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Wall-of-Famers : Lynwood Honors Past Residents Duke Snider, Earnest Killum

August 12, 1993|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LYNWOOD — The Duke of Flatbush returned to Lynwood last week for the first time in decades. Like the city where he once lived, former Dodger Duke Snider had changed.

He is no longer the idol he was during the 1950s when he patrolled center field at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and was one of baseball's top sluggers. But then, Lynwood is no longer the pristine suburb that gave Snider the key to the city after he hit four home runs in the 1952 World Series.

Memories of days gone by were freshened last Thursday when it was announced at a press conference that the Hall-of-Famer will be one of the first two inductees into the Wall of Fame at the city's Community Transit Center.

Also to be inducted Oct. 1 is the late Lynwood High School basketball star Earnest Killum. Killum, whose jersey has been retired at the high school, died as a result of a stroke 18 months ago. He was 20 and a member of the Oregon State University basketball team.

Plaques honoring Snider and Killum will be displayed on a wall at the entrance to the center, which is at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Bullis Road. Ralph Davis, the city's interim director of Recreation and Community Services, said the transit center was picked as the site for the wall because it has a gym and attracts young people. There will be two inductees each year from various walks of life.

Civic leaders say they hope that linking a famous person from Lynwood's past with someone from the present will build pride in a community that has been better known in recent years for gangbanging and drive-by shootings.

"Lynwood has a lot of famous people who grew up here or lived here and then went on to bigger and better things," Chamber of Commerce President Mike Hite said. "We want to honor them."

Snider's memories of Lynwood represent a time when the community had the "Leave It to Beaver" look of a well-scrubbed suburb. "This was just a very nice bedroom community," Snider said. "All the stores you needed were on Long Beach Boulevard. There were no malls. This was a nice place for the kids to grow up."

By contrast, Killum grew up playing basketball in gang-infested city parks. When he was in the ninth grade and getting poor grades, he thought about joining a gang, but instead joined a church to escape the streets. By the time he was a senior, he was the most popular student at Lynwood High. He averaged 30 points a game his last year at Lynwood and was considered one of the top college prospects in the country.

"If I had a son, I would have wanted him to be like Earnest Killum Jr.," Lynwood Coach Bill Lee said at the press conference.

Snider, who had a lifetime batting average of .295 with 407 home runs, was a seven-time National League All-Star. Called up from the minor leagues by the Dodgers in 1947, he became known as the Duke of Flatbush--after the Ebbets Field neighborhood--for his smooth tongue and good looks. In 1955, he led Brooklyn to its only World Series title, again hitting four home runs as the Dodgers beat the Yankees. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.

Actually, Snider, who now lives in Fallbrook, was born in Los Angeles and went to Compton High. Snider said his wife, Bev, who was raised in Lynwood, persuaded him to settle down in her hometown, on Carlin Avenue across from Lynwood High, in the late 1940s.

"We had a house right across from the football field," said Snider, who lived there for several years. "The house was on a little rise and I could sit in my living room and watch the games every Friday night."

Today, the house is often pointed out to Lynwood visitors and newcomers.

Lee, the basketball coach, said that when he came to Lynwood people would tell him, "See, that's the Duke's house right over there."

Snider, his hair now a silver-white, admitted that he had not paid much attention to Lynwood's plight since he left. He discovered that Leonard's, a men's clothing store where he worked in the off-season, has been closed for some time, and the bakery where he stopped for coffee each morning has been torn down.

"With the freeways the way they are now, it's easy just to pop right on through these areas and not notice things changing," he said.

The press conference was attended by about 50 people, including city employees, civic workers and longtime residents who delighted in hearing Snider. Lorraine Davis, a resident of Lynwood since 1942, went up to him and said, "My husband and I were there when you played your first game at the Coliseum." That was in 1958, the year the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn.

But some in the audience were unaware of Snider's exploits. Thelma Lillard, Killum's mother, said she had never heard of him.

"When he was growing up here, it was mostly whites," she said. "I just learned about him."

Chauna Wertlow, 18, who had been brought to the event by a friend, had never heard of Snider either. But she said she was glad she had come.

"We learned something that we didn't know before," she said. "They don't always tell you this kind of stuff in school."

When the conference broke up, Snider was surrounded by autograph seekers. He signed baseballs for two youngsters and a piece of paper for Lorraine Davis, who left for a senior citizens' luncheon across the hall.

The room emptied and Snider declined to take a tour of the city. He chose instead to spend a few quiet moments driving down Long Beach Boulevard.

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