Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Laura Mehterian, SCV Historical Society Leader

Longtime community activist Laura Mehterian, 62, died Saturday in Payson, Ariz., after a short illness.

Mehterian received the Citizen of the Year award from the Santa Clarita CIVIC Association in 1991 and was recognized for her volunteer work several times by the city of Santa Clarita, the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society and by Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment.

She helped organize a community clean-up, which became the annual Pride Week, and could often be found leading a tour of children through Heritage Junction or talking to politicians about a pet project in City Hall.

Her activism was soon mirrored in her new community of Payson, where she and her husband Jack moved in 1995. She was active with the Santa Clarita Valley Optimist Club and their Kid Print program; when she arrived in Arizona and discovered there was no program, she worked on chartering an Optimist Club and volunteered at the Payson Police Department to start a child identification program.

After serving on the SCV Historical Society board of directors for 10 years, she joined the Payson Historical Society board and held the office of vice president at the time of her death.

"That was something about my mom," reflected her son, Daniel Mehterian, an engineer with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. "Everybody knew her because she did everything. When she was in the hospital, she was getting flowers from the police department, the fire department, the historical society. The people working there were in awe. When my dad and I would go to the cafe, everybody stopped and asked 'How's Laura?'"

While she was active with the SCV Historical Society, Mehterian revitalized the gift shop, making sure to have items in the price range of young visitors.

"There had to be several items under a dollar, because she realized that the kids going on tours had spending money," said her daughter Cathy Martin, a local grocery checker. "She used to make sure the kids were welcome at the station, and she made money for the society at the same time."

Mehterian also served on the society's restoration committee, personally shepherding the moves of four historic buildings to their new homes in Heritage Junction.

Pat Saletore, who worked with Mehterian on historical society and CIVIC projects, said Mehterian set a good example for other workers.

"She was really the consummate volunteer," she said. "She took on big jobs and did a lot of things people didn't realize. She didn't get a lot of splashy attention in the news, but she worked hard. There was a lot of irony in what she did, too. She was opposed to cityhood, but when it passed, got behind it and helped get things organized. She put together the gift shop at the society, and now her daughter Cathy runs it."

Laura Mehterian was born July 21, 1932 in Chicago, the daughter of a surveyor for Southern Pacific Railroad who traveled extensively throughout her youth. She told her family that when she could put down roots, she intended to stay put in one community. When she married her husband Jack in 1955, they settled in the Santa Clarita Valley, where they lived until moving to Arizona.

"I think that explains why Mom saved everything," Daniel said. "When she was little and they moved so much, whatever didn't fit on the truck got thrown away. So she's made up for it now."

To illustrate the point, Martin showed a visitor two boxes that had just been shipped from her mother, containing Newhall phone books from the 1960s and 1970s. They will be included in local archives.

The siblings said their mother was a strong individual, relating stories about her fending off intruders to their San Francisquito Canyon ranch and shooting a rattlesnake, Annie Oakley-style, from the running board of the family van.

"Living with Mom, every day was a new adventure," Mehterian said. "Mom told it like it was. You were accountable for yourself. And there was always the list of chores."

"We never got out of chores," Martin chimed in, laughing.

The children's chores included periodic maintenance of the Ruiz Cemetery on their property, where many victims of the 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster are buried.

"We had to go out once or twice a month to pull weeds and make sure the trees were trimmed up," Mehterian remembered. "Mom always told us that the people who have family buried there expected us to keep it up."

Mehterian was legendary for being able to organize a company or nonprofit's records. She worked at Space Ordnance Systems and Pacesetter/Siemens in their document control departments. As a volunteer with the Los Angeles County Registrar's office since 1957, where she served as a precinct worker and inspector, she gained valuable experience that prompted the city of Santa Clarita to hire her soon after incorporation. She organized all the precincts within the city limits, making them more efficient and voter-friendly.

She got involved in politics during Vera Johnson's campaign for City Council in 1992, serving as her treasurer.

"Whatever Laura did, she did with energy and enthusiasm," Johnson said. "She was just a wonderful person and a wonderful friend."

Mehterian worked with the Oak Conservancy to establish guidelines for preservation. She supported the arts by sharing a sponsorship at the Canyon Theatre Guild with fellow Historical Society member, Betty Evans, where the two would always watch the shows from the front row. She was a member of the Zonta Club of the Santa Clarita Valley and served on the Fourth of July Parade Committee.

In her new home, Mehterian seemed to find even more projects that deserved her time. As Payson is home to the country's oldest regularly scheduled rodeo, she became part of a group that organized a Junior Rodeo to reflect that Western tradition.

She was part of a coalition working to create an Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame in town and had been working with the local high school district to provide a mentoring program for at-risk teens to give them a second chance.

In her spare time, she attended Northern Arizona State College, where she excelled in oil painting and palette knife work.

In addition to the family mentioned above, Mehterian is survived by her grandchildren, Tim and Tara Martin and Christopher Mehterian, her son-in-law Steve Martin and daughter-in-law Kathy Mehterian, all of Santa Clarita and one sister, Sally Loeber of Tucson.

Services, which will be held in Payson, are pending. A memorial celebration will be held at the Saugus Train Station in Heritage Junction, the date to be announced. Donations may be made in Mehterian's name to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, P.O. Box 221925, Newhall, Calif., 91322-1925.

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