(Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission by the Palisades Americanism Parade Association.)
By LAURA ABRUSCATO
Palisadian Joe Halper was surprised and delighted to learn he was named co-parade marshal for this year’s Fourth of July Parade. “I thought that was for movie stars,” he joked.
Although the grand marshal is traditionally a celebrity, the parade marshal is a separate honor awarded to someone who has been active in the community. And Halper, who will be riding with co-parade marshal Dr. Mike Martini, certainly qualifies.
Halper, 91, was chosen for his continuing community and public service. He is currently one of five commissioners on the L.A. Recreation and Parks Board, overseeing the city’s 480 parks. Prior to that he served on the West L.A. Planning Commission. He is past president of the Palisades Democratic Club. And as a Korean War veteran, he’s a member of both American Legion Post 283 and Post 118 of the Jewish War Veterans.
Highlands resident Steve Cron, the current Democratic Club president, has high praise for Halper.
“Joe has been a fixture in the community for several decades,” Cron said. “He is a warm, caring individual with an astute understanding of election procedures and strategies and has served as a mentor and confidante for every Democratic elected official on the Westside. Some of his proteges currently serve as members of the Los Angeles City Council, the State Assembly, the State Senate, and the United States Congress.”
Halper and his wife Arline, who worked in special education, moved to the Highlands in 1972 from New York, for his job as director of the L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation. With three sons, Arline chose Pacific Palisades for its high-quality schools.
The couple’s oldest son, Jamie, began college at Stanford when the family moved west. Their younger two sons, Michael and Keith, attended Paul Revere and Palisades High, and Keith was also an Eagle Scout in Troop 223. Michael is now a real estate developer in San Francisco, and Keith is a business owner in New Jersey. Jamie is the chair of stepuptutoring.org, which offers free online tutoring to LAUSD students in need.
Arline is also a volunteer tutor and is currently interviewing new tutors, as the organization has a need for more volunteers. In addition, she serves on the board of the Friends of the Palisades Library.
The couple, married 62 years, have 12 grandchildren, four of whom live in the Palisades. Their grandchildren range from the youngest, a rising college sophomore, to Matthew, 27, who is one half of the music duo Two Friends. The Halpers joke that they stand out from the rest of the crowd when attending his concerts.
Joe has received many honors such as being a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the L.A. County representative to the USOC for the Olympics in 1984 and even a Swedish knighthood. He also received a proclamation from the LA County Board of Supervisors for his saving of millions of dollars after the budget cuts resulting from Proposition 13.
Halper not only works in recreation, he also practices it as a life endeavor. An avid skier (“until my wife took my poles away”), he continues to play tennis with a group of friends, and twice completed the Alcatraz Swim with his sons, swimming 1.2 miles from Alcatraz to shore at ages 80 and 85, when he was the oldest person on record to do so. While vacationing in Fiji a few years ago, he was told he was the oldest person to be certified as a diver.
Halper was born and raised in the South Bronx, and one of his first jobs was as a lifeguard at Coney Island. He later served as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. He co-wrote the textbooks “The Crisis in Urban Recreational Services” and “Strategic Recreation Management.“
Having grown up in a poor neighborhood, Halper is sensitive to the situation of youth in lower-income areas of Los Angeles. “Forty percent of the city don’t have any local walking-distance parks,” he says. “It’s an equity issue.” Halper had been working with LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner to open up school grounds as parks, maintaining that the field of recreation and parks is a “community health system.”
For their 50th anniversary, the Halpers organized a multi-sport trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons with their sons and their wives and 12 grandchildren. This trip involved biking (20 bikes all together, riding single file), hiking, swimming, kayaking, horseback riding, camping and campfires.
Halper enjoys being a part of the Palisades community, recalling that during the shelter-at-home orders due to Covid-19, the neighbors on his cul-de-sac, who have a variety of political views, enjoyed sitting outside and having a drink together each evening. “That’s a community,” he says.
At the parade on July 4, look for Joe riding alongside Dr. Martini, the retired pediatrician, whose former patients include Halper’s children.