by Tom Marshall, San Clemente Historical Society
There are few families currently living in San Clemente who can match the impact that the Divel family has had on this community. Dating back to the first days of the Ole Hanson era, Divel is a name closely connected to leadership here.
In 1927, Roy Divel was one of the first to build a commercial structure in San Clemente spending a reported $20,000 to house the town’s first funeral parlor, ambulance service and apartments; the building still stands today as the Lesneski Mortuary on El Camino Real.
Roy’s sons, Don and Roy Jr., grew up here. Becoming early entrepreneurs they were the first local kids to haul fish from the boats at the pier in their wagons; beginning San Clemente’s storied fish carts. Both went on to operate local businesses; Don taking over the funeral/ambulance business and Roy Jr. opening a furniture store.
Becoming community leaders, both sons and their spouses helped San Clemente to grow from small village to medium-sized city, while preserving the town’s Spanish Village by the Sea vibe. Don was San Clemente’s first patriarch, passing away in 2006. His wife Lois is currently our matriarch, and was a founding member of the San Clemente Historical Society in 1973.
The Divel family was instrumental in the efforts that led to the preservation and restoration of the Ole Hanson Beach Club, Casa Romantica, the Casino, the Miramar theater and bowling alley and many Ole Hanson buildings; and Lois is still very active today at nearly 90.
Lois’ son Fred, a local preservation activist, helped form the Citizens for San Clemente, a 1970s group that fought the demolition of an historic 1927 mansion. He went on to become instrumental in curating the former historical society museum. Spurred by the rising preservation movement, Fred ran for city council in 1972. It was Fred who orchestrated President Richard Nixon’s selection of Hamilton Cotton’s estate as the Western White House in 1969. Fred is back in San Clemente full time after spending years working for Disney and Universal theme parks and various cruise lines.
Roy Jr.’s son, Rick, is a life-long San Clemente resident, currently running his own company, Divel Insurance. One of the area’s most gifted athletes, Rick gained fame as a golfer which led to a stint on the pro golf tour. Many local charitable organizations have benefited from his golfing skills through fundraising golf tournaments.
There is not enough space in one article to list the number of local organizations that have benefited from the efforts of this family. Many communities have such benefactors, who are usually wealthy. They give their money and get their names on buildings or parks. That is not the case here. Not wealthy, the Divels certainly provide financial support, but more importantly they give of themselves as average citizens of a unique hometown.
In Lois’s words at a recent historical society public event, “This is a unique town. It needs to be enjoyed and preserved.”