hile many people are

especially generous this
time of year, others have
found ways to honor the
memory of a loved one
year round by creating
charitable organizations in their memory. Here are a few
from the Inland Empire:
Carol’s Kitchen, Banning, Beaumont, and Cabazon
In memory of: Carol Ragan

The life-shattering call came at 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday
morning—“a time when you never want to get a call,”
recalls Arlene Ragan of Cherry Valley. Her husband, Jim,
answered the phone. Arlene eyed him anxiously as he
listened to the caller, not saying a word. Then he collapsed
onto the floo . She reached for the phone and a voice on the
other end said, “This is the King County Coroner’s Offic ”
The call was to inform the Ragans of the death of their
daughter, Carol, killed in Seattle where she’d gone to visit
a friend over Veterans Day Weekend in 1996. Jim Ragan,
who worked as a physical therapist in San Bernardino for
many years, told his children, “Never get on a motorcycle!”
But for some reason Carol did. She was riding with a
friend hours before when a drunken driver, desperate to
avoid an upcoming checkpoint, made a quick U-turn with
his car in a dark driveway and barreled out into the road
just as the motorcycle passed. “They had nowhere to go,”
Arlene says. “Carol died at the scene. Her friend died four

102 |

INLAND EMPIRE MAGAZINE

Dec 15 Features.indd 102

hours later.” The driver fled, although he later turned himself in.
Raised in San Bernardino, where she graduated from
Aquinas High School, Carol attended USC and earned
bachelor’s and master’s degrees there, as well as a teaching
credential. She taught briefly in Long Beach, then moved
to Boise, Idaho, where later 500 people would attend a
memorial service to honor the bright spirit of the 29-yearold who gave so much to her community as a fir t-grade
teacher and frequent volunteer.
Friends reached out to help her devastated parents. “Jim
buried himself in work and I went to bed and covered up
my head,” Arlene says. But a conversation later at church
led to something more. By that time they lived in Cherry
Valley, and Jim, hearing about people in need, suggested,
“Let’s start a soup kitchen.”
Arlene embraced the idea wholeheartedly. The couple
quickly pitched in to get the project started. They found
not everyone was enthusiastic—some were uncomfortable
with the reality that their communities had people living
in poverty. But a sympathetic Banning City Councilman,
Roosevelt Williams, helped them get started. On their fir t
day, in April 1998, they served Carol’s favorite chicken enchilada casserole to 34 people. Next week there were a few
more guests. Today Carol’s Kitchen serves nearly 1,000
meals per week to people at its Banning, Beaumont and
Cabazon locations, and also provides a “clothing closet” for
those in need of wardrobe upgrades.
Jim Ragan died in 2012, but Arlene has kept the soup

ph o t o : j im d o r s ey

GoodCauses

DECEMBER 2015

11/3/15 10:39 AM

From left: Marsha Reagins,
Dorothy Cole, Bonnie R.
Potts and DeNae Reagins,
of the Natlie A. ColeReagins Education & Cancer
Research Foundation,
founded in memory of
DeNae’s late wife.

DECEMBER 2015

Dec 15 Features.indd 103

INLAND EMPIRE MAGAZINE

| 103

11/3/15 10:40 AM

GoodCauses

Michelle’s Place, Temecula
In memory of: Michelle Watson

Michelle Watson was 23 when she found a
lump in her breast. Concerned, she consulted
not one but three doctors. Each dismissed

the possibility that the lump could be cancer.
She was too young, they said, and besides, as
a competitive swimmer, much too healthy,
with no risk factors pointing towards a malignancy.
After the Temecula Valley resident
graduated from Colorado State University,
she decided to join the Peace Corps, and
underwent a physical. That doctor insisted
the lump be checked before allowing her
to join the service organization that sends
members overseas. A biopsy led to a diagnosis
of Stage IV breast cancer, meaning that it had
spread to other areas of her body.
For three years she fought the disease,
traveling to Los Angeles for aggressive treatments in an effo t to stop the disease at its
already advanced stage. During that time, she
also was a substitute teacher and studied at
the Pacific Institute of Oriental Medicine in
San Diego.
“She felt a lot of Western medical

104 |

INLAND EMPIRE MAGAZINE

Dec 15 Features.indd 104

practitioners didn’t listen enough and
weren’t taking enough time to see what
was really wrong with patients,” says her
mother, Marilyn Watson. “Her ideal wish
was to work with Western medicine, but add
that dimension of listening and caring. She
didn’t get to do that,” Marilyn says, although
ultimately Michelle inspired others who did.
When invited to speak in Santa Barbara
to oncology nurses pursuing continuing
education, Michelle visited a center for
breast cancer patients located in a cozy old
house, where the atmosphere was warm and
welcoming.
“She said, ‘You need to open something
like that in the Temecula area.’ We said, “Uhhuh!” Marilyn recalls,
thinking “Oh, sure!”
But before she died
at age 26 in 2000,
Michelle
reminded
her parents of her
wish to start a support
center for breast cancer
patients. She urged
them, “Don’t forget.”
And they didn’t. “It
took about a year for
us to get ourselves
together,” Marilyn recalls. Then she and her
husband, Bill, rented a
250-square-foot space,
putting up a partition
to
separate
the
“Michelle’s Place” offic
from a church that had
the adjoining area.
Today, Michelle’s Place
has its own Temecula location, with seven
staff members and more than 100 volunteers
to help clients who come to Michelle’s Place
when they have no money for diagnostic tests
not covered by their insurance.
“It takes time to listen to the stories,”
Marilyn explains, and encourage clients that
“they need to be their own best advocate and
we will help them.”
“We live on donations and fundraisers and
grants” to keep the center going, Marilyn
says, as demand for services increases, with
75 new clients a month, as well as hundreds
of existing clients.
“It has grown far beyond anything we had
ever dreamed,” Marilyn says. “It has meant a
lot to us. My husband and I are seeing people
being helped and living the dream Michelle
had. It’s sad when we lose someone, and we
lose about 24 a year. So many of them are so
strong; I’m amazed they can keep going. It’s
very inspiring.”

Let It Be Foundation,
Chino Hills
In memory of:
Karla Asch-Rosen

The Let It Be Foundation was inspired
by Karla Asch-Rosen
of Chino Hills, who
in 2005 at age 14 was
diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
During treatment for
the next year or so,
she expressed a desire
to “just be normal”
and enjoy the fun activities of a regular
teen-ager.
After her death in
2006 at age 15, her
family decided to follow Karla’s lead to
“turn pain into purpose” and help others struggling with
a child’s life-threatening illness. Their
foundation provides
emotional and fina cial support for families.
Natlie A. ColeReagins Education
& Cancer Research
Foundation,
Riverside
In memory of:
Natlie Cole-Reagins

ph o t o : j im d o r s ey

kitchen going. Almost 20 years later, Arlene
finds comfort in the choice to start reaching
out to help others, as Carol always did.
“I know we did the right thing. It’s a great
legacy for Carol. She would be really proud of
us. I miss her every day and think how much
different y life would be if she were here.”
While Carol’s life was cut short without
warning, others have the mixed blessing of
time to contemplate their last wishes.

Natlie Cole-Reagins
was a reading specialist who was teaching
first grade in 2006 at Riverside’s Emerson Elementary when she was diagnosed with a rare
form of cancer, Sino-Nasal Undifferentiated
Carcinoma (SNUC).
Despite aggressive treatments and Natlie’s
courageous attitude, she died seven months
later at age 42 in June 2007, explains DeNae
Reagins, who was her husband for 13 years
and is the father of her two sons.
He and other family members, friends
and colleagues created a foundation in 2009
to honor Natlie’s legacy by helping promote
literacy among young readers, and also
sponsoring research into SNUC. Besides
funding sinus cancer research and diagnosis,
donations
help
community
libraries
and Riverside Educational Enrichment
Foundation, which provides teachers with
grants for extra materials and special
DECEMBER 2015

11/3/15 10:42 AM

projects. Natlie herself received one of these
grants during her 16-year teaching career at
Emerson, which she had attended as a child,
and where she was Teacher of the Year in
2002.
“Natlie believed that establishing a solid
foundation during the fir t years of a child’s
education was the key for ensuring a student’s academic success,” DeNae says.
The Marion Mitchell-Wilson
Endowment Fund, Riverside
In memory of: Marion Mitchell-Wilson

A new endowment was recently created
in memory of Marion Mitchell-Wilson, a
dynamic Riversider who helped save the
renowned Mission Inn through her historic
preservation work, and did so much for residents of Riverside, especially those who love
DECEMBER 2015

Dec 15 Features.indd 105

books, art and splendid old buildings.
When official at Riverside City Hall
eliminated
Mitchell-Wilson’s
job
as
development director for the Riverside Public
Library in 2009, she devised a creative way to
keep promoting literacy and literature.
After years of library budget cuts despite
a special library tax passed by Riverside
voters, Mitchell-Wilson realized she could
better accomplish her goals with a nonprofit,
the Inlandia Institute, and she became its
executive director.
During her tenure, before breast cancer
forced her to step down in 2012, she oversaw
publication of books telling stories about
people and places in the Inland Empire, plus
organized dozens of events, workshops and
readings, while mentoring many writers and
artists.

She continued to contribute ideas and
energy during the next few years, sparking
her enthusiasm in others. But finall , she
acknowledged, “The brain wants to keep
going, but the body says no.” Mitchell-Wilson
died in August, but in true Marion fashion,
everything was organized down to the last
exquisite detail. She left clear instructions not
only for her memorial service, but what she
wanted to see happen afterward. Friends and
family quickly raised more than $100,000
for Inlandia Institute to keep encouraging
writers telling the story of the Inland Empire
and chronicling its heritage.
As photographer Doug McCulloh noted,
“People always exclaimed, ‘You can’t say no to
Marion Mitchell-Wilson!’ But Marion herself
said yes to a lot of things, and the community
is richer for it.”  n
INLAND EMPIRE MAGAZINE

| 105

11/3/15 10:42 AM