Len Whitegon: He’s got spirit

Retired educator stays true to his school(s)

SERVICE-ORIENTED<br>Len Whitegon has received a series of honors for his philanthropy, including designation as a Local Hero by the CN&amp;R in 2006.

Len Whitegon has received a series of honors for his philanthropy, including designation as a Local Hero by the CN&R in 2006.

Photo by meredith j. cooper

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This story also appears on www.chicosol.org.

Google Len Whitegon. The results show he is a retired elementary school principal. He is cofounder of the Chico Science Fair. He is a volunteer. He is a Chico State alumnus and was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. He is known as the “fight song guy.”

The search-engine summary lines won’t show how he became a principal. How he got involved in the Chico Science Fair. How he serves his community. How he remains a devout Chico State sports fan. How he feels about the fight song.

Whitegon, of course, wouldn’t Google himself. He doesn’t use a computer.

He lives at Sycamore Glen with his wife, Mildred. Even in retirement, at age 80, he is active in the community. Mention the name Len Whitegon to someone who’s lived a while in Chico, and they’re bound to know who he is.

Born in October 1928 in Red Bluff, he remembers his parents encouraged their children to attend college and be educated.

“My father, basically, was a farmer. He came from Kansas, and he was superintendent of the grounds out at the Tehama County hospital in Red Bluff,” Whitegon recalled. “That’s where my brother was born, and that’s where I was born, in the superintendent’s house. We had free housing as well as the salary. My mother was a cook.”

Whitegon remembers playing touch football in the street and shooting baskets through a hoop on the barn in his buddy’s backyard. Although his family didn’t own a TV, the Whitegons would rent one on Christmas and sometimes at Easter. Television wasn’t a “high priority thing in our lives,” he said.

Despite his anxiousness to attend college, Whitegon postponed higher education to serve in the Army for 18 months. But he began attending Chico State 14 days after he was discharged on Jan. 19, 1948.

“I always planned on going to college to make a living, start a life,” he said, “as it should be.”

Whitegon initially wanted to study law and become an attorney. At the time, teachers were in demand, and he decided to go into the field of education to become a school administrator. His inspirations were his grade-school principals from Red Bluff.

“I believe in education,” he said, “and I believe in the opportunity to be educated. That’s why I think so highly of Thomas Jefferson, who was an aristocrat, but knew that for us to have a democracy, you have to have an educated population.”

Whitegon started in Orland, where he worked as a teacher-bus driver, then teacher-principal, before transferring to the Chico Unified School District. He spent 18 years at Parkview Elementary School and 11 more at Jay Partridge Elementary before retiring.

In his 33-year career, Whitegon only missed two days of work: one day in Orland, due to illness, and two half-days in Chico.

He retired in 1984. But his work in education didn’t end. The accomplishment that makes him proudest came after retirement. In 1988, Whitegon helped get a school-bond measure passed with a 78.7 percent vote. The funds were used to install safety features at schools and build Little Chico Creek Elementary and Marsh Junior High.

Whitegon also helped found the annual Chico Science Fair. As a Kiwanis member, he helped get the Chico Kiwanis Community Observatory built near Horseshoe Lake in Upper Bidwell Park. He has volunteered for Meals on Wheels, served on several school board and city-wide committees, and each holiday season he helps the Salvation Army prepare and give away Christmas packages.

A normal day involves activities with one group or another. Despite a busy schedule and varied routine, he starts and ends the day in one way: with his wife. He says she’s someone he couldn’t live without. She says he’s caring and handsome.

They first bumped into each other about 63 years ago.

He remembers it this way: “I was playing football for Red Bluff High School. During the game, while tackling one of the Corning players, I landed on the white line. And I got it in my eye and had to be taken out of the game. While walking to the locker room after the game I happened to bump into this bass drum.”

Watch it, buster—you break it, you’ll have to pay for it, the drum player told Whitegon. He thought she was surly.

A few years later, he saw her again.

As a Chico State student living in the men’s dorms where Acker Gym is today, Whitegon and many other college students would walk down Warner Street to Ma Robinson’s boarding house for meals. Ma Robinson’s was located on Salem Street where the entrance to the public parking structure is today.

There, Whitegon saw Mildred. She was in Chico working as a secretary.

The two started dating, spending much of their time at football games. Those were the days when there were only 1,500 students on campus and football was still the No. 1 sport. In fact, their first date was a homecoming game against Southern Oregon University. (Chico State was beaten badly, 48-6.)

Maybe he remembers the game because it was his first date with his wife-to-be. Maybe he remembers the game because he’s a sports fanatic. He’s a fan of the Giants and the 49ers—and the Wildcats.

Whitegon tries to attend every Chico State home basketball game, both men’s and women’s. During games, he stands up and convinces the crowd to sing when the fight song plays.

“I’d like to get them to stand up and join, but I don’t know that they are always aware that that’s the fight song,” he said. “In 1949 and 1950, the students then knew what the fight song was.”

Some students say the song is outdated, in particular the lines: “Where our men are square” and “fair coeds are fairer.” Whitegon agrees the words could be updated. But for him, singing the song is about school spirit.

The Whitegons have one daughter, Sharon Delgardo, who, like her father, chose a career in education and is a teacher in Chico.

Whitegon has had to cut back on his activities because of vision problems. But he says as long as he is in good health, he can continue serving others. Nowadays, he enjoys spending time with Mildred, knowing he’s accomplished a great deal in his many roles.

He daydreams of greater accomplishments to come. He imagines days more vivacious than those bygone.

“We find out that now, we live faster than we did then,” Whitegon said. “We’re running faster now than we did back then. We’re making more touchdowns, and we’re catching more passes and all of those things. We didn’t use to catch that many passes and didn’t make that many touchdowns. But now we are at this age, the Walter Mitty age.”