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The Most Famous Tech Mogul You’ve Never Heard Of

The Untold Story of South Bay’s Most Famous Tech Mogul

Aug. 8, 2011

 

Chet Pipkin is the most famous tech mogul you’ve probably never heard of, even though he came of age in the South Bay, and even though you’ve probably purchased some of his products.

In many ways, the arc of his story is familiar, calling to mind that of better- known tech tycoons. Much like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, Pipkin is a college dropout.

Daily Breeze Photo: Robert Casillas --- South Bay resident Chet Pipkin is Founder and Chairman of Belkin International based in Playa Vista. The business has humble beginnings as Pipkin started working on computer networking cables in the garage of his parents Hawthorne home.
Daily Breeze Photo: Robert Casillas — South Bay resident Chet Pipkin is Founder and Chairman of Belkin International based in Playa Vista. The business has humble beginnings as Pipkin started working on computer networking cables in the garage of his parents Hawthorne home.

Just as Zuckerberg co-created Facebook in a dorm room, Pipkin, 50, launched his business, Belkin International – now an industry leader in connectivity products – from his parents’ garage in the Hollyglen neighborhood of Hawthorne.

And much as Gates has made philanthropy a full-time obsession, Pipkin now spends a sizable chunk of his working hours on community service projects all over Los Angeles County, from improving squad cars with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to sitting on the board of the YMCA to serving as president of the board at Da Vinci Charter high school in Hawthorne.

Unlike some of his better-known peers, Pipkin, now a resident of Manhattan Beach, grew up in a working-class family. By merely attending – let alone graduating from – Lawndale High School, he surpassed the education level of both parents.

And unlike Gates, Zuckerberg and Jobs, Pipkin majored in history, not computer science or physics. This detail, perhaps more than anything, sheds light on how one of the L.A. area’s most influential tech entrepreneur ticks.

Pipkin, once Belkin’s CEO and now its chairman, jumped headlong into technology in the early 1980s not because he had any formal training in the field, but because he understood that the sands of time are forever shaped by a series of tidal waves. He believed he could see the next one coming.

Belkin headquarters in Playa Vista
Belkin headquarters in Playa Vista

Always an entrepreneur at heart, Pipkin had contemplated other pursuits as a high schooler, from starting a limo service to opening an ice cream shop to becoming a Santa Claus for hire. But it wasn’t until he started thinking like a historian that he began to see the future.

While working a low-paying job stocking shelves at a wholesale manufacturer of electronic components, Pipkin began pondering other legendary moguls whose fortunes capitalized on sweeping historical movements: Andrew Carnegie’s empire of steel during the railroad boom, for instance, and John D. Rockefeller’s prescience and good timing during the meteoric rise of the oil industry.

“As soon as I started thinking that way, it was overwhelmingly obvious that this PC thing was going to take off,” he said. “I didn’t know about hardware, software, or anything about anything. I just hopped in.”

Now, he likes to say that if you own a personal computer, there’s an 80 to 90 percent chance you’ve got a Belkin product; if you own a smartphone, it’s a 95 percent chance.

Roots in the Depression

Pipkin’s parents both came of age in a hardscrabble place and time: the middle of the country during the height of the Great Depression. His mother was the illegitimate daughter of a farmer in North Dakota. Until her dying day a year ago, she never overcame the shame of the stigma, he said.

His father, who died in 2006, was born in Texas, but as a boy traveled by horse-drawn wagon with his family to Oklahoma, sleeping in abandoned houses along the way.

Both of his parents were among the waves of Americans pushed west by the ravages of drought and economic hardship.

There’s one detail of his family tree that surely piqued Pipkin’s affinity for history: It is widely speculated that his great-aunt, Myra Pipkin, was the basis for Ma Joad in John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” according to the Library of Congress. (Click here to listen to her interview with documentarian Charles Todd.)

Myra Pipkin, age 46, holding grandchild, Shafter FSA Camp, Shafter, California, 1941. Photo by Robert Hemmig. (Library of Congress)
Myra Pipkin, age 46, holding grandchild, Shafter FSA Camp, Shafter, California, 1941. Photo by Robert Hemmig. (Library of Congress)

Pipkin’s father, Chester, was eventually drafted to serve as a machinist in World War II. His mother, Lorraine, became a machine operator in the L.A. area, fulfilling the archetypal role of Rosie the Riveter. They met after the war, working together as machine operators – he was her boss – in the region.

One of four children, Chet Pipkin attended public schools in the Wiseburn School District, the very district that hosts Da Vinci Charter, whose five-member board he now chairs. At Dana Middle School in Hawthorne, he was an average student. For whatever reason, he blossomed academically at Lawndale High.

There, he discovered not only his aptitude for learning, but also his passion for civic engagement, signing up for the YMCA’s youth and government program.

To this day, he is a board member of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, as well as of the California YMCA Model Legislature and Court.

The YMCA is also where he met Jan, his wife of 25 years and the mother of their seven children – six sons and one daughter, whom they adopted as a teen.

Pipkin said his wife has played a crucial role at Belkin since its founding, and she now sits on the company’s board of directors.

“I always got the high-profile stuff,” he said. “She got the heavy-lifting stuff. Really the very unsung hero, if there is a hero in this story.”

After graduating toward the top of his class at Lawndale High, Pipkin began his short stint at UCLA, which lasted all of two quarters. Unable to afford a parking pass, he would toss a bicycle in the back of his Datsun pickup every day, park off campus and pedal in.

But his real education was occurring on Hawthorne Boulevard, which in the early 1980s was dotted with stores that were selling these newfangled things called personal computers and printers. After his epiphany about the Next Big Thing, Pipkin literally began knocking on the doors of these shops in his spare time on evenings and weekends, asking if they needed any help.

“The bigger ones asked me to move along,” he said.

The smaller entrepreneurs allowed him to hang out, asking him to help out with odds and ends, such as unloading a truck.

“On the outside, it sounds really folksy,” he said. “On the inside, it was a really intense, focused strategy to really discern and figure out everything that could be figured out about that market.”

All the while, he observed people. It didn’t take him long to discover a void. Salesmen were eager to push products out the door, customers were confounded as to how to get a printer of this brand to talk to a computer of that. Easy-to-use cables connecting one to the other didn’t exist.

“There were so many different variations and combinations,” he said. “It would have been impossible for the stores to stock all of them.”

Pipkin knew a thing or two about cables. After all, in addition to hanging out at computer shops, he’d been working full time at the wholesaler store, Electro- Sonic, which sold a lot of connectors to the military.

Dining-room table start

Using a cable cutter and a soldering iron, Pipkin – who’d always been a tinkerer – built his first computer cable on his parents’ dining-room table. Purchasing the parts from various vendors, he built 10 or so and brought them to a store.

Impressed, the store owners asked how much he wanted for them. He shrugged his shoulders and said $15 or $20 apiece.

“I probably made about a couple bucks an hour on those,” he said. “But I figured if there was a need, and this was exploding, we would be in fine shape.”

After a week, his mom kicked him out of the dining room and into the garage. His night job began to take priority over his day job, to the irritation of his bosses at Electro-Sonic. They fired him.

“They did the right thing,” he said.

It was 1982, and Pipkin was suddenly at a crossroads: Get another job, return to school or dive full time into his business. Pipkin chose option No. 3.

In the late 1970s, he and Steve Bellow, a friend from Electro-Sonic, had conceived of another business that never went anywhere. Merging their last names, they called it Belkin, but did little more than print out some letterhead. In his new enterprise, for fear of looking too small, Pipkin didn’t want to name the company after himself. He decided to go with Belkin. (Bellow later came to work for Belkin, but as an employee, not a partner.)

In 1983, the company’s first full year, Belkin generated $180,000 in sales. The number skyrocketed year by year: $600,000, $1.8 million, $3million. Today, Belkin International, still a private company, has offices on all continents except Antarctica, employs about 1,500 people and generates $1 billion a year in sales.

An easygoing manner, and a lasting stuttering impediment

Chet Pipkin has a lanky build and a narrow face, with a wisp of sandy-gray hair atop a freckly receding hairline.

For all his drive, his manner is relaxed and approachable. On a recent day at work, he showed up in his usual attire: untucked business- casual shirt, blue jeans.

Since early childhood, he has grappled with a stuttering impediment, and to this day occasionally falters on a word, whose first syllable he will calmly repeat several times before completing it successfully.

The stuttering, he said, used to be difficult, but not so much anymore.
“I’ve got a reputation and a brand now, so I’m not as worried about the first-impression thing,” he said, sitting in his smallish office in Belkin’s new glassy headquarters overlooking a park in Playa Vista.

He never sought speech therapy until he was in his 30s, upon noticing that his 3-year-old son, who’s now 21, also stuttered. They went to see the therapist together. His son no longer stutters, and Pipkin said he, too, learned some tools to keep it at bay, but generally doesn’t like to employ them unless absolutely necessary, as for a public-speaking engagement.
“It doesn’t feel authentic,” he said.

He briefly launched a nonprofit organization for stutterers, but shut it down when it became apparent that other organizations were already doing good work in that domain.

Pipkin, who is big on solving the energy-consumption problem, drives a battery-powered sports car, the $110,000 Tesla Roadster, although he is a little sheepish about the flashiness.

“I made the mistake of taking a test drive,” he said.

Asked if he is a billionaire, Pipkin says no, and declines to quantify his net worth.

His stated discomfort with flashiness and attention seems to jibe with depictions of him by friends and business associates, who generally describe him as intensely focused, but humble.

Sean Williams, who resigned a few weeks ago as a Belkin vice president after working there for 27 years, said he isn’t surprised that press coverage of Pipkin or even Belkin is relatively scant.

“A lot of people in his position would have a PR person or organization getting his name out in the press, getting him speaking engagements, building up a personal brand,” he said. “He could care less about that.”

(The Daily Breeze contacted Pipkin for this story through an administrator at Da Vinci Schools.)

Williams added that he knows about all of Pipkin’s charity work only because other people talk about it.

“He never, ever talks about what he’s doing to give back,” he said. “It is always done completely in the background.”

The only criticism Williams had of Pipkin and Belkin is that the company has never been good at celebrating success.

“You would do something superhuman, like grow the business 80 percent one year, but then he would immediately be talking about what the targets were for next year,” he said. “He is very, very demanding.”

Williams added that Pipkin is “the best person I’ll ever meet.”

For the most part, Pipkin’s 28-year-old company has managed to remain under the radar, with some exceptions. In 2003, Inc. magazine listed the company – then located in Compton – on its Inner City Hall of Fame for an explosive rate of growth. Belkin has made the Los Angeles Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Private Companies list for five years.

The press hasn’t all been good, however.

The company in 2003 was criticized on technology news sites for putting out a line of wireless routers that served spam onto the desktop.

In 2009, Belkin was blasted in the tech blogs after it came out that a marketing executive with the company was paying people to write positive online reviews. Belkin publicly apologized and took down the reviews.

In 2010, the company moved from Compton to Playa Vista. The glassy new headquarters, with its twin four-story buildings, is a testament to the company’s quiet success, and perhaps a reflection of Pipkin’s personality.
Every office is identical in size, regardless of one’s rank, with walls that double as whiteboards for brainstorming.

Engineers might trade ideas and scribble formulas while standing at a pingpong table. The cafeteria is at once fancy and casual. Chandeliers hang over the main table, and the head of the kitchen dons the full chef regalia, tall white hat included. In the middle of the room stands a foosball table.

These days, Belkin has branched out significantly from its origins in cables, producing an assortment of products that includes wireless routers, iPod accessories, laptop cooling pads and iPad cases.

Engineers are laboring on a project pertaining to what Pipkin believes will be the next big thing: energy conservation.

“If you look at population growth on the Earth, it’s a pretty scary statistic,” he said. “But what’s more scary is consumption per person. … There are no ifs, ands or buts: We’re either all going to be dead or are going to find ways to manage our consumption in much better ways.”

The new product, he says, will plug into an outlet and provide an item-by-item breakdown of how much energy each appliance is using – and costing. In a couple of months, Belkin, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy, will pilot the device in 60 Chicago homes.

Risk-taking charity work

Keeping track of Pipkin’s charity work is as dizzying as understanding the full scope of his business.

But much of his work stems from a simple observation about government: Rarely in the public sector is there an incentive to use taxpayer money for thoughtful risk-taking. Much of his philanthropy involves fulfilling this role.
For instance, one of the efforts involved equipping squad cars in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department with automatic license-plate readers.

Through an entity called the Safe Cities Foundation – founded and underwritten by Pipkin, with financial help from Target Corp. and Wells Fargo – enough capital was raised to build prototypes for three cars. It proved a success, and Sheriff Lee Baca asked for 10 more. (Pipkin said Belkin receives no profit from the work.)

“We’re the incubator for these kinds of things,” Pipkin said. “If the idea is no good, we take full responsibility.”

Conversely, if it is good, Pipkin’s foundation backs off, allowing the public entity to take it from there, like a kid removing the training wheels from a bicycle.

Pipkin was approached to join the board at Da Vinci Charter by the school’s principal, Matthew Wunder, a former guidance counselor at Manhattan Beach Middle School, where Pipkin’s children attended.

“Don’t think I wasn’t really, really nervous about it,” Wunder said. “He’s really accessible, but Chet Pipkin is a legend.”

One thing that made the phone call difficult is that Pipkin was already spread pretty thin. In addition to his involvement with the YMCA, he sits on the boards of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Diabetes Camping and Educational Services organization. He also coaches kids soccer.

But Pipkin was receptive.

Role at South Bay school “He made it easy,” Wunder said. “He was infinitely patient and inquisitive.”

Pipkin believes the fatal flaw of the public education system is its rigidity.
“When it’s working, it’s working – many, many schools do it well,” he said. “They don’t need our help.”

But when the dropout rate in the Los Angeles Unified School District is 30 percent, something is amiss, he said.

Pipkin insists that he isn’t one of these people who believes charter schools are the silver bullet, but he does appreciate how they are generally more receptive to experimentation. He claims to have few original ideas about how to improve education, but rather encourages Da Vinci to have the flexibility to try unconventional ideas supported by solid research.

Example: Contrary to popular belief – and intuition – research shows that smaller class sizes really don’t correlate to significantly higher achievement until the head count drops to below 17. However, research shows that achievement tends to decline once the number of student relationships per teacher exceeds 75. At many high schools, teachers have five periods with at least 30 kids, or about 150 relationships.

To get that number down to below the magic 75, Da Vinci has adopted the block schedule, meaning the classes last for an hour and a half rather than
just one hour.

Pipkin said he welcomes debate on whether or not such practices truly benefit kids.

But “if it’s a debate just to keep things from changing, then I lose patience with it.”

With all the earnestness of a multimillionaire who believes he can change the world for the better, he added: “We can do better, we must do better. Otherwise the consequences to society are going to be overwhelming.”

rob.kuznia@dailybreeze.com

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Colorful Characters Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Palos Verdes Peninsula High School Teacher Heads off to War


Palos Verdes Peninsula High School Teacher Heads off to War

Like many high schools in affluent areas, Palos Verdes Peninsula High School sends very few recent graduates off to war. But next week one of its teachers will be departing for the danger zone – for the second time in two years.

 U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Jonathan Stamper is also a Physics and Chemistry teacher at Peninsula HS. He just received orders that he is being deployed to Afghanistan. He returned from a tour of duty in Iraq last spring. Stamper in classroom at Peninsula. (Robert Casillas)
U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Jonathan Stamper is also a Physics and Chemistry teacher at Peninsula HS. He just received orders that he is being deployed to Afghanistan. He returned from a tour of duty in Iraq last spring. Stamper in classroom at Peninsula. (Robert Casillas)

Chemistry and physics teacher Jonathan Stamper, a sergeant in the Army Reserve, will leave behind his Bunsen burners, pencil sharpeners, periodic tables and the safety of his classroom for the exotic landscape of Afghanistan, where he will don his military uniform, bulletproof vest and pick up a rifle again.

His deployment comes less than a year after returning from a 12-month stint in Iraq.

Although he had expected the first assignment, the second one came as more of a surprise. Especially in light of how the United States has been drawing down, not beefing up, its presence in Afghanistan.

But an order arrived just before the holiday break, in the form of a letter from the military. Stamper had felt like he was just getting back into the teaching groove.

“All of a sudden the Army says, `Nope, you gotta go again,”‘ he said, with a sigh. “But the nice part about it is, there’s a greater good. … We might make a difference in some Afghani lives.”

Stamper, 46, did not witness any combat in Iraq. Rather, he served as a member of Civil Affairs, traveling the arid and dusty terrain to talk to farmers and sheep herders, with an eye toward assessing the effectiveness of U.S. and global efforts to help create a sustainable economy.

But he witnessed firsthand the ravages of war: children with missing limbs and eyes, merchants selling goods out of stores with blown-out walls, partially destroyed churches. At all times, the specter of violence loomed. One of Stamper’s friends and counterparts in the Civil Affairs department was killed by sniper fire in a village, shot in the vulnerable patch of space under the arm.

The mile-by-mile base where Stamper stayed was shelled so often that the sound of the alarms – overlaid with a speaker intoning the words “incoming” over and over again – became routine. Sometimes, the explosions were close enough to feel the shock waves inside whatever bunker he’d taken refuge in.

Inspired by a student

Stamper is the rare late-in-life military enlistee. He was inspired in part by the story of Pat Tillman, the NFL player who turned down a multimillion-dollar contract from the Arizona Cardinals to join the military shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was killed in the mountains of Afghanistan.

But it was a conversation with a student that finally spurred him to enlist in late 2006. The young man had joined a program that allowed him to finish boot camp between his junior and senior years, and had shown up to class wearing his uniform.

“I told him, `If I had a second chance, I would do it,”‘ Stamper remembers. “He looked at me and he said: `Mr. Stamper, do you know that they raised the enlistment age? … They raised it to 42.’ I was 41 1/2.”

He went to the recruiting office that very day. A few months later, Stamper was in boot camp, getting yelled at, running drills, shooting guns and sleeping in a big room with 60 other guys who were less than half his age. His memories of that particular experience are not fond.

“I’m trying to get it out of my mind,” he said, shaking his head with a smile while sitting at a table in the school library. The biggest challenge wasn’t the physical training or the drill sergeants, but rather the high energy of the 18-year- olds at bedtime.

“Every night, it was like `Be quiet!”‘ he said. “I was yelling at them, `Be quiet!”‘

The drill sergeants – also a good 10 years younger than him – put Stamper in charge of his fellow soldiers as a platoon sergeant.

“I was like their dad.”

Serving in the reserves can be a little like living in an episode of “Quantum Leap.” One moment you’re in a certain setting, completely immersed in a job, and then the next minute, poof! Your stint either ends or a new one begins.

Such was the case for Stamper when he was in Iraq. He was just settling into an assignment that involved learning how to spin wool with a loom. A German company had donated one to a group of widows so they could eke out a living selling textiles. The women just needed to learn how to use it.

“I was just getting ready to teach that – I had classes all set up and ready to go,” he said. “And that’s when (the military) started to do the pullback.”

Just like that, he was back in the classroom, in January 2011. By this December, he was just getting to know a new crop of students. And then, the letter arrived.

Palos Verdes Peninsula Principal Mitzi Cress said her first reaction upon learning of Stamper’s next assignment was one of worry.

“I was like, `Oh my gosh, that’s just terrible,”‘ she said. “But the next (reaction) was `I’m so proud of you.”‘

Last week, the school held a send-off assembly for Stamper in the amphitheater, complete with a choir performance and speeches – despite his reticence to be recognized.

“His colleagues are the ones that did all the planning,” said Cress, who also sent the Daily Breeze a press release about his upcoming adventure.

The letter from the military originally had him reporting to duty on Jan. 9. But Stamper begged his military commanders to delay the start date a few weeks, so he could get his students past final exams, which finished up on Friday. The higher-ups consented.

A native son of The Hill

Soft-spoken, articulate and emphatically agreeable, Stamper – a native son who attended schools on The Hill as a kid – does not exhibit the taciturn nature of the archetypal military man. He is open and easy-going, with a streak of independence that borders the rebellious.

For instance, in Iraq he swapped out the name tag on his uniform for another one written in Arabic. That simple gesture greatly endeared him to the locals. But it went against military policy and he was scolded. He reattached his English name tag, only to quietly swap it out again in the field, though he says the rules are in place for good reason: To ensure safety.

In any case, Stamper quickly learned the code of conduct of the land, internalizing many “nevers” that are foreign to Americans. Never show the soles of your feet when sitting. Never greet somebody with your left hand. Never initiate a conversation with a woman.

Likely he is valuable to the military for a fortuitous blend of attributes, which include a general aptitude for science, an ability to teach and an all- around peaceable nature.

In Iraq, Stamper primarily worked with farmers and spent much of his time inspecting everything from beehives to livestock operations to olive-oil presses.

“He’s a perfectionist,” Cress said. “You just know darn well that when he was over there in Iraq that he did everything right. I bet when he did reports they were A-plus.”

Still, it is not a high-paying gig: Embarking on the mission means Stamper’s normal paycheck will be cut in half. But he said he and his wife Eva, with whom he owns a home in Hermosa Beach, have been saving up.

“We’ll be fine,” he said.

His next mission will actually require several weeks of training on the East Coast. He’ll begin his duties in Afghanistan in March. Stamper said he will probably stay for about a year.

As for Eva, he said she is supportive of his need to serve the country, but will be happy when his eight-year commitment is finished – which won’t happen until 2015.

In his absence, she will take care of their three Jack Russell terriers.

“If she was all by herself, I’d be concerned, but the dogs always help,” he said. “And we have a good support group with the church (Anza Avenue Baptist), we have a good support group with family, and we have good support with friends.”

rob.kuznia@dailybreeze.com

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Colorful Characters Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

‘Waltons’ actress now fills role as Inglewood middle school principal

‘Waltons’ Actress Now Fills Role as Middle School Principal

ECMS Principal Kami Cotler was a child actor as "Elizabeth" on The Waltons in the early 1970's. Magazine shows her and John-Boy Walton. The Environmental Charter Middle School is in Inglewood. Photo by Brad Graverson
ECMS Principal Kami Cotler was a child actor as “Elizabeth” on The Waltons in the early 1970’s. Magazine shows her and John-Boy Walton. The Environmental Charter Middle School is in Inglewood. Photo by Brad Graverson

Some childhood actors turn to drugs. Others stay in show business. Kami Cotler became a middle school principal in Inglewood.

Unbeknown to most of her students, Cotler, principal of Environmental Charter Middle School, was a celebrity at their age.

Cotler had a major role as Elizabeth Walton, the youngest member of the family in both the made-for-TV movie “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” and the long-running spinoff TV drama “The Waltons.”

Last week she was on the East Coast, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1970s-era show with the rest of the cast. In addition to making a Friday appearance on the “Today” show, the group got together for a screening and a party.

For those too young to remember, “The Waltons” was set in the mountains of Virginia during the Great Depression. It centered on a large family that survived by living off their own land.

It was a wholesome drama whose episodes delved into all manner of family themes: triumph and heartache at school, the dilemma over whether to spank a child, a daughter who refuses to abide by country traditions, caring for ailing grandparents.

“The Waltons” predates other shows in the same vein, such as “Little House on the Prairie.” Indeed, its successful nine-year run may have helped pave the way for such family-oriented shows, Cotler speculated.

Last week’s reunion was far from the Waltons’ first. Bucking the stereotype of Hollywood prima donnas whose on-camera affection is matched only by their off-camera animosity, the Walton family long ago came to feel more fact than fiction. To this day, the members regularly meet the week before Christmas. They attend one another’s weddings, live theater performances and book signings.

A 1975 photo of the cast of the television series "The Waltons", including Richard Thomas (top row, center) and Michael Learned (top row, right). (AP Photo)
A 1975 photo of the cast of the television series “The Waltons”, including Richard Thomas (top row, center) and Michael Learned (top row, right). (AP Photo)

“We were together for 10 years and saw more of each other than we did of our own families,” Cotler said, speaking by phone from New York City last week.

With her vermilion red hair and a sprinkling of freckles, Cotler is the rare person who truly resembles the adult version of her childhood self. So it is not uncommon for people to still recognize her. A few years ago, while lunching with two other Walton sisters, a fan approached the table and asked Cotler about the show. The fan recognized Cotler, but not the others.

Of course, Cotler’s students are too young to know the face. And while the ones who watch the show with their parents may tell Cotler that they find her child character to be cute, they seldom are star struck.

“I used to say, if Madonna became a teacher, or now Katy Perry, they’d be like, `Ah, Miss Perry gave me homework,”‘ Cotler said. “Think about it. As a kid you didn’t think about your teachers as having actual lives. No, they were your teachers.”

Or principal, as the case may be.

Cotler is the antithesis of the child who was pushed into show business by overbearing parents. Her acting career began by accident. Her mother had taken her to a photography studio in Los Angeles from their home in Long Beach to get a Christmas portrait. The photographer, struck by the girl’s red hair, freckles and extroversion, suggested she give commercial work a go.

“I harassed her about wanting to be on television,” Cotler remembers. Her mom, then a marketer for IBM, relented.

Cotler tried for a spot on the popular, long-running TV show “Gunsmoke,” but it didn’t pan out.

“I had to cough but didn’t know how to do it,” she said, adding, “I was only 6.”

It turns out the casting director for “The Waltons” was looking for a pint-size redhead. (The show was based on a novel by Earl Hamner Jr. – who also created the TV series – about a family of redheads.)

The show’s steady success yielded a healthy paycheck. But in the days before gadgets and video games, preteens didn’t have a lot of options for lavish spending.

“It’s not like you’re going to buy endless chocolate bars,” she joked.

Cotler’s parents socked the money away. Years later, her education at the University of California, Berkeley, was fully funded. Once there, she didn’t even consider studying drama. Instead, Cotler studied education. Coincidentally, she landed her first job teaching at-risk youth in Virginia, the same state in which the show was set.

This was not by design. In fact, when weighing the pros and cons of taking the job at that location, the show was a strike against it. The biggest argument in favor was a desire to experience life in a more rural setting. An American studies major, Cotler had only lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

Perhaps her desire to experience the heartland was informed on some level by the history of the show, which would make for a good chapter in a college textbook on popular culture.

The way Cotler tells it, the creators fully expected “The Waltons” to flop. The idea for the TV show came somewhat grudgingly, after Hollywood had taken a scolding from Congress for the lack of family-oriented themes in mainstream television. The pilot was wedged between two hit shows that were decidedly more hip: “The Mod Squad” and “The Flip Wilson Show.”

But to Hollywood’s surprise, “The Waltons” was a sleeper hit, finishing season two at No. 2 in the Nielsen ratings, between “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son.”

The phenomenon spotlighted a cultural divide in America: the creators of entertainment were coastal city dwellers, unfamiliar with what might appeal to viewers in the country’s midsection.

“There was a whole big world of people in between who nobody thought about,” she said.

To this day, “The Waltons” airs regularly on the Hallmark Channel as well as some religious networks.

Cotler, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children, was drawn to the charter movement when it became apparent that her eldest child was having a tough time in a traditional public school.

He was strong in academics, but wasn’t happy.

“He would call home with stomachaches just before recess,” she said. “The school was very focused on how many words per minute could he read. I kept asking, `Have you played with anybody at recess?’ … That’s where he needed support.”

She helped found a charter school on the Westside. He enrolled, and flourished.

About a decade ago, she applied to Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale to work as a technology specialist. She ended up landing a job as a history teacher. It was the kind of flexibility often lacking in the traditional system. Three years ago, she was tapped to help write the charter for a middle school in Inglewood. The school opened in the fall of 2010 with her at the helm.

Environmental Charter Middle School currently serves about 200 students. Plans are in place to move the campus next year to Gardena, home to much of its clientele. (The school hasn’t decided whether to also keep the campus at 3600 W. Imperial Ave. in Inglewood.)

She isn’t a blind supporter of the charter movement.

“I always tell families, every charter school is different,” she said. “If you hear someone say `charter schools are good,’ that doesn’t mean anything. You have to go look at it and ask, `Is this school a match for my child?”‘

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Mr. Mack Has the Ride of His Life

89-Year-Old Mr. Mack Has the Ride of His Life

You’ve probably seen the car, the shiny, stretched-out Cadillac Eldorado, parading down State Street, driven by a man wearing a white fedora cocked to the side.

Believe it or not, Mr. Mack says, in his younger years he once had nine girlfriends. (Rob Kuznia photo / Noozhawk)
Believe it or not, Mr. Mack says, in his younger years he once had nine girlfriends. (Rob Kuznia photo / Noozhawk)

The ivory-colored land yacht could easily belong to Snoop Doggy Dog, or a Southern man in the mold of Boss Hogg, the bumbling fat-cat villain on The Dukes of Hazzard.

But as anyone who has ever read the license place knows, the luxury vehicle with the sparkling gold rims and ear-splitting horn is owned by a longtime Santa Barbaran who answers to the name Mr. Mack.

At age 89, Mack — or L.C. McHaskell, if you prefer to be formal — still can’t get enough of the attention that his fancy ride brings him. Especially with the ladies.

“I love to just ride around, meet a whole lot of women, play music,” said Mack, who admits he often drives around just to show off his ride. “I feel pretty good about it, you know.”

Does he have a girlfriend? “Are you kidding? I got two.”

If Mack’s stamina at nearly 90 is surprising, his story of how he wound up owning the swanky mobile in the first place is downright uncanny.

The Sambo’s Connection

It was the mid-1980s, and the car — a 1981 model — was owned by Sam Battistone Sr.

Battistone, who died in 1992, co-founded Sambo’s restaurant with Newell Bohnett. Though originally an amalgamation of its owners’ last names, Sambo’s eventually adopted the theme of the book Little Black Sambo. The local breakfast joint mushroomed into a nationwide chain in the 1970s, but shrank back to one location — the still-existing original restaurant on Cabrillo Boulevard — following a race-related uproar over the theme, which the restaurant has since dropped.

For L.C. ‘Mr. Mack’ McHaskell, it was love at first sight with his ivory Cadillac Eldorado. (Rob Kuznia photo / Noozhawk)
For L.C. ‘Mr. Mack’ McHaskell, it was love at first sight with his ivory Cadillac Eldorado. (Rob Kuznia photo / Noozhawk)

In the mid-1980s, Sam Battistone put his custom-built Cadillac up for sale, Mack said. At the time, Mack noticed that the Eldorado had been parked in a car lot for some time. He decided to stop by and inquire.

“He wanted $45,000 for it — cash,” Mack remembers, adding that Battistone had purchased it for $65,000. “I said, ‘How come this car stayed here so long?’ And he said, ‘People tell me they want to buy it and they never show up.’”

Mack was in love.

“It didn’t have but 8,000 miles on it,” he said. “I told (Battistone): ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you $30,000 in cash for it today.’”

He added: “I didn’t think he was going to go for it.”

In fact, Battistone didn’t go for it. At least not right away. He said sorry, and Mack went home, but not before giving Battistone his phone number. Battistone called him the next morning and declared it a deal.

Battistone’s grandson, Chad Stevens — now the owner of Sambo’s, as well as Chad’s on Chapala Street — verified the account.

“He had it specially made,” Stevens said of his grandfather. “The hood was 12 inches longer or something. But I think it’s been tricked out more since then.”

As for the long-ago controversy over the Sambo’s name, Mack — who is black — said he never paid it much mind.

“I don’t think that means anything,” he said. “I never thought too much about that.”

Hard Work Pays Off

The real question might be: How come Mack possessed such a king’s ransom in cash? Back then, $30,000 was the equivalent of about twice the amount in today’s dollars.

Mack was prepared for this question. After all, he concedes, his attire is sometimes consistent with that of, shall we say, a flamboyant flouter of laws. In addition to the white fedora on his head — and the 10 others he owns — large clumps of gold decorate his hands. (Four rings, a watch and a bracelet.)

At age 89, Mr. Mack still can’t get enough of the attention that his fancy ride brings him. (Rob Kuznia photo / Noozhawk)
At age 89, Mr. Mack still can’t get enough of the attention that his fancy ride brings him. (Rob Kuznia photo / Noozhawk)

Also, Mack’s easygoing smile displays 10 gold teeth, which, he says, are worth a grand total of $6,500. What’s more, back in the day he tailored his own suits — in several colors — including one that is all white and another that is all blue.

But the resplendent Mack says he’s always played it straight.

“I hear it all the time: ‘He’s a pimp, he’s a crime lord, he’s a drug lord,’ all that,” Mack said. “I don’t even know what drugs look like. … People ask me, ‘How can you have all those cars?’”

His answer: hard work. The truth is, he said, “I have never done smoking or drugs in my whole life. I worked: One job — for 27 years. Look at the money I saved.”

Mack said he spent his entire working career as a construction worker — or, more specifically, a cement paver — at the Port Hueneme Naval Base, beginning in 1948.

He wouldn’t say how much he made, but he did say this: “It’s not the idea of what you can make, it’s the idea of what you can save and put to good use.”

The son of a farming family from Arkansas, Mack came to California in 1943 to serve in the military at a base near San Diego.

In the 1960s, he purchased the piece of Santa Barbara property on which he still resides, on Canada Street, a low-income neighborhood on the Lower Eastside. There, he built a two-story apartment complex with two units. He still lives in one of them, and rents out the other.

Nine Girlfriends!

While Mack says he never had a taste for intoxication, he does fess up to a couple of vices. One was gambling, although he insists it paid off. His specialties were the card games poker and tunk, which he played at people’s houses.

“I won most all the time,” he said.

The other was women. At one point during his younger years, Mack insists, he had nine girlfriends.

But he’s also been a family man. Mack has had two wives, both of whom have passed away. His first wife, Larrie, died of diabetes in 1962, at age 41. His second wife, Dorothy, died of lung cancer in 2002. He has one child, a daughter who now lives in Los Angeles and works in real estate, he said.

“I had some pretty wives — some good-lookin’ wives,” he said while thumbing through some old photos of them. In a photo with Dorothy, the Cadillac sits in the background, but with different license plates. While the current plates read “MrMack1, “the plate in the photo says “Mac Dot.” Mack said he had to change the plates after her death because the sight of her name on them made him sad.

Mack might live alone, but he’s not lonely. In addition to the company of a girlfriend (or two), he is routinely visited by other friends and relatives. When a reporter came to visit not long ago, Mack was with his son-in-law, Hubert Wells.

“He’s a legend — quite a celebrity,” Wells said of Mack. “He can’t drive down State Street without people asking him to blow his horns.”

For Mack — who also put his trademark horns and plates on his other vintage car, a bright-yellow 1966 Lincoln Continental — it’s not about status so much as attention.

“I wouldn’t trade that Lincoln or this Cadillac for nothing,” he said. “I can drive behind a brand-new Mercedes, or a brand-new Cadillac, in any of those two cars, and people won’t look at them. They look at me.”

But Mack is as reflective as he is showy.

“I just live a normal, nice life,” he said. “Up till now, I really have enjoyed myself.”

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at rkuznia@noozhawk.com.

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Homeless Man Reveals Power of the Internet

This article was published on the website of Santa Barbara Newsroom, an experimental project launched by a group of journalists.

Anyone who still doesn’t believe that the Internet is the great equalizer ought to meet Patrick Sexton.

A homeless man in Isla Vista, Sexton sleeps on a mattress tucked inside a thorny bush. He works at a recycling station in a parking lot behind the Isla Vista Market, and says he has a fifth-grade education.

A homeless man, Patrick Sexton works on his Web site at the UCSB library. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN
A homeless man, Patrick Sexton works on his Web site at the UCSB library. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN

The story he tells of his past is filled with worldly travel, unlikely triumph and blood- and alcohol-stained tragedy. He says that following a two-year stint as a humanitarian-aid worker in war-torn Africa, he careened on a downward spiral into homelessness. If Sexton’s past is difficult to verify, his present is considerably less so.

The 36-year-old drifter has created one of the world’s most prominent online guides for improving Web site rankings on the Google search engine. He works on the site not with his own computer, but from a UCSB library terminal.

To be sure, the title of his online guide, feedthebot.com, isn’t exactly a household name. (http://www.feedthebot.com/) But in Internet circles, it has attracted considerable attention for its ability to help people create sites that will pop up more prominently in a Google search.

In the egalitarian world of the Internet, the prized asset of a high search-engine ranking can’t be purchased with money. Big corporations that simply pay Google a bundle of cash receive only a mention on the side of the screen, not a favorable ranking on the search itself.

Sexton sleeps in the wilds of Isla Vista. Photo by Edgar Oliveira/SBN
Sexton sleeps in the wilds of Isla Vista. Photo by Edgar Oliveira/SBN

Good placement in the actual results must be earned, by following the ever-evolving dictums of Google.

Among the Google guidelines spelled out in feedthebot: “Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.” Under each guideline is a page of text written by Sexton telling people how to comply, and how to tell whether a site complies.

“Five years ago, Web sites were made with design in mind,” Sexton said on a recent sunny day last week, while helping a fellow homeless man pour a sack of empty beer cans into a barrel. “Now an enormous factor is … do search engines understand it, can they comprehend what it’s about?”

Sexton practices what he preaches. His Web site has attracted a fair number of unique visitors – 50,000 since it was launched five months ago. He’s also been publicly praised on the blog of an Internet-world celebrity, the head of Google’s Webspam team, Matt Cutts.

More impressive, though, are his own rankings on the Google search engine. To get an idea for his mastery of the mysterious-but-widely-used-device, go to Google and type “Google Webmaster Guidelines” in the search engine. (The quotes are not necessary.)

The search produces roughly 1.1 million hits. The top two are from Google itself. Ranking third is Sexton’s Web site. Now try typing “Webmaster guidelines” (again, no quotes). This generates about 17.5 million hits. Feedthebot.com is No. 7. Typing “Google guidelines” produces about 57.4 million hits — that’s almost double the number of people living in California. Feedthebot is No. 6.

“You don’t need a whole bunch of money for marketing, if you do your site well,” said Sexton, who said he’s been living in Isla Vista for about two months. “I could have been a corporate executive with millions of dollars, or I could have been a homeless dude at the library.”

AN ADVENTUROUS LIFE

At first glance, Sexton doesn’t look homeless. He’s relatively young, and appears to be in good health. His beard is well trimmed; his demeanor is professional. He makes good eye contact, is socially graceful, and seems, for practical purposes, normal.

Sexton regularly walks from the recycling station in I.V. to the UCSB library. Photo by Edgar Oliveira/SBN
Sexton regularly walks from the recycling station in I.V. to the UCSB library. Photo by Edgar Oliveira/SBN

A closer look reveals slightly dirty fingernails –no doubt partly from his line of work – a few careworn wrinkles around the eyes, and a pack-a-day smoking habit. He also says he has trouble remembering portions of his past.

Still, his appearance and affable nature belie the traumic life story he tells.

A native of Portland, Ore., Sexton said he became a ward of the court when he was in fifth-grade due to an abusive situation. In those days, he said, kids who lived in state-run group homes were denied access to public schools.

He never attended middle school or high school. Instead, he went to bookstores – Powell’s in Portland – and read voraciously about the topics that fascinated him, namely math and physics. He said he eventually emancipated himself from the state system, and got his GED. A couple years later, he landed a job fighting forest fires in Northern California.

Sexton said he attended Nassau Community College in Long Island, N.Y., where he studied math, biology and physics. Sexton said he moved to Italy at age 19. He didn’t return to his native United States for another 12 years.

In Italy, he worked odd jobs – such as “hauling cement in bags on my back” – and painted as an artist.

By and by, he became acquainted with a group of humanitarian-aid workers. At first, he admits, his attraction to the line of work wasn’t entirely altruistic.

“They were young, exuberant, heavy drinkers,” he said. “The women were beautiful. I remember thinking, ‘I like this humanitarian-aid stuff.’”

THE HORRORS OF WAR

Eventually, through that group of friends, Sexton said, he landed a fulltime job as a logistician for Save the Children International. He was stationed in Sierra Leone in Western Africa, where bloody wars fought by children are waged over diamonds. Logisticians in such situations try to run normal offices in abnormal conditions.

“You have to have offices, yet you have no electricity, so you bring in generators and satellite phones,” he said.

At the recycling station, Sexton is able to help other homeless people. Photo by Edgar Oliveira/SBN
At the recycling station, Sexton is able to help other homeless people. Photo by Edgar Oliveira/SBN

Sexton said that from 1999 to 2001, he worked at a shelter for recovering child warriors, who needed protection from the local residents, whose moral clarity was blinded by a raging thirst for vengeance.

The experience was devastating, he said.

A short-story writer, Sexton authored a piece that juxtaposes the horror of an explosion that sent him and some children flying off the ground with his attempts to keep them calm by making them laugh.

“You watch a cart filled with fruit lift up. You don’t know you are off the ground until you crash back down onto it. Dust is everywhere and the wall with a mural you noticed isn’t there anymore. … You put out your cigarette, walk like Charlie Chaplin and make dead children smile.”

Sexton said the story won first prize in a Canadian non-fiction writing contest called True Life Story.

In 2001, he said, a bloodthirsty mob stormed Ogo Village, flipping over cars, and murdering children.

In another short story, Sexton recounted how, when holding a dying boy’s chest to stop the bleeding, he saw that a guerrilla organization called the “Rebel United Front” had branded its initials on the boy’s chest.

“My hands covered the ‘U,’ and I didn’t see the ‘U’ until after he was dead,” he wrote.

Santa Barbara Newsroom attempted to verify his affiliation with Save the Children, but the U.S. office in Connecticut had no records of his employment. A clerk in Connecticut tried the Italian office, but hadn’t received word back as of press time.

THE SLIDE INTO HOMELESSNESS

Sexton says he quit the job and fell into a deep depression that he medicated with booze. He moved to France. Using the considerable amount of money he’d saved on the job, he started getting drunk. Toward the end of 2001 or the beginning of 2002, he said he became so destitute he went to the French government and asked to be “re-patrioted,” which basically means they purchased a plane ticket for him to return to the states.

His memory of that phase of his life is blurry. For no particular reason, he said, he decided to go to Miami.

“The first thing I remember is me being in Miami at the airport and I just started crying,” he said.

At the time, the United States was in the midst of the craze for laying down high-speed Internet cable, widely known as DSL. For a while, Sexton said he made good money connecting people’s modems to the high-speed Internet in several states. But he grew tired of the job and moved back to Portland, where he reconnected with an old friend, he said.

Sexton said it was in the basement of his friend’s house that he started reading about Web sites, links and search engines. In 2002 or 2003, Sexton said he moved to Hawaii, where he stepped up his efforts to educate himself about Web sites.

ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL WEB SITE

A savvy shoestring-budget traveler, Sexton said he also created a Web site called Twizi.com, in which he gives reviews of youth hostels around the world, complete with photos. http://www.twizi.com/hostels.htm

This Web site, too, has found success. Sexton said Twizi.com earns him between $300 and $500 a month in advertising. He uses this money to travel so he can review more hostels. It was such a tour that took him to Isla Vista from the Los Angeles area about two months ago.

In Isla Vista, he said he has had some problems with the I.V. Foot Patrol, who tend to shoo him out of his outdoor sleeping quarters. Indeed, records show that on March 26, a 36-year-old Patrick Sexton received a misdemeanor citation for “prowling” on private property on El Colegio Road just before midnight. A statewide background check turned up no other criminal records.

On the issue of money, Sexton doesn’t sugarcoat his intentions. Like most people, he would eventually like to make a fair amount of it.

“Do I want to make money? Abso-friggin-lutely,” he said. “I don’t think money’s evil.”

He said he is trying to build readership on his Feedthebot site, and one day may start posting ads, as he does on Twizi – but for more money.

To anyone wanting to start a successful Web site, Sexton offers a simple piece of advice: Make it useful. As an example, he mentions the unlikely topic of Herpes.

“It sounds weird, but if somebody were to find out they had Herpes, they probably wouldn’t ask their co-workers about it,” he said, adding with a chuckle that no, he doesn’t have the sexually transmitted disease. “They probably wouldn’t ask a cashier.”

As a result, it’s a topic that is bound to generate a lot of interest on the Internet.

But to create a Web site that attracts thousands of hits, a creator likely would need to abide by the Google guidelines. That’s where Sexton comes in, providing helpful tips that could improve a Web site’s position in search reseults.

Sexton said he has reason to believe his site about search engines will become even more useful as more Webmasters seek to improve their rankings. This would help him achieve his goals in life.

“I’m not looking to have an office-type job,” he said. “I don’t like wearing suits, or even casual office attire. … My goal is absolutely to accumulate wealth and to live in a situation where I’m no longer homeless.”

In the age of the Internet, where the merit of information still trumps shiny shoes and firm handshakes, his dream could be realized with a few more clicks of the keyboard.

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Prostitution Vigilante Van Cruises Minneapolis Neighborhoods Looking for Johns

(Note: This was a story that was published on Aug. 7, 1999 in The Alley, a monthly newspaper covering the Lake Street area, an impoverished section of Minneapolis.)

 

Linda Kolkind isn’t afraid of the riff raff near her house on 12th and Lake, and she refuses to be cooped up inside because of it.

“This is where I live. I can have a garden if I so please.”

Highlighted with benches and a pool with goldfish, her award-winning garden blossoms with tulips, daffodils, and irises every spring. All this stands in stark contrast to the chain-link fence surrounding the garden, the Lake Street neighborhood surrounding the chain-link fence, and the menacing sign slapped against her stucco-walled house: Beware of Dog.

But her defiantly sown garden isn’t the half of it.

Kolkind sits in the driver’s seat of a rusty van parked in the street adjacent to her home. The van’s side, rear, and hood are spray-painted with graffiti. “Prostitution: the world’s oldest oppression,” “Real men don’t have to pay,” and “Down with Johns!” are some of the spray-painted messages. Kolkind, the owner of the van and founder of the Southside Prostitution Task Force, is evidently amused by the attention the van attracts.

She grins, pushing her glasses up her nose. “Quite the van, huh! It’s a moving billboard. Volunteers did the artwork. The thing’s literally held together with duct tape. It breaks down every other day.”

The Southside Prostitution Task Force – founded in 1992 – consists of about 20 members. Its primary focus is to work in conjunction with larger organizations like Pride and Restoration Justice, which provide rehab for prostitutes. Unlike the larger organizations, the Southside Prostitution Task Force takes a grass-roots, on-the-street approach.

“Most organizations want larger numbers – they don’t like to do this one person at a time. We will. Because we, being residents of this area, have been violated one person at a time,” she says.

In addition, the task force attempts to suffocate the prostitution business by hampering the demand side.

She tells me to get ready to witness the harassment of some johns. I get into the van, and she starts it up.

As we troll slowly down Lake Street, people walking on the sidewalk turn their heads toward the eyesore of a vehicle. Since it’s the middle of the afternoon, the van is especially visible. Some people frown. Others smile and shake their heads. One man at a bus stop gives us the thumbs up. Another man, smoking a cigarette and talking to a woman on a street corner, stops talking to the woman to look at the van. He holds his hands up and follows the van a few paces, strutting, as if to say, “Lay off!” or, “Wanna make something of it?”

“That guy’s what they call an entrepreneur,” she explains. “She wants drugs and money. He has both, so he gives her both, in exchange for sex.”

Designed to be visually upsetting to men that are interested in soliciting sex, the van’s graffiti has a tactical purpose.

“Prostitution thrives on the fact that these men think they’re anonymous. With this van, we try to undermine that by letting johns know they’re being watched.”

In the future, Kolkind wants to watch the johns more intensely. Her vision includes a new van equipped with a laptop, so she can immediately send the license plate numbers of johns to the DMV. That way, the DMV can immediately send her the addresses of the johns, so she can “spook them out a little bit.”

“For instance, we thought it would be nice to go have lunch inside the van right outside a john’s house and not say a word. And people will say, ‘why is that van here?’”

Seven years ago, Linda Kolkind considered herself a passive neighborhood victim of prostitution. Back then, prostitutes and their customers were no less visible than the Powderhorn and Phillips stores, houses, and bars on whose property they did business.

“Not only were they lingering around our neighborhood, they were having sex in our driveways.”

During this period, Kolkind, a mother, wife, and collector for a bank, laid blame upon the women who sauntered in her neighborhood. Then, a murder completely changed her outlook.

“There was a certain woman who was always hanging around here. She was maybe 40. Always getting into and out of people’s cars with various men late at night. I would scream and yell at her, and she would scream and yell back.”

The bitter feud lasted over six months but ended abruptly.

On September 23, 1992, a team of squad cars pulled into the parking lot of a dry cleaning store across the street from her house. Inside the building, someone had found a naked woman’s body stuffed into a stairwell. She had been stabbed repeatedly. That night, after talking to some neighbors, Kolkind learned the name of her rival for the first time: Linda Marie Priebe, the victim.

“My life was absolutely turned inside out because of it,” she said.

After Kolkind went to the funeral, she realized something had to be done.

“Many people tell me they go through all kinds of measures to ‘get the whores’ off the property. They swear at them, they throw eggs and stones at them. And now, I tell them, ‘it’s fine to act out, but you gotta find the right targets.’”

The targets, she says, are the males who can typically best afford the tricks. Most of these men, she says, are white and drive in from the suburbs. This is especially the case with establishments known as saunas.

Six months after the death of Priebe, Kolkind attended a neighborhood meeting dedicated to the closing down of a sauna in Powderhorn called A-Spa. “I had a lot to say at the meeting, because, after what I’d seen, I thought that I knew a lot about prostitution.”

This being the case, the meeting inspired Kolkind to start and lead the Southside Prostitution Task Force, which was solely devised to run the neighborhood sauna out of business.

“I thought this would be easy – thought it wouldn’t take us more than six months. But the police were less than enthusiastic until we let them know we were persistent.”

Two years later, Kolkind and the task force persuaded the police to investigate and charge Susie Kotts, the owner of the A-Spa.

Since then, Kolkind has quit her job, purchased a van, closed down six other saunas, and profoundly cleaned up Lake Street and the surrounding areas. At the same time, the former A-Spa is now back in business in the alley by the intersection of Lake Street and 17th Avenue. The sign by the door now reads “Healing Arts Spa.” The only vehicle in the parking lot is a new looking minivan.

“You really don’t see beaters in the parking lots of these places,” she says.

To reiterate her point, she drives the van to another sauna called the Delux Spa. The van stops next to the Spa’s parking lot.

“There’s the Johnnies,” she chuckles, nodding towards the cars in the lot. The small lot actually seems more like a large driveway. The five vehicles in the lot have taken the only five available spots. None of the cars looks more than two years old.

“We’ll toy with them a little – make ‘em squirm.”

She parks the van right in the front and points to the neon-green “open” sign.

“See that? In a couple of minutes, the light will turn off,” she predicts. Kolkind speculates that this is because there is some sort of agreement between the owner of the spa and the owner of the auto body shop across the street, as the Spa has no windows.

Suddenly Kolkind fumbles around for a notepad. “There’s one right now!”

An elderly white man exits the spa, looking both ways before stepping onto the sidewalk like a kid looks both ways to cross the street. He spots the van, looks at the ground, and limps towards his white car, parked right in front of the van. Linda pushes up her glasses while jotting down his license plate, which has a handicapped sign on it.

“Older white male, possibly 60 to 65. Short and bald. Nice car – Whittaker Buick.” While writing, she shakes her head. “It’s all about classism, racism, the haves and the have-nots.”

She finishes jotting down the information as he drives away.

“In a few days, he’ll receive a message from the police saying he was spotted by the spa. I sure hope his wife does not read his mail!” said Kolkind.

Naturally, such zealous behavior has awarded her some enemies. Once, a man banged on the window of the van while at a stoplight, threatening to “take her out.”

“Before we really cleaned up the area last summer, I was scared. But now they’ve moved to the Bloomington (Avenue) area. They’re like cockroaches – they go to where it is dark. So now (their anger) has settled to a quiet rage.”

Kolkind’s own intolerance has done no such thing. Until the Prostitution Task Force rids the area of its last john, it seems clear Kolkind’s own rage will remain loud and quite visible.