Rob Derrick: Veteran, YMCA teacher, group home provider

Rob Derrick demonstrates how to give CPR to an infant. Photo by Heather Young
Rob Derrick demonstrates how to give CPR to an infant. Photo by Heather Young

Rob Derrick has lived in Creston nearly his whole life and continues to live on the 30-acre ranch he grew up on. It’s not just any ranch, however, but the site of Derrick Family Home 1 and 2, which house a total of 10 developmentally disabled people – eight adults and Derrick’s daughters, Danielle, 22, and Dayna, 14 – as well as Derrick and his wife, Roberta “Robbi Ann, “his parents, Jim and Donna Derrick, and his aunt and uncle.

Derrick said he was born into the business of Derrick Family Home because his grandmother, Peggy Stanke, started the home 50 or 60 years ago, before Derrick was even born. He said he’s not sure why his grandmother started the home, but when she died he knew he wanted to keep it going because the women who lived there were like his old sisters, even though their minds were that of children.

Of the eight – besides his own children – who reside there currently, the shortest time one has lived there is 23 years and the longest is 47 years. Derrick’s family – including his grandma who started the home in Southern California – moved to Creston in 1972. Derrick attended school in Atascadero, graduating from Atascadero High School in 1986. That same year, he joined the Navy and served in that branch for 10 years before joining the Marine Corp., which he served for six years. He left the service completely in 2002. During that time he lived around the world, including living in Sasabo, Japan, for six years. While in the Navy, Derrick served in Desert Storm but never touched shore because he was in a boat – he was a boatswain mate.

He joined the service because his father had been in the Army. While his father served during Vietnam, his side of the bus was sent to Germany while the other half was sent to Vietnam, Derrick said.

“I just wanted to get out and see the world, so I did,” he said about why he joined the military.

It was in the service that Derrick, who teaches CPR and first aid around the county, got the opportunity to teach those lifesaving skills. However, he said that his wanting to help others learn those skills came when his eldest daughter had to have open heart surgery at the age of 6.

“It changed me,” Derrick said. “I wanted to help people.”

He started teaching CPR and first aid while in the Marine Corp. He said he’d teach 65 to 80 men over the course of a weekend. To date, he said he has taught more than 40,000 students lifesaving skills.

Derrick said he has a goal that at least one person in every household will be certified in CPR and first aid.

“I do CR to help people on our community save each other because EMS can’t always be there,” Derrick said. “Everyone around you that is certified makes you safer.”

Derrick spends about four days a week training individuals, groups and classes at the San Luis Obispo YMCA. He also teaches lifesaving skills to American Red Cross volunteers. After Hurricane Katrina hit, he trained a lot of local people before they headed to the New Orleans area. Derrick said he not only teaches the skills, but does it in a way that is interesting and funny so that his students pay attention and remember what they learned.

“I tell people, if you want to help someone you’ve got to do it,” Derrick said. “The sooner you help them, the better the change they have at survival.”

Not only does he teach the skills, he puts them to action when he’s out in the world. He has saved seven out of eight people he’s given CPR to out on the street. A few years ago he traveled around the country with a friend competing in archery tournaments. He said he came across many car crashes in that traveling and helps out when needed. If EMS personnel are on-site, he keeps driving, but if a police is there without EMS, he asks if help is needed. But if no emergency personnel are on-scene, he stops. He said he teaches all of his students this.

While teaching CPR and first aid is a career Derrick is passionate about, his family – including the developmentally disabled adults who reside there – is the top of his list. He said they family spends 30 to 40 days traveling each year. The decision of where to go, Derrick said, is a democratic process where everyone gets the opportunity to throw out a location and then they all vote. The trip includes 16 to 18 people caravanning in four RVs – the group includes Derrick, his wife, their daughters, the eight residents, Derrick’s parents and aunt and uncle, and a couple of friends.

Archery is Derrick’s stress reliever and got into it when he was in the service. He got back into it when a friend of his wanted to start competing in tournaments around the country. He stopped traveling for tournaments when he began teaching CPR more. Now, Derrick has a bow range in his backyard and the kids – what he calls Derrick Family Home residents – do archery together.

Except for his time in the service, Derrick has lived in Creston – on that 30-acre ranch. He has known his wife since elementary school – she lived down the street, he said. They were friends growing up, which led to more than friendship and in 1988 they married. Derrick’s wedding band has a wolf’s head on it. He said it is usually a conversation starting point. He said he chose the wolf for his wedding band because “wolves mate once for life – no matter what.”

This story was originally published in Journal Plus in February 2014.

Sandy Richardson: One woman helps others through Womenade

Rosemary Cleaves and Sandy Richardson sit together in Richardson’s dining room. Photo by Heather Young
Rosemary Cleaves and Sandy Richardson sit together in Richardson’s dining room. Photo by Heather Young

San Luis Obispo resident Sandy Richard started what she calls the grassiest of grassroots organizations – SLO County’s Womenade – after she read an article in Real Simple magazine about a pediatrician in Washington, D.C., who was trying to help her patients who had real special needs. The local nonprofit operates solely on donations, grants and volunteers and helps those in need with no other options.

“I had just retired from teaching – I needed something in my life,” Richardson said.

Richardson and her husband, Frank, are both retired teachers. Frank retired from teaching eight-grade social studies at Laguna Middle School in 2000 and Richardson retired in 2002 from teaching eighth-grade English at the same school. Their daughter, Elaine Stewart, also went into teaching, although now she is a senior marketing director for Melaleuca. Elaine’s husband, Craig, is a teacher at SLO High School. Richardson has three grandchildren, Gwyneth, Calista and Boone.

“If I’m not Womenading, I’m grandmothering,” Richardson said.

It was partly because she needed something to do, but also because she had seen the need being a teacher for so many years that she started Womenade. She and several friends – Julie Jones, Elaine, Kathy Long, Shelley Benson and Julie Shultz – invited their friends for a potluck and each woman donated $35 to the cause in April 2003. That small potluck has grown to a network with 650 people on email and 410 on Facebook. They potlucks still happen quarterly with each woman donating $35. In order to ensure that all donations go directly to those in need, each person brings an item to share at either a member’s house or at a donated facility – the January potluck will be held at Congregation Beth David in SLO.

“One hundred percent of proceeds go to helping people,” Richardson said.

Those who are helped are referred by agencies, doctors, counselors, educators, homeless shelters, nurses and other social service resources.

“We’re sort of the last resort,” Womenade’s South County coordinator, Rosemary Cleaves, said.

In the 10 years since SLO Womenade began with a potluck, nearly $300,000 has been raised and provided in dental care, diapers, clothing, furniture, rent, glasses, gas, groceries and more. In addition that the money that has come out of the organization’s bank account are the donations that have come from Womenade and community members to those in need. Those items include furniture, diapers, formula, clothing, groceries and more.

“We strive to meet the need immediately. Just as fast as we can,” Richardson said. “The first thing we do is put it out over our email list and Facebook.”

The organization attempts to get what it needs directly from its members – such as cribs, clothing, etc. – before reaching into its bank account.

“The Internet has probably been the biggest boon for us to make this successful,” Richardson said.

When the group first started, Richardson would make calls to the membership to find the needed items.

“Sandy used to do this all by herself,” Cleaves said.

In December 2009, after years of prompting, Womenade became a nonprofit. Richardson said she resisted becoming a nonprofit because of the cost associated with it and she didn’t want to take any money away from helping those in need. But, coupled with the desire to offer to tax deductions to donors, it was realized that the organization raised too much money to not become a nonprofit.

“I didn’t want to pay the fees,” Richardson said, and the organization is not paying those fees after all, donors are paying those fees directly.

Not only are those administrative costs covered by donors, but all overhead costs, such as stamps, printing and envelopes, are donated.

There are many ways that the members of Womenade are helping the community. The first and biggest way is through referrals. Richardson said that the nonprofit pays a lot of utilities. But each family only gets up to $300 worth of help from the organization’s account, donated items do not count toward that amount.

“We’re impacting the lives of the people, but also the providers … all those who can make something happen for the children and the families,” Richardson said.

Richardson shares those stories at the quarterly potlucks. Cleaves said that the potlucks aren’t the same without Richardson telling the stories of the people they’ve helped. Passionately, Richardson shared a story of an elderly woman who is living in a care facility and was always caring for others and not getting anything for herself. Womenade gives her a small amount of money each month to purchase personal care items for herself.

“It’s incredible the people we are helping,” Richardson said.

In South County, Womenade operates a food distribution at Nipomo Elementary School in partnership with the Food Bank Coalition of SLO County. Cleaves, who heads up the distribution, said the organization started with food for 96 families and now distributes 180 bags each month. Each family gets one bag of “shelf stable” food and one bag of produce in recycled bags that the families are encouraged to bring back each week.

Each distribution day, Cleaves gets more than 40 volunteers who arrive at 1:30 to setup and leave at 6:30 p.m. after cleanup. The actual distribution begins at 4 p.m.

“It’s just unbelievable the stories and the need,” Cleaves said. “We get so much out of it as they do – maybe more. There are all of these connections. You start developing a relationship with the students and parents. We have people of all walks of life who come in.”

Womenade is always in need of volunteers and donors to help as many people as possible, but to also keep the overhead costs at zero. Because there is nowhere to store item donations – although Richardson temporarily stores items – people with items to donated are asked to hold on to them until a need arises. However, she said that if someone has a space that can be utilized as storage for no cost to the organization to let her know.

“It’s a wonderful organization,” Cleaves said. “I think every woman in the county should belong to it.”

To join, donate or volunteer, go to, email or call 543-7450. While there are many Womenade organization’s around the country because of the story in Real Simple, Richardson said there is no national organization.

This story was originally published in Journal Plus in December 2013.

Pepper and Sheahan

Frank Sheahan and Pete Pepper stand together outside of Sheahan’s San Luis Obispo’s insurance office, only three blocks from Pepper’s home. Photo by Heather Young
Frank Sheahan and Pete Pepper stand together outside of Sheahan’s San Luis Obispo’s insurance office, only three blocks from Pepper’s home. Photo by Heather Young

A friendship started in 1964 when two young soldiers in Officer Candidate School met. At 21, Sgt. Pete Pepper had been in the Army a year longer than 19-year-old Sgt. Frank Sheahan. Today, Sheahan says he would not have made it through the 26-week intensive training that led to the him – and the 128 other men who completed the training out of 250 who began it – to becoming second lieutenants without Pepper.

“In 1964, Pete and I were assigned or volunteered to go to Officers training school in Fort Benning, Ga.,” Sheahan said, adding that they went from enlisted status to second lieutenants. “I didn’t know squat. I remember Pete helping me … it gave me enough guidance and it gave me enough motivation to get through that course. It wasn’t easy.”

“The bonds you form are very intense,” Pepper added. “The thing about OCS is you have to help each other. You have to have someone who has your back.”

Sheahan said he thinks that the training is designed to break the soldiers down, because the soldiers come out as officers and will be leading soldiers, whose lives depend on their decisions and how they hold up to pressure. And with the conflict in Vietnam building, they needed to be able to lead the soldiers in war – though Pepper and Sheahan didn’t know it at the time.

After Pepper and Sheahan completed their training, which they both completed, they went their separate ways. Both serving in the Vietnam War, but in different units, their paths not crossing again for nearly five decades.

That friendship was rekindled this past summer when Sheahan was at the American Legion for an installation dinner. He overheard one guest say that she had been playing tennis with Pete Pepper. His ears perked up at the sound of Pepper’s name.

He went home from the American Legion dinner, Googled “Pete Pepper” and found that Pepper did indeed live in San Luis Obispo. With the address in hand, Sheahan drove out to the house, which is on the outskirts of the city. When he knocked on a door, a man that Sheahan said was one of his clients, told him that Pepper had sold him the home a couple of years ago. Sheahan told him how he knew Pepper and Sheahan left with Pepper’s new address, which is only three blocks from where he has had his insurance business for the last 32 years.

When Sheahan went to Pepper’s home, he found that Pepper was out of the country, but he told the story to Pepper’s stepson and left his business card.

“[His stepson] said, ‘That’s not him, I don’t remember that,” Sheahan said.

When Pepper returned from his trip, he found Sheahan’s card and said he remembered him. He then called Sheahan and asked if he could come over and he walked the three blocks to Sheahan’s to restart their friendship from 49 years earlier.

Living only three blocks away, Pepper said that he and his wife, Patty, often walked right down Sheahan’s block to get downtown, but he never noticed or connected Sheahan’s Insurance to the soldier he once knew.

Not only had they missed each other on Chorro in front of Sheahan’s office, but they also attend the same church –Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa– and have for years. That church, the pair noted, has more than 2,200 families as members and there are seven mass services each weekend, so it would be easy to miss someone you are not looking for. Pepper started attending that church after he met his wife a couple of years ago through eHarmony. Sheahan, on the other hand, has been a life-long catholic and had attended service at the mission for several decades.

“I’m sure there were many Sundays that we attended mass together and walked by each other,” Sheahan said, adding that it was the name “Pete Pepper” that piqued his memory. “It is interesting to think 128 people left Fort Benning, Ga., … that name ‘Pete Pepper’ was imbedded in my mind.”

Sheahan is originally from New Jersey, but after he got out of the service, he moved to SLO in 1973 when he was recruited by an insurance firm to do employee benefits. He left that firm in 1980 to form his own business. He has worked on the block his business is located on for 40 years.

Pepper is originally from California, having lived in both Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara before joining the Army. He went on to have a career as a broadcast journalist in radio and television in Hawaii and California. He moved to SLO in 2005 because he was looking for a place to retire and his brother lived here. While he is retired, he was the writer/producer/director for the documentary “Killing Memories” and has been working on other documentaries. “Killing Memories” is about Vietnam War veterans returning to Vietnam and reconciling what took place decades earlier.

In SLO, Pepper is a volunteer for Veterans Helping Veterans, which is a treatment court for veterans who had service-related problems that are linked to criminal behaviors. He also volunteers with Restorative Partners with his wife. Pepper and Sheahan also volunteer at their church.

“I am more involved in the church,” Sheahan said. “The church is a big part of my life.”

Over the past 40 years, Sheahan has been actively involved in the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, the Mustang Boosters, Boy Scouts, Cancer Society, Heart Association, YMCA, Achievement House, Woods Humane Society, Kiwanis De Tolosa and helped start Crimestoppers in 1981. He was also named Citizen of the Year by the SLO Chamber in 1990.

“It’s a small world,” Sheahan said. “All those years and I can honestly say if it wasn’t for Pete’s help and guidance, I wouldn’t have graduated.”

This story was originally published in Journal Plus in November 2013.

Save Atascadero files lawsuit about Walmart

ATASCADERO — Save Atascadero filed a lawsuit against the city of Atascadero on Aug. 9 that challenges the city’s actions made on June 26 in regard to the Walmart/Annex.

According to city attorney Brian Pierik, the lawsuit could delay the project at least a year or more.

The petition, filed by Mark R. Wolfe and John H. Farrow of M.R. Wolfe and Associates, P.C. of San Francisco, the attorneys for Save Atascadero, says that the lawsuit challenges the city’s actions that certified the environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, public resources code section 21000 et seq., and that approved a general plan amendment, zoning ordinance text and map amendment, specific plan, specific plan master plan of development, tree removal permits and vesting tentative parcel maps for the Del Rio Road Commercial Area Special Plan.

“Save Atascadero had no alternative but to seek relief in court,” Save Atascadero spokesman Tom Comar wrote in a press release issued Wednesday. “Neither the Atascadero Planning Commission, with the exception of one member, nor the city council did their ‘due diligence’ in assessing, deliberating, and ensuring that CEQA standards were met by the state-mandated environmental impact report before approving the project.”

Comar went on to write that city staff, the planning commission and city council “failed” the citizens of Atascadero by “willfully ignoring the testimony of experts and informed citizens, that highlighted insufficiencies, inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the EIR data and the lack of pertinent data.”

“For both pro and anti-Walmart supporters, rest assured if or when the project comes, we want it to be the best project, the most environmentally mitigated project that is feasible to meet CEQA standards or even to exceed those standards,” Comar wrote.

Engineering Development Associates, Inc., Montecito Bank & Trust, Omni Design Group, Inc., The Rottman Group, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Does I through XXV are listed as real parties in interest.

Pierik said the process would include preparing an administrative record, certified by the city clerk and filed by the court.

Then, Pierik said that the attorneys for the real parties of interest and the respondent (the city of Atascadero) will each have the opportunity to respond to the petitioner’s brief. Then a hearing would be set.

He said how long it takes would depend on how long it takes to prepare an administrative record and what the brief schedule would be.

“This legal challenge is technical and will be fought out in the court room through the testimony of experts, not in the press or letters to the editor,” Comar wrote.

This story was originally published in the Atascadero News on Aug. 21, 2012.

Las Lomas Village gets restarted

ATASCADERO — Atascadero residents Mike Zappas and Gaylen Little have broken ground on a 100-unit apartment complex in the Las Lomas Village in south Atascadero.

They purchased 5.85 acres of land on San Dimas Lane in Las Lomas Village in south Atascadero earlier this year. The land, previously owned by Hertel & Sons, has been abandoned for five years. In those five years, Zappas said he spent time looking up the owner of record and writing letters of inquiry. He said he did not receive any response. Time went on and one day he got a call from a Realtor in Santa Maria asking if he wanted to buy the property. After a little negioation, Zappas and Little came out the owners of the property and have been working on getting the project restarted.

The former owners had graded the property but hadn’t started to build before it was abandoned.

Zappas and Little built Hidden Oaks Village 10 years ago, and because of the increase of people living in Atascadero, he said it was time to build another apartment complex. Zappas said the city’s population has increased 8,000 in the last 10 years, but no apartment complexes have been built.

The partners will keep the site plans close to what they inherited, but changed the apartment sizes from nearly all two bedrooms to include a mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments.

“All of the major apartment complexes … are all two bedrooms,” Zappas said. “Good people come in lots of income levels, with lots of needs, different needs. When we saw that the plans we inherited had nearly all two-bedrooms, we said we need a change.”

So the pair spent $200,000 to redo the plans.

There will be three different floor plants ranging in size from 756 square feet for a one-bedroom, to 920 to 984 square feet for a two-bedroom, and 1,136 square feet for a three-bedroom apartment.

The complex will be built with a Spanish revival architectural style.

Twenty of 100 units will be designated as affordable housing. Two of those will be restricted to those who have very low income. Eight are for moderate-income.

The complex will be completed in three phases. There will be a total of 10 buildings with 10 units in each. The first phase contains four buildings, which Zappas said should be completed in eight months.

The site overlooks Paloma Creek Park and is adjecuent to open space that includes hiking and biking trails. There are 57 acres of shared open space in the Las Lomas development.

“This is just such a beautiful site,” Zappas said and added that in all of the Las Lomas development, it is the most beautiful location.

One reason the long-time Atascadero residents decided to build another complex in the city is that their Hidden Oaks Village has a waiting list for people to get in. This new complex, they said, would have the same character and management style as Hidden Oaks. Additionally, he said that over time apartment complexes become obsolete if the owners/managers do not keep up items such as windows and insulation.

Little and Zappas have known each other for years being neighbors in Atascadero. Zappas said that in addition to living next to each other they ride bicycles together, and in 1999 they built their first project together in Santa Maria. They both own and manage property on their own, and manage Hidden Oaks together. Zappas said they will manage the new project as well.

Zappas is trained as a biologist, having earned a degree in biology from the University of California Santa Cruz. Little’s profession is as a plumbing/general contractor. He attended Cal Poly.

“We know Atascadero,” Zappas said. “We know it really well. People come up to us all the time asking if we have a place to rent.”

The pair, along with partners in the project such as the city of Atascadero, Coast Hills Federal Credit Union, Atascadero Mutual Water Company, Rea and Luker Architects, Thoma engineering, Above Grade Engineering and the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce,were at a groundbreaking on Wednesday.

For more information on Las Lomas Village, go to

This story was originally published on July 13, 2012, in the Atascadero News.

Walmart/Annex project gets unanimous go-ahead

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero City Council unanimously approved moving forward with the Walmart/Annex project Tuesday six years after Walmart bought the property at Del Rio Road and El Camino Real.

While many of the 60 speakers during public forum spoke in favor or against having a Walmart store in Atascadero, a good number spoke about traffic and fiscal impacts approving the project as presented by staff.

“To be fair to everyone, we need Walmart and the Annex to pay their fair share of the actual costs,” Atascadero resident Ron Rothman said, and his sentiments on the interchange improvements were echoed by many other speakers, including those who said they want a Walmart in Atascadero, but not at the cost to the city.

While the city will front the costs of the interchange, Frace said that the city expects to get a total of $4,887,394 when the project is built out. Walmart’s portion of that is $2,269,425.

The city will receive a $250,000 payment from Walmart when the entitlements are final, which Frace expects to be in late summer of this year. A payment of $600,000 is due at the time of grading, which is expected to happen within the next year. The balance is then due at the time that the building permit is issued. Frace said that could likely happen at the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014.

The city has $800,000 in traffic impact fees already in the bank that could be utilized for up-front costs. If needed, Frace said that the city could borrow $1.5 million from the wastewater fund, which has more than $10 million in it. The money would be paid back with interest using future traffic impact fees.

Atascadero resident Hardy Neilson, a Del Rio Road resident, said he’s for the project, but that all improvements should be done and operational before any store is opened in the project.

“Come on, people, are we that incompetent we can’t drive around while this stuff is going on?” Atascadero resident Jim Shannon said.

“No more delays, we need jobs, we need sales tax,” Atascadero resident Mike Anderson said.

Atascadero Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Linda Hendy also spoke in favor of the council approving the project because the chamber supports “all businesses in Atascadero. It will bring hundreds of jobs to our community.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re for or against Walmart, it’s a matter of being fiscally responsible,” Atascadero resident Randy Lawrence said. “I would certainly have Walmart fund the [interchange costs]. Please be fiscally responsible.”

Several former Atascadero mayors spoke on the project.

“I believe the [benefits] far outweigh the risk,” former Atascadero mayor Ray Johnson said.

Former mayor Mike Brennler said that the interchange mitigations need to be in place before Walmart opens.

“Council members, we need to move forward with this project,” former Atascadero mayor Bob Wilkins said. “Could this have helped DeCou Lumber? Quite possibly. Let’s not lose our current investment of seven years.”

The council approved all 12 motions as recommended by staff one at a time. After staff and applicant presentations, a few short questions were asked of staff. There were also only a couple of questions after the public comment period was closed. There was no discussion between the council before motions were made.

At buildout, it is expected that the entire project will increase the city’s net revenues by $530,000 per year. Frace added that the number includes every proposed building in the project being complete and operational.

To get started on the interchange improvements, the city submitted the project initiation form to Caltrans on Thursday. Public Works Director Russ Thompson said that it’ll take at least a year to get through the design and environmental reviews processes.

“It’s so nice to finally have an approved project,” Thompson said.

The project was recommended for approval by the Atascadero Planning Commission in a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Len Colamarino dissented, Commissioner Beth Wingett was absent and Commissioner Christian Cooper recused himself because he signed a card in support of Walmart.

The Rottman Group first approached the city in early 2005 after it assembled parcels on three corners of the intersection. Walmart bought the 26 acres it owns from the Rottman Group in mid-2006.

The property owned by the Rottman Group on the northeast corner of the intersection was put up for auction earlier this year and purchased by Montecito Bank & Trust. While the bank is going forward as the applicant on the Annex portion of the development, along with the Rottman Group, which still retains a small lot across El Camino Real from the main Annex development, the bank will not develop the site, but will rather sell the property to developers.

The approved Walmart store will be 129,000 square feet with outlots for future businesses to be built.

The second reading of the project will be on the Tuesday, July 10 city council meeting under the consent calendar. All items on the consent calendar are approved in one motion, although city staff, council members and members or the public have the option to pull items off the consent calendar for discussion.

This story was originally published in the Atascadero News on June 29, 2012.