Sun City Business Pioneer Tom Carpenter Retains Positive Influence on Community

In his 78 years, Tom Carpenter has had his hand in a lot of projects. As a teenager, Carpenter ser...

tomIn his 78 years, Tom Carpenter has had his hand in a lot of projects.

As a teenager, Carpenter served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Korea. After graduating from the Loyola University School of Law, he worked briefly in his native Chicago as trust manager of a bank. That led to an offer to move out west to Riverside, where he served as a regional trust officer before being recruited in 1966 by a law firm in a newly developed community called Sun City.

"I told them I don't want to chase ambulances," Carpenter said, "but I did want to try my hand at estate planning. I decided if I didn't try private practice, it would haunt me the rest of my life."

Carpenter spent the next 40 years specializing in estate planning, trust and probate law, becoming a partner in the law firm of Swan, Carpenter, Wallis and McKenzie. He retired from the firm in 2006, but he certainly hasn't disappeared.

"I never learned to play golf," he said.

That's probably just as well, because when would he find the time? Carpenter remains active in the Rotary Club of Menifee, which he joined in 1966; claims the title of "the only vertical charter member" of the Menifee Valley (Sun City) Chamber of Commerce; and serves as a judge pro tem with the probate department of the Riverside Superior Court. In his spare time, he enjoys a new-found hobby of photography.

"One of these days, I have to figure out what I want to be when I grow up," Carpenter said with a smile.

Last year, Carpenter was presented with the Chamber of Commerce Pioneer Award in recognition of his long service to the community. Even though Carpenter lived for several years in Riverside and San Jacinto before moving here, he has worked and served in the Sun City/Menifee community for nearly half a century.

Notice the slash in the previous reference to this community. Although Sun City was included in the incorporation of the City of Menifee in 2008, Carpenter refuses to let go of his Sun City roots. When Rotary Club members sing in tribute to "Menifee" during each weekly meeting, one voice from the back of room shouts "Sun City!" instead.

"You realize how fast our history can get lost," Carpenter said. "Certain people in the city want to disassociate themselves from the term Sun City. B.S.! As long as people are alive who remember Sun City, that's the way it should be referred to."

No one ever accused Tom Carpenter of being soft-spoken. As opinionated in social settings as he is professional in the court room, Carpenter retains a sense of humor in all he does.

Talking about his decision to quit high school at age 17 to join the Marines, Carpenter says, "I was afraid they would run out of wars for me to fight in." He describes his work as a judge pro tem as a "replacement" for full-time judges who would "have to deal with people who are fighting over silverware" in arbitration cases.

"People ask, 'How do you know when Tom is serious?' " Carpenter said. "The answer? 'When his mouth is shut.' "

That, of course, is an exaggeration. Although Carpenter enjoys life to the fullest, he always has taken his career seriously-- as well as his community involvement, which has included volunteer positions with the Hemet Hospital Foundation, Valley Health System, Boy Scouts and many other organizations.

"When you talk about a Jesuit education, as I had, people say, 'OK, that guy had ethics shoved down his throat.' But really, I have always believed that even the appearance of impropriety is to be avoided," Carpenter said. "I'm always amazed when I hear of a lawyer or judge trying to rationalize their way out of a conflict of interest."

Carpenter says people still ask him for legal advice, even though "it would be a statutory misdemeanor for me to give someone legal advice now." A few years ago, while dealing with health problems, Carpenter asked the state board to put his license on inactive status. He still visits the law office bearing his name often, but these days his priorities have shifted.

In 2007, during a visit to his cardiologist during recovery from 2003 heart surgery, Carpenter was advised to take a PSA test which ultimately showed evidence of prostate cancer. Two years of radiation and hormone therapy followed. At the time, he said, doctors told him he had two years to live.

Five years later, Carpenter still gets around pretty well. The cancer remains, however, and he recognizes the need for a positive outlook on life. While he urges all men of appropriate age to have their PSA level checked annually, Carpenter doesn't let his condition get him down. He enjoys every minute of life with his wife, Vicki, a realtor at Coldwell Banker in Sun City. He is all smiles virtually all the time.

"I'm reconciled to the inevitable," he said. "Vicki and I are in lockstep on this. We've seen too many cancer patients clutching at straws and making their life more miserable. Quality of life is what it's all about.

"I always recommend to young people that they include in their education a liberal arts education and curriculum so they are exposed to as many subjects as possible in the limited time they have in college."

As Carpenter has shown, one's education -- and ability to teach others -- extends far beyond one's school days.

"To the extent you understand yourself and the world around you, the happier you will be," he said.


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