La Verne Magazine
Spring 1999

"Education in La Verne"

How Time Has Changed the Lives of Five Bonita Alumni

by Erin Grycel
photography by Veero Der-Karabetian


Like the change of the winds, Debbi Russi's life has blown in many directions; from originally marrying her high school sweetheart to co-owning an art gallery in the Claremont Village. Nonchalant, free-spirited and relaxed are the overriding traits of Debbi's personality.

From bell bottoms to zoot suits, fads have come and gone. Karen Carpenter and roller skates are uncommon words, while the ringing of cellular phones and pagers have become familiar tunes in offices and classrooms.

In the blink of an eye, time has passed. And like Ed McMahon knocking on doors of sweepstakes winners, La Verne Magazine has kept in touch with five specific Bonita High School alumni.

When these individuals graduated from high school in 1977, each had a direction for the future. Ten years later, they were revisited, just as their careers were being established and their families beginning. Now, 21 years after the 1977 BHS graduation, their paths and perceptions have changed.

Micci Rhodes (Clark)

Amidst customers at a local pizza parlor, a solitary woman in business attire sits. At first, she is a stranger to the common onlooker. Then with a hand wave and smile broadened across her face, she becomes a familiar face from the past.

Micci Rhodes (Clark) has the same smile and sparkle in her eyes that invited conversation 21 years ago. "I have always been a pretty happy and positive person. I am known as the peacemaker who functions in the middle of all types of situations," she says.

From drill team captain to airline flight attendant, Micci once had plans of "serving dinners at 33,000 feet." Sudden forks in life detoured Micci from pursuing her goal. At the time, working at Chevron Research Co. in La Habra, being married and expecting a baby were her main priorities.

As an employee of Chevron, Micci Clark recalls her pursuit of a career as an airline stewardess. Micci's life has taken a different spin since that dream. Married and the mother of two children, her main priorities now focus on health and happiness for her family.

Though drastic career or geographic changes have not occurred for Micci, her perspective on life has changed. "I used to think that I was young, and I would live forever. I took chances, but now with children, I set specific goals," she admits.

Micci still resides in Pomona with her husband, Alan, and two children -- Nathan, 11, and Katherine, 8 -- and currently oversees finances connected to internal controls for the Chevron company. In tune with her family, Micci has a mixture of traditional and contemporary values she tries to implement within her children.

"Keep your own identity," are common words in the Rhodes household.

Ten years ago, Micci said she was domesticated, and "never thought that I would be like that." But Micci is far more than domesticated; she is active in her family. "Times have changed, and I deal with issues with my children on a more intense level. The pressures of childhood have changed from when I was little, and it is scary."

If granted three wishes, Micci says she would want "(1) eternal health for myself and my family, (2) happiness and (3) a move to La Verne." She adds, "I would love to be back in this town."

Little more than two decades have gone by for Micci, and modifications have been made within her life. Her once true love for flying has been transitioned to the love she has for her family.

"It's funny how things change. Alan and I do not even have current pilot licenses, but I don't really miss flying," she says. "I have different goals, and now I wonder, 'What was I ever thinking when I wanted to be a flight attendant?'"

Keith Brandt

From ASB President at BHS, to graduate of Harvard University with a degree in anthropology, to managing officer of Merrill Lynch in San Bernardino, one would think Keith Brandt has found the key to success.

However, he says, "My true success in life has been my marriage, my children and the friends that I have. Unfortunately, with my job, I do not have enough time to do a lot of things."

In March 1998, Keith was promoted to his current position with Merrill Lynch, where he oversees 16 financial consultants, and "handles the hiring, firing, training and various other tasks within the office."

With two children, 8-year-old Megan and 4-year-old Alix, and Nicki, his wife of 11 years, Keith says, "I do not want to jeopardize my family. My daily routine includes work from eight to five, come home and eat with my family, tuck the girls into bed, and work for three more hours [on company business I bring home]." His primary goal is to spend more time with his family.

Along with the stresses and responsibilities of day-to-day living, Keith also has a new perspective on life. "When I was in college, I was so anxious to graduate and begin my life. School was a lot easier, and I definitely should not have been in such a hurry." He admits, "I try not to be uptight and [to] enjoy life more; the stresses will still be there, but it is better to just enjoy life."

By the age of 18, Keith had traveled to Russia, Europe, Morocco, Turkey and Alaska, and had hopes of traveling to the Far East and Africa. Ten years later, he admitted to financing his travels "through playing poker."

Reflecting on children today, Keith says, "Childhood, compared to the past, is now very difficult. I only wish that my daughters did not have to grow up so fast.

Underneath his boyish smile, Keith Brandt commands the power of a bull. His career includes making important decisions and managing more than 15 employees at Merrill Lynch in San Bernardino. Aside from his work, Keith is also a traveler. He admits to wanting to take a month off from work to spend time with his family.

"As an adult, people's perceptions change. It is more important to know how someone feels than to judge someone by his [or her] appearance." he smiles, "That is one good thing about being an adult."

With a distinguished set of morals, Keith has prospered in both his career and family life.

As he sits back in the large leather chair in his corner office, he thinks pensively about his future within the next 10 years. "I want to be married to my same wife, have health [within the family] and have my girls doing as good as they are now."

In the next breath, he adds, "I almost forgot; I definitely hope to have three months of vacation per year and a ranch in Montana or Colorado. That would be really nice."

Debbie Russi

"Ten years from now, I could be married again ... own either one or two businesses, have my own house and be financially successful," said Debbie Russi in a past issue of LVM.

Eleven years later, Debbie has fulfilled most of her goals. Married to Carlos Fuentes, she took another chance with married life and has a son, Logan, who is 7. Co-owning Square West Gallery with her mother, she has used her creativity and made a change in her life.

"We never think that we have enough money, but on the other hand, anyone would love to have our lives," she says. "We are very happy."

In summer 1977, Debbie married Mark Maloney, her high school sweetheart. "At that time of my life, I thought I knew everything; I was ready to conquer the world," says Debbie. That marriage lasted eight years.

But positive changes have occurred in Debbie's life. Her gallery, located in Claremont Village, is successful in offering a mixture of Native American, Mexican and other ethnic merchandise to customers.

Looking back, "Now in my life, I am learning many things; it is fun when you learn something. I don't know everything, but that's all right," she admits.

Eleven years ago, Debbie took drafting and architecture courses at Mt. San Antonio College. "I stopped going to school," she admits, "and I have learned so much from other people and places I have visited."

Now, Debbie's lifestyle is peaceful and content. "I have a very loving family, and I am proud of my children," she says. Her daughter, Crystal from her first marriage, and stepdaughter, Sandy, both attend the University of Redlands. Logan is in elementary school.

Concerning changes within her life, Debbie says, "Everyone would like to be more spoiled, but when I am having pity [on myself], I realize that everyone I love is healthy and how lucky I am in my life."

As she compares her own childhood to childhood of today's children, Debbie believes, "Children are no longer building forts or doing hands-on projects. It seems like no one has time for children; instead parents give them immediate gratification with materials [such as toys]."

Debbie and her family now live on several acres of land in Devore, where they have returned to the basics of life. "I do not want nor need to have perfection in my life, and it has been great being married again." With confidence, she adds, "I am happy with the way my life has turned out within these past 10 years."

Sanford Coggins

To reach Sanford Coggins, one must call the Merrill Lynch switchboard, be connected to the Newport office and contact his assistant, who transfers the call to his office. The line rings and switches to his voicemail moments later.

"He is out of town for the first three days of the week in Santa Barbara and will be in a conference in Los Angeles in the latter part of the week," it says. "Thank you and please leave a message after the tone."

One would think Sanford's life is a conglomerate of responsibilities and tasks. As business development manager at Merrill Lynch, it would appear that his life is difficult. But that is not always the case.

"Even though life is more complicated than high school, I am able to see things coming. Being out in the real world, I can intellectually handle [my responsibilities] in a simple manner because I look to the future, and I am not shortsighted, in contrast, to when I was in high school," says Sanford.

Ten years following his graduation, Sanford married Robin, his wife, and some of his goals included starting a family and buying a sailboat. "Things can definitely change in 11 years. I have been married to Robin for 12 years, and we have three phenomenal children," he says, "Sailing is out of the picture right now."

Balancing work, family and personal time can be a daily challenge for Sanford. He has one daughter, Bradleigh Ilise, 11, whom he described as "the feminine type," and two sons -- Winston Daniel, 8, and Trenton Cole, 6 -- who are athletic.

One of Sanford's immediate goals is "unlocking the formula for being a successful husband, provider and father." He adds, "In school, I was juggling one ball, then two out in the work force. With four to five balls in the air, I want to know how to juggle them effectively."

Although he is weighed down by certain pressures, Sanford admits he would not change his life. "This is the way God designed it in the first place," he says. "My success comes from God's plan and all of the people who have helped me along the way. I am standing on the shoulders of numerous people."

Success in an individual's life is unique. Some people value monetary wealth while others value wealth in terms of love and health. With stamina, eagerness, and familial values, Sanford has a unique philosophy he implements in every aspect of his life.

"Everyone is different, but the most important thing to remember is what type of attitude you have toward life," he says. "By developing a good attitude, any individual can have success in his life."

Kimberly Russi (Hoffman)

Like some high school graduates, Kimberly Russi was ready to conquer the world. "I want to grow more, to find out more about myself," she said in a past interview of LVM..

Nine years later, Kimberly was married and began concentrating on attaining a college degree. Now, elegant dinners, customer satisfaction and accounting are a combination of the duties Kimberly handles daily at Cafe Harvard Square in the Village of Claremont. Being office manager of the restaurant, she says, "is the best thing that has happened to me. It is so rewarding, and I feel important-like I am doing something."

Trying to find balance in her life, however, has been difficult for Kimberly. "I work long hours, and I now live in Devore with my family. The commute is long so I come home late." Nevertheless, she adds, "My family has learned what the responsibilities are of my job; they have accepted it."

Kim Russi plans to travel and continues to set new goals for her future. Presently, the Bonita High School alumna holds the position of office manager at Cafe Harvard Square in the Claremont Village.

Kimberly and her husband have two sons, Trent and Kyle. Twelve years ago, preschool and potty training were among the mother's concerns. Now, college applications and junior high dilemmas are the focus of attention within the Russi family.

"My sons are both unique, and I feel really fortunate to have two children who have turned out to be so good," says Kimberly. "With peer pressure, children can turn in a negative way; I am so lucky with my children, and I am proud of their accomplishments."

Kimberly values experience over material goods. She says, "I want to travel and obtain experiences. Things are not important to me, like jet skis and boats; actually going to different places is more valuable."

Among those experiences, Kimberly reflects on her past. "I wouldn't have gotten married so young. It does not have anything to do with my husband, but I would have liked to have moved out on my own," she admits.

Following high school graduation, Kimberly attended Cal Poly, Pomona for nearly two years and later dropped out, marrying Rick Russi in 1978. After attending Mt. San Antonio College in the late '80s, she taught R.O.P. classes at Santa Fe High School.

Ultimately, Kimberly's goal is to be happy. While her children mature and experience life for themselves, Kimberly is mentally growing and changing as well. "Children have changed, and I am learning first-hand about them through my sons."

But where can Kim Russi be found in the future?

"I will hopefully still be working at Cafe Harvard Square, traveling and sightseeing and have new experiences to share with others," she says.


Little more than two decades later, high school dances, hallways covered by lockers, the sacred quad and pep rallies have become only memories for these five individuals. Careers, family responsibilities and paid vacations are now their primary concerns.

Though physical appearances may have changed, the teenage personalities of Micci, Keith, Debbie, Sanford and Kimberly can still be found from within.

Now, with families of their own, the five individuals seem to continue growing and adapting to life.

Their lives were invigorating in the past, are unique in the present, and will surely be more interesting in the next 10 to 11 years.

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