DOWNEY – A pre-teen boy who fled war-torn Hungary, a record-setting track star, and a beloved former activities director were inducted into Warren High School’s Hall of Fame this week. Les Fendia (class of ’63), Paul Wilson (’65) and the late Joe Francis were enshrined during Warren’s second annual Induction ceremonies, which took place Thursday in the campus gym.
Below are profiles on each of the inductees:
Joe Francis, or “Papa Joe” to thousands of Warren High students, began his career in the Downey Unified School District in 1951. Teaching at North Junior High School from 1951 to 1956 then transferring to WHS in 1957, Francis loved working with students, particularly his respective Student Councils.
“He loved teaching because he loved working with kids and had a special knack for helping kids, especially when they were in trouble,” stated a member of the Francis family.
Retiring as the WHS Activities Director in 1988, Francis was also a family man, spending the remainder of his life surrounded by his grandchildren and great granddaughter.
He was laid to rest wearing what was most important to him, his Warren High jacket.
Les Fendia, born Laszlo Harcsa in 1944 in Hungary, had a tumultuous childhood.
Like the rest of Europe entrapped in World War II, Les’ family were victims of Nazi occupation, which was followed by the post-war occupation of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Hungarians revolted in 1956, and at age 12 Les escaped by himself and moved to the United States.
Provided a home in Downey by Pete and Bea Fendia, Les was somewhat of a rebel and had trouble adjusting to the American life. Once enrolled at WHS, Les found his passion running track where he made many friends and started to enjoy the American high school lifestyle.
Competing at a very high level for the WHS track team, Les’ track record in the 880 still holds strong; yet, he says he is anxious to see it be broken by one of the talented young runners at WHS today.
Graduating in 1963, Les attended and ran track at Cerritos College and UCLA; at UCLA he achieved All American status in 1967.
“Les certainly considers his life a success and will always believe that his road to success began with the opportunities and friendships he garnered at Warren,” stated an individual close to Les.
He is now retired and lives in Texas with his wife; Les has two children and four grandchildren.
The final WHS Hall of Fame inductee is 1965 graduate Paul Wilson. A member of the track team since his early high school years, Paul was recognized in 1964, his junior year, by Sports Illustrated magazine. Presented an “Award of Merit” for setting the interscholastic age record, Paul broke the record by becoming the first 16-year-old pole vaulter to clear 16 feet.
During his senior year, Paul won CIF Southern Section and CIF California State Meet titles and had again achieved the best pole vault height in his age group, setting records in both the CIF Southern Section and California State Championships. Having the best mark on record for a California high school athlete, Paul also set a national interscholastic Track & Field record and stood as the best in the world during this time.
After graduating from WHS in 1965, Paul attended the University of Southern California (USC), where he competed for the Trojan’s athletics team. His most remarkable year was in 1967 when he was the United States champion and his winning vault broke the world record; his record continues to be the sixth-best height ever achieved by a USC Trojan.
Although Paul held many records, injury prevented him from competing at the United States trials for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and prematurely ended his pole vault career.
Graduating from USC in 1970, he continued on to Loyola L.A. Law School. Upon graduating in 1974, he started his career practicing law with Spray-Gould & Bowers, one of the oldest law practices in Southern California. Paul currently lives in Long Beach where he enjoys racing sports cars.
Published: Nov. 6, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 30