Skip to main content
HomeThis is Us: Meet a Member

Over 15 years ago, two friends and a handful of their neighbors began building Ashby Village with one simple goal: create a connected community of older adults that could offer each other practical support and opportunities for social engagement so they could thrive in the multigenerational neighborhoods they cherish.

Today, Ashby Village membership has grown to include more than 450 older adults (and over 300 volunteers!) who live in Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, Kensington, Oakland and Richmond. 

Each member brings to this community their unique life story – formed by their experiences, passions, talents and abilities, and the people they’ve met along the way. Enjoy getting to know some of them here!

Meet Member Linda Blachman

Growing up, Linda Blachman loved to play the piano and violin and also sang, but making music a profession was not considered “serious study.” Consequently, she chose the academic path starting with psychology and education at the University of Wisconsin. After working abroad in Sweden and Israel for five years, she returned to the US to acquire a master’s degree in counseling psychology at New York University.

In the early 70s, Linda came to California for our renowned universities – and a milder climate. A keen interest in consciousness studies and personal healing, plus curiosity about the individual within the societal context, informed her next studies. She received a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, specializing in community mental health and maternal-child health. Her love of writing had been acknowledged in high school and continued throughout her studies and professional life, including training in oral history and doing freelance writing and editing. 

She worked as a research associate, health educator, and program evaluator at UCSF and UCB until a serious back injury brought everything to a halt and prevented her from walking for three years. The challenging recovery led to deep introspection and introduced her to meditation and guided imagery. Eventually a new path emerged, weaving all the threads of her previous work and life experiences into a new endeavor. 

The Mothers’ Living Stories Project (MLS)

A nonprofit Linda founded and directed, MLS trained Volunteer Listeners to help mothers living with all stages of cancer record life stories and legacies for their children and families. Linda wanted to understand how mothers go on raising children when their lives and narratives are shattered. She believed that the reciprocal telling and listening to life stories would have healing power, which the women and families validated. 

Prior to starting MLS, Linda's disabling injury and father’s passing led her to become ever more interested in culturally stigmatized parts of life, namely illness and death. Anguished over her inability to help her father in his dying, she began training in hospice and end-of-life care and later learned directly from the mothers. Eventually she realized that facing mortality and being with the dying are neither morbid nor depressing. “I feel that the mothers were the most alive people I have met. The purpose of facing and preparing for death is to recognize the preciousness of life and to be more alive in the present.” The mothers taught Linda how to carry on in the face of profound transitions, including the transitions of aging and dying. She brings their wisdom stories to the greater community in her book, Another Morning: Voices of Truth and Hope from Mothers with Cancer.

Stories Up Close and Personal

Linda has continued to serve others in multiple new ways, first and foremost as a life transitions coach. “All of life is change,” she says, “and major transitions are inflection times that have more of a charge – when you need to revise or transform yourself, your life or your story.” She has conducted workshops on Wise Aging: writing for healing, spiritual autobiographies, and ethical wills (legacy letters). Life review and writing legacy letters can become launching pads for revising one’s story or crafting a new chapter. 

Linda has been a meditator for decades and is a member of two conscious eldering groups. She lives in Albany and loves that her daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters, 12 and 15, live nearby. Her greatest joy, music, came back to her thanks to village member Joan Cole, who introduced her to the Berkeley Broadway Singers, with whom she sang for over 20 years. Writing – mainly poetry – continues to bring Linda pleasure. Stories remain a part of her life. 

Recently, Linda started “Life Story Circles” at her synagogue to build and deepen connections among different members of the community. In small groups, members tell and listen to the stories of each other’s lives, forging authentic and meaningful relationships. A member of Ashby Village since 2018, Linda is working with a small group to build programs that will help members prepare for and feel more comfortable with the last stages of life.* She is also post carding for the November election.

If you would like to start an informal singing group, share poetry, learn canasta or otherwise connect with Linda, email her directly at

* To learn more about this work group, contact Member Services Manager Karen Dean at


Meet Member Dagmar Friedman

Dagmar was first introduced to the Ashby Village movement when she lived in the Boston area near the Beacon Hill Village, the first Village. Her son-in-law, a volunteer driver for Ashby Village, encouraged Dagmar to join, as she contemplated moving to the Bay Area. 

In 2011 Dagmar’s husband of 57 years died from brain tumor. In 2014 she sold her home on the north shore of Boston and moved to Kensington, where she rented a home a block and a half away from the house in which her mother had lived during the last years of her life. Once in the Berkeley area, Dagmar quickly joined Ashby Village. 

She is an active 92-year-old. She walks her lovable labradoodle Maya daily, enjoys yoga twice weekly, and works out with a trainer. She, her brother and her sister were born in Pasadena to parents also born in California. Dagmar tries to keep up with her four married children, two boys and two girls, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Thirty years ago, Dagmar’s family built a rustic log camp in the remote northern Maine woods where she and some family members go for at least a few days every summer.


At Ashby Village, Dagmar volunteers as a consultant for the Vision Loss group, is a member of the over 90s group, Elder Action, and the Preparing for Medical Visits working group. For the past three years, she has joined an instructor-led five-member weekly writing group where she is composing her memoir. If any free time remains, she paints and gardens.

Dagmar met her husband, Ephraim, the father of her four children, while mountain climbing in the Colorado Rockies. Ephraim and Dagmar were married in San Francisco in 1954. When Ephraim finished UCSF Medical School and Dagmar completed a master’s degree in social work at U.C. Berkeley, they moved with their infant first daughter to Texas and then to Montgomery, Alabama, where Ephraim served for two years as a captain in the US Air Force. 

After discharge from the Air Force, Dagmar followed Ephraim to the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, the Boston University Medical School, The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and the Harvard Medical School in Boston. While in New York, Dagmar obtained a second master’s degree in health planning from Columbia’s School of Public Health.

Dagmar’s professional life was interrupted by her husband’s career moves, but that did not prevent her from working. She raised funds and developed and led a Vision Rehabilitation program at Boston University Medical Center. In New York, she designed preventive healthcare programs for older people, and she helped to integrate partially sighted individuals into an agency previously just serving blind people. Returning to Boston with her husband, she was again involved with vision rehabilitation programs. She also trained as a family therapist and opened a private office serving individuals, couples, and families. 

She delights in her children, saying, “My four children are my blessing! They give me unbelievable joy and help me maintain a positive and hopeful attitude as I face life’s challenges. Breast cancer, among other medical and professional difficulties, slowed me down, but never for long. Much more complicated for me was losing one grandchild to drug and alcohol addiction and another who died right after birth." 

Dagmar says, “I am happy to be a part of the Ashby Village community which helps people remain active. I am grateful to have met many wonderful people and attended engaging thought-provoking programs. I particularly appreciate Ashby Village’s Elder Action efforts to keep members involved in important societal concerns. I hope all registered voters will vote in this year’s elections.”

Meet Member Lily Iona MacKenzie

Born to Write

"Only 5% of writers are able to support themselves with their writing," said Lily Iona MacKenzie, “but I don’t write for money. I write because I have to. My husband, whom I married at 54, is enormously supportive and understands this need. He says I get snarky if I’m not able to write." 

Lily joined Ashby Village in January of 2024 and will be the featured speaker at the village Pre-Social Hour on June 7, 2024, at 3:00 p.m. when she will be discussing her hybrid memoir, Dreaming Myself into Old Age: One Woman’s Search for Meaning. "I had been following the village movement for a number of years and joined Ashby for the community and the possibility it offers to help one another. And already, a volunteer has changed three light bulbs for us. My husband is 86 and I am 83 and climbing ladders is no longer wise."

From High School Dropout to Published Writer 

Born and raised in Canada, Lily, a high school dropout, left home at 15 and became a single mom at 17. In the following years, she completed her education and ended up earning two master’s degrees. She is currently teaching creative writing at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Institute. 

"I always wanted to be a writer and had published many poems, short stories, and essays. But Fling! my first novel wasn’t published until 2015." Since then, she’s published three more novels, three poetry collections, and the memoir she will be discussing, all available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Dream Work 

In her late 20s, Lily became deeply depressed and worked with a Jungian therapist who helped her understand the dreams she was having. "Those dreams helped me make connections with my disconnected parts and I also discovered my writing self. Carl Jung’s ideas fascinated me and opened the world of the unconscious to me."

"At 72, I entered Jungian analysis again to deal with my fears of aging and dying. To handle old age successfully, we need tools. For me, the arts and being connected to the deeper parts of myself are key. I have explored many different spiritual traditions and believe there is something beyond death but don’t have the capacity to know what that might be. To quote Jung, 'Life is the short pause between two great mysteries, birth and death.'"

Carpe Diem 

"I believe Ashby Village has created a space where we can share our journeys and be each other’s guides as we travel through old age and learn how to live in the moment."


Meet Members Helen & Paul Canin

It is with great sadness that we report that Paul Canin died on April 12, 2024, two weeks before turning 101. The following interview took place on March 20, 2024, and to honor Paul and Helen, it is published as originally captured.

“I don’t know anyone as lucky in life as I am.” - Paul Canin

Paul is 100 years old, and Helen is not far behind at 93. They live on the Berkeley Marina in a spacious, sunny houseboat filled with their own art: sculptures, stained glass, collages, jewelry, stonework, wood carvings. It is a place where creativity, action, and purpose reside. For them, art is not only something made to look good; it should have a function. Paul’s wood carving in the living room, for example, opens to reveal a hidden door to a cabinet.


Earlier Lives

Paul and Helen grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He remembers the day in 1946 when he walked into a dance hall and caught sight of a beautiful young woman who seemed to be with another man. Undaunted, he asked her to dance, and with that, a romance began. Helen adds, laughingly, “I was so young, still a month away from 16!” Seven years later, after writing daily letters to each other, they got married. It was 1952, and in the following years they had three children, Helen got a nursing degree and worked in Public Health, and Paul got degrees in industrial design and architecture. A recent Berkeleyside article chronicles Paul’s war experiences, his capture, and his time as a prisoner of war.


Wood carving by Paul Canin

Onward to the West

“I always wanted to move to California,” Paul reflects, so after their retirement they packed up and headed to San Francisco. An ad for a dilapidated houseboat in Berkeley caught their eyes. “Just the thing,” says Paul. “I was ready to tear it down and build our own.” In 1989, he did. A few years later, in 2005, a storm left their houseboat capsized and flooded. Undaunted, Paul rebuilt it. Their kids now want them to move to another place, but Helen says, “I love this house. How could we leave it?” Paul adds, “I have to be realistic. I don’t have enough time or energy to do everything I did before.” But he echoes Helen in saying that he doesn’t plan to move.

Busy Daily Lives

Paul’s and Helen’s years in Berkeley have been busy, not only with their art. “We traveled with a vengeance after we retired from our professions,” Helen says. The most significant period was living for a year and a half in Spain. Another trip involved living in their van as they crossed Canada from the east to the west coast. When Paul took a bad fall down the stairs, Ashby Village was especially helpful in recommending care givers who checked on him for several weeks. Paul loves baking! He is often in the kitchen, hovering over the oven and kitchen counters, rolling out dough for his well-loved rolls and biscotti. Helen attends the AV craft group when she can, and every week she volunteers with the native plant group at Cesar Chavez Park. She also continues to make collages with the many small objects she finds on her walks.

Never a dull moment for these two.


"Found Art" collage by Helen Canin

Meet Member Philip Gerrard

Anyone who has ever visited New York or lived there probably has a warm feeling about the City’s public libraries. Philip Gerrard, a new Ashby Village member, spent his entire career working in the Big Apple’s library system. But the California-raised librarian always knew he’d come back to his roots in the Bay Area. “I always thought I would move back when I retired. I was perfectly comfortable in New York. I enjoyed myself, had friends, did things. But I never felt like a New Yorker,” he says.

The Early Years

Born in Seattle, Phil moved around a lot as a kid. His mother moved him and his sister Alice to Mexico after his father died when Phil was seven years old. After a year, they moved to Oakland, then to a farm in Fremont. “Alice and I liked it a lot. It was all agricultural back then. Some neighbors, with whom Alice and I became close, were ranchers, and taught Alice and me to ride. Alice loved to ride those horses—I was younger and a bit reluctant.” When Phil was 12, the family, including his stepfather and a new baby, moved to Oakland.  He went to Oakland Tech, then to UC Riverside. 

“I had always wanted to go to a small college, and I’d been accepted to Reed College, in Portland, but it was too expensive, and state colleges were free. UC Riverside was small and brand new.” In 1956, after three years of college, he took a year off, then finished at UC Berkeley. “I had been an English major. I had no clue about what I wanted to do next.” A chance meeting with a law librarian at a UC Berkeley pool resulted in Phil getting a master’s degree in library science from UC. “I liked to read, and public librarianship, which quickly became my focus, didn’t’t require concentration in any one subject. It seemed perfect.”

In those days, Phil says there were lots of jobs, and libraries were recruiting. The New York City library system came calling. He and six of his close library school friends were all offered and accepted jobs in New York. He was the only one who stayed for his entire 31-year career.

Plum Jobs at the Library

“My intention was to go for a couple of years, see the big city and then come back.  But it never seemed like the right time.” One thing after another interfered with that plan. He met someone and they moved in together. He started working in the Bronx, and every couple of years, he got promoted to interesting jobs in the Bronx, which he loved. “For a while, every time I got promoted, I moved,” he says with a laugh. All the moves were in Manhattan. Then an extraordinary opportunity opened. He became the head librarian at the Jefferson Market Library in the West Village. It was the busiest branch in the system, in what he calls a “magnificent building.” Originally a courthouse, it is a Victorian gothic structure with a high clock tower, stained glass windows, and a peaked roof. The community had been responsible for convincing the city to take it over and make it a library. He was there for nine years, and his last plum job was Chief of the Donnell Library Center in midtown Manhattan, where he was able to have more contact with the public than in other administrative positions.

He had just applied for yet another promotion when, at age 52, he got the shocking news that he was HIV positive. “In those days, it was pretty much a death sentence. I decided if I wasn’t going to live much longer, I would retire. However, if I lived, I needed the pension, so I needed to work another 2 1/2 years until I was 55.”  But that was not quite it. He was asked to come back from retirement to take over as head of the new Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped while they did a search for a new Coordinator. He worked for five months before retiring for good.

Coming Home to Roots

He moved west in 1992 and that began his new life in California. He volunteered at the ACT library in San Francisco. After two years of commuting from Oakland to the city, he checked out volunteer opportunities in Oakland. Soon, he was working as an assistant to the HIV services coordinator at the Pacific Center, an organization providing services to the LGBTQ+ community in the East Bay. The HIV services coordinator also was in charge of HIV test counseling at the Berkeley Free Clinic. When it became clear that the Pacific Center was in danger of being unable to pay its staff and its bills, he and a group of volunteers stepped in to rescue it.  Phil assumed responsibility for fundraising. 

Then came another pivot; he became an HIV test counselor at the Berkeley Free Clinic. “I loved it. Back then, people concerned that they might have been infected came in to be tested, and came back a week later for their results. It was rewarding to help them through the process, and sometimes very moving—and challenging—when we needed to counsel someone whose result was positive.”   

For the past seven years, he’s been editing oral histories of retirees from the New York Public library. The goal is to finish in three years. He’ll be 90 before then. 

The Ashby Village Chapter

Phil is almost 88 and if you think he joined Ashby Village because he now needs help, guess again. “I’m pretty old but still very active. I can still do what I did when I was 50.” Some years ago, a friend told him about Ashby Village and sent him a newspaper article about it. “I can’t afford to go into a retirement home. I didn’t do anything about exploring Ashby Village for years, and finally decided that if I could join while I was still competent, I could volunteer, and earn the right for services.”

Of course, he knows he doesn’t have to earn the services, but he is becoming a volunteer anyway. He has gone to a few Village events (see coda below), but at the moment, he isn’t particularly looking for social connections. With an active social life, and attendance at plays, concerts, and the ballet, as well as working at his piano nearly every day, he’s busy and he knows it’s easy to feel like he’s “crowded.” 

“I felt joining Ashby Village would be a good idea – get to know people, see what would be available if I ever need it. I cannot go on forever being wholly independent.“

Coda: How we connected with Phil and a surprise connection...
At a recent first-Friday monthly Ashby Village Social Hour, AV members Robin and Greg Finnegan sat at a table with Phil. Someone asked him if he had any siblings, and he talked about his sister, who will soon turn 90 and is a folk singer. “I turned to Phil, quite astonished, and asked him if his sister was Alice Gerrard?!” says Robin. “His answer was, of course, ‘yes’, and he asked if we knew her music.” Before they moved to Oakland, Robin and Greg gave away their stereo equipment plus other LPs that included a number of albums of Alice’s music with Hazel Dickens. They are now happily listening to them on Apple Music! 

And an added bonus for AV members and volunteers: be sure to check out the Music section of the Upcoming Events Sunday email on March 3 for a track from Alice Gerrard.



Meet Member Schuyler Bailey

A Man, A Plan, A Number 1 Fan

When Ashby Village member Schuyler Bailey opens his email on Sunday, he has a pleasurable routine that will guide him through the coming week. He opens Upcoming Events: Ashby Village and Beyond, the weekly compilation of events and activities from the Ashby Village calendar and curated selections hosted by other organizations prepared by Volunteer Sheila McCormick. “Ever since I’ve gotten it, I look at the whole thing first.” Although he and his wife, Susie, don’t attend in-person activities, he likes to check what’s happening.


Music First

After the overall scan, he skips the physical activities section and then “picks and chooses” what deserves a closer look. That always involves the  music section first.


“It lists five days of very short musical offerings. I have loved music all my life and so has my wife. I sang in the cappella choir in high school, and taught myself to play the guitar in college. My son is a classical musician, and his wife is a musician, too.”


Schuyler copies and pastes links to the musical programs at the bottom of his computer screen so he can listen every day. “If someone listened to every one of those pieces of music, it would expand their musical horizons,” he says.


He likes Sheila’s choices because there’s “no wild yelling and screaming.” Some of the choices go back to the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties. “It’s familiar to us. Makes us feel good.”


Always Keep Learning

Despite being busy helping with his grandchildren, keeping up with most family members via email, staying in touch with activities of the Berkeley Rotary Club, working in his garden, connectingwith his friends, and riding his Exercycle—which a thoughtful Ashby Village volunteer helped him assemble!—Schuyler uses the weekly email in one other way.


He “meticulously” scrolls through the educational offerings, looking for one each week that would teach him something new of importance – recently it was about Artificial Intelligence.


Schuyler liked Upcoming so much, he wrote to Ashby Village a few years ago, praising the work. "I’m the kind of person that if someone does something I like and appreciate, I tell them. Upcoming is a gift, unbelievably important."

And soon he was telling Sheila directly. He’d email her feedback each week, sometimes reminiscing about what the music reminded him of – a favorite song at the prom or a special musical that he and Susie liked, for examples. Sheila would respond, sometimes with her own memories. “We’ve become friends through that email,” he says.

Meanwhile, Sheila has never seen Schuyler, but the emails they exchange at least weekly have definitely started a friendship. He comments on her music selections and they share stories about their lives and interests. "He's my number 1 fan!"

Meet Member Lorraine Osmundson

Lorraine Osmundson is one of the Village’s oldest and staunchest cheerleaders. Literally – she’s 102 years old. And she joined back in the day when Ashby Village was "born." Often when we talk about what Ashby Village is (a community that supports older people as they age in their own neighborhoods), we extol the rides and help at home that trained volunteers provide members as one of the village benefits that members value most. 

Though, in her decade plus of membership, Lorraine has never once sought help from Ashby Village volunteers. Until 11 months ago, Lorraine was driving herself. In fact, she remembers attending Ashby Village potluck parties and driving the late June Cheit to events. Unlike many Villagers, Lorraine is lucky to have two of her three children living nearby. "My son (he’s 72) calls me every day and comes over." Her older son (he’s 75) lives in Oakland. And her youngest son has come to visit and stay for two to four weeks at a time. He lives in Colorado.

"The idea of volunteers is wonderful—to give me a ride or pick up groceries. I think the village is a wonderful concept. People can also make new friends, maybe lifelong friends." Lorraine belongs to the Ashby Village 90 Plus support group, one of 12 small ongoing member-led discussion groups where members share experiences, information, advice and support one another.
She also points out that there are great speakers at events sponsored by various Village interest groups that she enjoys. 
Lorraine still has her car and her driver’s license, but she is now on oxygen and can no longer drive. And she admits that just recently, she’s been having considerable pain from bursitis. So, volunteer help might be in her future. Meanwhile, she looks enthusiastically ahead to new things happening in the garden of her Kensington home.

Earlier Life 

The story of Lorraine's beloved garden traces back to her marriage to Theodore Osmundson, a landscape architect she met while attending Iowa State University, where she earned a degree in mathematics. He went on to have a storied career as a national expert on rooftop gardens and wrote a book about the topic. East Bay Area locals may be interested to learn that Theodore designed the renowned garden at the Kaiser Center in Oakland.

Lorraine was no slouch herself. During WWI, she worked in a war plant. “I wasn’t a Rosie,” she says; she was a bookkeeper. When the couple moved to the Bay Area, she went to UC Berkeley and earned another degree, this time in architecture. Then she had three boys. "That took a number of years," she says with a laugh. During that time, she did some design work on remodels, kitchens and a couple of small buildings. When her youngest was ten, she decided that she did not want to spend time leaning over a drafting board and made another career change. She applied her talents and interests to real estate.

She modestly says that she “trailed” after her husband as he became an “important guy,” first locally and then nationally as the President of the American Society of Landscape Architects. They travelled to a different country every year as his career progressed. Lorraine eventually became the manager of a real estate office with 25 people.

The couple bought a home in Kensington where Lorraine says there was nothing in the backyard. Her husband put his skills to good use; he made paths, retaining walls, a large deck and put hardscape in.


Theodore died in 2009. "Over 60 years the garden, and I have aged and needed help." She found John. "He said that he could help with the garden, but he did not have any advice about my old age." John has been hard at work and it turns out that he is an expert on plants, drainage, structures—plus wine, food and Shakespeare. He and his wife are also caterers. "John and I have lunch together to talk about the world and its problems. I give him lunch and I’m always looking forward to the next step."

Lorraine invites anyone wants to visit and tour the garden to email her at lwosmundson [at] gmail [dot] com.

Meet Member Yoka Verdoner

Yoka Verdoner has been an Ashby Village member since July 2022. She first became interested in the Village while participating in the enjoyable twice-a-month hikes that are open to members and non-members alike. Fairly soon, she decided to join the Village as a member, because it provided the social contact she missed after many of her local friends had passed away and family lived mostly on the East Coast, or even further away, in The Netherlands, where she was born and lived until she was twelve years old.

Early Life

Because her family was Jewish, Yoka spent about three years in hiding during World War II, first at a children’s home, and later with a couple who were courageous enough to risk their own lives by taking her in. She lived with them from age seven to ten. Since she looked like a typical Dutch child, with blond pigtails, she was able to be out and about and attend school with the other children in the village where she now lived. Her family had not been religiously observant, and Yoka had had no idea she was anything other than an ordinary Dutch child, until the German occupiers forced her to leave her school after first grade and attend a school organized exclusively for Jewish children. Soon after that, her father decided that she and her younger brother and sister were no longer safe from deportation and had to be sent away into hiding. All three were among the very small number of Jewish children who survived the war but, not surprisingly, this experience had a life-long impact. To this day, Yoka continues to be closely connected to the family who hid her.

Educator to Counselor and Book Publisher

In 1946, Yoka’s family immigrated to New York, where Yoka went to high school and college. In 1978, after a twenty-five-year career teaching English in this country, in Israel, and back in The Netherlands for three years, Yoka decided to earn a degree in counseling. She chose to do so in the San Francisco area and ended up staying permanently in the East Bay, the longest she has lived anywhere. She worked in the field of addiction and started the program for Holocaust Survivors at Jewish Family Services in Berkeley. She also had a private practice until she retired ten years ago.

Yoka and her sister published a book of the letters their mother wrote from the transit camp Westerbork, Signs of Life: Letters of Hilde Verdoner-Sluizer from Transit Camp Westerbork. It is no longer in print but still available online at second-hand outlets. Yoka is currently working on a book of the letters her parents wrote to her when she was in hiding.

Finding Community at Ashby Village

One of the most valuable experiences Yoka has at Ashby Village is her participation in the Hearing Loss Support Group. She says the experience of learning how other people with hearing loss cope and improve their interaction with the hearing world has been invaluable. When the Friday morning group in which she participated filled up, she volunteered to facilitate a second Hearing Loss Support Group, which now meets monthly on Thursday afternoons on Zoom.

One thing Yoka would love to see is for Ashby Villagers to organize more small group outings, for example to museums, opera matinees, concerts, or the Met Opera Live Transmissions at local movie theaters. If other villagers are interested, she might even be willing to help organize them. 


Meet Member Joan Biella

Joan Biella was born and grew up in Fresno, but spent many years on the East Coast. She went to Harvard and stayed there for her Ph.D. in ancient Semitic languages. She became interested in Arabic when she was a teenager during a year that her family lived in Cairo when her father had a Fulbright, and she went on in college to study many related languages, living and dead. Joan obtained a library credential and spent the first part of her career at university libraries (Univ. Chicago, Princeton), followed by 23 years at the Library of Congress. She retired 10 years ago and moved to Berkeley, into the house that her grandparents had built. She lives on the ground floor and her brother lives upstairs. She has been a member of Ashby Village since November 2018, having heard about it via her brother and one of his friends, who was a member.
Unique Artistic Expression

Joan has used few member services since joining the village, with one notable exception. In February 2020, she wanted to paint a mural on the outside of her house. AV volunteer Jim Forgione spent a morning cutting plywood to size for the base with a hand-held table saw – the brightly colored mural is stunning. Recently, she has enjoyed being read childhood favorite books by kind Ashby Village volunteers.

Joan’s main diversion is hand embroidery – she spends several hours a day at it. During the pandemic she began to embroider 4-inch squares of all the elements of the Periodic Table. She used photoshop to design images to represent each element: as she is from Fresno, Fe (iron, 26) is the Sun-Maid raisin girl, Ca (calcium, 20) is Borden’s Elsie the Cow, K (potassium, 19) is the Chiquita banana lady, Ts (tennessine, 117) is Dolly Parton, P (phosphorus, 15) is Smokey the Bear, Pt (platinum, 78) is Marilyn Monroe, Tc (technetium, 43) is a younger Joan, and Nb (niobium, 41) is George Floyd (Niobium is named for a mythological Greek queen who wept incessantly for her murdered children).


While embroidering she “watches” re-runs of Star Trek episodes – she knows them by heart so looking at the TV screen is not necessary. She also enjoys the avian-themed mystery series by Donna Andrews. 

For Joan, she says that Ashby Village has introduced her to some good friends and brightened her retirement.


Meet Member Allan Hoben

Allan Hoben and his wife Susan grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their parents were close friends. They were married 65 years and had three daughters, two of whom live in Boston and one in Berkeley. Susan died in November 2022 after a long struggle with dementia.

From Berkeley to Africa and Back Again

Allan received his Ph.D. in anthropology from UC Berkeley and spent many years doing research in Ethiopia and other African countries on traditional systems of land ownership and ways they were affected by changing government and donor policies. He taught at the University of Chicago, Rochester University, and Boston University (BU), where he was director of the African Studies Center. He spent four years on leave in Washington DC with US-AID and at the Overseas Development Council working to improve their understanding of how local people managed natural resources. After returning to Boston University, he continued teaching and consulting.  

He retired from BU in 1997. After one too many ice storms in Boston, he said to Susan “We’re moving!” They did some research as to where and considered Austin, Texas, but Berkeley won out, because of the weather and he had studied here for his Ph.D. Allan and Susan bought a house in North Berkeley in 2001, and they joined Ashby Village in 2010. More about his career can be found at Allan Hoben - EverybodyWiki. His non-academic writing includes a fantasy novel, Beyond the Horizon, which is available in paperback and on Kindle. 

Interests and Passions

Allan has enjoyed many activities including scuba diving, cross country skiing, sailing, and flying his sailplane. Together with his wife he traveled extensively. He was a docent at Pt. Reyes National Seashore, and his wife was a docent at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Today, Allan tries to be helpful by giving rides to Ashby Village members and visiting with villagers.


Meet Member Mary Lee Cole

Mary Lee Cole has been enthusiastic about aging in place since learning about Beacon Hill Village in Boston. She attended an early organizing meeting for Ashby Village just before she and her husband David downsized from their home in Berkeley and moved to Pt. Richmond in 2006 and had to wait until Ashby Village extended to Richmond to join in 2021. She now enjoys volunteering and engaging in a variety of Ashby Village activities.

Early Days and Professional Path
Born in New York, Mary Lee is almost a native Californian having grown up in Kensington. She went to UC Berkeley, then San Francisco State for a Master of Arts degree and a teaching credential, and then back to UC Berkeley for a Ph.D. in System Design and Philosophy. Her professional career focused on data driven “smart” programs. Most notably, she founded the nonprofit Community Alliance for Learning to oversee the WriterCoach Connection, a program she developed to help students learn critical thinking and communication skills via one-on-one coaching with trained community volunteers. Over 8,000 volunteers have coached more than 40,000 junior high and high school students from Oakland to Richmond. Many students from immigrant families have benefited from the support of coaching and have gone on to college. Other projects that Mary Lee is proud to have helped create include the docent and education programs on the USS Hornet Museum where she worked with WWII and Vietnam Veterans as well as those who participated in NASA’s Apollo Moon exploration missions. 

From Managing Volunteers to Volunteering

After years of organizing volunteers, Mary Lee now enjoys being one. She helps the Events Team with the monthly Social Hour gatherings, she participates in Elder Action, the non-fiction book club, and the healthy aging walks and hikes (she led the recent hike in the Richmond Marina). Mary Lee has also recently joined the Welcome Team, a group of volunteers that meets with new members to orient them to the village and connect them to programs and services of interest.

An Artistic and Integrated Life   

Mary Lee’s other interest is art—she’s a dedicated dabbler. Before her main career, she had an art-to-wear business featuring her handwoven, unique garments. Now retired, she is rediscovering art with pastel painting, iPhone photography, textile arts and gardening. She keeps these interests balanced, more or less, with Ashby Village activities and her life with David thanks to her regular practice of Insight Meditation.


Meet Member Anne March

Anne March and her husband Rick heard about Ashby Village because Rick walks their dog in the same park where Su-Yin Bickner, AV Operations Manager, walks her dog. Anne and Rick joined in January 2023 and they are getting familiar with the various Ashby Village event options. They have three children, one in Arizona and two in the Bay Area, and two grandchildren.

Anne was born in Buffalo, New York and went to college at the University of Michigan. Her first career was in environmental education curriculum development, and she worked in several nonprofits and governmental agencies across the US and Canada (she is half-Canadian).

Writing Fiction For Young Adults

In the 1980s she began writing young adult and children’s books, ranging from novels and short stories to picture books and poems. She writes under her maiden name, Anne Isaacs (; her first book was published in the spring of 1991. About Back at the Ranch (2014) Kirkus Reviews said “True love is no tall tale in this delightfully overblown story of a plucky widow, a herd of greedy cowboys and a Texas summer so hot the chickens lay hard-boiled eggs." She also wrote Torn Thread (2000), based on the experiences of her mother-in-law as a teenager in a Nazi camp. She is now working on a historical novel set in the time of the American revolution. 

Because Anne writes fiction, she tends to read non-fiction for fun, but mentioned that her favorite book is Anna Karenina. She has also presented creative writing workshops in schools, such as “Writing a Tall Tale” and has given presentations for teacher-librarians, such as “My Life in Books: How I Became a Writer and the Stories Behind the Books.”

Quilting, Hiking and Staying Connected

Anne is a quilter and would be interested in starting or facilitating an Ashby Village quilting group. She would like also to see an unstructured “get together and live life” drop-in group for women, perhaps on Saturday afternoons, and would be happy to host at her house. Anne is an exercise fan and especially enjoys hiking in Tilden. This past winter she went on a cross-country ski trip with her 14-year-old grandson (pictured at right) and kept up!


Meet Member Gisela Merker

Exemplifying Village Reciprocity

Gisela Merker and her wife Marilyn Miller (pictured left and right, respectively) live in the Dimond neighborhood of Oakland and became Ashby Village members in July 2022. Thus far they have taken advantage of AV services and participated in a few interest groups — the Android Users group, hearing loss support group, some help from the tech team, and decluttering their garage. Gisela (and sometimes Marilyn) joins both the Monday and Thursday hikes, attends the social hours, and also volunteers on the AV Connections Team where she visits weekly and walks with another member. On a recent hike, Gisela met another lesbian member, and they both felt that it would be nice to get to know other AV members and volunteers who are LGBTQ+. 

"It was definitely the right decision to join Ashby Village, and each time I go to an event or a meeting, I realize how many lovely people I've gotten to know," says Gisela. "Marilyn finds it energizing to share interests and ideas from garden worms to computers to social action."

From New York to Bolivia to Chile to California

Gisela was born in Queens, NY and obtained a B.S. in Chemistry from City University of New York. She joined the Catholic missionary order Maryknoll Sisters in 1970 and went to Bolivia for Spanish language training in 1971. She also did pastoral work in Chile during the tumultuous years before and after Pinochet’s dictatorship. In 1981, Gisela moved to California and left the order a few years later in 1984. Her spiritual practice for many years has been A Course in Miracles, and she participates in several study groups. (Marilyn was also a Maryknoll nun and taught in Hong Kong for 15 years). Gisela received an M.S. in marriage counseling in 1989 and her most recent work experience was with Girls, Inc., as a bilingual family therapist. Her love for the Spanish language keeps her involved in several Spanish reading and discussion groups.

Gisela and Marilyn’s favorite pastime is camping in their small RV, enjoying nature, in nearby regional and state parks. In the past, Gisela has enjoyed watercolor painting and would like to start painting again, if she can ever find the time!


Meet Member John Lau

Jumping Right In

John Lau joined Ashby Village about 18 months ago at the suggestion of a friend. He is an active member on the Outreach Team that talks with prospective members and volunteers, enjoys potlucks and other events with his North Berkeley Neighborhood group, and participates in the Friday Hearing Loss Support Group.

John had leukemia about 10 years ago, and while he was isolated during treatment, he started his blog (, which he continues to this day. A few years later he had a stroke, so he can no longer drive – but he and his wife Evelyn live near Live Oak Park, which is a very walkable neighborhood. Until recently he even walked to the Ashby Village Socials (in April he arrived on his new bright-yellow recumbent bike). 

John's Earlier Days

John was born in Los Angeles but grew up in the Sunset district of San Francisco. He obtained an BA in Anthropology at UC Berkeley (and a teaching credential) and his first job was as a Head Start preschool teacher in West Pittsburg. After 7 years he switched gears and became the Squash Pro at the University Club in San Francisco, where he worked for 30 years. He was always very active in sports, windsurfing, etc. He said that the Outreach Team often brainstorms about how to attract new members to Ashby Village, and he jokingly said “if we want more men, we need more sports!” 

He greatly values the personal connections he has made in Ashby Village – “when we are working, our social connections are often with workmates, but after retirement you have fewer friends.” He even met a similarly enthusiastic Warriors fan on the Outreach Team. John is an avid reader and recently joined the Ernest Hemingway Facebook group. 


Meet Member Francie Nurkse


Frances (Francie) Nurkse is a Quaker. She grew up in both California and Pennsylvania and went to high school at a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania (seven generations of her family have gone there). Francie has an MS in Public Health, including a Certificate in Applied Social Gerontology. She was a program director of eldercare service organizations, and worked extensively in the area of dementia care. She and her husband Peter, who met on a kibbutz in Israel, helped design and build a co-housing community in Santa Cruz. They were relatively early at downsizing, selling their house and moving to an apartment in Albany in 2017, partly because their children (and three grandchildren) live in the East Bay. 

Joining the Village

Francie has always been a fan of the Village Movement, so when she and her husband moved to the area, they immediately joined Ashby Village, because “it was the right thing to do” – but after a couple of years she became very busy with trips back to Santa Cruz to care for her mother and stepfather, so her membership lapsed. However, as a volunteer, she initiated and led an Ashby Village Interest Group: Building and Balancing Life in Retirement, and this eight-member group met for about three years (including 18 months into the pandemic). Francie rejoined Ashby Village as a member in 2022 and started a new interest group: Women in their 70s, which she leads. This interest group obviously filled a need – 21 people signed up! Francie hopes that the group will naturally divide into two or more sub-groups, depending on interests, as she thinks discussion is best in smaller groups. She lives in the Hamlet neighborhood, but their activities don’t work well with her schedule, so instead she has joined some Northtowns neighborhood events. 

Personal Interests

Francie is an avid reader and has several book recommendations: Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl; Tiny Habits, by BJ Fogg; Metabolical, by Robert Lustig; Young Forever, by Mark Hyman; and for fun, The Russell & Holmes Series, by Laurie King. Fun fact about her childhood: she had a pet monkey! (and many other types of pets). 


Meet Member Don Hubbard


Don Hubbard was born in Illinois and grew up on the Indiana side of metropolitan Chicago. As a freshman in high school he had already decided to be a teacher and after graduation from college he taught high school math, chemistry, and physics in Indiana. The launch of Sputnik sent his life in a new direction. The National Science Foundation decided that they’d better improve the quality of science education in the US, so they started a program for high school teachers to obtain advanced training. 


Off to Harvard and More


Don was awarded a fellowship (including housing and a stipend) at Harvard. Harvard was a bit different than Indiana! After obtaining his doctorate, he worked within the Philadelphia school system for three years in a program somewhat akin to Vista. From there he went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison and did research in the Education Department. But after a few years he realized that an academic career was not for him, so he bought a van and drove around the US, eventually landing in Berkeley. Don taught chemistry and physics at Berkeley High from 1980 to 1998.


Jumping in as a Volunteer


Don became an Ashby Village member in 2016, at the suggestion of his wife Cheryl. Thus far he has not used the services very much (a bit of Tech Team help and a decluttering consultation), but Ashby Village has provided a perfect avenue to up his volunteer game. He is co-leader (with Diane Resek) of the North Berkeley Neighborhood Group, was an active participant in the four-month long DEI training facilitated by Village Movement California, is on the AV Finance Committee, and organizes the Tuesday Scrabble session (although he seldom plays himself). He also spearheaded Ashby Village’s Elder Action Police Reform Task Force and forged a relationship with Berkeley Friends.


Making New Connections and What Interests Him


Despite all these time commitments, he thinks a group for those who identify as men would be a good addition to the Ashby Village offerings, as would a group focused on learning about and discussing next steps for future life planning (e.g., where to move if one's house becomes too much to manage). The book he most often recommends is Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, and he said that people might be surprised to learn that he is a country-western music fan – especially Willie Nelson, Emmy Lou Harris and Johnny Cash. 



If you are interested in joining Ashby Village as a member, please contact or call us at 510-204-9200 for information and an application.

If you know about Ashby Village members you'd like to see profiled in this series, please contact Development & Communications Manager Charis Hanshaw at