||The Inland Empire
July 31, 2001
A Passion for Playing
Fender Museum's leader strives to inspire aspiring musicians
BY JERRY SOIFER
John Page didn't become the star guitarist he dreamed of being as a boy. Instead, he became the guy who supplied guitars to the stars like Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger.
Page didn't become the award-winning composer he yearned to be as a teen-ager. But he did grow up to be the man to script the plans for up to 1,500 boys and girls to learn music at the Fender Museum of Music and the Arts being built in Corona.
John Page, executive director of the Fender Museum for Music and the Arts in Corona, has developed a program to inspire an interest in the arts in children. (MARK ZALESKI / THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE)
He didn't become an entertainment headliner. He became a person many people underline as a vital cog in the Corona-Norco community.
Page, 44, is executive director of the Fender museum, a nonprofit institution dedicated to sparking an interest in the arts in youth. A new building for the museum, under construction on North Main Street, will provide more space for ongoing programs that include free music lessons and educational programs and exhibits for children throughout the region.
Page is also a member of United Neighbors Involving Today's Youth -- UNITY -- a Corona-Norco volunteer group that tries to better the lives of young people in the area.
And he's a proud head of household who recently became a grandfather for the first time. Page, 44, and his wife of 15 years, Dana, live in Corona. He has a son, Adam, 21, and daughter, Ashley, 17, from his first marriage. Adam's wife, Jennifer, bore a son, Kole, on July 23.
"It doesn't get much better than this," Page said. "I've got a great family. I've got health. I've got my pickup truck. Life is good."
The youth of the community is better off because of Page, according to Wayne Hayashibara, a UNITY member and grant development coordinator for the Corona-Norco Unified School District.
"John provides a vitality that comes from being a lively kid and a musician," said Hayashibara. "He's a real outspoken person we have to have to keep these kids active and healthy."
Page wears Bermuda shorts, sneakers and button-down shirts with the long sleeves rolled up to be comfortable at work and to remind himself he's not an 8-to-5 worker but one who puts in far longer hours.
Page is a giving, concerned person with family, friends and co-workers. "That's why I fell in love with him: He's so generous," said his wife, Dana. "He's so giving to everybody and smart."
And he's a risk-taker. At two critical points in his life, Page stepped down from management positions to make a leap forward.
When he was 21, Page left his job as an assistant manager of a metals warehouse to work at the Fender Guitar plant. As a youth, Page yearned to work for Fender in any capacity. Fender hired him as a guitar neck buffer on his sixth try for a job.
In 21 years, Page rose to become vice president of the Fender custom shop operations, a position that enabled him to rub elbows with Clapton, Jagger and other stars.
In 1998, Page left his post at Fender and gave up tens of thousands of dollars in salary and benefits to become executive director of the Fender museum. He wanted a new challenge.
"They call him the vision keeper of the museum," Hayashibara said.
A man with a plan
Page's plans for the museum include 12 rooms for music lessons, a recording studio and an amphitheater. There will be 1,100 square feet of floor space for exhibits.
"You don't teach them because Mom wants them to play," Page said. "You teach them because it's a seed of richness that will go into their souls and stay with them forever."
Debbie Rodriguez, Page's assistant at the museum, sees the impact of her boss's work in the smiles of the students. "I see the discipline in these kids," she said. "They're committed but they are having fun. I hear their laughter behind the closed doors."
Page said he's so passionate about his work because of the way music helped him deal with his own youthful emotions and anxieties.
Page grew up in a musical family. His mother, Lory, was a light-opera singer. His uncle, Cy, had a band. Page's grandfather, Frederick, built pipe organs.
But Page's father, John, was a minister, which meant family life was strict and structured with a single income in their Whittier home.
"I went to work at 14 in the oil fields in Santa Fe Springs," Page said. "I was a janitor, cleaning toilets to make money to support my music habit."
He attended Monte Vista High School during the day and worked at night at various jobs from being a vending machine mechanic and a night shift manager at Jack in the Box and cooking steaks in a restaurant.
After being hired by Fender, he thought he had found his niche. "I always used to think I was a lifer at Fender," Page said.
In 1987, he helped start the custom shop, which built and sold guitars for as little as $2,000 and as much as $40,000. He specialized in making guitars for left-handed stars such as Cesar Rosas of the band Los Lobos.
The stars haven't forgotten Page. Grammy Award-winning band Taj Mahal, surf singer Dick Dale and the Phantom Blues band were among the headliners who performed at a Fender museum fund-raising concert in Corona in September 1999.
Marriage to Dana gave Page a new perspective on music 15 years ago. He said he had been looking all his life "for something grandiose" in music.
"When I found it (Dana), there was no void left," he said. "I quit writing. I quit playing."