Fifty years ago, leaders in the Santa Clarita Valley were looking for some solutions to the recreational void facing its youngest demographic. Affordable housing was causing one of several growth spurts and parks were few and far between the scattered tracts. “Latch key” children and bored youngsters often turned to neighbors’ yards as makeshift baseball fields and bike paths. Sergeant George Pederson from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and Larry Margolis and Herb Oberman from the local Department of Social Services office were called upon to research organizations that could help provide adult supervised recreational activities for the children and teens.
After an exhaustive study, it was deemed that an affiliation with the Boys Clubs of America would be a good first step. For the club’s board of directors, Margolis, Oberman and Pederson sought the support of men with organizational skills like school superintendent Dr. Jim Foster; the business acumen of entrepreneurs like Ed Bolden, Tony Marincola, and Stan Dyer; the energy of young restaurant owner Bill Kohlmeier; the salesmanship of insurance man Jack Boyer; the P.R. skills of Signal publisher Jon Newhall and Newhall Land’s Larry Wade; and, ultimately, the inspiration of Val Verde’s Reverend Sam Dixon.
The board members set up quarters in a vacant church across from Hart Park and adopted the organizational name, Boys Club of Newhall-Saugus. The group discovered that becoming a chartered club of the national agency was the easy part – the challenge would be to raise enough money to eventually build and staff a recreational facility, then keep it running. After a few years of passing the hat at meetings, and securing limited donations from a few corporate businesses, the group determined their fundraising efforts needed a special touch, and that touch could only come from the women in the community.
With the help of The Signal Newspaper editors Ruth and Scott Newhall, a 1970 luncheon was organized at the couple’s Piru Mansion. I was one of 12 community matrons, dressed in our Sunday best, who carpooled to the home to be regaled with food and inspiration. Most of us had never seen the mansion and we were awed by its towering Victorian façade. As we stood at the tall double doors, we fully expected to be greeted by a maid or butler. Were we surprised when a small, white-haired woman, wearing a simple navy shell and matching pants, opened the door and said, “I’m Ruth Newhall, welcome to my home.”
“My God,” I thought, “she’s been out gardening and we’ve arrived way too early!” I tugged self-consciously at my new dress and wished there was an obscure spot where I could toss my color-coordinated hat. The awkwardness quickly vanished as Ruth matter-of-factly led us into the dining room thanking us all for our interest in the Boys Club. She directed us to seats at a large wood-carved table; then, she put us further at ease by asking about husbands, children, hobbies, etc.
Motivated by the fine food and non-stop conversation, the challenge of forming a Women’s Auxiliary of the Newhall-Saugus Boys Club was quickly met and we each returned home with official titles. Old Orchard I resident Jacque Morse was named president and I drew one of the vice president positions dedicated to fundraising.
Our small, but determined group of women became the club’s fundraising front line, decorating and organizing everything from dances and luaus to a Lake Tahoe Casino Night.
In 1971, board director Tony Newhall came up with a unique new way to raise money – an auction that would feature items not easily purchased in local stores. His creative mind thought up experiences inspired by armchair dreams: being a quarterback for a few scrimmages with the College of the Canyons football team, riding in a hot air balloon, having a street named after you, racing a car at the Saugus Speedway, and being an archaeologist for a day (down at the La Brea Tar Pits). L.A. County Supervisor Warren Dorn volunteered a dinner with a lucky bidder.
Tony’s committee was heavily populated with Women’s Auxiliary members who helped garner some of the more practical items like teeth cleanings and free flowers for a month. We also sold tickets and planned the cocktail party that would accompany the auction. My limited artistic ability was put to use drawing posters of the auction items. Held at the biggest venue available at the time, the Fiesta Room at the Ranch House Inn, 300 guests sampled tasty cocktails along with a gourmet assortment of hors d’oeuvres made and served by the women. The highly successful event raised the most money, up until that time, from the community: $4500.
The Auxiliary’s support of the auction and club events (a Santa’s Craft Shop was held in my garage during one Christmas vacation) earned us “a place at the table,” becoming the club’s first female board members. The women’s influence on the board, coupled with a scarcity of organized recreation in the valley, made it inevitable that the club memberships would be expanded to include girls. Although not fully sanctioned by Boys Clubs of America, the umbrella organization didn’t object when our club added the name “girls” to its title – a trend that was later embraced and followed by clubs across the nation.
The early Boys Club auctions became a society scene phenomenon and did more to unite the community than any other affair in town. In its early years, it continued the tradition of offering unique auction block items.
One memorable item featured in the 1973 catalogue was a stag party cake, which I was assigned to make. Because the budget was tight, the hollow, 6-foot creation was fashioned with chicken wire and papier-mache. Decorations included a variety of donated plastic flowers and tapestry trimmings.
The cake was purchased by a woman who wanted it as a surprise for her husband at his 50th birthday party. We were tasked with finding a girl who would be willing to pop out of the cake clad in a scanty bikini and sneaking the cake and the girl into a downstairs room at the back of the house.
On the night of the party, a few of us carried the rather bulky cake around the narrow side yard at the Newhall home with our star performer following close behind draped in a heavy robe. We could hear the laughter and shouts from the partygoers as we cautiously made our way along the stepping-stones between the house and a border of scraggly bushes. At one point a few twigs reached out and snagged the cake trimming. With our progress abruptly halted we began to feverishly pull out twigs and re-stick flowers, all the while whispering nervously, glancing at our watches, and looking to see if any neighbors were watching and wondering what we were up to.
When we finally got back to our stealthy mission, we had turned into a group of giggling teenagers – every misstep and brush with the side of the house sent us into fits of nervous (but hushed) laughter. Eventually, we reached the back of the house and quietly entered through an open sliding glass door. We had barely set up the surprise before the party guests tromped down the stairs singing “Happy Birthday.”
Our harried efforts were rewarded by the ecstatic reactions from the whole crowd when the young bathing beauty popped up at the end of the song. Our elation was tempered later when our young performer showed us a small scratch on her back. A piece of chicken wire had come loose during our trek in the garden and scraped her back as she jumped up through the paper top. The scratch was superficial, but it did lead to a sturdier wooden cake being constructed by a professional carpenter for future auctions.
The Girl in the Cake was a popular auction item, but it was clearly eclipsed in 1974, when a society maven purchased it and asked to have a male pop out. More on that next week.