Sacramento Revisited - 2011

Sacramento Revisited - 2011

Gathering for Sutter Lawn Swim Team of early 1960's

June 26, 2011

Updated July 26, 2011. Please visit again.

By Lewis Nolan

Onetime Sutter Lawn Swimming coaches Buzz Nolan (bottom right in dark green shirt), Bob Reid (seated in light green shirt) surrounded by (from left) onetime team swimmers Barbara Fackenthal, Mike Leonard, Paul Bernardis and his brother towering over team stars Robin Anderson Hayes and Nancy Mee (wearing black), Beth Leonard Schatz and co-host of lunch Peter Anderson.- Photo by Betty Nolan.

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Sacramento Revisited – 2011

Gathering for Sutter Lawn Swim Team of Early 1960s


June 24 – 27, 2011


Part 1: Flights to Sacramento

Part 3: At Sutter Lawn with Swimmers

Part 2: Sac High Reunion, Cemetery

Part 4: Flights home to Memphis

- Updated July 15, 2011

Several photos taken by Betty Nolan of her and husband Buzz Nolan’s visits to his Sacramento High School’s 50th reunion, several former members of the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club swim team he coached in the early 1960s, the graves of family and friends at East Lawn Cemetery and commemorative Rose Garden/Vietnam War Memorial near the California State Capitol are posted at in various albums registered under Lewis “Buzz” Nolan’s email address. Email for instructions how to access the pictures those visits. 



 June 26, 2011 – Saturday – In Sacramento, CA


We spent a little time in my once-familiar surroundings near 41st Street and Folsum Blvd. in Sacramento on Saturday morning before returning to the Courtyard by Marriott motel for a nap.



Later, with a little time on our hands until the scheduled, 3 p.m. reunion gathering of some of the members of the Sutter Lawn swimming team I had coached in the early 1960s, we drove west down Stockton Blvd. to where it turns into Capitol Avenue and then on to the beautiful, lushly planted gardens of the California State Capitol building and grounds on the edge of downtown Sacramento.



We lucked into a free parking space directly across the street from a spacious and well-tended memorial rose garden and monument to deceased state residents killed in Vietnam. I found the inscribed name of my longtime friend and fraternity brother Pete Siller on a metal plaque. Betty and I enjoyed seeing many familiar and a few unfamiliar rose bushes planted in a concentric garden that was in nearly full bloom.



The lunch in my honor organized by my lifelong friend and onetime business partner Bob Reid at Sutter Lawn Tennis Club was scheduled for this afternoon. Both of our families had been members of the fashionable club in the heart of the city in 1950s and 1960s. The club was founded in 1909 and once hosted the National Hard Courts Tennis Tournament and counted former Governor and President Ronald Reagan and family among its members as well as other well-known public figures including the family of onetime Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren.





Bob and I had started working at the club when we were young teens. We both lived nearby and would rise very early to hose off the California dust from the expensively constructed, green and red-colored tennis courts once or twice a week. We both spent a large part of our growing-up time at the club and knew most of its well-heeled members. Much of our time was spent across the street “on the hill” where we and other adolescents smoked on a neighbor’s lawn.



As we grew into our late teens, Bob largely focused on tennis (he went on to play the sport on the University of Oregon team) and me on swimming (I was on Sacramento State’s swimming team that practiced in a heated, outdoor pool on campus through the winter months.) Much later, our former boss J. B. Cantrell was forced out of his long-held job as General Manager of Sutter Lawn by an assertive, young board of directors and Bob was hired as his replacement.



Back in those days the club was quite sparing in non-tennis operations and conservative in spending the membership’s money on staff and extras.



Mainly because we were members but also because the then-general manager liked us, Bob and I were hired as lifeguards in the early 1960s. We had the use of the pool to offer at a fee American Red Cross-accredited swimming lessons from beginner through senior lifesaving in the mornings. In exchange, we were expected to coach the club’s age-group swimmers from 4 through 16 years old to compete in the Sacramento Swimming and Diving League. We were in a pretty good league and several of our swimmers went on to swim on second-tier college teams; one of the swimmers on another league team later turned out to be a household name, famed Olympian Mark Spitz.



We had nearly 100 kids ages 4-16 on the Sutter Lawn team, with only about half of that number available for swimming meets at any given time with teams of other private clubs in the Sacramento area. All season long, some of our “kids of privilege” missed meets because they were on dream vacations with their families.



One family with whom I became close did me the incredible kindness of paying the Nolan family monthly dues for our club membership for a while when my mother’s divorce (settled with an agreement to modest alimony and child support checks with her retaining the house on 41st Street near Folsum Blvd. and caring for three growing boys at home) put her finances in a difficult situation. I didn’t learn about the private help from a club member with swimming team connections paying the Nolan family club dues until much later.



By working as a credentialed lifeguard almost every day and getting up in the pre-dawn hours to coach and drill the swim team, I had a decent amount of money in my pocket to help pay my college expenses, buy an used, MGA convertible sports car and held possibly maybe the most wonderful job of my life. In long-after retrospect, by later standards the pay and my share of the swimming lessons’ income was rather meager and I determined that working as a lifeguard and part-time swimming coach was not going to be the course of my life, as fun and satisfying as it was at the time.



Sutter Lawn was a national powerhouse in state and national tennis circles in those times, which strictly enforced formal and informal “rules” like requiring all-white clothing on tennis courts. However, during my years of swimming and coaching there we never had the best team in the local league and our kids got creamed by standout Mark Spitz on another team.



But a few of our swimmers were the best in our league in their events. The team “sweetheart” was Nancy Mee, who set long-standing club and league records in the butterfly events when in the 12-and-under girls and later the 14-and-under girls, plus in the record times logged by her relay teams. Her male counterpart in age, leadership and swimming speed was mighty Billy Stillwell, a broad-shouldered speedster who was unfailingly polite.  



Tragically, Billy had suffered from rheumatic fever as an infant. He died of a heart malfunction at the age of 45, long after swimming in AAU meets and later coaching a team of youngsters. His manliness and determination overcame his birth disadvantaged heart through much-admired dedication. Nancy went on to study fine arts at the University of Washington and in France, becoming a notable sculptor in the medium of glass.



Learning of Billy’s death at such a young age came like a body blow to me. I wrote a somewhat emotion-laden letter about my enduring love for the swimmers I coached over the years. I learned many years later that Nancy Mee had treasured her copy of my letter and had kept it in a top drawer in her home in the state of Washington to the north.



Both Billy and Nancy later dated some when they were both living in Sacramento. They graciously chipped in to give me a pewter beer mug engraved with their names when I was off at college in Mississippi. They knew even as young teens that I had a collegiate fraternity weakness for beer. They were among the team members who would good-naturedly “raz” me about possibly being “hung over” at pre-dawn team practice sessions.



While once I moved to Mississippi for college, I only occasionally came “back home to Sacramento” to visit family and a few old friends. I’ve posted a few travelogues about my trips home and to other places over the years. One is about a college fraternity reunion I attended and while in the area made time for lunch with former swim team members at Sutter Lawn in September, 2009. It is posted at A separate website is devoted to the club swimming team and has links to lots of photos posted at



I was in my late teens when I worked at Sutter Lawn during the swimming seasons that started in the spring and went through the summer months. Following the wise counsel of my much  admired coach Dick Boyd (once a member of the U.S. Olympic diving team), I always strived to be extremely careful around the budding young ladies around the pool after I learned that young females sometimes developed “crushes” on physically fit lifeguards and their young coaches.



Among the great lookers I coached were budding teens Nancy Mee, Beth Leonard and her sister Nancy Leonard, early maturing Paula Korngold and boy-loving, go-getter Linda Ellison. Among the exceptional boys with strong competitive abilities I came to depend on were Billy Stillwell and his big brother Bob Stillwell, plus brothers Marc and Scott Rush. There were many more standout teens in my memory plus several swimmers who were 10 years old or younger or were only briefly on the team during my years at Sutter Lawn including Mike Leonard, Barbara Fackenthal and Paul Bernardis. Many of them did quite well in swimming long after I moved on.



During this trip and at an earlier lunch with some of the above I confided in the group of now mature adults that one of the really fun parts about coaching adolescent females was how I never knew exactly who I was talking to – they seemingly could switch without warning from being little girls to emerging young ladies with the looks and bodies to match. One of them cracked, “that’s because we didn’t want you to know.”


Among those at the lunch provided by the Sutter Lawn snack bar June 24 hosted by honorary member Bob Reid and Peter Anderson (a standout swimmer when he was a young teen who subsequently worked for the California State Legislature as a legislative analyst and briefly for the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association as a lobbyist) were a great group of former swimmers. Among them were the following: Nancy Mee (flying from her home in Seattle to making a surprise appearance in honor of our long friendship and to renew our mutual admiration), siblings Beth Leonard (now a vice president and commercial loan officer with the Bank of America) and Mike Leonard, head of marketing for a casino resort for an Indian Tribe not far from Sacramento); Robin Anderson Hayes, young sister of Peter Anderson, with her children; Barbara Fackenthall, a school teacher who would squeal with delight many years ago when I would take her and another young team swimmer named Chrissy Fletcher on errands when driving my MGA convertible; and Paul Bernardis. Paul was with his younger brother. Of course Betty and I were there for the duration of the lunch, served rather casually since individual orders for assorted sandwiches and salads were taken by the club staff. Missing was a key employee on this day and the lunch was somewhat delayed as individual orders had to be carried up stairs to a meeting room with a great view of the nearby tennis courts.


I was interested to see the significant improvements in the clubhouse, swimming pool area and club grounds since my time there a half-century ago. 




Both Barbara and Paul became successful in their careers and retained their club memberships as adults. Paul, who now serves on the Sutter Lawn Board of Directors and was largely the empetus behind an honorary membership awarded to our longtime friend Bob Reid. Bob, who had a successful heart transplant a year ago, lives on the top floor of a two-story house within two or three blocks of the club and visits Sutter Lawn frequently.



Bob, who is my age, had retired a year or two ago following a distinguished career mostly spent in government and politics. He had switched from sports promotion and club management when he was starting out.



While I equally loved all my swimmers on the team who worked so hard to be competitive with those at other clubs (which in some cases were far larger than Sutter Lawn), I think I was probably closest to team sweetheart Nancy Mee. She had the heart of a tiger and the physical and mental strength of truly great athletes.



While I was careful to “walk the talk” and keep my relationships with swimmers I lifeguarded and coached as correct and professional as I could, I of course noticed that several of the young lasses in their early teens were quite attractive. I correctly suspected they would develop later into beautiful young women.



Following my onetime coach’s advice, I never – at least to my knowledge and intention - improperly touched them nor openly communicated my fondness for any of the young ladies I coached. (As some of the guys might say, I could at times be a real PIA to all my swimmers with tender egos and used making them sit on a bench in the sun or help with pool maintenance chores as punishment for violating the safety rules.



However, I soon learned that on occasion getting a bit assertive with the male teens was sometimes expected and understood in the male hierarchy, which forms when males are young and untested. The unspoken “deal” that requires mutual buy-in largely sets the standards and the rules for all relationship parties of the same sex based on athletic ability and perceived “toughness.” Later, civic and political rank plus wealth and fame enter the process more and more as a consequence of age.



More than other competitive swimmers I’ve coached, watched and heard about during the intervening half-century since we all worked so hard and happily together, Nancy had an innate,  brilliance and amazing talent. That - coupled with the creativity and toughness she showed -  helped develop her into a world-class sculptor.



She was born in 1951 (making her 8 years my junior when I was her swimming coach at Sutter Lawn).  Her parents were her mom, a member of a distinguished family of Christian missionaries of the Congregational Church who helped bring Western civilization to the islands of Hawaii in 1837. With a maiden name of Sally Cheek, her mother was born in Berkeley, Calif., in 1919 and graduated from the socially elite Mills College of Oakland, CA in 1942.



The following January she married John Hubert Mee, and with him lived in Piedmont, Sacramento and Bakersfield, Calif. They later spent much time in vacation homes they acquired in the beach community of Santa Cruz (pop. 253,000 in 2008) and gold rush town in Sierra Nevada mountains town of Downieville (estimated 2010 population of 2,608). I was told long ago that Hubert’s brother had served as Mayor of Santa Cruz and once saw him hard at work at his winter hobby – shoveling sand through a contraption of lumber and screens he had built to recover lost items like coins and gemstone jewelry from the town’s busy beaches during the warm months. 



A tall, slender and elegant lady at all times who generally treated me with the respect and affection given members of her own family, Mrs. Mee made with husband Hubert and three children a loving home in one of Sacramento’s finest houses on 46th Street, part of the “fabulous forties” near M Street several blocks from Sutter Lawn. Mrs. Mee held leadership positions in several socially important, not-for-profit organizations including the Hawaiian Missionary Children’s Society, Junior League of Sacramento and the Episcopalian Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento and the Town and Country Club of San Francisco. 



Her husband, John Hubert Mee Jr. (he preferred to be addressed as “Hubert” or “Mr. Mee”), also had a distinguished background. He was born in 1915 to a couple whose parents had emigrated from Ireland in 1850 to San Francisco during the gold rush. Attending school in what we Californian’s called “The City,” he later graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and entered the U.S. Navy. He served with distinction as a lieutenant commander, earning eight battle stars in the Pacific war with Japan and retiring from the military in 1945. He went on to work for the old Standard Oil of California (which later became part of Exxon) for 30 years and became an important executive in the Exploration and Land Departments for the once-oil rich Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.



Mr. Mee later formed his own petroleum and natural gas consulting company and held a number of offices in various oil, land and social organizations. With his intervention and position, I got a Standard Oil credit card way before my time and finances allowed that privilege (I later returned it.) I always called the hard driving executive “Mr. Mee” and we had a friendly relationship despite our age differences. In reality it was based on our common admiration for his daughter Nancy’s amazing swimming ability and her personal commitment to competitiveness and excellence in all things she did.



Regrettably, my partner Bob Reid and Mr. Mee never achieved quite that equilibrium I enjoyed separately with both.  



Hubert and Sally married in 1942 and settled in Sacramento in 1962. He was one of the strongest supporters of the Sutter Lawn swim team, personally building the wooden starting blocks we used at meets and seeing to it that our team had the necessary resources – including a few scholarships for athletically gifted, non-members of the club – to be competitive with clubs larger than our club.



His quest and expectations of excellence in all things extended to his eldest daughter, Nancy, who was quite simply the best swimmer we had (she never showed any of the “big head” that sometimes accompanies athletic prowess and was a enormous pleasure to coach. The eight-year difference in our ages at the time (with me in college and she still in the grades) formed a barrier to our close and mutually supportive relationship from developing in other directions



Nonetheless, she was a real sweetheart to me and everybody else associated with the swim team.



Hubert died at home April 6, 2007 after months of care provided by his family, which had become far flung once the children had grown up. Wife Sally died a month later in the same, two-story home only a few blocks from the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club in East Sacramento that virtually the entire swim team belonged to.



Several years before their deaths, the couple had established a foundation housed at the Sacramento Region Community Foundation to recognize with awards the heroic and meritorious acts of members of the Sacramento Fire and Police Departments. The Mee’s children now attend and help host the annual award events held at the upscale Sutter Club and attended by City VIPs.



As she was as a swimmer, daughter Nancy, now age 59, seems to be a “star” of the Mee family today. Her younger sister, Catherine Mee, has relocated to Montana. Her brother, John, and former sister-in-law, Mimi, have divorced after having 1 child, Ron.


I had hoped she would show up at this year’s lunch held in my honor, especially since she was not among those present for a similar “reunion lunch” at Sutter Lawn two years ago. I had been warned by Bob Reid that a mystery guest who insisted on advance anonymity would be present at this year’s event. Of course, I had hoped it would be Nancy but didn’t know that to be the case until she showed up and hand-delivered a touching, private letter to me that brought hugs and tears of joy to both of us. In part, it noted my frequent reminder to her and other team members that hard work in practice “builds character.” She said in part that phrase has stuck with her through the years and “not a day goes by that I don’t quietly say, “Thank you, Buzz.”



A current catalog for an art show she and her husband, Seattle artist Dennis Evans, have put together in Sun Valley, Idaho, presents a very impressive resume of outstanding successes they both have enjoyed in the art world, at least partly due to Nancy’s determination and tenacity to “go the distance with all she has.” The catalog for the show is entitled “Imagine after a Deluge. . . Works from the 15 Masters of a New Utopia.”



Their show at the ritzy Sun Valley resort in Idaho has been a huge success. Nancy wrote me in June that she was thrilled to learn from a dealer that nine of their pieces had sold in the first weekend. I discovered on an Internet site listing the prices of her sculpture and his fine paintings that they were selling for no less than five figures and some much higher.



They are married but the two artists have kept their separate last names. Their gallery is called Utopian Heights Studio. It is at 6202 37th Avenue Northeast, Seattle, WA 98115. Visitors should call in advance to schedule appointments at 206-525-1922 or email them at or The studio includes workshops for his paintings and her sculpting. Both are Fine Arts graduates of the University of Washington. They have been married for 30 years; she was age 59 in June, 2011 and looks to be half of that or less. He was born in 1946.



Their show catalog says Nancy got her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Printmaking from the University of Washington, with earlier study in the subject at Atelier 17 in Paris, France. It lists “selected one person exhibitions” of her works from 1979 through 2009 on the island of Kauai, HA and many galleries on the West Coast. It also lists her work exhibited in more than 40 group shows from that period at such places at the state of Washington capitol museum, the San Jose Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum. Salt Lake Art Center, Tacoma Art Museum, Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston, Milwaukee Arts Museum, University of Hawaii, Musee des Arts Decoratives in Switzerland, Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Seattle Art Museum and numerous private galleries on the West Coast.



She is represented by agents with galleries in Seattle; Ketchum, ID; Palm Desert, CA; San Francisco and Yakima, WA.  Her work is also represented in the collections of such heavyweights as Bank of America, University of Oregon and the Hyatt Regency of Roissey, France.



Nancy’s husband, Dennis Evans, was born in 1946. He has displayed his artwork at many of the same places plus in the collections of such global art centers as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Museum of Modern Art in New York and quite a number of private collections with notable names like Microsoft and Philip Morris.



His education includes Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts degrees in Ceramics and Design from the University of Washington plus a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from the University of Washington.



Both Dennis and Nancy have received enviable awards for their art work. She served as artist in residence at the Chateau Beychevelle in France in 1992, was honored by the Seattle Art Museum in 1988 with its Betty Bowen Memorial Award and by the Washington Arts Commission in 1984 with its Artist Fellowship Award.



Dennis was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980 with its award of its Artist’s Fellowship.



(Continue with Part 4, Flights from Seattle to Memphis /  Return to Nolan Travels)