While Santa Clarita founding father Carl Boyer dedicated his life to making the Santa Clarita Valley a better place to live, work and play, he also had an expansive world view and loved travel and adventure.
But experiencing different places and cultures was just part of the attraction. He also saw opportunities to help improve the lives of people he encountered just about everywhere on the planet.
And while Boyer was a master planner as a city founder – and researched and planned his trips meticulously – improvisation was also built into his plans.
“Carl never cut corners in preparing for a trip. That just wasn’t part of his makeup,” said Robert Geiman, former vice president of administration at The Master’s College (now University) who was Boyer’s traveling companion on 11 international adventures to 93 countries over two decades.
“If we had a travel plan, even if it became difficult, we were going to stick with it and see it through, no matter how difficult,” Geiman said.
At the same time, at breakfast on most any given day, “We didn’t know where we’d be eating dinner or sleeping that night, and that’s the way we liked it,” he said. “That’s why we called our trips ‘adventures.’
“Carl came up with the best definition of ‘adventure’ I’ve ever come across: ‘Adventure begins when the expected ends,’” Geiman said.
Boyer, who died May 29 at age 81, traveled for pleasure, philanthropy, medical missions, student exchanges and more. His passport has been stamped at the borders of more than 140 countries. He collected artifacts and upon returning home wrote extensive recaps of each trip.
Whatever the purpose, along the way, he sought to build relationships with people around the world that transcended physical borders and help change their lives for the better.
A teacher for four decades, including 35 years at San Fernando High School before running for a seat on the first Santa Clarita City Council in late 1987, Boyer was driven by a natural curiosity and spent a lifetime learning and sharing his experiences with others, especially young people.
During his decade on the City Council – from 1988-1998, which included two terms as mayor – Boyer and Geiman were co-founders of the nonprofit Santa Clarita Valley International Program for exchange students, and established the Santa Clarita Sister Cities Program for international relations in the early 2000s.
Both groups share the same Board of Directors and a mission to establish local and global collaborations that will lead to economic development and greater cultural awareness.
Santa Clarita has two sister cities: Tena, Ecuador, and Sariaya, Philippines. Both were adopted by the City Council and recognized by Sister Cities International in Washington, D.C., on November 1, 2001, and November 4, 2003, respectively.
For many years before and after his City Council service, Boyer and his wife Chris, who died in January 2018, were also active with the nonprofit organization Healing the Children.
The couple helped fund transportation and provide lodging to the United States for children from other countries who needed major medical surgeries and recovery time. The Boyers also often fostered or cared for the children, welcoming them into their home in Newhall for the duration of their recovery.
One, a Russian girl named Inna Shayakhmetova, came to the U.S. in 1995 for special surgery to correct a birth defect. The bones in her legs didn’t form properly. She needed an amputation and a prosthetic leg.
“Inna had to come back often and for three, four, five, six months at a time to do the surgery and all the fittings for the prosthesis,” said Denise Johnson, one of Boyer’s three daughters. “She stayed at our house every time she was here.”
Shayakhmetova is now 26 and a schoolteacher – just like Carl Boyer was – in her native Russia.
“He reached out to other people like that his entire life,” Johnson said. “He and my mom fostered two sisters right after they got married and were still living in Cincinnati. They were fostering girls who were in a group home for a little while before they moved out here (in the mid-1960s). My mom was like 20, and my dad was 24.
“The last child they fostered was only 2-1/2 years ago,” Johnson said. “Dad was 79, and my mother was in her 70s, and they were absolutely a team. They cared for two little babies that year at different times.
“I don’t know if they could have done it if they hadn’t been a team, because it took so much energy,” she said. “And this wasn’t just an effort to stay young and connect with young people. It was just the way they were.”
Carl Boyer first visited Sister City Tena, Ecuador, in 2001, accompanied by then-Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp and Elena Galvez, a city project manager who is also on the Santa Clarita Valley International Program and Santa Clarita Sister Cities board of directors.
“That trip was about establishing the sister city relationship,” Galvez said.
“Carl was an educator, so he certainly was always interested in the culture and the education, and knew so much about every country,” she said. “He taught me so much when I traveled with him. I also immediately found his humanistic side, his philanthropic side, and got to participate with that part of him very early.”
While in Tena, the Santa Claritans also visited a school that had a number of children with special needs. Boyer noticed a young boy whose foot was deformed, making it difficult to walk.
“Carl didn’t just say, ‘That foot looks bad,’ and move on to the next thought, as so many people would do,” Galvez said. “He brought a picture of the boy’s foot back to the States, went to different doctors and just really explored what he could do, and helped the boy.
“Carl really changed my mindset, from not just looking at things like that and reacting, ‘Wow, that’s too bad, it’s a horrible situation,’ to thinking more about what I can do,” she said.
Boyer was in his 60s then, but the much younger Galvez observed he had the energy and stamina of a man half his age.
“That stereotype about traveling with someone older was quickly broken,” she said. “He was just such an adventurer as a traveler. I used to tell him that when I grew up, I wanted it to be his passport because he traveled so many different countries. And he didn’t go to the typical countries most people travel to when they go on vacation, although he also did a lot of vacationing. He definitely preferred the roads less traveled.”
Three years later, in 2004, Boyer led his first Healing the Children medical mission to Tena – about 20 people including a medical team and Santa Clarita volunteers who went there to help children through much-needed corrective surgeries, focusing on cleft lip and palate deformities.
The party included three doctors and five nurses, along with Pulskamp and Galvez, who coordinated the trip; her two children, then 10 and 11; Geiman and Johnson.
“The city of Tena is this beautiful little town in the jungle about 60 miles from Quito,” said Johnson, who helped with logistics and by keeping the paperwork organized.
“There are a lot of surrounding villages and some very, very small towns in the area, and they just got the word out over the radio that doctors were coming to help children who had these malformations,” Johnson said. “So people came from all over, however they could, by bus, car, or walking, to Tena to see the doctors at this hospital we worked out of. There were hundreds of people there lined up in the queue.”
Boyer also organized the doctors’ medical evaluations of the children seeking corrective surgeries.
“Doctors were seeing one at a time to determine if they can be operated on or not,” Johnson said. “Some kids were coming back for a follow-up visit. That team ended up doing 22 surgeries in four days. All of that had to be organized and handled with paperwork.”
Neither Boyer nor Johnson spoke Spanish, Ecuador’s native language. “So we had a lot of help from other people,” she said. “But my father was just very comfortable in that environment.”
The 2004 trip to Tena was the first of eight medical missions with more than 1,000 children receiving sorely needed surgeries.
“These surgeries were life-changing,” said Galvez, “because, in addition to not being able to eat safely, some of these kids physically scarred with cleft lip and palate just wouldn’t leave their homes because of the social stigma.
“Carl taking the lead and establishing these medical missions just changed so, so many lives,” she said.
Boyer was the acknowledged leader throughout the trip, which also involved helping a local school, Geiman said. “We had a great relationship with both teachers and students. We took a collection to purchase a rather costly welder for the school.”
“We are incredibly proud,” Johnson said, echoing the sentiments of her sisters Danielle and Michele. “Probably the most humbling thing about our father is that he never needed people to pat him on the back or say, ‘Good job.’ He just did it because that’s what he needed to do.”
Geiman observed Boyer’s selflessness on many occasions during their travels. As to why Boyer made such a good traveling partner in general, no matter the mission, “It was his total authenticity and openness,” he said.
“He was such an easy person with whom to visit and just share perspectives,” Geiman said. “Along the way when we would encounter greatly unexpected circumstances, we might look at each other and say, ‘Remember!’ It was an invitation to remember the definition of adventure, and why we were there in the first place.
“I often said, ‘If you really want to become acquainted with someone, either get married or spend an extensive amount of time traveling,’ Geiman said. “I think, perhaps, I knew Carl as well as anyone other than his wife Chris and their three daughters. He was a total joy to know.”
On their 11 trips together, the country Boyer and Geiman visited most often was India, the first time in 2003. They made four trips there on behalf of Cultural Bridges International, an SCV International student exchange program, to Pinegrove School, a boarding school in the northern city of Chandigarh in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains about five hours by road north of Delhi.
Stay tuned for more on Boyer and Geiman in India in Part 2 of “The Further Adventures of Carl Boyer” later this week.