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Jeanie’s Lifelong Song

September 2, 2022

Jeanie Bertrand did not volunteer for this interview, she was drafted!

“I was talking to Sarah and she said I was a colorful person and should be interviewed,” laughs Jeanie. The first thing that she does volunteer about herself is that she’s a singer and has sung since grammar school at Ulloa Elementary. She grew up in San Francisco’s Sunset District near the beach and the zoo, and both her parents loved music. There was always music in the house and they sang in the car. Her dad even had his own band. Later Jeanie began performing.

“Three friends and I sang around the upright piano in my small bedroom on 46th Avenue,” she says. “I taught them to harmonize and we sang in three-part harmony.” She said they sang songs like In the Still of the Night. Then she sings just a little of the haunting melody in her clear, lovely voice.

The four girls used to walk home from school singing and were soon performing on stage, first at Giannini Junior High and later at Lincoln High. “We were called The 4 Belles,” says Jeanie. “My mother thought of that name.” She’s still friends with two of the Belles now.

In 1966, when she was just 20 years old, Jeanie married Phillip Meade, but sadly he died just 4 years later. She’s still close to Phillip’s sisters and brother, though they live far away.

In the early 1970s, Jeanie attended a performance at a coffee house and was enjoying singing along from the audience. After the show the performer, Denny Presson, asked her to step into a closet with him. Just as Jeanie was about to say, “I’m not that kind of girl!” it turned out he wanted to hear her sing and needed to be away from all the other noise. He must have liked what he heard because that is how Jeanie began singing with Denny at The Orion café on Cedar Alley near San Francisco’s Tenderloin area.

The performances were at night, and, as it was cold in the City, Jeanie wore a long monk’s robe she had bought in Ghirardelli Square to keep her warm. It wasn’t a very good neighborhood so a girlfriend would come with her to the café. “One night I said to her, ‘I’m so scared’ and she looked at me in my monk’s robe and said, ‘You’re the scariest thing here!’” Jeanie laughs.

In 1989, Jeanie met Gene Bertrand and they were together for over 11 years. They moved to Yachats, a small city on the coast of Oregon and bought a little house on the beach where they lived happily for years. They married in 2001, the same year Gene became ill with pancreatic cancer. They knew they had to move back to San Francisco, so they sold the little house and packed up everything. Gene started the long drive but pulled the car over suddenly and walked away. Jeanie had no idea where he went but then he came back holding a cappuccino and muffin, which he gave to her. “He was hardly eating by then but that was one of the last things he had, a sip of my cappuccino.” They moved back to their San Francisco home, near where Jeanie had grown up, and Gene died at the VA Hospital two days later.

Jeanie has two people in her life she calls her rocks, her cousin Tom Toschi and best friend Cheryl Cooper. And they get together often. “I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she says.

Another very important part of Jeanie’s life, are the pets she’s had over the years. All either adopted from shelters or found on the street. She had two dogs, Gus and Cliff, and two cats, Willie and Floyd. “Floyd came to us covered in thorns, so I started picking them out. Then he became Willie’s protector,” she says. She and Gene adopted Cliff when they lived in Oregon. “I don’t mean to discount my husbands, but my animals were the loves of my life,” says Jeanie. “Animals are so innocent.”

In 2015, Jeanie began singing at the Far Out Gallery (FOG) in her neighborhood with her singing partner Peter. “I’m by nature a harmonizer and that’s the most fun for me,” she says. Over the years she has made a lot of her own jewelry and inspirational art for the gallery even creating some to put in the gallery’s window during the Covid lockdown.

In 2022, Jeanie suddenly got double vision. Then couldn’t open her left eye. “I was diagnosed with left cranial third nerve palsy and had it for three months. Then I got nerve pain from my spine down my left leg and I could hardly walk.”

Even though Jeanie was beginning to heal, she decided it was time to move. She looked into a couple of senior communities but liked Sterling Court best. “I like the camaraderie. We kind of have a group,” she says. But says they also move around and have lunch with other people too. Jeanie is a vegetarian but always finds enough choices to make it work.

Now that she’s settled in, there’s even talk of a future performance here by Jeanie and her singing partner Peter! That’s no surprise, because as Jeanie says, “I’m happiest with friends and family. And when I’m singing!”

Frank Stillman: At Home in San Mateo

August 2, 2022

Frank’s family has deep roots in American history. His great-grandfather on his mother’s side was a Mormon convert who came from Scotland. He took the train as far west as he could get and then took a job building the transcontinental railroad. He eventually settled in Ogden, Utah, where all the railroads crossed. Another of Frank’s great-grandfathers, from Connecticut, settled in Kansas around the time of the Civil War to help keep it a slave-free state. Around the same time, his father’s family was among the original Mormon pioneers who migrated to Salt Lake City in 1847 and became farmers.

Frank grew up in Salt Lake City. What was it like being part of all that history? “Well, it was kind of unique,” he said. “The house I grew up in came to my father through his mother. It was part of my father’s grandfather’s farm that had been divided up between his seven daughters,” Frank explains. “So almost everybody on the street I grew up on was related.”

However, Frank’s family tree started growing in a different direction. “Our family is what they call ‘Jack Mormons’ in Utah. It means, Mormons that don’t practice Mormonism.” He clarifies by saying, “There a lot of different degrees of how people really identify and behave in Salt Lake.”

How did Frank decide to move out of Salt Lake? “I got into Stanford,” he explains casually. “It was kind of one of those days that changes your life.” He had planned do what most locals do, go to Brigham Young University, but his high school counselor had been to Stanford and suggested Frank try for it. Stanford was the only school he applied to, was accepted, and headed there in 1956.

“I knew when I got here that I wanted to live in California,” said Frank. “California was kind of the big romantic place in Utah in those days. People there were regarded as sinful, as crazy. That was the era of the great migration to California.”

He majored in English but the most important thing he did while there was study for 6 months at the Stanford campus in Germany. A U.S. university having a European branch was a big deal back then. “We were wined and dined a little bit by the German government.” A lot of his best friends were in that group of classmates there. After Stanford, he thought he wanted to be a college professor teaching English, so he spent a year at grad school in Princeton but wasn’t well suited to it. He headed back to Stanford to attend law school.

“I was an only child, so my family was very indulgent about my journey to find myself, if that’s what you want to call it,” he laughs. His first year out of law school he worked in Sacramento for the California Court of Appeal. It was during this time, through one of his close friends from the Stanford German group, that he met his wife, Kate. They married in 1966 and moved to San Mateo so he could work at a law firm there. “I spent the rest of my life on the Peninsula. In fact, I’ve lived in San Mateo ever since I got that job. First in the Aragon district and then a bigger house in San Mateo Park,” he said. “We needed more room for the three kids.” He has now owned that house for almost 50 years.

His three sons are all now in their 50s. The youngest and oldest are digital artists and each worked for George Lucas. The youngest, Christopher, now lives in Santa Cruz working on digital photography, and the oldest, John, made the mid-life decision to attend MIT and still lives in Massachusetts. The middle son, Alexander, went on to become a high school counselor, the same profession as his mother and the man who changed his father’s life. “I have told him about that many times,” said Frank. “It’s a very important job.”

Frank and Kate retired in 2003 and really enjoyed it. They spent time with their family and were involved in the community. Frank has taken many courses at The Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning at the University of San Francisco. It even got him involved with a writing group that meets once a month. “I’ve been writing a novel for eight years,” said Frank. “The novel has gone through a lot of changes!”

Kate passed away last year and six months ago Frank moved to Sterling Court.

“I looked around a little, but I’m a San Mateo guy,” said Frank. Sterling Court is close to his house and his familiar main drag, Burlingame Avenue. “I like living in my little apartment!” says Frank, comparing it to looking after the big house. He says the meals are the most social time at Sterling Court, and he enjoyed the 4th of July barbecue in the courtyard.

Asked if he has a life philosophy, Frank thinks and says, “The political divide in the country puts you on one side or the other. I wish we could get over that. Where I am now in life, I try not to get mad at people.” Truly thoughtful words to live by.

Roberta McElroy: A Gift of Faith

July 5, 2022

Roberta McElroy lives a remarkable life. The fourth generation California native – Roberta’s grandmother survived the 1906 earthquake – is funny, friendly, warm, kind, and thanks to her son’s recent call from the Vatican, a local celebrity! But more on that later.

Roberta’s parents met at a police station – her dad, originally from Ohio, was a San Francisco police officer, and Roberta’s mom was the department secretary. Roberta grew up in the Parkside area of San Francisco where she attended St. Cecilia’s Grammar School, St. Rose Academy, and then UC Berkeley where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, winning an award from the History Department. Roberta has always loved history.

After college, in 1948, Roberta married her childhood sweetheart and fellow St. Cecilia graduate, Walter Joseph McElroy Jr, at St. Cecilia’s Church.

“He was a warm, kind, loving husband,” says Roberta of the man she was married to for 67 years. “He was an easy man to live with. He was a wonderful husband, father, person.”

When they were first married, Roberta taught school in San Francisco at Paul Revere Elementary and she loved teaching fifth through eighth graders. In 1953, after the arrival of their first child, Mary, Roberta became a fulltime homemaker. Robert arrived a year later, then a little more spread out came Kathleen, Patricia, and Walter Joseph III. Why was the first boy named after her not her husband?

Turns out there were quite a few Walter Josephs in her husband’s family already, and they loved the name Bobby, so they went with Robert. “When we got to the fifth one, I said, ‘This is your last chance for Walter Joseph III!’ Now we have a grandson who is Walter Joseph IV!”

Once the family began growing, they moved out of San Francisco to the Westlake area of Daly City for 12 years, but they needed more room and better weather so they moved to a beautiful home in Burlingame. Walter practiced law until his retirement. After that, they moved to Oakmont Village near Santa Rosa but after Walter passed away in 2016, and the forest fires became more frequent, Roberta’s family moved her to Sterling Court, and she’s happy to be back on the Peninsula.

Roberta is proud and appreciative of all five of her children, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild on the way. She has something to say about each one of them – their professions, college majors, and interests. “They’re such nice kids and they take such good care of me. And they’re happy!” Many years ago, they lost Kathleen to breast cancer. “She was such a joy,” Roberta remembers.

Family and faith were always the center of Roberta and Walter’s life, but when their second child, Robert, came to them at just 13 years old hoping to attend high school seminary, they worried he was too young to live away from home. After talking it over, his dad gave his blessing. When it was time for Robert to attend college, he was ready to continue in the seminary, but his school told him to go out into the world and meet different people of different religions. He applied and was accepted to Harvard University and took an admissions test that qualified him to graduate in just three years. He then earned a master’s degree in American history from Stanford. After graduating the seminary, he was ordained and assigned to St. Cecilia’s Church in San Francisco (where his parents married), then to St. Pius in Redwood City, and St. Gregory in San Mateo. Then in 2015 he was appointed the sixth Bishop of San Diego. Even with all these accomplishments, it was still a surprise when the phone rang early one morning in late May with a call from the Vatican saying Pope Francis intended on making Robert the Cardinal of San Diego. The ceremony in Rome is planned for late August and many of their family members are attending. And of course, Roberta is so proud.

“My little boy” says Roberta with just a hint of disbelief in her voice. “He’s truly a gift from God. He walks into a room and he’s such an unassuming person, such a good listener, and a people person.”

And then Roberta continues to sing the praises of her other children too. She does not play favorites.

“God has been very good to our family,” says Roberta. “We have wonderful friends and believe deeply in our faith. We’re very blessed.”

Dick McKee’s Keys to Living Well

June 3, 2022

If you’re looking for the inside scoop on life at Sterling Court, talk to Dick McKee. As a 19-year resident, he’s got the expert’s perspective on how to make fast friends and get involved! Dick, who has a quick and easy laugh, is happy to share his secret.

“You have to find out what each of you finds interesting,” Dick advises. “I’ve found getting together over dinner and just discussing things leads to a connection. Often you find out that people either have the same interests or a different interest you want to learn more about.” Dick also shares his own interests with the residents at Sterling Court and has presented videos from various lecture series, including most recently, one on British history.

Dick’s early life of moving around – he grew up in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Georgia – and then 25 years in the Army Reserves, taught him how to settle into a new place quickly. Dick started his moving around during World War II when his dad was called up for active duty. Once his dad returned to civilian life, they moved back to Philadelphia where Dick completed high school. He then went to college at William & Mary, where he majored in Economics.

Dick discovered his love of travel when he was about 20 years old. “I was at an ROTC summer camp in Oklahoma, so I thought, ‘I’ll start out from there and make a loop around the country.’” He had never been west, so he jumped on a bus and headed toward the coast. “I got to see things like the Grand Canyon, southern California, and Yosemite.” He was back home within three weeks.

When a Baltimore company where Dick worked made cutbacks, he took it as an opportunity and moved to Los Angeles and then later to the Bay Area where he worked in Oakland, San Francisco, and then Belmont, at Wadsworth, a college textbook publishing company.

By this time, Dick had met his wife Beth on a ski trip at Donner Ski Ranch and bought a house in Belmont just 5 minutes from Dick’s job. Beth worked as executive secretary to the marketing vice president at Clorox, plus she wrote and published a novel called “Ayra,” a generational saga of the Old South. Here they raised their daughter Kerry, who is now a psychotherapist living in the Santa Cruz area.

Beth, who had worked in France for two years and was fluent in French, shared Dick’s love of travel and together they toured the world including all 50 states, 8 Canadian provinces, the border cities of Mexico, Nassau, The Bahamas, and a total of 34 countries on 4 continents – traveling through most of them on trains. On one trip, he and his wife had to be familiar with five different languages.

Once he and his wife retired, they were ready for a break from home maintenance, lawn care, and cooking. They looked at 17 retirement communities and happily settled on Sterling Court because they loved its close-to-downtown location and of course the wonderful meals. Sadly, Beth began to show signs of dementia and had to move to Sunrise where she lived for seven years, and Dick walked down to visit her three times a week.

After Beth was gone, Dick returned to traveling, visiting Japan and Europe many times, usually traveling by train and tours. Dick still jumps on BART and Caltrain to get around the Bay Area. “I get around a lot and I enjoy doing that!”

“All of this,” says Dick, “is driven by three rules that I follow to keep myself oriented. First, I have a very strong religious life. Secondly, I keep busy, particularly for mental health. And I do a lot of walking to keep my health up. And third, I try to find humor in everything I possibly can.” With that Dick laughs and says, “Humor is the best medicine.” And it’s obviously working for him!

Around the World with Arleen & Ed Johnson

May 3, 2022

If you’re ready for a fun and fascinating conversation with Arleen and Ed, ask them about their travels. They have made 76 overseas flights, taken cruises, and driven an RV up and down the coasts, and when you talk to them, their enthusiasm is catching!

Ed grew up primarily in South San Francisco and Arleen was raised in San Mateo. They both say they had wonderful childhoods. Each went on an international trip when young and caught the travel bug early.

The couple met working for Pan American World Airways. Ed worked in engine overhaul and Arleen as a secretary. “There were 200 mechanics – and me in an office with the boss,” laughs Arleen. It will be 59 years together this month and both agree, they are still best friends.

In the early years, Pan Am gave employees a free ticket each year. Arleen and Ed’s first trip was their honeymoon to Mexico City. The next year it was Germany. When they landed in a new country, they would rent a car and never worry about speaking the language. Ed was an excellent driver and Arleen read the map. They drove in every European country, including the UK, Sweden, and Eastern Europe. Already avid skiers with a Tahoe cabin, they skied beautiful villages in Austria (getting tipsy on mulled glühwein), Switzerland, and Italy on the side of the Matterhorn. “It was so exciting and one of my best memories,” says Arleen with Ed’s agreement.

“We flew to Greece where we got lost in the countryside and were helped by a non-English-speaking man who got us back to the main highway with his pointing at our maps!” says Arleen. They flew into Iran and walked the streets of Tehran. “It was a blessed time to travel. The world was peaceful,” says Arleen. “Beirut was a beautiful city. ‘The Paris of the Middle East’ it was called and it really was,” says Arleen. Other travels included Iran, Syria, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and South America including Peru’s Machu Picchu and Southeast Asia to Cambodia and Vietnam. “The people of Vietnam were probably the friendliest we’ve met anywhere,” says Arleen.

In 1960, due to a shift in operations, Ed went to work for Coca-Cola, but Arleen stayed at Pan Am for 35 years. At 25 years, they gave her a free trip to anywhere. “Others chose Hawaii or New York. I wanted to go around the world,” says Arleen. The airline flew them first class and they were treated like celebrities during a three-week trip. They saw Bangkok, New Delhi, and Singapore, staying several days in each place to absorb the countryside.

They even took weekend trips to Hawaii, London, and Paris. To avoid jet lag, they flew on the newly introduced and nearly empty 747s sleeping on an empty row of seats. (Though they confess that on one trip they fell asleep at the Folies Bergère.)

Ed is quick to say that they know how lucky they were to have these opportunities. He adds that by traveling standby, in the off-season, and avoiding tourist spots, they traveled very inexpensively. Their favorite places to stay were little inns in small towns barely on the map. Usually, they were the only Americans in town.

When they got a little older, they drove an RV all over the coastal U.S. and into Canada. They’ve also cruised the Black and Baltic seas, to the Caribbean islands, Cuba, and the Panama Canal.

They may no longer travel as much, but still act internationally by sponsoring two children, one a 16-year-old girl in Albania (since she was just 4) and more recently a little boy in Romania, via an organization called World Vision. They love staying in touch with them and following their progress.

Before moving to Sterling Court a year and a half ago, they’d had a home in the Belmont hills for 46 years and keep a framed panorama of its view. They love their 2-bedroom apartment here, filling it with mementos and decorating every wall with photos of their travels. “I look around the rooms and hallway,” says Ed, “and I see all of the places we’ve been.”

They loved every country and said there isn’t one they wouldn’t love to see again. When you talk with them, it feels a little bit like you’ve been there too!

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850 N. El Camino Real San Mateo, CA 94401 Phone: (650) 344-8200 Fax: (650) 344-7395