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.