Obituary: Ben Bollinger
Founder of Citrus Singers, Candlelight Pavilion, proud Trojan
“We all lost a music visionary, a devoted family man and a world-renowned educator on October 17, as Ben D. Bollinger passed away at age 80 in Pomona,” said Mr. Bollinger’s family.
Ben was born on July 4, 1938 in Anaconda, Montana, the oldest of five children and 54 grandchildren.
In addition to his wide-ranging musical talents, Ben, or “Benny Dan” as he was known by his family, was a star athlete growing up in Montana, once throwing a no-hitter on the same day as his father, who pitched semi-professionally. And while he excelled on the diamond, football was his passion and his top sport.
At age 17, his family moved from Anaconda to Glendora, California, where Mr. Bollinger spent most of his adult life. He was a three-sport athlete at Citrus Union High School, from where he graduated in 1956 before enrolling at Citrus Community College.
It was at Citrus where he met his wife-to-be, Lois. They were married on August 13, 1960 at Holy Angels Catholic Church in Arcadia. He continued to play football in college and earned his associate of arts degree in 1958 before transferring to the University of Southern California, which had always been his dream.
Mr. Bollinger had planned to be a dentist, but after injuring his knee in spring football practice, he changed his major to music education with minors in voice and opera. He performed in several operas at USC’s Bovard Auditorium and at the nearby Shrine Auditorium, including classics such as The Ballad of Baby Doe, The Barber of Seville, Simon Boccanegra, Manon Lescaut and Otello. A member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, he made lifelong friends at USC and remained connected to Trojan athletics throughout his life, especially the football and basketball programs.
After USC, he turned down opportunities to sing opera abroad, including a Fulbright Scholarship to perform in Europe, instead opting to raise his growing family and acting as the chair of the fine arts department at Riverside’s Ramona High School from 1962 to 1968. He returned to Citrus as a full-time instructor in the fall of 1968, beginning his remarkable 37-year run that transformed the college and made it one of the preeminent music programs in the country.
Mr. Bollinger created the Citrus Singers in 1968. Under his leadership, the Singers became one of the most highly decorated choral groups at international competitions, winning countless music festivals around the globe, including being the only American choir to win all three categories of the International Choral Festival in Spittal, Austria, in 1979.
In 1970, the Citrus Singers made their first trip to Hawaii, which became a regular occurrence with performances there every other year. The Singers performed in countless countries under Mr. Bollinger’s tutelage, including Russia, Spain, Norway, Great Britain, Denmark, Japan, Austria, Uruguay, Argentina, Poland and Brazil.
The Citrus Singers became the most prominent collegiate singing group in Southern California, performing at major events in the Los Angeles area, including Super Bowl VII at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Rose Parade, opening day at Dodger Stadium, the grand opening of Ontario Motor Speedway in 1970, Richard Nixon’s campaign stop at Ontario Airport in 1972 and the opening of the Los Angeles Marriott in 1973.
Affectionally called “Mr. B” by his students, the Citrus Singers performed in front of several local and national politicians, including Presidents Nixon, Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush.
He was also listed in the credits for KISS’ Gene Simmons 1978 solo album, along with a select group of Citrus Singers who provided backup vocals. Mr. Bollinger also served as choral director at several churches throughout the course of his career, including Hollywood Presbyterian Church.
He earned many honors along the way, including being named a Citrus College Distinguished Alumni in 1979-80 and being named Glendora’s Citizen of the Year in 1980.
He was also a successful businessman, taking an idea he sketched on the back of a napkin and creating the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, which he opened in Claremont in 1985. He made his dream a reality at the old Claremont High School gymnasium, where he had played high school basketball in 1956. The 299-seat dinner theater, run today by his son Mick and daughter Mindy, has become an Inland Empire institution and one of the longest continuously run and highest grossing dinner theaters in the country.
After 37 years at Citrus College, he retired in 2005 with a ceremony at Santa Anita Park, where he was a fixture at the racetrack, with a box at the finish line. He was the acting dean of fine and performing arts at the time of his retirement and was honored as a Citrus College Faculty Emeritus.
“Ben was larger than life to those who knew him, as he commanded a room with his stature and charisma,” his family shared. “He was known for his amazing storytelling abilities and humor, as his memory and wit were unmatched.”
Music, sports and traveling remained his major passions throughout his life, but at his heart, he was a family man and was proud of the legacy he created with his wife, Lois.
He was predeceased by his parents Ben and Anne (Haffey) and brother Don.
Mr. Bollinger is survived by his wife, Lois; four children, Bo (Laura), Mark (Tiff), Mick (Toni) and Mindy (Brian); ten grandchildren, Rhett, Sarah (Brad), Chelsea, Danny, Patrick, Austin, Dylan, Jessica, Rhys and Faith; two step-grandchildren, Ella and Lucy; and two great-grandchildren, Stella and Wesley.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Mr. Bollinger’s honor may be made to the Citrus College Foundation at citruscollege.edu/foundation, or by mail to Citrus College, Attn: John Vaughan, Visual and Performing Arts Division, 1000 W. Foothill Blvd., Glendora, CA 91741; to Casa Colina Hospital at casacolina.org/giving-support; or to City of Hope at cityofhope.org/giving.