Willard Hanzlik

Interviewed and Transcribed by Libby AppelgateNovember 5, 2003

Willard visited Seal Beach in 1928 and recalls that rails ran down Main Street to a turnaround at Ocean Avenue.  Except for 1962-67, he has been a resident since 1950, and had an electrical contracting business here from 1946 until 1962.

L. A.  Please give your full name and address.

W. H.  Willard Martin Hanzlik, 1522½ Marine Avenue, Seal Beach, CA. 

L. A.  Would you tell me when and where were you born and identify your parents?

W. H.  July 7th, 1911, in Ethanac, a small town in Riverside County, son of Otto J. and Bertha M. (nee Rayburn) Hanzlik; the paternal grandparents Bohemian/German, the maternal Scotch/Irish.  A lifelong wish, never accomplished:  to get to Prague and research the registry to see if there may have been a relationship with Eduard Hanslick, the music critic who loved Wagner’s music but despised the man.  His birth was about the time there was a slight change in the spelling of our name.  Grandfather Martin Hanzlik and his bride to be, Elizabeth Von Neuman, had to leave Europe to get married because of the difference in their social stature, so came to America just in time for Martin to be drafted for the north army in the Civil War.  A pacifist, he rode the lead horse of a team pulling an artillery piece, and was required to carry a flintlock and cap and ball pistol, both loaded, though he never fired them.  At war’s end he laid his weapons on a tree stump and walked back to Wonewoc, Wisconsin, where Elizabeth waited for him.  They married, Martin filed on 160 acres, built a home which still stands there, and they raised 10 children in it.

L. A.  Whew!  Your youth?

W. H.  That’s a bit complex.  When I was 7, a tibia fracture caused me to contract osteomyelitis.  I was operated on at home by an old retired Civil War doctor who saved my life and became my boyhood hero.  I was abed or on crutches much of the time until my junior high school year, but had great teachers who gave me homework to keep up with my age group.  And in my senior year was able to letter in baseball, also track in the shot put and discus.

L. A.  After high school. Did you go on to college?

W. H.  No, I worked a year in the Firestone tire factory in South Gate, then went to Riverside Junior College where my English professor helped by getting me jobs covering county athletics for the Times and reviewing movies first shown in Riverside for the Hollywood Reporter.  The latter was heady stuff for a lad fresh from the potato patch.  I recall my last review, of Boris Karloff in The Mummy.  After the storyline, I added my opinion that some Podunk theater owners might be persuaded to run it, but the Mummy as a movie would, fortunately, die a more lasting death than its main character had.  When it broke all box office records, the Hollywood Reporter released its claim on my services.

L. A.  What did your English professor think about that?

W. H.  Fortunately, that didn’t affect our relationship, and we became lifelong friends.  After JC, I had two job options — unusual during the Great Depression:  as assistant sports editor of the Riverside Enterprise at $15.00 a week, or for a company drilling the Metropolitan Water District’s aqueduct tunnel through the Val Verde hills, at $6.40 per day.  So I became a tunnel stiff for about 2 years, and was one of the lucky ones when the heading caved in on us one night.  When about able to return to work, the doctor advised me first to spend a week or so out in the desert.  That’s how I came to be in Palm Springs in the early ’30s.

L.  A.  What did you do there?

W. H.  The owner of Palm Springs Electric, an electrical contractor, hired me as a helper.  I enjoyed the work and soon became an electrician making an incredible $1.125 an hour.  When the owner fell from a power pole and was severely injured, and was being put in an ambulance, he told me to keep things going until he got back, which we assumed would be in a few days.  It was actually almost two years, during which I learned a lot about the business and decided to become a contractor myself.  And did when the owner sold the business and retired.

L. A.  Besides your work?                                          

W. H.  During that time I met and married Mabel Irene Cowser, an Illinois girl who had come to California as field nurse for the Indian Affairs Council of the State Department, to tend to the medical needs of Riverside County’s Indian Reservations.  She was a public health nurse who answered to the name, Miki, and tolerated me for 62 years.  World War II was on the horizon, and Palm Springs became a non-strategic area where strategic materials could not be used.  This stopped construction there, so I took a Civil Service exam and was offered a job as an electrical engineering draftsman at the Mare Island Navy Yard.

L. A.  Had you done drafting?

W. H.  No, nor ever considered it.  But Mare Island had to speed up its submarine work, and was short-handed in engineering.  As I got into the work, I liked it.  The bad part was a lack of housing in Vallejo, so Miki stayed in Palm Springs.  I had a room in a friendly Irish family’s home, and lots of spare time so took extension courses in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley.  At work, the emphasis was on ordnance and degaussing, an electrical system that eliminates the magnetic attraction of steel ships.  Submerged mines were being laid, set to explode when ships got near and attracted the earth’s magnetic field up through them.  So degaussing was extremely important during World War II.  And in San Pedro, a shipyard with a contract to build ships for the Navy couldn’t find a degaussing designer, and through an odd set of circumstances learned about and made me an offer, which I accepted and the Navy approved.  I soon found a house to rent in Long Beach, so Miki and I were together again.

L. A.  Was degaussing your job in San Pedro?

W. H. A small part of it, as it didn’t take long because the yard was building several identical ships, ARs, Attack Repair Vessels.  This was a new idea, to make repairs at sea possible, saving the time it took for a damaged vessel to limp to a Navy Yard for repairs.

If I can refer back to Mare Island, when our submarine Argonaut managed to get there after being badly damaged, I was lucky to be assigned to it, and will never forget the crew.  Sparks, the one I dealt with, during the worst of it had to keep things electrical working or they’d have been doomed.  His hands were badly burned from having held broken wires together, and he was so shaky he couldn’t light a cigarette.  I was there when the Argonaut left, too, and relish a large Monel nut from its soft patch the crew gave me for a remembrance.

L. A.  You went to San Pedro, and…?

W. H.  At San Pedro, the shipyard was taken over by Todd, a huge eastern firm.  I had one of four groups drafting electrical plans, and became disturbed at the disparity in pay.  For my women, I could get no more than 60% what the men got, and complained about it so much the Top Brass referred to me as the Heretic of the Technical Department.  It may seem foolish of me, but, even though I’d managed to start a new kind of plan that eliminated system interferences during shipboard installation, and was helping the yard keep up with its schedule, and liked the chief electrical engineer, my boss, after about three years I could stand it no longer and resigned. 

I should mention that while at Todd, UC Berkeley, under a federal war-time act, had me develop and give a night class on the essentials of drafting plans for ships of the Navy, to create a reserve force of people who could be hired by shipyards and put out engineering drafting work without a lot of on-the-job training.  This was my one effort at teaching which later, when I served the Huntington Beach Union High School District as a trustee, gave me a feeling of great admiration for its fine teaching staff.

L. A.  After leaving Todd, what did you do?

W. H.  A nearby shipyard of Western Pipe and Steel had been in touch, and I took its offer.  Astonishingly, when I showed up the first day, I found I was assistant electrical engineer.  WP&S was building Ice Breakers for the Navy and Owasco class Cutters for the Coast Guard, with the same ordnance Navy Destroyers had so the Coast Guard could get into the real action too.  And was under surveillance of the 11th Naval District, so I dealt with the same officers who covered Todd’s work. 

The last year or so I was there, I represented the yard on Acceptance Sea Trials of some of our ships with the Navy Trial Board.  And must tell you about its head, a retired admiral who’d been called back into service for this job.  With each ship, when every test and trial had been finished, the old man and I would repair to the wardroom with our clip-boards of jotted-down data.  He with his junior officers would sit on one side of the table with me on the other side.  And we’d go over and reach agreement on every test and trial.  Some had rework items chargeable to both the yard and the Navy, which furnished all ordnance that was constantly being improved so often behind schedule.  On yard responsible items, I’d have to give dates, and on Navy responsible items a dollar and time figure on each.  Once we’d covered everything, we’d each initial the other’s list.  Then the old man would stand up and stick his hand out, and we’d shake on it.  That was all, and there was never a nickel for lawyers to fight over.  Later when I’d hear about east coast yards getting into multimillion-dollar lawsuits with the Navy on cost overruns, I’d think of that great old man whose handshake was the nation’s bond.

At war’s end, I was offered a transfer to the WP&S home office but wanted to get back in the electrical contracting business so resigned.

L. A.  Is that when you began your contracting business in Seal Beach?

W.H.  Yes.  We had driven here frequently, and when our daughter, Carla, was born, Miki decided to check out the Seal Beach schools — and after meetings with Superintendent Marx Dressler and Principal Bob Weaver, and a classroom visit, considered them excellent.

L. A.  Was its quality school system the reason you moved to Seal Beach?

W. H.  It was important, and there were other things.  It was right on the beach, a small town, and reminiscent of Palm Springs in the early ’30s when everyone there knew everybody.  Sperry Knighton, the fire chief, also handled building permits and inspections, and did the city’s painting.  With his handlebar mustache, he was quite a character, but his unstinting work on behalf of Seal Beach added to its attraction for me.  I did electrical work here starting in ’46, with an office on Main Street.  Later, after D. M. Callis, then a widely known naval architect, built his Sportcraft Enterprise building and boat yard on Bolsa Avenue, I moved there as it gave me more space.  And got me involved in his plan to create a small boat harbor between the east jetty and the pier, which, under maritime law, would have given the city jurisdiction for three miles out in the ocean.  And would have required Monterey Oil Company to negotiate with the city before building the oil island 1 5/8 miles offshore.  There were pros and cons to Callis’ plan, and the city was about evenly divided on them.  But the City Council flatly turned him down.  And then, despite the City Attorney’s advice that the city would lose, they forced a lawsuit against Monterey.  Which left Seal Beach with no option for negotiating a significant return from the oil island.  It was easy to see the gambling czar controlled City Hall then.

L. A.  What do you know of Seal Beach’s past?

W. H.  We’d heard its early carnival years made it a playpen for Hollywood of the Fatty Arbuckle era.  Also of its being an entry point for Canadian whiskey during our prohibition years, both by landing it on the pier and dragging it in metal containers through a large pipeline, the up tilted end in the bay being accessible by boat at low tide.  I was told that in a room under the pier, boys were hired to fill flasks with the whiskey landed there, and that periodically a county hearse would arrive and back out on the pier.  Several coffins would be brought up from the room, put in the hearse, and the poor fellows who had drowned would be carted off to their final resting places.  And during the ’30s when they were popular, Mike Gleason’s gambling ship offshore from Seal Beach was well known.  When we moved here, his widow ran Mamie’s Bar on Main Street and had been one of my first customers for electrical work.

L. A.  When did you get involved in the effort to rid Seal Beach of gambling?

W. H.  Until the gambling czar opened the Airport Club, a huge casino at 5 Coast Highway, gambling had generally been sub rosa in small places that operated at night.  By day Seal Beach was then like any other small beach town.  In 1953 the casino attracted some hoods who were picked up doling out dope to children on the Zoeter playground, and that changed everything for me as Carla would the next year be entering kindergarten there.  Three seats of the 5-member City Council were to be open at the election the following spring, and if all three could be won by honest men, I felt gambling would end here.  I should add that the Airport Club’s owner had obtained a permit for the club based on an old amusement tax ordinance, and that, later, the Council enacted a gambling ordinance, without the city voting on it as was required by state law.  Also should note that a Good Government Group, sponsored by Katherine and Charlotte Schuman, had tried to elect anti-gamblers to the City Council without success.  Even so, I felt the upcoming election offered a chance to resolve the city’s problem. 

I’d heard the CO of the nearby Navy Base, who lived in Seal Beach, Captain John Reid McKinney, was a fire-breather when it came to civic duty, so phoned him and asked for an audience.  He agreed with what I had in mind, and soon after that we met again in his office on the base, with eight others we’d agreed on, and by vote selected three of the eight, Calvo, Clark and Flanagan (Paul Calvo, George Clark and Fred Flanagan), to be our candidates.  The gambling czar, with threats and bribe offers, did his best to waylay us, but in 1954 all three were elected and Seal Beach’s years of gambling ended, though not without after effects.  One by one, everyone who had worked on the campaign, including a young minister friend of ours, as the czar had promised, found compelling reasons to leave.

L. A.  Would you mind explaining why you left?

W. H.  My business died on the vine.  When the czar had promised that would be my reward, I couldn’t see how he could affect it.  My bid to furnish electrical engineering and construction on the oil island was accepted, I was considering changing all my work to explosion-proof oilfield wiring, and couldn’t see how anybody could shut me down.  I was wrong, though it was 1962 before we left.

L. A.  And in the interim?

W. H.  A rewarding time was as a trustee of the Huntington Beach Union High School district, which included Seal Beach, during a period of fast population growth and declining per capita income due to declining oil production.  The other trustees and the principals and superintendent were great to work with.  Miki kept active too, starting a foreign student’s exchange program and helping the Seal Beach librarian start a children’s section.  And the year I was president of the Chamber of Commerce, though the ex-czar managed to control things in it as he still had friends among local business people, we started an annual deep water swim to and around the oil island and back to the beach at the pier, which brought entrants and attention and carried Seal Beach’s name far and wide. 

Also, when outer space took over national attention, a young Seal Beach engineer, Charles Kaempen, came up with a new concept of space travel he called ITR – In transit rendezvous.  Until then, there had been two concepts, first, by a German, a huge booster system with enough power and velocity to propel a space ship to a target, such as the moon, and return; second, by a Russian, sending several space ships with enough power to reach orbital velocity and, while orbiting the earth, to rendezvous and create a system with the power to escape earth’s gravity and reach a target and return.  Kaempen’s concept was to simultaneously launch two or three available space ships, which would rendezvous in transit and become one space ship powerful enough to reach a target such as the moon and return.  One day he asked me how he could acquire a voice that would be heard nationally.  Mac, by then Adm. J. R. McKinney, Ret., who’d moved to Idyllwild, became interested, and we both felt the new concept might help America beat Russia in the as yet undeclared race to the moon.  We formed a California corporation named American Space Transport Company, with headquarters at my office in the Sportcraft Enterprise building, and Mac and I agreed to serve as president and chairman of the board for a year without salary.

This replaced worry about my dwindling contracting business, and took me east for an appearance before the joint committee on astronautics of the House and Senate.  Mac and I failed to sell the idea of a formal study on ITR by NASA, being opposed by every aircraft firm, as it would have been a means of getting into outer space without having to build a massive booster system, eliminating massive construction activity.  We did play a small part, noting a national lack of urgency and reminding newly elected John Kennedy that, announced or not, we were in a race to the moon with Russia, and he should acknowledge it.  I think I gave you a copy of the night letter I sent him, which he responded to and, as Mac noted, ordered burrs put on NASA chairs.  So Seal Beach unknowingly played a role in acceleration of our space program.

L. A. I’ve heard you once ran for something in the State Legislature.  Did you?

W. H.  Mainly because of my efforts to get localities of origin a portion of the revenue the state gets from offshore oil and gas, Orange County’s GOP in ’56 nominated me as its candidate for a seat in the State Assembly.  The ex gambling czar promised to see I lost in the general election, explained how he could be sure of that, and showed me how much pressure he could exert on Orange County people.  I did lose, and later heard of a precinct that reported more votes for my opponent than were registered, and none for me.  While one doesn’t like to lose that way, there was also relief as I could not envision myself, untutored in law, as member of a body creating laws.  And my opponent was a young lawyer who was already our assemblyman, running for reelection.

L. A.  Not a very happy year. ’56.

W. H.  By all odds, the best part of ’56 was that summer, when I taught Carla at age 7 to fly fish, and took her up into high country above Bishop where she caught golden trout.  That more than made up for the rest of it.

L. A.  That was ’56.  Was the ex gambling czar out of the local picture after that?

W. H.  No, and we must not forget the City Council election of 1960.  I hope the Historical Society realizes what that did for Seal Beach.  Gambling had been shut down for 6 years, but the ex gambling czar had carefully prepared for one last effort and had several men file for it, though only two seats were open then.  At a town hall type meeting held in McGaugh auditorium, all candidates were invited to speak.  As things began, a man came in and sat beside me, and when Norma Gibbs gave her talk, he poked me and whispered that she was a lulu — and did the same when Dean Gemmil spoke.  When the lights came on he introduced himself and said he’d asked at the door if he could sit with someone who was up on things in Seal Beach, and the girl had pointed at me.  It was Steve Martin, who with his wife spent as much time as possible in a home they owned here.  He said we should manage the Gibbs-Gemmil campaign, and later insisted on it. 

The “hill” had been built and the houses sold to new residents who knew little or nothing about Seal Beach politics, and I was asked to write something that could be read at block meetings to give them an idea of the past here.  I think you have a copy of it, titled The Seal Beach Story — the big headache, gambling.  That and Steve’s name supporting them may have helped, but Norma and Dean were young, attractive, and intelligent.  And won overwhelmingly, as a Long Beach editor put it, “because they look like what Seal Beach wants to be.”  That election brought on some of Seal Beach’s finest years.  Norma became mayor, and her face appeared on the cover sheets of several national magazines.

L. A.  That must have pleased you and Steve.

W. H.  The peak came for me when the Orange County Coast Association held its annual dinner meeting at the old Newport Harbor Yacht Club.  After dinner, each representative was called on to report on his or her city.  When called on, I got up and began, “I imagine some of you already know we elected…”  when the room burst out in clapping and cheering and people jumping up to come over and shake my hand and clap me on the back.  It was bedlam of the best possible kind.  Seal Beach was accepted as a sister city, and that was my finest hour here.

L. A.  But you said earlier that you left Seal Beach in 1962.

W. H.  Over time I had to admit the ex gambling czar had a lot of clout.  The last year here, my business was zero.  So one morning a phone call from Warren Parsons, a man who was at Todd when I was there, was more than welcome.  He wanted to know if I’d like to be resident electrical engineer on the Titan III project at Cape Canaveral.  For the Ralph M. Parsons Co.  So we sold our home and moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida.  T-III was an Air Force project, and newly-formed NASA was getting the bulk of space money, so the Dinosaur phase of the work I was on, that many felt would have given us the equivalent of the space shuttle, was scrubbed.  I’d heard work on the Apollo Mission was being started at NASA’s Michaud Facility near New Orleans, made a phone call, was hired for the same work I’d been doing, and we moved to New Orleans.

This was hardest on Carla as it was during mid-term, so I got her into a small private school where she flourished.  A bit about Louisiana is worth making:  academics drew as much interest then as athletics, and each year the high school Academic Finals held at LSU in Baton Rouge drew as much attention there as our annual Rose Bowl game does here.  Carla, a straight A student for which we credited Marx Dressler and Bob Weaver and their teachers here in Seal Beach, represented Ridgewood Prep in the finals both years we were there.  Pride nudges me to add that after we got back here in ’68, she was on the dean’s list at UCI while getting her master’s, and for the past 25 years has been vice president of a small computer company here that has carried the city’s name world-wide.

L. A.  I get the impression your years in Cocoa Beach and New Orleans were not unpleasant.

W. H.  Our years there were pleasant surprises at how warm some areas can be to newcomers.  New Orleans in particular went out of its way to be friendly.  And our neighborhood in Cocoa Beach was extraordinarily nice to Miki and Carla.

L. A.  You obviously didn’t stay in New Orleans.  When did you leave?

W. H.  When Robert S. L Parker, as distinguished appearing as his name, of Information Systems Company, a Los Angeles firm, came to New Orleans to see me about work in Vietnam as an advisor to the military in its construction work, I was elated as my leg problem had kept me out of military service during the Korean War and World War II.  Miki knew how I felt and supported my decision.  I moved her and Carla to Vista as there wasn’t a place available here, and early in ’66 was on a plane with a group of Green Berets headed for Saigon.

I should mention something that still troubles me.  Before I left, a man I barely knew, member of a wealthy mercantile family, asked me to look up his brother who ran an import business in Saigon.  I did and found that his main interest was our troop strength.  We had 650,000 there then, and he hoped it would be upped to a million because, as a whisky importer, he was clearing about a dollar per soldier per year.  That was my introduction to what I came to realize was business pressure to profit from the war.

L. A.  That still bothers you, doesn’t it?

W. H.  Two things that bothered me most while in Vietnam, and still do, were the degree to which the Viet Cong would go to control the countryside, covered in Postscript of a Vietnamese Scene, which I wrote in 1989 for the owner of the local paper, and gave you a copy of, and the degree to which our corporate business interests would go to get a portion of the profit turf there.

Though told I’d be staying at a Saigon villa that was ISC’s headquarters and also housed some of its employees, it was decided to send me to Da Nang, considered front line then, so I was assimilated into the military as a Navy Lt.  As explained to me, this was so if captured by the enemy, the Geneva Convention would apply.  At Da Nang, I learned that the Army Corps of Engineers and Navy Sea Bees, which had always done necessary war-zone construction, were not doing it in Vietnam.  A contract for that had been let to a five-firm consortium called RMK/BRJ. 

I soon discovered RMK/BRJ was authorized to issue site POs to replace items that were missing when needed for projects in progress, which happened with odd regularity.  By doing a little research, I found items that had been site POed four times.  And it was ridiculous to assume any of the items, most having been shipped from the U.S.A., could so easily be found in a remote area of south-east Asia. 

I made two huge mistakes.  First, I wrote a report on the missing items situation, listing every site PO and its value, for the man who headed ISC’s work in Vietnam.  And when told one day that 39 1080KW diesel-driven generator plants had turned up missing, just as we were to begin installing them for perimeter lighting of all the forward bases, I went looking for them, found every one, and left word at the RMK/BRJ office that it wouldn’t be necessary to issue a site PO for them. 

It was either that or the next night I was found unconscious and at first thought dead.  I got two versions, both indicating that wires were wound around the hands and I was taking a charge of electricity.  Afterward, abrasions indicated blows to the back of the neck and lower abdomen.  My daily log skipped 3 days then, and when resumed noted extraordinary pain in the back of the neck, ear noises (tinnitus), weird vision phenomena, general dimness and dullness, and internal bleeding.  The insurance report ISC sent with me, when I was returned stateside about three months later, gave accidental shock while doing electrical work at night as the cause of the injury, and I learned its insurance was worse than worthless as ISC itself disappeared. 

About three years after my return, a news item about a crooked land deal near Lake Tahoe noted that the ring leader was Robert S. L. Parker, the ISC man who had recruited me to go to Vietnam.  About then Congress created a committee to investigate malfeasance in Vietnam, and I got a subpoena to appear before it.  Our family doctor notified it that my condition made it impossible.  Later, when he felt I could stand the trip, he notified Senator Dodd, the chairman, who phoned and thanked me, adding that Congress had decided there was enough rotten fish to fry locally.  This was as close to a formal discourse about Vietnam as the powers that be ever allowed. 

I was never debriefed or decommissioned, so may still be, as Admiral Mac insisted, a Navy officer.  But if so, why did the American Legion approach me about becoming a member of that veterans’ organization?  I assumed being asked by a federal agency if I want space in the national Military Burial Site near March Air Force Base was just a bon-vivant bon-voyage expression, as, except for the IRS, that has been the sole evidence I’ve had that the nation I served knows I exist.  But I took the Legion at its word and became a member, with a feeling of pride.

L. A.  When you got back here….?

W. H.  After returning here in ’68, I learned forcibly that the ex-gambling czar was still here, controlled at least one key official in city hall, and expressed his displeasure over my return by having the city declare some vacant property we owned unusable.  Had the Orange County tax assessor and the Coast Commission not intervened, this would have forced a distress sale, which a representative of the assessor’s office told me the person in city hall expected to profit from.  He is no longer here. 

Otherwise, time has mostly passed quietly and seclusively.  An exception was when the 25th anniversary banquet for the Apollo Mission was held in a ballroom near LAX, and the president of an Orange County Engineering Society picked Carla and me up, drove us there, and we sat with him at the Orange County table.  After dinner, the president stood and asked those at the table to rise and drink a toast to…..Willard Hanzlik!  This came as a total surprise.  I was the only Orange County engineer who had worked on the Apollo Mission.  That recognition by an Orange County group in a meeting of people from all over Southern California gave me a warm feeling that lasted for days.  Another pleasant surprise was seeing CamTri Thai, who works in the bank here, and learning she was a schoolgirl at Da Nang when I was there.  She and Lien Truong, who lives near me, add a friendly flavor to the town.

Though not feeling well after we returned to Seal Beach, Miki donated her time to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and after she passed away April first, 2000, I found in her effects federal acknowledgment of six years of that work.

Seal Beach is not the town we came to in 1950.  Or left in 1962.  So I feel I’m an outlander most of the time.  I suppose this can happen to oldsters no longer in the mainstream anywhere.

Yet even in this town of strangers there have been mornings when a slight onshore air movement brought the sound of a fog horn I put on Monterey’s oil island about 50 years ago.  And then for a while I’ve felt at home.

L. A.  Does that complete your version of Seal Beach?

W. H.  Nothing about Seal Beach is complete without mention of the musical combo Jim and Phyllis Jay organized during dire years that gave uplift to spirits.  South Pacific was the musical show that had national attention then, and they did a takeoff they called Southern Pacific, and there were demand repeats, including many in other towns.  In 1960 at a farewell dinner I set up for Mac and Mickey McKinney, they gave it and included a character called Admiral Mac, which added enormously to our send-off for that great couple.

Then there were Kay and Cynthia Strother, musically the Bell Sisters, who made it to the top ten hits of the year with a song they and their mother wrote and they sang.  They also helped me many times, in person, in Chamber of Commerce efforts to send the signal out that Seal Beach was a great place for families and businesses.  They were often photographed for pictures to accompany this data.  Not long ago I had a real nice “remembrance” letter from them.

Some local businessmen who went against the grain by helping or not opposing our efforts to eliminate commercial gambling need mentioning, such as Russ Grotamat who had a trailer court near the river, Rollie Vinzant, who had Vinzant’s Variety Store on Main Street, “Bud” Johnson with the Texaco service station at 12th and PCH, and some I don’t recall.  Also a City Hall employee we could always count on for help, Fern Henryson, secretary to the City clerk, who still lives here.

A bit more about Mac and Mickey McKinney seems in order.  Though he had been at sea throughout WWII, and Mickey showed me the array of medals he was awarded, he never wore or mentioned them.  He was a Kentuckian with the gift of repartee they are known for.  He and Mickey were often invited to attend affairs with after-dinner speeches, and Mac developed the ability after such a dinner to nestle down in his seat and doze off.  After having been to one the night before, he was telling me about it the next day.  He said he’d just got settled down and was dozing off when Mickie began poking him.  She finally got him awake enough to hear the chairman saying, “Now, let me again present Admiral John Reid McKinney, who will deliver the speech of the evening.”  I asked him what in the world he’d done about that.  His answer was, “Why I got up and delivered a speech, of course.”  One of the things about the two that I remember the most is that they were like 16-year-olds showing the love they had for each other.  As long as I saw them, this never changed one iota.  About 10 years ago.  Mickey phoned one day and all she could say through her tears was “I’ve lost my Mac.”

The country lost a great man.

Finally, mention is needed of Vizcaino, after whom Bahia Sebastian Vizcaino in Baja California was named.  When he sailed up the coast of Baja in the mid 1500s, his log showed that he dropped anchor near the mouth of what we call the San Gabriel River, and became deeply interested in the aborigines here he described as peaceful as they had no weapons except those needed for small, edible game.  He also noted that, with nothing in writing, they had a system of governing themselves they all abided by.  He decided the location as the best he’d ever seen, as the people enjoyed sumptuous eating, with shellfish of many kinds as well as fresh and saltwater fish and small land game.  His one disappointment was the refusal of the young women to accept a boat ride out to his ship where they could bolster the spirits of his men who had been away from homes and wives for almost a year.


Leave a Comment

Don`t copy text!