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.
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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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 A new three-bedroom, two-bath home for $21,750 was so much more impressive than the outdated two-bedroom, one-bath home selling for a comparable amount “over the hill.”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.
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.
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.
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?!”
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.
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.
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!”
It was her sense of style, with its practicality and sophistication, that carried Coco through many of the heartbreaks and complications in
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.”
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
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’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.
We Americans love our recreational sports and none has undergone as many surges in popularity over the years as tennis. One particular surge occurred in the ‘60s and ‘70s, thanks to the media’s discovery of the hard-hitting glamour guys, the outspoken “bad” boys, and the teenaged women’s champions. The TV programmers couldn’t get enough of the likes of Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras.
The popularity was helped along in 1974 when an aging men’s former champion (55-year-old Bobby Riggs) challenged the much younger current women’s champion (29-year-old Billy Jean King) to a televised match in the Houston Astrodome. Riggs, who had long since lost his championship form, kept in the spotlight by challenging top-seeded women players to gimmicky matches. A carnival atmosphere surrounded the King-Riggs match when Monday Night Football announcers (Frank Gifford, Dandy Don Meredith, and Howard Cosell) were called on to do a play-by-play of the televised match. Billy Jean struck a blow for Women’s Lib when her power shots defeated Riggs’ lobs and drop shots.
The following morning, tennis courts around the country were filled to capacity and a flurry of new court construction began. (Part of the 9-hole Roxford Golf Course off the I-5 was bulldozed to make way for a complex of courts, which in turn were bulldozed for commercial profit a few years later.)
Tennis was in full swing in the SCV long before the media giants began promoting it across the rest of the country. There were no commercial clubs or tennis complexes, but the Hart High and Placerita Canyon Junior High courts were crowded every weekend with players belonging to the Newhall Tennis Club. (The club, which had started in 1947 with about 20 players, boasted a membership of 435 in the ‘80s.) Friendly doubles matches, singles “ladder” challenges, and monthly tournaments kept the courts full from morning to night.
Weekday play was less crowded, but thanks to an informal partnership with the school district, the club members could use the courts when the students weren’t playing. It was a little give and take, sweetened by the fact that the club dues and volunteer labor helped finance improvements like net replacements and court resurfacing.
A leading proponent of the volunteer workdays, even though his stint as club president had ended years earlier, was Newhall resident Gene Doty.
Everyone’s first impression of Gene was an out-stretched hand and a smile so big that it spilled over into his voice. He exuded enthusiasm in everything he did, whether it involved being co-chair of the annual two-day barbecue for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, working on a Kiwanis event, or supporting the local high school tennis programs.
In 1984, the Doty charm and rapport were saluted when Lockheed officials hosted a gala retirement dinner for their co-worker of 43 years. When Gene was asked what he would do with his time now that he was leaving the 9-to-5 grind behind, he quipped, “I’ve actually found it difficult to find time to go to work!”
Those who knew him well weren’t surprised at the statement. He had been actively involved in his community and his hobbies since he took his first steps out the front door of the Newhall house he grew up in on San Fernando Road (now Main Street) in the early 1920s. Those steps led from his house to the Ford Agency, which his dad, Jess W. Doty, had established before World War I. The agency was still in the same spot in the early ‘80s, but the Doty home had been replaced by an auto parts store.
When Gene was a youngster, the SCV was a sparsely populated area of 200 people. The main drag on San Fernando Road boasted a five-and-dime store, a feed store, a little restaurant, and a post office. The Newhall Drug Store was a favorite “haunt” for the kids who played marbles and “coin lag” near its doors.
Being such a small town, there were few recreational facilities available to Gene and his friends. They organized late afternoon sandlot baseball games after stampeding out the doors of the Newhall Elementary School as soon as the last bell rang.
One of Gene’s fondest memories was the 1932 community work project (sponsored by the Kiwanis Club) that resulted in Newhall’s first tennis court. The court was built of decomposed granite on land donated by the Presbyterian Church. When the court was demolished to make room for the church parking lot, a community project was organized to build two courts at Newhall Elementary. It was on those courts that Gene’s avid interest in tennis was born.
There was no local high school in our valley when Gene reached his teens, so he and some fellow students from “remote Bouquet Canyon” were bused to San Fernando High School. Gene worked at his father’s car agency when he wasn’t studying or leading cheers for his high school teams. In his senior year, his interests switched to airplanes and he exchanged his cheerleading megaphone for the class president’s gavel. He didn’t forget cheerleading altogether; there was a Bouquet Canyon lass named Maxine Morris who would later become his wife.
While working at a Shell Service Station in his senior year, Gene took college prep courses in engineering, leading to an aircraft plumber position at Douglas Aircraft in El Segundo. In 1941, Gene was hired at Lockheed’s experimental department, working on the early mock-up stages of the Constellation. He was quickly moved to supervisorial duties in the department, then to a production manager in precision assembly parts.
“I never did get that degree in engineering,” reflected Gene at his retirement. “I was too actively involved in making money.” He was also actively involved in raising four children (Dennis, Genene, Denise, and John), and leadership roles in the Newhall Tennis Club, Kiwanis, American Legion, and the Knights of Columbus.
While the area was going through its first growth spurt in the ‘60s, Gene went to work in Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works, The advanced development department gained notoriety as a small group of workers who could turn out new experimental projects with lightning speed using tools they made themselves, while side-stepping paper work, red tape, and bureaucratic quagmires.
His retirement from Lockheed and the Skunk Works meant more time with the family, a few travel excursions, more hours of community service and, of course, more tennis. When he wasn’t competing in weekly matches on the courts and running a racquet stringing business out of the den in his Newhall home, Gene found time for organizing the Newhall Tennis Club’s court improvement projects. And, if that wasn’t enough, he could often be seen at the Hart High courts, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, electric clippers in hand, trimming back the vines growing on the fences surrounding the courts.
Gene Doty – a true hometown hero and a special memory in this January salute to Auld Lang Syne.
2018 – a New Year and, for many, a promise to take a fresh look at life and make new goals for themselves – for the first few hours of January 1, anyway.
But while the main objective of New Year’s Eve celebrations is clearly about welcoming the future, the song that is so closely linked with the holiday reflects on the past and “old acquaintances.”
There are many “old acquaintances” that briefly brightened the Santa Clarita social scene, then left to pursue new goals. There was none more charismatic and closely tied to the celebrations of the ‘70s and ‘80s than the homegrown family band “Cindy and Co.” The group, comprised of father, John, and siblings Cindy, Andy, and Jack, specialized in mixing the smooth sounds of the era with plenty of rock, and then playing to the mood of their audiences.
Though originally from Dunkirk, Indiana, the Kress family moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in the late 1950s. Parents John and Jean were both musically talented. Jean played the piano and once sang with bands in Indiana, and John played various instruments in many different bands, but his instrument of choice was the saxophone.
When the couple’s four children came along, it seemed most natural that a family band would someday be formed. Yet, up until junior high age, eldest son Andy did little more than toy with piano lessons; Jack was more interested in sports; and Cindy memorized piano pieces by watching her mother play, and could read very little music.
For the boys, playing in junior high bands got them seriously thinking about music. Andy, the blond, outgoing drummer, received his first set of drums when he was 12. According to Cindy in a 1974 newspaper interview, “There hasn’t been a quiet moment at the Kress household since.”
Andy’s greatest learning experience with the drums came when he was in seventh grade and signed up with the summer school band. He was the only drummer and found himself inundated with percussion instruments, spending every spare moment pounding out rhythms. That gave him the valuable experience he needed to step into the professional arena at the young age of 15.
“Dad had a group called the “Mellow Men” and they played for dances and parties on weekends,” explained Cindy in 1974. “One night the drummer got sick and Andy stepped in to take his place. Dad has never used another drummer.”
Dark-haired and soft-spoken, Jack Kress seemed to be the one most likely to pursue a career in sports, with music as a minor diversion. However, he did dabble in off-the-cuff lessons with the bass guitar player in his dad’s group. One night the guitarist was laid up with back trouble and couldn’t make a gig. Jack was recruited for the job and became a permanent fixture.
It seemed like a pattern was emerging, but blonde, beautiful Cindy delayed joining the group by studying education at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She played the flute and piano and tended to prefer classical music.
Following graduation, Cindy applied for a job in the Saugus Union School District and was soon teaching at Highlands Elementary School. Playing with her brothers and fathers seemed unlikely, yet she did sit in on practice sessions occasionally.
Then one night the piano player in the group was stranded in the San Fernando Valley and Cindy immediately became a permanent member.
The family adopted the name Cindy and Co. in 1971 when they answered an ad to play at the Big Oaks Lodge up Bouquet Canyon. They were an instant hit, and were soon booking gigs from a variety of organizations, not only in the SCV, but Simi Valley, Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley.
Up to this point, Jean had efficiently combined motherhood with a full-time job. But she determined that the job would have to go when she found herself juggling the band’s costume fittings and bookings with her youngest son’s school and baseball schedules. While 12-year-old Bobby’s extracurricular attentions centered on baseball, he did play the guitar, so there was always the possibility that the group might have another member sometime in the future.
But as of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Cindy and Co. was a four-member group interspersing outside hobbies and daytime jobs with the nighttime demand for their music. As the group’s popularity grew, the family branched out in larger pursuits. One of those involved buying the Big Oaks Lodge and hosting Sunday afternoon jam sessions with guest musicians who came from all over Southern California.
As rewarding as local success was, the family was always looking for ways to grow and stretch their talents. Sadly for their followers in our valley, one of those ways involved leaving California for a chance to join the burgeoning music scene in the Midwest.
Though the siblings returned from time to time for visits, most of their SCV fans lost track of the Kress family. Only their closest friends and family know the details of the family’s ultimate career paths and the new dreams they had found to pursue after they left our valley. As for the rest of us, we were saddened when news filtered down recently about Andy’s and Cindy’s deaths, but we can smile remembering the nights we danced and sang along with Cindy, John, Andy, and Jack to the most popular music of the time – everything from the Beatles and the Beach Boys to Elton John and Billy Joel, as well as the rock sounds of performers like Michael Jackson, Ike and Tina Turner, and Dire Straits.
In the early 1950s, a children’s Christmas record entitled “Why the Chimes Rang” was sold in some department stores. It told the story of a fictional kingdom whose grand cathedral boasted chimes so glorious they would make the angels weep. Sadly, the chimes had been silent for hundreds of years. The community began gathering at midnight each Christmas Eve to place offerings at the church altar in hopes they would awaken the bells — but no matter how grand the gift, the chimes remained silent.
One momentous Christmas Eve, two peasant boys trudged through the snow towards the cathedral. The older brother clasped a small piece of silver dug from the fields near the family home. The nugget was to be his birthday gift for the baby Jesus at the midnight service. Their journey was interrupted when a dark shadow fell across their path. An old woman had collapsed near a snow bank, too weak and cold to make her way home. The older boy knelt by the woman giving her bread from his knapsack and rubbing her hands for warmth.
The boy knew he must stay with the old woman and comfort her while his brother went for help. Fighting back tears of disappointment that he wouldn’t be able to give Jesus his gift, he urged his little brother to continue the journey and place the silver on the altar for him.
Meanwhile, a long line of worshippers had gathered at the church — merchants, knights, and noblemen, all waiting to place their most prized possessions on the altar. As the evening wore on, the gifts became more and more precious, yet still the chimes remained silent. At last, the king marched forward, took the crown from his head, and placed it on the altar. The villagers held their breaths, surely this majestic gift would, at last, make the bells ring. But only the wind could be heard whistling through the tower. The disappointed crowd turned and shuffled towards the door.
Suddenly the tower began to resonate with peal after peal of melodious harmonies. The people pivoted toward the altar and saw that a small boy was kneeling in prayer beside a small piece of silver he had placed near the king’s crown. Wide-eyed they watched as an angel appeared and spoke to them. She explained that although the Christ Child was honored by the magnificent gifts brought to him each year on his birthday, the only gift worthy of unleashing the joyous pealing of the bells had been given that night far from the cathedral — it was the unselfish, compassionate act of a young boy.
In a season filled with symbols, the story is a reminder of what many believe is the real meaning behind the brightly colored lights, the eggnog, and the festive December parties. And while the story is decidedly Christian, the sentiment is not exclusive to Christianity, it can be found in most religions and philosophies.
That philosophy of unselfish compassion can be found, not just at Christmas, but all year round at the SCV Food Pantry on Railroad Avenue. The volunteer-based organization, officially established in 1986 through the efforts of the St. Stephen’s Episcopal and Santa Clarita United Methodist churches, had one mission: to help feed the growing number of poverty-level families in the Santa Clarita Valley.
St. Stephens donated space for the first food distributions, but as the number of needy residents grew, the demand for larger facilities prompted the move to Railroad Avenue in 1992.
In recent years the Pantry has added a Senior Outreach program, which delivers food to low-income senior citizens living in apartment complexes located around the valley.
Food distribution is on a short-term, supplemental, need basis. To qualify for assistance, individuals and families must be current residents of the SCV, earn no more than 150 percent of the USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program’s poverty level standards, and be actively searching for employment if not disabled or retired.
Suggested food donations include peanut butter, healthy snacks and cereals, canned meats, vegetables and soups, and macaroni and cheese. Suggested non-food items are shampoo, deodorant, disposable diapers, baby wipes, bar soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Donations may be taken to 24133 Railroad Avenue in Newhall. For operating hours and more information, call 661-255-9078.
When the winter Santa Anas begin to blow, flames, whether from natural or manmade sources, usually aren’t far behind, creating a fire season as well as a holiday season in Southern California. So, while we should be stringing outdoor lights and decorating trees during this first official week of December celebrations, we are instead watching the skies and our televisions to monitor the fires burning around our valley.
A little distraction seems in order with a look back at Decembers past and a few events warmed by camaraderie, eggnog, and good will rather than fire.
Unlike SCV’s annual Fourth of July Parade, local Christmas parades have had a sporadic past. The winter tradition flourished for a while in the 1970s, and one memorable parade in the heart of Old Town Newhall featured a candy-tossing Santa (played by Downtown business owner, Dr. Mac Shaughnessy) and a surprise visit from Mickey Mouse. The children squealed with delight as the life-sized mouse blew kisses and shook hands while making his way down the parade route. Special thanks went to CalArts executive Jack Clark for arranging Mickey’s appearance.
A popular ‘70s celebration, and one of the biggest annual holiday parties, was hosted by Art and Betty Evans (Art was a longtime community leader as well as the former owner of a short-lived rival publication of The Signal). If there was someone you’d been trying to hook up with for weeks, but never made the connection, you were sure to find him or her crowded under the mistletoe at the Evans’ hilltop home in Saugus.
No one blinked an eye when a state official like Assemblyman Bob Cline squeezed through the people-packed rooms to munch on hors d’oeuvres with L.A. District Attorney John Van de Kamp, Newhall Court Judge Jack Clark (how often does a community have two respected leaders with the same name?), and the two captains of our law enforcement establishments: the Sheriff’s Bill Fairchild and his wife Flora, and Highway Patrol’s Ken Forster and wife Francine.
Our own local celebrity, artist and historian Lloyd Houghton, could be spotted talking jazz with Ted Lamkin and Scott and Ruth Newhall while Miriam Canty, Harriett Lindeman, the Chris Uphams, and the John Relics joined a long line of guests dishing up a variety of main dishes topped off by Art’s famous coleslaw.
Canyon Country was ably represented by attorneys Sam Thompson, Kevin Lynch, and Dan Hon, as well as CC Chamber supporters Marj Akehurst, Bob and Rose Ohler, Bill and Vickie Oren, Ken and Anne Lynch, Gerry and Moana Steinberg, and George and Maggie Wells.
With such an outstanding opportunity to catch up on every aspect of Santa Clarita Valley life, it was hard to leave the party — the next person walking through the front door may be a U.S. senator, your Little League coach, the superintendent of your school district, your lawyer, your hairstylist, or your cable TV man. What more could any party-goer ask for?
The Newhall-Saugus-Valencia Chamber of Commerce (whose name lost its hyphenation when the membership opted for the title “Santa Clarita Valley”) celebrated the holidays with a social that singled out hard-working members, presented honorary lifetime awards, and gave its guests a musical respite before sending them back to their busy offices and hectic shopping chores.
Held in the Fiesta Room at the Ranch House Inn (sadly torn down to make room for more motel rooms), the 1974 event honored future Sand Canyon resident (and frequent entertainer at local events) Stuart Hamblen with a lifetime membership. Hamblen, who was best known as a songwriter and the founder of the Cowboy Church of the Air, accepted the award from then chamber president Art Briner.
During his acceptance speech, Stuart told the crowd that his philosophy of life was “any man that don’t like hound dogs, fast horses, and pretty women, ain’t worth killing.” With his number one pretty woman, wife Suzy, by his side, Hamblen entertained the gathering with the couple’s humorous “homesteading” experiences on Mulholland Drive in Hollywood. His city slicker neighbors didn’t take kindly to their rooster, hound dogs, and horses, but once he and Suzy ate the rooster and fenced in their property, things quieted down. He felt certain that the Hamblen lifestyle would be a more perfect fit in Sand Canyon.
The evening ended with Stuart singing his latest song, “Leave This House One More Time, and I’m Gonna Clobber You, Little Darlin’.”
The audience found themselves humming the catchy melody as they headed to their cars at the end of the evening. Hamblen’s tongue-in-cheek, down-home humor was greeted with laughs in the ‘70s, but today’s politically correct audiences might not embrace it quite as warmly. Just one more reminder how things have changed in our PC world where “Merry Christmas” is often frowned on as a cheerful seasonal greeting.
The SCV may not have had an official mayor until December of 1987, but thanks to the Elks Lodge, it did have a number of Honorary Mayors pre-cityhood. In February 1970, the Elks inaugurated its Honorary Mayor Contest – a month-long campaign of fundraisers hosted by social, charitable, political, and service organizations with one goal in mind, to separate the “voter” from his money. The organization that amassed the largest campaign chest at the end of the four-week race earned its candidate the right to wear the badge of Honorary Mayor for one year.
The contest started each February with a Kick-Off Dance at the Elks Lodge. Candidates assembled with their respective backers to sell campaign buttons, tickets, kisses, and most anything else that was legal – each 10 cents donated to a campaign was counted as one vote.
The Kick-Off was followed by four weekends of eclectic events that included everything from car washes to auctions, golf tournaments to theater parties, and raffles to fashion shows. Over the years, an impressive slate of candidates paraded before the public, sporting campaign buttons like “Let George Do It” (not Pederson, who would later use the slogan to run for City Council, but Rotarian George Wells, former Straw Hat Pizza owner and longtime supporter of the Boys and Girls Club and Henry Mayo Memorial Hospital); and “Fee for Me,” (G.W. Fee, the Moose Lodge’s good-natured “elder statesman” who stood out in every crowd because he wore railroad overalls to every event – right up until the inauguration banquet when he shocked his followers by donning a tuxedo).
Fee’s family had settled in Newhall in the 1920s. His mother and stepfather, Dora and John Taylor, opened Taylor’s Place on San Fernando Road (now Main Street) shortly after moving to the valley. Their malt shop was next to Newhall Community Hospital. The family also sold chicken pot pies to the men who were working on the “Newhall Grade” tunnel in the early ‘30s. G.W. had worked for the State of California, Newhall Land, Bermite, and Southern California Edison before retiring in 1970.
Fee, who ended up winning the 1978 Honorary Mayor title, would spend the next year alternating ceremonial duties with part-time jobs at Dillenbeck’s Market and the Feed Bin on Sierra Highway, as well as his farming chores.
The list of candidates represented a “who’s who” on the social and charitable scene, featuring hard-working volunteers like social mavens Claire Rider, Janet Hughes, and Joyce Armstrong (later Whiteside-Bell); country-western entertainers Tex Williams, Cliffie Stone, and Carl Cribbs; popular emcee and character actor George Keegan; featured singer and keyboard artist Cindy Kress from the popular family band Cindy and Co.; and Newhall Bowl co-owner, Lee Turner.
The popularity of the Honorary Mayor candidates was rivaled only by the ingenious fundraisers planned by the competing organizations. In 1974, campaign manager Jo Kehiayan hosted a Yo-Yos and Gumdrops party for Republican Women’s Club candidate Estelle Dowdy. The event offered party-goers a chance at a second childhood with activities like yo-yo contests and tricycle and roller skating races – and all the contestants seemed quite comfortable in their new roles. Ed and Sue Barnhill, Carol and Harris Howard, Pat Willett, Beulah Cannon, Prudy Thatcher, Judy Anderson, and Olive Ruby were just a few of those enjoying the evening’s antics.
Highlight was the tricycle race around the backyard pool (a precursor to the Rocking Horse Derby in the ‘80s and the more recent Child & Family Trike Derby). Conscientious pit and ambulance crews were on hand to reattach loose wheels, spokes, and handlebars along the circuitous course. Anyone falling in the pool was an automatic winner, but since the evening temperature was about 50 degrees, no one took that route.
At another event hosted by the political group, Maureen Reagan, daughter of the California governor at the time, dropped by to share campaign stories and anecdotes.
Some of the most popular events featured music performed by the Country-Western candidates themselves. Not surprisingly, they were often joined on stage by many of their fellow stars. And
thanks to Elks Lodge members Russ and Susie Bisset, Dixieland fans were treated to jam sessions with legendary musicians like Pete Daily, Nappy Lamare, Bill Campbell, Al Jenkins, Hugh Allison, Jack Wadsworth, Abe Lincoln, and Wayne Songer.
With anywhere from three to five events going on each weekend, little wonder that the sponsoring organizations, their supporters, and their flattened wallets were happy to see the March Inaugural banquet arrive. The dinner-dance was a suspenseful one for the candidates as they waited to see who would emerge victorious. But at the end, the consensus was that the real winners were the respective charities, which would benefit from the good-natured competitions.
And unlike many conventional mayors, who tend to fade into the background once their tenures are over, the past winners returned year after year to support the race – as 1975 Honorary Mayor Janet Hughes quipped, “Old mayors never die, we just sell someone else’s raffle tickets.”
Even though Christmas decorations began popping up in retail shopping centers before Halloween was over, service and charitable organizations have not overlooked the special November holiday dedicated to giving thanks. Turkey, chicken, and canned food donations to the SCV Food Pantry, and special meals for seniors and the homeless have highlighted the month and will continue to be the focus of many local charities.
It might have been coincidental that the founding fathers of the Newhall-Saugus Elks Lodge signed their charter during this holiday season, however, that act gave their members one more thing to be grateful for – and each November, they have marked the formation with a special celebration.
The anniversary festivities have become a Thanksgiving tradition falling either on the weekend before or the weekend after the momentous day. This year marked a landmark — the 50th anniversary of the founding — and organizers went all out for the occasion. Special thanks to past-exalted ruler Cheryl Laymon for providing some of the program highlights.
About 150 members and friends gazed in wonder at the sea of glittering gold and purple decorations that illuminated the main ballroom of the Sierra Highway lodge last Saturday night. It took four hours of inspired creativity to achieve the effect and those contributing to the artistry were Larry and Dwanna Lousberg, Paul and Gale Gleim, John Rivetti, Skip and Karen Henke, and Roseanne Dalton.
Dwanna provided the floral centerpieces, Roseanne the golden chair covers, and John the matching tablecloths. Commemorative shot glasses were from Rfocus Company.
Brian and Leslie from NECA Catering were in charge of the evening’s buffet, which featured fettuccini Alfredo, London broil, and chicken pesto entrees.
The evening began with a prayer offered by lodge chaplain Paul Gleim followed by the Young Marines of Santa Clarita Color Guard, and flag salute led by lodge esquire Richard Snyder.
The main program of the evening was the Rededication of the lodge led by California-Hawaii Elks Association past president and district leader Skip Henke.
After dinner State Senator Scott Wilk, Assemblyman Dante Acosta, and Elks member and City Councilman Bob Kellar presented government proclamations and commendations. City of Santa Clarita Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste, who is also an Elks member, followed with praise for the group’s accomplishments over the years. Assistant field director Nicole Vartanian presented commendations from 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
A special gift to the Lodge, a Commemorative 50th Anniversary Clock, was unveiled by longtime volunteer Judith Farkas.
The formalities came to an eye-popping end when the lights were dimmed and master baker and Lodge bingo volunteer Jo Alpern rolled out a colossal sheet cake flickering with the golden bursts of 50 giant sparklers.
The Greek philosopher Plato believed that there were two worlds – an unseen world of forms that was the ideal, and the apparent world, which patterns itself after the ideal, but is constantly changing. Thus, there is the “perfect chair” somewhere above us in the firmament, while there are myriads of varieties of chairs here in the physical world.
If modern soccer were around in Plato’s time, he most likely would have envisioned his prototype of the ideal soccer player. Now there are millions of soccer players, all with their own shapes and forms. In 1977, some of those took the form of women who made up a team called “The Santa Clarita Valley Spurs.” They were a mixture of heights, weights, and ages – one, barely out of her teens, but the majority were mothers, whose closest link to a soccer ball up to that time had been standing on the sidelines cheering for their sons and daughters.
A few of them eventually ventured on to the field to help their husbands coach a sport that was relatively new to the American psyche. From this nucleus, a fledgling team began to emerge, inspired by one of their ranks whose husband was a soccer whiz.
Ernie Mendez, a coach and member of a recreational men’s soccer team, could maneuver around frustrated defenders like a spinning sprite, conjuring up magical feats of ball “handling” with his feet. His wife Eugenia encouraged Ernie to use his skills to teach a group of enthusiastic matrons the difference between a goal kick and a corner kick; and to resist the urge to catch the ball with their hands whenever it bounced their way. Not an easy undertaking for some whose gut reaction while running down the field to intercept a pass was to stick out an arm, rather than a leg.
Luckily for Ernie, there were a few who had spent a semester or two in school learning some of the basics of the game. There were also some who excelled in other sports and used their athletic abilities to make up for their often awkward attempts to tame the black and white sphere with their feet. After a few months of Saturday afternoon teaching and work-out sessions, a fairly cohesive team emerged that was eager to test newly acquired skills against teams from other areas.
In 1979, the team began burning up the San Fernando Valley soccer fields in the B Division of the Tri Valley Women’s Soccer League – a division that included women in roughly the same age group. (While none of the players came close to being classified as “over the hill,” when one of them mentioned “36,” she most likely was talking about her age, not her measurements).
The season ended with an impressive second place in the division following a narrow defeat by the San Fernando Valley Charlie Browns. On a frosty February evening in 1980, the Spurs joined other soccer teams at a Tri-Valley awards banquet held at the Knollwood Country Club.
Goalie Lori Soper, the “kid” on the team, was the evening’s big winner, receiving a certificate for having the lowest number of goals scored against her in league play. Lori was helped in this impressive feat by a solid line of defenders which included Diane Martin, Doris Armstrong, Joan Hofferber, and Barbara Lawless (and yes, even this columnist. (My sons used to joke, “How often can a guy say his mother was a fullback?!”)
The halfbacks who helped keep the ball from slipping beyond midfield included Peggy Stratton, Carla Morning, Fran Bodman, Lynn Gabrielson, Carol Garcia, and Linda Roth.
Scoring attacks for the Spurs were led by Lorraine Bowman, Susie Hermann, Wendy Schroeder, Anita Affa, Dana Barnett, and Eugenia Mendez.
All the players received trophies from Coach Mendez before taking to the dance floor to perform some other fancy footwork. When the team members weren’t dancing or talking about league play, they were discussing a two-week trip that a few had signed up for at the end of the season. The trip included an international soccer adventure in New Zealand the following month – an encouraging sign that not all athletic opportunities are reserved for youngsters.
Following their success in the ‘70s, the team moved into the ‘80s, honoring their coach by adopting the name of “Ernie’s Angels.” The women and significant others also maintained close friendships off the soccer field long after competitions were over. They planned private get-togethers and field trips, and participated in fundraisers for the youth soccer programs – the catalyst that had brought them together.
Soccer, and women’s soccer in particular, has come a long way in the United States since those early days. Now posters of pony-tailed stars often adorn teens’ walls alongside those of rock bands. The stars of today may well be the epitome of Plato’s ideal, but for a while, there was a variety of players from Plato’s “apparent world” right here in the Santa Clarita Valley who still have little gold soccer trophies gathering dust in their closets.
Halloween: masks, candy, homemade ghostly decorations – and revelers, young and old, choosing their favorite fantasies and living behind new personae for a few hours during October’s “witching hours.”
Well, that’s how it used to be. Granted, the candy is still here, but so many other dynamics have come into play over the years! One of the more dramatic changes has involved home decorations – they have taken on a whole new dimension, becoming more and more elaborate. Back in the 1960s, it was unique to see a house with little more than a few grinning jack-o-lanterns adorning the front porch.
(I do recall one ingenious family that rigged a giant homemade spider in the tree above their front porch. The teenagers inside took great pleasure lowering the fuzzy creature over the heads of the unsuspecting trick-or-treaters hustling up the sidewalk to ring the doorbell. Squeals, then giggles of relief from the costumed characters rewarded the teens’ trickery. The “victims” were then treated (revived?) with large chocolate bars for “surviving” the arachnid ambush. (Those ingenious teens might be subjected to a lawsuit in today’s litigious society.)
The jack-o-lantern is still the decoration of choice, however, there are now myriads of orange, purple, and black twinkle lights being sold in bulk at stores, along with life-size witches, ghouls, skeletons and Frankensteins – many complete with moveable arms and cackling sound effects. (Where do homeowners find the space to store these decorations when the holiday is over? Most of us barely have room for the Christmas trimmings.)
And what about masks and costumes? Forget the uproar over political masks – this year, the
PC police widened the ban on costume choices. One politically correct commentator issued shame warnings to anyone who would choose to dress up like a Tyrolean mountain climber, a Flamenco dancer, a Geisha, or a fearless Cossack, condemning the use of any and all cultural representations. She didn’t mention the region of Transylvania, so the verdict must still be out on whether celebrants should be considered racist for wearing vampire attire.
Then there’s the subject of trick or treating – it’s not surprising that many neighborhoods have seen the decline of the holiday’s traditional door-to-door visits. Criminal activities in the past, some very real, some urban legend, have prompted parents to ban the practice in favor of group parties at clubhouses and community “spook fests.” Also popular are “trunk-or-treat” get-togethers featuring line-ups of spookily decorated car trunks containing all kinds of sweet treats and plenty of adult supervision.
Decorations, costumes, and political correctness aside, the Canyon Theatre Guild added a bit of ghoulish entertainment to the season with its October production of “The Addams Family,” a musical romp featuring many of the favorite cartoon characters penned by Charles Addams in 1938.
Executive artistic director TimBen Boydston reported that the show, directed by his wife Ingrid with assistance from Musette Caing, broke attendance records for the Main Street theatre venue. Little wonder, since the Broadway comedy appeals to adults and children alike (even though many of the double entendres escape the youngsters in the audiences).
Once again, the quality of singing and acting emanating from the stage was amazing. The play, featuring headliners Bryan McCravy (Gomez), Savannah Marie (Morticia), and Skylar Cutchall (Wednesday), combined the many diverse human emotions espoused in the musical number “Happy Sad,” not only in the song’s lyrics, but in the presentation’s dramatic family interactions as well. Tying the action together and moving the scenes along with humorous antics that had the children and adults in the audience laughing out loud was Eduardo Arteaga as Uncle Fester.
The production was sparked with unique artistic touches delivered by the entire ensemble – all adding to enthusiastic applause from the audience. Since the play proved popular enough to warrant an extra Sunday afternoon performance, it might also have inspired a myriad of Addams family costumes the following Tuesday night. While gloomy black attire, long, drab overcoats, and blinking light bulbs might raise the hackles of the fashion police, surely they are innocent enough to fall under the radar of the PC police!
In the winter of 2004 and the spring of 2005, a new word was introduced into SCV vocabularies. The word was charrette (sometimes written charette or charet). Charrettes were part of a months-long process introduced by the architects and urbanists of Moule & Polyzoides, who were hired to develop a unifying, specific plan for the Downtown Newhall area.
Those outside the process eventually learned that charrette was a French word for what the average citizen would most likely call a study session or committee planning meeting – and there were plenty of those scheduled to include the ideas and dreams of our local leaders and community members into Moule & Polyzoides’ final product.
If you’ve ever wondered about the impetus for the many improvements that have taken place in the downtown area over the years, look no further than the weighty document released in February of 2005. The Specific Plan incorporated input from studies of other “revived” downtown areas to compare and note their best characteristics. The process also included two 3-day interactive town hall meetings, and 12 days of public comment. The results were posted on the city website and were also available in printed form.
Undaunted readers found that the plan covered the general as well as the specific, outlining costs and timetables for each component in the transformation procedure. The Planning Commission continued the process, dissecting the document for presentation at a series of hearings designed to give the public a chance to comment and critique.
For veterans of the Downtown Newhall revitalization movement the Specific Plan was the latest in a series of actions begun in 1989 when the City of Santa Clarita created The Newhall Redevelopment Agency. The Agency’s goal was to “undertake redevelopment activities that remove physically and economically blighted conditions that inhibit and continue to plague economic growth in the city.”
The Agency’s redevelopment project area, established by the City Council in 1997, included the retail, industrial, public, and residential properties generally situated along the Lyons Avenue and then San Fernando Road corridors. Goals set by the Agency included “the creation of an attractive, memorable image that expresses Newhall’s history and character and enhances the role of Newhall as a community center.”
Before securing the services of Moule & Polyzoides, the Newhall Redevelopment Committee had reviewed other cities’ revitalization projects, conferred with development consultants, listened to concerns of the Old Town Newhall Association, and exchanged feelings and ideas on their visions for the area. Some of the resulting recommendations included façade beautification, street lighting improvements, and additional parking.
The Specific Plan took those goals into consideration and produced a visualization of a revamped Downtown Newhall and the steps necessary to turn the vision into reality – right down to underground utilities and designated street trees. The plan sought to transform the Downtown strip into an attractive, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented, economically vital center.
One of the most visual aspects of the plan stands where Main Street dead-ends at Lyons –the large, state-of-the-art public library. In 1997, the planners felt that the building should be balanced on the south end of Main Street by a museum that would help unite historic and civic value to the area – a children’s museum was one of the suggested ideas.
While the museum may remain a pipe dream, groundbreaking has already taken place and steel is in the ground for a 42-room hotel located near the entrance to Downtown Newhall on Railroad Ave. (next to Roger Dunn Golf and across the street from Newhall Ice Company). Internet and newspaper stories have reported that the Hotel Luxen will have two main stories and a penthouse.
It was inevitable that not all of the Specific Plan recommendations would be followed – times and people’s needs change. That seems to pertain to the plan’s provision to augment the limited parking areas with two strategically located “park-once” garages on the east side of Main Street. The garages have not materialized and ample parking for downtown shoppers and diners remains an issue. However, there will be a parking garage included as part of the Laemmle Theatre complex – a mixed-use development near the library.
The Laemmle addition to the Downtown Newhall vista is just one example of the evolving process that has resulted from the hours, days, months, and years of work put in by the Redevelopment Committee members (the Agency was dissolved in 2012 and the city became the Successor Agency), the Planning Commission, and the city officials since the launch of the Specific Plan 12 years ago. The success of their efforts can be measured in the new restaurants, landscaping, and boutiques that have sprung up on Main Street. If the excitement created by these improvements is any indication, more unplanned and unique surprises, such as the Rotary Clock near the Canyon Theatre, will continue to add to the character and visual landscape greeting motorists as they enter the downtown area.
With all the national strife taking place over gun control and border security, a little breather might be in order – a brief time-out to look at some of the less complex kinds of crime taking place in the little town of Newhall at the turn of the century – the 20th Century that is.
At a Bosses Night hosted by the SCV Legal Secretaries Association in 1980, lawyers, judges, office workers, and local residents listened as Judge Adrian Adams took them back in time with a short list of Newhall Municipal Court cases dating from 1898.
By exploring the dockets, the judge found that the most common crime of the era was evading railroad fares or “riding the rails.” Penalty was $5 if caught. Another prevalent crime was picking yuccas, which cost the budding botanists $5.
Prohibition had a marked influence on the arrests in Newhall. During those honky-tonk days, one judge fined a man $23 or 180 days in jail for possessing a still. The same judge threw the book at another man named Sam Gish for being caught in a “disorderly house.” Gish was given 60 days – a sentence that was later enigmatically suspended. The reason for the suspension wasn’t recorded.
Judge Adams pointed out one interesting fact to all those in the audience who insisted on a Wild West characterization for a town that was actually born as a railroad stop – there were no horse stealing felonies in the Newhall dockets.
The SCV Legal Secretaries Association was very active in the 80s with installations and special events that showcased its members’ creative and humorous sides. Judge Adams’ remarks were preceded by a tongue-in-cheek monologue delivered by chair Louisa de Tolentino.
Parodying the opening lines from the “Superman” TV series (faster than a speeding bullet, etc., etc.) Louisa painted a comical picture of the power structure at a law office. “The senior partner leaps buildings in a single bound; the junior partner leaps small buildings with a running start; the junior associate runs into buildings and recognizes them as buildings two out of three times.”
Her satirical analogy continued with: “The paralegal makes high marks on walls while trying to leap over buildings; the law clerk falls over doorsteps when trying to enter buildings; the legal secretary simply lifts the buildings and walks under them.”
And lest anyone forget the marked differences between the legal office occupants, Louisa’s monologue ended with this local “truism”: while the “senior partner talks to God, the junior partner makes an appointment and a paralegal waits in line to talk to God – the legal secretary IS God!”
The evening also included a “Best Boss” essay contest, which awarded special prizes to writer Maureen Ryon and her boss, Lawrence Grassini; and a skit about a typical day in “the law firm of Hon, Lowder, Patterson, Wolfe, Baxter, Grassini, Olsen, etc., etc.”
The authors of the skit, Jackie Adair and Teresia Haase, took some good-natured jabs at the valley’s lawyers, along with a few digs at the legal profession as well (“Rick Patterson phoned in to say he was detained in Hawaii; and Mr. Grassini was at Memorial Hospital having his usual morning coffee with the patients in the emergency room”).
The evening ended with a “Mediocre Medley” written by Jackie and Norma Jean Fish. Using melodies from popular “oldies,” Pat Bernard, Louisa de Tolentino, Teresia Haas, Carol Lawrence, and Marge Lowder joined Jackie and Norma Jean in songs like “Home, Home at the Law Firm, where seldom is heard, from a client, a word;” and “Opposing Council, Give me Your Answer Do, I’m half crazy waiting to hear from you.”
The songs and skit proved that the ladies didn’t have to be secretaries to make a living, a whole world of show biz was out there just waiting for their talents – talents which, incidentally, could well serve our legislators in Washington. Imagine how much harmony might be achieved if Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan dropped some of their posturing and took to the stage to poke fun at themselves and their bickering!
by Linda Pedersen
In many cases, negative realities of aging minds and bodies clash with the well-meaning platitudes of motivational speakers like Marv Levy. A contrasting view is accredited to actress Bette Davis: “Getting old is not for sissies.” Both sentiments have a home at the SCV Senior Center. Whether the aging experience is positive or challenging, there are programs and resources at the Center for each, beginning with an active social calendar.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
George Bernard Shaw
The Center’s social scene unfolds each weekday at 8 a.m. when seniors begin arriving at the Market Street building in Newhall by foot (a senior housing complex is next door), by car, or city bus. Weather permitting, many take a seat outside the entry, waiting to greet friends and catch up on the latest gossip.
Chess enthusiasts, card players, pool sharks, and budding artists migrate inside where there is a designated area for each hobby. On certain days, lines form outside for buses that will take the more adventurous on day trips to outside attractions like casinos, vineyards, or libraries.
The non-stop activities pause at noon each day when live music begins emanating from the community room. It’s there that seniors enjoy a nutritious lunch, then tap their toes or grab a partner to dance to the infectious tunes being played.
This scenario had its start in the ‘70s, before the Market Place building was available to seniors. At that time, the Oak of the Golden Dream Senior Citizen Club organized monthly lunches at the Elks Lodge. Created by SCV resident Kay Coleman as a way to provide a social outlet for her aging parents, the club designated a theme for each month’s get-together. During the summer, seniors would dress up in colorful luau costumes, which would only be outdone by the spooky outfits they would wear at October’s Halloween luncheon.
Whether the theme was Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, or Thanksgiving, the scene was the same — energetic seniors sipping soft drinks or wine, laughing over their lunch entrees, and then dancing to the tunes played on the piano by retired schoolteacher Ruth Jones. Community activist and future SCV Man of the Year Frank Lorelli made sure there were no wallflowers at the dance. With wife Gussie’s blessing, he would twirl a number of partners round the dance floor.
The participants who populated the luncheons and events promoted by the Oak of the Golden Dream Senior Citizens Club blended into the new milieu created when the SCV Committee on Aging secured the county-owned building on Market Street in 1983 and began offering its daily calendar of activities.
The SCVCOA also had its beginnings in 1972 with the same goal of providing activities and services for senior citizens. It reached official status when it was incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) in 1976. With its new designation, the committee was able to pursue official support and funding for specially allocated senior citizen programs from Los Angeles County and, in turn, the Federal Government’s Older Americans Act. The early years of negotiating and organizing by the grassroots organization led to the donation of the county building.
While the social aspect of the Senior Center is the most visible, the organization has other far-reaching benefits for our valley’s aging population. In addition to special exercise, dance, and music classes, the Center also sponsors educational lectures and counseling sessions for seniors, their family members and caregivers.
“If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees Slugger
A health and wellness component at the Center addresses the unique physical and mental challenges facing the aging population. In addition to classes for attaining and maintaining general health, the Center’s outreach also includes information and resources for those with age-related diseases. Health clinics, care management counseling, and a weekly caregiver support group are a few of the services offered. An In-Home Care Program provides supervision for things like personal care, meal and medication management, as well as light housekeeping. Adult Day Care is also available for those with conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia, post-stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
Home delivered lunches are prepared according to state nutritional requirements for certain homebound seniors depending on medical condition, recent illness, recent discharges from the hospital, and mental or emotional dysfunction.
“It’s important to have a twinkle in your wrinkle.”
According to the website, over 200 volunteers, many independent seniors themselves, provide a support system for executive director Kevin MacDonald and the Center staff. With 19 different programs and services offered, the volunteers are a valuable resource. And when the Baby Boomers began expanding the aging population, the Center’s volunteer board (SCVCOA) took up the challenge of providing for that expansion with its $11 million building campaign.
“The Market Street center has served our valley well,” says board president Peggy Rasmussen, “but it has its own aging problems. Its size and infrastructure are being sorely stressed by our burgeoning number of clients.”
The board’s campaign to provide SCV seniors with a larger, state-of-the-art building is within $1 million of its goal, prompting a ground-breaking ceremony this month near the intersection of Golden Valley Parkway and Newhall Ranch Road. The new facility will not only provide a home for seniors, but a valuable resource for other community organizations as well. To donate or learn more about the Center’s services and its building campaign, one may visit newseniorcenter.com or call (661) 259-9444.
“The Boomers will eventually have to accept that it is not possible to stay forever young or to stop aging. But it is possible, by committing to show up for others in community after community, to earn a measure of immortality.”
-Eric Liu, Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy to President Clinton
Mountain Lakes is a small town in New Jersey with plenty of trails and lakes for outdoor activities. And as a youngster growing up in the ‘60s, Kevin MacDonald spent a good deal of his leisure time hiking and camping with family and friends. But it was the hours spent closer to home, in his own neighborhood, that had the biggest impact on Kevin’s life. That was because one of his neighbors, a young boy named Jimmy, had Down Syndrome. Since Kevin’s parents were involved with services for the disabled, Kevin learned how to interact with Jimmy as a helpmate as well as a playmate.
Kevin’s friendship with Jimmy, coupled with his parents’ charitable activities, led to a passion for helping the disabled, motivating him to organize an extracurricular club in high school that he called the Social Action Committee. The group’s activities took many different forms, from volunteering at nursing homes to fundraising for a variety of charities.
His dedication to social work continued into Kevin’s college years at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He supplemented the courses required for a Bachelor of Science degree in Business with a number of classes dedicated to the social sciences.
“A business background was invaluable, but social work was where my heart was at,” Kevin says.
The passion for helping others prompted Kevin to apply for a job with The Arc when he returned home following graduation. The Arc, a service organization that he first became acquainted with as a high school volunteer, “promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through a number of services.”
Kevin’s responsibilities with the Morris County chapter of The Arc included finding homes for people with disabilities. His three years at the job solidified a determination to seek further education so he could one day serve as an executive director of the organization. “The more positive interactions I had with volunteers, staff, and clients, the more interested I became in finding innovative ways of managing those interactions,” says Kevin. That interest led to two years at the University of California, Berkeley pursuing a master’s degree in business administration.
Shortly after earning his degree, Kevin became a lobbyist for The Arc in Sacramento. The chance to learn the inner workings of the California disability system well compensated for the low pay, and helped him to secure a permanent position as executive director at The Arc in Downey, California.
MacDonald’s next 23 years fine-tuned his expertise in developing programming, leading fundraising projects, and integrating community and business services for the disabled. It also prepared him for a new challenge in a new town when a recruiter approached him a little over a year ago about an executive director position with the SCV Senior Center. One of the deciding factors in accepting the offer was the chance to participate in the building campaign for a new center scheduled to be built at the corner of Newhall Ranch and Golden Valley roads.
“I looked forward to leading a capital campaign because it would take my fundraising skills up a notch,” explains Kevin, “but my first priority when I took over in July 2016, was to listen to the needs expressed by the Center board, the staff, the volunteers, and the seniors themselves. I found that there was a collective desire to spruce up the county building on Market Street, which has served as the Center’s home for 40 years, and to improve and enhance the Center’s many diverse services.”
As Kevin has become better acquainted with the Santa Clarita Valley, the Center’s board (better known as the Santa Clarita Committee on Aging) its volunteers and clientele, he has been able to tick off many tasks on his “to do” list. At the same time, he credits the tireless efforts of the individual board members and the overwhelmingly positive support from the community with getting the $11 million capital campaign within 1.3 million of its goal.
“The growth of the Santa Clarita Valley and the corresponding growth of the senior citizen population has made a new, larger facility a necessity,” says Kevin. “Many residents are unaware of the administrative demands for space to house the Center’s counseling and support services in addition to its diverse recreational activities. As one example, an innovative state-of-the-art kitchen will facilitate the daily preparation of the 500 lunches which we now serve — not just to those who come to the Center, but at Friendly Valley, the Vintage Bouquet complex, and to homebound seniors as well.”
When not immersed in the whirlwind of activities at the Center, MacDonald keeps pace with his two sons’ activities: Conner has a digital marketing business in Venice, California, and Reed is finishing up his final year at UCLA. MacDonald is also transferring his 20-year association with the Downey Rotary Club to the SCV noon club.
“Rotary has been an obvious adjunct to a professional life that grew out of my childhood friendship with Jimmy,” concludes Kevin. “Rotary’s motto, Service Above Self, says it all.”
It’s 2 o’clock on a summer afternoon and R.J. Kelly’s phone is ringing. A homeowner in Newhall is calling and his message is short and to the point. The caller’s backyard nectarines are ripe and ready to be picked.
R.J. hangs up, then calls a few of his friends in the Veterans Advocacy Network and schedules a time for them to gather up their ladders and buckets for an afternoon of fruit picking. This is no pleasure excursion, although the vets do find ways to make the task fun. These nectarines will be taken to the retired Marines Canyon Country office where they will be divvied up and eventually find their way to local veterans’ kitchen tables. On this particular day it’s nectarines, however Kelly has a whole network of local homeowners with backyard fruit trees, small orchards, and large vegetable patches who make similar calls throughout the year that end up in similar harvesting outings.
In addition to the distribution of fresh produce, Kelly’s group also makes deliveries of fruits and vegetables in the form of homemade pies, cakes, and breads that are baked by church members and other charitable community volunteers.
The project began five years ago with a letter to Kelly’s fellow Sand Canyon residents that began: “Are you tired of spoiled or rotten fruit laying on the ground for days; stepping in the fruit and tracking it everywhere; fruit attracting squirrels and coyotes? Let our veterans harvest your trees and give the excess fruit to needy veterans, homeless veterans, and senior veterans, as well as the Children’s Veterans support program and the Food Pantry.”
The positive response was overwhelming and word quickly spread to home growers in other parts of the SCV. Kelly’s group found that they had more fresh fruit than they could handle. This led to a meeting with the College of the Canyons veterans program and its Culinary Arts Program and the creation of the Veterans Plantation Co-op. The joint project focused on gardening, growing, harvesting, and turning the fruit and vegetables into products that not only went to individual veterans, but could also be marketed with profits benefiting various veterans’ services.
As impressive as the produce co-op is, it is only one facet of the services provided to Santa Clarita Valley veterans by R.J.’s non-profit organization. Kelly founded the Veterans Advocacy Network, or VAN, when he began serving as a mentor to the young veterans returning from tours of duty in the Middle East.
In their confused, and sometimes troubled, faces he saw a mirror of his own feelings and experiences when he was a young veteran trying to adjust to civilian life after serving two tours of duty in Vietnam.
“I knew how hard it was for me and my buddies to compartmentalize our war experiences from the civilian life that we had returned to – a life that was now vastly different from the one we left behind when we enlisted,” said Kelly. “We had no idea of the services and resources available to not only meet our unique social, but medical needs as well.”
His generation’s negative experiences were compounded by the unpopularity of a conflict that was never declared a war and was often muddied by the Washington establishment’s political ideologies and ambitions.
“Nine-eleven was an attack on us, on our soil – it left no doubt about why our young people were fighting,” continued Kelly. “It also created a whole new patriotism, much like was felt in World War II, so the military and these returning warriors have been viewed with more understanding and compassion. And yet, many of them still had the same problems that we experienced in readjusting to civilian routines and pondering decisions about the future. I was one of many older veterans in our valley who wanted to make their adjustment easier and more positive.”
As a prominent Santa Clarita Valley businessman, Kelly was a natural to form the Veterans Advocacy Network and foster its outreach. Besides making community contacts through his CPA office and his elected position on the Castaic Lake Water Agency, he has also served on the board of the SCV Chamber of Commerce. Community activities include past commander of the DAV, past and current commander of the Canyon Country VFW Post 6885, and past president of the SCV Veterans Memorial Committee.
Likewise, fellow members of the Veterans Advocacy Network are often involved in similar Santa Clarita Valley volunteer organizations, all with the goal of providing returning vets with information and resources available to meet their educational, housing, and counseling needs. Their services supplement government programs and work with businesses and educators, as well as other business and charitable organizations.
The volunteers have been key in welcoming and providing mentoring services for the new residents of the Habitat for Heroes housing project off Centre Pointe in Saugus. The tract, a Habitat for Humanity development, will be finishing its final building phase around the end of November, comprising 78 homes in all. The Veterans Advocacy Network, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, has already planted fruit trees in the southeast corner of the development and is planning to add a community garden with 30 plots.
“We are really excited about this current project,” concluded Kelly, “It gives the veterans and their families a way of supplementing their grocery lists as well as providing for valuable family interactions.”
For more information about the Veterans Advocacy Network, you may call R.J. Kelly, 661-510-1025.
Games can intensify rivalries, entertain us when we’re bored, and sharpen our senses. They can also play an important role in opening up injured psyches and stimulating communication. Counselors at the Child & Family Center use the therapy of games every day to soothe and rehabilitate the children who come to them with damaged emotions and/or abused bodies.
In their quest to keep the Center’s therapists well supplied with the games they need to create a safe and friendly atmosphere for their young clients, the Child & Family Auxiliary members decided to choose a popular adult game as a fundraising theme.
The group hosted a Summer Bunco Bash last Thursday evening, which began with wine and hors d’oeuvres then transitioned to a gourmet Italian meal prepared by Chef Walter Kiczek, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Kiczek has worked as head chef in restaurants, hotels, and resorts across the country and, happily for those gathered in the Center’s Education Room last week, just happens to be the husband of Auxiliary chair Jean LaCorte, an accomplished cook in her own right.
The meal was complemented by wines selected by sommelier Randy Moore, the husband of member Barbara Moore, who created the popular children’s dress that was featured at the Bunco raffle table.
Bunco enthusiasts topped off their meals with sweet treats baked by Betty Rabin-Fung, then put on their best game faces and began rolling the dice. The following were the winners for the evening. Most Buncos: a tie between Candice Falk and Adele Macpherson; Highest Score, Laurie Morse; and Lowest Score, Sherill Mayo. Each winner went home with two tickets to the Child & Family Center’s Taste of the Town event next May.
There were also chances to win door prizes, as well as packaged items at the raffle table. No one went home empty-handed, thanks to Fran Fiel
, owner of Celebrity Beauty Supply, who had prepared goody bags for each guest.
Portly comedian Jackie Gleason would always start his weekly variety shows with a short monologue. Near the end of one such set, he called for a few of the show’s female dancers to bring him a drink to clear his throat. With the drink in hand, he sadly sighed as he watched the svelte beauties walk offstage, then turned to the audience and quipped, “There they go, “The Pepsi Generation,” and here am I, one of “The Metrecal for Lunch Bunch.”
Gleason’s “Pepsi Generation” jest spotlights social scientists’ penchant for labeling each emerging age group in America. They give us assignations like Millennials, Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation, Generation X, and The Greatest Generation. There is one group, however, that exists independent of these erudite labels — its members can best be described as “The Disney Generation” and it crisscrosses all decades.
The Disney Generation isn’t just about Snow White, Cinderella, and Jungle Book fantasies, its members can be firmly grounded in realism. But who wouldn’t prefer feeding a wild bird perched on a finger to pushing a noisy vacuum around a living room floor. And like Dr. Doolittle, “DGers” would like nothing better than to talk to the other animals inhabiting planet Earth.
The Disney Generation tends to share Facebook posts such as the one that features a woman sitting quietly on a beach. Her smiles turn to surprised laughter as a young elephant seal slowly snuggles up to her, then gently nuzzles her and rolls into her lap.
“DG” members also give the “thumbs up” emoji to those rescue videos of sailors unraveling a fishing net wrapped around a disabled whale; vacationers hanging over the side of their boat meticulously cutting away plastic bottle holders from a turtle’s neck; and beachcombers freeing Pelican’s wings from yards of discarded fishing line.
Tom and I recently had a similar experience during a morning breakfast ritual with one of our backyard critters. Over the years we have had a number of scrub jays (and one sweet “mama” squirrel) that have shared a morning tradition of taking peanuts from our outstretched hands.
This summer we have been visited by one particularly friendly scrub jay. He will casually perch on our fingers and peck at a peanut shell until he gets to the peanut inside. He is so trusting that he will let us touch his wings while he pecks away. That trust led to an early morning rescue last week when he flew into the tree above us in an agitated state. Rather than swooping down to our outstretched fingers, he stayed on a branch pecking away at something hanging from his neck. When we looked closer we saw that he had somehow poked his head through a square of green plastic netting (the kind that holds sod together). From his bedraggled state, it appeared that the plastic “noose” had been there for some time.
We watched his frenzied pecking in dismay, knowing he would never be able to break through the strong, plastic filaments. After a few worrisome moments, we hatched a plan. If Tom could distract the jay with a peanut offering, he might be able to get hold of him.
I ran for a pair of scissors while Tom offered up a particularly large peanut. Fortunately, the jay was hungry enough to interrupt his pecking and fly down from the tree. Tom caught hold of the netting and gently enfolded our feathered friend’s wings in his opposite hand — a move that did not make the bird very happy. But Tom was able to restrain him enough so I could snip the plastic away from his neck. When Tom opened his hands, the jay flew off squawking. Was he scolding or thanking us?
We wondered if he had been so spooked by the aggressive handling that he would not return. Our doubts dissolved when he appeared a few seconds later and flew to Tom’s finger to peck at a peanut “peace” offering.
Our jay has continued to return for his daily breakfast treats, so we hope that means his birdbrain views us as friends, not foes. And while our backyard experience can’t compete with some of the dramatic marine rescues on the internet, we, nevertheless, had our own Animal Planet/Disney Generation moment and it felt great!
A time machine stands silhouetted against the San Gabriel Mountains, towering above the houses and industries of Sylmar. Two solid cast-bronze doors weighing 1,500 pounds each and standing 15 feet high provide the entry for touring groups to step inside this time machine, which the Merle Norman Cosmetic Company calls “San Sylmar.”
The tall, sand-colored building, visible from the I-5 Freeway, houses a treasure trove of collectibles which had been purchased, restored, and used by cosmetic company founder J.B. Nethercutt and his wife, Dorothy. The Nethercutts believed that their art should be functional and enjoyed – `and everything in San Sylmar is in working order and is displayed openly so visitors may study each object closely. Guests, who make reservations in advance of their visit, have enjoyed this privilege since the doors to The Collection opened in 1971.
Once inside the towering bronze doors, modeled after 19th century iron doors from Scotland, visitors enter the grand salon showroom specially designed to house classic and antique automobiles. The room takes the viewers back almost 100 years to an era of opulence and style. An automatic piano plays a 1926 George Dilworth recording while guests traverse dark marble floors between coral marble colonnades, and blink back at a gleaming array of chrome and dazzling colors.
(During a 1976 tour, groups marveled at a 1934 model J. Duesenberg, a 1933 Bugatti, a 1930 Marmon, a 1923 McFarlan, and a 1912 Premier — just a few of the highly polished automobiles reflecting the images of mirrored walls and crystal chandeliers which grace the room.)
During the tour, a guide points out unique fixtures found in each car and explains that almost all the cars are taken out of the showroom, driven around town, and enjoyed. Most guests wonder if they’d want the responsibility of driving one of the flawless cars in today’s traffic.
When the piano selection ends, everyone gathers at the base of a stairway and reluctantly walks out of the Gatsby-like setting and mounts the stairs leading to an 18th century display.
On the mezzanine balcony, a nearly 200-year-old Belgian rug cushions two copies of French roll-top desks. The larger bureau au cylinder is a copy of a desk made for Louis XV in 1760. The desk is all inlaid wood and 12 different veneers depict scenes of French culture, education, and battle. Adjacent to the furniture grouping is a wall of display cases housing a variety of radiator ornaments (also called radiator mascots — today, most of us refer to them by their modern function as hood ornaments).
A spiral staircase with musical notes painted on its walls (musicians recognize the arrangement as “Stairway to the Stars”) leads to a floor that the Nethercutts designated as their “Cloud 99.”
Cloud 99 is somewhat cooler than the rest of the building and opens into a room of recording pianos, large orchestrions, a 1926 Wurlitzer theater pipe organ, a showcase of musical clocks, and a Louis XV dining room.
Guests walk across a plush carpet, designed to resemble a field of clover, to an alcove of musical instruments. Here, an 1878 Italian carved orchestrion can be activated to play “A Bicycle Built For Two.” The grouping also contains a Wurlitzer orchestrion and a 1912 “nickelodeon” with a self-playing violin and piano. Several wall-length orchestrions fill the room and are fully restored to play. They are decorated with small statues, Tiffany lamps, marble inlays, and stained-glass mirrors.
In one corner of the room is the oldest piano in the collection. The instrument is a nine-foot concert grand piano crafted in Vienna from 1894 to 1898 and presented to Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1898.
A final musical demonstration is given by a computerized Wurlitzer theater organ. The organ plays a number of selections from a computer memory bank as curtains are drawn back from large glass windows to reveal its 1,700-plus pipes “inhaling and exhaling” along with the melodies.
This free, guided tour of The Collection is by advanced reservation only, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (excluding some holidays). Children under 10 are not allowed. Check the website for directions to San Sylmar and available tour times: www.nethercuttcollection.org
Free self-guided tours of more antique vehicles are available at the museum across the street from San Sylmar. Sitting on tracks behind that building is a 1937 Canadian Pacific Royal Hudson Locomotive and 1912 Pullman private car. Fifteen-minute tours of the train are given Tuesdays and Saturdays, at 12:30 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. The museum staff advises that no tours of this attraction are given on rainy days and the train is not walker, stroller or wheelchair accessible.
There are no picnic or eating facilities at either location and food and beverages (except for bottled water) are not allowed. Aside from the tours, there are various special events scheduled during the year. A calendar of these events can be found on the website.
How far would you go and how much would you pay to see a quality musical theatre production? Some people fly to New York, others battle the L.A. freeways — and often shell out the big bucks for the experience.
We in the Santa Clarita Valley are more fortunate. Since the formation of the Santa Clarita Regional Theatre we have had to travel no further than the College of the Canyons campus to sit in the state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center and watch some of the biggest Broadway hits (Think “Chorus Line,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Shrek,” etc.). And the price for this quality entertainment starts at $12 per adult, $10 for juniors and seniors; and tops off at $29 for adults and $26 for juniors and seniors!
The Regional Theatre’s latest offering opened last weekend with Saturday night and Sunday afternoon performances of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
So, how do you create a mostly underwater adventure on a dry stage? It begins with the overture. As the lights dim and the live orchestra (“under the sea because you can’t see them”) plays, the stage screen comes alive and the audience is swept along in an animated ride alongside colorful fish through underwater sea caves, swaying sea weed, and sunken vessels. The orchestra’s last note breaks the water’s surface where Ariel, a 16-year-old mermaid, sits on an outcropping of rocks wondering at “The World Above, Fathoms Below.”
From there on its one familiar song after another as the spirited heroine pines for the chance to be human; is granted her wish by the evil Sea Witch, Ursula; falls in love with her handsome prince; defeats the witch’s evil curse (of course, Ursula’s magic has a “squid pro quo”); and triumphs (with her father Triton’s blessing) to stand beside her groom in a glorious wedding finale.
The production is a visual, as well as an auditory treat with bright, glittering costumes, tap dancing sea gulls, slinky Morey eels, a quirky French chef, and an 8-year-old wunderkind, Brock Duncan, who dances and sings his heart out as Ariel’s lovesick sidekick, Flounder.
The large cast of singing and dancing sea creatures, sailors, and royal attendants supplement a vocal powerhouse of leading characters: Alex Britton (King Triton), Skylar Cutchall (Ariel), Judi Domroy (Ursula), the above-mentioned Brock Duncan (Flounder), Brandon McCravy (Scuttle), O Michael Owston (Chef Louie), Viktor J. Pacheco (Jetsam) Colin Robert (Prince Eric), Craig Sherman (Sebastian), and Jacob St. Aubin (Flotsam).
At the Sunday afternoon performance, the theatre seats were filled with little merfolk, some in their most colorful Ariel attire. At intermission, their parents (or grandparents) could purchase lighted crowns and tridents. The small theatregoers were encouraged to turn on the lights and wave the tridents during the musical’s closing number.
When the final bows had been taken and the lights came on, snippets of conversations filtered above the crowd as the audience filed out of the theatre. Just a few from the adults: “Didn’t Ursula remind you of Bette Midler?” “Such incredible voices,” “Loved the underwater animation,” “That orchestra was first-class.” Fom the children: “The pies in the face were my favorite part!” “Sebastian and the Seagull were so funny!” “Ariel was so pretty!”