Tech industry aficionados traveling to Palo Alto, Calif., to visit sites like the HP Garage and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ house likely drive right past the Lucie Stern Community Center. They probably don’t even notice it, let alone wonder about the Jewish woman whose name it bears.
If you look carefully, many of Palo Alto’s institutions carry the philanthropic imprint of Stern, who lived and died (in 1946) here well before silicon ever came to this valley nestled between San Francisco Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains. But few are familiar with the biography of the beneficent woman once known as “Stanford’s Aunt Lucie” and “Palo Alto’s Fairy Godmother.”
I took an interest in her shortly after my move to Palo Alto from New York around seven years ago. Of course, the Jewish surname “Stern” automatically piqued my curiosity. But beyond that, our next-door neighbor told us that she had inherited her house from her grandfather, who had been Lucie Stern’s personal French chef. Stern, who our neighbor mentioned had been part of the Levi Strauss family, had built the house for the chef and his family. I was eager to learn more about this generous woman—whom I eventually discovered enjoyed great wealth and privilege, but also suffered great pain and loss in her lifetime.
It’s hard to take your eyes off of matchmaking maven Patti Stanger on her show Millionaire Matchmaker. As she selects women to date her millionaires (or occasionally men to meet a female millionaire, or men for a gay millionaire), zinging critiques of their hair color, weight or attire, she is usually bracketed by Rachel Federoff, the company’s eclectically-styled VP of matching and her new husband, coo Destin Pfaff. Federoff and Pfaff have a young son, Sin Halo.
The Forward spoke with Federoff about what it’s like to work at Stanger’s side, and how being Jewish is part of her life.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen: How and when did you develop your fabulous personal style?
Rachel Federoff: It has always been inside me but came out in junior high school. That was such a metamorphosis period. I was always trying to be like the trendy cookie cutter friends of mine but it wasn’t working and wasn’t me. I finally realized that I needed to be myself and express myself in my own way. I don’t like to label my style but I would call it a cross between Rockabilly/Vintage and Punk, it’s usually called Psychobilly.
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