La Verne is the fairest of them all

The Los Angeles County Fair celebrates La Verne’s home town heroes.

Veterans await their signal to begin leading the La Verne Day parade last September at the Los Angeles County Fair. / photo by Stephanie Arellanes

Veterans await their signal to begin leading the La Verne Day parade last September at the Los Angeles County Fair. / photo by Stephanie Arellanes

by Sher Porter
photography by Stephanie Arellanes

Occasional sounds of trumpets and drums mingle with the chatter of the Bonita High School Band players as they wait at the entrance gate. Beads of sweat form on their brows, thanks to the heavy uniforms they must wear in the late-summer heat, as they wait anxiously for their cue, out of sight of the audience.

Around the corner, a crowd slowly gathers in anticipation of the parade. Veterans and reserves from the Army and Marines are ready at the front, holding flags above their heads. At 5:30 p.m., the rest of the parade members to line up behind the men and woman of the armed forces, and the La Verne Day parade is ready to begin at the Los Angeles County Fair.

After the veterans and reserves file by, the Bonita High School Band members follow in their green and white uniforms, playing a rousing march tune, while parents follow alongside in their green Bonita Band Booster polo shirts, carrying bottles of cold water for the thirsty performers.

Each year, several cities in Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire are honored at the L.A. County Fair with a parade and ceremony to honor local heroes. Eighteen cities, including Diamond Bar, Glendora, Pomona and Rancho Cucamonga, are either given their own day or share a day to celebrate their city. Today is La Verne’s day.

Behind the band are a farmhouse float, a tractor and a pirate float. Miss La Verne, Jessica Ortega, rides along in a shiny red car behind them. The soon-to-be honored heroes ride along, too, waving and tossing beaded necklaces to the crowd. Classic Chevrolets and GMs cruise behind them. Girls of La Verne Community Cheer chant, “Let’s get a little bit rowdy. R-O-W-D-Y.” Finally, a disco tribute band dressed in Afro wigs, bell-bottom jeans, sunglasses and lots of gold jewelry brings up the rear.

Soon after the parade winds down, the next La Verne day event begins. About 75 people gather beneath the Budweiser tent, including La Verne City Council members Steve Johnson, Don Kendrick and Donna Nasmyth. Catherine Henley-Erickson, La Verne’s first poet laureate, opens the ceremony with “Hometown Heroes,” a poem she wrote for the occasion. “I felt very honored to be asked to help honor the accomplishments of these folks,” she says.

Mayor Jon Blickenstaff and University of La Verne President Stephen Morgan take the stage, looking a little like twins in their Hawaiian shirts. “I feel like these are the real heroes,” Blickenstaff says of the four residents about to be honored. At the beginning of each year, a letter goes out to schools, churches and other areas of the city, inviting residents to submit nominations for the next heroes. Fair Association employees and members and past heroes review the nominations and choose the honorees. Generally, one adult and one youth are chosen, but sometimes exceptions are made.

“We got four really great candidates this year, and we chose all four,” says Wendy Talarico, Fairplex communications manager.

Bruce Becker is the first to be honored for his volunteer work at Bonita High School football games and track meets, being a sports booster for the Bonita High School girls’ soccer team, and for being a volunteer coach for the Bonita High School girls’ basketball team. He is also the recipient of the Jim Scranton Pride of La Verne Award, which was created to honor Jim Scranton for his volunteer work with youth sports in La Verne. Becker and Scranton were friends before Scranton died.

“It was nice to get an award from someone I admire,” Becker says.

Next to be honored is George Borst, who is a member of the Senior Social Club, Golf Club and president of the computer club. He also volunteers at holiday events like the Winter Wonderland for Christmas and the Fourth of July.

Two heroes were unable to make the event. The first is Frances Divine who also received the Jack Huntington Pride of La Verne Award, which was named in his honor because of his volunteer service in the community. She is a member of the Senior Nutrition Program, volunteers at the La Verne Community Center and helps decorate the center during the holiday seasons.

“At the age of 87, she could put the energizing bunny to shame,” Morgan says.

The other hero, who was unable to attend because she had class, is Navya Reddy. At Bonita High School, Navya Reddy was a member of the Advanced Placement group, Spanish club, Key Club and the debate team, volunteered at the San Dimas High School and San Dimas Library as well as with the Girl Scouts, and she was part of the varsity track team. She is now a freshman studying biology at the University of California Los Angeles. “She always wants to ‘do.’ She never gets tired,” Naveen Reddy, Navya Reddy’s mother says. Since she was not there, her family accepted the award for her. Everyone honored was awarded with a certificate and a plaque from the Chamber of Commerce.

“Surprise our hero with a medal? No, I only did what anyone else would do,” another line from Henley-Erickson’s poem, says.

When the ceremony ends, the people disperse. Bonita High School band players return to their buses to change out of their sweat-drenched uniforms into some clean, dry clothes. They place their heavy instruments in their cases.

The heroes and other participants are done for the day and they can enjoy all the fair has to offer.

Jon Blickenstaff and Charlie, “Checkbook Charlie,” Tachdjian make their appearance in an antique fire truck in the parade during La Verne Day at the Los Angeles County Fair on Sept. 24, 2008. / photo by Stephanie Arellanes

Jon Blickenstaff and Charlie, “Checkbook Charlie,” Tachdjian make their appearance in an antique fire truck in the parade during La Verne Day at the Los Angeles County Fair on Sept. 24, 2008. / photo by Stephanie Arellanes

Cathy Henley-Erickson, one of the community heroes of the city of La Verne, accepts her award at the Pomona Fairplex during La Verne Day at the Fair. Jon Blickensaff, then mayor of La Verne, and Stephen Morgan, president of the  University of La Verne, proudly congratulate her for her outstanding efforts. / photo by Stephanie Arellanes

Cathy Henley-Erickson, one of the community heroes of the city of La Verne, accepts her award at the Pomona Fairplex during La Verne Day at the Fair. Jon Blickensaff, then mayor of La Verne, and Stephen Morgan, president of the University of La Verne, proudly congratulate her for her outstanding efforts. / photo by Stephanie Arellanes

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