George Chelini: 1931-2020

My Mentor

Photo: CourtesyIn 1958, George Chelini became the executive director of the Goleta Boys Club, and he went on to form the United Boys & Girls Clubs, having a big, positive impact on the kids growing up in Santa Barbara County.

My mentor and good friend, George Chelini, passed away on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. He would have been 89 the next day. Here is a little insight into my friend and the excellent work he did with the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County.

I first met George in 1956; he was a young man who had just graduated from UCSB and got a part-time job at the Santa Barbara Boys Club. He worked in the library. My family moved to Goleta in 1957. and I joined the Goleta Boys Club. In 1958, George became the Executive Director of the Goleta Boys Club, and that was the start of our life-long friendship.

I remember one evening, George got a group of us in the library, and he asked us if we were planning on going to college. We started to laugh — some of us didn’t know what college meant, and most of us were trying to get to high school and hopefully graduate. I never forgot that meeting, and for me, the seed was planted about going to college. I’m sure George had that conversation with many other members. In 1959, George hired me as a Day Camp counselor.

He paid me one dollar an hour, and for once in my life, I had a little bit of money in my pocket. The Goleta Club was located at the airport in a T-shaped building. The lease on the building ran out, so George and his committee were able to talk the Goleta Union School District into leasing the lot behind the Goleta Union grammar school. In 1961 George spearheaded the drive to build the new clubhouse at its present location in TKSanta Barbara on West Victoria Street. George was the executive director of the Goleta Boys Club from 1958 to 1975. During that time, he developed the following programs and accomplishments:

Baseball League. Way before little league. He had 600 players playing summer ball.

He had a great wood shop with all the power tools.

He started the first Day Camp, which helped many working parents.

He had tutors come in from UCSB to help the members with their studies.

He developed a very strong board.

He started the High Sierra Backing Challenge.

He started a Ladies Auxiliary Club.

He developed a great games room program. No one could beat him in Ping Pong.

He had a great weight room program.

He had the club open from 1 p.m.-5:30 p.m. and 6-9 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 1-4 p.m. on Saturdays.

He always came in on budget.

He was an excellent fundraiser.

He found part-time jobs for many of the teenage members.

His door was always open to the kids.

He was a good basketball player and very aggressive.

He was a “Great Role Model,” and he saved a lot of young lives.

He was a member of the Goleta Union School Board in the ’60s and ’70s.

He hired some excellent staff members: Louie Esparza, Jack Elbert, Bill Hibbard, Dick Clark, Mike Warren, Jan Bailey, Rochelle Rose, Earl Pointer, Robert Thompson, Rich Medel, Anne Vierra Abe Jahadhmy, and Dan Gomez. I was honored to work for him.

He had Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner for the club families.

He had a strong teen Keystone Club.

He started the Grand Canyon trip in 1970, and I continued it for the next 35 years.

He started a tackle-football program.

He started a basketball league and called it the Tomahawk League. All the teams were named after American Indian Tribes: Apaches, Blackfeet, Navajo, Cheyenne, Sioux, etc.

He sold Christmas trees during Christmas.

George and I would play basketball with the 1971 Dos Pueblos High Basketball team that won the CIF Title that year. We would be in that gym till 11:30 at night.

I worked part-time while I was in high school and at Santa Barbara City College. In 1964 I went off to college. Before I left, I visited George, and his parting words were, “If you ever get in trouble and need help, call me.” In 1968, I had two months of school left; my car broke down. My part-time job had ended, and I didn’t have any money. I called George and explained the situation. He asked me how much I needed to finish the year, and I said $200 would get me through. He sent me $200, and it got me through the final semester.

I tell this story because I was just one young man he helped, and there were many others. I was talking to my sister, and I asked her how we got through our home life. Her response: You were never home, you were always at the Goleta Boys Club. George saved my butt.

In 1968, I graduated from Fresno State. I was hired by George Chelini as the athletic director, and I got drafted into the U.S. Army. George tried to get me out by appealing to the draft board, saying that I was working with underprivileged kids. It didn’t go very far. I worked for two weeks at the club and then was off to the army. I ended up in Vietnam in 1969, and while I was there, George wrote me a letter saying that I still had my job back if I wanted it.

I came back in 1970, and I wanted to buy a new car. With George Chelini’s co-signature, I bought a brand new Chevy Nova for $2,500. In 1975 when George left for United Boys Clubs, he promoted me to Unit Director. He took a chance on me.

Gordon Wormal and George Chelini formed the United Boys Clubs in 1975. That same year, Gordon retired, and George was named the executive director. George brought in all the clubs, and we all reported to him. George Chelini remained the CEO from 1975 to 1993. During that time he built a very strong board and acquired Camp Whittier and the Lompoc Boys Club. He raised much money and built up the Endowment for the United Boys & Girls Clubs and the Santa Barbara Boys & Girls Clubs. He made sure that all of our members were provided with a safe environment.

George Chelini was ahead of his time regarding endowment building. He was well known at a national level and was invited to speak to other Boys & Girls Club professionals. George knew every important person in Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Carpinteria, and especially people in Montecito.

Two years ago, Ben Howland called me and said that we ought to do a barbeque for George Chelini. We met with George and explained what we wanted to do to thank him for all his excellent work with kids. We had alumni coming from Chicago, Arizona, New Mexico, Sweden, Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, and all over California. It turned out to be a very fun day. George called me a few days later, and he invited Ben Howland and me up to his beach house, and again he thanked us.

George Chelini had a big, positive impact on the kids growing up in Santa Barbara County. He was a true Boys & Girls Club professional. I owe whatever success I have had to that gentleman, George Chelini. RIP, my friend.

My condolences to his family: his wife, Margie, children Karen, Marilyn, Eric, and Remy, and stepdaughter Polly and all the grandchildren.

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