A Clark County woman will auction a cherished memento from a childhood hero to raise money for the Arthur D. Curtis Children’s Justice Center.
Frank Sinatra gave one of his tuxedo shirts to Libby Montoya-Bunkley when she was a 13-year-old growing up in the Los Angeles area. Her aunt and uncle worked for Ol’ Blue Eyes, so she met him on several occasions.
“I had asked for his autograph, and he said, ‘I can do better,’ and told my aunt to give me one of his tuxedo shirts,” Montoya-Bunkley, 67, said.
Montoya-Bunkley’s uncle, Edward J. McManus, worked for the Santa Monica, Calif., police department. According to family folklore, he often took security jobs for celebrities in his off hours. After an injury, he left his job as a police officer and worked for Sinatra full time. Sinatra had grown wary after his son was kidnapped in 1963. Montoya-Bunkley’s aunt, Theresa “Terry” (Montoya) McManus, also worked in Sinatra’s household.
Montoya-Bunkley spent a lot of time with her aunt and uncle because her father, Heriberto Fernandez Montoya, worked long hours for the Apollo space program.
Montoya-Bunkley remembers meeting Sinatra for the first time when she was about 11. She tagged along with her aunt and uncle to work at Sinatra’s house, where they told her to stay in the kitchen. They warned her to keep out of the way and to never talk to others about Sinatra. She was already familiar with the idea of confidentiality because of her father’s job.
From the kitchen, Montoya-Bunkley could hear Sinatra practicing “The Good Life” over and over. She picked up a spoon in the kitchen and mimicked him. He happened by and said, “Hey kid, you want to open for me in Vegas?”
“I ran,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Why are you scared?’ I said, ‘My uncle’s going to lose his job.’ He said, ‘Everything is going to be OK.’ ”
She remembers Sinatra as a kind, generous man. When she was nervous about an upcoming high school performance of “South Pacific,” in which she was to play Bloody Mary, he coached her through the challenging song “Bali Ha’i.”
“He was always anonymously contributing to charities and helping individuals during difficult times — especially children. I was fortunate to hear accounts of this regularly from my uncle and aunt, and on occasion, to see it personally,” she said. “If he heard someone was in need, he would say, ‘Take them groceries. Take them some money. Just make sure it’s anonymous.’ ”
The shirt he gave her, custom made by Nate Wise, includes labels with Sinatra’s name, Wise’s shop location (Sunset Strip, Calif.) and a creation date of September 1969.
“Five states, 10 moves — for the longest time, it was something I had as a souvenir of those days,” Montoya-Bunkley said.
She and her husband recently sorted through their house in the Whipple Creek area to downsize to a condo near WSU Vancouver. As a real estate agent for Windermere Northwest Living, she has seen what can happen to prized possessions.
“In cleaning out, it could so easily end up at Goodwill,” she said.
Montoya-Bunkley made many phone calls to find the right place to sell the shirt. Gotta Have Rock and Roll in New York will include the shirt in its winter online auction, which begins Wednesday and continues through Dec. 9.
Montoya-Bunkley doesn’t have any guess as to how much someone might pay for the shirt.
“I have never sold anything like this,” she said.
The net proceeds from the shirt’s sale (after the auction house’s fees) will go to the Children’s Justice Center, which Montoya-Bunkley selected because the Windermere Foundation has supported it in the past, she said.
The Children’s Justice Center helps children who are victims of crimes, as well as their families.
“I kept this shirt for many years,” Montoya-Bunkley said, “but it’s now time to put it to work for a good cause.”