Surrounded by some examples of her art collection, Janet Baszile holds a terracotta figure from the Niger River Valley in West Africa. The lithograph on wall is by Jacob Lawrence, sculpture of woman at left is by Elizabeth Catlett, and sculpture on the piano is by Richard Barthe. Photo by Betty Lukas
By some reckoning, the Ford Motor Co. plant in Ferndale, Michigan, is a far piece from the elegant, art-filled home in Lunada Bay where Janet Baszile lives.
But not to her.
Ferndale is her birthplace. “My grandparents and those of most of my friends in the Detroit area all were migrants from the South,” she explained during a recent leisurely interview that traced her life growing up in Michigan followed by her marriage and move to California where she and her late husband Barry found rewarding careers and raised two daughters.
“Thanks for Henry Ford and World Wars; opportunities for employment were the magnet for migration,” she went on. “All of my folks worked in the factories. My mother was a ‘Rosie the Riveter” during WWII after my dad was killed in a car accident.
“She was a model for me and my four sisters,” Janet added. “She always said ‘bloom where you’re planted’.
“Here was this young working widow with five daughters, and she still found time to participate in all our school activities as well as the PTA and the Girl Scouts.” Then Janet added with a big smile, “And we were very active girls. I was a cheerleader. We were called the Dean Girls in school. (Janet’s maiden name was Dean.)
“Early on, I learned the value of serving others,” she said.
One might say that her service in the outside world began when she graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 1961 with a degree in education and began her long teaching career in Detroit. She had it all, including a steady boyfriend who was attending the University of Michigan, but then a young suitor attending Cal State Los Angeles began a nearly yearlong letter-writing courtship. “He’d heard about me from a friend, never met me, and even sent me a bouquet of flowers for Mother’s Day—of all days.”
When they finally met, and “he told me he had bought into the California dream. He said he was going to work hard and prosper. That did it for me.” They married in 1962, moved to California, got jobs, welcomed two daughters and for the next nearly 50 years, the couple lived the dream. “I got a teaching job in Los Angeles. Barry got a job as a probation officer, then he got a job selling Hunt’s products. After eight years, he went to Kaiser Aluminum where he was its first black salesman. He’d never sold before, but he was so good that he finally was able to form his own company, Baszile Metal.
“We always planned everything around our goal of being prosperous and sharing our prosperity,” she explained.
From their first home in Carson, the young family moved to Rancho Palos Verdes in 1972, and it was then, she said, “I began my long journey of volunteering in the community.”
Her first venture related to education. “I realized the African-American children were facing problems in the nearly all-white school district. We parents formed an organization known as Black Peninsulans. We met with the Board of Education where I became an advocate for inclusion of our children in all aspects of education in the district,” she explained, adding “I helped organize the Black Heritage Association in 1982, and continue to play a role in the Library District’s Black History Month activities.”
As Janet cited a long list of community activities, much of it aimed at bringing people together, she mentioned one in particular, the Multi-cultural Committee, which she chaired for several years. That service earned her the Agnes Moss Volunteer Award in 1989, and, along with Lea Ann King, she received in 1992 the John Anson Ford Human Relations Award from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.
Janet served as Citizen Diplomat and hosted guests from more than 30 countries, while bringing her energetic presence to the boards of TrinityCare Hospice, Angels Gate Cultural Center, Torrance Cultural Arts Center Foundation and the Academic Advancement Program at UCLA.
Closer to home and more recent is her service as past president and active member of the Palos Verdes Chapter of the Links, an international organization with 274 branches. She’s even co-chair of the Links Legacy luncheon set for next March in Los Angeles. At present she’s a member of the Palos Verdes Art Center board, a member of Ebell of Los Angeles, Multi-Cultural Committee and the Affinity Group.
Off the Peninsula, Janet still manages the staff and supervises the operation of Welfare to Work Partners, a non-profit that Barry established in 2001. “We provide training and job readiness skills to youth who are transitioning from the foster care system,” she explained. “I’m a firm believer in building bridges within and between diverse communities.”
Now widowed for nearly a year, Janet has begun to travel with a sister or to visit her three grandchildren. “I am scheduled to fly to two separate Grandparents Days sometime soon,” she smiled. And she’s already booked a house for next summer at Oak Bluff on Martha’s Vineyard where the whole family will gather for one of those fabulous holidays that husband Barry always arranged. “He wanted all of us to see all there was to see,” she said.
“Lift As We Climb” appears on all her correspondence. It’s origin?
Thinking for a minute, she answered, “I don’t know where I heard it—somewhere along the way—but it makes sense.”