When Vance “Mike” Trueblood started mentoring a Monrovia boy five years ago, he knew it would involve fishing trips, museum visits and movies. He didn't figure it would result in a meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
But that's where the 82-year-old La Cañada Flintridge resident found himself last month.
On June 11, Trueblood and Joseph, the teen he has guided for the past four years, joined eight other pairs of Big Brothers or Big Sisters and the youths they mentor in a visit with President Obama.
“[Obama] kind of addressed us very informally. He began his address by saying, ‘Hi guys,'” said Trueblood. “I honest-to-God don't remember what any of us said — we were all kind of awed by the experience.”
Trueblood said Obama, a graduate of nearby Occidental College, offered a word or two of recognition when Trueblood mentioned he was from La Cañada Flintridge.
Trueblood was named National Big Brother of the Year in 2011, selected from among more than 170,000 volunteers in 400 Big Brother groups across the country. The visit to the White House was among the rewards for receiving that honor.
A former advertising executive, Trueblood began to serve on the board of the Catholic Big Sisters and Big Brothers of Los Angeles in the 1980s.
His little brother, a 14-year-old African American boy who lost a parent to prison, was deeply moved by a face-to-face meeting with an inspirational role model, Trueblood said.
“He can look up to President Obama for many reasons and he was very inspired by it,” Trueblood said.
The rewards for mentoring come little by little, Trueblood said. “You get the satisfaction that anyone who does mentoring or teaching gets when you help a student expand their horizons and it makes them better equipped to fulfill their own potential,” he said.
Joseph, previously shy and introverted, came out of his shell after the visit with Obama, according to Trueblood, telling friends about the experience and requesting extra copies of his photo with the president to give to his uncles.
“He's really proud of it,” Trueblood said, adding, “Joseph is still a pretty level-headed kid, and I don't think he's let it go to his head.”
Trueblood said that their visit got an unexpected lift from a coincidental celebrity sighting.
“Just before we went in, Betty White marches into this little waiting room,” said Trueblood. “She came over and embraced me and Joseph and all the other bigs and littles. Joseph was really impressed by that. He knew who Betty White was.”
Trueblood said he hoped that Joseph would take the trip as motivation to attend college and dream big dreams.
“I think it's had a lasting impression on Joseph, “Trueblood said. “I hope as he studies civics and all that's involved with government it will just have broadened his own horizon.”