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San Clemente Journal

Alice and Bobby Scruggs San Clemente Icons

Jun 10, 2016 10:31AM ● By Joan Ray

Bobby started the city’s first ambulance service in 1957.

by Joan Ray

Alice Schorr Scruggs, born and raised in Superior, Wisconsin, was birthed with a bit of wanderlust. So, when recruiters from the U. S. Navy came to her high school offering to provide nursing training for girls joining the Navy medical corps, Alice was intrigued. Unfortunately, Alice graduated high school just one year after that nursing program ended. Fortunately, bestowed with more than a bit of spunk, she took out a loan and attended medical school in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Soon after graduation she happened to pass a Navy recruitment poster saying, “Join the Navy, see the world,” and thought “Why not?” After a six-week boot camp at Saint Alban’s Naval Hospital in Long Island, she was sent to Camp Pendleton where she met Hospital Corpsman Bobby Scruggs. The rest, as the cliché says, is history. They were married on base in the Old Mission Chapel in February 1955, and, after looking up and down the coast, decided to make their home in San Clemente, where they have lived ever since.
With a population of only about 5,000 at that time, San Clemente had very few shopping opportunities. “We had a drug store and a few small markets,” Alice said. “Sam’s Shoes opened a few years later and we were excited.” To purchase necessities like towels, sheets and dishes, they took a weekend off  to shop in Santa Ana, the nearest “biggish” city.
After her Naval enlistment, Alice worked for Dr. Robert Garrett on Avenida Del Mar until December 1956 when her first child was born. Bobby had been sent to the Philippines just two months prior, so Alice drove herself to the hospital. 
In 1957 Bobby regained civilian status and Dr. Garrett asked the couple to develop a community ambulance service. This was a much-needed service, as the only access to the nearest hospital – in Santa Ana - was a dangerously narrow two lane, two way road. Through realtor Dan Russie, the city liaison, San Clemente agreed to donate $200 to get things started. Bobby got the ambulances on the road calling his new company South Coast Ambulance, and the first year they handled 293 cases … but only half of the accounts paid. “It’s financial suicide,” he said. “But we will continue to serve the community as long as possible.” 
To expedite the service, the Scruggs developed an answering service that served medical, ambulance and commercial calls. They installed what Alice called “an old fashioned plug-in board” in their home and she had to be available 24-hours-a-day for calls. This effort gave a host of  small businesses a way to keep up with the needs of their customers, while also giving people with medical emergencies access to the attention they needed to survive.
It wasn’t easy caring for family, home and business, but a stoic Alice said, “It was just a time when we did what we needed to do.”  
Eventually they found someone who would answer the phone for four hours a day. “Did that give you some time to sleep,” I asked? “No,” she laughed. “It gave me time to do errands.”
 Amazingly, they also found the time and energy to help establish the South Coast Medical Center (then called South Coast Community Hospital) in Laguna Beach, which became the southernmost hospital in Orange County. Alice began work there as staff nurse and soon became nursing supervisor, a position she held for 31 years until her retirement in 1993. 
During that time, her husband, who had worked as a reserve police officer for many years, turned over the ambulance and answering service to the newly established paramedics and fire department to become a full-time police officer. The police department was only seven strong in those days, so he held down the office, doing everything from answering phones to overseeing prisoners. He was also the most popular lecturer on the “kiddies beat,” taking securely caged live snakes to sixth grade classes, promoting a healthy respect for reptiles.  
In 1984 Bobby went on to set up and head the security department at the new Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel. After many years of work and sacrifice for family and community, Bobby was enjoying the difficult but interesting work of meeting and protecting celebrities and political figures like Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. 
“He was good with people and enjoyed it all,” Alice quipped.
The couple’s first child, Mary Elizabeth, and her husband, Ron Oliver, had three children and now live in Temecula. San Clemente residents Bobby Jr and his wife, Vicki, have two children. Bobby Jr. recently retired from the Laguna Beach Fire Department, and following his father’s lead, is now working at the Ritz-Carlton. Son William is in Pennsylvania with wife Kathy. Their last-born, Victoria (Vickie), her husband, Carlos Ortiz, and their two children reside in San Clemente. The Scruggs also have six great-grandchildren.
Alice and Bobby Sr. came to San Clemente at a time when the village was just beginning to blossom into city status. Their civic participation helped the growing city maintain the essence of Ole Hanson’s vision.