Written by Tami Larson
Photos by Stefanie Scwhartz
IN CELEBRATION OF MOTHER’S DAY AND THE PIONEERING WOMEN WHO PERSEVERED THROUGH OBSTACLES AND WORKED TIRELESSLY TO BREAK BARRIERS WHILE RAISING CHILDREN, MILL VALLEY LIVING HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF INTERVIEWING ONE OF THESE REMARKABLE WOMEN. SHE SHARES HER JOURNEY OF NAVIGATING A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY WHILE RAISING HER TWO BOYS, HER SPIRITUAL AWAKENING THAT TRANSFORMED HER LIFE, AND HOW SHE USES HER EXPERIENCES TO EMPOWER AND HELP THOSE WHOSE VOICES AREN’T BEING HEARD.
This month’s featured resident is Celeste Perry, a Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame inductee who has lent her intellect, curiosity, wit, and sensitivity to radio stations like KFRC, KYA, KKSF, iHeartMedia’s KOSF, and KOFY TV’s dog-adoption show for over 25 years. Her voice is warm, resonant, powerful, and emotive, and those who have lived in the Bay Area for a while have likely heard it before.
While Celeste spent most of her career on the radio, she could have easily been in front of the camera given her resemblance to the late Natalie Wood. However, gaining attention and receiving accolades are the last things on her mind. Rather, it became very evident as we progressed through the interview with Celeste that she has always been focused on cultivating authentic relationships. It seems there was always a serendipitous connection attached to many of what would otherwise be considered, rare opportunities.
Celeste grew up in Oahu, Hawaii, the youngest of four children, with grandparents who were immigrants from Portugal and Japan, and parents whom she describes as “generous, loving, and a bit provincial.” While nothing compares to Hawaii’s beaches”, Celeste recalls, “I always had a yearning for the mainland.’
After high school, her parents convinced her to stay and attend college at the University of Hawaii where she enrolled in a communications class. She had competed in many speech contests in high school, so it felt like a natural progression. She also worked as a teacher’s aide at a special education school which she loved and explains why she is involved in the work she is doing currently in life. However, back then, it was likely the chicken suit she wore while interning at a local Hawaiian radio station that can be credited for her true talent ultimately being discovered. Celeste recalled her experience, “Yeah, I was put in this big chicken suit as a first job as an intern until one day the program director called me in and said, ‘Being as small as you are, you are not doing much for the chicken suit or the station.’ The next thing I knew, I was in the building working with all of these creative, funny people in a loose environment that played rock and Top 40. I started out doing voiceovers and before long, editing and producing. I was hooked.”
Celeste landed a full-time radio job which coincided with her graduation from college, but it was when her mother told her, “Celeste, girls can’t be disc jockeys,” that she knew she had to pursue her dream, long before terms like “breaking the glass ceiling were used. After 3 years of hosting a radio, and a TV show, and growing her voice-over career Celeste hopped on a plane with her boyfriend and headed for New Mexico. Three weeks later, she realized inland was not for her and headed to San Francisco to visit her sister.
In 1983 San Francisco was the fourth largest market in the country for radio, but it seemed everyone, to a degree, shared her mother’s sentiments telling her she would never get a job in radio without first paying her dues in a place like Modesto. It was at this point Celeste quickly learned the importance of honing her dodging skills – to not be hit by all the doors that suddenly fly open when one reaches a level of certainty and remains undeterred.
Celeste credits her first big break to “good networking”. She landed a job hosting two-weekend shows at KSFO in 1983. She was working alongside Bay Area legends like Jim Lange and Gene Nelson, which made for a very impressive first gig and the perfect entry into old San Francisco. The station ended up being sold to an owner she had previously built a nice rapport with during an interview, who became her boss and she describes as having “progressive-minded views,” making it an enjoyable experience. She loved living in a city where everyone could be anyone they wanted and not only be accepted but encouraged and supported. Celeste tried out the various neighborhoods of SF (the Richmond, The Sunset, The Haight, The Marina, Noe Valley, and finally Russian Hill).
Enter Alan Krepack, the man Celeste almost dismissed due to the shirt he was wearing when he made his first move and approached her one day at the Telegraph Hill Health Club. “This guy came up and started talking to me and I was trying to avoid him, probably because I didn’t like the shirt he was wearing but also because I didn’t join the club to meet a man. In fact, I went on Sundays specifically to avoid them. So a few weeks later I was having problems with my bicycle and sure enough he was there. He hopped off the very 80’s Nordic Trac (he’s an amazing skier) but this time he was wearing a better t-shirt and I thought he was cute so I let him help me and then reluctantly agreed to a date,” she said. “We had Chinese Food at a little hole in the wall on Polk Street.” Thankfully her dodging skills weren’t that good after all. On that first date, she found out Alan wasn’t just gainfully employed but had a Ph.D. and was actually working as a psychologist but it was his brilliance and thirst for growth and knowledge that won her over. We thought it only fair to capture and share Alan’s version of that first meeting as well. When asked, Alan responded, “Yes I had recently been at the Hedonism resort in Jamaica, so that shirt I was wearing threw Celeste off! However, at our second meeting at the club, she discovered I was a Jewish doctor, so that turned the tide. I asked her if she would like to go out sometime, and she said ‘yes’. I walked away but then went to find her and suggested we go out that night. We did and the rest is history. Alan goes on to tell us that he was initially attracted to Celeste’s beauty and wit, and over the years that list of attributes has grown exponentially. “Celeste is so smart and sensitive, and really capable of making a difference in whatever she puts her energy to.”
After moving to Mill Valley, Celeste worked full-time for another 10 years. She would drop the kids at school, commute to the city, work from 10-3, and then start her second shift which consisted of picking up the kids, cooking dinner, rinse and repeat. Their first son, Aaron, was born in 1991 and Harrison in 1995. “When I think back on that time I don’t know how working moms do it. Even when you have support, and make a good income, juggling being a mom with a big career requires major sacrifices. Summer camps, nannies, or daycare weren’t a luxury, they were a necessity.”
The two ended up getting married in 1989 after Alan proposed to her while showing her a house he had found in a beautiful remote community across the bridge, Mill Valley, California. Celeste recalled, “Mill Valley was a place that I didn’t feel I would ever get to. I know that sounds strange but all of my bosses and other successful people were the only people I knew who lived there. I thought wow, that place is so cool and it has such a cache about it.”
By this time Celeste became known as the Midday Mom, hosting the early afternoon show at Young Country for 5 years, where she also produced a Sunday night program called Bedtime With Celeste, reading children’s books interspersed with music on Sunday nights. Celeste had never lost a radio job but it was now 1999. Tech and big media were taking over and radio stations were struggling to stay in trend so it was that year that Celeste along with many of her colleagues were laid off. “I was thrilled. After Harrison was born I’d grown envious of all the moms who didn’t work. I just wasn’t happy, so when I got the word, I was elated. This would finally give me an opportunity to spend more time with them and get involved with all of their activities. I ran the book fair at Harrison’s pre-school, co-chaired the monster mash at Edna Macquie, signed up to be a room parent, worked the cafeteria at Mill Valley Middle School, and coached Harrison’s soccer team. Most Mill Valley parents are familiar with those jobs. All the things I’d always fantasized about doing and I truly enjoyed it.” she said. This went on for 5 -6 years until her kids were in Middle School and Celeste was getting the feeling they were not as excited about the intensity and regularity of her involvement any longer so she decided to dip her toes back in radio.
After doing some part-time work at Smooth Jazz KKSF, she was offered a job back at KFRC to host a new morning show CBS was supporting. She had a producer, a great partner, and a tremendous support staff. “I was on top of the world thinking, ‘I’m back’. It felt so good.” she recalled. But someone once said, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans”.
On top of the world at the time, Celeste agreed to do a guest host segment at KOFY TV with her then-radio partner Dave Sholin at KFRC. “We taped our little series on a Friday afternoon and by the following Monday KFRC had been shut down. We all lost our jobs. I was out of work again and was devastated and shocked even though I understood the seemingly cut-throat decision that was made.”
Despite the setback, like all trailblazers, Celeste brushed herself off, got back on her feet, and made a call to the people she had just met at KOFY. Serendipitously they said they were developing a dog adoption show so Celeste, having spent the past 30 years advocating for rescue dogs, convinced them she was their person.
Though incredibly grateful that she was fortunate enough to have landed another radio job at this stage in her career, she revealed,” Looking back I now realize that my identity, who I thought I was, what made me feel good and worthy was so wrapped up in my radio career. The career that had now been stolen from me. Instead of going back to school, and exploring new interests, I just got stuck, attached to this idea of myself.”
Enter the Zen Buddhist friend, “It was 2010 and a friend who had been practicing at this Zen Buddhist Sangha for some years invited me to join him. He said to me, ‘Celeste, you need to try just sitting, not talking’. Anytime I had meditated before it was always guided meditation and I realized I don’t like hearing someone talking while I’m trying to find quiet. I had never before considered meditating seriously, I was raised catholic, converted to Judaism when I was pregnant with my first son (my husband is Jewish), my sons are both Bar Mitzvahed and I have a deep appreciation for many Jewish traditions and values but I think up until this point in my life I’d never crossed paths with a discipline that truly felt right, one that I didn’t question or made me feel uncomfortable on some level,” Celeste said.
So at age 52, a year and a half after the devastating loss of her last big radio stint, Zen Buddhism became the anchor and new foundation that Celeste turns to for inspiration, daily reminders to live an ethical existence by intentionally being aware of and then taking the opportunities presented to always be doing what you can to leave the world in a better place than how you found it. “Effort is key and of course I fail, but I get up again with more resilience because of the practice.” For Celeste, the intellectual part of Zen Buddhism is very intriguing as well. She told us, “It doesn’t have that self-help quality that makes me run for the doors. I had a spell of that at an EST training in the late ’70s. Thankfully, zen as I experience no guru vibe, just teaches. My teacher Ed Sattizahn of the San Francisco Zen Center brings his deep knowledge to our practice but never preaches. And I learn from the fellow zen travelers in my sangha, many of them decades older than I am. I love the wisdom of my elders and wise ancestors. Life is full of suffering and this zen thing helps build a sort of composure and compassion for that, but it’s personal, we all have our own path but as Ram Dass said. ‘We’re all just walking each other home.’ Celeste eventually took her Buddist Bodhisattva vows at the San Francisco Zen Center in 2014 with four dear women from her sangha. “We all stitched our rakasus together. We learned to sew our miniature robes in Mill Valley with the wonderful Buddhist priest, Christine Palmer.”
Until 2017 Celeste worked at a few radio stations but just wasn’t happy. “I would record a show in less than an hour” she recalled, “and then go home and start complaining to my husband. I did have a great little gig at KOFY TV so that still sparked joy.” Celeste did one final job for KBLX that lasted for a couple of months and that’s when she realized it was time to move past this career. There were junior folks that were much more excited to be there and once she realized she was routinely cranky about her radio gig, she chose to retire her radio headphones, although she still has a very active voice-over career.
Some of that crankiness may not have come directly from her work at the time but rather from another “serendipitous” event: The 2016 election. “I found myself crying constantly. One day my husband followed me into the kitchen with a box of Kleenex. I started rage eating, I even smoked a cigarette the morning after—a habit I had given up many years prior. And while I’d always had an awareness and militant feelings about my politics, attending a few marches, etc, this was entirely different. I found a group in Mill Valley organized by the group Move-On. Mostly women were at that first meeting, some who proudly proclaimed they’d been arrested for their civil disobedience over the years. “I was finding my people and new purpose. I wanted to actively engage.”
Another serendipitous introduction to Susan Bolle who leads Democracy Action of Marin sealed her fate yet again. “Along with a sisterhood of smart, relentless women we’ve been together since 2017. In fact, many of the women have been working together for years before the fateful 2016 election.” Democracy Action of Marin is part of the Bay Area Coalition composed of volunteers from democratic groups across the Bay. They are inveterate phone bankers and canvassers who work on local, state, and national elections. “After meeting Susan, my sense of purpose all came back. I want to do everything I can to give our future generations a chance and ‘leave the world in a better place than I found it’.
Celeste is also an active member of Marin Moms Demand Action. An active group of volunteers who are part of the national organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense/Everytown for Gun Safety. Moms Demand Action is a movement of volunteers working for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence.
To learn what actions you can take to help and get involved with Marin Moms please do one, or all, of the following:
1. Text: JOIN to 644-33
2. Download the app: Demand Action
3. Visit momsdemandacion.org and click on “Take Action Now” or “Download the App” to find out when the next meeting and local event are happening.
Maybe it’s the Zen Buddhism influence but something we noticed while interviewing Celeste was an overwhelming sense of contentment and no shame whatsoever in talking about herself in not so much a self-deprecating manner but one that makes you feel certain she’s good so you never feel the need to console or correct her. One of these instances was when she mentioned the Dipsea race. “I ran, slowly, the Dipsea 4 times. My son Aaron was the Marin cross country champ in Middle School so we decided to run the famed race together. He and Alan made invitational status, I had to plead for my entry every year. I was always the one in the race who heard all the others saying ‘on your left’ as they passed me, but I did finish and have the Dipsea shirts and pins to prove it!”
Celeste is OK with giving Alan the credit for all the athleticism in the family “which was fortunately passed on to my boys. They both played soccer in college as well, shout out to Dave Frommer for giving them a great start.” Alan’s response: “Celeste has been a wonderful partner to share the wonders of life, as well as to navigate the hardships. She brings humility and grace to both. And she still has a lot of spunk and grit when it comes to supporting the causes she believes in. And Celeste is not just dipping her toes in, she’s getting them dirty. Zen Buddhism is her practice, yet it does not keep her quiet in the long-term fight to make sure all of our kids have a future and world worth living in.”
Alan is still working to help organizations align their culture and strategy, although his volunteer work and personal time are equal priorities. He is the chair of the Golden Gate board of the nonprofit, NatureBridge. Their mission is to connect young people to the wonder and science of the natural world. Check them out at naturebridge.org and on Mount Tam Media mttammedia.com.
Celeste also discovered improv a number of years ago. She told us, “Although the pandemic disrupted my habit, I know I’ll start playing again with a couple of veteran Improv masters (Michael O’Brien and Geoff Bolt) at 142 Throckmorton, our beautiful local gem of a theater run by the amazing Lucy Mercer. Improv fits nicely with my zen practice since you need to be present for Improv to work its magic; it’s terrifying, liberating, and big fun. Like Zen, it calls for a Beginner’s Mind.”
Finally, it was such a great pleasure for us to learn that Celeste has hosted the quintessential Mill Valley Milley Awards a number of times and will be doing it again this year! Don’t miss it. We certainly won’t!