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home : local news : local news
March 23, 2019

1/24/2018 1:51:00 PM
Paintings help children's hospital
Robinson native Wynne Ritch poses with one of the illustrations from his Rockwell collection. (Los Angeles Daily News photo)
Robinson native Wynne Ritch poses with one of the illustrations from his Rockwell collection. (Los Angeles Daily News photo)
Los Angeles Daily News

EDITOR'S NOTE: Wynne Ritch graduated from Robinson High School in 1963. Robinson's first Eagle Scout from Troop 327, Ritch left the town behind to serve two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Marine Corps. As the following article - reprinted by permission - makes clear, he never forgot the lessons learned here, though, such as the importance of helping others.

There's a touching story behind the $25,000 check Wynne and Rosemary Ritch gave to the neuromuscular center at Children's Hospital Los Angeles this week.

A story that begins in 1974 at the Schiff Scouting Reservation in New Jersey where Wynne was taking part in the Boy Scouts of America executive training program. He'd go on to spend 33 years as an executive with BSA.

He was hired fresh out of college after serving two tours of duty with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. Scouting was in his blood.

"When I was in Vietnam, I always looked for the guys who had been Eagle Scouts because I knew they had earned their first-aid merit badge," he says. "Those were the guys I wanted beside me when the fighting began."

Also at the camp in 1974 was Norman Rockwell, Who was the official artist of BSA at tile time. Rockwell was painting a group of handicapped Scouts for the annual calendar in the Boy's Life publication.

"To me, Norman Rockwell was America," Wynne says. "He was everything Scouting stood for and watching him, covered in paint, drawing those Scouts inspired me to want to start collecting his illustrations."

But he didn't have the money then. By 1991, he did. He bought his first signed Rockwell in San Francisco and his second in Las Vegas after a hot night on the blackjack tables. He saw it in the hotel's gallery on the way up to his room.

"How much?" he asked the saleswoman.

"$2,000," she said.

"I don't have that much," Wynn said.

"How much do you have?" she asked.

Wynne pulled out the $1,000 he had won.

"I'll take it," she said.

Wynne began scouring the country for signed Rockwells, learning the personal story behind each of the more than 100 he would collect. Most had been owned by people who felt the same way about Rockwell's Americana art as he did. It spoke to them, touched something inside that made them feel good and proud.

Many of the pieces were on the market because something had happened and they needed the money, Wynne said. He didn't realize that one day something would happen in his own family that would have him selling his beloved Rockwells because he needed the money, too.

Not for himself, but for something much more important. His granddaughter, Sara Gershon, 7, had been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare genetic condition in which muscles throughout the body are weakened because cells in the spinal cord and brainstem do not work properly.

The FDA had approved a new drug to treat SMA, but the costs were astronomical - $125,000 a shot - and Sara would need more than one."Fortunately, the Gershons had good insurance and the shots were covered, but there were other families not so fortunate. What about their kids?

Wynne didn't have to pay the hospital a dime, but that's not how he's led his life. That wasn't the Boy Scout way. You didn't ignore people who needed help; you went out of your way to help them.

What would Rockwell do, he asked himself? And the answer took him back to that Boy Scout camp in 1974, and the image of the man who was Mr. Americana painting those handicapped Scouts.

Rockwell would sell his paintings to help them. No doubt in his mind.

He and Rosemary took on the fundraising duties for their Greater Van Nuys Rotary Club, with the agreement that half the money they raised would be earmarked for the neuromuscular clinic at Children's Hospital. So far, the club has given $50;000 to the clinic.

"We have received much more from patients like Sara than we have given them," says Dr. Leigh Ramos-Platt, director of the clinic. "Parents and families, like the Gersons and Ritches remind us why we do what we do even in the most distressing and frustrating days."

So, one by one, Wynne's beloved Rockwells have been coming off the walls of his Granada Hills home, but there is one he will never sell. It's from 1976 and Rockwell titled it, "Can't Wait."

It shows a little boy dressed in his older brother's Boy Scout uniform, much too big for his small body, standing in Rockwell's Stockbridge art studio giving the Scout's three-finger salute.

He was a local kid who walked in while Rockwell was preparing to draw an illustration of half a dozen Scouts holding musical instruments. He took one look at the kid and dismissed the other boys.

This was the picture he wanted - the next generation of boys who couldn't wait to wear their big brother's Boy Scout uniform.

"Scouting teaches what no other organization teaches," Wynne says.

"For the life of me, I don't understand why more parents don't put their children in Scouting to learn basic skills that will make them better men."

Like the guys he wanted beside him in Vietnam when the fighting began.

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, January 27, 2018
Article comment by: Wynne Ritch

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. As a side note, The Greater Van Nuys Rotary Club in which I am in has donated in the last four years over $100,000 to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles & SMA because of Sara Gerson my grand daughter and Rosemary and I are always proud to support organizations who help the communities they are in such as Boy Scouts, YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs etc

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