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Difference Makers: Mammoth, Eastside

November 26, 2010

Dan Wright, team leader for Habitat for Humanity

In the lap of constantly moving tectonic plates, amid volcanic, pine strewn mountains, Mammoth is a singular place.

Its people match the granite that rises high above the town. Strong, generally selfless souls who think nothing of moving mountains to help someone who has been injured, has an illness or has lost their home.

Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra are peopled by individuals with outsized hearts.

Look at the Search and Rescue team: Its members will drop whatever they’re doing to head out into difficult terrain in all kinds of weather to rescue those who are lost or injured.

Look at the overwhelming response to KMMT’s pie auction this past Tuesday morning, when people bid more than $1,000 for homemade pies, proceeds to go to the hospital’s cancer outreach program.
Or the hundreds of people who turn out every year for Disabled Sports’ Island Extravaganza, often in a blizzard, to raise money for wounded warriors.

The need never goes away.

We never stop giving.

With DifferenceMakers, we shine a spotlight on 11 members of our Eastside community who have made a difference – volunteers all, people who have changed these mountain communities for the better – our own version of home-grown heroes.

The Mammoth Times salutes these people and the hundreds more like them, who have raised our awareness, brought our intentions to a better, more generous place. Profiles follow, see photos in photo gallery.

DAN WRIGHT

Most people know him as the manager of the Summit Condominiums on Meridian Boulevard and sometime town politician.

Yet Dan Wright, 66, has another mission – one that stretches across oceans, deserts and mountains, all over the world.

Wright is a team leader with Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world.

“It has been a life-changing experience,” said Wright, who for more than 13 years has led about 180 team workers from Mammoth and its environs to such places as Mongolia, and, lately, Nepal.

“I read an article about Jimmy Carter and his work with Habitat,” Wright said recently. “Then I read his autobiography and thought, ‘Gee whiz, it would be great to take some of my vacation time and join a team and find out what it’s all about.’

“My first trip was to Alaska, and we built a home up there and I was really excited about the experience. This was some way I could give back, and not to be too philosophical about it, to humanity. People throughout the world have tremendous needs when it comes to sub-standard housing.

“I have time to give back, and this was a vehicle with which to do that. I enjoy the cultural experience and seeing the changed lives.

“It’s very gratifying.”

Wright’s latest trip, to Nepal, was called “Everest Build,” where he led the Mammothites in a “blitz build” project in which they joined 460 volunteers from eight countries in building 40 houses in five days.

One on the Mammoth team became sick with pneumonia and another developed bronchitis as they worked in blistering heat just after the Nepalese monsoon season. (“We went through four liters of water apiece each day,” Wright said.

They used indigenous material (bamboo) along with cement and plaster, and completed the project on deadline, earning the praise of Nepal President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav.

“Most families in Nepal are living under poverty housing conditions,” he said on a visit to the site. “The government alone cannot address the huge need of the country.”

But Dan Wright and his teams help, country after country, year after year.

“I haven’t had any bad experiences in 13 years,” Wright said. – GS

DUANE "HAP" HAZARD

Digital 395, which recently received $100 million in funding, “should be called the ‘Hap Hazard Digital Highway,’” according to Greg Newbry, a county Information Technology employee. Newbry said that many people contributed to getting the project off the ground, but “Hap got everybody together and got it going in the first place.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever known a supervisor who works as hard as Hap,” said Lynda Salcido, Public Health Director. “He is a one-man social service agency, caring down to the personal level.”

“Hap is always willing to help out when necessary,” agreed Sheriff Rick Scholl. “He has set up regular meeting times in the Tri-Valley area and he created a database of constituents to stay in touch with them and keep them updated about community issues.

“Even though Hap can seem tough sitting on the Board of Supervisors he has a humorous side to him also,” Scholl said, remembering the lesser-known side of Hazard that enriches the lives of his colleagues. “I recall one somber time when he facilitated a funeral for a blender that died during a daiquiri party. I believe that blender is still buried in Hap’s backyard.”

Hazard, 61, is better known for his role in negotiating wilderness boundaries.

“Every time I tried to talk with someone about moving the boundaries, I was told, ‘That takes an Act of Congress,’” Hazard said. When an opportunity arose for just such an Act, he “spoke up, being the new kid on the block.” Ensuing negotiations resulted in a boundary compromise that cut through a logjam of dissent, leading to passage of the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act.

Despite the political risk he incurred by jumping into that most contentious issue in Mono County as a newly elected Supervisor, Hazard said simply, “It was the right thing to do.”

“In my own personal feeling, we should have the right to take and use our forest and our land... with incredible responsibility to make sure it’s available to future generations.” Cupping his arms as he remembered cradling his newborn babies, Hazard almost whispered, “You hold them for the first time…having children changed everything for me.”

It’s clear to many that Hazard draws on extraordinary energy reserves in execution of a profound sense of responsibility. During a recent interview, he revealed the roots of his devotion: his dedication to his children, his childhood at Edwards Air Force Base, and his love for the Eastern Sierra.

“I divide my life up into two pieces – my childhood home is Edwards Air Force Base. I loved that place, everything about it. [Noted test pilot, Major General Charles] “Chuck” Yeager was one of my Boy Scout leaders.

“Then I moved here at 26 years of age and immediately felt this was
home. You couldn’t get me out of here with a stick of dynamite.” – LW

MARK BROWNLIE

He grew up on a sheep and cattle farm in northern Scotland, herding sheep, training border collies, assisting in animal husbandry and plowing fields.

He is, therefore, the perfect candidate to be the Head Coach of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Team.
He is Mark Brownlie, who since 1997 has been herding students, skiers and snowboarders through their lessons and races, both on and off the ski hill.

“The farm was primarily run by my granddad,” he said, “and he taught me a lot of lessons.”

Such as?

“Like getting out of bed!”

A wide Scottish grin appeared on Brownlie’s face because he was, of course, only slightly kidding.
But it is that kind of combination of humor and knowledge that his team of coaches (70 on a busy weekend), his “kids,” (including current Olympic skier Stacey Cook), along with their parents, have come to recognize as a signature aspect of the 40-year-old coach.

The trick, he said, is teaching personal accountability in all things. Just like he was taught on that sheep and cattle farm across the Atlantic.

“Personal accountability is what hopefully stays with them the rest of their lives,” he said. “ We can see that happen on a variety of levels, whether it’s the jobs they enter or how well they do at school.

“Personal accountability starts with the coach,” he said, “then hopefully to the athletes.”

Brownlie oversees a sprawling, year-round program that includes education, along with five-days-a-week conditioning drills. This season, he has 400 athletes under his wing, mostly skiers, but also snowboarders.

Recently, he said he also has incorporated Nordic skiing under the umbrella of his team.
Last summer, he led an effort to condition his athletes through road cycling, and his kids all finished the 100-mile High Sierra Century.

He’s got so many irons in so many fires that it’s a wonder he can do it, or even think about how many lives he’s touched.

“When you can have a relationship with an athlete for years through the program, and then see them through school, see them enter their careers, get married, that kind of thing, I would say that it’s a huge privilege to do what we do.” – GS

NORMAN DE CHAMBEAU

“He’s always out talking to people, telling stories about the Mono Basin,” said Bartshe Miller, Education Director of the Mono Lake Committee.

Miller said Norman De Chambeau, 83, recently “pushed the first domino” that led to reducing the speed limit on U.S. 395 through Lee Vining, from 35 miles per hour to 30. He said De Chambeau succeeded because he spoke up in the right place, a Mono County Regional Planning Advisory Committee meeting, at the right time, when a change of staff resulted in a receptive listener.

It could be said that De Chambeau reduces and even reverses the speed of time itself, as Historian and Curator for the Mono Basin Historical Society.

“As Curator, Norm is the lifeblood of keeping our museum going. He keeps the doors open greeting the public, answering questions and preparing exhibits,” said David Carle, Society Secretary.

De Chambeau worked 32 years with the federal government followed by 18 years running camps for Boy Scouts of America. He returned to the Mono Basin in 1996 “mostly to do research on family history in the Basin, Bodie, and the museum.”

Soon the Society asked him to work one day a week. The next year, they asked for two days and so on. He said, “I ended up working eight hours a day, five days a week, for the last eight years.”

De Chambeau said, “History is not a true science. It’s an interpretation of what somebody thought or remembered. What kept me going here in the Mono Basin is trying to research the true history, what is fact and what is fiction.”

Providing an example, De Chambeau described the death of Lee Vining’s namesake, Leroy Vining.

“He had taken a load of lumber in 1896. You read one book it says he was on his way over when his six shooter fired, wounding him fatally in the groin. Another says he slapped his six-shooter on a poker table, got shot in the groin, then went outside and bled to death. Yet another says there was a fight in the bar, the gun went off and shot him in the groin. In my research I found his obituary, written three days after he died, and it says his gun went off in his coat pocket. So that’s the true story.”

Norman De Chambeau added, “History is part of who I am, the last of the De Chambeaus in the Mono Basin.” – LW

DON REDMON

When Don Redmon died last month, the Eastside lost one of the basic building blocks of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.

He was one of the core group of guys who gathered around Dave McCoy way back when, and shared an amazing spirit. That’s the thing about pioneers. They’re not so sure of the long-term effect; they’re working up close, moving mountains.

There is something magical about building something out of nothing so much as a love of skiing and the mountains. That knuckle of men (and the women who skied right there beside them and cooked the deer and trout at the end of the day) worked themselves to the quick, building the ski area.

“They all did whatever they needed to do and then left,” said Redmon’s daughter, Carol Eller of Mammoth. “They didn’t leave the mountain until they’d done everything they had to do.”

That was true whether they were cutting down trees, building lifts, or fixing the outhouse at McGee Mountain.

Redmon was a World War II veteran who served with the U.S. Coast Guard. He came to Bishop and went to work for the telephone company.

It was Gloria Redmon who introduced Dave McCoy to her husband Don.

Redmon and McCoy raised their families at McGee Mountain. Eller remembers her father and McCoy cutting down the first tree on Mammoth Mountain.

It was family and friends working together to build the ski area. They were having fun. They didn’t realize what they were doing; they thought they were just having fun.

They were an inventive bunch. They had no titles; they ran by their instincts grounded by their energy for the mountains and their friendship.

Redmon had an engineering mind; he loved building chairlifts, ski runs and mountain bike parks.
He could climb trails like a billy goat. He and McCoy went camping all over the Eastern Sierra. “He knew the backcountry and enjoyed every minute.”

Redmon loved the granite mountains and the fact that he could see forever. He was always happy when he was on a peak hiking, fishing or camping.

In his later years he sat on the benches on the bike trail and watched and remembered those times.

There will be a celebration of Don Redmon’s life Dec. 18 at the Highlands Community Center, from 2-4 p.m. in Bishop. No doubt the talk will center on the good old days in the Eastern Sierra. – DE

MAXINE SHEPHERD

It is perhaps fitting that Maxine Shepherd has spent most of her 75 years reeling in the world’s lost sheep; anyone really, who’s fallen on hard times and needs a bit of help.

Born during a time when nothing came easily to anyone, she learned early to make something useful out of something most people would throw away.

Shepherd is one of those people that make the world go round, but rarely get noticed, the very definition of the salt of the earth. For the past 20 years, the very fabric of this community; the cloth and thread that clothe and comfort, warm and heal us all, have moved through this master seamstresses strong brown hands, one item at a time.

When the fabric and thread and buttons and ribbons leave her hands, they are transformed.
A torn coat, donated to the battered woman’s shelter, mended and cleaned by Shepherd, goes to a mother who needs it.

Baby layettes, sewn from fabric donated to Shepherd by her women’s sewing class, go to someone in labor in the hospital here, who has nothing for her new baby.

Knitted wool liners, from wool donated by the same women, go inside the helmet of the soldier who shivers in Afghanistan.

A quilt, hand-sewn over countless hours around a circle of women, goes to a raffle where it sells for thousands of dollars that then benefits lymphoma victims.

When she’s not sewing, she can be found, car loaded to the gills with clothes and bedding, headed up U.S. 395, to Walker or Colewille or parts unknown, moving used clothing and bedding from someone who doesn’t need or want them, to someone who desperately does both.

She’s always been that way. When she moved to Mammoth from Southern California, she retired from a long career as a home economics teacher at a public school.

When she arrived in Mammoth, it didn’t take long for her to realize that retirement didn’t suit her.
“I can’t stand sitting still,” she said.

While working part time for the former Fabrications fabric shop, the demand for her sewing skills led her to start her own sewing class.

It’s been going for 13 years now, moved from place to place to church to home to county office, but always with a core group of women who come to sew.

And Shepherd, being a good shepherd, doesn’t let it stop there.

“I came in one day with some fabric and pretty soon she had us making baby clothes for Wild Iris,” said Dinah Craig, a longtime sewing class member.

“She’s always putting us to work, giving us a project to work on,” she said.

And Shepherd is more than that.

““She’s the best friend you could have,” said Angela Wright, as she and Shepherd suss out how to make 20th century fabric fit a 19th century dress pattern.

The costume is bound for Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre’s latest play; “A Christmas Carol.” Shepherd found herself somehow tapped to sew the costumes and today’s challenge is something she relishes.

“I love making things work,” she said, mouth full of pins, hands busy on the silken brown fabric.
“There’s always a place for everything,” she said. “I just hate to see things thrown away.” – WG

TOM GAULT

On a hot, dry day last summer, the Mammoth Huskies took the field for practice, and along the sideline appeared a volunteer coach.

It was Johnny Teller, the world-class skier and former star Husky football player, who didn’t have to be there, except he felt compelled.

He was there to help the team and stand alongside Tom Gault, the longtime Huskies coach and high school shop teacher, and he wasn’t alone. A half-dozen former athletes also were there, trying to help Gault bring his team, small in number and with a sophomore quarterback, back from the 2009 “lost season,” during which Mammoth did not field a team at all.

“He taught me how to play football, obviously, and to be a football coach,” said Teller, a mechanic at Alpine Garage. “And he was my shop teacher, and that’s what I do.”

It is hard to measure the lifelong influence that a good teacher has on a person, and it’s equally as hard to measure the influence of a good coach.

Gault, 64, is both, and with more than a 29-year career here, it’s almost impossible to count the number of lives he’s touched, both in his high school shop class and on the Huskies’ football field.

But surely it is in the thousands.

(He has also touched many more thousands of ears with his rock band, Flashback, and his two-man acoustic band, Good Livin’.)

This season he faced the challenge of his career.

In bringing the Husky football team back to the appropriately named Gault-McClure Stadium, he had few boys who had ever played varsity football, and some hadn’t played since Youth Football.

By his side was former Fresno State and Detroit Lions tight end Marty Thompson, who handled the offense. Gault handled the defense and the team overall.

The opponent in the first game was L.A. Baptist and hardly anyone on that September afternoon knew what to expect. And then, Mammoth won, 6-3 on a play with just under four minutes left in the game, and on an interception late. You could have knocked Gault over with a feather.

“I don’t know,” he said, “you coach for a lot of years (28) and you get some good wins and some very painful losses.

“But for those boys and for myself, the rest of the coaches and the whole school, that game might rank right at the top.”


“The reason I say that is because of the events that led up to the game, and the struggle the kids have been through – not getting to play very much last year and not being so sure of themselves, and the inexperience.
They’re running uphill, and they just kept running and running, and by golly, that’s to their credit.”

Years from now, not many of those boys will take the credit. No doubt they’ll give it to Gault.– GS

PENNY AND PAUL BURDENO

Together, Penny and Paul Burdeno created the Mount Morrison Cemetery garden, work at the Cast-Off, and have served as hosts on Mammoth Mountain.

Excitement raised Pauls voice about an octave when he said his volunteer work is selfish. “The things I do are fun. Even work at the cemetery; I won’t say that’s fun, but there is a reward to doing something you can be proud of.

“I used to be mean and nasty and it wasn’t until I met Penny that she made me...” Penny, 67, interrupted, “I had great material to work with.”

Paul, 70, continued. “We each came from government careers. Penny learned to be caring as a teacher. I learned to be an organizer in the Air Force, so we thought it would be a shame not to continue to use those skills.”

“Mammoth Lakes has been a retreat for my family since 1977,” Penny said. Her nephew Rick Terrell came to visit and never left. So when Penny’s sister and her husband (Terrell’s parents) were killed in a helicopter crash, Mount Morrison Cemetery became their final resting place. At the time, the cemetery resembled ‘boot hill.’

The Burdenos, Terrell, his wife Holly, and the rest of the family set to work creating a gateway and garden for the cemetery. After three years of work and investment in plants and trees, Mono County reserved their creation as a permanent feature of the cemetery.

Since 1977, Penny has been involved with Mammoth Hospital Auxiliary, which she described as ”a quick way to see the results of your labor,” while enjoying social opportunities such as skiing, hiking and kayaking with other volunteers.

At the Cast-Off, the Auxiliary’s retail store, Penny sorts linens and Paul sorts books, earning the moniker ‘Book Boy.’ Karen Curry, the Cast-Off’s chairperson, said she lost her glasses at a yard sale. As Paul sorted through the donated leftovers from that sale, he asked, “where should I put these glasses?” Curry did a double take, realizing the glasses were hers. Thrilled with the discovery, she promoted Paul to ‘Book Man.’

Book Man’s alter ego is ‘Fossil Man;’ he appears at Mammoth Elementary School to share his trilobites. Paul said he owes his inspiration to his “science teacher in the third grade who opened a window onto a world not here anymore. I never got over ‘show and tell’.”

Penny and Paul serve on the Mono County Democratic Central Committee where, Paul said, “Penny’s volunteerism makes sure that local, state and national leaders recognize that Mono County exists.”
Penny, historian for the Central Committee as well as the Hospital Auxiliary, asked, “When I was a teacher, guess what I taught? History.”

For even more selfish fun, Paul volunteers with the Crowley Lake Friends of the Library, where he helped develop the Richard C. Felkel Collection of Regional Books.

Ever on the look out for people to join them in their volunteering fun, Paul smiles irresistibly as he issues his standard invitation, “We can use someone with your background and experience.” – LW

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