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VALLEY ROUNDUP | North Hills

Building Dedicated to Late Activist

May 06, 2000|ROBERTO J. MANZANO

Evelio Franco was known as "the rabbi" in the North Hills neighborhood where the late activist and peacemaker helped people solve their problems. Now a church building and scholarship fund named for him will continue his legacy.

On Friday more than 300 residents and officials gathered for a Cinco de Mayo celebration and dedication of a United Methodist Church of Sepulveda community center to Franco, who died suddenly last November at 45 from an apparent aneurysm. The event featured performances by folkloric and Aztec dancers.

For five years Franco directed the Shalom Zone, a program created by United Methodist to foster community unity after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

"I want to keep his memory alive," said the Rev. James E. Hamilton of United Methodist. "[Franco] is like a little Martin Luther King or Gandhi kind of guy for our neighborhood."

Franco was a well-respected defender of the underdog, who stood up for street vendors and would assist people in getting to court if they had legal problems and no transportation, Hamilton said.

"You never had a situation where Evelio turned you down. His word was solid," said Vince Velivis, executive director at Bridge Focus, a Van Nuys-based nonprofit social service agency that employed Franco for two years and which donated $1,000 to the college fund named for him.

"It was more than a job for Evelio; it was a way of life."

A longtime San Fernando resident, Franco served on the City Council there from 1988 to 1990. A year later, he quit his longtime job in the aerospace industry to do community service.

In a tough neighborhood that contains such gang-ridden streets as Langdon Avenue and Blythe Street, Franco became an ombudsman, counselor and coach to residents. He received death threats from area gangs for keeping kids from joining them.

The Evelio Franco Community Center, a 1935 building on the church grounds, will continue to offer adult classes, community meetings and after-school activities for youth, Hamilton said.

Franco's relatives also announced a scholarship fund named for him. The fund's goal is to help send a senior from Monroe High School in North Hills to college each year, Hamilton said.

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