Longtime National Park Service superintendent, hiker, volunteer
Longtime Claremont resident Meredith McGovney Kaplan died June 28 at her Oakland home, surrounded by family, after an uphill battle with multiple system atrophy, a degenerative disease.
An avid hiker who loved the natural world, Meredith served for many years as Superintendent of the National Park Service. There, she worked with dozens of community organizations, counties, municipalities, tribal entities, and state and federal agencies to plan the 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which traces the route qu ‘Anza and his multiracial band of settlers have taken over Mexico. to establish the first non-native settlement in San Francisco Bay. After the management plan was approved by Congress, she became the historic trail’s first superintendent. She later planned the 175-mile Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, a network of historical and cultural trails on the island of Hawaii, some of which had been in continuous use since the arrival of the first Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands.
She devoted herself to civic engagement, serving on the Claremont Architectural Commission in the 1980s and later on the Rockridge Community Planning Council in Oakland; as Master Gardener for Alameda County; and as a long-time volunteer at his local food bank and food pantry. During her years in Claremont, from the 1960s through the 1980s, she loved the town’s community rituals, including attending the July 4 parade, cooking for friends in the “fancy dinner party” and hosting dinner parties. Easter and weekend brunches at the family home. on Santa Barbara Drive, which has become a haven for many Claremont teenagers.
Daughter of the late Esther Nichols McGovney and Richard McGovney, she was born in Santa Barbara, California on January 9, 1938, and grew up there with her two sisters, Anne and Susan, and her beloved horses, Pinto Pete and El Capitan. . She earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and pursued her master’s degree in English at Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University). She taught at Montclair High School and Costa Mesa High School before starting a family with her then-husband Hesh Kaplan, whom she met at a barbecue in Claremont. With four young daughters, Sarah, Esther, Sharon and Rachel, they moved to a farm in Kings Valley, Oregon, where she established a ceramics studio; raised goats, sheep and chickens; gardened, canned and baked; helped run a 4-H club; taught art at the local elementary school; volunteer for the feminist art magazine Calyx; and hosted a parade of visitors. The family moved back to Claremont in 1978, where the children attended Sycamore, El Roble, and Claremont High.
In her 40s, she returned to school for her master’s degree in landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, where she met her partner, Peg Henderson. Meredith joined the landscape architecture firm of Erik Katzmaier in Orange County; then the landscape architecture firm Purkiss Rose in Fullerton; and finally, the San Francisco design firm The Planning Collaborative, before arriving at the Western Regional Office of the National Park Service, where she spent the rest of her career. She and Peg settled in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, where they raised a child, Kate, and built a community, hosting book groups, brunches, “edible art” nights and volunteering with the Rockridge News. People from their tree-lined block gathered at their home for “Sunday soups” and called it the heart of the neighborhood.
For two decades, she was a cheerful and unwavering member of the weekly Wanderers, a women’s hiking group that explored the urban and wilderness trails of the Bay Area. With her friends and family, she visited national parks throughout the West and ventured on week-long hikes on historic trails around the world, such as Santiago de Compostela in Spain. and in France, the Cotswolds Way in England and the John Muir Way in Scotland.
She brought fearlessness to her life, constantly reinventing herself, taking risks and embarking on adventures. She was furiously hardworking, always tackling a project, whether it was recanning chairs, resealing bathtubs, or tearing down a house for scrap lumber. She was adept at bringing people together, both personally and professionally, at building consensus among diverse communities to plan historic trails, and at hosting and nurturing not only her own friends, but also friends and relatives of his partner and his children. She had a wry sense of humor and loved a good single malt Scotch, a sticky caramel pudding, and especially a homemade tuna noodle casserole (with or without the tuna).
She is survived by her beloved partner Peg Henderson; children Sarah Kaplan, Esther Kaplan, Sharon Kaplan, Rachel Lanham and Kate Henderson; their partners Anita McGahan, David Barreda, Tony Lanham and Rayven Ferber; grandchildren Lilia Diaz, Dalton Lanham, Lola Lanham and Alma Barreda Kaplan; Lilia’s father, Lalo Diaz; Peg’s brothers and their partners Will Henderson, Mark Henderson and Susan Kelly, and John and Chong Suk Henderson; Idaho, Copa and Dandelion puppies; many dear friends, nieces and nephews; and its beautiful garden oasis, always filled with birdsong.
Donations in his name can be made to the Regional Parks Foundation at https://www.regionalparksfoundation.org/donate, or by check to PO Box 2527, Castro Valley, CA 94546; the Alameda County Food Bank at https://www.accfb.org/give/, or by check to PO Box 2599, Oakland, CA 94614; or the MSA Coalition at https://www.multiplesystematrophy.org/ways-to-give/, or by check to 7918 Jones Branch Dr., suite 300, McLean, VA 22102.