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‘Mr. La Verne’ left his mark on city

Robert Rodriguez is honored at the annual President’s Gala in 2009. He died from respiratory failure July 6. / file photo by Rafael Anguiano

Robert Rodriguez is honored at the annual President’s Gala in 2009. He died from respiratory failure July 6. / file photo by Rafael Anguiano

Des Delgadillo
Staff Writer

A longtime fixture in La Verne’s public service sector, City Councilman Robert Rodriguez died July 6 from respiratory failure. He was 83 and in the middle of his eighth term on the council.

Mr. Rodriguez spent his entire life in La Verne, but his colleagues attribute his “Mr. La Verne” moniker to more than just longevity.

With two years in the army during the Korean War, 27 years in the Pomona Police Department and a record 31 years as part of the La Verne City Council, Mr. Rodriguez left behind a legacy of public service spanning six decades.

“He had a very good pulse on the community,” said Mayor Don Kendrick, a colleague of Mr. Rodriguez’s on the City Council for eight years and a family friend for many more. “He was always talking to people. He loved this area.”

He also served as administrative services director at the University of La Verne for 13 years.

Mr. Rodriguez’s colleagues spoke fondly of his love of storytelling and charming sense of humor.

“If he can’t joke he’s probably not going to be your friend,” Kendrick said about Mr. Rodriguez. “He loved to dish it out and he loved to get it back.”

Former La Verne mayor and City Council member Jon Blickenstaff spent 27 years working side by side with Mr. Rodriguez, with their chairs set right next to one another.

Blickenstaff spoke of Mr. Rodriguez’s fondness for turning serious situations into long-running jokes.

Born in 1929, Mr. Rodriguez started school at a time when segregation was still a common practice in La Verne, with Hispanic children sent to Palomares Elementary School.

“That was where those who lived below the tracks, literally and figuratively, went to school,” Blickenstaff said.

A proponent for equal education, Mr. Rodriguez’s mother refused to have her children attend a segregated school, and insisted her children attend Lincoln Elementary, which was later renamed Roynon.

Mr. Rodriguez excelled throughout his scholastic career, including being captain of the football team during his time at Bonita High School.

Mr. Rodriguez only left La Verne once, in 1951 to serve in the Korean War where he earned numerous distinctions.

After returning to La Verne in 1953, Mr. Rodriguez made history by becoming the first Mexican-American to work for the Pomona Police Department, eventually reaching the rank of lieutenant.

Ron Ingels, former La Verne police chief and a long-time friend, described the police hierarchy as chief at the top, followed by captain, then lieutenant.

“Lieutenant is pretty high up,” he said. “It’s more than him just becoming a police officer.”

After retiring from law enforcement in 1980, Mr. Rodriguez took a position at the University as administrative Services director, supervising campus safety and transportation.In 1982 he was elected to the La Verne City Council for the first of his eight terms.

His final few years were spent combatting assorted health issues, but his colleagues said he never missed a council meeting because of these ailments.

“He walked with a cane the last couple years,” Blickenstaff said. “He walked very slowly but he was always active mentally and verbally.”

During the last few years, Mr. Rodriguez’s wife, Fran, was hospitalized with Alzheimer’s disease.

Blickenstaff said Mr. Rodriguez would go see her every day at 11 a.m., even when she could no longer recognize him or talk with him. At that point Mr. Rodriguez kept his wife’s wedding ring at home in a drawer.

When his family learned he died, Blickenstaff said, they found his wedding ring was not on his finger. After searching the house for the ring, they found it in the drawer sitting next to his wife’s ring.

Typical of his sense of humor, Blickenstaff said Mr. Rodriguez requested that the first song played at his memorial service be Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me.”

“We have a breakfast group in downtown La Verne that Robert joined in the last few years,” Blickenstaff said. “He kind of designated himself at the head of the table. He would say ‘Don’t get up!’ and just sit down at the head of the table. Nobody would question it. Since he’s passed that chair has remained empty. It’s an unspoken way to honor him.”

Des Delgadillo can be reached at desmond.delgadillo@laverne.edu.

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