Longtime Newhall resident John S. Fuller, who helped create Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in 1975 and led the $35 million reconstruction of California Institute of the Arts after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, died Friday at home in Happy Valley. He was 80.
Fuller’s active participation in the Santa Clarita Valley spans more than half a century.
Professionally, he arrived in 1962 to open the Valley Federal Savings office in downtown Newhall. He moved with his wife Eleanor and their toddlers from Granada Hills to Newhall in 1964 and worked in the SCV until the late 1960s, when he went back to Valley Fed’s Van Nuys office. He returned in 1984 to take a job as administrative vice president of CalArts. He retired in 1998.
As a volunteer, in 1965 Fuller served as president of the Newhall-Saugus Chamber of Commerce (a predecessor to the SCV Chamber). He was a member of the Upper Santa Clara Water Agency board (now called CLWA), and he was the founding treasurer and later chairman, until 1991, of the hospital board. For about 15 years starting in 1985, he served on the local YCMA board, chairing it twice.
An unassuming man, Fuller was never one to seek the limelight. Nonetheless, his peers named him SCV Man of the Year in 1979 for what was already a legacy of community service.
In an SCVTV interview taped last month (Dec. 9) and not yet televised, Fuller shared his first impressions of Newhall.
“When you walked down the street in 1962, you knew just about everybody,” he said. “It was a different town.”
“The first stoplight didn’t come to Newhall until about 1965. You could blow through town without stopping.”
The SCV’s big employers at the time, he remembered, were Thatcher Glass, Bermite Powder Co. and The Newhall Land and Farming Co., which was about to launch its new town of Valencia.
Fuller had a particular memory of the birth of Valencia, which started with the Old Orchard Shopping Center in 1965, the year Fuller was chamber president.
“Heavy rains came in November, which was unusual, and all of that water just poured into the parking lot,” he said. “The county flood control (district) hadn’t built the retaining basin south of there to retain the water out of Wildwood Canyon.”
“I’ll always remember that the stores had about a foot of water in them,” he said. “The fellow who ran the toy store was just fit to be tied.”
Grocery shopping was done at Safeway, now Tresierras Supermarket on Main Street. Wife Eleanor had a hard time negotiating their children, ages 2 and 5, through the narrow aisles.
“I kept telling her there was a mall coming. Well, it came, but it was a few years later,” he said with a laugh.
The Valencia mall opened 30 years later, in 1992.
Monthly chamber meetings were held at the Newhall Bowl on Lyons Avenue, and the menu never varied from roast beef. Many chamber leaders were Rotarians, Fuller remembered, and in the days before cityhood in 1987, the chamber and the service clubs “kind of filled the role of the city,” he said.
Actually “chambers,” plural, because Canyon Country had its own until the two chambers merged to form the SCV Chamber in 1995. The dividing line, Fuller said, was the L.A. Aqueduct pipeline where it crosses Soledad Canyon Road (at today’s Center Pointe Business Park).
Fuller draws a raffle ticket at a Henry Mayo Hospital fundraiser in 1980.
One seed that germinated within the chambers of commerce was the desire for a bigger hospital. The need became clear in October 1962 when a major bus crash killed one and injured 19, and the private Santa Clarita Hospital on Soledad couldn’t handle them all.
The Lutheran Hospital Society teamed up with Newhall Land and devised a plan to build the SCV’s first nonprofit community hospital. LHS purchased Santa Clarita Hospital (then called Inter-Valley) and renamed it Hillside; meanwhile, Newhall Land donated $1.6 million and 25 acres along McBean Parkway.
Somebody would need to raise the rest of the $8.5 million construction cost.
“The Lutheran Hospital Society, The Newhall Land and Farming Co. and (Municipal Court Judge) Adrian Adams brought together a group of about 25 people to be the board, and that’s how the hospital got started,” Fuller remembered.
Treasurer of the group was the man with the financial know-how from Valley Federal Savings – John Fuller. With help from numerous volunteers, the board raised the money and opened the hospital five years later, naming it for town founder Henry Mayo Newhall. Fuller remained active until recently with the hospital volunteers.
Fuller, who turned 80 on Sept. 7, had been in ill health for some time, his daughter Jane Deitz said Sunday. He is survived by his widow, Eleanor; daughter Jane and sons Bruce and Steve; brothers Robert and Ernest; as well as six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Services will be held Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at 11 a.m. at Newhall Presbyterian Church, 24317 N. Newhall Ave.