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By Fred Swegles
Here’s a thankful year-end shout-out to all you readers!
My favorite email in response to a column was one about my Uncle Jack. I wrote that he was one of 66 San Clementeans who went off to World War II. He flew 35 B-29 bombing missions over Japan, trying to put an end to the war.
Reader Alexis Albers wrote that she loved the article, as “it brought so many memories to mind. Even enjoyed a grateful crying session.
“My dad, Harvey Chapman 1917-1999, taught bombardiers 1943-45 in Deming, NM. Could (he) have taught Uncle Jack?” she wrote. “My husband Dan was a petroleum engineer 1939-2016.”
That was my Uncle Jack’s postwar career. Could Alexis’ husband and my uncle have crossed paths?
“I love reading your articles,” Alexis wrote. Then, she stirred me with a third-generation bond that the column had inspired.
“Thank you,” she wrote, “for treading water in March 1995, taking pictures of our son Christopher’s paddle-out as Dan put his ashes at Seal Rock. Keep the nostalgia coming. Hugs, Alexis.”
That precious memory from 1995 tugged at my heart, the tragic passing of Chris Albers, a vibrant young man, who at 19 was a passenger in a car that crashed on his way home from college for spring break.
On three levels, my column had struck a dynamic chord with a reader. As her response did with me.
On a whimsical note, a column about some peculiarities of San Clemente’s Spanish street names drew fun responses.
“It made me laugh, and I am certainly guilty of (mis)pronouncing some of the names,” Kristen Dreyer wrote.
Lola Gillebaard wrote, “I wouldn’t mind living on Pimple Street—as long as no one ever left off the l-e!”
“I can’t believe you left out West Avenida de los Lobos Marinos!” Dave Reenders wrote.
Jim Dahl surmised it’s the longest street name in California.
“I am surprised and a bit disappointed that you didn’t know why Las Pulgas was named as it was,” Norm Mjellem wrote, adding a smiley face and “Love your work.”
“When the Spanish soldiers accompanying Father Serra walked through the area, they camped somewhere inland in the area of Las Pulgas from Hwy. 1,” he wrote. “Their entire group was besieged by FLEAS — hence, the name.”
I actually hadn’t heard that. So I checked and, sure enough, Camp Pendleton’s website relates the story. Not only that, but my online search discovered another historic Las Pulgas, in San Mateo County—similar tale, itchy Spanish soldiers.
Several readers reacted to travels I undertook to find out about Texas’ historic Mission San Clemente and San Antonio’s Mission San Juan Capistrano.
“I wanted to take an opportunity to reach out from the Diocese of San Angelo and thank you for sharing a bit of Texas Catholic history with your readers,” Brian Bodiford wrote. “I’ll admit there were even a couple of tidbits in there I was unfamiliar with.
“Oddly enough,” he wrote, “I’ve been to your San Juan Capistrano, but not ours—despite fairly regular trips to San Antonio and more than one visit to the Alamo. I have to make a day trip down there tomorrow, actually.”
San Clemente resident Kathy Juline wrote, “Thank you so much for your fascinating article ‘In Search of Mission San Clemente.’ I read it with great interest, because as it happens, I was born in San Angelo, TX, and grew up there. I so appreciate knowing about the connection between San Clemente and the San Angelo/Ballinger area. I would never have guessed such a connection existed in my wildest imaginings. Thank you for a wonderful gift!”
Lola Gillebaard, my most prolific responder during 2019, actually was the subject of one column. I recounted her life as a stand-up comedian, a motivational speaker and wife of the late Hank Gillebaard, who survived a truly incredible series of adventures and misadventures that began in WWII, when he was forced to flee from the Nazis in occupied Holland.
Lola reacted both to my Uncle Jack column and to a column about how my Aunt Evalyn was a nationally acclaimed dancer who visited Casa Romantica in 1928, never dreaming she’d come to own the landmark and live in it, 1952-56. After a painful divorce, she remarried, finding bliss for the last 50 years of her life.
“(I) wish I had known your Aunt Evalyn,” Lola wrote. “My two most compelling sentences are, ‘He could fix anything. He fixed Aunt Evalyn’s heart.’ I’m a sucker for compassion.”
Lola also liked me making fun of myself after discovering I’m a distant cousin to Benedict Arnold, the most notorious traitor in U.S. history.
“I love your ‘twisty family tree,’ also your heretical parody,” Lola wrote. “The photos make your words even more playful. I’m already looking forward to next Thursday’s column. Sure wish I had known Van Rutan (a column about everyone’s favorite San Clemente swim instructor for three generations). I so much admire strong women.”
An exhaustive search I made through seven years of newspaper archives to verify that there’s a time capsule beneath our Sister City monument on Avenida Del Mar confirmed it. The result? The city plans to open it on San Clemente Day, Feb. 29.
A column about an Eagle Scout’s flagpole standing empty at the end of the pier generated dialogue, and now the city is flying the official San Clemente flag there—no need to raise and lower it daily.
A column about a frustrating stop sign that can back up cars heading from Avenida Palizada onto the Interstate 5 Freeway drew thoughtful responses from readers Bill Cunningham and Elena Weissman, prompting me to rethink prospects of a roundabout there. An alternative I suggested was to replace the stop sign with an ongoing green traffic light that’d turn red only when a pedestrian pushes a “walk” button.
That topic deserves more discussion than there’s room for here. Let’s revisit it in 2020!
Fred Swegles is a longtime San Clemente resident with nearly five decades of reporting experience in the city. Fred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.