Dr. Orison Swett Marden, founder of Success Magazine once said, “The greatest thing a man can do in this world, is to make the most possible out of the stuff that has been given him. This is success, and there is no other.” If we believe this to be true, than this week’s Neighbor to Know is undoubtedly one of the most successful people I will ever have had the pleasure to know. Please meet Old Town resident Chi Kredell. (Pronounced “Shy”)
Born in Chicago, the oldest of two, his father died when he was very young. His mother, fed up with cold Illinois winters, enlisted his uncle to help them pack up and drive to California. Like so many of the stories I have shared with you, it is amazing to me that they came here with no family or friends, no assurances for jobs or homes, but they came anyway. Chi recalls vividly that upon making it to Southern California, they found themselves in Seal Beach at the pier. He fished off the pier that day, caught a fish immediately and told his mother this was where he wanted to stay. He laughs now that his entire life might have been different had he not been so lucky that day and the fish weren’t biting! His mother purchased a small house on Central that is still there today. He tells me how it was to live here when there were no homes on Ocean Avenue and people could just drive up to the strand, park and walk onto the beach.
Chi is a nickname given to him in his first year of schooling in Seal Beach by teacher Mr. Dressler, who taught for over 25 years here. His given name, Ronald, was already shared by at least four others in his class. Because he had just arrived from Chicago, Mr. Dressler said “then we will call you Chi instead” and it stuck. Seal Beach had no schools past middle grades then so he attended high school in Huntington Beach where he was an all-around athlete, playing football and baseball.
He loved growing up in Seal Beach and was a lifeguard making 75 cents an hour at the mere age of 15, mostly because he was very tall and strong for his age and a great swimmer. “You had to be a good runner back then,” he tells me, “we did not have the beach vehicles that are used today, so we had to run all the way to Ray Bay and back.” Many of the young men Chi worked with are lifelong friends and many will be gathering for a reunion this weekend. They plan to do a pier jump once again just to say they can.
After high school, he left home to play baseball for a farm league in San Diego, but during his very first game as a pitcher, threw out his arm, ending his big league hopes. At this point, school, never his favorite thing, seemed the better alternative and he came home to CSULB, playing on the football team for the very first team they ever had, scoring the first touchdown for the school.
He left school when a friend talked him into what sounded at the time like a great job opportunity, working on a large commercial fishing boat off the coast of Peru. They fished for yellowfin primarily, and would take their haul through the Panama Canal to caneries in Puerto Rico. The work, he recalls, was very hard. He noted that the strongest memory he had was how the waters near the equator were actually very cold, not hot as he expected they would be. A year later, he had had enough and came home to Seal Beach once more.
This time, he listened to a friend who gave him the best advice of his life, and he tested for and became a Los Angeles City Firefighter. Chi served the community for over 28 years as a firefighter, working primarily at a station in the L.A. Harbor. He is a certified scuba diver and did underwater work when it was called for, in and around the large ships in the port. He was on duty when the Watts Riots broke out in 1965, as well as the disaster of S.S. Sansinena, an oil bearing ship that exploded in the harbor in 1976, killing six and injuring over 45 others. As you can imagine, he knows these events will never be erased from his memory. But he loved being a fireman, as he had loved being a lifeguard because of the camaraderie, brotherhood and friendships he made.
He continued to live in Seal Beach and by mere chance one day in 1960 he saw a beautiful young lady under her umbrella on the beach and knew he had to meet her. She was visiting for the day by chance from Highland Park, and this meeting brought him the woman he would marry one year later. This weekend, not only will Chi celebrate having been a lifeguard here over 60 years ago, but he will celebrate his 55 wedding anniversary as well.
Chi and Nancey have never left Seal Beach, raising two wonderful sons, one who is also a firefighter paramedic with L.A. City. Chi’s service to our community began at a young age and has continued through his entire life. He served on the Seal Beach City Council from 1976 to 1982, working to change zoning that has helped preserve single family homes and the lifestyle that make our community so rich. He was instrumental in helping preserve the open land that is now Eisenhower Park overlooking the pier from builders who wanted to put homes there. He has been a strong voice and advocate throughout for keeping our old town charm, and we owe so much to Chi and those like him who fought those battles for us all over the years.
I will tell you that Chi is humble man, a modest one, and one of a kind. He does not like to take vacations because he believes he already lives in the best place on earth, although Nancey has convinced him to leave a couple of times. I can see his point, actually.
I hope you will all join in this weekend to watch them do the Pier jump and thank Chi and all those who come for their service to our community. And although he may not care much about how he is remembered one day, I can tell him without a doubt that he will be remembered as one of the true originals of our town, a part of the backbone and fabric that has made us the wonderful community we are today and so we thank you, Chi.
Do you have a neighbor we should know? Please send them to me at: EBETHL@hotmail.com.