As president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley in
Pacoima, LeRoy Chase Jr. kept those club doors open and enriched the lives of youth here for decades.
And at his memorial Chase, 73, who died Nov. 27 following a lengthy illness, was remembered for the tremendous “community home” he gave to kids and families in need.
“Each one of you holds a glimmer of the light of LeRoy Chase,” Rev. Beth Bingham, senior pastor, told a packed house of family, friends and Los Angeles city officials inside the Congregational Church of the Chimes in Sherman Oaks for the memorial on Dec. 14.
“[Chase] was indeed a light that brightened so many lives.”
Through nearly four hours of music tributes, accolades and memories, Chase was praised as a “gentle giant” who “set the bar” as a community leader.
“He was my mentor and a father figure,” said longtime club employee Hector Rodriguez, who first met Chase when he was five years old. “I’d go to the club daily, and I’d always see this giant man with the big smile walking around. When I became a teen he offered me my first job, as he did many other teens.”
He said Chase constantly arranged day trips to Marineland of the Pacific, Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, and other Southern California amusement landmarks for the boys and girls there. “If it wasn’t for LeRoy’s leadership at the club, my siblings and I probably would have never seen places like that as a kid.”
“He Made History”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who referred to Chase as “our Brother Leroy” — and “whose encouragement pushed me forward” during his first run for a seat on the LA council — told the audience that Chase “didn’t just mark history, he made history,” and described him as “father, husband, son, athlete, giant, leader…salsa dancer.”
“There are some people who judge themselves by the important people they know,” Garcetti said. “LeRoy Chase knew some of the most famous people in this city. But the only true measure of our time here is not who we knew, but what we do. By that measure, we are not only here with a physical giant, but someone who established the bar for all of us.”
LA Council President Herb Wesson, whose friendship with Chase went back more than 30 years, noted that Chase “believed it was our responsibility to give [children] opportunities so they could fly.”
When Wesson brought underprivileged youth from South Los Angeles to ride horses at the Chases’ Monte Verde Ranch in Sylmar, “they were treated like kings and queens,” and felt so safe.
“Somebody once said that the two most important days of a person’s life are the day the you’re born, and the day you figure out why you were born,” he said. “We are all very lucky, because at a very young age LeRoy figured out why he was born. And that was to give, to each and every one of us.”
Jose De Sosa, former president of the San Fernando Valley and statewide NAACP, was friends with Chase “for more than 50 years. We were compadres.” De Sosa is a godparent to Chase’s youngest daughter, Danielle, and Chase was a godparent to De Sosa’s daughter, Maria.
“He loved working with kids,” De Sosa said of Chase. “He’d see a child that might have slipped and hurt themselves, and he would pick them up and spend as much time as it took for them to get their self-confidence back.”
But, De Sosa said, Chase was also committed to serving all of the local communities. “He made sure the Northeast Valley received equal recognition and support. He enabled many things to come to the Northeast Valley that had not been coming. He made sure we got our fair share.”
Chase did so in part by giving time and energy to a number of Los Angeles city and county appointments including the city Recreation and Parks Commission, the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, and as a commissioner on the Status of African American Males for the State of California, as well as the service on the President’s Advisory Board at CSUN, and on the board of the Valley Economic Development Center.
But it was his guidance and stewardship of the Boys & Girls Club — which served and supported more than 75,000 youth during his tenure — that was perhaps Chase’s most cherished achievement. He became its second president and CEO in 1967, and helped it grow from a small storefront building into a 25,000-square foot multi-purpose facility that opened in 1986 by fundraising more than $6 million. Even though the club is based in Pacoima, Chase believed the club should serve the entire San Fernando Valley.
Chase was working on more facility improvements before becoming ill.
“There are 75,000 people who came through the Boys & Girls Club who may remember him. And if you add their families and you add the impact they have had in their lives, we’re talking millions of people’s lives that this man touched, whose lives he changed,” Garcetti said.
A Strong Presence for His Own Family
Chase believed in community in keeping the community. But he was a towering presence in the family home.
“My father loved to entertain and looked for any excuse to have a party, from small ‘wing-ding’ gatherings by the pool to large weekend barbecues and festive birthday parties,” eldest daughter Kymberly Chase said.
“I would always help my father with the planning because I was always his partner in crime when it came to getting the party started. No matter what the situation, my father always had a positive attitude. He was my role model, and I was happy to listen whenever he had advice for me or my sisters — for hours and hours.”
Chase’s younger brother, Daryl Smith, related a story about Chase’s mischievous side.
“I’ll never forget one day we were driving [in Los Angeles]. I’m in the back seat and his partner [from the football team] is up front. We’re at a red light, across the street from a taco stand, and we heard the song ‘Louie, Louie.’ They get out and dance around the car. No one said anything in the other cars. You have a 260-pound lineman (in Chase) and a 300-pound lineman dancing, you don’t say anything.”
Nephew Sean Smith recalled how Chase gave him a job at the Boys & Girls club. Even though the club didn’t open until 2 p.m., Smith said he was told by Chase to report there at 5:30 a.m. When he arrived, Chase was already there. And then Chase demonstrated how to clean the bathrooms by doing it himself.
“It was a clear lesson. No matter who you are, you need to work and you need to humble yourself,” Smith said.
“This is about an uncle who loved me like a son. I didn’t do anything to deserve that love. He just gave it to me and gave it constantly…the greatest honor I can give him is to carry on that lesson of character and provide hope. If we take anything from his life, it’s to encourage, love and provide hope to at least one other person.”
Son-in-law Aaron Lasley, who is married to Danielle, also noted his father-in-law’s love for throwing parties — “fiestas” he called them — and how he would recruit Lasley to help set up things, sometimes without the knowledge of Chase’s wife, Shirin.
“He’d call me and say “Aaron, where are your parents going? Call them up and tell them I’m having a fiesta,’” Lasley said. “I’d call Shirin and ask what [he and Danielle] were bringing. She’d say ‘bringing to what?’
“He had a good way of getting me into trouble in different ways. And I’m gonna miss that. He also brought out the best in us just by sheer example. I watched LeRoy and I wanted to be a father. And I hope and pray I can be like him.”
Middle daughter Nicole Chase, who is the interim club president, is now charged with maintaining the club her father fought for using “courage with honor.”
“He had the courage to fight for something in a community that had a stigma,” Nicole Chase said. “There were other Boys & Girls clubs in the [Valley]. The one they did not expect to survive was Pacoima. And the fact that it’s standing today… is proof his power, his belief in providing young people with opportunity resonated. And my father was part of that movement for over 50 years.”