Thursday, October 29, 2015

High School Leadership Interviews

Being  in Kiwanis in Woodlake means doing lots of interviews with high school students, probably because Sally Pace is in Kiwanis. Sally won a national award as a high school counselor for garnering more scholarships for more students than any school our size in the nation. 

But this post is about the kids. Our Kiwanis group pays for two, possibly three, students to go to a HOBY leadership conference in Los Angeles. "HOBY’s flagship program, the State Leadership Seminar (LS) is designed to help high school sophomores to recognize their leadership talents and apply them to become effective, ethical leaders in their home, school, workplace and community. Students explore their own personal leadership skills while learning how to lead others and make a positive impact in their community."
Alice Fesperman, Jenny House and I asked each candidate 10 questions after reading their resumes and bio statements. Eleven students interviewed for three positions, and EVERY one of them was outstanding. Some of the students you might expect to be leaders. I can't keep all their individual facts straight, and indeed it is privileged information that was shredded once we finished the interviews. So if you will pardon my references to who did what, I'll tell you a little about the experience of interviewing eleven outstanding Woodlake High School students.

One student answered that one of her leadership qualities was her name. It definitely paved the way for her to become a leader, but it didn't force her to spend nearly every waking hour volunteering for band, Key Club projects, helping at school, and going out for at least three or four sports in addition to making straight A's. Other students didn't have the same advantages. Several of the student's parents had not finished elementary school, or were no longer together, but they encouraged their students to do study hard and finish school, and go on to college. Many students helped their parents at their jobs, translating, cleaning, training, coaching all while participating in many high school activities.  Tears flowed as they talked about their parents' sacrifices or how much they encouraged and supported them.

These fifteen year old students know about time management. Each of them gained confidence from participating in either sports, music, clubs, or drama. Most of them had passionate opinions which they didn't mind airing in the face of opposition about a myriad of cultural ills from prejudice to trash on campus.  One student had already completed the 85 hours of community service required for graduation - not even halfway through his sophomore year of high school. All of them spoke and wrote articulately, and in their spare time liked to read. Spare time? They all wanted to make their families proud. For everyone we asked, this was their first interview.
I went home from that experience emotionally exhausted from trying to pick three students who would get to go to this conference, leaving the rest out. I've done many interviews in my profession, but none where all the students were so highly qualified and so young. These kids inspired me. They were respectful, hard-working, full of hope, friendly, confident, dressed like professionals, and are already true leaders recognized and nominated by teachers in the schools and respected by their peers.
They are more than our hope for the future, they are our hope for today. I am a better person for having interviewed them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Woodlake Lions Club Building Hosts Rainbow Girls Circa 1957

Here are a couple of pictures shared with me after the book Images of America Woodlake went to the publisher.

Back in the day, these girls ruled the roost, so I'm told. The Woodlake Rainbow Girls met in what used to be the old skating rink.

Stan Livingston remembered skating there under the bright blue sky, he told me when I returned his wife's original pictures.

"I thought it was an inside skating rink," I said.

"No, the Woodlake Lions Club bought the property and built the building."

"Well, what did you do when it rained?"

"We didn't skate on those days."

As the Lions built the building, the Rainbow girls dressed in their formals and met in their hall. In the first picture the Lions had not finished the walls or ceiling, but by the second picture the building was complete.

Though I understand the building is scheduled for demolition, it still hosts many meetings. I belong to Kiwanis Club which meets there every Tuesday morning at 6:30. Kiwanians serve delicious, home-cooked, nutritious and sometimes sinful breakfasts, and host great speakers. If you believe in helping kids, and having fun with some of the most active people since the Rainbow Girls, you should join Kiwanis.

Speaking of Rainbow Girls, can you find anyone wearing a dress who you didn't know ever owned one? Does anyone besides me know who that tiny little under-aged Rainbowette is in the first picture?

Does anyone remember the Merchants? If you do, please let Sally Pace know.  If you know of other groups that meet or have met at the Lions Club Building or more about the Rainbow Girls, tell us about it in the comment section.

As always, you know the stories, I'm just the mouth.

Kind regards,
Taken at the Memorial Building in Woodlake
Marsha Ingrao

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Woodlake Mayberry Years in Law Enforcement

As I researched the history of Woodlake to write Images of America Woodlake, Gus West jumped out in people's comments on Facebook.  I found a picture of him in one of the newspapers digitized in the library, but I couldn't use newspaper images in the book. I didn't know where to get images since Gus would be now be well over 100 years old, and the paper didn't list relatives.  Gus West, who served as Woodlake's Police Chief from 1941-1958, and judge until 1977, reminded me of Andy Griffith, one of my favorite actors. The day before my manuscript was due to the publisher, Arcadia Books, I was interviewing Richard Rasmussen and I mentioned people I would have liked to meet.

"I bet old lady Atherton would be able to get you a picture of old Gus West," Richard announced as he started dialing her number.

He made a quick call to Eunice Atherton, a beautiful, young-looking woman, who had retired from Woodlake Elementary Union District Office. She made a quick call to Bill West, and the next day I met his son, Bill West. He allowed me to scan four pictures, and gave me some information written up about him, and I got my file in to the publisher on time.

In the process of researching for this book, I unearthed far more information than I could present in the book. That, in turn, brought me to far more questions and people that I left unanswered. People have asked me if there is going to be a volume two.  I would love to do another book, but it would again have to involve the community to bring together the pictures and stories that I left untold.

Here is the rest of the story I learned about those Mayberry times during the Gus West years in Woodlake.

Police Chief Gus West, Images of America Woodlake p. 70

Woodlake incorporated in 1939 and quickly unincorporated, losing Police Chief Bill Morgan.  Ex-mayor, A.P. Haury, came into possession of the police chief's revolved, and the Woodlake Echo reported "law and order" as being a "thing of the past."  Fortunately Woodlake re-incorporated in 1941 and Gus West became the Police Chief replacing Ted McGuire who must have served in the interim.

Records printed in a Woodlake Echo article show income and expenditures for the eighteen month limbo period. At that time 150 men lived within the city limits earning approximately $500 to $700 per year, opponents of incorporation thought this was a tremendous burden to place on a few individuals. The non-city made most of its money in property taxes, business licenses and dog licenses. The Echo recorded sales of an adobe building for $78.70 and a map for $1.00. During that tumultuous time, the town purchased a jail and jail fixtures for $550. According to the Woodlake Echo, the judge earned $125.00 during that period, while the police chief and special police earned $1,627.50.  Judicial books costing $77.47 were nearly as expensive as the honorable justice's salary.  Jail supplies and prisoners cost the fledgling non-city $313.11.

In 1946 Woodlake lost a bit of its Mayberry shine when Mayor A. H. Kress filed charges against Frank O. Krohn, Woodlake City Clerk, and Guy Metcalf, manager of the Woodlake City Farm Labor Camp, for embezzling $340 and $400 of city funds respectively.  Krohn made $185.00 a month while Metcalf made $150.00 per month. At that time the newly incorporated city appointed Peter Legakes as the city clerk, and Fred Fehnrenbach to run the labor camp. Gus West remained the Chief of Police.

Gus, Bill and Mary West (Photo courtesy of Bill West.)
By 1951 Chief West hired two additional officers, Chlo Nelson and Harold Scott, growing his force from a one man force to three men. Their  radio car connected with Tulare County Sheriff, Ben Gurr's, radio station, KAZF No. 1. In August, 1956 the Woodlake Police Department set up a three-way radio to replace the borrowed equipment they had been using.

West's wife Mary became the first clerk of the justice court in 1952 while Gus protected the streets of Woodlake from dangerous criminals.  Youth problems troubled the community. Funded out of the Community Chest and the City government, community leaders began setting up activities for boys at the Boys' Club to keep them out of trouble in 1954. Up to 50 boys played ping-pong, boxed and watched television five evenings a week.

Prevention may have worked for Boys' Club members, but boys will be boys and in February, 1958 the Woodlake Echo reported a gang of boys who stole a keg of nails and scattered the nails on the lawn at Memorial Park.  Someone discovered the gleaming nails before they could damage the caretaker's mower.  Another group of boys that West rounded up had hauled an "outbuilding" into the intersection of Naranjo and Valencia Blvds. on Halloween. Criminal activity seemed harmless enough.  However, the Visalia Times Delta reported that in September, 1956 two teens set a fire that destroyed a barn owned by Todd Dofflemeyer and the hay inside valued at $4,600.
Dapper Gus West, Images of America Woodlake p. 83.
In 1958 West moved on to being the Justice Court Judge in Woodlake when Judge Royal Carter stepped off the bench. Duane Roderick from Riverside replaced West as Woodlake Chief of Police. At that time judges did not have to be attorneys. By 1977 the laws in California had changed, and Gus West, not an attorney, was forced to retire at age 69. He advised his successor to "simply try to mete out justice. Sometimes you can't follow the letter of the law and mete out justice at the same time."  At his retirement he stated, " I've tried to hand down sentences that I felt would do justice. As long my own conscience was clear, then I didn't worry about it."

Judge Gus West, Images of America Woodlake, p. 83.

Retired Woodlake Justice Court Judge Gus E. West, 86, died on November 12, 1993 in Visalia of cancer.  He enjoyed a reputation of being a fair and honest man.

Additional pictures provided by Bill West and Eunice Atherton.

Gus West about age 20 (Photo courtesy of Eunice Atherton).

This information came from:  Bill West, Visalia Times Delta, August 16, 1956, Visalia Times Delta, September 21, 1956, Visalia Times Delta, November 24, 1958, July 1951 Police and Peace Officers' Journal p. 35, Woodlake Echo 12-13 1941, undated Woodlake Echo, Exeter Sun, Jan. 10, 1946

Do you have a Woodlake law enforcement hero? Do you have pictures and stories you'd like to share?