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Newsletter of the Rancho Los Alamitos Volunteer Service Council

Co-editors Doug Cox and Roxanne Patmor

November 2023

In this issue ...

  • VSC Perspectives, Doug Cox
  • Rancho Voices: A Holiday Celebration

In the Spotlight

  • Kathy Manuel-Martinez
  • Vicki Newcomer
  • Faux Foodies

VSC Perspectives

Doug Cox, VSC President

Blending the old with the new is perhaps the oldest Rancho Los Alamitos tradition, and so as we approach the conclusion of 2023 it seems a good time to look at a few of the new things on the Rancho’s horizon.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is an entirely new approach to the Rancho’s traditional holiday event, which will be held 4-8 p.m. on December 7, 8 and 9. There will be the usual highlights of families arriving in the twilight to enjoy the Ranch House, with luminarias lighting the way and a huge group of volunteers pitching in to make everyone feel welcome.

But this year’s Rancho Voices program will offer something different: the addition of six professional actors stationed at the Stallion Barn, Blacksmith Shop and the Business Office. Docents leading the groups of visitors on a trip through time will carefully establish the historical context with introductions written by the tirelessly peripatetic writer and Rancho veteran Roxanne Patmor (who is widely rumored to never really sleep). The Voices docents will literally set the evening’s stage by explaining to visitors: “While the Bixby family’s stories are well-known and frequent subjects of tours and programs, tonight’s presentations will feature stories from those who worked on the Rancho during the 1920s and ‘30s.”

Roxanne had considerable expert help with crafting the various Holiday Voices scripts, too. Chief among these were Dr. Kaye Briegel, who conducted all of the research, including interviews done by Joan Bixby Hotchkis and Marian Burton that go back to the 1970s and 1980s.

Another major contributor was Dr. Craig Hendricks, who took the demanding script for the Watte characters in the Business Office and from that complex source material created his own script that he will present in tandem with the Watte actors’ performances.

Early in the new year, the entire Rancho community, both volunteers and staff, will be exploring new ways to connect with guests from a much broader range of cultures, experiences and viewpoints. The goal is making everyone feel that they are genuinely welcome at the Rancho and that they truly belong here.

Public Programs manager Margarete Villalobos has a number of new and exciting plans up her sleeve. Among the most ambitious of these is the addition of a 2024 lecture series on topics significant to our surrounding community and presented by experts in their respective fields of study. “We aim to ignite curiosity and, through these presentations, foster a deeper connection to the world around us,” she said.

The lecture series will be held on the fourth Thursday evening of the month, beginning in February and alternating every other month.

VSC Steering Committee representative Janice Wellsteed and her Volunteer Enrichment team are planning a broad range of new educational experiences for volunteers. Their task won’t be an easy one—it will be pretty hard to top the hugely successful volunteer field trip to Catalina in September, but personally I’m sure the VE group will knock the new year’s experiences right out of the park.


And we can’t forget our four-legged colleagues, either. The four very, very friendly Nubian goats currently residing in their corral opposite the duck pond will depart toward the end of the year and will be replaced by a new cohort of Merino sheep sometime in the spring.

Employee in the Spotlight

Kathy Manuel-Martinez, Administrative Assistant

Kathy is the cheerful voice on the phone and the friendly face that greets visitors to RLA’s offices. She keeps everything running smoothly and does it with a smile.

Can you share a bit about yourself? Where you grew up, where you went to school, things that interest you? Family? 

I'm a proud Long Beach, California native, and I graduated from UCLA back in 2021. My academic journey focused on psychology with a pre-med focus.

My heart is all about friends and family. I'm the baby of the family, with three awesome older brothers who mean the world to me. Our bond is unbreakable, and they've taught me a lot along the way.

In my downtime, you'll most likely find me on the couch, binge-watching Netflix shows. I'm a total sucker for romantic comedies. And don't get me started on my love for the Marvel universe – I'm a huge fan, and I've seen every movie at least twice!

Oh, and I'm a bookworm, too. There's nothing like getting lost in a good book and discovering new worlds and ideas. So, that's a little peek into my life.


What drew you to working at the Rancho?

I absolutely adore the idea of working at a place like the Rancho. What really got me excited about it is the chance it offers for a wide range of experiences and personal growth. I was on the lookout for a vibrant and enriching work environment, and Rancho truly fits the bill.

The fact that it's so close to nature, surrounded by animals and the great outdoors, is like a dream come true. I can't think of a better bonus than having all that natural beauty right at our doorstep.

But what really tugs at my heartstrings is Rancho's mission to educate and its rich cultural and historical significance in our beloved Long Beach. It's more than just a workplace; it's a piece of our city's heritage, and that's something I feel connected to.


Can you describe a typical day?

My typical workday follows a pretty structured routine, but I find joy in every part of it. I kick things off with a leisurely breakfast at my desk while I dive into emails and messages. It's a cozy start to the day.

The heart of my day is all about tackling specific projects, where I really get into the zone, focusing on tasks and objectives. It's the time when I feel most productive and accomplished.

Right around the middle of the day, I make it a point to take a 15-minute stroll around the site. It's my little escape to nature, a moment to refresh and recharge, and it makes the rest of the day so much better. Then, it's off to lunch to refuel, and when I get back, I'm all about managing emails, addressing any issues that pop up, and making sure all the day's tasks are wrapped up smoothly.

While it might sound routine, I truly appreciate every moment of it. It's a well-oiled machine that keeps me engaged and productive.


How about an unusual day?

It’s never a dull day at the Rancho! The most random things happen, and that’s what I love most about this job. It certainly keeps me on my toes. One day, it can be coyotes running through the front lawn; another day, it’s a neighbor trying to find a new home for a duck; another day, it can be a couple who lost their tour group. Each day is a unique and captivating experience.


What parts of your job do you enjoy most?

One of the absolute highlights of my job is the people I get to talk to and connect with every day. I'm lucky to have the chance to interact with such a diverse group of individuals, from our dedicated volunteers and esteemed board members to city officials and our valued vendors. It's like a daily adventure meeting all these wonderful people.


What's even more special is that I take pride in remembering faces and names. It's a little superpower I've developed over time, and it helps me build meaningful connections. I'll tell you a little secret – networking and connecting with others used to be a bit challenging for me. But I've made it my personal mission to excel in this aspect of my work, and it's turned into one of the most rewarding parts of my day.


You get to spend your days in one of the prettiest and most peaceful places in the city. Do you have a favorite spot to spend time?  

One of my absolute favorite spots for moments of deep reflection is right on the steps in front of the Ranch House. It's like the beating heart of the entire site, being enveloped by the Moreton Bay Fig trees; it’s where I feel the very soul of the Rancho come alive. This place holds a special magic for me.

When I sit there, I'm enveloped by the rich history of this landmark and the beauty of the natural surroundings. Here, I have the opportunity to simply be, to sit quietly with my thoughts, and to connect with the atmosphere of the place. It's a place of reflection, inspiration, and pure connection with the Rancho's essence.


Separate from your job at the Rancho, what’s you ideal way to spend a day away from work?

On my precious days off, I turn into a bit of a foodie explorer! Seeking out new and intriguing restaurants is my ultimate passion. I just can't resist the allure of trying unique dishes and flavors. It's like a treasure hunt for my taste buds! But I'm not all about indulging in food alone; I'm also a big believer in self-care. Taking time to rejuvenate and recharge is a non-negotiable part of my life outside of work. It's how I stay balanced and energized.

And when I'm not on a culinary adventure or practicing self-care, you'll usually find me in the delightful company of friends. There's nothing quite like sharing conversations, laughter, and unforgettable moments with the people I care about. It's these simple pleasures that truly enrich my life and make every day off a cherished experience.


What else would you like volunteers and others who read this newsletter to know about you? 

I believe I've shared a bit about myself, but if there's anything more you'd like to know, don't hesitate to swing by my desk anytime. I'm always here and more than happy to chat. I'm pretty much an open book, and I love getting to know new people!

Volunteer in the Spotlight Vicki Newcomer

Vicki is a tour docent, and as you’ll read in her answers and see in the photos, has a long history with RLA.

What made you decide to become a Rancho volunteer?

It was almost a given, when I began looking toward retirement and needing outside interests that I would study to become a docent at the Rancho.

You see, I grew up across the street, my mother was one of the original docents, my dad would help with the heavy lifting an construction projects, and we had a key to the front gate, just in case Lady (the guard dog) ever got out. I HAD to complete the circle my mom started – I’m a legacy!


How long have you been volunteering here?

Docent since March of 2023. Volunteering since 1970. I was one of the original models for the first Camera Day. We all went over to Los Cerritos and tried on their period costumes. The only one that fit me was a very severe black number. Robin has a copy of my picture in that beautiful ensemble. In later years, I would make my own “period-appropriate” outfits. I also filled in when extra hands were needed for events or simply to check in guests in what now is the business office.


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

The satisfaction of contributing back to the Rancho – helping things run smoothly from behind the scenes. Plus, the very interesting people who constantly add to my education, experiences, and expanding social contacts.


What’s your favorite thing to hear from visitors?

“WOW, I didn’t know that!” “I’ve lived my whole life in LB and never knew this was here!” “This was informative and FUN!”


What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering here?

It’s a wonderful way to spend time – mind-expanding, creative, social connections, immersed in nature – all things that contribute to a long and HEALTHY life.

And have a good, supportive pair of shoes!!


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

Almost anything creative – sewing, interior designing, costume and make-up designing, organizing (yes, I consider this creative. Mostly for others). I also volunteer for Musical Theater West (Guild and board member) and Southern California Brass Consortium (running the concessions table). However, I’m still working as a dental hygienist two days a week. I even get a little sleep whenever I can.


What’s something that makes your day better? Seeing someone who has had contact with me walk away with a smile on their face.


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


Who would play you in a movie of your life? Andie MacDowell.


What else do you want us to know? Well . . . I am an empath, very much into developing my psychic abilities, and am known as a “Good Witch” who works with positive magic.

Committee in the Spotlight

Faux Foodies

Fred Bixby's Whiskey Punch

Visitors touring the ranch house see plates of delicious-looking food in several places, including the kitchen and main dining room. Everything from cookies to a holiday feast is on display. When the docents explain the food isn’t real, visitors take a closer look, hardly believing that could possibly be true.

These meals and treats are prepared by the Faux Foodie committee. Peta Beavis is the committee chair and Robin Herrera is the staff sponsor. Unlike a real batch of cookies or dish of green beans that take under an hour to prepare, the faux foods take far longer, in some cases months. Recently, the creation of spaghetti and meatballs took multiple tries to get the right color and texture for the sauce, meatballs and pasta.

The process begins with research and menu creation. The group sometimes uses original recipe books and magazines in Robin’s office. Other times, they use Robin’s collection to make sure certain ingredients were in use in the 1920s and 30s. For example, was green Jello available in that era?

A few months ago, Robin created a children’s party tablescape for the main dining room. It featured party favors, hats, and a cake. The Foodies refurbished an existing birthday cake. Peta created a pitcher and glasses filled with milk using Shea butter soap. She made the lollipops out of glycerin soap. Robin created party hats that were exact replicas of ones she found in photographs from the era.

This year’s holiday menu is primarily composed of already-existing classic fare like turkey, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. New to the 2023 table are tamales.


Fred Bixby’s traditional holiday punch, currently on display in the library comes with a good story. Pam Lee, then curator, found his recipe and the group made a batch to work out the proper color for the punch. Everyone had to taste it to make sure it was good, and some reported feeling a tad tipsy for their sampling efforts.

Team members come with different skills. Lillian Williams is the creative director. She brings expertise from her career as a food stylist for a major food brand to creating plates of food that are attractive and inviting. Laura Williams did internet research, created their database, and serves as the tech officer. 

Faux Food Committee Members

Peta Beavis

Lillian Williams

Laura Williams

Marilyn Fox

Louise Hicks

Monica Kovach

Carol Reed

Cheryl Schwartz

Sue Wolfe

Linda Barrett

Rosemary Dagen

Nancy Wystrach

Annette Gregson

Kathleen O’Connor

Lori Holley

Sherry Sands

Susan Nadell

Karen Marshall

Carol Ambarian

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

The Rancho is preparing for its annual holiday open house on December 7, 8, and 9 from 4 to 8 pm. This year, in addition to a festively decorated tree and ranch house, we’re adding three short presentations called Rancho Voices: A Holiday Celebration.

Actors from the Long Beach Playhouse* are telling stories of ranch workers taken from interviews done in the 1970s and '80s. These stories underscore the diversity and the contributions to the Rancho’s success made by individuals outside the Bixby family.

Chris Fountain, Robin Herrera, Margarete Villalobos, and Dr. Kaye Briegel selected three areas to feature this year: Ranch hands, tenant farmers, and individuals who worked on the property in the mid-1930s. With those topics and era in mind, long-ago RLA employees were chosen to tell their stories.

RLA volunteers are central to planning and delivering this event. VSC President Doug Cox and Volunteer Coordinator Steve Squire are part of the Rancho Voices team, giving important insights on presentation locations, docent roles, and tour flow. Gardening committee chair Kim Campanelli is working with Rancho staff to light the area around the barnyard.

When visitors arrive at the event, they’ll join a tour guide who will take them to the three locations listed below. They’ll have a short script to introduce the story and the actors. After hearing the three stories, guests will continue their tour with a visit to the beautifully decorated ranch house.

*In 1929, Fred and Florence Bixby were among the Playhouse founders.

Locations & Storytellers

Blacksmith Shop: Paul and Julia Des Granges

Paul Des Granges was the ranch foreman. He lived in the foreman’s cottage with his wife Julia and their two children. When their daughter Pauline found a downed Cypress tree, she persuaded Fred Bixby to haul it to her school to be its Christmas tree. When it turned out to be too tall for the room, he cut off the top.

Business Office: Otto and Anna Watte with Dr. Craig Hendricks

Otto and Anna Watte were tenant farmers whose families moved to the Rancho from Belgium to raise sugar beets for the factory in Los Alamitos. This performance pairs actors telling the Watte’s story with historian Dr. Craig Hendricks providing context about immigration and land use in the U.S.

Stallion Barn: Manuel Machuca and Petra Sisneros

Manuel Machuca and Petra Sisneros lived with their families in worker housing while they worked at Rancho Los Alamitos. Manuel cared for livestock and helped prepare the cattle to go to market. After Petra’s father succumbed to tuberculosis, the family remained on the ranch. Petra helped the housekeeper and cook, while her brothers worked on the ranch after school.

A recent sunset at the Rancho

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