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Gwin Mitchell Paden A little more detail on the Lodi Arts Commission

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Gwin Paden

Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:19 am, Thu Mar 15, 2012.

I really enjoyed Lauren Nelson's story on the Lodi Arts Commission last Saturday, but I would like to add a little more background.

Having helped Ed DeBenedetti birth this baby, and having nursed it through the first four years of its life, I thought I'd fill in the missing narrative. Fortunately, I kept a bunch of newspaper clippings about how things started and who was on board.

A full story on March 25, 1982, in the short-lived but interesting Lodi Life and Times newspaper, told of the call for volunteers to join the very new commission: 15 members for terms of three years each. The call was put out by Ed DeBenedetti, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission and founder of many programs and classes of value to the community. The Arts Commission was his idea; the City Council had created it just a week before this article appeared.

Commissioners would serve without pay and would represent the various arts interests already extant. I was appointed charter chairman. Other charter members were Kathy Terra, D. Juan Gonzalez, Bill Chapman, Richard P. Corey, Laura R. Wild and Gay Stewart, all representing the Lodi Arts Center; Nancy Carey (who is now serving another term on the Commission), Carol Marvel and Eileen Chaffee (she served as executive secretary), representing Tokay Players; Suse Chacon, representing the Lodi Gem and Mineral Society; Mel Brenner, artist-at-large; Phawnda Cochran, calligraphy instructor (who designed the first logo; subsequent commissions changed it because they thought it too closely resembled the logo of the Stockton Arts Commission); Kathleen Gonzales, writer and printer of books; and Sara Heberle, interested in drama, music and the arts in general. Sara taught drama to middle school students for years, took part in many community activities and served on the school board.

Some of these volunteers are still living here in Lodi, some have moved away and some are deceased.

Later, a May 1, 1983, story in the News-Sentinel reported that Gay Stewart was resigning, and that Zelma Meek, a published poet and an artist, was appointed to fill out the unexpired term of Bill Chapman.

A story in the News-Sentinel on Aug. 11, 1983, listed the following Arts Commission members: Carol Marvel, Cecil Church, Elaine Wait, Zelma Meek, Carol Taylor, Mary Jane Ballatore (who did a great deal for music in Lodi, including help start the too short-lived Lodi Symphony Orchestra), Sara Heberle, Laura Wild, Juan Gonzalez, Mel Brenner, Phawndra Cochran, Nancy Carey, Allyn Fermier and the Rev. Richard Lungren, a retired Methodist minister. Some former members, some new ones.

I also discovered the card of appreciation that the members sent me when I was termed out (comments later on). Signing that were Sally Humphreys, Allyn Senner (Fermier under a new name?), Bill Daniger, Virginia Rippy, Susan Ullrich, Karen Ramonda, Shawn Allen, and members Church, Marvel, Ballatore, Chaffee, Brenner and Rev. Lungren.

So those are the names, but here is what we did during my four years. Mary Jane Ballatore, through her connections with the Stockton Symphony board, was able to get quartets of symphony members up here to give concerts for third-grade students in Lodi's elementary schools.

For two years, we sponsored a contest encouraging local artists to draw black-and-white Sports Shortss for use as postcards. These were printed for us by Abrahamson's, and they were placed in local stores. The originals were framed and are now hanging in the Lodi Library in the hall that leads to the Sullivan Room.

The artists in our group started the annual Young Renaissance Art Show, which continued for some years. We also founded a series of lunchtime concerts in the plaza between City Hall and the Carnegie building. We had all sorts of groups, from Doris Byron's string quartet of symphony players to Bob Romans and the Cellblock Seven, Lodi's own jazz group. I remember one day when a well-dressed young couple, obviously business types, set up a small table and two chairs, unpacked a lunch that included a bottle of wine, and enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

One basic function of the commission was to help local arts groups obtain funds from the city by screening the applications and making recommendations. In the early days, these included the Lodi Community Band, the Lodi Art Center, Tokay Players, the Lodi Writers' Group, the Music Teachers Association, KVIE and the Symphony League.

In the 1983 news story, I reported that the Commission had received $2,000 for the 1982-83 year, and would probably ask for $3,000 for the 1983-84 year. We also asked for space of our own; Hutchins Street Square was not ready for us to be tenants.

Councilman Bob Murphy suggested that we be given space in the Carnegie building, then empty. So we occupied the librarians' offices on the west side of the main room. The city painted the walls and put down new carpet for us, but someone forgot to check the flat roof over the area. The central drain kept getting plugged with leaves, and there had been floods in the rooms. Sure enough, one time my husband and I had to mop up about 10 gallons of water out of the new carpet!

God bless Councilwoman Evie Olson. She was always pulling for us to get the financial and other help we needed from the Council. We had a hard time convincing the rest of the council that we were NOT "Gwin's Arts Commission" but a regular city commission like the rest — Parks and Red, Seniors, Youth, Planning, etc. There were times when I was up in front of the Council monthly, asking for money or some other necessity.

When we started, we did not think to ask about commission structure, and no one volunteered the information, so we made up our own by-laws. This included starting with three-year terms for everyone. Then we drew lots for one-, twoand three-year second terms so terms would be staggered. After I termed out under these rules and left, Evie and City Clerk Alice Reimche stepped in and restructured the group, about the time it moved to the completed Hutchins Street Square.

Just think: I might have been chairwoman for 20 or so years, like some other commission heads! Heaven help us!

Gwin Mitchell Paden may now be reached at gwinp@lodinews.com.

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