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PEOPLE TO THANK FOLKS MADE A DIFFERENCE IN THE VALLEY.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

Turn down any street in the San Fernando Valley and you'll find them.

The winners.

The men and women, children and families, who help us take a deep breath and relax - make us realize that no matter how dark the news headlines may get, there's still a silver lining out there.

Still plenty of people waking up every morning looking to do the right thing.

People like local artist Alfred Diaz Flores, Reseda High senior Jaime Gonzales, and the Bibb family on Hortense Street in North Hollywood.

It's been my privilege this past year to bring you their stories, and the stories of hundreds of people like them - the winners.

So on a day when we pause to give thanks and reflect on our blessings, let's give one more nod to these special people who have made a difference in this place we call home.

Thanks to Flores, a 76-year-old artist who travels through the Valley, covering graffiti-riddled walls with images of patriotism, religion, and tradition, including church missions, the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima, Mount Rushmore, and other historical milestones.

Alfred has won the begrudging respect of taggers, who have left his work alone over the years. The proof is on a wall outside a radiator-repair shop on Remnant Avenue in Canoga Park, where Flores painted a 40-foot-long mural depicting international harmony between Canoga Park and its sister city, Taxco, Mexico, in 1979.

Twenty-three years later, it remains untouched except for Flores himself stopping by every 10 years or so to touch it up.

`It's never been tagged, and in this neighborhood that's saying something,'' said John Gerardo, an employee of the radiator shop.

Thanks to 18-year-old Gonzales, who was born with birth defects so severe the doctors told his parents, Trinidad and Alicia Gonzales, that their son would probably not live to see his first birthday.

Eighteen years later, Jaime was the Valley's No. 1 academic draft pick when he graduated in June from Reseda High with a 4.2 grade-point average. Stanford University wanted him. So did UCLA, UC-San Diego and Claremont McKenna College.

The University of Southern California got him, giving the kid who wasn't supposed to see age 1 a four-year scholarship in its undergraduate pre-med program, then another four-year scholarship for medical school.

When you ask him how he did it, he gives all the credit to his parents.

``My mom told me I could do anything, that my disabilities could help me be strong, and I think they have,'' Gonzales said.

Thanks to the Bibb family for that Miracle on Hortense Street, where 10-year-old Laura Bibb, who is developmentally delayed, went from being the neighborhood pity to the neighborhood Rocky thanks to a local chiropractor who took away her pain and made her a smiling, happy, inspirational little girl again.

Thanks to local pilots John Martina of Moorpark and Norman Schwartz of Calabasas for giving their time and abilities to be our representatives in the historic Flight Across America, delivering flags from every state to the people of New York City on the first anniversary of 9-11.

Thanks to Rabbi Sheryl Nosan and the Rev. Gregory Frost for inviting us into their shared celebration of Easter and Passover at St. Andrew and St. Charles Episcopal Church in Granada Hills - a church that becomes a synagogue every Friday night.

At a time when the world is in the grip of religious hatred and violence, it was a wonderful, touching scene to see Jews and Christians sharing the same chapel - learning from each other and respecting each other's separate religious beliefs.

Thanks to 93-year-old Rose Lewin and her friend Beth Chasin, 87 - the Golden Girls - for taking that 10-minute drive every week from their retirement home in Canoga Park to mentor the kids over at Fullbright Avenue Elementary School.

And thanks to 90-year-old ``Grandpa'' Joe Leithem, the fix-it man at Village Christian School in Sun Valley, for showing the kids a lust for life and knowledge that has made him as much an American hero as any in their history books.

Thanks and a happy retirement to 73-year-old teacher Harvey Thomas, the star of a real life ``To Sir, With Love'' story at Osceola Street School in Sylmar.

He was a young African-American teacher who showed up at this school in 1958 to teach respect, discipline and commitment, and stuck around to be the teacher who every kid and parent wanted - the educator known simply as ``Sir.''

Thanks to Allen Baumann and his volunteer honor burial guard for making sure no veteran is laid to rest alone. One Saturday every month, they show up at Patriotic Hall in downtown Los Angeles to stand at attention over the flag-draped coffins of indigent veterans being given a pauper's cremation by the county of Los Angeles.

Forgotten veterans with no relatives to claim their bodies and bury them, no friends or loved ones to stand over their coffin to say a few words.

Baumann, Joe Sykes, Tom Owens, Henry von Seyfried and Jack Campbell drive from the Valley to downtown to be there because no veteran should die alone and forgotten, they say.

Thanks to 86-year-old Bill Malinoff of Encino for raising more than $100,000 for the City of Hope in the past 20 years, pedaling his bike around the Valley collecting aluminum cans and plastic bottles. And to Jim Cullen of North Hollywood, who was honored this year by the Los Angeles City Council for donating more than 18 gallons of blood to the American Red Cross since 1976.

And finally, thanks to all the vets out there fighting to keep the Sepulveda VA open and viable, and to all the nonprofit organizations working so hard to open more doors for the developmentally disabled in our society.

To them, and so many others I wish I had the space to mention personally, thank you from your community.

Turn down any street in the San Fernando Valley, and you'll find them.

The winners.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Alfredo Diaz Flores

(2 -- color) John Martina

(3 -- color) Laura Bibb

(4 -- color) Jaime Gonzales

Daily News file photos
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 28, 2002
Words:1028
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