by Ken Colby
photography by Gloria Diaz
To be mayor of a small town for 23 years, one has to do something just short of a miracle, right? Mayor Jon Blickenstaff has done many things for the city of La Verne, but it is his credentials that keep him in office, and his personality and character that keep voters, voting for him. The city of La Verne has drastically changed during Jon’s term in office—houses have replaced the citrus ranches. However, one thing remains the same: the mayor’s constant effort to lead La Verne and ensure a high quality of life for its citizens. Jon prides himself on the efficiency and friendliness of the city government. “I am proud to say that La Verne is very citizen friendly.”
The future brings anticipated changes, including the Gold Line transit system linking La Verne to Pasadena. In the works is the “Build Out.” “We are planning on developing the undeveloped areas of La Verne, in all aspects: commercial, industrial and residential. As always, we’ll keep in mind aesthetics, emphasizing quality and balance. “The city has huge decisions ahead of us,” he explains. “But we are taking our time making sure everything is well thought out; in other words, we are planning very carefully to make the right decision.”
There are many challenges with governing a city, he says, including maintaining a balanced budget with state cutbacks, future planning with these new projects in mind, and most important, “maintaining a high quality of life for all citizens.”
The mayor has lived in several La Verne homes; the first was his parents’ home at 2100 Orange St. The former citrus ranch gave him room to roam as a child. He and his four siblings were close throughout their childhood. “We always did the right thing because that’s what our parents expected.” He recounts that during his early childhood, La Verne held about 5,000 residents. Citrus ranches covered the area from Arrow Highway to the foothills. Doing the right thing was not just something Jon practiced as a child, he says; this became his guiding principle as mayor.
As a young student, Jon says he excelled in school as well as built life-long friendships. From kindergarten to eighth grade, he attended Roynon Elementary. His was the first kindergarten class to attend Roynon in 1950. There, he says he began to develop his love for learning and his strive for perfection. In the sixth grade, he was nominated and won the student body presidency. “It wasn’t really something I asked to do; the students nominated me and felt I would do a great job.” He did not run for a class office in seventh grade, but in eighth grade, he was elected president. At age 10, Jon moved from the citrus ranch to a home on Peyton Road. By this time, the citrus industry was on the decline. “It was sad to see the groves go; they were my childhood playground.” Recalling his childhood, he can never remember watching TV; he was always outside running through the orange groves or playing with friends.
Jon did not just succeed as a student, but also as a boy scout. “The camping trips, the bonding, I will never forget those events. I was blessed to have adults around me who cared. “Scouts bring real fond memories. I remember every year I would look forward to the canoe races. We would build canoes out of orange crates, take them to the Colorado River and race them. I loved working with my hands, and I got to build a canoe from scratch. It was amazing.” He returns to La Verne scout meetings, also attending every Eagle Scout ceremony he can. “Scouts are a wonderful program for guidance and direction. I was a straight arrow kid, always wanted to do what’s best. I think it all goes to the opening line from scouts, ‘On my honor, I will do my best.’ It’s a lifelong commitment.” While in high school, Jon became an Eagle Scout. “Getting my Eagle Scout is a time I will never forget; it meant so much then and continues to bring fond memories back to me.”
He attended Bonita High School, then located on the present site of Damien High School. During high school, Jon began working for Frank Johnson, his later to be brother in-law, at the Texaco gas station on the southeast corner of Bonita Avenue and C Street. It was there that he developed his passion for cars, especially Model T Fords. “I remember I fixed and restored cars before I could even drive them.” The love for cars was not all that Jon learned from working at the Texaco station. He also learned some of life’s lessons. “Frank taught me people skills and team work, and he was the best people person I have ever known.”
In his freshman year, he says he was influenced by a teacher. Mater Jones led a typing class where she motivated students to excel. “At this time, there was really no need to type 50 words a minute, but that didn’t matter; she influenced us, and we all wanted to excel in her class.”
Jon was not involved in student government during high school—”just fixing cars, working at the gas station and spending time with his girlfriend.” In high school he found the love of his life, Joan. “I met Jon at the YMCA in Pomona. Every Friday night after football games, the “Y” would have a dance for all the local schools, and, at one of them, Jon asked me to dance, and we have been together ever since,” recalls Joan.
In spring 1962, Jon was certain La Verne College was for him. He applied and was accepted. “My home, school and work were all within five blocks; there is nothing better than that.” At La Verne College, Jon studied sociology and English. After two years, he married Joan. “We both know how fortunate we were to have each other; we were so well suited that we both knew we were ready to be married,” says Joan.
At La Verne College, Jon says he attended his classes, got good grades but was never interested in extracurricular activities. However, he was on the debate team. “I believe that class has helped me out much in life; it gave me the skills I use on an everyday basis—quick thinking, public speaking and a passion for learning.”
He graduated from La Verne College spring 1966. That fall, he began teaching in the Azusa School District. He taught a fourth and fifth combo class at Paramount Elementary School, then moved to Slauson Elementary School. After eight years of teaching, he became principal at Valley Dale Elementary, moved to Center Elementary School, then went back to Slauson Elementary and finished at Mountain View Elementary School. “It’s amazing how things work out; I found my niche right out of college, and I am blessed to have found it so early in life.”
Also in 1966, he joined the La Verne Volunteer Fire Department, a post he kept for 14 years. From here, he saw a personal role in politics and city reform. His family and friends encouraged him to run for City Council in 1980. Despite running against a list of people with more experience, he won. His brother-in-law Frank Johnson was the mayor of La Verne. So Jon again was able to learn from him.
He recalls that Frank taught him that working and caring for people, and love for the city was the only way to govern. In 1982, Frank insisted that Jon run for mayor. Jon says he was hesitant, thinking he did not have enough experience to run for such an important position. However, with some persuasion, he decided to trust Frank since he had never given him any bad advice. In 1982, Jon was elected to the mayor’s office. “What experience did I have? Well, not much, except I loved the city of La Verne, and I love the people of La Verne.”
Facing the Council was hillside development. “Many neighboring cities destroyed their hillsides by letting homes be built too quickly; I didn’t want that to happen in La Verne.” The Council’s Hillside Ordinance limited the building of homes in the foothills of La Verne. His next major issue was the treatment of employees. “I felt the city wasn’t treating its employees correctly, so I wanted to see that changed.” He gave the employees competitive wages, great working facilities and a sense of belonging and ownership in the city. He has faced other issues and taken them head on: rent control, city finances, and providing services for all residents, children and seniors.
Jon and Joan have two children and two grandchildren. His grandson attends Roynon Elementary School in one of Jon’s old classrooms. “When I walk Bryce to school, I tell him to look in the sand, and that the footprints there are mine; he always responds with, ‘No way, Grandpa!’”
It is Jon’s goal to keep the small town feeling alive. He has always printed his home phone and address in the phone book and also on his business cards. “I want to be available to the citizens at all times; that’s the difference between local and state governments.” Growing up in La Verne is what gives Jon his passion and love for the city. He feels the city has given him so much that he owes the city much. “The fond memories, the life-long friends are more than anyone can ask for, and I hope that all residents get the same experience as I did growing up here.