Polo, Please

Forget baseball, football, tennis, basketball, and all other sports (except for golf) that purport to be “the people’s game.” Nowadays, that title belongs to professional polo. For $15 a person (the price is usually $10, but this was for the big triple crown trophy), some 3,000 fervid and casual fans of the game attended the Pacific Coast Open on Sunday August 27 that pitted Jimmy Choo (with Lyndon Lea, Nick Roldan, Ruki Baillieu, and Brandon Philips) against Grants Farm/Klentner Ranch (Justin Klentner, Jeff Blake, Mariano Gonzalez, and Andy Busch) at 1 pm for the Western Badge and Trophy match. A little after 3:30 pm, defending champion team Duende (Carlitos Gallindo, Agustin Merlos, Paco De Narvaez and Michael Hakan) and team Windsor (Pat Nesbitt, Sugar Erskine, Jeff Hall and Chris Nevins) fought for the Bombardier Pacific Coast Open and Triple Crown, which Duende won with 13 goals to Windsor’s 11.

Between matches, the audience was treated to a display of wild creatures from the Wildlife Federation – the world’ smallest fox, a giant lizard, even a lemur that ended up in one of the grandstand boxes. People were encouraged to visit the Lexus Pavilion across the field where not only the new Lexus prototypes were on display, but so was the new Tiffany & Co.-designed Triple Crown of Polo Championship Trophy, along with one of only 30 Yamaha “Elton John Red Pianos” that electronically and mechanically mimic all the key strokes and pedal movements of the famous entertainer. Mondial Catering was on hand with top-quality food and drink. Back on the field, the proceedings were being filmed by ESPN for broadcast. After the match, the entire crowd was invited to join singer Yari Moré for a grand post-match party. All this for $15? One can readily understand why some fans are ditching their Dodger dogs and abandoning potty-mouthed basketballers for the gentile attractions of outdoor games played on real turf by real sportsmen and women.

Attendees were from all walks of life – from near-billionaires and wealthy polo-pony owners to everyman and everywoman – all curious and/or eager to watch handsome riders atop beautiful steeds galloping alongside each other at racetrack speeds, stopping short, swinging mallets, turning in 360-degree twisters, and managing it all with equal parts of courage and finesse.

The Pacific Coast Open Ball

Two nights before, on Friday August 25, Tiffany & Co., and Hub International hosted the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club 2006 Bombardier Pacific Coast Open Ball at the Montecito Country Club, a black-tie optional affair that cost $250 per person.

At our table were Tiffany & Co., representative Michelle Butler, her husband, Adam Butler, Michael Rothbard, and across the table, Adam’s father, “Hair” producer Michael Butler, a third-generation polo player – Adam makes it four generations. Michael’s father developed the Oak Brook Polo Club in Illinois on land owned by Michael’s grandfather. The Butlers trace their ancestry in America beginning in 1654 and the family paper business, dating back to 1841, is reportedly the oldest family enterprise in Chicago. Others at the table included plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Caleel his wife, Annette Caleel, Blue Gabor and Pamela Morton.

Many remember the original Broadway production of “Hair” and the era it both reflected and accelerated. During that era, a phenomenon known as a “Be-In” appeared. Before the days of e-mail, MySpace, blogs, cell phones, or even fax machines, the word would be passed by one human to another that a “Be-In” was to take place at a certain time at a certain place. Magically, thousands of peace-symbol-wearing, long-haired, tie-dyed, bell-bottomed beaded denizens would show up at the designated time to simply “be in” wherever the event was taking place.

As producer of “Hair,” Michael Butler was certainly part of the events of those years. In fact, he held a Be-In in New York recently for members of what he calls the tribe. “We never thought of them as cast members,” he says during a short conversation at the table. He revealed that he’s planning another Be-In on the West Coast towards the end of October.

“The philosophy of Hair was always a tribe, a family, and they have all stayed connected; it was never a ‘cast,’” Michael’s daughter-in-law Michelle explains. “They like to get together every once in a while,” she continues, “and the West Coast get-together will be the 2006 version of the Be-In.”

“Could I be invited to this?” I ask.

“Well,” Michelle replies, “if you took your clothes off at a Hair show, I think maybe they’d let you in,” she says playfully.

“In the ‘seventies,” Michael shouts as the musical decibel level ramps up outside the dining room at the Montecito Country Club, “two-thirds of the working actors in America were in Hair productions in one way or another.” At one time,” he continues, “I had twelve productions going at the same time in this country. So, we started to have an annual gathering. Last year we had one in New York City at La Mama Theater downtown. This year, we’re going to have it in L.A. We’re trying to work out something at what’s now called Nickelodeon; it used to be Aquarius Theater, where Hair was. Next summer, it will be in Oak Brook (Illinois).”

The Be-In “is just a big party,” Michael says, “but usually the last couple of hours are people singing Hair songs. In 2008, we’re going to have it in New York City. That’ll be the fortieth anniversary of Hair. It opened at The Biltmore Theatre, but we’re going to have [the Be-In] at the Ukrainian Hall [on East Eighth Street], where we had our rehearsals.”

Immediately after the success of “Hair,” Michael Butler bought a place in Montecito and lived here from 1969 to 1979 in what he described as “a big house” on Fairway Road up from the Biltmore. The house, he says, has since been torn down.

He’s No Candidate

Former veterinarian Stephen Kurtzer was profiled in Issue #12/16 as a potential candidate for the Santa Barbara School District Board of Directors. His reasons for running were twofold: 1) that he “has the incentive to want to see the best for all students,” and 2) that he wanted to “give back to the community.” He did express concern that if he became a candidate (he had taken out the papers but had until August 11 to back out) he would not want his position on the board to take away from time with his daughter Leah, a second-grader at Roosevelt. In the end, he decided that to be an effective school board member would indeed require a larger commitment of time than he was willing to devote, particularly as it would subtract time spent with his daughter. Consequently, Dr. Kurtzer retracted his application and his name will not appear as a candidate on the November ballot. Our loss perhaps, but Leah’s gain most certainly.

The Leadership Academy

The Young America’s Foundation runs a National Journalism Center education program in Washington D.C., but not in Santa Barbara, as I erroneously reported. What the Reagan Ranch Center at 217 State Street does have, however, is a Leadership Academy, created and funded by Bob and Jean Svoboda, a Montecito couple.

Bob notes that, while the Journalism School is indeed part of Young America’s Foundation, it is a parallel institution and that the 28-day Reagan Ranch Leadership Academy is the West Coast equivalent of the East Coast Journalism School. “We’re both subsidiary, and on par, under the umbrella of Young America’s Foundation,” he explains.

The Svobodas, whose living room looks out upon the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands, outlined the goals of the 28-day Reagan Ranch Leadership Academy program during a casual conversation in that living room.

“We teach unadulterated and uncensored American history,” Bob says. “We teach true government,” he continues, “starting with the Magna Carta on up.” Since all the instruction takes place in only four weeks, the course stresses what Bob and Jean call “high-point learning.”

The academy focuses on history and economics as its subject matter, while skills to be honed include communication competency, leadership and functional critical thinking. Classes on etiquette (in preparation for state dinners and other diplomatic functions), a visit to the Lompoc Penitentiary, and other non-traditional courses are given on an ad hoc basis.

“We have identified topics that we want our students to be acquainted with and to establish their own personal viewpoint towards,” Bob says, describing subjects like abortion, inflation, national security, balance of trade, balanced budgets and others. “Our challenge,” he continues, “is to make our students conversationally literate on these topics. We want them to be able to propose their belief and then actively defend it.

The Svobodas are believers in responsibility and self-reliance, two traits stressed during the month-long course. Students pay 25% of the total cost of the program “on the basis that something for nothing doesn’t have value to the recipient.” That 25%, he figures, is about $1,800, and includes board, room, and all instruction. The Svobodas pay directly for the other 75%, or some $5,400 for each of the two dozen students that attend. And, that’s not all. “We’ve made a two-and-a-half-million-dollar commitment, and that is to finance it into perpetuity,” Bob says, adding however that, “we are hopeful we will get scholarship sponsors that will also join us in this process.” Additionally, the couple has put up approximately 50% of the “hard dollars needed” and “friends that put up the other half.”

Setting up a learning center is not something new for Bob or Jean. Some years after arriving in Montecito, they befriended then-Westmont President David Winter and became socially involved with him and his wife, Helene. When Stan Gaede arrived first as provost then as president, the Svobodas’ relationship with Westmont solidified and the couple began donating money and attending various school functions.

One day, Bob told Stan he’d like to “get better acquainted with your debate team.”

“We don’t have a debate team,” he was told.

He’d never heard of a college that didn’t have a debate team.

So, Bob wrote up a debate and public speaking proposal and presented it to them. They said, “Fine, this is good, but we don’t have the budget for it.” Bob said “Well, then we’ll finance it.” Every year since, Bob & Jean Svoboda have funded Westmont’s Expressions Speech and Debate Tournament.

As for who the students are that attend the Leadership Academy, most are chosen by Leadership Vision in Minneapolis that both analyzes and tests applicants before sending on their recommendations. Criteria include “the desire to achieve something significant during their lifetime,” and “examples of leadership from grade school through high school and even college.” The ideal candidate is “preferably a sophomore in college. They are already acclimated to college life,” Bob explains, “and they are now ready to get serious, we believe, and they’re not looking for a job yet.”

As far as the rest of candidates’ criteria, “Ethos plays a very important role,” he stresses, noting too that while, “We are political, we aren’t partisan. We are committed to common values and we want that to grow, but we’re not going to tell you what to believe,” he continues. “We are though going to tell you what we believe the founders believed based upon the founding documents.”

Classes are limited to 24 or 26 students, equally divided among men and women, “the only kind of discrimination we practice,” Bob says.

Bob and Jean Svoboda arrived in Montecito in 1972; his career had been as a developer building hotels, golf courses and other commercial ventures. After a couple of years of retirement, however, Bob “got bored” and, upon the advice of a friend, bought California Thrift & Loan, a Beverly Hills-based bank, even though he didn’t know anything about banking. He “closed five of the six branches they had, fired every employee but one, and went into turnaround mode.” Before selling to Cal Fed, he had built the bank back up to 19 branches and after the sale continued to run it and the 47 outlets from 1982 until 1991. Cal Fed has since been folded into another entity.

Both Bob and Jean are fully retired once again … and very busy.

To learn more, contact The Reagan Ranch at 888-USA-1776 or online at

New Director at Montecito YMCA

(MJ’s entertainment editor, Steven Libowitz sent in the following)

Joan Russell Price, the new executive director of the Montecito Family YMCA, has been at her post since June 12. But the official celebration of her new role takes place at an open house at the Y on Thursday, August 31, from 3 pm to 6 pm, and all are invited to come by, meet Joan and the board members, and check out the facilities while enjoying refreshments.

At first glance, it might seem that Price is overqualified for the position. After all, her resume includes a nine-year stint in the 1990s as the Santa Barbara city recreation manager – where she oversaw a staff and budget far larger than the small community Y’s – followed by a four-year stretch as the executive director of Elings Park, where she helped to stabilize the finances of the private, non-profit park set on 230 acres on Las Positas Road near Hendry’s Beach.

But after three years as the principal of JRP Consulting – which Price created to allow for greater time flexibility while helping her father through a terminal illness – Joan was itching to return to a public profile.

“I like working more directly with people,” Price said one recent afternoon in her tiny office overlooking both the Y’s main corridor and the outdoor pool and sports arena. “In the consulting world you do lots of writing, preparation, planning – all of which I enjoy, too – but you don’t get to deal with people one on one. That’s what I missed and it’s what I love about being here. I also like being at a place this size at this point in my career. The city can be a large bureaucracy – this is more relationship-based. You really get to work with the people.”

Indeed, Price could hardly get away from others if she wanted to, what with the facility’s smaller size and the fact that her office abuts the Y’s pre-school.

“The three- and four-year-olds scamper by my door everyday, and the members and I just love it. They see the kids having fun, and that’s what a Y is all about.”

The number one challenge facing Price in her new job is about looking ahead now that the YMCA has all but finalized a land swap with Montecito Union School across San Ysidro Road, a process that was shepherded by former executive director Sheryl Barnard before she retired after 18 years on the job.

“Everything is still in the process of transferring, but now we know that the Y will be here permanently in this beautiful spot next to the school and Manning Park,” Price said.

The main building needs to be renovated, expanded, or reconstructed. New bathrooms would be helpful, and a second exercise room to accommodate simultaneous spinning and yoga classes would be nice. But the first priority is to find out what the locals need from the facility, Price said.

“I have my ideas, but it’s really about what the community wants to do,” she said. “Everyone has their own pet projects.”

You can add your two cents on August 31. Price will be only too happy to listen.

Good-bye Jimmy’s; Hello Willy?

Indefatigable public relations pro Maureen (Mo) McFadden, was a regular regular at Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, which recently closed. When asked at a recent event whether she has suffered any withdrawal symptoms, Mo answered half-seriously, “it’s hard; it’s hard. It’s like getting off a drug. It’s weird. After work, I come out of my office and my body automatically heads for Jimmy’s and I have to go, ‘It’s not there anymore. It’s not open.’ It’s a sad thing.”

So, where does she go now? “We (Laguna Blanca School Drama Teacher Peter McCorkle, Bob Lovejoy, his wife, Dawn, and their son, Clay – The Lovejoys own Three Pickles, next door to Jimmy’s) tried Jill’s Place” at Shalhoob’s on Santa Barbara Street, she says.

“The Tuesday night we went in there,” Mo continues, “the whole family from Jimmy’s was there, taking up a table for twenty-five as a ‘thank-you’ to all the people that pitched in and helped.”

Mo revealed they also tried Chase Downtown “because four nights a week we know the bartender there: on Mondays and Wednesdays,” she says, “it’s George, and on Fridays and Saturdays, it’s Todd. Both of these guys would hang out at Jimmy’s, so I knew them from the other side of the bar.” Mo explains that her father, a bartender, told her how important it was to “know the bartender” when you go in a bar.

Ultimately, however, Mo is “holding out waiting for Willy Gilbert [Jimmy’s bartender] to open his own place and I will be there.”