Wanna-Bes Raise Funds, Hopes for Western Fest
Carnival: Conejo Valley Days will kick off with crowning of grand marshal, who earns the title by garnering pledges for charity.
By Mary F. Pols
By midnight tonight, it will all be decided: Which candidate gets to lead the parade, judge the chili cook-off and in general act as grand pooh-bah over Conejo Valley Days.
Until then, the three contenders for grand marshal are engaged in frantic last-minute efforts to win the title, bestowed upon the service club member who raises the most money for charity over a five-week period.
Tonight's event, a Western-themed dance at the Holiday Inn, kicks off Conejo Valley Days, a tradition in Thousand Oaks since 1947. As residents dance and nibble on refreshments, the festival's sponsors will be adding up the last-minute pledges to see who gets the title.
Retired businessman and Elks Club member "Tombstone Tony" - also known as Tony Redburn - is in the lead going into tonight's dance.
Right behind him is dentist Arnold Rudman, a Kiwanis Club member who has been going by the name "Root'n Tooth'n" during the Western-themed competition for grand marshal.
Meanwhile, "Lassoin'" Lance Winslow spent Thursday hunched over the handlebars of his bicycle, toiling up the Conejo Grade after riding all the way from Oregon in an effort to boost his third-place grand marshal candidacy. Winslow is a member of the Westlake Optimists Club.
Winning is quite an honor, said Bob Rickards, manager of the competition. He should know, having served as grand marshal in 1985.
"They never forget you," Rickards said. "You'll always be remembered.
But as he points out, it's not just the opportunity to be treated like royalty during the Conejo Valley's biggest event of the year that matters.
It's also about the contribution to area charities, and that can be considerable. Last year two grand marshal candidates raised $33,000 between them. This year, with three contenders, Rickards is hoping for a $60,000 pot, 60% of which would go directly to the charity of the winner's choice.
Rudman, who garbs himself in full Western gear while fund-raising, completes with a holster full of toothbrushes, said Thursday he is hopeful that he can still pull out a victory over Tombstone Tony. Redburn had a solid - though unspecified - lead in the preliminary counts.
"It's a blind race at this point," Rudman said. "We may be $10,000 apart and we don't even know it. The final tally of the week could be tremendous. Until you put that in, you don't know. I might still win."
Winslow said he expects to have raised about $10,000 total, pulling in $4,500 from the bike ride. But he hasn't finished it yet, having promised to cycle from one end of the state to the other. So he isn't sure he'll be able to collect all the pledges before Friday night.
"This was literally a race," he said. "I was racing the clock. But I didn't expect to win. I just always like to do this stuff."
The Chamber of Commerce usually sponsors Conejo Valley Days. This year, the event has been turned over to the city's various service groups. However, Rickards said carnival-goers will see little difference. There will still be a chili cook-off, a "whiskeroo" beard contest, plenty of bingo and of course, the rodeo.
Putting on the event is a challenge, Rickards said, particularly in tough economic conditions. In 1985, the grand marshal competition raised about $70,000, and organizers expected that upward trend to continue. It didn't.
"You never know how much you are going to raise," he said.
Organizers hope to have 70,000 people attend the event over the course of the week.
Reprinted from the The Los Angeles Times, April 21, 1995.