Over the years, he’s been hailed as “Mr. South Pasadena,” and Sunday, there he was again, doing what he does best, giving up his time for another good cause.
Whether it’s Kiwanis, the Oneonta Club, the 4th of July Committee or, in this case, the organization behind South Pasadena’s annual entry in the Tournament of Roses Parade, count on John Vandercook to lend a hand.
Getting an early start, he was out on Mission Street at the crack of dawn welcoming a wide assortment of vendors, from those selling hats to sno-cones, showing them where to set up in preparation for the 14th annual Cruz’n for Roses Hot Rod and Classic Car Show.
It has become a way of life for Vandercook, who continues to give back to a city that, in his mind, simply stands above the rest. “I’m just doing my part,” said the modest volunteer. “We have some vendors who have been with us every year from the start.”
The car show, designed to raise about $20,000 through sponsorship and entry fees, has become a staple of the community, drawing between 5,000 to 10,000 on most years. “It’s a wonderful event to see cars you wished your father had never sold,” he quipped, followed by a laugh.
Lined up-and-down Mission Street were Chevrolets, Fords, Pontiacs, Buicks, Olds – you name it – all from the past, joining some earlier models, including a few less than a year old. A new category for judging opened the show up to newer cars and some owners took full advantage. Parked were a 2017 Volkswagen and a souped-up 2016 trophy-winning Ford Focus.
Ted Shaw, a local businessman whose roots are deep in the community, started the car show 14 years ago, saying there’s much more competition today. “It comes from throughout the state,” explained Shaw about the influx of similar events on the same weekend. “When we started out, there were probably about four, but now there’s approximately 50 or 60. We were hurting for a couple of years, concerned about not having enough cars to show and were worried if it would happen or not”, he says.
“This year, what happens? Boom, we got over 200 cars and everybody is happy,” he continued, “the people entering their cars are tickled to death by our event, telling us it’s wonderful and that they are going to tell their friends and other car clubs about it in an effort to bring more vehicles to our event next year.”
The man responsible for the first one called the 14th edition “a great show, in fact one of the best as thousands of people came out to see the cars, enjoy the food, festivities and the open house put on by the police and fire departments. All together it makes for a great day. Our community welcomes and supports it, and that is very important. As a city, South Pasadena gets its good name out there.”
Not only is the car show popular, but also on the same day the South Pasadena Police and Fire Departments hosted their annual open house, inviting an array of vendors to set up shop. There was information on earthquake and disaster preparedness, police canine demonstrations, child fingerprinting, helicopter landings and more. Allowing kids to jump in the seat of a fire truck was a major highlight, reinforcing a young child’s dream of wanting to grow up and become a firefighter. Fire Department officials were there, bending over placing red plastic imitation helmets of the young prospects, enjoying their giggles and laughter.
Shaw says the big draw for both the car show and police and fire open house each year is the attention the City of South Pasadena receives. “We’re like a Mayberry and people love it,” he said of the discovery many have already made.
Mayberry, of course was a fictional community used for the setting for two popular American television sitcoms back in the ‘50s and ‘60s – “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Mayberry R.F.D.” The shows depicted a small town atmosphere of a tight-knit, engaged community, its inhabitants strongly supporting one another.
Sound familiar? Maberrians were like South Pasadenans of today. “This is a very small town event where neighbors come and see each other and enjoy it,” explained Shaw. “It’s just a great day we’re proud of it. With our old buildings and tree-lined Mission Street, it couldn’t be better. It’s perfect having the two events come together.”
Shaw, the event’s longtime chair, has passed the baton onto his daughter, Janet Benjamin, who now runs the show. He also acknowledged the work of Rob Williams, who served as emcee of the car show from a giant stage setup in the middle of Mission Street.
“They both did a great job and I couldn’t be happier,” said Shaw. “It’s not so wonderful when you’re involved like I was for all those years because of the amount of work you have to do. It’s what you leave behind when you go. When you leave and it still continues, you can sit down with a big smile and say, “Hey, thank you for the hard work of others for keeping it going. This little town of ours is very unique for supporting it with so many great volunteers. God bless it. This show could have died three times in the last 14 years. But, we still have it. People rallied again this year to make it happen. It was great.”
Along with his emcee duties, Williams was the D.J. for the event, and at one point over the giant loud speakers played Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” the song that will be heard blaring down Colorado Boulevard as South Pasadena’s float rolls along the 5 ½-mile Rose Parade route on New Year’s day. The song just happens to be the name of the city’s entry in the January 1st spectacle.
William has been a part of the car show since day one and he keeps coming back, appreciating its history and sense of community. “What everybody loves about small town America is right here, even though we’re next to Los Angeles,” he said. “The car show is like stepping back in time. You’re seeing classic cars, and experiencing the friendliness of the neighborhood, and the feel of what South Pasadena is all about. It all comes together at a show like this.”
One car entry came all the way from Perth, Australia. The owner, showing an orange 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, sought out treatment from the City of Hope in South Pasadena and “fell in love with our town,” according to Williams, telling the story, “and said he didn’t want to go home.”
Dave Thompson stuck to his words and today resides in a nearby city.
Benjamin said a hundred volunteers were responsible for putting together Sunday’s show. “Without them, this does not happen,” she claimed, adding that the event was “a great day for families. It’s really important to us that we always keep it that way.”
With all the fun, festivities and excitement surrounding the Cruz’n for Roses event, never lost on Benjamin is that the huge undertaking is a fundraiser. “The money we make from the show will take a major chunk out of the $100,000 it costs to build our float,” she said. “Without our sponsors and car entries we can’t raise the money we need.”
Benjamin also liked seeing a large crowd enjoying themselves, claiming that at about noon on Sunday she saw a sea of heads from her vantage point along Mission Street. “I was very happy to see that,” Benjamin said of the crowd of some 5,000 throughout the day. “It was a great turnout.”