Welcome! Don and Leslie have been full time Realtors in Ventura County for over 30 years. It's been fun watching as "little" Victoria Avenue (and many other streets) have morphed into what they are today.

Just as our local communities have evolved, we've seriously considered for the past several years how we could someday "give back" and "finish well" - expressions that can mean a lot of things to different people.

As part of our research into opportunities for service, in early 2013 we contacted a Peace Corps recruiter who helped us start our journey. But our new path wasn't going to be as straight and easy as we thought! And so we began a transition into something completely different from the routines we've known for the past 30 years - and have begun a path that's leading into the exciting unknown. This will be our story!

To give back, and finish well

The above Welcome! paragraph is what we wrote as we retired at the end of 2013.

Now after being retired for almost 10 years, I was reflecting recently on the process Leslie and I went through in our early 60s as we began considerations for “retiring”. We were still very active in our real estate business, in our church and in our community. Our philosophy for future plans centered around the idea “to give back, and finish well”.

We were both active in leadership at our church (Ventura Missionary), taught an ESL (English as a Second Language) class Wednesday nights at the Senior Center on Ventura Avenue through Laubach Literacy, and I was involved working with a youth program (Ventura Military Explorer group) at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) hangar at Camarillo airport guiding high school students in building an airplane (a replica of a 1930s era Tiger Moth).

Ultimately, we came up with a plan, were intentional in pursuing it, and now get to look back to see how it all worked out.

At the beginning of 2013 we slowly started winding down our business, converting paper files, escrows, etc, into digital format and shredding, shredding and more shredding of paperwork going back years. We began downsizing our home, selling almost all of our furniture and ultimately putting the keepsakes into a 16′ POD container for long term storage. We leased out our home.

A serious decision is to sell all your furniture and “stuff”, keep the keepsakes in a PODS, then lease out your home to live out of the country.

An empty house. We were now “homeless”!

Our goal was to join the Peace Corps, but we were told it would be very difficult for an older couple with no transferable skill (medical, education, ag, etc) to be accepted. So – we needed to build our resume.

We started our journey to the Peace Corps in Mexico City, moved to Guatemala, were still active Reservists with FEMA, and ultimately in 2017 were accepted into the Peace Corps to serve in Guatemala. But God had other plans for us because we ultimately did not join the Peace Corps but stayed as Reservists with FEMA.

In the intervening years we’ve been on numerous disaster deployments across the US, engaging with so many individuals and families who’ve been devastated, to help them start back on a road to recovery. Hard, challenging, but worthwhile.

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Hurricane Ian – Florida

Florida had been spared a major hurricane hit since Leslie and I were there with hurricane Michael in 2018. But hurricane Ian roared in kind of late (October) from the Gulf and hit the western side of Florida around Fort Myers hard. This was what we experienced:

Home sweet home! Cabin 191 was home during this deployment. FEMA set this trailer complex up for FEMA and other federal workers at the Boston Red Sox training facility in Fort Myers.

Mobile homes are common in the area and took a hard beating.

Leslie and I are part of a FEMA cadre called Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA – everything is an acronym in FEMA). We are tasked with specifically being out in the community, going street by street, house to house, engaging with the survivors.

Both wind damage and flooding occurred. It’s common for damaged furniture, construction debris, etc, to be placed out in the street for city pickup.

Metal roofs didn’t do well.

The high water mark in this neighborhood.


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Tail end of Ida – Connecticut

After getting back to Ventura from Louisiana, FEMA immediately re-deployed just me to Connecticut. Ida had continued up the eastern seaboard with heavy flooding, hit NY state and city with flooding before dying out in the Atlantic. Western CT is basically a commuter suburb of New York city I discovered.

We worked out of the Lyme town hall.

As a former Minnesota boy, I loved being back to autumn foliage. This was behind the town hall.

Basically, our team saw very little damage and wondered why the State even qualified for FEMA assistance. But all that is way above our pay grade. I was there for only about 2 weeks but enjoyed seeing a new part of the country, especially for the fall foliage. My big disappointment was that I wasn’t able to visit the nuclear submarine Nautilus at the Navy’s Groton base. It had been taken elsewhere for repairs/renovation I was told.

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Hurricane Ida – and back to Louisiana

Right on schedule, Ida came up the gulf early September and hit Louisiana (again). Both Leslie and I were called up and it seemed like we were coming back home. This is what we experienced over about 2 months:

This trailer park had just been brought in to New Orleans airport for FEMA personnel temp housing, Covid check-in and testing, and initial staging.

Obliterated trailer. We saw this repeated multiple times.

Walking back to our car towards the end of a day, I stopped to realize this was the frame of a trailer twisted into a pretzel. People told me there were tornadoes inside Ida.

This trailer had been sitting on a raised slab and was totaled.

I never found out the status of the people who used to live in this missing bedroom.

For a lot of people, everything was lost.

Many homes smashed by fallen trees.

Common community scene. Blown shingles everywhere.

Hard scrabble neighborhoods were hit hard.

FEMA Corps interns seeing destruction for the first time.

My partner. Our DSA (Disaster Survivor Assistance) cadre is tasked with going door to door, engaging with the community.

Business, especially the fishing industry, was hit hard. The tide surge left many boats high and dry.

More damage.

A common sight.

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3 covid deployments

At the beginning of the pandemic, FEMA was tasked with setting up mass vaccination sites and our Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) cadre was called up to provide the needed assistance.

Our first assignment was the St. Louis metro area, but technically we were on the other side of the Mississippi in Belleville, Illinois, working with the St. Clair County Health Department which was understaffed for handling the crush of people wanting to get vaccinated.  Our team was set up in the basement of the county’s Emergency Management Office to man the telephones, and in essence, we became a call center for setting appointments, answering questions, etc.

But this was February and we caught a blizzard! Leslie had never driven in snow (SoCal girl) but quickly got the hang of it. Being an old Minnesota guy, it was fun driving through snow drifts again!

Woke up in the morning to find this – but I knew the blizzard was coming and the locals told me to put my wipers up so they wouldn’t freeze!

Basement of the Emergency office.

Because of Leslie’s help, this lady had delivered this orchid plant to the Emergency Office but to Leslie’s regret, we’d already been transferred to Philadelphia. A team mate took this photo and sent it to Leslie.

A few days later…

After about 3 weeks or so setting up and manning the call center, FEMA sent us to work at the downtown convention center in Philadelphia, handling crowd control in the great hall. There was a crush of people wanting their shot. The line extended out the building and down and around the block, but there was almost a festive, party vibe and the crowd was always good-natured and patient. There was a wide row with 5 folding tables on each side with a corpsman from the Navy doing the shots. We helped direct people to the open tables. Frequently, after getting their shot, young women would literally dance their way back up the aisle towards the exit while the waiting crowd clapped, cheered and yelled. Long days, lots of people, but standing all day.

We weren’t allowed to photograph anything inside. This photo came off the internet.  This was when things were getting set up. The AP comment: A COVID-19 vaccination site is set up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

People wait in line at a FEMA Community Vaccination Center at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

This too came off the internet and shows the medics giving the shots. We heard many times they were excellent.

After a month in Philly, FEMA transferred us to Waldorf, MD, just south of Washington, D.C. Each of the three mass vaccination deployments were so different from each other. Waldorf was our first (and only) drive-up deployment. And – this is where we both finally got our shots! Our job was to verify appointments and verify basic medical information with the occupants. After we “cleared” them, they were directed to the next set of tents were the actual shots were given. Nobody got out of the car. Shots could be given through both sides of the vehicle and it was not unusual to have 4 people in a car.

Don slacking off as usual!

Don and Leslie verifying information and answering lots of questions.

Don working with a client.

We worked 7 days a week, rain or shine.

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Don's building a replica of a 1930s era biplane at Camarillo airport. Over the past several years, he's had numerous students help in building the plane. Track the Tiger Moth progress here!