by Michelle Zimmerman
photography by Natalie Fowle
Together they have traveled the world, raised a happy family, suffered the loss of a son, been community activists and remained happily married for the last 70 years. Through both triumph and tragedies, they have supported each other, and, even now, at the young age of 94, they seem like teenagers in love. By all accounts, John and Darline Powell have lived what Darline describes as a “blessed life.”
The couple has been active members in the La Verne community for the past 31 years. It is with this in mind that the city of La Verne chose to honor the Powells with the “Community Hero” award at the 2000 Los Angeles County Fair. The annual award was bestowed upon them both for recognition of their 70th wedding anniversary as well as for their continued involvement within the La Verne community.
“We left a very lovely home in San Gabriel with lots of room and moved out here so that in case either one of us became ill or incapacitated the other one could take care of the ill one. We waited 28 years for that to happen; my wife now is somewhat handicapped,” explains John.
The Powells settled in the Foothill Ranch mobile home park in the city of La Verne in 1971. Their home is decorated with family photographs and momentos from their many vacations abroad. It is an eclectic collection that includes everything from Japanese dolls to ancient pottery from South America.
Before they could even unpack their bags, the Powells became community activists, lobbying for rent control within the city’s mobile home parks. When they first came to the city, they enjoyed the affordable rate of $82 a month per space rental. During the next couple of years, inflation caused a dramatic increase in the rent.
The increase was of great concern to the senior citizens of La Verne, as they were the primary inhabitants of the mobile home parks. They found themselves in an unfortunate predicament; they owned their homes but not the land. Many were on fixed incomes and could not afford the rent increase. John was one of the first to become active within the park. He explains, “We were all pioneers of this type of living, and we formed our own recreational club and homeowner’s association.”
Although the Powells felt they were being treated fairly by the owner of their park, they saw their fellow seniors from neighboring parks not enjoying the same good fortune. John quickly sprang into action. He was appointed chairman of a committee that advised the City Council on the rent-control issue.
John recognized that many seniors needed a strong leader in the fight to control the rapidly increasing rents. John, though modest about his work, was their hero. His efforts paid off in 1984 with the passage of the La Verne Mobile Home Review Ordinance.
John’s involvement in the city did not stop there. He continued to be a pioneer for senior causes in the city, striving to make La Verne a place that had much to offer its senior citizens. He served on the city of La Verne Senior Advisory Committee for 10 years. During his tenure, he helped in the implementation of numerous programs, including the computer club, bingo night, the Senior Fair and the Senior Nutrition Program. “We created in this area the first smoke-free bingo program,” John notes as one of the many innovative ideas that were brought to action. In 1993, John was awarded the “Outstanding Older American” medal by the La Verne City Council.
Darline was left partially disabled after taking a spill while visiting her grandson. John resigned from the committee to help care for her. He explains, “That was the agreement when we moved to La Verne, that we would care for one another.” Although no longer active on the committee, both continue to participate in the many programs they helped to establish. The couple is particularly involved with the computer club and has used the skills they have acquired for an amazing project.
The project took place over the course of a year. The two set about documenting their life together. Since they have spent 70 years together and traveled to 35 countries, this was no small task. With the help of journals kept by Darline and their keen memory, they chronicled their many adventures together. They compiled more than 500 photographs, which they painstakingly scanned into their computer so that they could put together an amazing book of memories. Darline carefully cut and mounted each picture in four separate albums so they might share their history with their grandchildren.
The Powells are especially proud of their family. They had two sons, one of whom died in 1996 due to complications from crohn’s disease, a colon disorder which causes chronic inflammation of the colon. The couple also has two grandsons, both of whom graduated from USC, and two great-grandchildren. “We have had a wonderful life, and we have done many things that others have not been fortunate enough to do,” John says.
As if all of those accomplishments were not enough for one lifetime, they are only one small piece of the puzzle in a truly extraordinary life.
Together, through their marriage, they have raised a family, been community activists and traveled the world. They have seen and done things most people can only dream about, and yet John affirms, without a doubt, “There is no place I would rather live than La Verne.”