Cartoon Art Classes
Teaches Reading, Writing, Drawing, English
Meet Master Cartoonist
Director, Cartoon Art Program
Mel Schoenberger was 84 years young when he began teaching cartoon art at Laurel Elementary School in Whittier,CA . In the next seven years, his program expanded to Orchard Dale and Leffingwell elementary schools in Whittier and Imperial Middle School in La Habra. Now in his early 90's, Mel lectures students about his stint in the Navy during World War II.
When Mel was a boy, he wanted to grow up and play baseball for the major leagues or become a cartoonist. By the time he turned 18, a little thing called World War II got in the way. When he finished his two and a half-year commitment to the Navy, his dreams of playing professional baseball had faded. He got a job as a cartoonist for a newspaper where he had his own comic strip and also did layouts for the advertising department.
That was over sixty years ago and when most people his age are retired and resting on their laurels, Mel has continued to bring laughter – to people from around the world. In 2002, Mel traveled to Changchun, China and taught cartooning at Jilin Animation College and was its first American professor. His eyes sparkle as he recalls Ms Liu, the dean, was so concerned about what he could eat, that her mother-in-law was his personal chef. “But she thought the only thing I wanted to eat was eggs. I had boiled eggs for breakfast, egg sandwiches for lunch and omelets for dinner. In about a week, I wanted to kill every egg laying hen in China!”
It was the highlight of his life, he said, and he doubted anything would top it. But that was before Mel became a volunteer teacher for Artists of America, teaching cartooning to foster, homeless and children in the lower socio-economic level. He organized free art classes for the students in Laurel Elementary School in 2006 and every year since then, teaches them that they can draw anything, using basic shapes and simple lines.
At the same time, the kids refine their motor skills; improve their vocabulary, spelling, grammar and penmanship. They learn about perspective, cause and effect as they do story boarding, character development and story line. To tie the students in to the community, Mel takes them to the senior residence called La Posada in Whittier for lunch. Each student sits with a couple, their adopted grandparents, and while they eat, show their art and describe the inspiration behind the drawing. “I think the seniors enjoy the event almost as much as the children,” said David Wilkens, Administrator.
At the end of the school year, Mel organizes the annual Cartoon and Art Contest where students compete for prizes such as trips to Disneyland, Universal Studios, the San Diego Zoo and Pacific Park. “I like to think that every student is a winner,” he said as he placed free admission tickets to Whittier Village Cinemas in envelopes. Each year the event draws more attention. This past year, the Mayor of Whittier, Joe Vinatieri, was among the political figures who addressed the students at the event.
“The kids have genuine love and affection for Mel Schoenberger, and it's apparent that he feels the same way about them. He has touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of kids in Whittier. And, he has made positive changes in their lives which will make their futures brighter and the community stronger,” said the Mayor.
The Mayor’s sentiment was echoed by Bill Baca, who represented State Senator Gloria Romero. Also present were the State Assembly Member Charles M Calderon, Assembly Member Tony Mendoza and his wife and daughter, Sammi. Also present was Sally Cardenas the director of off-campus programs for Whittier College. It was through office that we got our intern teachers, Makana Richards and Lovvet Hollis.
In the audience were proud parents, family members and friends who came to cheer for the students. The biggest moment was when the winners were announced for a special drawing for tickets donated by the Stapels Center.
Mel teaches children that face problems at home and some who don't have homes at all. In most of those cases, it's too hard for them to understand, much less talk about what's going on in their lives. Such was the case of a little homeless girl, who seemed to always manage to attend Mel's cartoon class.
Mel's heart is almost as big as his six foot frame. So he established a scholarship fund for the student and arranged for his church to give her mother a gift card from a local grocery store.
“We couldn’t have provided these years of free art classes without the support of our sponsors,” said Diedre Burke, President of Artists of America. “There are hard costs that are underwritten by donations and contributions. And, since our programs are ever expanding, we are seeking grants and other sources of funding.”
Mel is a Super-Hero!
Mel is the recipient of the Bank of America Local Hero Award
in recognition of his contribution to children of the community.
Mel is included in Honor Flight
Transported as a hero to