“...the landmarks of my history are names rather than events or dates"
I come from a fantastically resilient family. My parents moved to the United States from their impoverished village in Mexico, with little more than a three-year old, a creaky Oldsmobile, and fifty dollars. They did not speak the language, had no contacts, and between them barely had a middle school education. Today they are homeowners and have supported three daughters through their quests to higher education, one now a public interest attorney, another working at Gymboree Corporate, and the third, myself. My parents found their success through an unrelenting passion to constantly better themselves, a passion which they passed down to each of the daughters.
My life's passion became clear when I met Jim and Shirley. Jim and Shirley Modini spent their 69-year marriage as cattle ranchers on the 1,725-acre land Jim’s family homesteaded. I entered their lives as a caregiver though ultimately I assumed a role as a research assistant after they donated their property to Audubon Canyon Ranch as an ecological preserve. While I learned a tremendous amount working alongside the lead biologist, Sherry Adams, my greatest takeaway from the Modini ranch was from the Modinis themselves.
Their love for each other was strikingly sincere. Second only to this, was their love for the ranch. They guarded it with firm appreciation of its ecological value. The Modinis constantly espoused the importance of respect, protection, and admiration of wildlife, or as they said, the “little people.” While there was a 70-year age difference between us, they quickly became central figures in my life. Around a dimly lit oak table, we traded views and ideas about how to fulfill our responsibility to preserve natural order and quench our thirsts for knowledge.
Over the next years, Jim and Shirley’s health began to fail. I believe this decline was their greatest challenge. I stayed by their sides, knowing that they deserved the best care possible and that easing their pain would be my only chance to repay my debt to them. True to form, they continued to teach me, demonstrating outstanding grace even in their own descent.
We are composites of nature and nurture. My story is the patchwork of the remarkable people who became fundamental to my character. While some mark the years by adventures had and awards won, the landmarks of my history are names rather than events or dates. Knowing these people has made me who I am, and ultimately, a better version of myself. With the determination provided by my parents and the vision for wildlife conservation that I received through the Modinis, I am confident that I will find my own success.
Graduation from Mills College
Grisel's graduation from University of Chicago, Law
Erika's graduation from University of Notre Dame
Me, Jim, Judy (trustee and close Modini friend) visit an ACR preserve