Chris Valente, a champion for children and former longtime La Cañada resident who held key community positions, both before and after the successful 1976 drive for cityhood, passed away March 3 at his home in Dana Point, surrounded by family. He was 75.
Born Nov. 4, 1941 in Utica, N.Y., Valente was a graduate of UCLA who came to La Cañada in 1965 to teach civics at St. Francis High School. Even as he continued teaching, Valente accepted the job of executive director of the La Cañada Youth House (today known as the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge) on the retirement of Gilbert "Smitty" Smith in the early 1970s.
A popular community member, Valente was named honorary mayor of La Cañada in 1973, was given a Les Tupper volunteer service award in 1985 by the LCF Coordinating Council and served as president of the local chamber of commerce later in that decade.
He was an active member of the Kiwanis Club of La Cañada and volunteered his time to serve on a variety of civic committees. He was also a member of the Los Angeles County Youth Commission.
In a 1981 feature on the Youth House, the Los Angeles Times reported that as the facility's director, Valente had built up offerings there but was earning just $16,000 per year, or, as he put it, less per hour than the people he hired to lead the programs. When the underfunded center was in need of equipment, Valente said he'd "scrounge for it, trade for it and everything else under the sun." In fact, he pointed out, the center's refrigerator was one he'd collected as a prize on the TV show "Let's Make a Deal."
He summed up his job at the Youth House as "very, very rewarding."
In 1988 Valente and fellow resident Ed Phelps ran successful bids to serve on the La Cañada Flintridge City Council in campaigns that challenged the old guard then governing the relatively new city. Valente called himself "the people's choice" in election materials and won the greatest number of votes.
While he maintained his popularity off the council, Valente became regarded by that body's majority as an outsider, or as he termed it to a newspaper reporter, "a lone ranger." In 1991 his council colleagues denied him what had then been a customary rotation from mayor pro-tem into the mayor's seat by voting to change that policy when it became his turn to take the gavel.
"This is a mockery against democracy," Valente told the Los Angeles Times after the vote was taken. "It's not important that I be mayor. It's the system that I worry about and the ethics involved."
The next year, he lost his bid for reelection. Current Councilman Dave Spence and recently retired state Sen. Carol Liu prevailed in that 1992 race.
Longtime La Cañadan Mark Jewell, who worked for Valente at the Youth House while a teenager, and found a passion for coaching while doing so, remembers his mentor warmly.
"Chris Valente's impact went far beyond being a teacher, (honorary) mayor, businessman and head of the Youth House. His character, optimistic attitude, unselfishness and leadership helped guide La Cañada and many young people like me," Jewell said this week. "I, like many of my friends and classmates, will always be indebted to Chris for the opportunities he helped us with and the standard he set for us."
In his retirement, Valente volunteered at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.
Valente is survived by his wife, Nancy Baker Valente, whom he met in 1969, and by the couple's four children: Anne Marie Amigleo, Gina Wendt, Chris R. Valente and Teddy Valente. Services will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 17, at St. Timothy's Catholic Church, 29102 Crown Valley, Laguna Niguel.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Valente's memory be made to Once Upon a Room or Royal Family Kids.
Carol Cormaci, email@example.com