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Corona's Centennial Celebration May Be Party That's Pooped

July 20, 1986|BARRY S. SURMAN | Times Staff Writer

CORONA — It has enjoyed a reputation as the lemon capital of the world and the home of auto street races. But Corona isn't getting much of a reputation for throwing parties.

The city's 1 1/2-year-long centennial celebration, still in progress, has failed to generate much enthusiasm among its 45,000 residents, many city leaders concede.

"In terms of really reaching the entire community, thus far it hasn't" been successful, Councilman William Miller said last week. "The average man on the street isn't aware that there's a centennial celebration going on."

The planned opening of a cache of time capsules got the most attention. The capsules were to have been opened at a picnic last September but couldn't be found under the steps of City Hall.

That picnic drew about 200 people to the Civic Center lawn, a turnout typical for the sporadic centennial events, according to Diedre Lingenfelter, city clerk and chairman of the Centennial Steering Committee.

"I think that people have become more aware of the centennial," Lingenfelter said last week. "We're coming to the peak of the celebration."

In the last year, the centennial calendar has included a fashion show, a tour of historic homes, several picnics, a mock Civil War skirmish, 5- and 10-kilometer runs, a beauty pageant, an elementary-school pageant, a pancake breakfast and an Easter sunrise service.

Most of these were organized by civic organizations such as the Girl Scouts, the Women's Improvement Club and the Lions Club, and simply designated as part of the centennial celebration by the steering committee. Bimonthly historical displays planned for the City Hall lobby--a precursor, some hope, of a permanent Corona historical museum--have generally consisted of a few items placed in a poorly lighted glass case, with little identification and no explanation.

The centennial committee--created, appointed and funded by the City Council--was charged with coordinating other groups' events, Lingenfelter said, not with staging activities of its own.

Although many community leaders declined to publicly criticize the centennial activities, several said the committee's approach has made for a diffuse celebration with no real focus or identity.

"The other events are fine," Miller said, "but I think there should have been a focal point, a centerpiece."

Committee members hope that two days of events later this year--a concert organized by Miller, featuring country singer Johnny Cash on Sept. 14, and a parade, festival and fireworks show on Oct. 18--will make the city's hundredth anniversary memorable for more than the memorabilia it has generated.

The centennial committee has sold golf shirts and trivia games, caps and lapel pins, license-plate frames and Frisbees. Most bear the bright centennial logo: green leaves, white blossoms, a gold crown and an orange surrounded by a wide blue ring, emblazoned with the slogan, "To cherish our past, to plan our future."

"Sell a T-shirt, sell a cup: That's our centennial," said Jim Deegan, a member of the centennial committee until he was ousted by a 4-1 vote of the City Council in April.

Council members accused Deegan of falsely representing himself as a city official and of other unspecified misconduct, but they refused--then and since--to elaborate or cite specific instances.

"I don't believe he has represented himself on the committee . . . (in a way that merits) support of the City Council," Councilman William Franklin said.

Only Mayor S. R. (Al) Lopez voted to keep Deegan on the panel. "He has given more of his time, freely," than anyone else involved in the centennial, Lopez said.

Deegan filed papers last week to place his name on the November ballot for City Council. He had decided to run, he said, before he was removed from the committee.

"I think little, petty jealousy" was behind the ouster, Deegan said. "We were getting a lot of publicity and they just didn't like it. . . . They gave (the centennial) a black eye."

Deegan had been working full time and more on the centennial, arranging events, collecting civic artifacts and pulling unsuspecting passers-by into the committee's City Hall office to talk up the celebration or to show off the old whistle from the Sunkist packing plant.

He took so prominent a role in the centennial that a local newspaper mistakenly referred to him as the committee's chairman.

"Jim was a very hard worker and certainly contributed to the enthusiasm of the centennial," Lingenfelter said. The real chairman added, however, that through the centennial, Deegan "was promoting his own personal interests. . . . "

"There were apparently other reasons, which I'm not aware of and don't want to be aware of" for Deegan's dismissal, she said.

Five other centennial committee members resigned in protest over Deegan's ouster. Another left the group more recently, for work-related reasons, leaving the 12-member body with just five members.

None of the seven vacancies has been filled, although some residents have expressed interest. "I don't know that 10 members or 12 members are necessary," Miller said, ". . . and the present committee is doing a good job."

But Deegan thinks the celebration has been lacking "the good old red, white and blue, hold up the flag and pat ourselves on the back. . . .

"So far, the only thing we have for the centennial is three banners hanging across 6th and Main (streets and at City Hall)," Deegan said. ". . . You see no centennial news in the papers, nothing. And it's a shame."

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