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Rotarians donate $500 to students

Club members recognize spirit of generosity

Posted: February 6, 2009 8:13 p.m.
Updated: February 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
"My first impression of the Santa Clarita Valley was that it was one long, brown, dusty road," guest speaker Joann Lombardi told SCV Rotarians at their Feb. 4 meeting.

Lombardi had been invited to the service club's weekly meeting to give a little background on the historic Lombardi Ranch and also participate in a heart-warming check presentation later in the meeting.

Joann came to Saugus in the early 1960s to meet her husband's parents and survey the ranch the young couple would soon be farming.

The elder Lombardis had worked the 140-acre site off Bouquet Canyon Road from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s, growing such crops as potatoes, melons and strawberries.

Farming was not new to Joann Lombardi. She grew up on a farm in Westchester, Calif., and said she long dreamed of marrying a farmer.

"The big difference was there was no ocean breeze here, and there was just too much brown," Lombardi said. The Lombardis quickly solved "the brown dilemma" on the ranch - covering the undeveloped areas with towering corn stalks, zucchinis, brightly colored tomatoes and rambling pumpkin vines. What they didn't eat themselves, they sold at their roadside stand that, today, has become a popular Santa Clarita destination.

"Things were more slow-paced in the '60s," said Lombardi. "But our customers became the driving force behind the growth of the ranch and the variety of our produce."

The number of "city" visitors began growing shortly after Joann planned the ranch's first field trip for her young daughter's preschool class. Following a tour of the pumpkin patch and a seed-planting demonstration, Joann sent each youngster home with a tiny pumpkin. The next year, three classes asked to visit the ranch.

Close to 20,000 children have enjoyed the field trips over the years, and Lombardi makes sure that the people who now lead the tours, "send the children home with at least one piece of knowledge they didn't have when they arrived."

The growing popularity of the ranch's pumpkin patch prompted Bob to initiate an annual scarecrow decorating contest 19 years ago.

It was a fateful 2007 contest, won by Oak Hills Elementary School kindergartners, that led to the second part of the Rotary program.

The students had planned to use their $500 prize money to buy much-needed playground equipment for the Stevenson Ranch school, but the equipment was put on hold when the kindergartners learned that a devastating fire (the Buckweed Fire) caused extensive damage to the Lombardi Ranch.

All three kindergarten classes decided they wanted the money to go back to the Lombardis to help them rebuild the pumpkin patch.

"It was then that I learned that there truly is a silver lining to every cloud," said Lombardi. "The outpouring of love from the community was overwhelming."

When SCV Rotary Club members learned about the elementary school donation, the board discussed what the children had done and decided that the youngsters truly embodied the spirit of Rotary, an organization that honors "Service Above Self," and annually donates cash and hands-on service to a wide variety of local charities.

The board voted unanimously to donate $500 to the school, then invited Oak Hills Principal Wayne Abruzzo to the February meeting to be part of a check presentation ceremony. A smiling Lombardi stood by as Rotary President Doug Sutton presented the check to Abruzzo. "Rotary is proud to recognize the selflessness displayed by the kindergartners," Sutton said, "and proud to have people like the Lombardis as members of our community - they all represent inspiring role models for our valley."


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