Not a day seemed to go by this year that questions weren't flying.
What happened to that guy you wrote about last week? a caller would ask. Did things turn out OK for that woman? someone else would wonder. What are those people in your story going to do? a letter writer would inquire.
The answers were often unexpected. Sometimes things improved dramatically for people after their tale was told in The Times.
But sometimes things didn't.
Duarte resident Nancy Edwards didn't have a clue how interesting 1996 would be when a story was written that described her as America's first baby boomer.
No one read that account with more interest than Ralph Naveda, a retired movie studio production supervisor from North Hollywood.
Edwards, who works in the business office at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, observed her 50th birthday on New Year's Day. She was profiled after a search of newspaper archives revealed that she had been born at the stroke of midnight as the year 1945 gave way to 1946. Since official records listed her date of birth as 1/1/46, she was the first of the group that would come to define American tastes and trends for decades.
The story recounted Edwards' life, explaining how her mother had split up with her serviceman-husband six weeks after her birth and that Edwards never knew him. Naveda said that when he read the story in February, "my heart started pounding. The more I read the more I knew this was my daughter."
A few tentative phone calls and letters later, Naveda had proved to Edwards that he, not the serviceman, was her father.
He explained that he had been a 19-year-old Los Angeles hospital orderly when he had a brief affair with her mother, who also worked there.
"We had a Labor Day barbecue at his house, Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinner together. We have lunch together once a week. It's wonderful," Edwards said.
Naveda said: "I find she's grown up to be a strong woman. The best thing about it is her sense of humor. She's made my life much happier."
Chuck Welch's hopes never got off the ground this year.
Details of his proposal for an aerial tramway to take tourists to the Hollywood sign set tongues wagging in March in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood where he lives. But it caused heads to shake at City Hall.
Welch, a retired furniture company owner, contends that a Palm Springs-style tram built on the San Fernando Valley side of Mt. Lee would end traffic jams caused by looky-loo tourists in the narrow lanes beneath the sign where he has lived for 45 years.
It also would be a moneymaker for the city, which started the year with an appeal from Mayor Richard Riordan for innovative ideas to increase municipal revenues, Welch said.
A story about the tram idea sparked a summer-long debate among residents, environmentalists and others in hillside homeowner association newsletters. But both Riordan and parks chief Jackie Tatum voiced doubts that it would be either ecologically or economically viable.
Welch has ended the year disillusioned about its prospects.
"I haven't given up. But I'm not putting a lot of energy in it now."
His new campaign, he said, is to reform city government by reorganizing it.
"I'm tired of fighting City Hall," he said. "We need a city of Hollywood. If we break the city into smaller pieces, then we can accomplish something."
For more than a dozen years, letter carrier Bob Tattsuki offered special delivery--mail and friendship--to a grateful generation of Mar Vista residents. And, as 1996 ends, he is about to start the tradition anew.
"You see a lot of old marriages here--it's nice to see couples still happy and taking care of each other," Tattsuki said in a June story. "There are a lot of smiles here. You have to smile back."
Those living in the 211 households on his route recounted how Tattsuki always watched for things like front doors left ajar and purses left in parked cars. They marveled at how he hand-carried mail to ill people and returned after work with certified letters to save residents a trip of their own to the post office.
Typical was the way Tattsuki, 57, stepped forward after Colbert Avenue homeowner Clyde Pesley suffered a stroke. The mailman volunteered to regularly chauffeur Pesley's wife, Ellie, to the grocery store. When she took ill, he drove Pesley to the hospital to visit her.
Ellie Pesley died early this year. And Tattsuki began spending his days off and evenings driving Clyde Pesley to the market, to the bank and to doctor's appointments. "Bob was even there the other day cleaning Clyde's bathroom," is the way neighbor Lee Levey put it in June.
That kind of praise would eventually prompt a personal commendation from U.S. Postmaster General Marvin Runyon.
Clyde Pesley died in July. His home was recently sold to a young couple who are expected to move in after the first of the year, Levey said the other day.
The consensus on Colbert Street, she said, is that Tattsuki will be among the first to welcome the newcomers to the neighborhood.
The year is ending on a bittersweet note for Severina Villar of La Puente and her family.
Villar is a 60-year-old former assembly line worker whose life's dream was to vote in a presidential election. Thanks to some extraordinary efforts by her family--and by strangers--to make that happen this fall, she was able to vote from her hospital bed.
Her family thinks that experience gave her the strength to live to see her vote counted.
She cast her ballot on the eve of November's election while hooked up to respiratory monitors and other devices in the intensive care wing of a West Covina hospital where she lay suffering from cancer.
"This is very important to me," she whispered over the whirring equipment.
Villar had dreamed of becoming a citizen and voting since immigrating to the United States 35 years ago. But husband Sergio Villar, a construction worker, kept telling her they would be returning to Mexico to live.
He changed his mind when she became ill 1 1/2 years ago. He studied with her for the citizenship test and they both passed. But she was too sick to attend naturalization ceremonies in August in Los Angeles.
Sergio Villar frantically sought help from federal and local officials in getting her sworn in at her bedside and obtaining a last-minute absentee ballot for her.
After she voted, it was rushed to the registrar-recorder's office.
Last week, she was back home and her husband and three grown children were nearby.
"The doctor says she doesn't have too long," Sergio Villar said. "We're glad she had a chance to vote. It meant a lot to her."
Former paraplegic Ken Coleman could feel for his friend Carol Yellam when a freak accident left her legs paralyzed.
So the 70-year-old retiree from Hermosa Beach decided to put his own legs to use for her in September by riding across the country on a bicycle in hopes of raising money for her care.
What made that remarkable was the fact that Coleman had had to use a wheelchair for nearly five years when he was stricken as a young man by polio.
Yellam, 46, had been the Coleman family's cleaning woman for 15 years when she was struck by a falling tree branch that severed her spinal cord in late 1995. By this past summer, her insurance coverage was running out and she was getting desperate.
Nearly 275 people, including strangers who read a Times account of his plans, signed up to be sponsors for Coleman's bike trip.
During his 43-day ride, he raced to beat a series of storms that were following him on the 3,300-mile journey. He spent days trying to outrun swarms of mosquitoes that sometimes seemed to be chasing him.
People he met along the way reached into their pockets when Coleman explained what he was doing. By the trip's end in Florida he had raised $41,460 for a special account that will pay for attendant care for Yellam, also of Hermosa Beach.
"Carol now has someone who is going to come in once a week to take her shopping and to market," Coleman said last week. "She now has a person she really trusts who can transfer her from a wheelchair into a car. I went through that. I know what she's going through."
Lots of people hate to see their summer vacation trips come to an end. But Pasadena resident Pat Fry discovered hers was just beginning when she returned in July from an unusual excursion that took her as far as Victoria, Canada. And what a trip it's been.
Fry had hailed a Yellow Cab on July 13. Her spirits had been sagging because of the death of a friend, explained the 68-year-old retired hotel worker. "I kind of had cabin fever. I had to get out of my apartment."
So she ordered cabbie Steve Baird, 40, to head north. Nine days later, the pair had covered 3,128 miles, and the dusty Chevrolet Caprice taxi with 177,780 miles on it had raised eyebrows throughout the Pacific Northwest.
The resulting account of their adventure prompted even more attention. Here's the way the jovial, talkative Fry put it the other day:
"It's been unbelievable. I was on the 'Tonight Show' with Jay Leno, and they sent a stretch limo for me and Steve.
"We're going to be on the Leeza Gibbons show one of these days. They sent out a camera crew from 'Inside Edition' and 'American Journal' and took us to Griffith Park and spent the afternoon filming us in the cab. We got in the National Enquirer.
"I've been on a total of 54 talk radio shows. I've been on the BBC, and Steve and I were on live television in Australia. We finally had to get an agent.
"Steven Spielberg's assistant called me right here on this phone and invited us to DreamWorks. We went over in the Yellow Cab and they waved us right through the gates to a reserved parking spot. Eva Marie Saint and her husband have a production company and she wanted to play me. It would have been fine with me--she hasn't aged a bit.
"But another studio offered more. We sold the screen rights two weeks ago, but I'm not at liberty now to say to who. A top actress is going to play me."
Fry said no more cab vacations are anticipated. "We've got too much going on in L.A.," she said.
As a belated birthday gift this year, Abraham Lincoln got a face-lift. So did Benito Juarez, Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza and Gen. Harrison Gray Otis.
A story published on Lincoln's Birthday in February told of how art experts were planning their first-ever examination of the presidential bust in Lincoln Park east of downtown Los Angeles--and 100 other statues owned by the city.
A follow-up report printed in July disclosed that the study had found that outdoor sculpture was in worse shape than anyone ever expected. Nearly half of those checked were in "urgent" need of repair: Complete restoration at just two parks would cost $250,000.
The nonprofit group Urban Art Inc., which spearheaded the survey, decided it wasn't wise to wait until the cash was in hand. So their experts set out to teach city park maintenance workers and groundskeepers how to take care of statues.
In October, city workers from Pershing Square and Lincoln, MacArthur and Griffith parks were told the importance of directing lawn sprinklers away from sculptures. And they were taught the proper way to scrub away dirt, pigeon droppings and aerosol paint. Doing it the wrong way can cause more harm than good, they learned.
"Things are definitely looking up for statuary compared with the way it was this time last year," said Michael Several, a Highland Park paralegal and history buff who heads Urban Art.
As for next year, his group hopes to have concrete plans to extend the save-the-sculpture campaign to 400 other statues.
The bears did make it to Bosnia, even though Santa Monica restaurant owner Fred Deni ended up paying the $4,000 air fare for 2,300 stuffed creatures himself. In October, the 48-year-old Deni explained how he hoped to get an air freight business to donate its services to deliver the toy bears that restaurant customers had donated for orphans in the war-torn country. So many Times readers contributed to the bear drive that Deni plans to send 500 more to Bosnia in January. "It was an incredible experience," Deni said.
Valet parking attendants who were caught by Brentwood advertising executive Samantha Greenberg and Department of Motor Vehicles investigators this month improperly using handicapped parking placards outside the trendy Toscana restaurant have been replaced. "It was an illegal act for openers," restaurant co-owner Mike Gordon said about the valets provided under contract by another company. Gordon said the restaurant plans to make amends by donating money to the Crippled Children's Society adult program.
In Pasadena, the year ended on a sweet note for the Cake Lady. Frances Kuyper revealed that a November story about her one-of-a-kind cake museum prevented it from shutting down. "I'm now giving three tours a day with 15 or 20 in each tour. And a lot of people are signing up for my cake-decorating classes," said Kuyper. Truth be told, the 78-year-old baker said, "I was ready to close my doors. Now I'm going in all directions. I may even have to get a manager."
And they did get a manager for the hospital museum at St. Vincent Medical Center near downtown Los Angeles. Professional archivist Nicholas Weber was hired to catalog records going back to 1856 and display antique hospital equipment dating to the turn of the century. The artifacts had been rescued from the trash by Sister Helen Carmody, 88, and stored away in empty rooms at the hospital, as The Times reported in February. Because of her, officials said, the city's best medical collection is now open to the public from 10 a.m to 3:30 p.m. weekdays. As far as Carmody is concerned, that's just what the doctor ordered