A boomer who had the backs of Oakmonters during the pandemic

When fellow seniors had a hard time getting to vaccination clinics, Heidi Klyn arranged to bring clinics to them.|

When vaccines were first rolled out for COVID-19 at the end of 2020 the world rejoiced. But actually getting the scarce vaccine, with a short self life and limited quantities, could be a challenge of will, resourcefulness and dogged networking, underground channels and research.

For the frail elderly and disabled, people without ready transportation and those who lived alone, getting the potentially life saving jab was almost impossible.

Oakmont resident and retired optician Heidi Klyn looked around her community of strictly seniors, some centenarians and shut-ins, and did what she does so well - she got on the phone and started making things happen. Figuring that access was one of the biggest hurdles, she arranged for Safeway Pharmaceuticals to bring mobile vaccination clinics to Oakmont, a 55+ adult community in Santa Rosa, ultimately helping to protect at least 75% of the residents.

Klyn assembled a group of volunteers, including retired nurses, to set up the clinics and manage them, getting people in and out with an efficiency that blew away the Safeway team.

“For the last couple of years we’ve been going to senior centers and have set up in Marin in the mall and our favorite client of everybody we have done is the group at Oakmont that Heidi coordinated with us,” said Ann Carpico, a division pharmacy manager for Safeway covering the North Bay.“ ”It’s to the point where when we’re booking clients each season, Heidi gets first choice.“

When there was an alarming outbreak of COVID-19 in February, Klyn arranged with the county to set up a portable test site and help her do contact tracing to slow the spread of the virus. And when the county began cutting back on testing and tracing in the spring, Klyn again worked with Safeway to secure and pass out Home Antigen Test Kits.

Klyn (pronounced Kline) is one of the most visible leaders in the sprawling community of 4,800 at the gateway between Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa, lending her voice and can-do attitude as a member of the The Oakmont Village Association board. She was instrumental in efforts to get a dog park in Oakmont, remodel the aging East Recreation Center and to persuade residents to approve an increase in HOA fees to buy Oakmont’s two neglected golf courses and spare them from development. Klyn launched a Cannabis Club to educate Oakmonters about medicinal cannabis. A former Haight-Ashbury hippie and lover of classic rock , the 74-year-old coordinates musical events for the increasing number of baby boomers retiring to Oakmont.

For her lifesaving efforts to protect her community during the pandemic, help her cohorts find joy in the music of the youth and help make Oakmont “the best it can be,” Heidi Klyn has been awarded The North Bay Spirit Award for July. A joint project of The Press Democrat and Comcast, the award calls out volunteers who identify a community need and find a way to fill it, going all in for a cause that brings others along with their spirit.

“She doesn’t take no for an answer,” said Jackie Ryan, who chairs the communications committee of the association. “She’s enthusiastic. Where someone else might run into a hurdle or challenge and shrug their shoulders and say, ‘OK. I’ve done my best and I can’t do it anymore,’ that’s not Heidi. She sees it through. She really doesn’t recognize a barrier.”

Said Steve Spanier, who served with Klyn on both the village board and with The Boomer Club, said: “The Spirit Award is perfect for her because she’s got so much spirit. Anyone who knows her would say that’s almost her middle name. She’s always a positive person and always looking to make Oakmont better.”

Motivated by making things better

Klyn said she’s driven by a desire to make things better, whether it is standing up for improvements to Oakmont, or providing a service that will enhance the lives of her neighbors. When frustrated people began calling her in early 2021 when the shots became available for the most vulnerable, people 75 and older, asking if she could bring a mobile vaccination clinic to Oakmont, she sprang to action.

“I told them, ‘Let me see.’ Well, that wasn’t easy I called Sacramento. I called the health department. I called local officials here. I said ‘I’ve got these people who are older here. It’s hard for them to get out, especially with COVID. Can you bring the shots here?’”

The Sonoma County Health Department recommended she work with Safeway, which agreed. But that was only the beginning. Klyn had to marshal volunteers, set up systems and get the word out to the Oakmont community. And she had to make sure the clinics ran smoothly.

Carpico said Safeway had long wanted to come into Oakmont. Klyn made it possible, setting up a team that thought of important details, such as having wheelchairs available for those who needed them.

“It was calm, pleasant and accommodating - very patient focused,” she said. When people were really afraid to stand near each other they came up with the idea of having a staging area. We had chairs set up on the sidewalk six feet apart and they kept the line moving. She was able to get them registered quickly. It worked so well because of the attitude and the organization.”

Klyn recruited nurses she knew and put out a call for volunteers through the Nextdoor app. “People came with their walkers, with their caretakers, with their wheelchairs. We had to pull more wheelchairs out of our office supply rooms,” she said of that first clinic in Feb. 2021. Some of the 350 people who were vaccinated that day didn’t even have to get out of their cars.

When the county reached out to Klyn hoping to locate shut-ins who need someone to administer the vaccine in their homes she had no clue how to help. There was no registry. Refusing to just say no, Klyn called the Oakmont Village Market and Deli and asked the owners who the people were who regularly requested deliveries rather than coming in to shop. Through that they were able to identify at least some of the Oakmont’s housebound residents.

At least a dozen COVID and flu vaccine clinics have been held at Oakmont in the last 17 months. Earlier this year Klyn became alarmed when 54 people contracted the virus after attending a boomer event. She once again activated the troops to distribute home test kits supplied by Safeway to residents in an effort to slow transmission. She also helped with contract tracing to alert people who may have been exposed.

Klyn is quick to credit the many volunteers who helped her pull it off.

“The people have helped are fabulous,’ Klyn said. ”Either they’re retired nurses or have been in some kind of job in the medical fields. They would help schedule people, check people in. People had to fill out paperwork and it had to be done correctly.“

Acting as watchdog

Pulling together a communitywide vaccination campaign is just one of many causes that Klyn, a grandmother of five whose husband died only a few months after she moved to Oakmont in 2010, has thrown herself into.

In 2018 she decided to run for the board of directors of the Oakmont Village Association.

“I thought, I live here and I want the community to be the best ever,” said Klyn. Why not run because this is what you want for everyone else. The most important thing about being on the board is making sure the facilities are correct. And we’ve done a lot in these last few years to make Oakmont even better.“

She helped push through a renovation of the village’s aging East Recreation Center, a project opposed by some who didn’t want to spend the money. But keeping things nice is an important part of maintaining property values and quality of life in Oakmont, she maintains. She also was a key advocate behind a decision several years ago for the association to buy Oakmont’s two golf courses from the private club that owned them. Klyn backed an initiative, ultimately supported by a majority of residents, to buy the golf courses and a restaurant for $7.5 million to protect some 528 combined acres from future development.

In 2017 she started a Cannabis Club with two other Oakmonters to teach people about its medicinal benefits. And she has brought in well-known speakers in the industry to hold classes in how to make cannabutter.

Over the years, this woman, who was born in Indonesia of Dutch parents and moved to the U.S. at the age of 8 knowing only two words - ice cream and yes - has developed her voice and used it in service to others. She is a warmhearted watchdog, quick to smile and frequently erupts into laughter that is more like a delighted giggle. Earlier this year she engineered the purchase of three of Santa Rosa’s painted Peanuts statues for Oakmont, and brought a fourth, that had been at the golf club restaurant, out of storage. Now there is one statue at each rec center.

“It’ so important because Charles Schulz, who they called Sparky, played the golf course the first time it opened in 1964, the grand opening. He kept a time every Thursday at 11:30 on that course. He’s like an icon here,” she said.

One of Klyn’s greatest joys is music. A 1966 graduate of Galileo High School in San Francisco, she haunted The Fillmore and other famed venues in the late 1960s, taking in The City’s scene, and seeing legends such as Janis Joplin perform before Klyn settled down to domestic life in the East Bay.

Steve Spanner, who worked closely with her, said Klyn brought in some of the best tribute bands in the Bay Area, and acts as MC and host at events.

“She would visit people’s tables. She’ll typically ask how many people are new to the club. She’d take the microphone from the stage and let people introduce themselves, to make sure they feel welcome and comfortable.

She cares deeply about people’s experiences,” he said. ”So she’s always concerned that people are having a good time.“

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @megmcconahey.

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