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Longtime Boys & Girls Club director to retire

Posted: January 4, 2014 8:50 p.m.
Updated: January 4, 2014 8:50 p.m.

Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley Chief Professional Officer Jim Ventress at the Newhall club on Friday. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

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It’s the end of an era at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley.

After June 30, the club will be under new leadership for the first time in almost three decades as Chief Professional Officer Jim Ventress officially retires from the job he has held since 1985.

In his 37 years with the Boys & Girls Club, including 29 years in the Santa Clarita Valley, Ventress has built his legacy brick by brick — not bad for someone who didn’t even think he would be around for the long haul.

“I was only planning to stay on the job for a year,” he said with a wry smile during a recent interview. “That was 37 years ago.”

Background
Born in Los Angeles, Ventress graduated from Salesian High School and began school at Los Angeles City College while working at United Parcel Service.

But soon his work at UPS began to take up more of his time, putting a temporary halt to his higher education.

He was making good money and traveling quite a bit, but something ate at him.

“I got to the point where I said, ‘You know, my dad had a sixth-grade education and I have a chance to get a college degree,’” Ventress said. “So I went back.”

Ventress graduated with a degree in recreational administration from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1978.

Club background
He first became involved with the Boys & Girls Club long before he came to the Santa Clarita Valley - and before it was even known as the Boys & Girls Club, for that matter.

In 1977 he started work as an arts and crafts director at the Salesian Boys Club in Los Angeles.

Soon he became athletic director. Then he became the club’s program director.

Yet when he was first approached with the idea of becoming executive director at that club, he was resistant.

“I told them I like to spend the money, I didn’t want the responsibility of raising the money,” he said with a laugh.

But Ventress eventually relented and took over as executive director in 1980.

Five years later, in 1985, another opportunity presented itself, this time to take on leadership duties at a club in a growing burg north of Los Angeles.

Once again, he wasn’t quite sure it would be a fit.

“They asked me to come and do an interview for the club in the Santa Clarita Valley, but I wasn’t looking to leave,” he explained.

However, one of his board members urged him to reconsider. So Ventress interviewed for the position of executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley.

When he heard the club did not have a full building, he became more intrigued at the opening.

He was appointed in March 1985. But once again, he didn’t expect to be on the job terribly long.

“I gave myself a year,” he said. “And after a year is when we really started to rock and roll.”

Club growth
The club then was decentralized, a series of satellite locations serving hundreds of boys and girls spread out throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

The top priority was to change that.

Ventress spearheaded study and development of a plan to build a permanent club complex to serve the fast-growing Santa Clarita Valley.

Ventress’ goal came to fruition in 1992 with the opening of a 20,000-square-foot facility next to Hart High School.
Another, 27,000-square-foot shared facility followed later, opening up at Sierra Vista Junior High School in 2003.

Speaking in his office in Newhall, a small room crammed with photos and commendations from his years at the club, Ventress said those accomplishments belong to the community.

“It’s been a blessing to be here and see so many good people rally around the club and accomplish our goals,” Ventress said.

After a pause, he nodded. “It’s been a real blessing.”

Legacy
Tony Newhall, who was involved in the decision to hire Ventress, said the choice was a no-brainer at the time and has proven to be so since.

“He was head and shoulders above anyone else who applied,” Newhall recalled in an interview Saturday.

Newhall said Ventress’ leadership helped stabilize the club and give it clear direction for the future.

“He just brought everyone together,” Newhall said. “He had a vision.”

Longtime Boys & Girls Club board member Gary Condie said one of the most impressive things about Ventress is that he “walks the walk.”

“Jim Ventress is for real,” Condie said Saturday. “He lives what he preaches.”

Condie was also involved in the decision to hire Ventress and said Ventress challenged the club to grow.

“At the time, all we had were these little sheds at the corners of some of the school grounds,” Condie said. “And Jim said, ‘You’ve got to get larger buildings so you can offer more of the program.’

“Jim Ventress brought that vision to this valley,” he said.

Retirement
In retirement, Ventress said he plans to take it easy for a while, maybe do some traveling to see family and friends.

Most of all, he said, he’s looking forward to having the time to take things slow, put some more time into a morning workout at the gym and take the opportunity to watch Monday Night Football with his buddies.

“My only responsibility will be chores around the house, and I only do that when I feel like it,” Ventress said.

“And I don’t have to shave to do that,” he added with a laugh.

Search
Ventress will retire on June 30, but the search to replace him will start far sooner.

The search will be a national one, and anyone who is interested can apply beginning Monday at www.BGCA.net.

Diane Fiero, current governing board president for the Boys & Girls Club, said Ventress will be “nearly impossible to replace.”

“We will miss him dearly, but he has certainly earned his retirement,” she said in a news release.

Condie echoed the sentiment.

“He has touched so many lives,” he said of Ventress. “One time, we sat down and tried to calculate it, and we figured he must have touched the lives of tens of thousands of children in the time he’s been here.

“And that’s the impact he’s had,” Condie said.

Lmoney@signalscv.com
661-287-5525
On Twitter @LukeMMoney

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