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Newsletter of the Rancho Los Alamitos Volunteer Service Council

Co-editors Doug Cox and Roxanne Patmor

In this issue

  • VSC Perspectives
  • Turning Trees into Art with Dr. Z
  • Navy Trust Reception
  • Business Office Restoration Phase II
  • Celebrating Women's History Month
  • Cottonwood 2024

March 2024

In the Spotlight

  • Volunteer Joanne Locnikar
  • RLA Gift Shop

VSC Perspectives

Doug Cox, VSC President

Most of us Rancho volunteers remember how confusing things sometimes seemed when we started out. There are so many questions about where to park, what to wear, how to record your hours and, bottom line, who is responsible for what? 

Many veterans, myself included, still wonder about some of those things—the questions tend to increase over the years, don’t they? Hmmmm. When you think of it, who would be better than volunteers to dig up the answers to volunteers’ questions? 

And so last fall a small group of Rancho volunteers—three veterans and two relative newcomers—met with Volunteer Coordinator Steve Squire and then sat down to research and write the Rancho’s latest Volunteer Handbook in many years. 

Meeting every two or three weeks (OK, we took a holiday break) they’ve been looking into not only parking, clothing and reporting hours but also dozens and dozens of other things such as what to do if an earthquake strikes, where the fire alarms are located and what to do if you encounter a wounded bird. 

(Yep, there really is an established protocol for dealing with wounded birds.) 

The upcoming Volunteer Handbook is being written specifically for active and provisional Rancho volunteers (there is already an RLA employee manual). The current draft is being readied for a series of reviews by other volunteers and VSC Steering Committee members. The feedback from the reviews will be incorporated into the final draft before it is submitted later this spring to executive management for a final check. 

Operations Director Andrew Chaves and Manager of Education and Public Engagement, Chris Fountain are generously providing critically important information about emergencies, security, guest relations and Diversity, Equity, Inclusiveness and Accessibility (DEIA). Perhaps most importantly, the handbook will be made available online to all volunteers and will be reviewed, updated and released annually. 

The final publication is expected to be in your hands before this fall. If you have any unanswered questions about the Rancho’s history, operations and volunteering, we’d like to hear from you. Just send me a note at [email protected] with "Handbook" in the subject line. 


One of the best perks about having a bully pulpit is the shameless opportunity to give a shout out to the truly important Ranchonians who just can’t help creating miracles when they’re needed most. 

And so I’d like to direct your attention to the real force of nature behind Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: Roxanne Patmor, a passionately dedicated member of the Rancho family whom I suspect never really goes home. Roxanne is driven by an insatiable curiosity about everything and an astonishing talent for getting more great stories into RLA hands than a cigarette-chomping 1940s newspaper beat reporter on a deadline ever could.

Roxanne not only coordinates, writes, edits and produces the newsletter (I just go to meetings when I’m not driving her crazy) but is deeply involved in many of the Rancho’s Big Successful Things like the annual Cottonwood event and the Voices holiday celebration—and I suspect a lot more wonderful things than she’ll ever admit.

I have it on good authority that Preston calls her for advice, too.

Turning Trees into Art with Dr. Z

Contributor: Sharon Conner

Last year, when storms uprooted half of a two-trunked California Live Oak, Pam Lee met an artist, Dr. Serafin Zasueta. Dr. Z looked at the downed tree and saw bowls he would carve from the wood. This year, after a Schinus molle (pepper tree) was pruned, an RLA arborist cut its limbs into logs for Dr. Z.

Sharon Conner, Livestock and Facilities Assistant, documented Dr. Z's process of preparing logs to become works of art. Describing his work, she wrote, "The photos tell his story of how he picked out specific pieces depending on the grain and the knots. Dr. Z sawed them to size with the thought of what he desired to make with them.

He said large pieces will need to dry out for a year but the smaller pieces take less time. Dr. Z explained that 8% moisture in the wood is required to make an item from the logs."

Like Sharon, we look forward to seeing the wonderful pieces of art Dr. Z creates from the tree.

Volunteer in the Spotlight

Joanne Locnikar

Joanne Locnikar is a busy Rancho volunteer! She's a docent, gardener, and helps with the volunteer library.

Why did you decide to become a Rancho volunteer?

I’ve always loved to study history and after a field trip to the rancho with my first 4th Grade class, I knew I wanted to be involved. I attended California Ranch Day and signed up for training that summer. It fulfilled my love of history, my desire to share this with others, and an escape from the daily grind of life.

How long have you been volunteering here?

I started in 1981 as a Saturday Docent while I was still teaching in Long Beach. I took a job overseas for about 15 years then returned. As of now I have volunteered for over 25 years as a docent for RLA. After retiring 2 years ago, I also started volunteering in the gardens on Tuesdays. I also help Jan Wierzbicki with the Volunteer Library.

What do you like best about the time you spend at the Rancho?

When I enter those gates, I leave behind all the cares and concerns of today. I enjoy being with people who also have a love for and interest in our local history – staff, volunteers, and visitors. My favorite times are walking through the gardens and drinking in the tranquility of this space.

What’s your favorite thing to hear from visitors?

“I grew up here and never knew this place was here. I have to tell my friends/family.”

What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering here?

Ask questions and talk with other volunteers. With so many volunteer opportunities, you can find something that is a fit for you.

What do you like to do when you’re not at the Rancho?

I am a year-round volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child. We pack shoebox gifts for children around the world every year.

I love to garden and am working on Butterfly Gardens in Mutual 8 in Leisure World.

What’s something that makes your day better?

Starting my day with a prayer of thanks that I am able to get out of bed and be actively involved in the things I love to do.

What’s the one word your friends and family would use to describe you?


What else do you want us to know?

I’m a life-long learner, I love to learn about different cultures and their histories. I worked in Papua New Guinea with Wycliffe Bible Translators for 15 years. I was a Linguist and Literacy Consultant. I helped people in villages develop alphabets and create literacy materials to promote literacy in their mother tongues. It was a fascinating and rewarding time in my life.

I love a good laugh. I try to find humor in daily life experiences. Laughter is good medicine! 

Photos from Joanne's time in New Guinea

The Rancho Gift Shop

Like any good museum store, the RLA Gift Shop has several items that make great mementos of visitors' tours of the ranch house, gardens, and barn.

Whether purchased as a keepsake of their visit or a gift for a friend, the shop has something just right for the occasion. Among the offerings are books, magnets, glassware, illustrations, and useful items forged by hand in the blacksmith shop.

For more information about the merchandise, check with Gift Shop Manager Duane Mills or the volunteers at the checkout counter. And please let the guests know their purchases support the Rancho's educational programs!

Objects forged by RLA's blacksmith include hanging hooks, bottle openers and knives (center foreground).

Charming gifts include windchimes, pottery, decorative tables, seasonal flags, and whimsical birds and butterflies that are perfect decorations for the house or garden.

Reminiscent of Florence Bixby's Geranium Walk, this bag folds and zips into a tidy square when not in use.

Volunteer docent Tom Taylor, created an artful silhouette of Preston. Matted and framed, it's a beautiful keepsake.

The Chia Café cookbook includes recipes from Tongva educator, Craig Torres.

Photos by Doug Cox

Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association

Awards Reception

On March 20, The Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association, generally known as the "Navy Trust," held a reception for recipients of its 2024 awards at Rancho Los Alamitos. This year's awards were given to Rancho Los Cerritos, Rancho Los Alamitos, the Cooper Arms Building, and the Recreation Park Band Shell.

Pam Lee welcomed guests to the Rancho. Navy Trust President Cheryl Perry introduced representatives from the Navy Trust and recipient organizations as well as other guests including those from city council offices and individuals who worked on the projects.

Following the awards, Pam and Hyra George* offered attendees tours of the restored reception area and spaces included in the 2024 grant. The enthusiastic group admired the restoration, learned about the upcoming project, asked questions, and thanked the Rancho for hosting the reception.

*Hyra is part of Millrock Restoration, the restoration contractor responsible for much of the work in historical business offices.

L-R: Rancho Los Cerritos Executive Director Alison Bruesehoff, Navy Trust President Cheryl Perry, and RLA Executive Director Pam Lee.

2024 Navy Trust Grant:

Business Office Restoration Phase II

During the reception, Pam Lee accepted a $25,000 check for the first half of the work covered in the $50,000 Navy Trust grant. The work is scheduled to begin in April and conclude in January 2025.

Work described in the grant includes painting the walls and ceilings in the offices and hallway with historically correct paint colors determined in the first phase of the restoration. Where needed, the faux wood graining (faux bois) on door and window trim will be touched up. As in the reception office, period-appropriate lights will be installed.

In some cases, modern technology has protective benefits. For example, the grant includes installing UV-filtering film on the windows to protect original furnishings, artifacts, and archival materials displayed in the restored areas. Paint will have a flame-resistant additive to protect the Celotex walls and ceiling.

Period-appropriate furnishings and equipment already in the collection will be cleaned. As needed, period-appropriate items will be acquired and installed to complement original items in the restored areas.

The project will also refurbish original exterior signage including the hanging sign with the silhouetted cowboys. The "Private Office" lettering on the Bookkeeper's office door will be refreshed.

By January 2025, the final preparations for reopening will be completed. It's an important project and another example of RLA's stewardship of and commitment to this historical site.

Color photos of reception and interior rooms by Doug Cox. Black and white office photos were taken in 1986.

Celotex ceiling repair is part of the work described in the Navy Trust grant.

Work inside the vault includes relabeling shelves that hold historical accounting ledgers.

Original linoleum floors in the hallway and offices will be cleaned, repaired and waxed.

Celebrating Women's History Month

Over the past 225 years, hundreds of women lived and worked at Rancho Los Alamitos. Each made important contributions to the site and its history.

We thank and honor them all.

Florence Green Bixby was born in San Francisco on July 18, 1876. While attending Berkeley, she met Fred Bixby. They graduated and married in 1898 .

Florence is remembered for many things including her affection for families and children. Family and ranch workers spoke of her kindness toward everyone.

Florence knew working mothers had very few childcare choices. In 1911, she with Avis and Amelia Bixby, and other community leaders, established the Long Beach Day Nursery. As the city grew, she and Fred donated land for additional nursery branches. Florence stayed on the LBDN board into the 1950s.

Florence was a supporter of the Adelaide Tichenor Orthopedic Hospital for children and Community Hospital. She served as a trustee of Scripps College, the Los Angeles County Art Museum and the Southern California Symphony Association.

Florence's appreciation of the arts was personal; she was a poet. In 1936, a book of her poetry, Is There a Thing Called Spring, was published. A copy is displayed on the desk in the Bixby's bedroom.

Florence was 85 years old when she passed away on August 2, 1961.

Photo courtesy of Long Beach Day Nursery

Poetry book photo by Doug Cox

Angelina Rodriguez Ayala was born in 1919 on the Hellman Ranch. Her father, Juan Rodriguez, worked on the Fred Bixby and Bryant ranches, later leasing Bixby land on Signal Hill.

Angelina's father wouldn't allow her to go to school. He believed girls didn't need an education to get married and raise children. Her father returned to Mexico, leaving his family behind. At nine years old, she entered the first grade at Bryant Elementary (photo from 1933). In seven years, she made it to the ninth grade and left school when she was 16.

Angelina was hard-working and ambitious. She worked as a housekeeper, answered phones in a real estate office, did bilingual translation, and, for 21 years, worked in the fish canneries on Terminal Island.

In December 1940, Angelina married Frank Ayala They had four sons whom she encouraged to go to college and make a positive difference in the world.

Her son John began his career with the city in 1963, working for the Long Beach Public Library driving the Bookmobile. In 1971, he earned his master's degree in library science. For the next 40 years, he worked at college libraries in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fullerton, and Compton, always promoting bilingual services for Spanish-speaking patrons and students.

Angelina lived to be 98 years old. Her legacy lives on in her children and grandchildren and the love of learning she instilled in them.

Marian Burton was born on December 25, 1911, in Emmet, Idaho. The family moved to Long Beach in 1916. In 1935, Marian wed Robert Burton.

In 1971, through a friend, Marian learned of a need for docents here at the Rancho and became a volunteer. Bixby family members and city employees were considering ways to make the site useful. Marian believed it could be used to teach history. She knew stories from people who’d lived and worked on the ranch would make its history come alive.

One of her early interviews was Elizabeth (Sister) Bixby Janeway, who then helped Marian find people whose jobs at the ranch ranged from cleaning horse stalls to keeping financial records. Many were people who grew crops and worked with cattle and horses, the primary activities at the ranch.  

Along with traveling companion Beverly Miller, she searched for key individuals associated with the ranch's past, then conducted and transcribed detailed personal interviews with them. One example is Elizabeth Schugren, whose father, Pete Nissen, was RLA's longtime foreman. Marian and Beverly traveled to her home in Nevada City to conduct the interview. Marian also took and cataloged hundreds of photographs of people and events associated with Rancho Los Alamitos and Cachuma Ranch in Santa Inez.

With increasing health concerns, but still looking forward to skydiving on her 100th birthday, Marian spent her last year living with her great-nephew in San Marcos. She died in June 2011, six months shy of her 100th birthday. 

Marian's interviews continue to be used for various Rancho projects. Some were used to create scripts for last year's holiday program, others have been used in articles for this newsletter. Angelina Rodriguez's story (above) came from one of Marian's interviews. Her work lives on.

File drawer filled with interviews, many by Marian and Beverly.

The photo of Marian standing between two donkeys at Cachuma Ranch was taken by Beverly Miller.

Other photos of Cachuma Ranch, including Ed and Sister Janeway, were taken by Marian Burton.

Pamela Lilla Seager was born on July 17, 1944, in Surrey, England. At 18 she went to work for Vogue Magazine in London. Later she worked for Marlborough Galleries in London, New York, and Venice. Eventually, she made her way to California and worked as associate director of the California Historical Society. Her talents came to the attention of Katharine Bixby Hotchkis and her son, Preston B. Hotchkis, who were seeking an exceptional individual to "assemble the team for the restoration of Rancho Los Alamitos."

Pamela accepted the position with a six-month commitment. She remained for 33 years as RLA's executive director. During those years she focused on the restoration of the barns, ranch house, and historic gardens. Her first hire was Pamela Young (Lee), referred by a mutual friend and professional colleague.  They were a team for which nothing was impossible.

The Rancho was her passion and it showed. Pamela’s energy and commitment were remarkable. She knew nothing of a 40-hour-workweek. Whether it was Monday morning or Sunday afternoon, Pamela was at the Rancho. She had the ability to see the big picture and the smallest detail, knowing both were important to what she wanted to accomplish. Her approach was collaborative. Long Beach Heritage shared her belief in preservation and Pamela worked with them toward common goals.

Among Pamela’s many accomplishments was the award-winning master plan which included 167 recommendations for a new interpretive program, upgraded infrastructure, and the restoration of the historic buildings and grounds. She used modern technology to create the most environmentally responsible historic site possible. Under Pamela’s guiding hand, all but one of the recommendations was implemented. The only recommendation left unfulfilled is the restoration of the Rancho’s Old Garden. Her obituary suggested donations to the Old Garden restoration and, in tribute to her love of animals, to the ASPCA.

Pamela was a leader whose enthusiasm spread to those with whom she worked. She was able to motivate and lead people toward a common vision. And her leadership wasn’t limited to the Rancho. Pamela found the time to serve on the California Preservation Foundation, Long Beach Heritage, and the Long Beach Soroptimists. It isn’t an overstatement to say that without Pamela Seager, Rancho Los Alamitos would not be the extraordinary and welcoming site it is today. 

12th Annual Cottonwood Awards Luncheon

Jerry Miller founded the Cottonwood Awards Luncheon in 2012 to raise funds for RLA's educational mission. On May 30, the Rancho’s barnyard will again fill with city and business leaders and their guests to meet and mingle over lunch. The 400+ attendees contribute to our goal of raising money to help bring more than 3,000 3rd and 4th-grade students to the Rancho at no expense to the schools.

2024 Honorees

Skip Keesal and his law firm, Keesal, Young & Logan (KYL), are receiving the Cottonwood Award for Leadership. In 1970, Skip founded the firm, which is located near the harbor and focuses on maritime law. KYL's unique approach to community support is inviting non-profits into their executive dining room to hold fundraising events. A hosted bar and catered food are provided at no charge to the organization. As a youth, Skip's family lived on a ranch in Tucson, Arizona and he learned to ride horses and rope steers. For many years, Skip entered rodeo roping contests. At age 60, when some said he and his favorite horse were too old to continue, Skip and Dillon showed them they were wrong by winning another roping contest. 


Gloria Cordero, this year's Special Recognition for Service and Commitment recipient, has a long career in advocacy and public affairs. In addition to her close-knit family, her passions are supporting indigenous people and cultures and protecting water as a precious natural resource. In 2019, Gloria appeared in our video Rancho Los Alamitos and the Story of Water. As a teenager, she volunteered in the Navajo Nation and fell in love with the people, the culture and the land. Gloria continues to spend summers volunteering there. She is on the board of Dig Deep, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring water is available to underserved communities including the Navajo nation.


Honorary Committee

The honorary committee lends their names to the effort, and many attend the event. This year's honorary committee includes Congressman Robert Garcia, State Senator Lena Gonzales, State Assembly Member Josh Lowenthal, County Board Supervisor Janice Hahn, Mayor Rex Richardson, and 4th District Councilman Daryl Supernaw.


Cottonwood Committee

The Cottonwood committee is responsible for reaching out to their contacts, building enthusiasm for the event, and selling tables, underwriting donations, and program ads.

Leading the committee are Pam Lee, Erin Wilson, and Joan Van Hooten.

Committee members are:

  • Evan Anderson Braude, Braude Law
  • Deborah Castro, Creative Productions, RLA Board Director
  • Sandor Mayuga, Keesal, Young, and Logan
  • Dr. Mike Munoz, President, Long Beach City College
  • Roxanne Patmor, RLA volunteer, Development Committee
  • Juli Quinn, RLA volunteer, Development Committee
  • Courtney Russel, Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • Dr. Lucy Salazar, Director of Equity, Engagement, and Partnerships, LBUSD
  • Harry Saltzgaver, Managing Editor, Sunstone Management, RLA Board Director
  • Henry Taboada, RLA Board Chair
  • Jim Zehmer, President, TABC Toyota


Sponsors and Donors to Date

As we go to press, we have sold 31 tables and have three committed Platinum Sponsors at $10,000 each, including the Temple Family Foundation, Air Products, and the Port of Long Beach. While our work is far from done, we are pleased with our accomplishments. 


Ticket Sales and Donations Continue

We have individual tickets for sale at $250 each, of which $210 is a charitable deduction. If you, or someone you know, would like to buy a ticket, they are available online or by mail. We also welcome donations of any size or underwriting event expenses, which are fully tax-deductible. Please visit the website for more information.

Thank You!

Together, we will make this the best Cottonwood ever!

Guests enjoying the 2023 Cottonwood Awards Luncheon

Skip Keesal (right) with Dillon winning a roping contest

Gloria Cordero at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in the Navajo Nation.

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