Alicia spends a lot of her time crafting. She learned to knit in her mother’s lap and has used that skill to knit baby clothes for the organization. Alicia also enjoys needlepoint embroidery, something she learned from other women in the convent.
Her favorite place to vacation is Playa del Carmen, Mexico, a site that she calls paradise. She finds the place breathtaking, from the skies to the ocean. When Alicia travels to other countries, it reminds her of why she is so blessed to live in the United States, noting that the freedoms here can’t be found anywhere else.
Alicia is a loving mother of two and grandmother of nine.
INDIAN WELLS – JOHN ROSELLINI
John, 76, was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Washington State University, then went on to complete his law degree from Gonzaga University. While in law school, he worked as a court clerk in the Spokane County Superior Court. John was admitted into the Washington State Bar in 1972.
Upon admission to the Bar, John went to work for a small, general practice law firm in Seattle for several years where he learned the basics of courtroom and trial practice. He became a sole practitioner sharing office space with colleagues in different practice areas. He had his own practice until his retirement in 2008.
John was elected to the Washington House of Representatives’ 34th District, a part-time position he held for three two-year terms. John also served for many years part-time as an administrative law review judge, hearing and reviewing unemployment compensation cases.
After closing his law office and spending more time in the Coachella Valley, he looked for something to keep him busy. In 2008, John saw a newspaper listing for volunteers, and the Cathedral City Citizens on Patrol was on that list. Being part of Citizens on Patrol gave him the opportunity to fulfill a desire, nurtured in his youth, to be part of public safety.
During the months that he is in the desert, he spends two to three days a week volunteering. As part of their responsibilities, John and the other patrol officers help with traffic control for accidents, transport evidence and conduct general patrol in the city.
John has played the piano since sixth grade. In his volunteer work, he has enjoyed bringing music to staff and residents at nursing homes.
During his law school years, John met his wife, Marge. In June 2015, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. John says, “like some movie said, she makes me want to be a better person.”
John and Marge have four children and 12 grandchildren.
INDIO – BLANCHE MARTINEZ
Blanche, 75, was born and raised in Calipatria, California. She is the oldest of nine children, with four brothers and four sisters. Blanche moved to the Coachella Valley in 1982 with her husband, Frank, to look for work. They started out in the fields, farming and packing crops. Blanche decided that she wanted to try something different and went to trade school to learn marketing and sales.
While working at Harris’ department store, Blanche met someone who would become her future supervisor. The supervisor asked her to work at JFK Memorial Hospital, and she did. JFK opened the world up to Blanche with a brand new job. She joined the staff as a switchboard/PBX operator on April 15, 1985, which she remembered clearly because it was tax day.
Blanche worked at the Indio hospital for 17 years, starting out in the graveyard shift. In 1991, she was promoted to supervisor of the morning shift for switchboard operations. She served in that position until her retirement.
One of her biggest mantras is that a smile and a hello will go a long way, a saying that her mother passed down to her. This is an attitude that she keeps while volunteering for the Indio Senior Center and JFK Memorial Hospital. When her husband passed away in 2006, she wanted to keep herself busy. For the last eight years, she has dedicated three days out of each week volunteering.
At the Indio Senior Center, Blanche is known as a gracious volunteer. She runs errands, helps out at the front desk and takes new members on tours of the facility. Similarly, at JFK, she volunteers at the front desk, edits the auxiliary newspaper and assists with fundraising. Her contributions were recognized in 2014 when she was named the hospital’s Volunteer of the Year.
One of her hobbies is photography. She uses her Sony camera to take pictures at events at the hospital and senior center. In addition, she maintains a scrapbook of her family ancestry.
Her advice to the younger generation is to “Enjoy life, don’t dwell on the bad things, smile, it makes you feel better.”
Blanche has three children and three grandchildren.
LA QUINTA – BOB LEIDNER
Bob, 65, was born in Hollywood, California and grew up in Canoga Park, California.
Bob has spent most of his working career in executive management. In 1982, he took a position with Regency Lighting, a company in the lighting supplies distribution market. After 21 years with the company, he retired in 2003. He is proud of what he was able to accomplish as president and chief financial officer, growing the company from a start-up to more than $100 million annually in sales.
In 2004, Bob and his wife, Sue Marie, moved to the desert. A year later, Bob decided to go back into business and started a company that represents Asian manufacturers in the lighting industry. He and Sue Marie are also real estate agents overseeing their property management company and recently opening a boutique travel agency. Obviously, Bob is not quite ready for retirement.
Bob has found various ways to give back to the community. He has long been involved in CVSPIN – Coachella Valley Serving People in Need – which organizes the annual Tour de Palm Springs bicycle ride for charity. Bob brought his business skills to the organization as a board member from 2004 to 2013, helping make decisions for the nationally known event. He served as chairman from 2010 to 2013.
Bob takes pride in helping to make the City of La Quinta a wonderful place to call home. A past member of the city’s Community Services Commission, Bob continues to serve the city as a member of their Advisory Committee.
Bob was a bachelor for 41 years but ended that life after meeting Sue Marie. Six weeks after they met, he proposed. They have now been together 24 years and still haven’t had a fight.
He is a boating enthusiast and says that being out on the water is a great joy.
When he looks at his life, he says “my wish would be that I could find a way to make the most significant impact I personally could make and ultimately be able to say I contributed in a positive way and did the best I could.”
Bob has one step-daughter.
PALM DESERT – MARY HELEN KELLY
Mary Helen, 91, was born in Okemah, Oklahoma. Her family migrated to California and started a goat dairy farm in the then-rural San Gabriel Valley. Mary Helen and her brother rose early at 4 a.m., milking at least 24 goats in the morning and evening, going to school and helping with chores to help their family survive the Great Depression.
While attending El Monte Union High School, she met Richard Kelly. Following graduation, their relationship continued while she attended the University of California, Los Angeles and Richard served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The two married in 1945. The war ended before Richard was sent overseas.
The newlyweds returned to El Monte and purchased a piece of land. They learned construction techniques while snooping around at construction sites, and together built their first home on that parcel.
Richard worked for the California Water & Telephone Company. After a series of promotions, the Kellys moved to Palm Springs in 1958 and later moved to Palm Desert in 1977.
Upon their move, Mary Helen became active in the local PTA, the Junior League and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. She took on the role of Sunday school teacher and youth counselor and remains close to teens she met over the years.
When her son, Robert, left for college, Mary Helen re-entered the workforce and began part-time work as a teller at Bank of America. As an operations officer, Mary Helen represented the bank at the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce and became chair of the ambassadors. Mary Helen worked at the bank for 20 years and retired in 1983.
Mary Helen feels blessed to live in a community with so many dedicated and wonderful people who give of themselves as volunteers in so many different areas.
True to her statement, Mary Helen is still going strong as a volunteer for the Trinity Lutheran Church in Indio, the Rotary Club of Palm Desert, and the Palm Desert Parks and Recreation Commission, spending the majority of her day working in the community. She squeezes in time for her favorite indulgence, a quick meal at Carl’s Jr.
Mary Helen was a full partner in Richard’s community endeavors. She managed her
husband’s campaigns for Palm Desert City Council, where he served from 1983 until his passing in 2010.
Mary Helen hopes that the younger generations “don’t forget the importance of helping your neighbor, your community, your family.”
She is a proud mother of two, grandmother of two, and great-grandmother of two.
PALM SPRINGS – SID CRAIG
Sid, 71, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He studied at the University of Southern California’s School of Occupational Therapy from 1962 to 1967. Sid spent time volunteering at Gateways Hospital in Los Angeles, working with patients with psychosomatic illnesses.
In the summer of 1968, he fell into the theatrical path. Sid organized a camp that brought together hundreds of children from different walks of life. One of the program’s investors owned a theatrical agency, which inspired Sid to become a theatrical agent. He rented a room in an empty suite and went on to become the youngest owner of a state licensed talent agency. Sid established the Craig Agency in 1969 and made a lifelong career representing actors in the entertainment field, including TV, film and stage.
Sid became one of only 72 theatrical agents to be admitted to the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts & Sciences.
Sid realized that, with a cell phone and computer, you can work from anywhere so he moved to Palm Springs in 2006. However, he hasn’t slowed down in the slightest. Sid has a passion for every organization he is involved in. He currently serves on 10 boards and commissions.
For more than 15 years, Sid has been a board member and officer of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Steven Ford, son of former President Gerald Ford, was one of Sid’s longtime clients, and President Ford personally recommended him for the board. For nine years, Sid helped create the event’s merchandise.
Sid’s community service includes serving as president of the Police Advisory Board of the Palm Springs Police Department, chairman for the Palm Springs Parks and Recreation Commission, vice president of the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, and president of Melody Ranch.
Sid developed an interest in learning sign language. He became fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and was selected as the first hearing president of the Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles.
Throughout his career in entertainment, Sid has worked with many different clients and has numerous stories. Through his community involvement, he has the honor of meeting amazing people. Sid’s greatest supporter was his mother, Rose, from whom he learned what it meant to be unconditionally loved.
RANCHO MIRAGE – ELIZABETH DEMYANEK
Elizabeth, 77, was born and raised in Minnesota. She moved to Arizona during her teenage years, where she attended school at Arizona State College, now known as Northern Arizona University. She met her husband, Walter, at the campus and they moved to Tucson where he entered the University of Arizona College of Law.
Elizabeth worked as a legal secretary in her husband’s single practitioner law office for 25 years in Artesia, California. In the mid-1970s, the Demyaneks lived in both Palm Springs and Sedona, Arizona. In Sedona, Elizabeth got her start as a volunteer. She volunteered for 10 years at the Humane Society.
The family moved back to the Coachella Valley in 1990, settling in Rancho Mirage where Walter retired two years later.
In 1996, Elizabeth and Walter attended the dedication ceremony for the Rancho Mirage Public Library. After speeches by former President Gerald R. Ford and United States Ambassador Walter Annenberg, the doors to the library were open. Once inside, Elizabeth saw a sign asking for volunteers. As a lifelong reader, it was an easy decision to get involved.
The library was eager to utilize Elizabeth’s help, especially her typing skills. Her volunteer service started as one day a week and quickly became five days a week, a routine she has kept up for 20 years now. Elizabeth is one of the library’s longest serving volunteers. When new staff members come on board, they don’t realize she is an unpaid volunteer because she has her own desk and phone.
Elizabeth says that volunteering at the library makes working at her age a dream job. There is camaraderie among the staff, and there is always something new to learn. Her hope is that “I have made an impact on this important institution for the City of Rancho Mirage.”
Elizabeth and Walter were fortunate to travel together before Walter’s passing in 2005. Among their excursions was a week-long tour behind the Iron Curtain in 1975. They had the opportunity to visit countries in Europe that individuals couldn’t venture into alone. Additionally, Elizabeth has embarked on more than 50 cruises. She remarks that her best vacation was an African safari, where she spent two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania.
Elizabeth is a proud mother of two daughters, two sons and five grandchildren.
RIVERSIDE COUNTY – ANDRÉ KAZ
André, 86, was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and was raised in the Los Angeles area. His father was a private music teacher, providing violin lessons at a church in Fresno, California.
André was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1951 and served two years in Korea. During his service, he spent one year working in a dental clinic. Upon his return, he studied at the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in zoology. After college, he went through training at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to become a medical lab technologist. André took the state exam and became a licensed technologist in 1963.
André started his career in Lancaster and moved to the Coachella Valley in 1986. André was employed for 18 years as a technologist at JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio. The majority of his job involved testing blood and urine samples.
André spent 10 years volunteering with the Rancho Mirage Citizens on Patrol, an organization that provides assistance to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department by conducting daily patrols of the community.
André initially joined Citizens on Patrol because he thought it would be something to do and keep him busy. He stayed because he enjoyed the camaraderie of the group. In total, he has contributed over 2,600 hours of volunteer service.
André met his wife, Jayne, while living in Los Angeles. He went to a party with his then-girlfriend and ended up asking his date for Jayne’s phone number instead. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this past year with a party at their church. André remarks that his wife has made the biggest impact on his life. In fact, his favorite vacation spot is “wherever we can be together.”
Recently, the two went on a trip to Seattle and Vancouver, which has provided André with some of his best memories. They spent a week in each city.
André has one son, who he says has been very helpful and is appreciated very much.
RIVERSIDE COUNTY – MARY RODRIGUEZ
Mary, 75, was born and raised in Blythe, California. She met her husband, Raymond, in Blythe when she was a junior in high school and he was attending Palo Verde College. They married in 1959 and moved to the Coachella Valley in 1965. They first moved to Indio, where Raymond was a teacher for 37 years, before settling in Bermuda Dunes.
Mary attended classes at night at College of the Desert, graduating with an associate’s degree in industrial supervision in 1982. She worked for General Telephone and Electronics Corporation (GTE). After 25 years, she retired from her position as supervisor in the business department. She looks back on her time with the company and smiles about the good group of people that she worked with.
Mary has spent 16 years volunteering for the F.I.S.H. Food Bank of Lower Coachella Valley,helping individuals who can’t afford to buy food. One of Mary’s friends first got her involved with the organization, and at one point she was volunteering at the facility almost every day. She has been there the longest of all of their volunteers. Mary continues to volunteer with them, now coming in one day a week.
Mary enjoys traveling to her mother’s hometown of Sinaloa, Mexico, a trip they made many times together. Although she hasn’t visited the area recently, she would like to go back one more time.
Mary has kept a ritual that is dear to her heart. She attends nearly every annual reunion at Palo Verde High School in Blythe with her friends, regardless of which graduation class is celebrating. She looks forward to returning home, visiting her old neighborhoods, admiring the progress of the community, and being a part of the festivities.
Her wish is for her family to be healthy and safe. Mary leads by example, keeping up her daily exercise routine for years. Every morning at 6 a.m., she goes to the Indio Recreation Center to walk and lift weights.
Mary’s advice is to “do what you want to, while you can. Live today like it is going to be your last day, because you never really think you are going to get old.”
Mary has two wonderful sons, a daughter-in-law, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.