Community news: Harlem Globetrotters visit YMCA, Peter and Lee Merlo toast 70 years

Harlem Globetrotters teammates Herbert Lang, aka “Flight Time,” and Nate “Big Easy” Lofton generated a lot of excitement in December when they stopped by the Burbank Community YMCA to shoot a breast cancer awareness video and entertain some of the kids from the Child Development Center with their basketball skills.

In fact, the YMCA and basketball have a storied history, said Susan Sebastian, senior director of membership and communication, who adds that the sport was invented at a YMCA more than 120 years ago.

On a gloomy December morning, a young physical education teacher named James Naismith had a few weeks to come up with a new game to attract the football and rugby-loving-class of future of YMCA directors. Naismith hung peach baskets to the wall and tacked up 13 rules. And that's how basketball started.

Today, the Burbank Community YMCA continues the tradition through its Junior Lakers program, which has more than 300 youngsters enrolled ages 3 to 15.

“It is still an ideal way to teach teamwork and sportsmanship along with slam dunks and 'no look' passes,” Sebastian said. “What sets this program apart is its volunteer base of coaches, many of whom were in the program themselves, and the fact that everybody gets to play.”

It is that kind of combination of youth development and specific sports skills that motivated local businessman Keith Swaner to replace the YMCA's heavily used and scuffed up basketball court floor. Owner of Swaner Hardware, lifelong Burbank resident and a philanthropist, Swaner saw a need and filled a gap.

“He recognized the benefit of youth sports and that active young people grow up to be active adults, who work hard and are more productive not just in the business community but to their neighborhood community,” Sebastian said. “At the Y, we want to nurture the potential of every child and teen.”

That's why the YMCA has embarked on its capital campaign “Strong Today, Stronger Tomorrow” to raise $3 million in capital funds so the Y can continue to set the standard for child and youth development.

For more information on the Burbank Community Y or the Junior Lakers program, visit Registration is now being taken for the next Junior Lakers session.


Couple toast 70 years together at the Drake

Peter and Lee Merlo celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with family members in December at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, the same location where the couple spent their honeymoon. They have lived in Burbank for 69 years.

Joining them were their sons and daughters-in-law Ron and Janet of Glendale and Steve and Lupi of Northridge, along with five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

They met at a dance in Merced in May 1941. Peter was in the U.S. Army and they corresponded by mail for 18 months before being married on Dec. 12, 1942, at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Merced. After Peter completed his three years in the service, the couple moved to Burbank.

They were the owners of Merlo Communications in Burbank for more than 30 years. He installed public address systems for residences and businesses throughout Los Angeles. They are members of the Keystone Seniors, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and St. Finbar Church, where Peter has served as an usher for 50 years.

They keep the romance alive in their marriage by saying “I love you” each night before they go to sleep and when they wake up in the morning, Peter said.

Lee says Peter takes her shopping for clothes and waits patiently until she comes out of the dressing room to ask for his opinion.

“If I don't like something, I don't want her to wear it,” said Peter, who is 94.

They do “everything” together, said Lee, who is 91.

They walk a couple of miles every day along the Chandler Bikeway and sometimes go to Handy Market.

Their mantra is laughter is the best medicine in the world.


JOYCE RUDOLPH can be reached at

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