Father Time

If visitors from out of state casually announce they’ll return to Woodside Priory School for next year’s auction to attain one of your handmade grandfather clocks, it’s probably safe to receive their remarks lightly and without expectations of a follow-up.

But Father Martin Mager’s handiwork is timeless. His ornate timepieces speak for themselves—sometimes literally, at the top of the hour, through the melodic steel plucks of the Westminster Chimes. Therefore, it wasn’t inconceivable, sometime in the late 1980s, that the couple from Arizona returned to the Benedictine college-preparatory institution the following year to place the winning bid on the towering timekeeper. Fr. Martin himself drove the clock to Arizona to set it up, the final and personalized touch he applies to every clock he makes.

On the clock’s face, beneath an illustration of the constellation which slightly shifts by the days and hours, is its name:

The Priory No. 6


Made in the USA

Sometime around 2015, Fr.

Martin received a phone call from a furniture consignment store owner in Oregon. “Are you the guy who builds clocks?” he was asked. The Arizona couple had since divorced and Priory No. 6 had somehow migrated to the Pacific Northwest. Fr. Martin decided it was worth the retrieval and alongside Tim Molak, the Priory’s head of school, the duo drove north to meet the seller somewhere around Salem. Their meeting place was far from suspicious but, then again, anything can happen in a Denny’s parking lot.

“I kept saying, if anyone sees this, we’re going to jail,” cracks Fr. Martin about the nature of the transaction. “The clock comes out and we gave him the money. It was so funny; it was like a drug deal. We didn’t even stop for a sandwich!”

Priory No. 6 now stands proudly in the dining room of the King St. Stephen Monastery at the top of the school’s 40-acre campus nestled in the timbered vale of Portola Valley. The clock is restored and awaits its next journey across state lines; it’s destined for St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Fr. Martin earned his bachelor’s degree and where he first found the inspiration for becoming a Benedictine monk.

The son of a Catholic butcher who instilled a penchant for scrumptious craft ale, Fr. Martin was born in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. He gravitated to the church after college, drawn to the lifestyle after being inspired by teachers in high school and college. “I liked the way they respected their students,” he says. “The way they engaged in manual labor with vigor. And the balance of their lives… pray, work and be human.” Fr. Martin arrived at Woodside Priory in August 1975 where he taught, among other subjects, social justice, ethics, art and photography.

Fr. Martin launched every photography class at the start of the year with the same assignment: Go out and shoot the alphabet using only nature, architecture and 24 frames of film as your resources. (With respect to the 26 letters of the alphabet, he’d exclude the I and O.) “How do you get a G?” he ponders today. “The idea was to get students to begin asking how they see and find stuff.”

However, there was one interest that frequently led him back into the airy woodshop on campus that’s part of the school’s hands-on learning center. There, you’ll find pictures of previously completed clocks hung on the shelf like trophies, halfway-constructed dulcimer instruments and a small tablet of plywood with “save for doorframe job” scribbled in Sharpie. This is where Fr. Martin created over 50 wooden pews now used daily in the campus chapel among countless refurbishing and handyman projects.

Fr. Martin is a woodworking autodidact, learning from a few mentors or YouTube, and in turn, he guides students through projects reflecting their own interests such as longboards and musical instruments. He relies on Woodcraft in San Carlos for securing specialty tools and, when it comes to projects, “If it’s made out of wood or has strings on it, I’m there,” he says.

“I see working with wood as this: Wood was something that was alive, as a tree,” he explains. “The beauty of a tree is we’re touched by it and then it’s cut down. When you reconfigure it into something like a musical instrument, it has a second life. That’s how I look at it.”

Fr. Martin made his first clock in 1982 and is currently on number 36. The grandfather clocks are sold in the school’s springtime auction and are often the fundraiser’s pièce de résistance. The process for creating each clock by hand can take him up to 200 hours over the course of a year. Fr. Martin lifts inspiration from the Shakers and the clockmakers of early colonial America, however, with a modernist twist such as golden finials. He always begins with the side walls before building up to the bonnet, ensuring a sturdy base that can outlast tremors.

Although Fr. Martin spends so much time with each clock, his musings refrain from contemplating the ticking of time in exchange for considering more practical functions for these heavy, adorned centerpieces.

“I never thought a lot about time in terms of clocks but it occurred to me that a clock is not so much for telling time, rather, it’s a statement,” he says. “These grandfather clocks came out in the Colonial Period. Colonial homes had center hallways and people would gather around the clock to make important decisions. It’s more than just a timepiece; there’s a social dimension.”

Fr. Martin retains visiting rights for each of his clocks (either to help refurbish them or to allow him to marvel at some of the details he had forgotten over the years) and likens his creations to the scores of students he’s taught and mentored through the school.

“When you work with something for the amount of time you do, you put yourself into it,” Fr. Martin says. “Once it goes to the auction, you have to let it go; it’s like saying goodbye to your students. And then you look forward to the next one.”

Before he chisels, before he lathers a piece of fresh mahogany with a finishing, Fr. Martin turns on his version of a radio. It’s an outmoded iPhone equipped with Pandora where stations for bluegrass and country provide aural company. The miniature refrigerator in the corner holds a few bottles of Blue Moon Belgian ale and a flashing digital clock on the shelf reads 2:15AM, even though sunshine permeates the entire room. “Nobody cares about that,” Fr. Martin quips, as he returns to his workbench.

Fr. Martin recently received a few slabs of handsome black walnut pieces from a church friend, which he’ll use for the walls in next year’s clock. He usually begins the process deeper into the school year but this autumn he decided to get a head start. Fr. Martin knows that if he applies a finish to this wood, it’ll grow darker and more distinguished with time. Luckily for him, time is his specialty.

Healthy Pivot

words by Silas Valentino

The NatureBox headquarters, a dash from downtown Redwood City, is in an airy building with natural light streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows bordering the street. This would be an ideal setting for an automobile showroom (historically, it was) but now it’s lined with standing desks, couches, whiteboards, a large external air conditioning unit and hundreds of pounds of snacks.

These aren’t your mother’s carrot sticks; the snack company’s catalog runs rich and deep with the likes of dried chile mangos, turmeric black pepper popcorn, sriracha cashews and chocolate chip cookies that won’t give you a stomachache—it’s a cornucopia of reimagined snack favorites made with a healthy focus.

“Munch away on whatever you’re craving and feel good about what you’re eating” reads the label on the back of the trail mix. In an intriguing twist a few months ago, NatureBox took that feel-good eats concept one step further by developing a line of hemp-based cannabidiol snacks, a slightly radical shift made by the company’s CEO after  discovering the immensely positive health effects CBD had on his own daughter.

Although individual rooms exist within the headquarters, this CEO’s desk is in plain view off in the corner surrounded by employees. It’s not a hectic office space and the murmur of phone calls and chatter doesn’t interfere with John Occhipinti’s concentration as he stoically sits at his desk with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones on. Eyes closed, he’s meditating. As he’ll do throughout the day.

“I’m listening to a smattering of YouTube-guided meditations,” he later explains. “My mind will run in a lot of different directions and this will get me grounded in more creative energy, then productivity comes back. You listen to your heart to see if it’s beating.”

He’s more blue jeans than Brooks Brothers, wearing a light-blue Vineyard Vines shirt, which seems to enhance his already radiant blue eyes. Prone to smiling and unafraid to use a whiteboard to help illustrate a point, John (or “John O,” a sometimes nickname inspired by an old email he had while working at Netscape in the 1990s) leads NatureBox with a relaxed and focused direction.

“My kids gave me a bracelet that says Be Present,” he says, gesturing to his wrist. “That’s what I’d preach to them when I used to drop them off at school.”

The fact that John is this easygoing while overseeing a multi-million-dollar company with over two million customers is an attribute of a person who believes deeply in the mission of his work. Not only do NatureBox’s products allow people to snack without the consequence of an unhealthy diet, but the new line of CBD chews is at the vanguard of creating products that soothe folks who often endure anxiety, migraines or stress.

A serving of six chews contains 25mg of CBD with zero THC. They’re in three flavors—pineapple, passion-berry and watermelon-lemonade—with a bag selling for about $20 if you have a membership with the company. NatureBox introduced their CBD chews earlier this year and the snacks were an instant success, racking up 1,000 people on a waitlist and then selling out in their first week.

Creating a new genre of wellness products was not John’s initial plan when his firm, Wheelhouse Partners, assumed control of NatureBox in 2017. But the father of three gained motivation after witnessing first-hand how CBD soothed the intense migraines plaguing his middle child. He detailed the personal journey on a blog post in May 2019 titled, “Why CBD is what’s next for NatureBox.”

John describes how his daughter Gabby was suffering from a week-long headache, an extension of the chronic migraines she’s endured since childhood. They tried several solutions—visiting multiple medical specialists, changing diet, hiring a masseuse—yet the pain would not subside. One morning, after learning from a friend about CBD, John and Gabby decided to give the experiment a shot.

“I went down and bought a tincture of non-THC CBD at a dispensary. She had to wait in the car since she was under 21 and I came out with a brown bag. I looked into the bag and joked that we just scored,” John laughs, while retelling the story. “We didn’t know how much she should take so I put two drops under her tongue. In an hour, her headache was gone. It was like, ‘Woah, this is something.’”

Raised in Woodside off Cañada Road, John was predisposed to the entrepreneurial spirit before he could drive a car. “We joke that we didn’t sell lemonade on the corner; we sold zucchini because that’s what we were growing in the backyard,” John says. His father was a tech entrepreneur who worked with the likes of Don Valentine, often referred to as “the grandfather of Silicon Valley venture capital.”

“My dad’s way to communicate was to talk about what he loved: conflict resolution and people skills,” John says. “He talked about board meetings and how he dealt with conflict. I was in the boardroom at a very young age. When I was asked, ‘What do you want to be when you’re older?’ I was the kid who said ‘a bond salesman.’”

A Woodside High grad, John’s journey led him to a sales job at Oracle. He considers selling one of his innate skills and while pursuing a business degree at Cal, he was offered a position with a fledgling company called Netscape, becoming one of the first 30 employees at the early-days Internet giant.

Following the sale of Netscape, John transitioned into his father’s industry to become a venture capitalist for the family firm, the Woodside Fund. He’d later become a partner in the company Relay Ventures, where the intellectual stimuli from passionate entrepreneurs sent him on a new path.

Inspired by the innovation swirling around him, John co-founded Wheelhouse Partners in 2017 using a novel approach to private equity—the firm finds companies with previous major investments on the brink of collapse. While talking through the business model, John jumps up to a nearby whiteboard where he sketches out a graph chart to illustrate his point.

“A lot of companies get over-funded and then burn out. We find these companies that have run into trouble but with proper management skills, they could succeed,” he explains.

In 2017, John was tipped off about an innovative snack company that had great potential but had begun to idle—and that’s how NatureBox came into the picture. A direct-to-consumer disrupter (“The next Frito-Lay,” John compares.), the company had been positioned by the founders as a better-for-you snack business. Wheelhouse took over and after first serving as its executive chairman, John assumed the role of CEO to help streamline management.

It was a first for the longtime board member, venture capitalist and dad. It came like a shot in the arm. “It felt like I was living for the first time in a long time,” he says. “To raise the funds to take over NatureBox, that took sheer personal will. It was stressful but invigorating. I never felt more excited.”

It was clearly a healthy pivot, which would lead to other bold steps. Such enthusiasm is often tangible—like when NatureBox closed a recent big deal and in a fit of delight, John found himself on top of an office coffee table dishing out dance moves not seen in decades.

“I did the sprinkler and a full pop from the 1980s,” he recalls, with an exuberant grin.  

Wave Rider

words by Silas Valentino

The hardest part about surfing on the Peninsula, as surf instructor Omer Hasson will sometimes tell his beginner students, is just slipping into the wetsuit.

“If it’s in the winter and the suit is still wet from yesterday, you feel your toes start to go numb as you put your foot in,” the 28-year-old Sunnyvale native explains. “It takes commitment to be a surfer in Northern California.”

But as soon as you’re nestled into the neoprene suit and protected from the chilly waters, the next hurdle of surfing is getting out of the ocean. At least that’s been the case for Omer. He began surfing as a teenager while summering in Israel and later fell in love with the sport in his early 20s while traveling throughout Central America.

Since he surfed the warm waves of Bocas Del Toro beach in Panama, when the carefree sea coalesced with the liberation felt as a young person emerging after his service in the Israel Defense Forces, Omer has become tethered to his board. And his board is tethered to the beach.

With his face slathered with white zinc oxide for sun protection, Omer is in the water at least six days a week, either in a solo pursuit of the next perfect wave or giving surfing lessons at Pacifica State Beach through his job with the outdoor company Adventure Out.

As an instructor, Omer has two primary goals. First, he needs to teach the basics behind surfing: lessons about ocean awareness, safety in and out of the water, wave etiquette, paddling, push-up and pop-up techniques—which add up to a lot of talking on dry land. Nevertheless, the importance of these basics is underscored every Sunday morning when hordes of surfers clog and hog the breaks, abandoning their Ps and Qs in the process.

The other half of Omer’s class is spent putting that wetsuit to work and developing a relationship with the ocean. Once in the water, he wants to help impart the splendor of the sea, with all of its arcane elements, into the souls of each one of his students.

“There’s a spiel I give my students that I lightly lifted from the Mark Healey surfer movie Thundercloud,” he says. “Energy never dies; it’s transferred. There are storms that transfer energy into the ocean and then suddenly that energy is transferred into the surfers—that’s what we equate the word ‘stoked’ to. That energy you get from standing up on a wave and riding, taking what the wave can give you, is one of the most pure connections with nature that I’ve ever experienced. Even if you fall, you’re still harnessing that energy.”

Surfing may be classified as a hobby or sport, but ask anyone who does it and they’ll tell you that it’s more of a lifestyle than anything else. Omer starts his day by scrutinizing tide charts and tracking ocean-wide currents and says he’s not fully awake until that first wave crashes over his head at 7AM. Surfers embrace the varying conditions of the seasons, and while the winter may be less active, the beaches are more open.

It’s a lifestyle where the summers can be endless, as is the drive for discovering the extent of one’s own ambitions.

“What I love about surfing is that you never plateau. Unless you’re [pro surfer] Kelly Slater—but even that dude gets better each year,” Omer rhapsodizes. “It’s all about pushing yourself to new limits. And you can get so many skills from the ocean: It’s life or death. Surfing is very spiritual; it’s a connection between you and a wave. It’s about seeing what the wave is going to do, rather than deciding what you are going to do and trying to make the wave fit for you. It teaches you not to take a back seat—and definitely patience, lots and lots of patience.”

Omer’s gravitation to the ocean began when he attended a surfing camp in Herzliya, Israel, as a 13-year-old visiting his home country. Born in Israel and raised in Sunnyvale from age five until his graduation from Homestead High School in Los Altos in 2008, Omer remembers his first surfing lesson and his fear of knocking up against a jellyfish. He loved it right away, begging his parents for a wetsuit when he came back to California, but he wasn’t fully captivated until a few years later.

Omer returned to Israel after high school to serve his three years in the Israel Defense Forces, followed by an education in computer science and communications at IDC Herzliya College. In the summer of 2014, two days before his last final of freshman year, Omer was called into the Israeli army reserves after fighting broke out. During a 24-hour leave, he went online to purchase a board and found himself at the beach.

“From that moment on, I was in the water,” he says. “That’s when the hair and beard started to grow out. I think I was always meant to be a California surfer but it took me a while to figure it out.”

Omer completed a three-month surf instructor course in Morocco after his college graduation and then returned to the Peninsula to weigh his options. He considered returning to school for a degree in medicine and began working as an assistant clinical research coordinator for Stanford University School of Medicine. During a period of uncertainty, one aspect in his life that remained clear was his devotion to surfing. And how a morning spent among crashing waves could wash away his stress.

“For me, it really helped with a lot of PTSD I got from the army. After three years in the army and five years in reserve duty, with a few wars in between, I needed to go to the water. I needed to escape,” he says. “Surfing was a very healthy addiction.”

Omer has since connected with the local outdoor company Adventure Out, a service that leads backpacking, rock climbing and surfing classes or excursions, and began instructing classes in August 2017. He’s introduced the lifestyle to everyone from tourists to children to a 64-year-old recovering from hip surgery just six weeks prior. Omer says Pacifica Beach is ideal for beginners, with a welcoming atmosphere and waves that aren’t too intimidating. However, the ocean has a way of keeping everyone on the same wavelength.

“Surfing has a way of giving you the best day of your life and then the next day, you’re super stoked but you have a terrible day—that’s the ocean,” Omer says. “If I get one good wave, I’m satisfied. Obviously, I would love 100 good waves but if I get just one or even a semi-decent wave, I’m a happy guy.”





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