About Linda Pedersen

  • Member Since: March 17, 2016


Linda Pedersen is a 50-year resident of the Santa Clarita Valley. She has alternated being a columnist and feature writer with volunteering in the community.

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Now and Then

| Community | December 7, 2018

A timeworn retort to those who grumble about passing the half-century mark in age is: “It beats the alternative.”

In the Santa Clarita Valley, the staff at the Senior Center on Market Avenue has made it their mission for over 42 years to provide health and wellness services, comfort, companionship, and recreation to all those who have “beat the alternative.”

Like its clients, the aging Market Avenue building, (constructed in the ‘60s) has also “beat the alternative,” but has been stretched to the breaking point by our valley’s burgeoning senior citizen population.

In the last four years, the board members of the Santa Clarita Valley Committee on Aging (SCVOA), have waged a determined fundraising campaign to give our seniors a new, modern complex that will not only provide them with the expanded resources and services they need, but do it in a roomy 30,400-square-foot atmosphere.

A land donation by the Brookfield Development at Golden Valley and Newhall Ranch Roads, and commitments of $3.5 million each from the city of Santa Clarita and the County of Los Angeles gave the $11.4 million dollar project a much-needed boost.

With Capital Campaign co-chairs Peggy Rasmussen and Todd Stevens at the helm, donations from businesses, community groups, and individuals have brought the project within $1 million of its goal. Those who motor past the 2.5-acre site have watched the building take shape since its October, 2017 groundbreaking ceremonies.

The evolving superstructure has been designed to include a banquet room that will accommodate over 250 people, a luxurious fireplace-accented lounge and library, six multi-purpose rooms, an outdoor cabana with concert seating, a fitness center, and dance studio.

Executive director Kevin MacDonald is confident the project is on schedule to meet its February 2019 completion date. Having three times the space of the current Center, MacDonald recently reported that the new building will comfortably house new services like a second career center, more health and wellness programs, a tech center, education center, and a financial information center. In addition, a Sisters in Time program will be offered, which will help senior women find shared housing opportunities.

“These new centers will expand the services available to our seniors even as we continue our current programming,” said MacDonald.

The current services include an adult day program for those with Alzheimer’s, recreational activities throughout the day, weekly lunches on site, handy workers for projects in the home, transportation in the SCV, trips and tours, and home-delivered meals.

“We encourage all SCV seniors to come to our new Center for the education and the companionship, but also to enjoy the many activities we offer with what we call ‘a touch of love.’ It will be part country club, part social services,” concluded Kevin.

To meet the construction completion goal, the SCVCOA officials are offering donors the honor of having their names placed on a wall beside the current supporters. Donations can be made online at www.NewSeniorCenter.com or by mailing a check payable to SCVCOA-Building Fund (memo: Capital Campaign) to 22900 Market Street, Santa Clarita, CA 91321. A credit card donation may also be made by calling the SCV Senior Center at 661-259-9444.

Why, you may ask, if you have not yet reached that “Golden Age” benchmark, should you get on board and donate to the Senior Center Building Fund? May I respectively remind you that no matter what your age today, it is a sure bet (if you “beat the alternative”) you will one day need the services and enjoy the amenities provided at the new building.

Now and Then – Duane Dye

| Community | November 1, 2018

Can a man be defined by words alone? If so, retired Newhall businessman Duane Dye often used these words to describe himself and his life: Nebraska farm boy, passionate Cornhusker football fan, accountant and insurance agent, proud father and leader of the Dye family clan, Rotarian, and ardent husband of soul mate and wife, Linda.

The family and friends, who gathered Sunday, Oct. 28 to celebrate Duane’s life following his death on Sept. 19, went beyond those simple phrases using words like strength of character, honesty, integrity, and a joyful and positive approach to every adversity.

That positive approach to adversity was shaped by happy times growing up on a 38,000-acre farm in Pilger, Nebraska, as well as a life-threatening battle with the scourge of his teen-age years, polio.

Duane often regaled family and friends with his farm experiences – the satisfaction of working side by side with his father planting corn seeds, watching them grow into harvestable crops, tending the horses and pigs, milking cows, and, most especially, driving the farm’s tractors, then getting his driver’s license at the age of 14.

Readily admitting that he was not much of a scholar, Duane often explained how his love of football earned him a place on the high school varsity team as a freshman. A promising athletic career was cut short at the end of his sophomore year when the team’s last two games had to be cancelled because Duane and the quarterback had both fallen victim to polio.

Duane spent five and a half months in an Omaha hospital battling the pain and paralysis with a determination and strength that he credited with making him “a different person” – one with more resolve and ambition. He refused to be pushed out of the hospital in a wheelchair, opting for leg braces and crutches. He spent the remainder of what would have been his junior year undergoing the rigors of therapy and learning to more effectively manage his everyday routines. During that time, Duane perfected the traits he had been born with – a joy of life and living, and a positive outlook on anything that life would throw at him.

With the same determination honed during his hospital stay, Duane took extra classes in his senior year to make up for the schooling he missed and was able to graduate on time with only a few credits left to make up during the summer.

Following graduation, Duane moved to the “big city” (Columbus) and got a job at a medical company. He used the money he earned to enroll in a business college in Lincoln where he earned an accounting degree. He was hired as an accountant at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, which readied him for a similar position at Wayside Honor Rancho (now Peter Pitchess Detention Center) in Castaic in 1957. Though it was difficult to leave his beloved Nebraska, its harsh winters proved too challenging for his impaired physical mobility.

At a May 2006 Rotary meeting, Linda Dye fastened a medallion around granddaughter Jennifer Brock’s neck while a proud Duane looked on. The medallion represented a $1000 donation the Dyes made in Jennifer’s name to Rotary’s World Peace Fellowship fund

During a 2006 Rotary Craft Talk, Duane described his job interview at Wayside. “I walked into the reception area in braces and the girl at the desk gave me a dubious look. I could tell the interviewer only saw the braces and was not confident in my ability to hold down a job. Undaunted, I confidently handed over my recommendations and referrals from the Nebraska penitentiary. He excused himself, went back to his office, and I could hear him talking on the telephone. A few minutes later, he came back in, convinced that I was a viable employee and gave me the job.”

No one ever questioned Duane’s abilities after that – whether it was at work, play, or volunteering in his community. In his final year working for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, Duane took a part time job at Newhall Plumbing while he attended insurance classes at night.

Once he secured his insurance credentials, Duane was invited by fellow insurance man and avid Rotarian, Ivan Passick, to set up a desk in his offices. Eventually he started his own business, the Duane Dye Insurance Agency. It was through Passick that Duane was first introduced to the SCV Rotary Club.

His new trade led to romance in 1965 when he met future wife Linda. As the Santa Clarita Valley grew from a sleepy hamlet into a bustling city in its own right, Duane’s business followed suit and prospered along with his family, which by the 1970s included four children.

Along with his business, his devotion to his family, and his Baha’i faith, Duane had four constants: his love of farming (that included his current Fillmore Ranch and the family homestead in Nebraska), his loyalty to his hometown of Pilger and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a love of restoring classic Chryslers, and a commitment to rid the world of Polio.

Determined that the world’s children should not experience the pain he endured, Duane and Linda dedicated much of their charitable giving to Rotary International’s PolioPlus Campaign. Through their efforts and donations alone, 88,000 children have received the life-saving oral polio vaccines.

It was evident at the Sunday celebration of Duane’s life that it was not only his words, but his actions that defined his 86 years on this planet. And even though his last months were plagued with failing health and kidneys, the determination, resolve, and positive outlook that Duane had exhibited throughout his life never faltered and helped his anxious family cope with his final moments. In her eulogy, daughter Luanne recalled how he “wore the burdens in stoic fashion, never complaining and always reminding us of the full life we had shared.”

One of Duane’s ER doctors reminded the family of his sentimental side when he told them that he had asked Duane about the happiest moment of his life and Duane’s reply was, “The day I married Linda.”

Former Rotary president Mike Berger reminisced about Duane and Linda’s weekly support of the SCV Rotary Club and their commitment to the club motto “Service Above Self,” a sentiment that went beyond lip service to the 88,000 lives they saved through the PolioPlus program.

Close family friend, Chuck Norman, who served as Sunday’s program moderator and video biographer on Duane’s life, summed up Duane as remarkable, adding that Duane was a loyal friend and spiritual mentor through their shared Baha’i faith.

As the ceremony ended, it was evident that there was an abundance of words that defined Duane’s life – from the joys and challenges of the Nebraska farm to the fulfillment and accomplishments at the Fillmore ranch. But daughter Luanne probably summed up the predominant sentiment of the day when she ended her eulogy reminding everyone that “despite his physical challenges, my dad was always happy and upbeat and he would probably want us to remember him dressed in his best Corn Husker gear shouting in front of a televised game: “Go Big Red, Yay, Yay, Yay!”

Now and Then

| Community | October 25, 2018

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. If the black and orange candy displays in the grocery stores have not melted your chocolate defenses, then surely you have fallen captive to the gnarled witches, all a glitter in purple and green, as they spring to life and cackle when you wheel your cart next to them in the hardware aisles.

A sure sign that Halloween is just around the corner and Thanksgiving and Christmas are only a few blocks away. The blustery Santa Anas become a harbinger of change. Time seems to speed up, shortening our daylight hours as the winds gust through the valley, robbing trees of their leaves and branches. And even though we grumble when we see the red and green decorations invading the store windows in late October, we know we have to get busy or January 1 will dawn bright and sunny with a list full of forgotten holiday chores tangled in the discarded wrapping paper and ribbons.

In an effort to sweep away our procrastination cobwebs, the SCV Boys and Girls Club has begun sending out invitations to one of the season’s glittering traditions – the annual Festival of Trees.

For three sparkling days in November (Friday the 16th through Sunday the 18th), guests can wander through a forest of colorfully lit Christmas trees, watch their children create crafts in the Kids’ Corner, dance till their feet give out, be entertained by musicians, dancers, and strolling magicians, shop at a holiday boutique, and bid on their favorite decorated trees while sampling gourmet foods.

Guaranteed to get any Scrooge in the holiday spirit, the annual Festival will be held at The Centre, 20880 Centre Point Parkway in Saugus.

The event was created in 2003 as a fund-raiser for the Boys and Girls Club by longtime supporters, Gary and Myrna Condie. The Condies, who are no strangers to the SCV volunteer scene, also wear the mantles of SCV Man and Woman of the Year – Gary earning the honor in 2005 and Myrna in 2012.

Born on a frigid New Year’s Day in 1944, Gary Condie, the eldest of four children, spent the first five years of his life in Preston, Idaho, a small town in the southeast part of the state. But the majority of his childhood was spent on a farm in the Blackfoot River area, bordered by an Indian reservation on one bank and a town of the other. While the farm boy enjoyed riding horses and tractors, his overwhelming passion was for baseball – a passion that has grown over the years making him one of the L.A. Dodgers biggest fans.

Following graduation from high school, Gary’s desire to see the world prompted him to forgo a scholarship to Idaho College in favor of a two-and-a-half year mission in Germany for the Mormon Church. Gary returned to the United States in 1965 to pursue an accounting degree at Utah State and it was there that he met an attractive co-ed named Myrna Richardson.

The fourth of 10 children, Myrna was born in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and attended Jackson Wilson High School where she was voted prom queen and class secretary in her senior year. In the fall of 1965, Myrna left home to attend Utah State and it was in her second year of college that she met Gary. The two married in June of 1967, and after spending the summer managing a lodge in Jackson Hole, the newlyweds transferred to Brigham Young University where they both continued their schooling.

In 1974, Myrna and Gary moved to Valencia with their five-year-old daughter Heather. While Myrna taught sewing and earned a name for herself designing bridal gowns, prom dresses, evening wear, and elaborate costumes, Gary managed his own growing accounting practice.

The Condies soon discovered that the Santa Clarita Valley was more than an idyllic place to do business and raise a family, it was also a volunteer magnet. Gary began his volunteer “career” as a member of the Hart High School District’s advisory board and the Citizen’s Advisory Group on Water. In 1976, he began working on the Boys and Girls Club auction while also helping to raise money for the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital helipad. In rapid succession, Gary became a founding president of the hospital’s foundation, a founding member and president of the Boys and Girls Club Foundation, president of the B&G board, and board member of the Santa Clarita Facilities Foundation for the William S. Hart District.

In the meantime, Myrna not only followed her husband enthusiastically into the volunteer scene but also coordinated her efforts as housewife, mother, and foster mother with her fashion design business. The focus of her volunteer work focused on the Boys and Girls Club and College of the Canyons. Besides founding the SCV Festival of Trees, she is a co-founder of the Boys & Girls Club Foundation, and a past co-chair of the COC Silver Spur Celebration.

Myrna has also been honored as the 2009 California Mother of the Year, 2006 Boy Scouts of America Leader of Character, 2004 SCV Boys & Girls Club Samuel Dixon Award, 2001 B&G Club Foundation Board Member of the Year, and has the COC Performing Arts Center Costume Shop named for her.

The Condies travel in their spare time and spend many hours visiting with foster children and extended family – and not many in this valley have missed out on seeing Gary’s extensive Dodger memorabilia in person or by Facebook post. In addition, Gary and Myrna continue to support valley charities as well as the Festival of Trees, which has grown in scope and popularity since the first event debuted 15 years ago.

For Festival tickets and event times and information, one may contact resource development director, Ali Campbell, 661-254-2582, ext. 114, alic@sbvbgc.org or follow the updates on the Festival of Trees Facebook page.

Now and Then

| Community | October 18, 2018

Castaic High School is scheduled to open next fall with a ninth grade class of about 400 freshmen, and when listening to founding principal Melanie Hagman’s enthusiastic description of the new school, it’s hard not to share her excitement over the “state of the art curriculum that is being designed to match its state of the art physical structure.”

“The drive up the mile and a half road to the campus ends in a most imposing sight,” said Melanie. “A magnificent two-story science building that dominates the landscape.

“Equally impressive will be the gymnasium and performing arts buildings which will add a full spectrum of enrichment opportunities to a robust curriculum that will offer pathways in diverse pursuits like manufacturing, health and medical, and college preparation.”

Open enrollment will be offered at the 58-acre campus, which is expected to ultimately house 2,600 students. The first graduating class will be donning caps and gowns in 2023.

Melanie says that Castaic High School 9th and 10th graders will be able to take college courses along with their regularly scheduled classes. “It will be a lot like the Academy of the Canyons on the College of the Canyons campus, which graduates its students with AA degrees along with their high school diplomas,” explained Melanie.

“We will work closely with COC instructors to keep education meaningful and relevant. We will also introduce the ‘Block Schedule’ concept, which will allow students to continue working on projects long after the ending class bell sounds. Included will be collaborative group work in English, math, and science.”

“By including pathways to careers in occupations such as media arts and advanced technology, as well as college prep, we hope to teach employability and soft skills along with the traditional curricula,” concludes Melanie. “We want to partner with community businesses to develop internships that will highlight all aspects of a student’s chosen career.

Castaic will join the six other high schools in the William S. Hart School District: Hart, Canyon, Saugus, Valencia, Golden Valley, and West Ranch, which also offer Career Tech education in courses such as nursing, construction, plumbing, welding, and arts media. All six schools have been named Silver Medalists by U.S. News and are in the top 10 percent of high schools around the country. The district-wide success in Career Tech is a key component in the high ranking of the schools, and Hagman is proud to acknowledge that Castaic will share in the programming.

Hagman graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts degree and has two Master’s Degrees from Cal State Los Angeles. She began her teaching career in 1996 with the LA Unified School District and also served as a counselor at Granada Hills Charter High School.

Additional credentials in teaching, pupil personnel services, and administration made her a natural to serve as assistant principal at Hart High School for seven years. Melanie was named principal of Castaic High School in March of this year, and will move to her new offices when the administration building opens in May of 2019. A few classrooms will open a month later in June.

Now and Then

| Community | October 4, 2018

2017 SCV Woman of the Year, Laina McFerren, is as comfortable serving the community as she is serving the “Staples with a Twist” at Wolf Creek, the Valencia restaurant and brewing company she co-owns with her husband Rob.

Originally from the Northern California area, Laina came south to study theatre arts in 1984. Her extra-curricular high school activities of swimming, dancing, and cheerleading combined with her academic prowess gained her entry to study at the University of California at Los Angeles.

During her lower division years at UCLA, Laina developed an interest in mass communication, prompting her to declare a major in that field in her junior year. She graduated form UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in Communications in 1988.

Laina began her professional career training servers at the Cheesecake Factory in Marina Del Ray. While her organizational and leadership skills were enough to earn her the attention of restaurant manager Rob McFerren, there was also a spark there that would develop into a romance. In 1990, family members and fellow Cheesecake employees celebrated the marriage of Rob and Laina. The couple settled briefly in Westchester as Rob continued on with the Cheesecake Factory, and Laina took on a new position at a restaurant in Pacific Palisades.

Laina McFerren and co-chair Ginger LeVang were thanked for the time and energy they dedicated to the Child & Family Center’s 2016 Taste of the Town by Cheryl Jones, vice president of marketing and community outreach for the Center.

A desire to own their own home as well as their own restaurant brought Rob and Laina to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1992. They used their combined restaurant experiences, coupled with Rob’s interest in brewing craft beers, to open Wolf Creek in 1997.

The birth of a new business wasn’t the only creative process taking place in the McFerrens’ lives; there were also the arrivals of daughters Amanda in 1994, and Gillian in 1999.

As their family grew, so did the success of the restaurant and Rob and Laina found that they were a favorite target for local charities, which were always on the lookout for “dining out” donations for their fund-raisers. A few of the volunteers who came to Wolf Creek seeking donations were from the American Red Cross. They encouraged Laina to join the organization in 2000, launching her on a second “career” – in volunteerism (she was named SCV Red Cross Volunteer of the Year in 2002).

Her community involvement with the Child & Family Center began as a vendor in the Center’s annual Taste of the Town fund-raiser. After a few years of participation, Laina came up with some ideas that could facilitate the coordination and set-up for her and her fellow food and drink vendors. She took those ideas to the event chairs in 2005 and soon found herself serving on the boards of the C&F Center Foundation and the Center Board. She served as chair of the Foundation board in 2012, and became co-chair of Taste of the Town from 2014 to 2016.

While the majority of her Child & Family Center volunteerism has focused on board activities and the annual Taste of the Town event, Laina has also served on the Adopt-A-Family Project, 35th Anniversary Celebration, Guardians of Hope, and committee work with the Center’s Santa Clarita Jazz Festival, Kid Expo, golf tournaments, and installations.

Laina joined the Valencia Industrial Associations Connecting to Success Committee in 2014, and became a board member of the College of the Canyons Foundation in 2015. Her involvement with COC has also extended to the Culinary Advisory Board, the Patrons of the Performing Arts Committee, and the Social Committee for Outreach.

During these years of personal service, both Laina and Rob have continued their in-kind restaurant and brewery donations to community charities like Carousel Ranch, Circle of Hope, Straightening Reins, Soroptimist International, and SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery.

Laina has also served as secretary of the Los Angeles Brewers Guild, a non-profit organization to promote and support the craft beer community throughout greater Los Angeles.

The craft beer component to the McFerrens’ growing food and catering business led to a larger brewing facility and a new out-reach project in 2013, which they call Community Pint Night. The Wolf Creek Brewing Company, located in the Rye Canyon Loop, is made available to local charities and service organizations every Tuesday evening for one month. A percentage of the beer sales goes back to the participating organizations.

The site has also become a popular fund-raising venue for organizations such as Rotary, which recently held a Car Show and Music Concert there, and the Child & Family Center, which initiated its action-packed Trike Derby there in 2017. The 2018 Trike Derby will take place Saturday, October 6, from 3-6 p.m., followed by a concert by the blues band, Kelly’s Lot & Friends.

Between their family life, volunteer activities, and business commitments, there isn’t much time for leisure pursuits, but when Rob and Laina do squeeze in some “down-time,” they travel to other countries and, not surprisingly, spend the majority of the their time sampling the local cuisine and craft beers.

Now and Then

| Community | August 23, 2018

Because volunteers have long been the lifeblood of the SCV, the community takes time out each May to honor a man and woman who have shown a deep-seated commitment to charitable causes.

Sue Endress joined those ranks in 2015 when she was selected Woman of the Year for her tireless dedication to the youth in our valley.

The first of four children born to Shirley and Jerry Davenport, Susan Dawn Davenport made her California debut on September 2, 1955. The Davenport family lived in Hacienda Heights until Sue started second grade. They then moved to the San Gabriel Valley where Sue began her life-long commitment to community service joining her mother and father as they volunteered in the local church and school activities. She became a Brownie in the Girls Scouts of America and remained in Girl Scouts until she graduated from high school earning the First Class Award, which is now known as the Gold Award and is equivalent to the Boy Scout’s Eagle Award.

In her senior year of high school, Sue was selected to participate in an International Scouting event in Colorado where she met fellow Girl Scouts from different countries. The scouts backpacked through Colorado, refurbished a pioneer cemetery, clearing weeds and overgrown bushes and cleaning the tombstones of early settlers. They also helped in repairing and painting a 100-year-old hotel and music hall.

Rotary Youth coordinator Sue Endress visits with former Interact Club president Sebastian Cazares following a recent Interact slide show presentation.

Other extra-curricular activities in high school included the French Club and the Speech and Debate Clubs. As a member of the Speech Club, Sue participated in contests throughout the Southern California area.

After graduation, Sue went to work with Los Angeles County Hospital in the personnel department going beyond the scope of her job by counseling and finding jobs for young minority adults. Many of Sue’s former clients called her in later years to report on the advancements they had made in their respective careers.

While at the county, Sue served a six-year stint in the US Army Reserves as a recruiter, spending vacations and many weekends going on recruitment trips. She met Newhall resident Bob Endress when she began working in human resources at the University of Southern California.

In 1978 Sue and Bob were married and Sue not only lost her single status but also became a mother to Bob’s children, Robert Jr. and Belinda. Sue worked with Bob in the Private Investigation field while also running a secretarial business. Her most current business venture is being an owner of a Farmers Insurance Agency.

The couple’s work and family life were enriched with the births of daughters Casandra in 1979, and Nicole in 1983. When the girls were old enough, they both joined scouts and Sue was their assistant leader. Sue also became active in the PTA.

Casandra joined the band when she entered Hart High School, and Sue and Bob became band parents. They helped with fund-raising events and attended every band competition. Sue soon found herself taking charge at Hart High School’s annual “Rampage” band festival at College of the Canyons. As many as 20 bands traveled to the competition and Sue recruited volunteers and coordinated bus parking, food preparation, judging, and clean up.
When Nicole graduated from junior high, she also joined the band and Sue and Bob continued their band activities for four more years. During their tenure, Sue kept fundraising script for the band in her office and sold it to all band supporters. Even after the girls finished high school, Sue continued to sell script for the Hart High Band Boosters.

Because Nicole’s activities also included track competition, Sue became active in the Hart High School Track Boosters. She added to her booster club activities when she later worked with the College of the Canyons Football Boosters.

Bob was active in the Senior Citizens and Kiwanis clubs when Sue married him, so it was only natural for her to contribute her talents to those organizations as well. Sue was a founding member of the SCV Senior Center Foundation and served as a board member on the Foundation helping to coordinate fund-raising events like the Wine Auction, Celebrity Waiter, and the 5 K run at Magic Mountain. She also was active with Bob in the 5 K run for the Kiwanis Club. For those efforts, Sue was awarded Kiwanis Club Wife of the Year.

In the Santa Clarita Valley, participating as a volunteer in one organization often leads to membership in another, and that became a reality for Sue when fellow Senior Center volunteers invited her to a meeting at the Santa Clarita Valley Rotary Club. She joined the club in 2005. While Sue found participation in the Rotary Club’s community and international projects rewarding, she longed to continue her service to young people and volunteered to take charge of creating and recruiting young people in Rotary’s high school Interact programs in 2006, a position she continues to hold. As liaison and mentor, Sue has been a positive role model to well over a thousand students.

While working with young people has been her focus, the Man and Woman of the Year Committee chose to honor Sue in 2015 because of her involvement in a variety of charitable organizations – one of the many criteria involved in the selection process. The wisdom in their choice is exemplified by the fact that Sue continues to enrich the lives of our valley’s young people.

Now and Then

| Community | August 16, 2018

The national media bombards us with images of students whimpering in campus safe zones, angry teens marching on freeways to block traffic; and young adults destroying public property – distressing manifestations of what they perceive as an election gone wrong and an unfair world. Though they make for great sound bites, seldom does anything positive come from these disruptive demonstrations.

How heartening then to see examples of a different kind of student activism in the Santa Clarita Valley. Local newspapers and social media post pictures of our valley’s teens out in the community cleaning up trash from riverbeds, fund-raising for a homeless charity, and manning food drives for the needy.

An in-depth look at this teen phenomenon was recently presented by the Saugus High School Interact Club, a group of teens sponsored by the SCV Rotary Club. The high school club, which is self-governing and self-supporting, was started eight years ago by alumnus Michael Sun, who is now about to graduate from UC Berkeley. At the time, Michael and his fellow Interact members supported the local Help the Children organization and conducted food drives in the community.

A slide show prepared two weeks ago by last year’s president, Sebastian Cazares, and incoming president, Michelle Sun, demonstrated how Michael’s spirit of volunteerism continues to flourish on the Saugus campus.

The two leaders and their fellow teens began raising money last year to purchase a cow for a poor village in Uganda. The cow now provides much needed milk for children who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.

The club’s other international project included collecting books and school supplies for children in Puerto Rico’s public schools. For the 2018-19 year, Michelle has proposed raising money to purchase 200 WAPIs, Water Pasteurization Indicators, to send to Kenya. The devices, which can fit in one’s hand, are used to test whether water is safe to drink.

Saugus High Interact officers Michelle Sun, Andrew Chao, and Sebastian Cazares recently gave the SCV Rotary Club an update on the teens’ service projects over the last two years.

On the local front, Michelle will be joined by Interact officers Ashley Hernandez, Daron Assatoury, and Andrew Chao in leading the club members in volunteer

Morelia Robles will be studying in Brazil this year as a Rotary District 5280 International exchange student.

activities at the SCV Food Pantry, the Homeless Shelter, and a number of Rotary service projects.

Their Rotary Club liaison (who has served in the position for 12 years) is former SCV Woman of the Year and Youth Chair, Sue Endress. Under her guidance, the teens, who say Sue is “like our mom,” also participate in Rotary District 5280 activities. In addition, Sue was instrumental in creating a SCV Rotary sponsorship for a year-long Rotary District International student exchange program to Brazil. Interact member Morelia Robles has been selected as the SCV good will ambassador. She will live with a host family while attending Colégio Santa Américo in Sao Paulo.

Morelia, who began her charitable good works several years ago creating Easter baskets (Bunnies Who Care) for young patients at Children’s Hospital, wants to major in International studies dedicated to helping women and children. She already speaks three languages and has a goal of adding more as she continues her pursuit of higher education.

Another group of teens who instill hope for a better future are the William S. Hart District’s ROTC kids. One of their many community projects is the Child & Family Center’s annual Taste of the Town fundraiser. The young men and women put their own recreational activities aside for a weekend, arriving at the event site as early as 6 in the morning to unload heavy equipment, arrange 100-plus tables and umbrellas, place signage, and help the vendors with their tent displays. Many times the set-up activities last until dark.

What amazes the adult volunteers is the teens’ respect and good-natured willingness to share experiences as they work alongside their older counterparts. Watching these young citizens in action goes a long way in countering the negative images of angry, disruptive mobs that the national social media parades before us on a weekly basis.

While most protestors who carry their profanity-laced signs and chant out belligerent rhymes return home to huddle endlessly over video games and smart phones, our cadre of young SCV volunteers put their beliefs in action, engaging in projects to make our local community and the outside world better places to live. Positive actions may be too boring for cable television to cover, but they sure go a long ways in promoting good will in the Santa Clarita Valley and the struggling towns in Third World countries.

Now and Then – ‘Step Right Back’

| Entertainment | August 9, 2018

Last Sunday afternoon, during the Canyon Theatre Guild’s production of “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical,” director Ingrid Boydston told the audience members that she has been a fan of the musical version of the iconic 60s television series since she first saw the show 20 years ago.

Echoing her remarks in the show’s printed program, Ingrid admitted, “It was goofy and farfetched – okay, it was ridiculous – but it was so much fun – and brings back so many childhood memories”

And for those who are also fans of the bumbling first mate and his often exasperated skipper, this light-hearted romp down memory lane, which runs weekends until August 25, provides a good way to escape the summer doldrums that have the SCV in a sweltering grip.

Director Ingrid Boydston enthusiastically welcomed the audience to the CTG theater Sunday afternoon.

From the familiar opening song (what faithful fan didn’t find himself singing along with the actors on stage?) to the outlandish plot devices, cast members Josh Aran (Skipper), Garrett Carpenter (Gilligan), George Cummings (Mr. Howell), Greg Hayes (the Professor), Jill Kocalis Scott (Ginger), Anna Rast (Mrs. Howell) and Kaitlyn Ruben (Mary Ann) added many of the original casts’ mannerisms to their portrayals. And, oh yes, since the production parodies some of the outlandish scenarios of the original show – Adam Kort injected a bizarre twist playing “the Alien.”

George Cummings mimicked the patrician cadence of super rich millionaire Thurston Howell III (in today’s world he would have to be billionaire) as he counted his hundred dollar bills, “improvised” a corny stand-up routine in between scenes, and added dry, upper class comments to the plot line. When the curtain was drawn (seconds after the opening shipwreck song) to reveal sturdy bamboo huts fashioned by his fellow castaways, Howell (Cummings) remarked; “Amazing how fast things can be built without a permit!”

There was also a between-the-scenes song done by the Skipper (Aran) that started out as a reprise of the show’s theme song (“Sit right back and I’ll tell a tale …”), but morphed into “… a tale as old as time,” plugging “Beauty and the Beast,” another CTG production which has been playing weekends at COC’s Performing Arts Theatre (it closes this Sunday).

Two standout musical numbers highlighted the play’s opening scenes. In the first, the female castaways, softly harmonizing to a graceful hula in “Island Lullaby,” were joined by the males, who stomped and chanted “Tahitian style,” in grass skirts.

In the second, “Hieroglyphics,” the Professor and the Skipper teach Gilligan how to spell using a catchy tune and some fancy footwork.

Underlying the pratfalls and mugging reminiscent of the television show, “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical,” highlights a theme resonating in today’s world, “how can different people from vastly different backgrounds not only harmonize in song, but in behavior as well?”

In the case of this particular show, director Boydston concludes: “Gilligan sums up the question in his own simple way, ‘All the people on the boat come from different places, but they’re all very nice,’” and, Ingrid adds, “we’ve found that to be true – when we are nice to each other in spite of our differences, we not only get along, we have a ball!”

One final note: kudos to set designers John Alexopoulos and Douglas Holiday. The two artists have turned the CTG stage into an island fantasy, from the tropical landscapes on the curtain and backdrop, to a life size “Tiki carving,” to the detailed bamboo hut facades, and, finally, the stacked hammocks serving as beds for Gilligan and the Skipper.

Now and Then, A Look Back at 1975

| Community | July 5, 2018

The year 1975 included grand opening celebrations for some now familiar SCV institutions, as well as a blessed event for an attraction that isn’t here anymore, and an ambitious effort by local leaders to escape what was perceived as L.A. County indifference to our valley’s needs.

Chief Lame Deer blessed the new
Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

Sioux Chief Lame Deer was called upon to bless the founding of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital while Joan Pinchuk, L.A. Supervisor Baxter Ward’s local field deputy, cut the ribbon on a new Senior Citizen Center. Sierra Vista Junior High School teacher Steve Davis, who spent his off hours developing the muscles that won him the Mr. California title, opened a health club; and history buffs were preparing for Newhall’s 1976 Centennial by forming the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. Long-time resident and historian A.B. Perkins was named Honorary President Emeritus and Art Evans was elected acting president.

Teenagers who flock to Magic Mountain for the “white knuckler” roller coaster rides may be surprised to know that a small animal “zoo” was once included in the park’s attractions. In 1975, a wooly monkey named Delilah gave birth to one of the few babies of her species ever born in captivity.

The then-named Boys Club’s auction drew the valley’s biggest crowds by offering many unique auction block items. High bidder Steve Colf purchased a Sitmar Cruise for $1700. Hair stylist Tom Sisk won the bidding for a Miss California finalist’s weight in coins; and business owner Bill Light won the popular “girl in a cake,” which he later featured at the opening of his new store.

In “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same” category, Editorialist Scott Newhall was decrying the fact that the CIA was spying on the FBI, the FBI was spying on the IRS, and the IRS was spying on the American people and “taxing them beyond endurance.” And teachers in the Sulphur Springs School District were walking the picket lines demanding higher pay.

But the biggest local news of the year was the push for a new county (dubbed Canyon County by the organizers), a movement inspired by one particularly frustrating L.A. County hearing involving services needed in our valley. Disgusted by the long drive to L.A., the wasted time, and many delays, a frustrated Carl Boyer, III, reportedly burst out of his seat and challenged the whole mess with “Anything you can do, WE can do better!”

Though the necessary petitions had been handed to the Registrar in July, the impatient citizenry was still waiting for Governor Jerry Brown (that’s right, the same Jerry Brown) to appoint a study commission in December. The action began an SCV odyssey for independence, which was finally realized 12 years later.

There were actually two different attempts to form our own county. Both required the consent of the entire Los Angeles County area. In the first vote, held in 1976, 55 percent of the SCV voters approved the creation, but the rest of the county voted the measure down 68 to 32 percent.

Undaunted, the locals mounted another county petition drive in 1977 and the qualifying documents were turned in to the L.A. County offices that December. A celebration of biblical proportions (stemming from the fact that it took the organizers 40 days and 40 nights to gather the 7500 required signatures) was held in February of 1978 at the Newhall Bowl. Most of the celebrants included those who had also been involved in the 1975 drive.

Newhall resident and entrepreneur Steve Colf was the high bidder at the 1975 Boys Club auction.

Emcee and vice president of the Canyon County committee, Harry Fedderson, proclaimed that the night would be devoted to relaxation, celebration, and no speeches. (aside from an official presentation made to activist Alice Kline for her “dedication, organization, and hard work” in propelling the petition drive to its successful conclusion).

Though Fedderson had decreed that there would be no speeches, he didn’t say anything about singing, and that’s how the evening progressed with short, humorous narratives about the petition process by Harry, and related songs (music provided by Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin; script and lyrics by Carmen and Joe Sarro and Billie Fedderson).

In spite of the renewed camaraderie and enthusiasm of the 1978 activists, the overall county population once again voted the measure down: 64 to 36 percent.

Any further attempts to start a new county were squelched when the state legislature ruled that a new county must have a minimum population of five percent of the “mother” county. Even as late as 2017, Santa Clarita Valley population had reached only 3 percent. The ruling required a new tactic, which led many of the same activists to begin a drive for cityhood. The third attempt at independence was a charm, with the birth in 1987 of the City of Santa Clarita.

Now and Then: Gloria Mercado-Fortine, 2018 SCV Woman of the Year

| Community | June 28, 2018

Photo: Gloria, who has served as chair of the Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers for the past three years stands with past chair Ed Bolden and the mascot of the Centers’ annual fundraiser, the Rubber Ducky Festival.

Her smile lights up every room she enters, and even though she stands just 5’1” tall, don’t be fooled by her diminutive frame. Gloria Mercado-Fortine is a force of nature, whether organizing volunteer committees or wielding a hammer at Homes for Heroes building projects.

Her boundless energy seems to have no limit. She is just as comfortable participating in boot camp training activities as a Marine Corps Ambassador and making parachute jumps as a member of the Flying Samaritans (a group that provides free doctor visits in Mexico hospitals) as she is crunching numbers for an American Cancer Society fundraiser.

The 2018 SCV Woman of the Year honed her work ethic and enthusiasm for community service growing up on the Castaic ranch owned by her parents, Antonio and Petra Mercado. As a young student, she worked the ranch’s alfalfa fields alongside her five brothers and sisters, waking up at 4 each morning to change the irrigation sprinklers, then repeating the process after returning home from Castaic Elementary School.

Gloria was an excellent student who enjoyed extracurricular activities in the Girl Scouts, 4-H Club, and sports programs. In sixth grade, she was selected to attend California Junior Girls State, a leadership program teaching the principles of American Government. The program inspired a passion for government and politics that would persevere throughout her life.

During her years at Hart High School, Gloria was involved in various sports and school clubs and was instrumental in forming the school’s Powder Puff Football Team. After-school activities included working in agriculture projects and babysitting. One of her first jobs was at Magic Mountain when it first opened. She also spent many years working weekends at Val Verde Park tutoring and mentoring children in the community.

Following high school graduation, Gloria enrolled at California State University Northridge where she earned her undergrad degree. She continued her education at Pepperdine University, graduating with Master of Science degrees in school management and administration. Her 30-year career in education included positions as a teacher, counselor, principal and assistant superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Gloria has been a passionate advocate for education and a role model for young people, both in her professional and personal life.

Her experience as an educator and her devotion to student success led to service as a board member of the Castaic Union School District, then later as a William S. Hart District board member. During her 16-year tenure with the Hart District Gloria was instrumental in the passage of two school bonds earmarked for building new schools and modernizing older ones.

She also worked to develop strong partnerships with local businesses and community organizations to support educational programs like the Academy of the Canyons Middle College, Valley Industrial Association Connecting to Success Program and Career and Technical Education.

Outside the education arena, Gloria has been a hands-on volunteer on a number of non-profit community boards including 35 years with the Zonta Club of SCV, 23 years with the SCV Boys & Girls Club, and 20 years on the City of Santa Clarita Anti-Gang Task Force.

Because husband Bruce Fortine is as dedicated to community service as Gloria, most volunteer organizations soon discover that when they get one partner, they also get the other. Bruce and Gloria are perhaps the most recognized couple at every non-profit function in the SCV. They led the Santa Clarita Valley Leukemia/Lymphoma Light the Night Walk in 2009 and 2010, raising nearly $500,000 in donations. Together, they have made the Christmas season brighter for underprivileged children as one of the Domestic Violence Center’s Rent-a-Santa couples. They have also provided an English-Spanish narration for the SCV Annual Fourth of July Parade for the past 20 years.

Having lost her mother to terminal cancer, Gloria founded the SCV Unit of the American Cancer Society in 1994. As founding president, she helped establish the Relay for Life, Daffodil Days, and Luminaria events for the SCV.

At last count, Gloria has served as a leader or hands-on volunteer in over 40 charitable and service organizations, including those dedicated to opening the doors of higher education to young Hispanic students. As a student at Hart High School, she founded the first Latino club in an effort to provide a support system for Hispanic students. She assisted English teachers with classes for non-English speakers, many of whom were migrant workers. For this she was presented with the “Principal’s Award” and selected to go to Sacramento as the California State Representative for Hispanic youth affairs. As the Latino population in the valley has grown, Gloria continues her work as a mentor.

With all these varied professional and community endeavors, there is always quality time with family and close friends. That includes vacation trips, birthday celebrations, parties of all kinds, holiday tamale-making with Gloria’s brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces, and the love of the Mercado-Fortine family, Lexi, the couple’s 8-year-old Border Collie.

The 2018 SCV Woman of the Year has spent her entire life in this valley and has seen its transformation from a semi-rural community into one of the most vibrant cities in California. Her life-long volunteer service has been an important part of that growth.

Now and Then: Nick Lentini, 2018 Man of the Year

| Community | June 22, 2018

The year 1968 dawned on a high note in the United States with the January 7 launch of NASA’s Surveyor 7. The spacecraft landed successfully on the moon and achieved its mission of photographing the area and testing the composition of the soil. It also gathered the necessary data to determine the feasibility for a manned Moon mission.

The national euphoria was short-lived, followed by an escalation in riots protesting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the tragic assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King and political icon Robert Kennedy.

In suburbia, residents rode out these highs and lows as they tended to the routines of daily living. The average price of gas was 34 cents a gallon; the newly introduced Big Mac at MacDonald’s was selling for 49 cents; and theater tickets to see shows like “The Graduate” and “Planet of the Apes” cost $1.50.

It was during this seesaw atmosphere of turbulence and routine that Jim and Georgia Lentini welcomed 2018 SCV Man of the Year, Nicholas, into the world. Nick’s little brother, Jeffrey, was born three years later, as the 1971 earthquake was shaking SCV and San Fernando Valley homes.

In spite of the drama provided by the geological and political phenomena, Nick’s childhood was filled with typical extra curricular activities like scouting, baseball, swimming, skiing, skateboarding, biking and boating.

There were also family vacations, which included summer water sports on a houseboat in Lake Shasta and winter vacations skiing at June and Mammoth Mountains. (Nick loved spending time with his brother, parents, grandparents and friends and continues the annual tradition today with his own family: wife Elise, and sons Dominic and Marco.)

In November of 1979, Nick’s family life changed when he proudly served as best man at his dad’s wedding to step mom Susan. Jim and Susan welcomed Nick and Jeff into their Santa Clarita home and Nick began developing ties to his new community and friends.

Nick attended Sierra Vista Junior High and Canyon High School, supplementing his studies with church youth activities, Canyon football, and a variety of after-school jobs, most notably as pizza maker for Blackie’s on Soledad Canyon, which he claims served the best pizza he’s ever had.

Following high school graduation in 1986, Nick attended College of the Canyons, meeting future wife Elise two years later. His academic experiences bolstered an interest in insurance and investments, prompting him to become a licensed agent and joining his father in the family business in 1989.

In 1993, the cost of a gallon of gas was $1.16, a loaf of bread went for $1.57, and it cost $4.14 to see shows like “Jurassic Park,” and ”Indecent Proposal.”

With school commitments completed and careers established, Nick and Elise were ready to commit to a more fitting proposal. The couple exchanged wedding vows at St. Claire’s Church that year and settled into a home in the Old Orchard I community in Valencia.

The arrival of their sons, Dominic in 1999, and Marco in 2003 coincided with career advancements for Nick, who earned the designation of Life Underwriters Training Council Fellow, and passed the Series 6, 7, 63 and 66 licensing tests to become an Investment Advisor Representative.

As the boys grew, Nick passed on the values he learned growing up – encouraging them to try new things, from sports, to activities, to clubs. He told them that it didn’t matter if they won or lost or even if they liked what they tried, the important thing was to do their best, have a good time, and learn something new. He has been a part of the boys’ Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts experiences, has served as a flag football coach, and is currently their SCVi High School Golf Team coach.

Sharing activities with his family reflects Nick’s philosophy of “giving back” and he carries that philosophy to the community. He hopes to make Santa Clarita a better place as he teaches Dominic and Marco the value of volunteerism – a passion he developed while accompanying Jim and Susie on their volunteer projects for the early Boys & Girls Club fundraising auctions.

Nick’s first volunteer task in his own right was for the New Year’s Eve Bootleggers Balls held in the 1990s. The fund-raisers benefited the Association to Aid Victims of Domestic Violence (AAVDV). He convinced Elise and friends that it would be great fun to build and paint enormous sets for the event. Their first endeavor was such a success that the set building continued for several years.

The Bootleggers Ball was the starting point for a commitment to volunteering that has led to leadership positions on the boards of AAVDV, the Chamber of Commerce, Santa Clarita Rotary, American Cancer Society, Child and Family Center, Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Advisory Committee, COC Foundation, COC Board Governance Committee, and Cub Scouts Pack 608.

Nick is a past president of the Rotary Club, chairman of Citizens Oversight Committee for bond Measure M and E, and has served as secretary and president of the Child and Family Center Foundation board, creating and chairing the Center’s Trike Derby fund-raiser in 2017. Nick has been honored as the 2012 SCV Rotarian of the Year, 2016 COC Alumni of the Year, and 2017 SCVi Vision in Education Benefit Dinner Family of the Year, and is hopeful that his 30 years of volunteering will inspire younger generations to participate in service to important causes, worthwhile charities, and those in need.

National events may shape the world stage and the price of food, theatre tickets, and gasoline will always be in flux, but Nick’s commitment to his family and community has remained steadfast, which inspired the SCV Man and Woman of the Year committee to select him as their 2018 honoree.

Now and Then – ‘Cheers to 50 Years’

| Community | May 31, 2018

There were times, seated at a table at the Valencia Hyatt Hotel, when it was hard not to flash back to different tables in different rooms at similar events held so many years earlier.

Pat Kelley, Betty Granger, Diane Kreyenhagen and Ollie Bruins, my tablemates at the American Association of University Women’s 50th anniversary celebration, were all talking about their many activities as members, and, except for the white in their hair, it could have been 1968, 1972, 1985, or 1999, any of a number of years leading up to this May 19, 2018 event.

It was a special day for Pat, Betty, and Diane, who were being honored as founding members, and Ollie, who was celebrating her 60th year as a member, having transferred into the local group from another branch.

As president of the branch in 1973, I reminisced with the others while guests gathered at the tables set up for a ceremony themed “Cheers to 50 Years.” We talked about the many different ways we interspersed study groups on current social issues with fun-loving hobbies and excursions.

One of the most popular memories was the 1970s Gourmet Group. Chair Roseann Krane researched countries like France, Italy, Russia, Lebanon, and China then put together booklets featuring the countries’ histories and the recipes of their signature dishes. Members often had to leave the SCV to find specialty markets that carried the ingredients needed for the meals. The resulting feasts (which often required 24-hour preparations) were sumptuous 8-course dinners accompanied by before and after cocktails, and complementary wines with each course (and long walks afterwards to walk off the calories and the alcohol).

Some AAUW activities have not changed over the years, including the annual membership brunch, the fellowship and local scholarship awards, a commitment to the Placerita Nature Center (founding member Diane Kreyenhagen is a former president of the Center’s docent program); a Women in History presentation (past president Jane Adams once portrayed a young woman who disguised herself as a boy to serve in the Union Army), and the candidate forums. But the emphasis on college and vocational fairs of the past has been superseded by a Women’s Conference (in conjunction with College of the Canyons) and a program dedicated to showcasing women’s accomplishments in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

(Since 1998, the national organization has promoted Tech Trek, a program for middle school girls that features weeklong science camp experiences at different universities to promote STEM. The SCV group believes that programs like the Tech Trek Science Camps have changed the status quo of young women locally and across the country, connecting them with peers and mentors in the sciences).

While the lunch guests visited, current president Stephanie Dietrich, installing officer Rebecca Corona-Nickerson, and fellow board members put the finishing touches on Saturday’s ceremonial program. Lynda McClellan artfully arranged the cupcakes she baked commemorating the event; Barbara Oliver adjusted the sparkling gold table decorations; and Robin Clough kept busy taking pictures of the members and special guests, including the SCV’s elected representatives who had congratulatory plaques to present.

With mom Sue smiling proudly in the audience, City Councilman Cameron Smyth told the group, “I have a special history with AAUW. I was one of the toddlers in the branch’s first Kiddy Group.”

Besides honoring its founding members, Stephanie had praise for 2018 Humanities Scholarship winner, Christina Arias, and AAUW Virginia Prager-Elford Elementary Education Scholarship Endowment winner, Jacob Sikich. A number of other awards were highlighted during the afternoon and the event ended with the installation of incoming president Marianne Bakic and her board.

Those serving on the “Cheers for 50 Years” committee included Kelly Burke, Louise Schultz, Rose Drye, Michael Dietrich, Sonja Wendt, Gene Dorio, Val Jones, Phyllis Dozier, Betsy Swallow, Gloria Ruiz, Elaine Garcia, Debbie Harris, Linda Metz, and Dot Toral.

AAUW was founded nationally in 1881 to promote education and equity for young girls and women through advocacy, philanthropy, and research. Today the organization boasts a nationwide network of over 100,000 members and donors, and the SCV branch is one of 1,000.

For more information, one may visit the website: santaclaritavalley-ca.aauw.net.

Now and Then – a Triumph of Will

| Community | May 24, 2018

In 2004, Andrew Skinner thought he had it all – youth, athleticism, a college degree in business, a beautiful fiancé, and a bright future ahead. But, ironically, it wasn’t until 2008, four years after a snowboarding accident left him a quadriplegic (with broken C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae) that he KNEW he had it all.

Maybe not so athletic any more, but still young and with a fiancé who not only stood by him in the hospital and during his years of recovery, but later as his wife, encouraging him to begin an outreach program that would support others suffering from spinal cord injuries.

It was through the creation of the Triumph Foundation in 2008, that Andrew and wife Kirsten found a fulfilling life project that has brought as much meaning to their lives as it has to the shattered lives they have helped. Their journey from a life-changing accident to a triumph of will was not without moments of pain and discouragement, but the progress Andrew made from 2004 to 2008 provided him with the incentive to give hope and support to others with spinal cord injuries.

Newhall Rotary Community Foundation board member Dave Reeves presented Andrew Skinner, co-founder of the Triumph Foundation, with a check for $2,000 at a recent club meeting. Skinner then gave the club a brief history and update on his organization.

Through the foundation, Andrew could share the courage and determination that he gained from his own healing experiences in physical therapy and support groups. As he relates on his website: “I had to re-learn how to do everything. I feel blessed that my most powerful muscle, my mind, is still very much intact and stronger than ever. Everyone has their own scars, and there are things in life that you just cannot change. Sometimes the only thing you can change is your attitude and you have to do what you have to do – just keep moving forward.”

The first project of the newly formed 501(c)(3) organization involved delivering Christmas care packages to the disabled at a Northridge hospital. The packages contained personal care products and edible treats along with practical information about equipment, services, organizations, assistance programs, and activities that exist to help people with spinal cord injuries.

The foundation’s programming expanded to include mentoring, numerous educational networking groups, and grants that would help fund the construction of projects such as home ramps and modified vehicles. A 2010 project involved the construction of a ramp for a wheelchair-bound youngster named Tyler. That project grew as Tyler grew, and more modifications were added to the home to accommodate his growth.

Today, the Triumph Foundation delivers over 2,000 care packages to patients in 18 different hospitals and supports various health and security networks that address not only the physical, but also the emotional needs of the disabled. The outreach now covers Kern to Ventura and Santa Barbara to San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

During the 14 years since his injury, many positive physical changes have occurred in Skinner’s life. Through sheer will, months of physical therapy, and the support of his family, he has made the move from a power wheelchair to a manual one, increased his trunk body control and strength, and stood independently in the shallow end of a pool. He participates in sailing, kayaking, driving a modified van, and competes in the sport of wheelchair rugby.

His physical progress has been matched by strong emotional and mental growth, which is reflected in his foundation’s goals. As its name suggests, Triumph Foundation’s mission is to inspire people with spinal cord injuries to triumph over their disability and to push themselves to get better every day by moving forward with their lives.

That mission brings him and wife Kirsten into contact with adults and children from all life experiences whether disabled through war, disease, or accident. Not all will experience the success Andrew has achieved, but through the foundation’s education, mentoring, and resources, the Skinners hope to give others a way of setting goals and achieving their own successes – to change from victims to victors.

As the foundation and its services have grown, so has the Skinner family. Not surprisingly, eight-year-old daughter Elizabeth (“Betty”) is an integral part of the Triumph Foundation, serving as “Chief Happiness Officer” of the organization. And when she’s not enjoying her own hobbies and games, she adds a spark of enthusiasm and cheer to activities like the foundation’s Wheelchair Sports Festival and Over the Line Wheelchair Baseball – two of her favorite events.

Grants and donations help the foundation provide support for the newly injured, as well as access to equipment, remodeling projects, and adaptive recreation. These services have helped over 5,000 individuals during its 11 years in existence. More information may be found on the website: triumph-foundation.org or by calling 661-803-3700.

Now and Then: SCV Boys and Girls Club

| Community | May 17, 2018

Looking around the decorated patio in front of the Newhall clubhouse that now bears his name, former SCV Boys and Girls Club executive director, Jim Ventress, mused, “It just doesn’t seem that long ago that we had our ribbon-cutting ceremony.”

Jim was one of many officials and supporters that turned out Thursday, May 10 to celebrate the club’s Golden Anniversary – and the ribbon cutting he was referring to occurred in the early ‘90s when the 20,000-square-foot facility finally became a reality, 24 years after the local club’s founding. Prior to that time, small “satellite clubhouses” existed on local school campuses.

The club owes its 50-year success story to compassionate executive directors like Jim Ventress, Bob Ross, and current director Matthew Nelson; the far-sighted guidance of its dedicated board members; and the loyal support of its committed volunteers. Many of the alumni were present Thursday to share some of their favorite memories and anecdotes.

Seated under an awning with wife Selma, was founding board member Ed Bolden, who reminisced about the many luaus, casino nights, auctions, and “passing the hat” fundraisers that have kept the club afloat through good and bad national economic times.

Joining him was current board member Tom Dierckman, who proudly recalled the dedication ceremony of the Sierra Vista Clubhouse in Canyon Country, which opened in 2003 under his leadership. Together, the two “flagships” have served and continue to serve record numbers of youngsters and teens through a variety of recreational, educational, and mentoring programs.




Another current board member, Gloria Mercado-Fortine, joined long-time auction volunteer Lois Bauccio in praising the way the Newhall clubhouse and Jim Ventress diffused the growing gang presence that threatened the Newhall Park area in the ‘90s.

The club’s first Boy of the Year, Frank Giardina, recalled the 1968 ceremony at the Odyssey Restaurant, where he received his award. Frank went on to be a counselor at the club’s Valley View and Emblem Elementary School satellite locations. Frank also started the first Teen Center. One of his happiest memories involved the times he led 15 teens in decorating nearby Magic Mountain for the Christmas holidays. Frank roused his crew at 3 a.m., while the rest of the valley slept, to add the festive touches to the amusement park.

One of the early morning perks was the chance to ride all the attractions when the decorating was finished at 8. That was when the ride operators reported for work and the teens “ran like crazy around the park, riding everything we could until the park officially opened at 11 a.m.”

When questioned about the 28 years that Barbara Morris has faithfully turned out the annual auction catalogue, the graphic artistic explained, “I was working at The Signal Newspaper and helped Tony (Newhall) design the catalogue. When he left to work for the San Francisco Chronicle, he took me aside and, in his own inimitable way, ‘praised’ me into taking it over. I’ve been doing it ever since and enjoying every minute of it.”

Volunteers Barbara Stearns-Cochran and Jami Kennedy shared early memories of club activities and the annual auction fundraiser (which will take place this year on June 2 with the theme “All That Glitters is Gold”). Barbara remembered how son Chuck Stearns good-naturedly dogged the counselors at the Valley View Clubhouse, working out much of his hyperactivity during competitive games on the school’s playground.

Jami laughed as she recalled taking her 3½-year-old grandson with her while she decorated the CalArts grand ballroom for one of the auctions. “We had an outhouse prop set up in one corner,” she explained, “and was I bowled over when I turned around from my decorating tasks to see that he had stepped inside and used it!”

The conversations stopped for a brief ceremony led by executive director Nelson who introduced some of the young club members (for a brief club history narrative), then elected dignitaries who presented congratulatory plaques to current board president Ann-Marie Bjorkman.

Keystone Club president Vanessa Guzman ended the ceremonies with praise to the staff for their guidance and support. “They have made this our home, our second place,” explained Vanessa, “and our goal is to be like them and help our community.”

Vanessa’s speech was a highlight and a fitting end to a tribute-filled afternoon, which left all the participants feeling inspired about the future leaders of our valley.

Now and Then: A Community of Volunteers

| Community | May 6, 2018

Do you:
• Have a family member, or a friend, who has been diagnosed with cancer?
“We know a cancer diagnosis can be scary – and overwhelming. Whether you need emotional support, the latest cancer information, a ride to chemo, or a place to stay when treatment is far away, we’re here to help – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The American Cancer Society

• Have an aging parent who is finding it difficult to adjust to the realities of his or her new life situation?
“The Senior Center is life – reimagined – a place that will serve all seniors regardless of age, income level, activity level, disability, or cognitive level.”
The SCV Senior Center

• Know a family struggling with mental and behavioral issues, needing diagnostic and therapy services?
“The Child & Family Center helps build a healthy Santa Clarita Valley by providing mental health, behavioral, and education services to children, adults and families.”

• Feel compassion for families who have lost a sustainable source of income or lost a home?
“Family Promise of Santa Clarita Valley brings shelter, meals, and support services to families without homes, helping them to get back on their feet.”

The Santa Clarita Valley is a community filled with compassion – its charitable and service organizations work hard to meet the needs of individuals and families that have been hit with negative life challenges, whether they be health or financial related. And while all these agencies have qualified professionals to provide the needed assistance, they possess another common denominator that helps them fulfill their missions: a cadre of committed volunteers who spend hours raising funds and/or offering the “sweat equity” needed to support their good works.

The above organizations are just a few of the dedicated agencies that will be spotlighting their hard-working volunteers at the Friday, May 11 SCV Man and Woman of the Year Gala. In all, 26 participating organizations will be proudly honoring the men and women who unselfishly give their time to improve the quality of life in our valley.

The gala gives SCV residents a chance to join in the salute and express their appreciation to this year’s nominees and the organizations they serve:

2018 Women of the Year Nominees:
Julie Benson, Carousel Ranch; Ann-Marie Bjorkman, Boys and Girls Club of SCV; Julie Creps, William S. Hart Pony Baseball & Softball; Tami Edwards, SCV Rotary; Laurie Ender, Family Promise of SCV; Susan Hayward, Zonta Club of SCV; Pam Ingram, Sebastian Velona Foundation and Soroptimist International of Greater SCV; Janine Jones, American Cancer Society and Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation; Laura Kirchhoff, Circle of Hope; Gloria Mercado-Fortine, Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers; Sue Reynolds Buckley, Boy Scouts of America; Susann Rizzo, Santa Clarita Organization for the Protection of the Environment (SCOPE); Lindsay Schlick, Junior Chamber International Santa Clarita (JCI Santa Clarita); Suzanne Stone, Soroptimist International of Valencia

2018 Men of Year Nominees:
Hunt Braly, Bridge to Home and Homes4Families; Steve Corn, College of the Canyons Foundation; Jeremiah Dockray, SCOPE; Alan Ferdman, Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers; Neil Fitzgerald, JCI Santa Clarita; Michael Fox, Sebastian Velona Foundation; Michael Keesler, SRD-Straightening Reins Foundation; Taylor Kellstrom, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and Circle of Hope; Brian Koegle, HandsOn Santa Clarita and SCV Senior Center; Nick Lentini, SCV Child & Family Center and SCV Rotary; Ed Masterson, Carousel Ranch and WiSH Foundation; John Musella, SCV Chamber of Commerce; Jim Ventress, Boys and Girls Club of SCV; Stephen Youlios, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation

Each of these men and women represent hours of service spent outside their professional and family lives. They are dedicated to making this valley a better place to live and work. From their ranks, a 2018 SCV Man and Woman of the Year will be named. A few of the criteria influencing the selection, which will be made by a committee of former Man and Woman of the Year recipients, include: number of years in service, hours of service, and number of different organizations served.

The Friday, May 11 event will be held at the Valencia Hyatt and begins with cocktails and dinner at 6 p.m. Reservations can be made by calling 661-252-2012.

Now and Then – The B&G Club: A Few Personal Reflections

| Community | April 19, 2018

Fifty years ago, leaders in the Santa Clarita Valley were looking for some solutions to the recreational void facing its youngest demographic. Affordable housing was causing one of several growth spurts and parks were few and far between the scattered tracts. “Latch key” children and bored youngsters often turned to neighbors’ yards as makeshift baseball fields and bike paths. Sergeant George Pederson from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and Larry Margolis and Herb Oberman from the local Department of Social Services office were called upon to research organizations that could help provide adult supervised recreational activities for the children and teens.

After an exhaustive study, it was deemed that an affiliation with the Boys Clubs of America would be a good first step. For the club’s board of directors, Margolis, Oberman and Pederson sought the support of men with organizational skills like school superintendent Dr. Jim Foster; the business acumen of entrepreneurs like Ed Bolden, Tony Marincola, and Stan Dyer; the energy of young restaurant owner Bill Kohlmeier; the salesmanship of insurance man Jack Boyer; the P.R. skills of Signal publisher Jon Newhall and Newhall Land’s Larry Wade; and, ultimately, the inspiration of Val Verde’s Reverend Sam Dixon.

The board members set up quarters in a vacant church across from Hart Park and adopted the organizational name, Boys Club of Newhall-Saugus. The group discovered that becoming a chartered club of the national agency was the easy part – the challenge would be to raise enough money to eventually build and staff a recreational facility, then keep it running. After a few years of passing the hat at meetings, and securing limited donations from a few corporate businesses, the group determined their fundraising efforts needed a special touch, and that touch could only come from the women in the community.

With the help of The Signal Newspaper editors Ruth and Scott Newhall, a 1970 luncheon was organized at the couple’s Piru Mansion. I was one of 12 community matrons, dressed in our Sunday best, who carpooled to the home to be regaled with food and inspiration. Most of us had never seen the mansion and we were awed by its towering Victorian façade. As we stood at the tall double doors, we fully expected to be greeted by a maid or butler. Were we surprised when a small, white-haired woman, wearing a simple navy shell and matching pants, opened the door and said, “I’m Ruth Newhall, welcome to my home.”

“My God,” I thought, “she’s been out gardening and we’ve arrived way too early!” I tugged self-consciously at my new dress and wished there was an obscure spot where I could toss my color-coordinated hat. The awkwardness quickly vanished as Ruth matter-of-factly led us into the dining room thanking us all for our interest in the Boys Club. She directed us to seats at a large wood-carved table; then, she put us further at ease by asking about husbands, children, hobbies, etc.

Motivated by the fine food and non-stop conversation, the challenge of forming a Women’s Auxiliary of the Newhall-Saugus Boys Club was quickly met and we each returned home with official titles. Old Orchard I resident Jacque Morse was named president and I drew one of the vice president positions dedicated to fundraising.

Our small, but determined group of women became the club’s fundraising front line, decorating and organizing everything from dances and luaus to a Lake Tahoe Casino Night.

In 1971, board director Tony Newhall came up with a unique new way to raise money – an auction that would feature items not easily purchased in local stores. His creative mind thought up experiences inspired by armchair dreams: being a quarterback for a few scrimmages with the College of the Canyons football team, riding in a hot air balloon, having a street named after you, racing a car at the Saugus Speedway, and being an archaeologist for a day (down at the La Brea Tar Pits). L.A. County Supervisor Warren Dorn volunteered a dinner with a lucky bidder.

Tony’s committee was heavily populated with Women’s Auxiliary members who helped garner some of the more practical items like teeth cleanings and free flowers for a month. We also sold tickets and planned the cocktail party that would accompany the auction. My limited artistic ability was put to use drawing posters of the auction items. Held at the biggest venue available at the time, the Fiesta Room at the Ranch House Inn, 300 guests sampled tasty cocktails along with a gourmet assortment of hors d’oeuvres made and served by the women. The highly successful event raised the most money, up until that time, from the community: $4500.

The Auxiliary’s support of the auction and club events (a Santa’s Craft Shop was held in my garage during one Christmas vacation) earned us “a place at the table,” becoming the club’s first female board members. The women’s influence on the board, coupled with a scarcity of organized recreation in the valley, made it inevitable that the club memberships would be expanded to include girls. Although not fully sanctioned by Boys Clubs of America, the umbrella organization didn’t object when our club added the name “girls” to its title – a trend that was later embraced and followed by clubs across the nation.

The early Boys Club auctions became a society scene phenomenon and did more to unite the community than any other affair in town. In its early years, it continued the tradition of offering unique auction block items.

One memorable item featured in the 1973 catalogue was a stag party cake, which I was assigned to make. Because the budget was tight, the hollow, 6-foot creation was fashioned with chicken wire and papier-mache. Decorations included a variety of donated plastic flowers and tapestry trimmings.

The cake was purchased by a woman who wanted it as a surprise for her husband at his 50th birthday party. We were tasked with finding a girl who would be willing to pop out of the cake clad in a scanty bikini and sneaking the cake and the girl into a downstairs room at the back of the house.

On the night of the party, a few of us carried the rather bulky cake around the narrow side yard at the Newhall home with our star performer following close behind draped in a heavy robe. We could hear the laughter and shouts from the partygoers as we cautiously made our way along the stepping-stones between the house and a border of scraggly bushes. At one point a few twigs reached out and snagged the cake trimming. With our progress abruptly halted we began to feverishly pull out twigs and re-stick flowers, all the while whispering nervously, glancing at our watches, and looking to see if any neighbors were watching and wondering what we were up to.

When we finally got back to our stealthy mission, we had turned into a group of giggling teenagers – every misstep and brush with the side of the house sent us into fits of nervous (but hushed) laughter. Eventually, we reached the back of the house and quietly entered through an open sliding glass door. We had barely set up the surprise before the party guests tromped down the stairs singing “Happy Birthday.”

Our harried efforts were rewarded by the ecstatic reactions from the whole crowd when the young bathing beauty popped up at the end of the song. Our elation was tempered later when our young performer showed us a small scratch on her back. A piece of chicken wire had come loose during our trek in the garden and scraped her back as she jumped up through the paper top. The scratch was superficial, but it did lead to a sturdier wooden cake being constructed by a professional carpenter for future auctions.

The Girl in the Cake was a popular auction item, but it was clearly eclipsed in 1974, when a society maven purchased it and asked to have a male pop out. More on that next week.

Now and Then

| Community | April 12, 2018

Between 2010 and January 2017, multiple authorities in Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach counties received numerous reports of violence and erratic behavior involving one particular young man. A few of the accounts, as reported in various media outlets, included:

  • Deputies called to the subject’s home 40 times. The frantic calls involve acts of “juvenile disturbance, domestic disturbance, and child/elder abuse.” (No arrests made)
  • Belligerent teen is expelled for bringing weapons to school, but no arrest is made.
  • In 2016 the sheriff’s office is informed that the emotionally unstable young man plans to shoot up his high school. Sheriffs determine the subject has knives and a BB gun and send the information to the school resources officer. (No apparent follow through taken by law enforcement)
  • A fight involving the young man triggers a referral to Florida Social Services. An official investigation determines the subject’s “final level of risk is low,” even though he has exhibited frequent behavior outbursts and states he is planning to buy a gun. The investigation is closed in Nov. 2016 just months before he buys an AR-15 assault-style rifle.
  • An alleged student assault in January 2017 elicits a school-based threat from the teen. An assessment is made, but there is no police involvement.
  • The subject takes pictures cutting himself and posts on social media.
  • A 911 call in 2017 informs dispatchers that the subject threatened his brother with a shotgun. Deputies are called to the home three times in November. There is no apparent follow up.
    FBI gets a call from a person close to the subject who voices concerns about “his gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing media posts, as well as his potential to conduct a school shooting.” (FBI does not act on the call.)

Over a seven-year period these and other threatening incidents fail to alert school officials, law enforcement, social services, and the FBI to a potential deadly outburst, and on February 14, 2018, the “troubled young man” picks up his AR-15 rifle, goes to his former high school, and begins a shooting rampage that kills 14 students and 3 adults, and wounds countless others.

Can we prevent a scenario like this from happening here in the Santa Clarita Valley?

That question was posed at a recent community meeting featuring guest speaker Larry Schallert, assistant director of the Student Health & Wellness/Mental Health Program at College of the Canyons. Schallert, who had been outlining the various student crisis response protocols at COC, responded that it was difficult to make generalizations when dealing with any threatening behaviors, whether to one’s self or to others, but it is vital to facilitate and maintain open lines of communication between all the community’s pertinent crisis agencies.

Schallert went on to explain that an organization was created six years ago to bring our valley’s law enforcement members, mental health providers, school officials, and residents together on a monthly basis to review current mental health issues and brainstorm possible ways of responding to various crises. The SCV Committee on Suicide Prevention, Postvention, and Wellness Committee acts on the precept that awareness is the first step in preventative action – and it must be funneled into information sharing, pooled resources, and group training.

Likewise, an informed citizenry is invaluable in spotting dangerous behaviors. That goes beyond the familiar motto of “See Something, Say Something, Do Something.” Schallert challenged his audience to alter the way they view mental illness.

“We are trying to take the stigma away from the words ‘mental illness’ and ‘counseling’ so families with problems don’t shy away from seeking the treatment they need,” Schallert said. “We want people to understand how important ‘language’ is to determining negative perceptions. Most of all, we want to emphasize that people can recover from mental illness. Depression and its related manifestations can strike anyone, any time, but their impact depends on the level of degree and the number of coping mechanisms available to the individual. We hope this understanding will encourage family members and friends to become more proactive and seek professional help when dealing with a troubled person.”

As a licensed clinical social worker, Schallert has more than 30 years of experience working with community mental health agencies, public schools, and educational advocacy. His position at College of the Canyons provides him access to many of the community organizations dealing with the study and treatment of dysfunctional behaviors. That includes membership in committees like the SCV Ad Hoc Committee on Human Trafficking, the COC Behavioral Intervention Team, and the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Transition Aged Youth Issues.

Larry believes that the social service resources in our community and the cooperation being developed between agencies help to give valuable insight into the assessment of erratic behaviors sparked by mental illness. Out of this valley-wide collaboration has come a list of warning signs in determining a risk for suicidal or harmful behaviors. The list includes:

  • talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun
  • talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • displaying extreme mood swings

If an individual’s conduct is clearly and immediately reckless, disorderly, dangerous, or threatening (including self-harm behavior), the recommended response is to call 911; if the person shows signs of distress, but it is unclear how serious it is, there are a number of resources to contact including the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, Santa Clarita Helpline, 661-259-HELP, Santa Clarita Valley Mental Health, 661-288-4800, and the SCV Child and Family Center, 259-9439.

There may be no simple solution to preventing a tragedy like the one that occurred in Florida, but it was clear from Schallert’s talk that there are professionals and community leaders in the Santa Clarita Valley who are taking proactive steps in recognizing possible threats and working diligently to develop positive ways of responding to the dangers.

Now and Then – Growth and Change

| Community | March 22, 2018

A few years after the city of Santa Clarita became a reality, its first city manager, George Caravalho, (who left the same post in Bakersfield to help shape our new government) lamented the fact that so many locals stubbornly identified as being from “Valencia,” “Newhall,” “Saugus,” or “Canyon Country,” rather than Santa Clarita. A longtime resident sympathetically offered the example of the San Fernando Valley to the disgruntled official: “The SFV is officially Los Angeles, but ask any of its residents where they live and they respond with names like Van Nuys, Panorama City, and Woodland Hills – those monikers more accurately pinpoint a certain geographical footprint in a large sprawling area.”

Of course, even before there was a Santa Clarita, a Valencia, or a Canyon Country, residents in our valley more often identified themselves by developments (American Beauty, Friendly Valley, Deane Homes, Princess) or canyons (Sand Canyon, Placerita Canyon, Mint Canyon). Those who went back even further used street names like Wayman, Atwood, or Pine.

Newcomers settling here in the ‘60s marveled at the clear, dry climate compared to the cities over the hill, but rued the limited shopping opportunities. (They were surprised to hear the natives grumble about the growing smog problem, scratching their heads and wondering “what smog?” Those same newcomers would eventually echo the same disparaging remarks about the increase in smog years later when more housing tracts and strip malls began popping up all over the valley. As Einstein reminded us, “it’s all relative.”)

The “growing smog problem” of the ‘60s was fueled by newlyweds and young married couples who were overjoyed to find brand new homes with large family rooms (and more than one bathroom) in price ranges they could afford. A new three-bedroom, two-bath home for $21,750 was so much more impressive than the outdated two-bedroom, one-bath home selling for a comparable amount “over the hill.” So what if it might require a longer commute to and from work!

Of course there were some other trade-offs to “city living”: no large malls with upscale department stores (meaning Nordstrom, of course), no diverse entertainment complexes, and very few affordable restaurants (young parents were overjoyed when the first McDonald’s was built on Soledad Canyon in the early ‘70s.)

The main shopping area on Soledad Canyon in Canyon Country was a block-long strip mall anchored by Safeway, Security Bank, and the TG&Y “five and dime” store. A similar strip mall graced Lyons Avenue in Newhall – but instead of the TG&Y it had a drug store that boasted large scoop ice cream cones for 10 cents. Another Safeway anchored a strip mall at Bouquet and Seco Canyons; and Downtown Newhall had its Tresierras Market and Milt Diamond’s General Store.

The Safeway stores, the Security (later Security-Pacific) banks, the TG&Y, and even former city manager George Caravalho, are long gone from our valley, prompting a recent nostalgic discussion about growth and the ever-changing business landscape in our valley.

It’s sad when small, privately-owned establishments like dress shops and specialty stores go out of business, but it’s more than disconcerting when the megalith companies that seem to have been around forever begin to disappear. First it was Safeway Grocery Stores and Security Pacific Bank, now it’s Kmart, Sears, and Toys R Us.

If anything proves that business enterprises are not for the faint of heart, one has to look no further than our own valley history. Some might remember Dillenbeck’s Market on Sierra Highway, which was famous for the quality meats it offered; the Saugus Speedway that first drew rodeo buffs, then attracted enthusiastic car racing fans from far-flung areas outside our valley borders; the Logian family’s Big Oaks Lodge (up Bouquet Canyon) whose exotic rib dinners drew hundreds of L.A. residents up the narrow, winding road miles from their homes; the Mustang Drive-In Theatre, where parents who couldn’t afford babysitters could see a movie while their toddlers (hopefully) slept in their car’s back seat; or roadside vegetable stands like The Tapia Brothers on Bouquet Canyon that sold fresh ears of corn by the bushels full to our valley’s weekend barbecuers.

Technological progress and a landowner’s pursuit of larger incomes most often prompted the demise of our once popular landmarks, but beautification projects such as the city’s transformation of Downtown Newhall must also be factored in, and to many that’s not always a bad thing. Cultural aficionados argue that the ban on auto repair businesses in favor of attractions like the Laemmle Theatre is not such a bad thing. Likewise, many handy men mourned the passing of Haggerty’s, once located on San Fernando Road (now Newhall Avenue) at the entrance to the downtown area. But most residents considered it an “unwelcome welcome” to the community with its motley collection of discontinued tools, toilets, and other household items sitting out front.

Also gone is the Plaza Theatre on Lyons. By the ‘70s, some of the bolts fastening the seats to the floor were missing, so when a person moved in his seat, the other seats in the aisle would also move; and years of discarded candy and spilled sodas coated that same floor, grabbing at theatre-goers’ shoes as they made their way to their seats. But the venue’s ill-fated claim to fame was a disastrous 1975 community night hosted by the local cable company. It was dubbed a “Gala Premiere,” so guests were encouraged to dress in their finest gowns and tuxes.

Once the smartly dressed couples filed past the floodlights outside the theatre, the elegant evening’s glow began to fade. First the movie plot of “The Man Who Would Be King” was jumbled when the projectionist ran one of the film cassettes out of order. Then the smell of burnt popcorn filtered in from the snack stand, stinging the eyes and noses of the guests; and finally, water filled the lobby when a toilet in one of the bathrooms overflowed. In spite of the best mopping efforts by a few of the employees, the women had to lift the skirts of their fancy dresses as they left the theatre and made their way over the soggy carpet to the parking lot. Surprisingly, there were more good-natured laughs than grumbles over the fiasco, and the fiasco didn’t hurt the cable company’s business – it was long before U-verse and satellite dishes challenged its monopoly.

Nostalgia for things that, in television commentator Ralph Story’s words, “aren’t here anymore,” is bittersweet. We’ve lost many unique attractions, but in their place we have gained more entertainment venues, more places for teenagers to “hang out,” more fast food restaurants for parents to take their kids after weekly sports competitions, and more specialty stores for those looking for hard-to-find recipe ingredients.

Whether we call it Saugus, Sand Canyon, or Santa Clarita, our valley has continued to grow and change with the times. Some even predict that the eagerly anticipated community-wide dream of the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Town Center Mall, may fall victim to online shopping and that will create a new set of “old timers” spinning memories of the past.

Now and Then – Shining a Light on the ‘Darkest Hour’

| Community | March 15, 2018

Astute teachers, who challenge high school students to think outside their history books and engage in intellectual debate, often start with this question: “Do dramatic conflicts in history create heroes, or do heroes create and propel historic events?”

Today’s popular box-office movies seldom tackle such discussions, however, one 2017 movie, which was a contender in this year’s Best Picture category at the Oscars, does. “Darkest Hour” is predominately a character study involving a dramatic history changing “moment” in the early days of World War II. While most war movies tend to concentrate on bloody battlefield conflicts rather than heated behind-the-scenes verbal clashes, “Darkest Hour” emphasizes the angst and torment accompanying the often unpopular and heart-wrenching decisions that leaders on the home front must make during wartime.

The double-pronged peril facing English Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the spring of 1940 involved a menacing tyrant bent on world domination; and the plight of allied troops stranded on the beaches of France with few available war ships to ferry them across the choppy waters of the English Channel.

How does a leader rescue those troops with limited, battle-weary resources? What is the best liberation strategy? What toll does it take on a man’s soul when one solution is to order 4,000 soldiers on a virtual suicide mission in a desperate measure to buy time for over 330,000 of their fellow fighters? And, finally, how does a person pursue that grim course of action when members of his own cabinet insist on appeasement rather than battle?

For those of us who have grown up with the newsreel depictions of England’s World War II prime minister striding confidently through cheering crowds, aggressively chomping on his trademark cigar, and delivering mesmerizing speeches, it is often painful to watch actor Gary Oldman’s Oscar-winning performance. He shows us the anguish behind Churchill’s bravado, the emotional price of making wartime’s “life and death” decisions, and just why the month of May in 1940, was indeed one of history’s “darkest hours.”

This movie does not portray graphic battle scenes to illustrate the horror of war, instead there are the cerebral, often lonely and isolated moments as Winston, the man, wrestles with the choices that Churchill, the warrior, must make as the Nazi threat comes closer to his small island homeland.

It is that inner struggle that makes the movie so memorable, not the “Hollywoodized” fictitious scene where Churchill gains justification for his course of action by chatting with Londoners on a subway (although their patriotic responses probably provided more than one idealist in the audience with as much relief as it did for Oldman’s character).

“Darkest Hour” is a moving character study that illustrates the importance of viewing historic events and individuals, not just in news snippets and sound bites, but in the context of their own times and circumstances. It also provides the answer to the cause and effect question posed above.

It took the indomitable spirit and heroic convictions of a Winston Churchill to plan and authorize the rescue of over 330,000 men, the majority of whom were English soldiers. But it also made heroes of hundreds of ordinary boat-owning citizens, who risked their lives crossing the English Channel under enemy fire to pluck many of the hapless soldiers off the sands of Dunkirk, France and transport them back to England. Of the reported 861 privately owned fishing boats, pleasure cruisers, and commercial ferries that set out on the ambitious rescue effort, 243 were sunk by German bombs. The names of those piloting “the Dunkirk little ships” may not be featured in the world’s history books, but their actions clearly exhibited an indomitable spirit and heroic conviction that helped shape the outcome of a pivotal moment in history.

Writer’s Note: There were moments in the beginning of “Darkest Hour” that made me feel like I had fallen into a parallel universe. The criticisms being hurled at Winston Churchill sounded exactly like those being made of President Trump by many of today’s newscasters and pundits.

Now and Then – CV Water Matters

| Community | March 1, 2018

Earth has been dubbed “the blue planet” because over 70 percent of its surface is covered with water. Water also comprises over two-thirds of our body weight, and without it we would die. Any wonder then that “water wars” have been waged worldwide since humans began walking the globe?

The Santa Clarita Valley has had a few such disputes of its own. Debates concerning who owns water rights and who manages them were inevitable as the population slowly began expanding in size. It didn’t help that different developers formed their own water companies to accommodate their particular domains.

Over the last 16 years, the five water companies that once existed in our valley have slowly merged to create one district. The goal: to save money, enhance water reliability, promote better groundwater management and environmental protections, and eliminate duplications of services and equipment. And while the process did not include the physical blows typically associated with our early settlers’ water wars, verbal battles have accompanied the effort, tempered by months of discussions and community meetings.

Following the passage of legislation introduced by State Senator Scott Wilk and the approval by Governor Brown in 2017, the process was completed and the Santa Clarita Water Company became a reality on January 1, 2018 with former Castaic Lake Water Agency board president, William Cooper, at the helm.

Water has been a predominant theme in Cooper’s life from his childhood days fishing the streams around his hometown of Sterling, Colorado, to a five-year stint in the Navy, then 40 years with the Metropolitan Water District, and finally, his subsequent service on the CLWA board.

Bill joined the Navy right after high school graduation in 1964, completing boot camp in Long Beach, then serving three tours of duty in Vietnam on the aircraft carrier USS Bennington. He earned a Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze stars in the conflict.

The decision for the Colorado farm boy to return to Southern California when his Naval career ended was based on desire – a lack of it when contemplating the harsh winters back in Colorado, and an impelling one to marry an attractive lass named Jean, whom he had met and dated while stationed in Long Beach.

Two children (Christi and Ken) later, and several moves up the Metropolitan Water District ladder led to homes in various Southern California communities. But Bill and Jean knew they found their permanent home when they moved to Canyon Country in 1972. “The community was young and thriving,” explained Bill, “and we immediately became involved in Santa Clarita life through the PTAs at our children’s schools – Cedarcreek Elementary, Rio Vista Junior High, and Canyon High. There were also Little League and Soccer organizations to join.”

The Cooper children weren’t the only ones immersed in the pursuit of higher education. Bill signed up for night classes and earned a degree in environmental science. He later taught classes in water supply, water mathematics, and water treatment at College of the Canyons. His involvement with COC led to a friendship with Castaic Lake Water Agency board member Bill Thompson. Acknowledging Cooper’s wealth of knowledge in all things water, Thompson urged him to run for a CLWA board position. A successful campaign in 1994 meant Bill was not only managing five Metropolitan water treatment plants that served 19 million Southern California customers during the day, but also overseeing hometown water management in his off hours.

In 1998, Bill added one more responsibility to his busy schedule when a friend introduced him to the good works being done by the SCV Child & Family Center. Bill adopted the non-profit organization’s mission (to counsel, educate, and support local families in crisis) as his own, establishing a working relationship with staff and volunteers that has continued over the last 20 years.

The close personal bonds developed through his “day job” at Metropolitan, the CLWA board, and his community activities proved a valuable source of comfort in 2006 when the Cooper family was faced with the pain and devastation of losing Jean to Stage 5 melanoma cancer.

The healing process was intensified when Bill’s sister encouraged him to begin a yearlong correspondence with one of her Colorado friends. Through the process of sharing ideas, interests, and beliefs, Bill and pen pal, Valerie, developed a romantic relationship that led to a wedding ceremony in Cambria three years later. Doubts that Southern California could ever measure up to her Colorado stomping grounds vanished when Bill brought Val to Santa Clarita. She was enchanted by the small town feel, and quickly became involved in the community.

Cooper’s retirement from Metropolitan in 2008 meant more time for family, community, and the responsibilities of the Castaic Lake Water Agency – and a renewed commitment to the formation of a single water district in the valley. The groundwork had already been set 16 years earlier when the Bonelli family decided to sell their privately owned Santa Clarita Water Company (encompassing the Solemint and Bouquet Water Companies) to the CLWA. For those who believed that a single water agency would serve the growing community better than five disparate entities, it was an important first step.

The more recent sale of the privately owned Valencia Water Company led to another CLWA acquisition, this one adding 85 percent of the valley’s homes and businesses to the agency’s stewardship. With so much of the valley’s water needs being managed by CLWA, it was time to begin negotiations with the agency that controlled the remaining 15 percent of the homes and businesses, the Newhall County Water District. The concerns of the two companies’ board members, managers, staffs and communities were discussed and deliberated for two years. Assistance provided by an outside organizational facilitator, a financial consultant, and the necessary state legislation led to the merger’s ultimate success.

As if one merger negotiation weren’t enough, Bill had also been actively involved in similar dialogues being conducted by the boards of the Child & Family Center and the Domestic Violence Center. The merger of those two organizations occurred on the first day of 2018 as well.

As important as community activities are for both Bill and Valerie, there is always time for frequent family get-togethers with Christy and Ken and three lively grandchildren, ages 2, 5, and 13. In addition, the couple sets aside time for monthly trips to nearby destinations, and large trips and cruises a few times each year.

“We love Santa Clarita and have enjoyed seeing it grow into the vibrant, caring community of today,” Bill says. “But, like all families, we’ve been tempered by the deaths and illnesses of loved ones, as well as the dedication to supporting and improving our community, so we’ve determined to make the most of our free time, enjoying all the beauty and diversity that travel has to offer.”

Not surprisingly, some of that travel involves sailing the waterways of the world.

Now and Then – Rock, Rock, Rock!

| Community | February 22, 2018

If you knew nothing about “Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story” except for the enthusiastic raves from earlier Canyon Theatre Guild-goers, you might, as I was Sunday afternoon, find yourself temporarily baffled at the beginning of the show. Is this a play propelled by rock and roll music, or is it a ‘50s rock concert with a few vignettes to chronicle the singer’s rise to fame?

Simply speaking – it’s both! And the talent amassed by directors John Fortman and TimBen Boydston is amazing. As each player took his or her turn in the spotlight, I kept asking myself, “Where do they find these guys?!”

Josh Aran, Will Riddle, and Jacob Boscarino as the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and Richie Valens rock out at the Winter Dance Party tour.

Longtime CTG fans know the Main Street venue is not large enough for an orchestra pit, so actors in shows like “Hello, Dolly” or “Guys and Dolls” are backed by pre-recorded music. However, the stage easily accommodates a piano, a celesta, a drum set, a double bass, two guitar players, a fiddler-violinist, and a jazz saxophone player. Add a variety of singers and dancers in the mix and you have everything needed to rock the inside of the auditorium – and all the featured music is live.

Now, drums, guitars, keyboards, and saxophones can simply be props in the hands of some amateurs, but there are no “wannabe” musicians in this production. Eighteen-year-old Will Riddle as Buddy Holly is simply dynamite when he starts plucking his guitar strings and belting out signature tunes like “That’ll Be the Day,” “Oh Boy,” and “Peggy Sue.” (Was it really originally intended to be Cindy Lou?) Riddle doesn’t just sing, he puts his all into each musical number, nimbly mimicking Holly’s on-stage gymnastics.

But the magic doesn’t stop there. What makes the play a rock concert comes from the keyboard and violin virtuosity of Jennifer Teague, the sax artistry of Eddie Landon, Andrew Dennett’s bass rhythms, Jacob Boscarino’s rhythm guitar, and Chris Yahnker’s infectious drum beats.

Back-up singing, dancing, and dual performances are delivered by an ensemble cast that includes Jennifer Callahan, Shannon Corbett, Sean Goodman, Le’a Jefferson, Kaitlyn Lavo, Jack Matson, Olivia Riddle, Madi Summers, Sandriene Taylor, and Adam Kort.

Andrew Dennett, Will Riddle and Chris Yahnker take the CTG stage as Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

Chris Lopret helps carry the plotline along as radio deejay Hipockets Duncan and CTG regular Jeff Lucas shine as Holly’s promoter-manager, Norm Petty, and an audience-hyping announcer.

Holly’s story illustrates the influence that jazz and country music first had on his evolving style of rock and roll. Along the way, the audience is treated to the music of a few of his contemporaries: the Apollo theatre sound is delivered by Jonathan Williams’ hand-clapping rendition of “Shout”; and the Winter Dance Party tour features Richie Valens’ (Jacob Boscarino) hip-swaggering crooning of “La Bamba” and The Big Bopper’s (Josh Aran) bawdy delivery of “Chantilly Lace.” (“Oh baby, you know what I like!”)

And even though Buddy Holly’s story ended in a tragic airplane crash less than two years after his first hit topped the charts, the musical does not dwell on the despair it caused for rock and roll fans worldwide. Instead it celebrates Holly’s music, bringing the audience to its feet (and yes, dancing in the aisles, where there’s room) as the performers take their bows and revise some of the play’s earlier songs, with the addition of a few more ‘50s hits.
This play is a must for Holly fans and anyone craving the heart pounding, foot-stomping experience of a live concert – and it’s not too late to experience it. The community response has been so positive that the run has been extended to the second weekend in March.

Now and Then

| Community | February 15, 2018

She was a penniless orphan who became a Grande Mademoiselle. Although she was no great beauty, her sexual allure attracted rich lovers who ushered her into the highest social circles. But most of all, Coco Chanel had a talent for combining simplicity and elegance to create a unique “look” that would make her one of the richest designers in the world of fashion. And in the process, she transformed the way women dressed.

Chanel’s creations rocked the fashion world in the 1900s, and the styles she invented continue to dominate today’s social scene. So much so, that her designs inspired the theme, and made the life and times of Coco Chanel the focus, of the Newcomers and Friends Club February luncheon. The social organization (www.ncandf.com) holds monthly luncheons and a variety of activities aimed at women who would like to meet new friends and become more active in the community. Held at the Sand Canyon Country Club, this particular event began with a biography of the French-born icon presented by guest speaker Valerie Lunt.

In her best French accent, Valerie chronicled Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel’s humble beginnings – from her illegitimate birth in 1883 to her early days in an austere convent for orphans, to her graduation from Notre Dame finishing school, which she attended as a charity case. The most valuable thing Gabrielle learned in the convent was sewing, and she perfected her technique during visits with an aunt who taught her the art of hat designing.

Following graduation from school, Gabrielle traveled to Moulins where she secured a position as a tailor’s assistant. Her days in the shop were highlighted with nightly forays into the city’s music halls and a brief stint as a singer. Her limited vocal range narrowed her repertoire to two popular songs of the day, “KoKo Ri Ka,” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco.” The audience took to the amateur chanteuse and coined a new name for Gabrielle, their “la petite Coco.”

Many wealthy playboys frequented the music halls providing Coco with her first advantageous romance. Etienne Balsan was not only rich, but a handsome military officer as well. As Balsan’s mistress, Coco joined the world of the rich and famous, but she was not content to languish in the elegant lifestyle; she wanted a business she could call her own. Etienne indulged her by giving her a space in his home where she could fashion hats for her friends. Ever ambitious, Coco was soon eying a new benefactor and a new opportunity in a larger town.

Rich lover number two was the English self-made millionaire, Captain Arthur “Boy” Capel. Capel took Coco to Paris where he and Balsan pooled resources to buy her a small hat shop. Her unique creations became an instant success. In 1913, with Capel’s backing, Coco opened yet another venture in Deauville, which not only featured her famous hats, but frocks that were casual and practical – aimed at a more sporting look. Coco decried the corsets, frills, and ruffles that her contemporary designers (all men) were turning out, describing them as ornamental, not practical. “I want to give women the possibility to laugh and eat without necessarily having to faint,” she declared.

This revolutionary style introduced by the first “woman designer for women” created a sensation. Her simple, yet sophisticated, designs became even more popular with the onset of World War I. It was no time for high fashion when thousands of men were dying and the general population was plunged into misery and poverty. Coco’s genius included her ability to improvise. Fancy materials were scarce, so she turned to jersey (fabric that was used to make men’s underwear and was in abundant supply). Jersey fit perfectly with her practical style. With women taking on many of the jobs on the home front, she intensified her resolve to replace ruffles and frills with more functional clothing. Again, she was at the forefront and her business continued to grow. In a barb aimed at what she perceived as the snobbery of some of her male counterparts, Coco quipped, “Fashion goes out of fashion, but style – never!”

Guest speaker Valerie Lunt highlighted her Coco biography demonstrating different ways of accessorizing “the little black dress.”

It was her sense of style, with its practicality and sophistication, that carried Coco through many of the heartbreaks and complications in

Fashion show coordinator Jodie Baker enjoyed a few quiet moments at the Newcomers and Friends luncheon with her husband Jack.

her personal life, beginning with the death of “Boy” Capel in an automobile accident. A seemingly endless parade of rich lovers and failed relationships was eclipsed by a questionable liaison with France’s German occupiers in World War II. Though an ambiguous inquiry by a panel of Allied arbitrators later dismissed the matter, the political betrayal led to her fall from grace with the French citizenry.

Following a self-imposed exile in Switzerland, 73-year-old Coco returned to the world of couture in 1954 with a new Post-War collection that was embraced first by the Americans, then finally the French and British. Her House of Chanel reached new heights of success and a worth of $100,000,000 pounds.

As evidenced by the Newcomers and Friends Club’s nostalgic salute to Coco, the Chanel look and creativity has continued to persevere long after her 1971 death. Following lunch, a fashion show coordinated by Jodie Baker featured club members who paraded down the center of the dining room wearing Chanel-inspired clothes and accessories.

As an added attraction, a table at the front of the room displayed other Chanel creations from the collections of members Gwen Halstead and Pat Oguss. Jewelry and handbags surrounded bottles of Coco’s famous Chanel No 5 perfume. (The scent was the fifth in a number of possible scents presented for her approval – she chose that particular sample because five was her lucky number.)

The afternoon served as a reminder of Coco’s many innovations: the cardigan jacket, the patch pockets, the low-belted pullover, the use of jersey fabrics, sleek trousers, and, maybe the most enduring, the Little Black Dress.

One Coco quote summed up the entertaining event: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

Now and Then

| Community | February 8, 2018

Is it possible that something as simple as an English nursery rhyme can accomplish more than the world’s strongest leaders to break the shackles of Third World poverty and illiteracy? Canadians Gem Munro and his wife, Dr. Tanyss Munro, thought so and their non-profit organization, Amarok Society, is proving it, one impoverished slum at a time.

Motivated by the belief that education opens the window to opportunities, the Munros first established literacy projects in the poorest regions of Canada, then expanded their sights abroad to Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Munro recently visited the SCV Rotary Club to describe the Amarok Society’s outreach program in the urban slums of Bangladesh, an area that he described as the “poorest of the poor,” and “the worst of the worst.”

The overcrowded, impoverished area provided three unique challenges: how to build a school where there is no suitable land available, where to find teachers, and how to raise enough money to hire those teachers. The Munros’ solution was to turn to the most valuable resource that the slums have plenty of – mothers.

Amarok’s Mothers of Intention program recognizes that mothers are already central to their families, and by educating them, and teaching them how to teach their children, they provide the first steps towards enlightened thought, and give some sense to the chaos that accompanies poverty and ignorance. The process begins with daily, two-hour training sessions led by Amarok teachers recruited from nearby areas. The classes use songs, drama, and games to engage the Bangladesh mothers, empowering them to pass the same techniques on to their neighborhood children.

Besides teaching arithmetic, social studies, and reading in their own language, the program adds the bonus of teaching English, a language considered only fit for the privileged in Bangladesh society. That’s where the English nursery rhyme comes in to play. Munro clicked on a video, which showed a mother leading a group of neighborhood children in the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Limited sunlight streamed into the darkened shanty, illuminating the faces of the children as they worked on the song’s phrasing, striving to perfect the pronunciation of words that were once foreign gibberish to them.

The patience of the mother/teacher was rewarded by the smiles of accomplishment on the children’s faces as they mastered the word “above” in the rhyme. This then, is Amarok’s mission, to educate a mother to teach at least five children everything she has learned. And, according to Munro, the side benefits of the schooling include an awakening of socialization as well as optimism and hope in those whose existence has heretofore been living hand to mouth, scraping out meager livings collecting and selling trash.

The women, themselves, are elevated within the household, encouraging the education of young girls and a path towards gender equality. Munro also feels that education has exhibited a potential for moderating extremist behaviors in children.

While the benefits of the literacy program have proven rewarding, they are not without risk. Though Bangladesh is one of the more moderate Muslim countries, the patriarchal system is still the backbone of the culture and many husbands are resistant to the changes occurring in the neighborhoods. Beatings are known to occur and the Munros, themselves, must have bodyguards accompany them as they travel to and from the region. Both Gem and Tanyss have accepted the risks as part of their mission, however they did wonder, at first, if the mothers would be able to persevere.

Their concerns have been answered as neighborhood classes continue to thrive. Munro says there are even growing numbers of men in the slums who sit outside the small hovels, listening and eager to learn the lessons being taught inside. Gem believes the eventual effect will be an awakening to a world outside their own and an escape from the violence that ignorance and isolation tends to breed.

He also believes the programs the society has established in Bangladesh and Pakistan can serve as models for the over 70,000,000 children in the world who are too poor to go to school.

“There will never be enough money to build and staff schools for these children,” he said. “We must find the volunteers and the donors to take the Amarok program to them.”

He ended his presentation with this quote: “If we really mean to create peace in the world, we must stop rattling sabres and start ringing school bells.”

To learn more about the Amarok Society, one may visit the website: amaroksociety.org

Now and Then – ‘Auld’ Acquaintances, Part 3

| Community | January 25, 2018

Reader’s Digest has its Most Unforgettable Characters, and so does the SCV – none more colorful (and unforgettable) than Bill Berger.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1911, Bill moved to Southern California with his family when he was a youngster – his sunny, fun-loving disposition fit in perfectly with his new home. In his teens, his interests revolved around music and medicine. He graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1928 and headed to USC with a trumpet in one hand and an admission slip to study medicine in the other.

Though he never abandoned his love of music, his degree from SC seven years later was in pharmaceuticals. Bill spent the next four years on board a number of small ships in the Navy, administering medicines and stitching up sailors with minor injuries. When there were more serious maladies, Bill and the stricken patient would be placed in a metal cage and transported by pulley cables from their ship to one with a doctor – not one of Bill’s favorite experiences, and because he also suffered with bouts of seasickness, it was no surprise that he decided against a career in the Navy.

As soon as his hitch was up, Berger worked briefly at a pharmacy in Palm Springs before opening his own Rexall drug store at the corner of Sunset and Doheny in Los Angeles. In the 1940s, Sunset Boulevard was a magnet for Hollywood’s biggest celebrities and most of them found their way to Bill’s Rexall. A tradition started one Thursday evening when the chef at the drug store’s lunch counter called in sick.

Popular crooner Bing Crosby picked that evening to drop by for a spaghetti meal. When Bill told him the chef was out, Bing stepped behind the counter and began throwing ingredients together saying, “My own spaghetti recipe is better anyway.” Bing invited his Hollywood friends to his spaghetti feast and the idea was hatched to start a regular “celebrity chef” night every Thursday.

Tinsel town stars like Ronald Reagan and John Wayne donned chef’s hats and white aprons to cook their favorite dishes for their friends and Bill’s customers. (Those diners included some of the most infamous mobsters at the time, including Bugsy Siegel, who often called up to have Bill deliver a prescription to his Hollywood Hills home.)

Actors and mobsters weren’t the only customers that frequented the Rexall, the most significant was a young lady named Virginia. She came in on the arm of a mutual friend, but ended up leaving as Bill’s girl, and soon-to-be wife.

The newlyweds made their home in the San Fernando Valley during Bill’s years as a pharmacist both at the Sunset drug store and one on Wilshire Boulevard near UCLA. The Wilshire store was near the medical offices of Dr. Charles Farinella and his associates. In the late ‘50s, the doctors decided to open up the Golden State Memorial Hospital on Lyons Avenue in Santa Clarita and asked Berger to come along to run the hospital’s pharmacy.

Unwilling to uproot his daughter Kathy and son Mike from their childhood friends and schools, Bill delayed the family’s move from Woodland Hills to Valencia until 1974 when the siblings were in college. In the ‘70s, Bill’s hospital lease had expired and he established his own Valencia Pharmacy in the shopping center that was being built at Lyons and Peachland and anchored by an Alpha Beta (now Smart and Final) and J.C. Agajanian’s bank. Agajanian loaned Bill a trailer with an electrical hook-up from the bank until the shopping strip’s office buildings were completed. Bill later opened a pharmacy on the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital campus.
Even before moving to Santa Clarita, both Bill and Virginia became active in the valley’s social and charitable activities. Bill became a hard-working volunteer with the chamber of commerce and a proud member of the noontime Rotary Club where Virginia added support as one of the club’s Rotary Anns. Virginia also joined the Zonta Club as soon as it organized in the ‘70s.

Bill and Mike

Bill’s love of Rotary was passed on to the next generation when son Mike joined in 1981. (Mike carries on the Berger tradition of community involvement serving on boards and in leadership positions not only with Rotary, but other local organizations such as the Child & Family Center, the SCV Chamber of Commerce, and the College of the Canyons Foundation.)

The SCV July 4th celebrations were special for Bill. starting with the Rotary pancake breakfast at 6 a.m. When the parade began hours later, he traded his flapjack flipper for car keys to serve as a chauffeur for one of the dignitaries. Then it was off to share in other community events honoring our country’s birthday.

Bill brought his own inimitable humor and enthusiasm to all his activities, whether business, charitable, or recreation. As one fellow Rotarian remarked, “Not a meeting went by that wasn’t sparked by Bill’s wit and comical quips. If he wasn’t joking with a colleague, he was entertaining the group with stories about early Hollywood. And we always knew when Bill was in an audience, even if we couldn’t see him, because, while others clapped, Bill would give his signature seal of approval – three quick whistles.”

Recreational activities included taking the family to Dodger and USC games and perfecting tee shots on golf courses around the valley – always with the characteristic Berger spontaneity and high-powered energy. One early Saturday morning, Bill roused a group of his friends and invited them over to the Backwoods Inn for champagne and Bloody Marys. He had just made a hole-in-one at the Friendly Valley Golf Course and he wanted to treat his friends to a celebratory drink. Backwoods owner, Bill Ohler, good-naturedly interrupted his weekend chores to drive over to the Inn and unlock the doors.

No wonder, then, that one of the biggest tributes his friends could pay Bill following his untimely death in 1984, was to organize a golf tournament in his honor with all the proceeds going to community charities.

Bill Berger, unstoppable, inexhaustible, and a most unforgettable character.

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