The story of the Honorable Stephen Kroyer

Steve Kroyer 2WP


People often assume that one of the hardest things about being a judge is sending people to prison.  “That’s not even close,” said the Honorable Stephen Kroyer, retired Napa County Superior Court Judge.  “The law is very specific when it comes to sentencing,” he said.  “There are guidelines for the amount of time given based on the crime that’s been committed.  Sentencing a convicted criminal is fairly straightforward.”

The hardest part of the job, in his experience, was child custody issues.  “Those were extremely difficult.  The decisions I made as a judge had immense consequences in children’s lives, and I may have only gotten to spend 15 or 20 minutes with their parents.  That could keep me awake at night. ”

Kroyer was an Army brat, born in Fort Riley, Kansas, one of four children of an Army surgeon.  The family relocated every three years or so, in moves that spanned the globe.  Kroyer attended three high schools before graduating in Orange County.  His father made college plans for his son when Kroyer was still a high school junior living in Okinawa.

“Dad read an article that called Rice University in Houston the ‘Harvard of the South.’   Rice had a large endowment, and tuition was free.  Dad made up his mind then and there. ‘That’s where you are going.’”

Like many kids, Kroyer wanted to be a cop while growing up, but as he got older, he became interested in the film industry.   “I wanted to be behind the camera, not in front of it.” The inner workings of film appealed to his fastidious, organized, technical side.  Upon graduation, Kroyer stayed in Houston and went to work for the local NBC affiliate. Within two years he was the cinematographer, in charge of lighting and cameras. His next move was to a small film studio in Houston.  Kroyer was moving up rapidly, loved everything about the field and, by 1974, looked forward to a career in Hollywood or New York.  But then, as Kroyer described with a solemn look, he underwent a life changing event.  His seventeen-year-old sister, who was living in Southern California, became the victim of a very violent crime.

In the aftermath of the crime against his sibling, Kroyer made the decision to become a prosecutor, with the goal of becoming a judge. Within months, he left Houston, moved to California, and got a job that, unlike the film industry, promised a steady income.  He spent four years in night school getting his law degree, and passed the Bar in 1978.  Prosecutor’s positions were hard to come by, and Kroyer spent a year in private practice in Santa Rosa.  In 1979, he got the prosecutor’s job he wanted; here in Napa.

As a prosecutor, Kroyer was tough, “a real law and order guy,” said Sheila Daugherty, Executive Director of the Wolfe Center.  “His job was to convict some of the people I was trying to advocate for, and he was gung-ho.  But he is incredibly bright, compassionate and fair.”   Daugherty said that, while things could get heated, Kroyer never lashed out at anyone or became defensive.  “He is a class act.  I adore him.”

Kroyer’s boyhood dream of being a police officer surfaced again in 1984. He’d run for and lost a seat to become a judge, and thought it was time for a change.   “I guess I had a mid-life crisis,” he said, smiling.  Officer Kroyer suited up as a Napa cop for a year.  He enjoyed it, but missed the law more than he expected.  He went back to being a DA, still hoping to become a judge.  It took thirteen years to realize that dream. Judge Kroyer took the oath of office in 1997 and stayed until his retirement fourteen years later.

Kroyer reflects that being a judge was hard work.  “I worked seven days a week, twelve hour days for the first six months,” he said.  “The job is so big and complicated.  You don’t just specialize in one area of the law, you have to take every case that comes your way.”  While prosecutors are advocates, judges must remain neutral.  “You have to reserve judgment and can’t let your own values get in the way.”

Napa Police Chief Richard Melton got to know Kroyer while working with him on the Criminal Justice committee, a mix of city and county law enforcement and judicial representatives who discuss changes impacting the legal system.  “Because of his law enforcement and judicial background, he had a good grasp of the issues and dynamics,” said Melton.  “He is principled, ethical and family oriented.  He does things because he really cares.  As a judge, he based his decisions on the person standing before him as well as the crime committed.”

Since retiring, Kroyer has spent a lot of time working with The Kiwanis Club of Napa.  “I interviewed all the clubs.  What made me decide on Kiwanis is that they are hands-on active.  Building playgrounds with Jim Roberts and everybody else in the club looked like a splendid way to do things.”  He’s volunteered for Auction Napa Valley, Hands Across The Valley, the Boys and Girls Club and the Volunteer Center as well.

“Steve is always willing to volunteer,” said Mayor Jill Techel.  “He doesn’t stand to the side and give directions; he rolls up his sleeves and does the work that needs to be done.  Now that he’s retired and has time, he gives it freely.”

Kroyer and wife, Janet, have been married since 1987.  Of everything that he’s been part of, he is most proud of his two kids, Lindsay and Kevin, and their accomplishments.  “They never needed help from Mother or Father.  They are self-motivated, great kids.”  He is also proud to be part of Napa, which he says leads the way in many areas.  “In a short, twenty-year period, we went from having no women judicial officers to having five out of eight.  That may be a state record.  Isn’t that impressive in little old Napa?”

Bellissimo Gourmet Italian Delicatessen

Bellissimo-deli WP

By John & Dorothy Salmon

 Fabulous Deli Food on Napa’s Main Street

Napa’s exciting restaurant scene continues to add new places for all of us to dine and to be entertained. In addition to all of the other important benefits of this beautiful place where we live, it’s a great place to be hungry. It seems like every week we hear about a new place opening. In just the past few months we have enjoyed City Winery adding an exciting new restaurant to our beloved Napa Valley Opera House; LuLu’s Kitchen adding amazing food and wine to their menu; Lucero Olive Oil bringing expanded olive oil experiences to downtown Napa (including chocolate flavored olive oil); Napkins Bar and Grill buzzing with people having fun every night of the week and into the wee hours.  Coming soon, we look forward to an expanded Bounty Hunter, and the new Velo Pizzeria, Mango on Main, BurgerFi and many more additions to our burgeoning foodie scene. You can’t walk down many blocks in downtown Napa today and not smell, eat and enjoy a wonderful variety of food choices!

Among her other nonprofit endeavors, Dorothy is the President of the Board of The Pathway Home, which is a private nonprofit that provides comprehensive residential treatment for our Nation’s military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who are impacted by Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and other post-combat, mental health challenges. The Pathway Home assists these warriors to successfully reintegrate into their families and the community at large. A few weeks ago, Dorothy held a luncheon meeting at Bellisimo with some of the Pathway Board members to talk about the Pathway program and to do the research for this Napa Valley Marketplace restaurant review. That’s Dorothy’s idea of multi-tasking!

Everyone thought the food was fabulous, well priced, and the atmosphere and friendly service was wonderful. Executive Chef, Glenn Haffner, and owner, Ali Ince, can be seen at the restaurant most days, greeting customers and making everyone happy. Originally from Turkey, Ali has 17 years of experience in the restaurant business. He began his career with a Five Star restaurant in Topkapa Palace in Istanbul, then with Celebrity Cruise Lines, and then with the same Bellissimo Deli concept in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey.

Bellissimo serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and stays open until 8:00 pm. If you are hankering for a sandwich, head for Bellissimo. You can order pre-prepared, lunch boxes and dinners to take home and enjoy ($8.95 to $12.00 for box lunches and $8.95 to $15.95 for dinners). You can’t beat that. If you have been looking for an authentic Italian Deli, try Bellissimo. The food and service is fabulous and it is becoming our new place to hang out for lunch, to meet friends for a quick breakfast, or to have a committee meeting in style. You can expect quick service, a friendly environment and great food at very reasonable prices.

The lunch menu will make you think you are in Italy, with Chef Haffner’s own family blend of ingredients, such as in-house–roasted, pork loin on a toasted Sassari sandwich, sliced thick and topped with fresh pear, frisee and rosemary aioli on a baguette ($7.95). Yountville Mayor and Pathway Board member, John Dunbar, ordered that and declared it to be incredible. All breads are freshly baked daily, according to Ali. So, early in the morning you can order fried egg with grilled eggplant, zucchini, onions and mozzarella on a fresh-baked bagel, croissant, or their own fabulous bread ($3.95). You could also start your morning with a three-egg omelet stuffed with rosemary flank steak, provolone, tomatoes and arugula ($5.95) or honey–pecan, sticky buns made with cardamom yeast dough ($1.95), or Belissimo’s now famous Napa Scramble of three eggs mixed with honey-maple ham, bacon, spinach, peppers, onions, mozzarella and parmesan, served with rosemary home fries ($6.95). Their mixed-berry tart, with pastry cream and fresh berries ($3.50) are to die for, as are their fruit Crostata made with fresh, seasonal fruit and marzipan ($3.50). You can imagine you are in New Orleans if

you order their Apple Beignet’s ($3.50) with a cup of Peets Coffee or Peet’s teas. Why would you want to cook breakfast when you can head to Bellissimo where they can do it better and less expensively? If you are watching your gluten, you can order their gluten-free Sonoma, risotto salad, with rice, oranges, almonds and bell peppers in citrus-mint dressing ($7.95 per lb.).

At the Pathway lunch meeting, Dorothy ordered the Torino sandwich, made with brie, frisee, pears and fig tapenade ($7.95) and it was delicious. Board members, Jeannine Yeomans and Kate Berquist, each enjoyed the Catania sandwich, made with grilled vegetables, roasted peppers, basil, caper aioli, provolone and secret ingredients, on a baguette ($6.95).

Bellissimo carries 90 different, local and international wines, with new wines by the glass featured every week for $6.00 to $7.00 per glass with your
lunch or dinner. The 30 beers that they feature cost from $3.00 per glass if you drink it in the restaurant, to $7.95 to $9.95 if you are taking it home with you. There are plenty of soft drinks, Peet’s coffee and teas to choose from for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Meats and cheeses are sold by the pound, with such tasty options as prosciutto ($22.95); whole milk mozzarella ($11.95); pepper jack ($9.95); Horseradish cheddar ($11.95); Havarti with dill ($11.95); and Bianco D’Oro Italian Dry Salami ($9.95); Lemon-pepper chicken ($11.95); London Broil roast beef ($14.95); Cracked-pepper turkey breast ($11.95)  and rosemary, sun–dried tomato ham ($12.95) just  to name a few. The meat department rivals those  seen in New York or Sicily. Their salads are unique  and wonderful and you can even order a make your own sandwich if you can’t find something on their menu that you like … which is pretty hard to imagine!

Are you having a party and want fabulous food but you don’t want to cook yourself? Their catering department can help. Your guests will love the jumbo lump-crab cakes, stuffed with black and white sesame seeds, sweet corn, bell pepper and panko ($5.99); or poached calamari and shrimp salad with cannellini beans, brandy mayonnaise and American caviar ($55.00
for a half tray).

Give Bellissimo a try for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You won’t be disappointed!  Just prior to writing this review we brought our 4 and 7 year old grandchildren to Bellissimo.  They report that the gluten free canollis are amazing and they gave the chocolate muffins and chocolate chip cookies a standing ovation.  Kids know what’s good!

1000 Main Street, Ste. 100 | Napa, CA | (707) 266-1085

Daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.  |

BottleRock Stages Feature Napa Bands


By Louisa Hufstader

Top acts from across the worlds of popular music are heading to the Napa Valley Exposition for BottleRock, May 30, May 31 and June 1: The Cure, Outkast, Heart, Railroad Earth, and De La Soul are just five of the 75 bands listed on the festival’s website.

Also in the line-up: More than a dozen Napa bands, playing almost as many different kinds of music, along with other Northern California groups on a special stage dedicated to regional performers.

“We had 142 submissions. Some amazing talent out there,” said Thea Witsil, owner of Wildcat Vintage Clothing in Napa and co-founder of Napa Porchfest, who is in her second year of managing the local and regional stage for BottleRock. “(I’m) so excited to help promote these awesome indie bands,” Witsil said.

The City Winery stage, also sponsored by Guitar Center, features several Napa bands that have been  favorites at the annual Porchfest. 

Cosmos Percussion Orchestra, May 30

Longtime Napa art and music teacher, John Hannaford, is a one of five percussionists in this eight-member, “world fusion” group, which draws on many musical cultures to create music that gets audiences dancing and even playing along.

The motto on the orchestra’s Facebook page reads, “Respecting the rich traditions of all forms of World Music; as well as the infinite possibilities of contemporary exploration.”

More information:

The Deadlies, May 31 

Napa’s own Deadlies have not only become the Bay Area’s preeminent, surf-rock band: They’ve established
a sound of their own, where classic surf meets country and punk.

Recently off a tour with Lisa Marie Presley and the Mavericks, the trio features founding members, James Patrick Regan and Bob St. Laurent — a.k.a. Good Morning Bob from KVYN and drummer, Tymber Cavasian.

More information:

The Graveyard Boots, May 31

American roots music inspires this five-man Napa group, whose influences range from vintage country music to funk and the blues.

Members are Scott Turnnidge on drums, Mike Hirby on guitar and vocals, Abe Newman on bass, Oliver Jacobson on violin and vocals, and Jesse Baldo on guitar.

More information:

Jealous Zelig, May 31

Jealous Zelig includes (in photo) Ross Rubin (on Vocals and Keys) and Les Violettes’ Colin Shipman (on Double-Bass).  The band also includes Orchestra Napa Valley Fellow Matt Boyles on Bass Clarinet, Pablo Escobar on Drums, Napa High School Director of Bands Mike Riendeau on Trombone and Multi-instrumentalist Chris Vibberts on Steel, Classical and Electric Guitars.

Their sound is like “a bit of Bowie, Bach, Baker, Bud Powell and the Beatles, bringing the late-night partiers into the kitchen with Nilsson, Wonder, Redding, Mercury and Kaufman already raiding the back of the fridge,” according to the Jealous Zelig Facebook page.

More information:

Grass Child, June 1

Originally called “Grass Child Gypsy,” this Napa supergroup features five music veterans combining their talents and influences to create a collaborative, high-energy sound, drawing on rock, funk and ska.

Sarah Madsen is the group’s “Songbird”; Brant Roscoe plays guitar, Jonny Tindall is the bassist, Barry Forsythe plays trap drums, and John Hannaford adds world percussion.

More information:

Ramblerz, June 1

Long known as the Napa Valley Ramblers, this seven-piece group plays bluegrass, Napa style, weaving in sounds from other American traditions including blues, folk and Puerto Rican music.

Along with the group’s packed Porchfest appearances on Randolph Street every July, members of Ramblerz can be found playing in front of Wildcat Vintage Clothing on Main Street, as well as at local events and parties.

More information:

Michael Thomason Band, June 1

This longtime Upvalley band also has a strong following overseas, with a #2 record on the European Country Music Association chart, and ECMA nominations for Band of the Year and Album of the year.

Thomason finds the soul of country with his intelligent original songs, the twang of his vocals with daughter Jessie, and powerful playing by guitarist Sean Allen, bassist Don Schmitt and drummer James Foster.

More information:

The Sorry Lot, June 1

Named after a disdainful comment by a British bartender, this seven-piece, Napa band describes its sound as “rowdy Irish drinking music from California’s wine country,” with a repertoire of traditional classics, along with “more modern, irreverent tunes.”

Instruments include banjo, fiddle, tin whistle,  accordion, guitar, bodhran (frame drum), mandolin, bass and bouzouki.

More information:

“Several acoustic/singer-songwriter acts from Napa are also appearing in the BottleRock VIP Lounge, an exclusive festival area open only to premium ticket-holders.” Witsil said.

Trevor Lyon, May 30

A perennial Porchfest favorite, Lyon plays contemporary reggae influenced by hip-hop, blues, jazz and rock. He’s also a songwriter with more than two dozen songs available on iTunes.

More information:

Kristen Van Dyke, May 30

Another Porchfest crowd-pleaser, singer-songwriter Kristin Van Dyke formed her band, the Bunnies, in 2010.

Van Dyke tells BottleRock that her influences include Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Patsy Cline and Billie Holiday.

More information:

Amber Snider Trio, June 1

She still calls Napa home, but Amber Snider is also an internationally-known performer, who is scheduled for a European tour in April and early May, followed by a string of Bay Area gigs leading up to BottleRock.

Called “super talented” by Richard Freedman of the Vallejo Times-Herald, Snider has recorded five CDs and two singles, and describes her sound as “Folk-Rock, Country & Blues = Ambericana.”

More information:

Shelby Lanterman, June 1

Just 20 years old, Shelby Lanterman is already a well-known Napa singer-guitarist who has appeared multiple times at the Napa Valley Opera House and played Porchfest as part of the duo, Mirror Image, with Nadia Kako.

Lanterman’s songwriting and performing influences include classic rock bands such as Heart and
Led Zeppelin.

More information:

Sweet Burgundy, June 1

This all-female trio of Napa singer-songwriters has been together for eight years, playing for audiences from wine country to the Caribbean, with a repertoire of acoustic originals and covers spanning folk-rock, country and blues.

Their BottleRock appearance follows the May 1 release date for their third CD, “Tattooed Melodies.”

More information:

See the entire list of BottleRock performers at

Give Yourself a Pay Raise – Ride the Bus to Work

Buses at Transit Center IV cropped

A recent Auto Club study reported that the average cost to own and operate a car is between $8,000 and $11,000 a year.  Most people spend several hundred dollars a month on gasoline alone. Taking the bus to work several days a week can save you thousands of dollars a year in fuel and car maintenance – the equivalent of a healthy pay raise.

Getting around by bus is easy. The new VINE provides great connections around town and throughout the Bay area, including El Cerrito Del Norte BART, Vallejo Ferry, Amtrak, and Solano and Sonoma Counties.

According to Tom Roberts, Manager of Public Transit at the VINE, recent improvements in the bus service were made with commuters in mind. “We knew people wanted a system where buses would come frequently and get them to their destination quickly. Now, most routes run every 30 minutes and the average travel time to most Napa neighborhood destinations is under 15 minutes.”

People going to work or school represent over half of the VINE’s growing ridership base. Amy Garcia is one of those commuters.  She lives in Fairfield and rides the VINE’s Route 21 Express to her job in Napa. Amy explains, “I save money on gas, I don’t put as many miles on my car, and I am also compensated by my employer for using public transportation.”  Amy avoids the frustration and agony of commuting because her express bus has reclining seats, Wi-Fi, and limited stops so she can relax and enjoy the ride.

Chelsea Ford is a Napa resident who works downtown and has also discovered the convenience of taking the VINE to work. “It’s four miles from where I live to where I work,” says Chelsea. “It’s easy and it’s quick and it’s the best type of transportation for me.”

If you take the bus, the VINE can also guarantee you have a way to get home in an emergency. The VINE partners with Solano/Napa Commute Information, the “Emergency Ride Home” program which provides vouchers for taxis or rental cars if there is an emergency and you need to get home during the day, or if extenuating circumstances require that you stay late
at work.

The VINE also helps employers meet the requirements under Senate Bill 1339, the Regional Commuter Benefit Legislation. SB 1339 requires that employers with more than 50 employees offer commuter alternatives to their employees; paying for transit fares and passes, or providing a pre-tax program that deducts the cost of a transit pass before taxes are withheld. Either qualifies to meet the SB 1339 requirements.

Whether you are commuting out of town or within Napa, want to save money or help save the planet, the VINE’s new bus system has convenient and economical options.

Bus Facts

• The majority of VINE riders are commuters.

• Most VINE routes run every 30 minutes.

• It takes under 15 minutes by bus to most Napa neighborhood destinations.

• The VINE has exceptional on-time performance.

• Express buses have limited stops and Wi-Fi.

• You can buy your bus pass on-line.

If you have a bonafide emergency and have to leave work, the  guaranteed ride home program will cover your costs for a rental car or taxi.

The VINE provides bus service in every city in Napa County as well as express service with limited stops to Fairfield, Suisun, Sonoma, the Vallejo Ferry, and BART in the East Bay.

For more information, go to or call 707-251-2800

Walk, Run & Dance, To Raise Money For Teacher Grants – May 18th


by Michelle Kenyon

On May 18, 2014, Napafit and the Napa Valley Education Foundation will hold their 4th annual Race For Education. In three short years, this event has earned the reputation of a “must do” family and community fundraising party, so sign up now. The Race For Education begins at 4:00 p.m. at the Napa Valley College Campus with a 5k walk/run, and finishes with a fun-filled, post-race festival, with food, wine and live entertainment provided by the electrifying Wonderbread 5 dance band. ( “I dare anyone to sit still when Wonderbread 5 is in the house,” said Ines Donnelly-Bargenquast, owner of Napafit and one of the Race For Education founders. “Last year, parents and kids alike swarmed the stage during Wonderbread 5’s performance; they are such engaging performers and perfect for keeping the fun going at our post-Race festival. It is a great time for families to come out to support local education, get a walk or a run in together as a family, and then eat dinner and enjoy the live music.”

All proceeds from the Race are used to support the Napa Valley Education Foundation’s Teacher Grant Program. The NVEF Teacher Grant Program supports NVUSD students by giving teachers the tools they need to make their students more successful. Teacher grants have been used to purchase science lab materials, music and physical education program curriculum support, field trips, library resources, software, subscriptions, computers, play equipment, and much more. With over 1,200 participants in last year’s Race For Education, the Napa Valley Education Foundation was able to give $1,500 to each and every one of the thirty-two schools in the Napa Valley Unified School District. “This Race is not only an enjoyable afternoon for our community, it is crucial to the ongoing support and improvement of programs directly benefitting our students,” says Katie Aaron, a former Vintage high school teacher and coach. Katie told us, “The Foundation has a mantra, ‘Whole community, whole child, whole district,’ and this phrase captures the Foundation’s charge to seek ways for all parts of our community to have a well-rounded, educational experience.” As the founders of the Race For Education, Donnelly and Aaron have embraced that mantra and created an event that has provided the much-needed funds to enhance the educational experiences of all of the NVUSD students while incorporating physical fitness. Donnelly and Aaron met when Aaron was coaching the Vintage basketball team when Donnelly was a student player. Donnelly went on to graduate from UCLA and then spent a year in Saudi Arabia as a personal trainer to the royal family. When Donnelly returned to Napa, she started Napafit personal and group training and reconnected with her former high school basketball coach, Aaron, who joined one of her boot camp training sessions. Aaron had since joined the board of the Napa Valley Education Foundation, while raising her family. Donnelly and Aaron came up with the idea of the Race to incorporate the fitness activities they both loved and as an annual fundraiser for the Napa Valley Education Foundation. Now in its fourth year, the Race is a much-anticipated, community event and a unique source of funds for the Foundation.

One of the highlights of last year’s Race was the participation and enthusiasm for the Race engendered by teachers and staff members. The Race awards $1,000 grants to each of the elementary, middle and high schools with the most registrants. Some of the local schools did an exceptional job at rallying their students to participate in the Race and festival. The winner of the elementary school division in last year’s Race was Phillips Elementary School with nearly 150 runners. The students, their teachers and family members came together to raise awareness for Phillips Elementary and to show the community that, even in the face of adversity, if students work hard, focus on their education and goals and are kind and support their community, life will provide opportunities and benefits for them. Leslie Diakon, Phillips Elementary’s Physical Education teacher said, “Even though many of our Phillips’ family members were not able to participate on Race day because of financial constraints, our school community came together at the prize money presentation the following day during our school wide flag salute and the pride I saw in our student body was phenomenal. We plan to keep our title and the benefits that come with that win by bringing another strong showing of the Phillips’ community to the 2014 Race.”

Diakon told us that the majority of the prize money was used for much–needed, internet educational boards for every classroom and, while the money does not cover the full cost of that project, it made a measurable difference. A remaining portion of the prize money was earmarked for students who need proper shoes for physical education classes.

The Napa Valley Education Foundation has evolved significantly since its beginning three decades ago. “The District has established an innovative and nationally-recognized vision of technology-infused learning to equip our students for success in the 21st century, and the Foundation is pleased to support teachers and schools as they embrace new strategies to prepare our students for success,” Aaron stated. “The funds generated from the Race allow the NVEF to help teachers fund programs to enrich our students’ experiences and keep them engaged and moving forward. It’s a terrific event and lots of fun, but Ines and I remain focused on the ultimate objective of providing funds to get our teachers and students working at that next level, both scholastically and physically.”

2014 NVUSD School Competition

A $2,000 grant awarded to the High School or Middle School with the most registrants, as well as, one Elementary School.

When: Sunday, May 18, 2014 

Race Time:4 p.m.

Festival Time:5 – 8 p.m.

Where:  Napa Valley College Campus (free parking at Napa Valley College)

The 5k (3.1 miles) course begins and
ends on the college campus. 

(Price includes race registration & festival entry)

• Kids 4 and under – FREE

• Kids aged 5-18 – $25*

• Adults aged 19+ – $40*

*$5 more if tickets purchased on day of event

Festival Tickets ONLY:

• Kids 5 and under – FREE

• Kids aged 6-18 – $10

• Adults aged 19+ – $25

Sign up for the 4th Annual Race For
Education powered by Napafit, visit

Connolly Ranch Welcomes Kids to Discover Nature


by Stephen Ferry

The best thing about being a part of Connolly Ranch is opening the eyes of a child to our connections to the natural world,” says Michael Lauher, Education Director of Connolly Ranch.  “Whether it’s an infant toddler or an adult, it’s all about helping folks connect with Nature.”

For most of the twentieth century, Margaret “Peggy” Connolly liked to sit out on the front porch of her Browns Valley home at the corner of Thompson Avenue and Browns Valley Road, and enjoy the view of her gardens, her farm animals and, particularly, the local children passing by enjoying the little piece of natural paradise.

“When Mrs. Connolly passed away in 1991, she donated her property to the Napa Valley Land Trust,” said Jennifer Thacher-Fotherby, the new Executive Director of the Connolly Ranch.  “She donated the property with the stipulation that it be used to connect kids and their families with nature through farm-based education.”

The house remains to this day, and the surrounding twelve acres of paddocks, ponds, barns and outbuildings are used to stage a wide range of programs providing nature-based education for children of all ages.

“The education programs for kids started around 1994,” explained Thacher- Fotherby.  “Our Ranch Manager, Thom Arcadi, was one of our founding members, and between 1991-94 he was the one helping clean up the ranch to accomplish the transition from the Connolly family home to the Land Trust education-centered farm facility.  Today, Farmer Thom continues to oversee our maintenance program and our farm animal care.”

“For the past 20 years, we have been doing progressively more and more programs,” said Lauher, who also serves as property caretaker and lives in the former Connolly residence.  “Today we have dozens of offerings for individuals, small groups, and entire school classes that can be as brief as an hour or two, or as long as a full-day experience.”

“What we do on a full-time basis during the weekdays is offer educational field trip opportunities to schools,” said Thacher-Fotherby.  “Through our field trip program, we reach 70% of the Napa Unified School District.  The trips are coordinated through teachers at the schools.  Most of the field trips are for grades K-6, but there are also offerings for high school kids..”

Lauher continued, “During school hours on weekdays, groups of kids come and are presented with age-appropriate experiences.   We teach them about things such as growing food and raising farm animals at home, or preparing food in the kitchen, or environmental history, or early pioneer life.  The kids learn where their food comes from, and what “farm-to-table” is all about.

“We have a fascinating, Native American program for third graders.  The timing of this fits right in with the standard programs the kids get in school at that age.”

“During the last school year we hosted about 4,000 kids as part of  this program,” added Thacher-Fotherby.

“We also take kids into Westwood Hills City Park, which is located right behind us, up the hill,” said Lauher.  “We go for hikes and learn about oak, land ecology, native plants and animals, the importance of clean water, clean air, and clean soil.  We try to help the kids understand – on a personal level – how these things really do make a difference in each of our own personal lives.”

“When we host school classes for field trips, we usually get a class or two at a time, so it could be 60 kids in a day.  We also do small groups.  There can be numerous classes in a single day.”

Thacher-Fotherby said, “Many of the schools we host for field trips are Title One schools (where the children are on free or reduced lunch programs).  For these schools, we provide the field trip and, sometimes, the bus transportation, for free.  This is one tangible way we reach out to the community to make sure everybody can share in the opportunities for growth and learning that we are fortunate to be able to offer.  We raise money for these field trips through grants, foundation functions, individual donors, and our Connolly Ranch, fundraising events.”

“Connolly Ranch has so many long-established programs to offer,” Thacher-Fotherby continued.  “For preschoolers we have Summer Camps for kids 1st grade ready to 11 years, with themes that include Life on the Farm, Art Exploration, and Farm to Table Cooking.  We also have an Ecology Play Camp for kids 5 & 6 years old.”

“For infants up to two 2 years we have our ‘Sounds of Silence’ program each Tuesday from 9-10am,” Thacher-Fotherby said.  “This guided program is designed to be a time for parent and child to leave the noisy, often over-stimulated world and connect through gestures, body language and facial expressions.  The class moves slowly and calmly, creating a safe and relaxing environment for Very Little People to experience our ranch and the wonders of Mother Nature.  At the same time, for Big People it is always a source of wonder and inspiration to observe what each child is noticing, and how they are interacting with that plant, rock, animal or new friend.  You could find yourself experiencing our earth for what seems like the first time too!”

“Beginning this year, we want to make the Connolly Ranch more available to people,” said Lauher.  “We want to offer things besides the field trips and the camps, so we will be doing new things on Wednesdays and Saturdays.”

“One new thing this year will be ‘Walkabout Wednesday’.  Every Wednesday between 3-5pm Connolly Ranch will be open to the public.  It will be a way for people to come in and check it out for free.  People will be encouraged to make a donation, but it will be free for those who can’t afford a donation.   We will be offering tours and also allowing people to check out the Ranch in their own.”

“Wednesdays also will be a good time for people who are thinking about volunteering to come by and check out the possibilities for that.  We rely heavily on volunteers.   The time is totally unstructured.  Visitors can just come in and relax and explore,” said Lauher.

“And, Wednesday Walkabouts will also be an opportunity for adults who may have been in a program 20 years ago to come back and see how the Ranch has grown and evolved,” added Thacher-Fotherby.     The new, Saturday programs are going to be one-day offerings, which will make attendance more practical for parents who have to travel a little farther to get here.

“The new Saturday programs will start on April 12, and will continue the second Saturday of each month,” explained Thacher-Fotherby.  “There will be different activities as we go through the seasons.  We will start out with a ‘Mommy and Me,’ parent-child class from 9:00-10:00.   Then, from 10-2, we will have a drop-off session for kids between the ages of 4-13.  Having a wide age range allows siblings from the same family to be in the same group together, and also simplifies the drop-off/pickup logistics for parents with more than one child in the program.   This will be a great time for kids to connect with nature while the parents have a few hours to go off and do something locally.”

“We will continue to have ‘Fun Family Fridays’ for children/infant through five years old, accompanied by an adult,” said Lauher.  “Each Friday will start out with some free, play time in the barns, garden or grove.  Then we move into our project of the week.  These structured activities are designed for all ages to participate together, and include topics such as gardening, cooking, art and animal care.”

“Saturday is also when we have workshops for adults,” continued Lauher; “Master gardeners, tree pruning, beekeeping classes, plant propagation, backyard poultry, and eggs in the yard.  We run little workshops, give them some idea of what it is like to have six birds in your back yard.

“Saturday is a chance for the kids who have done a field trip during the week to bring Mom and Dad (who may be occupied with work M-F) out to the Ranch,” added Thacher Fotherby.

“People just need to come out here and visit,” said Lauher.  “The magic is here.  Once people get here on-site, they seem to find that they connect to more than they expected.”

Connolly Ranch is located at 3141 Browns Valley Road, Napa, California 94558, at the corner of Thompson Avenue, and is open to the general public for Family Farm Day in June, and Harvest Festival Day in October.

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Conversations with a Small Dog

dog lady

By ML Hilton

I consider myself a practical woman. I’m efficient, methodical, and logical. I believe that most things are explainable and I have a little bit of a “show me” attitude. A lot of that comes from my upbringing in the deep South.

A time and place, for example, where children were seen and not heard, hard work was hard currency, and “yoga” and “metaphysical” may have actually never been uttered. Everyone had laying hens in the yard and FRESH fried chicken for dinner.  Animals had their place — they were part of the family’s ecosystem — but the pets were definitely not considered on par with the children.  Even my spirituality is light on blind faith, and heavy on “do-unto-others.”

But no matter how practical and straightforward I’ve become, I suspect there is more to the natural world that can be easily defined. Things flit across the fabric of life that show a deeper, more ethereal connection. Like the time I moved a state away from my dearest friend. I called her a week later to tell her of a dream I had were we enjoyed the best adventure in a little blue Chevette. She listened in stunned silence, and when I finished my tale, she told me that she had purchased a new car the day before: a little blue Chevette.

And, that’s not the only story I have like that. So, I save my knee-jerk, deep doubts for national politicians and aging Lotharios. All others I will happily invite a listen, even if the “B S” meter starts twitching.

In late January, I had the opportunity to take my little Chihuahua, Bananas, to an Animal Intuitive. Animal intuitives, or “communicators,” as it was explained to me, is someone who has something like a telepathic conversation, heavily weighted with an intuitive sense and an open mind.  Bananas and I visited with Barbara Martin who offers her sessions in Napa, through The Spa at Napa River Inn.

Barbara calls herself the “animal communicator of the common man.”  She isn’t particularly gypsy-looking, or airy-fairy. In fact, she comes across as rather average, leaning heavily on the gentle and nice side of average. While Barbara is naturally sensitive, she studied many years under well-known, national Animal Communicators in order to learn her craft.

Typically, Barbara helps owners understand their animal’s health and behavior issues, fears, thoughts and feelings. She can sometimes help people stay “in touch” with animals after they go to the great backyard in
the sky.

My little dog easily took to her and climbed on her lap. The only questions she asked of me to start were how many other animals and people were in the house, and our names. Barbara gave me a pad to take notes while she conversed with my dog. And, I must confess, that I busied myself with the activity of note taking, in hopes of not giving off too many “clues.”

In the course of the conversation with my dog, she covered a lot of topics with Bananas, sometimes asking questions and sometimes listening. She checked in with me a few times, to clarify, but I didn’t feel like I was tuned into the conversation.

Let’s get to the best part. Was the reading accurate? There were a number of things that Barbara said that were hands-down true.

Barbara asked Bananas if she like to go to work with me (since we were at work that day). Banana’s answered “yes,” but that she used to go to work with me all the time, which was true. When I got Bananas from the pound 8 years ago, she went with me everywhere, including daily to my job.

Barbara asked Bananas how old she was. The answer? “She thinks she is 10.”  True.

When asked about her health, Bananas said, “I’m healthy, but my teeth are going to cost a fortune.” One of her last visits to vet, they suggested a dental cleaning that was estimated to cost more than $1,000. Could you guess that? Yes, Bananas has bad breath, but it still was right on.

We recently lost our old beagle, Milo, who died right before Christmas. Barbara asked Bananas about Milo and she said that she knew he had died, but she “was not there” when it happened. Also true. Milo died in our arms at the vet, when we ended his suffering. Bananas did say that Milo was still at the house, in spirit. We have not seen him, of course, but still feel his presence in our hearts daily.

When asked about her time at the animal shelter, Barbara asked Bananas if she “was a runaway, got lost, or if her people had died.” Banana’s said no. “She was so destructive,” they got tired of her and dropped her off.  I have no idea if Bananas was destructive; she certainly isn’t at our house. But, true, Bananas was surrendered.

Bananas also told Barbara that she (Bananas) is famous. And that she “has accessories.” Yes, we do put little bows on our dog. She did, however, answer that she had no clothes. Which is not true. There is a little sweater that she hates and rubs off in the dirt as fast as she can — like Houdini removing a straight jacket.

Bananas picked her name. We had trouble settling on the right one. She came from the shelter as Cream (which never seemed right to us or, apparently, Bananas). We tried Trixie for a while, but my daughter started calling her Bananas when she would dance madly around the house. That stuck, according to Barbara, because Bananas was communicating that was what she was to be called.

There were some aspects of the conversation that could have easily just been suggestions from someone very good with animals. I felt like the comments were constructive, however, and even gave me some good insight into our lovely little dog.

There were also parts of the conversation that were personal in nature, about the vibe of our home and comments on our emotional health.  Bananas is a fairly chatty little dog.

Barbara says that is not unusual. “Animals really want this to happen,” she said. “So, they help.” According to Barbara, what she does is just information. “Clear-eyed seeing beyond your eyes. It’s not hocus-pocus; it’s just being in tune.”

Interestingly enough, I felt a lot closer to my little dog than I had before. Maybe we should have these chats more often.

(ML Hilton is a long-time Napa resident. If you have comments on this story, or would like to suggest other story topics, please email her at: