Living in Monrovia in the 1960s, my family had people of different backgrounds around us. We lived in a diverse neighbor on East Cypress Avenue and our elementary school, Santa Fe, was diverse. But I think the most profound expression of that diversity occurred within our family once my dad became a member of the Baha’i faith.
One of the members of the Baha’i in Monrovia was a young woman from Scotland named Lena Pinkerton. Lena lived north of Foothill boulevard At that time, there were no signs in Monrovia that forbid it, but if you were Black or Brown you knew you had to be careful going above Foothill Boulevard. However, for Lena, that didn’t matter. Lena took an interest in the kids in the community. She would go around picking up all the kids that wanted to participate in the activities she set up for us.
She taught us sewing; she tutored those who needed to be tutored. Lena showed us how to be of service to others. She took us to places to serve. She received some backlash from her neighbors because she was bringing Black and Brown kids into their neighborhood. She protected us from her neighbors. I remember one day she invited her neighbors over for a gathering, but just a few showed up. A couple were the parents of our classmates. This was a gathering of kids and their families. Through Lena's kindness, patience, perseverance, courage, strength and determination, she changed the hearts and minds of some of her neighbors.
Lena also had to gain the trust of the parents of the Black and Brown kids she was picking up. That didn’t take long, as they were curious about her Scottish accent and enjoyed hearing her speak. Back in 2012, I ran into three of the youngsters she would pick up to take to the different activities. They told me that their parents would only let them go with my parents or Lena.
Lena made a huge impact on our family as well as the other kids in the community. Lena also made a lasting impression on my late sister and member of ChangeMakers, Joannie Gholar-Yuille. Joannie said Lena, “helped spark my thirst for learning and fueled my passion for the arts and commitment to helping others.”
Lena was soft-spoken and genuinely interested in the kids and their families. She moved out of California in 1968 when Joannie was in junior high school. The next time we heard from Lena was 1995. She was a widower. She never had children of her own, but she had four stepchildren and five or six grandchildren. I have not been able to locate her since then.
Written by Barbara Gholar