Tuesday, January 11, 2011

San Pedro activist John Mavar above is on a mission to name the new San Pedro High School annex,  currently under construction, after city father John Olguin.
John Olguin giving a speech -- Cabrillo Beach Aquarium

By Diana L. Chapman
Maritime lover John Olguin, a former county lifeguard who raised funds to develop the Cabrillo Beach Aquarium in San Pedro, brought lessons of the ocean into the households of thousands of kids throughout Los Angeles.
Many of those students visited the beach for their first time during field trips to the marine facility thanks to Olguin, who died at age 89 at the beginning of the New Year.
There could have been no better teacher than the always-tanned, silver-haired Olguin, who once told me that he wanted as many children as possible to learn about all the ocean’s creatures, great and small.  While captain of the Cabrillo Beach county lifeguards in 1949, he was named director of the then-small, but quirky museum, later remaining director emeritus.
And history was made. He became a treasured promoter of the aquarium that educated scores of students coming from across Los Angeles about the sea.  Now, another movement is afoot to honor the “humble” man, who taught the Harbor Area community in magical ways.  He organized midnight grunion runs so children could learn about the spawning habits of the tiny fish and launched some of the first whale watch cruises that educated hundreds of boat passengers about the mega-beasts.
Calling Olguin an “icon and city father,”  San Pedro resident John Mavar, who respected Olguin for his remarkable projects and dedication to the community,  said its time to honor him by naming the 810-seat campus currently being built in the Pacific Palisades after the time-honored mariner.
Mavar, 34, a community activist who serves on the North West Neighborhood Council and once worked for former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, said he befriended Olguin and supported many of the seafarer’s projects.
The new learning annex – which will host a marine magnet and be filled with marine research laboratories – currently is under construction at Angels Gate on the Upper Reservation of Fort McArthur and marks a perfect way to honor such a giving soul. The magnet, currently at San Pedro High, is expected to connect and continue work with the Cabrillo Aquarium.
“I started this movement about a 1 ½ years ago,” said Mavar, who admitted being met with resistance at the time from some community members who remained hostile about the building of the new school – an annex expected to relieve overcrowded San Pedro High and open in 2012.
“With John’s unfortunate passing, it’s my gut and my instincts that tell me this is right to do for John,” Mavar explained. “He brought people out to one of the biggest (gifts) on Earth. He wanted to teach and show people the accessibility of the ocean and the protection of our wildlife and coastline.
“He’s a community icon from what he’s done from the longevity of raising money for worthy causes to the teaching he’s brought through the aquarium. This is a fitting tribute.”
Los Angeles Unified School Board Member Richard Vladovic has supported the effort, said David Kooper, his chief-of-staff,  adding if the community wants the school to be named after Olguin, the board member will happily endorse the proposal.
Currently, one name being floated around is the John Olguin High School Learning Annex, Mavar said, but he’s open to suggestions on ways to fashion the name.
“John Olguin was a true American hero and a true hero of mine,” Vladovic e-mailed about the proposal. “It would be my honor to preside over the effort to name the new annex the John Olguin San Pedro High School Learning Annex.”
I agree this is a fitting tribute to the ocean lover for two reasons. There’s no way to count the endless gifts Olguin, who is survived by his wife Muriel, gave to San Pedro and the Harbor-area region in general.
Fireworks happened annually largely due to Olguin, who would stand in the Von’s parking lot on 25th Street with a tin can asking for donations to support the July 4 event. He had no shame about asking for funds when it came to his community and did so for decades. One year, Mavar said, Olguin dressed up like a fire cracker.
Among some of his many projects, Olguin also helped raise money for blue lights to grace the landmark Vincent Thomas Bridge, which connects San Pedro to Terminal Island and Long Beach. The bridge lights had grown dimmer over the years due to the high cost of lighting maintenance. The project was successful and new teal-blue lights now glint and glow across the curved roadway – one of the only  gateways to San Pedro.
Therefore, like Mavar, I find it a fitting tribute to name a school – largely dedicated to the marine environment – to a man who gave so much to all of us.

In particular, the soon-to-open campus, which ripped apart the community between the need for a new high school and the balance of keeping the serenity of beatific park lands at Angel’s Gate, needs to come to grips with the new school and begin to heal.
Olguin was one man – who seemed to dance around politics and bring people together to promote and accomplish tremendous gems in San Pedro and the Harbor Area as a whole. He was the master of his San Pedro ship, a  man who steered a course so that many good things happened here. Most of all, he was peaceful and would want this community to begin to heal.
Resident Jennifer Marquez summed it up best: “John Olguin gave so much to San Pedro and its residents. Who better to name the new school after? He is such an inspiration on some many levels and what a wonderful way to teach our children about the importance of community service by naming it after him.”