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Burbank Couple See Worthy Causes Everywhere

For 32 years, Larry and Sue Stamper have been channeling their energy into community service. 'They're examples to all of us,' says one admirer.

March 07, 2004|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

Larry and Sue Stamper seem to defy the laws of physics.

People swear they move at the speed of light, that they're perpetual motion machines, that they must have found a way to expand time.

"They're everywhere," said Ken Nielsen, president of Woodbury University in Burbank, one of many community leaders who marvel at the energy and hours the Stampers pour into volunteer causes. "I don't know how they do it. They're examples to all of us."

The Burbank couple's presence is practically a given whenever help is needed to raise funds for the YMCA or to gather bags of donated food each month for the needy. That's not counting their participation in groups such as Kiwanis, Rotary, the Boy and Girl Scouts and the chamber of commerce, not to mention the sister city program.

"If there's a committee in town or a job that needs to be done, you can absolutely be guaranteed that one or both of their names are on the list of people doing it," said Burbank Mayor Stacey Murphy. "They are community treasures."

It's been that way since the couple arrived in town 32 years ago. That was when Larry was appointed pastor of the First United Methodist Church, where he continues to lead a congregation of 1,030. He has opened the church's doors to so many nondenominational fundraisers and aid programs that the towering sanctuary on Glenoaks Boulevard has become an unofficial community hall.

The Stampers' causes have ranged from highly visible efforts, such as helping start the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, to the simple act of setting aside a storage area at the church to collect used wheelchairs, walkers and hospital beds for free distribution to anyone in the Los Angeles area who needs them.

"It's a lifestyle," said Larry, 68. "I think all of us have the feeling inside that we have to give something back. It all depends on how we accept that and use it. It's up to the individual to act."

Sue, 66, an assistant vice president with First State Bank of California, said she and her husband believe that helping others is an ever-present opportunity to not only make the world a better place, but also to achieve inner peace.

"I get so much more back than what I give," she said. "I think of it as using my talents and doing what I enjoy."

As for how the Stampers squeeze their altruistic pursuits into their schedules, Sue said there's no mystery: "If there are things you are passionate about, you will find time to be involved with them."

Friends say the Stampers may be passionate about their work, but they're remarkably low-key about it. In the best tradition of volunteerism, they don't call attention to themselves, and they don't check which way the political winds are blowing.

"There are lots of people in every community that always have a motive," said Lisa Rawlins, a Warner Bros. senior vice president and president of the Burbank YMCA board. "I know that in going to Sue and having her advice, she doesn't have a bias. She just wants what's best for the community."

As the first female president of the Burbank YMCA a few years ago, Sue headed a fundraising drive that collected $4.5 million, and she personally talked several large companies into six-figure donations. Sharon Cohen, the city library director, said Sue's door-to-door campaigning was a major factor in the passage last year of a $14-million bond measure to build a modernized central library.

Larry's causes have included board or advisory affiliations with United Way, Goodwill Industries, the Gene Autry Foundation and the Burbank Community Hospital Foundation.

One of his proudest achievements, he said, was helping to establish the nonprofit Burbank Temporary Aid Center, which last year assisted 23,000 people with food, clothing, job placement and shelter. The idea originated in 1974, when a young woman came to his church office asking for airfare to Kansas City. She said her parents had just been killed in an auto accident.

"She was wearing a coat on a blazing hot summer day," he recalled. "At the time I was doing ride-alongs with the police, and I knew that meant she was probably a drug addict. I said we would help, but I needed to call the mortuary for verification because this was other people's money." She cursed at him and stormed out the door.

Larry knew giving her cash wasn't the answer, but neither was turning his back on her. At a meeting of local clergy the next day, he asked if there was a way to help people like the young woman. Soon the aid center was up and running.

Despite their successes, the Stampers have learned that good deeds can sometimes be a hard sell. While serving on the Burbank City Council from 1981 to 1985, Larry backed a politically unpopular plan for a mental health halfway house. "Sadly, NIMBYism was alive and well," he said. "Everyone thought it was a great idea, but not in their backyard."

It became a long-running controversy and the council finally rejected the plan. Larry decided to get out of politics because it seemed to be an inefficient way to help the community.

"There was a lot of hot air," he said. "I left the world of words for the world of action."

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