Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bruce Staller - It began with the Hobby Shop and the Fountainhead

Bruce Staller

Monrovia, California

It began with a Hobby Shop and the Fountainhead

Late in the year of 1961 Bruce Staller walked up to the Sergeant in charge of induction in Los Angeles. The Sergeant was sitting behind his desk, well used to giving orders to the stream of nervous young men who were processed through the facility. From here those young men went on to years of service in the military.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was President of the United States. Kennedy had a warm relationship with the man who would run as the Republican candidate for president in 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater. The Goldwater movement was then in motion, a movement that become one of the influences that would birth the Libertarian Party ten years later.

For months, Bruce Staller, a married college student matriculating at the University in Santa Barbara, had been corresponding with the draft board, demanding they provide to him a legitimate reason that he be forced to serve against his will. “By what right do your force me to take up arms to defend you?” became the constantly reoccurring question to which he demanded an answer. Bruce had been visited by the FBI, who ascertained that he was not and never had been, or intended to be, a Communist or a Communist sympathizer.

Bruce was in Los Angeles to continue his ongoing dialog with the US military and their agents.

The Sergeant told him to undress. Staller refused, ordering the Sergeant to find a psychologist he had come to meet. His ROTA training, undertaken while a student in San Diego, had come in handy. He had been promised and interview and he had come to keep that appointment. The Sergeant found the psychologist.

It takes guts to confront the system and return from that battle unmangled, as the Vietnam generation would soon be learning. Bruce never served in the military. His interview with the psychologist persuaded the US military that the defiance would never end. The ripples of his war on authority would impact Staller's future in many ways.

Most young men did not question the right of the State to use coercion and force to secure their service. Staller was different.

For Bruce the ideas of liberty began with the science fiction novella, And Then There Were None, Eric Frank Russell. That first exposure was followed by the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, a book he had read while a student working in a bookstore in San Diego in 1957. Ideas have consequences and those ideas come to us through the written word as well as through images.

Bruce had learned that freedom began with being willing to say, “I Won't.” F:IW

The ideas that would become the philosophy he lived by was built on a happy home life with his parents in Monrovia, California where Bruce got his first job working for a newly opened hobby shop while still attending Monrovia High School. Bruce was one of the kids who did a lot of thinking and he and his friends built model airplanes, learning about the physics of aerodynamics by doing. The job at the hobby shop did not pay at first, the owner had told him that he could not afford paid help. But soon Bruce was handed his first paycheck. Even before he could read Bruce had been given the responsibility of walking to the grocery store nearby to buy food for the family. Only four years old his mother would hand him labels so he would know what to buy. Monrovia was a small, friendly town where children were safe. That became the kind of town Bruce would want for his own children when they began to arrive.

Bruce's mother and father had brought a very young Bruce to California at the tail end of the Great Depression and rented an apartment in Monrovia. It had been a long trip, the monotony broken up for Bruce by reading a book about an Indian princess with vivid illustrations.

Bruce's dad found work to support his family at Santa Anita, where at the beginning of World War II, Japanese Americans were interned. Bruce still has the employee name tag his dad wore on the job. The unfolding events of the war were a part of the world for young Bruce, including the constant awareness that attack was possible. The air raid sirens and the blackouts were an accepted and ordinary part of his life. It was a world filled with uncertainties as well as new ideas.

In the aftermath of war life went on; Bruce was elected Student Body President while at Monroe Elementary School and again when the family moved him to Santa Fe Elementary School. But when Bruce began junior high at the Clifton School his mind began to focus on the sensational contents of pulp science fiction and fantasy. That drew him into a small group of nerds who build model airplanes and speculated on the future – and girls.

In the era of cold war awareness Bruce served as a volunteer for Sky Watch as a freshman and sophomore in High School, spending one night a week scanning the skies for aircraft. Volunteering to make his community safe was a responsibility he accepted and fulfilled.

Bruce was in High School when he read, And Then There Were None, by Eric Frank Russell; from that moment he was hooked. The unlimited possibilities of the future eventually lead him on to other science fiction writers, including Robert Heinlein. Today Bruce cherishes a photo of himself standing next to Robert Heinlein in Houston in 1983 at a convention on the Uses of Space.

After college Bruce stayed in Santa Barbara, learning the reality of business by starting several businesses for himself in Santa Barbara. But business came in several forms.

Bruce had connected with the group coalescing around Ayn Rand during the Goldwater campaign. In 1963 Staller became the business agent for an enterprise that retailed ideas, the NBI Institute. Through them he connected with Peter Crosby, who was the business agent for NBI in the Los Angeles area. They became friends.

Then, in the late 60s Bruce discovered the Securities Trade.

This was a business that was done on an honor system. You had to be your word when tens of thousands of dollars hung on a promise made verbally.

Working for Bateman, Eichler, Hill, Richards moved Bruce and his family back to the Los Angeles area where eventually they settled back in Monrovia so that Bruce would be close enough to the office. While working in the brokerage business Bruce connected with a young man named Ed Crane who was in a related field, financial management. The Libertarian Party had recently organized in California and the possibility of real change was enticing.

Still focusing on raising a family and on business Bruce took on the role of Libertarian activist, organizing events for the Mac Bride Campaign in 1976. Bruce liked and respected many of the people he met, including the feisty elector who had jumped the fence to cast his electoral vote for John Hospers in 1972, Roger Lea Mac Bride. Drawn into that campaign Bruce later ran for school board in Monrovia and then for State Senate. But after the Clark Campaign he backed away from politics.

Life went on with the changes life can bring. Divorced in 1983, Bruce continued with Bateman, Eichler, Hill, Richards until 1988, leaving there for First Wilshire Securities Management. Bruce served as president while he was there. While there Staller was part of a financial management team that helped fund Apple Computers and other major high tech ventures along with real estate ventures. Leaving there in 1995 Staller went out on his own with a list of clients that continued his career going out on his own with a list of clients, continuing his career in investment management.

Bruce and his wife had had three children, two girls and a boy. The three went their various ways with college and careers while Bruce explored the new role of Dad to people moving into adulthood, encouraging them to discover themselves and working at being there for them.

Confronted by the defunding of programs for schools in Monrovia in the late 90s Bruce recalled the programs available to students when he was moving through the same school system. Remembring the orchestral programs, the choirs, the band program and how these had worked to build skills and community he became determined to see that incoming students continued to have the option of learning and loving music. As a result he was a founder of the Monrovia Schools Foundation which helps fund programs for schools there and through the same organization seeks to make the opportunities for students in the Monrovia system better. One of their principle programs today is titled Don't Stop the Music, has drawn in more people to support the programs. This program funds musical education in Monrovia's elementary schools today. Bruce is determined that this will continue.

Bruce finally retired as an investment advisor at the end of 2005, settling down in the Monrovia area.

The ideas of Libertarianism, translated through the life choices for Bruce, lead to providing alternative means for funding the things people in Monrovia wanted their children to have as a matter of course. In this way Bruce presented a solution that said he cared about children. His years as a Libertarian activist taught him that changes that do not start with the community cannot build a world where people connect.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Who we are and the lessons we learned

Libertarian Party History

The Old Timers Series

More than a full generation has passed since that small but determined band of mostly young people came together to form what we all hoped would become the right political tool for renewing the battle for individual freedom.

We all know it started in David Nolan's living room. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, as the saying goes. Some who were there then to witness what happened are now dead. Others are still in there working for freedom either in the LP or in related fields.

I started out in West Los Angeles where I had been born and raised and where I met my first mentor on the ideas of Liberty, James Dean. Where did you start out? Where are you now? What happened in the middle?

This is about the past we share and about reconnecting to each other.

The Old Timer's Series will feature short biographical sketches of Old Timers to appear on these pages and on a blog we will set up for that purpose. If you are an Old Timer I have not yet found, get in touch. It will be great to reconnect even if we didn't talk back then. We will have a lot in common, no doubt.

As I am contacting Old Timers I am also compiling a list of contact information and each Old Timer will have the option of getting in touch with other Old Timers, if they wish to be contacted. I'm hoping everyone does. Think about other Old Timers and about those Old Timers who are not with us any more. I will be doing sketches for Roger MacBride, William Hunscher, Mike Hall, Bob Lehman, and others who can't be interviewed. I know there are more.

These individual stories will help us all understand the past we share. Eventually, it would be lovely to have a get together so we can see each other again.

Consider what kind of reunion we could have. Cruises are fun but there are endless possibilities. In the meanwhile, start rifling through those dusty mementos and through your mind. It is amazing how much you remember when you start thinking about it.

Look forward to chatting.