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San Diego Legends

San Diego County Library and Aging & Independence Services present San Diego Legends: Living Well, an annual recognition comprised of painted portraits by local artist Mona Mills, photographs, and impact statements about six local elders who lead by example.

The Legends exemplify lifestyles that embrace inclusion, spiritual integrity, humanism and healthy living. Their lives and accomplishments are a testament to the nobility of hard work, as well as respect for each other and one's self. As the exhibit is displayed at a new library each month, residents have the opportunity to meet the Legends, hear about their experiences, and participate in related programs.

Exhibit Schedule

The Legends

Gordy Shields (April 20, 1918 - June 30, 2013)

"People say, 'Gordy, is that your bridge?' I say, 'Yes, that is my bridge.' I love that. I guess I'm a legend. I always wanted to be an icon, but I guess I'll settle for legend."

Gordy Shields represented the very best in civic engagement. He kept busy throughout his retirement by setting national bicycle racing records and advocating for local bicyclist's rights. Gordy picked up cycling when he was fifty, and raced against the likes of Lance Armstrong, was a four-time national champion, and earned a total of 36 gold medals. But he was never just in it for the win. Gordy was a leader, advocating tirelessly for bike lanes and the importance of sharing the road. Through his efforts, 14 out of 19 miles of the Bay Shore Bikeway were completed, including the Coronado Bridge. Gordy passed away on June 30, 2013, at the age of 95.

"Above all, people shouldn't feel sorry for themselves. They ask, "Why me?" Well, why not? Get up, get out, and get moving."

Salvador Barajas

"Having integrity as one of our qualities makes our journey through life much easier; integrity without truth is not integrity."

Growing up in Mexico, Salvador "Sal" Barajas and his family immigrated to the United States when Sal was 18. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Sal developed as an artist, studying advertising design at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College then attending the Academy of Arts in San Francisco and San Diego State University. A strong sense of community, justice and integrity has guided Sal in his work as a professional art director and community muralist. In 1973 he was one of the original muralists to paint the world famous San Diego Chicano Park murals, later playing an important role in the Chicano Park Mural Restoration Project. Sal and his wife are major proponents of education and, as a result, all four of their children have graduated from college. Sal owns Motivational Designs, a business that provides teachers with classroom tools that promote bilingual education.

"In the beginning you do artwork to fulfill material needs, in later years you create to satisfy your soul."

Phebe Burnham

"My family always said to me, 'You're going to be an artist.' So I was brainwashed and always knew what I'd do with my life."

Ninety-three year old Phebe Burnham has been an artist for as long as she can remember, capturing the world through oil paints, pastels, and other mixed media. Encouraged to pursue art from a young age, Phebe frequented museums as a child and went on to attend the Swain School of Design and the Columbia University School of Painting and Sculpture. She gets her inspiration everywhere, and always aims to please her customers, even entertaining the occasional request for a "de-wrinkle job" and other "enhancements."

"I have two tips for living well. First, keep a sense of humor. Second, find something you love and stick with it, even if it doesn't make you a billionaire."

Rita Cloud

"Prejudice is like the elephant in the room. No one wants to see it, no one wants to talk about it. People get afraid when they don't understand."

Rita Cloud lives social justice. Her family was the first African-American family to move to the El Cajon area fifty years ago. As a substitute teacher for the Cajon Valley School District, Rita faced discrimination by students and faculty alike. She took action by serving as Co-Captain of the Affirmative Action Committee for local schools, and joined the Friends of the El Cajon Library. As a member of the Friends, Rita successfully fought for a new library to be built that would better meet the needs of a diverse community in need of empowerment and education.

"I fought everyday to sensitize people. Sometimes you have to buck what's going on and say, 'There's a way.'"

Carmen Duron

"Pay attention. Try to really make an impact. You don't just sit down and wait for something to happen."

Carmen Duron has spent the past eighty-three years fighting for equality and giving a voice to those that are too often silenced. She attributes her steadfastness to her career, having worked for twenty years as an operating room nurse. On weekends, Carmen worked in the fields with Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers Union, fighting for the rights of others. Today, her determination to help others carries on as she works for Adult Protective Services in San Diego County. Her goal? To ensure that people of all ages are engaged, healthy, and living the best lives possible.

"If somebody doesn't try to hear them, then there is no voice."

Randy Edmonds

"To make changes you have to get yourself in the position to change things."

Randy Edmonds (Koiwa-Caddo) is a respected Southern California Tribal Elder and a tireless Native American activist. Known for his ability to build tight-knit communities and provide spiritual guidance, Randy has become a well-known leader throughout the country. Randy grew up in Oklahoma, but was relocated to Southern California during the Urban Relocation Program in the 1950's. Randy recognizes the importance of keeping the tribal identity alive. He was the founder of the Indian Human Resource Center and the national Urban Indian Council, and he supports culture and unity through Pow-Wows and other community events.

"Pow-wows are a higher purpose of all nations; they're a vehicle for consolidation of people. Drumbeat and songs are the heart of the people."

About the Artist

Mona Mills has worked her entire life as a professional artist. She considers herself a "survivor" woman artist, as her career was launched at a time when a female artist had to sign with a man's name. Mills was born in Chicago and attended the Art Institute at the University of Chicago. Her murals brighten the walls of many San Diego County Library branches, and she has also served as an art instructor at many local schools.

"The paintings are no longer just portraits; they are symbols that are the individual, but, also, symbols that go far beyond any one individual. We need to teach with our murals. This idea makes art a necessity, not just a frill."

The County of San Diego and the San Diego County Library disclaim any responsibility for the accuracy of the translations.
KPBS San Diego Public Library