Bridging Hope

Long Beach Ronald McDonald House

For John Papadakis it has always been about remaking San Pedro into a seaside destination – a city that people will write home about.

A long-time San Pedro Booster, Papadakis was also the owner of what he describes as “San Pedro’s greatest destination ever,” Papadakis Taverna. But his plan for San Pedro, as the chairman of the Los Angeles Harbor-Watts Economic Development Corp., a public-private partnership to bring development to the area, isn’t moving has quickly has he had hoped. But that hasn’t stopped him from making a difference.

Instead, it led him across the bridge to Long Beach, where an opportunity arose for him to be a part of something much bigger than himself when he was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Ronald McDonald House.

Several months later, in need of cash to get the project on its feet, Papadakis suggested a fundraising event at his San Pedro staple – it was a hit.

The event, which saw more than 80 people in attendance, including Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and then state senator Alan Lowenthal, now a congressman, raised $40,000 for construction of the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House. According to Cheri Bazley, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House, it was the first funding ever raised for the project.

“John’s event started it all,” she says. “This was the seed money, if you will, it was critical and very significant in launching the campaign to build the house. His fundraiser was crucial.”

The Ronald McDonald House, located at Atlantic and Vernon Street, two blocks south of Miller Children’s Hospital, opened its doors in December 2011. In that time, the house has served hundreds of families who have children with critical and life-threatening illnesses.

The house provides inexpensive, and often free, lodging for families who travel long distances while their children undergo treatment. The houses alleviate the stress family members would have to endure by sleeping on cots at the hospital or incurring the additional expense of finding a local hotel. The facilities provide them with the added comfort of being surrounded by those who understand and can relate to the ordeal of having an ill child.

But raising the initial money to fund the construction of the house was just phase one for the board of directors. Papadakis, who still serves on the board and is a founder of the Ronald McDonald House, says that “now the key is being able to continue to raise the finances to sustain the house.”

Papadakis came up with an idea, the Heart of the House effort, as it is known, a slogan Papadakis coined himself, to continue to raise money in a sustaining effort. Bazley says it’s these donations that are critical and essential for the Ronald McDonald House to continue to operate.

“We operate on a $1.1 million budget,” she says. “More than 80 percent of our funding comes from private individuals. It is essential that we reach beyond the Long Beach community to raise awareness and raise this money because our services are very far reaching.”

That’s where Danny Salas comes in.

Salas, who grew up poor on the docks in San Pedro, says he struggled to afford so much as a hook when he was a little boy. But through hard work and dedication, Salas, with his wife and children, has become quite the success story.

Growing up in San Pedro, Salas said he wanted to do something on or near the water. So, in the mid 90s, he started a sports fishing charter business at Ports O’ Call. His business boomed. He went from one small boat to seven large boats, including an 80-foot dinner cruise liner.

“I had the opportunity about 12 years ago to move my business to Long Beach and work directly with the city and the Aquarium of the Pacific,” he says.

Salas and his business, now called Harbor Breeze Cruises, made their move to Long Beach in 2000 and have continued to grow with various cruise offerings and fishing excursions.

“It’s tough to start a business, any way you look at it, but our business has seen growth beyond our wildest dreams – I started out as a boy on the docks with nothing, and now I am able to give back.” And that’s what Salas did.

A few months back, Salas received a phone call from Papadakis, the pair met through a mutual friend and San Pedro native Van Barbieri, who passed away suddenly of pancreatic cancer. Salas calls Barbieri the “angel that introduced John and I,” an introduction Salas says that without “the donation may not have been.”

Papadakis simply told Salas about the Ronald McDonald House and the Heart of the House campaign, and without asking many questions, Salas agreed to a luncheon with Bazley. Upon showing up for lunch, shaking hands and only saying “Hello,” Salas handed Bazley a check for $10,000.

“He acted out of faith,” says Papadakis.

Salas was the first contributor to the Heart of the House campaign, and when you break that down, it equates to two San Pedrans raising the first amounts of money in two great efforts.

“The Ronald McDonald House is just a beautiful home,” says Salas. “It took a great deal of effort to get it going, but funding is still needed to make sure it can operate each and every day. There are a lot of costs involved, and this Heart of the House program is there to make sure the house is always maintained.”

“Danny’s donation was incredible,” Bazley says. “Both John and Danny recognized that our mission, to serve the families with critically ill children, is very important. We are almost fully serviced by private funds and its donations like Danny’s that allow us to continue to serve the many families in need.”

For more than 30 years, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California has served more than 50,000 families through Ronald McDonald houses in Los Angeles, Orange County, Loma Linda and Pasadena, and Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, where children with cancer and their siblings can enjoy normal childhood experiences with kids just like them. There are more than 270 Ronald McDonald Houses in more than 30 countries.

Bazley says the Ronald McDonald House has 23 guest rooms, and a commitment from local hotels to ensure that no family is ever turned away. “We have been operating at about 80 percent capacity,” she says. “We have had several weeks that we have been completely full. A large population of our families comes from Los Angeles County, and we have had 12 San Pedro families stay with us.”

Papadakis says it is unique that San Pedro residents cross the bridge to donate. But he said it is important, not only for the cause, but for the idea that San Pedro needs this same type of development.

“The Ronald McDonald House serves a very important function, it allows families who have very critical ill children to stay with their children,” he says. “Some 40 years ago Long Beach was a very dirty, dangerous, tough town, but they transformed themselves and captured their water line and made it people and family friendly. This is exactly what San Pedro needs to do. We need to become a great seaside city, a destination city. It is good for San Pedrans to see this, open their minds to it and respect it. We need to continue to sustain this house. It stands for so much humanity and goodness from one man to another to provide a place to a family in a very difficult time. I can’t think of a better function than to give when someone is in need.” spt

For more info or to donate, contact the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House at (562) 285-4300 or visit www.longbeachrmh.org.

San Pedro Nursing Professor Leaves Her Mark on India

Vivian Churness’s love affair with India began more than a half-century ago. A young nurse recently graduated from Hope College in Michigan, she went to India in 1960 and served the next four years as a missionary nurse-tutor at the famous Scudder Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Ranipet.

She returned to the States, where she earned her master’s in psychology from Notre Dame, Ph.D. in nursing from Indiana University and a Family Nurse Practitioner certificate from USC, where she was a faculty member until retiring.

There is nothing “retiring” about Churness, however. She plays numerous instruments and still teaches music. Over the years, the longtime San Pedro resident has continued visiting India as a consultant in nursing education, and she has just overseen the publication of a nursing textbook that she co-authored with Leah Macaden, a native of India who also is a nursing professor.

“Another textbook doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but it is to them,” Churness says of Indian nursing students. “There simply are no textbooks in India at a level of English that is easy to read and understand.”

Nursing Management Concepts and Skills (Including Ward Management) is in English for very good reasons. “To be registered as a professional nurse (R.N.),” Churness says, “they must know how to read and speak English. Doctors’ orders are written in English. All of their lectures are in English, as is their licensure exam. English is a second language for them. When they start the nursing program at age 17 or 18, the only English some of them know is what they learned in English classes in school. They can read it but have difficulty speaking, understanding and writing English.”

In a nation of rampant poverty, Churness also notes the book sells for only $6. “This was released as a national nurses convention in Delhi at the centenary celebration of the Christian Medical Association of India,” she says. “They were overjoyed to have the book. It was well received and will be used by Christians in mission hospitals and by non-Christians in private and government hospitals.”

According to Churness, the content is prescribed by the Indian Nursing Council in the syllabus for registered nurse education, and, “We were careful to cover all of the prescribed content so it can be used in any nursing program.”

In fact, orders for the book already have been received from three other countries, including the United States.

Churness announced the book’s publication at Trinity Lutheran Church of San Pedro, where she and her husband, David, are longtime members. She wanted to publicly thank the many church friends who had assisted her on the book over the previous 18 months. So it comes as no surprise to those who know Churness that the dedication page reads, “To God Alone Be the Glory.”

On the Gridiron

The high school football season is nearly over, but it’s not too late to remember Gene Vollnogle, the legendary coach who died at age 81 on the same day as San Pedro’s own famed sportsman, Van Barbieri.

Vollnogle was a familiar, dare I say “hated,” figure to several generations of San Pedro High coaches, athletes and fans. As first co-head coach at rival Banning (1957-62 with Paul Huebner) and then head coach at Carson (1963-90), Vollnogle compiled a 22-3-1 record against the Pirates. (He was “only” 4-2 against San Pedro while at Banning, and it was those two victorious Pirate teams, from 1961 and 1962, that were honored this year.)

When Vollnogle moved to the newly opened Carson campus in 1963, however, he began a domination of City football unequaled by anyone save his own former player, Chris Ferragamo of Banning.

Vollnogle in particular embarrassed San Pedro High year in and year out. It wasn’t just the 18-1-1 record he compiled against the Bucs, it was the way it was done: the average score was 39-7. In 15 of those 20 games, San Pedro scored one touchdown or less (seven shutouts). The competition became so lopsided, the outmanned Pirates dropped down a division in 1980, and the two teams didn’t meet for eight years. When play resumed in 1988, Carson continued to dominate. It took current coach Mike Walsh to restore order to the rivalry, but he started the year after Vollnogle retired. Walsh and Vollnogle did compete against each other once, however; the Colts defeated the Pirates, 47-0, in 1971, when Walsh was team co-captain.

The highlights for San Pedro against Carson were the one win, the famous Danny Bondon last-minute catch in my senior year (1968), and Mickey Teora’s 1973 team managing a 6-6 tie against the defending City champs.

Vollnogle was a true genius, and even though his teams left their cleat marks all over the Pirates, the San Pedro Sportswalk still saw fit to honor him with a plaque in 2012. spt

New Councilman Faces First Test With An Old Problem

When it comes to Ponte Vista, a relieved Janice Hahn must be sitting in her D.C. congressional office thinking, “Well, Joe, the ball’s in your court now.” For our new councilman, the honeymoon is over. Joe Buscaino‘s had it pretty easy so far, with nothing but one great photo op after another (USS Iowa, Crafted, waterfront development, downtown bistro lights, pulling out parking meters) – all positives and no controversies. Then, after a two-year break in the action, along comes the new Ponte Vista plan. Hahn did what she could to stop the Bisno disaster, then kicked that can down the road for her successor to deal with. And as we all know, it’s a can of worms that sharply divided the community previously and will probably continue to do so under the iStar banner. Janice can tell him that no matter what he does, he’s going to make a lot of people unhappy.

Unlike Bisno, the new developers at least have the decency to start with a fairly reasonable number of units, 1,135, but my concern, as it always has been, isn’t the number of units per se, but the density. That’s why I’ve always stood firm that the property should remain zoned R1 for single-family habitats. Since we all know the real issue is traffic, the main concern about Ponte Vista remains the number of cars it will add to the still overburdened Western Avenue corridor.

Do we really need more apartments in San Pedro? We’re already way overbuilt as it is. Business owners always want more customers, but our infrastructure can’t handle the current density. We’ve just crammed too many people into an area that wasn’t designed to handle them.

I actually agree with Louie Dominguez about the one key component missing from the iStar proposal. If city planners agree to rezoning, they should at least make iStar put senior housing back in the plan. Senior housing means lots of widows and no kids. That translates into fewer cars. And while senior housing may cut into iStar’s bottom line, it’s a boon for local real estate. Seniors will sell the single-family homes they no longer want or need, putting them on the market for families that actually could use the space.

So now Joe’s in the hot seat. Dealing with Ponte Vista may make him wish he was back on the beat.

A Childhood Trifecta

Almost every time I go shopping, I run into someone I know. It’s a San Pedro thing. Still, since I haven’t been to a class reunion since 1974, there are a lot of childhood friends I haven’t seen in a long time, which made recent events strike me as more than a little unusual. It started with the Harbor College Silent Auction fundraiser, where Lefty Olguin had invited his cousin to play some background music. It turns out this cousin is Mike Guerrero. I’d heard that Mike played gigs around town, notably Godmother’s, but I hadn’t seen him since we’d graduated together from San Pedro High in Winter 1969. It was fun catching up with someone I had known since our days together at Leland Street Elementary and being in the same Cub Scout den.

Then, just a few weeks later, I was at the reunion for Phil Scott’s San Pedro YMCA swim teams, where I ran into a number of “old faces” from San Pedro High days. And one of the faces I instantly recognized (which isn’t always easy after 43 years) was Joey Dragicevich, who only recently moved back to California after decades on the East Coast. Joey wasn’t just another Winter `69 classmate; he also was one of my Leland Street and Cub Scout buddies, along with Guerrero.

It took a tragedy to complete this story, but one of the first calls I received after Van Barbieri’s passing was from his brother Anthony. While Van and I got to know each other later in life, it was Anthony I graduated with and, yes, knew from Leland Street and that same Cub Scout pack that included Mike and Joey. Anthony has spent most of the intervening years in San Diego.

The odds that within a few weeks I would run into any two of these people I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years has to be extraordinary. The odds of running into all three have to be astronomical. Seeing all three childhood playmates once more as we near our dotage was just plain heartwarming.

Van Fare-well

Even though he may have lived most of his adult life on the Hill, everyone knows Van Barbieri’s heart was always in San Pedro. It was said in many different ways, but Van was a Real San Pedran. In his 72 years, he managed to have three successful careers, first in journalism with the News-Pilot (where many remember his “Van Fare” column), then as the longtime publicist for Olympic boxing that earned him hall of fame recognition, and finally in real estate. What with all of his other civic activities, including the Sportswalk and DB Club, it’s no surprise Mary Star was nearly filled for his funeral. If we are judged by the number of friends we have, Van truly was a champion. spt