Elmer Fairbanks: Notable Transformation
You’d know him anywhere – the familiar, well-worn face, welcoming smile and manner, and the voice, rich and clarion clear, hinting at his baritone singing voice. You might have seen him in one of several plays or harmonizing with other members of his barbershop quartet.
He is Elmer Fairbanks, the recent birthday boy reaching 90 who seems no older than 65. Elmer is the newest “Notable Neighbor” on Lake Wildwood’s website and community TV Channel 95. “The program series commemorates residents who have extraordinary personal histories – life stories that deserve the telling,” according to show host Dick Fay, who also co-produces the series with Joseph Bundy.
“Elmer may be your neighbor and you may believe that you know him pretty well,” says Dick Fay, “but this episode of Notable Neighbors could surprise you.”
The program is produced by Lake Wildwood’s Studio 95 for showing on Comcast Channel 95 and on the website, http://www.lwwa.org, beginning on or about March 9.
Elmer Fairbanks was born in Roseville and raised in California valley towns, wherever his father could find work after the Great Depression forced him to close his bakery in Roseville.
Elmer’s mother left the family when he was just six years old. His father seldom had time for his son and the boy was sent to an all-male military academy in Marin County.
A small, shy youth with only one good eye, Elmer couldn’t play sports and was not a good student. He says he was all but invisible to his classmates and to his family.
But not for long.
When he was high school age, he pleaded with his father to let him transfer from the academy to a public high school. The young boy had made two decisions: He wanted to be around girls for a change and he wanted a fresh start at a school — somewhere no one knew him so he could act on a most radical decision he had made to transform himself into a new person.
He would shed his self-constrained, introverted and very unhappy personality and become an outgoing, friendly, fully engaged person. Impossible? Amazingly, he did it and the Studio 95 interview tells exactly how.
Elmer got his wish. He transferred to Los Gatos High School in the town where his father had settled. Once there, he joined every club and did every activity he could at school — drama, art, social affairs and student government, to name a few.
He made friends easily and was even able to improve his grades. He found his singing voice and formed his first barbershop quartet while still in high school. And on graduating, he was named The Student Most Likely to Succeed.
When asked if his success was a fluke or an incredible job of acting. Elmer answers that it was, in fact, his first acting role. But that role became reality, probably because it brought out the latent extravert in him, both in person and on stage.
In later life, his transformation made possible his success in business. Starting as a gas station attendant on returning from military service in the 1950s, he parlayed station management to ownership of several stations and other real estate. As for his passion for singing, he favors barbershop quartet performance most of all. “Barbershop is a great hobby,” Elmer says, “giving me the challenge of singing intricate harmonies and seeing how audiences appreciate the sound.”
The 90-year-old has also sung solos at weddings, memorials and in many Lake Wildwood musicals. He is in demand as an actor, too. Most recently he starred in the two-person Lake Wildwood production of the New York play, “Love Letters.”
Elmer and his late wife, Barbara, came to Lake Wildwood in 1989. They had five children originally, one passing away in childhood. Elmer has 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Asked what his goal was at this point in life, he said he didn’t subscribe to the notion that “the person who collects the most toys wins.” Says Elmer, “My credo is the person who has the most friends wins.”
Notable Neighbors is designed to reveal the little known and surprising achievements and experiences of people living here. These people need to be heard, Fay says. “We believe Elmer’s whole history and other stories of other notable folks are too interesting to remain untold.”
Studio 95 is the production unit of Lake Wildwood’s all-volunteer video and TV production club. Members of the Club perform all production functions of a commercial digital studio. Some individuals develop program concepts and direct and produce the shows, while others handle technical equipment, from video cameras to editing sound and raw video footage. Others, like Dick and his wife, Terry Fay, also serve as hosts on camera.
Anyone wanting more information on the Club or wishing to join, please contact Paul Towne at (530) 205-9652.
The Video Production Club (aka TV Club) is supported by the Lake Wildwood Association to educate and inform residents of the community.
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