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Obituaries : * Lee Hamer; Philanthropist and Auto Dealer

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lee Hamer--a leading San Fernando Valley businessman, philanthropist and former city official--has died at the age of 83.

Hamer built a street-corner auto repair service into Hamer Toyota in Mission Hills, the first exclusive Toyota franchise in the United States and still one of the top 20 Toyota dealerships in the country.

He served eight terms on the Los Angeles city fire commission--two as president--in the 1960s and ‘70s, and in 1989 was honored with the Fernando Award, the Valley’s most prestigious community service award. He was also named honorary mayor of Mission Hills.

He died Wednesday evening at Granada Hills Community Hospital of natural causes.

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Born Ira Leland Hamer on Aug. 14, 1912, in Fullerton, Hamer moved to the San Fernando Valley when he was 5, graduating from San Fernando High School in 1931.

After working for Shell Oil Company in San Fernando, Hamer was promoted to manager of a Shell station in Newhall. In 1936, he operated a concession at the World’s Fair in San Diego. That led to his opening an automobile service and repair business in April of 1939 at the present location of Hamer Toyota. When the dealership opened in 1966, it was the first exclusive Toyota dealership in the country, according to Denise Crangle, payroll manager for Hamer Toyota.

The franchise now has 130 employees and average sales of more than 400 vehicles per month.

“He was one of a kind,” said Don Redding, general manager of Hamer Toyota. “He has been in the same location for almost 57 years. He was here when dirt was dirt. He was a good friend, not only a boss . . . even though he was 83 years old, he’d come in almost every day and spend a few hours.”

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In 1965, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty first appointed Hamer to the Fire Commission. He was the founder and past president of the Mission Hills Chamber of Commerce, founding member and past president of the Mission Hills Kiwanis Club, and co-founder of the Century Club. He was also a member of the San Fernando Masons and the Toyota Board of Governors, as well as several fund-raising organizations.

In February, Hamer was named “Valley Philanthropist of the Year” by the Greater San Fernando Valley Chapter of the National Society of Fund-Raising Executives.

Hamer, known as much for his frankness and tough demeanor as for his philanthropy, was clearly touched by the honor. “It brought tears to my eyes,” he told The Times in an interview shortly after the ceremony. “I donate to organizations that help children, to help our future. Kids need attention and to be taught honesty and fairness.”

Hamer is survived by his wife, Bette Hamer, of Granada Hills; his daughters, Valerie Daidah of Canyon Country and Marie Parco of Sparks, Nev.; his sister, Ariel Bienapel of Sun City, and a grandson, Daniel.

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Funeral services will be held at noon Saturday at the San Fernando Mission, 15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd. A reception will follow at the Elks Lodge, 804 Pico St., San Fernando.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Holy Cross Medical Center or to the North Valley Family YMCA.


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