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AROUND THE SOUTH BAY

Friends flock to the assistance of a widow who has spent her life helping others

May 14, 1987|KAREN ROEBUCK

Jessie Glen sat on an old, stuffed chair outside her cluttered second-hand store on Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach, proudly showing visitors her 40-year-old wedding photos and pictures of her families.

The 77-year-old widow alternated between telling jokes and straining to hear the friends who had come to help her out. At times, she said, she feared she might cry. She was still grieving, she explained.

Her husband, Willie, who ran the second-hand store and shined shoes, died March 8, leaving her with the shop, a run-down rented house next door, and an 11-year-old girl the couple has raised as their own.

On Sunday, Jessie hopes to sell off as many of the old books, magazines, records, shoes, bottles, television sets, record players, furniture, appliances, toys and clothes and plants as possible, and use the money for a rental deposit on a nicer home to share with her daughter, Keisha known as "Kiki."

She is even willing to sell old photos of her husband, one of the first black residents of Redondo Beach and a man who had become a fixture in the community during his more than 50 years there.

Jessie met Willie when she was 37, shortly after she moved to the area in 1947 from Washington, D. C., with her white "family," for whom she was "a kitchen mechanic . . . a cook, a housekeeper and a general all-around woman."

They married that year and Willie moved his shop from an oceanfront site to its present location at 127 S. Pacific Coast Highway.

The Glens adopted two sons and, about 10 years ago, took in Kiki, a distant relative of Willie's.

Willie knew everybody in town, his widow said, and, like his father, Dave, shined the shoes of passers-by, mayors and motion picture luminaries who occasionally stopped by his shop, called Dave's News.

"Everybody comes to his place," Jessie said, "if but nothing for curiosity."

William F. Czuleger, who was mayor from 1961 to 1977 and a councilman from 1949 to 1957, said he had known Willie and his family for more than 50 years.

"Before I would go to a council meeting, I'd get a shoeshine," he said. "Willie was a hard worker."

Czuleger, a Republican, said the two would sometimes talk politics and he would try to rile Willie, a Democrat.

John Ryskowski of Manhattan Beach met Willie once, about 10 months ago, when he stopped by Dave's News to buy a costume for a friends' party.

"The guy was sound sound asleep when I walked in there to buy it," Ryskowski said, laughing. "I had to wake him up. I could have walked off with the whole store."

Ryskowski, an engineer at Hughes, spent a few minutes chatting with him.

"I thought, this guy's a classic," Ryskowski said.

He said he drove by Dave's News about three months ago and saw a sign on the shop that read: "Leave things out back, Willie's in the hospital."

Concerned, he stopped by later and talked to Jessie, who told him that her husband wasn't expected to live much longer.

Since Willie's death, Ryskowski has continued to check on Jessie and has been trying to help her out, occasionally interpreting conversations for the widow, who is hard of hearing.

At first, Jessie wanted to keep the shop and rent it out for storage, so Ryskowski recruited three friends, also aerospace engineers, to fix the sagging, leaky roof.

But Jessie, who rents the store and house for $800 a month, changed her mind and decided she would rather close the shop and move with her daughter to a nicer house.

Jessie said her husband and his brothers and sisters once owned the store and the house, but Willie's siblings sold it in the 1950s, forcing the Glens to rent the properties from the new landlord.

Jessie wants to stay in South Redondo, preferably in a house that has a yard so she can keep herself busy and continue to grow plants, she said.

She has kept the shop open on the weekends, selling what she can.

She, Ryskowski and three friends--Sean Casey, 30, and Will Thomas, 30, of Redondo Beach, and Kirk Moody, 28, of Hermosa Beach--are planning a bigger, more organized sale from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Ryskowski said the four men--who took Jessie a spring bouquet on Mother's Day--will try to organize the shop to better display the merchandise, much of which is hidden from view.

Despite her problems, Jessie recently took in two homeless people and helped them out until they could get on their feet and find their own homes and jobs.

She says what she can't sell on Sunday, she'll give to the poor.

"She's helped a lot of other people and we just feel compelled to help her," Ryskowski said, "because she's alone now and she needs help."

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