Sunday, June 9, 2013, a memorial service was held for former CORBA Treasurer and Board Member Danusia Bennett-Taber. Around 80 friends, family, fellow volunteers, agency representatives, and one friendly horse, hiked or rode in to a secluded corner of Malibu Creek State Park. Under the majestic oaks with the sounds of rustling leaves and bird songs–one of Danusia’s favorite places in the park–people recalled some of their fond memories of her.
It was especially clear that there was much more to this wonderful woman than any of us really knew, except perhaps her husband Don, whose recollections brought both smiles and tears to the gathered crowd. We, as CORBA Board members knew her as a diligent and passionate volunteer who loved the mountains and the trails, with a penchant for making sure everything was done correctly.
Her family knew she volunteered, but according to them, she had never made any big deal of it. It was just something she did. CORBA’s Steve Messer talked about her legacy and dedication to mountain biking (copied below), the depth of which was unknown to her family. In fact, this was a common theme among those who spoke. Everyone seemed to know a different side of this remarkable woman. But the common thread was that she touched many people, in many meaningful ways.
Many thanks to the numerous past and present CORBA board members and volunteers who came out to celebrate her life, and our sincerest condolences to her non-mountain biking family and friends.
Special thanks go to Wendy Engelberg, who organized the service. Wendy collaborated with Danusia on a final project, a bell program that will serve multiple purposes: It will remind everyone of Danusia’s great work for the trail community, help ease tensions on the trails from user conflict, and raise money for the Sarcoma Alliance that helped Danusia through the most difficult times of her life. Look for the official announcement in the coming weeks.
Danusia’s Legacy with CORBA
Danusia joined CORBA’s board in 2007. I’d met her and worked as a volunteer with CORBA in the years prior to that, before I was asked to join the Board. But it wasn’t really until I learned the inner workings of CORBA that I came to appreciate how integral she was to the organization.
Danusia helped set-up CORBA up for a solid future in so many ways. Everything we’ve done since and all we’ve yet to accomplish are in many ways possible because of her efforts. She was the backbone of CORBA. Much like the Backbone trail that connects the various Parks that make the Santa Monica Mountains, Danusia’s work within CORBA connected all our various programs and made sure they had a solid core foundation from which to grow. For a few years there were just three of us running CORBA, and she was always there to make sure that Mark and I didn’t overlook some detail that could have caused problems, or miss a paperwork filing deadline. She had our backs.
It’s thanks to her expertise with computers and accounting that our books are in order, our finances are handled and up to date. She left us in a much better state than when she joined CORBA’s Board and became Treasurer. Though she retired from the Board just over a year ago, she never really stopped volunteering.
Just a two weeks ago, she was making sure that CORBA’s 2012 tax filings were all in order. Despite her personal challenges, CORBA’s work was all-important to her. She set us up with the tools to move forward and continue our work uninterrupted.
But for her it wasn’t just about the management and the paperwork. It was about her passion for trails and the open spaces and public lands we all get to enjoy. She made sure that she gave back to the trails and, even after being presented with the biggest challenge of her life, learning of her rare cancer, she continued to come out to build new trails in the Conejo Open Space, attended public meetings about trails, and participated in trail maintenance in the Santa Monica Mountains, where she absolutely loved to ride and hike and felt truly at home.
She also wanted to make sure that other people had the same opportunities to enjoy the outdoors as she did. Her involvement with CORBA’s Youth Adventures program helped introduce many kids to the wonders of our great outdoors, and the joy and freedom of experiencing them by bicycle. Her ever-present smile and laughs with the kids were infectious. She also volunteered for the Mountain Bike Unit, patrolling the mountains to help make sure others were safe on the trails while at the same time protecting public lands and trails for everyone, regardless of how they enjoyed the trails. Her efforts to ensure the success of our various fundraisers made sure we had the resources to continue our work.
Mark Langton reminded me of how feisty and upset she became when a very few but vocal mountain bikers disagreed with CORBA’s philosophy of taking the high road and doing our best to work with Land Managers instead of against them. They’d complain or say bad things about CORBA’s cooperation with agencies, or our work to preserve and maintain trails. She took it personally, and felt we were misunderstood. Mark would have to reassure her that it isn’t personal. Those naysayers were concerned only about themselves, while we and Danusia were concerned about and protective of the trails and our greater community.
In our dealings with State and National Parks, and in our own internal development, she’d always make sure that the women’s point of view was always considered. She’d never let us forget that in this oftentimes male-dominated sport, that if more women were mountain biking we’d probably have a better overall image in the trail user community. Her work with Wendy Engleburg and Girlz Gone Riding helped introduce many women to mountain biking, and support and encourage them along the way.
One of the biggest transitions CORBA has undergone in its 26 year history was when we became an IMBA chapter a few years ago. It was a long and tedious process, with a lot of paperwork, filing of documents, and reconciling CORBA’s mission and operations with IMBA’s. Danusia took the lead on that process, and now, as an IMBA chapter, we’ve been able to grow and speak with a louder voice to land managers, with much more two-way coordination and collaboration between CORBA and IMBA. It’s been a wonderful change for us and for our growing membership. It’s just one of many aspects of Danusia’s legacy within CORBA that is helping guide us into a better future for mountain biking in Southern California.
Mark and my last communication with Danusia was a short, but very telling email about a week before she passed on. It was just a few sentences that essentially said, “Guys, it’s hospice time, and I’m really OK with it.” In those few sentences she was both comforting us by letting us know she’d come to terms with her situation and was ready to move on, and that she felt her work with CORBA was complete. She never wanted to have people fuss over her accomplishments and contributions, nor her final challenges.
CORBA is continuing to make progress on many fronts, albeit slow. The saddest thing about this great loss to our community is that she was not able to ride the Backbone trail end-to-end by bicycle, or see new trails opened to bikes in the Santa Monicas, or see a bike park completed, or witness the continued exponential growth in women’s and kids mountain biking. But we look forward to a day when many of us will see those sea-changes, and in many ways it will be thanks to her legacy.
Danusia, we miss you, we love you, and most of all we thank you for giving so much of yourself to our trails, our mountains, and our community. You’ll be truly missed, but your smile and spirit will live on and continue to touch as all, every time we’re on the trails.
June 9, 2013