All in the Family
Story by Kari Rodems
Ojai Valley Visitors Guide.

Tom Lennon (and family)

          Mutual admiration runs deep in the Lennon family, and with good reason. It would be difficult to spend more than a few minutes in their presence and not discern the immense bond they share. They get each other. They finish each other’s sentences. They share a collective knowing, a welcomed and respectful light heartedness when recalling some of life’s more difficult moments. There is a connectedness that seamlessly threads their story of doing life together in a way that as an observer, you want to both protect and share with everyone.
          Tom and Debbie Lennon have called the Ojai Valley home since the early part of the 1970s. They feel fortunate to have raised their five, now adult, children, Tommy, Lisa, Jeff, Ted and Laurie in an environment that fostered creativity and encouraged living fully engaged in pursing and supporting one another’s dreams. This is a trait the Lennon family has been passing on for generations.
          Family patriarch, Tom, can remember visiting his uncle Maximilian Heinrich’s apricot ranch in Upper Ojai Valley as far back as the late 1940s. “The extended family used to get together there and sing and hang out and have good times,” Tom said. “Debbie and I lived there at one point and wanted to buy it at the time, but couldn’t come up with the $60k.” He and Debbie shared a laugh remembering. “Ihave really good memories spending time there with family…” which included the legendary Lennon Sisters.
          Tom and his siblings (13 in all) shared the Lennon family gift for music and can be heard lending their harmonies on the 1963 album, “The Lennon Sisters & Cousins Sing Dominique, and other Great Folk Songs.” In later years, Tom went on the road with his band and opened for the Doors, the Yard Birds, and Them (with Van Morrison) among others.
          Eventually, Tom traded the road for a steady job with Pioneer Bakery, but never gave up his passion for music. In fact, if you’ve stopped at Papa Lennon’s for one of their savory pizzas or farm-fresh salads on a warm weekend night, chances are you’ve experienced Tom’s sanguine sound wafting from the patio nestled in next to the pizzeria.
           It seems music flows effortlessly through the Lennon family bloodline. Oldest brother Tommy, Jeff (owner of Papa Lennon’s, along with wife, Kasey) and brother, Ted, are musicians in their own right.
          “Our family just is music,” is how Laurie describes it. Ted is a singer/songwriter and with a number of albums available on iTunes. He also has toured extensively. He opened for Jack Johnson in Tokyo and played with different groups throughout his career. He is also a local favorite who graces the patio at the restaurant. You may have also heard him from time to time at The Deer Lodge or at benefits alongside Jack Johnson at Libbey Bowl.
          With great fondness Ted remembers inviting his dad to join him on tour in Tokyo. “My dad is a real people person and I tend to be a little less outgoing that way. It wasn’t too long into the tour before my dad knew everybody,” Ted explained. “He would often go out with them after a concert while I would go back to the hotel by myself to unwind. He is a great guy. Everyone likes him. He and my mom have set a great example for all of us. They have been married forever. These days that is a rarity and I am thankful for them making that happen.”
          Tom, Ted and Jeff each have recording studios in their homes. Tom is finishing a CD titled “Papa Lennon’s Juke Box,” scheduled for release around Father’s Day this year. Jeff is realizing another dream by recording some 36 songs he has written over the years. His offering is titled, “The Black and White Album” and will be available on vinyl and digitally by year’s end.
          “My mom always encouraged me to cook. I had always thought about one day opening a restaurant. Finally I decided to just say yes to that dream,” Jeff said. “So I went out looking for a location. I wanted the spot to have the same feeling I had growing up in Ojai, when things were a little slower paced, so I chose Meiners Oaks. A place was available and I said yes, without a full plan in mind. My wife and I designed Papa Lennon’s from the ground up. We put a lot of hard work into it. A lot of sweat, tears and laughs were poured into that place before we finally opened the doors and literally [with no advertising] waited for the first person to walk in. It is scary to step over the threshold into your dreams. But we did it and my whole family and the community has been so incredibly supportive.”
          After opening Papa Lennon’s, Jeff suggested to his mom that she should open the store she had longed dreamed of owning herself. “Jeff and Kasey provided me the opportunity to open my shop rent free, how could I not finally do it?” Debbie asked. Eventually the “Lennon Closet “ (which showcases an eclectic array of vintage and gently worn clothing, jewelry and household items) outgrew the space and moved to 250 E. Ojai Ave. “I am so thankful they called me out, how could I refuse?” she asked.
          The family has a consistent ability to challenge one another, to persevere and go for it, when one sets out to make something happen. “We give each other courage,” Tom explained. “The family rallies behind each other, no matter what it takes. For instance, it always seems that just when one of us needs some money to do something, one of us has just gotten a check and we are like ‘here you go, you can have it.’ I think that same $2,000 has been passed around the family for years now,” Debbie said with a smile.
          “Every one of them has some incredible artistic sense of design. They can take found objects…simple things and very classy things and make the most beautiful and serene environments,” explained Dwier Brown, Laurie’s husband, an accomplished actor and now published author. “Debbie makes incredible mosaics, Tom can build a car out of few rocks and a marble practically (laughter breaks out among the family) Jeff and Ted are the same way.”            Laurie also shares her family’s creative talents. She is the designer and creator of Wild Honey Jewelry available locally at the Lennon Closet and online at In addition, Laurie built the website and manages the media presence for Dwier’s upcoming book tour. His thoughtfully reflective, yet seriously fun memoir, “If You Build It…” is a story about fathers, fate and the unexpected impact his brief role in the movie “Field of Dreams” came to have on his life.
           Tom received the first copy of the raw manuscript for his birthday. “I was just blown away, I had no idea he was such a good writer, I can’t say enough good things about the book,” Tom noted. Those sentiments are echoed by the New York Times and the New York Daily News among others. Dwier and Laurie will soon head out on the book tour, which includes a stop at Dyersville on Fathers Day weekend, for a “Field of Dreams” re-union with Kevin Costner and several cast members. Matt Lauer from the Today Show and Bob Costas will also take part in the event. You can keep up with Laurie and Dwier on tour at
          In addition, Debbie and Tom are the proud grandparents to 11 grandchildren, Khalil, Nick, Jake, Elijah, Tommy, Ava, Kate, Woody, Lily, Charlie and Hazel. They range in age from 5 to 21. Most of them live in the area, however their oldest daughter, Lisa, and her family live in Tennessee. “We all love hanging out together and so when one of us can’t be there, there is always a sense that someone is missing,” Debbie explained.
          Tom and Debbie beam with love and gratitude when they talk about their family. They also relayed the ongoing heartache they experience dealing with the aftermath of an untimely event that forever changed the life of their oldest son and their family. “Tommy, suffered traumatic brain injury in a surfing accident at the age of 16,” revealed Debbie. A documentary on Tommy’s life and that of his family, was produced by Marilyn and Chuck Braverman titled “A Revolving Door.” It has appeared on HBO and was short-listed for an Academy Award. The movie addresses the painful reality of mental illness and the drug addiction Tommy battles daily. It gives a grippingly honest glimpse into his courage and difficulties and that of the family’s as well. Debbie and Tom are committed to advocating for those living with mental illness and have founded a Traumatic Brain Injury charity, (B.R.A.I.N.).
           “We are so far from perfect,” Debbie stated. “We are a very colorful group… but what is really important is that through the ups and the downs, through the difficult times and the really fun times, we are all in it and were are like ‘okay…here we go.’ No matter what, we see it through together. If you can find the humor and the love in the worst things, then the best things are truly the best.”

(Above) Jeff and Tom Lennon perform at Libbey Bowl in downtown Ojai.