First published in the Nov. 19 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
It won’t be the empty shelves or the higher prices that put me in a bad mood when I go shopping for Thanksgiving at Vons on Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena.
What will really bother me is the lack of SONIA SILVA’s smile when I get to the checkout line.
Silva has been a checker at Vons or Pavilions for 44 years — the past 25 years of which at the Vons here in town. And I’ve never seen her not give a customer a smile, or at least say “hi” and ask how things are going.
A few weeks ago, she stopped me as I was going out and said, “I won’t be here after Thursday. I’m retiring. Can you believe it? Forty-four years.”
Such a big smile from such a small woman can almost make you forget how much you spent for groceries.
“It’s been like a home away from home,” she told me. “I’ve always wanted to help in any way I could. I wanted to be a friend to the people who passed my way.”
Thanksgiving is a time to thank those who have helped while passing our way, especially throughout most of the past two years. This column is a small sample of some of the South Pasadena people who have retired or gone on to other ventures since last Thanksgiving. It’s also my way of echoing your thoughts about some of the many people who have been invaluable over the past year.
Speaking about longevity, JANET ANDERSON retired in August after 41 years in the South Pasadena Unified District — the last 21 as principal of South Pasadena High School, where she herself graduated from. She’s also been at the district’s other schools throughout her career.
“She has devoted decades to developing SPHS into an elite public high school with opportunities for all students to find a place to grow,” Superintendent Geoff Yantz wrote in the letter announcing her retirement.
Anderson said she has met her former students in their new roles, and that some of her former students are now parents themselves.
“I loved being part of creating a family within the various parts of our school community — students, staff and parents,” Anderson said. “I am still in touch with some of the first students I taught, and we continue to have a strong bond.
“So much of the work of a teacher or administrator is based on identifying challenges and working collaboratively to solve problems or create a better solution,” she added. “That allowed me to meet and know a wide variety of students and families, and it was really rewarding to find ways to meet their needs.”
When students on the newspaper staff speak fondly of their AP physics teacher, you know that teacher has to be really good. That’s the kind of comment I heard about DEAN PAPADAKIS, who retired in June after 37 years on the job. He was the Southern California Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2011 from the American Chemical Society, and he’s another teacher who never wandered too far from home — he’s lived in South Pasadena since 1962 and graduated from SPHS.
Papadakis was the science department chair for the last decade. As the Astronomy Club adviser, he held astronomy nights on campus for everyone to attend, and he would set up several telescopes to accommodate the crowds that would attend.
His departure was marred by a four-month stint in Huntington Hospital after contracting COVID-19, but Anderson reported he has made a “remarkable” recovery, and concluded that he “inspired his students’ learning.”
I mentioned Sonia Silva’s bright smile. I also miss BOB JOE’s bright smile at events around town. He may have lost his reelection to a third term on the city council, but the two-time mayor left with his reputation well-intact for being one of the town’s biggest boosters.
Joe served on the council since 2011 and has lived in South Pasadena for 40 years. He served on four city commissions before being first elected to the council. Now retired, Joe was honored earlier this year with the planting of a tree in his honor in front of the South Pasadena Senior Center, and a wooden bench is being added there.
“I believe in public service and in helping people,” Joe said. “I’ve always tried to volunteer — at the library and Senior Center among other places — and that’s what I’m continuing to do now.”
He’ll be helping — along with the South Pasadena police chief — to serve meals this Thanksgiving at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
Also at City Hall, RICHARD SCHNEIDER decided not to run for reelection last year, stepping away from the seat he had held in 2007. Schneider said one of the reasons he originally ran for the seat was to help fight the proposed extension of the 710 Freeway through South Pasadena.
“I’m glad we were successful and now it’s time to move on,” Schneider said.
Holy Family Church said goodbye earlier this year to CAMBRIA TORTORELLI, who had worked as parish life director at the church for 13 years — the only lay person to lead the parish. She had a career in nonprofits of more than 27 Years, including 15 in leadership. It didn’t take her long to find her next calling. She is the new president and CEO of the International Institute of L.A., tasked with welcoming and integrating refugees into the country, including those now coming from Afghanistan.
As parish life director, Tortorelli was entrusted with the overall day-to-day needs of the parish.
“She has been dedicated to us parishioners, and we have returned the affection,” noted Mayor Diane Mahmud, who added that Tortorelli was a role model for young women in the parish.
LILIANA TORRES is known among the Senior Center’s patrons as “Our Lili,” and the pandemic made her even more beloved. She kept things going with the meals on wheels program and made sure that those who could not get out got calls or visits.
She even got a drive-by good-bye when she retired, since the crowds that would have gathered would have been too large to accommodate given the restrictions of the time. So, she handed out cupcakes as people drove by on a day in February. Torres dedicated 33 years to the center, located on on Oxley Street.
“They say people are replaceable, but I don’t know about her. She’s an angel,” said Sheila Pautsch, who was Torres’ supervisor.
MARY TERNAN worked for Holy Family for 30 years, and just stepped down as director of pastoral care for the sick and elderly in the parish.
She retired at the end of September to focus on her nonprofit, Charlie’s Song. Charlie was Ternan’s son who, two weeks from his college graduation, died after taking what he believed to be a painkiller drug that was actually a pill of fentanyl. Charlie’s Song is devoted to education about fentanyl and other dangerous drugs.
BONNIE TAYLOR was a 31-year teacher in the English at SPHS until she retired at the end of the last school year.
“Bonnie’s characteristic calm and gracious manner set a tone of both seriousness and support for all students in her classroom,” Anderson, the longtime principal, said.
KAY ROSSER and KATHY FOLSOM call themselves the “dynamic duo” and estimate that each of them has given about 50 years to volunteer causes. They helped organize the Restoration Concert series at the library 25 years ago and have nurtured it ever since.
Both formally stepped aside this year, although Folsom continues to help finding musicians for the programs. Folsom has moved permanently with her husband Ron to Colorado, while Rosser and her husband will continue to split their time between South Pasadena and Colorado.
This would be an even more incomplete list of people to be grateful for without cheering for the first responders — the doctors, nurses, hospital workers, EMT and firefighters — for all they did over the past year.
Special kudos go to the DUDES (especially to my special DUDES Leanne and Per Annell) who delivered food and medications to those who needed assistance throughout the pandemic; Cindi Knight and her business, Girl Friday; essential business workers; the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce; the City Council and city administration; and all the small businesses who managed to keep afloat despite the economic and medical disasters of the past year.
My own Thanksgiving grace must include all the priests, ministers and rabbi in South Pasadena and Highland Park; Andrell Panconi of Holy Family; Maribel Valadez of Calvary Presbyterian Church; Andrea Fox; Laurie Wheeler; Cathy Johnson; Sally Kilby; the staff at Outlook News Group; my brother, who read by columns before they went to the editors; and my family and friends who has cheered me on over the years.
Columnist Note: I couldn’t possibly have mentioned everyone who retired this year and whose life has impacted the community. I’ll do another column, if necessary, later this year and include people you nominate whose work during the past year(s) deserves recognition. Please email such submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.