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City Club Meeting Is A Homecoming For Bill Ukropina

Former San Marino Resident Spins Nostalgic, Inspirational Tales at Tuesday’s Dinner Meeting

If Bill Ukropina has a choir, it was to them he was preaching on Tuesday night at the first City Club meeting of 2018, at San Marino Center, and new President Dick Pearson’s maiden journey.
Ukropina, who was born and raised in San Marino before moving across the 210 Freeway into Pasadena, returned to a packed house Tuesday evening where he basically obliterated the mold of a typical presentation during his 60-minute address, which was alternately exhilarating, nostalgic, heart-wrenching and hilarious.
Ukropina took the enterprising approach of providing each dinner guest with a list of 36 people – many of whom were in attendance – who he thanked for inspiring him in one way or another, from his high school English teacher Barbara Barbarics, to the Rev. George Woodward.
But Ukropina also acknowledged a sad anniversary, for it was 49 years to the day that he lost his classmate, neighbor and dear friend, David Robert Thomas, who died in a bicycle accident on January 16, 1969.
“We loved David and we lost him too young,” said Ukropina. “Tonight I dedicate this speech to David and and to everyone on this list,” he said, as he held the legal-sized page aloft.
“I wanted to be a quarterback,” Ukropina said, his voice filling the hall with volume and enthusiasm. He then mentioned the journey of the 1964 San Marino High School varsity football team, which finished the season 5-4 but squeaked into the playoffs thanks to a tie-breaker. The Titans proceeded to defeat El Centro, Loara and Thousand Oaks to win an unlikely CIF championship, a victory that has, obviously, affected him ever since.
Ukropina mentioned two of his heroes from that football team, quarterback Rich Haley and guard John Duling.
“So a few days ago, I looked them up and asked them if they would be here tonight,” said Ukropina. “And here they are.”
The audience applauded as the two former football stars rose from their seats, broad smiles across their faces.
“I wanted to be a quarterback but I weighed about 100 pounds,” Ukropina said, as the cheering quickly switched to laughter. A member of the Titan cross country and track teams, Ukropina explained how he had to travel all the way to the Palouse and Washington State University to realize his aspirations of becoming a signal-caller.
“My fraternity, Sigma Chi, had three teams,” he said. “Team 1 was made up of clearly the best athletes. Team 2 was made up of the backups and Team 3 was everybody else. I played quarterback for Team 3.”
His attention then turned to Conrad Ukropina, the eldest of his three sons, who last year wrapped up a fine career as a placekicker at Stanford. The elder Ukropina chronicled his son’s gridiron journey, from a broken arm as a freshman quarterback at Loyola High School to a game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of his final appearance at Stanford to defeat Notre Dame.
But it wasn’t always a life in high cotton for Conrad Ukropina. His father displayed negative press clippings predicting Conrad’s demise after a poor performance in a Cardinal spring game and another welcoming a new kicker who had been highly recruited.
“Patience, Practice and Perseverance,” said Bill Ukropina, echoing the title of his address, the words appearing on the screen behind him. “My favorite word in the English language is perseverance.”
Bill Ukropina mentioned how hard his son worked to prove his doubters wrong, driving the length of the state to attend practice sessions.
“He worked and worked and worked all summer to be the starter because they brought in a freshman to replace him,” said Bill.
Several subsequent video clips, most accompanied by applause from those in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, proved otherwise.
Though he scored highly at last year’s combine and was given four personal tryouts by four NFL teams, Conrad was not offered a contract for the 2017 season. Bill Ukropina said that Conrad continues to practice four days a week and will give it one more shot.
Based on what we learned Tuesday, who would be foolish enough to bet against him?
Steve Talt, who was recently appointed to serve a one-year term as mayor, opened the program with a synopsis of what is happening at City Hall.
“The new year is bringing change,’ said Talt. “We have an ad hoc committee that has studied how the city’s administration can be more effective. They are really getting their fingernails dirty and have made 42 recommendations about how we can be more efficient.”
Talt also mentioned the status of several of the city’s commissions as well as plans to draft new ordinances before getting off this zinger.
“If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the vice mayor,” Talt joked.


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