BY: Carolina Kelly
Santa Clarita was a small collection of housing tracts and strip malls in 1968. Although separated from the great L.A. “megalopolis” by a range of rolling hills, the residents were not immune to the tragedies that took place in Los Angeles and Memphis that year. The country had scarcely recovered from the shock of President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, only to be stunned by the 1968 murders of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. Adding to the national angst was the fierce fighting in Vietnam, which was claiming about 300 American lives each week.
Fortunately for the country, there were some bright spots on the 1968 landscape – the U.S. dominated the Mexico Olympics winning 45 gold medals to the Soviets 29; technological gadgets were enriching the average person’s daily life; and young mothers were rejoicing over the introduction of “The Epidural,” an anesthetic which eased the pain of childbirth.
On the local scene, there was also a reason for rejoicing. The children and teens of the Newhall-Saugus area were about to get a much-needed recreational boost. Young families, who had flocked to the area to take advantage of its low-priced housing, had discovered a cruel reality – most developers had peppered the area with large tracts of houses leaving little more than passive pocket parks to appease the exuberance of the homeowners’ children. The four elementary school districts were among the first to sound the alarm of neglected “latch-key” children, and bored youngsters using neighbors’ yards as baseball fields and bike paths.
Current Valencia resident George Pederson was a sergeant working at the L.A. County Sheriff’s Newhall office when Sheriff Peter Pitchess demanded some solutions to the area’s recreational void. Pederson was directed by Captain Joe Engar to make contact with Larry Margolis and Herb Oberman of the Department of Social Services. The three men were charged with the responsibility of assembling community leaders to create an agency that would supply adult-supervised recreational activities for youngsters 7-18. What seemed a fairly straightforward task turned out to be anything but. After exhaustive study, it was deemed that an affiliation with the Boys Clubs of America would be a good first step.
Margolis, Oberman and Pederson next organized a board of directors seeking 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 restaurant owner Bill Kohlmeier; the salesmanship of insurance man Jack Boyer; and the P.R. skills of Signal publisher Jon Newhall and Newhall Land’s Larry Wade.
The board members set up quarters in a small vacant church at the corner of 6th Street and Newhall Avenue, across from Hart Park, and they called themselves the “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 secure enough money not only to build a recreational facility, but to keep it running. The men went to the most obvious source of charitable dollars at that time, Tom Lowe, president of the Newhall Land and Farming Company. Lowe gave the new board members two things: a large pallet of bricks to help them with a new building, and their first-ever grant — $24,000 that he secured from the San Francisco-based Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation, payable at $8,000 per year for three years. The annual pledge would have to be matched by the Boys Club board, and the directors would need to find a way of turning the bricks into a building. The two tasks presented formidable challenges, but they were enthusiastically tackled under the leadership of charter president Bill Kohlmeier, and newly hired executive director, Al Vierra.
The pallet of bricks languished in a storage yard while fund-raising efforts took center stage. The board’s initial benefit was a community luau held at River’s End recreational park in Soledad Canyon. Chairman George Pederson helped dig a pit to roast the traditional luau pig, and Reverend Sam Dixon of Val Verde cooked gourmet side dishes for the 100 guests who attended the event. The colorful affair raised close to $1,000. However, the time and effort expended in the effort made the board face facts – the all-male organization needed a woman’s touch.
With the help of Signal editors Ruth and Scott Newhall, a 1970 luncheon was organized at the couple’s Piru Mansion. Twelve community matrons carpooled to the home to be regaled with food and inspiration then challenged to organize a Women’s Auxiliary of the Newhall-Saugus Boys Club. Before leaving the mansion, a group was formed and Old Orchard I resident Jacque Morse became the president. Jacque would be aided in the quest to fill the Boys Club coffers by her vice president in charge of fund-raising, Newhall resident Linda Pedersen.
The small, but determined group of women became the club’s fund-raising front line, decorating and organizing everything from dances to luaus with a Lake Tahoe Casino Night thrown in for good measure. The auxiliary’s value to the club was such that in 1971, the officers became its first women 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 would expand its membership to include girls. Although not fully sanctioned by Boys Clubs of America, the umbrella organization didn’t object when the club added the name “girls” to its title.
This new designation meant added growth in club membership. At the same time, budgetary constraints meant that the dream of a large central facility had to be abandoned for more cost-effective “satellites” utilizing the physical facilities of neighborhood schools. Emblem, Skyblue Mesa, Honby, and Valley View elementary schools became the flagships for the club’s after-school programming. (The 80s would later mark such milestones as the construction of a 3,000 sq. ft. modular building at Emblem in 1980; the long-awaited opening of a club in Val Verde in 1981; and the establishment of a 3,000-sq.-ft. facility at Sierra Vista Junior High in 1981. The Haunted Jailhouse, a collaboration between the Boys and Girls Club, the city of Santa Clarita, the Sheriff’s Dept. and other agencies added another programming element in 1989 (which doubled as a fund-raiser).
Satellite programs not only served the valley’s far-flung communities, but also helped bring recreational opportunities to children who did not have access to transportation (either private or public). As the recreational programs doubled, the need to fund them tripled. With the annual $8,000 pledge from Newhall Land coming to an end, the club needed a quick, reliable source of “big money,” something more than luaus and dances could supply.
In 1972, a two-pronged attack was launched under new executive director Bob Ross and directors Herb Oberman and Larry Margolis. The first, securing United Way support, was aided by a grass-roots letter-writing campaign and visits to the downtown L.A. agency by board members like Newhall Land’s Tom Lee, Saugus School’s Jim Foster, and the women on the Board. Margolis and Oberman asked Signal general manager Tony Newhall to lead the second prong of attack – an innovative fund-raising phenomenon dubbed “The Auction of Thrills.”
Newhall’s endless supply of creativity, coupled with hours of volunteer support from auction committee members like Hal Carr, Deputy Bob Rollins, Jacque Morse and Linda Pedersen led to a compilation of such unusual items as the chance to drive a car in the Saugus Speedway Demolition Derby, quarterbacking a few scrimmage plays with the College of the Canyons’ football team, a ride in The Goodyear Blimp, a street named after you, and lunch with L.A. County Supervisor Warren Dorn. That first auction, held in 1972 at The Ranch House Inn, raised an unprecedented $5,300. The large turnout, over 300 guests, was credited to the ticket-selling talents of social maven Bobbie Trueblood —no one could say “no” to Bobbie!
The auction “fired” the community’s enthusiasm and soon became “The Social Event” of every year, packing its new venue, the CalArts main gallery, with crowds that reached over 1000 and continually raised the bar on net income. In 1976, chair Rick Stephens chose a “Bicentennial” theme and raised $37,500. In 1980, under the chairmanship of HR Textron’s Sam Garcia, the “Showboat” themed auction was the first to break the $100,000 mark; and the highest net to date came in 2005 when co-chairs Don & Cheri Fleming chaired the Disco Inferno auction, which earned $527,507!
The annual successes of The Auction, along with United Way support enabled successive board presidents and executive directors to expand programs and membership – that organizational growth was being paralleled by valley-wide growth. Not only were housing tracts proliferating, the Valencia Industrial Center was adding a new “corporate” presence to the Santa Clarita Valley.
That corporate presence created a profound change in the make-up of the board. New and larger corporate donations began augmenting United Way and Auction funding. To meet the challenge of coordinating the diverse recreational programs with the new fund-raising resources, executive director Jim Ventress was brought aboard in 1985. Ventress proved to be the perfect leader to take the club into the 21st Century.
The residential and corporate growth of the ‘80s and ‘90s made the dream of a central facility a reality. Familiar corporate leaders like Tom Lee, Dick Keysor, Tom Veloz, Gary Condie, John Reardon, and Tom Dierckman joined forces with educational and political facilitators like Hart District Superintendent Robert Lee, Dr. Clyde Smyth, and Howard “Buck” McKeon to oversee campaigns that resulted in the 1992 opening of the first Central Facility next to Hart High on Newhall Avenue, and the full-service Canyon Country Facility on the Sierra Vista Junior High campus in 2003. (It does not appear that the original pallet of bricks, donated in 1968, was ever used and there is a tongue-in-cheek reward being offered by some of the “old” board members to discover whatever became of them!)
It’s almost impossible to comprehend the speed with which the club has grown in 40 years. What started as a bare-bones recreational outlet, established in 1968 by educators, bankers, small businessmen, lawmen, and clergy, has grown and matured exponentially. Today, the SCV Boys and Girls Club is a vital, valley-wide agency offering far more than recreational programs to more than 3,000 boys and girls throughout our valley.
Through the efforts of 40 hard-working boards of directors, the club sites have become beehives of activities, spawning everything from after-school tutoring to educational scholarships to sports and chess tournaments to computer laboratories to gang-prevention resources. The multi-faceted agency has evolved to meet the diverse needs of Santa Clarita Valley youngsters and teens utilizing corporate input, new sources of funding, and guidance from the many community leaders saluted in this program booklet. Obviously, there are far more people and events contributing to this legacy than can be mentioned in this humble essay.