Lewis Griswold

Visalia club assembles Christmas bikes for kids who need them

Mike Clancy of Visalia assembles a bicycle to be given to a child in need.
Mike Clancy of Visalia assembles a bicycle to be given to a child in need. lgriswold@fresnobee.com

For 11 years, members of Visalia Rotary Club Breakfast have been donating new bicycles to the Visalia Emergency Aid Council to give to children in need at Christmas.

This year, the club donated 300 bikes and an equal number of helmets.

Because the bicycles come unassembled, the club’s members, friends and supporters do the assembly at Gary Amon’s Central Valley Business Forms warehouse in the Visalia Industrial Park.

“This is Santa’s workshop,” said club member Mike Clancy.

Jim Barnes, who repairs bikes for free at the Visalia Rescue Mission, is in charge of quality control. He makes sure all the nuts are tight and the parts have been put on right.

He gets volunteer help from his bike repair friends, including Carlos Flores, owner of Cyclery X-Press.

During the day on Christmas Eve, Visalia Emergency Aid gave them away at its headquarters on Northeast Third Avenue, one bike per qualifying family.

“I get a smile, and appreciation from the kids,” said club member Bill Mathis. “Oftentimes, it’s the first time they ever got a bike to call their own.”

DEFENSE RESTS: ’Tis the season for retirements.

Joe Altschule, 74, an attorney in Visalia, is closing his law practice at the end of this year.

For 30 years he was partners with Jim Wilson, who retired five years ago, but Altschule wasn’t ready to quit quite yet.

“It has been a most enlightening ride,” he said.

He moved to Visalia in 1974 and worked six years in the Tulare County Public Defender’s Office.

Public Defender Jay Powell, who had just been elected district attorney, hired him over the phone, he said.

Altschule was supposed to make it for an interview, but a court date in another part of the state and the 55 mph speed limit made that impossible. So Powell said, “if you don’t have two heads,” the job was his.

Two other attorneys came on board about the same time – Joe Kalashian and Jerry Sevier, both now retired judges.

Altschule and his wife, Linda, have been married 50 years and have no plans to leave Visalia, he said. They have two children and now grandchildren.

Famously, Altschule contributes to “point-counterpoint” columns in the Visalia Times-Delta newspaper. He’s the left-leaning alternative to financial adviser Tom Fife’s right-leaning voice. Fans of the column should fear not. He plans to keep writing the column until they tell him to stop, or he keels over.

PARKS & REC: Also retiring this month is Vince Elizondo, 59, director for 11 years of the Visalia Parks and Recreation Department.

The Fresno State grad worked in Lompoc and Exeter before coming to Visalia.

During his tenure, the Riverway Sports Park opened in 2007.

“It was a walnut orchard when I arrived,” he said. “It was built with the help of a lot of people.”

Sixty-five of 83 acres were developed over four phases, including baseball and soccer fields, playgrounds, splash pad and picnic areas.

Close to $1 million in donations came from families and businesses, he said.

Six new neighborhood parks were also built while Elizondo was in charge.

He said he plans to move out of town next year to be closer to family but hasn’t decided exactly where yet.

Recreation Manager Jeannie Greenwood has been promoted to director of the Parks and Recreation Department effective this week.

Lewis Griswold covers news of the South Valley for The Fresno Bee: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold