Sunday, March 1, 2015



Marilyn Stewart walks between the cages in the far corner of her Alpha Canine Sanctuary, north of Bakersfield. She calls out greetings, naming each dog as she passes by. They wag their tails and stick their noses through the fence, hoping to get a pet and a snack.

"There's something spiritual about them," Stewart says, calling the animals "old people."

Among the 100 dogs at Stewart's "no-kill" kennel for strays and unwanted animals are about 30 "very old people." They are living out their lives in clean, orderly cages. They are too old to be candidates for Stewart's adoption program. But they are all beneficiaries of Stewart's obvious love.

It is fairly quiet in this quadrant of the sanctuary. While a dog may occasionally bark, absent is the loud yapping in the areas where younger animals are housed. The "old people" seem to sense they are on their last legs and they aren't about to squander their time or energy on senseless noise.

Stewart believes the dogs are at peace. And she aims to keep them as happy and comfortable as she can until they pass away naturally.

"As long as they are comfortable and have a good quality of life, they will be here," she said. But when a dog goes down, when he is too sick to stand to eat, he will be euthanized.

Knowing when a dog's quality of life has diminished terminally and when the animal should be euthanized is a dilemma, said Stewart, who has to make that call with her sanctuary dogs and has been called upon to counsel other pet owners when it is "time to let go."

Advances in veterinary science and Americans' willingness to pay the escalating cost of caring for their pets have made the end-of-life decision even more difficult.

The American Pet Products Association estimates Americans will spend $45.4 billion this year on their pets: $17.4 billion on food; $10.2 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medicines; $12.2 billion on veterinarian care; $2.2 billion on live animal purchases; and $3.4 billion on grooming and boarding.

Just as they have with humans, advances in treatment procedures and medicines, as well as research into lifestyles and diets, have prolonged the lives of our pets. It is not uncommon for a dog diagnosed with cancer, for example, to undergo expensive diagnostic and treatment procedures, including MRIs, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The price tag for such procedures climbs to several thousands of dollars.

Dr. Kathryn Marcchino has what she believes is a better alternative. Marcchino is a sociology professor at the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo. She teaches a "death and dying" course to cadet merchant mariners.

When her old cat Nikki experienced kidney failure a few years ago, she encountered veterinarians who either prescribed costly advanced procedures or who pressed for immediate euthanasia. Instead, Marcchino wanted Nikki simply to be kept out of pain and allowed to enjoy a quality end of life at home with her family.

"They looked at us as if we were from Mars," Marcchino recalled.

The experience prompted Marcchino to establish the Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets ( and to help organize the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care ( This fall, the association held its second annual international symposium on animal hospice care at UC Davis.

"I can't tell you how many people call us," she said, recalling stories pet owners have related about veterinarians insisting animals be immediately put down and threatening owners with animal abuse accusations if they do not comply. At the other extreme, Marcchino recalled cases in which costly and painful procedures were prescribed, despite little likelihood they would benefit the animal.

"It's an education process for vets and for people," Marcchino said. "But hospice for pets is not for everyone. It can be emotionally draining."

Marcchino said she is seeing more veterinarians willing to recommend and support palliative care for terminally ill animals, rather than insist on quick euthanasia or advanced procedures.

Stewart said many Bakersfield veterinarians are receptive to administering palliative care, which basically involves the use of pain-relief and comfort medications.

As an example of when "hospice" might be appropriate, Bakersfield veterinarian Jennifer McDougle pointed to kidney failure, a common ailment in cats. McDougle noted the gold standard for treating kidney failure is a kidney transplant. But few owners can or will pay for such an advanced procedure. A successful alternative is treatment at home with medicine and monitoring by a veterinarian, which will extend the cat's life and preserve quality of life.

Often pets with terminal diseases such as cancer can have their pain controlled at home while they live out their lives. McDougle said owners may opt to have their dogs and cats at home, "wagging their tails and eating for the remainder of their lives," rather than undergoing expensive, painful procedures.

The best course to take depends on the age and condition of the animal and the likelihood of a successful outcome, she said.

Stewart closely monitors the animals, particularly the "old people," at her sanctuary. "I won't let them suffer. We have a gift and we should use it. (Euthanizing) an animal to spare it pain is the one unselfish thing we can do for a dog that we love," she said.

This story written by DIANNE HARDISTY appeared first in The Bakersfield Californian on Nov. 22, 2009.



It was like the squealing of an orchestra tuning up. The random noise that filled Eagle Mountain Casino, northeast of Bakersfield, Calif., seemed to have no meaning, no pattern. It was mostly just the ringing and clanking from rows of slot machines.

Most people would dismiss the noise as just the clatter of a gambling hall. For Chuck Wall, it sent clear messages. It spoke to him as it spoke to no one else.

Wall, 68, is blind.

As he pushes buttons and the slot machine spins, Wall keeps two counts in his head -- one of how many plays he has left, the other of how much money he has spent.

As he counts his machine's sounds, he listens to the machines around him. He recognizes sounds, particularly those coming from machines that have paid off in the past. He moves around the room, listening for "lucky" machines to play.

"It's fun. I have a system. I don't have to rely on someone else. I can do it by myself. It gives me a bit of independence. It is always important for someone with a disability to have independence," he said.

Wall lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited disorder in which an excessive amount of a substance called phytanic acid accumulates and causes extensive damage to the retina and eventually blindness. Wall was diagnosed with the disease at 19 years old, the year he graduated from East Bakersfield High School. His eyesight began deteriorating years earlier.

Wall, who retired in 2004 from his position as a management and communication professor at Bakersfield College, has not let his loss of sight stand in the way of his ambitions. He earned advanced degrees, including a doctorate in education from UCLA.

He formed a foundation to promote his national "Random Act of Kindness" movement and is in demand as an inspirational speaker.

At his home in northeast Bakersfield, he does woodworking on power saws. Recently he took up pottery, throwing clay onto wheels and shaping it into pots.

Anyone who knows Wall likely wouldn't be surprised that he refuses to let a little thing like being blind stand in the way of enjoying a day out with his wife, Diane (or Di, as as everyone calls her) at the Indian casino in the hills above Porterville.

On a recent Monday morning at 7:50, Wall and Di boarded an Eagle Mountain Casino bus near the East Bakersfield Senior Center on Ridge Road. The bus already had picked up a few passengers at the Wal-Mart on White Lane and would make another stop in front of the Smart & Final store on Golden State Avenue, before heading out of town. The route is one of four originating daily from Bakersfield. The last bus leaves Bakersfield at 6 p.m.

Wall's bus arrived at Eagle Mountain at 9:30 a.m. The charge was $10 per person, roundtrip. Each passenger received $15 in "bonus cash" and other incentives, easily breaking even on the transportation.

From the friendly greetings, it seemed the bus was filled with regulars. Like Wall, many were retirees enjoying a cheap day out.

When the Walls arrived, Di guided her husband to a familiar row of slot machines. Wall ran his fingers over the front of the machine, found the opening to insert the card he was given by the casino to retrieve his incentives and found another opening to insert a $10 bill.

Then Di disappeared. Matter-of-factly, Wall explained that his wife is the lucky one. She doesn't stick around with losers.

He was right. At the end of the day, Di was ahead by more than $500. Wall was ahead by only $200.

"It's a rare day that I don't come home at least breaking even," he said, smiling at the memory of his largest jackpot: $2,500.

"He's amazing," said casino worker Patti Gemmell, as she hovered around Wall, watching him play. He is the casino's only blind gambler.

Wall and his wife set strict limits on how much they will spend, pulling money from separate envelopes that contain their winnings from earlier visits. They gamble until 11 a.m., when the buffet opens. After eating a leisurely meal, they play some more slots. They cash out at 1 p.m., moving to the casino's entrance, where they "dink around" on some more slots until the bus leaves for home at 2 p.m.

"For me, it's an adult Disneyland," Wall joked, noting they have been visiting Eagle Mountain for more than a decade.

"Some people may moralize that I shouldn't be here; that it is wrong to gamble. But I do not consider it to be harmful to my character," Wall said.

As the Walls boarded the bus to return home, there was a friendly stream of "how'd ya do?" and some good-natured grumbling. Folks settled into their seats. The bus pulled away and headed down a windy road. Within minutes, the bus fell quiet as the gamblers snoozed.

As Wall also snoozed, he smiled, content with his day of independence.

This article written by DIANNE HARDISTY appeared first in The Bakersfield Californian on Nov. 15, 2009.



On a hot summer day, you can hear the leaves crackling on the trees in Boron. It’s not just because the triple-digit heat shrivels up nearly everything it touches. It’s because little else is moving on the often deserted streets of this eastern Kern County community.

But the town comes alive at 27075 Twenty Mule Team Road, the site of Domingo’s, a popular Mexican restaurant and watering hole for today’s “Right Stuff” aviation pioneers and space explorers.

Inside you find Domingo Gutierrez greeting, teasing and doting over guests who may have driven for hundreds of miles to savor Domingo’s tacos, fajitas and enchiladas. But they aren’t coming just for the food. They are coming to enjoy Domingo — the restaurant and the man.

Opening for lunch and closing long after dinner time, the booths and tables at Domingo’s regularly are filled by pilots and astronauts, military brass and enlisted personnel, and lots of Edwards Air Force Base families. The restaurant’s walls are lined with evidence of Edwards’ affection for Domingo’s and the restaurateur’s love of the military.

Gutierrez has been likened to the legendary Pancho Barnes, whose “Happy Bottom Riding Club” was a hangout for early aviation pioneers who flew over the area. It now is a tradition for shuttle astronauts to dine at Domingo’s just hours after landing at Edwards. Gutierrez, who holds the title of honorary commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center, greets the space travelers with “Boron water” — shots from his $150-a-bottle tequila.

But Domingo’s is not exclusively a military haunt. Customers also work at the nearby borax mine and at the solar energy plant, six miles to the east. Some call Boron their home. Others live in Lancaster, Palmdale, California City, Barstow and, yes, as far away as Bakersfield. The restaurant is listed on so many tourist and industry guides that it is common to find among the guests people from foreign countries.

From Domingo’s 1,600-square-foot, stucco-smeared building, the restaurant does a nearly $1 million a year business. The story of Domingo’s success is a mixture of hard work, love and the grace of God. Oh yeah, and throw in some prayers to end a curse.

At 47 years of age, Domingo Gutierrez stands a straight six feet one inch tall. His daily attire is a pressed shirt, dress trousers and a fashionable tie. Some might think Gutierrez is a bit overdressed for the hard-scramble, desert mining town. But he explains his customers deserve his respect, good food and clean service. It’s a formula that has worked at Domingo’s for two decades.

Gutierrez’s customers are loyal and so is the team he assembled to serve them. Many of the waiters, cooks and dish washers have worked at Domingo’s for years. “You surround yourself with good people, treat them well and you will succeed,” he explains. It is a philosophy that has evolved as he has traveled his own difficult road to Boron.

Fourteen years old and carrying his cousin’s “green card,” Gutierrez crossed into the United States with his brother. After living in Los Angeles for a short time, the pair moved to Lancaster, where his brother was hired to be a busboy in a Mexican restaurant. When Gutierrez was old enough to get a work permit in 1977, he hired on to wash dishes. Soon he became a busboy, then a waiter. A few years later, he was the manager of a Lancaster restaurant, supervising 38 employees. He opened a restaurant with a brother in Palmdale, but the arrangement soured and his brother bought him out.

With the money from the sale, Gutierrez slid behind the wheel of his car and headed to Bakersfield. That was in 1988. “I prayed to God very hard,” Gutierrez recalls.

As he passed through Boron, he picked up a copy of the Boron Enterprise. He read that a building on Twenty Mule Team Road was for sale. It was the fallout of yet another failed restaurant at that location.

By now Gutierrez had become a U.S. citizen. He had 11 years of experience in the restaurant business. “I knew I would do well,” he recalls. Plunking down his buyout money for the building, he set about fixing it up and advertising for business. He spread the word to Edwards Air Force Base, the borax mine, around town and around other towns.

And people came. On his first day, he did $1,100 in business. “There’s never been a dull moment since,” says Gutierrez, claiming running his restaurant is as much a hobby as it is a livelihood. In that first month, he sold $40,000 in meals.

“God has blessed me,” he says, smiling as he looks around Domingo’s dining room, waving at familiar faces.

Indeed God has. And Gutierrez made sure of that.

Before he opened for business, he invited a Catholic priest from his hometown in central Mexico to bless the building. “People said it had a curse.” Gutierrez and the priest prayed away the curse.

For a short time, Gutierrez parlayed his success to other cities. He opened a second restaurant in Tehachapi in 1990 and a third restaurant in Hesperia in 1991. But soon he realized he was spreading himself too thin. He sold those businesses to focus on Boron.

“If you are going to do a job, do it right, or don’t do it,” he says. Most days you will find Gutierrez arriving at his restaurant in the morning and staying until evening. His trip home for a midday break is no big deal. He lives with his wife, Stacy, and their three children, Domingo, 14, Victoria, 11, and Emilio, 9, in a large house across from the restaurant on Twenty Mule Team Road.

Railroad tracks run in back of his yard. Rather than finding the clatter of cars and honking of horns an annoyance, it seems to be just another Boron peculiarity that Gutierrez has embraced in both his restaurant and his heart.

Along a ledge that hugs the ceiling of Domingo’s dining room runs a G-gauge model railroad track. The engine pulls miniature cars, including one hauling borax and another hauling a space shuttle. The cars are gifts from friends and customers, switched out regularly for variety and to clean away the grease from the fajitas that sizzle on the tables below.

Gutierrez clearly loves it all — the variety of his customers; the eclectic blend of military, mining and desert memorabilia that litters the restaurant’s walls; and his life in Boron.

“It’s a good life here,” he says, pointing out that a person can easily drive to Las Vegas, Southern California, or the coast from Boron. Gutierrez has a bright yellow Hummer to make those trips. “It’s a good place to raise kids. It doesn’t have a lot of traffic.”

Gutierrez is Boron’s honorary mayor. It’s a title bestowed in recognition of his fundraising for the community’s chamber of commerce. In addition to the restaurant, he also owns several rental homes and the car wash in Boron. “Anywhere you go, you can be positive or negative,” says Gutierrez, explaining his fondness for Boron. “It’s what you create.”

He worries that children today will not have the same appreciation. “They don’t know what it’s like to have an empty stomach, to watch their parents farming from sun up to sun down. I knew there were opportunities in the United States, but I knew you had to work hard and earn them.

“Nothing is perfect. But where there is a will, there is a way.”

Domingo Gutierrez sits in the commanders seat of a shuttle craft in the spring of 2009 after it landed at Edwards Air Force Base. Domingo's restaurant has become a favorite with shuttle astronauts.

This article written by Dianne Hardisty first appeared on Oct. 4, 2009 in Mas Magazine, which is published by The Bakersfield Californian.



It's 7 a.m. George Larson slides behind the wheel of his white Toyota Camry. His wife, Sandra, makes herself comfortable in the passenger seat. She knows she soon will be dozing off, leaving her husband to drive them safely to their destination, more than two hours away.

It’s a ritual the Shafter, Calif., couple has followed nearly every week for the past five years. It’s their trek to the Central California coast, where they volunteer as docents, or guides, at Piedras Blancas, a rookery for elephant seals, north of San Simeon on Highway 1.

“We probably travel the farthest of all the docents,” said Larson, whose fascination with elephant seals dates back to the early 1990s, when the huge, oddly shaped, magnificent animals took over a once popular fishing and hiking beach.

At first, George and Sandra Larson simply joined others who pulled off the highway to gawk at the elephant seals’ invasion. “We were able to get so close to so many wild animals.”

But that closeness became a problem. As the number of seals increased, contact with humans, particularly with people who also wanted to use the beach, created conflicts. While elephant seals may appear docile and harmless, they are wild and powerful animals.

To protect both humans and elephant seals, Friends of the Elephant Seal, a non-profit organization, was established. The organization trains docents, who help separate humans and elephant seals, while promoting better understanding of the animals and their habitat.

George Larson, a retired Shafter High School teacher, and his wife, Sandra, who retired as an administrator with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, trained in 2004 to become docents, beginning their regular trips to Piedras Blancas. Often they are accompanied by friends Jim Siler and his wife, Margo, retired Richland School District teachers. Jim Siler became a docent a year ago.

George Larson is now on the board of the Friends of the Elephant Seal. He recruits volunteers to become docents through service club presentations and word-of-mouth. Three weekend docent training sessions will be held in October. To sign up or learn more about volunteering, go to or e-mail Larson at

“I have always liked animals of all kinds. But these wild animals are fascinating,” said Larson, who is no stranger to animals. His father, who worked in the race horse business, moved his family to Shafter when Larson was 15. Harness racing was popular in those days, with ranches and training tracks scattered throughout California. Larson’s father was the superintendent of a Shafter ranch, handling breeding and training operations.

But the athletic son wanted to play football and baseball, instead of going into horse racing. He enrolled as a history major at the University of Redlands, in Southern California, where he met Sandra. Later he went into the Marine Corps for eight years, enrolling at California State University at Humboldt when he left the military. Initially he hoped to pursue a career in the parks service. But agencies were not hiring and he returned home to Kern County to begin a teaching career.

Being a docent has combined his two career interests – teaching and parks service. Docents answer the questions of thousands of visitors from throughout the world who pull off Highway 1 at Piedras Blancas to watch the elephant seals.

The Piedras Blancas parking lot falls under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Transportation. In recent years, the Hearst Corp. donated the five miles of coastline to the California Parks Department to protect the elephant seals’ habitat.

As are most volunteers and paid staff associated with California parks, Larson and fellow docents are worried about budget cutbacks that threaten to close 100 state parks. But the state’s concerns about liability, lost revenue and obligations to private contractors have stalled the announcement of park closures.

“Docents save state parks a lot of money,” Larson noted, explaining that without the docents’ presence at Piedras Blancas, security and other staffing would have to be increased. Friends of the Elephant Seal also raises money for improvements to give visitors a better view of the animals.

Sheryl Watson, a state parks spokeswoman, agrees that the willingness of people to volunteer is critical in these financially stressed times. Watson’s department is seeking corporate sponsorships and collaborative arrangements with local government agencies to keep the gates open to some state parks.

And while volunteers alone cannot replace specially-trained laid-off employees or make up the difference in the shortfall of tax revenues to operate state parks, they can help with maintenance, visitor services and fund raising.

The Parks Department so values its Central Coast volunteers that they rewarded some with the most donated hours with a special dip in the outdoor pool at Hearst Castle last month. George and Sandra Larson were among those invited.

Watson noted that many opportunities exist for people to volunteer in state parks. Go to the website and click onto: “Become a Parks Volunteer.”

“Every day I spend over there [Piedras Blancas] as a docent is like the best day I had teaching,” said Larson, whose rich, three-decades-long Kern High School District career included teaching history and coaching a variety of sports.


To become a docent at the elephant seals’ Piedras Blancas viewing area, go to Three weekend training sessions will be held in October.

To become a volunteer in a California state park, go to, click onto “Become a Park Volunteer.”

In photo above, George Larson explains the elephant seals' habitat to visitors.

A version of this story written by Dianne Hardisty appeared in The Bakersfield Californian on Sept. 22, 2009.



If it gets any worse, I can always look into the possibility of becoming a Wal-Mart greeter.

Retirement seemed like a good idea when I cut my goodbye cake earlier this year in The Bakersfield Californian's newsroom. But then came reports of 401(k) losses and gloomy warnings: Boomers, postpone your retirement. (Oops, too late. I retired in February as The Californian’s editorial page editor.) The greeter gig started looking good.

That is, until more gloomy stories surfaced about greeters in other cities being roughed up by cranky customers. One was trampled to death by Long Island shoppers the day after Thanksgiving.

I needed to give my greeter plan more thought.

Have you seen the "Maxine" cartoon floating around the Internet? The cranky old lady (she could be me) explains how she was bounced from her greeter job: "About two hours into my first day on the job, a very loud, unattractive, mean-acting woman walked into the store with her two kids, yelling obscenities at them all the way through the entrance. As I had been instructed, I said pleasantly, 'Good morning and welcome to Wal-Mart. Nice children you have there. Are they twins?'

"The ugly woman stopped yelling long enough to say, 'Heck no, they ain't twins. The oldest one's 9, the other one's 7. Why the heck would you think they're twins? Are you blind, or just stupid?'

"So I replied, 'I'm neither blind nor stupid, Ma'am, I just couldn't believe someone slept with you twice. Have a good day and thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart.'"

Maxine's lip got her bounced. I shudder to think what my lip would do.

To check out this greeter gig, I drove over to the Wal-Mart in northwest Bakersfield, where I found Jeanne Bowen and Pat Frye standing sentry.

After receiving a big Wal-Mart welcome, I introduced myself and explained I was writing about their jobs. Frye had worked for Wal-Mart for nine years, Bowen for four. Before that, Frye had been a cook, a waitress and a worker in a pre-sort center. Bowen had been a bottling plant manager's secretary. The plant shut down in 1999. Both needed to supplement their social security checks.

"I love this job," said Frye. "I'm a people person. I'm 71 years old and I like to stay active. And I can't live on Social Security."

Bowen said for her, the job "boils down to liking people."

Frye says one customer calls her "Sunshine," because she is always smiling. She sees some people so often that they become friends. One customer, a disabled elderly man she often helped with his electric cart, instructed his wife to return to the store after he died and tell Frye how much he appreciated her.

Even when alarms go off and she has to check a receipt before allowing a customer out the door, Frye said her exchanges are pleasant. "You learn to be polite."

I could be "polite" if I really tried. But then I asked an impolite question: "So, how much do you get paid?"

Frye said she wasn't allowed to tell anyone. I impolitely pestered. Finally she said her wages were "decent."

So, basically, all you have to do is greet people, retrieve a cart occasionally, give directions, check receipts, watch for shoplifters and be nice?

That nice thing might be a problem, too. After all, I retired as this newspaper's editorial page editor. Sometimes I ticked people off. Having strong opinions wouldn't be a plus, either. (Hey, lady, start buying diet drinks. Fella, pull up your sagging pants.) And how can I help people find stuff in a store when I can't even find my glasses at home?

Maxine lasted two hours. Maybe I could make to one. I need another backup plan.

This column written by Dianne Hardisty appeared first in The Bakersfield Californian on Aug. 9, 2009.



News stories about “selfish” baby boomers hogging scarce jobs, breaking the nation’s pension piggy bank, or throwing their weight around proliferate. Finally, along comes an industry that is downright happy to see boomers coming. However, most boomers would like to wait on its attention.

To the funeral industry, the deaths of baby boomers – people born between 1946 and 1964 – is a windfall worth lusting over. But first, the industry must survive the current “death trough,” the decline in death caused by advances in medical science, among other things.

According to federal agencies that track population and health statistics, the nation’s death rate has dipped slightly and is expected to be “stagnant” for several more years. But baby boomers won’t be able to cheat the inevitable forever. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the annual number of deaths in the United States will rise from 2.6 million in 2010 to 3 million in 2024 and 4 million in 2043. Whoopee for the undertaker.

But as they change just about every aspect of society as they trot along life’s path, boomers already are changing the way we do death.

“We are seeing people wanting much more customized, personalized services,” said Bonnie Duer, president of the Kern County, Calif., Funeral Directors Association. Families are burying loved ones in everyday clothing, rather than fancy suits and dresses. Video presentations are being prepared and played at funerals to highlight the departed’s life. When Duer’s mother died earlier this year, her “famous” oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe was featured on the back of the memorial card.

Duer said the personal touch even applies to caskets. To illustrate her point, Duer noted the new Dodger coffin on display in Greenlawn Mortuary and Cemetery’s showroom in Bakersfield, Calif. She predicts the Dodger blue insignias on the inside and in discreet locations along the outside edges will be a big hit in Bakersfield. Caskets can be purchased in other professional and collegiate sports motifs, as well. And if sports doesn’t rattle your bones, there’s the Star Trek coffin.

Clearly boomers’ funerals will differ from the Greatest Generation’s. Boomers and their families, who want it “their way,” are quick to question requirements and costs of traditional services. As a result, the rate of cremations is skyrocketing.

Ann Gallon of Bakersfield, a volunteer with the Funeral Consumer Alliance of Kern County, reports California is outpacing the nation. She said an estimated 60 percent of the final arrangements in California are by cremation, with 30 percent nationwide. Gallon’s group is part of a national non-profit organization (go to that advises people on alternative funeral arrangements and how to cut costs.

Since boomers reportedly have been lousy savers for retirement, you can bet they have set aside even less money for their final hurrah. But it’s more than just wanting to save money that drives people to organizations, such as Gallon’s.

“People want to spend whatever money they have left on the living, rather than on the dead,” said Nancie Edwards, a volunteer with a Funeral Consumer Alliance chapter in Florida. Counting the rich and the poor among her members, Edwards noted the section reserved for cremation ashes in her community’s new veterans’ cemetery is as large as the space for traditional burials.

But alternative funerals, including cremations, still can be pricey.

“I’ve heard of people making jewelry, where cremated remains are placed and given out to each of the kids,” Edwards said. “There’s a company that makes artificial reefs that hold cremated remains, which are lowered into the ocean.”

In Duer’s Bakersfield showroom, urns come in a wide range of motifs, from sports teams to Precious Moments. The cowboys among us even can be encased in bronze boots.

But if boomers want to dictate their “exit strategy,” they need to write it down. Consumer groups and funeral directors may disagree over whether funeral arrangements should be paid for in advance, but they agree written plans reduce family squabbles and stress.

This story written by DIANNE HARDISTY appeared first in The Bakersfield Californian on Sept. 6, 2009. See



Three years ago, Gary DeSutter made a promise to his grandson. It was a promise he hoped the Bakersfield, Calif., boy would forget. But Patrick McCord, who graduated in June from Stockdale High School, remembered and held DeSutter to his word.

DeSutter recalled, “When he was 15 years old, he asked me, ‘Papa, will you get a tattoo with me when I turn 18?'”

DeSutter, a retired truck driver, said he would. When McCord recently turned 18, he and his 66-year-old grandfather went down to the Sacred Gypsy Tattoo & Art shop on 19th Street in downtown Bakersfield, where artist Ronnie Corbitt etched a guitarist on McCord's arm and Roman numerals signifying the pair’s birthdates on DeSutter’s arm.

“That's it,” said DeSutter, who had been tattoo-free. “I won't be getting another one.”

DeSutter, who retired in 2006 and moved from Bakersfield to a senior mobile home park in Oceano, Calif., said his wife of 47 years, Beverly, was OK with him having a tattoo. But he admitted to squirming when his Bible study session recently discussed the book of Leviticus: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you. I am the Lord!” He said his pastor, who knew about his tattoo, reassured him the New Testament is more forgiving.

DeSutter has plenty of senior and baby boomer company these days when it comes to getting tattoos. A 2008 Harris poll concluded 20 percent of Americans 40 years of age and older have at least one tattoo.

Researchers involved in the Harris poll, as well as earlier ones conducted by Scripps-Howard and Ohio University, and the Pew Research Center reported the biker-lawbreaker stigma of having a tattoo is giving way to acceptance.

Rocket, who insists that is her only name, is the receptionist at the Sacred Gypsy. She reported seeing more boomer-age people coming into the shop to get their first tattoo. Many of these customers are women.

“Girls are tougher,” Corbitt said. “They can handle it better.”

Shop owner Justin Foss recalls tattooing a 90-year-old woman who always wanted to have a tattoo. She came in with her daughter and granddaughter, who also got their first tattoos as a “sort of final thing they could do together.”

“Attitudes are changing. It is much more socially acceptable,” Foss said, crediting celebrity tattoos and media exposure for the acceptance.

Retired Bakersfield junior high school teacher Susan Reep treated herself to a tattoo for her 60th birthday. She had been thinking about getting a tattoo for more than a decade and decided to do the deed at a tattoo expo at the Bakersfield Convention Center. She had the image of a blue and green gecko etched on her shoulder, which she explained is the least likely spot on her body to sag. She plans to have a raven tattooed on her other shoulder.

While she was tight-lipped at school about her tattoo, some students found out and spilled the beans at her retirement party two years ago.

How did her family react? She said her husband approved, but “my father doesn't want to look at it. He thinks it's creepy. My (adult) kids accept that mom has always been a little different.”

Neither DeSutter nor Reep have had problems with their tattoos, although Reep conceded the procedure hurt like crazy. But whether they are getting a tattoo out of love for a grandson, or to fulfill a dream, boomers are warned there could be complications.

Shops must have a permit from the Kern County, Calif., Environmental Health Department and artists must be registered. Explaining this is to assure a level of care and training, Environmental Health

Director Matt Constantine said his department has received complaints about bacterial infections and about tattoo shops being operated illegally.

This article written by DIANNE HARDISTY appeared first in The Bakersfield Californian on Aug. 10, 2009.