Gaye LeBaron: Another good idea from a community known for finding ways to help where needed
One of the joys of working for a newspaper is having access to the “morgue,” which is not a dead place, not by any means, but rather a place for news of the past that helps explain what’s happening today.
It is the old newsies’ term for the paper’s archive, seldom heard in these digital days over the click of the keyboards.
There are thousands of newspaper clippings in manila folders in The Press Democrat’s morgue. What brought me there last week was an announcement from the Sonoma Land Trust about an old ranch property in an upper corner of the county, on a mountain road high above the Pacific.
What I found were two files (too many clippings for just one), both labeled simply “Starcross,” telling the early chapters of a remarkable continuing story.
Those who have followed its path in the last 40-plus years won’t be surprised to learn that Starcross - defined by its ?founder in his 2016 book “Stepping Stones” as “a small, autonomous, interfaith, contemplative community” - is in the?news. Again.
Any day now, if you haven’t already read it, you will see or hear of this unique community’s latest “adventure.”
Starcross has created a conservation easement and made a generous donation and an agreement with the Sonoma Land Trust to keep the historic former Patchett Ranch that has served as the community’s home base since the 1970s “forever wild.”
It is simply the most recent in a long list of Starcross’ very good ideas, a guarantee that the ranch will continue to serve as a haven for all manner of people seeking a quiet place for so very many different reasons.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. The first story in those fat files, at Easter 1979, is a full page of Jeff Kan Lee’s photos and reporter Jim Reid’s words telling of this monastic community caring for “street kids” from the Bay Area out there on Annapolis Road. And the last is a Christmas 1993 reflection by a monk about singing a Christmas song to a 2-year-old dying of AIDS.
There’s much more Starcross, from 1994 to this morning, in the PD’s online archive. Search that site and you’ll find more than ?130 entries about this unique intentional community that began in San Francisco in the 1960s.
So, as Butch Cassidy would say, “Who are those guys?”
A search through the files will tell you that a former lawyer named Tolbert McCarroll had organized a small group of volunteers to aid the rapidly increasing number of “problem kids” in New Age San Francisco.
When Mary Martha Aggeler, a UC student writing a sociology paper, paid a visit to this “Humanist Potential” movement she definitely saw the potential and offered her services. As for Julian DeRossi, I yield to Brother Toby’s story about how she became the third member.
“We were in San Francisco and the Humanist Institute was associated with the Psychology Department at Sonoma State. There was a meeting for considerations upon the development of Humanistic Psychology and the room was filled with professor types all speaking great words of academic wisdom.
“It was actually pretty moving.
“ But there was this one young person in the front row wearing a T-shirt with a sailboat on it. When pretty much everyone in the room had had their say except this young woman in the front, I politely called on her and said ‘Do you want to say anything?’
“She didn’t say anything. She just stood up. And danced. Then she sat down. All the professors were silent. Then they started clapping - and stood up. She had just demonstrated the future potential for Human Development!
“Marti leaned over to me and said, ‘She needs to be with us.’
“And she has been ever since.”
After careful explorations of need, this trio determined they all had the same goals. The three of them took monastic vows and became Brother Toby, Sister Marti and Sister Julie, together, the Starcross Community.
Since then, it is remarkable how many of the people who have crossed their path have stayed with them, in one way or another.
In fact, taken as a whole, it is pretty close to miraculous. From the care of at-risk kids on a farm to hundreds, maybe thousands, of children, worldwide, born to the AIDS crisis, this lay monastery and its three founders created international nonprofits, eventually independent of Starcross.
To this day the community provides care and education of children affected by this disease and by poverty on three continents.
Brother Toby had his media moments in the 1980s when the late ABC “Prime Time” newsman, Peter Jennings, brought a camera crew to the ranch for a “Christmas at Starcross” AIDS babies special.