Keeping the Connections

Story by Erin Hallissy
Photography by Melissa Barnes

Sharing the Spirit

Pamela Thomas is a different person today than she was as a young woman. Then, she was in the corporate world, working long hours on everything from public relations and marketing to advertising and producing point-of-sales videos for companies like Gallo, Levi Strauss and Citibank.

She gave up that world in the mid-1990s when she enrolled in the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology to nurture her long-simmering desire to study spirituality and, in particular, the Virgin Mary. Always a "closet artist" who created quilts, appliqués and woven works, she was particularly interested in artistic interpretations of Mary throughout the ages.

Thomas received her master's of theology in religion and the arts and has since taught numerous courses on art and Mary at the same school. She also lectures in various locations on such topics as the Madonnas of Color in Southern France, the Images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Iconography of the Nativity.

For Thomas, Mary is "a real role model" — an inspiration and source of solace throughout her life. Thomas calls herself a "cradle Catholic" whose faith became stronger after she became a mother when she and her husband, Richard, adopted a baby boy whom they named Richard 22 years ago. Her faith blossomed even more through her education from the Dominicans.

"I'm a better Catholic now because I'm better educated," she says.

Her education took an unexpected path in 1999 when someone suggested she check out a job in Campus Ministry at Saint Mary's.

"I never felt called to be a minister, and yet I became one," she says, sitting at a table in her office, which is decorated with paintings of Mary and pictures of students. What began as a 10-hour-a-week job is now nearly full-time, and Thomas loves ministering to students, staff and faculty on campus.

She also teaches in Collegiate Seminar, the LEAP (Liberal Education for Arts Professionals) Program, Extended Education and the January Term, and has led students in meditations. One of her older students, a Vietnam War veteran, said he had killed people in combat and told her "now, maybe I can forgive myself."

Thomas has spread her appreciation for depictions of Mary to Saint Mary's. She has worked with the Hearst Art Galley on some installations and was instrumental in putting together a daylong symposium in 2005 on Women, Spirituality and the Arts. She also wrote a booklet about the Marian windows in the Chapel, and is writing a booklet on the De La Salle windows.

Thomas has also immersed herself in the Lasallian mission. She went through the Buttimer Insitute of Lasallian Studies, a three-year formation program studying the life, work and vision of Saint John Baptist de La Salle.

"I think that solidified my commitment to the Christian Brothers," she says. "It was a beautiful experience, and it gave me a world view of the mission. We're here in this beautiful place in Moraga, but I know there is somebody in Omaha or Oklahoma City or Rhode Island who is doing the same thing that I'm doing."

She is also continuing graduate studies on human development and spirituality through Saint Mary's University in Minnesota.

"I'm a perpetual student," she says. "I really like the lifelong learning philosophy."

Thomas has devoted a lot of her life lately to spirituality.

"Sometimes when you think about spirituality, you think of it as a ritual," she says. "It's not hocus-pocus. It's walking, falling down, getting up."

The college environment is now the perfect place for her, she says. "There's so much going on here. There are so many questions, more questions then we can answer.

"I know I wouldn't have been here when I was 25 or 30," she says, adding with a smile "Maybe I'm a slow learner. Now it does feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be."

Thomas gives both her time and talents to the College, to the Christian Brothers and to other causes. She served on various committees, including the president's search committee, and spent a month in Sao Paolo, Brazil, living in community with the Brothers and teaching adults and children in their school. She also spearheaded a "Bridges to the Bayou" fundraising campaign after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a drive that spread to the entire San Francisco district of the Christian Brothers and which brought untold donations of goods and money to New Orleans and other hard-hit Gulf states.

Charitable works, she says, can sometimes be easy to put off.

"You think I'm so busy and I don't have time," she says. "Then you get to a point where you make a decision and then you have time."


Tapia and his wife Roberta '81

Turning Points

By Erin Hallissy
Photography by Jessi LeMay

Richard Tapia '81 had "big dreams" as an adolescent — dreams of going into international business, of experiencing the world outside the East Los Angeles neighborhood where he grew up. The Christian Brothers at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles inspired him to go to Saint Mary's in faraway Moraga, but when he told his parents his plan, they burst into tears.

"Their knee-jerk reaction was ‘why do you want to leave home?' In the Hispanic culture, they like everybody close to home," he recalls. "I had to explain to them I wasn't running away. I was trying to fulfill a dream."

Tapia's parents relented, and the youngest of their five children became the first not only in his immediate but also in his extended family to go to college. In many ways, Saint Mary's was a whole new world.

"To go to grammar school, I had to pass by three sets of gangs," he recalls. "At Saint Mary's, it was culture shock because there were definitely people who had grown up in upper middle-class or middle-class America. Their parents went to college, their grandparents went to college. It was part of their culture. I had heard and read about dorm life, for instance, but I didn't know anything about it."

Ever determined, Tapia embraced new opportunities. He became president of MEChA, a Chicano student movement group. He threw himself into his studies, majoring in both business administration and Spanish. He kept up in the classroom with fellow students.

"My perception was that college was for brainiacs," he says. "I never considered myself studious, but I was always holding my own in class. I think I was well-prepared to go to Saint Mary's, coming from a Christian Brothers high school."

Tapia met his wife, Roberta Hernandez '81, in Brother DeSales Perez's bilingual Seminar class. Tapia remembers Brother DeSales, who died in 2003, as a major influence in his life, along with then-president Brother Mel Anderson, who lived in his residence hall.

"Coming from the East L.A. mentality, presidents are just this thing you hear about," Tapia says. "After I found out Brother Mel was the president of the school, it amazed me how down-to-earth he was. He was always very cordial, very nice to the students."

Brother Mel has fond memories of Tapia, praising him for making MEChA a "more congenial organization," remembering the mural he and Roberta produced of an Aztec warrior and Our Lady of Guadalupe, and recalling how hard Tapia worked driving a school bus earning enough money to buy a used Porsche which was later crushed by a falling tree branch.

Tapia did not pursue his childhood dream of international business, but his interest in cars led to a career at General Motors that took him, his wife and their growing family, which now numbers four boys, to eight cities in six states over 16 years. He became a GM-certified master technician and earned an MBA at Golden Gate University so he could testify in court as an expert witness on lemon laws.

Tapia's love of motorcycles eventually led him down another career path. He rode with a group of guys, and noticed that the ones riding Harleys were different.

"The guys that had Harley-Davidsons were always so cool, they had this certain look. People would stop and talk to them," he says. "I told Roberta I want to get a Harley and she said go ahead."

In the 1990s, the waiting list was 18 months. Someone told Tapia that if he loved Harleys so much, he should apply for a dealership. This time Roberta was more skeptical, saying "you can't even find a bike, and you want a franchise?"

It was a dream, and Tapia doesn't let dreams die. In 1998, a dealership in Merced was available, and Tapia jumped at the opportunity even though it meant moving his family from St. Louis to a town he didn't know. Suddenly, he was able to be around motorcycles and their enthusiasts all the time, and his dream really had come true. He has since added dealerships in Los Banos, Lake Tahoe and his new home base of Carson City, Nev., not far from his Reno home.

Tapia said he's one of the few Hispanic Harley dealers in the country, and he's made an effort to market the bikes to the Latino community. He is donating his-and-her Harleys to Saint Mary's to be raffled off in the spring fundraiser for athletics, saying he's happy to help a place that contributed so much to his family's life.

"When people ask ‘what was the turning point for you?' I say education was my turning point," Tapia says. "If I hadn't gone to Saint Mary's, if that chapter was erased from my life, I would not be here. I know that for a fact."


Sherie Dodsworth

Taking Charge

By Jennifer Wake
Photography by Melissa Barnes

Sherie Dodsworth '78 knew it would not be a routine Board of Regents meeting. She sat riveted as a science student took the podium, excitedly describing what changes lay ahead in the new state-of-the-art science center, now known as Brousseau Hall. The student reminded Dodsworth of herself.

"I was struck by how passionate this young woman was about her work and the opportunities given to her," Dodsworth says. "Just like many other students who shared their experience with the board in the past, I could hear the excitement of discovery in her voice."

It took her back to her own College experience as an undergraduate in 1974. "Saint Mary's gave me an opportunity to grow as a person and influenced my life," she says. "I liked the small class sizes offered; I wanted an opportunity to get involved."

It didn't take her long. While her friends were enjoying the camaraderie on the small campus of approximately 800 undergraduates, Dodsworth was often working two jobs as well as chairing a club or running for student government.

An accounting major, Dodsworth helped start the Business Club on campus, was a resident assistant, served as student body secretary and worked in the Business Office and in the Development Office. "I was never one to sit around and play cards," she says.

The Alumni Board, the regents and the trustees she met inspired her. "They were passionate about Saint Mary's," Dodsworth says. "Some were former students, but others just believed in how the College was educating students. I realized that with passion and commitment, I could make a difference."

Dodsworth applied this tenet to her career. She began working in the audit division of KPMG in San Francisco in 1978, earned her license as a California Certified Public Accountant in 1980, and went on to serve in senior financial roles as CFO, managing director and principal of companies ranging from investment management, semiconductor, e-commerce and venture capital firms during the dotcom boom and beyond.

She also took on a leadership role by working in various board rooms. She is chair of the board of directors of Borel Private Bank and Trust, where she has also served as chair of the audit committee and of the trust and investment committee, and now is on the audit committee and loan committee and is chair of the executive committee. She has also served in leadership positions at Saint Mary's. In 1987, Dodsworth was elected the first woman president of the Saint Mary's National Alumni Association and in 1998 she was the first alumna elected president of the Board of Regents. She is also a member of the College's Board of Trustees.

Early last year, following 26 years of success in the corporate world, Dodsworth decided to change course after seeing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and its effects on people's lives. She founded Securita, Inc., hoping to help others recover from a disaster.

"After I saw the victims of Hurricane Katrina being evacuated with nothing but the clothes on their backs, I realized how limited they were in their ability to take important records and documents with them," Dodsworth says. She developed a lightweight, water-resistant portfolio — the Vital Records PortaVault — which contains a system for organizing and storing hundreds of documents that can be easily carried in an emergency. The portfolio was available beginning in September 2006.

Dodsworth's "can do" attitude coupled with the support she received from classmates, faculty, staff and Christian Brothers while at Saint Mary's helped her gain confidence, and she credits her Saint Mary's education for her business savvy. "I learned to think on my feet and articulate and execute my ideas," she says.

One very special person in Dodsworth's life was the late Brother Jerome West.

"I met Brother Jerome in my sophomore year; he was my economics professor — and a very tough grader," she adds with a smile. Over the years he became one of her trusted advisors and a close friend. "What was so special for me was that we saw Brother Jerome in the classroom, but he also lived with us in the dorms. He really took an interest in the students."

Because of her friendship with Brother Jerome, Dodsworth developed and now helps fund the Brother Jerome West Endowed Scholarship to benefit student-athletes studying business. "Being part of the Saint Mary's community is simply about making a commitment," Dodsworth says.

Her dedication to the College has not gone unnoticed. In 1999, she was the first female to receive the Alumni of the Year award, and she recently became a member of the President's Circle, which is made up of donors who have given more than $100,000 over the years to the College.

"I hope to make a difference for future students," Dodsworth says. "If I have been inspirational to just one student, it makes it all worthwhile for me."

Rand Morimoto

Hard Driver

By Debra Holtz
Photography by Scott Chernis

Saint Mary's College Regent Rand Morimoto MBA '93 has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

In 2001, Morimoto wrote a book on Internet security and struck up a conversation with Vice President Dick Cheney at a defense conference in Boston. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit two months later and Morimoto's book became one of the world's top sellers on Internet security.

Several months later, Morimoto's receptionist walked into his office to tell him that someone was on the phone claiming to be calling on behalf of President Bush. He took the call and a few minutes later the president was on the line asking Morimoto to serve as his adviser on cyber-terrorism.

"It was during a time when the United States was really looking at Internet security and public security," says Morimoto.

Morimoto's first meeting with Bush occurred the same day that the United States declared war on Afghanistan. Now he says he travels to the White House every two weeks to discuss cyber-security with the president. Since 2003, he has also worked for the State Department in an effort to create international consensus on Internet security with the goal of persuading other countries to impose similar penalties as the United States on people caught hacking into computer systems.

Similarly, Morimoto says he served as President Clinton's technology advisor on Y2K issues from 1997 through 1999 after first meeting Vice President Al Gore at a conference.

"I was in the camp that didn't believe Y2K was a doomsday event, and advised organizations to check their systems and have contingency plans in place," says Morimoto.

Morimoto caught the first wave of the computer revolution in 1976. At the age of 11, he rode his bike after school to the General Electric offices in Los Angeles to sweep floors and play computer games. One day, after the mainframe crashed, IBM repair workers held Morimoto upside down by his feet to replace the computer's hard-to-reach vacuum tubes.

Morimoto and several UC Berkeley classmates opened a store in downtown Berkeley in 1986 selling computers to students and faculty members. It was not unusual to find a sign on the store's door that said: "Closed, will be back after class is over." The company — now Oakland-based Convergent Computing — became a pioneer in installing networks that enabled computers to communicate with one another.

While only techies had computers in the '80s, most everyone needed one by the late '90s. Morimoto's company evolved from selling computers and support services to consumers and small businesses, to helping larger firms manage, maintain and upgrade their systems.

Morimoto's company was growing exponentially in 1991 when he decided to pursue an MBA, believing he needed a business background after focusing primarily on liberal arts in college. He chose Saint Mary's because it was close to his home and offered a Saturday session, and he was impressed by alumni testimonials at an open house.

"The MBA program was perfect in the timing of my business as I was able to apply all of the course learning directly to my business," he recalls.

Another boost to Morimoto's technology firm has been the dozen or so books he has written on wireless security, encrypted communications and electronic messaging.

With his expertise in demand, Morimoto travels abroad every few weeks to speak at conferences and often takes his children along. His 8-year-old daughter recently became a million-mile frequent flyer; his 5-year-old son's passport is a half-inch thick with foreign customs stamps.

Despite his busy schedule, Morimoto finds time to lend his expertise to Saint Mary's as a member of its Board of Regents, a guest lecturer and a mentor to students.

Morimoto says Saint Mary's approach to education matches his own. "It's not just taking a textbook and reading it, taking an exam and saying ‘I know the subject.' It's experiencing it. It's learning from people who have worked in the field."

Over the past summer, Morimoto sent one of his consultants to campus to help with technology upgrades. His company employs several SMC grads and he has sponsored a number of employees in the College's MBA program, where he also guest lectures.

"The thing I find about Saint Mary's versus a lot of the organizations I work with is that the people at the College are very appreciative of the people who give," says Morimoto. "If you're doing something, it's nice to be acknowledged that it was helpful. It makes you feel good."

Rex and Patricia Parker with daughters Marisa and Claire. Their eldest, Adrienne, could not be in the photo because she is at Saint Mary's.

A Sound Investment

By Erin Hallissy
Photography by Sandy Huffaker

Rex and Patricia Parker have always believed in the value of higher education, so there was never a doubt that they'd send their three daughters to college. Their daughters' grandparents set up college funds for them, and Rex and Patricia provided the foundation for a strong education and desire to learn more as the girls grew up.

"We always had a lot of books around. We did a lot of reading, pursuing classics," says Rex, a Brown University graduate. "The idea was to think on a higher plane."

When their oldest daughter Adrienne was at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, she decided that she wanted to attend a small private college, and liked the idea of going to Saint Mary's College, which a friend's sister attended. It was far enough away from their Huntington Beach home that she could be independent, but close enough to still visit at times. She felt comfortable at Saint Mary's.

Rex and Patricia supported her decision all the way.

"The idea is to come up with a school that represents the best fit for the kid, where they'll benefit the most and thrive the most," Rex says. "Adrienne very much enjoys going to school there."

The family didn't know much about Saint Mary's, but found a lot to like.

"I was always very favorably impressed with the sense of community, and the Hearst Art Gallery," Rex says. "I really like the Chapel. And the staff seems very interesting."

Rex adds that the surrounding communities also contribute to his daughters' experience at Saint Mary's.

"I'm impressed with Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Rheem and Moraga. It's a nice place to be," he says.

The Parkers try to visit their daughter when they can, and are getting a newfound appreciation of San Francisco, exploring parts of the city they had not seen before. Rex, who works for the British sports car company Lotus in engineering and marketing, travels often for work and has some business contacts in the Bay Area.

Adrienne, a 21-year-old junior who is majoring in anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology, lives in a residence hall and is involved in a lot of activities, including being on Campus Ministry's Campus Pastoral Team, serving as a cultural commissioner, joining clubs and, for a while, taking part in crew. She also finds time to babysit for a Moraga family.

Adrienne spends a lot of time doing class work, but she hopes to get more involved in volunteer opportunities. She did a lot of volunteer work at Mater Dei and particularly enjoyed working with children.

She adds that religion is very important to her, and she'd like to get involved in CILSA, the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action at Saint Mary's. CILSA promotes, supports and organizes services on behalf of social justice.

Adrienne's parents are pleased with her activities at Saint Mary's, and are happy about how she's doing.

"She seems to be getting the most out of her education,'' Patricia says. "Her teachers are very helpful and very supportive. That means everything to a parent."

The Parkers believe that it's important to give back to the institutions that have been so important to their daughters' lives. Their second daughter, Marisa, is a freshman at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, and their youngest, Claire, is a fifth-grader at Saint Bonaventure's Catholic School in Huntington Beach.

"We've always been supportive of the schools our children have attended," Patricia says.

Rex says he believes educational institutions have a need for money that goes far beyond what tuition can provide. He once heard that the aggregate cost of an education comes from three sources: tuition, alumni contributions and government.

"It seems to me to be a mutual social obligation for all of us to contribute as extensively as we can because it will pay back in social dividends," he says. "There are any number of different things we can contribute to. Education probably has as high a yield as any other outlet.

"The overall societal benefit — the development of our culture, the development of our standard of living, the betterment of our lives — is higher," he continues. "Contributing to education is a very solid investment."

Patricia says she's read stories about people who've attended Saint Mary's and wanted to give back to the community.

"Somewhere during their education money came from somewhere," she says. "That somewhere is from very generous people who really care about the future."