The generosity of Steve and Marlene Young is recognized by PV Chamber and Rotary
By their own admission, life has been good to Marlene and Steve Young, this month to be honored as Palos Verdes Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club Citizens of the Year. Ever thankful for the gifts they have received during their 39-plus years of marriage, the philanthropic and community-active couple has long been generous with their time and money.
But it took a tragic family loss in December 2006 to bring the two even closer and to make the lives of thousands of South Bay children and their families – and beyond – better through the Youngs’ charity.
On Dec. 12, Marlene answered an early morning phone call from a San Diego police officer informing her that daughter Whitney, a 19-year-old college student, was unconscious and had been taken to Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. Whitney died four days later of injuries suffered from a hit-and-run accident caused by a drunk driver.
Out of the tragedy was born the Whitney Young Children’s Foundation. “We decided (to start the foundation) immediately. The first announcement was made at Whitney’s memorial service,” said Marlene. “A lot of money was donated at that time, though we didn’t make any gifts until 2007. We really didn’t think we’d continue to get donations, but people have been so generous and made us part of their yearly charitable giving… which has enabled us to keep funding agencies. Last year we made about $45,000 in gifts and this year we’ll do the same.
“We continue to work with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and each year we do a walk that helps raise money for their educational efforts. But as to our specific mission, Whitney loved children and was a natural with them. She wanted to become a teacher. So, we set up the foundation with the mission to encourage children and young adults to dream, live, love and laugh in ways previously unimaginable.
“We touch organizations that deal with children or young adults, underprivileged or under-served children so that we can make their lives better.”
Needy kids get support
Among the charitable endeavors benefitting from Whitney Foundation support are Walk with Sally, which helps kids deal with parents suffering from cancer; Helping Hand, an organization that trains capuchin monkeys to attend to paraplegics and quadriplegics; a surfing camp for autistic children; Ride to Fly, a training program that teaches handicapped children to ride horseback, and many others. Steve also noted that the foundation sponsors several scholarship programs.
The Young family patriarch has also encouraged his law firm to establish a charitable foundation to help kids. “I’ve been on the board of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach since two years before it was built,” said Steve. “That’s my passion. With some of Whitney’s money we bought a high definition underwater camera and transmission unit that we’ve placed in the Tropical Pacific tank – which is one of the bigger tanks and features sharks and rays and lots of colorful fish.
“We recently hooked up a live feed from the aquarium to Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. That will go to the waiting rooms onto a huge high definition television. Our ultimate goal, which I think will be possible because Mattel Children’s Hospital is pretty new and is wired, is to be able to make the aquarium feed to every television in every child’s room. So, during certain times when these kids are really sick they’ll have something to watch. Seeing the divers, the sharks feeding, the rays, will hopefully make them feel better. This all goes along with Whitney’s mission of helping kids who are having a hard time.”
More than a boy-meets-girl love story
The growth of the relationship between Steve and Marlene is a story ripe for a creative Hollywood producer, no matter how “boring” Marlene claims their day-to-day life may be.
Marlene was originally a San Fernando “Valley Girl,” graduating from Sylmar High School in 1965. Steve was born in Connecticut, raised both there and in New Jersey until his family moved to Camarillo, Calif., when he was 16. Their meeting and courtship was “whirlwind,” according to Marlene, at a time of social turmoil in Southern California and the rest of the U.S. – the late 1960s.
“We were both students at UCLA and we met as house (dormitory) advisors in 1968, a pretty tumultuous time at UCLA. Vietnam was at its height, there were tons of protests and demonstrations, lots going on, but we still managed to fall in love,” said Marlene. Their first date came in 1970.
“We went during the summer of 1971 to work in New York,” said Marlene, “and we ended up getting engaged. Steve proposed across from the Plaza Hotel. It was a pretty whirlwind romance. We said if our kids ever did this, we’d be upset.”
When Marlene told her father that she had met “someone special” who was younger than she, Dad braced himself for the rest of the story. Indeed, the soon-to-be-bride was a whopping 11 month’s older than her suitor. “But, it seems to have worked for us,” she said.
“We were married at 22,” said Steve, “and next year we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.”
After the marriage, Marlene supported her new husband as he abandoned his Westwood Bruins to earn a law degree from cross-town rival USC. Steve passed the bar in 1973, and in 1976 the couple set up housekeeping in Torrance. “Our own place to paint and wallpaper, and we were in walking distance to Baskin Robbins,” noted Marlene, remembering the couple’s first home.
Marlene returned to academia, eventually earning her Ph.D. in Special Education back at her UCLA alma mater. Today, she is employed by Little Company of Mary Foundation and the two hospitals in Torrance and San Pedro as Director of Major Gifts. “I call myself a Generosity Coach,” laughed Marlene.
Since graduation, Steve’s work history is quite simple to report. “I have the shortest resume imaginable,” said Steve. “I’ve only had one job in 37 years. Sometimes you’re just lucky to be at the right place at the right time. I joined one other fellow and the law firm grew and grew. Now we have about 80 attorneys and five offices.”
Steve’s firm of Keesal, Young & Logan was formed in 1975, two year’s after his entry into the world of litigation. They presently have offices in Long Beach, San Francisco, Seattle, Anchorage and Hong Kong.
Family and home on the Hill
The Youngs moved to their present Palos Verdes residence in 1980 and the family grew. Daughter Logan was born that same year; son Jonathon arrived in 1982, and daughter Whitney was welcomed into the family in 1987. As for 30 years in the same house, Marlene said, “I guess we’re pretty boring people.”
Logan and Jonathan “sadly are both on the East Coast,” said Marlene. “Logan is married, living in New Jersey, and has a 14-month-old baby with a second child due in December….
“Jonathan is working as a professional photographer in Brooklyn. He is recently engaged to a local young woman who is also a photographer; they’ll be getting married in September 2011.”
Apparently, the future holds little chance of dad Steve redoing his shingle to read “Young and Son.”
“Jonathan went to UCLA and worked for the Daily Bruin. He got into photography, which is his passion,” said Steve. “Both he and his fiancée are successful photographers who seem to be making a good living and are about to merge.”
“Jonathan was headed to New York with the intention of getting a combined J.D. (juris doctorate) and MBA degree, which of course thrilled Steve” said Marlene. “But two weeks before he left he said, ‘I want to go to New York, but I just have to try photography.’ Having never worked as a photographer he moved there, got jobs off Craig’s List and built up a very successful business.”
While managing two careers and overseeing the Whitney Foundation, Steve and Marlene still find time to assist in other volunteer and charitable matters, many of them reflective of Whitney’s life and the mission of the Foundation. Recently, Harbor Interfaith Services announced a $10,000 gift from the Youngs to assist in the building of a new facility in San Pedro. Other past activities by the family have included involvement with the Peninsula Education Foundation, the National Charity League-Peninsula Chapter, the PV Council of PTAs and many more.
And, if you are equinely-inclined, visit this month’s Portuguese Bend National Horse Show. Just don’t run over the guy waving you to a parking spot; it may be Steve. The show benefits Peninsula Committee Children’s Hospital, so it’s no surprise to the neighbors that Marlene and Steve are volunteering.
There should also be no surprise in their being bestowed the Citizens of the Year honor. The theme of the Chamber/Rotary awards dinner and ceremony is not so coincidently “Young at Heart.” “I think the name was chosen after we were selected,” said Marlene. “They try to say something related to the couple that is chosen, so I’m pretty sure the title is tied to our name. I said to Steve, ‘Does this mean that we’re really old, but still young at heart?’”