Over the course of a lifetime, we all have encountered those rare individuals who have committed themselves over years and decades to improve the lives of others without attempting to secure any financial or any other personal gain or attention.
For me, the “Marathon Man” was one of those special few, and I was most fortunate to see him in action up close and personal over so many years before he passed away not so long ago. His name — Mel Bobich.
While I knew Mel previously, I truly got to know him when the two of us — along with Joe Marino, Dave Legacki, Alice Sandoval, and Ray Vaudo — banded together in 1987 to establish a volunteer nonprofit called the San Pedro Youth Coalition. We had all been active in local youth athletics and were tired of battling the lack of youth athletic facilities in our San Pedro community. Over the years, the Youth Coalition engaged in additional youth-related efforts. It became an advocacy group and sponsor for many other youth needs and opportunities besides sports, including starting our monthly youth advocacy newsletter called Youth Times. We also sponsored free daily tutoring at the San Pedro Library and other free annual youth events open to all young people, including a track meet, an annual talent show at San Pedro High School, poetry and short story contests at the library, and the popular “Future Leaders of San Pedro” recognition dinner. All these efforts and events were great, but the issue that initially brought us together and continued to be our priority was finding additional youth recreational facilities in our community so children could play, compete, and grow without baseball and soccer teams having to battle over practice space. (At one point, the lack of space was so great that when I had baseball practices at Peck Park, I would often give batting helmets to the soccer team attempting to practice right next to us — true story.)
While I was the impatient and too-often-confrontational advocate as the initial president of the coalition and writer/editor of the Youth Times, Mel was my advisor and often took me to task over articles I would write and public positions and statements I would make. He constantly advised and sometimes lectured me on the value of patience, consistent advocacy, and less confrontational statements as the components needed to accomplish our larger goals of securing much-needed athletic and recreational facilities in our community. He had played the long game previously and successfully even before the Youth Coalition was established as the lead and sometimes sole force in getting the City of Los Angeles to build the gymnasium at then Friendship Park (now Bogdanovich). So, while I was the president, Mel was our indisputable leader on any of our efforts to secure additional facilities for our kids, as he had already successfully battled the city bureaucracy to get that now-Bogdanovich gymnasium publicly funded and built.
Getting a gym built at Peck Park became our coalition’s most important effort over the decades, and of course, Mel was our leader and key strategist. Eventually, we would get the extremely large and essential Field of Dreams established for youth soccer. We also secured open space on 22nd Street, where the oil tanks used to be, and we were major advocates for Eastview Little League to be established on Knoll Hill. But Peck Park in the 1990s had no gym and was the largest youth recreational program in our city. Getting that funded and established was a major coup, and Mel Bobich is the one person who made it happen. He coordinated between City Councilman Rudy Svorinich and the Recreation & Parks Department to ensure the gym was funded and built, leading dozens of strategy meetings and city discussions with many individuals and departments over many years. Mel would not be deterred nor give up when confronted with numerous bureaucratic roadblocks over so many years — and the Peck Park gym was finally established.
I gave Mel the title “The Marathon Man” when I spoke at his rosary a few years ago. I explained to the audience what I knew to be obvious — that Mel taught us all that strategic planning and perseverance, no matter how long it took, was why he was so successful as an advocate and why the Peck Park gymnasium (and several other facilities) was finally established. He truly deserves to have the gym he built renamed the Mel Bobich Gymnasium.
If you agree, please contact Councilman Tim McOsker’s office, as they are looking for additional advocates for this renaming.
The Marathon Man was my friend and mentor, but more importantly, he was a lifetime friend of our community and especially our youth and truly deserves this public recognition. Mel was the epitome of patience and determination, but three-plus decades after he waged a gentleman’s war on the bureaucracy is long enough — even for the Marathon Man. spt