Foundation Board & District Trustees
Frank and Charlotte Kleeman
With a community resume a mile long and an impressive collection of awards and special recognitions, Frank and Charlotte Kleeman have been highly visible at charitable events and board meetings throughout Santa Clarita for the past four decades.
Just don’t expect to see them on the dance floor together.
Charlotte’s newfound passion (she recently represented College of the Canyons at the "Dancing With Our Stars” charity event) is one thing she doesn’t share with her husband of 48 years.
"You need two feet to dance -– one right and one left,” Frank joked. "I’ve got two lefts.”
We should excuse Frank if he doesn’t have time for dancing. The father of four, grandfather of three, former United States Navy officer, Air Force International Guard officer, electronics technician (who once worked for Bing Crosby Enterprises), Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff, insurance claims adjustor, senior partner in a successful law firm and workers’ compensation judge has been half of one of Santa Clarita’s most tireless and benevolent tandems since the early 1970s.
The other half of that duo is Charlotte, the former social worker who graduated from Occidental College and earned two teaching credentials (in special education and secondary history) from Cal Lutheran.
The Kleemans' list of community involvement is as impressive as it is exhaustive. Theirs is a legacy of altruism that led to Charlotte being named the 1996 Santa Clarita Valley Woman of the Year, 2001 Zonta Woman of the Community and 2002 Santa Clarita Elks Lodge Citizen of the Year. Similarly, it earned Frank 2002 Man of the Year honors by both the Santa Clarita Valley and the Elks Lodge. Together, the Kleemans were recognized as Philanthropists of the Year for 2002 by the Network of California Community Colleges and earned the COC Foundation’s 2005 Silver Spur Award for Community Service.
And those are merely a few select awards from the couple’s resume. The rundown of the vast number of associations and committees that have benefited from the Kleeman’s support over the years requires more than just a quick glance.
Charlotte serves on the board of the COC Foundation, the Santa Clarita Child & Family Center, the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center and the Foundation for Children’s Dental Health. She has also been actively involved with the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, the Santa Clarita Repertory Theatre and the SCV Boys & Girls Club. In addition, Charlotte lists her election to the Alumni Board of Governors at Occidental College among her proudest achievements.
Frank’s initial foray into local activism was in 1971, when he was asked to sit on the board of the Boys & Girls Club. (At the time, it was simply called Boys Club of America.) Having grown up in an orphanage, it was a cause that was extremely close to his heart, and he has maintained a relationship with the organization ever since.
"Jim Ventress (chief professional officer of the SCV Boys & Girls Club) has been so wonderfully helpful to the disadvantaged youth and the latchkey kids, so many of them,” Frank said. "He’s done wonders for them.”
Additionally, Frank has been a member of the COC Foundation Board of Directors since 1996, is the former president of the board of the Santa Clarita Repertory Theatre and has served on the boards of the Pasadena Playhouse, the California Music Theatre and the Newhall Redevelopment Committee.
Incredibly, the above barely touches on the Kleeman’s tremendous contributions to College of the Canyons.
At COC, Frank serves as chairman of the Library Associates and is a member of the Scholarly Presentation Committee. He and Charlotte are volunteers and donors on the Silver Spur Celebration Committee, one of the COC Foundation’s largest fundraising efforts. They are in the Friends of the Fine Arts, Friends of the Performing Arts and the Child Development Circle of Friends. Furthermore, the Kleemans are members of the President’s Circle and have donated to the University Center Campaign, the Library Endowment and various scholarships. Furthermore, they have made a planned gift of a Charitable Remainder Trust in which the COC Foundation is the beneficiary.
"The College is so important to this whole valley, particularly the movement into the Canyon Country Campus,” Frank said. "It has done a lot to bring the community back together.
"The changes that we’ve seen (at the college) have been magnificent. The growth of this college has been exciting to see. It gives one a very warm feeling for the community and it gives you a lot of bragging rights, which I, of course, do with my family and friends.”
The seeds of Frank and Charlotte Kleeman’s legacy were planted in North Hollywood in the 1950s, when Charlotte’s parents lived on the same street as Frank’s sister and her family. Charlotte babysat Frank’s nephews.
"I was just this chubby little 14-year-old down the street, and he was in the Navy, and he looked like a young Tony Curtis,” Charlotte recalled. "Frank’s sister was 20 years older than he was, and he had been raised in an orphanage, so whenever he came home it was to his sister and her family’s house.
"(The first time) he was on leave, they didn’t tell me he was staying with them, and I always locked all of their doors and windows. So he came home at 2 in the morning and I was asleep on the couch, and I had him locked out! And that was the first time I ever laid eyes on him.”
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
"He’d see me when I babysat or he’d wave to me when I drove down the street, and then unbeknownst to me, he got out of the Navy and got married,” Charlotte continued. "He was married for five years and got divorced, and then came back to live with his sister and her family.”
Frank recalled a fateful day in his life. It was April 17, 1960.
"One evening I wanted to go out and I said to my young nephew, ‘Do you know anybody that I might ask to go out?’” Frank remembered. "He said, ‘Go ask Charlotte.’ So I walked up to her house and that was the beginning of the end (laughs).”
"He came to the door and we invited him in,” Charlotte said. "I invited him into the kitchen where my mother was, and we just talked and he asked if I wanted to go to a movie that night, and I said 'sure.' ”
Their first-date conversation left Charlotte decidedly unimpressed.
"All he did was complain about women all night!” she said (although, for the record, Frank doesn’t recall this). "He was all negative, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s the end of that!’ But then he asked me out again the following Saturday, and I never again heard about how bad women were.”
In fact, each month, Frank gave Charlotte a single rose on the anniversary of their first date, a ritual that evolved into the anniversary of their engagement.
"And then it was on the one-month anniversary of our wedding, until I had our first baby, which was about four years later,” Charlotte said. "And he brought one to the hospital and
said, ‘OK, this is the last rose!’ ”
Thirteen months after their first date, on May 20, 1961, Frank and Charlotte Kleeman were married in North Hollywood.
"Things went much faster in those times,” Charlotte said. "Everybody was younger when they got married. If you weren’t married by a year (it was unusual). Today, things are really
extended, which is much smarter. People are more cautious now, and they wait until they’re a little more mature.”
In 1965, the couple moved to Newhall with their infant son, Jeff.
"We couldn’t afford a house in the San Fernando Valley,” Charlotte said. "We had friends that had moved out here and we could get a really nice house for half the price of homes in the San Fernando Valley.”
Frank was working as an insurance claims adjustor for Aetna Life & Casualty in Panorama City. This pre-dated the 14 freeway and his commute was just 20 minutes each way from Newhall.
At the time, the Santa Clarita Valley consisted of roughly 20,000 residents -- far less than 10 percent of its current population.
"There was lots of open space, but it was almost too small,” Charlotte said. "We had to go to the San Fernando Valley for just about everything. You couldn’t even find a bagel. There were no bagels. People didn’t even know what bagels were.”
Frank fondly reminisced about the natural scenery of Santa Clarita.
"You could see the mountains and you could see natural growth on top of the mountains, instead of sticks and stucco, which has virtually destroyed the view of this valley,” he said.
The Kleemans had a front-row seat as the small town they had known grew into the fourth-largest city in Los Angeles County.
"I am glad that we’ve had a certain amount of growth,” Charlotte said. "I think the city has done a really good job. The only thing I’d say that bothers me is the traffic. There’s just too many cars. And you don’t know everybody anymore. We liked knowing everybody. You knew where everything was. You can’t possibly know everything now.”
"It was more fun when it was a small town,” Frank said, "and you got to know the people and the community, and what was there, who was there, what stores were there, what markets were there, what restaurants were there. You knew everything about the area, but now we don’t know anything about it. We talk to people who live west of the freeway or north of COC, and they don’t even know where Newhall is.”
However, Charlotte said, some elements of the small town atmosphere have thankfully never changed.
"The thing that has always distinguished (Santa Clarita) is that it’s always welcomed everybody, all the newcomers, with open arms,” she said. "The more the merrier. It was never that cliquey feeling, where they looked down on new people coming in. And it’s still that way. It’s always been a very welcoming community.”
One community that Frank might not be welcomed in as a resident is Valencia, as he playfully joked that the conformity of the houses in the area has long been a bit of a sticking point for him.
"I’ve always told my friends that if I ever moved over there, the first thing I’d do is paint my house purple with a chartreuse door,” he said.
The development and growth of the Valley’s educational and non-profit organizations, and observing the work of the individuals responsible for them, have been among the highlights of the Kleeman’s residency here.
"There are so many people who built something from nothing and made this community what it is,” Frank said.
Specifically, he mentioned Dr. Dianne Van Hook, chancellor of College of the Canyons; Jim Ventress, chief professional officer of the SCV Boys & Girls Club; Jan Keller, who started and developed the COC Library; Leslie Bretall, COC librarian; and Liz Seipel, who built the Santa Clarita Child & Family Center.
"There are a lot of organizations that help a lot of people,” Frank continued. "The Elks, the Rotary, Zonta and all these types of organizations are wonderful, but there are so many individual people who have expended their whole lives to this community.”
Frank and Charlotte Kleeman still live in Newhall with their dog, a smooth fox terrier named Lulu.
"Oh yes, and the hierarchy in the house is Charlotte, Lulu and Frank,” Frank said. "Lulu comes second.”
Frank has two daughters from his first marriage who both live out of state. One of them has a daughter of her own. Together, Frank and Charlotte have two children, son Jeff and daughter Shari. Jeff, who works as the technical director of the Los Angeles Opera, met his wife while both were students at CalArts. The couple has two sons, Elijah and Maxwell. Elijah will be starting at CalArts this fall, while 16-year-old Maxwell is a nationally ranked fencer. Shari, a pharmaceutical rep, lives in Tucson and is engaged to be married.
When they’re able to put community events and board meetings on hold, Frank and Charlotte enjoy traveling, having gone on a number of cruises and Smithsonian tours, as well as close to 20 Elderhostel tours all over the country.
On the heels of her participation in "Dancing With Our Stars,” Charlotte recently began taking dance lessons.
"I’m going to try it for a month or so,” she said. "I don’t know if I’ll continue.”
Here’s hoping that it’s less grueling and physically demanding than "Dancing With Our Stars,” for which Charlotte practiced between two and five days a week for about 10 weeks.
"I said at one point that every muscle in my body, other than my face muscles, hurt at one time or another,” she said.
Still, it couldn’t have been as painful as dancing with Frank’s two left feet.