Each week, Petaluma quartet gives free performances for seniors
By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Members of a Petaluma quartet get paid to play Mexican and southwestern dance music at festivals, gallery openings and restaurants across Sonoma County.
But the four accomplished musicians in Los Gu’achis, an instrumental group, get the most satisfaction from free performances they put on every week at two Petaluma senior centers.
Seeing elderly people cast aside walkers and start dancing as the music moves them or wave their arms while seated in wheelchairs brings a profound sense of joy, fiddle player Barbara Arhon said.
She and her band play from 11 a.m. to noon Wednesdays at the Petaluma People Services Center on Howard Street and noon to 1 p.m. Fridays at the Petaluma Senior Cafe on Novak Street in Lucchesi Park.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Arhon, a Petaluma music teacher. “We all have a good time.”
Pat Vachini, activities director at the Howard Street facility, said her 20 or so seniors look forward to the weekly sessions. Even those with memory problems seem to recall the tunes.
“My seniors just love them,” Vachini said. “They are magic. You look around the room and every single one of them is tapping their feet.”
Craig Mason, who runs the lunch program at Novak Street, said band members engage his seniors with charming personalities and a party atmosphere.
“It’s not every day you have a group of musicians who can motivate seniors in their 80s and 90s to get up and dance,” Mason said. “They are an enlivening group.”
Arhon and guitarist Chris Samson, a retired newspaperman, formed the group about five years ago. Artist Steve Della Maggiora joins them on accordion and guitar, and registered nurse Tracy Bigelow Grifman plays stand-up bass fiddle.
The band gets its name from a trading post in southeastern Arizona on what was then the Papago Indian Reservation, where a unique type of music was discovered by ethnomusicologists in the 1920s. It was preserved on wax cylinders.
The tribe, now called the Tohono O’odham, developed a distinct sound that originally was influenced by Spanish missionaries. but also drew on songs from Germans and Swedes headed west during the Gold Rush.
Some of the music resembles polkas or mazurkas. There are no lyrics.
Arhon learned about the style at an annual music camp she attends in Port Townsend, Wash., called American Fiddle Tunes. Each year, the camp introduces a new genre, but she was so inspired by the southwestern music that she decided to form a band around it.
“We just love our music so much,” Arhon said. “We think it’s important to share it.”
Arhon already had been volunteering her musical talents at the Howard Street facility when the band agreed to do weekly performances there.
The free shows fill a gap left when a previous musical program was cut because of funding. The performances have been going on about a year now.
Samson, former managing editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier and singer-songwriter in his own right, took a trip to Tohono O’odham Nation earlier this year.
He got to see some places mentioned in the songs and spoke to locals about their music.
The experience helped him re-create the music for seniors back home in Petaluma.
“They seem to really enjoy the music,” Samson said. “Those who are able to get up and dance.”
(You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or email@example.com.)
After cancer surgery left Santa Rosa architect with an ostomy, he first attended a support group, then signed on to help others
By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Barry Watkins hadn’t been driven to volunteer. An architect, single and unattached, he went to work, lived his life.
But in late 2010, he was diagnosed with cancer; a gastrointestinal stromal tumor in his rectum.
Today, cancer-free, the Santa Rosa resident volunteers year-round. “I’ve gotten so much from people, I’ve tried to give back,” he said.
But, first, back to 2010.
After four months of chemotherapy, Watkins, 54, underwent surgery shortly before Christmas. Going into it, he knew it would leave him with a permanent colostomy bag to drain his body waste.
“My sister said, ‘Why would you do something that will handicap you forever?’ ” Watkins recalled.
“It’s not a handicap. It’s something you live with and manage,” he said recently. In most cases, “It’s not something that cripples and restricts you.”
Three weeks after his surgery, Watkins walked into a meeting of the Ostomy Association of Sonoma County. The group, which meets monthly at the Red Cross office on Aero Drive in Santa Rosa, supports and advocates for ostomates, people with ostomies — surgical openings in the body created so that waste can leave the body.
“The goal is to find people who have ostomies, answer their questions or fears, and make them feel comfortable with it,” he said.
There is a great need for that, said Dmitry Gurtovoy, a wound ostomy continence nurse at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
“New ostomates feel that everyone will know,’ said Gurtovoy, who works in the hospital’s outpatient ostomy clinic.
When a board member said the association needed younger leaders who could be relied on, Watkins said, “I’m both of those things,” and signed up to be the treasurer.
He handles the group’s finances and its annual membership drive and oversees the sponsorship of a child with an ostomy to send to summer camp.
Eight months ago, he volunteered to be the association’s supply sergeant, keeping a roomful of supplies at his home to dispense to any ostomate who needs them, from locals to tourists.
A woman whose insurer wouldn’t pay for the number of pouches she needed walked away from Watkins’ house with bags of them. A young man waiting to get on Medicaid and unable to pay for the supplies he needed left with a box full.
Watkins knows how valuable such support is, whether or not one needs it immediately or just needs the peace of mind. Before a recent trip to Las Vegas, he located an association providing the same supply service he does.
“It just made me more comfortable,” he said.
“The biggest thing that he has to offer is to essentially give an example,” Gurtovoy said. “To essentially show the patient that, ‘Hey, we can live a very productive, fulfilling life. I’m evidence of that.’ “
And today, the man who once did not volunteer said doing so “has given me families; new circles of friends who see me in a different light. It helps fill me out as a person.”
(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
After hospice helped during her husband’s terminal illness, Kathleen McIntyre decided to provide the same comfort to others
By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A little more than three years after her husband, Chris Rohrer, died of lung cancer, Kathleen McIntyre realized she was ready to become a hospice volunteer.
After the grieving was over, after she came to terms with the loss, the Sonoma resident knew she had something to give back. Hospice care had made such a big difference in her husband’s final days.
“I wanted to take my experience and give people the same kind of help or relief that I got from hospice,” she said.
McIntyre, 69, is a patient-care volunteer for Hospice by the Bay, the second-oldest hospice in the country. Founded in 1975, the organization has been serving Sonoma County for 21 years.
As a patient-care volunteer, McIntyre goes to patients’ homes or care facilities. She and other volunteers offer companionship for the patient and many times relief for their main caregivers.
“You go visit like a friend,” she said. “Some of your patients can’t talk, but you’re compassionate, you’re there. You recognize that they’re still present, even when they don’t speak. I really believe there’s still an awareness.”
McIntyre was born in Kansas. A job transfer brought her to California in 1969, and she moved to Sonoma — “a nice place to land” — in 1981.
She currently works part time in the ad department at the Sonoma-Index Tribune, where she’s worked for three decades.
In 2005, her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. Rohrer did not smoke, but his parents did. His cancer progressed and he ended up requiring constant oxygen.
After several rounds of chemotherapy, she said, “all they had to offer at that point was morphine and oxygen.”
McIntyre said that her friends and family “really stepped up” and provided a complete schedule of people that could be with him.
But after a while, it became clear he needed hospice for such things as ordering medications, making hospital-bed arrangements and other practical things.
“There are so many emotional and personal decisions — they just stepped up. It was like adding to my family,” she said.
McIntyre said she realized that hospice is “part of the village that we all need.”
Just two months after starting hospice care, McIntyre’s husband died. Seven years later, death has become a intimate part of McIntyre’s life.
Kris Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Hospice by the Bay, said many of the organization’s volunteers have cared for a loved one who received hospice care.
“They realize the value of having that kind of compassionate support in the home,” Montgomery said.
McIntyre currently has six patients that she visits, three of them with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Her visits can range from 15 minutes to three hours.
“I’ve met some incredible people, some funny people,” she said. “The last things that go are hearing, music appreciation and humor.”
People often say to her that they could never do what she does. It isn’t easy, but it is part of life.
“Some I feel really attached to, and others I just feel relieved that they’re at peace,” she said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or email@example.com.)