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Bud Switzer Named Citizen of the Year for 2006
Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006
Bud Switzer, who first moved to Sierra Madre sixty-eight years ago, was named Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. Switzer, possibly best known for his pumpkin carving and being the impetus for the growth of the Halloween festivities on Alegria, received word while he was doing what he does best: quietly and without fanfare volunteering his time maintaining the Veteran’s Memorial Photo Wall. He and long-time friend John Grijalva were decorating the wall with holiday poinsettias when Karma Bell informed him that he had been selected. Grijalva said that “He should have gotten it a long time ago.” Switzer, after some time to reflect, stated that “It’s overwhelming, it’s really an honor.”
Switzer, born in Culver City, moved to Sierra Madre after a brief stay in Pasadena, at the age of 10. He attended Sierra Madre School through 8th grade (except 7th grade, when he attended St. Rita’s), then Woodrow Wilson Jr. High for 9th and 10th grade, and spent his junior and senior years at Pasadena Junior College (there was no high school at the time). He worked for Star Nursery on Sunnyside, which supplied all the camellia plants to Descanso Gardens. He also worked for all the pottery shops in town, Suman’s, Bevan’s and McCullough’s, all based on Montecito Ave. east of Baldwin Ave.
Switzer joined the National Guard; at the time if you committed to three years in the National Guard, you wouldn’t get drafted. And he didn’t get drafted, but his division did get activated. Switzer recalled that the Korean War started in June of 1950, and he and his wife Donna Mae were on their honeymoon in Mammoth in July. He remembered pulling into town and seeing in the newspapers that his division had been activated.
Switzer was one of about 50 Sierra Madreans that all left town to go to basic training at Camp Cook, now known as Vandenberg Air Force Base. After basic training, he was sent to Japan, then Korea. He was a member of the 223rd Infantry Regiment, part of the 40th Infantry Division. The 223rd was a heavy mortar company.
After returning from Korea, Bud started his own pottery business, Ceramic Bowl Shop, and ran it for several years while attending PCC on the GI Bill. After getting his Associates degree at PCC, he sold the business to attend UCLA full-time, majoring in Geophysics. He and Donna Mae recall living in the “very nice veteran housing” on campus, and getting to watch the football training from their quarters.
Bud and Donna Mae moved to Bakersfield for a couple years while he was in the oil survey business, but then returned to Sierra Madre. He got a job with Univac in data processing/programming. He recalls a friendly rivalry with long-time Sierra Madrean Jay Whitcraft, who worked for IBM. “Jay was in sales, I was in support. Salesman promised the world, support had to figure out how to deliver the world.” He worked for a couple other companies after Univac before settling in with Hughes Aircraft in 1965. He worked on programming for the F-14, F-15, F-18 and the B-2. He was with Hughes for 25 years, retiring on Dec. 1, 1989.
Bud and Donna Mae have four children, Cameron, Debra, Kevin and Lisa, and eleven grandchildren ranging from three to 23 years of age.
Bud has a lifelong love for hiking, and has hiked all over Southern California. “I was involved with the Scouts with the boys, and we backpacked all over the San Gabriels, San Bernadino Mountains, San Jacinto mountains. I probably backpacked 1,000 miles with each of my boys,” said Switzer. That love was born when, as a youngster, he and friend Augustine (Augie) Rillorta would grab their shotguns and go hunting. They would hunt mostly for wild pigeons, which Rillorta’s mom would cook up for them when they returned home. Switzer says some of his fondest memories of old-time Sierra Madre are of hunting and hiking, visiting the old time camps, such as Hoegee’s Camp, Orchard Camp, Sturtevant Camp, and hiking up Bailey Canyon, the Sturtevant Trail and Mt. Wilson Trail at the drop of a hat. He has run the Mt. Wilson Trail Race 10 or 12 times he says, but one year he went up to take photos of the runners, and decided he liked that better than running the race, though, at 78, he still runs 4 miles a day three times a week, with a tennis night each week, as well.
Switzer volunteered his time for several years, along with Rob Stockly, Pete McNulty, Charlie Bell and Art Soderbaum, to spruce up and maintain the Mt. Wilson Trail. Stockly, McNulty and Bell still do, and Switzer praised their continuing efforts. “That’s prison work, working with hoes and shovels. We used to carry 60lb. bags of cement up to repair the trails after washouts.” When I jokingly asked how they got a mixer up the hill, he noted that it was all done with pails and shovels. “There was plenty of water available,’ he laughed.
Nearly everyone who nominated Bud for Citizen of the Year noted that Bud was the originator of the Halloween festivities on Alegria, which now draw crowds estimated as high as 10,000 each October. Modestly, Bud stated that he didn’t start it, recalling that others in the neighborhood had Halloween activities before he started the pumpkin carving. In particular, he recalled that neighbor Doug Sutcliffe’s daughter had a witch’s laugh that was just incredible, uncanny. He remembers hearing her “performing” on Halloween before he started his pumpkin carving. But Bud definitely took it to the next level.
He and Donna Mae told me that when they first moved into their vintage 1905 home, the long winding driveway (reportedly so built to keep the Model T from careening out of control if there were mechanical issues) was a problem for kids, and they didn’t have many trick or treaters, which was a major disappointment. “Halloween’s supposed to be spooky, but this place was too spooky,” he said. So the next year, he decided to light the driveway with jack o’lanterns, and spent $7.50 at the penny a pound sale to buy plenty of pumpkins to light the driveway. And the kids came. Over the years, Switzer expanded the pumpkin carving, and at its peak when son Kevin helped they had as many as 350-400 pumpkins, one year carving a pumpkin that weighed 829lbs, and had to be hauled around with a forklift. “I specialize in faces, but Doug Parker down the street has taken the carving art to a whole new level, with spiders, and lamps, and all kinds of things” said Switzer. Over the years, the neighbors on Alegria got in the spirit, adding to Bud’s carving and each year now another neighbor or two joins in the fun. There are haunted houses with ghosts flying through the air, strobe lights, front lawn cemeteries, and all kinds of spooky decorations and activities. And Bud enjoys the annual trek to Ventura to the farms to pick out the pumpkins. The grandkids have gotten in on the act, and at times, three generations of Switzers have been involved in the project. However, now that Kevin has moved away, Switzer has backed off, and carves “just about 40 or so.”
Bud is a member of Sierra Madre’s VFW Post 3208, and for the last few years has worked very hard with his buddy Grijalva to first, make the Veteran’s Photo Wall a reality, and now to maintain and care for it. He and Grijalva met with the other supporters of the wall once or twice a month at the old Peppertree Grill when they were beginning to organize its creation. His childhood hunting buddy Augie Rillorta was the designer, and together with Grijalva, Switzer worked with the City Council to get all the approvals, raise the necessary funds, find a location, and oversee the construction. The first time it came before the City Council, it was turned down, but Grijalva and Switzer and the rest persisted, until the unique tribute to Sierra Madre’s veterans was built and at last dedicated on Feb. 15 of 2003. But that wasn’t the end of it, this is an ongoing project, and one that he is proud to be a part of. New photos are added to the wall periodically, flowers are placed and replaced, and fundraising for maintenance continues. Commemorative bricks can still be placed as well. And along with it come nice surprises, like going to place a few poinsettias around the wall, and coming home with flowers, balloons, and the designation as Citizen of the Year.
Bud Switzer is quick to laugh, eager to help, willing to work, enthusiastic, and always “up”. His dedication to Sierra Madre and his legacy of providing joy to thousands of children with his pumpkins over the decades are lasting reminders of what Sierra Madreans should strive to be and do, and he is, in this writer’s opinion, an excellent choice for Citizen of the Year.
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