A Doug's Life: Remembering Two People Who Cared

Pillar of the community.

We've all heard this term before, probably used it ourselves. But what does it really mean?

The word "pillar" has a couple of definitions, including:

A freestanding, vertical support.

One who occupies a central or responsible position.

When combined, the words "pillar of the community" becomes a term defined as a prominent member or supporter of a particular community.

Considering all this, Carmelita Rood and Tom Carpenter fit the definition perfectly.

Most folks around here know that when the decades-old community of Sun City was incorporated into the city now known as Menifee, some strong supports were needed to hold the whole thing together. On one side you had a group of longtime Sun City residents who resisted the change; on the other side, a group of people who were in favor of increased development.

Just in the year and a half I've been in town, I've seen some cracks in the foundation. Granted, the structure has been shaken a few times. But you know what? It's still standing.

Why? Because the pillars were strong. Because people like Carmelita Rood and Tom Carpenter were strong enough to hold things together, yet flexible enough to roll with the shock waves. Sort of like a seismic retrofit.

Tom Carpenter was 79 years old when he died in his Menifee home in late December. For 40 years, he had served not only as a successful attorney in the Sun City/Menifee community, but as a tireless volunteer. He was a charter member of the Sun City (now Menifee) Rotary Club, an advocate for local health care systems and a supporter of the Boy Scouts. In 1995, he was received the Citizen of the Year Award from the Chamber of Commerce.

Tom could be stubborn at times. He refused to refer to his club as the Menifee Rotary Club, instead continuing to call it the Sun City Rotary Club. He insisted that people remember the importance of the Sun City tradition, of what it meant to the foundation of the greater Menifee area.

Yet at the same time, he joined with new residents from the "south side of the tracks" in activities that solidified the community as a whole. He treated this reporter with courtesy and respect in an interview conducted just weeks after he met me for the first time. Tom saw the good in people and tried to bring that out.

Carmelita Rood was a week away from her 86th birthday when she died on Tuesday. A 35-year resident of the Sun City community, she was referred to in this space as the First Lady of Menifee. Why? A couple of reasons.

First, Carmelita was literally the first person I saw at the first public function I attended here -- a Chamber of Commerce mixer. My wife Kristen and I had barely gotten in the door before she rushed up to greet us and take our picture. As many of you know, Carmelita's job in recent years was to document every Chamber event with photos, carefully assembling them in albums and preparing them for posting to the Chamber website. More important, she made it her job to greet everyone she met with that warm smile of hers.

Second, Carmelita was Menifee -- Senior Mrs. Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce; longtime member of the Woman's Club, Soroptomist Club, Kiwanis Club and other groups; and an "old-timer" who wasn't afraid to mingle with the newcomers and change with the times.

In one of our last conversations, Carmelita told me of her disappointment with those who resisted change in our community. At the same time, she spoke fondly of the memories she had of the changing community over the years. Just like Tom Carpenter, she saw the good in all things and worked to make those things better.

Carmelita Rood and Tom Carpenter. They were among a special few who held this reconfigured community together.

So what now? Do we fear that the community crumbles because two of the pillars are gone? Of course not.

The love and leadership they displayed has helped cement many cracks in the foundation. Moreover, it has created in others the commitment to carry on their tradition.

So thank you, Tom and Carmelita, for what you have done for Sun City and Menifee and the legacy you left for us. May you rest in peace.


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