Silas Hathaway and Barry Smith, Foodbank Volunteers
Most members of The Center know we have an operation called The Food Bank which provides food and staples for the needy. But beyond that, few (unless they are clients) know much about it other than that it gives away food donated by individuals and organizations (weekly on Thursdays, 6-8PM) and where it is (on Belardo south of Ramon). Many don't realize that it also requires the commitment of some 40 volunteers to make it work.
Two of those volunteers are Silas Hathaway and Barry Smith who, 22 years ago, met in a Palm Springs consignment store, and have been together ever since ("I guess I was shopping for trouble," Silas laughs; they were married a year ago). Before a very active retirement for both, Silas, a 2nd generation Californian born in Avalon on Catalina, designed and manufactured custom furniture in Los Angeles. Barry is from Toronto where he – sit tight – ran a funeral home and a 287-acre cemetery. When he decided to retire, a doctor told him that if he wanted to avoid becoming one of his own customers, he had to stay active.
Silas moved to Palm Springs to help a friend open one of the first gay bars (the Rainbow Cactus); Barry, well, he just loved the place: “I had spent a lot of time here with my parents.” A few years ago, after Silas recovered from a serious illness and wanted to volunteer to help others, a board member of The Center introduced them to the Food Bank. They've been there ever since (over four years) where, today, Barry staffs the operation's fruit and vegetable station, and Silas the meat station.
Early on, they discovered that the Food Bank is also more than a market for the needy…by its very existence, it has become a sort of social club for many who have no other means of connecting with excited conversations between patrons often hold up the food lines.
The pair's volunteer activities also extend to their church (Desert Oasis Chapel) where every Sunday as well as for special events, Barry and Silas prepare large meals for the congregation.
When visitors arrive at The Center on Friday mornings, the first person they probably will encounter is Roger Bengtson, seated behind the reception desk. For him, being there continues a personal commitment of volunteering at gay and lesbian centers (including Los Angeles and New York) that has lasted for nearly 50 years.
“I think I always knew I was gay,” he reflects, “and I never hid my gayness, although the political environment often required discretion. When I finally came out to my family in my 20s, my dad was accepting, but my mother was concerned I would not make it to heaven. I always felt loved by my family and never felt rejected. Working with the LGBT centers reinforced the feeling that I never had to hide my sexuality."
As a child, Roger and his sister had an activity that could have served as a perfect Norman Rockwell magazine cover subject: they ran an orange stand on Highway 39, then a two-lane blacktop near their family’s La Puente orange-grove home, which was shared with a horse, chickens, rabbits, and dogs. But his family was also Fundamentalist Christian and, among their religious prohibitions, Roger wasn’t allowed to go to movies. It was only after he went away to college at San Jose State that he was finally free to explore popular culture, and develop a lifelong passion for film (his favorite movie is Casablanca).
In 2000, after a career as a Consumer Research professional (among clients were Screen Gems and Gallo wine), he and his partner, Beto Sombrio, settled permanently in Palm Springs and he began his volunteer work with various film festivals and The Center. It was the beginning of, he says, “One of the most rewarding parts of my retirement years. Life is good.”
As a thirty-five year veteran of the insurance industry in the Bay Area, Larry was one of four partners at Goldman Insurance Services, serving as president for fifteen years. After successfully selling Goldman Insurance to Willis Insurance Services in 2001, Larry became President of Willis of California. After a brief retirement stint in 2010, Larry started a new insurance brokerage firm, G2 Insurance, in 2012 and sold his interest in 2017. He currently serves on the Board of G2 Insurance and Recology, a resource recovery firm headquartered in San Francisco. He also provides mentorship to start-up companies at Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, California. He has served on multiple non-profit boards including San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Larkin Street Youth Center, Insight Prison Project, YMCA, Equality California and currently, Mills College. Larry joined the Board of Directors at The Center in Summer 2017.
“The same sex couple in our family has been together thirty-seven years. They’re growing older. Now what? We want to honor their relationship, to understand, respect and serve their needs and preferences as they grow older. We want to “do the right thing”. How do we know “the right thing”? How do we plan for success? What do we need to know? What conversations do we need to have?”
Dr. Gover, Director of Mental Health Services at The Center is partnering with Dick Edwards, published author and former administrator at Charter House, a retirement facility associated with the Mayo Clinic, to explore aging issues in the LGBT community. Dick and his associate Ginger are doing research for a book about same sex couples growing older together. The working title is: Growing Older Together: A Success Guide for Same Sex Couples and Their Families.
The purpose of the survey is to better understand the issues and concerns of same sex couples as they grow older, and the issues and concerns of their families. Your responses will join those of others across the country to help clarify common themes and issues, and identify ways to experience success in this stage of life.
If you’re over age 50 and in a same sex relationship for more than two years, please log on to http://www.luther.edu/meyegi01/ and Click Growing Older Together to learn more about us and to complete the research survey. It’s anonymous and confidential. Please ask same sex couples you know to complete the survey, too.
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Lisa Middleton is a member of the Palm Springs Planning Commission, Chairwoman of the Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs (ONE-PS), a member of the Boards of Directors of the Desert Horticulture Society and the Desert LGBT Center. In 2014, she was the Center’s Interim Executive Director.
On the Planning Commission she has advocated for neighborhood/developer cooperation, increased use of solar power, the creative use of desert landscaping, renewal of our downtown, sustainable projects that excel – architecturally and economically and the elimination of abandoned buildings and blighted vacant lots.
ONE-PS is a coalition of 40 neighborhoods. Under Lisa’s leadership, ONE-PS has taken the lead on street repairs, vacation rental compliance, pedestrian, cyclist and traffic safety and the inclusive involvement growth of every community within Palm Springs.
Lisa Middleton retired after serving 36 years with the State Compensation Insurance Fund of the State of California. At her retirement she was the Senior Vice President of Internal Affairs with executive responsibility for Internal Audit, Fraud Investigation, Public Records and Governance. She was a member of California’s Fraud Assessment Commission.
In 2010, she chaired the Commission. Lisa is a graduate of UCLA and USC, receiving her Masters in Public Administration from USC.
She has also completed the UCLA LGBT Leadership Institute.
After 13 years together, Lisa and Cheryl were married in July 2013. Lisa is transgender having completed a change in gender roles in the mid-1990s. She is the proud parent of two adult children.