City celebrates Fiesta Days

Applauding both community and country, thousands gathered in La Cañada Flintridge over Memorial Day weekend to paint the town red, white and blue during its 38th annual Fiesta Days celebration.

Four days of family-friendly events organized by La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce under the theme “LCF: The American Dream” — a first-annual city bridge tournament on Friday, a vintage car show on Saturday and a spectacular Sunday night fireworks display — were capped off Monday by a solemn service to honor fallen veterans and the traditionally exuberant Fiesta Days Parade along Foothill Boulevard between Cornishon and Gould avenues.

“It all shows how lucky we are to live here in La Cañada Flintridge. I feel blessed every day,” said City Councilwoman Laura Olhasso, who served as the parade’s grand marshal.

Parade dignitaries also included hometown 2011 Rose Queen Evanne Friedmann, the Miss La Cañada Flintridge Royal Court, state Sen. Carol Liu and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (both former City Council members), as well as L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Sheriff Lee Baca and Fire Chief Daryl Osby.

But the true stars of the weekend were military veterans — those who sacrificed their lives in defense of the country and others who lived to never forget fighting alongside them.

Emceed by Eagle Scout and La Canada High School senior Raymond Ma, the pre-parade ceremony at Memorial Park called special attention to honoring World War II veterans, a handful of whom took to the gazebo for a standing ovation.

Soaking in the applause, John Lyans, 88, a lifelong La Cañada Flintridge resident who served as a Navy lieutenant in the Pacific theater, told the crowd, “I thought of all the guys in my air group who didn’t make it. We lost quite a few.”

Chamber of Commerce President Pat Anderson said organizers worked hard to preserve the meaning of Memorial Day among the many festive all-ages events that ran throughout the weekend — a sentiment not lost on parade participants.

“Memorial Day is a celebration and a solemn day as well,” said Baca, a co-grand marshal of last year’s parade. “Fiesta Days is a way of bringing people together to honor those who have given their lives in protecting our nation … [and] a time to bring families to a common place to acknowledge our love for our country, family and human beings.”

As Councilman Stephen Del Guercio put it, “I think our fallen vets would want us to be remembering them, but also celebrating the kind of life they fought for. There’s no better way to do that than to celebrate together as a community.”

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Though steeped in tradition, Fiesta Days started Friday afternoon with what may become a new one — a bridge tournament at the La Cañada Community Center that drew 40 dedicated players, many from its twice-weekly bridge club.

“I'm glad people are here, getting excited and ready for the weekend,” said center Executive Director Megan Nordvet. “We'd love to make this an annual thing.”

Saturday began with an A.M. Kiwanis-sponsored community breakfast and vintage car show in Memorial Park. Hundreds of hungry diners had their fill of French toast, eggs, sausage and fruit before strolling among 22 vintage cars, including a number of Ford Model As, successors of the Model T, from the Jewel City Car Club of Glendale.

Then on Saturday evening, some 200 parents and children returned to the park for an outdoor screening of the Disney film “Despicable Me,” organized by Barbara Marshall with the sponsorship of State Farm Insurance. While parents settled in with a glass of wine, kids frolicked together with free beach balls, hacky sacks and other free goodies distributed by members of the Miss La Canada Flintridge Royal Court.

“It’s like the first picnic of the season — just a great kickoff to summer,” said Aileen Chase, one of several Moms Club of the Foothills members at the event, who brought along husband David Chase and sons Ryley, 6, and Brandon, 4.

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Family fun continued Sunday after that morning’s Lanterman Museum Open House with a Family Dinner and Fireworks Show, also at Memorial Park.

Though strong winds threatened to cancel the annual fireworks display, the weather calmed as night fell and those who had braved chilly evening temperatures were rewarded by one of the more exciting local fireworks displays in recent years — the flashes, crackles and booms sponsored by Allen Lund Co.

In between pre-skyshow dinner sets by the LCHS Jazz Band, other fireworks erupted at the Memorial Park gazebo when longtime Foothills resident Jeff Hughes announced a surprise — and successful — marriage proposal to Brenda Gant, daughter of Kiwanis Club of La Cañada organizers Daryal and Mary Gant.

Hughes and Gant had attended kindergarten through 12th-grade together in La Crescenta, but sparks didn’t fly until they were reunited after decades at a Crescenta Valley High School reunion a few years ago.

“This is kind of a fairytale story,” said Hughes, “so I thought Fiesta Days would be a nice time to ask.”

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Though the Monday afternoon kickoff to summer’s Music in the Park series traditionally marks the official closure of Fiesta Days, the weekend peaks with the parade, said Clyde Hemphill, who was recently named La Cañadan of the Year by fellow Kiwanians.

As Hemphill waited with other VIPs to be carried along the parade route in classic cars, crowds cheered from the sidewalk as fire trucks rolled down Foothill and a chaotic mass of more than 100 area preschoolers packed into a shaded area near Lanterman Auditorium, awaiting their “go” signal.

“It’s a pulling-together point that gives all the community a chance to participate,” Hemphill said.

Reporters Andrew Shortall and Carolyn Neuhausen contributed to this story.

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