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By Alex Horvath / The Californian
BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing writer
For Milt and Betty Younger, supporting the arts in Kern County has been a steady upward climb for close to 50 years.
And their efforts continue today.
Couples of Accomplishment
When: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 25
Where: Bell Tower Club, 1200 Truxtun Ave.
"Milt is the gold standard for how you should support the arts."
-- John Farrer, conductor of the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra
They seem driven by a personal commitment to make our city the very best it can be, particularly in the areas of culture and education.
To honor the Youngers for their many contributions over the years, the Arts Council of Kern is saluting them as Couples of Accomplishment at a fundraising dinner on July 25 at the Bell Tower Club.
Both have deep family roots in Bakersfield. In 1884 Betty's grandfather established a homestead at the northeast corner of 18th and H streets, property she still owns.
Milt's parents came here from Hungary in 1909 and he gleefully points out that the house he grew up in now is the location of the parking lot for Bill Lee's Bamboo Chopsticks.
Superlatives abound when other leaders in the arts community speak of the couple.
"Milt is the gold standard for how you should support the arts," says John Farrer, conductor of the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra.
And former Arts Council director Jeanette Richardson Parks says of the diminutive Betty: "Never underestimate her stature based on her physical height; she might be tiny but she is mighty when it comes to her sculptures, public art and her defense of Kern County artists."
Parks, who initiated the couples award during her tenure, is assisting Arts Council president and interim executive director Anthony Goss with preparations for the dinner.
One thing that stands out about the Youngers is their altruism.
Betty is an artist who once taught the subject to special education students at Bakersfield High School; Milt learned to play the violin at age 4 and in his teens performed with the Bakersfield Symphony, which then was called the Kern Philharmonic.
Yet they play no favorites. Check the donor listings for just about any organization devoted to music, theater or the visual arts, and you'll find their names among those who have contributed significant amounts.
Typically, their support encompasses far more than their financial gifts. Milt served five years as president of the symphony and on numerous occasions has appeared before the Bakersfield City Council and the Board of Supervisors urging support for the arts.
And in 1996, when the Arts Council was undergoing funding difficulties, Betty approached Kelly Blanton, who then was Kern County Superintendent of Schools about linking the Arts Council with the schools' programs.
"It was the first time I stood up and spoke aggressively," she says now.
The KCSOS is still actively involved with the organization and helps coordinate Arts Council visual and performing arts events in schools throughout the county.
In the early 2000s, Milt was actively involved in promoting the construction of a $200 million performing arts center as part of the Mill Creek project. He hasn't given up the hope that it someday will become a reality, one that will help make Bakersfield a destination, not just a stopover where travelers can get a bite to eat.
The couple talked about their ongoing plans relative to the arts recently during a conversation in the Sculpture Garden, a shaded park-like area next to the Bank of America building, which they own.
"I've still got all the plans for the performing arts center," Milt said. "I'm 82 and I hope that somebody younger than I am will come along and see it to completion."
Meanwhile, the Stanford Law School graduate continues to maintain a solo practice in downtown Bakersfield.
In recent months Betty's commanding sculpture "Christ of Compassion," which was done on commission, has been installed in the garden of The Mission.
A more abstract piece, "Mended Hearts," was presented as a gift to the Houchin Community Blood Bank for its new location in southwest Bakersfield.
The couple have been ardent supporters of the Arts Council almost from its beginning in 1977. For 20 years they provided free office space in the Bank of America building for the organization. The Younger Gallery, a suite on the first floor of the building, is a funding source for Arts Council.
Currently they are involved in the Downtown Business Association's "Trees" project, which scheduled to take off in October. In fact, Betty is creating a design for a tree sculpture that will be 9 feet tall.