One Day at the Beach Changed Councilwoman Carder’s Life Forever

August 12, 2009
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Robin Carder in her ULV office.

Robin Carder in her ULV office.

La Verne has a globetrotting, tennis-playing councilwoman who earlier this year attended the French Open at Roland-Garros in Paris, but before fiscal conservatives and ardent city watchers jump to any conclusions, know that Robin Carder is extremely passionate about tennis and that after 35 years of marriage it’s the one extravagance she and her husband Robert allow themselves every other year.

“We have a hobby of traveling to a grand slam event (Australian and French Opens, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open) every other year,” said Carder. “It’s every other year because it’s so expensive.” In Southern California, she’s a regular at professional tournaments in Indian Wells and at the Home Depot Center in Carson, where Italy’s Flavia Pennetta won the Los Angeles Women’s Championship on Aug. 9.

In fact, it was 27 years ago that Carder started La Verne’s adult tennis program through the Parks and Recreation Department, and she still runs the nonprofit group today, offering members a chance to play every Saturday at Bonita High School’s and Las Flores Park’s tennis courts. Dues for the year are $50, which cover the cost of a couple of annual tournaments, a season-ending holiday party and all the tennis balls her 54 members can swat with their oversized rackets.

Oddly enough, with her two children Stephanie and Tim, grown and out of the house, you’d think she would have more time to sharpen her game, but with her other passions, cleaning her house (yes, cleaning her house), her full-time job at the University of La Verne as executive assistant and business manager for Enrollment Management, and her growing role on the City Council, in addition to now being a grandmother of two children (another role she passionately adores), it’s amazing that she has any time at all to slip on a tennis skirt.

Chance Encounter

In a way, Carder has always been on life’s fast track.

Hailing from a large family with seven other brothers and sisters, Carder said she always relished the idea of raising a family of her own. Amazingly, during Easter break on April 9, 1971, while driving home from Huntington Beach with her older sister in a blue Mustang, another Mustang convertible pulled alongside at a stop light, and the youthful passengers of the both cars immediately struck up a conversation. That fateful traffic signal led to Robin and Robert going steady for the next two years and then setting their engagement to be married upon their graduation from high school. Robert attended high school in Whittier and Robin in West Covina.

“It was true love from the moment we met,” Carder said. “I never dated another guy, and he never dated another girl. It was an instant connection. He had the same goals in life as I did. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mom and a housewife. He always just wanted a family. He lost his mom when he was 8-years-old. He loved my family. I have seven brothers and sisters. My mom and dad just opened their house to him.”

They actually started planning their marriage as juniors and married at 18 at the Little Chapel of the Flowers in West Covina. “Our attitude was, ‘Why wait?’” They worked hard, scrimped and saved, and had two children, Stephanie and Tim, when they were 21 and 23.

“We worked hard,” Robin said. “We paid cash for everything we bought and we really saved. We probably were too practical for teenagers.” Cheap entertainment for the budget-minded couple was smacking a tennis ball around. “Tennis is a great game if you don’t have a lot of money. All you need is a ball and a racket,” said Robin, who taught Bob how to play, although he may not admit to that because the pupil has passed up his teacher in playing ability.

From those earnest, humble beginnings and teen infatuations, a partnership has been growing ever since. “Luckily, Bob and I grew together,” Robin said.

Building Family & Business

In those early blissful, wistful days, Robert was busy building a heating and air conditioning business. Today, his Pomona-based company, Air-Ex Heating and Air, employs some 50-plus people. Meanwhile, Robin stayed busy looking after the kids and volunteering as room mother and later as PTA president as the children made their way through Roynon, Ramona and later Bonita High School. Then in her 30s, Carder attended Mt. SAC and earned an accounting degree, and not long after, Ramona asked her to be its part-time finance clerk.

“I said okay while my kids were in school,” Carder said. She also coached tennis. “It was just a very busy time.”

When you want something done, ask a busy person, and so the local kingmakers in town asked Carder to consider running for a Bonita Unified School District school board position that had opened up with the retirement of board member Jeff Templeton. She received the backing of both the teachers’ union and the classified union and won. It was an easy and natural position for Carder to fill for the next nine and a half years.

“I loved every minute of it,” Carder said. “To me, the kids always come first, and that goes back to being a mom. They are our future. They learn from us. That’s what truly guides me.”

Running for a spot on the school board also thrust Carder into a new confrontational role, campaigning for the ouster of then-superintendent Ron Raya. “The school district was in a bad place, and I ran at the time to get him out,” she said.

“I wasn’t even on the board for six months, and we did get rid of him.”

In Carder’s time on the board, she and her fellow members went through four superintendents. Ten years is about the average for a school district superintendent to serve, she said.

After serving two four-year terms, Carder decided to step down so that someone else in the community would have an opportunity to serve. But when school board member Ed Jones died in a bicycling accident along San Dimas Canyon, Carder, seemingly the most logical candidate to compete his term, applied for his position and was appointed, sparing the district from holding an expensive election.

“I truly felt a vision come over me,” Carder said about that transition. “I felt it was my calling to come back to the school board to find a new superintendent.” Robert Otto, then the superintendent, had announced he was retiring.

The search for a new super was an exhaustive nationwide hunt for the best candidate, according to Carder. With the help of a search firm, the board began narrowing its list of top candidates. In vetting the top candidates for the job, the board interviewed the school staffs and even the families of the contenders.

“We spent many Saturdays and Sundays conducting interviews,” Carder said. Finally, one candidate, Gary Rapkin, stood out. “Throughout the state of California, everyone rated him No. 1,” said Carder, who considers her role in his appointment her biggest accomplishment on the school board. She credits Rapkin for maintaining dignity and a spirit of cooperation despite the tough cuts and choices he has had to make to keep the district solvent. “We’ve never had that in our district,” Carder said. “He has really brought unity between our two cities, and that was a hard task.”

Council Run

Finally stepping down from the board after almost a decade of service, Carder eyed running for the City Council, but with council members Robert Rodriguez and Steve Johnson both announcing their intentions to run again, Carder stayed on the sidelines. “I was pleased with both of them,” Carder said. “My vision had always been to run for City Council sometime, but I always knew the timing had to be right.”

That opportunity came last year when Mayor Jon Blickenstaff announced he was stepping down after 27 years of service. “I only decided to run because Jon was stepping down,” Carder said. Before throwing her hat into the ring, she consulted with her family and prayed. “I talked to my kids, and even though they didn’t live at home, it had to be a family decision. Running was definitely going to take me more away from the family.”

With two seats open, Donna Nasmyth, who was running as an incumbent, and Carder were the top vote getters in the March 2009 election distinguished by exceedingly good manners and no outward display of hostility. If the gloves ever came off, their removal was never seen by the public. “I would say all four candidates were running for the same reason, trying to serve the community,” Carder said. “There’s not a bad word you could say about anyone who was running.”

Helping Carder’s election, besides her strong Bonita Unified School District base, was a more well-rounded resume that included running a small business (a floral shop with her UCLA graduate daughter for two years) and her tenure at the University of La Verne. She also appealed to a north La Verne constituency that had been under-represented.

Top Priorities

Now with nearly a half year of service to her credit, Carder has begun focusing on some key issues. One is helping guide the completion of the Metro Gold Line from its current terminus in East Pasadena out to Montclair. The extension is expected to revitalize La Verne’s downtown district. Former Mayor Jon Blickenstaff used to chair the Metro Gold Line committee. “I’m following in his footsteps,” Carder said. “I really want to see this followed through.”

Another area of focus is accelerating the University of La Verne’s timetable for the development of its land southwest of Wheeler and Arrow for use as athletic fields for the benefit of both university students and La Verne residents. As of now, it could be almost another decade before the University breaks ground. “It’s going to be a while, but I think we really have to find a way to get that going faster,” Carder said.

Carder also said discussions with San Dimas have begun to build a cultural or performing arts center to be shared by both cities. There’s also an initiative to create another park in the city on land jointly owned by La Verne and Claremont. Regarding the possibility of a special tax assessment to fund the projects, Carder said she “wouldn’t even pursue that.” For now, residents can help keep city coffers full, to the extent they can in this recession, by shopping in La Verne, because 1% of the sales tax comes back to the city. “If I’m in Montclair and I know I need gas, I’ll try to buy it in La Verne. Every little bit helps.”

That same “every-little-bit-helps” approach is also needed to sustain both the city’s water rationing efforts and recycling efforts. Carder commended both the city and residents for helping keep more than 14,000 tons of waste out of area landfills over the last year.

Like Councilwoman Nasmyth, Carder would also like to see a “pay-it-forward” effort by the city’s youth in getting more involved with La Verne’s senior population. “It’s important that we teach our kids how to give back, especially to seniors,” Carder said.

Carder has a lot on her plate and a lot on her mind. Almost every night she’s out in the community doing something. She keeps an “open door” policy with residents, and she keeps her home number publicly listed. Still, she manages to set aside Sunday as family day when her children and grandchildren come to her home for dinner.

This, of course, doesn’t bode well for her tennis game, which she said she’s now lucky to play once a week. “The nice thing about tennis,” Carder said, “you can play the sport forever.”



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