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Midway native traveled many paths
Faces and Places
Laura Devendorf, whose family owns Melon Bluff Nature Preserve, currently is writing a book about international equestrian competitions. - photo by Photo by Diane Kirkland
Name: Laura Devendorf

Hometown: Midway. “The South, what a place to grow up. It was so much fun. Tracking animals and doing dangerous things.”

Family: Three daughters Daryn, Marla and Meredith, and late husband Don Devendorf.
Education: University of Wisconsin in Madison. She said she attended because it was the largest public college in the country at the time and the most radical.

“Every path I ever saw I wanted to go down it. I just had this insatiable curiosity and the determination to go do it. And that’s what life has been because I’ve had three major careers in my life.”
Among other interests and bits of work, Devendorf said she has made careers as an artist and art critic, an equestrian course designer and, most recently, an author.

Working as an artist and critic in San Francisco during the 1960s you must have met some interesting people? “On the corner, Santana lived right above us, and Janis Joplin lived right over there, and Blood Sweat and Tears had a house three doors down from us. So what do you do about that? You play.”

How did you go from painting to designing world-class equestrian courses featured on ESPN? “It’s the path syndrome. We started giving little funky horse shows here and then I thought this is fascinating; I want to do more… I was the first woman to ever be the assistant course designer in the Olympics and the World Cup. I was the assistant course designer at the 1996 Olympics. That was a two-year project and I had to manage a $500,000-plus budget. I designed about a third of the jumps.”

That’s a very unique trade. Was it hard to learn? “I was an apprentice with Pamela Carrothers... Still, to this day, there’re only 10 international course designers licensed in the United States. So, you can see, it takes some doing. You pay your dues.”

And, most recently? “I’m writing a book right now. There hasn’t been a book about it [international equestrian competitions] in a long time. Mine is about all the outrageous stories and all the horrific things that have happened to me world-wide. It’s going to be fun to read because I don’t think anything should be dry and boring.”

In all your careers, you didn’t mention Melon Bluff, your family’s expansive nature preserve. Where did the inspiration for the reserve come from? “Melon Bluff is a holistic experience because it isn’t just man’s environment. It isn’t just man’s education. It isn’t just his culture. Everything comes from his relation to his land and to each other through time and it’s such an important point. And that’s why the foundation we started is so complicated because it’s five organizations.”
The foundation has organizations representing educational, historical, anthropological and environmental issues pertaining to the coast.

Where did you get your sense of ambition? “My father was like that. My mother was like that. It was so pervasive in our home. Someone was always doing something interesting. They saw a need and filled it and then let it take them.”

And do you see the same things in your kids? “Oh yes; they have the sickness.”

Aside from Melon Bluff, you’ve done considerable restoration and preservation work in the area, including the conception of Seabrook Village. Do you have advice for other people interested in preserving history and culture?
“If you’re just too nice to get your hands dirty, you’re going to lose it.”
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