In the late 1960s, when the United Farm Workers union was spearheading a lettuce boycott aimed at pressuring growers to allow field hands to unionize, Frank DiNoto recalls his daughters' saying one day that their high school teachers had asked them to support the boycott.
DiNoto was troubled by what he saw as the school's failure to give the farm owners' side of the dispute. So he stepped in and arranged for some of the teachers and students to visit Tulare County farms in the agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley to gain an understanding of the growers' position.
That visit was part of the "Farm-City Youth Exchange Program," which DiNoto launched as a community service in 1963 for his local Kiwanis club to introduce urban teen-agers to rural life.
Over the past 32 years, the 61-year-old banker from Newport Beach has sought to get people "to see the other fellow's side" by involving them in similar community service projects. These projects are largely credited for DiNoto's election as president of Kiwanis International, a men's service organization. He began serving his one-year term last month.
The 8,200 Kiwanis International clubs in 79 nations help sponsor activities that include the Special Olympics for handicapped children, a yearly Children's Miracle Network Telethon that raised $21 million this year for children's hospitals, and fund raising for college scholarships, DiNito said.
Last year, Kiwanis clubs altogether donated $51.7 million and volunteered more than 22 million man-hours for community service projects, Kiwanis spokesman David Blackmer said in a telephone interview from the organization's headquarters in Indianapolis.
"My special emphasis (while Kiwanis International president) this year will be on programs dealing with the health and safety of children," DiNoto said in a recent interview at his Newport Beach home.
To achieve his presidential goal--"Make Miracles Happen"--DiNoto is trying to get local Kiwanis clubs across the country more involved in child health and safety programs.
His special interest is in getting Kiwanis in the United States and abroad to work closely with local health officials to establish more emergency trauma centers for children, such as the Kiwanis Trauma Institute in Boston.
"It's important to establish more pediatric trauma centers throughout the world because the first hour following an accident is the most crucial to successful treatment," he said. "Children need their own trauma units because the equipment required to treat their injuries is different, and they need specially trained doctors."
Kiwanians already do extensive volunteer work with ill or injured children. DiNoto recalled that one Southern California Kiwanian was so cheerful while playing Santa Claus during a recent Christmas season that he prompted a young boy to talk for the first time in six weeks at a children's hospital.
Local clubs also help out by providing trips to Disneyland for terminally ill children. "Your heart really goes out to children like this," he said. "I can't think of anything more enriching."
DiNoto and his wife, Mary Jane, moved to Orange County six years ago after living 23 years in Arcadia.
He is chairman and chief executive officer of Universal Savings Bank, which he founded 32 years ago with a single office in Rosemead. Today, it has $280 million in assets and five offices in Orange County, with another five branches in Los Angeles County.
However, DiNoto will be spending little time on banking during his year as Kiwanis president. He and his wife will be busy visiting Kiwanis clubs in the United States and abroad, attempting to get them to increase their community service projects.
Mary Jane DiNoto, who has shared in her husband's Kiwanis activities, asked, in mock horror, "Can you believe we spent our 39th (wedding)anniversary (last Aug. 31) in a girls' dormitory? We were attending a meeting of the Key Club, (the Kiwanis' high school auxiliary), in Valley Forge, Pa. . . . Actually, it was a lot of fun."
A native of East Los Angeles, DiNoto said he joined Kiwanis because "when I started Universal Savings (Bank in Rosemead)in '54, part of my objective at the bank was to have the supervisory personnel involved in community service."
"I joined the Rosemead Kiwanis Club because its community service programs involved projects with a special emphasis on youth," he continued. This appealed to me, as well as Mary Jane."
He said his volunteer work hasn't interfered with family or business commitments. "I substituted TV time," explained the USC-educated accountant and attorney. "Fellows who say they can't find time for community service organizations like the Kiwanis are the same ones you'll find glued to their TVs."
Besides, he added, "part of the success of any business depends on community support. I think a businessman has a responsibility to give something back to the community by becoming involved in a service club."
A Family Affair