Elaine Hunt named Grand Marshal of 62nd Optimist Club Christmas Parade

November 16, 2011
Santa Paula News

Elaine Hunt has always done everything with flair - from demonstrating her natural ability for many things to being a woman of obvious elegance.

But it’s her efforts on behalf of F.L.A.I.R. (Family Literacy Aid In Reading) that garnered Hunt the honor of being the grand marshal of the 62nd Annual Optimist Club Christmas Parade. 

Hunt will lead the parade, this year themed “A Musical Christmas,” on Saturday, November 26 at 10 a.m. The popular parade will march on East Main Street from 7th to 11th streets. It will be taped for later broadcast by Time Warner Cable Channel 10 and by KADY-TV.com.

Optimist Club President Cathy Hicks said Hunt’s efforts on behalf of literacy as well as her involvement in the Santa Clara Valley Hospice/Home Support Group are just examples of her community service and devotion. 

“Years and years ago when it looked like Blanchard Community Library would have to end the F.L.A.I.R. program,” Hunt stepped in using her considerable educational background and successful experience in grant writing to save the program. Rumor has it that Hunt, who started as a volunteer coordinator in 1989 and soon become executive director, retiring after about a decade, donated any salary she received back to F.L.A.I.R. coffers.

A native of Ohio, Hunt was always considered strong-willed and determined. An avid reader, as a child she read every book in the children’s section and was allowed by the librarian to read books for adults. 

In 1989, Hunt - with a master’s degree that led her to a career as the head resource specialist for the Los Angeles Unified School District - moved to Santa Paula with her late husband Bob, an avid pilot whom she married in 1945. The couple had a daughter, Linda Lee. 

Retirement did not sit well with Hunt, who first volunteered as a F.L.A.I.R. tutor, then as program coordinator in the midst of a financial crisis, turning her writing talents toward successful grant writing. Under her leadership the program was expanded and success stories continued to grow. 

Hunt has also been active with Santa Clara Valley Hospice/Home Support Group, California Oil Museum and The Aviation Museum of Santa Paula. 

Hunt has been honored numerous times. In 2001 she was lauded by the Chamber of Commerce with the Joe Nesbitt Community Service Award, in 2002 Hunt was named by the Rotary Club a Paul Harris Fellowship recipient, and in 2003 Hunt was honored as a Santa Paula Woman of History.

The modest Hunt said being named Optimist Christmas Parade Grand Marshal is “really honoring F.L.A.I.R.  and the library... and I support the library overall.”

When she took over the program, Hunt said all funding had dried up and F.L.A.I.R. had to rely on grants. When voters approved a library bond “They gave me what they could afford, but I had still had to write grants... that’s what paid for the program.”

But F.L.A.I.R. was worth it: “Everything comes to flower... I was at the market one day and this man came rushing over saying, ‘Miss Elaine, you don’t remember me do you?’ I told him I did,” that he had been a F.L.A.I.R. student.

“He told me how much the program meant to him, how at first he couldn’t speak English and how with F.L.A.I.R. he learned to read and write English and now he has a great job because he can. “And he puffed up and smiled and said, ‘Now I have a 401K.’ It was,” said Hunt, “the proudest moment of his life.” 

And Hunt’s: “Those are the things that are warming and loving, when people come to you later and tell you what a difference the program makes in their lives. I’ve had people tell me that when they see me.”

But others must be more aware of the benefits of F.L.A.I.R. “I don’t think people realize how much the program does for those who want to get ahead; it’s not something you can get into and make progress without doing the work... and the F.L.A.I.R. students work harder than the tutor. And it’s gratifying to know how F.L.A.I.R. has changed the lives of so many people... I wish I could still be active in it, but I can’t.”

But come November 26, Hunt will again be at the forefront of F.L.A.I.R. and the Christmas Parade. “When Optimist President Cathy Hicks asked me to be grand marshal I asked her ‘What do I have to do?’ She told me just ride in the back of the car.”

Hunt will have company, her good friends Gena Rios and her 9-year-old daughter Samantha. And Samantha, said Hunt, “promised to do all the waving.”

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