Obituary: Meredith McGovney Kaplan

Longtime National Park Service superintendent, hiker, volunteer

Longtime Claremont resident Meredith McGovney Kaplan died on June 28 at her home in Oakland, surrounded by family, after a difficult battle with multiple system atrophy, a degenerative illness.

An avid hiker who loved the natural world, Meredith was for many years a superintendent with the National Park Service. There she worked with dozens of community organizations, counties, municipalities, tribal entities, and state and federal agencies in planning the 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which traces the route Anza, and his multiracial band of settlers took from Mexico to establish the first non-native settlement at San Francisco Bay. After congressional approval of the management plan, she became the historic trail’s first superintendent. Later, she planned the 175-mile Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, a network of historic and cultural trails on the island of Hawaii, some of which had been in continuous use since the arrival of the first Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands.

She was dedicated to civic engagement, serving on the Claremont Architectural Commission in the 1980s and later on the Rockridge Community Planning Council in Oakland; as a Master Gardener for Alameda County; and as a longtime volunteer at her local food bank and food pantry. During her years in Claremont, from the 1960s through the 1980s, she loved the city’s community rituals, including attending the Fourth of July parade, cooking for friends in the “fancy dinner group,” and hosting Passover dinners and weekend brunches at the family home on Santa Barbara Drive, which became a safe haven for many Claremont teens.

The daughter of the late Esther Nichols McGovney and Richard McGovney, she was born in Santa Barbara, California on January 9, 1938, and grew up there with her two sisters, Anne and Susan, and her beloved horses, Pinto Pete and El Capitan. She earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and went on to pursue her master’s in English at Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University). She taught at Montclair High School and Costa Mesa High School before starting a family with her then husband, Hesh Kaplan, whom she met at a barbecue in Claremont. With four young daughters, Sarah, Esther, Sharon, and Rachel, they moved to a farm in Kings Valley, Oregon, where she set up a ceramics studio; raised goats, sheep, and chickens; gardened, canned, and baked; helped lead a 4-H Club; taught art at the local elementary school; volunteered for the feminist art magazine Calyx; and hosted a parade of visitors. The family returned to Claremont in 1978, where the children attended Sycamore, El Roble, and Claremont High.

In her 40s, she went back to school for her master’s degree in landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, where she met her partner, Peg Henderson. Meredith joined Erik Katzmaier’s landscape architecture firm in Orange County; then landscape architecture firm Purkiss Rose in Fullerton; and finally, San Francisco design firm The Planning Collaborative, before arriving at the western regional office of the National Park Service, where she spent the remainder of her career. She and Peg settled in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, where they raised a child, Kate, and built community, hosting book groups, brunches, “edible art” parties, and volunteering with the Rockridge News. People on their tree-lined block gathered at their home for “Sunday soups” and called her the heart of the neighborhood.

For two decades, she was a joyous and steadfast member of the weekly wanderers, a women’s hiking group that explored the urban and wilderness trails of the Bay Area. With friends and family, she visited national parks throughout the West and ventured out on weekslong hikes over historic trails around the world, such as Santiago de Compostela in Spain and France, the Cotswolds Way in England, and the John Muir Way in Scotland.

She brought a fearlessness to her life, constantly reinventing herself, taking risks, and embarking on adventures. She was furiously industrious, always amid tackling a project, from recaning chairs to regrouting bathtubs to tearing down a house for scrap lumber. She was expert at convening people, both personally and professionally, building consensus among diverse communities in order to plan historic trails, and welcoming and feeding not only her own friends, but the friends and loved ones of her partner and children. She had a wry sense of humor and loved a good single malt scotch, sticky toffee pudding, and especially a homemade tuna noodle casserole (with or without the tuna).

She is survived by her beloved partner Peg Henderson; children Sarah Kaplan, Esther Kaplan, Sharon Kaplan, Rachel Lanham and Kate Henderson; their partners Anita McGahan, David Barreda, Tony Lanham and Rayven Ferber; grandchildren Lilia Diaz, Dalton Lanham, Lola Lanham and Alma Barreda Kaplan; Lilia’s father, Lalo Diaz; Peg’s brothers and their partners Will Henderson, Mark Henderson and Susan Kelly, and John and Chong Suk Henderson;  grand-dogs Idaho, Copa and Dandelion; many dear friends, nieces, and nephews; and her beautiful oasis of a garden, filled with birdsong still.

Donations in her name may be made to the Regional Parks Foundation at, or by check to PO Box 2527, Castro Valley, CA 94546; the Alameda County Food Bank at, or by check to PO Box 2599, Oakland, CA 94614; or the MSA Coalition at, or by check to 7918 Jones Branch Dr., suite 300, McLean, VA 22102.

A memorial service will take place at 2 p.m. Friday, July 29 at the Redwood Grove at the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley. Please email for details or a link to the livestream.


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