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Valley Forest Brigade Digs Deep to Create a Living, Leafy Legacy

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With all the people on their knees around here, you’d think a new evangelical religion was sweeping the Valley.

Maybe one is, but that’s not exactly what’s happening.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. June 15, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 15, 1994 Valley Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Urban Forest--A story in Monday’s Valley Edition about the planting of an urban forest in Balboa Park incorrectly identified Alan Ungar as the president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. Ungar is a member of VICA’s board of directors and co-chairman of the Urban Forest project. Bonny Matheson is VICA president.

The people on their knees are getting down and dirty, playing Mr. Green Jeans so that there will soon be more leafy, green things rising up out of the ground.

We’ve come to expect this sort of behavior from the folks up at the facility where Mulholland Drive intersects Coldwater Canyon. The TreePeople are out putting down roots somewhere all the time.

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And the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has received grants to help renew the 60,000 acres devastated by the Green Meadow and Topanga fires of last October. The latest is a $10,000 donation from Kraft Foods’ Cool to Care About Nature program, which allowed 90 children from Topanga and Balboa elementary schools to put the first trees in the ground.

But what’s going on in Balboa Park is unusual, a cause for civic pride and possibly, emulation. It’s a program in which many Valley corporations, their employees, employees’ families and others are taking considerable pride.

A small forest of trees has been planted at the northeast corner of the park adjacent to Lake Balboa. It’s been a four-year project sponsored by the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. and involves the Valley offices of many large and small companies, including Texaco Inc., the Gas Co., CableVision Inc., General Motors, General Telephone and Health Net.

“It’s been a popular program,” said VICA President Alan Ungar. “It’s ecological, it’s civic-minded, and the people who have given their time and money can see the fruits of their efforts growing every day.”

It started in 1990 with VICA members being told about the plan to solicit money to build a mini-forest on the Encino property. This was a different kind of fund drive, because it was supposed to affect employees personally.

“The way it worked at TransWorld Bank is that for every dollar the employees could raise at our nine Valley branches, the bank would match it. In order to raise our $2,500, we gave bake sales and held raffles and asked our customers to help out,” Elizabeth Nielsen said.

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The bank then put in another $2,500. The combined $5,000 funded about 50 trees during the program’s four years.

The special part for Nielsen was visiting the site over the past four years and actually seeing work being done with the money she helped raise. “Once a year we have brought our shovels out and planted the trees that we have purchased,” she said. “It’s something that really makes you feel good.”

The mini-forest now has about 1,000 trees planted on the 80 acres in the Sepulveda Basin and the first four-year project is over, with only a pergola left to be built.

A 15-year-old boy, after helping with planting, said, “Some day I’d like to bring my family here to picnic under these trees.”

The boy is not an employee of one of the VICA businesses or a member of one of the members’ families. He was invited by VICA and bused to the park for the planting by New Directions, a program for troubled youths in Van Nuys.

A junior high school student, he was sentenced to 50 hours of community service after being found with a knife in the vicinity of Birmingham High School.

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“I did a stupid thing, and I hope I have learned my lesson,” he said. “I want to finish high school and go to college, not get sidetracked into joining a gang.”

“If I had been sent to Juvenile Hall or some youth camp, I think I would have been branded a gangbanger forever. But instead I’m here planting this tree. It’s a whole different thing,” he said, shaking his head, his voice trailing off.

While most of the 75 or so people present toiled with a shovel during the tree plantings, at least six of those attending chose to use another kind of instrument.

They included Jake, 12, on banjo; Brittanie, 14, on mandolin; Elisa, 18, on guitar, and Katrina, 16, Ashlie, 10, Kinsey, 7, on violins. All are members of the Hodges family of La Canada, who strolled around serenading the diggers.

“They all pay for their own lessons, doing chores and working outside jobs,” said their dad, Rick, who added that the youngsters were invited to play for the planting when a VICA member saw them at a recent concert in Topanga Canyon.

“They still don’t sound all that professional,” Jackie said.

The tree planters dug them anyhow.

Eleanor’s Gone, but Her Dolls Continue Her Good Works

Eleanor Gordon, a Northridge artist, was an inveterate thrift store shopper.

“She not only patronized our store, but almost all the thrifts that benefited good works,” Jill Angel said of Gordon, who died about six months ago.

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Angel is the manager of the American Cancer Society’s Discovery Shop at 9719 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, where a special doll and Teddy bear sale is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

Most of the 300 dolls for sale were donated to the shop in Gordon’s will.

“The men with the truck went to her house expecting to find a few dolls sitting on a sofa,” Angel said.

What they found was shelf after shelf filled with dolls, covering a wall that lined the woman’s dining room. Some were five feet tall.

“It was such an extraordinary gift to find this magnificent collection,” Angel said, “that we decided to make the sale a special event.”

Sales people will get into the spirit of the thing by dressing up as their favorite dolls.

There will also be a wide selection of Teddy bears for sale, including some handmade by a local artisan Mariellen Mayberry.

Angel said the Discovery Shop is the only thrift store owned and operated by the American Cancer Society in the country. Its proceeds go to cancer research, as well as countywide patient services, she said.

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Park Service’s Gackenbach Has a Charitable Nature

The next time you need door prizes, you might want to consult David E. Gackenbach.

Gackenbach wheeled and dealed not one, but four, car dealerships into donating vehicles for his organization’s golf tournament today.

This mild-mannered persuader heads the local office of the National Park Service in Agoura, but maybe his talents are being wasted there and could be better used at the State Department.

The United States might want to use his skills in redressing the balance of trade with some of our allies. Anyone who could talk a Dodge Intrepid, Mustang convertible, Thunderbird and Hummer out of four different car dealers, surely could talk the Japanese into throwing open their markets.

Of course, Gackenbach is very happy with his current job and with today’s fund-raising tournament at the Sunset Hills Country Club in Thousand Oaks, which benefits several of Gackenbach’s favorite charities.

One is the Education Trust Fund, which provides interest-free college loans to students from National Park Service families. The others are the Earthquake Victims Assistance Fund, the American Heart Assn. and the Agoura Animal Shelter.

Be that as it may, one thing is certain.

Those getting a hole in one on the fifth, ninth, 12th or 17th holes in today’s tournament will be driving more than golf balls.

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Overheard

“Nice try, but I think you are a little young to be suffering from Angst , ennui and depression, so go take a bath and clean up your act.”

Northridge mom to 9-year-old son trying to convince her that he’s a “Generation X grunge” and that bathing didn’t suit his image.

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