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Devoted Dads Honored at Compton Celebration

Fatherhood: A retired educator receives a commendation from the city for his years of personal sacrifice and dedication to his family.

June 16, 2002|ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

January Prince says her dad has been her best friend and inspiration, even through his toughest times.

Despite an eight-year struggle with leukemia, during which Dwight Prince underwent bouts of exhausting cancer therapy, he still attended his daughter's school plays and his son's soccer games.

He dropped 50 pounds in a few months, but never missed a parent-teacher conference.

And when he was weak and tired, the retired Compton Unified School District principal still worked two jobs to help pay for medical bills, college tuition and family vacations to Mexico.

"I didn't know how to say thank you for what he has done for us," said January, 18. "He never let us down. He never turned his back on us. He never complained while he was sick. He deserves it."

On Saturday, January's nomination resulted in a special commendation for Prince, 55, a 27-year Compton school district employee.

The city of Compton named him Father of the Year, the first such award in this city, where positive works are commonly overshadowed in the media by political scandals and corruption.

Prince is a former principal of Robert E. Lee Elementary School. He has taught classes at Compton Community College, and regularly volunteers helping to organize school athletic clubs and events "when he should be in the bed," his daughter said.

He has helped pay for the college tuition for three of his four children and stepchildren. He wakes up early every morning to take his 16-year-old son to school, and gives the teenager driving lessons.

He takes January, his only daughter, to breakfast once a week and always helped her with English papers when she was in high school.

"He cares for his family," said his wife, Melanie Prince, who has been married to him for 19 years. "He wants us to be comfortable. He wants us to make sure we have what we need."

Compton resident Charles Lockett came up with the idea to honor fathers because he was disappointed by the lack of appreciation for dads and the city's poor image.

Nearly 200 people turned out for the event, which was held at Compton City Hall and sponsored by Compton Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Arceneaux.

The Father of the Year was chosen by a panel of citizens and city staff.

"We get such bad publicity in Compton, but we have great men, we have a great community," Arceneaux said.

Prince ran unsuccessfully for the Compton school board in 1992.

At the time, he wanted to make a difference in the city's schools, which were plagued with problems. Prince was diagnosed with leukemia in 1994, an ordeal that would have made school board service difficult.

In 1993, the state seized control of Compton's schools because of the district's poor financial management and plummeting test scores.

The board's power was recently restored, although it continues to be a subject of political controversy.

The city has also seen its share of drama, most notably its recent months-long legal dispute over who should rightfully serve as mayor.

January said her father never let his family or community down. It hurts to watch him struggle with his illness, but he remains determined that life will go on without change, she said.

Still, Prince said he was shocked that he won.

"The kids were right there, and I tried to be right there for them, even though I wasn't feeling as well I should be," he said. "It kind of affirms that maybe something I am doing is right."

Prince said that he never expected to get recognized for taking care of his family. The duties, he said, come with the title. "I am just a dad."

Organizers of the Father's Day event say the men who were honored Saturday, like Prince, are proof that Compton is not the disgraced city that many have painted it to be.

Just look at the contenders, they said.

Ulysses Terry, a former Parent Teacher Assn. member in Compton who was involved with his daughter's talent shows and Camp Fire group, took second place. And in third place was Derrick White, who attends karate classes and football games with his son and is the boy's primarily caregiver.

The other nominees for Father of the Year were Samuel Sherrod Jr., a religious man who enjoys reading to youths; Robert Berry Withers, an active church member and single father of three who raised them since they were infants; Jay Conedy, a dedicated father who takes his 3-year-old daughter, who was born prematurely, to regular doctor appointments; Milton L. McDaniel III, a single parent who raised his daughter and saved money to buy her a basketball uniform when he was laid off from work; and Timothy D. Polk, a hard-working father of three who also cares for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis.

Three other men were honored at the event, including Walter Crawford, who was named Stepfather of the Year; Curtie Williams, who was named Grandfather of the Year; and Dr. Donald Ray Evans Sr., who was named Male Role Model of the Year.

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