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A Local Hero Returns To Show Thanks
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LA MESA -- On a warm La Mesa evening they gathered -- the men and women of business, of education, of finance and politics.
And literally above all, a man of sports.
This was not a gathering of tension or difference. It was a celebration of a community gathering to revel a bit in a moment of unity, of single purpose.
The schools gave the land. The city a building. Ron and Mary Alice Brady gave a portion of their fortune. And Bill Walton, called the greatest college basketball player in history, gave back in his special way to the community that had spawned him more than six decades ago.
"I'm Bill Walton,'' he said simply, smiling broadly. "I'm from La Mesa. I went to Helix High. I am in the Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame. And I am the luckiest man in the world.''
Walton was the keynote speaker of an event to honor the Bradys for their $3-million donation to a Boys and Girls Club project that is in the process of transforming this corner of the west side of La Mesa.
The $9-million dollar fundraising campaign is nearly past the $5-million mark and Walton was also here this day, his wife and mother in his entourage, to kick off the Friends of Bill Walton Fundraising Campaign within the overall Boys and Girls Club effort here.
Many friends and teammates from Walton's days at Helix High School came to visit and he thanked them, often rattling off not just their names but the names of their wives, children and grandchildren too. It was Walton's way of showing, not just telling, how connected he remains to the La Mesa community.
Walton pointed to youngsters in the audience and asked local residents to remember how important it was for them to have role models and safe places to gather when they were young in La Mesa's simpler early days. Walton then named the coaches and players that launched his storied career and many of them were in the audience.
The Friends of Bill Walton Fundraising Campaign will be a big part of how this effort gets from the $5-million to the $9-million needed to fund the planned 25,000 square-foot facility. It has attracted the support of a pantheon of famous athletes and has its own website.
Administrators and board members from the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District and La Mesa City Council members attended to honor both Walton and the Bradys. A proclamation was read and cheers went up a number of times. But it was clear from the attendance from virtually every facet of the community that this was an effort everyone supported.
The East County Economic Development Council Foundation took advantage of this gathering to deliver its own gift, a $50,000 check that will fund a computer facility within the Boys and Girls Club Teen Center that is also being renovated as part of this project.
Walton's speech was the high point of an evening with many memorable moments. He traced the lessons of his youth to the success he found in sports and broadcasting, but praised the Bradys for not "getting to the top of the hill, of finding success and then building a fence around their lives.'' Instead, they remembered those who might not have the support and inspiration they found in life and are coming down off that hill to push a project like this.
As the evening ended, residents streamed off to their cars. Walton, however, stayed until the last poster was signed. Until the last photo was taken.
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