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Three’s Company                    
AV Story Team/Cynthia Bix and Nancy Rubin

On a sunny morning, photographer Nancy Rubin and I meet in front of a 
classic, peak-roofed white house
in El Cerrito. We enter through a gate in the white rail fence, which is covered with climbing roses. For years I’ve admired this house. No matter what the season, the house and surrounding yard have never failed to look appealing and well cared for.

I’ve always wondered who lives here, and now I’m about to find out. The door opens  wide, and we’re greeted by a tiny woman with sparkling eyes and a warm, welcoming smile. “Come in, come in!” she says. Like her house, 95-year-old Margie Pezzaglia looks perfect in every way. From her snowy hair to her manicured red nails to her classic pearl jewelry, she’s what my mother would have called a “real lady.”

Margie ushers us into her wood paneled dining room. There, we meet her two special Ashby Village volunteer friends, Kristina Holland and Kris Owens. Clearly, the three women have gathered often around this polished dining table. They joke and laugh and seem completely at home together.

 “I’ve had more than 21 volunteers from Ashby Village help me at one time or another,” says Margie. “I keep a list! They help me with everything that I need. I get rides to the dentist and the doctor, get my hair cut, get my nails done.”

She smiles lovingly at the two women, who have both helped her as volunteers many times. “And now I have these two good friends!”

I ask her about her home. “I’ve lived here for 67 years,” she says proudly. “My husband and I bought it in 1949. Nowadays, the volunteer help I get really means a lot, because I want to live here for the rest of my life.”
Nancy and I join the three ladies at the table. Ever the gracious hostess, Margie and her home helper, Vicki, serve us sweet rolls and tea on Margie’s lovely old china.

We talk. Kristina, a former actor and now a practicing psychologist in Oakland, has a quiet yet warm and engaging manner. Kris, who managed a commercial escrow branch at a title company before she retired, is the outgoing, humorous member of the trio.    

I ask how the three women got to know one another.

Soft-spoken Kristina jumps in. “As an Ashby Village volunteer, I think Margie was one of my first assignments.” She turns to Margie. “I took you to an Ashby Village holiday party, I think?” Margie nods.

Kristina continues, “It felt—to me at least—that we really clicked.” “Oh, yes!” says Margie.  “So,” says Kristina, “After that I was looking for her name on the lists all the time so I could take her again. I’d see her initials and I’d jump, but sometimes Margie was already taken!”

In the meantime, Kristina ran up against her own issue with breast cancer. By then she had also become a member of Ashby Village. When she needed to go to multiple doctor appointments, Kris Owens was assigned to her as a MedPal. “She was so wonderful!” says Kristina.

Kris chimes in. “You see, I volunteered for five years at the Carol Ann Read Breast Center because I had dealt with breast cancer myself. They didn’t have any mediators or advocates at that time, so they started doing that. I picked up Kristina without knowing what the errand was. She said she was going in for breast cancer, and I said, ‘Well, I can certainly help you!’ As it turned out, she had the same doctor that I had had.”

Kristina continues, “We started talking about Ashby Village, and it came up that Margie was my one of favorite people to volunteer for. And Kris said—‘Mine too!’ We realized that we were the two who had been vying over picking up Margie!”

Both Kristina and Kris are Ashby Village members as well as volunteers. Kristina arranges her volunteer hours around her client appointments. She performs a variety of services. “I do a lot of speaking for Ashby Village, at living room chats and open houses and other gatherings,” she says. “And for about three years now I’ve been driving a group to the Macular Degeneration Support Group.” In addition, she volunteers weekly in Palo Alto for Learning Ally (formerly called Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic). “I read books onto a computer,” she explains.  

Kristina loves volunteering. “Once I got through grad school and my daughter grew up and my parents passed on, I had so much free time! I didn’t know what to do with myself. Then I discovered volunteering, and it feels great.”

Similarly, Kris says, “ It sounds funny, but what I like most about volunteering at Ashby Village is that it makes me get up, get dressed and put on my face. And I go out and do something, instead of vegetating on my couch, which I could actually do. I am retired, and I don’t need to work. And it’s fun!”

Kris volunteers a lot at Ashby Village, driving members and in other ways. “Sometimes even twice a day!” she laughs.

She’s modest about being the head of MedPals. “That was kind of a fluke. The former head, Marion Anderson, retired. I was her sidekick, putting a little fun into the sessions. So they asked me if I wanted to step in and do it.”

“She’s a born leader,” puts in Kristina.

Margie herself knows a little about volunteering. For 25 years she was a volunteer at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center gift shop. Her charm and friendliness sustained many a family member or friend of a patient who stopped in to shop or just to chat.

“I love being with people!” says Margie. “I’ve made so many friends at Ashby Village. You know,” she tells us, “My two daughters signed me up for it about three years ago, without asking me! I said, ‘Why would I want to join this now? I’m fine!’ I drove a car then, so I didn’t need help. And they said, ‘It’s for the future, Mom.’” And then I got this back brace.” (Margie had developed scoliosis.) “I knew I couldn’t drive any more,” she continues. “So it was a good thing they signed me up. And I loved it—it was perfect.”  

Her enthusiasm is obvious. “For one of the orientation sessions for new volunteers, they asked me to come with Kristina and answer some questions they had about how it is to be a member at 95 years old. I said, ‘Oh, it has been my new life! I’ve met new people I wouldn’t otherwise. And I go to all the activities that are offered to me—it’s wonderful!”

Kristina laughs. “One of the things that Ashby Village does very nicely are the happy hours—Margie usually doesn’t miss those!”

“I’m a party girl!” sparkles Margie. In addition to attending many events, Margie has a regular bridge game every two weeks. There’s never a dull moment!

Being an Ashby Village member has even led to Margie’s being on KQED radio. Margie recalls, “One day my family called me and said, ‘Hello, is this the Queen of the Radio Shows?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And they said, ‘Well, you were on the radio this morning.’ My grandsons evidently had the radio on, and they told me, “Well, now I can say my grandma was on the radio at 95 years old!” (The program, Cities Are Looking into Ways to Become More Age-Friendly to Seniors, featured Kris and Margie.

As Kris and Kristina continued to pick up Margie and take her here, there, and everywhere, a deeper friendship began to develop among them. Now the three women share good times as friends, not just as member and volunteers.

Margie says, “They call up and say, ‘Let’s go to the movies!’”

“Yes!” agrees Kristina. “I was talking to Margie one day and found out that she loves movies just as much as I do. And so does Kris. I asked Margie how it was for her to sit that long? And she said it was okay. Now when I ask her to go, she’s never said no! All three of us often go together. We went last Sunday to see the Meryl Streep movie, Florence Foster Jenkins.”
It’s obvious that with these women, three is the magic number, not a crowd. Kris sums it up: “Kristina and I check the listings every morning, and if either of us sees Margie’s initials on it, we grab her!”    

[For articles about Margie, Kristina, and Kris, check out the following:]