The Honorable Raymond Cardenas
Raymond Cardenas was born June 5, 1931 in Lompoc, California and as a young child moved with his family to West Los Angeles. His father worked for the railroads, so they followed his work as he labored on the West Los Angeles railways. He attended Sawtelle School, Emerson Junior High School and University High School. In high school he played football, and in fact, was an all-western tailback! He also excelled in school and as the Student Body President.
Raymond came to know UCLA UniCamp as a young boy through the Los Angeles County Public Assistance Office, where his family received assistance to help make ends meet. One summer in 1942, Raymond and his brother Louis went to UCLA UniCamp for a week in the forest!
They loved camp so much that they returned for another 2 years after that. Sitting in our UniCamp offices today, Raymond remembered with vivid detail everything about camp, the site, the cabins, the other children’s first and last names! This camp experience was clearly something that helped to define part of his childhood.
UCLA UniCamp has humble beginnings that date back to 1934 when 11 UCLA Students began a canned food drive to benefit the needy children living exactly where Raymond grew up, near the Sawtelle district south of UCLA. After that first winter food drive, these students came back and told of more obstacles that these children had to face beyond food shortages. They wanted to do more, and the next summer, a summer camp was born.
Raymond was among these earliest of campers, and therefore one of our earliest and most astounding success stories. As he sits in our offices today in 2006, we remain in awe of his successes, his humility, his sense of humor and his family. To meet him is to understand keenly why we were so compelled to tell his story. Here is a distinguished gentleman born to a father who emigrated from Mexico and worked on the railroads. His father would say of Mexico, “It is beautiful, but for the rich….here in the United States, if you work hard, you can make it.” His father learned from the other recent immigrants in their neighborhood, mostly of Japanese decent….and put his hard earned money into buying small pieces of property in the area. To this day, the Cardenas family still holds on to some of that property, a legacy of their family’s hard work and struggles.
The next time UniCamp heard from Raymond was in 1954. Irwin Goldring was a UCLA UniCamp counselor and was giving a presentation at a local fraternity about camp, trying to recruit a new crop of enthusiastic volunteers. During his slide show presentation, a young man in the back raised his hand…..which was a bit surprising since this young man was a pledge and technically wasn’t supposed to be speaking at all! It was Raymond. He told everyone that he was one of the lucky kids who had benefited from camp as a child, and he was now a student at UCLA. Raymond signed up for camp that summer and was a volunteer counselor working with those kids who were just starting out in life, as he once was.
As a side note, Irwin Goldring is now a long time member of our Board of Trustees, one of our most committed donors and friends, married to fellow UniCamp counselor Clarann, and one of the top lawyers in Los Angeles!
On April 5, 1954 UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, ran an article about Raymond. In the article Raymond talks about the importance of the UniCamp experience and the role it played in his current success as a student at UCLA. As a University student he was now actively working to lend support to UniCamp to help the next generation of children just like him.
After graduating from UCLA in 1954, Raymond joined the Unites States Army. It was in the army that Raymond set his sights on going to Law School. However, being in the service made it extremely difficult for him to not only take entrance examinations, but to apply for and interview with prospective Law Schools. He wrote a personal letter to the Dean of UCLA Law School expressing his desire to attend UCLA once again and was called in for a personal interview!
Unfortunately, as soon as Raymond walked into the Dean’s office, after taking a leave from the army, and trekking across the country, the Dean simply said, “no.” Raymond was left in tears. The Dean at the time was in much turmoil over accusations of discrimination and Raymond was likely an unwitting participant in the controversy. The Dean’s Assistant, seeing this young man in tears, was compelled to help. To this day Raymond calls her his angel. She told Raymond that she knew the dean at Loyola Law School and would get him an interview. The next day he did in fact meet with Loyola Law and was accepted. He attended Loyola Law School for one year and after the UCLA Law School Dean was let go, he was able to transfer to his “home,” UCLA.
Raymond graduated from UCLA Law in 1959 and worked as a lawyer for the next 14 years. After working as a lawyer he became a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge for 20 years, spending time in Criminal, Law & Motion, Civil and Family Law Courts. He worked as judge until 1995 when he partially retired.
Today, Raymond works part time as an independent arbitration mediator. More importantly, this one tiny little boy from the summer of 1942 is the father to 4, grandfather to 8, and enjoys his semi-retirement with his wife Monica traveling the world!
No matter his professional accomplishments, Raymond is an inspiration as an individual. Words cannot express the pride UniCamp feels in being able to call Raymond a UniCamp Alumnus.
Recently, Raymond came to visit us at the UCLA UniCamp office and shared many stories from camp, his life, and his travels. But no story is more meaningful and heartfelt than the ones he tells of his family……and how UniCamp is one of those experiences that helped to change his stars, and thus the stars of his family—his true legacy.
Watching Raymond tell of his family adventures and travels reminds us not so much of where he has gone, or what he has done, but rather how far he has come.
For his story is a road map through the forest with the little river and the tall trees that includes the little site that is home to UCLA UniCamp. Perhaps you can consider helping the next generation of Raymonds find their way.
UCLA UniCamp can help. Consider a gift today. We think campers are well worth very penny, but you be the judge…