Sierra Madrens offering hands-on support
By Lisa Faught
Staff Writer

Friday, July 25, 2003 -

SIERRA MADRE -- Lew Watanabe once caught a 182-pound halibut to serve at Sierra Madre's annual Fish Fry, a tradition he started through his fishing trips to Alaska.

Every summer for the last decade, Watanabe and a crew of Sierra Madrens have trekked to Beaver Creek Lodge to fish for salmon and halibut.

With hundreds of pounds of fish to spare from the trips, they cooked up fish dinners to raise funds for local projects, such as new seats for the auditorium at Sierra Madre Elementary School and funds for the volunteer fire department.

But this year, the fund-raiser is for Watanabe.

In March, the 69-year-old landscape artist and sculptor took a fall while on the job in San Marino, severely injuring his head and spinal cord. The injury left him bedridden and unable to walk.

Little by little, Watanabe is regaining his strength with help from the community.

Since his fall, friends and neighbors have rallied around Watanabe and his wife, Joyce.

They have taken shifts helping him stretch his joints every morning. They have cooked meals for the couple night after night. They have even found a benefactor to loan the couple a house, which volunteers are making accessible to wheelchairs.

"The love and care I'm getting from people is just beyond words. 'Thank you' isn't enough,' said Watanabe, who recently signed his name for the first time since his fall. "It's overwhelming.'

The effort is a tribute to all Watanabe has done for the community, said Shirley McGillicuddy, who is helping to organize the volunteer efforts through the Friends of Lew Steering Committee.

Watanabe is known for all his contributions to the city he was behind the Weeping Wall in Memorial Park, the Japanese garden and koi pond at Sierra Madre Elementary School and just about every fund- raiser in town.

"This outpouring is just an expression of the appreciation for all he's done for the community,' McGillicuddy said. "He gave freely to anyone he met.'

But even with all the help, the couple will need extra funds to keep their businesses going and cover the extra expenses, McGillicuddy said. So the proceeds from the Fish Fry will go to the Lew Watanabe Benevolent Fund, she said.

The fund-raiser and concert is from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Park in Sierra Madre. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12.

-- Lisa Faught can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496, or by e-mail at