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Glendora Family Shares Wealth With Community

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One summer evening in 1933, a young Glendora inventor showed a friend a lawn sprinkler he had designed with short lengths of pipe and scraps from a tin can.

The inventor, Orten Englehardt, patented the strange-looking gadget, leaving its marketing to his more entrepreneurial buddy, Clem La Fetra. The Rain Bird sprinkler was born.

It was a big deal for the irrigation industry; unlike most earlier sprinklers, this one was self-driven, and could sprinkle water uniformly in all directions. It has also turned into a boon for the citizens of Glendora.

With his wife Mary Elizabeth (Betty), Clem La Fetra parlayed a modest operation in their Barranca Avenue hayloft-turned-workshop into an international corporation with annual sales in the millions and representatives in 23 countries.

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As the family-owned company grew, the La Fetras’ philanthropy blossomed.

There’s a La Fetra Drive that branches off Barranca Avenue. An elementary school on Bennett Avenue--to which the family contributed $25,000--bears their name. Rain Bird-sponsored summer concerts at Finkbiner Park have become an annual tradition.

Clem La Fetra died in 1963. Betty La Fetra directed Rain Bird Sprinkler Manufacturing Corp. as president for 25 years. She died last year at 79. In addition to her corporate duties, she had served as a trustee on the boards of the University of La Verne and the Glendora Elementary School District, and volunteered as an early director of the Foothill Foundation, a fund-raising unit of the Foothill Presbyterian Hospital.

She had sold her $1.5 million, five-acre estate to the foundation in 1988 for less than half of its value. The bargain real estate was the largest gift the nonprofit organization had received since its creation in 1981, foundation Director Barbara Pombo said.

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The La Fetras’ children have carried on the family tradition.

Most recently, local preservationists breathed a sigh of relief after the La Fetras rescued a historic home from development last year. Demolition permits had been issued for the 1904 wood-frame building on East Foothill Boulevard when the family bought it from builders as a gift to the city, said Jane Negley, president of the Glendora Preservation Foundation.

The bungalow-style home, sitting on a river-rock foundation with a steeply pitched roof and multilevel eaves, will open as the La Fetra Center for senior citizens next year, according to city officials.

“They’re right up at the top of the list of active community leaders,” City Manager Art Cook said. “Through their involvement and volunteering, they have been instrumental in making Glendora the quality community it is.”

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Clem and Betty La Fetra shared the title of Glendora Citizen of the Year in 1952. Their daughter Sarah and her husband, Arthur Ludwick, received the same award from the Chamber of Commerce in 1987.

"(Ludwick is) a giant in the community,” said Citrus Community College Development Director Pat Rasmussen, noting that two years earlier he had been key in revitalizing the Citrus College Foundation, the school’s then-dormant fund-raising arm.

She also credits him for spearheading the computerization of the campus through donations and aggressive fund raising. In the past five years, the number of personal computers on campus has leaped from about 25 to 350.

Ludwick, who introduced the first computer to Rain Bird’s Glendora headquarters, said that was among his most rewarding projects. “I’m also an employer,” he pointed out. “I realize what (skills) we need.”

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He launched the “Music in the Park” summer concert series about eight years ago while serving on the Glendora Parks and Recreation Commission. He was a member of that board for 14 years.

Sarah Ludwick played a major role in establishing a day-care center for Glendora children. She served until last month as a board member of the Foothill Presbyterian Hospital and was a volunteer instructor of an arthritis self-help group at a hospital-sponsored health education center, Pombo said.

Despite their high civic profile, the family has traditionally shied away from fanfare. Sarah Ludwick declined to be interviewed. Her brother, 49-year-old Tony La Fetra, Rain Bird’s president, would speak only about the company, not the family’s philanthropic activities.

But Arthur Ludwick, Sarah’s husband and Rain Bird’s chief financial officer, said he doesn’t mind the publicity.

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“The joy is in the deed,” he said. “However, we are a corporation and public relations is necessary. We have to put a positive image out.”


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