Westwood Village Rotary Club Meeting June 10, 2010
Our meeting was called to order by President Ed Gauld. The invocation was given by Marcia Hunt and as we all expected, Lenny Freidman was asked to lead us in song. After complaining about losing his status as “mystro Lenny”, we all sang “Rotary” to the tune of “Val-de-ri Val-de-ra” as follows:
I am a part of Rotary,
I serve community.
And as I serve I love to sing
Of Peace and harmony.
World peace and harmony.
Oh, may I serve in Rotary
Until the day I die.
And May I always laugh and sing
Beneath God’s clear blue sky.
Beneath God’s clear blue sky.
President Ed lamented on watching the World Cup Soccer Match at the South African Consulate, much to the chagrin of the rest of us who will be stuck watching it at home or in a bar!
Ed Jackson was asked to introduce our special guests from Emerson Middle School. First, was the vice-principle, who is Ed’s brother-in-law, followed by four students with Straight A’s throughout their time at Emerson. All four students were asked to say a few words, and President Ed presented each student with a plaque from Rotary and a $100 gift from WVRC.
Chris Bradford announced Karen Lee was named as our new Ambassadorial Scholar. Karen is also a UCLA student involved with Engineers Without Borders, and couldn’t attend due to final exams.
President Ed introduced the head table; Marcia Hunt, Marsha Brous, Mark Rogo, Steve Pettise and our guest speaker. Then he reminded everyone about the June 26th Demotion Party.
Abraham guessed what the head table had in common; “M” as the first letter of their name. Marcia Hunt, Marsha Brous and Mark Rogo. President Ed gave Abraham another one of his famous bottles of wine for being so astute.
Ernie Wolf was asked to introduce UCLA Police Captain Jim Herron, who in turn presented their choice for UCLA Law Enforcement Officer of the year; James Eckles. Captain Herron gave a stirring introduction of Officer Eckles, including his history and special abilities. President Ed presented Officer Eckles with a special plaque on behalf of WVRC.
Then we came to the focus of our program today. Program chair Steve Pettise introduced our Guest Speaker, who was recommended by the Santa Monica program chairperson, Alonzo Hill.
Nat Reed is a member of the Pasadena Rotary Club and subscribes to “Clean mind, clean body. Take your choice”. He wrote the definitive biography on “Don Benito Wilson”, an early California pioneer. Wilson was born in Tennessee in 1811, which at that time was the western most state of the Union, and died in 1878. In that span of time he played a crucial role in the admission of California to the union and the development of Los Angeles.
All of the material contained in the biography was derived from over fifty boxes of letters at the Huntington Hartford Library. For many years, local historians knew the material was there but only specific ones were allowed to access it in order to do the research for the biography. After waiting for a long time, it finally came to pass that Nat was given the task, which he finished in three years.
The book is a fascinating history about the change of the country in Wilson’s lifetime. He was at one time a fur trader, a smuggler, a rancher, a manufacturer, a civic politician, a military officer, and more. Wilson bought the city of Riverside, Westwood, Beverly Hills, western San Gabriel Valley, most of Culver City and other areas.
At the age of 32, Wilson married the 15 year old daughter of the rancher next door, Bernardo Yorba who owned Orange County. Her name was Ramona. Wilson then was instrumental in the selection of the next Governor of California, Pio Pico, who we all remember as the last Mexican governor of California. How did Wilson get here? In one of the very first overland trips in the 1830s from the United States.
There’s also the story of the pursuit of an Indian renegade. Both Wilson and the Indian came upon each other and shot at the same time; Wilson shot his pistol and the Indian shot a poison arrow. Both men were hit. While the Indian died, Wilson was only saved thanks to a friendly Indian who immediately sucked the poison out of Wilson’s wound. The renegade Indians fled to Aqua Caliente (Palm Springs) but were subsequently captured and their heads brought back on stakes.
Following this escapade, Commodore Stockton commissioned Wilson and gave him his Army in order to secure this portion of California. In the middle of all of this, Wilson was also able to father a daughter and son, but Ramona dies in childbirth. The war with Mexico is settled and he buys 12 acres downtown near Union Station, and elected first County Clerk. In this capacity, Wilson sets up the form of county government, and starts to buy land in mass. He buys Westwood, Rancho Santa Fe and other areas, and becomes the second Mayor of Los Angeles. Westwood becomes a cattle ranch, after paying $2,200 for all of it. He bought Beverly Hills as well.
But we must remember what mid 19th century Los Angeles was like. It was dominated by the Spaniards, and French was the second language. Only three families in Los Angeles were U.S. citizens when California entered the Union, and there was approximately 7,000 people living in the entire county. Indian slavery was accepted, and the laws of Los Angeles encouraged alcoholism among the Indians and subsequent chain gangs with the local Indian population. There were bull and bear fights, camels in the area and lawlessness throughout. Los Angeles was a tiny pueblo and considered the wildest town in American history, including a murder rate that equals ours today with our population in the millions.
He shortly thereafter married his second wife, Margaret Herford Herford and moved to San Marino. Then Wilson bought western San Gabriel Valley and became a huge vineyard owner, introduced orange groves into the area and becoming instrumental in the development of the Port of Los Angeles. He also brought in railroads, owned gold and silver mines, built the first manufacturing plant, and more. He had two daughters by his second wife. But there was another interesting story here. His daughters both wanted to marry the same man, and as the story goes, they settled the dispute by living together as man and wives. (did I really hear this correctly?)
Nat closed with some of the other snippets to give us an insight into Wilson’s fascinating history. Mt. Wilson is named after him, as his Lake Avenue. General Patton was a grandson.
President Ed thanked our guest speaker, announced that Nat will remain afterwards to sell books and sign them, and presented him with a travel clock from WVRC. Next week our guest speaker will talk on hydrogen energy for automobiles.
The thought for the day from John Wooden, who carried it in his possession as a message from his father; “Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day.”
Respectfully submitted by Mark Rogo on behalf of the Great Ernie Wolfe