By Tim Traeger
WHITTIER – Thirteen years ago today America got sucker-punched where it hurt most. For the first time since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, this land of the free and home of the brave was violated by cowards who hijacked jetliners and laid waste New York’s Twin Towers and parts of the Pentagon.
This most horrific attack against these United States claimed nearly 3,000 souls, many of them now considered heroes, and rightly so.
Whittier has not forgotten the enormous sacrifice and for the 11th time the Rev. Ralph Pacheco and his wife, Deborah, kept 9/11 in the forefront of our personal reality when they hosted the Patriot Award Breakfast & Charity Banquet on Sept. 6 at Candlewood Country Club before about 150 people.
Ted Knoll of the Whittier Area First Day Coalition topped the billing, being named Patriot of the Year. The co-founder of the only homeless shelter in Whittier gave credit to the late Bob Cantrell and many others while humbly accepting the honors.
Cantrell died Aug. 12 in Arizona. He was side by side with community leader Virginia “Ginny” Ball when First Day was established back in 2001. It wasn’t an easy fight.
Like the sacrifices of those who lost their lives on 9/11, the push for a homeless shelter along Whittier Boulevard was met with its own skepticism and a boatload of trepidation.
“Fifty percent of the people were against (First Day). Fifty percent were for it. It was the faith community who stood beside that and said, ‘this is our moral obligation.’” Knoll said. “It was the people from the Depression who were there who had experienced poverty. They were steadfast and they were able to get it through.”
Now First Day has expanded to regularly helping 45 adults on a daily basis though the rigors of poverty and homelessness with a huge assist from PIH Health.
“It took from 1999 to 2001 to get it through. Some of the people who were champions (of First Day) besides Bob was Virginia Ball. She at the same time was such a leader. Virginia took a lot of heat. There were a lot of people opposed to it. She stood up to that. She stood up with the business community and educated them. She went out into the community and made all the connections. She worked hard to get people to support First Day,” Knoll said.
Knoll also gave kudos to Ruth B. and Ed Shannon, First Christian Church, the Rose Hills Foundation and the B.C. McCabe Foundation for making First Day a welcome reality in the community. Knoll’s husband of some 30 years, Richard Cisneros, was by his side during the accolades.
Knoll applauded PIH Health President and CEO Jim West for providing First Day with an on-site nurse practitioner, something that has reduced the patient load to the hospital’s emergency room by some 70 percent.
“PIH initially opposed us,” Knoll said. “When Jim West came on and because of Drew Somes, Jim said, ‘Ted, I don’t see a problem. I see an opportunity.”
Along the same sightlines was the first Patriot awardee, the Rev. Bill Miller.
“I believe under God this is an exceptional country,” Miller said. “It’s not the exception of privilege, the kind of exception that lets you lourde over people or be above the law in relation to other nations. It’s the kind of exceptionalism that says we are so deeply blessed that we have grave responsibilities to exercise our power and our vision and our hope for democracy around the world. We truly are under God, a nation called to be truly exceptional. I give thanks for your rewarding me – despite my family’s laughter. I’m honored to be a patriot,” Miller said.
Each Patriot honoree was feted by Whittier Mayor Pro Tem Fernando Dutra and longtime L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe spokesperson Andrea Avila.
Because of the birth of his fifth child, Drew Pryor, famous for his commitment to “Serve Weekend,” was bestowed a Patriot Award in absence for his help in sprucing up the community, giving free haircuts and oil changes and generally offering an annual boost to this Quaker town.
“With the encouragement of Councilman Joe Vinatieri, the Whittier clergy was also invited to get involved in ‘Serve Weekend,’” Ralph Pacheco said. “He took over the massive responsibilities after (past Patriot awardee) Lee Hardeman and Colleen Marks ran ‘Serve Weekend.’ Drew is a first-responder,” Pacheco said. “A graduate of USC and a graduate of the Rio Hondo Fire Academy.”
Rio Hondo College Trustee Gary Mendez was asked to give a few thoughts on Pryor, whose father, Dan, is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Whittier.
“It’s amazing the reach of our Rio Hondo Fire Academy has,” Mendez said. “Including the Police Academy we always hear of the great stories of our graduates. We take great pride. We take even greater pride when Drew, who was a No. 1 class cadet back at the Fire Academy, shows their humility and selflessness. It’s not an ego thing. It’s about competence and performance that their classmates have in him,” Mendez said. “We know that Drew is a leader not only in his own profession but in the community. Drew is an outstanding example of what Rio Hondo produces in our community.
“On behalf of Rio Hondo College, I’d like to thank you for honoring Drew,” Mendez said.
The next new Patriot is not new to the Whittier scene. Margo Reeg has been “The face of the League of Woman Voters in Whittier for many years,” Pacheco said.
“It’s people like Reeg who inspire us and encourage us to get out and vote and support the system,” Dutra said. “You ladies are so important that everyone recognizes you by your first name … just like Prince.”
“When we talk about patriotism we think about our nation,” Avila said. “One of the things that has kept our nation strong is democracy and the democratic process. These volunteer women strengthen our democratic process. The forums. The voting process. Registering people. That takes so much. So Margo, I just want to congratulate you and say thank-you not just for all you do for our city and county, but for our nation.”
The next Patriot awardee was perhaps the most comical. Yet in a spiritual sense.
Paul Rosenow, CEO and president of Trinity Worldwide Reprographics, formerly a staple in Santa Fe Springs but now with new digs in Cerritos, was honored for all his company has given back to the community. All free and without request. His clients include many area colleges including USC, but Rosenow gives all his grace to God, albeit in a secular world.
“Paul has really demonstrated the qualities and values every believer, every person, should possess,” Pacheco said. “He’s a giver. He’s given back to the community for a number of years.”
“I just want to thank you for being such a role model and staying true to your faith,” Avila said of Rosenow. “We will continue to fight the fight,” she said, referring to Knabe’s insistence the cross be restored to the county seal. “That is why Paul is so special because he is one of those people who keep the faith and do everything he thinks is right to do. Thank you for representing us as people of faith and Christians.”
“As you know, being a successful businessman means more than just money,” Dutra said. “It’s more than doing the hard work that you do. It means also leadership. It means walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Obviously, you do that and Whittier recognizes that. Personally I know how hard you work and the services you provide back to the community.”
“Letting me talk, that might be a mistake,” Rosenow began. “I’m Paul Rosenow and I’m CEO of Trinity Worldwide Reprographics. When I say ‘CEO’ I’m really now comfortable with that title. I think that today, just like for all my employees, I just prefer that you refer to me – as my wife and children do – as Supreme Printer. I, and I alone, control the destiny of MILLIONS of pieces of paper. That’s right. I make copies for a living.
“I have a great crew that God has surrounded me with. They deserve a lot of credit. And just like Pastor Bill (Miller) when I heard of the Patriot Award I was a little bit taken aback because I’m a Packer fan. The Patriots? Come on!”
“I want the Aaron Rodgers Award.”
“But when I really look at the meaning of being a patriot, and I think about where I was on 9/11, it really changed my life and it changed the course of my business. There was something that was said to me that totally turned me around. It didn’t happen on the morning of 9/11, it happened the night before. As I was coming home – and I had been cruising along and serving God – listening to my Jesus music – worshipping God and just having that moment, as I like to when I’m driving. And I was just telling God, ‘Lord, give me direction.’ And He spoke to me.
“He spoke to me through a California Highway patrolman. Ouch!” Rosenow said to raucous laughter, especially from the table of high-ranking L.A. County sheriff’s officials including Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans and CHP officer Al Perez.
“Apparently, I was going a little bit too fast through a construction zone and the officer was standing by the roadside. I didn’t get pulled over but he spoke to me very clearly, and it was God speaking to me – through the CHP. He yelled at me and I had the music kind of loud but I could hear God distinctly tell me, ‘Get your head out of your … as I was saying.”
“It affected me dramatically because it was so stunning. He didn’t pull me over but it made me realize that I’m cruising along and not really paying attention to what I’m doing. And I went to bed that night just thinking about that and what did God mean? Why did he want me to take my head out of my as – k anyone over here …
“The next morning my wife woke up and said, ‘honey, you have to watch what’s going on on TV.’
“It was mind-blowing. There was confirmation that there was something big going on. And what struck me was how many Christians came out of the woodwork. There were so many people – the whole nation – was struck over what happened that morning. And I thought to myself, ‘why can’t it be like this all the time?’ Even my cats were affected by it. They were scared so much they were overcome with ‘fur,’” to more laughter.
“I could go on and on, but I won’t … after that event I really started to think about what I wanted to do with my life. My business.
“And I changed the name. It used to be Rosenow Express Images and I wanted to give God all the glory. I was serving God and I was a Christian, going to church. Giving back, but I really needed to wake up and find out what more I could do. So I changed the name to Trinity Worldwide Reprographics with a cross in the logo. Because I wanted to make it clear this wasn’t my business anymore. It never was. It was God’s business. God turned me around and said, ‘do more.’
“So now for the past 11 years, we’ve been trying to serve the community through our employees. Giving them opportunities to serve? Fully-led initiatives to get into the community? And God has blessed us tremendously. And the last I checked, we are still one nation, under God,” Rosenow said.
“For every person that exists today and for every person who lived and for every person who died, and for every person that will live, we can truly take comfort in the words of Jesus as he turned to the thief on the cross. And looked at each and every one of you, and said, ‘today, you will be with Me in paradise.”
“So as we continue to go into the community and serve God, we’re trying to be bold. And sometimes you have to be a little bit tactful. We don’t want to be in people’s faces, but quite often we’re told ‘you can’t pray with people.’ You have to be a little bit bold. So I’ll go up to people in a business climate, especially with some of our biggest clients – USC, colleges – and say ‘I can’t pray with you, but I’m going to go home tonight and I’m going to pray that God would bless you. I’m going to pray that God will lift you and your family up. I’m going to pray tonight that God would open up the doors of opportunities for you. I’m going to pray that God will give you favor.”
Jim McDonnell, Long Beach chief of police and runoff candidate to succeed Sheriff Lee Baca in November, gave the keynote address, lifting the spirits of those who would call themselves patriots and first-responders. Rita Topalian, a candidate for state Assembly in the 57th District, was also in attendance.
“Who is a patriot?” Knoll asked. “The real patriot is the Whittier community.”
Tim Traeger is former editor of the Whittier Daily News. Contact him at 626-646-7352 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org