Art Ambassador of the Month - October 2018
Written by Jim T. Gammill, Arts Council Menifee
Arts Council Menifee is pleased to honor longtime Menifee City Council member and former mayor John Denver as Arts Ambassador of the Month for October.
John Vaughn Denver was born in San Francisco in 1947. His mother was an actress and his father was a businessman. Denver couldn’t have known it at the time, but both of his parents’ professions would have impacts on his future.
John still remembers watching his mother and some fellow actors (some of which were very famous at the time) practicing scenes in the living room of his childhood home. His father, John Gould Denver, was a businessman, but was never very successful. There were times that his business decisions landed the family in some pretty precarious situations, including the loss of his mother’s inherited farm. John was not interested in becoming an actor, although his mother aspired for her son to follow in her footsteps.
“There wasn’t really a name for it at the time, but looking back now, I realize that my mother was a manic depressive,” Denver said. “She would have her highs and lows and they could be pretty extreme. When I was young, I thought it was because she was an actor and that all actors had to act like that. Needless to say, I decided that acting just wasn’t for me.”
Denver was interested in business and politics from an early age. As an Eagle Scout, he even got involved in politics a little bit himself by writing letters to local and national politicians, who would often reply with handwritten letters and the occasional signed picture. Denver still has many of these correspondence items to this very day.
After his parents’ divorce, John moved in with his high school girlfriend, who would later become his first wife, and started his college career with a bit of a bumpy start at Fullerton Junior College.
“I was bad. I mean, I wish I could say I was a C student, but I would be giving myself too much credit!” Denver said with a laugh. “That was until I discovered Economics, in which I became completely enthralled.”
Denver began to receive all A’s in Economics and received a BA degree in the subject. The concepts and practices spoke to him so much, he decided to pursue an advanced degree in Economics at the University of California Riverside. It was then that Denver learned that any Economics coursework beyond the undergraduate level was heavily reliant on math. He had gotten through algebra and the other required math classes beforehand, but when faced with calculus, Denver began to question if the program was right for him.
“They (the University) put me together with this math tutor, a young girl, who just excelled at math,” Denver said. “She tried to go over the concepts that we were covering in class and I couldn’t grasp it, so she went to the concepts before that, still didn’t get it, and she tried a few more things before slamming the book and telling me I should change my major.”
In an unlikely turn of events, Denver became an educator himself by enrolling in a pilot program that recruited people with no teaching experience from the business world to provide a different perspective to students. The program required the new teachers to take classes at night and literally required its participants to learn how to teach by teaching. While teaching at Perris Valley Junior High School, he met his present wife, Linda, who had, and still has, an avid interest in the Arts.
By this point in time, John was also selling real estate on the side and eventually came to call that his primary profession. However, even though his time in the classroom had come to an end, his involvement in local education was just beginning.
In 1986, Denver decided to run for the Perris Union High School District board. He lost his first race, but learned how the whole process worked. He was elected after his second attempt in 1988 and was very well-received by the teaching community. During his tenure, he assisted in the creation of both Paloma Valley and Heritage high schools. Heritage even has a commemorative wall that bears his name. Over time, the sentiments of the teachers and district constituency grew colder toward Denver’s conservative views and he was not reelected in 2005.
Denver also played a key role in the creation of the City of Menifee. He and a group of likeminded individuals came into contact with Darcy Kuenzi, who worked for long-time Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley. Under direction from Kuenzi, Menifee began to expand its borders in order to have enough households to qualify for city status.
As a result, Menifee then grew to include the communities of Quail Valley, Romoland, and Sun City. Denver and the visionaries in the community would soon find out that being granted city status was only the beginning.
“The city had no staff, no idea on what we were supposed to do, and we didn’t even have an official place to meet. The first City Council meeting was held at Kay Ceniceros Center,” Denver recalled.
Denver and his group of early city constituents found a company that helped to staff necessary city positions and agreed to cover the city’s financial obligations with the agreement that the city would pay them back with interest. It was just a year later that enough funds were provided by the state of California to pay the company back and establish Menifee as a self-sustaining, independent city.
Denver has served the city of Menifee since the city’s creation. He has had a long-standing seat on the city council, where he was often referred to as ‘the voice of reason’ and was even selected by his fellow council members as the city’s acting mayor in 2012 until the population at large could elect a replacement.
Mayor Bill Zimmerman, who was also a founding member and past president of Arts Council Menifee, had the following to say of councilman Denver:
“Over the years ,we found that we could always rely on John to attend our art shows and events. It was assuring to have a representative from the city taking an interest in what we do. His presence made our artists and supporting patrons feel appreciated.”
Denver has continued to be a constant supporter of the arts in the city of Menifee. He has contributed his time as Santa each Christmas for city events in addition to Menifee’s Spark of Love Santa’s Workshop, a charity event that distributes gifts and Christmas cheer to underprivileged youth.
He always supports the efforts of his wife, Linda, with Arts Council Menifee and The Friends of the Sun City Library. He has donated time and offered financial support to various programs including “Menifee’s Got Talent” and the annual Menifee Arts Showcase. It is for these and a countless amount of other efforts that Arts Council Menifee is pleased to name Denver as October’s Arts Ambassador of the Month.