Our home page gives a short history of our business. For those interested in the longer history, here it is. I didn’t just find a good idea to make money; this business grew out of a childhood passion. I have always raised animals, which could come from generations of dairy/hog/chicken farming. I was born on a Minnesota farm but moved to Garden Grove, Ca. when I was 4 years old. I raised chickens, rabbits, rats, mice, parakeets, cockatiels, lovebirds etc. but my favorite I always came back to was pigeons. My first ones were captured at night in the attic of an abandoned home with my best friend Wayne Purcell. The white pigeon attraction began at San Juan Capistrano Mission when I was 7 or 8. They had a beautiful flock around the fountain and sold food to hand feed the birds. I remember thinking, “Someday, when I get enough money I am going to have a flock of pure white pigeons, just like the ones at San Juan Capistrano.”
Even as a teenager and a young man in my twenties, one of my favorite things to do was build another pigeon loft, bigger and better than the last. The actual business however didn’t start till I was 39 when I was the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Norwalk, Ca. The trigger for starting the business was the funeral of a pillar of the church named Rose Leslie. She was 104 and wanted me to help plan her funeral that was eminent. As we were talking about it she said she felt like an 18 year-old girl trapped in an old body that was holding her down. She was very active till her last weeks of life. She just wanted to get “out of this old cage and fly home to Jesus.” I told her that reminded me of my racing pigeons. I take them out in a small cage and let them go and they fly home. We agreed that would make a great visual aid for her family at her graveside service so I brought some. When I saw the impact that release had on the family my brain began to spin. In my preaching, I always sought to bring some type of visual aid to my message. Something that people could see that would help explain my point. Something that would help them remember the point. This is something Jesus often did in his preaching. He was always comparing his thought to something his people could see, the lilies, the birds, the stones, the path, bread, water etc. To me these birds and their ability to go home pointed to the eternal principle that inside the heart of every believer, there is a desire to go home one day to be with the Lord forever. I saw how that thought could bring home the point of our one day going home.
Although I had never heard of or seen a release at a funeral I began picturing a release of white pigeons at the internment. I didn’t know if it was possible to get a large flock of white pigeons but I began the search. Since Google did not exist in 1989 that wasn’t real easy.
I told one of my elders at my church, Stan Luden to keep his eyes opened. One day he was raking pine needles off the front lawn of Sierra Bullets in Santa Fe Springs. The plant manager, Wally Davis, a pigeon owner himself, came out and began talking with Stan. He figured a perfect stranger raking pine needles off his front lawn had to be a pigeon owner too. Stan found out that Wally had a large flock of white racing pigeons. When he was asked if he wanted to sell any he said no but I could come look at them. I went to see them and fell in love with them. The problem was, he didn’t want to sell any. I told him if he changed his mind to let me know. A week later he gave me a call. “I will sell you birds on two conditions, 1. You buy all 50 of them and 2. You pick them up today.” I said, what changed? He said, “The state of Missouri has offered to move Sierra Bullets to their state and give us free rent for 5 years and we couldn’t turn them down. I have to leave tomorrow to begin making plans there.” He wanted $1 per bird and I bought them. I saw that as a miracle fulfilling the 30-year-old dream of a young boy.
These birds became the foundation of my current birds. It wasn’t long before I found out that there were several other people who had come up with my idea long before I did however most of them only saw it and advertised it as a wedding release business. My first mentor was Dr. Mel Carpenter, a legend in the racing pigeon world as well as a respected dentist. I soon found out that most of the birds I got from the Wally were actually Mel Carpenter birds. Some of his stock came from Rothrock, an early pioneer of the white racing pigeon in Los Angeles. I hope to write more information about those early days as I uncover the details. I am interested in knowing about the role of Walt Disney and Roy Roger as I have heard they were involved in the original use of white racing pigeons during the 1950’s.
Within a few months of getting that first flock of 50 birds from Wally, I had a nice flock of 100 birds I began using for funerals. My original jobs were all 100-bird jobs. At the time, I didn’t like the look of smaller releases. Since I was still working full time I found other people capable of doing the releases when I was working. Often times it was other pastors who were not quite making enough to live on. During the first 10 years the income increased anywhere from 30% to 100% per year. During that period I also turned all the scheduling over to my wife Susie. Her administrative skills came in very handy at this point. There were times in the earlier days when Bob & Debby Van Setten would run the business so we could go on vacation with our family.
I retired from full time ministry in 2001 and moved the business to Hacienda Heights, Ca. about 8 air miles from Norwalk. Before the actual move I had built the new cage in pieces I would need to house the 400 fliers being used in my business. I sold the Norwalk house to a family that agreed to let me go in the back yard for at least 6 weeks to collect the birds returning to Norwalk so I could bring them back every night to their new loft. It took about 10 days to pour the slab and assemble the cage on the new property. All the while I continued running the release business each day out of my old home. My loft manager, Larry Clayton, skilled with his hands, helped in the building of the new loft. When the loft was done I brought the birds to the new loft. Every bird that was used on a job of course went back to the old loft but they were no longer fed there. I left water but they only got food from then on at the new loft. Every two or three days I would go back and collect the birds and bring them to their new loft. Moving 400 birds every 2 or 3 days was exhausting. At the end of 5 weeks of this routine I decided it was time to lock them out of the old loft. Just before dark I saw the birds fly to their new loft, never having flown from that loft. It took more than a half hour of circling before they landed but they finally did. It took another month to completely break them from going to Norwalk but when I tore down the old loft it was complete. I don’t ever want to have to do that again.
As the business grew in Hacienda Heights I realized my third of an acre lot was not going to house the number of birds I would need for running this business. Two years after moving to Hacienda Heights I bought the next-door neighbors home, another third of an acre. I rented out the home to Francisco Becerra, my second full time loft manager who was also able to do funerals in Spanish. There I built two more lofts that held another 500 birds. It was about this time that we took on Nancy Green as secretary to assist Susie in taking orders and scheduling the jobs in our home office. She is an old friend from Trinity.
Again the business grew and I felt more property was necessary to house birds that would be used entirely for breeding only. This allowed the fliers to not be bothered with tending babies. I do let the fliers raise one round a year but that is not enough to keep the business going. I then bought another third of an acre home on the east side of our home for breeders only. On the back portion of that lot I built breeding lofts and rented out the front house to a wonderful family. At the time of writing this we have over 1,500 birds total on the three lots. Besides the white racing pigeons I fly some tipplers, Armenian and Iranian High Fliers and rollers just for enjoyment.
Ninety percent of our work is in the funeral industry but we enjoy many of the other jobs we get. They include of course weddings, quinceaneras, Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, graduations, grand openings, a variety of memorial events, filming jobs for TV, advertising, a variety of video’s, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm special events, Los Angeles Dodgers opening day and a variety of walk-for-life type events.
We consider this more than just a business. It is a ministry bringing comfort to the grieving and added joy to a multitude of celebrations. To God be the glory, great things He has done!