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An Olympian from Culver High : : Joe Faust

From the book: "ROME 1960..The Olympics That Changed The World” by David Maraniss

“The high-jump competition was an all-day affair.  It started at 9 that morning with 32 jumpers, and by lunch the field had narrowed to 17 who had cleared 6’-6 ¾” . American Joe Faust, with a sore lower back, was the first one out in the afternoon. “

“It could be said that Joe Faust failed at the Rome Olympics, coming up short after working toward a single moment for 7 years, but his disappointment was not written into the larger drama of U.S. men’s track-and-field team on what came to be known as Black Thursday.  Few had heard of Faust before or after 9/1/60, and he was virtually invisible at the competition, withdrawing after the preliminary round in the high jump.  He barely dragged his pained body over the bar at 6-4 ¾, then bowed out, finishing in 17th place, which was far worse than he might have done but better than 14 other jumpers from Tunisia to Iceland.  That is how most Olympic athletes finish, unknown and unseen, away from the glare of media hype and patriotic hope.  Like any of them, Faust would have been delighted to win a gold medal at the Stadio Olimpico, but he understood that in the larger scheme of things it would not have mattered, and the scheme of things is what he was all about.

There had been a touch of fame in the family before his athletic career.  His father, Louis (Bob) Faust, was an actor who played a villain in several John Wayne movies, including the 1947 “Angel and the Badman.”  Bob assumed the role of bad man in the family, too, leaving his pregnant wife and 7 children.  Joe was 5 when his parents separated, and spent much of his childhood with a foster family in Culver City.  He was a normal kid except in two respects: he had wondrous spring in his legs and religious curiosity in his heart.  By age 10 he was a precocious Catholic, searching for the spiritual essence of life.

His junior high track coach notice Joe’s exuberant bounce and quickly steered him toward the high jump.  It was 1953, and together they developed an ambitious long-term plan to get to the 1960 Olympics.  One out of a million chance, perhaps.  ‘But I believed him,’ Faust said of his coach. ‘And we started working.’  His first jump was 3-foot-7, but by the end of that year he was at five-eight and moving higher by the week. He did the straddle jump, like most jumpers of that era, approaching the bar from a left angle and kicking up and over with his lead arm & leg.  ‘I loved seeing the bar as I went over it,’ he said, something no high jumper would do in later decades after Dick Fosbury introduced the revolutionary Fosbury Flop, going over shoulders first, torso and head skyward. (as an interesting aside, I watched the 1976 Montreal Olympics with Dick Fosbury when I lived in Eugene and was blessed to hear his commentary while Dwight Stones was going for the gold.  We sat in a friend’s backyard, drinking beer and watching Dwight with rapture on our faces.  I remember it well.  In fact 30 years later, I tracked Dick down in Ketcham, Idaho where he owned a surveying company and was able to convince him to do a feature for Fox Sports Net that I produced, called, “Where are They Now.” Great memories indeed.) 

At fifteen Faust cleared the bar at 6-8, setting a new standard for his age group, and as he approached age 17 he was recruited to jump at UCLA.  Faust lasted a month there, dropped out, and transferred to nearby Occidental College.  He had been valedictorian of his high school class, but school now was all confusion to him.  The seven-year plan to reach the Olympics still drove him, and he worked out twice a day, all the while feeling pangs of guilt about ‘the achievement complex.’  Jumping was his ambition and salvation; he infused it with religious symbolism.

Each jump had its own ritual; what he called the cycle of repair.  He looked at the crossbar and saw the crucifix.  As he approached, he imagined jumping into the arms of a loving God.  He rose with penance, sorry for his sins, and descended with gratitude, thankful for love and forgiveness.  Over and over again, penance and gratitude, sin and redemption, repairing himself inside and out, jumping a hundred times a day.  It was all deeply personal and private.  He never talked about it to others, never boasted that God was on his side.  His heavenly thanks were not for how high he jumped, but simply for the act of jumping at all.

By July 1, 1960, Faust was exceptional enough to compete at the Olympic Trials at Stanford.  Everything felt right that day.  He was struck by the beautiful care with which Payton Jordan, the Stanford track coach, had prepared the stadium.  The grass was a velvet cut of green, the track smooth and flawless, the takeoff area with just the right bounce, the landing pit soft and inviting.  Hours before the competition, Faust went off by himself to meditate, visualizing his jumps.   There were 13 competitors, led by John Thomas, the amazing leaper from Boston U., and Charley Dumas, the defending Olympic champ.  All the attention was on Thomas, as he set a new world record, but there was a lively contest for the other tow Olympic slots.  When the height reached 6-9, 7 jumpers were still around.  Faust nicked the crossbar on his first 2 jumps and was on the verge of elimination. ‘I started visualizing the prayer part,’ he said later of his preparations for the 3rd try.  ‘I dedicated the next jump to all the people who might be on crutches around the world. But it was not a trade-off with God.  It was a feeling of, Why leave anyone behind?

He cleared the bar with ease.  And then 6-10, and 6-11, and finally he soared over 7 feet for the first time in his life and clinched a spot on the team.

That moment, as it turned out, was the Olympic peak for jumping Joe Faust.  A few day later he strained a disc in his lower back.  Determined to fulfill the 7-year plan, he gutted it out at practice meets in Oregon and Switzerland, wincing in pain but showing enough to keep his place on the team.  He was still only 17 when he reached Rome, the youngest man on the track and field squad, and he soaked it all in, joining the throngs who saw Pope John XXIII at the Vatican, mixing with foreign athletes, even coming to the aid of Leif Kvist, a young man from Sweden who had lost all his money and had been standing outside the gates of the village, broke and starving, until Joe brought him food from the bounteous Olympic cafeteria.

Then came the day of competition, the anticlimax, a jump of 6-4 ¾ and no more.  He returned to California and wanted to become a Trappist monk.  He fasted outside the gates of the Abbey of New Clairvaux up near Vina for 3 days and asked to be called Zachary, but could not clear his mind of images of a woman he had fallen in love with decided the monastic calling was not for him, not exactly.  Over the years, he married, had children, got divorced, and struggled with questions he could not answer.  He wondered what purpose God could invest in a molecule 2,000 feet underground.  What part did that molecule play in the scheme of life?  It was a hole in his theological construct that remained unfilled for years, until it cam to him that a single molecule had its own graceful movement in the universe.  ‘That lonely molecule is not so lonely,’ he decided.

Nearly a half century after his moment in Rome, Faust, in his mid 60’s, lived a monastic life alone in a cramped room in a cottage nestled on the side of a scrubby tan hill just off the 710 Freeway not far from Cal State, L.A.. Inside his room, he had a table, a filing cabinet (folders on new high-jump landing pit designs, trash technology, mind and spirit notes), a shelf of books (The Joy of Mathematics, The Sistine Chapel, The Child’s Creation of a Pictorial World), another shelf of food (cereal, bananas, 7-grain bread, grapes, oranges), a small refrigerator, a sofa bed, and a computer.  There were makeshift shelves and a grill out near the side door.  It seemed all he needed.  He was like a single molecule of Olympic history buried deep underground, alone, but still moving, and in his movement connected to everything else.  Once he knew Rafer Johnson, Wilma Rudolph, Cassius Clay.

The backyard had the marking of a scavenger, a cluttered junkyard of collected planks of oak, sheets of plywood, scraps of iron, chunks of cement, bricks, stones, all arranged in a haphazard yet loving array.  Down at the bottom third of the yard there was a clearing with an old mattress on the ground, and a further look showed two poles rising at either end, a bamboo crossbar nearby, and a worn path in the dirt coming from the left toward the tattered mattress.  With no one watching, Joe Faust was high-jumping still, with a sore knee but bounce in his step, practicing his cycle of repair, rising with penance, clearing the crucifix, absolving his sins, descending with gratitude.


Just a footnote in the Olympic lore, but as a Culver City man, I thought worth recalling and giving some reverence to a man who might have won a medal had it not been for his damaged disc.  I believe he may be the only Culver City person to ever compete in an Olympics.  Not positive of that however.

This might be the most I have typed since my last term paper in 10th grade for Patty Logsdon.  Whew..See you.

Rick Weingarten

Culver City History :: Schools

According to the California State Archives, La Ballona School is one of the oldest in the county of Los Angeles. Its name first appeared in the 1864-65 Common School Reports, but archivist David L. Snyder postulated that it did not operate until the following year, because statistical data was not available until then.

The district was originally named "Ballona," undoubtedly for Rancho La Ballona, the 14,000 acre rancho established in 1819. "La" was added about 1890.
In the 1865-66 report, the number of school age children, between the ages of 5-15, was listed as 158. Of those, 46 children were attending school part time, and one was attending private school. Although there were 17 boys and 11 girls registered, the average daily attendance was listed as 19. The school year was only seven months, to accommodate agricultural duties. In 1865, Boston-born Miss Craft was the teacher and her monthly salary, including board, was $50. The total district expenditures in that inaugural year appears as $474.50. Ballona was an elementary school, whose early students came from ranchos nearby. Many often completed their education there, especially girls.

In 1865, the wood frame Ballona School was established to serve the needs of La Ballona Valley. When Harry Culver announced his plans in 1913 for the city that was destined to honor his name, the initial boundary line centered about Main Street, leaving the school just outside the city limits. Palms voted in 1914 to become a part of Los Angeles, and the area that became Culver City was a school district with no school.

Culver City Grammar School (later Linwood E. Howe School) opened in 1916 with six classrooms, financed by a $55,000 bond issue. The vote was 34 to 4 and prior to women's suffrage.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in 1920 to change the Palms School District to Culver, to serve a 3.22 square mile area with a population of 700. In 1925, Washington School was originally built and then later repaired after the 1933 earthquake. In 1947, a ballot measure succeeded in making Culver City a "Charter City," with the city boundaries becoming a part of the Culver City School District. This added Betsy Ross, La Ballona and the Farragut School bungalows to the district. Two years later, the voters accepted a ballot measure to add secondary schools that made it "Culver City Unified School District." Plans began immediately to construct a new Junior High School and a Senior High School. CCUSD would offer kindergarten through 12th grade education, and  secondary students no longer attended Palms Jr. High and either Venice or Hamilton High Schools. The new Farragut Elementary School opened in January, 1950, to 600 pupils and a great deal of publicity, and was identified as an outstanding example of school architecture in the USA. In the January 6th edition of the Citizen Newspaper, headlines read "City Fathers Map Plans for School Bridge," which became an assessment district to pay for the first footbridge over Ballona Creek to the schools. Culver City High School opened its doors to students in January, 1951, and its first class, the Titans, graduated in 1953.

El Rincon and El Marino Schools opened their doors to students in 1952. The eighth elementary school, Linda Vista, was ready for classes in 1959. The motivation for Culver City to become a Charter City, in 1947, was in the interest of local control. The move to become a unified school district was an extension of that thinking. Locals saw their property tax dollars siphoned outside to support nearby schools and their impact on local education was limited.
The early Board of Trustees of the Culver School District numbered 3, but increased to a 5 member Board of Education after the city charter was adopted. In a special August, 1947, edition of the Evening Star-News, front page headlines read "Culver City Is Film Capital of World," the second section offered "Charter Voted This Year for Culver City," while a third section was devoted entirely to becoming a unified school district. The paper described the charter action as an end to a long campaign that "ends several years of agitation for this move." Pictured was Culver City Grammar School, citing it as also serving as the district office, which placed the superintendent and the purchasing agent in the school. There were articles on all five principals of the elementary schools in Culver City. You may remember some of their names:  Gladys Chandler (Washington), Louis Tallman (Culver), Milfred Schafer (La Ballona), Donald Piety (Betsy Ross) and Robert Kelley (Farragut). Who was on that Board of Education? Mayo Wright, Ed Castle, Robert Ford, Monte Hover, and Ellen Nix.

Since the late 40s, those five operating elementary schools grew to eight. The construction of a District Office, Junior High and a three-year High School began in 1950. Pat Clapp, a student, designed a life size Centaur of the Culver High mascot, to stir up school spirit at games. Activists like Bessie Freiden spearheaded fundraisers for lights at the high school stadium, "Helms Field." Robert Frost Auditorium opened in 1964. A natatorium , in a district/city partnership subsequently opened, but had to be closed in the 1990s for budgetary reasons. In 1979, Sunrise High School (Culver Park since 1987) opened at El Marino as an alternative school for students who were not functioning well in the regular high school environment, and an Infant Care Center was later established at that site. Grade levels were readjusted in 1983 making elementary schools K-5, the Junior High became a Middle School (6-8) and Culver High is now a four-year high school.
Declining enrollment caused the closure of four elementary schools: Washington, Linda Vista, Betsy Ross and El Marino, which has since reopened as a Language Magnet. CCUSD became the first district in the country to establish a Spanish Immersion Program. It was located at different sites, until the subsequently adopted Japanese Immersion program moved both into the El Marino Language School. In the 1980s, the district, in partnership with UCLA, established a Youth Health Center. At the same time, the commitment to lifelong learning, although not yet formalized, was apparent with a very active Culver City Adult School. In addition to the PTAs at each school, other support groups were established as school funding changed with Prop. 13. (Culver City Education Foundation, Advocates for Language Learning, Friends of the Youth Health Center, Booster Clubs etc.).

Today there are five elementary schools in Culver City:

* El Marino Language School (K-5), 11450 Port Rd.
* El Rincon School (K-5), 11177 Overland Ave.
* Farragut School (K-5), 10820 Farragut Dr.
* Howe (Linwood E.) Elementary School (K-5), 4100 Irving Pl.
* La Ballona School (K-5), 10915 Washington Blvd.

Over the years, several private schools were established in Culver City, including Wildwood, the Kayne-Eras Center, Echo-Horizon School, Willows, Ohr Eliyahu Academy, and The H.E.L.P Group. Although St. Augustine School serves the Culver City community, it is actually located within the borders of the City of Los Angeles.

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