Ojai loses patron
saint of arts
By Jesse Phelps
Despite her diminutive stature,
Charlotte Bronstein was a towering figure in the valley and an
inspiration to generations of youth.
When she passed away early Tuesday morning, the effects rippled
like an earthquake across the Ojai Valley.
She and husband Alvin moved to the Ojai Valley nearly 25 years
ago when, daughter Susan Bronstein said, they were ready to retire.
Of course, as the many people of Ojai who knew and loved her
will attest, "retire" was a relative term for Charlotte.
Soon after moving to Ojai, Bronstein began working with children,
teaching them the art of acting and hosting storytelling sessions
at the Ojai Library. Over the course of the next two and a half
decades, she inspired innumerable kids of the valley to read,
to listen and to follow their passions.
Even when Bronstein was diagnosed with lung cancer and given
an estimate of six months to live in August 2002, she didn't
miss a beat. Friends said Bronstein decided that, rather then
go through treatment that could limit her ability to speak or
participate in activities, she would push on, remain active and
continue to work with the kids she so dearly loved.
Her last work was a school production at Mira Monte School just
before the end of last school year.
That vitality was a hallmark of the Charlotte Bronstein known
so well throughout the community of Ojai. On any given day, she
could be seen walking here or there and friends say she wouldn't
accept a ride.
"I'd offer her a ride and she'd say, 'Oh no,'" remembers
Laura Peck. "Just the sight of her walking made all of us
want to be like her."
Peck said many people could claim a beautiful friendship with
Bronstein. "I was one of about a million. She made everybody
feel that they were her best friend," she said. "She
cheerfully gave her energy all over the county. She watched children
at storytelling grow from babes in arms all the way to adults."
Those storytelling sessions at the Ojai library were the stuff
of legend. Bronstein was so dedicated to her volunteer duties
there, said the library's Kit Willis, that eventually the staff
decided to hire her officially.
"She was here all the time so we just hired her. Even on
the days she wasn't working she stopped in. She was so supportive
and uplifting," said Willis. "She inspired many young
people and I've seen some of them come back as grownups, as adults,
and there is such a connection, such love. It's just like they're
seeing as superstar when they see her. She made such a difference
in so many lives. Kids found themselves - she empowered them
and sent them on their way."
Willis said Bronstein was also dedicated to networking like-minded
people for the benefit of the community. "Personally, she
connected me," Willis said. "She made sure that her
friends knew each other, especially where they could help each
other professionally. Lots of money has flowed in for the library
expansion project because of Charlotte. That's just one example
- there are just so many."
In addition to her love for kids and her friends, her philanthopy
and her ability to network, Bronstein was probably best known
as a talented performer. Celebrated as a Rotary Club Living Treasure,
she acted in numerous productions throughout the years, most
recently in several productions at Theater 150.
Bronstein's most recent performances included roles in "'Night
Mother," "The Vagina Monologues," "The Whole
Banana," and an anniversary performance of "The Human
Chain" in honor of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Theater was a lifelong passion for her," said Bronstein's
daughter. "We all have our passions, as if somehow we're
born with a certain sense of things that we love. Her aunt used
to take her to the opera and I'm sure things like that cont of
Ojai named Bronstein as its Citizen of the Year in 1995 and she
also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts. In addition,
the National Women's Political Caucus selected her as one of
its 11 women of the yerar for 2003.
She was involved in so many activities throughout the town, and
was partially responsible for the creation of the Ojai Shakespeare
"She was a Renaissance woman. She was very independent and
she was her own person. She was Bohemian. She went away to college,
lived in New York - which probably didn't thrill her parents
- wore black lipstick, the whole deal. I'm so proud of her and
so proud to be her daughter," said Susan.
Bronstein's lung cancer eventually metasticized, spreading to
her liver and brain this year. Still, without treatment and with
her trademark vitality, Bronstein continued to be a leader in
She finally succumbed Tuesday morning at 6:57 a.m. triggering
an outpouring of rememberances and emotion throughout the town.
"We've been overwhelmed with response, even when she was
still here," said Susan. "It's been an amazing outpouring.
I'm totally overwhelmed by the love being felt from this communtiy
at this time. I'm sure my mother was too."
"I feel so blessed, so lucky, to have known her and to have
had her support of the library and me personally," said
Willis. "What a gift. And I'm just one of thousands of people
that feels that way. She was quite an inspiration."
In the library courtyard, a new area will be called Charlotte's
Arbor. "There will be a majestic chair where the storyteller
will sit and we'll remember what she did for all these children
all these years. She thought they were doing her a favor,"
The children and former children of Ojai, so many gifted with
Bronstein's wit, talent and care, know it was the other way around.
Bronstein would have celebrated her 85th birthday on Nov. 14.
She is survived by her daughter Susan, son Phil and husband of
60 years, Alvin. Services are being planned for next month.
The Ojai Valley News
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