About Linda Pedersen

  • Member Since: March 17, 2016


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

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Now and Then – It’s Jay Okay

| Community | 2 hours ago

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!

Now and Then – A Tower of Treasures

| Uncategorized | August 10, 2017

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.

Now and Then: Underwater Fantasy Swims Into the PAC

| Community | July 29, 2017

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!”

There are six more weekend performances of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” ending on August 13. For seating chart and ticket prices, visit the website: http://www.canyontheatre.org/shows

Now and Then: A ‘Knight’ to Remember

| Community | July 21, 2017

“The Play’s the Thing!” is an oft-quoted line from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” And even though a scene from “Othello” was one of the highlights at the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival’s Gala last Friday night, it was not the premier “Thing.”

Indeed, the evening’s main attraction, in artistic director and host David Stears’ words was the “knighting of Dr. Marc, with a ‘C,’ Winger as Patronis Artium et Educatio, or Patron of Arts & Education.”

In his introduction, Stears told the audience that he has known the retired Newhall School District Superintendent “since before my hair was gray.” They met over 25 years ago when Stears approached the district about initiating an educational outreach program. That successful collaboration later blossomed into a project to bring adult theater to the SCV with the founding of the REP on Main Street — an enterprise that has recently undergone a metamorphosis. The theater reopened in June under city management with a new name — The Main, Municipal Arts in Newhall.

Dr. Winger’s passion for cultural enrichment through the arts just naturally led to his long-term support of the Shakespeare in the Park series, as well as other Shakespeare Festival events. Eight years ago, the group began bestowing Lord Chamberlain status to its extraordinary supporters, taking the name from a practice that started in the Elizabethan era when the Lord Chamberlain was responsible for the patronage of local artists — coincidentally, one of the companies that Shakespeare wrote for was the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

Not surprising, then, that the SC Shakespeare Festival adopted the tradition to recognize community members who have made significant contributions not only to its own projects, but also to other local arts endeavors.

Friday’s ceremony included an official knighting, complete with sword, by City of Santa Clarita Arts Commission chair, Dr. Michael Millar; and the presentation of a bronze key, the symbol of patrons, by Arts commissioner, Patti Rasmussen.

• The event was originally scheduled to be held at the Festival’s stage in Towsley Canyon, but the fire that broke out earlier in the week forced Stears to do some quick negotiating with the city, moving the ceremony to the Sports Complex on Centre Point Drive. Stears pointed out a parallel to an incident that occurred in England in 1613. Shakespeare’s acting troupe used cannon fire in a performance and ignited the thatched straw roof, burning the Globe Theatre to the ground. The troupe rebuilt the theater across the Thames and it was reopened a year later.

• Stonefire Grill catered the buffet dinner with plenty of appetizers to go with the wine during cocktail hour.

• Previous Festival patrons include: Supervisor Michael Antonovich, 2014 and Mayor Laurene Weste, 2014; Dr. Steven Lavine, president of CalArts, 2015; COC Chancellor Dr. Dianne VanHook, 2016 and, In Memoria, Judge Frank Kleeman, 2016.

• The actors entertaining the group on Friday evening will be performing the full play at the Rivendale location, weekends until August 12. More information can be found on the website: https://www.scshakespearefest.org

Now and Then: Fourth of July Postscript

| Community | July 13, 2017

The theme of this year’s parade was Emblems of the Land. As expected, there were many red, white, and blue banners, streamers, and American flags on every entry, along with a generous amount of Uncle Sams, bald eagles, and Lady Liberties. There was even one impressive salute to the Liberty Bell which was entered for non-judging by the Republicans for Veterans. However, as one of the judges pointed out, there were plenty of other forms of Americana that could also qualify when deciding Best of Theme trophy.

Just a few include the Wells Fargo Stagecoach, Western cowboys, Henry Ford’s Model A, scouting, and “mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet” – and they were all present in the parade. So there were many outstanding and worthy choices from which to choose, but the solemn and emotional tribute from the Prayer Angels for the Military reminded everyone that there would be no Americana and no Fourth of July Parade if not for the young men and women who have fought for our liberties and values.

It was impossible to keep from choking up when the banners depicting eleven of the SCV’s post 9-11 warriors, who had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, were carried down the streets as part of the Prayer Angels’ entry – the entry that ultimately earned the Best of Theme trophy.

The Prayer Angels for the Military began informally with a group of local women, who got together to hold prayer vigils for their children and husbands serving in the military. The group grew, as neighbors and citizens asked them to include other service members in their prayers and support. That led to an official founding in July of 2004. Today 25 members, including wives, parents, family, and friends of veterans and current military personnel, meet on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month to pray, make cards, write letters, and schedule care packages for the troops.

The Republicans for Veterans float featured the Liberty Bell on their 2017 4th of July parade entry.

The banners that the members carried in this year’s parad e included: Army SSGT Brian Cody Prosser, Army PFC Stephen E. Wyatt, USMC LCpl Richard P. Slocum, Army PFC Cole W. Larsen, Army SPC Jose Ricardo Flores-Mejia, Army SGT Dennis L. Sellen, Jr., Army Specialist Rudy A. Acosta, Army SPC Stephen E. Colley, Army SCT John M. Conant, Army SGT Ian Timothy D. Gelig, and USMC PFC Jake Suter.

Patriotism, music, high energy, and extraordinary decorations earned Hart High’s “Home of the Brave” the Sweepstakes Award; Best Decorated Award went to the Fil-Am Association of SCV; and Grand Equestrian Trophy was taken home by E.T.I. Corral 21.

Two extraordinary sights and sounds at this year’s parade were provided by the All SCV High School Band and Colorguard, which brought the spectators to their feet with their rousing patriotic melodies; and the P-51 Mustang that flew over the parade route to kick off the festivities. The gleaming silver symbol of America’s World War II air superiority flew so low that the backwash sent the judges’ score sheets flying off the podium.

Checking with the SCV Historical Society’s webpage, the parade has been a mainstay of the valley’s Fourth of July celebrations for 75 years. It has had its ups and downs, as well as a number of different sponsoring organizations. Historical Society guru Leon Worden points to the 1955 parade when sponsorship completely fell by the wayside. A stalwart group of 14 people took up the challenge and staged their own impromptu march down San Fernando Road (now Main Street). Included in the group were Fred Trueblood, Jr. and his English bride Bobbie. Though British by birth, Bobbie became one of our valley’s most patriotic citizens. Besides being the backbone of the local Women’s Republican Club, she was a long-standing participant in the parades (the Society’s website credits her with 50 consecutive appearances).

In 1973, Bobbie organized her own “protest” parade when the current sponsor, the NSV Chamber of Commerce, decided to hold all Fourth of July festivities on the weekend following the actual Fourth. Insisting that no American patriot would miss observing the real day with a parade, Bobbie vowed to march down Main Street by herself, if need be. By the Wednesday date, about 150 people, dogs, horses, and cars turned out to join Bobbie, including the American Legion Color Guard and Scout Troop and Cub Pack #577.

In 1973, Signal Newspaper reporter Steve Hart took this photo of Republican Women’s Club member Bobbie Trueblood, who organized a small parade on the actual 4th of July when the NSV Chamber of Commerce decided to move the celebrations to the following weekend.

Loyal friends provided a divan chair for Bobbie to sit on, hefting it on their shoulders to carry her down the parade route. Honoring both her country of origin and her new home, Bobbie waved a small standard with the two countries’ flags (however, the Stars and Stripes flew above the Union Jack).

The most vivid image from that day in my mind was Signal editor Scott Newhall, who left his prosthetic leg at the newspaper’s 6th Street offices, donned his war correspondent’s uniform, picked up a pair of crutches, and marched down the street flanked by two patriots playing a guitar and flute.

Now and Then: Fourth of July SCV Style

| Community | June 25, 2017

As our valley prepares for the upcoming July 4th celebration, it’s fun to reminisce about some past SCV observances.

One of the most popular traditions has been the morning parade which, since 1960, kicks off with the Rotary Club’s red, white, and blueberry pancake breakfast. Over the years, the parade has had some rather sophisticated floats. Those designed by Newhall resident Tom Frew in the ‘60s were lavishly decorated and one self-propelled float even included its own “hidden” driver. Today, flatbed trucks are the most popular form of transportation, and many entrants add portable sound systems and bands to delight the curbside crowds.

While the SCV Parade Committee now organizes the event, it was once sponsored by the Newhall-Saugus-Valencia Chamber of Commerce. One especially memorable parade took place in 1977 when actor Harry Carey, Jr. was Grand Marshal. The morning began at 10 with a gathering of parade officials and special guests in the chamber headquarters — the old Pardee House on Market Street. (Originally built by oil driller Ed Pardee in 1890, the small house later served as a home for the Pacific Telephone Company and the Boys and Girls Club before the Chamber relocated there in 1977. The building is now one of the historic houses featured at the SCV Historical Society complex near the entrance to Downtown Newhall).

Harry and his wife Marilyn sat on a comfortable couch under a wall painting of galloping horses pulling a bouncing stagecoach while hostesses Betty Bardwell, Alice MacWhirter, and chamber manager JoAnne Darcy served coffee and honey-flavored cookies. Harry, whose parents owned a ranch in San Francisquito Canyon when he was young, reminisced about the St. Francis Dam collapse with parade announcers Cliffie Stone and Placerita Junior High School principal Mike Shuman.

The tall, sun-bronzed actor explained that the Carey Ranch had a tribe of Navajo Indians living at the front of the property. The Indians performed ranching chores and kept a nearby trading post stocked with authentic Indian works of art.

While he was too young to recall many anecdotes about those early days, he did remember that the tribe’s medicine man was very upset about the dam and warned that it would soon burst. The shaman was so strong in his convictions that he went to Harry’s dad and requested that the tribe be permitted to return to Arizona when the Carey family went back East on a business trip.

On the day the St. Francis Dam was finally filled to capacity, the Carey family and the Navajo tribe were gone — they were not there when the deluge of water, trees, and concrete blocks tumbled down the canyon. Not so fortunate were the trading post owners who perished, as their dwelling and Indian treasures were swept away in the 18 mile-an-hour flood.

In 1977, Harry and Marilyn were living in the San Fernando Valley, but he was surprised and happy to see some early childhood playmates standing on the sides of the streets as his car traveled down the parade route.

When the parade participants passed the American Legion on Spruce Street (an impossibility for later parades, since the construction of the new library resulted in a reconfiguration of the roads), the enticing aroma of chili salsa and savory buffalo meat was mixing with the street vendors’ offerings of cotton candy, snow cones, and soda pop. By the time the parade was over, the Legion was filled with a long line of body shirts and sunburned noses waiting to have empty plates filled by chefs Bob Horstman and Ed Hayes. At 2 p.m., local country western entertainer Don Lee and his band arrived and the Fourth of July celebration was in full swing.

The day ended with The Signal newspaper’s fireworks show that took place at Hart High School. Families brought their blankets, kids, and picnic dinners, and sat on and around the football field to watch the colorful sky bursts. The event was free and even included bags of popcorn that had been filled by Signal employees prior to the event. No one worked harder before, during, or after the show than Scott, Ruth, and Tony Newhall.

Today, the City of Santa Clarita hosts a fireworks show at the mall – a larger venue with a larger audience. Still, one thing is most likely the same. The people who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the venue can watch in the comfort of their own backyards and they don’t have to fight the traffic when the show is over.

Now and Then: Teeing Up for a Tribute

| Community | June 15, 2017

While it’s easy to write about our community’s charitable events and social galas (simply describe the entertainment, great food, and fun-filled activities), not so for the heart-wrenching, monumental losses that are also a part of life in the SCV. One such loss took place a year ago when friends, family, fellow volunteers, and work partners lost 55-year-old Lloyd Sreden to pancreatic cancer.

How do you internalize the death of someone so full of life, compassion, and mischievous fun? (Who wasn’t an unwitting foil of Lloyd’s playful sense of humor at one time or another?) Whether he was unraveling a tricky tax problem, balancing the books of a local non-profit, volunteering for a community work project, coaching his kids or colleagues in a ball game, teeing up on a golf course — or yes, adding a little zing to your fingers with his infamous shocking pen — the ultimate CPA knew how to keep a group entertained and at ease.

Lloyd’s memorial service was meticulously planned by his wife, Vicky, to be an uplifting experience, reminding the gathered mourners of his aptitude for fun by combining examples of Lloyd’s humorous antics with his charitable deeds. Each speaker had his or her own amusing anecdote to share. It was the beginning of the long process of healing.

In the days and weeks following the memorial, a number of friends suggested the idea of a golf tournament in Lloyd’s honor as a way of continuing the healing process. Needing some time to grieve, Vicky put aside the notion until six months ago when Terry and Marion Gagnon and their son Ryan posed the idea once more.

When retiring Rotary Club President Nick Lentini asked for a luau-themed party, Lloyd and Vicky Sreden jumped at the chance to host it in their Westridge backyard. Lloyd served as the ultimate emcee.

With the further support of 30-year friends Mike and Melina Berger, Vicky decided to go ahead with the tribute. Because the bulk of the proceeds will benefit the City of Hope, Vicky enlisted the help of the hospital’s fundraising contact, Harlan Kirshner. A donation will also be made to the SCV Rotary Club, which Lloyd attended and helped to lead for 30 years.

“Lloyd gave so much in life to help others, I feel it’s only fitting that his spirit of giving continues,” explained Vicky. The tournament is one day prior to the anniversary of his death, which occurred on June 27, 2016.

The Lloyd Sreden Memorial Golf Tournament will debut Monday, June 26, at Lloyd’s favorite golf course, the Tournament Players Club Valencia, 26550 Heritage View Lane, Valencia.

Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. followed by a continental breakfast and putting contest. A short tribute to Lloyd will precede the 9:30 shotgun start. Lunch will be served at “the turn” by Lloyd’s family — Vicky, Mandy, Travis, Mat, Jessica, and Cal. The event will end with cocktails, dinner, raffle, prizes, and an award’s ceremony.

For player and volunteer opportunities, one may contact Vicky at (661) 803-9433 or email victoriasreden@gmail.com.

Now and Then: ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat!’

| Community | June 8, 2017

Damon Runyon’s colorful world of quirky New York gamblers and showgirls makes its temporary home in Downtown Newhall for the next three weekends as his “Guys and Dolls” animate the Canyon Theatre Guild stage. The 1950s musical comedy, written by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, gets its punch from the catchy and often rousing music and lyrics written by Frank Loesser.

Burrows and Swerling combined elements from several of Runyon’s 1930s storylines, along with his unique, underworld dialogues, to weave a comedic clash between New York’s small-time gamblers and the saintly folks at their neighborhood Save-a-Soul Mission.

CTG director Ingrid Boydston has assembled a talented cast that rattles the theatre’s rafters with musical showstoppers like “Luck Be a Lady,” “If I Were a Bell,” and “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat.”

The infectious melodies punctuate a plot that revolves around a motley group of gamblers who are anxiously awaiting the time and location of a floating crap game. Woven into their impatient demands for action are two romances between the play’s four main characters: the mission’s button-downed Sgt. Sarah Brown (Tara Cox) and the oh-so-cool high-roller Sky Masterson (Tim McCarter); and crap game organizer Nathan Detroit (Ryan Miles) and his girlfriend of 14 years, showgirl Miss Adelaide (Laura Mitchelle).

“Supporting cast” is a misnomer in this production, because every character in the show brings his or her own story line and share of laughs. Nathan’s “lieutenants,” Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Brandon McCravy) and Benny Southstreet (Jeff Lucas) create a memorable rendition of “Guys and Dolls” punctuated by great comedic timing. McCravy “brings the house down” when he belts out “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” Each of the ensemble numbers gets a melodic boost from the harmonies provided by the back-up dancers.

 A few of the cast members from the CTG production of “Guy’s and Doll’s” relax before the show. Photo by Musette Caing

The audience waits in the lobby for the doors to open to the CTG Theatre. The production of “Guys and Dolls” runs for three more weekends. Photo by Paige Noltemeyer

Adding the behind-the-scenes polish to the show are: assistant director, Musette Caing, choreographer, Annette Sintia Duran; vocal directors, Carla Bellefueille and John Forman; stage manager, Felicia Tamika Sheppard; costume coordinator, Sasha Markgraf; set designers, John Alexopoulos and Douglas Holiday; scenic designer, Frank Rock; lighting designer, Lisa Stoddard; sound designer, John Fortman; and producer and executive artistic director, TimBen Boydston.

Because this is community theatre, the performers and the support staff all have day jobs that are most frequently outside the world of greasepaint and footlights. A few examples: Tara Cox is a substitute teacher who works with special education children, Chris Carter (Big Jule) is an electrician, Greg Hayes is a retired basketball coach, Brandon McCravy works at the DMV, and Holly Green (Agatha) is a teacher.

There are also parent-child connections like Chris Carter and his son Cole, who plays the drummer in the Save-a-Soul marching band; and Margo Caruso, who is reprising her role as a Hotbox dancer from a play put on 12 years ago and shares the stage with her son Jackson, a Valencia High sophomore playing Society Max in the play.

Society Max, Rusty Charlie (Jeff Dillehunt) Harry the Horse (Greg Hayes), Liver Lips Louie (Adam Kort), Brandy Bottle Bates (Jack Matson), Jake the Saint (Jacob St. Aubin), and Romeo Jones (Victor Pacheco) — who can resist a group of grifters with names like those?

Then there are the Hotbox dancers and ensemble players: Annette Duran, Adrianna Aldridge, Nancy Lantis, Javeneh Markanvand, Laine Matkin, Gabriella Roberts, Katie Cavataio, and Sarah Scialli.

Marching with Sister Sarah are Brother Arvide (Bill Armstrong) who sings a moving “More I Cannot Wish You,” Holly Greene, Jan Grierson, Beatriz Javellana, Paige Noltemeyer, Sarah Rogers, and Ally Rupp.

Rounding out the storyline characters are Jennifer Teague (General Cartwright), Timothy Hart (Lt. Branigan), and Joe Aboulafia (Joey Biltmore).

Whether they are veterans of the CTG productions like Nancy Lantis, or a newcomer like Percy “P-Dog” Manasala (Angie the Ox), who recently left a rock band to join the show, the cast members of “Guys and Dolls” have their own, unique stories. Pick your favorites and meet them in the lobby after the show(s). They will be happy to share those stories with you.

Now and Then – Fort Tejon

| Community | June 2, 2017

Besides being a holiday to honor the American patriots who died while serving in our country’s armed forces, Memorial Day has long marked the unofficial beginning of summer (in spite of protestations from purists who stick to the scientific Summer Solstice designation that occurs around June 20-22 in our hemisphere).

Turning from the profound and solemn Memorial Day observances to a preoccupation with summer festivities may seem superfluous, but gives us one more reason to thank the warriors who have made this recreational pursuit possible.

Back in the ‘70s, this holiday weekend signaled the last of the school formalities and the beginning of a search to find summer activities that could keep youngsters entertained, while also providing a little “family togetherness.” At that time, the entertainment choices in the SCV were rather limited. The young trees planted at Magic Mountain in 1971 didn’t provide much shade during the day, and the park was yet to become the knuckle-busting capital of California that would merit multiple visits over the summer.

Those who were on limited budgets and looked to one-day excursions for their recreational pastimes could purchase a small paperback sold at some local stores that was written by columnist George Lowe and entitled “Where Can We Go This Weekend?”

The majority of the book’s trips could be enjoyed in a day’s time, requiring no motel bills and a minimum of restaurant stops. There were even a few sites listed in Newhall (a tour of the now defunct Thatcher Glass factory being one). But one unique jaunt, which was relatively close by, featured summer reenactments of Civil War battles at Fort Tejon.

Located about 68 miles from Newhall, off Interstate 5, the author described Fort Tejon as a strategic outpost to catch horse and cattle rustlers in the mid-1800s.

To a young family with limited funds, it seemed like just the place to go in July of 1975. Once the sightseers arrived, they were greeted by docents who explained that the fort was first settled in 1854 for the mutual protection of whites and Indians (the Yokut tribe was indigenous to the area). The fort dragoons were most famous for “guarding miners and Indians, chasing bandits, and giving band concerts.”

In their colorful uniforms, which were patterned after the most fashionable French troops of the time, the dragoons were also the only U.S. Army troop permitted to wear mustaches and long hair.
For a short time prior to the Civil War, the fort became the site of the experimental use of camels. It was thought that the “ships of the desert” might be useful in Southern California’s dry, arid climate. However, the camels’ hooves were more suited to soft, desert sands, not rocky terrain, and their slow pace made them a better fit for transportation than fighting. (There is an interesting article by George Stammerjohn that covers the topic in depth on the internet at www.forttejon.org/camel.html.)

Long after the fort became inactive, the state bought the land and was able to restore some of the decaying buildings. In 1975, our family spent an hour eating pre-packed lunches in the adjacent park next to a rushing brook. Then it was on to the parade grounds to watch the main attraction, a Civil War battle enactment between the blue and grey uniformed opponents.

The scenario began with a couple, dressed in the garb of the day, laying out a blanket at the side of the parade grounds and setting up a picnic lunch. There were also a few other picnickers on the sidelines and it was explained to the “present day” spectators that some battles, like Gettysburg, did have civilians watching as the combatants traded cannon fire and gunshots. In fact, many of the troops came with their entourages of hoop-skirted belles and nurses.

The hapless couple in the reenactment was rousted by some Union soldiers who, in turn, were accosted by the “Virginia Boys” from the Confederate army. Cannons that fired wadded balls of tin foil, and muskets packed with powder charges and lard, filled the air as the Civil War buffs faithfully re-enacted carefully planned battle sequences. It was heart-pounding stuff, but luckily for the tourists, this battlefield’s pockmarks came from resident gophers, not bombshells.

For anyone who hadn’t outgrown the days of “cowboys and Indians” and “war games,” the battles were exciting to watch. And except for all the noise and smoke, it was just like those childhood games, because at the end of the battle, all the dead guys got up and walked back to their respective sides of the field.

In the 1970s, Civil War reenactments took place on the last Sunday of each summer month, but today’s Fort Tejon site lists only one battle and that takes place this weekend. However, there are other scheduled attractions such as historical tours, a reservations-only Victorian tea party, and a candlelight ghost tour later in October. And the nominal fees to enter the site still make Fort Tejon a good destination for families on a budget.

Now and Then – Celebrating 57 Years of Service

| Community | May 25, 2017

How does a service organization celebrate its 57th birthday? If it’s the SCV Rotary Club, it takes a year! There are the 6 a.m. preparations for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and the Fourth of July pancake breakfasts; a renovation project at the Rotary Garden honoring young military heroes; community service projects, and the presentation of four $2,000 checks and two $1,000 checks to local charities, to name just a few of the ways.

The check presentations come from the club’s community foundation, which was started in 1977. Signing the Articles of Incorporation were then president, Jack Clark (CalArts administrator), Dan Hon (Attorney), Chuck Rheinschmidt (COC administrator), Adrian Adams (Judge), Ed Bolden (Engineer), and Robert Rockwell (COC president). Since that time, interest from the foundation’s earnings is divided annually and presented to local applicants. This year the donations went to Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers, the Triumph Foundation, the SCV Food Pantry, the Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild, and two checks to the Passick-Greer Nursing Scholarship Fund.

In accepting the $2,000 check for the Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers, executive director Philip Solomon explained that the money will help pay for the new flooring in the Val Verde clinic. Solomon thanked Rotary, not only for the check, but also for the ongoing support that Rotary has provided since the first center was opened in 1980.

The health centers began as an annex at Reverend Samuel Dixon’s church in Val Verde. Rev. Dixon, who was committed to bringing affordable health care to his community, tragically died before the first building was officially dedicated in 1980. The demand for affordable health care in the unserved and underserved population has contributed to the growth of Rev. Dixon’s dream. Today, there are two more health centers besides the one in Val Verde — the Canyon Country center opened 16 years ago, and the Newhall facility became reality in 2009.

The non-profit organization not only provides health and wellness care, but dental and mental health services as well. Government and private grants and donations help keep the doors open to patients who receive care on a sliding scale basis. Solomon was quick to point out that care is provided even if the patient is unable to meet the $36 per visit fee.
SCV Rotary first learned of the Triumph Foundation in 2010, one year after its creation. Andrew Skinner came to us then to describe how a 2004 snowboard accident, which broke his C4, C5, and C6 vertebrae, led to the creation of the foundation.

Having graduated from college just six months before the accident, Andrew had to cope with the reality of being a quadriplegic and how his life focus would have to change. He credits his then fiancé Kirsten and his family’s support for getting him over the rough spots and helping him to fashion a new reality for his life. Kirsten stuck by him during his years of recovery and, as his wife, encouraged him to begin an outreach program that would support others suffering from spinal cord injuries.

The first project of his newly formed 501(c)(3) foundation involved delivering Christmas care packages to the disabled at a Northridge hospital. The program expanded to include mentoring, numerous educational networking groups, and grants that would help fund the construction of projects such as home ramps and modified vehicles.

After Andrew’s 2010 visit, Rotary donated towards the building of a ramp for a wheelchair-bound youngster named Tyler. At Wednesday’s meeting, Andrew reported that, as Tyler grew, more modifications were added to the home to accommodate his growth.

Today, the Triumph Foundation delivers 150 care packages to patients in 18 different hospitals and supports various health and security networks that address not only physical, but emotional needs of the disabled as well.
The Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild was formed by a group of quilters in 1990 and currently has a membership of over 120. The members are dedicated to giving back to the community, while also perpetuating the art of quilting for future generations. Members regularly donate quilts to provide comfort for people in need.

In recent years the guild has worked with local school children to produce anti-tobacco themed quilt blocks, which were pieced into a large quilt and auctioned to raise funds for Henry Mayo Hospital. The Guild has also donated quilts that accompany the keys to each home sold in the new Vets Habitat for Heroes Housing project off Centre Point Parkway.
In addition to this year’s $2,000 donation to the SCV Food Pantry, Rotary annually provides Thanksgiving turkeys for the Pantry’s families. This year an extra $300 check was added to help stock the Pantry’s grocery shelves.

Located on Railroad Avenue in Newhall, the Pantry’s mission is secure donations, then package and distribute nutritious food to qualifying residents in the SCV. The organization’s overall goal is to help struggling families with current and future hunger challenges, while also maintaining active partnerships with other organizations throughout the community.
The Greer-Passick Nursing Scholarship can be traced back to the early ‘70s when a family established a start-up grant to the nursing program at College of the Canyons. Rotary took the project over and began making annual donations in memory of two of its members, Ivan Passick and Robert Greer. This year, the foundation was proud to award two $1,000 scholarships to the college. Recipients, chosen on the basis of financial need and academic merit, were Jennifer Anderson and Ashlyn Carr.

The donations and community service projects are business as usual for the local professionals — their way of celebrating 57 years of the national organization’s motto, “Service Above Self.” Oh yes, and president Wendi Lancy promises a birthday cake next week on the actual anniversary of the club’s founding, which was May 31, 1960.

Now and Then: Fleeting Memories of the Alamo Foundation

| Community | May 18, 2017

Good and evil. Black and white. Those contrasts ran through my mind while reading about the recent death of infamous cult leader Tony Alamo. Tony, his wife Susan, and a disparate collection of lost souls inhabited the SCV for a few brief years in the early ‘70s, adding a bit of colorful perplexity to our sage brush-covered canyons. The evangelical couple reigned over a cadre of young homeless people “rescued” from drug-infested streets in Los Angeles. They established a headquarters north of the Soledad Canyon/Sierra Highway junction that professed to grant salvation through hard work and strict religious practices.

Publicly, Tony and Susan were enigmas, contrasts in style and temperament. Susan often dressed in long, white dresses or pants suits. From a distance the white garb, coupled with her long, blonde locks, gave her an ethereal look. However, up close, she more closely resembled a bleached-out version of Morticia Addams. In his dark suits and slicked down hair, Tony looked like the stereotypical Mafia Don. They were a study in black and white – and, as it turned out, good and evil. Their community appearances were rare, but at one chamber event, they stepped out of a dark limo dressed in their black and white personas to deliver an Alamo Foundation entry to a Fourth of July parade.

And what a dramatic entry that was! About 100 of their young cult members marched at the end of the parade, carrying crosses and belting out an impassioned rendering of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” A fellow curbside spectator nudged me with his elbow as the singers passed by exclaiming, “Those Alamo kids really know how to raise the Holy Spirit!”
“Those Alamo kids” provided the public “face” of the foundation. As in most cults, they had turned all their worldly goods over to the Alamos in the name of salvation. That included a variety of cars that were then painted red, white, and blue and adorned with the Alamo logo.

At one time or another, several of the cars would be parked at the foundation’s gas station located at the corner of Sierra Highway and Friendly Valley Parkway. The young acolytes not only pumped gas, but would also clean a motorist’s windshield. Many in town commented skeptically that this colorful façade did little more than cover the real workings of a cult, even though there were no overt signs of individual oppression or abuse.

While reading Alamo’s obituary, I mulled over several questions. Were the former music promoter and the once-aspiring actress truly converts to the “Jesus Movement”? Did they start out with good intentions – a crusade to uplift their followers with the word of God? Can a cult ever deliver the salvation it guarantees? And if so, when, in the case of the Alamos, did things go so horribly wrong?

In 1976, the Alamos left our valley to relocate their “ministry” in Susan’s Arkansas hometown and expand their foundation’s outreach. The gas station closed and the red, white, and blue cars disappeared, but a church continued to operate in the Agua Dulce-Acton area, and Alamo literature would sporadically appear on cars’ windshields. The cult was mostly forgotten until a few disturbing Midwestern newspaper stories began filtering back to the SCV.

One of the most bizarre stories came after Susan’s death in 1982. The grieving widower, who preached that his wife would be resurrected, recruited some beefy cohorts, sneaked into the cult mausoleum in the dead of night, and stole her coffin. Upon hearing the report, The Signal Newspaper editor Scott Newhall cynically commented to co-workers that Alamo had become a poor man’s Juan Peron. Scott’s words conjured up eerie images of Alamo carrying Susan’s coffin around, much as the Argentinean dictator did when “Evita” died.

Susan’s death did result in a resurrection of sorts. Subsequent news stories reported that the foundation “died” and was replaced by a tax-exempt corporation called the Music Square Church. The “church” became most notable for being investigated for tax evasion. Alamo was personally investigated as well, becoming more famous for frequent arrests involving his multiple child brides than as a redeeming pastor and savior.

In 2009, newspaper stories reported on Alamo’s final criminal conviction, which resulted in a 175-year federal prison sentence for sex crimes against children. Charges also included the beatings and starvation of young male and female members of the church.

A recent, tersely worded paragraph from SCV History.com may well sum up Alamo’s ultimate legacy: “ . . .Alamo, aka Bernie LaZar Hoffman, was convicted in 2009 of transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes. He was given the maximum allowable sentence. He died in a federal prison facility in North Carolina, with about 167 years left on his sentence.”

Susan and Tony are gone, but remnants of the Alamo Foundation live on. According to a Wikipedia article, there are more than 30 properties to be dealt with, including the church in the Acton area.

And every now and then, disgruntled SCV shoppers return to their cars to find Alamo pamphlets stuck under the windshield wipers or blowing around the parking lots.

Now and Then: Sorry, Wrong Number

| Community | May 4, 2017

The malicious practices of hackers, spoofers, and phishers turned our lives into a series of movie titles last week.

Scene One: “The Prelude to a “Perfect Storm”
Things started routinely enough the week before with a trip to a local provider to make some changes in our Internet-TV-phone bundle. Following in the footsteps of our tech-savvy children and friends, we decided to give up our landline in favor of our cell phones.

We renegotiated a communication package, unplugged our four wall phones, packaged them up neatly in a box, and banished them to the rafters above the garage — a veritable wasteland of outdated technology and home improvement discards that (in my husband Tom’s words) “we might need again someday.”

A friendly tech arrived the following Monday and “rewired” our outdated communication system – a process that required moving furniture and embarrassingly cleaning up years of undisturbed lint and dust bunnies. We settled in with a new list of TV channels and programs to memorize and a vastly improved internet connection. By Thursday we were well on our way to technological sophistication — a sharp television picture and a new routine of moving our cell phones from room to room to outdoors, as we went about our daily routines. (Any good inventions out there for a woman whose wardrobe is sadly deficient in pocket-friendly apparel?)

Scene Two: “Gaslight”
Then it began. A Thursday morning email alert arrived from “Citi Bank” advising me that a payment I authorized from my designated account would soon be withdrawn (complete with dollar amount, confirmation number, and a link to click on for further instructions). Lately, I’ve been receiving quite a few similar email notices purportedly from other established providers. The terms “hack, “spoof,” and “phish” have become old friends. I closed the email, went to the Citibank website, and dialed a customer service number.

Confusion arose when I was asked for my Citibank user number and password. I told the representative that I had signed up on a hotel site for a card that would give me credit each time I booked a room at its participating hotels. When the card arrived in the mail, calling a Citibank phone number activated it. I did not have a Citibank user name and password. We decided that the information I gave on the hotel site was what she needed. But that wasn’t all. I also needed to recite the telephone number I was calling from.
Scene Three: “High Anxiety” – the Frustration Begins
I gave the rep my cell phone number. There was a pause. The rep informed me that it was not the correct number. Another pause, then the light dawned. I told her she must have our landline number, which we had cancelled because cell phone technology made it superfluous. That may well be, the rep informed me, but her company did not recognize cell phone numbers. Another pause, only now a very awkward pause. When I replied that our two cell phone numbers were the only numbers we had, the rep said she would do some investigating. I was put on hold for five minutes. When the background music stopped, the rep returned saying there was a problem and she would have to call me back.

I hung up and waited. And waited. And waited. Two hours later, my computer chimed and a new email appeared. It said, “We’ve identified possible fraud on your account. Charges may be limited until we hear from you. We need you to call us right away.” An 800 number and a case number were included.

I picked up the phone, dialed, and gave a new rep the information from the email. He was very polite and asked me to verify my account. I was back to the previous routine – only this time there was no “I’ll investigate and call you back.” Instead, he said, “If you have no landline for identification, no further action can be taken.” At that point, my blood pressure began to rise and I asked if he wanted my Social Security or driver’s license numbers (cynically, I added to myself: or maybe a blood sample). He assured me that the company did not use such information. I then suggested that the only recourse would be to cancel the card.

Scene Four: “Catch 22”
The rep’s retort was that I could not cancel the card without a landline number because he had no provision for calling cell phones. It was then that my husband and I looked up the address of the local Citibank branch and drove to Saugus.

Surprisingly, in spite of coded bank identifications and our IDs in hand, the calls made by personal banker Keri Shulman, then manager-vice president Sofia Prevoo, it elicited the same response: no landline, no recourse. Sofia’s requests to speak to managers, then managers’ managers, and supervisors, all ended in similar stalemates. By now, close to two hours had passed. If not for the conscientious and courteous attentions of Keri and Sofia, I would have been tearing my hair out. Half jokingly, Tom suggested maybe we needed to walk across the street and order a couple of margaritas at El Presidente. It became clear that a wall existed between the banking and the credit card operations and getting through that wall wasn’t easy.

At one point, one of the credit card reps asked if we could give him the telephone numbers of relatives that he could call to verify our identities. We shook our heads in frustration — our closest relatives had long ago given up their landlines for cell phones. It was now past closing time, and the only concession the man would give was that we would be contacted with some kind of solution in the next 48 hours.

Scene Five: “The Sound of Music”
We clutched our cell phones close to our bodies and waited for them to ring. The silence over the next four days was deafening. Monday morning found us once again in the comfortable offices at Citibank. Sofia was ready. She was not going to end the call without a permanent resolution. She asked for a supervisor, went through her coded branch numbers, and explained our dilemma once more. I was asked again to provide relatives’ telephone numbers, only now the supervisor explained that he didn’t have to have a landline, simply a number that was affiliated with a Citibank account. Luckily, our daughter-in-law had one such number. Then it was only a matter of minutes before our cell phone number was accepted and our account was validated! Instantly, a heavy rock lifted from my shoulders, our 4-day phone odyssey was over!

We came away from the experience with four conclusions:
If you decide to give up your landline for cell phones – and that landline is tied to an account – call the account holder to update the phone information before canceling the landline.

It is commendable that the Citibank credit card division has such high security standards and is conscientiously doing its best to protect its clients from fraud. Unfortunately, the perverted hackers and spoofers who derive more pleasure cheating people out of their hard-earned dollars than working honest jobs have necessitated a rigid policy that punishes innocent consumers.

Thank goodness SCV Citibank has courteous and efficient professionals like Keri Shulman and Sofia Prevoo!

Don’t give up on brick and mortar. Without them, I’d still be on the phone. Being face to face with a provider really helps.

Now and Then: 2017 Man & Woman of the Year

| SC Living | April 27, 2017

Being in the midst of National Volunteer Week, it seems only natural to highlight the Santa Clarita Valley’s premier volunteer event, the 2017 Man & Woman of the Year dinner scheduled for Friday, May 5 at the Hyatt Valencia Hotel.

The event traces its roots back to 1964 when the Newhall-Saugus Chamber of Commerce named local historian Arthur Perkins as its Outstanding Citizen of the Year. Because businessmen dominated the chamber membership, it’s probably no surprise that the award, which skipped some years, continued to salute males. The next recorded Citizens or Men of the Year included William Bonelli Jr. (1966), Bill Kohlmeir (1968) (and the youngest honoree), Chuck Hendrickson (1969), and Ed Bolden (1970). (For a reason unknown to me, 1967 had no honoree).

By mid-1971, more and more women were assuming the roles of business and community leaders. It was then that Olive Ruby, a dedicated community activist who led the valley’s Coordinating Council, became the first Woman of the Year. Every year since, both a man and a woman have been honored, and the event has changed from chamber sponsorship (which ended in 1982 resulting in no honorees that year) to a committee comprised of former Men and Women of the Year.

The format has also changed over the years, alternating between lunches and dinners, and venues such as the Odyssey Restaurant, the Ranch House Inn, and currently, the Valencia Hyatt Hotel. The most constant facet of the event has involved the selection criteria.

Organizations or individuals submit the names of nominees who have shown long-time community commitment. Their service is judged in terms of the number of years of volunteerism, the impact on the community, and the number of organizations involved. The past recipients review all submittals and, following lengthy discussions and sometimes a debate or two, mark their secret ballots. The man and woman who receive the greatest number of votes become the honorees for the year.

Before 2004, the nominations themselves were secret. Organizations would submit their respective candidates without letting them know they were in contention. That sometimes led to minor struggles in guaranteeing the nominees showed up to the event. In 1979, nominee Anne Lynch admitted to friends at her table that she “was real put out that I had to come here instead of our golf tournament.” The luncheon was scheduled the same day as the Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament, an important fund-raiser for that organization. The CC Chamber board was most likely also “put out,” since Anne was one of its most conscientious members and the very backbone of all of its events.

Anne’s male counterpart that year was John Fuller, president of the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital board of directors. Described as “an incredible model of public and private life,” John was known for his quiet integrity. His preference for working behind the scenes meant that his friends had to do some creative talking to persuade him to attend the lunch without revealing that he was the honoree.

Although our community has lost both John and Anne, the contributions they made to its growth and success have left a valuable legacy for future Men and Women of the Year candidates to follow.

The 2016 Man and Woman of the Year honorees, Jim Lentini and Lois Bauccio, have led their event committee members through a yearlong preparation, which will culminate May 5 with the announcement of the 2017 honorees. Those interested in attending may contact Wayne Crawford, waynescc@socal.rr.com for information.

This year’s impressive list of men and women, along with their nominating organizations are:

American Cancer Society: Janine Jones

American Legion Hall: Chuck Strong

American Red Cross: Kirk Nelson

Boy Scouts of America: Sue Reynolds, Tom Hough

Carousel Ranch: Marianne Cederlind, Eric Stroh

Circle of Hope: Janice Murray, Taylor Kellstrom

Children’s Hospital, L.A.: Taylor Kellstrom

College of the Canyons Foundation: Doris Zimmer, Randy Moberg

Domestic Violence Center: Sue Reynolds, Jonathan Kraut

Forged by Fire Foundation: Jane Bettencourt-Soto

Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles
Sandra Ann Hardy

Rotary Club of Santa Clarita Valley: Tami Edwards, Nick Lentini

Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers: Gloria Mercado-Fortine, Alan Ferdman

SCV Boys and Girls Club: Ann-Marie Bjorkman, Jim Ventress

SCV Child & Family Center: Laina McFerren, Nick Lentini

SCV Disaster Coalition: Diane Green

SCV Senior Center: Tracy Hauser, Todd Stevens

Soroptimist International of Greater Santa Clarita Valley: Pam Ingram

SRD Straightening Reins Foundation: Mary Ann Bennett, Bruce Munster

Zonta Club of Santa Clarita Valley: Christine Sexton

Now and Then – Newcomers and Friends

| Community | April 14, 2017

They call themselves the Newcomers and Friends Club, but after spending an afternoon with the energetic group of women, you’d probably say that they could just as easily call themselves the “New Opportunities” Club – opportunities to make new friends, opportunities to share hobbies, and opportunities to find new interests.

What’s more, you don’t have to be a newcomer to the area to join – any woman in the SCV who would like to become more active in her community can participate in the camaraderie for an annual fee of $30 (the new year begins in June). Prospective members are always welcome at the monthly general meetings, and may also attend the Coffee Corner meetings, which take place on the third Thursday of each month at a variety of locations.

The club is now in its 32nd year, having grown from eight members in 1985 to 190 members today. Its popularity comes from the fellowship and the chance to forge new friendships through a diverse array of activities. Clubs within the club include books, couples gourmet, Coffee Corner gatherings, water aerobics, trips, excursions, and games of all kinds – everything from Bunco to Rummikub (you might have to join to find out what that’s all about!). And new ideas for activities are always encouraged.

Trips have included a San Diego overnight on the Pacific Sands 1950 Pullman Sleeper, with a free day to explore the city attractions; a melting pot food tour of Pasadena; and the choice of one or two days at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa.

In addition to the many smaller groups, the entire membership comes together on the second Thursday of each month for a themed lunch – in March, the program saluted the city’s upcoming Cowboy Festival. The ladies met at the American Legion Hall, enjoyed a chicken and beef lunch catered by Rattler’s, then worked off the calories by participating in some line dancing led by instructors Dave and Dana Colin. Also on the entertainment agenda was singer Erwin Jackson, who not only serenaded the group with country classics, but popular hits as well.

Special guests included American Legion Post 507 Commander Greg Nutter, who generously volunteered the use of the building for the special day; and Dave Knutson, director for the Cowboy Festival, who gave a brief rundown on the activities planned for the April 22-23 event.

More information on the Newcomers and Friends Club may be found on its website: www.ncandf.com or by calling 661-259-0666, 661-299-1834.

Side Note: The Newcomers and Friends Club began in 1985 when the local arm of Welcome Wagon, International disbanded. The handful of remaining members decided to expand the concept to include new ways of making friends and staying connected. For those unfamiliar with the original organization, here is an edited excerpt from the company website:

Welcome Wagon was founded in 1928 by Memphis, Tennessee marketing man, Thomas Briggs. Briggs was inspired by stories of early Conestoga “welcome wagons” that would meet and greet westward travelers, providing fresh food and water for the journey. He founded Welcome Wagon to recreate this same spirit of hospitality and welcome. Briggs hired “hostesses,” women who were friendly and knowledgeable about their neighborhoods, to personally deliver baskets of gifts supplied by local businesses to new homeowners. Over a cup of coffee, hostesses would tell new homebuyers about local civic and cultural activities in the community while handing out gifts and coupons from local businesses. This hostess network expanded across the country until, aside from Briggs and a handful of males, Welcome Wagon became one of the first all-woman companies in the U.S.

The home visits stopped in 1998 as an increase in two-income families meant fewer people were home to accept visits. In 2009, Craig Swill and Steve Goodman, veterans of the marketing and publishing industries, acquired Welcome Wagon and began connecting through mailboxes and the Internet.

Popular entertainer Erwin Jackson was a featured guest at the March Newcomers and Friends Club.

Dave Colin took the stage at the American Legion Hall to teach line dancing to the members and guests of the Newcomers and Friends Club.

Members and guests get ready to learn the latest line dance.

Now and Then – IT Toxic Dump part 2

| Community | March 31, 2017

Most everyone has heard the hackneyed joke that starts out, “How do you know when a lawyer is lying?” Well, back in 1978, we Santa Claritans had our own version of that saying.

“How do you know when an IT representative is lying? When he begins his response to every pointed question with the phrase: ‘Straight up answer?’”

By the end of May 1978, we had heard every “straight up” lie that the representatives of the proposed toxic waste dump in the Sand Canyon area had come up with. Our response was a full-scale onslaught of opposition with literally no stone unturned — whether that stone sat atop one of the many faults crisscrossing the valley, or above a three-inch fish native to our Santa Clara riverbed. Called the unarmored, three-spine stickleback, the tiny fish was on the Endangered Species List, and that would prove to be an important distinction to the “powers that be,” who would eventually decide the dump’s fate.

The unearthing of the stickleback was one of those fortuitous discoveries that came after the industrious citizenry had gathered all the available geological, sociological, and hazardous health arguments against the project. Activist Jan Heidt (who would become one of the first council members elected when the City of Santa Clarita became reality) led a dedicated group of PTA presidents and outraged citizens in the arduous job of compiling the statistics into a voluminous book of data. In addition, legal minds researched rulings from past court cases involving comparable conflicts.

The combined efforts provided enough ammunition to warrant a visit to the offices of the Los Angeles supervisors on a Wednesday morning in May. A chartered bus and a parade of cars transported 300 residents “over the hill” to address the five most important men in L.A. County.

In spite of their somber mission, spirits were high as those on board the bus donned black armbands and gas masks. Once they reached the steps of the county building, NSV Chamber president Art Briner led a picket line of “Dump the Dump” sign carriers, which included Sulphur Springs School District Superintendent Bob Purvis, “Mr. Downtown Newhall” Milt Diamond, NSV chamber director JoAnne Darcy, Canyon Country chamber director Bonnie Mills, Frank Lorelli, Donna Walters, Gail Klein, Bill Gamey, Charlotte Brann, and attorney Dan Hon.

This was no ordinary NIMBY battle, because the chemical waste treatment plant was proposed on a Canyon Country site dangerously close to the Santa Clara River between the Sand Canyon, Sierra Hills, Princess, and Friendly Valley housing developments. One jolt of an earthquake, one liner-splitting movement of the notoriously unstable landsite, or one man-made mistake could spill chemical wastes and poisons into the riverbed, contaminating our water supply.

Little wonder that the mood turned antagonistic inside the supervisors’ chambers, in spite of chairman Kenny Hahn’s forced display of down-home humor. Hahn greeted the 300 strangers in patronizing tones. He referred to the “guests” as residents of a “lovely far-out region,” making small talk while he tried to remember our valley’s name.

Hospitality was sparse and sporadic. When spokeswoman Connie Worden stepped up to the docket to address the board, only Hahn, Baxter Ward and Ed Edelman showed her the courtesy of their attention. Schabarum and Hayes chatted pleasantly with each other as Connie spoke. Schabarum even left his chair and walked down to the side aisle to confer with aides while Connie protested the fact that the dumpsite had been chosen in secret, with no notice given to the residents of our valley.

Since Schabarum and his colleagues left much to be desired as conversationalists, it was up to Connie to spark the meeting with drama and intrigue. This she ably accomplished when she read allegations that the president of IT and the owner of the land chosen for the site both served on the committee that recommended Sand Canyon as a site for the hazardous treatment plant.

An indignant murmur ran through the audience, generating a current of electricity that prompted each person to sit up straighter in his seat. The morning affair had gained momentum!

Baxter Ward picked up on Connie’s words and recommended that the supervisors investigate the committee, because “only yesterday, the names of three more dump owners were submitted to the Board as candidates to serve on the committee,” he said.

Subsequent meetings and community demonstrations, which featured facts rather than the histrionics and looting that characterize today’s protests, were instrumental in eventually getting the permits for the dump denied. That, and a tiny, endangered fish, which virtually no one knew about until the hazardous project was “dumped” into our laps.


Since 1978, a few more proposed dumps have threatened our valley, but the blueprint laid down by those earlier protestors helped bring about their defeat.

Now we face the onus of a huge aggregate strip mine that is planned for a site one mile from our city limits — just off Soledad Canyon Road. (The project, proposed by Cemex, a multinational building materials company headquartered in Mexico, would be the largest gravel-mining project ever permitted by the Bureau of Land Management.)

Efforts to block the mine have been disappointing. An opposition bill, introduced by U.S. Congressman Buck McKeon in 2006, failed to become law, and court battles have resulted in only temporary delays. There have been a few high points in the years of up and down struggles, the latest being the rescinding of Cemex mining contracts in 2015 by the Bureau of Land Management. However, the company immediately filed an appeal, and the mining threat continues to linger.

Currently, a bill introduced by California Senator Scott Wilk seeks to reopen public comment on the project. A piece of that legislation cites our friend the stickleback. Because the project would require the removal of massive amounts of water from the Santa Clara River, Wilk proposes that the stickleback’s home and existence would be threatened.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the unarmored, three-spine stickleback once again turns out to be the downfall of a project threatening our valley’s quality of life?

Now and Then – Stagecoach Ride Marked 1978 Dam Dedication Ceremony

| Community | March 17, 2017

The steel wheels scratched narrow grooves in the highway as the replica of the Butterfield-Overland-Wells Fargo Coach made its way up San Francisquito Canyon under a bright Sunday morning sun in 1978.

The coach, built by Bill Graham of Bandy’s Wagon and Buggy Shop was carrying the historical plaque to be dedicated at the St. Francis Dam site at noon. Driving the coach was San Francisquito Canyon resident Denzil Cameron.

Cameron briefly handed the reins of the six-horse team to Graham and said, “Grab this handful of spaghetti and hold it real gently while I check the wheels.” Once this task was completed, the team continued with the plaque and a coachful of riders including Historical Society members Jerry Reynolds, Alice Sloane, and Betty Pember. Also along for the ride was Betty’s dad, historian and longtime Newhall resident, Lloyd Houghton.

In honor of the occasion, Lloyd wore a six-shooter and spurs and the ladies wore pioneer dresses and bonnets. The coach carried its valuable cargo from the Cameron Ranch on San Francisquito Road to the San Fran Motorway just above the dam site – an hour-and-fifteen-minute journey. An entourage of outriders consisting of Geri, Evelyn, and Tammy Cameron, Cindy Bandy, Renee Doiron, and Priscilla Mason escorted the stage on its way.

SCV Historical Society members prepared for an hour-and-fifteen minute stagecoach ride to commemorate the St. Francis Dam Disaster.

The trip up the canyon was full of reminiscing – Lloyd remembered how he traveled the old stagecoach route on Saturday nights to go dancing at the roadhouse near the summit. Houghton told us that he was quite a dancer in those days, owning his own dancehall in Newhall. Betty remembered that the old road (in existence until the dam began construction in 1925) crossed the riverbed 38 times. The group had plenty of time to enjoy the clear blue skies, the red mountain formations, and the lush green foliage that surrounded the small stream rushing down the riverbed. The coach rumbled on at a slow but steady pace while Alice pointed out wild tobacco plants and sage that were growing near the edge of the road.

The lighthearted mood of the trip changed as the landscape began filling with different formations – blocks of concrete, some larger than the coach, strewn from side to side of the riverbed. The remnants of concrete served as grim reminders of the tragedy that took place 50 years earlier. The concrete slabs stood like huge tombstones marking the graves of the hundreds of people who died when the St. Francis Dam collapsed on March 12, 1928, with the dam filled to capacity.

Even larger pieces of concrete had been dynamited (as was the center section of the dam) to offset the eerie vision of massive pillars being tumbled along like match sticks so far from the dam site. (The 18-mile-an-hour wave flooded over 54 miles of countryside in five and a half hours, spreading death and destruction as it surged over trees, roads, houses, and cars. The flood did not cease until it reached the Pacific Ocean at Ventura).

The large aggregates reminded us of our mission – to reach the dedication site where members of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, along with survivors of the flood and

SCV historian Jerry Reynolds offered a helping hand to his fellow passengers when they arrived at the 1978 dedication ceremony.

interested community residents, waited to officially honor the dead and injured of the disaster. Through the Historical Society’s efforts, the state had at last recognized the disaster and made the dam site Registered Landmark Number 919.

The site rests on a hilltop above the dam and Denzil urged the horses into a gallop for the last hundred yards of the journey. Lloyd, Alice, Betty, and Jerry held on tightly as the coach bounced up the dirt path and watched as a few staples popped out of the interior upholstery. Everyone marveled at what a sturdy lot the early pioneers were, enduring hundreds of similar jolts as they traveled across hundreds of miles of rocky countryside.

The passengers were met by Historical Society president Mimi White and her husband Charles, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Clyde Bragdon, Jr., Captain Bill Fairchild from the Sheriff’s Dept., and Lt. John O’Brien from the CHP. They were then escorted down a mountain trail to the ceremony site.

And don’t think it was easy walking down the rocky mountain pathway with legs that were weak and shaky from the hour-long bumpy ride! The wooden benches were a welcome sight for the jostled travelers as they later watched the solemn dedication ceremony unfold.

Now and Then, Backstage at the Oscars 1974 part two

| Community | March 2, 2017

After reading last week’s Now and Then column on the 1974 Academy Awards, some Gazette readers questioned how a community newspaper reporter wrangled an invitation to one of Hollywood’s biggest productions. In spite of the SCV’s relatively small size at the time (and the fact that many Downtown L.A. officials had no idea where or who we were), we had our own luminaries, and one of those was Newhall court clerk Bernie Byrne.

Bernie was a man about town, managing his social calendar as efficiently as he did the court dockets for Judges Adrian Adams and Jack Clark. Besides his 9 to 5 position, Bernie had two enviable “side” jobs. One was serving as marshal leader for the Bob Hope Golf Classic and the other as associate security director for the Academy Awards.

Before retiring from the LA Municipal Court System in 1976, Bernie extended a generous invitation to The Signal newspaper’s society pages. In his capacity as security director, he was able to provide me and a photographer with two coveted Academy badges that would gain us entry into the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Part of the package included a trip to the Center the week before the event to watch rehearsals for a few of the musical numbers. My husband, Tom, and I sat in the near empty auditorium watching stage hands, music directors, and choreographers direct Connie Stevens and some incredibly acrobatic male dancers through an energetic routine showcasing Best Song nominee “Live and Let Die.”(The song, written by Paul McCartney for the latest Bond movie, lost out to “The Way We Were.”)

Excitement over the upcoming event was somewhat dampened by a trip to my closet, which was comprised mainly of bellbottomed pants, mini dresses, and home sewn evening gowns. There was nothing there to fit in with the glamour that would be on display at the awards show.

Lucky for me, former model Aggi Lewis had recently opened an upscale boutique that featured a line of dresses from designer Manning Silver. Being somewhat naïve, I had no idea who Manning Silver was, but Aggi assured me (and many of our town’s matrons) that Silver was as high class a designer as one could get. The prices of his gowns were also pretty high class, but how often does one get the opportunity to attend the Academy Awards? I left her shop in Plaza Posada with one of the most sophisticated forest green gowns I would ever own, rationalizing how I could ration our family meals for the next five years.

Admission to the Music Center, for those who weren’t Academy officials or celebrities, was by color-coded badges. The media people all sported yellow badges, while my photographer and I wore red security badges. Red badges were rare in the upstairs media rooms and in the beginning of the evening we got a lot of questioning looks. I wondered if someone would challenge us about our roles there. The ice was broken, however, when one news reporter gave me a cynical look, then asked wittily, “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a badge like that?”

Interestingly enough, I had a chance to live up to my badge when I later passed an elevator on the way to the restrooms. The doors opened and I found myself exchanging surprised glances with two teen-aged boys dressed in street clothes. We stood frozen while I wondered if I should grab them by their arms and report them to security. Wait, wasn’t I supposed to be security? Indecision and temerity were brushed aside when two brawny men in tuxes rushed over, pushed the boys to the back of the elevator and punched the elevator doors closed. The bathroom was now the last thing on my mind and I sheepishly hurried back to the anonymity of the pressroom.

As with all Academy Awards ceremonies, there were many entertaining moments – scripted and unscripted. And though today’s big news is the card mix-up announcing “The Best Picture Award,” a similar unscripted moment happened when it was time to announce The Best Picture in 1974.

Host David Niven was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor, who was to read the Best Picture nominees, when a naked man ran behind him flashing a peace sign (among other things). Because streaking was a popular media phenomenon of the day, an incredibly cool Niven remarked, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen.” Niven earned one of the biggest laughs of the night when he concluded: “Fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.”

When he was led up to the pressroom at the end of the evening, self-employed photographer Robert Opel’s “shortcomings,” were modestly covered in a jumpsuit. Opel’s one night of celebrity was eclipsed five years later when he was tragically murdered during an attempted robbery at his San Francisco studio.

Now and Then: ‘Backstage’ at the 1974 Oscars

| Community | February 23, 2017

The voice of columnist Army Archard could be heard over the loudspeaker two blocks away from the Music Center as he welcomed stars to the 46th Academy Awards presentation. A crowd of enthusiastic fans seated in a portable grandstand cheered as each celebrity arrived. Even while Army was interviewing one star, a roar would fill the air, and all eyes would turn to see the likes of Paul McCartney, Yul Brynner, Diana Ross, and Gene Kelly stepping out of black limousines.

Ticketholders, or lucky journalists with special badges, stood inside a roped-off area, watching the new arrivals parade by before following their favorites inside the building. During all the hoop-la, my gaze wandered to a woman who stood under one of the trees on the fringes of the crowd. She wore a long, jewel-studded gown, which had once been white, but now looked as worn as its owner.

Her platinum-dyed hair hung loosely on her shoulders and thick black eyelashes hid most of her face. Make-up had been molded over the rest in a vain effort to camouflage the wrinkles. I wondered what part this woman had played in the Hollywood scene that left her such a slave to its image of glamour. She seemed only half aware of what was happening and her eyes kept scanning the crowd as if she were looking for someone special – or was she searching for someone who might recognize her?

She was not one-of-a-kind. There were many present like her, only they were not alone. They were on the arms of small, heavy-set men or tall bearded ones. Their gowns seemed all alike even though they might be trimmed in feathers or bouncing fringe to hide the ravages that time had taken on their sagging bodies. Some had bleached hair and some had freshly dyed red hair, but they all seemed determined to shine as brightly as the young stars.

They seemed so out of place in the glamorous atmosphere. Yet, they were as much a part of “Hollywood” as the tall model walking to the theater entrance amid flashing cameras, the young songwriter destined to win three Oscars that evening, and the bikini-clad figure of Edie Williams posing for photographers. They were like a sideshow at a circus, always on the fringes of the three rings inside.

How easily they were forgotten when the main attractions like Paul Newman and JoAnne Woodward, Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore, and Jack Lemmon and Felicia Farr arrived.

A coach drawn by two white horses caught the crowd’s eye amid all the black limousines and its occupant sent another cheer into the air. Newly discovered porn star Linda Lovelace had made her Academy Award debut. Linda told Army that there was one special man she was there to meet and that was Oscar. Playing it very straight, Army commented on the “Deep Throat” star’s new movie, “Streaking,” and suggested that maybe one day Linda would be contending for an Oscar. Little did he know that his reference to streaking would foreshadow one of the night’s most explosive moments.

As 7 o’clock grew nearer, the ticket holders and members of the media began disappearing inside the Music Center, leaving the crowd in the bleachers waiting to catch the late arrivals.

Up on the fourth floor, there was a flurry of activity. The media members congregated in monitor-filled rooms to watch the proceedings taking place on stage. As each award was announced they would rush to write the stories, get the most original pictures when the winners were brought upstairs, and find the most obscure story. It would prove to be an arduous task, because the Academy officials had the route from the main auditorium to the fourth floor meticulously planned. There was little opportunity to see or hear something unseen or unheard by everyone else.

Once inside the photographers’ room, there was only one place for the celebrities to stand, on a stage next to a huge plaster replica of Oscar. Photographers elbowed to get closer to the winners and the presenters, and barked orders to the stars in an attempt to get an original shot. But soon the icons were led on to the TV room and down a guarded elevator to return to the theater.

Perhaps the most lucid illustration of the need to isolate the photographers from the ceremonies came when Best Supporting Actress winner Tatum O’Neal was ushered up to the press floor. The room temperature seemed to go up 10 degrees and flashbulbs popped relentlessly as the blinking little girl stood alone, somewhat dazed, next to Oscar. As she was hurried into the next pressroom the photographers cried out angrily, “Bring her back here, we’re not through with her yet!” In a harried voice, her escort yelled back that the lights were hurting Tatum’s eyes, then quickly ushered her out of the room.

About that time, Cher and Dyan Cannon entered and there was a mini stampede back to center stage, with cameras and flashes blazing.

Is it possible to explain the thrill of seeing so many celebrities at once? After a time, it began to seem unreal and even a little routine, until one of the more stunning or exciting would appear. But no matter how much excitement the stars before her had created, it was nothing compared to the electricity generated when Elizabeth Taylor entered. Personal troubles aside, she was the most beautiful and glamorous person there. When she arrived, the real Hollywood, past and present, arrived. After she had gone, it was hard to believe the ceremonies and the evening were coming to an end. The streaker, who had upstaged host David Niven earlier in the evening, was hustled in to be photographed, but there was no more magic in the air. The cameras were being packed away and the crowd upstairs was beginning to thin out.

As I left the building, I glanced toward the tree where the fading dilettante had stood earlier that evening. I was almost surprised to see that she was gone. It was as though she, like almost everything else in Hollywood, was just another illusion that had never really existed.

But then, there was no place for her or reality in the magic atmosphere that had been created by the ceremonies. For the average American at that time in 1974, Hollywood would always be the violet-eyed beauty of Elizabeth Taylor, the excitement of Clark Gable, and the greatness of Tracy, Hepburn, Bogart, Grant, Valentino . . .

Now and Then: Rainy Days and Fun Days

| Community | February 16, 2017

It’s hard to complain about the drenching we’ve been getting when, up to a few months ago, we had been subjected to warnings, shamings, and threats of monetary penalties over our individual water use. Last weekend’s downpour, alone, was certainly an early Valentine’s Day gift to our local water companies. The steady rainfall reminded me of a few Valentine’s Day celebrations from the past.

Cloudy skies and rain-drenched streets couldn’t keep Zontians away from a potluck celebration in 1980, which was held at the Valencia home of Flora Fairchild. (Flora and her good friend Francine Forester were the wives of our popular law enforcement captains at the time, Bill Fairchild from the Sheriff’s Dept. and Ken Forster from California Highway Patrol. The couples were regulars at community functions.)

Especially memorable food treats were Vicki Oren’s bleu cheese rolls (which simply melted away in the mouth) and Betty Passick’s spicy ham, cheese, and chili casserole. It was a day to indulge in calories. The delicious main dishes and the mouth-watering desserts (think cherry cheesecake and mocha chocolate cake) made it impossible to take just one slice of anything! As if the baked desserts weren’t enough, special guest Jay Cavanaugh brought a large, heart-shaped box filled with chocolates. The Valentine gift was his way of saying “thank you” to Zonta for its recent donation to I-Adarp. Jay was the head of the agency that treated drug-related problems in our valley at that time.

Another guest present was 99’s pilot Diane Galately. The SCV Zonta Club had helped sponsor Diane in an air race earlier in the year. Diane’s slide show on her aerial adventure was peppered with jaw-dropping anecdotes about the exciting race.

A special side note to the day’s activities was the induction ceremony of two new members to the club – Ketty Rosado and Connie Worden. President Moana Steinberg welcomed the women with membership books, pins, and yellow roses.

Another rainy Zonta Valentine’s party took place in 1986 when the club hosted one of its “Kidnap Luncheons.” When the unique fundraisers first began, Zontians would visit businessmen and women at their workplaces, blindfold them, and whisk them away for an afternoon of food and fun. The “kidnapees” could not return to work until they paid their designated ransoms. As the years went by, blindfolds fell by the wayside, invitations announcing the kidnapping were mailed, and the guests provided their own transportation to the lunches. Not quite so dramatic, but more practical and just as profitable for the club and its many charities.

Co-chairs Dianne Curtis and Sharon Langenbeck planned to hold the 1986 fundraiser on the sunny decks around the pool at the Old Orchard I clubhouse. However, guests, who were accustomed to being showered with drinks, fine food, and great entertainment during their afternoon of “captivity,” found themselves also showered with rain that day. So a last moment change of plans had the Zontians scurrying to move the tables indoors. The close quarters added a cozy warmth to the event – especially when the rain began to pour down outside.

While president Vicki Oren welcomed the honored guests, Jami Kennedy and her helpers put the finishing touches on the food, and soon everyone present was dishing up goodies from the buffet table.

George Stone and Jim O’Shea provided background music for dining and for the models that paraded through the tables dressed in the latest arrivals from local stores.

The dessert course was sweetened up even more when the models began passing out perfumes to the ladies and aftershave lotions to the men.

Zonta’s Kidnap Luncheons have since been replaced by other club benefits, but as long as service and charitable organizations exist there will always be the potential for unique, fun-filled fundraisers.

One such event, being planned by the Child & Family Center for April Fool’s Day involves a takeoff on the once popular Rocking Horse Derby. The Trike Derby will take place on Saturday, April 1 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Wolf Creek Brewery. Teams of four will compete for prizes and bragging rights as they race their adult-sized tricycles around a course outside the brewery.

Chiquita Canyon is the title sponsor for the event, which will include live music, food, and craft beers. For more information, contact Cheryl Jones,
661-255-6847, extension 3018.

Now and Then: Musical Memories

| Community | February 9, 2017

The SCV social scene in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s was a veritable treasure chest of country-western entertainment. Radio and television stars from the ‘40s and ‘50s often shared our stages with aspiring local entertainers, thanks to fellow SCV residents Tex Williams and Cliffie Stone. For a while, Tex even had his own “roadhouse” located on San Fernando Road (now Newhall Ave.) between Sierra Highway and the entrance to Downtown Newhall. But that was even before “my time.”
Cliffie, a longtime Sand Canyon resident, would often join forces with Tex, bringing popular performers of their day out of semi-retirement to help raise funds for the growing SCV charitable causes. Before smoking was banned at public gatherings, Tex would sing his huge ‘40s hit “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette,” while over three-fourths of the audience was doing just that!

Because of Cliffie and Tex, country-western entertainment gave pop music a run for its money in this valley – however, it wasn’t the only nostalgic genre entertaining folks in the 1970s. Thanks to jazz promoter Russ Bisset, who was a member of the Elks Lodge, Dixieland and jazz enthusiasts were treated to one particularly entertaining afternoon of music that starred clarinet player Joe Darensbourg and a few of his friends.

During intermission at the Elks fundraiser, Joe regaled a group of wide-eyed admirers with his life story. Like a lot of young boys in the early 20th Century, Joe ran away from home to join the circus – twice. The last time was in 1920 when he was 14, and he traveled all the way from Baton Rouge to Los Angeles in pursuit of his dream. Most kids in his day were drawn to the circus because they aspired to be lion tamers, daring aerialists, or crowd-pleasing clowns, but not Joe! He wanted to play in the marching band that paraded through town before the circus was set up.

When his musician father saw how determined Joe was to don a brightly colored uniform and play in one of the glittering bands, he suggested that the young boy change his musical instrument from piano to clarinet. Joe immediately signed up for lessons from bricklayer and part-time musician Manuel Roque for 25 cents a session.

Joe’s parents sent him to New Orleans in the summers to soak up Dixieland performances by the likes of King Oliver, Buddy Petit, and Sam Morgan. He landed his first job playing at “cotton pickin’ parties” performed on cotton fields before nocturnal picking began. At 19, Joe got a job with a traveling medicine man who had the young musician dividing his time between playing for the crowds and mixing up potions. That job led to a temporary gig with Jelly Roll Morton on a Mississippi river boat.

Finally, at the age of 20, Joe got the chance to live his dream – he was hired by the Al G. Barnes Circus to play in its marching band. He was so excited by the opportunity, that when it came time to play, the young clarinetist froze and couldn’t blow a note. Luckily for Joe, his nerves thawed out, and he was at last marching down the streets of Los Angeles leading a long line of golden circus wagons.

Darensbourg eventually outgrew his childhood dream when he began hooking up with players in Dixieland bands. That led to recording popular songs and working on radio shows. In 1961, Joe became part of Louis Armstrong’s band.

When he made his appearance at the Elks Lodge in 1977, the 70-year-old musician was living in the Los Angeles area and still playing Dixieland with a group of other longtime players. Those who accompanied him to the lodge included pianist Bill Campbell, trumpet player Pete Daily, trombonist Al Jenkins, bassist Bill Stevens, banjo picker Nappy Lamare, drummer Hugh Allison, and guest trumpeter Chuck Conklin. The “retired” musicians rocked the Elks Lodge with four hours of ragtime melodies that kept the audience members dancing and tapping their feet. More than one aficionado left the event wishing there had been time to hear the colorful background stories of all the players.

Now and Then – Remembering a Rodeo Pioneer

| Community | January 26, 2017

Tickets are now available for the City of Santa Clarita’s 24th Cowboy Poetry Festival, scheduled to take place April 19 – 23. The annual event features everything from Western music and poetry to tours of Western sites around our valley, to food and Western artifact booths.

In 2000, an event, which had been started in 1981 by members of the old Downtown Newhall Merchants Association, was added to the Festival schedule. The Walk of Western Stars features bronze plaques emblazoned with saddles embedded in the Newhall sidewalks. In the Walk’s first year, three movie cowboys were immortalized — William S. Hart, Gene Autry, and Tom Mix. This salute to the “Old West” was the brainchild of former Chamber of Commerce executive director (later city council member and mayor) Jo Anne Darcy and “Mr. Downtown Newhall,” Milt Diamond, owner of the General Store.

The idea was to honor not only Western actors and singers who had performed in the Santa Clarita Valley, but rodeo stars, as well. Newhall resident Andy Jauregui was the first “working cowboy” to be honored with the dedication of his bronze saddle in 1983. His plaque is a reminder that male stars have long basked in the rodeo spotlight, while their female counterparts have gone virtually unnoticed by the general population.

Nonetheless, women have played a big part in rodeos, mastering many of the feats performed by the males. In 1975, one such cowgirl celebrated her 92nd birthday at a Newhall party hosted by the Jauregui family.

Bertha Blancett was famous for riding bucking broncs “slick,” which was something few women in rodeos did in her day. For other women riders, the practice was to ride “hobbled.” This meant the stirrups on the saddle were tied down to the cinch so the rider’s legs would not fly free. It made the event easier because it literally “tied” the woman to the horse.

Hostess Joanna (Jauregui) Stuart adjusted Bertha Blancett’s hat while Camille Jauregui and Sally O’Callahan looked on at a party held in Bertha’s honor in 1975.

Bertha shunned the practice and rode with her stirrups free. She also did trick riding and roping, and competed in relay races in rodeo towns all over the West. She won bucking championships in Pendleton, Oregon in 1911, 1912, and 1914.

Blancett toured in venues like Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show and the One Hundred and One Wild West Show, and competed in rodeos until 1918, when she retired from the circuit. She also did some movie work with her husband, Del. Following her retirement she became a trail guide, first in Yosemite, and later in Palm Springs.

In the early 30s, her path led to Newhall when she began working in Andy Jauregui’s rodeos. She and her horse, “Yuma,” became famous for their reliability and skill in “picking up” bucking horses and retrieving fallen riders.

Bertha’s association with the Jaureguis transcended the workplace, blossoming into a deep friendship. She continued to spend each Christmas and Easter with them long after her “second retirement” and a move to Porterville.

During a trip down south in 1975, Joanna (Jauregui) Stuart took the opportunity to plan a birthday party in Bertha’s honor, attended by Stuart’s own famous father and mother, Andy and Camille, her Uncle Ed Jauregui, who doubled for Lorne Green, and cowboy greats like Gordon Jones, Fox O’Callahan, and Alvin Gordon. Hank Potts, considered to be one of the finest trick riders of all time, was also present for the occasion.

Another special guest who flew in for the party was George Williams, secretary-manager of the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. (George later took a trophy saddle, awarded to Bertha in 1914, back to Oklahoma).

Being 91 going on 92 hadn’t slowed Bertha down too much. She held her own with the other cowboys at the party, recounting just as many hair-raising tales as they did. Not too much could faze the woman who, as a girl, raced ponies with her sister to the top of bluffs overlooking the Platt River, jumped the ponies into the water, then swam atop them to the other side. An even more amazing story when you consider that neither girl knew how to swim!

Following Bertha’s death in 1979, her name was added to the list of honorees at the 1999 National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame in 2006. Considering her Newhall connection, it would be great to one day see a saddle bearing Bertha’s name on our Walk!

Now and Then: Restaurants That Aren’t Here Anymore

| Community | January 22, 2017

Being more or less homebound for three weeks can cause a mind to wander in many diverse directions, ending with unusually random associations. Take the recent rain systems drenching our valley, and couple them with a discussion in the SCV Foodies group on Facebook. As disparate as the two subjects seem, there is a connection.

Shortly after watching a newscast reporting on street flooding caused by the rains, I read a post by one of the Foodie friends that asked the group to name a favorite SCV eatery that wasn’t here anymore.

It took me back to the ‘60s, when one of our favorite restaurants, Casa Grande, was located in a small building on Lyons Ave. An angry storm turned the gutter into an urban stream that overflowed the curbs and flooded the restaurant. A story in the local paper reported on the owners’ futile efforts to keep the water out, and their extensive cleanup efforts afterwards.

Not long after, Casa Grande moved to a new, flood-proof home in the Plaza Posada shopping center down the street. Our family had a number of favorites on the menu, but Casa Grande’s chili Verde burrito was different from any we’d eaten elsewhere. The green chili sauce didn’t smother the pork; it complemented it, with just a hint of cilantro to send the taste buds into overdrive.

Casa Grande was a hot spot on the social scene for over 10 years, featuring live music on the weekends. It was never clear why the owners sold out – rumors circulated that they moved to be closer to relatives in Northern California. A few more restaurants followed in the same spot, but none seemed to catch on or be as popular. The corner building later morphed into a health store. Today, the square footage is taken up by two unrelated businesses, Hidden Havana Catering and SCV Birth Center.

Another mystery disappearance was Pasta Grill on Lyons. The restaurant served two pastas that were new to many of us – tequila chicken and Valencia chicken. The chain restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, now serves a similar tequila dish (and its recipe can be found on the internet), but we haven’t found anyone, as yet, who offers a Valencia chicken pasta – a great alternative to the traditional marinara and Alfredo dishes. Not long after Pasta Grill opened its doors, party hosts around the valley began using it as one of their favorite catering services. Added to that, the restaurant always seemed crowded, so it was, indeed, a mystery when its doors closed.

Tip’s Restaurant was a longtime draw for locals and out-of-towners, not only for the food, but also for its international award-winning cocktails served up by bartender Bobby Batugo. Bobby’s creations were out of this world – including one that he aptly named “The Universe.”

One family-owned restaurant in the ‘70s was, sadly, 20 years ahead of its time. The French Café at the Soledad Canyon-Sierra Highway Junction featured something rare at the time in the SCV – a continental menu. Their sauces, crepes, and desserts had that Provincial flair and, as one of the daughters would proudly explain, were made with “all fresh ingredients – nothing frozen or from a can.” Unfortunately for them, most local residents in that era preferred the sizzling steaks and stuffed baked potatoes served a few blocks up the highway at Backwoods Inn. Backwoods is one of those restaurants that has not fallen by the wayside. Carol, the daughter of original owners, Bob and Rose Ohler, now runs the restaurant.

We miss the early days when we’d be greeted by Rose at the door, then be ushered into the dining area next to the bar where Bob entertained diners as he mixed drinks with the latest jokes. They were great fun to banter with while waiting for steak sandwich platters. Backwoods hosted many of the Canyon Country Chamber functions, and Bob’s loyalty to his friends was clearly evident when he opened the restaurant early on a Sunday morning to help fellow Rotarian Bill Berger celebrate a hole-in-one with several golfing friends.

Moore’s on San Fernando Road, now Main Street, was another family enterprise that disappeared from our valley. Their subs were family favorites and proved to be our sons’ “go-to” foods when they were home with colds or suffering through finals week at school. To them, nothing was more comforting than a Moore’s ham and cheese submarine washed down with a pineapple “slushy.”

Comella’s, just off Valencia Blvd., offered comfortable dining for families and service organizations alike. The restaurant boasted a community room that was large enough to house formal volunteer luncheons, as well as evening banquets. Owner Joe Comella also added entertainment on the weekends. One popular show featured a young singing group called “The Mugglestons.” The talented band sent diners home singing “Bang the Drum All Day,” with visions of the youngsters dancing around the room, lithely jumping over chairs, and using the table tops to pound out the infectious beat. Newhall Land & Farming put an end to Comella’s when they decided to turn the restaurant and the land surrounding it into another strip mall. But Joe was undaunted – he reinstated his submarine shop, Final Score, at a new location on Lyons Avenue.

Torian’s Plum, the Blue Moon, and the Village Inn were just a few more restaurants with their own unique atmospheres and culinary offerings that we miss, but I’m sure longtime residents can add even more favorites to this culinary trip down memory lane.

Now and Then

| Community | January 5, 2017

“Due to the Vicissitudes. . .”

In the three days leading up to the New Year, I should have been . . .

. . . with my family, attending the Pasadena Playhouse musical production of “Cinderella,” and running into Morgan Fairchild who played the evil, but sexy, stepmother. (The playhouse’s annual interpretations of the popular children’s classics always include their own touches of originality with plenty of ad-libs and playful interactions with the audience). Also . . .

. . . at Disneyland, clowning around with Chewbacca in between visiting the Star Wars exhibits, riding on all the popular attractions, and indulging in the Tiki Room’s frozen pineapple treats.

But instead, I was spending my time with tissues and menthol rub.

It was sadly disappointing to miss all the fun with kids and grandkids, however the five days battling the effects of a holiday cold reminded me that no matter how painful the disappointment or the congestion behind my runny nose and itchy eyes, I was at least suffering in the warmth of a bed with a roof protecting me from the cold and rain outside.

Not so for many who have to battle symptoms like mine on wet sidewalks with little to shelter them from the winter cold – even here in sunny Southern California. The real heroes for these people don’t carry gold, frankincense, or myrrh; rather they offer a safe haven with cots, dry clothes, and warm food. Here, in the Santa Clarita Valley, this kind of giving comes from the volunteers at Bridge to Home.

Located on Drayton Street in Saugus, Bridge to Home not only provides winter shelter, but support services such as case management and medical and dental clinics. The organization’s ultimate goal is “to help individuals and families in the SCV transition out of homelessness.”

Bridge to Home is funded through contracts with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, subcontracts with Los Angeles Family Housing, private and public grants, and in-kind donations.

There’s always a need for volunteers who can help with food service, transportation, words of encouragement, and the coordination of community donations. Right now there is an urgent need for men’s underclothing, razors, hand sanitizers, salt and pepper, and sunscreen. According to the website (www.btohome.com) donations can be dropped off Tuesday through Friday, 6 to 8 p.m., at 23031 Drayton Street.

To find out more about Bridge to Home, or needed donations, you may call 661-254-4663.

Now and Then – A Visit With Mrs. Claus

| Community | December 23, 2016

A recent holiday party, sparked by a visit from Santa, put me in a “Dickensian” mood, conjuring up memories of Christmases past. As I watched the bearded character handing out presents, a picture flashed in my mind of a woman with curly white hair, large wire-rimmed glasses, a white fluffy stole, and an infectious, robust laugh.

It was 1988, and I was in the Elks Lodge dining room watching Irene Metcher as she handed children candy-filled stockings and lifted them up on her lap. She visited with the children while they waited for an audience with Santa – Elks member Gil Gilchrist, who always let his natural beard grow longer for those annual December festivities. (Metcher and Gilchrist not only played the holiday couple for the children’s parties, but for the adult parties as well.)

“You know, practically everyone who watches me with that long line of kids says, ‘I don’t know how you do it, you really have to like kids a lot,’” she remarked once the party ended. “Well, I do, and I really get a kick out of the things they say. One little boy was lifted out of his wheelchair and put on my lap. His eyes were wide open with excitement when he looked first at me, then at the room full of children. He gave me a doubtful look and asked, ‘Mrs. Santa, do you think you’re gonna have enough toys for all these kids?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, but if we run out I’ll just run up to the North Pole for more.’ His eyes got real wide and he said, ‘Shall I wait?’”

Laughter shook her body at the memory, then she grew serious as she reminisced about her years of holding the small, and not so small, disabled bodies on her lap.

As the afternoon conversation wore on, Irene switched from her Christmas memories to other noteworthy occasions. She didn’t think in terms of months and years – only eras. “It’s hard to remember dates when you’ve done as much and lived as long as I have,” she confessed. “I just go along, travel fast, and have a lot of fun – I really do!”

A native of Rochester, New York, she vacationed in California one summer, “fell in love with it, and decided to stay.” While working in payroll at Fox Studios, she rubbed shoulders with producer Darryl Zanuck and watched his son Richard sell newspapers in the hallways.

When World War II broke out, Irene moved to Lockheed. At one of the company’s after-hours dances, she met Hilmer Metcher, a rancher from the Santa Clarita Valley. They soon married and moved to a home on the Newhall Ranch.

“Hilmer was one of the first three that worked locally at Newhall Land & Farming,” Irene said. “He helped with the leases and bought land for the ranch. He also did the cost accounting. He worked hard, but he loved Vegas. He’d come home from work on Fridays, look at me and say, ‘Let’s get dressed and go to Vegas!’ We always did!”

The Metchers moved to the San Fernando Valley to start a restaurant-hotel business in the early ‘50s.

“I was the only woman in a group of five partners who built and managed the Chase House in Sepulveda,” Irene said. “I’m the one who got the idea for that bus service to the airport. We ran the Chase House for about three years, then sold out to Hyatt. We had to. We were just so busy that we couldn’t get any sleep!”

The Metchers returned to the SCV in 1957 (one of the few dates Irene did remember).

“We built us a little house on a half acre on Apple Street,” she said. “Hilmer insisted that I retire, and he retired soon after. We had enough money, we didn’t have to work, and that gave us more time to go to Vegas.”

Her laughter erupted again as she reminisced about the people she had known. Of the Henry Mayo Newhall heir, Atholl McBean, she said, “He put this valley on the map. He used to come down from Whiteside to visit us when we were on the ranch. He was a good guy, just as common as an old shoe. He’d come up to the house, knock on the door, and say ‘Let’s have a cup of coffee.’”

Another “good guy” that she labeled “as comfortable as an old shoe” was cowboy star William S. Hart.

“My husband introduced me to him when I first came out here,” Irene said. “He didn’t look anymore like a movie star than the man in the moon. He was just real folks, a good old guy!”

Once while she and Hilmer were in Las Vegas, they ran into an old acquaintance from her Lockheed days – pilot Jimmy Doolittle.

“Jimmy was a test pilot when I worked there; he used to come by payroll and visit,” Irene recounted. “Then he went off and was in that Tokyo bombing. Twenty-five years later, Hilmer and I were at the Tropicana when this guy points a finger at me and yells ‘Irene!’ It’s Jimmy and he’s there with his wife for some WWII dinner ceremony. He invited us to the dinner and we had a great time talking about the Lockheed Days. He told me that we should have bought stock while we were there and his wife said, ‘Watch it you two, you’ll give away your ages!’”

Irene loved talking about her activities in the 1980s as much as sharing memories. There were still trips to Vegas; volunteering for the weekly Bingo Nights at the Elks Lodge, work on fundraisers for the Senior Center, and excursions to other countries.

“I think life should be an adventure. I’ve got memories of a lot of historic things,” she said. “I once went through the Panama Canal on a ship that was sunk a few months later during some World War II bombings. When my friends shake their heads over all the things I’ve done and all the people I’ve met, I just tell them, ‘Some people are always right around excitement. I’m one of ‘em.’”

Whether she was reminiscing about famous celebrities, or holding a wiggling child in her lap as Mrs. Claus, Irene Metcher was one of those unforgettable people that made the SCV social scene such a fascinating beat to cover.

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