Jimmy Stewart’s role in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ isn’t just a character in a Christmas film
By Jim Kempton
The staying power of the holiday season’s favorite film has its roots in the common core faith Americans have about themselves: that we are at once a united people and a nation of fiercely independent individuals. It’s a belief that we can make a difference if we chose. It’s about plain people going the extra mile when nobody is looking. Our town is full of them. Like George Bailey, the lead character in It’s a Wonderful Life, these quiet individuals’ contributions are often invisible and yet immeasurable.
What would we have done without Don and Sherry Card who ran our local 1,700-strong AYSO program for nearly a decade as volunteers? Or Georgina Korsen who pushed and pressed and stamped her cute little feet to help get our Animal Shelter in town?
Who would have filled the shoes of Rod Rodriquez who has volunteered in every year of the last four decades of city life; Father Okie, the quiet, gentle associate pastor at St. Clement’s Church who served for 20 years there—after he retired? Or Blythe Welton, who used her indefatigable energy and persuasive powers to talk the city government into accepting an ordinance to save the original red-tiled Ole Hanson structures that now define our city as the Little Spanish Village by the Sea? Or Ray Kroc, who gave us the chimes that waft beautiful melodies across our town?
It is people like these who keep our lurching train of life on the rails—by putting their small but critical coal in the engine. City employees like Leslie Davis, who fought her whole career to provide affordable housing for the low-income workers who do San Clemente’s many indispensible tasks but cannot afford to live in the city they clean and care for. Doctors like Dan McCann, who provided health services to the poor while running a full time practice. Journalists like Fred Swegles, who in a lifetime of news has never slanted a position in his own favor. Civic pillars like Lee Van Slyke, Denny Lindeman and Paul Henry of the Rotary Club who raise charity money each year for the needy. Men like Steve Long, who dedicated his career to the State Park. Or women like Debbee Pezman, who worked every Wednesday in her mother’s soup kitchen for the homeless.
Without Kathryn Stovall-Dennis and Stephanie Dory’s countless hours, there would be no Coastal Trail as we know it. Without Rick Anderson, there would have been years past when San Clemente would have had no fireworks on the Fourth of July.
We should celebrate these people. Not because they are so good. Lots of people do good. More because they were so selfless in their contribution, so quiet and un-needing of the accolades so many seek to achieve. You don’t know about these contributors to our general good because they were not working all the time to make sure they got credit for it.
Often without even realizing it, these unknown christian soldiers (small c) have enriched the lives of their fellow citizens and left a lasting legacy in deeds rather than the aggrandizement of crystal cathedrals and redundant foundations named after themselves.
We have a whole town full of unrecognized George Baileys. My only regret in writing this piece is leaving out all the hundreds more who are equally deserving of our gratitude. And as Jimmy Stewart would say, “By Golly, I just might.”
Jim Kempton is a writer who unrepentantly believes good guys should finish first and that George Bailey was right. Even in the face of unrelenting modern evidence to the contrary.