Longtime Lion, Whittier gem brings down the house
By Tim Traeger
WHITTIER – A packed houseful of Lions feted longtime Whittier Host Lions Club member and former mayor Monte Wicker on Thursday, July 23, 2013 and the 96-year-old brought down the house with his sage wit and his harmonica.
In a hilarious format coined “Legendary Lion of the Day,” emcee and fellow Lion Paul White coaxed some humor from the founder of Monte’s Camera in Uptown, both sitting on lounge chairs on stage at the American Red Cross building on Friends Avenue.
“My father was a charter member of the Whittier Host Lions in 1922,” Wicker began. “It impressed me so much the word ‘Lion.’ And I’ll never forget. He took me to a meeting and they brought in a full-sized Lion from Gay’s Lion Farm in El Monte. They had him on a leash but I later learned he didn’t have any teeth.”
When did Wicker join the Lions Club?
“I’ve been around the Lions Club so long I don’t even remember,” he deadpanned.
Do you remember who your sponsor was?
“Give us a point of reference. How old are you?” White asked. “You appear a lot younger than you really are.”
“I just learned yesterday to add and subtract and I came up with a number. Ninety-six.”
“Tell us about growing up in Whittier. Outside of the club you certainly have a great presence here.”
“This is one of the best towns in the world. I’m sure of that,” Wicker said. “Growing up in Whittier was great. We had parades every year for awhile. I remember when they brought a whole herd of sheep down Philadelphia and down Greenleaf.”
“Were there any good-looking ones?”” asked Frank Hill, also a longtime club member.
“It depends,” Wicker said. “I guess so.”
“I guess he’s an animal lover,” rang out a voice in the crowd to spasms of laughter.
“You shared stories from the past about this building in particular. Take us back. Tell us about some memories you had in this building,” White said.
“Do you know how many times I got snookered in here? This building, for all the time I’ve been in high school, we had all our dances here.”
Any extra-curriculars that went on during those dances? White asked.
Wicker talked of a friend named Ed McClain who helped smuggle liquor into the hall. Monte would drop a 30-foot string down and Ed would tie it to a bottle.
It was determined Wicker served as Lions president in 1969.
“I have absolutely no recollection,” Wicker said. It was also determined Wicker has been a Lion for a gazillion years.
“I went to a Lions Club meeting in 1922, when I was about 5. The reason I remember it is when I was sitting there they walked this great big lion by. It scared me to death. Then they told me it had no teeth. Afterwards.”
White then asked Monte about the love of his life, Beverly Harris. The lovebirds have been dating since 1956.
“I’ve loved her more than any woman I’ve ever known, except you, Ellen, sorry, he said looking skyward in reference to his first wife.”
“Beverly and I were in a play together. I had the hots for her. So I was invited to a party at the Assistance League. So I called her up and said, ‘Beverly, this is Monte Wicker.’”
“Are you going to the Assistance League party?”
“I said so will you go with me?”
“So we’ve been going together ever since. She’s a fabulous woman. How long have I known you?” Monte asked Beverly from the stage.
“Hey, she remembers!” Wicker said.
“That’s remarkable, because she’s only 35,” White joked.
“Maybe 36,” Wicker said.
“Whittier has always been a fabulous town. The Lions Club has always been the best club in town. And I wouldn’t trade growing up here for any place in the world.”
“Monte’s dad was a charter member of the club back on May 22, 1922. We’ve had a consecutive Wicker in our Lions Club for the last 90-plus years,” said fellow Lion Ron Copley. “That’s more than amazing.”
White finished by thanking Monte’s son, Kim, for helping him arrange the “interview.”
“Kim was one of the sober ones in the family,” the elder Wicker said. “We have others …”
Asked about public service, Wicker said, “I was in the Army a couple of years.”
“The Civil War?” joked another voice.
“I do things and enjoy them and then put them out of my mind. Because something else it going to happen that’s just as good.”
“I hear tell that you’re a fantastic harmonica player,” White said.
At the urging of the crowd, Wicker, who has been playing the harmonica since fourth grade, asked Beverly what to play.
“Begin & Bevuine,” Harris said.
For the next two full minutes, Wicker belted out the tune.
“That was a treat for all of us,” White said.
“You should hear me on the clarinet,” Wicker smiled.
Before Wicker’s presentation, Lion Vince Daigneault gave out the final of 11 scholarships to two deserving students.
Katie Martorano, a graduate of La Serna High, received her first club scholarship in 2010. She is now a double major in communications and studio arts with a minor in art history at Loyola Marymount. She plans on becoming an interior decorator. Shows it pays to stay in touch with the Lions.
“This young lady is receiving her fourth ongoing scholarship. It’s the first one we’ve walked through four years of college, Daigneault said.
“I promise to keep in touch with you guys so I can watch you grow even older,” Martorano said.
The first recipient of the Mac and Carolyn McFarland Scholarship was Ganeev Sangh, 18, a product of Whittier High. He plans on becoming a doctor and will attend UCLA.
“The second recipient today is a special young man. We try and isolate now the best of the best. We are looking for the best students from high schools involved in our program. And now we are able to distinguish a specific scholarship for the absolute best student from that particular year.”
Sangh was the “absolute best choice” to receive the first McFarland scholarship, Daigneault said.
“It’s a pleasure for me to present this to you,” Mac McFarland said. “My wife and I established this criteria to have a student (win) from any of the five high schools.”
Tim Traeger is former editor of the Whittier Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @411whittier, e-mail him at email@example.com or call 626-646-7352.
The full Monte
Longtime Lion, Whittier gem brings down the house