Sunday, January 25, 2015

Plenty of bargains for generous donors


March 22, 2011 |

My daughter Benedicta teaches at the small, always-struggling Mendocino Waldorf School. She works long days and most weekends, spending inordinate amounts of time preparing class, going to seminars (at her expense), attending faculty and board meetings, meeting with parents and helping any student who needs her.

On a recent Saturday (after arriving home at 8 p.m. from the annual school string concert), she rushed through breakfast and headed to campus for a big, all-day clean-up. She’s trying to help keep the place afloat. A wonderful teacher — dedicated, inventive, compassionate and experienced — she’s embarrassed to disclose her pitifully small salary. Her own kids attend the school — those clever grandchildren about whom you occasionally read in this column — and they love the place as much as she does.

Last year the school almost closed for lack of operating expenses, but a combination of program cuts, voluntary reduction in teachers’ salaries (!) and fundraising came through with enough to make it through the year. The future is uncertain. Many families in this rural area can’t pay the modest tuition and receive financial aid. When they lose their jobs or take their own salary cuts, they can afford even less. And the school falls further behind. They need $200,000.

Last month, this newspaper ran a long story about the end of the Domes, the student cooperative housing that has endured for 40 years and where, in one way or another, the Food Co-op, Village Homes, Farmers Market and Bike Forth got their start. I never lived in the Domes, but they always seemed to me emblematic of the best of Davis — community-minded, inventive, able to make do, mindful of the environment.  Their very shape announces “outside the box.”

The Domes are disintegrating now, and, according to this article, would cost more than $600,000 to repair. Not a good investment, decided the university.

I attended the opening ceremonies of the new Mondavi wine-making facility, a $15 million project that’s only a part of the Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. At the opening, we heard about the multimillion-dollar gifts from, foremost, the incredibly generous Mondavi family, who not only contributed $25 million for THIS center, but also $10 million for the Performing Arts Center. (And more for the future fine arts museum.)

Other folks made hefty contributions as well, like the gift by T.J. Rogers (Cypress Wines) of $1 million for the high-precision fermenters. Recently, Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke (Kendall Jackson Winery) pledged $3 million for another wine facility at the center.

I love the Mondavi centers. They’re part of the reason I decided to make my home back in Davis after the long East Coast exile. They’re a huge asset to the university, of course, but also to our town, to our state and to the whole world of wine-making.

I just can’t help wishing that a successful wine operation would invest a fraction of those millions — say just $1 million — to save a little Waldorf school. After all, Waldorf founder Rudolph Steiner also “invented” biodynamic farming, which just might be the future of California vineyards, illustrated by the success of wineries like Bonterra, Ceago, Ggrich Hills and Paul Dolan.

Besides, Waldorf graduates have a reputation for thinking outside the box, so much so that Silicon Valley executives are, ironically, sending their own kids to low-tech Waldorf schools, which discourage screens of every sort. Tech parents argue that children can “learn the gadgets quickly enough at a later age” and that “these devices and services are worse than unnecessary — they’re actually bad for kids.”

Some even argue that Waldorf is the BEST kind of training for the tech world where “what matters is creativity and the ability to communicate effectively with a team, and it’s getting harder and harder to find people able to do that.”

So, $200,000 to save a school that may change the world. Peanuts. Make it $300,000, just to be safe. There’s still plenty left to rescue the Domes, a creative community that, based on their record, will, like the Mondavi centers, do wonderful things for our city (a good start: a bakery co-op à la Berkeley’s Cheese Board or San Francisco’s Arizmundi. What do you think, Domers?)

And before this imaginary donor’s tab reaches that million, he or she could create a grant to bring back Derrick Bang and the entertainment section of our newspaper.

As a reward for indulging my financial fantasies, I offer you a real wine bargain — just in case you’re NOT in a position to donate millions. At Nugget Market, I picked up a bottle of Altano ’07 Douro from Portugal, an amazing little red with dark berry notes, nice tannins and lot of complexity for the $5.99 I paid. A blend of Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, it comes from the Symington family, winemakers in Portugal for more than 100 years. A good wine with which to drown your tax sorrows.

And if you’d like company with which to drown said sorrows, head over to Rominger West at 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon, try Mark’s new releases and listen to Misner and Smith. I’ll be there.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at Comment on this column at



Susan Leonardi

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