Donor Spotlight

Joyce Abrams and Andy Kives

Meet the dynamic pair who are to China Camp what attentive parents are to their children: conscientious caretakers, teachers of community values, hosts of celebrations, and models of good habits and hard work. These “parents” to China Camp are also quick to give financial support to the park they love.

Joyce Abrams and Andy Kives have been married and have lived in the same hilltop house in San Rafael for almost a half-century. After years as medical professionals and global volunteers—including the study of hyenas in Africa and hedgehog-like echidnas in Australia—they retired and have made China Camp a major focus of their lives.

Medical pros who give their hearts to the park

Why would two accomplished individuals—Joyce a nurse, Andy a doctor—choose to spend their retirement operating chain saws, cleaning out culverts, and attending board meetings? “It’s about the people,” they each say without hesitation. Andy and Joyce both love the comradery that comes with working with an eclectic mix of people who share a common purpose, in this case (and lucky for us), the management of China Camp.

The couple first became involved with the park in 2012, the year that the State of California put China Camp on the chopping block for potential closure. The couple attended an early fundraiser held at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and were so impressed with the leadership and the passion of park advocates, that they soon became involved.

Over ensuing years, there is little these two powerhouses haven’t done to keep the park in top shape, from developing business strategies to managing maintenance crews. On the strength and dedication of these two core volunteers and others like them, the park has not only been saved from closure, but it has also evolved into a model of managerial expertise and financial stability for all California State Parks. 

One venture Joyce is particularly proud of is an upgrade of China Camp’s signage. The extensive project, which Joyce spearheaded, involved three years of research and mapping. A key aspect has been the introduction of an emergency locator system that allows first-responders to quickly and accurately locate people need help when out on the trails.

A shared life of indelible memories and volunteering

Joyce, who was reared in Illinois, and Andy, who is from Michigan, both grew up in families with little money. Andy’s father had an eighth-grade education and worked in a factory. Both he and Joyce have known what it’s like to work at lousy minimum wage jobs. Andy’s resume includes serving as a grade-school janitor and working on a truck assembly line. “Torture,” he offers simply. 

They both joined the Navy because they couldn’t afford to finish nursing school and medical school, and the Navy paid those expenses. They eventually met when they were both medical professionals at the Oakland Naval Hospital. Joyce left the Navy after three years and was able to return to school on the G.I. Bill. She first earned a degree in zoology followed by another in computer software—“from nurse to nerd,” as Joyce puts it. 

After Andy left the Navy, he worked in emergency room medicine long before it was a specialty, and at a trauma center in Walnut Creek. Both he and Joyce always made time to volunteer internationally. They worked, not as medics, but as assistant researchers on various projects including an archeology dig in Thailand and the study of rhinos in Africa. 

It’s a shared life that has bred unforgettable memories. They know the beauty of sleeping under the stars on a museum rooftop in the Mediterranean. They can also tell terrifying stories like the one about a heart attack victim in Africa whom they had to transport, at night, via nearly impassible backroads to a distant hospital.

“We’ve traveled all over the world to volunteer for fun,” Andy says. “We’re not motivated by money.”

Nor do they mind getting dirty. For these two accomplished volunteers, heaven is a day at China Camp, organizing fellow volunteers to dig a trench with a Ditch Witch and shovels, then finishing it off with a round of tai chi on the top of a hill.  

Andy agrees with a friend who recently told him that he has a far better time at a volunteer appreciation dinner outside at China Camp than at a fundraiser held at a $20 million mansion. 

 “The people here make me feel so good,” he adds with a broad smile.

Others who know them best say Joyce and Andy are also just plain fun to be around. “They are treasures,” notes fellow volunteer Steve Ziman. 

Friends of China Camp Executive Director Martin Lowenstein says that he can’t believe his good fortune in working with Joyce and Andy. Martin notes that Andy, who now serves as FOCC board chairman, is currently presiding over the most philanthropic board in the organization’s history. As for Joyce, Martin jokes that she “can make the Executive Director feel inadequate because she has her hands in everything, and she does everything well.”

“They lead by example,” Martin says. “And that includes their generous financial support.” Thank you, Joyce and Andy, for being passionate, creative, and extraordinarily generous “parents of China Camp.”—by Janet Wiscombe/FOCC volunteer

Photos: courtesy of Joyce Abrams