Originally published 1.21.15 in “A Stone’s Throw” Column in the South Pasadena Review
Last Thursday, dancing lions roamed the streets of South Pasadena, winding through the farmer’s market, blinking lit-up eyes, flapping wiggly ears and ushering a crowd into the community room of the public library.
As the lively percussion band and lion dancers nestled down, the actual “Moy Moy” herself (“little sister” in a Cantonese dialect) settled-in to read Leo Politi’s picture book about a Chinese New Year celebration in L.A.’s Chinatown in the 1960s.
Politi, a children’s book author/illustrator and muralist, weaves a story of Moy Moy and her three big brothers (Harry, George and Frank) as they celebrate around their family’s shop.
Moy Moy longs for a beautiful doll, but will she get it? She will first have to overcome her fear of the lions that come to life as they roar to a stand, grow angry and happy, eat dangling fruit and donated money and even sleep and wake to the beat of drums.
As Moy Moy read, children absorbed the beloved story. Adults joined in from the chairs behind and under the backdrop of dozens of Politi’s art on display.
After a complete reading of the story, Moy Moy or Mary Yan Joe, a resident of South Pasadena and the main character of the book, shared briefly about its history and author. She then showed her own collection of Politi originals, given to her family by the author himself.
As an artist who celebrated friendship and cultural diversity, Politi created some 20 books for children, a Caldecott winner and two honors among them (one of the highest achievements for a children’s picture book.)
Joe recalled a memory of Politi and her childhood, “I just remember him coming and bringing his little dog that I was terrified of; he would try to get me to warm up to the dog. I was told that was how he captured that in the story, where I was afraid of the lion.”
Politi loved interacting with and creating art about children. This was evident even as the youngest son, Frank Yan, would climb on Politi’s back as he tried to paint. Yan remembered, “I was the rascal… I would just pester him.” A photo of young Yan climbing on a working Politi’s back was included in the exhibit.
Original dolls (like the one Moy Moy covets in the story) from Politi’s toy collection were also on display, juxtaposed to the illustrations that depicted them.
Politi had a special fondness for South Pasadena, painting his first library wall mural there. And South Pasadena loves Politi. Not only is a mural of children reading treasured in the children’s room of the library, but February 28 is proclaimed as the city’s official “Leo Politi Day.”
After the reading of “Moy Moy,” the evening’s line up was far from over.
Politi’s daughter, Suzanne Politi Bischof was on hand to represent the family and answer questions. Alan Cook, puppeteer, presented a fun and fascinating show of shadows illuminated like a makeshift television (sometimes called shadow play or shadow puppetry.) A detailed original sketch by Politi of Cook’s show in the past was also shared with the audience. Children created their own art at a craft table. And Ann Stalcup, whowrote “Leo Politi: Artist of the Angels” shared her book and more insight into Politi’s life.
The evening was a unique and fitting way to kick-off 2016 in South Pasadena and the Chinese New Year ahead (February 8).
Though the exhibit is no longer in the community room, you can still experience some of Politi’s books and his mural by visiting the South Pasadena Library.
Gong Hey Fat Choy! – Cantonese for “congratulations and be prosperous” in the New Year.
Thursday’s event was made possible by The Politi family, Lisa Boyd/Moms for Community, The City of South Pasadena, The South Pasadena Public Library, The Friends of the South Pasadena Library and many supportive volunteers.
Part 1 of 2: Published 9.24.15, South Pasadena Review
When disaster strikes, it’s too late to prepare. And in California, an earthquake, a fire, a windstorm or even your car breaking down on the way to Vegas in 100-degree heat can turn into an emergency situation very quickly. We know this, and yet many, including myself, continue to put off preparing.
No more excuses. The City of South Pasadena offers free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training classes for anyone over 18-years of age.
This past Saturday, the third CERT Basic Training took place at Oneonta Congregational Church. But do not be fooled by “basic” in the title. This 12-hour class, split into three Saturdays, is the first step in a string of courses to help educate members of the community to respond to various emergencies.
Some of the topics covered in the “Basic” training are: fire safety, light search and rescue, basic first aid, disaster medical operations, terrorism, disaster psychology, and CERT Team organization. This last Saturday, one of the hands-on lessons was in how to use a fire extinguisher in a safe and effective way. We were encouraged to put out a fire while remembering PASS: Pull (the safety tab), Aim (extinguisher at the base of the fire), Squeeze (the lever with a strong grip) and Sweep (in a slow side to side motion).
Sign up for future free CERT trainings by going to the city of South Pasadena website: southpasadenaca.gov, under the “Residents” tab, then select “Disaster Preparedness.” Amateur Radio Training (to learn about emergency communications) will be on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7-9 PM. And the next CERT Basic Training will begin Saturday, February 20, 2016.
Part 2 of 2: Published 10.1.15
CERT Trains Community to Help Others in an Emergency
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) “basic” training course does not water down the truths of a disaster. Images of charred skin, misaligned bones, and distressed and dying individuals were part of the class this past Saturday. But all of this was done to train individuals to help not only themselves and family members in an emergency, but to aid the community during a disaster.
Some material that was covered include: the psychological impact of a disaster, a step-by-step triage protocol, ABCs (airway, breathing, bleeding, circulation), creating makeshift splints and tourniquets, and CPR.
Hands-on training was given for an up-to-date method of “Hands-only” or “sidewalk” CPR. Though official certification for CPR was not given, trainees learned the basics while discovering how physically tiring it is to properly administer CPR for even just one minute.
According to CERT instructor and South Pasadena Fireman, Matt Robertson, the goal of CERT is to “Do the most good for the most people.” Trainees were encouraged to start where they’re standing and assess a situation while perhaps administering 30 seconds of care before moving on during triage.
When discussing the psychology of victims during a disaster, CERT instructor and South Pasadena Fire Department Captain, Kris Saxon said, “All it takes is a little bit of compassion.” CERT instructor and South Pasadena Fireman, Adam Levins added, “Let families grieve. Hold their hands.” He then went on to explain what to say and, maybe more importantly, what not to say.
With Los Angeles, one of the largest cities in the US, only 6 miles away, we should have an added urgency about “being ready.” And taking a CERT class can help, not only your family, but your community in a disaster as well as other emergencies.
Sign up for free CERT classes at southpasadenaca.gov, under the “Residents” Disaster Preparedness tab.
Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” column in the South Pasadena Review 3/26/15
By Ann Suk Wang
Many become excited when a movie star or a well-known musician is seen in person. Palms may become slightly damp and the heart may pound a little faster. The rush of recognition causes even the coolest fan to quickly assess, whether to try to get an autograph, snap a quick photo with a phone, shake the celebrity’s hand, or form words of praise: “I loved you in [such and such] movie” or “Your song is the best.”
For me, I feel a bit giddy and star-struck when I have the privilege of meeting an author. Maybe it’s because we share a love for words and good story telling. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent days in their world, with their characters and their thoughts. But no matter who strikes intrigue in you, it’s probably because there’s an instant respect for whoever creates the art that moves you.
On Friday, the students of South Pasadena Middle School (SPMS) got a taste of the excitement that comes with meeting a two-time Newbery Honor-winning, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Honored author of The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary D. Schmidt. These awards are no joke in the children’s book publishing world. They’re the best of the best novels, chosen among all published works for youth each year.
But how did such an author find his way to SPMS? Librarian Betsy Kahn loved Schmidt’s book Okay for Now so much that she persuaded the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF) to fund the purchase of dozens of copies and distributed them so that students and staff could “read it forward” around school. Eventually she wrote Schmidt a lengthy hand-written letter about the stir his book was creating, included a photograph of herself dressed for Halloween as the hardcover copy of the book, and asked if he could possibly make a visit. Schmidt later admitted to Kahn, he just “couldn’t refuse.” So with further financial help from SPEF, Schmidt was flown to California.
When Schmidt arrived at the school on Friday, his day was packed: autographing books and pieces of paper for a winding line of students during brunch and lunch, speaking to student artists and writers, and giving two assemblies. He led a workshop about developing intriguing characters. He disclosed that he has a secret room in his home that he’s never entered because he likes the mystery, revealing a little more about him. He told a moving story that included how “The Draft” was done during the Vietnam War and how older men now, still remember “their number.” He spoke about stories starting with questions and ending with even more. All was inspiring.
As for my part in all this, I had none. I was just a parent volunteer at the library who caught wind of the Okay for Now phenomenon and was fortunate enough to see it unfold from a distance and as a parent of a pre-teen who now calls Schmidt’s writings one of his favorites.
But don’t feel too bad if you feel you missed out. Fortunately for those who live in and around South Pasadena, there are many opportunities to learn from and meet local and world-renowned authors: during events at the South Pasadena and surrounding libraries and at bookstores like Vroman’s in Pasadena and Once Upon a Time in Montrose. Check them out because these locations attract the biggest names in the industry!
The power of a book: there’s no telling where it’ll take you… maybe right to the feet of your favorite superstar author and beyond. Way beyond!
Original publication in The South Pasadena Review, “A Stone’s Throw” Column, September 11, 2014
A few weeks ago, our community sighed in relief having averted a potential school shooting. But after the relief, comes reality. This scary scenario points to wounds that not only exist in our city, but among many teens around the US.
I don’t know why the arrested boys planned an attack on the high school; and I’m not going to guess. But this does make me wonder about the stress many teens face: mounting schoolwork, social pressures and complexities, home life, bullying, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts…
Consider some statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health:
– About 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18.
– Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24.
– More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.
Sometimes a teen’s problem may solely be a chemical imbalance; but often it’s combined with social factors or simply social-emotional.
“Every teen wants to be connected. Clearly, these teens [the arrested boys] did not feel connected to their community,” states Natasha Prime, Special Education Counselor at South Pasadena High School and founder/Executive Director of “The Place,” a teen center in South Pasadena.
Prime adds, “Lots of kids not associated with traditional school activities (like band or sports) can still be a part of a group. [At “The Place”] they have somewhere to go, a place to belong and be connected.”
Elizabeth Haeger, South Pasadena’s Young Life staff associate, shares from the book Hurt by Dr. Chap Clark, “The average American teenager has less than 2 minutes a day of meaningful, personal interaction with an adult, including their own parents.”
Haeger adds, “As someone who spends a lot of time with teenagers, I can tell you, a lot of kids are in a darker place than many adults realize… They feel hopeless and unknown.”
When I was a teen, I remember being verbally ridiculed by other kids for things like: my name, using a tissue for my nose, winning a contest, and reading a book in the “wrong” spot – all innocuous things. I’m sure kids have to endure far worse! But what made a difference for me was a considerate adult or a thoughtful and apt word from a peer.
Whether or not an unpleasant interaction is “deserved,” many kids (and might I add, adults) can be cruel. For some, it takes one incident and the internal damage is done. For others, decades of abuse can render one to believe they are unworthy; but they can still emerge as decent human beings.
It is not our job to determine what result a mean word or action will have on a person. Rather, it’s everyone’s civil duty and common decency to treat others with respect. Yes, be respectful even to the one causing the pain, without giving them the power to continue the venomous hate that really just makes them miserable people.
Those who harm verbally or physically need to be held accountable for the part they play (by calling them on it or bringing in professionals.) And hopefully, that will help them take a step toward betterment. No one is beyond help.
But before a person starts down the wrong path, each individual around them can make a difference. It’s easy to say or do a mean thing or judge a situation quickly. What’s infinitely more challenging is to go beyond instinct and replace the mean word or action with a gentle, sincere and healing one.
Go even further and be fierce in caring for people. Go up to someone who was just handed a blow and pepper them with a kind truth. The irony is: the one who hurts the most is the one who spreads the hurt. So be a person who intervenes and stops that cycle.
I don’t say these things because I am this ideal caring person. I write this because I sometimes judge and spew venom (if only in my head and spilling out at times). But with the help of God and good friends, I must strive for better. And I’m guessing, no matter where we are on the care meter, we can all make improvements here.
I was angry with the two boys who were arrested because they allegedly meant to inflict serious harm. But then the anger turned to sympathy for us all: the boys, their families, those who can help prevent tragedies and those who are still being victimized.
The problem was thwarted but the pain persists. Are you the one causing pain? Are you the one taking it? (Don’t give up on seeking help, you will find it!) Are you the one watching it happen all around and doing little to nothing about it? All of us can probably answer “yes” to each.
The true tragedy would be moving forward like nothing ever happened. We can all take a moment to creatively imagine what can be done to turn a community-wide scare into a more healing future. We can recognize the underlying pain that exists all around and do something about it.
Resources to connect teens to peer communities and people who care:
http://www.greaterpasadena.younglife.org (Wyldlife is for those in middle school and Young Life is for high school students. YoungLife and WyldLife groups meet in various cities. Meetings are a fun, energetic and thoughtful place for teens.)
For the background story, go to SouthPasadenaNow.com
We hear about school shootings around the US and are angry and sad for the pain it causes. When the threat comes directly into our own community (for me, less than a block away), the concern deepens. As with any small town, people share meals, soccer matches, and school events; we seem, at most, one degree away from each other.
So after tragedy was averted on Monday when two South Pasadena High School students were arrested because of the very real threat of a shooting attack on staff and students, a collective sigh of relief came from parents who realized how bad this could have been. Even the potential of what could have been shakes us up.
A community is left stunned, relieved and thoughtful about what else lurks and how to avoid the worst of it in the future.
Jon Primuth, President of the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF) said, “My daughter (a senior) and son (a sophomore) would have been on campus at the time, so my emotions are a huge tangled knot of fear and relief. I am deeply grateful to our school administrators and police for their alert response and quick action.”
“I do believe that the culture of ‘community involvement’ in South Pasadena contributed to this being detected early. We are one big family looking out for each other, not afraid to speak out when something doesn’t look right,” says Gina Chang, parent of two elementary-aged children.
A sense of gratitude was certainly felt among people. But many other feelings followed.
“After hearing about the incident, I told myself to drop down on my knees and just pray. If a small community like South Pasadena can have kids that are this troubled then we must pray for those two boys and protection over all the schools. I feel so helpless. Violence is everywhere,” says Josephine Sin, a parent of two (one at the middle school and another at Arroyo Vista Elementary.)
Dayna Cahoon, wonders, “How do I communicate to my young children, all under the age of eight, that things like this happen, without creating fear in them?… Are children so desperate for attention and a feeling of notoriety that they are willing to cause such horrible tragedy?”
A parent of three (two high school students and a newly graduated high school senior,) Hollin Liu says, “We thought we lived in a safe neighborhood. With something like this, even South Pasadena gets to be listed as ‘dangerous.’ It’s scary just thinking about it. And about the fencing-in situation in all our schools, if there were a shooting frenzy, wouldn’t it be harder for kids to run?”
The very thought of extreme violence makes people consider the policies and practices in place, refining safety measures and making them better.
“…It’s not enough to ban guns or ban media that romanticizes violence and vengeance. We need more positive adult role models in kids’ lives,” Primuth adds. “As for SPEF, we have the same disaster planning as SPUSD in all our summer schools.”
As a parent of children at the middle school and elementary school, this situation has caused my own family to talk about what may be considered “suspicious” and what to do in light of it. My kids mentioned that they didn’t want to “tattle,” so that lead to a discussion on what is and isn’t tattling.
And each child responds differently, so parents need to be sensitive about how to discuss such topics. If you or your children have concerns regarding the recent threat, counselors will be available at all SPUSD schools.
Though a stream of questions and thoughts bombard the brain of a parent in cases like this, the thread that unites us in this particular situation is our thankfulness to community members and authorities who kept this situation from turning into a nightmare.
A prayer vigil will be held on Wednesday, August 20th, at 7:00 p.m. on the front lawn of St. James’ Episcopal Church, for students at all five South Pasadena schools.
Originally from my column “A Stone’s Throw” in the South Pasadena Review (June 2014)
Throughout the school year, students learn best by experience. This is especially true of live creatures in the classroom; and I’m not talking about the kids.
It’s good to study about the world from a book; but bring it to life to observe and touch and the learning increases that much more.
When I was growing up my parents would travel with me, making the most of my time away from school. They would say “You learn more when you do.”
In the same vein, my kids and I continue to “do.” Beyond going places, we also “do” at home. Currently we live in a zoo/laboratory, or so it feels like such. We have 2 spunky boys (Thing 1 and Thing 2), a bouncy dog (Bree), 2 hardy water frogs raised from tadpoles (Hop and Hoppity), soon to be released butterflies, ladybugs in their pupa stage and praying mantises in their habitat getting ready to live in our garden. And I must admit it involves a little money, a little time and a lot of fun.
Living things can respond to your actions and sounds. They eat, have antics, poo, molt, hang upside-down and evolve. You can spend a day together and learn its habits. Now that’s education!
In the South Pasadena elementary schools, we have rabbits, ducklings, chickens and turtles. Some teachers introduce their classes to hairy tarantulas that are fed live insects, frogs that are placed in makeshift ponds, and caterpillars that miraculously metamorphose into butterflies released to the skies.
Dawn Tull, a 4th and 5th grade teacher at Monterey Hills Elementary has in her class (and will have in her home over the summer): 3 guinea pigs, a gecko, tree frogs, fire belly toads and an insect habitat – Oh my! “The reason I have animals is… to reinforce all the eco system studies we do.”
Even at the middle school, the library has two birds and an escape artist hamster. An assortment of insects and reptiles like snakes and lizards also find their way into our academic environment – it’s natural!
When Colette Carbonare, a second grader at Arroyo Vista was asked what she learned about the ducklings, she said, “Whoever takes a duck has to take two because they get lonely.” Apparently this is a crucial element in a ducky’s social existence, but may not be fun for the “lucky” parent who gets to clean twice the mess.
This brings us to the question: “where do all the creatures go,” now that the traditional academic season comes to a close? Like Pete Seeger’s old political folk song in the 60s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” the creatures come full circle.
They get adopted into student’s homes everywhere. Teachers find they have new pets for the summer. And some get released into nature to continue the life cycle.
Wherever they go, somehow, when the new school year rolls around again, future generations of creatures find their way back into the classroom and into the minds and hearts of those fortunate enough to behold and enjoy them.
To try some of these in your own home, borrow a pet from your child’s classroom for the weekend or summer. Or go to insectlore.com (for caterpillars/butterflies and ladybug larvae), fascinations.com (for an ant farm and praying mantises) and growafrog.com (for see-thru tadpoles). Or to keep the critters contained in a story, try a fun tale about “Humphrey,” life from the perspective of a classroom hamster.
Whatever you do, make sure you “DO” something. Get out of your comfort zone and get dirty. Those precious years of wonder and discovery tend to fade over time. So don’t miss it!
A piece I wrote for the South Pasadena Review (originally published in the 5/22/14 issue)
Have you ever watched an old movie you knew you liked, but couldn’t remember what it was about? Well I bought that movie recently at a thrift store and was so delighted to relive it, as if I had never seen it before. Honestly, even as I watched, I couldn’t remember what happened next! So because I was pleasantly surprised by it’s charm and surprised by a completely new way of seeing it with modern eyes, I’d like to revive a 16-year-old oldie but goodie: You’ve Got Mail.
In our 126-year-old city, 16 years is hardly “old.” But as in “You’ve Got Mail” we, too, have a beloved children’s bookstore (with Toys too): The Dinosaur Farm, a seasoned business at 20-years-old this November and still standing proud.
The days of AOL and the ancient dial-up tone via modem are all but gone. But at the heart of this good story, the gist lives on and still relevant today… the take-over of a super-power over a little guy’s business, the power of books, getting to know someone deeply through their words (online, through snail mail and otherwise), and “frienemies” who become more through forgiveness and kindness.
Nora Ephron, the director, screenwriter, and all-around comedic/relational genius weaves together what some people might call a “predictable plot.” Yes, you know it’s going to be a happy ending. The guy gets the girl. All is well. But how she gets there is what’s so magical and endearing. And that’s the ride that is so worth the journey.
If you know me, you know I love children’s books, children’s book authors, children’s bookstores… you get the picture. So in the movie, when a small privately-owned children’s bookstore is threatened by a larger discounted super bookstore, I can’t help but think how things have changed and yet, are still the same today… Now, even the brick and mortar superstores are threatened by even bigger online super-duper “stores.”
The whole publishing industry is being turned upside-down by the way we read our books on tablets and download material that has never been touched by a professional editor. At first, those who love the feel and smell of quality words on printed paper were up in arms. This new turn was a travesty! To many, it still is. But with more regularity now, the industry is learning to roll with the punches and trying to evolve well. Newer and bigger, albeit often more impersonal, business inventions are inevitable.
And the little guy continues to chug forward. Even our own Dinosaur Farm finds ways to compete with the growing market. Not only do they have sales online, but they excel in customer service (knowledge in helping to pick out the perfect present and free gift wrapping). They cary unique items the “big boxes don’t have,” says owner David Plenn. Finally, they strive to live up to their motto: “Not your ordinary toy store!”
So as Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s characters discover, we, too, can stay true to our better selves, and turn our enemies into friends and find love along the way… whether it be in business, in relationships, an obscure book or an old movie.
Originally printed in The Quarterly magazine, Winter 2013
As numb fingers and eyes droop in weariness, a lively spirit keep volunteers going through the night and into the following year… year after year as another self-built float for the Rose Parade receives its finishing touches. The volunteers are the key ingredient in the self-built floats.
“Exhausted and exhilarated, it’s [a] sweet taste of accomplishment and pride,” says Greg Lehr, Director of the Rose Float Program at Cal Poly and involved with float building since 1988. Civic-minded helpers work year-round with members of the same community, all for one special day: January 1.
Since the inception of The Pasadena Tournament of Roses and their first parade in 1890, local flora have adorned floats, carriages, vehicles, animals and people going down Colorado Boulevard. At the heart was a desire to showcase Southern California’s idyllic Mediterranean climate; and through tireless community members, the world continues to get a taste.
This small-town tradition continues in the 6 self-built floats: Burbank, Cal Poly Universities, Downey, La Cañada Flintridge, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena.
Among the roughly 45 floats in each of the recent parades, the “self-builts” are dubbed as such because the entire project is driven by volunteers and donations. The price tag of a professionally-built float could be roughly $300,000 on up, but most of the self-builts stay in the $50,000-$100,000 price range.
No one is paid to come up with the concept of the float. Usually there is a contest to pick the winning design. A handful of energetic volunteers fundraise all year long to cover the cost of materials. Community members donate their skills to help shape and weld the pencil steel that creates the skeleton. And hundreds of decorators for each float, mostly from “deco week” (the day after Christmas until the morning of Jan. 1) labor free of charge at all hours.
The know-how to create a traveling and animated work of floral art is passed down from one committed volunteer to the next, through trial and error and the sharing of knowledge.
“Even though we compete against each other, it’s a friendly competition between the self-builts. We all help each other. If someone is ahead of schedule and [we’re] behind, they’ll help [by sending over volunteers]… Even if you run out of flowers, other self-builts are willing to share [their extras,]” says Bonnie Colcher, a volunteer for 11 years and Volunteer Coordinator of the Sierra Madre Rose Float Association.
The self-builts compete with the professionals for all the awards, but one recognition is especially for them, the ‘Founder’s Trophy’ for most beautiful entry built and decorated by volunteers from the sponsoring community or organization. And though the parade is not simply about getting awards, it’s certainly nice to be recognized for the particularly huge task for the self-builts.
“We’re all in this to make a better parade for everybody, professionals included.” Paul Abbey, volunteer since 1999 and President/Chairman of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses comments about a time their float was damaged in a fire and a professional float builder, Fiesta Floats, helped by providing a facility and additional people who could get the job done.
The people who stay involved with float projects have a special camaraderie. Says Gary DeRemer, volunteer for 21 years and President of the Downey Rose Float Association, “All the people who build and decorate are family to me. We don’t always get along, but we all work as a team and love each other.”
And like quirky families, floats can also be temperamental in varying temperatures and situations; not everything comes up roses. There are certainly challenges with each goliath float-creating task. There are bound to be issues: from major glitches (like when La Cañada built an 18-foot wide float that had to go through a 16-foot wide gate) to full-blown panic-stricken re-dos and overnighters (like “the great coconut fiasco” when the glue didn’t work after a cold spell and nearly all the coconut shavings fell off at 2 AM, an hour before Sierra Madre’s float was to make its way to the judges.)
But in the end, to see what was so meticulously cared for over a year, traveling the 5 1/2-mile route on New Year’s Day, makes all the hardships worth it!
As Downey’s float makes its way to Pasadena, “Our city cheers us on. The people on the streets clap for us; and you feel so proud to be a part of something great,” says DeRemer.
Some Unique Aspects of Each Self-Built Float
The Burbank Tournament of Roses Association is celebrating 100 years since their first float entry in 1914. Their 82nd float entry this New Year’s will be “Lights… Camera… Action!” (In earlier years an entry was sometimes a marching band or no entry at all.)
Robert Hutt, volunteer for 12 years, currently in charge of Public Relations and past President of the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association, comments on what drew him in. “At first, I wanted to learn how to weld. [But it] took about 5 years before I got into the construction part.” Often, volunteers must learn about nuances of float building before wielding heavy tools.
Recent awards include: Fantasy Trophy (2013) and Mayor’s Trophy for most outstanding city (2012).
Cal Poly Universities (Pomona and San Luis Obispo) have entered a float since 1949, celebrating 66 years with their 2014 entry “Bedtime Buccaneers.”
Cal Poly’s float is unique even among the self-builts as the only one that’s not a city and is student-centered. The students “have the ingenuity that paves the way…We were the first to have animation (moving parts) and fiber optics… These students love it. They live it. If you cut their veins, it would leak hydraulic fluid. I’m very proud of them,” comments Lehr.
The float is also built on two campuses and brought together in late October. Pomona is in charge of the animation while San Luis Obispo takes care of the float propulsion or drive system.
Recent awards include: Bob Hope Humor Trophy (2013) and Fantasy Trophy (2011).
La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association (LCFTRA) had it’s first entry in 1979 and it’s 36th consecutive entry for 2014 is “Dog Gone.”
According to Bill Pounders, volunteer for more than 20 years, on the board of LCFTRA, the learning never stops. With their 1992 float ‘Sherlock Hounds’ “we learned that there is no banner for cuteness.” (A banner proceeds an awarded float down the parade route.)
As for participation, people from all over the foothills join-in. “Local high school students enjoy their winter vacation days doing something different and find float decorating a fun community-service activity,” says Pounders.
Recent awards include: Animation Trophy (2013) and Bob Hope Humor Award (2012).
The Sierra Madre Rose Float Association’s first entry was in 1917. This New Year’s will be their 82nd entry, “Catching the Big One.”
Colcher says it gets more and more challenging every year for their “smallest” of the self-builts, given a city population of around 11,000. “We’re like the little engine that could.” Their budget is the smallest at about $50,000, but “There’s a lot of pride in it, so we get it done.”
Recent awards include: Governor’s Trophy for the best depiction of life in California (2011 and 2010).
The South Pasadena Tournament of Roses first entered a float in 1910, making it the oldest self-built float in the parade. This New Year’s they will present “Intergalactic Vacation.”
When explaining how a design is chosen, Abbey said “It’s got to have that ‘ah ha’ factor and wow people… It has to resonate with the audience.” But in the end he doesn’t help build floats “for awards, but I build them to make people happy… it warms my heart to see people enjoy what they’re seeing. It’s the whole reason I do this!”
Recent awards include: Founders’ Trophy (2013) and Fantasy Trophy (2012).
Originally published in The Quarterly magazine, Summer 2013
5 AM. There was a biting chill in the air at the edge of a wood-planked pier on Catalina Island. But fighting against common sense, I dove into an even more frigid Pacific. Every nerve ending was jolted to attention as a rush of exhilaration forced my limbs to move, propelling me toward the sandy shores of Camp Fox.
What would compel me, a kid more than 30 years ago, to go “polar bearing?” Peer pressure? Maybe. Stupidity? Probably. The pure rush of mad fun? Most definitely.
It was summer. I was at camp. And I was going to make the most of my week away from my parents. The expectation of making new friends, enjoying nature and having fun was a given. Little did I know that I would also be educated there: learn new skills, build self-confidence and be inspired to become a better person. This masked learning occurred with each successive camp, whether it was a traditional outdoor activity camp, Girl Scout camp, gymnastic camp or church camp, I grew, transforming for the better.
Megan McDuffie, in her 11th year of being a volunteer or camp director at YMCAs Camp Whittle, reflects on her experience there. “It’s powerful to see kids who came in through camp, giving back to the community… In an unplugged environment, it’s valuable to get back to nature while connecting with other campers.”
And for the last 152 years, children in America have been experiencing the multi-faceted thrill of overnight camps.
In 1861, an educator and abolitionist with Christian values, Fredrick William Gunn and his wife, Abigail took a group of children camping. The youth from “The Gunnery,” the Gunn’s school in Connecticut, went on a 10-day “Civil War-inspired training” that included swimming, fishing, hiking and boating. About 30 boys and 12 girls participated in the trip that would ignite a camping movement, making Gunn the “father of recreational camping.”
In the 1870s, the Gunn’s continued camp at Lake Waramaug. In 1874, the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) opened a camp for girls who needed rest from their non-stop working conditions, while a couple private camps sprang up in 1876 and 1881.
The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in New York opened Camp Dudley in 1885, the longest continually operating camp in the United States.
By 1902, Camp Kehonka for girls was founded in New Hampshire by Laura Mattoon, teacher and creator of bifurcated clothing for girls so that they could move more freely outdoors.
Eleanor Eells, social worker, camp advocate and camp historian, said of Mattoon in her 1978 publication Eleanor’s Vignettes, “She understood well the place women were to occupy in the twentieth century and the many ways in which the camp experience could be a preparation. Her ideas about camping education, and women’s role were in advance of her time.”
The LA YMCA started its first summer resident camp in 1912. In 1914, after the South Pasadena YMCA (later adding San Marino to its name) was founded, campers from the new Y joined the LA camp.
In addition to traditional camp activities like horseback riding, kayaking, archery and a ropes course, unique to the Y’s camp is the rag program of setting personal goals, which also began in 1914 by Thomas Caldwell.
“Ragging” a friend meant bestowing one of various bandana-like colored cloths around a person’s neck as an outward symbol for an inward commitment toward betterment. Lorenzo Frias, a Freshman at South Pasadena High School and on the leadership track at Y camps said, “It’s an amazing experience. It changes you. I even have a friend with anger management issues who just changed. He became nice!”
In 1910, the same year Boy Scouts of America and Camp Fire USA began, Alan S. Williams founded the Camp Directors Association of America, known today as the American Camp Association (ACA), standardizing camp quality for safety, staffing, health and programming.
The ACA helped take camps to a new level of excellence. “Educators are at the core of the camp community, professionalizing the field and raising the professional caliber,” said Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association.
Today, there are nearly 200 overnight camps in California (162 are ACA accredited) and close to 2000 nationwide (1,636 are ACA accredited). That’s more than 14,000 sessions in all!
Along with local traditional camps, like Catalina Island Camps (since 1922) and the YMCA’s Camp Whittle (since 1958), there are also popular interest group camps like Camp Cherry Valley on Catalina Island for Boy Scouts (since the 1920s), Winacka Girl Scouts camp in San Diego (since 1974) and a nondenominational Christian camp at Forest Home in Forest Falls (since 1938).
Currently, the colorful palate of sleep-away camps is mind-boggling. One can choose among an in exhaustive list of camps centered on: every imaginable sports activity, art, science, language and cultural experiences.
There are even technology camps that focus on computers, programming, iPads, iPhones, gaming and game design (internaldrive.com); then to rehabilitate from too much technology use, there’s a ranch and rustic living camp (jamesonranchcamp.com).
Some unique experiences include: secret agent, girl power, Hollywood stunt, rock star, flying trapeze, extreme action, fashion, DJ, broadcast, culinary camps and more (paliadventures.com). Or if astronomy and space exploration are a passion, there’s Astro Camp (guidediscoveries.org).
I don’t remember all the things I did at the many camps I attended, but I do remember my awe of nature, a force bigger than myself. I remember the people and how they influenced the way I felt about myself.
There were crazy fun counselors who did ridiculously silly things like rinse into a cup only to pass it on for the next counselor to do the same. There were campers who told scary stories about bores that would gore us in the night if we stepped out of our cabins and bees that could spit blinding poison into eyes. And there were “friends” who made me ask a boy to dance, leaving me humbled by the trauma of it even now.
I learned silly songs I can still recite perfectly today. I relaxed on logs, doing nothing but cultivate deeper friendships. The saturated weeks I spent with people proved to draw them closer than years of casual interactions. And if they asked me again to jump into ice-cold waters in the middle of the ocean, I just might do it.
Resources for local camps: camppage.com, kidscamp.com, ymcala.org
Special thanks to Stephanie Yuen at the South Pasadena/San Marino YMCA and Kim Bruno at the American Camp Association for contributing to this story.
History of camp credits: connecticuthistory.org, acacamp.org and summercamphandbook.com