Last weekend, when Lucia Alice Warren, 85, left Friendship Manor, the retirement home where she lives in Goleta, for commencement ceremonies nearby at UCSB's College of Creative Studies, it was not to applaud the accomplishments of some young relative two or three generations behind her. She was the one receiving the BA degree in literature, thus becoming the oldest person ever to graduate from the UCSB campus.
It all started four years ago when Warren, an artist with a lifetime of professional accomplishments behind her, applied unsuccessfully for two teaching positions in art at adult education centers.
As she recalled several days ago, both times the centers were ready to sign her up and asked: "You do have a degree don't you?" almost as an afterthought. She did not. She had never even graduated from high school.
"When I heard that for the second time," she said, laughing, "I decided , 'I'll go and get one even if it is this late in the day.' "
She had, she said, always wanted to study literature anyhow, and had learned that she scored very highly on word aptitude. She went to Santa Barbara City College for two years, graduated and transferred to UCSB.
Not a surprising decision for one with as busy and varied a life as she. Raised in Massachusetts, where she studied art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the early '20s, she worked there as a portrait painter. She came west, on her way to New Zealand where she planned to go hiking, but arrived in Los Angeles "just in time for Pearl Harbor."
She lived in the San Fernando Valley and worked during the war as a technical illustrator at Lockheed. Later, during the Korean War, she did the same type of work for McDonnell Aircraft and stayed on long enough, she said, for the fun of seeing the form taking shape for the first rocket to the moon. And painted portraits. And made small attempts at acting.
Now that the degree is behind her?
"I have a whole gallery of paintings in mind. I've done the sketches already. It'll take about a year. As far as writing goes, I've found I'm a better talker than writer. I'm waiting for a computer to come along that I can talk to and then edit. I'll do my autobiography first, for some of the young people in my family. And I've crossed the country 14 times by myself. I'd like to write about that."
She never did make it to New Zealand. That is one thing not in her plans. The trail she wanted to hike on now has a highway going through it.
"And besides, I have to admit I wouldn't be up to anything quite so rigorous at my age."
Love in Divorce Court
Something old, something new? No. Mary Anne Sterling and Robert Michael Houlahan wanted to keep it simple. They decided on a simple courthouse wedding--and discovered that "no frills" does not necessarily mean simple.
As Mary Anne tells it, she called the Torrance courthouse only to get a recorded message that informed her they would have to be married downtown. Still disappointed when she and her fiance went to the Torrance courthouse for the license, she asked again in person. Why no, the clerk told them. They could be married in Torrance, right upstairs on the fifth floor where divorce court was held. Between cases the judges would take them. For free, as opposed to a $15 fee downtown.
And so it was that on the morning of May 31, the newlyweds-to-be arrived at the fifth-floor courtroom, and to their dismay waited while two particularly ugly divorce cases were heard.
The judge called the shaken couple forward and was in a jovial mood, Mary Anne reports, doing it up properly, "the-groom-may-kiss-the-bride" and all of that.
The ceremony completed, he announced to the room, "Now let's have a round of applause for Mary Anne and Robert Michael."
"The court was filled with divorcing couples," Mary Anne said. "No one clapped. So the judge pleaded: 'Can't I have a little encouragement? This couple just got married.' At that everybody started laughing and applauded."
Other than the fact that the camera jammed, the ceremony concluded without further incident. As they left the room, the judge had one final directive for them.
"Now get out of here and don't come back."
Tournament for Jaime
Last year, just months after her 16-year-old daughter Jaime died, Jill Slavin organized a golf tournament in her daughter's memory. Any money raised would go for medical research on Reye's syndrome, the rare viral disease that had taken her daughter and that mainly afflicts young people, affecting the brain and liver.
"I did it because of the loss," she said recently. "But it was so successful--we raised more than $30,000--that it's now annual."