Fixing The Pirate

Janice Olivieri photographed at San Pedro High School (photos by John Mattera)

The sun and rain wreaked havoc on what should have been the pride of San Pedro High School. A historic statue of the school’s mascot, a grand pirate, had seen better days. The hands should have been holding a sword and a hook, but instead were just sad stumps, cut off at the wrists. Holes throughout his body and deteriorating feet made him a spectacle. The 21-foot tall fiberglass statue was the victim of natural elements or vandalism, probably both.

The checkered past of the statue goes back close to fifty years and various locations. It was posted at the Harbor for many years, then in front of a store called The Sea for a time. It was then put in storage until nearly ten years ago, when the San Pedro Boosters worked to get it restored and placed on the grounds of SPHS. Yet, without upkeep, and close to a decade of deterioration, the pirate was in need of some serious TLC. San Pedro High School student and Girl Scout, Janice Olivieri, would be the one to give it the care it needed and restore it to a symbol of pride.

“It was terrible before,” says Olivieri. “During football games, the away team walks right by it and it was embarrassing, not intimidating.”

Olivieri had been looking for a project to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive, equivalent to an Eagle Scout honor in the Boy Scouts.

“You need at least 80 hours of community service to even get it,” says Olivieri. The guidelines alone for the award proposal are over twenty pages. “I had been brainstorming and thinking about doing a drama camp for kids, or maybe some sort of eco-green project.”

Olivieri realized that restoring the statue would be a way for her to earn her Gold Award while giving back to her school.

Of course, she didn’t realize that restoring the statue would take well over the required 80 hours of community service. It would take closer to 100 hours, and nine months of physical and mental work.

The project also cost a few thousand dollars, which was put up by a group of SPHS alumni who graduated from the school in the 1940s. Current SPHS principal, Jeanette Stevens, put Olivieri in touch with the 1940s group who agreed to donate money for the restoration.

“We met Janice and her mother and Janice went through all the background planning for the project,” says Chuck Norton, member of the 1940s alumni. “Janice wasn’t a regular student, she’s an honor student and a real go-getter.”

Olivieri proceeded to put all of her free time into the project. She patched holes and found help where she could. Her neighbor worked on surfboards, so she enlisted him to help in repairing the fiberglass feet. Olivieri’s mother, Shari Elders, spent almost every weekend with Olivieri assisting her mission. They used about 60 pounds of fix-all, countless gallons of paint and a cherry picker to reach the higher parts.

The newly renovated Pirate Statue

It was a lot of hard work, but Olivieri and Elders laugh remembering one day when the cherry picker conked out… with Olivieri close to twenty feet in the air.

“I was just stuck there by the pirate’s shoulder for an hour,” says Olivieri, who had to wait for maintenance from the cherry picker company to arrive. “The whole football team was practicing, so they were just running by me and saying hi as I stood there stuck.”

Elders had a positive attitude about Olivieri’s project from the beginning, but not everyone had such high hopes for the pirate.

“It was painful sometimes,” says Elders. “To have her working on it and people would stop and say, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of work, why don’t you just tear it down.’ It was like having a losing team and just thinking, Okay, we really have to win this one.”

Olivieri kept her head up, despite the negativity. “Most of your life, you have people saying, ‘You can do whatever you put your mind to,’ and I just knew I had to keep pushing and tell myself, ‘I can do this, I can fix the pirate.’”

Spending her weekends and school holidays painting, Olivieri did have moments when she wished it could be finished sooner. “There were times when I was like, every single day, I’m so sick of seeing this pirate,” says Olivieri. “Why didn’t I just do a camp? But it was completely worth it in the end.”

The football game just before homecoming, Olivieri was recognized for all her hard work in fully restoring the pirate to his previous grandeur. Elders can’t help but get emotional as she remembers the event.

“They made an announcement and I was behind her and I could see all these people standing and cheering for her and what she had done,” says Elders. “It makes me really proud.”

The group of alumni who raised and donated money for the project created a fund for others to donate to, as well. The fund will provide for upkeep of the statue and ensure that Olivieri’s hard work is maintained.

Olivieri will graduate next May, and her time will be over as a San Pedro High School student. But the mark she’s made won’t soon be erased. There is a 21-foot tall, eye-patched pirate, gleaming with fresh paint, who will ensure that Olivieri’s dedication won’t be forgotten. spt

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