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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | PROFILE: ALAN RAINS

Hardware Heir Helps Nail Down Hospital for Ojai

November 24, 2000|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Aside from a toothy grin and a shock of white hair, there is nothing flashy about Alan Rains--arguably among the best-known men in Ojai and perhaps its most self-effacing.

He cringes at titles like "Mr. Ojai," which have been flung in his direction in honor of the committees, commissions, tennis tournaments and other civic activities he has taken part in or presided over.

"I'm just a guy," the trim 69-year-old says, looking at his shoes. "Just a guy doing his job."

Not exactly.

His job is owner of Rains department store in downtown Ojai, but the work he is most known for is far from the world of hardware, tan slacks and tasteful gifts. Most recently, Rains chaired a committee that organized the purchase of the barely profitable Ojai Valley Hospital by a local nonprofit foundation from Tennessee-based Providence Health Care.

Fellow panel members credit Rains' gentle demeanor, unwillingness to bluster and quiet persistence with helping smooth the way for a very good deal. Providence originally wanted up to $10 million for the hospital but eventually settled for $2 million.

"Having a person of his status always helps when doing a project," said Dr. Scott Davis, an Ojai surgeon who practices at the local hospital. "He's well-known to many people and regarded as a fair and decent man."

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City Councilman Steve Olsen, who worked with Rains on the hospital deal, called him the driving force behind the purchase.

"He worked 12-hour days as a volunteer to make it happen," Olsen said. "If you don't know Alan Rains, you are out of touch with Ojai."

Ojai City Manager Andy Belknap called Rains "patient, wise and self-effacing." Without him, Belknap said, the town might have lost its hospital.

Rains says he appreciates the compliments, then quickly changes the subject.

He talks about the early days of Rains department store, the city's largest retail store, which has helped define downtown Ojai since 1914. His grandfather, Glen Hickey, started the business as a hardware shop in Ventura before moving it to Ojai.

"It was a wonderful old store with wooden sidewalks out front," recalls Rains, sitting in his spartan store office. A sign on the unmarked door bears a slogan he picked up in Singapore, "Make Courtesy a Way of Life."

He credits that sentiment, along with a sense of community, for the success of the Rains business through the generations.

In 1919, he said, a fire raged through the Ojai valley. His grandfather put a note on the store urging people to take what they needed to put out the flames.

"He never lost a dime," Rains says. "They all settled up."

Alan Rains, an only child, was born in Oxnard. His family lived in Ventura but the night his mother gave birth, she was turned away from Foster Community Hospital, located where Community Memorial Hospital now sits, for lack of money. The family then drove to St. John's in Oxnard--not the current St. John's--which let them pay in installments.

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He moved to Ojai when he was 10. His father later took over the business and Rains went off to University of the Pacific in Stockton to study music, specifically the trombone.

"I was planning on being a professional musician, but once I got to college and saw all the talented people there, I had doubts," he said. A cousin urged him to go back home and work in the family business, and he hasn't stopped since.

Through the years, Rains developed a lengthy resume.

He has sat on the city's redevelopment commission, the Chamber of Commerce, the architectural board and is former chief executive officer of Ojai Valley Bank. He recently won reelection as city treasurer, is chairman of the Ojai Valley Community Hospital Foundation and president of the annual Ojai Tennis Tournament.

In addition to the hospital purchase, Rains helped assemble a nonprofit group to build a new football stadium at Nordhoff High School in the 1970s.

"He was the radio announcer for the home football games," recalled Olsen. "For years he was the voice of the Nordhoff Rangers."

Behind his civic-mindedness lies Rains' primary goal--preserving Ojai's way of life.

"You don't find a whole lot of people in Ojai who don't want to be here," he said. "There is a true spirit of cooperation here and a true appreciation for the valley we have. The lifestyle is perhaps slower. But it is a small town that really supports the arts and a diversity of cultural activities."

He has also worked with city planners to develop the arcade area around his store.

"He has helped us retain the downtown as the core of the community," Belknap said.

Rains has been married to his wife, Jan, for 45 years. They have two sons, two daughters and five grandchildren. His son Jeff now runs the store's day-to-day operations while the elder Rains keeps an office inside, performs his civic duties and travels the world.

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He has been to Japan, Thailand, Greece, Turkey, Israel, the Philippines, France and Spain, and is heading for Nepal next year "to do some trekking."

Though he is quiet, an infectious enthusiasm runs through Rains. It's most evident when he talks of some aspect of Ojai, such as the annual tennis tournament or the friends who honk as they drive past or the seasons of the valley.

"It's fall," he says, standing outside his store and looking toward the distant mountains. "Soon you'll see snow up there."

And might he ever consider slowing down or even retiring?

"I'll have plenty of time to retire," he said, "when I'm dead."

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