Alumni of longtime closed Lasuen HS remain loyal to cause
The pristine blue sky welcomed more than 100 runners of all ages who year after year have “chipped in” to support a generous cause in Mexicali, started 24 years ago by Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Patrick Thompson and his religious community.
“This is a nice fellowship,” said Sue Nowinski as she arrived with her sister Sally to San Pedro’s Point Fermin Park, where at least 200 alumni of Lasuen High School gather every spring for a three-mile run/walk/picnic. “It gives you a good feeling to support those who don’t have much and it’s also an opportunity to meet the folks we don’t see throughout the year.”
Her three brothers Stan, Steward and Steve, all Lasuen alumni, were among participants who started their “exercise” after Father Thompson’s blessing and a short opening speech from Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino.
When the OMI-operated school shut its doors in 1971, Father Thompson, then the institution’s athletic director, was assigned by his congregation to Mexicali, where he actively participated in building and developing 12 parishes for the next 24 years.
Along with the Church growth, poverty also scaled in the U.S.-border city. Unemployment increased as well as gang-related activities mixed with limited education opportunities for the younger generations, and lack of housing.
Parishioners who owned a house lacked basic services, such as electricity, running water, sewage, or waste management and in an effort to support the community meet needs, Father Thompson came up with the idea of a center where the families would receive educational tools to help them improve their lives.
This is how the nonprofit Edusec (Spanish acronym for Education and Community Services) was born. But funds were diminishing and as the Lasuen alumni learned about the project they gradually got involved.
Since 2005, they have contributed more than $12,000 annually, collected during the annual run/walk and other contributions generated in Christmas time.
Among those contributors are San Pedro resident Brigitte Tocco and Rancho Palos Verdes resident Miyoko O’Hara. At 72 and 85 years old, respectively, the women --- former participants in local and international marathons --- said they enjoy the walk, but mostly the opportunity to help others.
It was Joe Bird, a former Lasuen teacher, swimming coach and dean of discipline, who got the alumni and friends involved. He delivers a compelling message, they said, about “caring for others that we do not even know.”
Many have made it a family activity. Take the Nietos, who have become a picnic feature. For more than 10 years they have opened the doors of their home to those involved in preparing the food.
“About 10 alumni pitch in,” said Christine Nieto, wife of Lasuen alum John Nieto. Preparation (and reminiscing) starts a day in advance and the result is a tender flavorful carne asada and chicken that they grill on-site to prepare the $5 Mexican plate; and juicy Italian sausages for the sandwiches.
Cindy Allen gets tearful recounting the “memorable” times when she attended the fundraiser with her sister Maryann and her deceased mother Peggy Holland, Lasuen’s secretary for five years till the school was closed.
Mary Dimassa could not hide her happy face. She was participating in the event for the first time together with her husband and their two teenagers.
“This is a good cause and we made it a family event, plus we get to enjoy the beautiful day and nice ocean view,” said the San Pedro resident pointing to the ocean while walking back to the park.