The Will Rogers of Pacific Palisades
Close to 500 people assembled at Kehillat Israel on Wednesday to honor and celebrate Arnie Wishnick, who justifiably earned the title Mr. Palisades during his 40-year career here as a bank manager and executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Rabbi Emeritus Steven Carr Reuben said that Arnie was another Will Rogers, who famously said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I always thought that maybe Will Rogers hadn’t met enough people, but Arnie seemed to know everyone in town, and you would never hear him say a mean word about anyone. He got along with everybody.
“Arnie Wishnick was our welcome to the Palisades symbol of friendship, helpfulness, service to community and good cheer, with a dash of stylish panache thrown in,” said Rich Wilken, one of the memorial’s six speakers. He and Arnie were members of the Optimist Club and the Fourth of July parade organizing committee for more than 40 years, right into 2019.
Wilken noted that beyond Arnie’s job with the Chamber (1993-2018), “he helped promote a real sense of community in the Palisades” through his active involvement with the Village Green Committee, Palisades PRIDE, the Palisades Teen Contest, Movies in the Park and Theatre Palisades (where he produced five musicals over the years). He also enjoyed writing a weekly movie review column for thePalisadian-Post for many years.
In his humorous remarks at the service, fellow Optimist John Prough recalled that at his son Steve’s wedding to Palisadian filmmaker Sarah Kelly in 2001, “Arnie introduced himself to Quentin Tarantino and told him he wrote movie reviews for the Palisadian-Post and that he had given Pulp Fiction 5 Palm Trees. Quentin asked if that was his highest rating and Arnie said, ‘Yes.’ Quentin walked around the rest of the evening telling everyone, ‘That guy gave me 5 Palm Trees!’”
All the speakers noted Arnie’s warm and friendly smile and his sly sense of humor. “When he was president of the Optimist Club,” Wilken said, “he wanted a fun photo to promote his year in office. So, he arranged for the board of directors to be outfitted in PaliHi football pads and uniforms for the photo shoot. Arnie arranged everyone else as crouching, rushing, mean-looking linesmen, while he stood tall above us all, holding a football and assuming a graceful stance similar to the Heisman trophy pose.”
There were dozens of Optimists in the audience, along with the town’s current honorary mayors, Billy and Janice Crystal, and at least 16 past Chamber presidents, dating back to Bobbie Farberow (1982-83). One recent president, Adam Glazer, arranged to have the flags flown at half-staff at six locations in the Palisades.
“Arnie Wishnick was the best thing to happen to Pacific Palisades since Will Rogers,” said fellow Optimist Billy Snyder in his remarks. “He had such an infectious smile that captured us all, and a genuine interest in everybody he knew.”
Arnie had three special pairs of dancing shoes and never missed a Big Band dance at the American Legion. “He loved to show his moves, which were great, out on the dance floor,” Snyder said, “and he would move gracefully through the crowd without stepping on anybody’s toes. That was the way he lived his life.”
Friends who walked into the Chamber office would be welcomed by Arnie and encouraged to sit at one of the two big chairs that faced his desk. Most days they could also help themselves to a snack on the table, cookies, donuts, an alligator pastry, even pies and cakes.
Often someone new to town would walk in and have a specific question and Arnie, always dressed in a jacket and tie, would serve as a welcoming committee (along with his longtime associate, Marilyn Crawford).
My two dogs soon learned that if we stopped at the Chamber, Arnie would pull out a box of dog treats. They would happily munch, while Arnie would talk about his recent problems of trying to get a parade grand marshal (which seemed to be a year-long endeavor).
In his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Robert Frost wrote: “My little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near . . . he gives his harness bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake. . .”
Some say it’s a poem about journey and death. I understand that Arnie now lives in our memories. But my dogs still stop by the Chamber door as they have now for months, following Arnie’s retirement. They wait for me to open the door, so they can go in and see their pal.
We wait, then I pull them away and say, “Not today. He’s not here anymore.”
They look at me like I’ve made a mistake and then we walk on.