Woman helped form club for the blind

There’s an old saying that if you want something done you should ask a busy person to do it.

That certainly applies to a Glendale resident named Alice James, who in 1939 brought together a group of people who then went on to form the Foothill Service Club for the Blind.

James was a very involved community volunteer, donating her time to the local humane society and presenting animal-related programs in elementary schools. She also served as a driver for a Los Angeles club for the blind.

James often drove Walter Dorrance and his guide dog, Judy, to meetings.

Soon, she invited the duo to visit classrooms with her.

On the way home from one of these visits, James and Dorrance discussed forming a club for the blind in Glendale. Dorrance suggested they meet with Chester Parish, a Glendale osteopath who was also blind.

Parish offered to have a meeting in his home and invited Harry Hill and John Heitz, also blind, to attend. When James noted that they needed a secretary, Dorrance suggested asking Frances Brown, also blind, who could read Braille and type. (It was Brown who went on to compile this history of the club’s early years.) Within a week, James picked everyone up and drove them to Parish’s home.

First item on the agenda was contacting potential members. They agreed to approach the Lions Club, which already had the welfare of the blind as a project. With James driving, Hill called on George Hammond, then chair of the Lions committee for the blind, who gave them a list of potential members.

James concentrated on finding a meeting place, finally selecting a building on South Glendale Avenue near Broadway. When one of the founding members mentioned that they would like to own their own place, James replied, “well, that takes a lot of money,” according to the club history.

After James and Hill presented their ideas, the Lions (later known as Glendale Host Lions) voted to support the project by assessing their members a certain amount; the funds were to be used for the new Foothill Service Club for the Blind. The name was proposed by James.

The Glendale Avenue building was soon modified to meet their needs, furniture was donated by members of the Lions and the La Cañada Delta Gamma Alumnae Sorority came to assist. By early 1940 the club was ready.

As the members of the blind club organized, they decided that the Lions should always be represented at board meetings. They also decided to have one more blind person on the board of directors than sighted and also that the president of the club would always be a blind member. At the time this was unusual, as Los Angeles club meetings were conducted by sighted people.

Mary Daniels, a current volunteer at the club, provided the history quoted here. She also shared several albums filled with photos and newspaper clippings. Although many of the clippings are undated, they paint a clear picture of the club’s early years.

For instance, there’s a clipping about their annual picnic — held in James’ backyard on Los Encinos Avenue until the crowd got so big that they moved to Fremont Park.

Another clipping notes that James headed up Brotherhood Day, a day when artificial flowers were sold to raise funds for the blind or for shut-ins.

Carroll W. Parcher, in his regular column for the Glendale News-Press, noted that James devoted her time as a labor of love.

Other clippings detail the programs she lined up. C. Bradley Ward, writer of “Over the Back Fence,” described the time James invited Mentley F. Still, a member of the club and a mechanic for 30 years, to illustrate that a mechanic could be blind and still do his work. Still took out, repaired and then reinstalled the bearings in James’ car as his audience watched.

Bradley wrote, “if you get blue and discouraged, it will help to meet Alice. She will have a story or present you to a student, resulting in the decision that your troubles are not so difficult after all.”


Readers Write:

Steve Vilarino writes that his neighbor Pauline Wagner, of Glendale, will be a special guest at a screening of “King Kong” on June 15 as part of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s “Last Remaining Seats” movie series. Wagner, who will be 101 years old in August, was the stunt double for Fay Wray in the 1933 RKO classic. At the time, her part in the movie was kept a secret, Vilarino wrote, but now Wagner will tell her stories regarding the movie.

Tickets are still available for the screening of “King Kong,” filmed on location with then state-of-the-art special effects. The movie will be shown at the Los Angeles Theatre, constructed in 1931 at an estimated cost of more than $1 million, according to the conservancy’s website. For more information on other movies in the series, tickets and theater locations, visit www.laconservancy.org.

If you have questions, comments or memories to share, please write to Katherine Yamada/Verdugo Views in care of the News-Press, 221 N. Brand Blvd., 2nd Floor, Glendale, CA 91203. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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