EVENTS : Wistaria Fete Blooms Into Purchase of Police Cars : Sierra Madre continues money-making success of vine's centennial into second year, funds two additional vehicles.


Every year since 1918, visitors have trekked through tiny Sierra Madre to see a fragrant lavender vine that extends over more than one acre of ground. But few if any saw it as a potential resource for the Police Department.

In 1994, Sierra Madre residents celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the planting of their famous wistaria vine, and volunteers planning for the centennial celebration raised money to cover the costs of bringing thousands of visitors into the town of about 10,000 people.

They planned only for the event to be self-supporting but ended up with a pleasant surprise: more than $10,000 in profit.

So, the lovers of the luxuriant blossom decided to distribute the extra money among the Fire Department, search and rescue team, the Chamber of Commerce and the Police Department, much to the delight of city leaders.

"This is a community that really cares," said Police Chief Joseph R. Surgent, who was given $4,000 for his department.

Surgent used his share of the floral funds to purchase two police cars from the La Verne Police Department. Each car cost $4,000, so the Wistaria Fete Centennial Committee volunteers actually bought one of the cars, Surgent said.

(According to Phyllis Chapman, historian for the city, the committee uses the unusual spelling for the flower rather than the more common wisteria to honor Casper Wistar, for whom the plant was named in 1818.)

In any case, the flower festival--which drew 6,000 people for the plant's 101st anniversary last weekend--enabled Surgent to retire two cars from his four-car fleet: 1977 and 1978 Chevrolets, replacing them with two 1991 models.

Surgent, who has been chief in Sierra Madre for about a year, was delighted with the donation.

"I think this is an outstanding example of Sierra Madreans doing what they do best: volunteering to help Sierra Madreans," he said.

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