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On a fundraising LARC with 'Elvis'

Posted: September 24, 2008 8:10 p.m.
Updated: November 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Raymond Michael as "Elvis" (center) sings for the adoring residents of LARC Ranch in Saugus. Rick Cowling (right) and Mark LeVang (left) performed in the band.

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On Sunday, Oct. 21 the Buckweed fire swept south down Bouquet Canyon consuming everything in its path in a giant fireball. Kathleen Sturkey, executive director of LARC (Los Angeles Retarded Citizens)

Ranch located near Vasquez Road and Bouquet Canyon Roads, received a phone call that power was out at the Ranch. Sturkey and her husband rushed to the Ranch which is home to more than 100 developmentally disabled residents.

Shortly after she arrived firefighters asked if she could evacuate the ranch in 20 minutes. Unable to transport all the residents off the ranch staff and volunteers gathered everyone into the multipurpose room.

As the fire approached the Ranch raining ash and choking smoke the fire crews made their stand at LARC. After the fire passed and continued its rampage toward the city proper the majority of LARC Ranch, and its residents were safe. However, the original ranch house burned to the ground and the Ranch lost the Stanton Pool enclosure, as well as numerous trees and foliage.

"The firemen told us that LARC's year-round brush clearance policy helped to save the Ranch," said Sturkey.

However, despite the disaster, the community rallied around LARC Ranch and its residents.

"We had incredible support from the fire department and the whole Santa Clarita population," said Robert Stewart, LARC Ranch co-president.

John Acker, LARC Ranch co-president, said the support of the community is instrumental to LARC.

"We are very appreciative of everybody that have come to support LARC Ranch," Acker said. "We love the Fire Department, Sheriffs - everybody that's helped LARC. We've had many disasters fires and floods in the past. It seems the support is always there and helps the Ranch survive because without the support of the community it would be hard for LARC to survive the way it has."

However, the fire of 11 months ago, was far from the minds of the nearly 600 attendees of the "Miracle of LARC Tribute to Elvis Celebration" fundraising event.

Held under a massive, white tent, "Elvis" was an instant hit as he bounded on stage to sing the high-energy "Viva Las Vegas" as his opening number. LARC Ranch residents had already filled the dance floor as Elvis' backup band, Rick Cowling on guitar, Mark Sanders on drums, Bruce Atkinson on bass and Mark LeVang on keyboard - all from Santa Clarita - performed a few numbers as the afternoon's opening act.

"Elvis" portrayed by Raymond Michael, has toured extensively throughout the United States and internationally. He owns more than 30 jumpsuits that are exact replicas of Elvis Presley's, most of them made by Gene Doucette - the man who designed all of Elvis' jumpsuits. When not performing as Elvis, Michael teaches chorus and musical show production at Moorpark High School.

Michael left the stage several times, he sang "Are You Lonely Tonight" and other Elvis standards as he moved through the audience. He often would bring ladies on stage - including several LARC residents - as he bestowed scarves taken from his neck to place around the necks of his admirers.

Throughout Michael's performance LARC residents danced with partners, or in groups, many performed intricate swing dance moves and kept perfect time to the beat.

"I love performing, for everyone Elvis is universal and the folks here seemed to enjoy the King as much as anyone else and I love being here," said Michael as he posed for photos as Elvis.

Guests sat at tables festooned with Elvis centerpieces and dined on chicken and tri-tip, salad, rice and other goodies supplied by Layne Catering, desserts courtesy of Dessert Alert and Red Velvet cake.

Despite the lack of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, guests also appreciated the hamburgers and cheeseburgers provided by the mobile In and Out Burger truck and hand-dipped ice cream treats - including frozen bananas and ice cream bars. There was also a chocolate, peanut butter and banana chiffon pie. LARC Ranch was established in 1959 and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2009.

"This has been an incredible event," said Sturkey. "It is wonderful the great support we have from family and friends in the community.

"We are so proud to be a part of Santa Clarita. I'm just thrilled."

Co-event event chairs were Renee and Harold Holland and Berta Handel.

"I think this was one of our best events," said Renee Holland. "Just to see the smiles on those faces is worth the whole world, these special needs children need that love and they sure get it at LARC."

For information visit www.larcfoundation.org or call (661) 296-8636.

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