HEROES: Mark Spilsbury and Amy Whelan
By Tanya Henry
“It all started with the pancake breakfasts of sausages, fluffy pancakes and orange juice in the garage of my local fire department in La Canada,” says Mark Spilsbury, food service manager at Cedars, the Marin center for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “It was a great feeling.”
Spilsbury grew up in Southern California with civic-minded parents, who instilled in him the notion of what he refers to as “doing well by doing good.” He’s been at Cedars for almost 10 years, and like a lot of chefs, has cooked all over the country. After attending college as an art major at Colorado University in Boulder, he moved to New York and started catering. “It felt like I was joining the circus—there was something new every day.” He prepared meals in abandoned warehouses in Brooklyn, he prepared sit-down dinners at Lincoln Center, he served food to the winners at post–Grammy Award shows.
It was never boring.
Eventually Spilsbury returned to his home state, and in the early 1990s landed in Marin County and started to work for the Whistlestop center in a kitchen that produces 500 meals for seniors daily in San Rafael.
Spilsbury also opened his own restaurant, sold savory and sweet crepes at the Fairfax farmers market and worked with Heidi Krahling’s catering arm of Insalata’s restaurant. But it’s his work at Cedars that brings him the most joy.
“The folks here might tell me they don’t like the food one day, but then they’ll give me a hug and tell me they like me. It feels good.”
Spilsbury begins work at 5:30am on Cedars’ Generoso Pope Jr. campus, where he prepares breakfast for the residents. He returns at lunchtime to prep the midday meal. There are other community-based group homes in Marin, but regardless of where the Cedar participants live, they have access to numerous day programs, including a beautiful garden nestled on the hillside of a 22-acre property in San Rafael that’s run by another Marin hero, Amy Whelan.
“Giving back is in my DNA,” says Whelan, a one-time outdoor adventure guide who came to Cedars 28 years ago looking for a therapeutic garden experience. She’s been running the program and preparing vegetarian lunches ever since. The Inverness Park resident describes their program as more than a garden. “It’s like a little farm,” she says proudly.
Whelan walks me through a rectangular swath of land designed with metal handrails and PVC trellises to allow folks with physical disabilities to enjoy the spread. A gigantic fig tree fans out near a host of crops neatly cultivated. There are rows of various pepper varieties, eggplant, thornless berries, tomatoes and corn. The summer-crop season is winding down and heartier winter crops like Swiss chard will soon take their place. An entire section of the plot is designated for flowers, and a greenhouse and shed provide participants with the opportunity to learn about starts and planting from seed.
“Every day, eight people work in the garden and learn everything from how to plant and harvest vegetables, to composting and beekeeping,” Whelan says. She’s committed to teaching folks about the connection between growing good food and making healthy choices in life. Mark and Amy provide the nourishment, as they too are nourished by their contributions to an organization that offers a place where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can live creative, productive and joyous lives.
Cedars turns 100 next year and is hosting a harvest fair in November, where the public is invited to buy hot-pepper jelly, fig jam, jars of honey, handmade soaps and herbal mixes.
HERO: Jimmy ‘Fishbob’ Geraghty
By Nikki Silverstein
Making quite the entrance, Jimmy “Fishbob” Geraghty arrives for our interview on a black electric bike, his long gray mane flowing behind him. Clad in denim overalls and flip-flops with a yellow scarf covering his pate, pirate style, he proudly displays a button fastened to his chest: “Unfuck the World”
“That’s what I want to do,” he says.
Geraghty led a charmed early life and grew up in places like beautiful Westchester County (a bedroom community of New York City) and the Hamptons, part of Long Island, with its quaint and tony seaside communities. Both areas are mostly Caucasian. “As a white guy, you have privileges you don’t even realize you have,” Geraghty says.
For the love of a girl on the West Coast, he moved to Marin County in 1988. He settled in the Canal District to be near his boat. “I woke up when I moved in there. I saw a lot of wrong,” he says of the area that is mostly Latino.
He gained the “Fishbob” moniker when he created an earring out of an 18 karat gold hoop with a little red and white fishing bobber snapped onto it. “Quite fashionable,” he says.
About five years ago, Geraghty moved from the Canal due to rent increases, and now resides in Gerstle Park. The boat is gone.
After an injury forced him to leave the autobody business in early 2000, he began taking classes at Marin Community College. “A new world opened for me,” he says. He became involved with politics and nonprofit organizations in town. When the United States went to war with Iraq in 2003, Geraghty was a full-fledged activist and protested against the U.S. invasion.
During the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in the Canal District in 2007, he was part of the Canal Patrol, going out from 5pm until dawn to keep the community safe. That same year, he produced the film Why We Come, to tell the story of the immigrant experience.
Now he spends 60 hours a week working with a diverse group of local nonprofits and serves on the boards of the Community Media Center of Marin and Sustainable San Rafael. He’s a member of the San Rafael Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, a founding member of United Marin Rising and an alternate for the San Rafael General Plan 2040.
Self-taught, Geraghty designs and maintains websites for many nonprofits and is the videographer for Change the Name, the controversial push to rename the Dixie School District.
His heart, though, is with the Canal, where he describes himself as “a behind-the-scenes cheerleader for the Canal Welcome Center.” Geraghty painstakingly mapped the Canal District for the San Rafael transition from at-large to district-based city council elections, which will give the area more representation.
Geraghty doesn’t see himself as a hero, even if the Pacific Sun does. “I’m honored, but the real heroes are the people that live in the Canal.”
“It keeps me on my game,” he says of his volunteer work. “I surround myself with people smarter than me, connecting with others and working for change. That’s when the real magic happens.”
Geraghty identifies the three biggest problems facing Marin as housing, traffic and racial disparity. The good news is he sees plenty of solutions for all of these problems. His advice: Get involved. “Find a group working on your passion or concern. Become aware.”