OUR STORY THROUGH THEIR EYES:
A mentor’s gift enriches the Gamble House experience
By Lynne Mircheff, Gamble House History Committee
“It’s been one of the great loves of my life.” That’s Nancy Marino speaking about her remarkable accomplishment: 15 years spent dispensing her Gamble House wit and wisdom to over 300 Docents-in-training.
For those Docents, Nancy has become teacher, leader, role model, icon, friend, mentor, and legend. While Nancy retired from Docent training in 2011―as she put it, “at the top of my game”―her name won’t soon be forgotten: The Nancy Marino Docent Training Endowment has been established and fundraising efforts to conclude the $50,000 campaign are kicking off soon.
Nancy’s 28-year involvement with The Gamble House began with a conversation her husband, Al, had with a colleague. Al was then working as an assistant department chair at Cal State Los Angeles and he enjoyed discussing investments with fellow employees. During one discussion, Al’s co-worker, Ellie King, mentioned to him that she was a Docent at The Gamble House. Al replied, “What is that and where is that?” When Ellie explained, he remarked, “Oh, Nancy would like to do something like that.” Nancy in fact loved it.
Enrolling in the Docent Class of 1988 with Ellie as her sponsor, Nancy trained under Paula Jones and Dick Vernon. In those days, Docent classes were divided into two sections―working Docents and non-working Docents―with classes held on Saturdays and Tuesdays, respectively. Nancy was still working at the time but soon quit her beloved job and was able to devote herself full time to an even greater love.
Nancy adored giving tours and had several important mentors guiding the way. She said Doris Gertmenian and Virginia Martens were important role models, and she was always in awe of Nancy Ullrich, a “Docent’s Docent” who “always knew exactly what to say.” Nancy also cited the example set by Betty Shields. When House visitors would remark “Why, this looks just like Frank Lloyd Wright,” Betty’s response would always be “Who??”
Following leadership roles on committees including Scheduling and Ongoing Education, Nancy was elected to the presidency of the Docent Council for the 1993-95 terms. Under her leadership, at least a couple of important changes were made.
First, acting on complaints, Nancy moved the All-Docent Meetings out of the cramped confines of the Gamble House basement Gallery. She approached several venues about holding meetings there. Finally, Pasadena Presbyterian Church enthusiastically responded that they were more than happy to accommodate the group in the Gamble Lounge without charge (a voluntary honorarium is given). She also organized the Docent Council calendar into a week-by-week, month-by-month schedule thus assuring that items requiring multiple steps were initiated in a timely way.
Nancy’s successor as President, Diana Vlacich, asked her if she would co-lead Docent Training with her after Nancy’s presidential term was up. Beginning in 1996 Diana and Nancy joyfully trained Docents together for several years. Nancy’s next Training Co-Chair was JoAnn Williams, whom Nancy referred to as “a ball of fun.” Later, Nancy and Robert Siminger trained new Docents together. Over the course of 15 years, Nancy made her most important contribution to The Gamble House by devoting countless hours and endless energy to mentoring would-be Docents.
Not surprisingly, Nancy made significant and lasting positive changes to the Docent Training program during her tenure. All Docent classes used to be held in the spring. With Ted Bosley’s blessing, Nancy and Diana decided to split the classes into two sessions―spring and fall―with new Docents starting their touring during the summer. Since the changes, the first set of classes in the spring comprise general information on The Gamble House and how to tour. The second session in the fall is devoted to House specifics such as the rugs, ceramics, and glass, plus a class featuring the descendants of the Gambles and Greenes.
A HOUSE AND A HOME
Everyone’s favorite Docent Training class session was the one with the Gamble and Greene descendants. “Jim Gamble [grandson of David and Mary Gamble and son of Cecil and Louise Gamble] would come and sit up on the table and tell us about his past,” Nancy recalled fondly. Jim had many wonderful stories as he had come to live with his grandparents for some time as an adolescent. Following an accident in which he nearly drowned and water filled his lungs, Jim was sent to Pasadena where he regained his lung function in the healthy climate.
One of Jim’s surprising stories involved the manner in which the House came to be owned by Cecil Gamble’s side of the family. Current Docents might have learned that the House was willed to David and Mary’s eldest son, Cecil. Jim told his new-Docent audience, however, that David and Mary Gamble had willed the House to Aunt Julia. Upon Julia’s death, Cecil instructed his six children, including Jim, to buy the House out of Aunt Julia’s estate. Later, Cecil and Louise used the House for about half the year, but eventually spent their final years there full time. Following their death, Jim and the other five finalized the plans to preserve the House.
Jim Gamble also told the story that many Docents have heard, probably via Nancy, about his father, Cecil’s, notorious bird flight cages. Apparently, Louise was not amused by the birds and, when Cecil became trapped in one of the cages, she let him stew for an hour and a half before responding to his pleas to release him.
The Docent classes where the Greene granddaughters Virginia Hales, Isabelle Greene, Nancy Glass, and Jane McElroy came to speak were a particular favorite of Nancy’s. “It was like listening in on a family conversation,” she observed. Joan Kaas, granddaughter of stained-glass artisan Emil Lange, also participated in the classes, but a little bit of serendipity was involved. Joan was touring The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens with a friend when she just happened to notice her grandfather’s name on a piece of glass on display with Greene & Greene items.
Apparently, Joan had only a vague idea of what her grandfather’s glass-working involved. As luck would have it, Joan’s friend was a Gamble House Docent and suggested that she come to the House and share whatever information she had about her grandfather. At the time, not much was known about the House’s glass―people might have assumed that Emil worked for Tiffany. Joan came to dispel this and other rumors and presented the House with the first photo of her grandfather. Sometime after that, she began to participate in the descendants’ Docent training classes and even decided to become a Docent herself.
“WE ARE A FAMILY”
Looking back at her quarter-century-plus at the Gamble House, Nancy remarked, “Most of us have made lifelong friends. It might sound cornball, but we are a family.” She reminisced about all the fun both in and outside the House. Nancy also said she enjoys that people are united in their common love of the House and don’t care who you are or what you did.
Being a Docent at The Gamble House is not only great fun but, said Nancy, it can change your whole perspective on the world. Coming from a background of knowing little about art and architecture, she received a huge education about both. Nancy recalled that on one of her first trips with The Gamble House she overheard an architect, who was viewing a nearby structure, remark about the “lyrical geometry of that building.” At the time, Nancy really didn’t understand what that meant but slowly over time her Gamble House experience has given life and meaning to that phrase. A whole new world was opened for her. And Nancy helped open that world to us too.
The former Nancy Collier was born and grew up in Pasadena where she spent as much time as she could with her friends basking in the warm California sun. She was in the last high school class to graduate from the Pasadena City College campus in 1960 and stayed at PCC for college. Nancy then went to work for an oil and gas exploration and drilling company, and several years later took a job with a large food brokerage company in South Pasadena, where she worked for 22 years.
Nancy was 24 when she met her prince charming, Al Marino, at a club in east Pasadena called Shaps. February 22, 1967, was dance-contest Wednesday when Nancy, in attendance with several girlfriends, was approached by a handsome and engaging gym coach who asked her to dance. The rest, as they say, is history. They married 4½ years later and together raised Nancy’s daughter, Danielle.
Her Docent Council service includes being President from 1993-95. For many years Nancy was the face of Docent Training, along with Diana Vlacich and later JoAnn Williams. A member of the Docent Class of 1988, Nancy has also been Co-Chair of Scheduling, Second Vice President, Chair of the Ongoing Education and Nominations committees, and Parliamentarian.