Lenette And The Las Vegas Dream

In the early 60s, after the opening of Camp Shasta, Lenette woke me up from a dream she was having: “Sy, I just dreamt we built and operated a Youth Hotel in Las Vegas. I saw the building, and it was all so real.” 

She immediately went back to sleep, but I couldn’t. Instead, I thought, “How do I make this happen?” I had my answer in minutes. 
I would assemble a group of well-off people who were sending their kids to camp and who might be willing to invest based on their camp experience and the quality of the investment. Lenette and I would do all the leg work and be the operators. 

One of our parents happened to be a CPA who did this kind of work. I called, and we met. He liked the idea, and we put a group together. 

Lenette and I were so jazzed by the idea that we sold our home and moved to Las Vegas. Lenette soon found a house to purchase, and we all moved into our new digs.

Then, we began to search for land. As they say, “Location, location, location.” We found our ideal 5 acres across from a large church and a growing community. Also, they were beginning construction of houses and apartments in the neighborhood.

It was a perfect place for the programs we planned, including a preschool, afterschool program for elementary kids, tutoring, guidance, sports, and week-end programs for older kids.

We intended to cover all bases when it came to youth, and we did. 

Lenette designed the building with these many programs in mind. Our preschool occupied about a third of the property with its own playground. The many other programs each had their own space. Walls were moveable, making rooms expandable. There was a full kitchen and a multi-use dining room. Dormitories for boys and girls when parents needed to be away for weekends. An Olympic-sized outdoor pool and a four-acre athletic field.  If it could be thought of, Lenette found a place for it.

The Children’s Campus was designed to be a private community center for all ages, addressing most families’ needs for their children’s well-being and education. Lenette did all the drawings and gave her best to the design, so much so that architectural firms sought to hire her.

Whatever Lenette took on, she gave it her best—including caring for me, Jeff, and the pets, making us a home, teaching, and being a counselor at camp. All this while running the business end of our firm.

The staff we hired for every program was as professional and able as Las Vegas had to offer. As always, training for excellence never ceased, and success was achieved in every program. Not only was the Children’s Campus growing in reputation but also in enrollment and use.

Later on, when I worked with professionals and entrepreneurs, Lenette typed my research notes. She was my “go-to gal” whenever I needed to discuss my discoveries. Looking back, it’s clear that Lenette made me what I became. 

Lenette, Jeff, And Our First Home

Lenette found and arranged the purchase of our first home. It was a two-bedroom, half-bathroom G.I. home, about 900 sq. ft., with a fireplace. We loved it.

We were continuously investing in Purple Sage, so we carried three mortgages on our $12,000 home. We paid our bills, but it was always a struggle as we still attended school full-time and worked part-time. That was no problem because we loved our home and what we were doing.

From day one, Lenette had a picture of what she wanted our tiny home to look like. It had a wonderful backyard. It was where Brutus, our smallish hound dog, Heidi, a hundred-ten pound, Lion’s Head German Shepherd, and Cleo, our cat, lived and played, pleasing us at every turn.

Lenette wanted the perfect backyard, so she added waterfalls, a huge shade tree that we loved, runs for the dogs and cats, a barbeque, and a beautiful sitting area. It was, indeed, perfect. 

Our staff loved being with us at home; some used our garage as their temporary living quarters. And, of course, we always fed whomever. All this on less than a quarter acre!

In the late 50s, we lost our baby.  I have blanked this period out of my mind as it was filled with such pain for both of us. Having the baby would have changed our lives and the many we touched. 

If we were able to have that baby boy and the two more we hoped for in our family planning, I would have finished my doctorate in psychology and also returned to the Los Angeles Board of Education. This was because we only counted on making a little money at Shasta, and the family we hoped to have needed a much more secure source of income. At the time, I had many opportunities in such a big system.

We continued to try to make a family and failed numerous times.  Our doctor told us he would help us adopt twins, and we gave serious thought to this. At the same time, I was working with a troubled boy who would be coming to camp in a few weeks. His father was leaving on a business trip, so he asked if his son could live with us until camp. We agreed, and Jeff moved in with us and stayed until he graduated high school.

He became our son, and our camp kids became our extended family. In essence, we did more than come to terms with our inability to make our own children. We created a huge and beautiful family who remain so to this day. Our loss and sadness became a story of long-term regard, respect, and love.

After living with us for about a year, Jeff told Lenette, “You are my real mother, aren’t you?”

Lenette was shocked and said, “I would have been 12 years old. No way!” 

Yet, in every way possible, Jeff made Lenette his mother. Lenette was far more than a “Mom” to Jeff. She made it possible for him to attend Junior and Senior High School. She oversaw his education and worked with him on all his classroom teachers required until he became his own self-motivated student.

When Jeff turned 16, his father wanted to buy Jeff a new car. Lenette told Jeff, “You accept the car, and you will have to leave our home.”

As I remember, Jeff turned the car down with no remorse. His home and family were with us. Mom had spoken, and for him, that was enough.

Lenette loved and cared for Jeff as the best mothers do their children—to have them grow up to be members and contributors to society.  It is who Jeff became and still is.

Seventy years later, Jeff recently said this of our home in Northridge. “I grew up on an estate in Beverly Hills, but the only real home I lived in was that small house in Northridge.”

We lived there from our first year of marriage until 1965. That year, we moved to Las Vegas to fulfill Lenette’s dream.

Lenette and I

In 1951, I was looking for employees for my summer camp at the UCLA Job Fair. Out of the crowds seeking summer employment, she walked over to my table. When I first saw her, I thought an angel was approaching me. Her beauty and presence transfixed me. Before she said a word, I thought, “I am looking at the girl I am going to marry.” 

Considering I intended to be an adventurer traveling the world, this inner dialogue was unusual, to say the least. Before this, I had no thoughts of marriage, ever. Yet, at that moment, an unbelievable happening was erupting inside me. 

She sat down, and her first words were, “Tell me about your philosophy.”

Her voice thrilled me, and I found that being rational was impossible. I took a deep breath and began to tell her my small group philosophy about how each counselor and their group of kids would build their own day’s schedule. I explained that the camp would provide specialists and learning tools across a wide range of activities so that counselors and their small groups could benefit from lessons in swimming, horses, nature, and sports.

What I was proposing was a very unusual program for young children where the best counselors would thrive together with their kids. Most importantly, children would be learning to communicate their wants and needs. Camp would be a community where all our kids would find their own voice. 

Lenette said she had a job at the YMCA teaching swimming, but after our discussion, she decided to work for me instead. She accepted the job, and as I watched her disappear into the crowd, I knew I had just met my future wife and love for life.

I did not know then that Lenette felt the same about me. Later, I learned she had shared her excitement about the camp and the program with several close friends. She also told them about me, saying, “He’s the guy I’m going to marry!”

The pragmatic philosophy of Purple Sage was Lenette in action. Her group of girls made a home for themselves in the woods. Each morning, they would hold meetings and plan their day’s activities. Here, within the group, Lenette helped each of the girls to find their voice. And they did so while filling their days with activities galore and learning how to live in harmony. Her greatest gift to each of them was a sense of self and membership.

I so loved watching Lenette work that I would ride my horse into the woods to seek them out. She and they would then do their best to get me out of their hair so they could enjoy a bit of privacy.  

Simply watching her do her thing with the girls was special. I knew then that they would carry these experiences with them forever. This is the gift each good counselor gives their group: self and voice, relationships, dialogue, and the sense and reality of a level playing field. 

I learned to let them be. It was that or catch “hell” from Lenette! 

So, I decided to try another approach: inviting her to enjoy a Sunday horseback ride with me. The horse she liked was Sunny, a show horse that belonged to George Tobias, an actor who lived at the ranch. When I asked him, he replied, “Sure, enjoy the ride.”

That Sunday, we rode across the road to where many Westerns were filmed on land owned by 20th-century studios.  

I wanted to grab and hold her as close to me as possible, but she was all work and no play. I hoped our ride into the setting sun and the Pacific Ocean might help this take place, but how? 

Gates had to be opened and closed as we rode along the dusty road. I would dismount and handle the gates. Eventually, we began to head back to our camp, the sun low behind us. And then, the miracle of the gates happened. I opened one particular gate as I had the many others. But, this time, Lenette’s horse did something entirely unexpected. Despite being well trained, Sunny reared up, and Lenette was thrown off her saddle and into my waiting arms.

We kissed for 10 minutes. I held her so close that we were almost one. I could not let her go. Afterward, I grabbed her hand, and we walked the rest of the way back to camp, leading our horses along the dusty road with the sun setting behind us.

My love for her was beyond any feelings I have ever felt. I would happily die for her at that moment and every other moment we’ve been together. It was like nothing I had ever experienced.

Kim Wilson—One Of A Kind

Kim Wilson was a boy who, when we first met, was unlike any I had ever known and became a man unlike any I have ever known. 

Kim was bright and creative—almost beyond compare. He was a student when he had to be and not when he made up his mind. He was, without doubt, his worst enemy and best ally when he set forth to accomplish what he wanted to do. 

His confidence to create was unlimited, and he did so to the point of failure several times. But he also succeeded many times.

His mother knew she had a unique human on her hands and sought out help. I was the person she came to, and I found Kim remarkable from our first meeting. We had much in common, such as classical music and opera.

Soon after that, I purchased the land for Camp Shasta. On most Friday nights, I would head off on a 600-mile journey to camp from LA. Only by walking the land could I get the feel of where things ought to be. 

I needed someone to help me stay alert throughout the long drive. With his mother’s approval, Kim proved to be the perfect driving companion. We got to know each other as profoundly as father and son, which he became to me during our trips.

We grew to know each other well, and I knew him as few others could do. I love him and will miss him as my son.

Sy

Back To Writing

During the last three weeks, our lives have changed dramatically.  I’ll do my best to bring you up to date.  

While Lenette was doing a few mild exercises, she fell and broke her leg. Then, as I was waiting for her status report, I decided to go for a pizza. At the restaurant, Although I have no exact memory of this, I fell, hit my head, and fractured my right hip in almost the same place where Lenette broke her leg. Lenette was operated on the following morning. My injury did not require an operation.

We were both in the hospital for a week before being moved to a rehab center. While there, it was necessary to place Lenette in Hospice care. To receive the best care, we moved back to Summerset, the home we moved into about a month ago.

She is resting comfortably in a quiet state, and everything we can do is being done for her. The care she receives is soft and loving. The people who care for her are remarkable. I love them.

I sit with her for long periods. Sometimes, she knows I am there. She is a fighter and knows where she is at. For her, I will be okay. After seventy-plus years together, I think she knows me.   We always remember we are one, not two.

Now, it is only a matter of time, and we both know the inevitable. I am so grateful for a happening that had to be. We were here for each other. It was not chance but destined.  

It is not over, but it is close. She knows, and I know. How special is her life.

Why are we given life?—To be a gift to those we meet—What a gift is mine

Sy

Biking In China

Telling the story of the Cuckoo Birds recalls another biking story (and we have a few). This one took place in China. This was a grueling trip where the ten bikers were all serious bikers, and 100 miles plus a day was not uncommon. That I kept up with them each day speaks to my competitive character and nature. “Anything you can do, I can do better!”

A young attorney from Houston was also a competitive biker wearing all the paraphernalia a serious biker wears: shorts, shirt, glasses, helmet, gloves, and shoes. He also rode an 18-gear mountain bike. As far as biking goes, that’s as good as it gets. We became buddies during long stretches of countryside whenever Lenette rode in the shag wagon for a while.

This trip took place soon after Tiananmen Square, so the Trip stayed mainly in the countryside and avoided the major cities. 

Bikes in China are like feet in the States. We all have feet, but in China, everyone has feet and bikes, and masses riding bikes flow everywhere. Needless to say, our bikes had to be touched and examined by everyone we encountered. I often gave my bike to the young and not-so-young to ride, and they did it with oohs and ahhs.

One evening, we biked out of a small village at about dinner time when many people were with us on the road heading home. A young man riding a single-gear bike rode up to my friend and motioned that he wanted to race up a long hill we were approaching.

My friend got the message, and the two of them began to accelerate, and away they went!

The hill was steep, but that was no problem for either of them. On his single-gear bike, the young man led at first but was soon caught by the young American. Neck and neck, they flew up the hill, neither giving an inch to the other. Hundreds of bikers, maybe thousands, became aware of what was happening and cheered their countryman up the hill. 

Left gasping for air, the young attorney lost by a few feet. They hugged each other, and the American gave his young Chinese competitor his colorful hat, which produced cheers from the crowd of onlookers and another hug from the Chinese competitor.  The competition was how the world ought to be. Honest competition and appreciation for those we compete with.

I try my very best—Sometimes I win, sometimes lose—Life is that way, too

Sy

The Coo-coo Experience

Many years ago, when I was traveling the country lecturing on power and leadership, Lenette took a job as a travel agent. This was so she could arrange my complicated flights and travel requirements.

Also, another reason for her taking the job was our desire to explore the world. Being in the travel industry made it possible and less expensive to go anywhere we wished, and we did!

We found we could go on a bike ‘n barge trip in France for pennies compared to the high price retail clients were charged. We jumped at the opportunity, and soon we had a cabin on the barge, an open bar, wonderful meals, a guide and lecturer, and brand-new road bikes. We were in heaven with eight other travelers from Texas, who all knew each other. 

The journey was for eight days along an old canal from Leone through magnificent countryside: castles, vineyards, farms, and thick wild forests. Each morning, we were given maps and the freedom to explore on our own or go with a guide to visit the castles and museums. After many such tours, Lenette and I wanted to explore the countryside ourselves.

Nature and wilderness have always been our preference, so we headed off while the others accompanied the guide. The map showed where the barge would be at the end of the day, so getting lost was impossible. We were totally on our own.

We arrived back at the barge for the cocktail hour and delicious food. That was the time to get to know our fellow bikers and guide. The guide went around the group, asking each of us about our day, what we learned, and things we wanted to share. What I shared was exploring the small villages and the wonderful experience we had in a thick forest. 

When we stopped biking for a water break, the stillness of the forest was suddenly broken by a 
coo-coo sound across the small valley. We had never heard a bird call like this, and it was definitely coo-coo, loud and clear. 

Suddenly, there was a response behind us, another coo-coo. We turned and saw a beautiful bird calling back to the other bird across the small valley. These two birds conversed back and forth for about 15 minutes, and we stood transfixed the whole time.

After sharing that experience, the guide looked at us strangely and said that our experience with the birds was rare. Few people ever hear the birds call to each other. Most only know the sound through recordings, and nearly no one actually sees them! What a rare and precious moment.

What followed made the bike ‘n barge a whole different trip for the rest of the journey. For the rest of the trip, the group of eight friends and working companions from Texas went with us as we explored the countryside, villages, and forests. Every evening on our return, we enjoyed huge banquets with local foods from the small towns. We and the Texans lived it up. 

Sy

Nature Or Nurture?

A question came up during a discussion about the issue of adoption. My dear friend was adopted and sought his roots. I have no problem with seeking out one’s original parents and family. I told him that I believe blood is not an essential part of who a person is and becomes.

I firmly believe we are who we are primarily because of relationships, beginning with those who have adopted the child. They make the child what they will become, not their blood parents.

From my hands-on experience, I know that my influence as a psychologist, teacher, and camp director was (and is) considerable. As an old guy, I am blessed to be visited by people who were children at my camp in the 50s and 60s. Staff members and even the professionals and entrepreneurs I worked with for the past 35-plus years still visit.

I am told of my influence on them, and I am fully aware and grateful for their influence on me. I became a better mentor and grew as a person because of the trust and closeness we had between so many of us. And what of the benefits to their staff and family? That was the reason I was invited to be part of their lives.

Without question, I know the experience and power certain relationships have on their participants. It makes or breaks them. Nowhere in this is blood involved.

The love and time we give to those we live and work with is all about our power to empower. As a leader, the good and the bad come out. Nothing is hidden, and all is influenced.

Sy   

Inside Relationships

The subject of relationships is important to me. It must be due to my history, beginning with all eight of our family members, including myself, living in crowded apartments. It is the foundation of who and what I became—a teacher, a facilitator, a peacemaker, and a leader of leaders.I did not make any of me. I was made by my relationships with my parents, sister, and three older brothers.

So, what are the complex ingredients that make relationships so important?  

Dialogue may be first in importance: brief disagreements never hurt those in relationships that work well and who are present with each other if each is hearing and doing their best to understand what is being said. Hearing leads to confirming, which is not agreement but understanding. Honesty is what those in quality relationships experience. At these times, all are together in maximum equality. There is no leader, no follower, but people in a relationship.

When a leader takes charge, the relationship changes; dialogue does not exist; instead, there is only monologue. Then, it becomes the leader’s responsibility to “empower” the other, which means recreating dialogue. No environment is as productive to relationships as the “Level Playing field.” Empowering this is the job of parents, couples, teachers, and leaders of every kind. They are responsible for the environment and relationships that empower, equalize, and nurture the best possible relationship between people.

Sy

The Way It Ought To Be

I had a thought only a few minutes ago, yet now I’m trying to recall what I was thinking about. I believe I was thinking about the time that we healed ourselves. I had all kinds of accidents but few colds and no illness. I bounced back from accidents so quickly that I never had to quit any activity. That is until Lenette insisted that I quit and give my toys away. I was in my eighties.

Apparently, healing is for the young, or at least the young at heart. There is no healing any further.  We are slowly but surely deteriorating.  I see it, feel it, and know it. The sands are running out, which is how it should be.

So, as I sat in the sunshine, I thought about this and accepted it readily. It is the way it ought to be. We are each a book with a beginning and an end, hopefully with many exciting ups and downs on its many pages. Lenette and I lived this way and handled every up and every down as honestly and courageously as possible.

I often use the word “serendipitous” because I believe this is how we live. Throughout our lives, unexpected happenings with strange people often played huge and dramatic roles. 

I have told the stories probably a few times. We wonder at the many incidents that played enormous parts in our lives. And, as I have written, these were not only long-term events. Often, new chapters were written in mere minutes.

I am sure we are not unique in how “things” took place and played out. What we are is independent. We choose our way forward with its many responsibilities. It is what we wanted and fulfilled.

Sy