Cambrian: Opinion

Tales from Town: CHS leaders share love of history and community

Taking the reins of the Cambria Historical Society in 2010 are board members (in front, from left to right) Marj Sewell (standing), Linda Finley and Roger Robinson. In back are Michael Thompson, Mike Rice, Kathy Charbonneau, Jack Breglio, and Susan McDonald. Not pictured is Judie Hillen.
Taking the reins of the Cambria Historical Society in 2010 are board members (in front, from left to right) Marj Sewell (standing), Linda Finley and Roger Robinson. In back are Michael Thompson, Mike Rice, Kathy Charbonneau, Jack Breglio, and Susan McDonald. Not pictured is Judie Hillen. PHOTO BY JO ELLEN BUTLER COURTESY OF THE CAMBRIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

I’d like to introduce the Cambria Historical Society board members for 2010.

We have a firefighter, an engineer, and a former computer science instructor. We also boast someone who was director of criminal justice for a Los Angeles mayor and chief of staff for a state senator.

Add to that a math professor, healthcare professional, art gallery maven and retired teacher with a “past,” and you have a pretty amazing board of directors managing the Cambria Historical Society.

I’m also on the board, but I don’t hold a candle to any of my colleagues.

Our new president is long-time board member Roger Robinson, a retired engineer who turned his woodworking hobby into nearly a full-time job during the restoration of the Guthrie-Bianchini House. “I fell in love with the house at first sight, which led to my interest in local history,” Roger said. Now that house is the Cambria Historical Museum, and Roger and his wife, Sue, are devoted docents. Roger and past-president Jack Breglio head up our fund development team and will soon be launching a capital campaign to pay off the mortgage on the house.

Jack has served the society for many years and is now vice president. He’s a retired computer science professor from Southern California who started visiting Cambria in 1982 and moved here seven years later. He’s a former member of the Cambria Community Services District’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) committee, and a supervisor of the Community Presbyterian Church Thrift Shop. “I’m excited about the opportunities we have to share the colorful history of the area with the community,” Jack said.

New to the board and to Cambria is Judie Hillen, a math whiz who takes the role of treasurer. Judie taught math for 40 years in all grade levels, from elementary school through college. She’s the director of a nonprofit educational foundation, a curriculum writer and a sought-after speaker at national and international mathematics seminars. “My heart is in teaching and writing,” said Judie. We’re happy she’s bringing her talents to us.

Linda Finley moved to Cambria from Orange County in 1982 and has worked continuously in hospitality and retail in Cambria’s East Village and San Simeon. She opened ECR Gallery in the Blue House next door to the museum on Center Street in 2004, just two weeks before renovation started on the Guthrie-Bianchini House. She joined the board a year later and is currently board secretary and chairman of the events committee. “I am very happy to be a part of helping the museum prosper for all,” she said.

Probably the most-seen member is Mike Rice. Yeah, he’s the guy in the green work pants and usually muddy boots who keeps the yard looking good and the museum in fine shape. (Don’t tell the other board members, but he actually runs the place.) Mike is a state-certified firefighter and owner of the Cambria Forest, Yard & Garden landscape business. He volunteered for Cambria’s fire and ambulance districts for 10 years, and for fun, he heads for the hills to prospect for gold and jade. “I’m most interested,” Mike said, “in how Native Americans and immigrants helped shape our region — and still do.”

Kathy Charbonneau is another very welcome addition to the board. She has more than 30 years experience in the health care industry, including healthcare quality improvement, accreditation and nursing. She’s turning her interest in local history and her background in program development and document management toward our collections of local history. In other words, she is organizing our archives with great care so that we can share our collection of photos, documents and other treasures with you. “I have observed the evolution of the Guthrie-Bianchini House for years,” Kathy said, “and knew that someday, when I had the time, I would become a volunteer.”

New to our board, but a local native, is Marj Sewell, who grew up in San Simeon and attended the one-room Pacific School. After high school, Marj left for San Jose State, earned a master of arts degree at Santa Clara University and taught

school for many years. She came back to Cambria as a part-timer in 1979 and then moved here permanently in 1998 — to the delight of many organizations, including the Historical Society. She volunteered at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center, then at the Coastal Discovery Center, and at the library and Pewter Plough Playhouse. She’s also a volunteer docent for the Living History Program at the Castle. She has been a docent at the museum for about a year. “I want to share,” Marj said, “what I’ve lived over the years in some way.”

And now about Michael Thompson, who worked in Los Angeles for Mayor Dick Riordan and state Senator Richard Alarcon. In 2002, Michael and his wife, Sally, decided to “escape the rat race” and moved to Cambria where they bought their home and business, A Matter of Taste, next door to the museum on Burton Drive. “We thought owning a business would be ‘fun,’ but little did we know we were ‘retiring’ to a 24/7 occupation,” Michael said. “We do still think it is fun.” He joined the Historical Society because he admires the work our members have done to make the East Village a wonderful place to gather, saying “The museum provides a real boost to the town’s business community.”

There you have them — a wonderful bunch of colleagues and a great organization. We have also just launched our new Web site, created by Paso Robles web designer Scott Saunders, and we invite you to take a tour at

to learn more about our community’s fascinating history.

Susan McDonald is a member of the Cambria Historical Society Board of Directors. The Cambria Historical Museum at the corner of Burton Drive and Center Street in Cambria’s historic East Village is open to noon to 3 p.m. Fridays through Mondays. For more, go to