Inspired by testimonials being recorded this year in honor of the Boys & Girls Club 50th anniversary celebration, I have been doing a little of my own reminiscing. I became involved with the club in 1970 when, as study chair for the American Association of University Women, I was researching potential community service projects. My inquiries led me to Larry Margolis and Herb Oberman from the local Department of Social Services.
Larry and Herb had been instrumental in organizing the two-year-old Boys Club of Newhall-Saugus and explained how the fledgling club was launching a new fund-raising strategy that would require the formation of a Women’s Auxiliary. It wasn’t long before I was baking hors d’oeuvres, cutting down palm fronds for luaus at the Valencia Hills pool, and creating bid boards for the newly inaugurated Auction, the brainchild of Boys Club board member Tony Newhall.
Those early days of volunteering for the club were filled with all kinds of pioneering adventures. There were crafting hours spent with some of the youngsters, monthly meetings after a few of us Auxiliary officers became club board members, and treks “over the hill” to seek a permanent source of funding from United Way.
In those early days, there was neither a Newhall nor a Canyon Country Clubhouse; the capital campaigns needed for such enterprises were in the far off future. Instead, superintendents of the various school districts offered some of their school playgrounds and classrooms as sites for the recreational activities. The sites were called Satellites and worked nicely into the spread-out nature of the valley’s residential developments. With no bus system yet inaugurated here, the Satellite Clubhouses offered neighborhood access for many youngsters.
Even after securing United Way support, there was fundraising to pursue and the club’s board members were dedicated to making that chore as fun as possible. None of the events was more entertaining than the annual Auction held the first Saturday in June. Each year, we were charged to come up with creative items to put on the block, as well as a creative theme that could inspire unique ways to decorate the CalArts main gallery.
Decorating at CalArts was often a challenge in itself. We’d frequently have to camouflage some of the more “avant garde” student displays. The focal wall at the head of the flight of stairs leading to the gallery’s upper floor was one of the first things to catch the eye once guests were inside the spacious hall. One year, a rather risqué painting filled that wall. Since it could not be removed while a school-sponsored exhibition was in effect, the decorating committee had to come up with an opaque, yet temporary cover. Under chair Connie Worden-Roberts’ guidance, we were able to conceal it by fashioning a spiral wheel of multi-colored crepe paper.
Crepe paper wasn’t the only décor of choice. When the theme was “Around the World in 80 Days,” the committee was able to acquire a model of a hot air balloon, which was secured to the upper gallery balcony awaiting the cue to “float” down to the gallery floor carrying that year’s auctioneer. The dining room off the gallery also made it possible to create a VIP “Speakeasy” for another year’s “Roaring ‘20s” theme, complete with piano and torch singer.
Of course, the main attraction was the auction itself and that always led to a fun-filled evening of surprises. Besides boasting some of the most velvet-tongued auctioneers (my favorite will always be Jerry Holland), the items themselves often caused quite a stir. Popular offerings included: Dinner in Jail (a gourmet meal prepared and served by the deputies and inmates at the Wayside Honor Rancho, now known as Peter Pitchess Detention Center), a motorcycle donated by actor Steve McQueen, and dinner at the Piru Mansion. One year a local doctor donated a vasectomy, which drew a gallery full of laughs when the winning bidder ended up being a very pregnant young wife.
In 1973, a group that included Jack Clark, Harry Bell, Sam Thompson, Ed Bolden, and Jack Boyer purchased a moonlight cruise around the L.A. Harbor on board a 100-foot yacht called the K’Thanga. Twenty-five people dined, danced, and drank champagne as the yacht left ports of call for a 29-mile cruise. The evening was full of hijinks and good-natured camaraderie, but the guests were a little subdued when they later learned that the K’Thanga was used for dumping cremation ashes and there might well have been some extra-curricular activity going on deck side while the group was “down below” sampling canapés.
Some extremely competitive bidding occurred in 1974 when the Stag Party Cake came up for auction. Social maven and winning bidder, Janet Hughes, handed the organizers a twist when she announced that she wanted a man to pop out of the cake. The occasion was an annual birthday celebration called A Gemini Party. Janet and a few of her friends shared June birthdays and she wanted to make the ’74 celebration one to remember.
It turned out to be “one to remember” for everyone. We had less than a week to find someone with the knockout good looks and body to wow the women. We were down to our last day of searching when a few of us were invited to the Canyon Theatre Guild’s annual awards ceremonies. The star of that year’s “Roshomon” production, professional actor Cal Bartlett, and his wife Sally were on hand for the festivities. One look at Cal and the light bulbs began popping in our heads.
(Cal had been the reason for the sold-out crowds at the play – his role as the Japanese bandit called for the scantiest of costumes – a loincloth (sewn especially for the production by Sally). More than one female fan returned for encore performances.)
The gracious couple accepted the frazzled party planners’ request, and after a brief detour home to find his loincloth, Cal was in the cake ready to make his surprise appearance. And were the matrons at the party thrilled when he jumped out of the cake in a cloud of confetti! Sally good-naturedly stood by as the dreamy-eyed females breathlessly crowded around Cal to have their pictures taken with him. It was truly a most eye-popping auction memory for all those present.