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UPDATED: Making history at SCV Sheriff's Station

Estelle Foley marks 25th anniversary as volunteer historian

Posted: October 22, 2008 9:50 p.m.
Updated: December 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Estelle Foley, Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station volunteer historian for a quarter-century as of Oct. 23, 2008, worked with Capt. Bob Spierer (top photo) when he was the station's unit commander, and now with Capt. Anthony LaBerge, unit commander since January 2007.

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Thursday was a big day at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station. Estelle Foley marked her 25th anniversary of volunteer service as Station Historian, and her colleagues gave her a big surprise - the first helicopter ride of her life.

"They told me to show up at the station at 2 this afternoon," she said on the phone from home that morning. "I have no idea what they have in mind." She invited The Signal's online editor to join the party.

The station had already posted a glowing tribute to her on the front page of its Web site, which touched her deeply (see Related Content). "It was so beautifully done," she said.

The tribute highlighted just a few of Foley's many accomplishments, among them compiling and writing the station's 70th Anniversary book and coordinating the dedication ceremony in August 1996; creating the Historical Hall of Fame, a 12-year project which depicts the history of the department from 1849 to the present in photos and documents framed and hung on the walls of the station's halls; helping to spearhead construction of the station's Memorial Garden dedicated to fallen deputies; and serving on the station's Community Advisory Committee.

Foley has dedicated nearly 6,000 hours of her own time to L.A. County and Santa Clarita, saving taxpayers more than $121,000 in personnel costs in those 25 years, according to the tribute.

She has received numerous awards from the County Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff's Department, including the prestigious Unit Commander's Recognition Pin.

Thursday, after Foley showed up at the station promptly at 2, perfectly coifed and dressed, wearing a stylish blue outfit and low heels, colleagues presented her another accolade for her collection -- a special plaque commemorating her 25 years of service.

Capt. Anthony La Berge, SCV station commander since January 2007, had to be in L.A. on department business and couldn't be there in person, but contributed a closing quote to the station's online tribute: "Estelle continues to amaze us with her timeless and tireless commitment to our station and personnel. She gives all those who visit and work at our station a unique traditional perspective of the true history behind what we do everyday and we are very grateful for her."

As Foley checked out the plaque, Pat Creason, Capt. La Berge's secretary, their officemate Sgt. Ron Shaffer, and Lt. Brenda Cambra, community liaison, casually mentioned they'd arranged a flight in a Sheriff's helicopter just for her.

Foley grinned, grimaced, and then grinned again, reacting with a combination of joy and anxiety. "Oh, that's wonderful! Oh, I should have worn different clothes! Oh, I've never even been on a plane!" she said excitedly.

She remembered that Jim Blankenship, a law enforcement technician who works at the station, had recently asked her what she'd always wanted to do, but hadn't, for whatever reason.

"Fly in a helicopter!" was one of those things, she told him. He passed the word, and her colleagues made it happen as a surprise.

"You have to be careful what you wish for around here," Creason said Thursday as Foley absorbed the news.

With a few minutes to kill before takeoff, Foley and a reporter headed outside the station house to the Memorial Garden she had helped create, and sat on benches opposite a small fountain and adjacent to a bed of rose bushes. It's an oasis of calm amidst a bustle of activity as deputies and civilian employees go about their work.

Foley and Deputy Mike Chinery (now stationed in Van Nuys) came up with the idea for the garden in 2001, as a way to honor Deputy Hagop "Jake" Kuredjian, killed in the line of duty on Aug. 30 that year, as well as Deputy Arthur Pelino, the first Santa Clarita Valley deputy to be killed in the line of duty, on March 19, 1978. The station dedicated the garden Aug. 30, 2002, one year after Kuredjian's death.

"The plaque was made by NCCS and I believe Green's Nursery donated the roses," Foley said. "There are 17 rose bushes, representing the years Jake was in law enforcement. And the garden has grown over the years - everyone would bring plants and help make it more beautiful. To me, that's the most wonderful part. Every year we think of something new and do it. I wish the members of the Rose Garden Society could come here and see this in the spring. That would really, really make me happy."

Foley said she is a 30-year Newhall resident. She signed on a station historian Oct. 23, 1983. Before that, she'd been managing an employment agency in Tarzana, but decided to work closer to home because she had two young sons, she said.

Foley soon got involved with American Legion Post 507 in Newhall and was its historian for a few years. When she took on gathering up artifacts and documenting the history of local sheriff's station and the people who worked there, "That was something different," she said.

Foley said she had no idea she'd still be at it a quarter-century later. "Not for 25 years. But I knew I was going to be working on the history of the Sheriff's Department because I was the one who started the program," she said. "There was no way of stopping until you were finished -- it's not something you can rush though. So yes, I knew at the beginning what I was getting into."

Foley knows it will always be a work in progress, too. "History continues, and things I need to put up on the wall come to me sometimes from out of state, a lot of times from retired deputies," she said. "Anyone who knows what I'm doing here thinks I might be able to use what they have, so they send it to me. That's very helpful and very nice of them, too."

In her quarter-century at the SCV station, she's seen commanders come and go, and thinks highly of Capt. La Berge. "He's an excellent captain. I like the way he attends the meetings and addresses the public on what's going on in the community and in our station. He's a hands-on kind of leader -- he's out there riding with the deputies. I like that. And he's a very caring and understanding person. I have a lot of respect and admiration for him."

Morale seemed to be better among the deputies, her visitor noted. "Yes, indeed, and I'm glad you brought that up, because there's no comparison between now and, say, eight years ago," she said. "It's good that the deputies are happy. I think they perform better when they are happy and have good relations with their superiors, and you can't beat that. So Capt. La Berge's OK in my book."

About then, Creason and officemate Sgt. Shaffer collected Foley and escorted her up a few flights of stairs to the station's rooftop helipad.

"I'm so excited, I'm scared," she said along the way. "I've always had a fear of heights. I can barely get into an elevator and go past the third floor without my knees starting to shake. So what's going to happen up there? Maybe it's going to be cool and I won't be afraid at all. But I always knew I would eventually ride in a helicopter because taking one ride was a requirement when I was on the Citizens' Advisory Committee. In 12 years, only one other woman has done it. And now my turn is coming up. So yes, it is a big surprise."

On the roof, Foley met SCV Sheriff's Station helicopter pilot Dep. Eric Allen and his observer Dep. Dale Ryken, who helped her aboard their four-seat chopper and buckled her into one of the back seats.

"I'll try to give her a nice, smooth ride," Dep. Allen said as she got situated. "We'll probably take her over Magic Mountain, get her a nice view of the station, do a whole loop around the Santa Clarita Valley, and if she has any specific places she wants to see, we'll fly over them for her."

Dep. Allen said he'd been with the Sheriff's Department's Aero Bureau for five and half years. "I think this is the first volunteer I've ever had in my helicopter," he said.

With visitors cleared from the helipad, the chopper rose slowly, almost gingerly, into the air, and headed west toward Magic Mountain, eventually becoming just a speck against a deep blue sky.

Foley was just as excited when she returned a bit more than a half hour later.

"I got over my fear of being up in the air," she said. "It was wonderful -- a very smooth ride. I couldn't believe being up the air 1,800 feet in this big machine, and it's not moving, but everything around you IS! The pilots were just so nice and pointed out different areas below. Everything below looked so neat and clean, with all the cars in a row, and the mountains were beautiful.

"We flew to Pyramid Lake and flew down to 10 feet over the water," she added. "Then they got a call that they had business to do, so we flew back to the station. But what a pleasure trip that was!"

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