No. 27 in a series of 52 commemorating the 100-year anniversary of The Signal
Here’s something you wouldn’t necessarily group together: Kindness and Journalism. In our 100 years of being the Santa Clarita Valley’s leading and often, only, media outlet, we’ve embarrassed people. Granted. Many deserved it. We’ve gotten things wrong, made mistakes, reported on the macabre, the ugly and the plain wicked events in our community.
But, one of the things I’ve always loved about this Mighty Signal is that we’ve been kind.
Kindness comes in many forms.
I remember years ago, right when I first started composing the Time Ranger/SCV History column. In one paragraph highlighting an event 20 years earlier, I noted how a local wife and mother had committed suicide in a grisly fashion. The day after the story was published, the family of the woman showed up at our offices, then at Creekside Road.
Managing Editor Ruth Newhall called me to the conference room to meet the husband and four children. Turned out the dad never told his kids, now all grown, how their mom passed and they read the details in what was normally a safe and sanguine feature.
In front of them, Ruth Newhall read me the riot act. She apologized to the family. They left. Alone, she thanked me for taking the abuse.
“You were completely right,” Ruth told me. “This is a newspaper, and we don’t hide the truth or facts. But, I wanted to give that family some emotional support. And maybe a little closure. This was a terrible way to find out something like that, and it wasn’t your fault.”
That was kind of Ruth, to treat a shocked family with so much tenderness, tempered with some pretty scary theater aimed in my direction. The next week, I lopped an entire decade off the Time Ranger. Thirty years ago is a safer distance than 20.
Long before there was a Signal, we had John Powell. There’s a Newhall street named after the 19th-century judge. We’ve written about the man for 100 years. Big game hunter, lawman and Civil War hero, on his deathbed, Powell confessed that the best thing he had done with his life was, with famed missionary Dr. David Livingstone, to free 705 slaves in Africa in the 1850s.
The Rev. Wolcott Evans was the topic of many a Signal story. Dubbed “The Shepherd of the Hills,” Evans helped hundreds through crippling tragedy over the years.
In our early years, The Signal wrote constantly about another man after whom a Newhall street is named. Presbyterian minister Wolcott Evans served the SCV to the point of exhaustion, from 1914 to 1930. The “Pastor of Disaster” ministered to hundreds of families who lost loved ones in the great St. Francis Dam break of 1928. Fittingly, in 1930, when he finally retired after a life of service and poverty, this community paid back the good minister. Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and a few agnostics chipped in $1,300 to buy The Rev. Evans his retirement home.
The Signal covered a misplaced love story that lasted nearly 70 years. It’s designed to create a warm “aaahhhhh” in the most acrimonious of hearts. In 1908, a Newhall couple became Mr. and Mrs. Roy Lewis. Eleven years later, after a rather serious argument in 1919, they separated. The couple, now elderly, reunited in town 47 years later in 1965 and were remarried.
Between all the grisly car accidents, kidnappings, fires and mayhem, The Signal has offered a century of shout-outs, reminders for people to visit a shopkeeper or help out with the chores of a recent widow. After five years of publishing World War II obituaries, this humble and short notice written by Signal Editor Fred Trueblood appeared in the Jan. 3, 1946, Signal. In its entirety:
“In the latter half of 1945, another significant and very welcome change took place in The Signal’s news columns. Instead of publishing the dread news of its sons in battle appeared the happy items of service men returning from the wars. The Signal is most thankful at this time that it need publish no accounts of fallen heroes.”
What I’ve always loved about my home town is how we help out. I was 15 and accidentally ended up in Los Angeles in August 1965 with some friends. Naïve country bumpkins we were (and without the internet and 24/7 news coverage), we had no idea the Watts Riots were going on. It was so strange to see National Guardsmen patrolling the streets in armed personnel carriers. Lost to most eyes was a tiny story The Signal ran in the back pages. It was short. It described how Santa Clarita churches and volunteer groups organized a huge caravan of trucks and station wagons to bring food, medicine, water, blankets and supplies to the victims of the civil unrest.
Around that same time, Dick Shacknies, manager of North Oaks Footwear, was the subject of another Signal story on simple acts of kindness. Shacknies got an unusual air mail request. In 1966, we noted how Leonard Lancaster of Canyon Country was serving a stint in Vietnam. Lancaster sent a letter to Shacknies, along with a $20 check, to buy a decent pair of shoes and a half-dozen pairs of socks. Even in 1960s money, I don’t know what kind of “decent” pair of shoes, let alone six pairs of socks, you could buy for 20 bucks. Shacknies turned the check over to Leonard’s parents and sent out his best pair — along with the socks — to Lancaster all the way in Vietnam.
We ran a story in 1950 that still makes me tear up. Up in Elizabeth Lake lived an aging homeless man, Steve Majarevich. Steve Majarevich lived in a county home for the indigent in Elizabeth Lake. At 70, he was strong, vital and bored. He walked out of the camp for the aged — all the way down to Wayside Honor Rancho (Pitchess Detention Center today) in Castaic. Back then, it was a white-collar jail and working dairy farm that supplied all of L.A. County’s jails. Knocking on the front gate, Majarevich asked the guard if he could work there. The guard noted this was a jail. To “live” there you had to get arrested, convicted and sentenced. A kind, burly and powerful man, Majarevich wandered around Castaic, trying to do chores for spare food and a place to sleep in a barn. He ended up at the ranch of Mrs. Hazel Kelly. Seeing lots of work, Steve knocked on the door and asked if Mrs. K would consider hiring him to be a handyman. Mrs. Kelly, who lived alone, said she had no money and politely thanked Steve for the offer. Undaunted, and rather hungry, Majarevich just rolled up his sleeves and started a full day of chores. He knocked on the door. Surprised and grateful, but still broke, Mrs. Kelly gave the elder worker a fine full meal. Majarevich asked again for a job, saying he’d be happy to work in exchange for food and a bed of hay in the barn. Mrs. Kelly, living alone, said no.
The elder workman left, but returned after dark to settle down in the barn for the night. There was method to his madness. Mrs. Kelly called the local sheriffs, and they arrested the aging handyman. Majarevich appeared before local judge Art Miller and humbly pleaded guilty. To the surprise of the jurist, he begged for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The Signal published Majarevich’s plea: “Send me to that beautiful rancho. I can work in the sun and the air and the big fields. I can be useful. I can be happy. Please, your honor, do this for me.” Judge Miller apologized, saying conscience dictated he couldn’t sentence anyone to life in prison for vagrancy and the top sentence by law was 180 days. Miller said, “How about we compromise. I’ll give you 180 days and, at 90, I’ll call, and you can tell me how you’re liking it.”
Miller not only kept tabs on how Majarevich was doing at the gentleman’s prison, but made a not-so-secret deal. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood noted years later that every month, Majarevich would, in genteel fashion, insult Judge Miller. The jurist would then add another contempt-of-court charge and keep the man working in the idyllic setting to the end of his days.
In the 1970s, The Signal covered how a Val Verde grandmother, Ida Edwards, had accidentally lost her lifelong home. A supreme paperwork miscue by Los Angeles County resulted in the 80-year-old lifelong resident having her home condemned. When she returned one day from visiting relatives, she found her home and possessions bulldozed. The swashbuckling Signal condemned the outrage. The Boy Scouts immediately swung into action, donated food and a pup tent, which made the outrage even more vehement. Our own supervisor, a local Placerita lad, Warren Dorn, saw to it the county built her a brand new home. While it was being constructed, Newhall Land gave her a house to live in and the development company and The Signal held a fundraiser to pay for new furniture, groceries and essentials.
And this story is just the tiny tip of the iceberg.
I will not name names. But I know there are Santa Clarita souls today who, quietly, behind the scenes, support those down on their luck, paying for everything from food and lodging to college educations. It just doesn’t get in the paper. Nor will it.
I used to ride on horseback in the Fourth of July parade with John Sloan, a wild and goodly fellow. Sloan Canyon in Castaic bears the name of his family from 1910.
His grandparents were simply known as Mother and Father Sloan. They earned the nicknames for all the foster children they had cared for over the years. Are you sitting? The total of the kids they took in was — 380.
Imagine. Caring for 380 orphans, feeding, clothing, teaching, loving. They had 11 children of their own. Bertha’s nickname was well-earned. She wrote a note for The Signal once, on ruled paper and in pencil, about the miracle of life resurrecting in the fields and hills of Sloan Canyon, “wearing shining mantles of greenery.” She wrote of the budding leaves and fruit, of the songs of larks in the meadow, of the cry of a newborn sheep. Mother Sloan died in 1950. Her husband had died a few years earlier, and there was an occurrence almost supernatural at his funeral.
Father Sloan was a renowned beekeeper. When they lowered his casket into the ground, a swarm appeared out of nowhere, alighted on the flowers for a few minutes, then flew away.
I could fill a book with the kind deeds by local law enforcement. One of my favorite Signal stories is a simple one, from 1980.
A 59-year-old man, despondent over medical problems, sat near Denny’s on Sand Canyon Road on a curb, pistol pointed to his head. Sheriff’s deputies Ron Card and Sandy Crawford responded and were soon joined by deputy Richard Bricker. Bricker sat down next to the despondent soul and offered a cold beer if he’d put down the gun. The suicide attempter agreed and the other deputies rushed to a 7-Eleven to get a cold one.
The Signal certainly covered Cecil Sims over the decades. The civics educator was one of the original teachers at Hart High, starting in 1946. The wispy Mr. Sims was famous for his smiling demeanor and his legendary ranking of students. You were either a “Good Child” or a “Bad Child.” Of the original eight teachers, Sims was the only one who had ever taught high school. Trivia? Every time you sing the alma mater (“All hail Hart High, all hail to thee …”) think of Mr. Sims. He wrote it.
Several times, he talked kids out of suicide, including one ex-Hart student/Marine during the Vietnam War. The soldier turned the gun on Sims. Facing the barrel of a .45, Sims used three little words we all should use more: “I love you.” The distraught soldier put the gun down. After some psychiatric help, the kid went on to live a productive life.
So many stories of simple acts of kindness.
There used to be a bird bath in front of Hart Park. A small bronze plaque stated: “In memory of DICK LINDSAY; 1863-1940. He Loved The Birds.” Lindsay was a hobo here who lived in a canyon shanty. He walked into town to feed the birds in Downtown Newhall and the Hart ranch for decades. A young spinster took him in and cared for him his final five years, then had the custom birdbath built in his honor. I wish I knew what happened to that birdbath. I wish someone would put up a new one.
Starting in the 1960s, off-and-on, John Boston has worked for The Signal for nearly 40 years. He’s the local historian, author and columnist for The Mighty Signal. Come back next Saturday for installment No. 28 in our 100th Anniversary and History of The Mighty Signal.