Peter Bennett, 53, is publisher of La Verne Online. He graduated from Stanford University so long ago he couldn’t find his Delta Upsilon fraternity house on a recent return to campus. He vaguely recalls streaking across the Golden Gate Bridge with 50 other freshmen in a dusky fog, so any real evidence of that free-spirited moment remains shrouded in mystery. He worked at The Los Angeles Times in the early ‘80s.
In one memorable story, he profiled a Las Vegas priest who traveled from hotel to hotel to cash the casino chips his parishioners had thrown into the collection plate. The cathedral is still there in the shadow of the new Encore Hotel, but the priest and most of the gamblers have moved on. For five years, he was managing editor of American Bungalow, a magazine devoted to the Arts and Crafts lifestyle, a movement that first arose in the early 20th Century to promote the appeal of living in homes made beautiful by their simple, honest design and architecture. In one story, he traveled to the Italian section of St. Louis known as The Hill, where Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, and Benny Pucci all grew up on the same street in shotgun bungalows, so called because you could fire a shotgun from the front door out the back door without hitting a thing. Peter also worked in public information, marketing and corporate communications for the City of Ontario, Home Savings, Washington Mutual and American Home Mortgage, the last three all failed financial institutions for which he takes no credit. Another career stop was working as a publicist for Hollywood Park, where he had the privilege of once pouring actor Cary Grant a drink. “The bartender was late to a board of directors meeting, so the CEO asked me, no, told me, to fill in,” Peter said. “I can’t remember what drink I made for Mr. Grant or whether he liked it, but it was my Cary Grant moment.”
Q. Weren’t you also the publisher and editor of The Neighborhood Paper here in town?
A. Yes, after leaving Ontario, I launched The Neighborhood Paper. The best part was discovering all the talent and resources in La Verne and sharing that bounty with others. Less fun was rubber-banding 10,000 newspapers every two weeks and delivering them around town in my green Windstar. Do you know how much ink gets on your hands from rolling 10,000 papers?
Q. Why are you trying again?
A. I’ve learned a few tricks. As an old newspaper man, I always felt you had to hold a real newspaper in your hand. But the fact is everybody is online now. My three sons get their news online and it seems they order all their products and services online. They download all their coupons online. The same UPS and FedEx delivery guys show up so often at my front door, I feel like I’ve got to give them a tip and a Christmas card. Everybody has a computer, or two or three or four. Going online is green, it’s interactive, it’s what’s happening. Traditional newspapers and coupon magazines are vanishing. And that’s a tough confession for me to make because I’m somebody who has always enjoyed that frigid, half-naked, bleary-eyed morning walk down the driveway to retrieve my newspaper. Now I walk half-naked to my computer to get the early-morning news like everybody else.
Q. What will the paper be like?
A. I want the experience to be like opening a bottle of champagne. It has to be exciting, effervescent, bubbly and overflowing with news you can use – news about upcoming events, celebrations, gatherings, and we’ll help spearhead them. Part of the responsibility I feel is to build a bigger sense of community and to get people to dream a little more about starting a new business, learning a new skill, and pushing personal boundaries. It’s going to be a positive space for information and inspiration and for ways for people to get more involved. I also want people to think of LaVerneOnline as their one-stop source for great money-savings coupons and values. Ultimately, the paper is about values: community values and money-saving values.
Q. What’s going to keep your fire and passion burning?
A. I believe you can either engage yourself in this world or estrange yourself from it. You can either choose distinction or extinction. Let me give you an example. Recently, our community suffered the losses of Timmy Dewhurst and Coach Cross, two stars from the Bonita baseball program. Beyond attending their funerals and grieving their passing, we needed some kind of placeholder to put their lives and contributions in the proper perspective. I don’t care so much about how they died as how they lived. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on this front, and I expect to be fully engaged in getting out the stories that need to be told and would otherwise go unreported. A great community deserves a great newspaper. That’s the passion. That’s the fire. That’s the responsibility.
Q. Why La Verne?
A. Well, La Verne’s been my hometown for 25 years. It’s the perfect place. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that everything got too big, and as a result, nobody was taking responsibility for anything. Our institutions were as opaque and unresponsive as a black hole. We have to stop surrendering our decision-making authority to others. If we appreciate what we have right here, strive to make La Verne the best we can, maybe we can be an example for the rest of the nation and the world. Let’s build from within, not from without. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Cassius had it right. We have to be the change we seek. La Verne can be a great innovator and incubator. We don’t have to look anywhere else. Let’s see what we’re made of.
Q. I understand you recently came back from a 45-day trip around the country. What did you find or learn?
A. My wife and I visited about 15 states. I basically kidnapped her. I wanted to see what people were thinking in other parts of the country. The south Oregon coast is breathtaking. Portland, Ore., features two great happy hours a day. That’s a great idea for getting us out of the recession/depression. Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota is more magnificent than any postcard can convey or portray. Al’s in St. Paul, by the University of Minnesota, has the greatest pancakes in the world. Chicago offers some 85 architectural tours, and I’d like to take each one. Kansas City has more fountains than any place in the world outside of Rome, or was it Paris? When you see a sign that says, “Beware of Rattlesnakes,” believe it, as I discovered at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana, where a coiling, hissing rattler staked out its turf about two feet from my path. I didn’t want to become part of Custer’s “last stand” legacy, so I quietly backpedaled to my car, where my wife was patiently waiting. I loved the pedestrian malls in Madison, Wisc., Minneapolis, Minn., and Denver, Colorado. There you feel like every day is Mardi Gras, zigzagging across the street with no concern for vehicular traffic. What do you think? Let’s turn “D” Street into a pedestrian-friendly mall? The biggest rewards, however, are getting to know people, and the people here in La Verne are as interesting as any monument I explored. You just have to make the effort to get to know them. I have seen the best that America has to offer, and the best is right here in La Verne. That’s what I learned.