Looking around the decorated patio in front of the Newhall clubhouse that now bears his name, former SCV Boys and Girls Club executive director, Jim Ventress, mused, “It just doesn’t seem that long ago that we had our ribbon-cutting ceremony.”
Jim was one of many officials and supporters that turned out Thursday, May 10 to celebrate the club’s Golden Anniversary – and the ribbon cutting he was referring to occurred in the early ‘90s when the 20,000-square-foot facility finally became a reality, 24 years after the local club’s founding. Prior to that time, small “satellite clubhouses” existed on local school campuses.
The club owes its 50-year success story to compassionate executive directors like Jim Ventress, Bob Ross, and current director Matthew Nelson; the far-sighted guidance of its dedicated board members; and the loyal support of its committed volunteers. Many of the alumni were present Thursday to share some of their favorite memories and anecdotes.
Seated under an awning with wife Selma, was founding board member Ed Bolden, who reminisced about the many luaus, casino nights, auctions, and “passing the hat” fundraisers that have kept the club afloat through good and bad national economic times.
Joining him was current board member Tom Dierckman, who proudly recalled the dedication ceremony of the Sierra Vista Clubhouse in Canyon Country, which opened in 2003 under his leadership. Together, the two “flagships” have served and continue to serve record numbers of youngsters and teens through a variety of recreational, educational, and mentoring programs.
Another current board member, Gloria Mercado-Fortine, joined long-time auction volunteer Lois Bauccio in praising the way the Newhall clubhouse and Jim Ventress diffused the growing gang presence that threatened the Newhall Park area in the ‘90s.
The club’s first Boy of the Year, Frank Giardina, recalled the 1968 ceremony at the Odyssey Restaurant, where he received his award. Frank went on to be a counselor at the club’s Valley View and Emblem Elementary School satellite locations. Frank also started the first Teen Center. One of his happiest memories involved the times he led 15 teens in decorating nearby Magic Mountain for the Christmas holidays. Frank roused his crew at 3 a.m., while the rest of the valley slept, to add the festive touches to the amusement park.
One of the early morning perks was the chance to ride all the attractions when the decorating was finished at 8. That was when the ride operators reported for work and the teens “ran like crazy around the park, riding everything we could until the park officially opened at 11 a.m.”
When questioned about the 28 years that Barbara Morris has faithfully turned out the annual auction catalogue, the graphic artistic explained, “I was working at The Signal Newspaper and helped Tony (Newhall) design the catalogue. When he left to work for the San Francisco Chronicle, he took me aside and, in his own inimitable way, ‘praised’ me into taking it over. I’ve been doing it ever since and enjoying every minute of it.”
Volunteers Barbara Stearns-Cochran and Jami Kennedy shared early memories of club activities and the annual auction fundraiser (which will take place this year on June 2 with the theme “All That Glitters is Gold”). Barbara remembered how son Chuck Stearns good-naturedly dogged the counselors at the Valley View Clubhouse, working out much of his hyperactivity during competitive games on the school’s playground.
Jami laughed as she recalled taking her 3½-year-old grandson with her while she decorated the CalArts grand ballroom for one of the auctions. “We had an outhouse prop set up in one corner,” she explained, “and was I bowled over when I turned around from my decorating tasks to see that he had stepped inside and used it!”
The conversations stopped for a brief ceremony led by executive director Nelson who introduced some of the young club members (for a brief club history narrative), then elected dignitaries who presented congratulatory plaques to current board president Ann-Marie Bjorkman.
Keystone Club president Vanessa Guzman ended the ceremonies with praise to the staff for their guidance and support. “They have made this our home, our second place,” explained Vanessa, “and our goal is to be like them and help our community.”
Vanessa’s speech was a highlight and a fitting end to a tribute-filled afternoon, which left all the participants feeling inspired about the future leaders of our valley.