My son's collection

Barbara Sparks is a retired principal who relishes the diversity of cultures in California. In this piece she describes how her life, and many Christmases, was enriched by her son's generous heart and wide circle of friends. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.Boys like to collect things. Some collect baseball cards. Some collect bugs or stray animals. My son Phillip's collection was a little different. I should have realized that he liked collecting people when he was about two years old, because when we went on walks to the neighborhood donut shop, I noticed that he would invite several of the children who lived on our street to join us. Did he ask me for permission to invite them? Of course not! In his mind it was only natural to invite others. After all, Mother would love to supply donuts for everyone. I felt like the Pied Piper with my band of happy children following their generous leader's mother. After one event when he was in kindergarten, I decided it wasn't wise to tell him ahead of time when we were taking him some place special. His grandmother had decided to take him to the San Diego Zoo one Saturday. That morning, shortly after his grandmother had arrived, a family arrived with their son who was in Phillip's kindergarten class. Phillip had not only invited the young boy, but he had also given him our address. How could my mother and I tell the boy's parents anything except, "Hello, we are glad you came. You can pick your son up at 7 PM." This collecting of people continued as he grew older. When he was a junior in high school, he met a young man during the Los Angeles Junior Statesman's Symposium, and later they spent a summer as roommates taking classes at Stanford University as part of this program. Though they attended different schools, they continued to stay in touch. During one winter break, Phillip invited him to spend a day with us. I always looked forward to having a restful two weeks away from work during that time, but I thought one day would be okay. Phillip pleaded with me to let Eric spend Christmas Eve and Christmas with us because he wouldn't have a Christmas if he stayed at home. His mother was not alive, his father was a drug addict, and his older sister who was raising him didn't celebrate Christmas. I agreed that would be okay. Two days, after all, wasn't that long and it still gave me time to enjoy my vacation. To my surprise, on Friday, the beginning of my winter break, Eric appeared at our door with his suitcase, looking like a new arrival to a homeless shelter. He had taken the bus from Los Angeles to our house. His suitcase was battered, the sweater he was wearing had a very noticeable hole, but what left a lasting memory was the biggest smile that adorned his face. He was prepared to stay the entire winter break with us. How could I turn away someone who was doing so much to better his life against all odds? Throughout college, if someone couldn't go home for the holidays, they ended up staying with me. If they were kicked out of the dorms for inappropriate behavior, Phillip would tell them, "My mom will let you stay with us until you get new housing." There were always surprise arrivals for Christmas Breakfast. His collection of people (I should call them friends now) got to enjoy his grandmother's special waffles. If someone wanted to experience a traditional African American New Year's Day Meal, they were quickly invited for the event. Grandmother, of course, would cook the meal just for them. The family who lived down the street from us was among my favorite of Phillip's invitees for Christmas. They were Hindu and from India. Varun, the oldest child, has been a friend of Phillip's for years. They had never celebrated Christmas. Varun wanted to give Phillip a Christmas present and he felt he needed a Christmas tree to put it under. His family would not buy a tree, but they said that he could put the gift by the fireplace. The whole family joined us one night. We spent the time talking, eating cookies, and looking at the Christmas tree with its beautiful lights blinking on and off. Varun was allowed to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us at our home. When Varun left on Christmas Day he said, "Mrs. Sparks, this is the best Christmas I've ever had." I said, "But, Varun, this is the only Christmas you've ever had." I've really enjoyed getting to meet my son's collection of friends. I am blessed that he feels that his friends are all welcomed in his home. I've been a part of their stimulating conversations. I've seen them all grow up and become husbands and fathers. I actually feel like their other mother. I am so proud of all of them. My son has been blessed to live in a culturally rich environment. He learned about the people of many cultures who are part of our country, and he learned in the best way, by going to school with them, playing with them, eating with them, and by being so open to experiencing their cultures. My life has been enriched by my son's "collection" of people. Many have become long time friends.

********** Published: Dec. 26, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 37

Journalist Walter Rosebrock dies at 90

DOWNEY - Walter A. Rosebrock, a former Downey newspaper reporter, died Dec. 14 at his home in Santa Maria, Calif.Rosebrock was born March 29, 1923 in St. Louis. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-46 in Aviation Squadron VR-E1 and V6. He studied at Washington University in St. Louis, graduating in 1950. He began his newspaper career in 1951 with the Downey Champion newspaper. He went to Santa Maria in 1959 with the Hagadone-Scripps organization and stayed with them until he retired in 1983, more than 32 years in the newspaper industry. Some of those years he spent with sister papers in Arizona, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Washington State and Oregon. He returned to Santa Maria as editor and publisher in 1975. Rosebrock was active in the community, serving as president and vice president of Allan Hancock Board of Trustees, president of Valley Developers, and president of S.M. Valley Republicans. He belonged to the S.M. Valley Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Rotary Club, S.M. Philharmonic Society board of directors, Hancock College Foundation, and was a founding member of the S.M. Civic Theatre. He was affiliated with International Executive Service Corps which sent him on assignments to Ukraine and Nepal. He also belonged to the Sigma Delta Chi, Professional Journalist Society. Survivors include his wife of 64 years, Ginny; son, Bruce (Elyse) of Longview, Wash., daughter Kay (David) Hiltner of Eugene, Ore.; grandson, Wade Johnson; great-grandson, Devin, of Sacramento; brother, Kenneth; and numerous nieces and nephews. At his request, no services were held.

********** Published: Dec. 26, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 37

Library adds to eBook collection

DOWNEY - The Downey City Library has added 100 new titles to its growing eBook collection just in time for the holidays.Library cardholders can now access the popular "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series by Jeff Kinney as well as a large number of picture books and chapter books for kids. For teens, the library added high-demand titles, including "The Fault is Our Stars" by John Green, the "Divergent" trilogy by Veronica Roth, and the "Ranger's Apprentice" series by John A. Flanagan. The library also added bestsellers for adults, including Tom Clancy's final book "Command Authority," "King and Maxwell" by David Baldacci and "The First Phone Call from Heaven" by Mitch Albom. Borrowing eBooks is free and there are never any overdue charges. All that is needed is a Downey City Library card. To get started, go to or visit the library.

********** Published: Dec. 26, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 37

Beverly Mathis: hard work pays off

DOWNEY - Beverly Mathis has over the years among other things served two terms as president of Soroptimist International of Downey, one term as president of the Assistance League of Downey, and served on the boards of the former Downey Regional Medical Center and the old Downey Museum of Art, while being made a life member of the Los Angeles Children's Hospital's San Antonio Guild (Downey chapter), and has played a particularly active and visible role as a volunteer for several years at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, especially in the last four years as she chaired its major fundraiser, the Amistad annual event.It is generally recognized that it was during her term as Amistad chair, in 2011, that the gala event raised the most money before or since (it was in the middle six-figure range). In addition, Mathis has for the last 20 years chaired the Downey Optimist Scholarship awards and programs, and has recently been appointed to the Downey Library Advisory Board. A member of the Downey Soroptimist club since 1984, she is currently on its board of directors. She has chaired Soroptimist's scholarship program for the past several years. A member of the Assistance League of Downey since 1989, she has served as treasurer for two terms, has chaired fundraising events, and has been a member of the board for the last 15 years. Beverly has in the meantime been extremely involved with the Assisteens Auxiliary. She has also taken over as chairman of the H.O.M.E. philanthropic project, which she describes as a "10-unit apartment complex adjacent to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Hospital. Built and operated by the Assistance League of Downey, it provides temporary, low-cost housing to families who have loved ones in rehabilitative care at Rancho." These and her other community involvements have resulted in her being honored with such distinctions as the Soroptimist Woman of Distinction and Life Membership Awards as well as, with husband Sam, sharing Mayor Mario Guerra's Diakonia Award for community service in August. What is little known is that she's a product of Downey's school system: she belonged to the first graduating class of what was then known as North Jr. High and graduated from Downey High School. She has been a Downey resident for 60 years, and works as office manager for AD-DE-PRO, Inc., a small machine tools manufacturing company in Downey which was founded in the 70's and which she co-owns with her only son, Andy. Its products cater to the aircraft and helicopter industries via intermediate layers of middlemen. Sam, who is very active as well raising funds while on the board of the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation, runs his own company, Sam's Roofing, a building supplies store in Paramount. Beverly has maintained her interest in calligraphy, as a hobby. She says etching on hard, special paper such as vellum tends to relax her. Of good health, she likes to cook. Another favorite pastime is reading (mostly spy novels but also serious stuff such as history); historical fiction is okay. She says she is currently into Ken Follett's second volume ("Winter of the World") of his trilogy. Her great passion, though, seems to be travel. She says she's been to every country in Europe. "Our favorite is Italy," she says, because of the culture, its history, the food, the art, the wine. "Italians are more animated, more dramatic, more passionate. We've been to the Vatican, of course, many times and seen the [glories] of the Sistine Chapel. We'll start in Rome, then proceed north as far as Lake Como, then swing down to the south, to Naples and Sicily. We've recently been this summer to Capri-what a beautiful place!" "We also want to spend as much time with our 13-year old grandson, Andrew, son of Andy. He's our joy," says Beverly. "Every couple of weeks this summer, we'd take him to Yellowstone and like places." "We have so many good friends in Downey," Beverly goes on. "I feel very fortunate in knowing a lot of good and caring people here. Downey is a wonderful place to live. There are so many wonderful things here, so many volunteers. You get the feeling of pride to be in a community where there are so many service organizations, so many cultural things. We're very fortunate." Do you have any interesting observations in the course of your travels, I asked. "Why, yes," she said. "You get to appreciate the U.S. more. You get the feeling that indeed you live in the greatest country in the world. In other countries, you'll notice there's still a class system operating. Here, if you take the opportunity to get a good education and you work hard, you can have a very good life."

********** Published: Dec. 26, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 37

SEAACA Donation

Downey residents Sierra, Jazmine, Alex and Duran didn't forget about animals this holiday season, delivering toys and treats to the animals at SEAACA this past weekend. ********** Published: Dec. 26, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 37

Downey Adult School's ESL graduates

Downey Adult School's ESL Department honored more than 20 graduates on Dec. 12 in a ceremony at the Harriett Paine Events Center. Students from Egypt, Columbia, Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador received their diplomas "with pride," school officials said. "Students in the English-as-a-Second Language Program must complete attendance hours, proficiency tests and a final exam in order to be eligible to graduate. A reception was held in their honor to recognize their achievements." ********** Published: Dec. 26, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 37

Fire union accuses chief of harassment, discrimination

DOWNEY -- The Downey Firemen's Association filed a tort claim against the city Monday, alleging "ongoing retaliation, harassment and discrimination" since the union voted no confidence in Chief Lonnie Croom last summer.

The claim, received by City Hall today, includes several allegations, including that Croom retaliated against the union by declining to fill a vacant battalion chief position, stalled promotions and launched unfounded investigations against firefighters.

City officials denied the charges.

Fire Capt. Jorge Villanueva claimed he was told in a performance evaluation that he was "too pro union" and to "toe the company line more," according to the claim.

The fire association also complained that Croom implemented a paramedic service delivery model without consulting his firefighters, and hired new firefighter-paramedics from outside the department.

The entire claim can be read here.

"I'm disappointed the Downey Fire Association has decided to sue the citizens of Downey in this complaint," said Councilman Alex Saab. "I'm confident that our residents will see through the smokescreen and make their own informed decisions on what the true motive behind this complaint is really about."

Councilman Mario Guerra also expressed his support for Croom.

"Our fire chief has done an amazing job, worked hard through the ranks to archive this honored position and I have full confidence in his ability to lead our fire department," Guerra said. "He has implemented many progressive reforms that have increased safety and medical response times in our city. Our city is blessed to have him leading our fine fire department. He is the true meaning of public servant and has done a great job as the Fire Chief for the Downey Fire Department and has the confidence of our entire council and community."

The Patriot is currently working on a full story.

Women's Council in need of donations

DOWNEY -- Women's Council, a recovery program facilitated by Downey's Southern California Alcohol and Drug Programs (SCADP), is in need of holiday gift donations.

The women in the group are overcoming alcohol and drug addictions while caring for their young children.

Women's Council is in need of donations for the holidays for the women and children who participate in the program. Clothing, shoes, toys, books, and gift certificates are welcomed.

For more information, call 562.923.4545. SCADP is located at 11500 Paramount Blvd. in Downey.

Donations for Women's Council can be dropped off on the second floor.

City Council puts off decision on $9.8M

DOWNEY - With an extra $9.8 million on hand after the sale of the land formerly occupied by Downey Regional Medical Center, the city council must decide how much of it to spend and how much to save -- a task easier said than done.

In a special meeting last Thursday afternoon, the council unanimously agreed to wait until the end of January, during mid-year budget discussions, to decide how the funds are allocated.

For Brossmer, spending the money now seems premature, especially since the city is unsure how the remaining fiscal year will pan out.

"I can see why there's a need -- a pent up need -- but I think it's fiscally imprudent to move forward without seeing a whole picture," said Brossmer. "We should spend these funds during our normal budgetary times."

Guerra, however, felt the council should at least give city staff some direction and allocate funds for vital needs.

"We should prioritize now," he said. "I don't want to wait until next year to fix the leak in the roof of the evidence room in the police department."

City manager Gilbert Livas suggested the council at least agree on a number they'd like to spend and the amount they'd like to put in reserves, but the councilmen said they'd like to see a clearer economic forecast and a list of the city's most pressing needs.

"We can start pulling things out willy-nilly, that's a way to do it, but I want to see a list," Brossmer said. "Once I see a list, my number one could become my number 30."

Livas agreed that city staff would compile a list of top city priorities by the end of next month. Before the council voted, former mayors David Gafin and Meredith Perkins publicly urged the city council to save as much of the $9.8 million as possible.

"Remember the rainy day fund -- it's been hit," said Gafin, who was on the council when the recession began. "We used quite a bit of the reserves because we wanted to maintain what we had. It'd be real easy to spend that money, but put a majority of it away."

Perkins likewise pleaded for council members to be considerate of the future, reminding them that former councils set aside millions to acquire land that residents still use today, including the Rio Hondo Golf Course and the former NASA site, that will soon house the Promenade shopping center.

"Don't get tied up with little projects. Nine million dollars is small change today, invest the money into the future," he said. "Update what we already have and leave the funds for future generations."

********** Published: Dec. 19, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 36

Downey choir performing inaugural concert

DOWNEY - Meg Zeleny, former artist in residence in Pasadena and founder of many choral groups in the area, contributed her experience, talent, and teaching skills to form the Downey Master Chorale this past fall. The Chorale has matured quickly and will present its debut concert on Saturday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 pm, in the Sanctuary of the Moravian Church of Downey, 10337 Old River School Road, just south of Florence Avenue.

The performance features "A Ceremony of Carols" by Benjamin Britten. This 1942 piece consists of 11 movements, with early English texts drawn from "The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems".

This is the centennial of Britten's birth (1913-1976), and this year many of his pieces have been performed by various groups in the Los Angeles area to mark the occasion.

Following the intermission the Choir will present several popular Christmas songs from a range of composers, including selections from "The Seven Joys of Christmas" by Kirke Mechem, John Rutter's "Candlelight Carol" and "Angels' Carol," as well as "Silent Night," "O Holy Night," and "Jingle Bells."

The Moravian Church of Downey is home to a half-century of classical music history as the home of the Moravian Trombone Choir founded in 1965 by Jeff Reynolds of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The concert features an appearance by the Trombone Choir.

A special attraction of the evening will be an invitation to attendees to sing along with some of their favorite Christmas carols, as well as Handel's beloved "Hallelujah Chorus."

Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for students and seniors. Tickets may be purchased from a chorale member or online at

********** Published: Dec. 19, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 36

UCLA alumni collect teddy bears for cancer patients

DOWNEY - The UCLA Alumni Los Angeles Southeast Network held a teddy bear drive at Stay Gallery in Downey last Thursday, Dec. 12, with more than 200 new plush toys collected for children battling cancer.

Newly elected Mayor Fernando Vasquez welcomed the attendees and led them in UCLA's famous cheer, the "8 Clap." He then commended Ms. Alexandra Muñoz, who is herself a cancer survivor, for her courage and resolve during her battle with cancer.

"Alexandra is a reminder of how important it is for us to address important issues like cancer," Vasquez said. "Alexandra is also a hero and deserves to be commended for her work and resilience."

Muñoz began the teddy bear drive three years ago to "remind cancer patients of all the people who loved them."

"It's like giving a hug to someone all the time," said Muñoz, who is currently a student at UCLA.

Miguel Duarte, vice president of the UCLA Alumni Los Angeles Southeast Network, explained the importance of awareness.

"Cancer knows no bounds," he said. "Unfortunately, it is a horrible disease that can literally affect anyone with no regard to race, gender, or age. This is why it's important to grow awareness."

Muñoz delivered the teddy bears to kids at UCLA Hospital and Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

********** Published: Dec. 19, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 36

Spur-of-the-moment gifts

Dora Silvers is a longtime Norwalk resident who grew up in New Jersey, south of New York City. Her recollection of one Christmas Eve in the 1940's gives an intimate glimpse of Jewish/Catholic relations during the difficult time of war and lingering Depression. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol KearnsIt was 1943 and our family had just finished a Hanukkah dinner with potato pancakes and applesauce when my friend Sylvia knocked on the door. We were both 14 years old and looking for something to do. It was also Christmas Eve and the stores were open late, so we decided to walk to the five-and-ten and buy a jigsaw puzzle to put together. It was a cold, windy night, but we enjoyed the walk with the brightly lit decorations and Christmas trees on display in the windows. A block from Woolworth's, we passed the Catholic orphanage where a nun was sweeping snow from the steps. I knew the nun because I went to school and was friends with some of the children at the orphanage. Not everyone who lived there was an orphan; some parents were unable to support their children. This had happened to some of my own family members in New York when an uncle needed to have surgery and his wife went to work. "Merry Christmas, Sister Ana Marie," I said. "Merry Christmas, girls," Sister Ana Marie replied. "Is the tree decorated?" I asked. "The children will decorate it after dinner. There aren't many gifts this year," she added a little sadly as she went indoors. "How much money do you have?" Sylvia asked me. I looked in my wallet and found $4. "How much do you have?' I asked her. "I have $3 from baby-sitting." A big sign at the five-and-ten - "Clearance Sale" - suddenly gave me an idea. "Why don't we buy things for the children instead of ourselves?" I asked Sylvia, who quickly agreed. It felt good to get out of the cold and into the warm store. And so many items were on sale! Jigsaw puzzles were 25 cents, so we picked out four. Hardcover books for boys and girls also cost a quarter, so we chose four of those too. Knitted caps were 50 cents, so we bought two in blue and two in red. On a nearby table were sheets of holiday wrapping paper for just two cents each; we bought twelve. Then we chose fourteen candy canes for a penny each. The two extra were for us, because why shouldn't we have a little treat as well? "How are we going to get the gifts wrapped and give them to the nuns?' Sylvia asked. "The library hallway is always open for people to return books," I remembered. "Let's go there." We walked the two blocks. "This is a great idea," Sylvia said. It was nice and warm inside. As we savored our candy canes, we wrapped the gifts in the pretty paper. Then we started to walk to the orphanage, but changed our minds and returned to the store and bought some big five-cent cookies. What a treat they would be! When we reached the orphanage, the children were already in bed waiting for Santa. Sylvia and I put the presents under the decorated tree and stood there looking at it. Now the kids would have extra gifts. What a good feeling! Then the nuns invited us into the kitchen for homemade fudge. "In the Bible, it says 'Do a good deed,'" Sister Ana Marie reminded us. "Girls, you have done a good deed." "Thank you for having charity in your hearts," added Sister Grace. We thanked them for the delicious fudge and walked to my house. It was nine o'clock and it was time for Sylvia to go home. When I went upstairs, I discovered that my older brother had bought a jigsaw puzzle, and all six of us children gathered eagerly around the dining table to start it.

********** Published: Dec. 19, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 36