Former Santa Monica Mayor Ken Edwards was just a teen-ager when he and his sister were sent to a children’s home because their father believed he could not care properly for them after his wife was hospitalized with tuberculosis.
It was during his nearly six years in that home that the future mayor became interested in helping others and decided to pursue a career in the social services.
Today, five years after Edwards’ death from liver cancer, a community center bearing his name will be dedicated as a tribute to his efforts for more than a decade to make Santa Monica a model of local government with a heart.
The Ken Edwards Center for Community Services, at 1527 4th St., is the city’s first public facility designed exclusively for the social services. It will be formally dedicated in ceremonies today at 1 p.m.
Former Mayor James Conn, a longtime friend and council colleague of Edwards, said Edwards preferred to stay out of the spotlight and would have been embarrassed by the tribute.
“We worked together to support social service agencies and to create projects that would fill in the niches in the community,” said Conn, a United Methodist minister who served on the council from 1981 to 1988. “He was always one of those people who had heard the suffering and felt the pain of others and tried to give a voice to those that didn’t have a voice.
“Ken would have been delighted to know that there is a building that is representative of the city’s focus on the social services,” said Edwards’ widow, Sue.
The city this year is providing more than $3.5 million in funding to 28 nonprofit agencies that provide social service programs. More than half of the $4.8-million cost of the two-story, 25,000-square-foot building, came from the city. About $1.25 million was provided by the federal government, $700,000 by the state and $200,000 by two nonprofit agencies that will be tenants in the building.
The center will provide a meeting space for social service community groups and a senior nutrition lunch program on the first floor, and the two nonprofit agencies that serve the elderly will be located on the second floor.
The two agencies, WISE Senior Services and the Senior Health & Peer Counseling Center, hold 20-year leases and will pay monthly rent of about 50 cents a square foot, which will be adjusted annually based on maintenance costs.
Barbara Stinchfield, the city’s community development manager, said the center is envisioned as a forum for shaping solutions to the broad spectrum of human service issues.
“For the first time, it provides a facility where nonprofit commissions and agencies that deal with social services can come together and create forums, have discussions and deal with issues,” Stinchfield said. “We can’t provide tenant space to all the 28 nonprofit agencies, so we are providing a place where they all can come for resources, to hold training sessions or classes that they can’t hold at their facilities.”
Officials of the two tenant agencies said they are pleased to have found low-cost office space, particularly in Santa Monica, where commercial office space is at a premium.
Marcia Rossman, community relations director for the Senior Health & Peer Counseling Center, said the new space allows the agency to maintain its full assortment of programs for the elderly while its old facility at 2125 Arizona Ave. is being renovated. When the work is completed next spring, Rossman said the agency will operate programs from both locations.
Maria Arechaederra, executive director of WISE, said the new center gives the group a permanent home after five or six moves in the past 10 years.
“It’s a gift from heaven,” she said.
Conn, the former mayor, said it is fitting that the new center is named after Edwards, who in the late 1970s and early 1980s fought to persuade the city to provide funding for social services.
“This is a way of honoring his longtime commitment to fulfilling the needs of people in our community,” he said.
Edwards was first elected to the City Council in 1981. He was reelected in 1983, and served until 1984. He died in August, 1985, when he was 44 years old. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, David, 11.
He graduated from Hamilton High School in 1959 and attended Santa Monica College before transfering to Cal State Los Angeles, where he earned a degree in sociology and social welfare in 1968. He received a master’s degree in sociology from Pepperdine University in 1979.
From 1970 until his death, Edwards worked as a juvenile placement officer for the county Probation Department.
A plaque with this quote from Edwards will be installed at the building: “I think any goal this community sets for itself, and is willing to work to accomplish, will be accomplished . . . whether in my time or another time. That’s the beauty of this city.”