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Remembering Larry Van Nostran

The leaves on the sycamore trees in front of Lakewood City Hall have turned brown. When the dry Santa Ana wind swirls under them, their leaves rattle, fall, and skitter over the sidewalk. There is melancholy in the autumn air. Lakewood City Council Member Larry Van Nostran has died.

It was not an unexpected death when it came. Larry had prepared in recent weeks with the thoroughness and blunt honesty that characterized the man.

Nothing in a town like Lakewood would seem to inspire greatness, but great things are often done here. The work that Larry did for 37 years as a city council member and as Lakewood's mayor went mostly unnoticed even by some of his neighbors, but that work had its own greatness. It came from the unexciting processes of local government and with the burdens of civic life willingly taken up year upon year.

This did not make Larry a hero particularly, except that there is a special heroism in the everyday. That is not to say, in terms of a town like Lakewood, that the achievements of Larry's career lacked importance. He worked to bring his community and city hall closer together (a task that I had the privilege of assisting). He worked to keep his community safe. He worked to foster generosity among neighbors and to celebrate with them the caring community that resulted. And he worked to preserve the streets, the water mains, the curbs, and sidewalks -- all the easily ignored infrastructure of daily life.

Such are the monuments of a city council member in a modest town like Lakewood, where most things of real value are unremarkable.

Larry was justly proud of what he had done in his life -- that he had come to Lakewood from an Ohio farm, had married and made a family, owned businesses, had become an officer of the service clubs he joined, was appointed to city commissions, and was elected by his neighbors to represent them as a city council member. He wanted his neighbors to feel, as he did, that these accomplishments were woven into the fabric of Lakewood, that they were not purely his alone but necessary consequences of living here. Larry knew his own worth, but he also knew what Lakewood had given him and everyone who calls Lakewood home.

Lakewood was once so new that the fact of its newness was almost all that anyone had heard of. More than 60 years have passed since Lakewood's tract houses began filling up with young families and their aspirations. Nearly 60 years have passed since Lakewood became a city. Lakewood is not new anymore. History has begun to matter here as the only means we have to keep the best of our past alive.

And Larry Van Nostran -- mayor, council member, and neighbor -- lives on in that history.

D. J. Waldie, author and historian, writes about Los Angeles twice each week at KCET's SoCal Focus blog. He is the former deputy city manager of Lakewood.

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