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At the Age of 84, He Still Does His Script Sure, and He Does It Very Well

December 07, 1987|Herbert J. Vida

Most likely you've seen Sam O. Schweitzer's fancy scroll writing at an Orange County school, in some friend's house or maybe in President Reagan's office. No doubt, you didn't recognize his work.

However, if you see Schweitzer, 84, he wouldn't mind talking about his years as a master calligrapher-illustrator working out of his Laguna Beach home studio, where he produces hundreds upon hundreds of fancy scrolls.

After all, there aren't many master scribes around.

"Maybe some monks--and most of them are in monasteries," he said.

But he adds that life to him is not all fancy letters with colorful artwork, especially at his age.

"I bowl once a week and I'd really like to score a 200 game," said Schweitzer, who averages about 125 and thinks he might retire as a scribe when he gets to be about 90. "But it's only 11:45 a.m. now," he deadpanned, looking at his watch. "So I've got time to make up my mind."

His studio is filled with completed fancy scrolls, many of them duplicates of those he's sent to Presidents, and even a fully illustrated one for England's Queen Elizabeth II commemorating the 25th year of her reign.

Across the street at Laguna Beach High School, scores of students receive his work as a reward for good academic work or for athletic achievement.

"You know I've been waiting 17 years for a student to cross the street to see who's doing it," he lamented. "One of these days, maybe. . . . "

Schweitzer said his talent was learned at an art school in Cleveland. "The reason I ended up there was because I flunked three out of five subjects at Toledo University," he said. "At art school they had no books, no flunking."

After many years as an graphic artist for advertising agencies, Schweitzer said he took four months of classes with a monk scribe--"learning how they did it."

That launched a career that continues to keep him busy, sometimes working 12 hours a day.

He also teaches a weekly calligraphy class in the Laguna Beach City Council chambers.

But he still has time to attend his Exchange Club meetings--and on time, too. "They charge you a quarter if you're late," he said.

And he knows where his bread is buttered. "My wife (Eve, 68) is my companion, my secretary, typist, tax consultant and good cook besides," he said.

Still with a steady hand, "One of these days I'll meet up with an engineer and put together a program on the computer to make it write like I do," said Schweitzer, who works with a pen instead of a quill.

"A pen is three times faster," he said, noting he would charge more than his current $1-a-word fee if someone wanted him to use a quill. "A pen is more efficient."

Sometimes Boy Scouts get emotionally caught up earning merit badges. For instance, Matt Frauenzimmer, 13, of San Clemente, ended up collecting a ton of food to earn his community service merit badge.

More exactly, he gathered 2,100 pounds of canned vegetables, canned hams, turkeys, stuffing, gravy, pies, oranges and apples .

Matt and some other scouts from Troop 702 loaded the foodstuffs in the family Volkswagen van and delivered it to the Episcopal Service Alliance in San Clemente, a group helping the needy year-round in the communities of San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, Dana Point and Capistrano Beach. It was distributed for Thanksgiving.

Matt, who has earned 17 merit badges, explained that he wanted to do something that would help the poor and needy.

Ethel Gould, 56, who taught Spanish to New York City high school students before retiring to the Costa del Sol retirement community in Mission Viejo, is doing it all over again, but this time for senior citizens. And for free.

"They're easier to teach (than high school students)," said Gould, who is confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis and gets around in an electric scooter. "And, generally speaking, my students do quite well."

She said her 26 students know that Spanish is handy when traveling, and even when they aren't. "Spanish is almost a second language in California," she said.

Gould, who lived in Cuba for seven years and majored in Spanish in college, said she has an advanced class. "It's been going on for four years," she said.

Acknowledgments--Marie Gess has had a full life, and longer than most. Twenty-five friends helped celebrate her 100th birthday at the Beverly Manor Convalescent Hospital in Capistrano Beach, where she lives. Born in Germany on Dec. 10, 1887, she moved to Minnesota, then resided in Anaheim for 41 years. She raised three children and once worked as a hotel cook.

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