2011-04-21 / Health & Wellness

Statue sculpted in honor of ambulance service pioneer

By Stephanie Bertholdo


HE ANSWERED CALL FOR EMERGENCY SERVICE—Siblings Michael, Scott and Michelle unveil the statue of their father, Donald Pruner, the man who started Pruner Ambulance and Health Care Services in the Conejo Valley in 1963, outside Los Robles Hospital. 
STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers HE ANSWERED CALL FOR EMERGENCY SERVICE—Siblings Michael, Scott and Michelle unveil the statue of their father, Donald Pruner, the man who started Pruner Ambulance and Health Care Services in the Conejo Valley in 1963, outside Los Robles Hospital. STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers Donald Pruner, founder of Pruner Ambulance and Health Care Services, was so charismatic and energetic that when he died of a heart attack at the age of 69, shock waves spread through his wide circle of friends and family.

Now that Pruner’s likeness has been captured in a bronze monument at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, he and the lifesaving services that he provided, will never be forgotten.

Jackie Pruner, Donald’s widow and former business partner, commissioned the statue by artist De L’ Esprie.

The statue was unveiled at a dedication ceremony in front of Los Robles Hospital’s emergency room on April 15. Friends, family members and colleagues shared stories about Pruner who, in 1963, started the first ambulance company in the Conejo Valley using his ’58 Pontiac.

Dennis Gillette, a Thousand Oaks City Council member who knew Pruner well, said he’s had a 50-year friendship with the Pruners. Gillette said Pruner was so well-known his name became synonymous with local ambulance services. Gillette said that, instead of people saying, “There goes an ambulance,” they would say, “There goes Pruner.”

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean joked that when he rode with Pruner in his ambulance he needed oxygen by the time they arrived at the hospital because Pruner drove so fast.

Dean said Pruner had a “gruff exterior” but was actually a “big softie.”

He added that Don and Jackie Pruner exemplified the “great American story” of people who started their own company, “worked their tails off” and “saved lives.”

Ron McConville, former Camarillo mayor, said he met Donald Pruner when he was selling Yellow Pages advertising. McConville reminisced about how Pruner raised funds to upgrade his services to include paramedics and how Pruner gave him a car to use for community events.

Mike Bradbury, former district attorney for Ventura County, said, “Don is an ever-present force.”

“There was little about Don that was ordinary,” Bradbury said.

He was involved in politics and sports and had a passion for fishing and antique cars, but all of his interests paled in comparison to his love of family, the former DA said.

He said Pruner was “hilariously funny” and didn’t mind talking baby talk and kissing his teacup Maltese dog.

“He was very comfortable in his own skin,” Bradbury said of Pruner, adding that he lived by the tenet, “Take what you do seriously but not yourself.”

Pruner died from a heart attack while visiting his youngest son in Hawaii in 2006.

Westlake Village artist De L’ Esprie said that although she never met Don Pruner, she “knew every inch of his face.” The 6-foot-tall bronze sculpture depicts Pruner walking with his hand extended, tie swept up in the wind.

Mike Pruner, Don and Jackie’s son, said his father was truly his hero. Fellow siblings Michelle and Scott joined him in the unveiling of the statue.

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