It Takes a Village to Make This Imaginative ‘Zoo’

In pre-pandemic Burbank, residents would have to make their way over to Los Angeles’ Griffith Park to visit a zoo. And going to an aquarium would have entailed a trek to Long Beach.
Today, things are different. Now, thanks to Wendy and London Ruff, Burbank has its own community zoo and aquarium, located right smack in the middle of the city’s Rancho neighborhood. Gathering inhabitants from the plains of the Serengeti to the world’s great oceans and tropical reefs the Ruffs have rivaled Noah in bringing together a magnificent menagerie of critters — or rather, fanciful images of them.
Though the goal of the creature collector of Genesis was to fill an ark, the Ruffs’ has been to fill their front yard with art that represents all manner of animal and aquatic life.
“This all started after my daughter London returned home from Washington, D.C.,” said Wendy Ruff. “She had been doing a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, and when they closed she came back to Burbank.”

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Nonprofit BTAC, Which Assists Many, Receives Help in Return

Photos by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
Sunrise Rotary Club President Kelli Lowers and Noon Rotary Club President Barry Gussow teamed up to stage last week’s drive-thru food drive for BTAC.

A man who served his country and worked his entire adult life to provide for his family.
A single mother whose job in the food service industry gave her the income to afford a small apartment, food, other living expenses and an occasional treat for herself and her two children.
A young man, just a year out of college, using his degree to begin what he hopes will be a high-paying career in post-production.
Not one of those people — like countless others with similar stories — ever thought they would be in need of the services of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center. Yet today, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployed, financially challenged, hungry and homeless are no longer just those on the fringes of society. They are our friends, former co-workers and neighbors. They are our fellow Burbankers.

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Grateful for 25 Years of Telling Burbank’s Stories

There’s nothing that makes an old newspaper columnist like me feel even older than to go into someone’s home and see a column I wrote decades earlier attached to the side of their refrigerator by rusting magnets.
That has actually happened to me more than once.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it is rather heartwarming to experience such a thing. However, it is also a bit disconcerting to see your younger self faded and sun-wrinkled on what looks like a yellowed parchment you would find at the National Archives.
In recent years, along with refrigerator sides, I have also found myself face to face with columns I have written for The Leader that have been tucked away in people’s scrapbooks, file folders and various other repositories.
As we plod through this pandemic summer, I, like so many others, have gone through a lot of old stuff in hopes of coming through this period of quarantine being able to say I wisely used my time to do some decluttering.

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Comic’s Present to Herself: Lessons From Her Past


Photo courtesy Robin Roberts
Some of the fondest memories Roberts found involved her work as comedic alter ego Rockie the Clown.

Throughout the better part of 2020 ­—― if in fact this year― does have a “better” part —― the pandemic-enforced downtime we’ve been living through has provided many people with the opportunity to do things they have been meaning to do for a long time.
Some have found the time to learn a new skill, return to a creative endeavor they placed on hold, remodel their home, or purge closets and junk drawers.
Local stand-up comedian and children’s entertainer Robin Roberts has also used this time to find something: a better understanding of herself.
Having always used material in her personal journals to give audiences a comedic peek into her simultaneously fulfilled and unfulfilled life, Roberts recently did something she has been putting off for years: Reading through all of her old dairies.
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Pandemic Helps Artist Find Inspiration All Around Her

Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
During the pandemic, Mina Ho Ferrante has been finding creative inspiration in her neighborhood and children.

As we approach the five-month mark of living with a virus that has changed lives in every corner of the globe, people are beginning to adapt to what has been called the “new normal.” Some are handling it better than others and, it seems, those who are handling it best are using this time to discover or rediscover some of the things we lost a bit of focus on back during the “old normal.”
In the early afternoon, when the sun is in the west, the tree-lined streets of Burbank’s Rancho District are the embodiment of residential tranquility. With the exception of the periodic whirring sound that indicates a gardener is plying his trade or the occasional clopping of horse hoofs, this time of day in the city’s equestrian neighborhood is so quiet that artist Mina Ho Ferrante can actually hear the sound of her paint brush sweeping across the canvas.
“I’ve always loved painting scenes of Burbank, and my goal was to someday do paintings of different areas of the city for a show,” said Ferrante. “Not iconic scenes, just sleepy residential streets and corners. The pandemic has given me the time to start doing this. At 4 p.m., when the sun is perfect, I go out, set up my easel and just paint what I see. The scenes I capture are very peaceful ― a dog sleeping in a driveway, a person walking by with their horse. That is the Burbank I love ― my Burbank ― and I love preserving those moments.”

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Aiming for Better Way to Guide Distance Learning

After-school enrichment classes will allow kids to come together in safe, socially distanced pods.
Photos courtesy Kristie Mastrolia

Going back to school. It’s one of those memories so indelibly instilled in our brains that no matter how many years go by, we can still vividly recall shopping for supplies and clothes, seeing friends we hadn’t seen for more than two months, meeting new teachers and, in some cases, being introduced to a new school and classmates.
For students, from preschool to graduate school, this year will mark a blip in creating those memories. It is just one of the myriad things that have been taken from us by the spread of COVID-19, though Leeron Tal Dvir doesn’t see it that way.
“I have heard so many parents focusing on what their kids will not be getting and what they will be missing,” said Tal Dvir, who served as executive director of Burbank’s Temple Emanu El and for eight years directed its Early Childhood Center. “Yes, it will be different and there will be change, but I look at it as change that can be a positive experience.”
Tal Dvir’s optimistic outlook has much to do with her decision to stare down the pandemic and establish Distance Learning Together Community, a new concept in the world of distance learning that will offer support to parents and give children the opportunity to be physically engaged with kids and adults other than their parents.

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Home Improvements Amid COVID Put Houses in Order

My cousin Ed serves as a magisterial district judge in Pennsylvania. Back in March, when the pandemic closed down the courts in Ed’s district, he used the time to do something he has needed to do since his mother passed away in 2005: Deal with a room full of boxes she inherited from our grandmother.
Meticulously going through old letters, photos and other items of yellowed ephemera, he separated things into piles he believed would have meaning to each of his 17 cousins, packed them up, and mailed them to us.
When my package arrived, I found a treasure trove I never knew existed that included photos of my mother when she was in her teens, letters she wrote to her parents during her 20s when she lived in Europe, and photos of me as a baby.
When I called to thank Ed for sending those things, he said it had been a laborious task that took him the better part of two months. “I’ve been needing to take control of this for 15 years,” he said.
While Ed’s work may not have the lasting impact of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” or “Macbeth,” which the Bard reportedly wrote while quarantined during a plague, to me, my cousin’s accomplishment is one that impresses me as time well spent.
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Family Promise Keeps Pledge to Help Homeless

Photos by David Laurell
Family Promise of the Verdugos’ Hands On, Hearts In Award

She could very well be me. She could very well be you.
Who is she? Well, she asked that to protect her privacy, I not use her name. So I will, fittingly perhaps, call her “Us.”
“Last year, I was pregnant when my husband lost his job, and we got to a point that we could no longer pay our bills,” Us told me during a recent phone conversation. “We tried everything we could to make it, but ultimately we lost everything and ended up in our van with a newborn baby.”
Articulate and in possession of a warm and professional demeanor, Us said she never imagined such a thing could happen to her family.
“As a mom, it killed me to live in a shelter and then go from one motel to another,” Us said, her voice cracking slightly. “Every morning, when we awoke, we had no idea what was going to happen to us that day; how we would eat, or care for our child.”
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A Remedy for Loneliness, Even as Pandemic Isolates Us

Photos by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
Michelle Sucillon (left) and Grace Jones agree that engaging with others is the best way to ward off loneliness.

My friend Drew and I go back a ways — a long ways. We were in the same “graduation class” at the Tiny Tots Playhouse nursery school before going on to continue our primary education together.
Drew’s father was a funeral director, or undertaker as they were called back in the day. Drew’s family lived in his father’s place of business and, because I had sleepovers there since I was a kid, I grew up without the trepidation that some people have about the places where the dearly departed are cared for.
Having begun my own “career” in the funeral business as a kid, vacuuming up dried flower petals and dusting caskets, I have, at times, throughout the early days of my work as a writer, supplemented my income by working in every aspect of the funeral business.
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, I assisted hundreds of people in making funeral arrangements and, like many who do this for a living, tried to avoid establishing personal relationships with the family members I served to keep from becoming emotionally involved in their loss. I say “tried” because I failed at that on numerous occasions, including once with a man named Sy.
Sy and his wife, who were in their 80s, had no children or living relatives, and all their friends had passed on. So when Sy’s wife died, he came in alone to make the arrangements. His wish was to have no service, simply because, as he told me, “There would be no one to invite.”
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For Guild’s Thrift Store, the Show Goes Online

Behind the camera, director Glenda Jones keeps the show running.
Photo by David Laurell

Look out, QVC and HSN, the women of La Providencia Guild of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are giving you a run for your customers by taking to the internet and offering shoppers some of the best deals to be found on both new and gently used jewelry and designer clothing, shoes, sunglasses and handbags.
The Burbank-based guild’s new online program, “Diva Designs,” which will be hosted by guild members including Jackie Latronica, Teresa Garcia and Max Andrews, debuted last month and now runs live every Friday evening at 7 p.m. on Facebook Live. Continue reading “For Guild’s Thrift Store, the Show Goes Online”