Cal McElwain, One Time San Bernardino County Political Kingpin

(February 3) Former Second District San Bernardino County Supervisor Cal McElwain has died.
McElwain, a Democrat and former union organizer, used those connections as a springboard into politics. He served two terms on the board of supervisors during which he grew to be the dominant member of the board, but was felled by the transition of the district he represented into a Republican stronghold as, well as attacks he sustained over his loyalty to his supporters and family members.
Born in Painterville, Pennsylvania on April 25, 1929, Calvin McElwain grew up in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, leaving school prematurely to enlist in the U.S. Army at the age of 16 during the last year of the Second World War. After serving in the Army from 1945 to 1947, he returned home to finish high school, graduating from Mifflin County High School in 1949 at the age of 20.
McElwain married his wife Juneta, with whom he would have six children, on July 11, 1949. From 1949 until 1958, McElwain ran a service station and operated a restaurant in Pennsylvania.
In 1958, he moved with his family to California, moving to a house in San Antonio Heights just above Upland. He obtained work at the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, moving up to the position of metallurgical quality control specialist. While at the plant he became a union steward, and he went on to become a legislative analyst for the United Steel Workers of America.
He attended classes at Chaffey College, U.C. Berkeley and Harvard, many of them in disciplines related to his union role, such as labor management, labor management relations, business law, psychology and collective bargaining.
In 1978 he ran for Second District supervisor against Joseph Kamansky, eking out a victory in the November 7 general election.
His union associations stood him in good stead in the portion of Fontana in the Second District, which included the Kaiser Steel Mill. He hired John Casey, a former union steward as his field representative for Fontana. He cultivated close relations with other elected officials within his district, including then Rancho Cucamonga councilmen Chuck Buquet and Dick Dahl, and county officials such as assessor Gordon Young.
He constructed an impressive political machine which included strong Democrat and union support and cruised to a comfortable reelection in 1982.
He commanded an impressive political fiefdom, was elected to serve as chairman of the board of supervisors and held positions on over a dozen state and county committees and boards, including the National Association of Counties, San Bernardino Associated Governments, and Omnitrans’ board of directors.
But in 1984, he was damaged by revelations of his links to fireworks magnate Patrick Moriarty and his connection and efforts on behalf of ambulance franchise holder Mercy Ambulance. The coup de grace to his political tenure came when it was revealed that six of his seven immediate family members had obtained employment with the county. In 1986, he was challenged and beaten by then-up-and-coming politician Jon Mikels, the mayor of Rancho Cucamonga.
McElwain remained a political entity thereafter, but worked through other elected officials, such as Dave Eshleman, city councilman and later mayor of Fontana, who was also a Democrat.
He was active in the Al Malaikah Shriners in Los Angeles, the Upland Masonic Lodge, the Ontario Elks Lodge, the Fontana Rotary Club, American Legion Post 772 in Fontana, and the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in San Bernardino, where he attained the rank of a 32nd-degree Mason.
His son Mick died from injuries he sustained in January 2004 when he had rushed to his parents home in San Antonio Heights during the Grand Prix Fire. The younger McElwain, then 53, had risked his own safety in an effort to check on his parents, who had already left. Mickey Stephen McElwain died eleven weeks later at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton after an extended stay in the hospital’s burn ward.
Cal McElwain was diagnosed with cancer in May of last year and succumbed on January 17.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Nita and their five children, Bradford Allen, Daira Lee, Eric Dane, Erin Jo, and Jason Cohan, 16 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 27 at Life Bible Fellowship Church, 2426 N. Euclid Ave., in Upland.

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