Learning Matters: VW Dads' Club gears up for 'Fathers' Follies'

It's May, the month for celebrating Mother's Day, Teachers Appreciation Day and Classified Staff Appreciation Day.

For many local PTA leaders, it's also the month for the California State PTA convention, when PTA representatives from many of our schools devote a few days away from their children and spouses as well as school and work responsibilities, to learn how they might better support not only their own children but all children.

Most of the convention delegates are moms, though the ranks of dads in PTA leadership have grown over the years. Over the last two years, three or four school PTAs have been led by dads. So this month, I celebrate all moms everywhere, the moms and dads of PTA and all those who work on behalf of children.

But in this column I want to focus on a particular group of PTA moms and dads — especially the dads. It's a group of parents who over the last six decades have experienced one of the most effective and enduring outcomes of active parent participation: The personal relationships among parents and teachers, formed while joined in action in service to children — joined, in this case, in acting.

Today, I applaud the Verdugo Woodlands Dads' Club, those fearless men of "Fathers' Follies" and the moms behind the scenes.

Of all 30 Glendale schools, Verdugo Woodlands Elementary (lovingly referred to as "VW" by "Woodlanders") is unique in having the support of both a facility — a building next door to the school, adjacent to Babe Herman Field — and an organization like the Dads' Club.

As its website, http://www.vwdadsclub.com, points out, it is a completely separate entity from the school. But the Dads' Club and what they do there are instrumental in making VW the community it is.

In addition to serving as the rehearsal room for VW's chorus, orchestra and events such as the pancake breakfast, the Dads' Club is host to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Little League and other youth-serving organizations.

Les Harrison, whose two grown children went through VW, describes the Dads' Club as "a place to share what it means to be a dad by just being a dad."

The sign that hangs on the back wall of the club showcases the motto, "Our kids, our community, our commitment" and enshrines the noble hope of the fathers who banded together to build it in 1957: "May this building stand as a reminder that confidence, courage and cooperation can produce much for people who want to help themselves."

Less noble-sounding, but full of commitment is the annual activity that galvanizes the group, the fundraiser described on the website as "unlike any other in the nation, 'Fathers' Follies.'"

Started in 1948, when the husband of the PTA president came up with the "little idea" of the dads dressing up as their wives for the annual Fathers' Night meeting, "Fathers' Follies" has continued into its 67th year.

From its simple beginnings, it has grown into a "proper show" (some would say otherwise) of singing and dancing choruses, with music arranged, scripts written and drama enacted entirely by volunteers.

Annie Betelli, another former VW parent and the show's choreographer for many years, is in her 17th year on the production team. She explained that no woman is allowed to set foot on the stage during the show, which explains why the traditional cameo appearance by the school principal always provides some form of conveyance other than her own two feet.

Principal Kristina Provost, in her second year at VW, looks forward to this year's ride onto the stage. "'Fathers' Follies' gives parents, families, friends, and staff an opportunity to bond and have a good laugh together," she said.

Dads' Club member Steve O'Bryan shared an email from one of the Ancient Lovelies, as "Follies" dads are called once their children matriculate to middle school. Bob Casaburi, whose participation in the show was instrumental in O'Bryan's love of the "Follies," wrote, "I think 'Fathers' Follies' was a priceless gift we gave to our kids and to our friends' (the other dads' kids), as it allowed them to laugh as a group at all of us."

O'Bryan told me that the question among "Follies" dads isn't "What do you do for a living?" but "What grade is your kid in?"

"Fathers' Follies" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday in Glendale High's John Wayne Performing Arts Center.

Ancient Lovely Art Moore, the eldest participant at 101, and current VW dads, "some famous, some not," invite you to come laugh at them. They thank the women behind the scenes and want you to remember all the people they left at home during their many evenings of rehearsals.

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JOYLENE WAGNER is a former member of the Glendale Unified School Board. Email her at jkate4400@aol.com.

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