Who are YLPers? Why, all of us who call Yosemite Lakes Park our home. We’re more than an HOA, we are a community of people who love where we live!
More than just a place of majestic mountain views, YLP is people — individuals of all backgrounds and interests. In this series of periodic profiles, we hope to introduce you to many of these folks — to YLOA board members, to managers, to employees, to our valued volunteers and notable neighbors who share our 21 square miles of Sierra foothills. We hope you enjoy learning about these YLPers.
This week it’s Mark Zoeller, a retired bank examiner and decorated Vietnam veteran who volunteers many hours helping to ensure YLP’s finances are in good shape and secure.
Tell us about your early life, where you were born and grew up, recollections
I was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas in 1941, a few months before Pearl Harbor and my schooling was all there. I went to Kansas State, eventually graduated in finance and then went into the army during Vietnam and had the opportunity to see the beautiful countryside even if it was dangerous.
I went over as a second lieutenant. I had gone to Officers Candidate School… got over there and we did convoy escort duty. I was a platoon leader and we had some armored vehicles and we would escort convoys on the roads and did perimeter defense at artillery fire bases. Both were pretty dangerous.
I did get a Purple Heart and have a Bronze Star from that experience, but I survived.
Did you suffer from PTSD?
Yes, a little bit. It wasn’t the really heavy combat like a thousand people coming at you but it was snipers, road bombs, things like that, and it was a road bomb that wounded me.
Particularly during the Tet Offensive of ‘68, I had been there for several months and you could hear the incoming rounds… the rockets…you could hear the swoosh. Even today, if somebody drags a cardboard box across the floor and if there’s a little bit of sand under it, and you can hear that scraping and swishing sound, it startles me, and I make a quick turn. It just turns on the alertness. Gunfire doesn’t bother me as much as a stupid box.
When I came back from Vietnam, we landed at Travis Air Force Base and I got off the plane and kissed the tarmac. I was glad to be back in the U.S., and I decided then and there I would never get angry with any other American.
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a pro basketball player. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the talent and so that option went out the window fairly quickly. I started college in nuclear engineering and survived a few years in that but ultimately realized that my mathematics ability was not in the direction of engineering. But I did find finance very interesting, and I was good at it.
Tell us about your family.
I got out of the army and went back to Kansas State. And I think the day classes or the day before classes started, I met a young Kansas woman and fell madly in love with her. Three months later
, we were married. We were together 52 years until she died last January.
Diane was a history major at K-State. We were still in school and we had our son, John. Six weeks after he was born, we moved out to Los Angeles because I got a job there.
Our son, John, now works for the NSA (National Security Agency) but he’s also a warrant officer in the Army Reserve in San Antonio. He’s retiring May 31st.
Two years after John was born, our daughter, Lara, was born. She and her family live in Simi Valley.
Your career then was in banking. What were some of your experiences?
When I back to Kansas State, I got my MBA in finance. A banker from California came on campus for an interview, and he had me come to Los Angeles for a second interview. It was then United California Bank, which ultimately became First Interstate which was eventually purchased by Wells Fargo…. The longest I worked in any one position was maybe two years in the Los Angeles area. A lot of it was downtown in the headquarters building and I enjoyed it. I was able to put my finance background to good use.
Any interesting experiences you’d like to share from your L.A. days?
We bought accounts receivable from companies, and a lot of them were in the garment industry. There was a lot of fraud going on in that industry and you had to be very careful about who you were buying accounts receivable from. Sometimes you can create an accounts receivable by just sitting down and writing out a fake invoice.
One of the companies we financed was an outfit (whose owner) had been arrested in a big drug bust up in the Hollywood Hills. I could almost see that coming because he would come into the office with his face beet red and he wore a towel around his neck because his nose dripped from the cocaine. And he had his nose re-lined with Teflon because of the cocaine had burned away the lining.
What brought you to YLP and when?
After First Interstate, I worked for another bank in downtown Los Angeles for three years and then I got a job offer from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, afederal government agency, to become a bank examiner. I worked as a bank examiner out of Glendale but then they were doing away with some positions. I got a position back in Washington, D.C., traveled up and down the East Coast, assessing credit risk of banks. I went to work for them in 1991 and took early retirement in 2001.
We had some longtime friends in the San Fernando Valley we went to church with and did a lot of things with them, camping, you name it. One of the couples was (former YLOA president and longtime board member) Tom Swireand (his wife) Buffy.
They and some other friends came up here, I think it was 1988, and they bought lots here.
Diane always wanted to go to Yosemite National Park. At that time
, we had only been there once. We came up here to visit, and Diane wanted to move here. So we bought a lot on Horseshoe Drive.
In 2001, Mark retired from his job in Washington.
We stuffed nearly everything we had in a big truck and drove that truck out across the United States. When we got here we rented a house… We started building on our own lot and we were able to move into our home in November 2002.
We arrived here in August of 2001 just before the September 11 attacks. We were still in bed when we got a phone call from Diane’s sister who told us to turn on our TV set. We still had a few things that we needed to get back in Maryland but no planes were flying.
So we decided to drive. Our cars had arrived here by that time, so we drove back and got a smaller truck this time. It was eerie driving cross country because there were no airplane contrails anywhere in the sky.
Meanwhile, he began working as a self-employed banking consultant, traveling around the state until he was 75.
How did you get on the board?
I started coming to the meetings in early 2004…. I got copies of the financial statements and I started asking questions…. We had an auditor who audited the financial statements but he disclaimed any opinion, it’s called a disclaimer because he couldn’t verify the beginning amount of the assets. And I said (to the board) why are you paying for an audit, when all you get is this disclaimed opinion? Next thing I knew the treasurer, Leon Bergman, had resigned.
The board president, Larry Nunes, asked me if I would be the treasurer. I said, okay. That was November of 2004, then I think in March some other board members resigned, and some directors asked me if I wanted to be interviewed to become a director. I did, and I was appointed as a director. That was 2005.
Then I think the following July, Tom Swire, Bob McDonough, and I were all elected as directors.
For several more terms Tom, Bob, and I kind of ran together as a team. We had all three of our names on the same election posters. And we did that probably up until about 2013, something like that. In the last few years I have not been a director of YLOA but have been a director of YSPUC and treasurer of both corporations.
As a YLOA board member, what have you learned? Mark is now 79 and will turn 80 at the elections in July.
I guess some would say I act as the institutional memory for the board.
It’s interesting how political things can become — you just don’t know how people are going to react to certain things.
There are times when, even though there’s opposition, you just have to do things. And even though there’s opposition, if you do the right thing the members won’t hold it against you. Eventually the opposition will die down.
One thing I learned was not to go on the social media websites and read complaints. I refuse to do that. My thought has always been, if you don’t like something, we have an open meeting, and you can come and express yourself at the meeting.
For others who may want to run for the board, what would you tell them?
I would tell them, if you want to change things, run for the board. If you think you can benefit the community at all, run for the board. Just be prepared for and ignore it when people shoot verbal bullets. You have to have a thick skin. We’ve had several directors over the years that resigned because they couldn’t handle the criticism.
So, I would say be thick-skinned and be prepared for things that come up that you couldn’t possibly imagine would come up, but they come up anyway and sometimes they come up again. Like the gates at the entries. I think we dealt with that issue back in before 2010, we dealt with it again around 2013, and now it’s coming up again.
I think a lot of board members in the past have had the idea that a director was there to tell employees what to do. That’s not the case. The board is there to set policy. The board then holds the general manager accountable. If that policy is not followed, the board member does not go directly to an employee and say, why aren’t you doing this? You need to go through the general manager.
What’s your attitude towards the way things are going?
I think it’s going very much in the right direction. We’ve got the pipeline being replaced. Jonathan’s got plans for the roads. Both of them are going to take a while. You don’t get this done overnight. We have cash right now. A few years ago, we were on the verge of bankruptcy.
So (YLOA-YSPUC General Manager) Jonathan (Penrose) is proving to be I think by far the best general manager we’ve had…
Still, as treasurer, I would prefer to be a little bit more involved in the financial statements, but one of the problems is that our accounting software, our balance sheet does not balance. That’s a no-no and it’s been that way for about five years. So you really can’t calculate things like what is the true cash flow. What Jonathan does by using the income statement is fine as far as it goes. But it doesn’t account for balance-sheet changes which are also sources and uses of cash. But we can’t include these if the balance sheet doesn’t balance.
(YLOA is in the process of changing from TOPS to Zoho Books which is expected to allow for the balance sheet to balance which would allow us to determine true cash flow.)
What would you like to see in YLP’s future?
There are several things I like to see. I don’t know how feasible they are, but something I would like to see, is to be able to have Security put a temporary camera at an unoccupied house…maybe the people are on vacation… so they could see if anything is amiss.
Or if we had had enough money, when a particularly rundown property comes up for sale, we buy it, fix it up, and re-sell it. The property wouldn’t be a continuing eyesore.
And again, I don’t know about the feasibility but, particularly, the trail around the north end of (Blue Heron) lake. I would love to see that get paved over so that could be used as a trail for the handicapped.
What about the value of volunteering?
Oh, I think volunteering for things is vitally important. We wouldn’t have a lot of this stuff out here on the patio of the clubhouse without volunteers. Without volunteers we would not have the pergola and over at the cafe. Then, there is all the work done on the trails. There’s just all sorts of things we have now because of volunteers.
I don’t volunteer to do (construction) because I’m not a handy person. I can’t pound nails worth a darn. So I try to confine my volunteer efforts more to the financial and cybersecurity side of it.
Over the last couple of years, I have tried to keep them up to date on some of the things that are happening in cybersecurity. I can at least talk to Jonathan about what’s going on and see if any of the stuff that I’ve been reading about apply to us.
Meanwhile, since Diane’s passing, he visits his children and grandchildren…
And I spend I spend a lot of time doing things like
a written family histories and stuff like that and do ne quite a bit of genealogical stuff.
Mark also now says that he would stay on as treasurer if the board wants him to, but he has no intention of running for the board again. He had thought that he would step down as treasurer this coming July when he turns 80 (but) he doesn’t see any other qualified person stepping forward to be the treasurer. He also has pledged to keep updating the definitive YLP history at yosemitelakespark.org/our-history.
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