Noe Valley Voice May 2013

Mother’s Day Portraits

Reflections from Five Noe Valley Moms

By Corrie M. Anders

With Photos by Beverly Tharp



“You don’t have to give up one aspect of your life to have the other. I don’t have to be just a mom or just a good consultant.”

—Kate Sherwood


“I love being 50. I don’t know why women resist it. I find it liberating.”

—Feroza Unvala


“It’s challenging, especially during the teenager years, to be both mom and dad. There’s no good cop and bad cop.”

—Julie Roberts


“Hug your child. Be truthful. Instill in them ‘In God we trust.’”

—Joan Lionberger


Advice for moms: “Be the best example that you can be for your kids.”

—Jessica Closson



Mother’s Day arrives this year on Sunday, May 12. That means the residents of Noe Valley, like good citizens everywhere, will be sending cards, buying flowers, and taking Mom out to dinner.

For our observance of the holiday, the Voice offers five profiles of Noe Valley mothers. While their backgrounds, experiences, and choices vary widely, they all share a deep commitment to family and community. Here are their stories.


Kate Sherwood cuts up for the camera with sons Rohan and Deven (right).    Photo by Beverly Tharp

Kate Sherwood

Menlo Park suburbanites Kate and Yogesh Sherwood were self-acknowledged DINKs—a double-income couple with no kids—who wanted to enjoy the pulse of life in San Francisco.

“We fell in love” with a condominium on Dolores Street and moved to Noe Valley eight years ago, says Kate Sherwood, who turns 39 this month, a week after Mother’s Day. It was a lucky break, she says, because “we didn’t really understand or respect the value of Noe Valley when we moved in.”

The couple soon discovered the farmer’s market on 24th Street, a few blocks from their home, and “it’s a major reason why we’re still here,” says Sherwood, now the mother of two boys, Deven, 6, and Rohan, 4.

Sherwood has thrown herself into efforts to preserve the Saturday market—as well as to create more open space in the neighborhood—through the establishment of a town square at 3861 24th St., currently a parking lot owned by the Noe Valley Ministry.

“It is the last open space within half a mile of here—open space for my kids to run, and open recreational space for our entire community,” says Sherwood, who is on the board of Residents for Noe Valley Town Square, a group lobbying the city to buy the lot and turn it into a park.

Sherwood also is active at Thomas Edison Charter Academy on 22nd Street, where “my little one is a kindergartner.” She started the school’s first baseball team and works on the school’s site council and fundraising committee.

An umpire for a women’s lacrosse league in the spring, Sherwood describes herself as a “high-energy person.” It’s a good thing, since she has a demanding job as managing director of Executive Strategy, a renewable energy consulting firm she founded a year ago. She previously worked for Accenture, a national management consulting company, and for a small solar energy firm in Berkeley.

She says being her own boss allows her to juggle parenting and career, without “the pain of being away from my family and driving to Mountain View every day…

“It has its benefits, like you can’t fire yourself, and its challenges, like you can’t fire yourself,” she quips.

Working from home lets her walk the kids to school and take them to taekwondo classes on 24th Street—tasks she trades with her 41-year-old husband, a tech entrepreneur. Another plus is being able to practice reading and play math bingo with Rohan and Deven, one of their favorite pastimes.

“You don’t have to give up one aspect of your life to have the other,” Sherwood says. “I don’t have to be just a mom or just a good consultant.”


Feroza Unvala stands before one of her paintings, which draw on her compassion for Afghani women and children.    Photo by Beverly Tharp

Feroza Unvala

In 2009, Feroza Unvala was invited to a fundraiser that really touched her heart.

The event was for an organization that provided scholarships for girls in Ghazni, Afghanistan, one of “the most dangerous provinces where the Taliban have vowed to not allow the girls to be educated,” Unvala says.

Inspired by the cause, she joined the group, Afghan Friends Network, and used her expertise as a corporate design specialist to redo AFN’s identity and logo. Later, she became treasurer and currently is president of the all-volunteer San Francisco–based nonprofit.

Today, there are 17 young women attending universities “on our scholarships,” she says, and “we’re helping six boys also.”

Unvala, 50, and husband, Yezdi Unvala, 58, a financial planner, reside in the Eureka Street home they purchased 21 years ago this April. The couple have a daughter, Lyla, 23, who graduated from San Francisco State University last December, and a son, Cyrus, 15, who’s a ninth-grader at International High School. Lyla, who works for Yelp, lives in the family’s in-law apartment.

For two decades or more, Feroza Unvala designed marketing messages for a series of high-powered firms, including Oracle, Adobe Systems, Johnson & Johnson, and Charles Schwab.

Balancing career and children was at times a struggle, says Unvala, who was born in Bombay, now Mumbai, India.

“It all happened very fast,” she remembers. “At 25 I was in India, at 26 I was in New York, at 27 I was a mother in San Francisco with a [first] baby. That was the most overwhelming time of my life.”

In the early years, “I definitely wanted to have it all. ‘Gee, I ought to be this terrific mother and the rising creative director,’” she says. “Now I say it’s okay if you don’t have it all.”

Two months ago, Unvala opted out of the hectic corporate world and transitioned into a new calling as a real estate agent with Brown & Co. on 24th Street.

Meanwhile, her career as a mom continues to fulfill. “We like sitting round the dining table and discussing various world events. I really, really enjoy watching how the kids have grown into young adults. I just love that. I look at them and say, ‘Wow, these are my kids.’” 

And when she feels like relaxing, she sets up an easel to work on her oil paintings—figurative works that are intensely emotional with bold colors. She sold six of her canvasses last month—at an April fundraiser for her Afghani cause.


Julie Roberts and daughter Glenna recently took a break from school and career to travel in Australia.   Photo courtesy Julie Roberts

Julie Roberts

As a 50th birthday present, Julie Roberts, a former vice president with Blue Shield of California, treated herself to a month-long vacation in Australia. Accompanying her on the April trip was her 16-year-old daughter Glenna.

Mother and daughter had a “fabulous time” in Sydney, where they climbed the iconic Harbor Bridge, swam at Coogee Beach, attended a couple of Australian football games, and “had some adventures and laughs figuring out public transportation,” relates Roberts.

She says some of their best moments together have come during visits to other countries.

“It just being the two of us makes us close,” says Roberts, a single mom.

“Single mom” is a role that Roberts has played since Glenna’s father, Michael Byrnes, died five years ago after a long illness. Glenna is currently a junior at Lick-Wilmerding High School, where she excels at academics as well as on the track team.

“She’s amazingly focused and disciplined in her studying, which makes my job much easier. No nagging needed,” says Roberts. “I feel very blessed. She’s a wonderful young woman.” 

Still, raising an adolescent is not all peaches and cream.

“It’s challenging, especially during the teenager years, to be both mom and dad,” says Roberts, a 27th Street resident who has lived in Noe Valley since 2002. “There’s no good cop and bad cop.”

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the holder of an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Roberts has relied on the leadership skills she acquired during five years as a naval officer and 20 years in the business world—the last eight at Blue Shield.

In March, Roberts took “a career break” from the company so she could travel and spend more time with her daughter.

She also plans to volunteer more at La Casa de las Madres, a local shelter for survivors of domestic violence. (She’s already on La Casa’s board.)

Another goal is exercise. “Number one for me is staying healthy,’’ says Roberts. To that end she’ll be doing Pilates and training for a sprint triathlon.

“I’m officially 50, single, and unemployed—and I’m totally psyched,” says Roberts. “I’m very excited about what this next decade has to bring.”


Joan Lionberger, founder of Ladybug Gardeners at Upper Noe Rec Center, explores the woods with Marlee, a former show poodle from Seattle.    Photo by Beverly Tharp

Joan Lionberger

Joan Lionberger, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, is no stranger to hard work. At 14, she started a weekend dog-grooming business to help pay her tuition at St. Paul’s, a private high school in Noe Valley.

After graduation, she took college courses at night for 16 years to earn an accounting degree, all the while working full-time to support herself and her parents after her father was seriously hurt in an automobile accident.

“That’s taught me one thing—work ethics,” says Lionberger, 67.

It’s an ethos she has imparted to her three sons—twins Troy and Scott, 32, and Ryan, 28. As youngsters, the boys had to help out—“no ifs, ands, or buts”—on everything from working on the family’s rental apartments to hauling bricks from a chimney that tumbled in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and using them to lay a new backyard patio.

“They get really upset with people who slough off,” says Lionberger, who shares a house on Sanchez Street with her husband, Mike Lionberger, 64, and two miniature poodles, Marlee and Lady.

Joan Lionberger has worked 45 years as an accountant, originally as a cost accountant for U.S. Steel. In 1981, she began working on her own as a bookkeeper and tax accountant. She’s mostly retired now, but keeps busy as a volunteer at Upper Noe Recreation Center a block from her home. She does weeding at the park—with grade school kids and Ladybug Gardeners—and replenishes the birdfeeders that her husband makes for the rec center.

Over the years, Lionberger has derived much pleasure from seeing the accomplishments of her children, as they grew to become “good men” and “true workaholics.” 

“I’m fulfilled because I did a good job,” she says about rearing Troy, a research biologist at U.C. Berkeley; Scott, a sous chef at Vic’s Restaurant; and Ryan, a production manager at Kinko’s.

Lionberger thinks many of today’s parents have unrealistic expectations for themselves and their children.

“They have the kids into too much,” she says. “Kids should have a cardboard box to be able to play…to use their imagination. They have too much structure in their life. And what it does is put a lot of stress on the mothers.”

Her simple advice to moms is, “Hug your child. Be truthful. Instill in them ‘In God we trust.’”

Lionberger may be receiving more hugs herself these days. In January, she became a grandmother for the first time, and now she’s helping to provide daycare for her granddaughter’s working parents.


23rd Street resident Jessica Closson is shown here with 9-year-old son Luke.    Photo by Beverly Tharp

Jessica Closson

It takes a special person to arrange the ice cream social for new kindergartners, rope busy parents into serving on committees, and pore over financial spreadsheets to come up with a set of budgetary goals.

At Noe Valley’s Alvarado Elementary School, that treasure is 23rd Street resident Jessica Closson.

Closson, 42 this month, is serving her second annual term as president of the Alvarado Parent Teacher Association. Her 9-year-old son, Luke, attends fourth grade at the school.

“It’s like a full-time job because our PTA is extremely robust,” says Closson, who moved with Luke and her husband Morgan to Noe Valley from New Zealand three years ago.

During her watch, the association has raised about $700,000 for student programs—in art and science and math—and for extra staffing at the Douglass Street school. The PTA’s coffer is among the two or three largest in the San Francisco school system.

“It’s almost like managing a small nonprofit,” Closson says, a former manager for an e-commerce startup that later was sold to, an online arts and craft business.

Closson got involved in the PTA after “an eye-opening” but ultimately successful go-round with the school district over getting Luke a spot in the school, which is a four-block walk from their home.

“We’ve been happy and Luke’s been happy,” says his mom. He’s a “very strong student” who likes basketball and baseball—pitching and playing first base for the San Francisco Grizzlies.

Closson discovered her talent for community affairs after Morgan, a telecommunications executive, accepted a yearlong job in New Zealand in 2005. The “fabulous” year turned into five, and the couple even purchased a home in Wellington, the capital.

While there, Closson became president of the local residents association and found herself speaking out on issues before the city council and the national parliament. She really gained notoriety after organizing a protest against a legal brothel in the neighborhood, which had nearly a dozen women working day and night.

The association fought what was a zoning issue up to the country’s highest court, and “I stacked that courtroom with moms” on hearing day. The court ordered the brothel to comply with “work from home” regulations, which permitted only two people to live and work on the premises.

“[The brothel] didn’t stop business, which is fine. But they went down to only two girls. You can’t work 24 hours a day with two girls,” says Closson. “So there was no problem after that.”

Closson says she has few problems meeting the demands of her volunteer activities and family life. For one, she and her husband made a “conscious decision” to have only one child. In addition, they enjoy working as a parenting team.

“Morgan changed diapers as much as I did…and got up in the middle of the night and fed Luke a bottle so many times.” As she does, her husband works from home and stops between 5 and 5:30 p.m., so the family can enjoy dinner together.