A spunky Girl Scout sparked a series of newspaper columns that years later have spawned a Solana Beach resident’s recently released book.
Jan Secrist compiled “Gullible Travels: Memories of Family Life B.T. — Before Technology” from the collection of pieces she wrote in the 1980s for a chain of papers that circulated in North County coastal communities at the time.
The Coast Dispatch in Encinitas was the flagship of the twice-weekly publications, which included the Rancho Santa Fe Times, Del Mar Surfcomber, Carlsbad Journal, and Oceanside Breeze.
Secrist said that in the early 1980s when she and her family lived in Rancho Santa Fe, she received a visit from a friend and her daughter, who was selling Girl Scout cookies.
“She walked in and said, ‘Are you ready to order?’” Secrist recalled in an interview at the Solana Beach Library. “Right then, I knew I was in for an adventure. I got the biggest kick out of her.”
Inspired by the encounter, Secrist wrote a humorous narrative about it and shared it with the girl’s mother, who then offered it to the newspaper chain’s editor, Jim Baumann.
“He said, ‘This is pretty good stuff,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I do it all the time.’” Secrist said. ‘“He said, ‘Can you do it every week?’ and I said, ‘Yeah,” and I was off and running for four years.”
“I put (the columns) into a suitcase, and said maybe someday I can play with these.”
“Scout Bombshell Finds Soft Touch” appears as Chapter 5 of the 68 pieces that are in “Gullible Travels,” some of which have been re-edited and updated by Secrist.
Secrist’s narratives are typically witty, ironic accounts of home and neighborhood life before the incursion of cell phones and the World Wide Web.
Notable examples include “Obit for the Beast,” memorializing the history of the family’s Oldsmobile Delta 88, and “Surviving a Winter Vacation,” which recounts the misadventures of a Colorado ski trip. “Ode to My Electric Blanket” is a jocular poem about the benefits and drawbacks of the bed-warming device.
“Every idea I had came from the community or a friend or something I heard somebody say, and that’s the only spark I needed to get a column,” she said. “They’re all whimsical. ... They’re Erma Bombeck-type stories, with a bright, quirky touch. I wrote them on a typewriter. Remember those days?”
The book is available for purchase online from amazon.com. The company’s publishing arm handled editing, proofreading, and formatting of the book. Unfortunately, some typographical errors remain, but readers should not allow that to spoil the fun of imbibing Secrist’s droll commentaries.
Secrist’s newspaper experience led to other writing projects in her spare hours while working as a career-communications trainer and consultant with Lee Hecht Harrison, which specializes in job placement worldwide.
She co-authored “Secrets for a Successful Dissertation” and “What Else Can You Do With a Ph.D. — A Career Guide for Scholars,” which were published by Sage Publications about 20 years ago and are still available for purchase at us.sagepub.com.
“I’m still getting a check, which actually amazes me,” Secrist said.
In 1999, Fusion Press in Texas published “Tomboy Tales: Adventures of Midlife Mavericks,” in which Secrist tells the stories of successful women who identified themselves as having been ‘tomboys’ when growing up.
The theme, Secrist said, stemmed from her dissertation for a doctorate of education from the University of San Diego, building on the master’s degree she had previously earned at the institution.
She also served as an adjunct professor there, teaching graduate students in communication skills, life-span development, interview techniques and career planning.
A native of Illinois, Secrist met her husband while at school at the University of Arizona, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and journalism. She also has a bachelor’s in speech communication from Arizona State.
Secrist authored histories of Rancho Santa Fe, the Rancho Santa Fe library and school, and the Pauma Valley Country Club. She researched, photographed and wrote an education video, “One Woman’s Journey,” for women’s leadership classes at USD and the University of Hartford.
Throughout all of her experiences, Secrist said, she identified herself foremost as a writer and storyteller. As a teacher, she said, she asked her students to define themselves in three words.
Secrist’s own three word description of herself? Irreverent, irrepressible storyteller.
“I just love to write,” she said. “Since I was a little kid, I loved to tell stories. All my life, I’ve been a storyteller.”