The unveiling of the fifth Neighborhood Treasure honoring Leroy “Buster” Criss at 200 E. Maple Ave., at the corner of Maple and Ivy avenues, took place Saturday morning.
Leroy “Buster” Criss was a resident of Monrovia who lived on the 200 block of East Maple Avenue and attended the Monrovia Arcadia Duarte High School. Criss took flying lessons at the Monrovia Airport, which served him well during World War II when he enlisted in the military on Nov. 19, 1943. First assigned to Biloxi, Miss., for basic training, he was soon transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Base for aviation cadet training. Upon completing his aviation education, Criss joined the 477th Bombardment Group.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. During World War II, the American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. At that time, Black Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to Jim Crow laws which legalized segregation. During his time in the military, Criss was promoted to Lieutenant.
In 1947, Criss married Helen Butler and they had three children: Cassie, Renee and LeNeal. Criss was not only one of the original Tuskegee Airmen pilots, he also spent 37 years as a highly-respected high school teacher in the Los Angeles area following his military service. Unfortunately, Criss was never given the opportunity to teach in Monrovia due to the color of his skin. Criss loved the outdoors and created a non-profit organization that sponsored camps for low-income children called Outward Bound Adventure.
Neighborhood Treasures celebrates historically significant Monrovians through the installation of public art pieces in various neighborhoods throughout the community. The goal of the program is to enrich the lives of those who view the art and improve neighborhoods by its presence. When designing a public art piece for Neighborhood Treasures, artists include specialized artwork that visually represents the life and contributions of the honorees.