I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management last week. Aside from unearned ego inflation, the session was reflective and prospective: We dug back to our roots at the GSM, contemporaneously navel-gazed, and shared a few thoughts about the future. Net-net, extremely proud to be an Aggie and thankful to the GSM for sharing a little Repower love!
[Originally published September 15, 2015]
By Repower Yolo's Storyteller, Jennifer Ann Gordon
I met Secilia Corona’s smile first. Then I met the rest of her. Behind the counter at Village Bakery on Second Street by the Amtrak station here in Davis, I was struck by the depth of kindness with which she served me and the other customers.
Having graduated from UC Davis last December with a double major in Chicano-Chicana Studies and Italian, Secilia is an eclectic blend. She is also the first generation in her family to earn a college degree. Sicilia’s dad is Mexican, her mom is Caucasian, and she has Italian in her heritage. Spanish is her first language.
“My major is a little bit random,” she said, “During my first two years of college, I thought I was going to go into biotech, but I wasn’t really passionate about it.” Taking Chem 2E, Bio 2A and Physics 7A in one semester, Secilia decided to throw in an Italian class to get a break from the heavy science classes, loved it, and soon realized, “Science is not going to be my thing.”
When she realized that she did not want to pursue biotech, she investigated Chicano-Chicana Studies, where she discovered a strong sense of community and a caring professor. Secilia said that the demands of a double major “were not a struggle because I was so interested in the topics.” She said, “Languages allow me to communicate with more people and to have rich experiences.”
During her junior year in college, Secilia had a teaching internship in Turin, Italy, for four months. Upon graduation, Secilia looked for a “serious job.” While she was job hunting, she found a house in Davis, and her two sisters, Delilah and Elsa, who are also college students, moved in. She also did not want her parents to keep supporting her, so she decided to wait on traveling and teaching Italian, and applied at Village Bakery.
“I applied at Village Bakery because I liked their food, ate there often, and bought their bread at the Farmers Market on Saturdays. Because I liked their products, I thought it would feel good selling them to others. The pastry chef is super friendly and teaches me. These people are wonderful!”
Secilia is originally from Point Arena, where her mom and dad have a landscaping company. “We’ve always had a ton of support from my parents. They were forced to grow up young and never had the opportunities they’ve given us. They’ve always supported and encouraged us. And they wanted my sisters and me to be united…unified. My family is really close.”
“There are so many people who have helped me. It is impossible to take credit for any of my accomplishments. I don’t feel like I do anything different or important. Being friendly and kind does make a difference in people’s lives. I prefer to listen, rather than speak about myself.”
Thank you, Secilia, for gracing this community with your kindness, humility and care. Thank you for listening to others so intently. Thank you for feeding us with Village Bakery’s finest fare and your smile. Thank you for being such a fine example of a young woman who knows herself and listens to that inner voice for guidance. Thank you for being so extraordinary.
[Originally published September 9, 2015]
THE GREAT Ed Goldman -- one of our favorite, iconic regional treasures -- recently sat down with Repower Cofounder Chris Soderquist. Here's his story:
Ed Goldman: Chris Soderquist’s newest (ad)venture: Sharing the sunshine
When scientists get around to studying the biological basis of entrepreneurship, Chris Soderquist will make a splendid case study: He seems to prove that it runs in families.
At 46, Soderquist is a former venture capitalist and a serial entrepreneur. He calculates he’s created “about a dozen” businesses and has been an investor or board member of “another 30 or so.” Restlessly intelligent (maybe even antsy), he appears to have settled into a single company that he loves: Repower Yolo, a Davis-based solar energy firm that in the past year-and-a-half has installed “more than 2,500 solar panels on 60 homes and 10 commercial projects,” he says, adding, “all in Yolo County.”
Soderquist is pursuing the venture with business partner and operations manager John Walter. Repower Yolo doesn't install solar systems. Rather, “I consult with the clients and tell them what will work for them and what won’t. Sometimes I talk myself out of a sale, but that’s a small price to pay for integrity.”
There’s a circular perfection to Soderquist’s latest passion. His dad, Charles Soderquist, was also an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who started amassing his wealth building and installing solar-powered hot tubs in Davis. Soderquist the elder, who died 11 years ago of an aneurysm, was also a philanthropist: he left the bulk of his estate to UC Davis.
I had interviewed Charlie Soderquist for my Working Lunch column in Comstock’s Business Magazine two years before his passing. He was a fascinating guy and Chris reminds me of him save for one attribute: while warm and soft-spoken, the dad had a somewhat dour, dark-ish aspect to him (possibly only with columnists) whereas Chris, despite being a serious man, has a lighthearted, almost impish quality.
He’s also, like his dad, a philanthropist, who donates money from every sale to one of 18 Yolo County nonprofits. While he says the principal motivation for doing so is “helping out,” Soderquist says, “There’s a kind of a domino effect at play. If we can re-power homes” — convert them from running solely on gas and electricity, “people will save money and will have more to spend in the community. There’s a lot of sunshine out there.”
And that, he says, “is the only positive thing about climate change I can think of. The less rain, the more sunshine, the more electricity we can generate. But I’d prefer it rained.”
Soderquist and his wife Karen, a manager at a medical software company, have two sons: Scott, who’s 16, and 13-year-old Ty. Perhaps because he majored in journalism at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — he also has an MBA from UC Davis — he elects to help out his interviewer. “I’m pretty easy to summarize,” he says. “I’m a father, a husband, a Little League coach and the son of amazing parents. I got my work ethic from my dad and my loving side from my mom.” Yes, but that sunshine is all his own.
Ed Goldman’s newest book, “And Now, With Further Ado: More Gravitas-Defying Profiles and Punditry from the Sacramento Business Journal,” is available at Amazon.com.
[Originally published August 12, 2015]
Emily Griswold is in love with plants. "I really got going in high school. My relatives' beautiful gardens inspired me. I find the beauty and diversity of plants fascinating. It's always challenging to figure out how to grow them. They're living beings and have their own things going on."
Davisites have reaped the benefits of Emily's biophilia and green thumb for many years now. Her work has enhanced our lifestyle, provided respite and refreshment for people from all walks, given UC Davis students opportunities to serve and get some "horticulture therapy," built community, and convened enthusiastic gardeners and environmentalists. And this is just the tip of the Extraordinary-Ordinary-berg!
Emily is the Director of Horticulture for our very own world-renown UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. Simply put, she oversees the well-being of all the plants and the volunteers who care for them.
In her "free" time, she oversees Central Park's gardens along 'B' Street between 3rd and 4th Streets here in Davis as a volunteer. "The conversation began in 2006," said Emily, "when the City of Davis didn't have the resources to keep the gardens up."
Scrabble paved the way for Emily's volunteering in the gardens. Yes, Scrabble. Her husband often plays Scrabble in Central Park and she needed something to do while he was occupied with Triple Word Scores. She noticed that the garden provided a great space for getting people interested in plants and horticulture. Emily said, "I would look over at the garden and think, 'It would be kind of nice to work on that garden. It would be cool if the Yolo County Master Gardeners had a demonstration space.'" (The Yolo County Master Gardeners share science-based information from the university on growing things.)
The way she has grown her team is as natural as the garden itself. Emily has a cadre of experienced gardeners who volunteer to nurture those who are new to gardening. She said that she has "a series of volunteer leaders who have adopted the roses and other parts of the garden and help coordinate other volunteers."
The garden is part of a larger ecosystem. For example, the tomatoes and other goodies harvested in the vegetable garden section go to Davis Community Meals and other nonprofits. The City of Davis provides workers comp for volunteers, keeps the irrigation system working, prunes the trees, picks up the green waste, and provides woodchip mulch and decomposed granite for path repair.
Emily stays current on everything "gardening" in Davis, such as the Davis Farm-to-School Connection that coordinates all school gardens, recycling programs, and organic farm visits for the students. Emily said, "I really like getting to know people when I'm working on a focused project. This project has made me a full-on townie. I am more engaged in local politics than I ever thought I would be." Emily also serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Emily Griswold, thank you for all you do. Thank you for cultivating such beauty and community here in Davis and beyond. Yours is a special kind of photosynthesis. Thank you for being so extraordinary!
[Originally published July 30, 2015]
Susan Linz exudes freshness, warmth and a deep love for Davis. You might know her from Logos Used Bookstore, where she manages all the details of running the shop.
She and her husband, Peter, started Logos out of love for their community and for humanity. Logos, a nonprofit, is in its sixth year. All profits from book sales go directly to Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children. In 2014, Logos donated $45,000 to Doctors Without Borders and $47,000 overall. Since its inception, Logos has contributed $200,000.
Susan carefully nurtured and coaxed Logos into becoming a gathering place, a “browsing bookstore.” For example, it’s open on Saturdays until 8, so people can amble over to Logos after dinner with their ice cream cones and enjoy meandering through the store’s 7,500+ books.
"Conversation is really important. We're good at shouting at one another these days. It's lovely to talk about a book," said Susan. One of Susan and Peter’s favorite questions to ask the students who wander in wanting something to read other than textbooks is, “What do you like to read?” Susan said, “It’s fun.” They help the students sleuth out great books according to their interests—“Steppenwolf by Hesse, for example, for the kids who are getting existential,” said Susan.
A retired French instructor who taught at Solano College, Susan brings her love of languages to Logos with its Spanish, Italian and French Language Circles that meet once each month. A topic is shared beforehand, so people have time to prepare. Then people converge to practice conversing in the language. Poetry readings, shows that feature local artists, and music flood Logos' calendar of events, also à la Susan.
Susan began at UC Davis as a medical student, taking the likes of organic chemistry, but experienced France when she signed up for UCD's Junior Year Abroad program in Bordeaux. Upon returning home, she switched her major to French and went on to earn a Master’s in French, as well. She then returned to France to live for two years in Bordeaux and Tours.
Susan and Peter met in an elevator, as Susan was making her way up to the math TA's office for tutoring. They've been married for forty years. Regarding marriage, Susan said, "Nobody should ever think that it's an easy thing. You have to really work at it." They have two sons, Davis and Thomas, both of whom have just returned to grad school for their PhDs.
Susan relishes new challenges and experiences. When I asked her how she first responded to Peter's idea of opening a nonprofit used bookstore, she said, "Whoa, that's something that neither of us has ever done before!" Well done, Susan and Peter!
“It’s a joy for us. We’re enjoying it for all it’s worth right now,” said Susan.
Merci, Susan, for shining so brightly. Grazie for all the joy, cultural adventure and affection you share with us. Gracias for being so extraordinary.
[Originally posted July 8, 2015]
Davis is reflected in the glass of the large New York Times clock in Newsbeat's window, the perfect juxtoposition to describe Newsbeat'sowners,Terence and Janis Lott, and how they conduct their business. (The clock was given to them by the New York Times for being "the perfect newstand.")
Newsbeat is a Davis institution. Janis and Terence are bright lights in our community. They embrace their customers with respect, kindness and care. And they never waver. I've experienced and observed the love they express to everyone who walks into the Newsbeat, regardless of the person's station in life.
"We're all in this together, people," said Janis. "Being kind is not hard to do. It's all about relationships, about being kind to one another."
Janis is deeply touched when customers--even from their Sacramento store, which they've since closed--come in to see how they're faring or to show them their new puppy or meet their new baby. Terence and Janis cherish their regulars, too. The eighty-year-old men who come in regularly for their morning newspapers and to talk, for example, and the people who bring in their dogs, well-knowing that Janis and Terence have dog treats at the ready.
"It's the kind of store that welcomes people from every walk of life with humanity, kindness, and great regard," said Terence. Janis refers to the Newsbeat as "a nice, visceral experience, a little mental health break for people. They can buy or not buy."
Janis is especially grateful for all the quiet support she received from customers and vendors when she was going through chemo. Years later, people are still checking up on her.
In 25 years of business, they've never had to advertise. "We feel like Newsbeat is special because we're in a special place," said Terence."Yes," chimed Janis, "We're a college town, but we're not hoity-toity like some university towns. There's a bucolic quality here in Davis, the kindness and warmth of an agricultural community...that connection to earth and water and growing things."
Janis and Terence ardently support local artists and authors in their store, too, which brings us back to our town reflected in Newsbeat's New York Times clock. Sophistication without pretension. Intelligence, not intellectualism. And an awareness of what people want and need. First and foremost, though, is love. Plain and simple.
Janis and Terence, you are rays of sunshine who brighten all our lives. Thank you for being so extraordinary.