Debbie Weber

joined New Horizons 2009

board member 2010-2018

secretary of board 2011-2013

president of board 2013-2018


“I worked hard.  There was no other way.  It’s not going to be given to you.  You have to go get it.”

I grew up in Central Illinois on the farm about midway between Champagne Urbana, which is the University of Illinois, and Bloomington Normal, which is Illinois State University, right there in McLean County.  My family still lives there, I still go and visit there every year, they are still farming and I still own farmland which my brother farms–corn and soybeans.

I was born in 1951, the oldest of seven.  I have four brothers and two sisters–me, two brothers, then two sisters, and a brother.

The farm was a good place to grow up.  My brother still lives in the house.  Our nearest neighbors were a half a mile away.  We’ve been friends since I was five.  I just saw her a month ago.  When you grow up on a farm that’s kinda how it is.  Your friends are your family and the people you go to school with.

My parents loved Pete Fountain.  They were good swing dancers.  That was the style they grew up with.  They liked Dixieland.  Dances were everywhere.  There were places to dance in Bloomington.  They still were dancing when we were kids.  They did not hesitate to get us a babysitter and go dancing.

When I was in fourth grade that’s when you started music in the school that I went to.  My parents encouraged me to take clarinet because the music they played in the house was Pete Fountain, and the band director, our music instructor in school, his primary instrument was clarinet.  So it was strongly reinforced.  I started playing clarinet in fourth grade and I played clarinet through high school and into college.  I enjoyed it.  I was a member of the School Band of America the year I was a junior in high school.  That was a band made up of the top one or two students from the schools of the eastern United States.  We traveled.  We started in Peoria and bus tripped across the country.  We played in theaters and malls.  And this is funny.  We played in D.C. the summer of 1968.  Democratic convention was in Chicago.  Things are blowing up all over.  School Band of America had our big concert in Washington D.C. on the steps of the capitol building.  The same weekend that we’re playing the Stars and Stripes Forever on the steps of the Capitol building my husband was protesting the war in Vietnam by wading through the reflecting pool on the mall.  It was years later that we discovered that we’d been there doing those very different things.

It was a tough year.  It was a rough summer.  While we were in DC we didn’t get a chance to do any of the stuff we were planning to do in D.C. because they kind of had us locked into the hotel except for when we went and performed.

I played my freshman year in college (Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington) just for the first semester.  I was in the marching band for a little while until I realized that college was a little more difficult than I expected and something had to give. So I gave up the clarinet.

Growing up on the farm it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl, you’re just another kid and another pair of hands and it doesn’t really matter what you are.  I could drive a tractor; I could drive a truck; I could make lunches.  Just whatever had to happen that particular time.

In band it was awkward because our uniforms were old military uniforms that were tailored for a male’s body and not for a female so the girls all looked stupid but we had a really small band.  There were only 40 of us and I think probably close to half were women because it was a small high school and the boys, if you had any athletic ability at all you were playing baseball or football or basketball and you weren’t in the band.

Being a woman in the business world in the 70s was unique.  I quit college after my freshman year and I started working at State Farm Insurance in a clerical job because its headquarters is in Bloomington.  I got a promotion after six months because the woman whose job I took was pregnant and at that time once you started showing you had to actually leave your job–quit– and perhaps after the baby was born you could perhaps be rehired, not necessarily in your same job.  She already had been through that once and she made it pretty clear that she wasn’t going to be back.  I got promoted into her job.  And about three years later I realized that I was going to stay in a clerical position unless I got a college degree even though I was already doing the things as a woman without a degree that the men with degrees were being hired to do and I was training them.  But I would never make that money or get that responsibility without a college degree.  I went back to school nights and weekends and finished up my college education while I was working.  State Farm assisted with the tuition.

I worked hard.  There was no other way.  It’s not going to be given to you.  You have to go get it.

I could realize that it was unfair but no one else was going to realize that it was unfair.  They would recognize that maybe I could do that job that I was training people for but I couldn’t go beyond that without a college education.  Most people were not aware.  The guys I was training had no clue.  They didn’t recognize the irony of that, recognize how much financial difference there was.  I was told at one point when I had gotten a promotion without a degree into a job where there had not been any female, they said, “If you hadn’t worked out we would have never hired another female into that job.”  They would have eventually but that’s how strong the culture was then.

I have no regrets.  That was in the early 70s and here we are, it’s almost 2020 and things are still unfortunately a lot like that.  The women are still not making the money the men are.

Years later after I started working here with State Farm again, I had to travel around and be in front of groups of people explaining how things worked.  I went to a meeting up in northeastern part of the state around Susanville and I was in a group and it did not occur to me but after I had done my part and we were on a break, one of the managers came up to me and said, “You did a really great job but you’re kinda putting a cramp on how we have our meetings.”  And I said, “What am I doing?”  And they said, “Well, you’re a woman so we can’t tell the jokes that we usually tell.”  I hadn’t noticed until then that I was the only female in the room.  Again, that’s not true anymore but that was very true then.  It has never occurred to me that I am the only or the first.  It’s just what to do but apparently it has caused others consternation.  There were barriers.  It took me longer to get places than it took men to get places but it didn’t prevent me from getting there.

Back in ’76 I finally got my college degree and picked up a couple of more promotions.  In 1979 or 80 computers were coming into agents’ offices.  They created a department at State Farm to market these systems to the agents because they were very reluctant to use them.  Part of my job was to go around the country with these computers that were as big as a table and demonstrate how they worked in an agent’s office.  We put them in the back of U-Haul trucks and we drove them from one big conference room to another and set them up and showed them how they would work.  We’d invite all the agents in and explain how this system worked and how it was going to make their lives better.  And we’d get started and sometimes the program wouldn’t come up and the agent’s saying, “And how is this going to make my life better?”

I knew how to run all the computers and how to set them up and how to trouble shoot them because then we would tear them down and we’d pack them up to the next place and set them up again. I was in Georgia, northern Florida, Colorado, Wyoming.  The best trip I had started in Wyoming in March, cold and I was wearing a wool suit.  There for a week and then flew to Hawaii which was nice.  Oregon.  We made several trips to California.

When I was interviewed for the job, they said that there was going to be a lot of travel.  “Is there any issue with that?”  I said, “No.  I can travel 50 % of the time.”  But I didn’t realize that 50% of the time meant all your waking hours.  I did that for a year and a half.  You wake up and go, “Where am I?  What time zone is it? And when is the meeting?”  It was a tough job.  You had time to get your suits cleaned and then you go again.  As a result I spent quite a bit of time in California working at the offices here so I saw a lot of the country.  It was very exciting.  The first time I was here was in August.  I remember the County Fair was going on and I remember driving around and all the hills are brown and I wondered, “How can they live here?  It’s so ugly.”

I still had my clarinet.  It moved with me across the country but I didn’t play it.  I had a piano so every now and then I picked around on the piano but I never played my clarinet.

Listened to the popular music.  Rock and Roll.  Country Swing.  Dancing.  I was single.  I was out every weekend.  It was fun times.

I worked at corporate in Bloomington until 1983.  Traveling got to be really old.  In the fall of ’83 I started dating Bill.  I’d known Bill since 1980 but we kind of ran in different circles that occasionally intersected.  I met him.  I was single.  We started hanging out.  He’d just gotten back from riding his bicycle from Athens, Greece to London, England.  So he’d been traveling and I’d been traveling around the country and we started spinning the globe and saying, “If you could travel anywhere you want, where would you go?”  And the next thing you know, I quit my job, he sold his business, we left Central Illinois and we traveled around the world.  From the end of ’83 until July of 1984 we didn’t live anywhere and we went all the way around.  People said, “You’re crazy.  Why would you do that?  Why don’t you wait until your retirement?”  I thought, “I’m going to do it while I can.  Why not?”

We left the country in the winter right after the 1st of January in ’84, so we went to the Southern Hemisphere and we basically followed summer around.  We did New Zealand and Australia and Indonesia and then Malaysia and Thailand.  China wasn’t open for solo Westerners.  You had to come in with a tour group.  So we did a three week tour of China including the Yangtze River, we walked on the Great Wall, we saw Tiananmen Square, the Terra Cotta Army.  We did Sri Lanka, India, and ended up in Nairobi, Kenya.  We had an American Express mail drop there.  That was in July.  I got an invitation to one of my best friend’s wedding.  I hadn’t known when I left that they would be getting married.  And it was going to be my dad’s birthday.  And we had all these letters.  I sat on the floor and I just sobbed.  So we flew home.  That was July of ’84.

After we had been in Illinois for a couple of weeks we said, “Where do we want to live?  We’ve been around the world but where do we want to live?”  So we drove around the country and in September of ’84 we were down in San Diego and we said, “You know what we really liked?  We really liked that spot where Santa Rosa was.”  So we drove back up here, got an apartment, drove all the way across the country, picked up our gear–some of it in Virginia, some of it in Illinois–and went back.

It was a big enough town with a small enough town feeling.  A little bit bigger than Bloomington Normal so it had more going on for it.  The coast was right there.  San Francisco was right there.  The weather was awesome.  The scenery was incredible.  It seemed to have everything.  It was just right.

We didn’t have jobs but we decided this is where we are going to live.  And after we got ourselves settled I went down to State Farm in Rohnert Park and reintroduced myself to people I had worked with before and they hired me.  And I stayed there until I retired.

Bill had been a part owner of a game designer business in Normal that focused on World War II strategy games.  And when he moved out here he started working for a company called Patty Cakes that made little kids’ clothes.  Initially he worked in the warehouse but they hadn’t computerized anything.  He had one of the first Apple Computers when he lived in Illinois so, on his own, he worked out how they could use computers to maintain their inventory and their shipping and their ordering and their processing.  Ultimately he became their computer department.  He was it.  Then when our son Ben was 4 or 5 he began working for the Junior College because they wanted to create an online program so students could take classes on line.  That hadn’t been done before, hadn’t been done by anyone that the Junior College knew about so they weren’t able to get software from anybody, so he developed it.  He ran that whole program from 1990 until he retired when he was 65.

After I retired in 2007 it was really hard to look at a whole day and wonder, “What are you going to do?”  I retired in May so then I had the whole summer but–this is how I looked at it–I am giving myself summer vacation but come September I’m going to have to have something to do so I got credentialed to be a substitute teacher.  I did that for 11 years, mostly K though 5.   Because I was too young for Social Security or my pension or any of that stuff, I had to have some kind of money coming in.  No money doesn’t go very far.

I got to know some of the kids.  There was one little girl who went to Wright Elementary School.  I followed her all the way through high school.  I would run into her at least once, twice, four times a year.  She always knew my name, I always knew her name and it was nice to see her grow up.  I don’t think a teacher gets to see that but a substitute does.

Our son Ben was born in 1986.  When he was in fourth grade he went to Sequoia.  They have a music.  The high school kids and the junior high school kids would come in and do programs and he wanted to play.  I didn’t think he’d stick with it.  I owned a clarinet, so I put it together, showed him how it worked, played it with him because they didn’t give him any kind of training.  “Here’s your clarinet.  Go sit here.”  So I taught him the basics and he picked it up really well and he enjoyed it and he continued playing clarinet.  In about 5th or 6th grade he started playing bass clarinet.  We didn’t own one then so he played the school bass clarinet and I didn’t like it very much.

But by then I was playing clarinet again.  After Ben started, I started playing a little more regularly with Lew Sbrana.  Lew was running the One More Time Band at the fair and Ben brought home a flyer from elementary school and I said, “Well, do you want to do this?” and he said “No.  I don’t want to play music in the summertime.”  So I did.  I played with the One More Time Band several summers in the 1990s.  They’d have three rehearsals at the Fair Grounds and they’d play once and that would be it.  After my second summer one of the guys who was with the Healdsburg Community Band said, “You should come to Healdsburg.”  And after my third time he said, “You should come to Healdsburg.”  And in 2000 after my fourth time I actually went to Healdsburg and started playing.  And that was great.  It put balance back into my life.  Work was very demanding and I needed to get some of my own time back.  Lew was conducting.  My first experience was one of his Sousa concerts where you play 20 different pieces and half of them are marches with 6/8 rhythms and I didn’t remember how 6/8 rhythms worked.  Way over my head.  And I was playing clarinet not bass clarinet and they had so many notes.  “Oh my God, I can’t get a hold of this.”  I took lessons from Roy Zajac.  He’s awesome.  Thank God for Roy.  And I sat next to Mary Tuscher in Healdsburg Community Band.  And she kept saying, “You should join the New Horizons Band.”  I couldn’t because I was still working but when I retired I joined.

That was fun.  That got me back into music and I got into the bass clarinet because Gordon Stutz, who had been the bass clarinet, had been out for an extended period of time.  And there were a lot of first clarinets.  I was never going to get there because that whole row was already filled up, so I decided I would just try something different.  When Ben played I didn’t know how to play it properly so it would just buzz my lips–bzzzzzz.  Unpleasant.  It doesn’t have to buzz your lips but I didn’t know any better.  I figured that out and I’ve been playing the bass ever since.  I still play my clarinet in the clarinet quartet and then I played the saxophone with the swing band for several years but four years ago I started playing with the Junior College and they play right at the same time.

And my son Ben just got married.  He lives in Yreka.  He’s a forester, currently works for Jefferson Resource Company, a forest management company.   If you own a forest and PG&E has put a high power line across the forest, he’s going to talk to you about how they need to clear the trees away.  You wouldn’t think that would be controversial given what Northern California has experienced the last couple of years but people are very protective of their trees and they don’t want to see them cut down.

And Bill and I still do a lot of travel.  Not around the world but we go to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, the national parks.  We like to challenge ourselves.  Bill still rides his bicycle but I do hiking.  We’re very thankfully healthy.  We want to do that while we can.  Bill’s dad who just turned 93 still lives in Virginia so we get back there.

I think when you retire it’s important to have some kind of structure, things that you enjoy doing.  Clearly if you look at the makeup of the band, that works for us.  We like the fellowship and the camaraderie as much as we like the music.  The difference between New Horizons and Healdsburg is in Healdsburg we get together and we play music and maybe we have a break and in New Horizons we get together to be friends and have fellowship and maybe we play music.  It’s not quite like that but that’s how it is.

I got on the board within a year or two of joining the band.  There are a whole lot of people who don’t want to step up so if you’re the kind of person who likes to step up you can find that opportunity.  They had an election and they had openings and nobody was raising their hand and when nobody raises their hand mine automatically goes up.  “I’ll do that.”  So I did.  I got on the board and I was the secretary and worked really closely with Bill Hamilton; he was the president.  And when Bill found that he needed to step off of the board, he was really good about putting me out there and making sure that Lew knew who I was, so when it was time for Bill to step away it kinda just happened.  I was on the board for a total of 9 years, president for 6 1/2 or 7.  And I loved being president but it was time for somebody else to have a turn.

I like knowing what’s going on.  We implemented some really new things like a welcome back lunch where we had sandwiches the second week of rehearsal to get people together.  And the talent show combined with the pot luck before summer break.  The pot luck had been going on.  Genie (MacKensie) had been running the pot luck at her house but we combined that with the talent show. And when we added the arts and crafts exhibit, we made it a big event.

I like to have fun.  I like to play music.  I enjoy being around all the bands and musical ensembles that I’m a member of.  Stay active.  Keep moving.  Don’t slow down because things are going to catch us at this point.  Life has been good.