Piece of Mind: Les Tupper is a man worth remembering

A question popped up in the newsroom the other day: Who was Les Tupper and why is there a community service award named after him? It was well-timed question, since the annual Tupper Awards, as they've come to be known locally, were handed out Monday evening by the La Cañada Flintridge Coordinating Council. This year's winners were Barbara Weber, Randy Strapazon, Kathryn Battaglia, Alex Keledjian, the La Cañada Baseball Softball Assn. and the Flintridge Riding Club.

I felt badly about not knowing more about the man behind this prestigious community award, so I started tracking down more information. I spoke on the phone to Coordinating Council members Sue Beatty and Bob Covey on Tuesday. Both of those individuals, by the way, are past recipients of Tupper Awards and have impressive credentials themselves. But neither of them had volunteered alongside Tupper, so they couldn't give me first-hand reports on him.

I hunted through bound volumes of old Valley Suns. In the September 1968 news obituary prepared after he died of a heart attack while driving along Linda Vista Avenue in Pasadena, Tupper was called “everybody's friend.” The report went on to say he “carried such convictions in his life's walk and never hesitated to use them in his vast spectrum of civic betterment work within his home community.”

Leslie C. Tupper was born in Joliet, Ill. on Dec. 3, 1907 and moved to La Cañada in 1954. He'd earned his law degree at Southwestern University and was a partner in the Los Angeles firm of Lawler, Felix & Hall. He and his family (wife, Helen and son, Tom) lived on an oak-shaded property near Descanso Gardens.

In 1956 Les Tupper was elected to the school board, a post he held for six years. In February 1962 he was awarded an honorary life membership in the combined La Cañada PTAs. By June of that year he had been installed president of the Coordinating Council. He announced that the council's 1962-63 efforts would be centered on creating a youth employment center, conducting a recreational facility survey and establishing a Foster Home Finding Study Committee.

In 1964, some La Cañadans banded together to push for cityhood. Tupper garnered the most votes among the 22 people who were candidates to serve on the first city council, had those efforts toward cityhood succeeded. But incorporation was not approved by the majority (the city of La Cañada Flintridge did not come into being until 1976), so Tupper missed the opportunity to be our first mayor.

He had plenty to keep him busy, though, as he was appointed to serve again on the school board after a member resigned. He was also then involved in the La Cañada Valley Freeway Action Committee, a body that tried mightily to convince the state to reroute the proposed 210 Freeway south of La Cañada in order to maintain the then-quiet setting here. As though that were not enough to handle alongside his career counseling large corporations, Tupper also accepted a position on the La Cañada Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

He was reelected to the school board in 1965 and was its president at the time of his death. During his tenure as a trustee, he dug into his own pockets to sponsor a junior baseball team that he named “The School Board.” It was reported that the kids on the team were thrilled to see him sitting in the stands during their games.

Tupper led the charge for the formation of a local county sanitation district in 1967 in the hope of bringing sewers to La Cañada. Efforts like this were uphill battles. It was said that his faith, demonstrated through his active membership at Church of the Lighted Window, sustained him.

“Les was one of the most productive persons it is possible to imagine,” Tupper's school board colleague Brad Millikan eulogized. “There was never any question where Les Tupper stood; he stood for whatever he believed to be something better, something more worthwhile, and he was willing to work for it.”

Millikan reported that Tupper had once told him he was worried that he was doing too much, but added, “I think I would worry more if I did less, and then had to wonder whether I had done less than I could.”

Tupper was clearly a man worth remembering. My congratulations to the Coordinating Council for keeping his legacy alive and to the award winners for their own, unique efforts on behalf of our community.

CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. She can be reached at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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