Gaye LeBaron: Another good idea from a community known for finding ways to help where needed

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Then he followed along when Toby was asked to come to Romania, newly freed of its communist regime, where hospitals were filled with orphaned AIDS babies in desperate need of medical care — and of love.

The response was overwhelming, particularly to a little girl named Dana-Rica, far too small for her age and very ill, who stood in her crib as Brother Toby approached and held up her arms to him.

As he picked her up and comforted her, the TV caught the moment, and the die was cast.

(Dana-Rica, now in her 30s, was adopted by an East Coast family, lives in New Jersey and keeps close touch with Brother Toby.)

With national attention focused on the crisis and a rush of volunteers from all over the world, an organization independent of Starcross called Casa Speranta was formed. It is still out there, helping where help is needed.

Sister Julie then went off to Uganda to answer the needs created by parents with AIDS whose children were orphaned and/or living in the streets. She organized a school and living quarters and found medical care; and, ultimately, another independent entity, Starcross KIN Worldwide, was formed.

Still in existence, it is run by many of the same “children” it served, now teachers and doctors and even television personalities in their homeland.

Even before the world learned of their commitment to AIDS children, they had added a “town house.” It was, and still is, a long winding road from the ranch, so they rented a cheerful old home on Santa Rosa’s Cherry Street, closer to physicians and hospitals. They named it Morning Glory House. ”Morning Glory Babies” is the title of Toby’s book that tells the story.

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There is another important member of the Starcross group. David McCarroll, an adopted son of Toby and Marti (born to a niece of Marti’s) has a story all his own.

Gifted with musical ability, he had a violin at age 4 and caught the attention of a couple that had a weekend house at nearby Sea Ranch. Don and Maureen Green, whose good deeds, including but not limited to the Green Music Center, offered to fund the kind of music education they knew was absolutely necessary.

With their sponsorship, David made his concert debut in London in 2002, won a European Young Artists’ competition in 2012 and is currently a violinist for the Vienna Piano Trio. David has traveled great distances from the ranch, but remains in close touch and is very involved in the community’s future.

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Brother Toby, the scholar and the “idea man” of the community, is 88 now and apt to be even more reflective than in earlier times. Sister Marti, who could have been called the CEO and the “haiku laureate” of this unique group, died of pancreatic cancer in 2016. The mantle of administration has fallen on the capable shoulders of Sister Julie, who planned and planted the grove that yields her prize-winning olive oil.

The oil sales, along with an ever-growing list of Christmas wreath customers and generous donations from new friends and old, provide financial support for Starcross and its spin-off programs.

While Julie is no stranger to the tractor, the actual farm management is the province of Lance Baker, husband of Holly McCarroll, another adoptee. Their 6-year-old Damien, who supplies the necessary kid presence at the ranch, is a first grader at Horicon School — where, it should be noted, Sister Julie is a member of the board.

The community’s current agricultural role is as prescribed by membership in WWOOF, the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Much of the considerable traffic in and out of Starcross comes from interns — young people from all over the world, many from WWOOF who come to learn and help with farm projects, and others still interested in the idea of humanist potential.

Today’s Starcross is a busy place. Not only visitors, interns, pilgrims and potential prophets, but also neighbors, come to assist at the food pantry where those in need can find sustenance. There are longtime friends from all the places Starcross has touched — doctors who treated the children, lawyers who stand guard on the multiple ventures, clerical workers and writing assistants who help Brother Toby (who has a dozen books to his credit) as he maneuvers the intricacies of composition by computer), the wreath-makers, the olive-pickers — whoever is needed is bound to show up.

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So now that they have saved, maybe not the world, but substantial chunks of it, including the land they live on, what comes next for Starcross? Whatever it is, we can rest assured it will be of substantial benefit.

While they’ve probably never given much thought to colonizing Mars or heading off on a rocket ride to the moon, this tiny intentional community in our northwestern corner already has accomplished several of those now-proverbial giant steps for mankind.

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