Pokémon Go, Game of Thrones, Amazon.com anything … you expect these cultural cornerstones to be trending, but the La Verne Historical Society (LVHS)?
Well, it’s got a case.
In recent months, the organization’s membership has topped more than 200 members and shows no signs of peaking. In February, its “Get on the Bus” local history tours proved so popular, it had to add encore tours in March.
Throughout the year, its home tours, ice cream socials, picnics in the park and trips to other historical and cultural treasures throughout the valley are proving just as popular. The LVHS’ fingerprints are all over this town.
Yet all of this new growth and activity are perplexing because they come at a trying time in the organization’s history. LVHS is still very much grieving the losses of Galen and Doris Beery, two of its most stalwart and dynamic members who were killed in a tragic auto accident last summer. Galen was the indisputable owner of the title, “Mr. La Verne,” with his encyclopedic knowledge of our town, and Doris was LVHS’ newsletter editor, among her many duties and contributions to the historical society.
For years, their Fifth Street home – and garage, in particular, filled with four- and five-drawer file cabinets stuffed with La Verne paraphernalia, stood as the unofficial repository of La Verne’s storied past.
“We are still in recovery mode,” LVHS President Sherry Best said, describing the irreplaceable Beerys.
The Way Forward
At the same time, their loss has allowed for a reset or reexamination period during which the LVHS is working to build on their legacy and create a sustainable way forward.
Much of this heavy-lifting will fall to Best and her vice president Bill Lemon, who are uniquely suited for their roles. Best, a former California State University Los Angeles professor, lives in the bronze plaque-bearing Larimer House, built in 1908, and Lemon, a retired school bus driver, has family ties in La Verne that go back to 1919.
In many ways, they comprise the perfect leadership duo, La Verne’s version of Mr. Inside and Mr(s). outside. While Bill has transported generations of La Verne’s children to school, learning the history of virtually every street corner, address and family in town, Best, a relative newcomer, becoming a La Verne resident in 2001, has the organizational talent and energy to help write the historical society’s next chapter.
Indeed, shortly after moving to town, she got a knock on her door from Galen, who filled her in on the history of her home and how she could qualify for property tax relief for her historic home under the Mills Act. About five years ago as Galen began looking to wind down some of his LVHS activities, Best began taking on greater leadership roles at Galen’s urging.
In 2015 she became president and hasn’t looked back.
Among her activities, she and the LVHS leadership have revitalized the annual home tour and reenergized day trips to historical places like the Kellogg House (Pomona), Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum (City of Industry), and Sam Maloof Residence, Workshop & Gardens (Rancho Cucamonga).
A Deep Bench
They also have strengthened partnerships with a number of vast resources and subject matter experts without whose input, guidance and collaboration, La Verne’s history could not be fully told or appreciated – contributors like Marlin Heckman, former University of La Verne librarian; Ben Jenkins, current archivist at the University of La Verne; and Anne collier, curator of the Cultural and Natural History Collection at the University of La Verne.
Hillcrest – A Remarkable Retirement Community, under the visionary leadership of CEO Matthew Neeley, is also working with the La Verne Historical Society to create a permanent history exhibit on the Meeting House’s mezzanine, which will also serve as a living history lesson for local students.
It’s these leaders’ insights and knowledge of local history that truly give La Verne residents a sense of place, along with the recognition that they are part of an expanding fabric threaded by multiple histories, like the area’s once-dominant citrus industry (indeed, Lemon’s parents met at a La Verne packing house) and a multitude of both celebrated and infamous characters who have passed through town (like Dustin Hoffman in the making of “The Graduate,” on the grounds of the former Evergreen Ranch and current United Methodist Church, or David Koresh and 18 of his wives who lived at 2707 N. White Ave in La Verne in the Price House from 1989 to 1990 before moving near Waco, Texas, the site of a government raid and ensuing 51-day siege that resulted in the deaths of 82 Branch Davidians and four government agents).
On a lighter note, La Verne also lays at least partial claim to Walter Frederick Morrison, who invented the prototype for the Frisbee before he opened a hardware store, Walt’z Hardware, where Café X20 is today. The house was eventually moved to 4184 Bradford St., where it still stands.
Knowing how much the city has changed over the years, La Verne Historical Society members may — even more than their fellow residents — see change as a natural part of the city’s vigorous evolution.
Lemon noted, for example that with a stroke of a pen in 1960, the La Verne City Council changed the street names of Palomares, 4th Ave. and Lincoln to Arrow Hwy., Bonita Ave., and White Ave., respectively. While the names Palomares (an early founder) and Lincoln (one of our most admired U.S. presidents) certainly carried more historical gravitas, they also created more confusion for travelers on those thoroughfares who upon entering our town suddenly saw the street names change for no apparent good reason. The council had struck a blow for consistency.
History in the Making
Also, La Verne Historical Society members are more apt to be able to answer questions that may not rank that high in importance, but still exist in the ether just to bedevil us on odd occasions. For instance, why do San Dimas and Pomona have catholic churches, but La Verne doesn’t?
“We had a catholic church until it was demolished in 1968,” Lemon replied. “It was pretty much falling apart.”
Under Best’s stewardship, she wants to expand the number of outings, as well as partnerships with other local historical societies from Redlands to Pasadena with whom we share so much history.
It’s that common ground and continuum that will allow members to make history for the future, allowing them to build new partnerships and friendships for this lifetime and generations to come.
“We are alive with possibilities,” Best said.
When it comes to historical societies, La Verne is clearly setting a trend.
For upcoming LVHS activities, please check the La Verne Online Events Calendar on the front page.
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