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Verdugo Views: Photo rouses memories of a poet laureate

February 26, 2014|By Katherine Yamada
  • Geraldine Glynn, now Jeraldine Saunders, fourth from the left in this photo taken at the home of California Poet Laureate John Steven McGroarty, said McGroarty was a "positive person who always left you with the feeling that the world was beautiful and you could conquer it."
Geraldine Glynn, now Jeraldine Saunders, fourth from… (Courtesy of Jeraldine…)

The young children had just celebrated their first communion and had gathered on the lawn of the Tujunga home of John Steven McGroarty, California’s Poet Laureate, to have their picture taken.

McGroarty, an important figure in the history of Tujunga — and of the state — was born in Pennsylvania in 1862 and displayed his writing skills early in life. As a child, he had severe respiratory problems, and during one illness when he was just 10 years old, he wrote a poem that was published in the Boston Pilot.

Despite continuing poor health, McGroarty studied hard and was teaching school by the age of 16. He then turned to journalism, working at the Wilkes-Barre Evening Leader. By the time he was 21, he had been elected a justice of the peace, as noted by Mary Lou Pozzo, author of “Founding Sisters, Life Stories of Tujunga’s Early Women Pioneers, 1886-1926.”


In 1901, after his marriage to a young woman named Ida Lubrecht, the couple made their way west and eventually settled in Tujunga, in hopes that the clear air would ease his asthma.

That same year, he joined the Los Angeles Times, writing a weekly column called “Seen from the Green Verdugo Hills” as well as poetry and several plays. His most notable work was the “Mission Play,” a three-hour pageant portraying the history of the California missions, according to the McGroarty Arts Center website.

The play was so popular that a new theater was built especially for the pageant near Mission San Gabriel. Featuring a cast of 300, the pageant ran for 20 years and was seen by over 2 million people.

McGroarty often showed up here in Glendale. In 1930, he was the speaker at a huge fiesta thrown by the San Rafael Park Assn., formed to save the old adobe on Dorothy Drive from demolition. (Yes, they were successful. It is now one of our foremost city parks.)

So, by the time this communion group gathered in front of his home, McGroarty was a very well-known public figure. But, to one of the children — a young girl named Geraldine Glynn — he was just a friend of the family.

“He was a sweet gentle person, a very positive person who always left you with the feeling that the world was beautiful and you could conquer it,” she recalled.

Now known as Jeraldine Saunders, whose book “The Love Boats” was the basis for “The Love Boat” TV series, the former Geraldine Glynn said the McGroartys were neighbors and close friends.

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