Making a Difference on a Lark: Bernice Baeza, 1943-2012
You know how it is when you're in the middle of any busy day in the middle of your busy life and you just stumble serendipitously across a headline that makes you stop everything and quiet your thoughts?
I had that experience this week upon learning of the passing of Bernice Baeza, founder and director of the Lark Theatre in Larkspur, California
Back in 2004, I had already been a resident of Larkspur for a couple of years. I moved to Marin County in 2001 and as I drove through the towns that comprise our unique area, I was most taken with Larkspur --- especially its quaint, evocative downtown area. What struck me most odd, however, was that its flagship building, the Lark Theater, was closed and the building darn near condemned. How could this paradox exist in such an affluent, art-embracing community?
And so it was that one day while walking past the theater, I noticed a "Help Wanted" sign stapled to the plywood boarding. Apparently, a renovation was underway and they needed all sorts of help. Since I had just completed the remodel of my home, I figured I had some skills that might be useful, though I didn't expect a call back when I inquired.
Instead, I ended up working with just a handful of other dedicated volunteers --- maybe a half dozen of us in total. We were literally there day and night for months. Bernice oversaw the whole project tirelessly. And as opening day drew nearer, and the scope of the tasks required to bring the theater to code and make it presentable seemed even larger, Bernice never wavered in her conviction to make it happen. I remember vividly finishing the tile work on the ticket kiosk at 6am the morning of opening evening. That's literally how close we came....
I had long since fallen out of contact with Bernice and the theater itself. She had a business to run after it opened and I guess I felt jilted that she'd agreed to charge us volunteers half price ($50 or so) to the opening events and galas. You'd think after all that work we'd have had lifetime free passes to the city. But that was just her nature and I accepted it. The more important thing I took from the experience is that in life, most of us would agree that before we pass on, we'd like to "make a difference."
And Bernice was one of the few I've known firsthand who actually did. She took a vision, overcame many obstacles and made it happen.
Thanks almost entirely to the vision of a single individual, the Lark is up and running today. You can go there, buy your ticket and walk in and watch a movie as if nothing ever happened. But Bernice, and a few of us, will tell you that was not by accident. It didn't happen on a lark.
Rest in peace, Bernice. Job well done.