Tuesday, May 2, 2017

From Elsa to Pamela, a Wreath and a Heart - Passing of the Laurels 2017

McGroarty Arts Center by Maja Trochimczyk

On Sunday, April 23, 2017, at the McGroarty Arts Center (7570 McGroarty Terrace, Tujunga, CA 91042) a celebration of poetry took place - the ninth such event in 18 years.  The local poetry and cultural community participated in the Passing of the Laurels 2017 Ceremony, with Elsa S. Frausto, the Eighth Poet Laureate (2014-2017) passing the laurel wreath and the poets' heart to Pamela Shea, the Ninth Poet Laureate of Sunland Tujunga, selected to serve in this voluntary and prestigious post for the years 2017-2019.

The celebration opened with beautiful guitar music played by Vincent Reyes, and the guests were welcomed by a representative of the host institution, the McGroarty Arts Center, Dawn Jenkins.

Dawn Jenkins welcomes guests to the Passing of the Laurels Ceremony. 

DAWN JENKINS, a volunteer serving on the McGroarty Arts Center Board of Directors, pointed out that the celebration was taking place in the former home of California Poet Laureate (1933-1944), playwright, and politician, Mr. John Steven McGroarty (1862-1944) whose beautiful mountain villa became the cultural center serving the entire community with a variety of programs, from ceramics, to piano, poetry and dance. McGroarty's titles to fame, besides serving for two terms in the U.S. Congress, were writing for the Los Angeles Times, creating the Mission Play, and a rich volume of poetry, with "Just California" being the most famous. The reading of“Just California”, was required by all California elementary school students.

JOE DECENZO grew up in Los Angeles and majored in theater and English Literature. From 2004-06 he served as poet laureate of Sunland-Tujunga. He produced the “Shouting Coyote” performing arts festival and was a Department of Cultural Affairs grant recipient. His published works include The Ballad of Alley and Hawk and contributions to anthologies and journals. He currently serves on the planning committee for the Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga and as Chair of Poet Laureate Search Committee.

Joe DeCenzo. Photo by Maja Trochimczyk 

Joe DeCenzo presented the history and importance of the McGroarty Arts Center and the Poet Laureate program in the following speech:

"Thank you all for attending and supporting the literary arts in the foothills. Your presence here not only honors the family who built this house but also the artisans who built this community more than a hundred years ago.  Poet Laureate strives to nurture our cultural pride, to inspire our sense of unity, and to help young writers grow their confidence and express their voice.  Your attendance here affirms its value.

"As you arrived today you either ascended the steep asphalt drive or you climbed the recently constructed stairs playfully decorated with ceramics and objects of personal worth and meaning to the people who donated them; hundreds of people whose lives have been touched by this house and programs it provides.

"It’s been said- the reason God gave us two ears and one mouth is so we would listen twice as much as we speak.  I invite you to take this moment to listen to the murmurs and whispers of this house because “These Walls Talk”

They echo sounds of every poem written, every song sung
They speak of determination and stamina to rise through fire’s ash
They speak of faith, family and the future of a people
   Nestled in the offerings of Verdugo
These walls envelop those oppressed at sundown,
   Mourn those interned in hostile times
   Dignify those neglected at the table of human discourse
   For they were raised by artists’ hands and stand for decency
More than the enduring river rock foundation
More than the mission tile roof offering shelter from the blazing summer sun
Beyond the warmth and comfort of the hand hewn ceiling beams -these walls talk
   They say, “Come to me and fail for you will then learn to succeed.
   Break with strict convention and your visions will expand.”
Oh, how you talk, resonant walls of Rancho Chupa Rosa
The lure of humming birds to their creative nectar spring
Reverberate in times to come, Evoke your builder’s dreams

  Joe DeCenzo, April 23, 2017

Center: Joe Aguirre with his wife, Kathabela and Rick Wilson. 
Second row: Peter Larsen,with wife, third row: Marlene Hitt. 
Joe DeCenzo who was the Fourth Poet Laureate (2004-2006) thanked the Director of the McGroarty Arts Center, Joe Aguirre for inviting poets yet again to the home of the California Poet Laureate from the 1930s and 1940s.  Mr. Aguirre, a retired school principal, works as a volunteer and also served on the Poetry and Literature Committee 2017 that elected the new poet laureate from a pool of worthy candidates. The Committee also included the following members: Joe DeCenzo, Marlene Hitt, Elsa Frausto, Dorothy Skiles, Bill Skiles, and Dr. Maja Trochimczyk.

Dorothy Skiles, Marlene Hitt, Joe DeCenzo, Luis Rodriguez and Maja Trochimczyk

Joe DeCenzo then introduced Maja Trochimczyk, the Sixth Poet Laureate (2010-2012) who designed the event's  program, prepared print materials and decorations, and served as the MC for the "official" part of the program. She read one of her poems and presented Past Poets Laureate who made great contributions to the poetry life in the foothills. In 2010, Joe passed the laurels and congratulations to Maja when she became the Poet Laureate, and in 2012, shared with her many congratulatory scrolls from government officials.

Joe DeCenzo with Maja Trochimczyk at the 2012 Passing of the Laurels Ceremony. 

MAJA TROCHIMCZYK, Ph.D.is a Polish American poet, music historian, photographer, and author of six books on music, most recently Frédéric Chopin: A Research and Information Guide (rev. ed., 2015). Trochimczyk’s seven books of poetry include Rose Always, Miriam’s Iris, Slicing the Bread, Into Light, The Rainy Bread, and two anthologies, Chopin with Cherries and Meditations on Divine Names. The Sixth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga, she is the founder of Moonrise Press, and Board Secretary of the Polish American Historical Association. She is a recipient of awards and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, Polish Ministry of Culture, Polish American Historical Association, McGill University, and USC. www.trochimczyk.net.

View from McGroarty Arts Center, photo by Maja Trochimczyk


We are a miracle of life

We do what we want
We want what we do

We are perfect

We are a cosmic tree
We grow by the calm lake of light

Its smooth opal surface
Reflects the sun’s smiling face

Our roots drink liquid light
Our crowns sparkle with stars

Our leaves are green with peace
Our flowers are gold with joy
Our fruit is ripe with wisdom

We are a living miracle
We are perfect

From noon to midnight
From midnight to noon

We love what we do
We do what we love

We are – We shine
We are one with One

We are perfect

(C) 2017 by Maja Trochimczyk (A version of a poem originally published in Into Light, 2016)

Marlene Hitt

MARLENE HITT is a Los Angeles poet, writer and retired educator with local history as an avocation. She served for many years as Archivist, Museum Director, and Historian at the Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga. She is a graduate of Occidental College, a 26- year member of the Chuparosa writers and the First Poet-Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga 1999-2001. Her poetry has appeared in several journals, three chapbooks, one book (Clocks and Water Drops, Moonrise Press, 2014) and in local newspapers. She wrote an  history book, Sunland-Tujunga from Village to City and served as columnist for the Foothill Leader, Glendale News Press, North Valley Reporter and the Voice of the Village newspapers since 1998.

Selected books with Marlene Hitt's poems. Photo by Maja Trochimczyk


What can we leave when we go away?
Not just loneliness and grief
but a past to offer on a day like today.
Loving deeds, our words
that make images float about,
telling of cautions we should heed,
joys that swirl within and without
our memories, and the knowing,
believing that all things change,
acceptance of should and ought and must.
Grace in all and even exchange.
See the children copy his step,
see them dress in his ways,
see how his friendship's riches
are spent throughout our days.
and thank him, thank him for his life
the mentor, the leader, the friend,
that father, that granddad, that husband or wife.
nothing will ever really end.
we will remember and copy the mold
yet with sorrow that the bell has tolled.

(c) by Marlene Hitt

Marlene did not even say she's the 2017 Woman of the Year whose name was entered into the congressional record by Congressman Adam Schiff - it was his representative Teresa Lamb-Simpson, who shared this important news with the audience.

By the time Marlene read her poem, the beautiful hall was filled to capacity (about 120 people). The next Poet Laureate who made great contributions to the poetic life in the foothills was Dorothy Skiles, the Seventh Poet Laureate of Sunland Tujunga (2012-2014).

Dorothy and Bill Skiles listen to the proceedings among the event's audience. 

DOROTHY SKILES is a poet and retired administrator with Los Angeles County, Department of Public Social Services.  Served the public for over thirty-four years. She currently serves on the planning committee for the Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga. Dorothy published a series of chapbooks: The Sidewalk Gallery (1979),  Ear to Earth (1996), Spine Flower Blues (1999) - a collaborative effort with fellow members of the Chuparosa Writers of Sunland-Tujunga, and Riddle in the Rain (2003) - a joint venture with Marlene Hitt. Her work also appears in Meditations on Divine Names (2012) and in various poetry anthologies and journals.

Dorothy Skiles welcomes guests to the McGroarty Arts Center


I awaken
To a sunny morn,
Yet how fickle you can be.
You’re mood changes
So dramatically!
A clap of thunder,
A flash of lightening,
I grab my raincoat,
Umbrella tucked
Under my arm!

By late afternoon,
The rain stops,
Sunlight again.
All is bright!
Raindrops glisten
Among the branches
And budded leaves of
The white birch trees.

Oh April!                                                                                      

What will tomorrow bring?
Why, of course, another
Lovely, lovely day of spring!

Dorothy Skiles
©Copyright 2014 D. Skiles

Teresa Lamb-Simpson and Vickere Murphy listen to the proceedings.

The next part of the program was the introduction of distinguished guests representing local, state, and federal politicians.  We were very happy that so many distinguished guests have decided to join us during this Ninth Passing of the Laurels Ceremony, in 18 years. We have been doing it since 1999 and the presentations of congratulatory certifications and scrolls has always been an important part of this event.

A representative from the Office of Council President Herb J. Wesson Jr. – Mr. Tony Wilkinson, Community Liaison, for Council District #7 presented a certificate to Elsa Frausto, thanking her for the three year of service as Poet Laureate and for the many contributions she made to the promotion of reading, literacy and poetry in the local community, especially in collaboration with the Sunland-Tujunga Library.

Tony Wilkinson representing Herb Wesson, President of City Council. Photo by Bill Skiles

Elsa Frausto then received a congratulatory certificate from a representative from the Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Mr.  Jerrod R. DeGonia, Senior Field Deputy.

Jerrod DeGonia congratulates Elsa Frausto, Photo by Bill Skiles

We were honored to also have State of California representatives with us.  From the office of California State Assemblymember, Raul Bacanegra, 39th District came Eric Menjivar, Communications Director, to present congratulations and certificates to both the past and the future Poets Laureate.

Pamela Shea with her Congratulatory Certificate from the State Assemblyman, Raul Bocanegra

Elsa Frausto received a honorary certificate from the California State Senator Anthony J. Portantino, the 25th State Senate District, represented by Vickere Murphy, District Representative. Finally, and not included in the printed program, we had with us a representative from the office of U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, that is from the Congressional District No. 28 – Ms. Teresa Lamb Simpson who made a speech about the importance of poetry and culture for the Congressman, and mentioned the recent honor bestowed on Marlene Hitt by the U.S. Congress.

Elsa S. Frausto with her honorary certificates.

After the closure of the official part of the event, the presentation of congratulatory certificates to Elsa Frausto and Pamela Shea, the audience enjoyed a musical treat: two classical pieces for flute and guitar beautifully played by Alice Pero with Vincent Reyes.  Their masterly interpretation of  impressionistic works by Jacques Ibert – Entr'Acte   for flute & guitar and Francis Poulenc –  Mouvements Perpétuels, transported the audience into sublime realms of beauty as they contemplated the elegance and expressiveness of the music, performed with great musicality and virtuosity by the members of the renowned Windsong Chamber Players ensemble.

Alice Pero and Vincent Reyes. Photo by Maja Trochimczyk

ALICE PERO graduated from The Manhattan School of Music and is founder of both Windsong Players Chamber Ensemble and the celebrated poetry reading series, Moonday. Her first poetry volume is Thawed Stars, published in 1999; her works appeared in many journals and anthologies. She recently wrote Sunland Park Poems, with Elsa Frausto (Shabda Press, 2017).  She has taught poetry to school children since 1991 and enjoys alternating between poetry and music and enjoying time with her four grandchildren.

Alice Pero and Vincent Reyes, photo by Maja Trochimczyk. 

VINCENT REYES has been playing and teaching classical and jazz guitar professionally since the age of 15.  He is a founding member of Windsong Players and has been working lately a great deal on a cruise ship as well as playing for productions of East West Players.

For those who did not attend the ceremony, here's another rendition of Poulenc's Mouvments Perpetueles played by Alice Pero with Vincent Reyes, from a Windsong Ensemble concert:

It is hard to overestimate the role that this beautiful Musical Interlude played in elevating the mood and quality of the entire event. Many listeners came to thank Alice and Vincent for their wonderful performance at the end. In ancient Greece, the Muses of Poetry and Music were sisters, so that's one reason why the flute and guitar performance was loved so much! For more, be sure to attend their next concert, and in the meantime, listen to more recordings on the Windsong Players Chamber Ensemble YouTube Channel.

Elsa S. Frausto with her laurel wreath.

Finally, the most important part of the program began with the "Swan Song" reading by ELSA S. FRAUSTO, the Eight Poet Laureate of Sunland Tujunga who served in that role since 2014.
Elsa's poems spanned her entire writing career, and ended with two excerpts from her book of 2017, Sunland Park Poems, co-written with Alice Pero.

A native of the Argentinian Pampas, she has lived in Tujunga under the shade of oaks and with the nightly scent of chaparral and sage for close to thirty years. She has been active in the local literary community as a member of the Chuparosa Writers, editor, readings organizer and host (Camelback Readings) and most recently Wide Open Readings at the Sunland-Tujunga Library where she also showcases the Poem of the Month.Together with the Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga, she participates in the monthly poetry readings at Bolton Hall. She is widely published in English and Spanish; and recently co-authored (with Alice Pero) a chapbook Sunland Park Poems (Shabda Press, 2017) which celebrates the beautiful Foothills we call home.



In the broken notes of his saxophone, 

a man writes a life.
This one says- I practice here
because I can't at home.
If they are broken, well, so is my life.
But I still come to the park
and my body curves in the shade it makes.


Waiting is like this

Sunlight on my eyes
and at my back
some warmth
like a secret
in plain sight 
we all share
Like the shadow
of an inclined head
and a hand
that writes
what it didn't know
a minute ago
Discovery is quick
Waiting is slow
In between, the crow,
announces its arrival

From Sunland Park Poems by Elsa Frausto and Alice Pero (Shabda Press, 2017)

The audience at the McGroarty Arts Center

The core of the Passing of the Laurels ceremony consists of crowning the new Poet Laureate with a "laurel" wreath - in our case it is a wreath of olive branches: olive for peace and for the oil of inspiration-wisdom-anointing. After placing the new wreath's on PAMELA SHEA's head, Elsa Frausto gave her the golden heart locket that contains dried leaves from all the past wreaths of all the past Poets Laureate. This locket has been passed on from one poet to the next since 1999, in an unbroken tradition. The name of the new Poet Laureate is then engraved on the plaque with all the poets' names, kept at the McGroarty Arts Center.

Elsa Frausto presents the golden heart locket to Pamela Shea. Photo by Maja Trochimczyk.

Elsa Frausto presents the Poet Laureate Plaque with Pamela Shea's name added.

Elsa Frausto with Pamela Shea receive flowers.  Photos by Maja Trochimczyk

PAMELA SHEA, the ninth Poet Laureate, has lived in the Sunland-Tujunga area for nearly 40 years. She is a writer and poet who chronicles her life through verse. Pam was born and raised in the foothills community of La Crescenta and studied at the University of Redlands.Her professional life has included medical office work, from which she is retired, and teaching in the fitness field, in which she is currently active. She has a long history of community service, which she has combined with her writing.

She finds inspiration in family and nature as well as in triumph and strife. She enjoys sharing her poems in hometown open poetry readings. Poetry has been her passion and therapy for as long as she can remember.
Her poems appeared numerous times in the local Voice of the Village newspaper, as well as in the monthly newsletter for Salem Lutheran Church in Glendale and the fundraising literature for the Health Ministries of the Foothills. Other poems appeared online in Village Poets and Poetry Laurels blogs.

Ms. Shea was a featured reader at the Shouting Coyote Performing Festival in 2004 and also led a workshop at that event on the Poetry of Nature. Since then, she participated in many readings with the Wide Open Readers, led by Elsa Frausto, and the Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga at Bolton Hall Museum.Her extensive record of community service includes many endeavors, such as volunteering for the Verdugo Hills Family YMCA’s annual Current Campaign Support Fund Drive for several years. She was also a member of VHY’s Senior Advisory Committee.

She started a poetry group that met weekly at VHY as well as served as a board member for two terms (six years of service) for the Health Ministries of the Foothills. She has also been involved in the Relay for Life.Ms. Shea is the proud mother of three and grandmother of two. She has been married 43 years and has lived in the same house in Sunland for almost 40 years

Pamela Shea. Photo by Maja Trochimczyk

For her term as Poet Laureate she said: "I plan on taking poetry out into the community by facilitating quarterly seasonal poetry writing events for all ages. These events would be held at local venues that feature the flora and fauna of our community, such as Descanso Gardens, Deukmejian Park, the meditation garden at the Crescenta Valley YMCA, McGroarty Arts Center, and Bolton Hall. My goal is to foster a spirit of inspiration, affinity, and support for both established and budding poets, and to encourage them to experience the beauty of our environment together and use it as a muse for their own work."

Her first reading spanned her entire writing career, and included two poems cited below.

Pamela Shea, photo by Maja Trochimczyk


The dimension of openness
Is to live without restrictions
It is to break limitations 
Flying free through the universe
Embrace all while holding nothing
Unclasp the mind, the heart, the hands
Float in the sea of the cosmos
Journeying into expansion

(c) by Pamela Shea

Pamela Shea, photo by Maja Trochimczyk


The hazy smile of crescent moon,
The cheerful face of daffodil,
The brilliant, blazing midday sun
All show that spring is here.

Soft pinks and yellows of sunrise,
Explosive red-golds of sunset,
The clear blue skies of longer days
Confirm that spring is here.

The soft kiss of a rustling breeze,
Expectation of warmth to come,
Harmonious celebration
Whisper that spring is here.

(C) by Pamela Shea

Poets Laureate of Sunland Tujunga, L to R:  Elsa Frausto, Dorothy Skiles, Marlene Hitt, 
Joe DeCenzo, Pamela Shea and Maja Trochimczyk. Photo by Bill Skiles


The Passing of the Laurels event is supported in part by Poets & Writers through grants it has received from The James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the following individuals and organizations that made this event possible:


For their assistance and coordination we thank


Saturday, 6 May, 3 pm
Special Edition of Wide Open Reading
"Sunland Park Poems" by Alice Pero & Elsa Frausto
Sunland/Tujunga Library, 7771 Foothill Blvd, Tujunga, CA 91042

Sunday, May 28 – at 4:30 p.m
Village Poets Monthly Reading at the Bolton Hall Museum
Featuring Michael C. Ford and John Brantingham
10110 Commerce Avenue, Tujunga, CA 91042

Pamela Shea with Joe DeCenzo and Maja Trochimczyk, Photo by Bill Skiles

Appearances by Poet Laureate Pamela Shea:
 Pamela Shea is available for appearances at social and civic events, like opening of art exhibits, concerts, festivals, and government events. She has two readings coming up on Saturday, May 6, 2017. The first is for the Sylmar Woman's Club fashion show and luncheon at the Odyssey Restaurant. There are about 400 people expected! On Saturday evening, she will read at the McGroarty Arts Center's wine tasting event. On May 16, she will be presenting her poems at a painting fundraising event for Relay For Life at the Backdoor Bakery Cafe in Tujunga.

Pamela Shea, Elsa Frausto with Joe DeCenzo. Photo by Maja Trochimczyk

DOROTHY SKILES concluded: "The Passing of the Laurels was both inspiring and magical, a day we won’t soon forget.  Very much a team effort -  a labor of love.  A testament of how people can work together to make a positive impact not only on the arts, but also in the space we occupy in this world.  Elsa, seeing you honored as the outgoing Poet Laureate, and Pam, seeing you crowned with laurels as the newly installed Poet Laureate, was a moving experience for all of us. The audience was warm and engaging, enjoying all that creative energy, musically and poetically, coming together in one place – the former House of John Steven McGroarty, nestled among the trees, a hallowed spot in the Verdugo Hills with a view of the San Gabriel mountains.  The audience was in no hurry to rush off, savoring good conversation and tasting an array of delicious edibles.  Lots of wonderful memories,"

Poets Laureate, Marlene Hitt, Dorothy Skiles, Pamela Shea, Joe DeCenzo, Elsa Frausto
and Maja Trochimczyk. Photo by Bill Skiles. 

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