Donnie Crevier: Helping others overcome obstacles

By Samantha Washer

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“I was a real stellar guy,” says Donnie Crevier.  Now, if you didn’t know Donnie Crevier, you might think he was being immodest.  After all, he is the recipient of countless philanthropic and business awards so if he wanted to describe himself as “stellar” few would argue.  However, Crevier was being deeply sarcastic when he used that word to describe himself in his younger days as a teenager growing up in Laguna Beach. Donnie Crevier may be many things, but immodest is definitely not one of them.  

Growing up too fast

He came to Laguna from Glendale when he was five years old with his mother, “…a single, divorced woman with two kids and no skills.”  Why Laguna?  “She was a romantic,” Crevier explains. “I’m very appreciative for that.”  Crevier attended grammar school and middle school in Laguna, but then came the teenage years.  

“By 14 I’m growing up too fast.  I’m hanging out with older kids so…my parents thought it might be better if I moved back to Glendale with my dad for a little more structure.  I lived with him for three years and then begged for forgiveness and was allowed to return (to Laguna).”  

This was mid-way through his junior year at LBHS.  By his senior year he was living on his own.  “I needed an adult to be my guardian. I picked a guy I surfed with.  He was about 22.  I lived with him for awhile.  I barely finished high school.  In fact, I had to take a night class to graduate,” he explains. There is no drama in his recounting of these years, but clearly they were not the easiest of times. 

Donnie Crevier 

Tired of being broke

Crevier attended college for two and a half years.  “I got tired of being broke and got a job in the car business,” he says.  He had some experience.  His father owned a used car lot in Glendale and Crevier worked there as a kid, washing cars and eventually doing some sales.  He took a job selling cars at Theodore Robins Ford in Costa Mesa.  He worked there for eight years.  

“Then my dad started a BMW dealership in 1972 with my uncle,” says Crevier.  His dad had really wanted a Volkswagen dealership, but couldn’t afford it.  Back then, BMW was not widely known in the US so it was cheaper to get BMWs than VWs. Crevier joined his father and uncle two years later, in 1974.

Success beyond their imagination

The dealership grew and grew.  “It grew beyond anything we had imagined,” says Crevier.  “We had some father/son challenges along the way, but our relationship got tighter and tighter with time.  We became mutually respectful of one another,” says Crevier.  His father has since passed away, but it is obvious that father and son shared a deep bond.  

“My dad was a golden rule philosophy kind of guy.  He believed in doing what was right, not just what was legal. And he believed in people.  It is the people in that company…there’s a uniqueness in our people.  We were lucky, but we consciously tried to find that.  It ain’t all GPA or IQ.  It’s how you relate to people.  

Do you care about people…?”  The answer to that question, in regards to Crevier himself, is a resounding yes.  

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Crevier shows off a reprinted newspaper photo from 1955 as a member of the Boys Club of Laguna Beach (now the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach)

Time for cars, time for giving

Crevier sold the company he built with his father in 2011.  However, he is still in the car business.  HIs company, called Crevier Classic Cars, LLC, deals in classic cars as well as sales and leasing for all makes and models, new or used.  The space is frequently used for events, and he encourages people to come check it out.  He’s there every day.  And while the car business still occupies much of his time, his philanthropy is also a time consuming endeavor.

A laundry list of philanthropic awards

His list of honors is ridiculously long, and includes the Orange County Human Relations Award, the Good Scout Award (Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts of America) and the 2012 Citizen of the Year Award from the City of Santa Ana, to name just a few.  And he certainly didn’t bring this list with him when we met, nor did he mention anything about awards or accolades.  What he wanted to talk about was why the programs he supported were important to him. Two programs he is most dedicated to are The Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach and High School, Inc.

An alumni gives back

The Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach holds a special place in Donnie Crevier’s heart.  “It was a big part of my life.  Back then it was just The Boys Club.  From the ages of 10 to 14 it was really important to me.  I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility to that organization.  Things would have been a lot more complicated for me had it not been in my life,” explains Crevier.  

And to this day, he remains close to Pete Snetsinger, his coach at the Club.  “He was a mentor to me.  I’m having lunch with him next week, as a matter of fact.”  Crevier was presented with the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2009 for his work with the Club.  He is currently still serving on the Board.  

“I’m not sure how things would have turned out for me without the Boys Club.  I want to try and help kids have an alternative like that so that they can feel better about themselves which leads to better choices.”

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Donnie Crevier, Board Member, in front of the Boys and Girls Club

Ambitious plans for High School, Inc.

While Crevier will always be grateful for the Boys and Girls Club, he is deeply involved in a new endeavor that, while not as personal, definitely echoes the same theme: helping kids help themselves. High School, Inc. is a program that provides high school students with real work experience through six different academies: health care, culinary arts and hospitality, automotive logistics and transportation, new media, global business and engineering, manufacturing and construction.  The program is currently at Valley High School in Santa Ana, but Crevier is looking to expand its reach. 

“We just had some wonderful news.  Our graduation rate for kids enrolled in the six academies on campus is 98.5%.  The grad rate for the rest of the kids is somewhere around 85%.  We have 1,000 kids enrolled now.  We need all the kids there to enroll. 

“We are teaching them career opportunities as well as increasing their interest in education as a whole.  We want this to go all over Santa Ana and then the country,” explains Crevier.  He is very enthusiastic about this program and what it can do.  “It’s a partnership between the school district, the business community, and the school.  This is occupying tons of my time.”  

Committed to giving in Laguna Beach 

If High School Inc. is taking most of his time these days; Crevier still has time for more local giving beyond the Boys and Girls Club.  He’s on the Board of the Laguna Beach Community Foundation and is heavily involved with the Laguna Beach High School Scholarship Foundation.  

“The reason for the Community Foundation’s existence,” explains Crevier, “is because Laguna is a unique community.  Lots of residents support outside issues but are not aware of the needs in this community.  We are trying to bring awareness to Laguna causes.” 

Adding to his seemingly endless list of awards, Crevier was presented with the Donor Honoree at this year’s LBHS convocation ceremony. He started giving scholarships, now called the April and Daphne Crevier Memorial Scholarships in honor of his mother and sister.  This year eight graduates were awarded these scholarships for doing “the right thing for the right reason.” Additionally, Crevier has his own family foundation that he started seven years ago.  “My kids and grand kids are all a part of it,” he says with pride. 

Really, truly a stellar guy

Donnie Crevier uses words like “luck” to describe his success.  He likes to give credit to others.  And, if I think about it, he really didn’t talk much about himself (except to talk about his wayward youth), preferring to discuss the charities he cares about. He is a man who overcame adversity and became successful beyond his own imagination. 

He spends a lot of time and a lot of money helping others so that they, too, can overcome the obstacles life has placed in front of them.  He would probably not like me to say so, but that, to me, is the epitome of a “stellar guy” (hold the sarcasm).


From an artistic point of view: Kirsten Whalen

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Kirsten Whalen met a young man at Berkeley, she had no idea the life they would create together in Laguna Beach. But they did just that – in a big way. She, a native Californian and he, from small town, Massachusetts, figured Southern California was the place they ought to be, so they loaded up the truck and they moved to – no, not Beverly…

Since that fortuitous move, Kirsten and her husband, Bob, have made an indelible mark on the fabric of our lives. Bob Whalen is, of course, Hizzoner, the leader of our fair city, Mayor of Laguna Beach. Kirsten, meanwhile, represents the artistic side of Laguna’s persona. While happy to support Bob who is obviously motivated by governance and community organization, Kirsten Whalen is rather the alternative, quietly expressive side of the Laguna pair. She is an artist, art activist, and art educator. Her new show of watercolors will open at the Festival of Arts this week. 

Kirsten Whalen

She’d be the first one to say, “What, you’re interested in me?” Yes, usually the press comes a-callin’ about Matters Of The City; addressing civic issues, serving charities, attending functions and the like. But, no, we wanted a heart to heart chat about the ways in which Laguna has shaped the person Kirsten Whalen, and vice versa.

“I’m always more comfortable as a behind-the-scenes gal,” she says, spoken like the person creating the canvas. “I’m always assuming people are interested in the community side of my life.”

When the road leads to Laguna

Kirsten studied art and design, earning a Bachelor of Science in Design from UC Davis. She worked as a graphic designer, designing books and business communications tools. When it was time to move from the Bay area for Bob’s law practice, the pair drew a circle on a map around his office location. That’s how they chose Laguna Beach. It was 1980, and affording Laguna was a long shot.

“We thought it was economic insanity,” Kirsten said.

But move they did. They started a life here, and both became involved in arts organizations and also in the organizations important to their kids: Erika, Andy, and Elliot. 

Bob became president of Laguna Beach Little League, the Boys and Girls Club and SchoolPower, and served on the School Board for ten years before moving on to City Council. Kirsten was also involved in the arts at the schools, and started the Performing Arts Booster Club at the high school.

While their daughter was graduating college, and one son was graduating high school, Kirsten answered the siren call inside her head, and went back to school herself. Where else, but Laguna College of Art and Design? It was a homecoming for her love of education and also her desire to do “more personal” artwork.

“I loved it,” she says. “It was so much fun to go back to school!”

Back in college again, Kirsten experimented with technique and ways to merge traditional watercolor and oil painting to develop her own artistic style. In 2005 she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from LCAD.

The medium and the message

“As a painter, I am drawn to still life because I am fascinated by objects and the power they have to tell stories,” Kirsten says as her Artist’s Statement. “I have always been interested in the human stories we have deduced from the artifacts of previous cultures. Paintings, pottery, sculptures, folktales – all reflect the lives of the people and time in which they were created… but they are also a product of the same universal human urge to create beauty and make sense of the world.”

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There are entire bodies of study into the symbolism within art, especially those works not exactly realist. While Kirsten Whalen’s work is representational, it’s also something not. There is an ironic quality, and a sense of whimsy.

“They are absolutely expressions of myself,” she says.

The scenes and images Kirsten portrays make us notice the world in a whole different way. “My work is narrative,” she says. “I like telling stories with my artwork.”

Trying to describe her work is a personal journey; every audience arrives with their own interpretation. On one of her paintings there are beautifully executed folds on a map, so dimensional you want to reach out and touch it, and then there’s a funny little cowboy toy riding through the western section. Then there’s the globe she painted, in casts of shadow with a miniature aviator dangling from somewhere north of the North Pole… 

“I call them my avatars,” she laughs.

You can’t help but wonder, smile – and maybe start planning a trip.

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As inspiration, Kristen cites artist Wayne Thiebaud, known for his colorful depictions of commonplace objects like cakes, pastries and toys, and Laguna Beach artist Scott Moore, whose works highlight toys and miniatures with surrealist irony.

Trying to sum up her works is even a challenge for the artist to verbalize, “They are… I don’t know? Come see them!”

This is Kirsten’s eighth year as a Festival of Arts exhibitor. Her piece, “Hanging Around” was selected for the Festival’s 2012 souvenir poster. Additionally, her work has won awards in the in the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies Annual exhibit (WFWS 37, Honorable Mention), and the annual City of Laguna Beach Juried Fine Art Exhibitions held by the Laguna Beach Arts Commission. She was a participating artist in the 2012 Laguna Beach Music Festival and with OC Can You Play in 2011.

Whalen’s “Hanging Around”, the Festival souvenir poster of 2012

One of the special things about showing at Festival of Arts is the sense of community with fellow artists. “My work is solitary, so it’s nice to be out and about and talking to people,” Kirsten says. “I love visiting with artists.”

Arts educator

Kirsten is also a big proponent of arts education. In 2008 she started “Art Talks: A Lecture Series” at the Festival, and she’s still spearheading it. 

Every Thursday at noon during the Festival season, artists talk about their inspiration, history, and careers in art. “Listening to the artists present their work is not only interesting and inspiring, but gives attendees a deeper understanding of painting, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics and other art on the grounds.”

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Besides being busy with the many arts organizations in Laguna Beach, Kirsten serves on the board of the Laguna Outreach for Community Arts (LOCA), the nonprofit committed to arts education for people of all ages. 

“Our organization provides workshops to Laguna Beach schools, the Boys and Girls Club, Youth Shelter, Glennwood House, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and the Laguna Beach Senior Center.”

Thinking about it, “There are 22-24 arts organizations in town,” she remarked. “Now I know where my weekends have gone!”

If time was free

Kirsten’s family hails from Sacramento, and her dad built a cabin at Lake Tahoe in the 1950’s. Whenever Kirsten, Bob, and their kids get a bit of free time, they like to get up to the blue lake and enjoy a little kayaking. Maybe there will be time for that after the summer, but for now it’s full steam ahead for the Whalens as they navigate the busy summer season with arts and community matters filling the calendar.

Say hello to Kirsten at her booth “on the main drag” of the Festival this summer.


Tyler Russell: Ambitiously changing radio back 

Written by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Tyler Russell, the 26 year old founder and program director of Laguna’s own (and only) radio station, KX 93.5, created his own major at Chapman University: Multi-media Journalism.  “I seriously hope someone else has used it.  I put a lot of work into making it,” he says emphatically.

And that tells you quite a bit about this young man who is passionate about an old technology.  The fact that his college major is still relevant speaks to his youth; the fact that he needed to create something to suit his own needs speaks to his ambition.

The tennis playing radio host

Russell determined radio was his future while still in high school in Tucson, AZ.  Upon graduating he went to Chapman University in Orange because it was a small school with a radio station and a tennis team.

“I loved it.  It’s not the most diverse place, but it’s close enough to LA that the opportunities are there.  I started working at the radio station on day one,” he says. That work led to internships at other stations and widened his knowledge of the inner workings of different stations.  “I thought I wanted to be on air talent,” he explains. “I was an actor when I was young.  I flew from Tucson to LA once a week for auditions.  I got a commercial when I was 10.”

But while there are a lot of aspiring actors, Russell didn’t meet a lot of aspiring radio hosts.  “They’re all old,” he says matter-of-factly.

Tyler Russell, KX 93.5 Program Director in the studio

“…too smart to be on the air.”

As he learned the business as an intern, there was a common theme that everyone he spoke with echoed.  “They were complaining that ‘radio isn’t the same’.  They were really disgruntled.  One of my mentors, Johnny K, the program director at KRTH 101, told me ‘Kid, you’re too smart just to be on the air.’ This motivated me.  You know, be the change you want to see.  My motivation went from being talent to helping an industry that’s suffering.  I hope we’re a trend in the industry.”

The FCC and Clear Channel upend an industry

When asked why he and others feel radio is “suffering” he doesn’t hesitate. “Clear Channel,” he says simply.  “In the early 1990’s the FCC made a change.  It used to be that someone could only own a few stations.  Radio used to be a mom and pop type deal.  Now, because of the Clear Channel ruling, an entity can own as many stations as they want.  Clear Channel went out and bought them all. So the stations all play the same stuff, have the same people on the air…it’s very cookie-cutter.”  

Now, according to Russell, Clear Channel is called “I Heart Media.”  

“They’ve been losing money so they’re starting to come around now,” he continues.  “About 15 years ago the FCC created the Low Power FM radio service.  This is helping to return local to radio.”  

This is also how Tyler Russell came to Laguna Beach.

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Tyler Russell working his magic in the KX 93.5 studio

A search for a station pays off

He was working as the music director for Crush 1039 in Palm Springs —a prize job for a recent college graduate —but he was becoming disenchanted with the commercial-ness of it all.  In a conversation with his father, he vented his frustration.  His father’s response?  Open your own radio station.  Just 23 years old at the time, Russell decided he would.  So he set about looking for low power FM radio stations he might be able to purchase.

“I Googled and found that The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Laguna Niguel had had an antenna for 15 years that they’d never used.  So I asked them, ‘Would you be interested in selling it?’  They were.  I got my engineers out there and we got them on the air so they could keep their license.  They were three months shy of losing it due to inactivity.  The FCC makes it easy to buy this stuff because you can only be charged what the original owners paid for (the equipment).  But you’re only allowed to move the antennae 5.6 kilometers away from the original spot.  Our current location (1833 S. Coast Hwy, #200) is exactly 5.6 kilometers away.”  And that is how KX93.5 was born.

KX 93.5 is as Laguna local as it can get at 1833 S. Coast Hwy, #200

Building blocks and smart parents

When I asked Russell if he was at all daunted by opening his own station with only two and a half years paid work experience, he shook his head. “I knew all the basics. I’d seen enough of promotions and sales so I knew the building blocks.  I had been a music director so I knew that part of it.  The rest…I have smart parents,” he says. Their advice on certain things was very helpful in the beginning.  Now, it seems, he has it all pretty well figured out.

Laguna’s geography ripe for local radio

“Laguna is a blessing and a curse,” he tells me.  “People have to remember that geographically (as far as radio transmission is concerned) it’s a nightmare. ” The same problems that make it tough for any of us to tune into the larger, more powerful stations hinders KX 93.5.  “On cloudy days the reception is good; on sunny days it’s weaker. I have no idea why.  I just know it is,” he laments.  

But this isolation is a perfect set up for a truly local radio station.  “People in Laguna love Laguna,” says Russell.  And while Russell makes no secret of his interest in developing a career in television, Laguna is home.  “It feels more like home than anywhere I’ve ever lived.  It feels cool to go places and have people say they liked your show.  I feel like I’ve built the station to the point that it will always be here.  If I were ever to go somewhere else, it (KX 93.5) would stay.  Saying that, I’m less concerned with being famous than helping radio’s future,” he says.

Looking for opportunities beyond radio

How to do that with a station that on sunny days can’t even saturate its own city?  Russell is shooting a pilot for a docu-series about the station. “We think what we do is really interesting.  Whether I have sold my soul to host some music competition,” he says laughing, “I want to promote the KX 93.5 brand and this beach town. I want to keep the integrity of this place.  We really do what we say.  My hope is that we’re true to Laguna Beach, but have gained some international recognition in the process.”

On a local level, Russell’s wish list is more practical. “Maybe we can move our antennae to a higher spot.  We can’t go higher than 33 meters above the average terrain, and it has to be close to where we are now.  Ideally, it would be on private land so we don’t have to go through the city, although we have a good relationship with them.  Maybe we could find a person willing to help us.  I was told that would really help us out a lot.”  

If no one comes forward, don’t count Russell out.  “The one thing I’ve done well is get through red tape,” he explains.  “Like with the Beach Boys concert.  Everyone said ‘You can’t use the (Irvine) Bowl’.  Why not?  That’s when it’s helpful not to be from here.  I just ask questions of people who haven’t been questioned.” 

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Local musician, Jason Feddy, talking about the value of DJ’s with Tyler Russell

“Human-crafted radio” is online, too

In the meantime, if it’s a sunny day and you can’t seem to get reception, listeners can find KX 93.5 online or download the app  (I just typed in KX935, no period).  Once you tune in you can experience “human-crafted radio,” as Russell describes it.  

“We want listeners to know we don’t use algorithms; instant requests are honored…it’s free form radio.”  The station is also putting on a concert series featuring local bands on the last Thursday of every month at the Marine Room called “Sounds of the Sea.”  “We’re focusing on bands that are not your typical local bands,” explains Russell. 

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From inside the studios at KX 93.5 looking out on Coast Highway

No surprise there.   Not much regarding Tyler Russell is typical.  “We don’t really have enough power to be a big influence,” says Russell.  He is talking about the station’s wattage, of course.  And while he may be limited in terms of his antenna’s range, he doesn’t let those limits smother his ambitions.  Whether he can make an impact in radio beyond the limits of Laguna Beach, time will tell.  

In the meantime, he’d really like you to give the station a call. 

“We love interaction. Call in from time to time so it’s not always the same five people,” he says with a smile.  

If you’re trying to ignite a revolution, it’s nice to know there are people out there listening.


Ashley Johnson spreading the word:

Laguna Beach is more than a great place to visit

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Ashley Johnson is the go-to gal when you want to go to Laguna. Having started out in marketing nine and a half years ago with the Laguna Beach Visitors and Conference Bureau, she has been there for the re-imagining and name changing, and is now the Director of Brand Marketing and Communications for Visit Laguna Beach. And no one understands that Laguna Beach is a brand more than Ashley.

Ashley Johnson

“Visit Laguna Beach oversees the visitor’s center,” she says. “The name helps with Google searches, especially when people want to visit here for the first time.

“Tourism has changed, marketing has changed,” she continued. “We don’t use magazines so much for advertising. It’s now about 80 percent digital and social media.”

People search through Google and sites like Trip Advisor to find out what’s brewing in Laguna. Surprisingly, Ashley tells us that the MTV show, Laguna Beach, is still a major player in tourism here as well. 

“We have families coming in to find out about the show,” she said. “The parents say, ‘We have no idea, except our kids love this show!’”

The office receives about 3,000 first-time visitors per month. There they will find out everything they want to know about that darned TV show, as well as all the activities and events and goings-on about town, seven days a week. 

“There’s so much to do here,” Ashley says. “Our concierges train in telling everything we have in town. And we try to get them to stay at least a night in a hotel.” 

Travel trends and the show circuit

She recently returned from a trade show in Orlando; IPW, the US Travel Association’s forum for travel industry pro’s. There were more than 6,500 people in attendance from all walks of the travel business. The news that Ashley sent out to the tour operators, travel agents, and travel journalists is that Laguna Beach is not just about the beach: we live in a year-round worthy destination. 

“Especially Germans,” she said. “They really like the outdoor components of travel, and they were surprised to learn that Laguna is surrounded by 20,000 acres of wilderness.” 

China is seen as a hugely emerging market because their travel visas have gotten easier to procure. Ashley tells us that their travel trends are changing. 

“In the next few years we will be welcoming 200 million Chinese travelers to California,” she said. 

Whereas once the Chinese would book for group travel, the latest trend is toward independent travel. There’s even an industry term for it, “FIT”, short for Foreign Independent Traveler. 

“We used to see 80 percent group travel in the past, now Chinese operators are booking 60 percent FITs.”

That’s a good thing too, because group travelers tend to not spend very much where they go. Individuals are more likely to branch out to restaurants, concerts, and other cultural events that keep the Laguna economy happy.

Then there is the luxury crowd. At the conference, Ashley met with several Saudi Arabian tour operators particularly interested in luxury travel to Laguna Beach. 

“When they come, they bring extended family and hired help too. They typically spend time at South Coast Plaza, and Fletcher Jones,” she said. “I was promoting places like Montage Laguna Beach, and events such as The Pageant of the Masters, and Laguna Dance Festival. I got very positive responses.” 

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Many tour operators and travel journalists were looking for family destinations, which, in California, is mostly Disney territory. It was Ashley’s joy to tune them in to Laguna’s family-friendly features, such as the Sawdust Studio Art Classes: one-day, in-studio classes, offering instruction in photography, jewelry, oil painting, and other arts.

Let’s Visit Laguna Beach

Visit Laguna Beach has some new interactive and hands-on features that have helped put Laguna on the digital map. One is the app, Laguna Beach Travel Info, a new and improved version – coming out this summer. It’s the official and handy place to tap into all things Laguna (available on iTunes, and Google Play), with extra new features.

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“It’s got a lot more functionality,” Ashley says. “There’s a loyalty program for repeat visitors, and special discounts.” For example, the GPS would be able to connect you with a free drink offer as you walk by Las Brisas, or special deals at shops and galleries you pass.

Another big deal at Visit Laguna Beach Visitors Center, downtown on Forest Ave, is an interactive kiosk. Here, people will be able to not only print out maps and brochures, but also to plan itineraries, make restaurant reservations, and buy tickets to events like Laguna Playhouse or the Pageant of the Masters.

Matters of the heart

To get what it is that excites people about travel, you have to have been bitten by that same bug. Ashley has travelled all over the US promoting Laguna Beach, and she loves it, because she loves to travel too.

Raised not very far away, in Irvine, Ashley went to the University of Arizona for education and became a nut for sports too – especially football and basketball. She will travel just about anywhere the Arizona Wildcats are playing. 

Her work promoting Laguna gets her travelling about quite a bit. So far, her favorite visit was to Nashville. “I loved it,” she says. “The culture, the talent, the music. It’s a great place!” Next up is an international dream to visit Spain. “I want to go!”

Meanwhile, back at the home ranch, Ashley is shaping up wedding plans. She will marry her fiancée, Clint, in October. They may likely serve up some of their home brewed beers. 

Yes, she’s a brewer too. That would be due to Clint’s interest professionally (he’s a beer distributor), and personally (he’s brewing all types at home). “I’m a self-proclaimed wine snob, but I’m coming around to beer,” she says. “I do love the IPA!”

Weekends, when she’s not brewing up some IPA, or off to yoga class, Ashley can be found at flea markets and antiques shows. She’s got a well-rounded repertoire of activities that keep her busy. 

But when it’s time to learn more about what’s going on in Laguna, it’s time to visit Ashley Johnson downtown.



Mike Churchill: Creating a new playbook for LBHS

Written by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: MARY HURLBUT

In his eight years as Laguna Beach High School Athletic Director, Mike Churchill has seen the school win 109 League Championships and 10 CIF Championships. 

“Even though our league isn’t very good,” he says, “it’s still hard to do.  It’s easy to mess up success.  And winning CIF is hard; it’s really a tough thing to do.  We’re riding a crest of success.”  

Churchill only has a few more weeks of “we” when he talks about the LBHS Breakers.  He is retiring at the end of this year. “I’m going to take a month off and do nothing.  I’m going to try not to wake up at five a.m.  I’m going to figure out what I want to do,” he says of his upcoming retirement.

LBHS Athletic Director, Mike Churchill, is retiring at the end of this school year

From Coach to LBHS Athletic Director

Churchill was a football coach for most of his career.  He was head coach at Riverside Poly High School from 1980-86 when his team won CIF and got to play at the Los Angeles Coliseum.  He remembers vividly the night his team arrived to play for the championship.  

“Most of those kids had never been out of Riverside.  When we pulled up on the bus and they saw the lights of the stadium…” He trails off.  It was clearly as meaningful an experience for him as coach as it was for his young players.  And yet, when he came to LBHS at the suggestion of the then newly hired principal, Don Austin, he was ready to do something else.  “I had interviewed for a job here (at LBHS), but hadn’t gotten it.  I was kind of disappointed. When Don came he called me and asked, ‘Are you still interested in the job?’  And I said, ‘Sure.’ And he said, ‘Get your paperwork in.’ And so then I got an interview.  This district does a lot of interviews,” says Churchill.  “That’s how I got hired.”

A dynamic duo

Churchill and LBHS Athletics Secretary, Tracy Paddock, were hired at the same time.  “Nobody really told us what our jobs were.  I didn’t have a job description.  So Tracy and I sat down together and decided that the only way we could get into trouble was if the busses weren’t there or a player was cheating or we were playing people who were ineligible. We divided it all up, but she likes to get involved in everything,” he says smiling.  “She’s great.”

The complex world of high school sports

As the man responsible for 70 coaches who are responsible for 650 student-athletes, Churchill handles much more than busses and eligibility.  When we talked about why LBHS was in the Orange Coast League, as opposed to a stronger league, the complexities of high school sports became very apparent.  

“Laguna doesn’t really have a place to go that fits.  We’re so small.  We used to fit in with the schools down in South County, but now that’s all built out, and we’re still the same.  The athletes are more diluted.  Only 170 kids are two sport players.  We’re in a league that isn’t very good, but it’s good for us,” says Churchill, adding “I believe when you learn how to win it’s easier to win. And the reverse is also true.” 

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Mike Churchill in his office at LBHS

LBHS shines in the Orange Coast League

Leagues are re-evaluated every four years.  LBHS is in its first year of the four-year cycle so, as Churchill explains it, “We’re stuck in this league for three more years.  Things will change after that.  A new Irvine school is coming in; they’ll probably be with us. Crean Lutheran (High School) needs a place to go.  Some of the Santa Ana schools might not be with us going forward.  Another thing is we’re hard geographically to get to.  Hard for other teams to get here; hard to hire coaches, too, for that reason.” 

No uniformity for LBHS in the CIF Southern Section

And divisions?  Most of the sports at LBHS are Division 4, but some are Division 5 and, of course, there’s the girls water polo that’s Division 1.  According to Churchill, the Divisions are set up with two considerations: how good is your league and how good are you in your league?  

“We are in the Southern Section.  Each sport is different.  Take tennis, they go back three years and see how your team did when deciding what Division you are.  Baseball is determined solely by the size of the school.  Football is based on geography, but that changes every two years.  Then you’ve got boys water polo where the other teams (in the League) petitioned to be put in a lower division so we got moved down through no fault of our own.”  Trying to keep up with this makes coaching football seem simple.  Churchill would passionately disagree.

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A show of Breaker pride

A reluctant, but successful, football coach at LBHS

“No one knows how much time it takes to be a coach,” says Churchill.  When he came to LBHS he thought he had left his coaching days behind.  But when Jonathan Todd resigned as head football coach, Don Austin knew just the guy to take his place. 

“I didn’t really want to do it.  I came down here to be the Athletic Director, but I really liked those kids.  Plus, we went to the gunfight with some bullets,” says Churchill smiling.  During his two seasons as LBHS head football coach (2011 and 2012), Laguna won League both years as well as made it to the CIF Southern Division semi-finals.  In 2012, the team won 11 games, the most in the school’s history.  Bullets, indeed. 

However, despite the team’s success, Churchill was ready to hang up his clipboard and just do the job he was originally hired to do.

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Proof of many years of athletic success at LBHS

Two sport athletes, recruiting and other musings

“I miss coaching during the season.  It’s the off season that wears coaches out,” says Churchill.  He feels the same can happen to the athletes. “I think it’s important for kids to do other things, but not all coaches feel that way.  I think it’s good for a lot of reasons.  Kids can get hurt doing the same thing over and over.  Plus, after awhile they tune you out. But if another coach tells them basically the same thing they might hear it because it’s being said differently,” he says.  

As for the high stakes proposition high school sports has become?  Churchill is emphatically opposed to high school recruiting, for example.  “It’s just wrong.  Kids should be playing in their neighborhood.  Now, it’s just wait a month and go (there is a 30 day wait for transfer students in order for them to become eligible).”  Then he tells me a statistic he got from the NCAA.  “If you’re a girl and you want an athletic scholarship, the best sport for you to play is golf. .4% (notice the decimal point) of high school girls who golf get a scholarship.  And that’s the highest!  If you’re a boy, your best bet is football then basketball.”  In other words, the chances of an athlete, boy or girl, receiving a full athletic scholarship to attend college are minuscule.

The importance of learning to compete

For Mike Churchill, high school sports aren’t about what might be; it’s about learning to compete now.  “Learning to compete is part of life.  I just loveto the see the kids compete; watch them grow up and get better every year.  I can’t believe I made a living teaching kids how to play a kids’ game.  I remember as a senior in college telling my friend, ‘If I could just get a head coaching job and make $10,000 a year, I’d be set for life,’” he says, grinning.  That goal stands (and then some), but now Mike Churchill gets to create a new playbook.  

Goodbye X’s, O’s and CIF requirements.  

Hello, bogey, par and, more than likely, a very early tee time.



Diane Connell for love of family, America – and food

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Diane Connell works hard at everything she does, with meticulous attention to detail. She’s a numbers person, she’s a people person, and she’s a service person.

I met with Diane to talk about her involvement with the Auxiliary of the American Legion. What I found out is that she came to participate in this non-profit organization through her love of family, love for her country, and her dedication to service. 

The numbers part came about, as she is a financial analyst. The rest is just part of her giving nature.

Diane Soliz-Martese Connell

Diane’s first experience in the service industry was at her mom and dad’s restaurant in L.A., “El Taco”. Her mom was Mexican and her dad was Italian.

“You are who you are by your parents,” she says. “That’s how I look at it.”

“I started working when I was five years old,” she remembers, as I wondered what kind of work a five-year-old could do. Turns out, a lot. “My job was to clean the tables, then separate the twigs and rocks from the pinto beans,” she said. “I was with my sister, and we were at work.”

From business to business her father moved, each time starting something from scratch, growing it to prosperity, and then branching off in another direction. It was a good education for Diane, to go with the flow and help out where she could. Dad went to night school to learn TV repair; Diane read him the manuals and helped him pass the tests so he could become a verified TV repairman. 

“I would go carry the tube caddies when he would go to fix ‘tube’ TV’s. One day he needed a tube – so he took it from our own console,” she laughs. “He cannibalized our only television set! I opened it up and it was just gutted – nothing left!”

Dad opened a Western Auto store: a combination Sears, Ace Hardware, and bike shop kind of place. Diane was the go-to person for customer service.

“At that time, in California farmland, Mexican pickers were brought in, called ‘Nationals’. They came by the busload,” she said. “I learned to speak Spanish [not taught at home], and I learned all the parts names and prices.”

Yes, the days before scanners and barcodes were simpler, yet way more complex. It became apparent this was her forte, and she moved to Stockton to train in accounting.

Accounting is the direction in which her professional life has gone. Before retiring, Diane was a financial analyst for the Mission Viejo Company.

Along the way she met her husband Dave. He had served in World War II and the Korean War. Perhaps fortuitously, he was born in 1927; the same year the government of Laguna Beach was incorporated as a city, and also the founding of American Legion Post 222.

When they retired and came to live in Laguna, they each had the heartfelt desire to give something back to the community.

Dave became active with the local American Legion, and continues to serve to this day, as the 2nd Vice Commander. Diane, meanwhile, considers herself more the quiet type and felt right at home at the library. She serves on the board of Friends of the Library, and as its treasurer. 

But, sure enough, Diane made the time to be of service to our military service as well. She arrived with her husband at a Legion Hall dinner social one night, and felt immediately connected. “I had no idea these types of organizations existed,” she said. “Once I did, I said, ‘I’ve got to get involved!’ I was so impressed with what they do.” 

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Diane at the Memorial Day ceremony

She’s now the Auxiliary Treasurer and Historian.

American Legion Auxiliary

The almost one million national Auxiliary members work toward passage of bills affecting veterans. They also fundraise, allocate, and provide services for the military and their families, and generally promote patriotism. 

“We’re the wives, mothers, and children of veterans,” explains Diane. “That connection, and $25 dues allows you to qualify.” 

Diane would like to see the historical significance of the American Legion resonate with the next generation. She has started working with the Laguna Beach Girl Scouts on a project that emphasizes the Auxiliary’s sense of patriotism and respect for the flag. 

In addition to educating the scouts about symbolic gestures such as when one puts a hand over the heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, who may salute during flag ceremonies (only military, or police in uniform), or the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, she has introduced them to the star project, “Stars for our Troops”.

“I introduced the Girl Scouts to Stars for our Troops two years ago,” she said. “We take flags to be disposed in a respectful way. The girls cut the embroidered stars out and place them in small bags with words of remembrance.”

The girls hand the little star bags out to anyone in military uniform.

The cards placed inside with the cutout stars read: “I am a part of our American Flag. I have flown over a home in the USA. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds have caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that YOU are not forgotten”

Diane believes in teaching the younger generation a little more respect for the military while gaining a little more knowledge.

One of the most important days of the year for the Legionnaires and their Auxiliary is Memorial Day. In the hearts and minds of veterans, active military, their families, and for those who have lost loved ones in war, this marks a time for reflection and acknowledgement. For every single American it signifies respect and gratitude for the freedoms we have because of those who fought and gave their lives.

The Auxiliary facilitates “In Memory Of” observances during the Memorial Day ceremony at Heisler Park, including floral arrangements, and recognition of the 40-plus non-profit organizations that will bestow plants, wreaths, and flowers to honor the fallen. Diane helped about 15 individuals this year who wished to honor their loved ones personally as well. 

“They’ll call and say, ‘My father died ten years ago, and I’d like to honor him.’ We find out what branch of service, then that person comes and presents the flowers.”

Next up, Diane is really excited about the “Christmas Stockings Project”. It’s one of the outreach programs the Auxiliary does to support those in active duty service. She and her Auxiliary quilting partner, Beth Jensen, have taken on the project to sew and line by hand beautiful patchwork stockings, then fill with goodies to send to the troops overseas. A hundred of them!

For her determined achievement as historian at the Auxiliary, Diane has been awarded the district First Place. Her record keeping and reporting will be honored with a plaque, and she’ll find out at the national convention if she’s achieved national honors as well.

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Diane Connell has been awarded certificates of achievement from the City and State Government for her work with the American Legion Auxiliary  

Not Just a Pretty Face

When Diane Connell was growing up in Lake Tahoe, her dad had a well-known Mexican restaurant called El Zorro. She was the pretty young thing waiting on tables. One day the local newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, came to her and offered to sponsor her for the Miss Lake Tahoe beauty pageant. She was a shy 16 year-old, but she thought,  “what-the-heck”. The tough part was not prancing around in a bathing suit, but when they asked her what her “talent” was. Hmm, she thought, “I can make a taco!”

She came in third place in the beauty pageant, and sang a song instead of making the taco. But, really, they should have paid attention to that taco part. This gal can cook.

To date, Diane has two published cookbooks. I can attest to how fantastic they are because she let me have a copy, and I’m a big fan of Mexican food. These are cookbooks that were ahead of their time, yet just as pertinent today.

 Diane Soliz-Martese Cookbooks

Published by a Chinese family renowned in the Asian culinary world, Diane’s recipes were to be the first bilingual cookbook for Asians explaining, along with step-by-step photos, how to prepare authentic Mexican dishes. The first one, published in 1992, is called Mexican Cooking Made Easy. The second book is One Dish Meals, and includes chefs of Italian, Thai, and Japanese cuisine along with Diane’s one-dish Mexican specialties.

How Diane learned to cook is a whole other story.

Cooking it up

Diane Soliz-Matese’s ancestry began when grandpa immigrated to Los Angeles with his son, from Italy. The idea was to find work, and then bring his wife and two daughters over.

“It was the time of bootlegging”, said Diane simply. “And he was gunned down.”

That left Diane’s father, then only 12 years old, alone with no family and no friends. He moved into the YMCA, and found work where he could. One day while delivering newspapers, a couple happened to notice him, and asked him, “Why aren’t you in school?” He told them the story of his family, and they changed his life with four words, “come live with us.” And their 12 other sons.

The big family that took him in were Mexican: the Soliz family. Diane’s father grew up just like one of their own, and learned a lot about Mexican family cooking along the way. He added Mexican to the Italian cooking he already knew, and after stints with the tortilleria El Taco, the TV repair place, the Western Auto shop, and even briefly enjoying a silent film career (phew!), one day he had the brilliant good fortune to open a restaurant in Lake Tahoe: El Zorro. It sat 70 people and had a counter fountain.

“My father would never let me see his recipes!” Diane remembers. “I graduated to ‘help cook’, but he would not share recipes. I watched my dad from the kitchen counter as I did homework. I held up the textbook and would sneak writing down the amounts.”

When Diane met the Chinese culinary publishers, they were enamored of her backstory. They were the ones who prompted her to recreate those family recipes and get them cookbook-ready. With the time-tested recipes in her taste memory, and with help from her sister to recreate them, Diane perfected the recipes her dad never shared.

So, Now…

So nowadays, Diane Soliz-Martese Connell still loves to cook. She enjoys sharing that, and her love of crafts with her grandkids, as well as sewing for the troops overseas. Both the American Legion Auxiliary and the Friends of the Library occasionally get to taste some of her dishes. 

Everyone wins when Diane is on board.


Albie Beeler: Bringing his enthusiasm to the pool

Written by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

If you want to find Albie Beeler, Laguna Beach Water Polo Club (LBWPC) coach and Laguna Beach High School swim team assistant coach, the best place to look is at the Laguna Beach High School/Community pool since he’s there about 13 hours a day.  Surprisingly, one gets the feeling after talking to Coach Beeler that he’d stay longer if it meant he could help kids — and adults — learn to love swimming or water polo even a little bit more.

Growing Laguna Beach Water Polo Club

Albie Beeler came to coach at LBWPC in 2008.  His older brother, Chad Beeler, has run LBWPC since 2000. Back then the program consisted of only 14 eighth grade boys who were trying to get ready for the high school team.  The club has since grown to more than 80 players, boys and girls, from 10 and under (10U) co-ed teams to a 14U girls team, and every division in between.  Part of that growth is due to Albie Beeler.  

As the coach of the 10U’s, Beeler is the one responsible for introducing this extremely demanding sport to most of the kids that come through LBWPC.  If they don’t have a good experience, they probably won’t be back.  Judging from the growth of the club, he is doing his part.

Laguna Beach Water Polo Club Coach, Albie Beeler

Coaching comes full circle

A typical day has Albie at the pool at 6 a.m. to help out the LBHS cross country team with cross training in the pool.  Then he teaches swim lessons throughout the day with a break in the middle to teach a masters swim class.  The energy (and noise) level pick up considerably when the LBHS swimmers hit the pool deck at 3. 

“I only did it [coached the LBHS team] because I thought it was going to be a cold winter and I didn’t want to be giving swim lessons in my backyard pool,” says Beeler. “But it has been so cool to come back and coach this group of kids.  They have a lot of respect for me and I have a lot of respect for them. It has really been the coolest thing ever.  It is very exciting to watch them.  They haven’t changed a bit since the first time I coached them.  They really haven’t!” says Beeler with a laugh.  Beeler coached some of this year’s LBHS senior boys on his first LBWPC team.  Coaching at the high school meant his coaching came full circle.

But it’s not nostalgia that makes Beeler so enthusiastic about coaching the high school team. He tells me that a group of girls on the varsity team asked him for extra help to get faster. He did extra work with them and when, at League Finals, they achieved their goal of swimming the 100-yard freestyle in under 60 seconds, no one — and I mean no one — was more excited than Beeler.  (I can attest to this personally, as I was sitting in the stands when it happened).

He brings that same zeal to his job when the younger kids show up at 5:45 p.m.  And while the LBHS swimmers bring a lot of energy to the pool deck, it pales in comparison to that of thirty-plus 10U kids.  When you walk in it is loud, the pool is full and Beeler is right in the middle of it, on his belly, laying on the wet pool deck so he can be face level with the kids in the water while he gives instructions.

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10U players Brenden Bellavia and Ryley McDennon at LBWPC practice

Coming back after a break

“I grew up in team sports my whole life.  That’s where I’m the happiest.  It’s not really work for me,” he says regarding his enthusiasm for coaching.  

A high school swimmer and water polo player at Canyon High School in Anaheim, as well as a Laguna Beach lifeguard from the ages of 16-25, Beeler played two years of water polo at Fullerton College before heading north to Humboldt where he had a sandblasting business.  “I got burnt out.  I needed a break from the water.  I was done being cold for awhile,” he says of his 10-year hiatus.   

Upon his return from Humboldt, Beeler says his brother “gave me a chance” when he hired him as a water polo coach.  “He is my coaching mentor,” Beeler says of Chad. “He taught me how to talk to kids, the basic drills, things like our counter-attack drill.  I’m still learning from him.” 

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Nate Evans (l), Lauren Short and Rebecca Storke run through drills at practice

 

The importance of team sports

Beeler may still be looking to his older brother for new drills, but he doesn’t need help articulating the role team sports play — or ought to play — in a kid’s life. “I think team sports should be about working hard, being accountable to others and doing something you love.  These days a lot of it is about achieving goals, like a scholarship.  I don’t like that.  I think it should be about playing and learning a sport that you love.” 

Specifically, regarding the youngsters under his tutelage, “My goal is that as long as we get better and better, as long as we learn from our mistakes, that’s enough.  If I can get a kid to shoot who’s not shooting then that’s a win,” says Beeler.

“Water polo is blowing up!”

So I had to ask, when he was growing up, which did he prefer: swimming or water polo?  “I enjoyed being fast and I enjoyed being strong.  I can’t say which I liked more.  I really liked it back when we had seasons (and you could do both),” he says laughing.  As far as where the growth is, it seems to be in water polo.  

“It’s crazy.  I get emails from people moving into the area. They don’t know anything about it, but they tell me, ‘Hey, we’re moving to Laguna and we don’t know anything about water polo but we hear it’s the thing to do.’”  He shakes his head in disbelief. “Water polo is blowing up!  Not just here in Laguna, but everywhere.  When I was in high school we had trouble fielding one team.  Now I have three 10U teams!”

Success creates an interest

Beeler gives a lot of credit for the recent growth of polo in Laguna to parent/coaches Erich Fischer and Scott Baldridge.  Fischer and Baldridge coached the girls teams at LBWPC when their girls, now at LBHS, were in age group water polo.  The LBHS girls team, coached by Ethan Damato, has won 50 consecutive games and back to back CIF Division 1 Championships.  And most of the girls on that team got their start at LBWPC. Judging by the number of 10U girls currently in the pool, their legacy continues. Not insignificantly, both the boys water polo team and swim team also won CIF this year.  Success helps pique interest. 

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10U player Lauren Short and her teammates wait for the next drill

A lifelong ambassador for the water

“We have a good system,” says Beeler. “I’m a little surprised that I’m still doing this, but, really, I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life.  When the high school girls asked me to help them, that’s what it’s all about. And the ten year olds?  They just make me smile every time I’m on the pool deck.”  If Beeler had his way, everyone would be at the pool, at least giving swimming or polo a try.  

“My job is to share these great sports with everybody.”  And if “sharing” means spending more time on the pool deck than off and exuberantly coaching anyone who will listen, then Coach Albie Beeler is doing his job – and then some.


Nadia Babayi is planning for our “older and wiser”

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Nadia Babayi had a moment of epiphany that lingered in her mind. Maybe she could turn the joy she found in volunteer work into a full-time career. Maybe there really was a way to work with passion. Since she’s the kind of person who accomplishes her goals, she went for it – packing up 23 years worth of her professional life as an engineer, and returning to school to start anew. 

At UCI Nadia pursued a certification program to begin the next chapter in her life’s story, specializing in non-profit management. 

“I always loved fundraising and working with people,” she says. “And here at the Susi Q we run a non-profit and a center too. It’s like a double reward for me!”

Laguna Beach Seniors, at the Susi Q, is where Nadia has found not only her profession but also her heart and soul.

Nadia Babayi

“I fell in love with the center the first time I came here,” she said. “It’s so gorgeous and welcoming. And I love talking to wise and knowledgible seniors.”

The term, “seniors” covers a huge number of people with different interests. The Laguna Beach Seniors Susi Q members range in age from 55 to quite a few in their 90’s. Nadia’s challenge and great reward as its Executive Director is finding opportunities to engage every age group. She has seen their membership grow to more than 400, and she’s helped to create 13 clubs both for fun and learning. 

“I’d like to have more!” she says enthusiastically. 

Starting Out

The last time she was with her family in Iran, Nadia remembers being at the airport as the Ayatollah was sending jets out against the Kurdish population. It was 1979, Khomeni had just taken over, and the future was not looking good for a bright, young, modern woman. Her mother said to her, “Don’t come back.” 

 “I had a five hour delay for my flight out,” she said. “I was lucky to be on the last plane taking off.”

She studied in the US to become an engineer. Once she had her career mapped out, and her legal citizenship in hand, Nadia was able to bring her mother to live here. Her sister, Nahid, lives nearby as well. Husband, Frank, and their son Kian round out Nadia’s family network. 

It was Nadia’s mom who introduced to her the world of a senior center. Mom didn’t live in Irvine, but she would regularly go to the Lakeview Senior Center there, because she loved their Persian club. She got Nadia to go, and Nadia was impressed with everything about it. 

“I could see the senior center making a big difference in people’s lives,” she said. She started volunteering there and, ultimately, became involved with the Persian Cultural Council, which she helped to turn into its own non-profit organization.

A Center for the Ages

Here are some of Nadia’s favorite numbers: 

40 – That’s how long Laguna Beach Seniors has been going strong, and serving the community. 

72 – That’s the average age at the Susi Q. 

75 – That’s the percentage that program attendance has increased by, in just the last two years. 

2014 – That’s when Laguna Beach Seniors at the Susi Q received the Spirit of Laguna’s Non-Profit of the Year Award.

The Spirit of Laguna’s Non-Profit of the Year Award

It’s life affirming and heart warming just to know that the senior center is there for you, as every single one of us marches down the road gaining a few wrinkles here and there, and perhaps thinking about what will happen next. The idea is to have a home away from home, where there are helpful resources and activities for the aging years.

“There’s a really big growth in our senior population,” Nadia says. “People are taking care of themselves, and living longer.” In fact, 37% of Laguna Beach’s population is more than 55 years old, and there are more than 3,000 households in Laguna Beach with residents aged 65-plus.

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Laguna Beach Community and Susi Q Senior Center 

A very important feature of the Susi Q is one that sets them apart from every other senior center in Orange County; they provide free one-on-one professional counseling for depression.

Case in point is Norman Powell, who Nadia tells us responded to their program called “Are You Feeling the Blues?” … “Well, yes I am,” he said. 

Norman is at a certain age when most of his friends have passed away. Then his wife died, and he was terribly lonely. He read about the program at the Susi Q and gave them a call. Able to avail himself of the counseling and activities at the center, he started developing a new social life. He now feels like it’s his second home, and has even included the Susi Q in his will.

“He enjoys his social life,” said Nadia. “The outcomes of this program are very measurable.”

Inclusive, Diverse, Creative and Fun!

The stated values at the senior center read like the oath for a kindness club:

We help one another meet the challenges of time. We define ourselves and defy stereotypes. We embrace our diversity. We are collaborative and respectful. We give back to our community. We advocate for a hometown where can live for the rest of our lives.” Part of the success of the senior programs is because they echo the spirit that is inherent in Laguna. “We will make the Susi Q an essential resource for ‘boomers and beyond’ and Laguna Beach the best possible place to age gracefully, meet the challenges of time, and live it up for the rest of our lives.”

And they are living it up in the club meeting rooms every day. There’s the super popular ukulele class, which has created quite a few ukulele fanatics. Did you see them march in the Patriot’s Day Parade, with Uncle Sam leading the way? And there’s a big, competitive group at the ping pong tables, beefing up for their tournament in August. But the biggest club is the LGBT.

“I wanted to bring them together, and thank them for all they do in this community,” said Nadia. “They have so much fun, they bring in food, and movies… The Christmas party had about sixty people.”

The Susi Q art gallery, known as Gallery Q, puts on five exhibits a year, and Nadia assures us that their receptions are the best. “We give good food,” she laughs. “And good wine!”

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Nadia Babayi, Christine Brewer, and Andrea Heavican of Laguna Beach Seniors, proud of 40 years successfully serving the community

Forever and ever

When Nadia Babayi is not at her home-away-from-home Susi Q, she might be seen hiking the trails around El Morro, or sailing in Newport bay, or playing volleyball, or camping. She’s always on the go! But her mind is mostly on the goings on with Laguna Beach Seniors. 

She has just completed a three-year strategic plan which includes care resources management and life counseling services, more clubs and classes, and something they’ve called “Lifelong Laguna”; like a Susi Q without walls, so that they can reach out to help seniors in their homes, with whatever resources they need.

“With Lifelong Laguna, we are joining a global ‘aging in place’ movement,” she says. “And we are deepening our commitment to those who have made Laguna Beach the town we love and never want to leave.”

The goal is to be able to live at home, not in a “facility”, and be an active part of the social community.

Nadia Babayi is helping Laguna be the hometown we always wanted – forever.


Marshall Ininns: Creating homes in Laguna

Written by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Marshall Ininns has been an architect in Laguna Beach for 23 years.  He is also President of the Friendship Shelter Board of Directors.  In a way, this makes perfect sense.  Who knows better the importance people place on homes than a person responsible for designing them?  However, when asked why he is so passionate about ending homelessness in Laguna, Ininns’ answer is much simpler than that: “…but for the grace of God, go I, you know?  Looking back there were times in my life when I could have been there.”  

So, now, Ininns works two sides of a very different coin: helping people create their dream homes while working to make sure those with no home can find shelter.  

Building consensus is key

According to Ininns, being an architect is “…one third architect, one third lawyer and one third family counselor.”   He went to school for the first one.  The other two skills have certainly been honed through years of experience.  It’s not hard to imagine that getting a couple to agree on a particular design element could, at times, require a very high level of skill in consensus building.   This ability to wear different hats and listen to different perspectives is undoubtedly helpful in his role as President of the Friendship Shelter.  

“It has been an education,” he says of his tenure as president. “I have a tendency to want to just push things through, but in my role at the Friendship Shelter I try to let everyone speak and build consensus.  It seems to work better that way.”  

Marshall Ininns, owner of Marshall Ininns Design Group and President of the Board of Directors of Friendship Shelter

If you have a home then you’re not homeless

Ininns, though extremely personable when we met, was reluctant to do so.   “I don’t really like to talk about what I do, I just like to do it,” he explains.  And what his role for the Friendship Shelter requires him to do is, according to Ininns: “…to have the Friendship Shelter agenda promote discussion for the board members to come to a consensus as to the best way to make the Friendship Shelter successful.”  

A big part of the organization’s self-defined version of success is getting a permanent housing facility built for Laguna’s local homeless population.  “If we build it then 40 people wouldn’t be homeless anymore,” he says matter-of-factly.  And the building of that permanent facility is still a big “if” since agreement has not been reached among stakeholders on the proposed Laguna Canyon location. “There are a lot of things going on,” says Ininns about the permanent facility.  “It has been interesting.”   

Success in San Clemente

So while the permanent location has been in the works for four and a half years, the Friendship Shelter received $3.4 million to do a permanent housing facility in San Clemente.  The Friendship Shelter remodeled two 4-plex apartment buildings.  It will house disabled people in their late teens. Ininns also says the Friendship Shelter houses 18 people throughout different sites in the county.  

“After a year we have only had one person evicted,” he says with satisfaction.  

The cost of personal convictions

Ininns’ commitment to the Friendship Shelter has not been without professional cost.  People feel strongly about what to do with the homeless population, in general, and the canyon facility, in particular.  “I believe if you’re doing something that’s right you should do it.  If a client says, ‘I don’t want to work with you because you work with the homeless,’ then maybe I don’t want to work with them,” says Ininns.  

One gets the feeling this conversation is not simply rhetorical. On the flip side, however, other clients have been extremely supportive.  “Ivan Spiers (owner of Mozambique), Sam Goldstein, (owner of the Heisler Building), and Chris Keller (owner of The Marine Room, Ky’a, etc.) have all been big supporters of the Friendship Shelter,” says Ininns.

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Friendship Shelter, on S. Coast Highway in Laguna Beach

A family of architects

Whether clients (or potential clients) are supportive of the Friendship Shelter or not, Ininns’ commitment is unwavering.  Another area that has his unwavering commitment is Ininns’ family.  His two sons are following in their father’s footsteps as architects.  It is quite clear that despite Ininns’ understated manner, he is very proud of them.  One is working in Sweden as an architect.  “He applied for a visa, went to Sweden with no job, no house.  He found a job and a great house and is loving it!’ says Ininns.  His younger son is soon to graduate from college with a degree in architecture.  “I get a pay raise when my kid graduates from college,” says Ininns with a smile.

His sons, though in the same profession, have learned their trade much differently than Ininns did. “The computer changed everything.  I haven’t used my drafting table in years,” he says.  But Ininns adapted to the times.  “The computer has made communicating with clients a lot easier.  Revisions are easier.  But the art of doing it by hand has been lost.  I still have a box of 200 markers and 1000 pens,” he says without lament. 

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Marshall Ininns, architect, in his office in downtown Laguna Beach

Dinners Across Laguna

Ininns is also not lamenting the time the Friendship Shelter has worked on developing the permanent shelter in the Canyon.  It’s not his nature.  As with his profession, he simply adapts and keeps working.  

“The Friendship Shelter, as far as value, is excellent. The money isn’t going to administration or marketing.  It’s going to services,” he says.  One of the ways the Friendship Shelter raises money and builds awareness is through their “Dinners Across Laguna”.  Supporters of Friendship Shelter invite their friends to dinner for a fee that is then donated.  “This is how I was introduced to the Friendship Shelter,” explains Ininns.

If interested in hosting a dinner, people can contact the Friendship Shelter at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Laguna will do what’s right

When asked for his “vision of the future” Ininns did not hesitate: “We’d build a building that would house 40 once homeless people in a permanent home and have an alternate sleeping location that would house 30 people.  I feel optimistic because I believe the people of Laguna will do what’s right and take care of the weakest among us.  My long term goal is that we will not have homelessness in the backyard of Laguna.” 

Ininns’ term as president ends in January 2016.  Whether his vision will be realized by then remains to be seen, but it won’t be from lack of trying.


Artist Fitz Maurice is “out there”, heart and soul 

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“It frees my soul to be out in nature. In order to do it right, you’ve got to head out,” says Fitz Maurice.  “Why wait for the mountain to come to you? Go to the mountain!”

I talked with the artist in her Laguna Canyon gallery, surrounded by impressions of forests, mountains, lakes and streams. Maurice’s art is a creation comprised of one part soul, one part passion, her God given talents along with classical training, and a whole lott’a inspiration from nature. 

“Don’t Fence Me In” ought to be her theme song.

Fitz Maurice

The works hanging on the studio walls these days represent the beginnings of her most recent and heartfelt endeavor: to paint live at all of America’s National Parks. 

“My soul as an artist gravitates toward pure nature.” 

This artist’s technique involves layering “veils” of color-saturated pigment on linen canvas, all painted in a natural setting. Her paintings require weeks and often months to complete. All the materials are archival – meant to last the ages just as the Great Master’s paintings that Maurice is fond of studying. Her images depict scenes from the years she’s spent in Europe, and the hills and valleys all over the US. 

Among the many awards and accomplishments, her “Tree Series” of paintings earned her the Jackson Pollock-Lee Krasner Award. She was also recently selected by Acadia National Park to be artist-in-residence alternate for the year 2016. 

Many of her works are currently exhibited at the Roberto Pellechia studio in the Laguna Design Center. “These are large and major paintings – almost a retrospective,” she says. “It really shows a good spectrum.” 

Maurice has created more than 1,000 paintings, and devotes five days a week to it. She happily admits to going strong, “A thousand so far, and I’m alive and kickin’!” The other two days she takes a break for fun and relaxation. “I play outside!” Of course.

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Maurice’s canyon art gallery

The ambitious mission to paint all the national parks, live, promises to be a long and adventurous journey. There are 59 national parks, and almost 400 under the park service jurisdiction when you include the national memorials and monuments. 

“I’m just really excited because I know how much truth and beauty I’ll encounter,” Maurice says. “These are the things that soothe your soul.”

The checklist in preparation for Fitz’s grand adventure reads like a gypsy tale. First, take your home with you. Check. She’s got the mobile trailer, and a truck to haul it. Next, reduce and simplify your “stuff”, so that you own just what you need. Check. Then go where the road leads you. Check.

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Truck. Check. Ready to get to the national parks!

Well, she will make some priorities on her calendar according to the best the parks have to give, like flower blossom time in Death Valley, or autumn foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She’s gotten as far as selecting the first two she’ll visit: Bryce Canyon National Park, in Utah, followed by Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado.

“Then I’ll see what happens,” the gypsy says. “When you climb a mountain, it’s better not to focus on the top!”

Born an artist

Raised in Westchester County, NY, Fitz felt her calling early on. “I’ve known all my life,” she says. “I’m not a painter, I’m an artist. I have an artist’s soul.” 

Knowing who she was and what she wanted has certainly contributed to her success as an artist. Fitz Maurice pursued art in her education, from her BFA through training at major museums and art schools, and on to follow the Old Master’s footsteps in Europe, training at the International School of Art in Umbria, Italy. She paid her way all along as an artist, moved to Laguna Beach, and raised a child here, all with the income of an artist. No small accomplishment.

The inspiration she takes from nature was also bred in her bones. Her family introduced her to the national parks and the joys of camping out, from as long ago as she can remember. She passed that passion on to her son, Dylan, and even to her nieces, nephews and friends. 

“It doesn’t cost a lot… you have treasured memories, and it’s a blast!” she says. Her challenge to American families now is to get out and enjoy the national parks. “It’s every American’s birthright. Get your hands dirty! Get outside!”

She hopes to turn the next generation on to the wonders of our national parks, and to preserving the environment. 

“When you’re immersed in nature you lose interest in ‘things’. I no longer care about materialism. It’s freedom when you have passion, and put on your play clothes. You turn into a kid again.”  

The Spirit

Maurice found her way to a more spiritual life about ten years ago, by living alone in the middle of nowhere. 

“I lived in the Zuni Mountains for years,” she said. “All alone for four seasons – no cell phone, no TV, no computer… I learned to listen to God. The greatest gift he’s given us is nature. I listened to the birds, learned about the migrations of the seasons, the phases of the moon… I was painting, painting, painting, reading and studying the ebb and flow of nature. 

“It’s a spiritual journey to set your mind free and let your spirit have peace.”

The future is weighing more heavily on Fitz Maurice’s mind, as she considers the preservation of open spaces, particularly lakes and rivers. 

“Water – that’s what the next world war is going to be about,” she says. “Water is a priceless, irreplaceable necessity. People have got to take it personally.”

She has seen lakebeds reduced by half and giant trees left above the former water line simply fall down. 

“The planet running out of water starts in your family… it starts with you. Don’t let the shower run. Get in!”

These are the kinds of issues that Maurice will blog about during her national parks painting adventure. She’ll be sending Stu News updates about her experiences along the road too. She’s very excited to have gotten the website: nationalparkpaintings.com

What she hopes to accomplish with her national parks series is a growing concern for their conservation, and a growing appreciation for their beauty. Plus it’s fun.

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“I want to show the essence and wonders that are unique to each park,” she says. 

And she wants others to follow along. “I want every family to get out there! Learn how to use a compass… learn how to find water. These are the things that are important. It’s about building a generation that’s going to appreciate this heritage we have.”

“As far as I know, I’m the only one who has set out to paint all the parks,” she continued. “But when Fitz says she’s going to do something, she does it! No doubt about it!”


Diane Armitage: Sharing all the Best of Laguna

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“When you have vision and commitment, a path unfolds.” So says Diane Armitage, author of “The Best of Laguna Beach: The best places to dine, drink and play”. Upon meeting Armitage it becomes apparent very quickly that she has an abundance of both.

Her “path” looks more like a bustling highway of projects, but these day she’s motoring full steam towards her book launch, a complete update on her 2013 Laguna Beach’s Best

Expanded from 170 to 380 pages, Armitage lists her favorites of just about everything Laguna has to offer: Best margaritas? Check. Best breakfast burritos? Check. Best of what to do, when? Check. But her favorite of favorites is highlighting “the culinary mecca”, as she calls it, of Laguna Beach.  

To say Armitage is passionate about the artistry and commitment of some of our local chefs is an understatement. “It’s an insane job. It’s a marriage to their craft. They never stop!” Armitage is talking about the chefs she has gotten to know and admire, but she could just as easily be describing herself and her commitment to finding the best of Laguna.

Photo by Mike Altishin

Diane Armitage and her “Best of Laguna” culinary greats: 

Many chefs and GMs of Laguna Beach join Armitage (center) 

for a “best of” celebration 

(First row from left, Lindsay Smith-Rosales of Nirvana Grille, Michael and Christine Avila of Avila›s El Ranchito, Jim Tolbert and Kurt Bjorkman of The Ranch, David Fune of Splashes and Surf & Sand Resort, Neil Skewes of Starfish Asian Cuisine, Camron Woods of The Ranch, George Poulos of Mozambique Steakhouse, Josh Severson of Selanne Steak Tavern, Debra Sims of Maro Wood Grill, Thomas Crijns of Brussels Bistro. Top row from left, John Nye of Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck, Chis Keller and Amy Amaradio of Juice & Shakes, K›ya, Rooftop and Marine Room, Demetri Catsouras of The White House, Armando Ortega of Lumberyard, Jonathan Pflueger of Sourced Cuisine, Cary Redfearn of Lumberyard, John Bodrero of Orange Inn, Maro Molteni of Maro Wood Grill, Rainer Schwarz of Driftwood Kitchen & The Deck) 

Making it happen

In 2000 Armitage took a job in Carlsbad, despite having her own successful marketing agency, Armitage, Inc., in Colorado. “I was early in the whole Internet marketing thing. They signed me to a three-year contract. It was a very corporate structure. After eight months, I said, ‘It’s fixed, new marketing strategy in place, it’s selling and I gotta get back to running my own company.’ So I called Bob Proctor (a client, mentor and friend) and said, ‘I’m done.’ He said, ‘Where do you want to be?’  I said, ‘Italy!’ He recommended I go some place where I knew they had Internet service,” she says laughing. “So I said, ‘I loveLaguna Beach, but it’s too expensive.’ And you just don’t say that kind of stuff to Bob. He told me ‘Drive up there right now and get a PO box. Make it happen.’ So I did. A week and a half later I got a random email about a rental. I moved in three weeks later.” 

And she has enthusiastically called Laguna Beach “home” ever since.

Submitted photo

“The Best of Laguna Beach: The best places to dine, drink and play

Stepping boldly forward

Securing a P.O. Box without first securing a place to live is not the way most people do things. However, for Armitage, her philosophy of “boldly stepping forward” is a textbook case for creating one’s opportunities. Another “bold step” was when Armitage decided to purchase paint, rugs and patio furniture for an apartment that wasn’t going to be available for two years. 

“I told the manager that I wanted to be the first name on the waiting list when that apartment became available. She told me the couple who lived there had just moved in, signed a two-year lease and were extremely happy. I said, ‘That’s great. Put my name on the list.’” 

Armitage went about selecting items for the apartment and putting them in a storage unit. Five months later, the couple moved out, deciding to buy a house in Dana Point. “I just went to my storage unit and unloaded all my stuff I’d bought and moved in. It was hysterical.” Armitage lived there for seven years.

Creating a “spotlight” on Laguna Beach

As Armitage’s marketing agency continued to grow, her niche expanded to include high-end restaurants and resorts. In 2008, she had an epiphany. “I realized as I was running my team all over the world to these amazing resorts, that I lived in an amazing resort. And there was no spotlight on the culinary world in Laguna Beach. That’s when I started my blog, “Laguna Beach’s Best.”  

With Armitage, Inc. clients that include Michelin-star restaurants in Las Vegas, Armitage had developed a true appreciation for the passion and dedication of great chefs. Getting to know the ones closer to home motivated her to create “a spotlight” on them. “Laguna has this crazy personality. Everyone who is here has chosen to be here.  Restaurateurs choose to be here. This is a magical place where they want to create their magic,” she says.  

It all starts with Mom

The blog had one very dedicated reader when it was in its infancy. 

“My only reader was my mother. Just like that book, Julie and Julia,” Armitage says, laughing. “But I kept going at a good pace. I know what to do to get blogs visible, so I kept working at it and the audience grew. Then I got busy and stepped away from it for a few months. When I checked back in someone had posted, ‘This blog sucks! Everything is old!’ So that got me fired up, and I jumped back into it. Now that I think of it, the person who posted that was probably my mother,” says Armitage, with a knowing smile. “She knows how to get me going.”

Now with an audience of 20,000 subscribers, Armitage no longer needs her mother’s motivation. 

Submitted photo

 

Starfish co-owners Archie McConnell (left) and Gretchen Andrews (right) have been regular and generous contributors to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center since the restaurant’s opening party three years ago. They’re working with Diane Armitage now on a third-year anniversary party at Starfish in June.  

Widget-izing a labor of love

With her blog such a success, turning it into a book seemed a natural progression.  “I talked about it for three years,” says Armitage. “I work with businesses all the time on this kind of thing, but I haven’t necessarily applied what I know to myself. The thing I tell them is, ‘We’ve got to widgetize’. Meaning, they need to create a repeatable something.  Well, I needed to create my own widget! The book was it. It was a lot harder than I expected, partly because my best friend, Lisa, said it had to have color photos,” says Armitage with mock exasperation.  

With her first edition a hit, Armitage decided to produce an updated version. “So much has changed. I needed to update it.  Now, just about every entry is in the book,” she says with pride.  

And while she has written about every nook and cranny of Laguna Beach, it all comes back to her interest in the culinary scene. “The chefs I know are so passionate and so amazing,” she says. 

And that is why she works so hard to highlight their work.  Her blog and her book are true labors of love. No one pays her to promote them; if you’re in her book or blog it is because she is truly excited about what you’re doing. This honest enthusiasm has helped her to become a culinary resource. Where it will lead to next remains to be seen, but Armitage isn’t lacking for ideas or people willing to follow her lead. 

Bringing chefs together, literally and figuratively

The day before we met she had organized a photo shoot with 22 local chefs. “A lot of them didn’t know each other.  They don’t collaborate.  Not because they’re competitors – they aren’t. They’re just too busy,” explains Armitage. And if she has her way, they’ll be even busier. Food truck wars, progressive dinners, beer tastings, and, the thing that is near and dear to her heart, a big dinner benefitting the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC). “They don’t know about that one yet,” she says slyly. However, I’m sure she will be able to convince them to support her cause.

She overflows with gratitude when she talks about the PMMC event that local restaurants, The Deck, and Driftwood Kitchen, put on last year. As she recounted their generosity, she literally got tears in her eyes. “It was such an amazing event!  What they did and how they did it…it was fabulous. They inspired other chefs to get involved.”  

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Diane Armitage with Kirsten Sedlick, 

Pacific Marine Mammal Center’s Senior Animal Care Supervisor, and also a previously featured person in Stu News’ Laguna Life & People

Those sea lions eat a lot of fish

Armitage’s friend, Ruben Flores, got her involved in the PMMC. “I don’t even know how I got to be friends with him!” she says about Flores, laughing. “He is the most amazing person.” She began working on the PMMC events and helping them with their visibility. Now, she’s on the Board. 

“I’m drawn to people with passion and commitment,” she says when talking about the people she works with there. “The cost to run that place is insane!” That’s why a portion of the proceeds from her book, Laguna Beach’s Best will go to the PMMC. “The amount of fish that get eaten every day is extraordinary!” she says. “Argh…not more tears,” she says smiling. “I get emotional when I talk about that place.” 

A full plate of clients, books, blogs and, of course, StuNews

However, there is nothing – not even sick sea lions – that ignites Armitage’s passion like exploring her adopted home town, especially the food scene here. She has embraced Laguna as only one who took a risk to live here can. 

While running a 20-person strong marketing agency, writing a blog that requires a lot of research (hey, finding the best margarita might be fun, but it’s still research!), writing and compiling a 380 page book, volunteering for the PMMC, and writing the “Laguna Dining” column for StuNews, she still has enough energy to plan for and dream of “what’s next.” So it’s almost laughable when Armitage comments, “I guess I’m never not busy.” Uh…I guess not! 

 Book signing celebration at Laguna Beach Books

Next up is her book signing at Laguna Beach Books on Sunday, April 26 at 4 p.m.,  “I want to have a lot of people there! It’s a celebration of Laguna Beach.” 

Spend five minutes with Diane Armitage and you will see there is so much to celebrate. Whether you’re here for a weekend or you’ve lived here your whole life, Laguna Beach’s Best will undoubtedly inspire you to explore the best of what our town has to offer.  

Of course you can always check in to see what’s the latest on Diane’s plate at her website, www.LagunaBeachBest.com and in Stu News Laguna – for all her best.


The many facets of Molly Zurflueh

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

What a treat to meet Molly Zurflueh and her adorable one-month-old baby, Lana. Two beautiful people at once! While we talked, more than a few passers-by stopped to coo and shower the baby with attention. Who can resist? 

Certainly Molly can’t. For her whole life she wanted to be a mom. Happily, now Lana’s brother, Chase (“almost eight”), mom Molly and her fiancée, Greg Carpenter (“Oh, God, he’s just a wonderful farm boy from Indiana!”), are one big family and enjoying every moment. It is a conscious choice amidst a busy life for this lawyer, who is also El Morro’s Garden Club director, and the Girl’s Night Out event chair for the Boys & Girls Club. 

Somehow all these roles circle around the joy of children and community, and Molly Zurflueh (the eh is silent) accomplishes it all with grace and charm.

Molly Zurflueh

Whee!

Molly considers herself blessed to have arrived in Laguna. Her dad, a Swiss geophysicist, brought his family to California initially. He fell in love with the place, but, alas, his career took the family back east to reside in Washington DC for all of Molly’s growing up years. It was her grandma who immigrated to the US, and set out for the west coast. She convinced Molly to look into law schools in California. Molly, with her zest for life, had already gone part of the way westward, studying at the University of Texas for her undergrad degree. She moved onward to Whittier Law School.  

She loved it. “I was like, wow, why did we ever leave?” 

Life’s too short to spend it anywhere else but here. The rest of her family remains in the DC area, but Molly was cut of a different cloth in many respects. “I was the youngest of four, but the more adventurous,” as she explains it. “I was the one that was, ‘Whee!’”

Molly was able to spend time with her grandmother before she passed away. “I got two great years with her here,” she says fondly. And she brought to California a skill she had grown up with in DC, and sharpened in Texas: a keen interest in politics.

On the Campaign Trail

“That’s my thing,” she says. “I’m fascinated by the statistics, the political news. I like campaigns and strategy …I’d read all day if I could!”

As a college youngster, Molly Zurflueh jumped out of the gate in a fortuitous campaign for governor; she threw her cowboy hat in the ring for George W. Bush. 

“I campaigned for George Bush when he ran for governor. It was my start,” she said. “When I was in school in Texas I met him, and said, ‘I want to get on board’, and he gave me the [contact] card for his people.”

She campaigned for him for president too, and ultimately there was a place for Molly back in DC. 

She took a job with HUD advocating for elderly and disabled housing, and battling their discrimination. This was a rewarding experience, though she was none too thrilled to be back in DC. Things improved after a call from a colleague in the State Department. She was offered the chance to travel as the president’s press advance, where she would organize and plan strategic areas for the press corps. 

“I did G8 Summit work, then a summit in Mexico, and one in Ireland,” she said. She met the president of Japan and Tony Blair, and even got to ride on Air Force One. “They even give you a certificate for that!” 

She was impressed with how President Bush was with the press corps, she tells us. “He was all access. He knew them all by name, and he knew their families.”

But it was active and physical work, and one day Molly seriously twisted an ankle requiring surgery. If she did work in that arena again, she’d rather be on the policymaking end than on the physical running-around-with-the-press side of things.

Number one priority

After law school, Molly found her way to Laguna through a friend who worked for attorneys Tom Davis and Larry Nokes. She was overjoyed to join that office, and work of council. “I loved their personalities,” she says. “They’re real.” 

And there’s not much better than living and working in Laguna. “I thought, how much better could this be?” And then it was better. When she had a child, her priorities shifted.

It’s the quandary of the modern woman; how much can I take on, and what does “having it all” mean? There was a time when Molly thought she could do it all. But with her baby in the equation she found there was just not enough time to be a complete parent while at the office all day. It was a giant leap into the unknown, but every instinct inside her said, “you’ve got to try!” And so she left the law firm, and went home on her own terms.

“I just went home,” she said. “That’s the beauty of working for yourself.”

The at-home office

With a good sense of where her priorities were, she got to spend time with Chase, take him to his karate classes and to school events. 

“It’s almost selfish how much fun I have with him, we have a blast,” she says. “It’s a privilege and a blessing to raise your children.” 

Ultimately, most of Molly’s clients are friends, and they came knocking on her door. Now she has found the sweet spot between handling as much legal work as she can from home, while enjoying Chase, and now Lana.

Digging in the dirt

A big part of the joy in being a parent is becoming more childlike. When the parent sees the world through their child’s eyes, they can join with them in exploring the wonders of the world around them. For Molly, the happiest place to share that wonder is in the garden. 

She’s gone and gotten her hands dirty in the good earth by volunteering at El Morro’s popular garden club. It’s a two-way street of excitement about every little bud and vegetable they help create. “The kids are amazing! We have such a good time together, I really get more out of it than I give,” she says.

It was Molly’s grandma that introduced her to the joys of gardening when she was six years old. She laughs, “I used to pretend I had a gardening show!”

It’s tomato time

This year Molly took the reins as director of the El Morro Garden Club. Together they plant and harvest vegetables, grow a wildflower garden, and learn about butterflies. Next up she has big, exciting plans to start a worm box and that actually gets all the kids jumping for joy. “They’re so grateful,” she tells us. 

Just like they’re doing now at El Morro, Molly reminds us that now is the time to plant tomatoes. 

Girls Night Out

Even when she didn’t have free time, Molly made time to volunteer in the community. Her first stop of choice was at the Boys & Girls Club. 

Helping out at the club is great for the kids, and fun for Molly too. But to help the club into the future, she’s big into fundraising. There are a lot of expenses associated with the hundreds of children nurtured at the club every day, and the events committees are on top of that. 

“They don’t get discouraged about expenses,” Molly says. “They say, ‘it’s just another hurdle’.” Thankfully the club has a number of hurdlers.

There are two events that really boost the Boys & Girls Club coffers: the Gala, in the spring, and “Girls Night Out” in the fall. Molly is the “fun” part in “fundraising” with Girls Night Out, as this year she chaired the event.

“It’s all women, and everyone dresses to the nines for each other. It’s a night to have fun!” she says.

Behind the scenes, many hands make light(er) the work. There are volunteers out soliciting donations from businesses, others coordinating the food and drink, and more wrapping up baskets for the silent auction. The evening includes a DJ, Starfish catered food, cocktail bars, and a live auction. Oh, and jewelry.

It all begins with a walk down the red carpet into the home of Holly and David Wilson. Along the red carpet are models from the jewelry house of Lugano Diamonds, just dripping in gems. Guests are encouraged to drape the jewels on themselves, and drink fancy cocktails, and go deep in their purses for the success of the Boys & Girls Club. It’s for the kids!

“It’s really decadent fun,” Molly assures.

Keeping it real

Molly, Greg, and Lana

Let’s take a pause to admire the beautiful baby Lana. Ooh, I just can’t help but ooh and awww! 

There’s no one who feels more grateful than Molly. “I really wanted another child, and now I have my daughter,” she beams. The future goes from squiggly baby feet to taking giant steps, and life’s lessons along the way. “I want to teach my kids that we are privileged to be here, but that there are people in need,” she said. “You’re lucky – so get out there and help.”

As for Molly’s future, she’s a self-proclaimed “softie for kids and old people”, so it will involve work on their behalf. 

“I feel like I still haven’t done enough,” she said. “I need to make more time to give back more.”

Yes, invent that – more time!


Ben Simon:

Passion for architecture, design and Laguna

Written by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

When Ben Simon was 10 years old, he and his family rented a vacation house in Emerald Bay.  “I remember the house had a triple-decker bed; there was a tunnel to the beach…we went to the Sawdust Festival and The Cottage, and I thought ‘I’m going to live here one day.’”  

At the time, he and his family lived in Washington, DC so this personal mission was by no means a slam-dunk. Nevertheless, true to his 10-year old self, Simon eventually made his way to Laguna Beach where he has become an important voice in residential design.

Ben Simon, of Acme Architecture and Interior Design Group

A childhood interest becomes a career

As a child, Simon says he sketched “impossible” houses, many of them set on the cliffs of Laguna.  With a mother and grandmother who were artists and a father who was trained as an aerospace engineer, architecture was “the perfect blending of right brain and left brain,” explains Simon.  His childhood interest continued and Simon ultimately graduated from the University of Maryland with a BS in Architecture.  Post-graduation, he took a job in Los Angeles with Albert C. Martin and Associates, a large architectural firm that “designs structures like City Hall and the Bank of America building” in downtown Los Angeles. 

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Ben Simon at his home/office. Partner, Linda Morgenlander, lives right next door

Coming to Laguna Beach – for good

A few years of Los Angeles was enough for Simon, so he relocated to Albert C. Martin’s Irvine office. Finally, he was close enough to realize his childhood goal of living in Laguna Beach.  “I was only there (at Albert C. Martin) a couple of years before I went out on my own.  I always wanted to be my own boss…doesn’t everybody?” asks Simon. 

“This was in the ’80’s so I got my real estate license - everybody got their real estate license in the ’80’s.  I worked for Coldwell Banker, with the office on Crescent Bay Drive and met so many great people.  Then I started staging houses and it just grew and grew.”  There was one detour before Simon jumped back into design wholeheartedly — modeling. “Mostly cheesy romance novel covers,” he says with a laugh.  After a few years, Simon decided he needed a “grown up” job. “Modeling was great for the ego,” laughs Simon, but it was time to get back to his true passion: design. 

Design Review nets a partner

In 1998 Simon was elected to the sit on the Design Review Board.  “I loved it!  It felt very natural for me to participate. It wasn’t always easy, but I really enjoyed it,” says Simon about his time on the Board.  During his last year, in 2004, the architect, Linda Morgenlander, also joined the Board.  The two hit it off immediately.  ‘We were born three days apart.  We’re both from New York.  We’re both Jewish.  We just have a lot of fun together,” says Simon enthusiastically.  A few years after meeting, they became business partners and Acme Architecture and Interior Design was born.  

“It just evolved.  It was meant be. The first house we designed together was my parents’ house.”  Bought with the idea that it would be a second home, the house turned out so nicely, Simon’s parents relocated from Rancho Santa Fe to live in it permanently.  It was an auspicious beginning for the new firm.  It also meant Simon could now just “walk to their house for Thanksgiving” – no more navigating the 405 to Rancho Santa Fe!

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Personal mementos, artfully displayed at Ben Simon’s home

While his parents are close, Morgenlander is even closer.  She lives right next door.  “We talk constantly, Monday through Friday, from 9 to 5.  We do not talk at all on the weekends,” explains Simon with a laugh.  

His house, formerly lived in by Timothy Leary, serves as the main office for Acme.  Spread out around his desk are samples of tile and fabrics to show clients.  “We do the architecture; we do interiors.  We prefer to do both, but will do either, depending on the clients’ needs.  We get very involved with them.  It’s important that the house reflects who they are, and doesn’t just look like the back page of a Restoration Hardware catalog,” says Simon emphatically.

A personal vision

Simon’s home-office is definitely not a re-working of anyone else’s aesthetic vision, rather a very personal statement of meaningful things collected to make a home.  “Right now, I’m having a love-affair with my house,” Simon tells me.  After a brief tour, his affection for the house and its history is obvious. He kept some original bathroom tile, for example, even though it isn’t really to his taste because, “It had to stay.  It’s just part of the house.”

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The upper terrace of Ben Simon’s home is a great place to relax

Hopes for the Planning Commission and something “spectacular”

When asked, “What’s next?” Simon replied that he would like to secure a position on the Planning Commission.  “I’m passionate about Laguna. I understand a lot of different aspects: preservation, real estate, business interests, the tourist economy.  I think a lot of my professional and life experiences could be an awesome addition,” he says.  And his future plans don’t end there. “I know that because I am so lucky and have been given so many gifts it’s important that I show my appreciation by trying to do something important.”  

He smiles slyly when pressed for more details. “I fantasize about doing something spectacular.  Time will tell.”  Regardless of whether or not his mystery plans materialize, Acme Architecture and Interior Design will continue to deliver “classic, timeless and appropriate design.”  

ForSimon’s clients, “spectacular” may have already been achieved.  


Sid Fanarof: a local trendsetter on a global scale

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If it’s Saturday morning, you’ll likely find him treasure hunting around Laguna’s garage sales. The rest of the week, he’s more apt to be found checking in on his zpizzas. Meet Sid Fanarof, the guy ahead of the curve. The guy who can sense a trend on the horizon, catch it and run with it.

Sid Fanarof

I met with Fanarof between his trip to the annual pizza convention in Las Vegas and a fun trip with Laguna friends to a wedding in San Francisco. He travels a lot, yet is very grounded in life in Laguna with family and loved ones nearby. Every Tuesday he and his wife of 30 years, Claire, host family dinners for anywhere from 10 – 20 people. And, no, it’s not pizza; they both love to cook.

The Fanarof family includes each of their children (“We were ‘The Brady Bunch’,” says Claire), three of the four living in town, and now six grandchildren. Getting ready for Tuesday night’s dinner includes lots of helping hands. 

“My favorite is a taco buffet,” Sid says. “I do it with grass-fed beef on the grill, I roast potatoes, and make burnt salsa and guacamole.” Sounds good, and knowing Fanarof’s big success with zpizza with its relaxed-yet-gourmet concept, I know the big Tuesday dinners must be unique, organic, and delicious.

The Z Concept 

Fanarof started zpizza in Laguna, and now it’s grown to an international scale. There are zpizzas in 15 US States, Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai. It’s a concept restaurant that was ahead of its time when he founded it, with organic and gluten-free crust options, as well as carefully sourced and health-conscious ingredients. Sid tells us that the concept is catching on all over, even in places you wouldn’t think would be on the California wave of dietary trends. 

“In Korea they’re even more health conscious than we are,” he says.

Around the globe there’s a hankering for good pizza. Sid Fanarof has the last laugh, “I’m like the Colonel Sanders of pizza.” 

He’s been the man ahead of that trend for more than 30 years now, and he’s proud of the family that has been cultivated by this locally grown business. “I have wonderful employees who have worked for me for thirty years,” he said. “Now their children are working for me!”

Photo by Maggi

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One of the unique trends that Fanarof anticipated and rode with was the gluten-free diet. His own backstory is that he was gluten intolerant, and decided to make some of those options available at zpizza about six years ago. This year he noted at the pizza convention that about 20% of the exhibitors were promoting gluten-free products. 

zpizza is also a fun place. “We like doing build-your-own pizza events,” Fanarof tells us. “We’ll do team cooking, and make it a special place for birthday parties.” They’ve got a big, long red table (20 feet long) that’s the favorite party spot. Additionally, zpizza has been making Friendship Shelter residents happy for 10 years by providing pizza every first Sunday of the month.

The funny thing is, Sid Fanarof was never a fan of pizza. 

“I never loved pizza!” he says. “I really wanted to do Mexican food, and my partner wanted to do French.” But they found the right spot in South Laguna, and it was good to go for pizza. “It was already set up.” And the rest is history!

The path to the present

Fanarof came to the food business in a round about kind of way. He was a lifeguard. Maybe a hungry lifeguard. But after six years as a lifeguard, followed by a stint as a realtor, he bought the Spigot Liquor store. He converted it into a beach store with craft beers and wine. 

Sensing new trends as always, he introduced beach paddle racquets, which he had shipped in from Israel (thus the beginning of the paddle craze), and the very first Swatch watches (“We sold them like crazy in the liquor store”)… And then he had another brilliant idea – to bring in sandwiches. 

“I went to San Juan to meet a baker,” he said. “He sent me next door to a couple who would make sandwiches.” 

Fanarof worked with them, creating new taste sensations like ham and cream cheese, and turkey with cranberry sauce, to sell in the shop. Everybody loved those sandwiches that came in a brown bag. He declined the opportunity to partner with the couple as they expanded the business, but this was the beginning of the Brown Bag Sandwich Company. It’s now a successful giant of a company.

Being present

Perhaps the knack for seeking new trends in the marketplace is like a treasure hunt. Because treasure hunting is something Fanarof enjoys too, in the modern way: one garage sale at a time.

He happily showed me some of the favorite things he’s bought on Saturday mornings. Granted, garage sales in Laguna tend to be pretty high caliber stuff, but Fanarof has found some cool, trending pieces, like the Murano sculptural glass that he then had made into a chandelier. 

Garage sale treasure, turned into a beautiful chandelier

He told me of the time Claire said, “We could use a bench”, and he went on the hunt, finding a perfect bench that same day. “It’s fun,” he said. “I look for esthetics at garage sales.”

After a long day at garage sales, or shopping in the ethnic food markets he also loves, Fanarof has found a practice that relaxes him. “It’s like water shiatsu,” he explains of the gentle form of body therapy called Watsu. He swears by it for himself and is also a practitioner.

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Fanarof and his Watsu pool 

Sid Fanarof has travelled all over the world, but there’s nothing like returning home. It’s given him the perspective from a visitor’s point of view. 

“It’s always great to come home,” he says. He’ll walk the dog along Heisler Park, and just shout out ironically, “Wouldn’t it be great to live here?” 

Because of course, it is, and sometimes he just has to pinch himself.


Robin Fuld: Teaching the business of art at LCAD

BY: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

As Director of Career Services at the Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD), Robin Fuld is charged with “empowering our artists in the business of art,” as she describes it.  Her own career path, a brilliant example of resourcefulness, tenacity, serendipity and, above all else, a love of art, makes her ideally suited for the career she has now.

“I grew up on Cape Cod.  It’s an art town and we had an incredible art program in high school.  I didn’t have the passion or discipline to keep creating, but I developed a love of art,” Fuld explains.  However, she pursued a degree in education, not art, from the University of Massachusetts.  But before she could get too far away from her passion, fate stepped in.

Director of Career Service and Instructor of Professional Studies at LCAD

A lucky ticket launches a career

“My friends found out that Logan Airport was having a raffle.  If you bought a ticket (for $1.69) and won you had to get on a plane that day and go wherever you were going.  So we all went down there at 5 a.m.  My sister took me and bought a ticket to better my chances.  My sister won and gave me her ticket. It all happened so fast.  I went to Vail, CO because that’s the only place where I knew someone, and I wanted to go for the whole summer, not just a week somewhere,” explains Fuld.  

Not only did the $1.69 spent on that raffle ticket provide a change of scenery, it also launched her career, though she was unaware of that fact at the time.  “An art gallery had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window.  I never thought…but I got that job because of my love of art – and because I’m a people person,” she says.  After just a few minutes with Fuld both of these qualities are very apparent. 

From Cape Cod to Vail to Rodeo Drive to…

“After four years, one of the artists said I should check out LA.  So I went. I was on Rodeo Drive and went into a gallery there and they hired me on the spot.  The woman who hired me said I was ‘refreshing’, and that she’d protect me from the ‘vultures’ – which she did,” says Fuld with a laugh.  “I learned so much.  I sawso much. Unfortunately, after a year, the gallery closed due to ‘questionable activity’ – like fraud and money laundering. But that’s another story,” she says with enthusiasm. 

From LA, Fuld used her networking skills and worked in galleries in Palm Desert, Brea and Irvine.  Always, it seems, people she had worked with along the way wanted the chance to work with her again.  Finally, however, after the owners closed the Irvine gallery, despite the fact that it was doing well financially, Fuld decided to work for herself, starting her own art consulting business.  This was during the recession of the early ’90’s. 

“So many galleries had closed.  I approached one, Starry Sheets, in Irvine.  They specialized in California Regionalism – historic work.  I asked if they had space.  I told them I’d bring my clients and introduce them to the work in the gallery while representing other artists. They thought that was a great idea.  I stayed there for a couple of years until they downsized.  It was great.”

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Laguna Beach is “where you should be living.”

Finally, a collector/friend from the Rodeo gallery days “took me to Laguna Beach and said ‘this is where you should be living.’  It was she who introduced me to Laguna.”  After deciding that working from a home/office was not right for her, Fuld “started approaching galleries in Laguna and seeing if they needed help,” she explains.  She met an artist who had a temporary space in Irvine and eventually helped him open a gallery in Laguna while still retaining her own consulting business.  

“That’s what got me back in Laguna full time,” she says.  In 1995, Fuld was visiting a gallery to show them one of her artists.  They told her that a woman had just stopped in and mentioned she wanted to open a gallery in the space next door.  Fuld says they commanded her to, “‘Run after her!’ so I did.”

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Painting by a former LCAD student and Russian Impressionism from J. Kamin

Russian Impressionism comes to the west coast

Her pursuit turned into J. Kamin Fine Art.  “Jackie” (the ‘J’ in ‘J. Kamin’) discovered Russian Impressionism at the International Film Expo,” explains Fuld.  We brought it to the west coast.  It was awesome! It is important work, hidden from the world until that time,” explains Fuld who has two large pieces hanging on the walls of her office at LCAD.

A fortuitous teaching position at LCAD

During that time Fuld joined the Art Walk Board and that introduced her to a lot of non-profits in town. “I realized my artistic matchmaking skills,” she says laughing.  Then, as happens with Fuld, her past reached out to her.  

“The woman I worked for in Vail and again in Irvine was teaching a class at LCAD called ‘Professional Studies for the Fine Artist’.  She was pregnant and asked me if I’d take over teaching her class.  I said, ‘yes’.  Around the same time, my clients had asked me to be on the Collector’s Choice Committee for the school, which is their big fundraiser.  That got me more involved with the College. Then the rent doubled on the gallery space so Jackie and I decided it was time for a change.  

“She went into teaching and I applied to LCAD.  I had that network because I was already teaching there.  They asked if I could do what I did for all majors.  And that’s how I got here.”  Fuld has been the Director of Career Services at LCAD for the last eight years, and has taught her course for 12.

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LCAD students are in demand in all majors

In demand students create welcome challenges

“Treat your art career as the business that it is. Have a plan.”  

That is Fuld’s mandate for her students.  And it seems to be working.  LCAD’s employment statistics are above the national average, according to Fuld.  “I don’t believe in the myth of the starving artist,” she says slyly. “Our students are in demand.  That’s a wonderful challenge to have,” she says. 

From Cape Cod to Laguna Beach, Fuld’s understanding of “the business of art” – as well as her ability to bring people together – is exemplified by the longevity of her own career.  “My B.A. is in Education.  I was running away from it and now that’s all I do!” she says with her signature good humor.  

And that is something her students are undoubtedly grateful for.


Doug Miller: from the other side of the lens

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He has a mind for facts and figures, and a library of journals to back it up. Doug Miller has kept count of every photo he’s ever taken: who, when, and where. The number of individuals hover around 40,000. I shouldn’t say hover, because the man knows the figures – the exact figures. Just ask him. He also has taken some 350,000 spontaneous photos from the streets of Laguna Beach.

He tracks the names and dates, and piles the journals in his filled-to-the-brim compact studio, in his own particular style of order. 

“Over there are my albums,” he points out. “And that stack is ordered by date.” I look around the stool I’m seated on and mentally take note, lest I knock over the perfectly chronological journals, which may require several days worth of re-cataloguing.

He Found his Vice

I remember the first time Doug Miller captured my children with his camera. “Oh yeah,” he says. “I’ve done a lot at Top of the World.” And Boo Blast, and Sawdust, and the Patriots Day Parade… and along his daily walks from his artist’s studio on South Coast Hwy into the downtown area.

Doug Miller

He is a walker. “I never got my license,” he explains, even though he drove his VW bus until it died. Since then he has opted for foot travel, and that has put him direct line of sight with just about everyone in Laguna. Everything fascinates him with his lens.

“Everyone else has vices,” he says. “Mine is film: I’m addicted.”

As his portfolio of slides and stacks of journals grew, Miller has become an incidental archivist. At many points he has documented moments, people and places of historic significance, like the morning just before the devastating fire in 1993. 

“I was down on the boardwalk that morning. When it started, I was out in the canyon,” he recalls. “The next day, I walked from our house down the beach to downtown. I got right on through. I walked up Park Avenue to Skyline, taking pictures as I went.”

He’s scanning and posting from his photo albums on Facebook these days to the tune of some 1,800 albums. At 30 – 40 photos per album, well, do the math. Suffice to say, there are a lot of photos to look at on Facebook for many a rainy day. “I’ll post it, and it’s fine,” he says. “I don’t copyright my pictures.”

It may be hard to get potential patrons to cross the busy coastal highway, but Miller welcomes many strollers-by every day into his studio, nonetheless. You’ll find him amongst his stacks, working on a painting, or looking through the magnifying lens at sheets of slides, or cataloging his many photo albums, but he’ll shout out, “Hi! Come on in!”

So, take the opportunity. Pull up a step stool, and allow his stories to unfold – of all the years and all the visual references this one-man history book has documented in and around Laguna.

The Early Days

Miller was a lanky teenager in Long Beach when he upped for the Navy. He served as a radarman. The best part of that experience was being away on leave, aka “liberty”, when he could visit his Aunt and Grandma in Laguna Beach. “My grandma had a house on Flora Street,” he said. “It was great here, much more fun than Long Beach.” 

Meanwhile he got hooked on photography with a Minolta he bought in Hong Kong. He started out doing photography for the Navy, including the ship’s crews. “I took to it like a duck to water,” he recalls. “I spent all my money on film.” 

After the Navy, he moved into the home of his friend Barbara Stuart in Laguna. He lived there for eight years during which time he met the love of his life, Becky. They were married in 1979, and briefly moved to her hometown of Jackson Hole, where they lived in a teepee. When Barbara passed away in 1998, Doug and Becky were able to purchase from her children the family property where the studio and home still reside. 

The two buildings were from the early 1930’s, and the one that is now his studio was pretty rickety. It took lots of mechanical ratcheting with a bunch of friends to keep the place from falling apart. Go visit the studio today and you’ll see where the roof-beams were created and the little shack that stood beside a two-lane dirt road has morphed into an art studio along Coast Highway. 

The Miller’s charming and authentic cottage is just behind the studio, and it’s where they raised their two sons, Jesse and Josiah.

The Sawdust Calling

Something just resonated between Miller’s brain and the lens. He took that passion post-Navy, and entered into his first years at the Sawdust Festival.

His initial works were photographic, and then he branched into painting.

“I did photography at the Sawdust, but that didn’t sell much. I had some dreadful oil paintings in 1971, but I managed to sell a few,” he admits. Selling improved, as did his painting technique.

In his Sawdust booth, Miller always has a train set running. “I pick the spot so I can have my HO train there,” he said. “Now all the kids come to see the train. A kid at heart, he also gives out toys. “People bring me bags of toys, or I get them from the thrift store. If I find something neat I put it in the window at the studio.”

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The paintings he did then have progressed into today’s exhibits: Laguna and its environs. For the most part, they are miniature, colorful, floral aspects of nature and coastlines. Miller has managed to follow the advice of a mentor who told him to do a painting every day.  And all the paintings are photographed and catalogued, of course.

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“I can look something up,” he explains as he peruses a photo journal. “I go through my phases.” His phase now is focused on scenes of Three Arch Bay.

And then there are some paintings that combine the almost mathematical cataloging that colors Miller’s mind. Of these, he has a series of large works that are his “birthday series”. Every year at his booth, Miller invites people to tell him their birthdays. The names and birthdays are interlocked into one painting. Since the 1980’s he’s done 14 birthday paintings, which include some 20,000 people.

Then there’s the calculation for the exact spot to post the birthday information with ink into one of four quadrants on the canvas. It goes something like this, if your birthday is October 4: Ten plus four equals fourteen, then that number is divided by four, because there are four corners in a painting. You with me so far? 

He has numbers associated with corners, so that the ten inches by four inches is divided by four, and the remainder is two… Voila! Somehow this works out as the number two corner, with ten inches over, and four inches down. My head hurts already!

“Somebody said it’s a Greek formula,” Miller says. “I don’t know. I’m not a mathematician. But I know where to find people’s names!” Very handy, because people will return to his booth, and ask the existential question – “Where am I?”

I particularly like his “Where they did it” paintings. Close your eyes if this is too much for your sensibilities, but it is as it says – Where did you “do it?” Yes, that “it”!

Miller asks people for their most intimate secret: where did you do it? He wants to know. “Not the house. Not the honeymoon,” he implores. He’s looking for something more exotic. “Surprisingly, it’s mostly females who tell me.” 

Upon the canvas he inscribes the itsy-bitsy calligraphy of names – and places. The most intriguing? (You had to ask!). The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland! “The staff applauded, because it was on video,” Miller shared. “It was the last ride of the day.” Good stuff.

The Other Siren Call

The Sunday-side of Doug Miller is an accomplished violinist. He’s played regularly for church services at both Laguna Presbyterian and the Neighborhood Congregational Church for ten years now. He occasionally likes to improvise. “I’ll relax, and hit a high note, and make everyone’s hair stand up,” he jokes.

He’s been playing since he was nine years old. “My grandmother got me into the free music program in Long Beach,” he explains. “The choice was either flute or violin.” Violin won out. He continued, and found that he had a knack for remembering melodies and for finding a way to fit in amongst other instrumentalists. 

When he was in the Navy, he was pretty much forced into a talent show. “I found I could play with anyone off the top of my head,” he says. 

These days, Miller is really excited about his band, Moon Police, and their first CD, which is coming out in April. “It’s all original, and written by us,” he said. He describes the Moon Police sound as “not a bunch of rock and roll junk…some songs sound like they’re out of a cathedral, some are in French. It’s pretty.”

Taking the lead is their 17 year-old keyboardist and singer, Grace Freeman. “She’s going to make a mark on the music world,” Miller tells us. “She’s incredible. Impeccable.

“I’m of a different ilk,” he continued. “They’re a bunch of kids! I’m playing with the best in this band. The music will speak for itself …being appreciated is where it’s at.”

The band gets together to practice once a week, and they also have a concert coming up at the Neighborhood Congregational Church on April 18.

The Whole of the Parts

For Miller, there is a connection and order to the arts for which he holds so much passion. Whether it’s from behind his lens, with paintbrush atop his canvas, with chin on the violin, or within his analytical system of organization. All of his senses play a part in the composition. 

“I can taste colors in my head,” he says poetically. “I can taste music too. What doesn’t work doesn’t taste good. I see greens in relation to blues. Too much purple is too sweet.”

Music inspires other sensations. “Music is a feeling of life, from a place that’s inspiring,” he says. “It’s like someone visits you when you play well.”

Putting all the pieces together, Miller expresses the feeling of completion.

“It’s all composition. It’s a strange perfection – music and art. It’s all the same,” he says. “And every so often there’s a breakthrough.”

Here’s to those moments. 

Thank you for the perspective from your life’s lens Doug Miller!


Mark Dressler: Saying “Bye Bye” with a bang

Story by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

 “I am a teacher of an incredible art form.”  This is the biggest reason LBHS and Thurston drama teacher, Mark Dressler, gives for the success of the drama programs at both schools.  

“Everybody loves the theater.  It’s part of the human character, this need to tell stories.”  And while that may be true, it is also true that in the 25 years that Dressler has been working for LBUSD, he transformed a drama program that had deteriorated to extinction into a local treasure that is now nationally known and respected.  

Dressler is retiring at the end of this school year, but he’s not going quietly.  His spring production of “Bye Bye Birdie” is going to be the largest production he has ever produced.  And that’s saying something.

Mark Dressler, LBHS and Thurston Middle School Drama Teacher

A coalescing of forces

Hired as an English and history teacher, the school district held a teachers meeting in the Artist’s Theatre.  “I was there thinking, ‘This could be a great theater.’  But there were no drama classes.  This got me thinking.  I had experience teaching drama so I went to the school board and said, ‘It’s a shame. We could make our arts program something that defines us, like our water polo programs.” he remembers.  And while the LBHS water polo teams are still great, it is undeniable that Dressler’s goal of making the LBUSD arts program another point of pride for LBUSD has been achieved.

In talking with Dressler, however, he is quick to share the success of the drama program with others.  Several factors, according to Dressler, have played a huge role in the programs’ success.  For one, having a place to perform is, as he sees it, critical. “We could not do what we do without the Artists Theatre.  Cindy Prewitt organized a community campaign that helped raise $1.5 million to enhance the theater at just about the same time I was hired as a teacher. She was a really important voice of the theater.  In the 1950’s they had done a really bad remodel.  Before the campaign restored it, the ceiling had been lowered, the seats were ripped, there were rodents running around, and mold on the walls,” says Dressler.  

Looking at the theater now in all its glory, it’s hard to believe.

Getting them while they’re young

Another factor Dressler says has been key to the program’s success, is the continuity he gets from working at Thurston and LBHS. “I’m able to grab a kid by the shoulders in 6th grade and say, ‘You are so good!’ That’s what other school districts don’t have. We’re a little, tiny school district. I know all the teachers.  I have my feet in both worlds.  I know them from the time they are little kids to the time they are adults.  They know me.  They trust me.  This intimacy has a lot to do with the success of the program.”  

It also provides Dressler and his cast with what he says is their favorite part of the production: the elementary school previews. “It’s such a great thing for these kids to go back and see their teachers and let their teachers see them.  You know, sometimes the teachers wonder ‘What’s going to happen to that kid?’ and then they see that everything turned out,” he says laughing.

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Some of the cast from “Bye Bye Birdie” doing a preview of the show at El Morro 

All kids deserve a supportive community

So while Dressler celebrates the things intrinsic to Laguna schools that aid in the program’s success, he laments that other districts aren’t as fortunate. “The kids – and I mean all kids – just need a community that supports them. It sounds corny, but programs like ours make this country better. It makes better Americans.  All kids can benefit; they just need the chance.  I was an athlete in school. It’s the same kind of structure as a team. The director is like the coach, and everyone works together toward a singular vision.  Wherever you are in the show, it’s a vehicle for collaboration.  These are skills these kids will take with them throughout their life. It kills me that other schools don’t have the ability to do what we do here.”

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Mark Dressler with senior cast members of  “Bye Bye Birdie”

A supportive school district still means he has to sell tickets

Dressler says another reason he is able to do what he does here is because he has the support of the school district.  “Fortunately, the school board has been behind me 100%.”  When he started, however, there were skeptics.  

“My first production was ‘Grease’.  No one came to the audition. This really unpleasant history teacher came up to me and said, ‘How dare you take a section!’  He was upset because I was given oneclass for drama,” laughs Dressler.  

Undeterred, Dressler hustled and cajoled to get a cast. “‘Grease’ ran for three nights.  “There was a line down Park Ave. to Short St.  We didn’t do pre-sales back then.  People were starving for this.  We made $10,000 and it started to build,” he says. With shows that regularly have $30,000-$50,000 budgets, the building process has definitely been successful.  And, while the school district is supportive, “I’ve got to sell tickets. The superintendent never says, ‘How much money do you need?’” says Dressler with a smile.  Pretty soon, however, selling tickets will be someone else’s concern. 

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Cast members run through a number from LBHS presentation of “Bye Bye Birdie”

Leaping into retirement with characteristic enthusiasm

“I have to retire,” says Dressler with his trademark enthusiasm. “I’m really excited – it’s a brand new adventure.” One that he will undoubtedly embrace with the same passion he brings – and has brought – to his job for all these years.  And passion is what he says his replacement (or replacements) will need.  

“Whoever takes this job has to inspire people to do great things.  Once people have faith in you, there’s nothing they (and we) can’t do.”  Which is why choosing “Bye Bye Birdie” as his final musical is a fitting send off.  “There are 100 kids involved in this show!  It’s the biggest show we’ve ever done!” he says energetically. His final production will be the appropriately titled: “You Can’t Take it With You.”  He may be retiring, but he’s definitely not coasting to the finish line.  And for those who can’t imagine the drama program without him, the only thing Dressler is worried about is finding a new stage manager.  “Mine is graduating,” he says with a sigh.

Mark Dressler enthusiastically sets the stage for his El Morro audience

Leaving but hoping to stay close

 “I will not consider myself successful if the program doesn’t flourish after I’m gone,” he says.  And while he may officially be “gone” he won’t be far away. “I’m just going to be in San Juan Capistrano.  I’m hoping I can continue having that relationship.  I’d love to be able to help out,” he says.  

Plus, he feels there’s room for improvement. “There are a lot of things we can do better; a lot of areas where we can improve,” says Dressler.  I suppose there’s always room for improvement, but to an outside observer, it’s hard to see where. “Bye Bye Birdie” opens Friday, March 13th so buy your tickets. 

It will be a great show, plus there aren’t many opportunities left to give Mark Dressler the standing ovation he deserves.


Sandi Werthe: 

The woman who’s launched a thousand floats

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Sandi Werthe started volunteering for the Patriots Day Parade in 1975. The lady has seen all the red, white, and blue you can imagine – and she’s not had her fill yet.

The Patriots Day Parade has kept Laguna swelling with pride for 49 years now thanks to volunteers such as Sandi, who serves as its treasurer. She’s seen the parade from every angle, but she’s only been in it twice: in 1993 when she and her husband were “Citizens of the Year”, and once with the Exchange Club. She defies the axiom: the whole town is in the parade. 

In fact, she’s a big part of the hidden mechanics making it all happen. 

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Submitted photo

Hal and Sandi Werthe in 1977

“Everything Hal did, I joined him,” Sandi explains of her civic volunteerism. Sandi’s husband, Hal, passed away two and a half years ago, but in his time he not only repaired just about all of the appliances in Laguna, he was an active with, among other things, the Exchange Club, the Police Department and its Citizen Academy, the American Legion, and the Parade Association. 

He was even Santa Claus, on Forest Avenue for several years.

She’s a leader too

While Sandi bypassed the role of Mrs. Claus, she has been an inveterate champion for civic causes just like Hal. “If he quit doing something, I took over,” she said. Let’s see now – that amounts to various jobs with the Parade Association, the Exchange Club, the Citizen Academy, the American Legion, the Laguna Presbyterian Church Foundation, and working at election poll stations.

Sandi Werthe

But this week the hoopla is all about the parade. Sandi has actually been preparing for it almost all year. The parade committee begins planning in August. That’s when the permits are issued. Then by September they come up with a theme, and the special Laguna honorees. Following that, all the back office stuff begins, like organizing the participants, judges and ribbons, getting advertisers, printing the programs, doing the bookkeeping, and generally putting the word out.

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Not that the Patriots Day Parade needs much of a shout-out in Laguna. It’s pretty much carved in stone on the City calendar. The first Saturday of each March is a day highly anticipated by thousands and thousands of people. 

By February, the Adventure Guides have pulled out their best tribal outfits and started preparing for the big day. The school marching bands have been practicing for weeks in anticipation. The antique cars are spit and polished. The batons are twirling. It seems everyone in town is ready and willing to participate in Laguna’s historic parade, which will be this Saturday.

A well-loved tradition, the parade does not just happen on its own. As they say, many hands make light the work. Well, Sandi Werthe possesses at least several of those hands. “I don’t really get to see the parade,” she says. “I’m running around doing things.” 

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The day before, she gets the trophies over to Tivoli Too! where they’ll be ready come show time. Early on the morning of the parade she’s off with boxes of programs to distribution sites, setting up the check-in desk on Short St., sorting bins of rosettes and arm bands and ribbons, giving out car assignment numbers, and trying to remember every niggling little detail that will make all the difference in a smooth parade.

A can-do spirit

Sandi is just that sort of organized person. She’s got facts and figures in her head like you would expect of the Treasurer, plus her hair is neatly combed. She’s got meetings, and emails, and work-shifts, plus her house is clean. It seems fitting that her way to relax – when she has the time – is to needlepoint; a very careful and exacting art form. 

There are neat and colorful needlepoint and embroidery works framed all around her house. One piece that’s near and dear to her heart is the needlepoint cushioned chest she made for her wedding day in 1977. It has lovebirds around the sides, and she and Hal knelt upon it at the Tivoli Wedding Chapel.

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Sandi and Hal were adventurous. They loved to go motor homing, and they took that little big home over all the rough roads of Alaska. When they married, Hal was still a volunteer with the junior firefighters club, “Fire Explorers”. Sandi jokes that their first honeymoon was with the Exchange Club, and the second was with the Fire Explorers. Hiking, and camping no less, “In the rain!” she laughs. 

Sandi is not afraid to rough it, and she knows how to follow-through on her many volunteer jobs. That’s something that is hard to find nowadays. People seem to be “too busy” in this technology-driven era, and hands-on volunteers are ever harder to come by.  “Everyone’s getting older,” Sandi said. “Like at Legion Hall, but we just keep going at it.”

According to Sandi, for example, the Parade Committee consists of eight or nine volunteers, but the day of the parade dozens more are required.

Her stick-to-itiveness is evident in another of Sandi’s pastimes; she has had pen pals over the years, from all over the world. Started as a schoolchild project, Sandi made friends via hand-written letters with other children in England, New Zealand, and Austria. And they’re still in touch! She’s met several of them, and has been communicating with one pen pal since 1947.

Sandi Werthe is a kind of captain that has steered many of Laguna’s civic and philanthropic organizations. It’s been smooth sailing only because of the untold hours, persistent drive, and community loyalty she possesses. 

We salute you Sandi!


Sharael Kolberg: Making the most out of everything

BY: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Sharael Kolberg is someone who makes the most out of things.  A telling example of this is when she, just out of high school, worked as a bank teller in her hometown of Eureka, CA.  A customer at the bank mentioned the trouble her family was having finding good employees to run the family frozen yogurt business in Hawaii. Kolberg knew just the person to help them run their shop, and, not surprisingly, her customers agreed with her. So it wasn’t long before the girl from Eureka was off on her first big adventure to run a yogurt shop on Maui (with a condo and car provided, to boot).  Opportunity seen; opportunity taken.

Sharael Kolberg:

Writer, Director of SEEDS, Master Gardener, community volunteer

Embracing opportunities

Kolberg is a long way from the frozen yogurt shop, both literally and figuratively, as she now resides in Laguna Beach and works as a writer and as the Director of SEEDS Art and Education.  However, her willingness to embrace opportunities and make the most of them traveled back with her across the Pacific.

Kolberg left Hawaii after 10 years with a degree in journalism from the University of Hawaii.  She wasn’t anxious to return stateside, but…

“After I graduated from college I realized that all the jobs that paid a decent salary in Hawaii…those people weren’t going to leave.  My best friend was in San Francisco and she told me the apartment upstairs was open so that’s where I went.”  And it was a fortuitous choice because that is where she met her husband, Jeff.  

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Photo courtesy the Kolbergs

From left: Sharael Kolberg, her daughter, Katelyn, husband Jeff and Charlie

 

A chance to return to small town living

After 15 years in the Bay Area, a business opportunity provided a way for the Kolbergs to relocate to southern California. Choosing Laguna was easy. Jeff is a native Lagunan (even his mother went to Thurston Middle School).  

“He cherished growing up here.  We both grew up in small towns and we missed that,” explains Kolberg.  Plus, their daughter, Katelyn, is an only child. “We wanted her to grow up with her cousins who are all within 30 minutes of us. Jeff’s parents are still in the same house on Bluebird Canyon,” she says.  So for the last five years, the Kolbergs have called Laguna home and Kolberg, in typical fashion, has made the most of the opportunities she has found here – so much so that it’s hard to imagine how she manages to do it all.

“Workwise, I write for Firebrand Media. I write for Riviera Magazine, Orange Coast, and the St. Regis and some others.” Then she tells me laughing, “I actually have a job as the Director of SEEDS, a non-profit that provides educational enrichment programs for kids and families with a focus on the arts, the environment and wellness.”  

She’s also a Master Gardener who has worked on the El Morro Elementary School garden, the Thurston Middle School Garden and just helped complete a $50,000 renovation of Anneliese’s Willowbrook campus garden that was destroyed in the storms of 2010.  “This was a really fun project. We just got a grant from the water district to get irrigation installed.  It is really cool,” she says enthusiastically. 

Next up is the Laguna Presbyterian Preschool garden.  “I have seen how learning can be taken to the next level with a hands-on experience, which is why I love helping with these gardens.”

Then there’s the non-profit groups she does PR for: the Laguna Beach Garden Club, TMS PTA and the Interscholastic Mountain Bike Team.  She is also president of the PTA’s Coffee Break parent education program and a SchoolPower trustee. Oh, yes, and her third book is just about to be released.  As I said, she jumped into living and working in Laguna with both feet -- so much so it’s hard to know how she stays afloat! 

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Some of the tools of one of Sharael Kolberg’s many trades

Writing is a passion

“I love writing.  That’s my passion. That’s what I love doing the most,” Kolberg tells me emphatically.  And while she tends to focus on “family travel and green living” in her articles, she has three books to her credit on topics as far ranging as a marriage guide, a year she and Jeff spent in Australia and, her latest, a memoir of the year she and her family “unplugged” prior to moving to Laguna. 

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Sharael Kolberg with her dog, Charlie, a frequent companion at Zinc Cafe

“A Year Unplugged” leads to many things

This year without technology was what led her to gardening. “Because we didn’t have technology I decided to volunteer at Katelyn’s school and the local farm. I read every book on school gardening, took classes and became an expert.  When we moved, I got my Master Gardener degree from the UC Davis extension program in Costa Mesa.  It’s a four-month, intensive program where you learn snippets of everything from irrigation, grafting, seedlings.  The quality is really good, really interesting,” she tells me.

But back to the book.  “Three months ago I was asked to be on the panel of the AAUW (American Association of University Woman) Literary Luncheon (March 14),” says Kolberg.  “They told me to come ‘with my book.’ Only it wasn’t a book yet.  I had just kept a daily journal about what our lives were like without any technology; it was just a bunch of notes in a binder!  So I had to get busy,” she says laughing. Using her three month window, Kolberg compiled her notes into a book she proudly describes as “the best one yet.”

Just another 26 mile run

So when I jokingly ask her what she does in her spare time, I’m not the least bit surprised when she tells me she is training for a marathon.  She wasn’t keen to mention it because a lot can happen between the training for a marathon and the actual running of one (like injuries, for one), but that would be, in my opinion, the only way her marathon doesn’t get run.  

Anyone who writes a book in three months while holding down a job, volunteering all over the place while still being a devoted wife and mother understands commitment and dedication (and is made of different stuff than I, that’s for sure).  

For Sharael Kolberg, running 26.2 miles is just another run – that she’s going to make the most of, whether she makes it to the starting line or not.


Elizabeth Pearson: who is this Elizabeth person?

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

You’ve known her for many years as our City Council person, and as Mayor of this fair city. But now she’s relatively footloose and fancy free.

Elizabeth Pearson served her last day in Council Chambers on December 2nd. Then she walked across the street to The Lumberyard for a farewell party – and her new life.

“It was very stressful,” she says of her time as a public servant. “But I made the commitment, and I stick to my word.”

That she did. During her 12 years serving on the council, including three terms as mayor, Pearson worked tirelessly during Laguna’s good times and bad. Amongst her many achievements, she was there to help the city recover from landslides and mudslides, and she was there as a strong advocate for business and for the arts.

Elizabeth Pearson

The next chapter features her emphasis on arts; currently she is chief executive and president of Pacific Chorale, the resident choir of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Additionally she lends support to the Laguna Playhouse, serves on the board of Laguna Beach Live and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, and she’s been appointed to the boards of California Arts Advocates, California for the Arts, and Arts OC. That’s a lot of boards! So, this being Laguna, I asked her if she surfs – that would give her another kind of “board”.

“No, but I like going to the beach for picnics,” she says. “And I love early evening picnics at the Festival of Arts for their summer jazz.” Of course she does! She actually attended 18 jazz concerts last summer.

A self-made woman

How did all this art appreciation begin? Pearson puts the blame squarely on Cleveland, another city of importance in her life. 

Her roots go back to North Carolina, where most of her family still resides, but in between coasts, she lived and worked in Cleveland. And the arts are big in Cleveland. “All the arts,” Pearson said. “It was the thing to do.” 

Her best friend was Chairman of the Board of the Cleveland Orchestra, so she went to a lot of concerts, and became a big fan of opera as well.

While in Cleveland, Pearson went back to school to finish her degree. Her major was in marketing, but her minor was in another art – British Literature. “I’ve read almost all of Shakespeare. I started with Henry IV, Part One, and fell in love with it,” she says. “And I love poetry. Wordsworth is my favorite.”

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From small town, North Carolina, Elizabeth Pearson has grabbed ahold of all the knowledge and learning she can, and run with it. She’s even studying music herself now, with piano lessons and music theory. “It’s something I can do for myself – post Council,” she says.

Her family all enjoy music. A few even perform at the Grand Old Opry. Back at the cattle ranch in North Carolina, they get together at holidays and all join in playing bluegrass, in a boisterous big family way. Pearson contributes her voice too, but she mostly feeds the family with her time-honored recipes for good Southern comfort foods like chicken and dumplings, turnip greens, biscuits and gravy, and her favorite, Southern banana pudding pie.

Pearson’s dad was a DJ for the Armed Services network. He instilled in his daughter his big love of jazz, and gave her the confidence to cook for 30 people at Thanksgiving. No big deal. “We’re used to cooking for armies,” she laughs.

What’s new

Meanwhile the Pacific Chorale is benefitting from Pearson’s passion for music, and marketing. She’s enthusiastic about the origins, “Classical choral music is an art form from Ancient Greece. The first documented music originated with the Catholic Church in Rome”, the sounds, “Absolutely beautiful!”, and their programming, “We have a concert coming up in March called ‘Let’s Dance’ that includes Norwegian choral, Navajo dance, jazz pianists, and the music of Aaron Copland. We’re trying fun, new things.”

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The Pacific Chorale tours internationally every couple of years. Pearson will be traveling to Budapest and Vienna with them this year, thus combining two of her favorite things: music and travel.

“I love to travel,” she says. “I’d like to spend more time in Southern Europe. I love the history, and the art. I usually go to concerts.” Of course she does!

She is one busy woman, though she feels a little less so without the City Council on her agenda. “One great thing about being off the Council is I only go out three nights a week now, not six,” she says. And then she has her special day that’s off limits to anyone else.

“I call it Sacred Sundays,” she says. “Or Sacred Pajama Day when it rains.”

Everyone needs some “me” time, but all the more so when you are a public person, and one with a full calendar such as Elizabeth Pearson. She takes Sundays to read, take walks… a day not to be “on”, not get dressed up, …don’t go to events. Her friends know not to call her on a Sunday, “Unless it’s for fun!”

Yes, she’s a busy, active, and very socially committed person who has done more than her share in service to the community. 

And she does like to have some fun the rest of the week too!


Jeff LaTendresse: our Laguna Beach Fire Chief

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Wanting to be a fireman is a pretty ubiquitous idea for young boys. For Laguna Beach Fire Chief, Jeff LaTendresse, it was obviously more than a childish musing.  

As a 17-year-old North High in Torrance student, “I was coming home from a football game with my neighbor. He told me about his job as a firefighter.  After that, I started taking EMT classes while still in high school; I was a Fire Explorer; I did a year of fire science classes in college. My post advisor was a fire fighter in the Air Force so I enlisted with a guaranteed job as a firefighter.  I knew I didn’t want to sit behind a desk,” explains LaTendresse.  

As he says this, he smiles because as we’re talking he is, indeed, sitting behind a very big, very full desk. “Although, obviously that’s what I’m doing right now,” he says in his mildly ironic way. 

Jeff LaTendresse, Laguna Beach Fire Chief

From Cathedral City to Laguna Beach

If LaTendresse finds himself sitting behind a desk more often these days, it is because being Chief is much more administrative than being a firefighter, or even a Battalion Chief.  When we met he was in the midst of compiling the budget for the Fire Department, which can only be, I’m assuming, a very time-consuming task.  Yet, becoming Chief was a goal of his when he started.  

“I remember writing out what I wanted to be, my goals, and I checked that box,” he says.  So it made sense when, in 1997, while in Cathedral City in Riverside County, he decided to apply for the job as Laguna Beach Captain when the position became available.  When he got the job, “I had to make the very difficult decision on whether to transplant here or not.  It was a difficult decision, but a good decision,” he says, again with his gentle irony.

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Chief LaTendresse watches one of his engines at stationone

 

In Laguna Beach, there’s always something

Arriving in 1997 means LaTendresse missed Laguna’s epic fire of 1993, but he has dealt with his share of disasters, nevertheless – this is Laguna, after all – from floods to the Bluebird Canyon landslide.  

“In 2005, the Bluebird Canyon landslide is something I’ll never forget,” says LaTendresse.  “I was one of the first on the scene and it was like a disaster movie out of Hollywood: no street, houses teetering, broken water lines.  We ended up saving two people that day.”  He says this in his matter-of-fact way, but it’s obvious that despite his desk duties, saving people is still part of his job that he relishes.  

“This job is everything I thought it would be. It becomes more administrative the higher up you go, but it still has the same attraction for me as it did when I was 17,” he said.

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His LBFD fire helmets lined up 

Like father, like son

The attraction is, apparently, genetic.  LaTendresse’s son is also on the path to becoming a firefighter.  “My son is in the Army, about to graduate from medic school.  He hopes to get more experience in that area because more of what we do is actually medic related than fire related,” says LaTendresse.  Despite LaTendresse’s understated manner, one could not ignore his pride in his son’s choice.  LaTendresse also has a 24 year-old daughter who lives and works close by to his wife and him.  Both children grew up in Laguna and went through the schools here.

“We need more rain.”

For LaTendresse, leaving Cathedral City wasn’t a very tough choice.  One reason is that he got the job he’d wanted.  A second is pretty obvious: Laguna is a great place to live.  But there is a third reason he lives close to his work:  “The city wants the Fire Chief and the Police Chief to live in town due to the geographic isolation of Laguna.  With only three ways in and out, if something were to happen there would at least be some emergency leadership here,” he explains.  

Despite the many safety measures enacted since the ’93 fire, LaTendresse says the fire department is always on alert.  “We still have the potential of a catastrophic fire,” he says.  I thought perhaps the recent rains might have eased his worries, a bit.  When I ask him that he replies simply, “We need more rain.”  

When you’re Fire Chief of Laguna Beach, it seems you’re never not worrying about something.

 

Fuel Modification Zones are no simple task

To combat some of these worries, the fire department has been developing fuel modification zones.  At Nyes Place and Oro Canyon, for example, the goal is to take a 100-foot section of brush and reduce it by 50% so there is less fuel in case of fire.  From a fire safety perspective it’s a no-brainer. 

However, according to LaTendresse, it’s a very tricky process because other things besides fire safety must be taken into account.  “We have to do a lot of different studies: biology studies, environmental studies, etc., that are an expensive and labor intensive process so that we do this properly.  There is an impact on the environment and we want to make sure we are doing it right.  I think we will ultimately be successful, but it has been an incredible process to get this moving,” he explains.

A more visible fire abatement strategy is the use of goats to clear hillsides of potential fire-feeding brush.  “Hand crews are extremely expensive.  Goats are the most cost-effective method, but they eat everything.  We have to watch that for a few reasons, like erosion.” When it comes to fire management nothing, it seems, is easy.

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Fire Station One, 501 Forest Avenue

Have you checked your smoke detectors?

Like being fire chief.  It’s just not the kind of job you leave at work.  LaTendresse always has his radio with him – always, unless he is away on vacation.  But even then he’s prepared.  “When I fly I always wear a long sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes so I can take care of myself and others in case of an emergency.  I try to instill the safety precautions we preach in myself,” he says.  

Which leads to his suggestions as to what we can all do to better prepare ourselves and our homes in case of fire. “Make sure your smoke detectors are working, if they are battery operated make sure the batteries are fresh; check your landscaping, make sure it’s cleared away from the house and there is nothing overhanging.  If there is a disaster and we ask for you to evacuate, please evacuate so we aren’t putting our firefighters at unnecessary risk.”   

We’ve all heard these suggestions before, but when you hear them from the Chief…let’s just say I went home and double-checked my smoke detectors.


Arnold Hano and his infectious zest for life

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He’s just about to celebrate his 93rd birthday. His step may not be as lively as it once was, but his mind is sharp as a tack, and he manages a perfect twinkle in his eyes. That’s Arnold Hano, a Laguna Beach mover and shaker still.

We met over a nice healthy salad, and later in his comfortable home library and talked about old times, his passion for politics (and love of Michele Obama), changes in Laguna, and baseball. Those subjects may not be ranked in order but they are each a deep a part of his persona.

Arnold Hano

Born in New York, he was a kid raised across the street from the Polo Grounds, where he lived and breathed baseball. He managed a day job as a copy boy at the New York Daily News, and then served in the Army during World War II. After the war he returned to New York, and pursued a career in publishing. 

While editor-in-chief with Lion Books, Hano edited novelists including his favorite author, Jim Thompson. One day he was presented a rare opportunity: a novel (science fiction) written by Leonardo da Vinci. A colleague offered it to him for publishing, “But it’s not very good,” the guy told him. Hano laughed, “That’s like saying, ‘I have a talking dog, but he doesn’t have a good French accent’.”

Covering all the bases

A Giants fan since the age of four, Hano launched his own writing career on one of the most eventful days in his life: Game One of the 1954 World Series; the New York Giants vs. the Cleveland Indians. His record of the day Willie Mays made ‘The Catch’ (and throw) became his highly acclaimed book, A Day in the Bleachers. 

“I was just bantering with a woman in a red hat in the stands; a Dodger fan,” Hano said. The resulting popularity of the book, which is still for sale online, Hano attributes to timing. Until then, stories about baseball were like comics for kids. “I think it’s a nice little book,” Hano says modestly. “It’s a book about fans, and fan-hood. It was just the right time to do an adult baseball book.”

Meanwhile Hano experienced what he refers to as the aftermath of “the Eisenhower economy”. Rather than endure a pay reduction in expensive New York, Hano and his wife Bonnie packed up their one and a half year-old daughter, Laurel, a beagle puppy, eight valises, and headed west.

When they arrived at Bonnie’s mother’s house in Iowa, Hano learned of the hoopla back in New York about his book. Good times and more writing commenced.

Westward they went, “The baby and the dog taking turns throwing up,” Hano laughs.

As they explored the great stretches of the west, Hano surprised himself by writing a western-themed novel. “I didn’t know anything west of the Hudson River,” he said with his happy twinkle.

By the time they got to Laguna, they’d found home. And home in those days amounted to $85 a month for a cottage on Goff Street.

It Takes a Villager 

It didn’t take Hano long to get involved with local politics, and generally living his beliefs by supporting those less fortunate. 

“In 1955 the Ocean Avenue cottages and Roosevelt Drive were enclaves for black families. And black men could not get a haircut in Laguna Beach,” he said. When Hano inquired, the barbers told him they’d lose all their white customers if they cut a black person’s hair. So Bonnie and Arnold set out to do what they could. “We found an accommodation law from 1905 and said to the barbers they had to cut their hair.” 

The Hanos notified the press and the police, and marched, blacks with whites, into all the barbershops in town followed by full press coverage. 

In 1970 it was women’s rights that lit the activist’s fire. The City Council was looking for 16 commissioners, and Hano attended the meeting. “There were sixteen men there, and I stood up and said, ‘Aren’t there any women who could do this?’ A woman showed up the next day.”

Today Hano is concerned for the homeless. “Those people deserve to have a toilet. They deserve supportive housing,” he says. “If I was on the Council, I’d say to [City Manager John] Pietig, ‘Find us a place!’” Hano has served on the board of the Laguna Relief and Resource Center, assisting the homeless community.

His personal interest in politics resulted in one run for City Council. Alas, as he says, “The other guy got more votes.”

Hano’s voice has been heard throughout town since those early days. In addition to writing more than 30 books, including biographies of Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente, he has authored hundreds of newspaper articles. The collection of articles he wrote for the Laguna Beach Post has been compiled into a book, titled It Takes a Villager.

He is Mr. Villager, if ever there was one. Hano adores the human scale and village atmosphere of small-town Laguna. Both Hanos have been named Villagers of the Year by the community organization, Village Laguna.

Design Review 

It all started with a shock in the Canyon.

One day as he was driving through Laguna Canyon Hano was stunned to see giant billboards advertising Leisure World. “It staggered me,” he said. “There were two – forty feet long and ten feet wide.” He called a councilwoman who told him there was nothing to be done about it. It was even zoned for cemetery use. “So I wrote a column about it, and the next day they came down,” he said. “I realized, oh wow, there’s power in this!”

He was also instrumental in preserving a couple of buildings that have become Laguna icons. One is what is now the orthodontist’s building on Glenneyre (Dr. DiGiovanni), and the other is what is now Royal Thai. Both buildings had been behind the Wells Fargo building on Ocean Avenue. At the time, the Federal Savings and Loans had permits to destroy them. It was thought that they were falling down. Hano went inside and discovered just the opposite, so he searched for a way to save them.

“I went to the Coastal Commission and argued that they should be saved,” he said. “They said to move them, so I found people who would take them for free, and pay the $5,000 to move them. There were a couple of lots available. It was easy to move them!”

Preservation and village atmosphere fall under the grander scheme of Design Review, that all important commission that Hano supports in full force. Along with architect Chris Abel, and realtor Milt Hanson, Hano took on the giant task of keeping the “giant” out of Laguna. Their main issue was building height restrictions. “From Broadway to Bluebird, there would have been ten-story buildings,” he said. The successful result came about with partnering help from Village Laguna and the 3700 residents who voted in favor of the citywide height limit. Buildings in Laguna are now restricted to a 36 foot height maximum.

Hano believes in Design Review, regardless of contentious project issues. “I think it’s wonderful no matter how much animosity. You always make a friend and an enemy,” he said. “But Laguna Beach is best served when it’s kept to a modest, human scale.”

The next pesky issue for Hano is the undergrounding of utility lines citywide. Trees in danger of falling on electric lines, power outages resulting from damaged poles – all discussion would be moot, if Hano had his way. “Chop that tree down? No. Bury the pole!”

Who likes adventure?

Bonnie and Arnold Hano jumped in with both feet when they signed up for the Peace Corps at a time when most people are thinking about retiring to a hammock somewhere. They love to travel, but the Peace Corps is a whole different travel animal.

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Bonnie and Arnold Hano

It was 1991, and they had taken a trip to Costa Rica where they got to spend some time talking with the Peace Corps director there. Sure enough, they signed up and were selected for Costa Rica. They spent two years plus three months for training; a time that forever changed their lives. 

“We were in a town of 800 people,” says Hano. “There was one car in the whole town. There was a grade school that was falling apart. It was thirty years of neglect and earthquake damage.” 

The Hanos begged and borrowed to raise money from friends, and set about to fix everything they could with the help of the villagers. It was a joyful community. “They turn everything into a good time,” said Hano. 

It was such a rewarding experience, and a sense of belonging that the Hanos built themselves a house in the same village once their Peace Corps stint was done. They returned to Laguna but continued to visit their Costa Rica home away from home, off and on, for another five years.

Hano’s favorite places they’ve visited around the globe include Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, China, Alaska, and Rhine and Mosel River cruises. Part of that has to do with beer.

“I discovered all the beers of the world, “ says Hano. “I miss that.” He’s not “allowed” to drink anymore, but has fond memories. “I think beer is a very noble drink.” Twinkle in eye again!

Arnold Hano may not partake of the noble beer any longer, but he’s still high on life. I’m sure he’ll be walking circles around most of us as he carries his zest for life, and nurturing care for Laguna forward into the future.


Jenny Salberg: Energy, balance and middle school

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“I couldn’t ask for anything more. I wouldn’t change anything. I’m still challenged.  I get up early and can’t wait to get to work.”  

When you can say this about your job after over 20 years, you know you are in the right line of work.  The fact that your work is dealing with the trickiest of all age groups – middle schoolers – means you aren’t wired like the rest of us.  Jenny Salberg, Thurston Middle School’s principal, really believes she has the greatest job in the world.  She’s so passionate about it; in fact, she had me thinking she had the greatest job in the world.  That’s some serious conviction.

Balance as life’s “white whale”

However, despite her dedication and commitment to her job of running one of the top rated middle school’s in the OC (Voted Best Middle School by the OC Register in 2013), Salberg has her “other” life, away from Thurston, that she shares with her husband and three children who she is even more devoted to than her job (which is saying something).  However, the demands of both work and family create a constant dilemma familiar to all working parents: the struggle to find balance.  

“It’s the white whale I can never seem to achieve,” explains Salberg.  “It’s the only time I really get in my own head, when I start thinking about if I’m doing enough everywhere, but I’m married to an amazing man who has supported me the whole way.”

Jenny Salberg, Principal, Thurston Middle School, Laguna Beach

Trying – and failing – to fight her calling

 When Salberg started out, education is not where she thought she would have landed.  The daughter of two educators, Salberg told herself, “No way.  I’m not going to do it.”  But as luck would have it, a teaching job became available at Covina High School so she took it.  “I taught three periods and would go home and take a nap. My husband, who was a sheriff at the time, would come home and say, ‘What are you doing?!’  So he got his certificate to substitute teach, and went into the classroom for one day. He came home and said, ‘Never again!’ It was the best thing that ever happened!” laughs Salberg. “Education probably was my calling.  I just tried to fight it.  I used to spend so much time in my classrooms. I loved it!” 

Salberg taught at Covina High for six years before she interviewed for an assistant principal position at Laguna Beach High School.  “I did that for four years and I knew I loved it.  You never know what the day will bring,” she says.  Then she moved to Thurston Middle School (TMS) where she has been for the past 11 years, first as assistant principal then finally getting the top job in 2011.  “I still remember my first year at Thurston.  The kids are so different than at the high school.  I thought I was only (interested in) high school, but there’s an innocence at the middle school level.  They’re not as independent, and I love that.”

Salberg with TMS students, Left to Right: Matt Blunk, Quinn Winter, Fernando Barrazza, Salberg and Taylor Kaye

Finding her passion at Thurston Middle School

If middle schoolers aren’t quite as self-reliant as high schoolers, Salberg says one of the benefits of her working full time is that her kids have learned to become very independent.  Her oldest daughter, a senior at an Irvine High School, applied to college all on her own, for example.  “Because I’ve always worked my kids are all very independent,” she says.  

But wait, Irvine schools? Why not Laguna schools? “I wanted them to have their own identity.  I think that’s very important, although my youngest still asks to come here,” explains Salberg.

The symbiotic relationship of home and work

She feels confident about that decision, but Salberg, like all parents, often wonders what the “right” thing to do is with her own kids. 

“It’s hard as a parent to know that what you’re doing is right.  How do you know when your kid turns out OK?  When they graduate from high school? College? When they get a job?  Is there ever that validation?”  But there is a symbiosis between parenting three kids and being a principal. “I can use lessons from school at home.  I am current on every topic and a little piece of everything here comes home with me.”

Bringing her work home with her has its benefits and, of course, a few drawbacks. “It becomes a certain kind of energy – fast paced, need to be in the know -- that you get addicted to.  It’s a hard thing to let go of; it’s hard to turn off.  Sometimes my husband will say, ‘OK…you’re not at school.” I try to go to the gym on my way home. That saves me.  Not everything is a level 10 fire,” laughs Salberg.

Principal Salberg in her office with staff members, Brad Rush and Jennifer Rush

Working to improve the educational experience for all students

When she is at school, this energy serves her well.  There is a lot going on at the middle school.  From implementing what the district has termed 4CLE classrooms that seek to create a “classroom environment centered on collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity” to revamping academic support classes, Salberg says she is always looking to improve the educational experience of her students. 

“I’ve got incredible teachers pushing themselves.  Things look completely different today, and that’s not easy.  It can be uncomfortable, but it’s inspiring,” she says.

The entrance at Thurston Middle School

Uncomfortable and inspiring could also be used to describe the middle school years.  The kids aren’t “little kids” anymore, but they’re not quite ready for the responsibility that comes with high school.  That transition can be tricky, but also exciting. “I want everybody to have good memories from Thurston,” explains Salberg.  “It’s such a make or break time.”  

Striving to not only achieve, but also to improve upon that experience, is a task not for the faint of heart – which is why Jenny Salberg is such a great fit. Listening to her enthusiastically detail the many things going on at Thurston almost – almost – made me want to go back to middle school (and who ever thinks that?!). 

“I love this community.  You can have an idea here and actually make it happen,” says Salberg. 

Lucky for us, Salberg has a lot of ideas – which means a lot is happening at Thurston Middle School.


Hallie Jones: home is where the path leads

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Hallie Jones loves to read. In fact, she was an English literature major at UCLA, with a minor in creative writing. Knowing this, I mentally stage her life as a drama, set in a bucolic green meadow, long auburn curls flying in the wind as she rides an impatient mare up to the top of the ridge.

It was kind of like that.

When Hallie grew up in Laguna Beach, it was a different sort of place than it is today. It was a rural scene, and she did ride her horse through Laguna Canyon, perhaps singing the words, “Don’t fence me in…”

“We rode horses on Castle Rock Road,” she said. “It was my first experience of open space.” That was before the term “open space” needed to be clarified, for the undeveloped greenbelt around Laguna. Back then she even once saw a mountain lion in the Canyon.

Today, Hallie Jones is the champion for keeping the Canyon as pristine as possible. She has been the Executive Director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation (LCF) for a year now, and that makes her one happy camper. “Being able to take that passion and turn it into a career is a huge gift for me,” she said. 

One part is her knowledge and love of Laguna’s wild spaces, and the other part is the sense of community. Interviewing for the LCF position was truly a homecoming.

“I know a lot of these people. Coming into a community so dedicated to doing good, it was the best coming home,” she said. “I walked into that office, and I thought, ‘this is it. I’m never going to leave!’”

East Coast / West Coast

The intervening years took Hallie from bucolic Laguna Canyon, to finishing high school in Washington, DC, then to UCLA, followed by her first career move; the beginnings of a life dedicated to the environment – working with Heal the Bay. 

As far as leaving Laguna for Washington, Hallie was a bit of a fish out of water. “We moved the summer before senior year of high school,” she remembers. “I showed up with crazy hair and Birkenstocks.” 

It was an important experience because she had the chance to encounter ‘urban sophistication’. “But it was also isolating,” she continued. “After Laguna and knowing other kids my whole life, I had to stand on my own two feet.”

Those Birkenstock clad feet returned to the sunshine shores for college, and then she prepared for a career in the world of advertising. It was not to be. She was 22 and not so much interested in that type of corporate world. 

“I was into conservation,” she said. “Working with like-minded people toward a thing we could all agree on… I loved it.” That was at Heal the Bay, where Hallie and other like-minds collaborated, raised awareness, and took action to protect the health of the Santa Monica Bay.

Arriving Home

Hallie worked at Heal the Bay for 15 years. She lived in Mar Vista, got married and had a child. But Laguna was still in her blood, and her daughter, Emmie, now nine, was also enthralled with fun in Laguna. There’s a whole family here, including Hallie’s parents: her mom, artist Kathy Jones, and her dad, Mike, who teaches woodworking at Cerritos College. Hallie’s sister is raising her kids, and lives in Woods Cove. Hallie’s second child, a son, was born here in Laguna.

Her grandparents started it all when they came to live in Woods Cove.

Now that Hallie is a single mom, it’s very supportive having her family around. Emmie and her brother Kai, a kindergartner, have their cousins and grandparents, and thanks to their mom, they have the nature of the Canyon to play in. Emmie is a nut for horses too.

“My whole family is here. And my kids are going to the same school I went to [Top of the World],” she said. “One of the many things that is so satisfying about living here is really being a part of a community, and giving back.”

It seems like destiny, or the climax of her life’s novel that Hallie would be reunited with family and friends at home, while earning her dream job.

Laguna Canyon Foundation

“I have a deep connection to the land,” Hallie says in somewhat of an understatement. “I try to get out in the open space every day. It reminds me of what’s important, why we’re so lucky to live here.”

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The first year’s learning curve at Laguna Canyon Foundation included getting to know who is working on what. “I made sure to know all the players,” Hallie says. “Now I can stop and think, ‘this is the direction we want to go’.”

It’s leadership and communication that keep the organization working and thriving. And it’s staff and volunteers who keep the 40 miles of Laguna Coast Wilderness trails cleared and healthy.

“I’m a communicator,” says Hallie. “A people person. I like connecting people to the land.” The LCF office is in the Legion Hall, but Hallie is often at the Nix Nature Center, or out on the trails. 

One of the important things she is busy with is educational outreach, and there are two groups vital to that message: those that use the trails, and those who never have.

Hikers and mountain bikers are very connected to the beauty of the trail system, but often are not aware what impact their activities have on the natural habitat, or how they can help. LCF sponsors “Trail Work Days” so that these types can get in there and lend a volunteer hand. LCF volunteers help with trail restoration and removal of invasive species of plants. 

“It’s great for mountain bikers to see the work that goes into maintaining the trails, and the threats to it,” Hallie says. 

Unauthorized trails are a huge problem, and require frequent and extensive repairs.

The other groups LCF helps to educate are young people, especially those from Title One schools, such as the Santa Ana district. They provide a free educational program, and LCF pays for all the bussing. Schools of second, third, and fourth-graders come for the morning for field trips, games, and lunch. The purpose is to establish familiarity and also a sense of stewardship for open spaces. 

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Hallie. “Some of these kids have never been hiking, never known environmental ethic. They’ll say, ‘Are there bears here?’ It’s a new experience for them. It’s this incredible resource.”

Restoring passion, restoring nature

Hallie Jones is a creature of the earth. When she’s not walking on the trails, or at LCF raising much-needed funds to save them, she’s camping with her family in the Sierras or down to Baja to see the whales. She is at home in the wild places.

 Here in the Canyon there will soon be another trail opened, the “Lizard Trail”, a great point to look for Hallie’s favorite Canyon animal – the tarantula. We may not be lucky enough to see one, but they leave a distinctive footprint to look for. And though there have been no mountain lion sightings for many years, our gem of wilderness is home to many species, including bobcat, coyotes, fox, bats, and, especially this time of year, lots of nice, cool green.

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“When I was a kid, Laguna was artists and hippies, and that has changed to a certain extent,” said Hallie. “I think this town runs the risk of losing sight of its environmental heritage. 

“I like inspiring people to feel as passionate about this land as they did in 1990 to save and preserve it. I want my generation to feel that sense of ownership. They don’t know how hard we fought to save the Canyon then. It’s still under threat today. People need to understand and be aware of that.”

Her love of nature, born as a child in Laguna Canyon, and nurtured in the bays and by-ways is being passed on to the next generation. It’s a cycle of appreciation and remembrance from whence we came.


Chip McDermott: Doing more than just showing up

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

There is a long way between seeing a problem and deciding to do something about it.  Many of us see things we don’t like, problems waiting for solutions, but we sigh, shake our heads and wait for someone else to fix it. Lucky for us, Chip McDermott, founder of Zero Trash, is not one of those people. Dismayed by the abundance of trash he saw on Laguna’s streets, he decided he might as well be the guy to do something about it.  So he did – and still does on the first Saturday of every month. 

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Chip McDermott, founder of Zero trash, in front of El Ranchito

The power of just showing up

For the past seven years McDermott has shown up at El Ranchito on S. Coast Hwy handing out T-shirts, bags and pickers to all who want to help him make Laguna a cleaner place.  Married with two young kids, it’s not like McDermott doesn’t have a million other things he could be doing on a Saturday, but he knew when he started Zero Trash that if he didn’t show up on every first Saturday of the month, it would be impossible to build any momentum.  

“You know how they say that most of success ‘is just showing up’?  Well, that’s true.  So I made a point to show up every week, rain or shine.”

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Zero Trash has a lot of local company support

From intern to entertainment executive

Showing up may be part of his success, but it certainly isn’t all of it.  That’s why this former voice major who studied to become a conductor, parlayed an unpaid internship into a five-year dream job at E! Entertainment TV. Of course, going from intern to executive was no easy feat, but neither was getting the internship to begin with. 

“I decided I wanted to work in the entertainment industry in either music or film.  Somebody told me you could get an internship to get started. I was working at Nordstrom and a lot of entertainment people came into that store and so I just started asking every customer.” So, yes, “showing up” is critical, but a lot of people showed up to work every day at Nordstrom; only one became E’s first music talent executive.

Leaving LA for Seattle and landing in Laguna

After those five years, McDermott began to tire of Los Angeles and the entertainment industry lifestyle.  “A buddy from high school was collecting data for film studios and asked me if I wanted to join him.  Eventually, I said yes.  I went to Seattle, we opened one office with, like, eight people, and now we’re in 23 states with 400 employees. I’ve been with my business partner longer than my wife.  He’s just an amazing partner. ” 

After 10 years in Seattle, McDermott decided he needed some sun so he and his wife started looking for places to live in southern California.  “I grew up in Orange.  We always came to Laguna Beach.  I felt then that if I was ever fortunate enough to pick where I could raise my family it would be at the beach.”  They first looked at Topanga, but ultimately chose Laguna.  And we are all lucky they made that choice or our streets and beaches would be a lot less clean.  

“I couldn’t believe Laguna had become this tourist town with trash,” he remembers thinking with dismay.

Chip McDermott at a Zero Trash assembly at El Morro School

Perseverance nets results

He started small. “I organized my street in 2007 to do a clean up.  Then I spent a lot of time talking to businesses and asking them to be a ‘street front supporter.’“  Then he did what many thought could not be done – he got the city and Waste Management on board.  “Without Toni (Iseman) I wouldn’t have gotten this done.”  The “this” he is referring to is additional trashcans and ashtrays all over town.  Iseman also introduced him to Michele Clark at Waste Management who helped him get sponsored allowing him to buy things like banners to promote Zero Trash. 

Building a sense of community through trash

“If it weren’t for a few great people, Elyse and Julie Shahan, Katie Ford and Robert Wolfshagen who owns Screenworks and gives me my shirts at a reduced rate – he’s huge! – I couldn’t do it,” says McDermott.  “A lot of this, for me, is about community.  I get to hang out with my neighbors and help out.  We don’t really get the chance to do that anymore.  I needed that.”  

Other communities have embraced his idea, as well. There are currently Zero Trash chapters in Aliso Viejo, Dana Point and Rancho Santa Margarita. Many other chapters have opened – and closed, a testament to how hard something like this is to sustain and McDermott’s fierce determination to the cause. “There are a lot of good intentions, but it’s hard to maintain,” explains McDermott sympathetically.

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Cigarette butts account for a lot of the trash on our streets

Retailers offer supplies and discounts

So if you’re finding yourself wanting to experience a sense of community or just want to do a job that needs to be done, you can show up on the first Saturday of every month (the next one is Saturday, Feb 7), grab a picker and get to work. Most people are familiar with the El Ranchito location because that’s the one where McDermott sets up and hands out the t-shirts.  However, there are four other locations: Hobie, Thalia Surf Shop, Laguna Beach High School (it’s an on-campus club founded by his niece back in 2009, but still going strong) and United Studios of Self- Defense.  The retailers, in addition to handing out pickers and other trash pick-up supplies, offer discounts on merchandise if you pick up from their stores.  “If you go to a location and need supplies let me know,” says McDermott. 

The best way to reach him is via email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Seven years, 52 Saturdays…and counting

 “I have a huge passion for this.  I don’t really know why.  When I started it my kids were five and four.  My wife has been awesome.  She understands its importance to me so I can be there most Saturdays, even now,” he says thoughtfully.  “The biggest misnomer is that it’s a beach clean up,” he explains.  The idea is to get the trash off the streets before it hits the beach. “People tell me they’ve seen an improvement, big time, around town,” he says hopefully.  Seeing the difference his efforts make undoubtedly makes it easier for McDermott to keep showing up, but seven years, 52 Saturdays…that’s almost a year’s worth of days given to the cause.  

Chip McDermott has definitely showed up.  Let’s make sure he’s not alone.


Kathy Conway has numbers and heart for art

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

And a one, and a two… Somehow, Kathy Conway must have that rhythm in her brain. She’s the other half of a dynamic accounting duo, and a huge part of the Laguna Dance Festival to boot.

Kathy Conway

What once might have been the isolated life of a number cruncher blossomed and multiplied two-fold when Kathy connected with her husband, Mike. And what once was a small, yet talented dance community has flourished into a world-class destination for dancers of every stripe to perform in Laguna Beach before a world-class audience of aficionados.

The Duo

Kathy and Mike have their own love story – and it involves numbers.

They first met back in the hippie 60’s. They became good friends, albeit with different spouses. Fast-forward a couple of decades, each was post-divorce, when one sunny Laguna day a friend said to Kathy, “Hey! Mike’s in town.”

That was in 1983. July 21, 1983, to be exact. “And we haven’t been apart since,” said Conway. In fact, they just celebrated their 35th anniversary on Christmas, just a few weeks ago.

Not only have they not been apart socially, they’ve also been connected professionally since then. Mike is a CPA, and Kathy a full-time accountant. For 30 years now, the accountants are known as Conway Financial Services, providing property management and financial consultation.

“We’re a 24/7 couple, and we do it very well, if I do say so,” said Kathy. “I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be with.” 

Aww, another number - 100% togetherness.

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Kathy and Mike, in their living room, where they meet with clients

Jointly, Kathy and Mike have four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Their CPA firm includes many friends, local businesses and charitable organizations. The Conways enjoy living and working in their creatively remodeled historic cottage, which is filled with artworks by Laguna artists.

Yes, she’s a nut for the arts, and thankfully so. Laguna would not be a visionary art community without the time, attention, and assistance of people like Kathy Conway. Especially with regards to budget and finance, artists can use a little guidance. “Artists have a real need to have someone take care of that,” she says, knowingly.

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Amongst her many volunteer activities, Conway serves on committees at the Laguna Art Museum, the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Woman’s Club, as well as other non-profits, and as Treasurer for Music Matters, the Laguna Canyon Foundation, and the Laguna Dance Festival.

The Dance

Conway first saw Jodie Gates perform with the Joffrey Ballet in the 1990’s. She had the great good fortune of meeting her, and when she retired, guess where Gates wanted to come? That’s right, Laguna Beach. 

Conway was there at the beginning with her friend, (former president of the Laguna Dance Festival) Janet Eggers. They were part of the think tank, hatching ideas for starting a dance festival with Gates.

The Laguna Dance Festival is near and dear to Kathy’s heart. It has been a success since the beginning in 2006, when performances were at the high school and other venues around town. It is now housed at the Laguna Playhouse with performances in September, and Master Classes offered at the LBHS Dance Studio.

The Festival draws the likes of dancers and dance companies from all over the world. One of their esteemed dancers, Desmond Richardson (“He’s just a glorious dancer – and specimen,” said Conway), did a Master Class last year that was sold out in ten minutes. 

It’s art and it’s also numbers. 

“It’s figuring out how to reach people. How to get more people to understand, and come,” Conway said. “I’m really excited with how well we’ve been received.”

The Days Off

When Conway is in normal form, she can often be found on the tennis court. Alas, she is still recovering after surgery following a nasty fall. But she and her new hip are just about to get back out there and call 40-Love.

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In addition to tennis, Kathy and Mike like to get away on two special occasions: birthdays and Valentine’s Day. For all their years together, they’ve escaped up the coast on those special dates to a secret hideaway in Big Sur. “Deetjen’s has been the best thing for us, for 30 years,” said Conway. 

Now we know! It looks nice too; one part European glamour and one part bohemian lifestyle amongst the redwoods. But the Conway secret will be safe – we won’t visit Deetjen’s Inn on those dates. 

Another Kathy Conway secret is that she loves to cook. Once that word gets out, people will be knocking on the door for her Louisiana Chicken recipe. Stay tuned, because she promised she’ll to give it to Stu News. Can’t wait!



Maggi Henrikson: Bringing her enthusiasm to StuNews

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Maggi Henrikson could not wait to be featured in Laguna Life & People.  And if you believe that we should talk about some real estate deals involving the Brooklyn Bridge.  Henrikson, Associate Editor of StuNews, is accustomed to asking the questions, not answering them, but she showed her commitment to the cause and made time during a busy holiday season to sit down and chat.

An auspicious start in journalism

 Henrikson’s journalistic career had an auspicious start with “The Top Sail Tattler,” the neighborhood newspaper she created as a child in Connecticut. She wrote stories then would go door to door and sell them.  After “mimeographing” the needed copies she’d hand deliver them to her paying customers.  

Her journalism career took a rather lengthy hiatus after she ended her efforts with “The Tattler.” First there were things like middle school that needed to be completed followed by the rest of her schooling, college, an art career, marriage and a family.  However, when she finally returned to her journalistic endeavors, she did so with her characteristic enthusiasm.

Maggi Henrikson, Associate Editor of StuNewsLaguna

Curiosity leads to StuNews

“I’ve always been creative: painting, drawing, making jewelry.  I’ve even made lamps.  Stu(News) fulfills a lot of that.  I love words.  I love to be stimulated in that way.  When we decided to remodel our home that took two years.  I was bereft when it was over. What was I going to do?  ‘Stu’ came along at a good time,” says Henrikson about her growth at StuNews.  It started out innocently enough. 

“I was involved in the schools, PTA, water polo, all that kind of stuff.  I started sending things to Stu about water polo and the Glennwood House.  Stu liked what he saw and I started doing more…the photo quizzes; we started the dining section.  It was organic.  I guess it was meant to be.  I’ve always been curious about all kinds of subjects,” explains Henrikson. 

A plane ticket and a dozen roses

Another thing that was meant to be was her marriage to her husband, Richard. 26 years ago, he sent her a plane ticket and a dozen roses in hopes of enticing her to leave New York City, where she worked as an art consultant, for Laguna Beach. 

“I lived on Martha’s Vineyard for seven years and I remember hoping the man I married would love it as much as I did.”  He did, but his work was here and Henrikson was game to try something new.  So she moved to Laguna with plans to continue her consulting career.  After all, Laguna Beach is known for its art so she figured the transition would be easy.

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Maggi Henrikson and her family: sons Nick and Erik, Maggi and husband, Richard

From art consultant to stay at home mom

“I naively thought I could just pick up and continue doing what I was doing there, here, but the art scene was a little different than in New York,” she says with a laugh, “So I ended up driving to LA a lot, which was not great.”  Luckily, a gallery called Sata Fine Art opened in Costa Mesa that was more her style.  Owned by a wealthy Japanese businessman, Henrikson worked with him and the two made plans to create art tours at his French chateau.  Unfortunately, the owner ran into financial problems and the tours  – and gallery – were scrapped.  Pregnant with her first child, Henrikson decided this was a good time to stay home and be a mom. 

“I hate it when people say ‘just’ a stay at home mom.  I really think we should be factored into the GDP,” she adds emphatically.

Immersed in family life

As a mother of two boys, Henrikson was fully immersed in the rhythms of her family.  Her oldest son, Nick, has special needs and her other son, Erik, was a star goalie for the LBHS boys water polo team.  Both required a lot of her attention and energy.  Her efforts paid off as Nick is quite the town celebrity with his job at Ralph’s and Erik is playing water polo at Johns Hopkins University.  With her boys grown, all of that energy had to go somewhere. Lucky for the readers of StuNews, Stu Saffer, founder of StuNews, knew a good thing when he saw it.

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Maggi Henrikson at home working her magic

Becoming an important asset to StuNews

“It has been fun having Maggi on board!” enthuses Saffer.  “Her contributions have been amazing, especially when I think of where she began. In my wildest imagination, I never would have thought that she would have become such an important asset to us! Thank goodness Shaena [Stabler] saw Maggi’s talents!”  

Henrikson is also somewhat surprised at how it has evolved.  Agreeing to become associate editor about a year ago expanded Henrikson’s role at the newspaper. “I write stories, I edit other people’s stories and PR pieces.  I do the photo quizzes and birthdays.  People submit stuff and I’ll investigate and research.  We just had the whole election season with an online discussion with our readers where we followed up on their questions to the prospective candidates.” 

 A lot goes into putting out a community newspaper twice a week.  The old adage “the news never sleeps” means there is always something to add and do and create.  Just managing her StuNews duties is a lot, but Henrikson has other interests she likes to indulge in, as well.  Balancing her many interests was something she had to consider before accepting the associate editor position. 

“I told Stu I was still going travel and all that and he said it was no problem.  

It works out,” she says.

Making time for travel, tennis and other endeavors

Their travels take them all over, but the Henriksons have set up homes away from home, as well.  They have had a house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for 16 years, as well as a 200-acre farm near Olympia, WA.  Henrikson is also an avid tennis player. ”I love playing tennis.  I will play it anywhere!” she says enthusiastically.  “The reason we started going down to San Miguel de Allende is because it’s the art capitol of Mexico, but I could also bring my tennis racquets. 

“We found a school for the boys where they could learn about the culture, the language and do field trips.”  She told me that she’d driven there three times – a 34 hour drive – when her boys were young. A 34 hour car ride with young boys and dogs is not a journey for the faint of heart, which tells you a lot about Henrikson’s enthusiasm.

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Maggi and her dog, Banshee, on her lovely deck

And while all of this is definitely enough, Henrikson has ideas about new ways she wants to contribute to StuNews.  “We are always talking about our passions. I love home design, architecture, food, travel.  If I had the time I’d love to have a feature about the Laguna lifestyle: travel, real estate, living. Kind of like what they have in the Sunday Section of the New York Times.”

The only thing stopping her is the time to make it happen.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this new section should appear in StuNews one of these days.  Henrikson has a way of taking her interests, weaving them together and making them something more  – a talent we, as readers, get to enjoy every time we click on StuNewsLaguna.



Ivan Spiers: The man behind peri-peri and apparel

Story by MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He may not always enjoy the fact, but Ivan Spiers manages to shake things up.

This week he was a little emotionally bruised after yet another City Council meeting having to do with parking at his iconic restaurant and music venue, Mozambique.

“I want to be a good neighbor. I want to help everybody,” he says. “I just don’t want to be micro-managed. I don’t need this aggravation.”

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In the 10 years of operating Mozambique there have been great times, like the many charity events Spiers hosts there, and the amazing musical talent he has drawn to their first class performing and recording space. 

But there have been miserable times, too, like when the economy tanked in 2008. “Then the world fell apart,” said Spiers. 

His main source of income, the apparel industry, suffered disastrous times, and the restaurant business changed suddenly for the worse as well. “Every business was impacted. It’s still impacted. Our restaurant business went down 60 percent overnight.”

But he put his heart and mind into it, and used some creative thinking to stay in business. “Mozambique was a more formal restaurant until then. We had to re-work the menu, and make it affordable for everybody,” he said. “We stuck with it, and never laid anybody off.” 

Mozambique is a big employer in town, and that became the main issue with parking problems most recently. The restaurant staff had been parking on side streets, which bothers some of the neighbors. It was agreed that the employees will now be shuttled from off-site leased parking sites to their jobs at the restaurant.

While we talked about some of these challenging situations, Spiers’ best buddy, Max, helped him to keep his calm. Max is one gentle giant of a dog, who also happens to be a 110-pound therapy dog. His day job is to visit hospitals and VA centers where he brings his sweet charm and calming influence. Spiers has raised him since he was a puppy – surprisingly once the runt of the litter.

Max nudged his hand, asking for more fluffing and scratching of those enormous ears. 

“I bought this building by accident,” Spiers continued. The former Tortilla Flats building had been vacant for years when he drove by almost 13 years ago. “I came to the auction, and thought it would be a good idea to open a restaurant.” Little did he know it would take two and a half years to renovate. “It was falling down – a lot more than we thought,” he said. “It was just a garbage pile.”

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Now it is one of the most popular places in Orange County to see live music, or enjoy great food spiced with their famous peri-peri sauce, and gaze out on the ocean toward the Laguna sunset.

Roots

One side of the man has the giant persona of an international business magnate, and on the other is Spiers’ quiet, kind demeanor. His polite South African nature is always the undercurrent.

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He grew up in a small town that defies spelling much less pronunciation. Umhlatazana was about an hour and a half from the nearest city, and his parents ran a trading store, selling whatever was needed. “From plows to clothes, to food,” said Spiers. “You name it, we sold it.” 

The community was small and multi-racial – and everyone got along. Once roads and bridges were constructed enough to travel quickly to the city, the family moved to Durban. Ivan was 13, and heard for the first time the word “apartheid”. 

Living in Durban, he witnessed enforcement by the government to a racially segregate society. Ivan knew he had to get out as soon as he could. 

He moved to London when he was 19 and found a job with EMI, the music recording and publishing company. It seems obvious now in hindsight that music would play an integral role in Spiers’ life. But, of course, his father and the government of South Africa had other plans for him.

His father wanted him to be a banker. The idea was to join his banker uncle who lived in Hong Kong. The government’s rule was that first he’d have to serve two years in the army.

Spiers did all that, but only lasted four days as a Hong Kong banker. “It was terrible,” said Ivan, simply. “You’re making a big mistake,” said his father.

But at 21 Ivan Spiers was still too young for the stuffy life of a banker. He wanted to play rugby and surf. 

So he went to Australia and did just that until a rugby accident landed him in the hospital. The injuries to his ribs, and a broken spine still plague him today.

Once recovered and back on a surfboard, Spiers met his California connections. They were a bunch of young guys, all good friends, surfing in the Canary Islands. One of them had a family ranch in Monterey and said, “Come to Monterey, we’ll get you some work.”

That was in 1972, and consequently Spiers has added lettuce picker to his resume. 

At that time the economy was booming, gas was 40 cents a gallon, and you could buy a decent car for $500. Picking lettuce was very good money – about $400 a week, but hard work. “The first two weeks almost killed me,” said Spiers. Then he learned from the guys who’ve done it for years how to do the lifting. Just like music, it turns out it’s about rhythm.

Growing a business

It was in Monterey that Spiers began his huge career in the apparel industry. Out by the airport there was a sweater and sport coat factory. Ivan got to know the owners and began buying goods from them and selling.

By the early 1990’s Spiers had amassed 29 large retail stores, and had his own family. He has three children; twin daughters now living in Austin, and a son now living in New York. 

“In 1992 I thought I was retired,” he said. But the financial reality of life post-divorce meant he would keep his nose to the grindstone.

Thanks to many friends in the area, Spiers moved from Monterey to Laguna. He continued to flourish in the apparel business to the point where he is now known as an industry veteran. He has helped launch brands with financing, and he’s created manufacturing, warehousing and distribution networks worldwide for everything from clothes to shoes to sunglasses.

Though Laguna is home base, Spiers is global citizen. He’s in Sri Lanka, and much of Asia at least a few times a year, plus Panama, the UK, and Canada. This week he was closing the deal on a big merger that he was pretty mum about. “You’ll read about it,” he said, slyly. 

He comes off as a behind-the-scenes guy, somehow maintaining his privacy despite his high profile. It’s that kind of humility that makes him approachable. 

Music for the soul

When it comes to music, Spiers jumps in, hook, line and sinker. He appreciates everything about music, and plays the guitar as well. He’s been known to rock it on the Mozambique stage just for fun, with friends like Nick I, and Bob Hawkins. 

This past October, Spiers opened Daryl’s House with rocker Daryl Hall, in Pawling, New York. It’s a restaurant and music venue that also broadcasts shows live on the Internet. “It’s been great,” Spiers said. “We’ve been so well received.” 

During the live broadcasts there are about 80 people employed at Daryl’s House, and Spiers has been surprised at the support they’ve been given. “Governor Cuomo sent someone – in a suit – to see if they could help!” he said. “They want it to succeed and make sure we’re well taken care of.”

 Daryl Hall will be playing there himself, on New Year’s Eve, and the show will be broadcast. His former partner, John Oates, will be performing at Mozambique on Feb 4. Spiers is keeping Hall and Oates rockin’ on both coasts.

At home in Laguna, Mozambique is like Spiers’ community gathering place. He has opened its doors to countless non-profits for their fundraising efforts. He has made friends with musicians, and even the neighbors. 

“I try to help everybody,” he says.

And he does. It’s just in his nature.


Carrie Reynolds: Finding ways to do it all

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Carrie Reynolds wears many hats.  Not literally, (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her wear a hat other than the occasional baseball cap), but she is one of those people who manage to do more than most.  This makes interviewing her both a pleasure and a challenge.  Do we talk about her successful marketing consulting business, Reynolds Design Group?  Do we talk about her charitable endeavors?  Or “The 10 Boys Who Care”, a philanthropic group she started with her son, Sam, and some of his Thurston classmates?  Then there’s Lagunatics and her “Nollaig Na Mna” event she hosts every year.  Where does one begin? 

Carrie Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Design Group

Going all the way to the coast

Let’s begin 25 years ago when Carrie and her husband, Mike, moved to Laguna from Laguna Hills. Back then she was driving to LA everyday for work and Corona del Mar was “too expensive.  Mike said he didn’t move all the way from Illinois to stop five miles from the ocean.  So we got married and closed escrow on a teardown the next day, but we didn’t tear it down.”  Eventually, they rebuilt their falling down cottage into an award winning home – designed by Mike – which they still live in today. 

After commuting for two years, Reynolds was hired by Pepsi Co. in Irvine where she worked for eight years on the restaurant side.  Realizing corporate life wasn’t for her (“I said if I’m still here when I’m 35, shoot me.”) she thought she’d start her own consulting firm.  But then she got cold feet.  

“Prudential Real Estate offered me their VP of Marketing position.  I took it out of fear.”  Working there for a year helped her conquer her fear. “Prudential is an insurance company.  They’re very staid, very follow the rules.  That wasn’t for me either.”  So Reynolds Design Group was born.

Taking advantage of new technology

“When I started the Internet was exploding.  I started doing consumer research online and this changed the research model.  I can do it out of my house, there’s lower overhead for me, which is good for my clients.”  A key opportunity was when Reynolds was asked by Apple to do a segmentation study that would tell them who actually shopped in their then four stores.  Finding this information so valuable, Apple incorporated it into their next ad campaign.  It was a good start for Reynolds’ fledgling business, now in its 18th year.

A graduate of UC Davis, Reynolds says she has always worked.  “My parents had nothing.  I never knew anything else.  When I went to Davis I worked during the year and then I’d come home and pack pears in the summer.”  It was a very different life than the one her only child, Sam, enjoys.  “I’m sure we’re ruining him,” she says with mock conviction.  “But we haven’t seen this movie yet.”  

A challenging baseball season offers an opportunity

Though the movie is far from over, Reynolds, like any good director, is doing what she can to make sure it has a fulfilling ending.  With Sam’s baseball team slogging their way through a 2 and 12 season, Reynolds came up with an idea. 

“During the baseball season we were so impressed with the kids’ attitudes. We were getting all depressed as moms, right? But they really were showing strength of character.”  This fact, coupled with Jon Madison offering up some of his unsold Christmas items for charity, as well as hearing about her friends, Kendall and Chris Clark, and their scholarship to LBHS students converged into the idea for “10 Boys Who Care.”

10 Boys Who Care, Back row: Gustav Morck, Sam Reynolds, Carrie Reynolds, Noah Linder, Kent Cebreros. Front row: Ayrton Garcia, Zack Bonnin, Mason Lebby, Blake Pivaroff, Sam Kluver and Enzo Sadler

10 Boys Who Care helping others

10 Boys is a group of, yes, ten Thurston Middle School boys, who raise money throughout the year to provide scholarships to LBHS seniors who exhibit excellent sportsmanship.  The group has officers, takes minutes – everything an “official” non-profit does to run smoothly.  

“I wanted it to mean more.  I want them to be doing it for more than just the service credits.  Now people come up to them and ask for help.  It’s great.  They made $400 busking at hospitality night!  The town’s generous.  Last year the boys gave $3,500 worth of scholarships with the money they raised.  They read every one of the 30 essays they received, discussed them and made their decisions.  And they can almost run meetings by themselves,” she says with pride.

Reynolds’ philanthropy does not end with 10 Boys. She has her own causes she gives her time and talent to.  She was on the Board of the Boys and Girls Club for five years, has been a SchoolPower trustee since Sam was in kindergarten, she sits on the Orangewood Foundation’s marketing committee, sits on Thurston’s PTA Site Council and is involved in the PTA’s parent education series, Coffee Break.  All this while somehow cranking out a 40-hour workweek.

 

Conquering fears and finding a family in Lagunatics

As if this isn’t enough, Reynolds finds time to perform with Lagunatics, something she has done for the last eight years. “Every year I ask Bree (Rosen, the Lagunatics founder) to fire me,” she says with a laugh. “I did it originally because the thought of it made me so uncomfortable – like the Aquathon.  But now I’ve gotten over that part of it.  And it has introduced me to a community of people in town that I would never know otherwise.  The family is interesting.  We get close.” As for the Aquathon, she did that to overcome her fear of swimming in the ocean.  “I’m not saying I’ll swim out to the buoy by myself but…” Oh, well. She may have conquered her fear of performing, but that ocean thing is apparently still a work in progress.

Nollaig Na Mna hits Laguna

Something decidedly not a work in progress is Reynolds’ social media prowess.  A fun way she has used it is to connect with her 62 first cousins in Ireland.  There they have a tradition called “Nollaig Na Mna” (Christmas for the Women).  The idea is that the men serve the women who use the time to connect, relax and make a wish on a three-legged stool.  Reynolds and her sister thought this was a great tradition and imported it to their respective towns in California.  While unsure how many Nollaig Na Mnas she has hosted with the help of Jon Madison at his Madison Square Garden and Café, it has become quite the event over the years. 

“I love bringing an Irish tradition here that helps me tell my girlfriends how much they mean to me. It is a few hours of sharing stories, making personal wishes or declarations on our three legged stool and reminds us what having girlfriends means to us in our lives. I wish we had the chance to all do it a little more often.”

Recognizing a good idea, bringing meaning to it and then making it happen.  This is how Christmas for the Women, Laguna Beach-style, came to be, and it’s also a good description of how Reynolds approaches her life.  

And she does it with a wicked sense of humor.  When I contacted her to set up our interview her response was typical Carrie, “What the heck is the topic? Crazed mother of an only child…or crazed wife?” Of course she left out crazy entrepreneur, crazy “renegade do-gooder” (her words) and crazy fear conqueror.  

Maybe we should all be so crazy.

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A Reynolds Family Christmas Card


Tom Davis: reflection and inspiration, or how many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos By MARY HURLBUT

He’s a little quiet and seems often serious, even though I know he has a good sense of humor. Tom Davis just may be the opposite of all those lawyer jokes. 

A giver and a doer, Tom is the kind of person to reverse the lawyer stereotype. He’s reached out way beyond himself, and given many others a lift up. He’s so involved with non-profits, he laughs that his legal work is not much more profitable. He calls it his “theoretical work”. 

He’ll take the lawyer jokes and professional epithets with stride, and a quiet chuckle.

Tom Davis

During our conversation the other day we were both thinking about what the meaning of a career is in relation to the meaning of a life. On the one hand you have your own goals and aspirations, including the drive for success – maybe accolades and “gold stars” on your professional report card. 

On the other hand you have responsibilities to your soul: your relations with other people, the joy of a family, and a perspective beyond your own sphere.

Recalling his own very serious awakening  

There he was going through life with all the gifts of brain, ability, and circumstance. Tom grew up in North Hollywood, graduated from USC and then completed post-graduate work at Duke University Law School. He got great job offers. He was hired and working at a big-time law firm in Newport Beach, when his father went suddenly and drastically ill. His father was young: just 67. 

It was acute leukemia, something I know about from first hand experience. My brother-in-law was a young 70 year-old, a former coach, who ran every day and ate all the right veggies. One day he was tired, and a few weeks later he died. There’s shock, disbelief, and a great sense of cursed un-fairness in the universe.

Tom’s father, too, just felt a little tired. Two weeks later, he was in the hospital.

While the family was still in a state of denial, Tom’s father called him and his brothers to his bedside, individually. He had a parting message for each of his sons.

His father could see that some change was needed. Tom was at a stage and place in life where he thought the world revolved around his orbit. 

“He might have seen some self-centeredness,” Tom recalled. “He said, ‘I think your strength is in community involvement.’ He felt I had more to offer than focusing on my own little life and career.”

His father’s words hit home, and he took them to heart

And so, now here we have Tom Davis, board member of St. Mary’s Church, the Peace Exchange, the Chhahari Organization Nepal, active with Glennwood House, the Friendship Shelter, OC Shanti, the Surfrider Foundation, and the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, just to name a few. 

He has embraced his father’s words not only in deed, but also in passion. And dad was right, community involvement has made his life that much richer.

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“The work we do as lawyers is difficult and stressful, and often not emotionally or spiritually fulfilling,” Tom said. “Non-profits offer a lot more in terms of those rewards.”

The Chhahari Organization, for example, has made a real difference in the lives of the 25 Nepalese children it houses. “These are kids who were living on the streets. They might have been sold into slavery, sold for their organs, or for sex trafficking,” Tom said. “They would most likely be dead without this program. There’s no government organization that protects them.”

Then there’s the lighter side

I actually do go back a bit with Tom and his wife Martha. Our kids were in school together at the same time, and I always loved watching Chandler Davis in her many fantastic theatrical productions from middle school through high school. The highlight for me was seeing Chandler as Maria in the LBHS production of The Sound of Music.

Martha Davis is also accomplished on the stage, and I think she got her husband bitten by the bug. Martha is a dancer and an athlete, along with a shared commitment to theater, and community organizations. She’s been busy raising their kids, Sarah and Chandler, and did much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes at the school theatrical productions. Currently she’s working with “The Pearl”, a yoga, hiking, and cleansing retreat located in Laguna Canyon. 

Tom may have been front-row center at all the kid’s performances, but Martha got him on-stage, singing with her in Laguna Tunes, the fun choral group, and he’s hooked.

“We’ve got a concert coming up (Dec 19), with some jazzy Christmas tunes,” Tom said. “It’s not a serious classical concert. We do fun and funny music.”

Now their daughter, Sarah, a graduate with a degree in chemistry, has said that she wants to pursue theater. Looks like it runs in the family!

Tom also has a daughter from his first marriage, Jessie, who works with him at his law firm, Davis Law. “And my grandkids,” says Tom. “I want to mention Sophie and Preston!” Sophie is four years old, and Preston is two months. “Jessie’s a great mom,” he adds.

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Life is a great balancing act of work, family, love of one’s self, and love of others. 

What’s next Tom?

“If I could do anything at this point of my life, I’d like to travel, and hang out with my grandkids - and those grandkids yet unborn. But there is one other thing I have had in the back of my mind for a long time. 

“It’s a project, or a book or maybe a speaking gig,” he continued. “I’d like to work with a group of like-minded lawyers and write and speak about ‘The Soul of a Lawyer’. 

“I started this not-yet-project about 20 years ago. In fact I gave a talk to group of lawyers entitled The Soul of a Lawyer at about that time. In my profession, as in many others (or maybe all others), we get caught up in the work, the necessity to make a living, and as a litigator ‘the battle’. 

“We often lose sight of ourselves, our souls, our real purpose in life, which I think is to love, to care for each other, and to teach and learn from one another. I want to try to discern and share how we do our necessary work but not lose ourselves in the process. 

“Non-profit work is one way that I do that, but there are many other ways. I would like to explore that.”

A lawyer with a soul – that’s not a joke. That’s Tom Davis.


Marian Keegan and Fernanda Rocha

The Art of Fitness: The evolution of a partnership

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

Art of Fitness owners, Marian Keegan and Fernanda Rocha, have worked hard to create a place that provides more than just a good work out for their clients, although with 40 exercise classes a week for $88/month, they certainly have done that.  Keegan said she “was called to be in the space” where her gym is now.  

“Everyone knew this place as Jean’s Market, but then it was a church. To me it still is a church, just a different kind.”  

This passion is what elevates Art of Fitness beyond just a place to sweat. 

Partners with different backgrounds, but similar values

Despite being from seemingly very different places, Rocha is from Brazil and Keegan from the Midwest, their backgrounds are surprisingly similar.  “We have a lot of core values together,” explains Keegan.  Both come from big families; both earned academic degrees in exercise-related areas and both were drawn to Laguna Beach. 

“When I first moved here I lived in Lake Forest.  I couldn’t understand why my Laguna friends wouldn’t visit me,” explains Keegan laughing. “They wouldn’t leave the bubble.  I figured it out pretty quick. I feel like I was born here.  I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

The Art of Fitness, Laguna Beach

An adventure turns into US citizenship

When Rocha arrived in the US 14 years ago she was not planning on staying, let alone becoming a US citizen.  “I came here because I wanted to do something.  I wanted to explore.  I took Business and Marketing classes at UCLA, just getting knowledge about the fitness industry.  I had the vision that I could experience something new here, but it was not my intention to stay.” 

Armed with a degree in kinesiology from Brazil and a thirst to learn, Rocha hit LA then branched out, eventually landing in Laguna 10 years ago - and hasn’t left.

Fernanda Rocha, co-owner of The Art of Fitness

Laguna Beach means volleyball all year round

Keegan, similarly, came to Laguna Beach while traveling on vacation over 20 years ago.  “I was running health clubs in Houston.  I went there to get my PhD in fitness - no one had any education in fitness back then.  I ended up liking the business of fitness clubs as opposed to teaching.  I loved it here.  I played basketball and volleyball in college (at Northern Kentucky University).  I thought, ‘I can play volleyball all the time here!’” Keegan didn’t work in fitness when she arrived, however, deciding to open her own commercial upholstery business.  “In five years we had 800 restaurants.  So I just would come and hang out in Laguna.”  Then “the space” opened up and Art of Fitness was born.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Keegan.  “Everything about it has been good. We’ve had marriages; people have lost 40 pounds…so much of my heart has gone into this place.  I love what I do.  I’m excited to go to work every day. In the beginning, I had to fight the city - for five years,” explains Keegan. “It was very difficult.  I had to constantly prove we were a good fit.  Now, it’s worked out.  It wasn’t easy, but now I appreciate what they were doing.  I mean we’re not competing with 24 Hour Fitness!”  

Marian Keegan, co-owner of The Art of Fitness

From business partners to “family”

After several years of going it alone, Keegan met Rocha and the two eventually became partners, both in business and in life. “Fernanda lights the whole place up.  She’s very talented.  Her classes are packed.  She’s the best instructor I have ever seen in my whole life.  She’s also really organized.  I’m not so organized.  That’s good for me.” 

Their relationship became familiar to many from their stint on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”  However, sitting down with the two of them now they are decidedly un-dramatic. “We are family now,” Keegan says. She’s referring to Rocha, of course, but she could just as easily be talking about their clients. Rocha feels the same.  “We are the Art of Fitness family.”  

Fernanda Rocha teaches a class at The Art of Fitness

Change is good, in life and business

 Rocha says her experience on the show was both a “good and bad experience.” Nevertheless, it undeniably opened doors for her and they’re still opening today.  She is currently working on a re-launch of her Jiinga Workout and Jiinga Brasil fitness clothing line, as well as becoming the face of a new television venture in Brazil next year.  Yet, despite all these projects, The Art of Fitness is never far from her thoughts.  

“The idea is to create a health and wellness facility.  Marian and I talk about this.  There is a need to explore the mind along with the body.  Laguna is a perfect place for this.”  When I spoke with Keegan she mentioned their desire to offer a transcendental mediation class for her “Type A” clients as well as their goal to have a full-time nutritionist.  “If you listen to your clients they will tell you what they need,” says Keegan.  Which explains why the club has been remodeled five times in its 13-year history.  “We’re always evolving,” says Keegan.

The Art of Juicing takes it to another level

A recent addition to the evolution is the Art of Juicing, their locally sourced, organic, cold-pressed juice bar.  Keegan enthusiastically explained the special process for washing the produce (a lot of talk about ph levels that went over my head), the care that goes into making their almond milk (suffice it to say it’s quite laborious).  

“Our nutrient value is off the charts!” she raves.  

She then told me of one of their clients whose liver enzymes were extremely elevated.  After two weeks of juicing, they went back to normal.  While I can’t attest to the long-term benefits of their juice, I will say that when we met I was in the middle of a horrible cold. Keegan gave me a juice for the road.  I don’t know if it was the dandelion greens, the turmeric or just knowing I was going to go home and get back in bed, but I definitely felt better after I drank it.

Marian Keegan runs a spin class for her clients

A community, a family, a place to feel better

And isn’t that the point? Don’t we just want to feel better?  Whether it’s a frenetic spin class or gentle yoga, don’t we do these things to feel better? (OK…looking better is up there, too.) But sometimes feeling better isn’t just about sweating or burning calories.  Sometimes it’s about feeling like you matter.  Marian Keegan and Fernanda Rocha understand that.  They’ve become like family to each other through the years and see The Art of Fitness as an extension of that family. 

“We get involved in our clients’ lives,” says Rocha.  “80% of my friends are from the gym,” explains Keegan.  “This place is more than a gym.  It’s a community, a family…The biggest compliment we can get is when someone says, ‘I have no idea why I’m at this gym, but I’ve been here for five years and I’m not leaving,’” she says emphatically. “That’s when you know you’re doing good.” 


Karen Polek: a medicine woman for the new age

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Karen Polek is a healer. It has been her life’s mission since she can remember.

Karen Polek

“I’ve always been a sensitive person,” she says. “It’s a gift from God, really.” She felt it in her hands especially. “When I was very young, I remember my hands moving. They were highly sensitive.”

Polek used those hands to help her father, a farmer, pick the tobacco they grew in western Connecticut. Those were the times when kids would play in the cornfields as the crop dusters flew overhead. She remembers building things with the empty DDT pesticide cans. And those hands turned brown from the tar on the tobacco leaves.

Her mother, a devout Catholic, did not appreciate her young daughter’s special sensitivities. Being the good daughter, Karen conformed to her conservative environment. “I learned to stifle my energy,” she said.

She went down the expected path, pursuing a marketing career in a traditional corporate environment, and married a man working for the same company. The moved to Laguna in 1975, while she worked for Combustion Engineering, and her husband, an engineer, worked on the San Onofre power plant. Her mainstream world started to spin in a different orbit after their divorce. 

Past and present

Polek became more interested in the spiritual aspects of life: meditation, therapy, healthy eating, and exercise. “Your answers are within,” she says. “It’s just a matter of getting quiet and listening.” She slowed down, and paid attention.

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” she says. Her “teacher” appeared in the late 1980’s, when she began to study holistic health practices. Finally it all made sense to Polek as she was able to grow and utilize her sensitivities.

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The healing office

She studied at ISPB College in San Diego learning massage and other techniques as a health practitioner. After a thousand hours of training she opened her holistic practice in 1988. She continued to learn physical and emotional therapies, and one day a special teacher found her and guided her to CranioSacral Therapy.

The Cranium and the Sacrum

CranioSacral is a therapy developed by an osteopathic physician, Dr. John Upledger, in the early 1980’s as a way to relieve pain and dysfunction in the body, and improve whole-body health and performance. Practitioners use touch to evaluate the flow of the central nervous system.

“The beauty of CranioSacral Therapy is that it’s a gentle and self-corrective method,” said Polek. “It balances the neurological system; brain, bones, spinal fluids, and everything in between.” 

She was trained at the Upledger Institute about how to listen with her hands. As the spinal fluid is created in the cranium, it then sends forth into the body nutrients that protect and cleanse the neurological system. 

“There’s a flow of the cerebral spinal fluid,” she said. “I was taught to feel it and listen to the cranial movements of the bones as it goes back and forth.”

The body and the mind 

A part of CranioSacral work is what they call SomatoEmotional Release. “Most of our physical problems are a result of an emotion,” says Polek. “We guide the person to dialog with their body.” 

That can lead to an emotional release. 

“There are ‘Aha’ moments, maybe laughing hysterically, crying, or pain. It’s tapping into a memory,” she says. “The body stores memory in its tissues. The more your cerebral spinal fluid is balanced and flowing, the emotions can come out, and the body can get rid of it and heal.”

At her office in Laguna, and another office shared with a partner in cognitive therapy, Laurie Brodeske, PhD (Care Psychological Services), in Santa Ana, Polek sees a wide range of patients, including cancer patients, pregnant moms, newborns, and the elderly. About half of her patients are special needs children. 

There’s a thing called Reactive Attachment Disorder in cases where the child may have experienced abuse in utero such as drugs or alcohol, or children of sexual abuse. Polek works with many of these children once placed in foster care. 

“There’s such a trust issue with them, it’s hard to attach to parents,” Polek said. “Guilt can prevent the attachment, so they self-sabotage. 

“Kids can’t always decipher what their emotions are,” she continued. “I work with a cognitive therapist at the same time. I can feel when their cranial rhythm goes out, and that’s when we know to guide them into their feelings [with cognitive therapy].” 

Illness and Health

The best success story Polek shared was about a mom at Camp Pendleton. Her husband had been deployed so she was alone when she gave birth to their first child. The attending doctor immediately noticed a problem with the formation of the bones in the newborn baby’s skull, and he referred the mom to a specialist to perform a dangerous, yet necessary surgery.

Before that could happen, Polek was brought in. She did two cranial release sessions with the infant. When the mom took her baby to the specialist, he simply said, “Why are you here? There’s nothing wrong.” The bones had been perfectly re-aligned.

Dolphins and Therapy

If there’s one thing Karen Polek likes more than healing people, it’s dolphins. And even better than that, dolphins that heal.

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With her unique sensitivity, Polek can feel the dolphin’s energy. “You can see the sonar energy as they scan your body,” she says. “You can feel their energy on their rostrum.”

At one time, Polek was helping a patient who had been in a car accident, which severely damaged his hip. Polek was holding the man as he floated in water amongst dolphins in a natural lagoon. She watched as one dolphin swam to the far side of the lagoon. The next thing she knew, that dolphin came at lightening speed and bumped her away from the man. The dolphin stayed, and then gently rested its nose (rostrum) directly on the man’s hip.

She found that out at the Upledger Dolphin-Assisted Therapy clinic in the Bahamas. Polek often attends sessions there, to work with these intelligent and sensitive mammals. The dolphins provide their own form of healing within a gated lagoon during four-day intensive programs, which allow therapists and patients alike to experience the dolphin’s natural ability to sense and nurture humans.

The best of Karen Polek’s life has been guided by sensitivity, caring and feeling. The experience is in her hands and in her heart.


Mary Hurlbut: Finding an outdoor joy in pictures

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Scott Brashier

As a photographer, Mary Hurlbut strives to capture more than just the face of her subjects.  “My strength is interacting with people. When you’re creating a portrait you need to make your subject feel comfortable, otherwise you’re not capturing their spirit.” 

Capturing someone’s spirit is no easy task, either visually or with words.  However, in describing a recent summer afternoon she spent at the beach, Mary provided a very clear picture of who she is and why she is so good at what she does.

A self-declared “ocean fanatic”

“I’m a third generation Lagunan.  Spence, my husband, is local, too.  One of the things that we share is we are both ocean fanatics – anything that has to do with the water: sailing, surfing, snorkeling.  One of our favorite things is just diving in the waves. The water has been so amazing! So Spence and I went down to Woods Cove and we’re just playing in the waves.  Every time it makes me feel like I’m 20 years old all over again.  And then my daughter and her husband just happen to show up, too, because they love to do that.  So there we were, all four of us, diving and playing in the waves.  It was wonderful.”  

Envisioning her and her husband of almost 33 years frolicking in the waves, to me, captured something that is extremely evident when meeting Hurlbut: her exuberance.  Whether talking about her craft, her family, her town or the many organizations she is involved with, there is an enthusiasm and joyousness that’s usually reserved for the new. But Hurlbut is not a newcomer, either to marriage or her art.  She is just someone who has a deep appreciation for what she has and who makes the most out of a day of sun, surf and warm water.

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Mary Hurlbut with her ever-present camera and smile

Hurlbut’s husband, Spence, was a brass sculptor who participated at the Sawdust Festival for 38 years, retiring when the physicality of brass sculpting became too much.  She credits him with helping her make a living as a working artist.  

“Spence taught me to think about things like what materials cost, how long it takes to complete something…things like that that are invaluable to an artist, but things not all artists think about.”

The Sawdust Festival and 27 years of dual booths

Although both went to Laguna Beach High School, Spence is four yeas older so their paths didn’t cross until after Mary returned to Laguna from college with her Bachelor of Fine Arts.  Two weeks after meeting Spence at a Halloween costume party, she got accepted to the Sawdust Festival as a stained glass artist.  The good news was that both of them were exhibitors.  The bad news was they had to build their own booths – a very labor-intensive project that they did together for 27 years, until Spence’s retirement. “Now we only have to build one booth,” Hurlbut says laughing.

New technology leads to a new medium

Hurlbut’s interest in stained glass began to wane when, for her “jubilee year”, as she calls it, she got a digital camera.  No more film.  No more dark room. And very soon after, no more stained glass.  “I did stained glass until 2008, but I always had a camera in my hand.  When I got my first DSLR camera I got really excited about it, and it changed my life. I found myself just going through the motions with the stained glass so I switched over to photography.”

This was around 2008.  Fortunately, Spence had been paying close attention to the economy.  Sensing things were going to get worse before they got better, he felt they could no longer support two separate studios, but they did erect a “mini-booth” at the Sawdust Festival, a set up that Mary has used for the last six years.  

“Two years ago was the first time I sold nothing.  The booth just became a storefront.  It’s great because people come by and say, ‘I take terrible pictures.’ I love showing them the difference between taking a picture and creating a portrait.  Once I show them what I can do for them they’re dumbfounded.”

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Mary Hurlbut in her home-office

Finding her style and the hazards of the camera phone

Her years of portraiture and wedding photography have helped her find her style.  “Photographers are artists, and we all have our own style.  You have to specialize.  I know my clients.  I know my style – natural, outdoorsy.  Not every photographer can work with everyone. I know my strengths.”  And, although Hurlbut loves what she does, she admits that photography is a very challenging market.  

“In hindsight I picked the wrong thing to go into from a business standpoint.  Everyone has a camera.”  And everyone thinks they’re a photographer.  She finds her work as a wedding photographer especially challenging in these days of the ubiquitous camera phone.  “You’ve got people stepping in front of you with their phones during ‘the kiss shot’ and things like that.  Weddings are exhausting!” she says emphatically.

Social media helps refine her craft

Ever the enterprising artist, Hurlbut has worked extensively in social media, which she credits with helping her refine her craft.  “I went to the Marketing Director of the Sawdust Festival and said, ‘We need a Facebook page.’  Because I’ve been there for so long – I know all the artists – I wanted to show the behind-the-scenes stuff.  It is a target rich environment.  So I honed my craft by producing product photos, portraits, everything like that.  Now it’s a sideline job that I’m really good at.”  She no longer handles the Facebook page for the Festival, but if you need a headshot for your page just let her know!

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Mary Hurlbut in work-mode

A post-workout chat with Stu provides a new opportunity

Another avenue for work is, of course, StuNews where she is called upon weekly to photograph the subjects of the Laguna Life and People section.  “I met Stu because my gym is right next door to Laguna Coffee, where he used to hold a lot of his weekly gatherings.  I had some questions about things that were going on in Laguna so I showed up one day all sweaty and we talked. After that I’d take a pretty picture and send it to him and that turned into a relationship.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity.  Plus I get to meet all these wonderful people.”

Hurlbut is currently gearing up for the Winter Festival at the Sawdust. “I just bought a new lens that I’m excited to use.  I will be photographing for Santa.  I did it last year.  You know, our Santa is the real Santa,” she says with authority.  The Winter Festival opens November 22 and runs for the next five weekends.

Living as an artist: a dream fulfilled

“What’s so wonderful is that my dream was to be an artist.  The Sawdust gave me that opportunity.  It allowed me to be an artist and stay at home and raise my daughter,” explains Hurlbut.  “When you’re self-employed you have to be very disciplined.”  

And it helps to be extremely busy.  Between the Sawdust Festival, the Winter Festival, weddings, portraits, teaching photo classes at the Sawdust, teaching different mediums at LOCA and managing social media sites for different organizations, Hurlbut’s plate is extremely full.  But when we finished our interview I left her contentedly roaming around The Ranch, camera in hand.  

She had appointments and other things lined up that day, but it was a lovely morning and she was going to spend some time enjoying it.


Boris Piskun: a Laguna global citizen with a big heart

Story by MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Are you Boris?” I asked the first gentleman I see at the coffee house. No, not him… “Of course!” I mutter as I smack my forehead, for there is the real Boris entering the coffee house, all six-feet-seven of him. I remembered he had been a pro basketball player.

“I used to be six-eight,” he laughs. “When you’re a forward, you’re always six-eight.” 

Boris Piskun

Little known fact to me. (But, then, I swear I used to be an inch taller myself.)

Boris Piskun is what my mother used to call “a long drink of water”, with wit and laughter to match his height. And with his self-deprecating sense of humor, he’s the first to call himself “the tall, goofy guy.”

Submitted photo

Piskun (left) was a Columbia University Lion in the mid 1990’s

Piskun had contacted Stu News because he was motivated by another Laguna Life & People story we had written about high school students, Aaron and Shira Alcouloumre. He wanted to help them in their work with the Day Laborers in Laguna. While he has a giving heart and a kind soul, Piskun also shares a personal reality about the hardships of immigrants.

An immigrant’s story

He was born in Azerbaijan while it was still under the control of the Soviet Union. His family emigrated when he was five, and settled into the ethnically complex region of Brooklyn, NY. “Now they’re all gentrified,” he said of the New York City boroughs. “But, back then, Bedford Stuyvesant was like Mogadishu. We’d say, ‘Do or die in Bed Sty’!”

 Piskun grew up playing basketball in the different leagues of New York City, where he was nicknamed, “The Mad Russian”. His dad drove a cab for 10 hours a day, then followed that with factory work for another six. “It’s the immigrant mentality,” Piskun said. They counted their blessings. Life was better in America.

Things were worse in the Soviet Union, or as he grew to learn, in South Africa under apartheid, and later in Tijuana where these days he witnesses people living in the dry river channel on a concrete embankment filled with tents. 

It’s a luck-of-the-draw where you happen to be born. “Hey,” he said. “We won the DNA lottery didn’t we? Sometimes we forget about that.”

On the other side of the border

Part of this philosophy stems from Piskun’s business. He and business partner, Andrew Gold, have a telemarketing company that targets solar energy for residential markets. He commutes to his office every week in the opposite direction of thousands of other people - into Mexico.

Piskun’s business employs 200 people, many of whom are Mexicans that were deported from the US. 

Having been deported mostly for non-violent crimes, such as DUI or drug possession, deportees’ lives can go from comfort to destitution before they realize what’s happened. One minute they may be having respectable, comfortable lives in the States, and the next they find themselves broke and homeless on the other side of the border.

“It’s either go to jail, or get deported to Mexico,” says Piskun. “A lot of them have been in the US their whole lives, and they don’t even speak Spanish.”

Piskun has seen it all from the comfortable perch of life on the US side of the border, and also as a Tijuana employer. 

They pay about double what wages are in Mexico, “Because we can,” he says. “My whole mentality is I want to be known by my deeds. We are there to make money, and we do, but it’s also great seeing people empowered. It’s a cool feeling.”

A global life puts things in perspective 

Piskun’s global outlook was born in Azerbaijan, and nurtured in New York (including a degree from Columbia University). Then he spent a couple of years as a pro basketball player in Israel. Just when he thought he’d go into banking (“I’m a finance/numbers guy!”), he visited Laguna, met a gal, and everything changed.

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Bella Piskun gets a push on the swing from the tall, goofy guy

Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans, right?

Little Piskun’s

Today he has a three-day-a-week commute to Tijuana, tennis has transplanted basketball, and he has two very important people keeping a smile on his face: Bella and Ruby.

Bella, Ruby, and dad, Boris, at Bluebird Park

Bella, nine years old, and Ruby, seven, are that special age that parents adore. “These are the times when kids think you’re cool,” says the cool dad. 

And they are the reason Piskun plans to help with the Day Laborers in Laguna. He’s a giving person who believes in volunteerism, and teaching that same practice to his daughters is what it’s all about. 

One of the immediate needs that he’s focusing on right now is his dear friend, Alyssa, who is battling stage four cancer. On a scale of just-not-fair-ness, she came up short. “It’s a roll of the dice, and she got snake eyes,” he says.  Along with other friends, he is busy organizing efforts to help with her medical treatment and with the care of her son.

“It’s inspiring to pay it forward,” Piskun says. “If there’s one thing I want to teach my girls, it’s that it’s about giving, not taking.” 

Spoken like a true forward.


Lynn Epstein: Maximizing potential with humor

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Lynn Epstein has a lot of energy.  When you’re on the floor, working with young kids for a good part of your day, that’s a helpful trait.  

For the last 28 years Epstein has worked with children as a speech pathologist, helping them find their voice and better communicate with others.  Communication, to Epstein, is a theme that not only runs through her work life, but it’s an important part of her life away from work, as well. As a former stand up comic, a writer and illustrator, an award-winning performer and an App creator, this highly-regarded speech pathologist, who has committed herself to helping others communicate, has a lot to say herself.

Lynn Epstein, clinician and owner of Laguna Beach Language and Speech Clinic

Therapist by day, comic by night

Epstein is originally from Florida. “Laguna is like Florida without the humidity,” she explains when asked what brought her here in 1992.  She has been here ever since, excepting a two-year stint in Pensacola when she was engaged and then disengaged to a Marine pilot. (“I definitely served my country,” she says wryly.)  

When she returned in 1996, she took a comedy class at the Ice House.  “People said, ‘You’re funny,’ but I wanted to see if I could do it on cue; being on stage is different than telling jokes at a party. So I took another class in LA and started doing open mic nights.  Then I started getting hired as the MC, and I started producing my own shows.  I worked with a lot of people that are now on The Tonight Show. I worked with Chelsea Handler at the Comedy Store.  She’s great.  I then started teaching comedy classes.  It all comes back to language; helping people discover their own style.”

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Lynn Epstein shows some of her tricks of the trade

A hiatus from stand-up leads to other things

While busy with her comedy, Epstein was still working full time as a speech pathologist.  She finally decided that rather than doing what she did for others, she could do it for herself and opened her own practice.  This put her stand up on the back shelf.  Nevertheless, she still managed to find the time to write and illustrate a book titled “Why is It?!” that has 80 pages of questions such as, “Why is it the one who snores falls asleep first?” and “Why is it your mom said, “Be careful” AFTER you fell?” Epstein gave me a copy and joked that it fits perfectly on top of toilet tanks. 

Another outlet Epstein found for her self-expression is Lagunatics, the local and much-beloved theater group. “Yeah, I was scouted in Vons,” she deadpans. “I’ve got my Best Schmactor Award, the Golden Ham.” 

It’s not hard to picture her in full comic mode, gleefully embracing whatever role she is assigned.  It’s pretty clear that when Epstein is “in”, she’s “all in”.  

“My mom passed away young,” she explains. “So I think I have this ‘just do it’ attitude.  And yahoo! If you get paid for it!”

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Books and toys are everywhere in Epstein’s office

A little bit of science and a little bit of magic

When she taught her comedy classes her adult comic students came willingly.  Sometimes, however, her younger students who arrive at her office for therapy need some coaxing to let her teach them.  Humor is a perfect way “in.”  “When a kid says, ‘You’re funny’ I’m all, ‘Yes!’  This is all a little bit of science and a little bit of magic,” as Epstein describes it.  

Add App creator to the list of accomplishments

Her latest endeavor is work-related, but the enthusiasm is the same.  She developed an App titled “How do you Know?”  “I’ve been using this therapy technique for the last ten years, helping the kids learn to think out loud.  I haven’t officially launched it yet and I just added a read aloud component to it, but it’s something parents and other speech therapists can use.  Basically, there are 500 questions with pictures like ‘How is she feeling?’ and it will show a worried face, a stressed face, etc. The kid answers the question but the follow up question is ‘How do you know?’ It helps them learn to verbalize how they know what they know.”

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Epstein knows what kids like (because she likes it, too!)

Bringing parents into the process

Just to make sure she stays going at full throttle, Epstein is presenting at the American Speech Language Hearing Association in Orlando this month, an honor she is very proud of.  Her paper has to do with the parental component of therapy, an area that is critical to her students’ success, but often overlooked. 

“The first year they didn’t accept my paper, but they encouraged me to try again.  I guess you can’t quote yourself,” she explains with a laugh.  But she went back, found more research on things like the “grieving process” of therapy, as Epstein describes it.  Because therapy can be such a commitment, it can impact a family’s life in ways that, while not tragic, can be stressful. “Sometimes it’s not what the parents expect. Their kid can’t go to ballet anymore, they miss their other kids’ soccer games, it can be expensive,” she explains.  All these things can put stress on families.  By developing a better strategy for bringing parents into the process, Epstein believes she can help minimize that stress while better helping her students.

“I always say I’m a jack of all trades, master of one – that’s framed on the wall,” laughs Epstein.  

After meeting her, that seems like quite an understatement. Whether she’s helping a youngster expand their language, helping parents with the process of therapy or telling jokes to an audience, in Epstein’s world everything comes back to communication.  “I’m all about maximizing potential, whether it’s for a student, a colleague or a parent. I really enjoy that.”  

And if she can do it while making you laugh, all that much the better.


Creighton Wall knows, it’s character that counts

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Everyone says he’s a character, and sure enough, the first time I see Creighton Wall he is actually in character: Captain America.

“I love superheroes,” he says, and that’s an understatement. “I like to make people smile.”

Arriving on the beach

Creighton and his brother Spencer grew up in Nebraska, and they were always close. So when Spencer moved and started a life in Laguna, Creighton seized every opportunity to come out and visit, along with their parents. 

Back in the flatlands of Nebraska, Creighton was something of a big fish in a small pond. Just about everyone knew everyone, but especially so in the community of individuals with Down Syndrome. 

They would get together socially, often for movies, their bowling club, and regional events like the Special Olympics. 

Creighton was also known around town by his bright red VW. He would drive to his custodial job at the YMCA. 

It took him five years, but he was very determined to learn to drive, Spencer told us. “He’s a very slow, careful driver. He’s cautious, and really good.” 

“But, it’s too busy here. Too dangerous,” chimes in Creighton. He lives along Coast Highway now, and has seen his fair share of dangers. “I see people cross the street - not at a crosswalk. And ambulances. I’m not going to drive here.”

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Brothers, Spencer and Creighton Wall

That’s a relatively easy trade-off for the life of independence he’s found at Glennwood House. 

Creighton moved here six months ago to make his home at Glennwood, within a caring and safe community, where the sun shines, and people say hello. “I love it here. I don’t have to shovel snow! I love the staff, I love the food,” he says. “But not chicken salad.” 

He’s not a fan of chicken salad. 

“My buddy Carter,” he continues, “we’re the ‘dynamic duo’ of Glennwood.” They share a love of movies.

It’s an independent life no one in his family might have imagined for Creighton. Now even his parents have been smitten with Laguna, and recently bought a home here. “It’s everything I ever dreamed of,” adds his brother, Spencer.

It started with a bang

Creighton loved the beach and when he’d come for visits, he’d swim out to the buoy off Main Beach. He would meet people, and make sure they’d smile. He’d make knotted bracelets and sell them on the sidewalk during Art Walk. And he always loved Disneyland. 

“California is my wonderland,” he says.

One day Creighton’s brother gave him a birthday dream come true. He took him to L.A., to a live taping of his favorite TV show, The Big Bang Theory. “It’s my addiction,” said Creighton. “I have a life-size cutout of Sheldon Cooper in my room!” 

They had cupcakes and he even got to meet the whole cast. “They love comics, and I’m getting into them,” he said. “Because I like superheroes!” 

Creighton is perfecting his superhero persona with different costumes, and appearances on Main Beach. He’s going to be Batman for Halloween. As he knows, “It’s fun. It makes people happy.”

Books and more books

While Creighton was growing up in Nebraska, he reached that particular age and point of realization that he couldn’t eat everything he wanted. It was a tough lesson, because he has a special fondness for Cheetos and other non-healthy snacks, but his weight was climbing and he didn’t feel good about it.

 As part of the plan, he documented his journey in fitness and weight-loss in his own book, I Used to be Down, but Now I Love My Life.

He wraps up the book, stating: “The reason why I wrote this book is to share the success story of my health. I like to tell people my new way of how to look at life and how precious it is. Live on my brothers and sisters. I wrote this book for you, too. …I love my life. I want you to love it too. A healthy body is a good body. Please take care of it people. God gives us one body, treat it well.”

Now he adheres to a one-bag-of-Cheetos-a-week plan.

“I want to get my book made into a movie!” Creighton offers up, hopefully.

 His love of writing and reading also includes a huge love of libraries. He spends all his free time hanging out at libraries. “I like the Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, and Dana Point libraries …it’s peaceful,” he says. “I don’t like negativity and stress. I’m a positive person.” 

Enthusiastically, next he plans to write a book about recycling.

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Heavy lifting and sorting: Creighton is passionate about recycling

Creighton looks at life in terms of what he can do, which is a lot, what he wants to do which is even more, and what is most important: spreading happiness. 

It’s fun at the YMCA

On the road to fitness, Creighton did a lot of swimming and working out at the YMCA, in Nebraska. He enjoyed it so much there, that he started volunteering. And he was so good at it, and so dedicated, that they hired him on for custodial work. He worked from 5:00 a.m. till noon every day. He’s proud to say that he was named “Employee of the Year”.

He’s hoping for a similar path since discovering the Laguna Niguel YMCA. 

“Jimmy works at the front desk at the Y, and gives tours,” said Creighton. “We’re buddies. I told him I’d mention him. He’s a great guy. Jimmy, like Jimmy Olsen with Superman!” 

Jimmy is happy for Creighton’s friendship, and for his volunteerism. He takes the bus there at least twice a week, and helps out at the facility, also with their custodial duties. “It’s my stress reliever. But I won’t do toilets,” Creighton said, laughing. 

He likes to swim and hopes to be in the Special Olympics again. “I’m big on competing a lot,” he says. “I got that from my dad.” 

We look forward to following his progress in the Special Olympics, in all the sports he likes: swimming, boxing, weight lifting, and bowling.

A worldwide family

The Wall family has joined with the National Down Syndrome Congress every summer, an event that brings them all over the country to raise awareness, and foster friendships. 

The annual convention attracts thousands of people from around the globe. As the NDSC website states, “For most, it’s to hear the latest information from world-renowned experts. For others, it’s a great vacation. But, for nearly all there’s that one-of-a-kind NDSC family reunion feeling that permeates the convention weekend.” 

Creighton’s family has been enjoying the event almost every year of his life.

“There are about 200 Down Syndrome kids in our hotel, the Congress refers to as ‘self advocates’,” Spencer explains. “They share their strengths and skills, and have fun. Every summer it’s like a reunion.” 

Creighton has become close with a girl from Atlanta through this event, and they continue their friendship via Facebook. “I want to get her to move here too,” he says.

Awareness Month

Spencer Wall has a tight bond with his brother and, by association, a special commitment to the Down Syndrome community. He brought Stu News together with Creighton, in honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, this month. We couldn’t have been happier to get to know this charming young man, and share his story at this special time. 

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Creighton Wall

Spencer started working in Laguna, and even met his future wife through a connection to the Down Syndrome community as well. When they met, she was a nanny for a family in Laguna with a Down Syndrome child.

 Spencer is not only Creighton’s brother, he’s his biggest fan - and the feeling is mutual. 

 “I want to be more like my brother,” says Creighton. “But I’m not getting married.”

Meanwhile, Spencer is married, and has a son he named for Creighton. It’s his middle name: Samuel.

Creighton is close to his brother and sister-in-law, and is the proud uncle of their son, Sam. Along with his sister’s children, Creighton has even more bragging rights. “I am an uncle to three beautiful kids,” he says, beaming.

Thanks to Spencer’s good friend, Chris Keller, himself a father to a Down Syndrome child, Creighton has also found a new purpose; he is downright passionate for recycling. 

He goes to Keller’s Rooftop restaurant often with other Glennwood residents every Thursday to sort their recyclables. Then on Fridays, they take them in to the recycling center in Dana Point.

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He’s a “regular” at The Rooftop restaurant. Regularly helping out!

Creighton has made new friends with his same high level of abilities at Glennwood, and has been embraced by Laguna as he gives back to the community.

And his brother appreciates him in ways he may not even know. “Creighton tells it like it is,” said Spencer. “If I have learned anything from my younger brother it is to be real with yourself and others.” 


Ricky Figueroa: Respecting the night shift

BY SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Everyone should have the pleasure of meeting Ricky Figueroa.   Why? Because it never hurts to meet someone who genuinely cares about others.  It also never hurts to meet someone who can teach you something you didn’t think you needed to learn. So, while it may be a difficult prospect to schedule lunch with a man who works from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. (longer on weekends) six days a week, if the opportunity should present itself – jump on it.

For the last five years, Ricky Figueroa has worked the night shift at the Stop-N-Go in north Laguna.  Prior to that he worked at the Mobil station downtown for four years, also the night shift. So he’s certainly adapted to those long, late night and early morning hours.  “I like the night.  Everybody is happy to be off school or off work, plus after 10 it gets very quiet.  I feel safe,” he explains.

Ricky Figueroa 

Finding an after hours community

The fact that he prefers working at night is not what made such an impression on me (although, it does seem incredibly challenging for a non-night owl like myself).  What affected me so profoundly was the true enjoyment he derives from his job.  As he explains it, “When I’m working it’s when I feel like I’m home.  It’s more of a social life.  Friends come in and visit.  People come by after work.  I can help people if they need something.  I feel very blessed.”   The Mobil station did not provide quite the same experience.  It didn’t have the sense of community the Stop-n-Go does.  And after listening to Figueroa discuss the people, particularly the kids, who frequent the store it is obvious how important community is to him.

Getting his first job when he was about 12, Figueroa worked at a relative’s construction site in his hometown of Puebla, near Mexico City.  He decided he liked working, liked having money in his pocket to buy candy and things.  When he went to college he was still working, this time at a nightclub in Tijuana.  “I didn’t finish college.  I was working too much.  My job was from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and my first class was at 7.  I realized I’m not learning anything,” he says with a laugh.  A friend convinced him to move to Chicago.  Once he got to the States, however, they lost contact so he ended up living with his cousins in Laguna Hills.  A quick stay in St. George, Utah installing air conditioning units ended and “I was supposed to go back to Mexico with my 

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Ricky Figueroa with some of his North Laguna “peeps”

family, but my cousin asked me to stay.  I found a job so I did.”  His first job in Laguna was at the Inn at Laguna, then he moved right across Coast Hwy to the Mobil station.  “I love Laguna Beach. There is such a good spirit here.”  

When I ask him how many times he has actually been to the beach he laughs again, “Only about six times.”  It’s not surprising considering his hours, plus he works another job part-time buying and selling computer parts online.  That doesn’t leave a lot of time for beach going.

Paying it forward at Stop-n-Go

Figueroa’s boss, the owner of Stop-n-Go is “really nice,” according to Figueroa, allowing him and his co-workers to eat free of charge while on duty, for example.  It’s a little thing, but to Figueroa it’s a sign of respect and trust from his boss.  He says none of the guys who work there would dream of taking advantage of their boss’ generosity because they appreciate the gesture.  Plus it sets a kind of precedent.  The owner is generous, he allows his workers to be generous (short a few cents at the register? Not a problem), and frequently customers tell the guys who work there to “keep the change.” 

The store is its own tiny microcosm of paying it forward.  The idea of treating others how you would like to be treated is an important one to Figueroa and one he takes very seriously.

The Stop-n-Go in north Laguna, 1390 N. Coast Highway

Trust and respect build relationships

“My parents trusted me when I was a kid. When you trust a kid they feel it and give it back to you. I give my mom and dad a lot of thanks.  They let me do what I want because they trusted me,” he explains.  This philosophy is something Ricky puts into practice everyday at work.  He sees the people who come in as more than customers. And most of his regular customers see him as more than the guy who rings up their order.  It is with a fair amount of pride that Ricky tells me how customers he has seen grown up will come in to Stop-n-Go to buy their first beer on their 21st birthday, not because they really want a beer, but because they are so happy to show him their ID.  But the ID better be real.  

Figueroa has a pretty good idea of how old his customers really are, plus he very likely knows their parents, and will give the parents a head’s up if he thinks it’s necessary. After a few of his tales of thwarted teen purchases, I felt compelled to whip out my phone, show him a photo of my two teenagers (whom he recognized) and grill him as to their purchases and general behavior.  I must say I feel better knowing he’s there, keeping an eye on things.

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Ricky Figueroa behind the counter with a smile

A clerk becomes a hero

“I think he likes how I treat him with respect. It’s important to hear what kids say.  Being a child is not easy, for me either, “ says Figueroa with a laugh. “I had someone behind me showing me the way.  That is something all kids need.”  The “he” Ricky is referring to is a boy named Monty.  According to Figueroa, Monty was a frequent Stop-n-Go customer and the two built up a friendship.  When he was about 14 Monty told Figueroa that he needed to choose a hero for a class project.  He chose Figueroa. 

“The other day when I was a little down I remembered that and it picked me up.  That was nice.  I also had one of the kids ask me how much I make to work here. I just laughed and he told me that when ‘I get big I’m going to buy this store and give it to you.’ These are things that make you feel good.  I feel blessed.” And he really does.  

That’s why the chance to chat with Ricky Figueroa should not be squandered.  Gratitude. Trust. Respect. These words carry a lot of weight with him and when you talk to him it’s easy to feel like maybe they should carry a little more weight with you.  There’s feeling these things and there’s living by these things. I thought I was the former until I met Figueroa.  That’s where I learned my lesson.  If I use Figueroa as my standard, I’ve got some room for improvement.  So, if you’re driving by and you need a bag of ice or you’re craving some chips, stop in.  

I’m pretty sure you will get more than you thought you needed.


Siblings giving: Aaron and Shira Alcouloumre

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Aaron and Shira had a plan about the money gifted to them at their B’nai Mitzvah.

They are brother and sister, and since they are so close in age they celebrated their coming-of-age in the Jewish faith jointly. 

Together, they were greater than the sum of the parts, as they both wanted to use the money, as well as their every available minute making a difference in the lives of Laguna’s most desperate and impoverished population. 

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Aaron and Shira Alcouloumre

Aaron, now 17, is a senior at Laguna Beach High School, and Shira, 16, is a junior. What they started four years ago has now blossomed into a philanthropic club at the high school called “Friends in Need”.

Giving a hand up

They started with helping the homeless. Ambitiously, they got Panera Bread’s acceptance, and began regularly picking up day-old and other gifts from the Panera restaurant in Aliso Viejo. They thought it would be great to bring it to Main Beach for the homeless people there.

The City didn’t agree. 

There was already the Alternative Sleeping Location in place in the canyon, and the idea was to keep meal donations centered there. On one of his return trips from the ASL, Aaron was moved by the sight of countless day laborers anxiously waiting in the sun for a car to drive up and offer them a day of work and wages. 

The Day Laborer site is perhaps a scary unknown to many residents of Laguna Beach. For many others it is also a source of competent, ready, and willing workers for a day of difficult tasks at fair or below normal wages.  

How could he pass by without a care? Answer: he couldn’t.

A site for opportunity

Aaron and Shira started to visit the day laborers. 

“They are hungry, tired, and standing in the dirt all day,” said Aaron. “They’re here in our community, but they live way below the poverty line.”

At first the men there were wary, but slowly they built a relationship of trust with the teenagers. “We treat them with dignity,” explained Aaron. “They’ve opened up to us, they’ve lived some incredible lives. 

“I trust all of them. They’re just great human beings.”

Beyond food, Aaron and Shira have stepped in to fill needs where they might not even be evident.

“One day a guy was there and we’d brought bagels,” said Shira. “But he couldn’t eat because his teeth hurt.” They brought a dentist to the site, and a hygienist to help educate the workers with proper dental care. “One day there was a guy with an eye infection,” Aaron chimed in. “His eye was swollen completely shut.” They brought him to Sleepy Hollow Urgent Care and paid for his care with their own money.

The gratitude bestowed on these kids is heart-warming. 

We joined Aaron and Shira at the site, workmen clamoring to get to the car as we pulled in. Once they knew we were there to talk about what Aaron and Shira are doing they were all smiles and handshakes.

“They are so great,” one said of the teens. Another showed us the best thing that they did to improve the dry and dusty site, where sometimes a hundred men will be sweating in the heat: a water fountain.

“I asked the guys, ‘What else do you need?’” said Aaron. “They just said ‘water’.” 

Instead of bringing in cases of wasteful plastic bottles, Aaron and Shira decided on a better plan; they’d get them a water fountain. Using their B’nai Mitzvah money, and what friends would help with donations, they raised the $3,000 for a permanent water fountain.

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On installation day, four years ago, the kids went across the street to Ganahl and got some shovels and supplies, then the workers did the work. “The guys installed it,” said Shira. “Everyone put their name in the cement.”

Meanwhile the teens fund-raised for more projects. 

They called on friends and family, and started the club at the high school to broaden their reach.

Friends in Need

The Friends in Need club doubles as Santa during the holiday season. They do a winter coat drive, and their Christmas project is to get all the day laborer names, their spouses and kids, and where they live. Then they raise money, go to Target to purchase gifts, and host wrapping parties at the high school. On Christmas Eve they’ve gone out and delivered presents to every single family.

It was quite shocking at first, to see the conditions in which many of the day laborers live. 

“We went one house to the next,” said Aaron. “We saw people living four families in an apartment, and living in garages. But we’ve always found everybody.”

They have also just installed a retractable awning at the Day Laborer site, to provide shade, or relief from rain. “The guys who get the jobs are the least wet,” said Shira. 

Also the guy who can speak English.

The biggest effort for the club these days is to provide the tools for learning English. Two years ago, the students got 40 vocabulary textbooks donated. They are kept in the little trailer on-site, but the workers can use them during the day, or purchase them at a nominal cost to share at home. The teens help teach and practice English with the workers.

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“We come out to the site on Saturdays,” explains Shira. “We usually have three or four people to teach.”

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“This project is building relationships,” adds Aaron. “My mom had a contractor at the house, and he said, ‘I know your son. He taught me English!’”

There are now 65 students from the high school who have joined Friends in Need. Their long-term goals include a permanent bathroom at the site, a gutter for the trailer building so rain doesn’t come in, and one day to have a classroom building.

Besides that

And then there are the other things that lie in the hearts of these two caring and compassionate teens. They are both deeply committed to the arts.

Shira began dancing when she was a little girl, with Miss Linda’s Castle, and Kyne Dance Academy. She’s now in the LBHS varsity dance program daily, with a seventh period enrollment in a second dance class. 

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Aaron is musically gifted all around, playing piccolo, piano, guitar, and ukulele. But that’s all trumped by the trumpet. He’s earned All State, and All Southern auditions, and he plays the trumpet with the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra. His college plans include music, but he’d like to go for a pre-med major. He’d like to be an ER doc, like his dad. 

We doubt there’s any stopping these two heartfelt, high-achievers.


Faye Chapman: Making many people’s lives better

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

There is a passage in Faye Chapman’s book of photos, Faces of the Shadows: Life on the Street that says, “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.”  To hear Chapman talk about the homeless, a cause that she is deeply committed to, is to understand how much she takes those words to heart -- and how much she wishes others would, as well.

Faye Chapman was homeless for a brief time, many years ago before she came to Laguna.  She didn’t think of herself as homeless, but technically she and her daughter were without a home of their own one summer and, therefore, “homeless.” Chapman sent her daughter to stay with her grandparents in Indiana while she slept on friends’ couches, worked two part time jobs, took photos for the local paper, sat on the Board of the American Heart Association and volunteered with the PTA. The volunteer work was required so she could get food from the local church.  

“That was a great program.  You felt like you earned your food instead of it just being a handout.”  Eventually, she saved the money she needed, her daughter returned for school and life resumed.  Her “homelessness” was over.

Talking to Chapman about this time in her life, one marvels at the stamina she needed to do what she did.  She says that when she thinks about it she’s a little surprised at what she was able to do, as well.  “How did I do all that?! Now I can’t seem to get anything done!” she says laughing. Hardly. While she may not be working three jobs anymore, Faye Chapman gets quite a lot done, especially for the projects she believes in.

A chance encounter’s surprising impact

It would be easy to assume her interest in homelessness was brought on by that summer so long ago. While that experience may have opened her up to the frailty of stability, it was not as significant as another event that happened years later.  She says that what started her down this path of working with the homeless was a chance encounter with a homeless woman who accidentally walked into a picture she was taking while at Venice Beach.  

At first, Chapman says she thought, “Oh shoot. She just ruined my shot.  But I took one picture.  And this woman was so drawn in, almost like she was hiding from the world.  Then she saw I was looking at her and her whole being changed.  It was like she was embarrassed…I got up and walked away.  But it started me thinking, ‘Why is this woman homeless?’ I started looking for her, but it was like she’d vanished. This is what started me on my journey.”

An interest turns into a cause

By then, Chapman and her daughter had moved to Laguna Beach and Chapman was working for the local paper, at the time run by Stu Saffer.  “I asked Stu if I could take pictures of the homeless.  He said, ‘OK.’  Every city I went to I wanted to find out about the people there. You can’t generalize.  Everyone has their own journey and story: medical bills, a divorce, mental illness, no family.  I found that most of the time these were good people who had bad things happen to them.”  She published her book of photos in 2007.  Getting to know their stories prompted Chapman to want to do something to help.

“It’s hard.  When you get to that level it’s really, really hard.  Your basic needs aren’t being met.  No shower.  No phone. How can you get a job? You need someone helping you and pulling you along.  If we don’t help them they will die on our streets.” 

So Chapman joined what was then the Laguna Beach Resource Center (now the Laguna Beach Food Pantry).  When Chapman joined the Resource Center they had three areas of focus: the homeless, the food pantry and disaster preparedness.  A few years ago, the group decided to focus solely on the food pantry so Chapman left to continue her focus on homelessness. 

The Hunger Bowl delivers necessities

“I was on the [city’s] Housing and Human Services Committee, still am, actually.  Six years ago I came up with the Hunger Bowl.  I get bowls donated from all over the world and they’re used as silent auction items.  I get restaurants to donate food; local kids make bowls that we give to every guest. It gives us the chance to go out and talk to the kids about homelessness, tell them to look them in the eye, be kind, don’t be afraid of them.  So it’s great that way, and it has turned into a very fun event,” explains Chapman.  

Last year the event raised $20,000 and she hopes to double that this year.  She’s still accepting bowls if anyone, artists in particular, would like to donate. Tickets are $45 for five tastes of soup, one dessert and a keepsake bowl made by students at LBHS, Woodbridge High School or Trabuco High School.  

“There is a Board that decides how to spend the money we raise.  Last year the money went to help paying for prescriptions, a huge need.”  She detailed how a new program, organized with the help of Dr. Tom Bent of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, provides $10 prescriptions at Laguna Drug.  “This is huge! I’m very excited about this program,” says Chapman.  The old process for getting prescriptions filled for homeless people, she explains, required them to navigate via public bus to Wal-Mart.  For a population already facing so many challenges, this extra complication meant that many did not get the medicine they needed.  Getting them access to medication close by is a small, but extremely meaningful improvement, for many of Laguna’s homeless.

National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week Month

A year prior to the Hunger Bowl Chapman says, “I asked the city to proclaim National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week.  This year it’s for a month.”  There are several citywide projects to get involved in.  One is a food drive.  Last year’s food drive added 50,000 lbs. of food to the Food Pantry. 

“It brings in the whole community,” says Chapman.  There is also “Meal-less Monday” where we are all encouraged to go without lunch, buying someone in need lunch instead.  

With such dedication to improving the lives of others, it is not surprising that Chapman has recently created her own non-profit: Changing Souls.  She explains that the group’s mission is “to help the hungry, the homeless and the poor.  We are starting off slow, helping people on an individual basis.  We help get prescriptions filled, buy bus passes to help people see their families.  We are working with the Laguna Beach Networks Church and putting together a homeless work program where they can work for food gift cards. It will help give them a sense of pride and purpose.  It’s a little way of helping them have something to look forward to.  They love something to do.”

An original painting by a homeless person

 

“Treat homeless people as people.”

The same can be said of Faye Chapman.  She has a lot on her plate (or in her bowl), but it all seems to come back to the same starting point: compassion. Instead of letting herself get overwhelmed by the hugeness of an issue like homeless she focuses on what she can do to make people’s lives better -- here.  I asked her when we were done talking if she had anything she wanted to make sure got included in this piece.  What she said was not what I was expected, but I should have.  She thought for a moment and said, “Treat homeless people as people.  Be kind.”  These are words that Faye Chapman certainly lives by.


Scott Alan, living in the here and now

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Scott’s personality makes an impact without his even trying. Not surprisingly, people notice and often comment about his appearance, or his accouterments – basically his way of expressing himself. 

Recently he was back in his old hometown of pretty-much-nowhere, Oklahoma. As he was walking down the street a car came up slowly beside him. Scott thought, “Oh, no, here it comes…” Then a girl, a complete stranger, opened the window and shouted enthusiastically, “Keep on being who you are!”

Scott smiled and said, “I wouldn’t know who else to be!”

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Scott Alan

He is who he is, and he carries his big persona with good cheer. “Laughter is my coping mechanism,” he says. “Humor is everything.”

He’s come a long way from his childhood sense of self that was distinctly at odds with the ideology of small town Oklahoma 45 years ago, including a mean and alcoholic father. He knew he was gay, and it didn’t fit the paradigm. 

“I had this vision of me being dragged behind a truck with my pants around my ankles,” he said. “I had to get out.”

Scott left home at the age 19 to find a place where he didn’t feel like an outsider. He needed some salt water too. “After growing up in the Midwest, I knew I had to be near the ocean,” he said. “There are good graces the ocean does for us.”

After living in Seattle and the Bay Area in the height of the AIDS epidemic, Scott had to deal with that too. He tested positive for HIV in 1989, and was told that he had five to ten years at best. At the time he was in interior design school and it happened to be “Career Week”. The teacher told the students that when they’d start out working in the field, they’d “be doing s*** work for five to ten years.” Scott got over the shock of his diagnosis with a sense of humor. “I thought, five to ten years? Well, then I won’t have to pay off my student loans!”

Thankfully he’s survived and flourished, and managed to secure housing in one of the 25 apartments in Laguna’s Hagan Place. Scott is happy and upbeat, but he stresses the importance to not give up or forget the battle against AIDS. “You don’t see many red ribbons anymore,” he laments.

Laguna Bound 

Scott knew he would love to live in Laguna the first time he drove down Coast Highway by Main Beach. 

He had been living for a while in Huntington Beach, and one day the police came to his door and arrested him. They hauled him off to the station while they went through a series of charges. When they realized they had a case of mistaken identity, and that Scott was not the guy they were looking for, they simply told him, “Go home.” With no car, no money, and barely any clothes on his back he walked all the way back to his home with a bad taste in his mouth for the type of treatment he was shown.

By contrast, Scott discovered friendlier police while driving through Laguna.

“I saw two people run across the street right in front of a cop car,” Scott told us. “I thought they’d be arrested. But over the loudspeaker they said, ‘That’s not a very good idea girls!’ Then I knew it was a more friendly environment here.”

Scott lives here with his constant companion, Amber. “She’s my four-legged sedative,” he says. “She keeps my blood pressure in check.”

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Amber, Scott’s other half

Just about everyone in town has met Amber, whether it’s on their daily walks along Main Beach, or in Scott’s arms. She’s sweet and gentle like she’s trained that way, but really she just picks up on Scott’s cues. They are two gentle souls. “I’m calm. I don’t do stress,” says Scott. “It’s not good for me, so why should I buy into it?”

And Amber’s just fine with that too. They have a lot in common. 

“She’s Pisces, and I have Pisces rising. We have a Pisces thing going on,” explains Scott. “She completes me.”

Even before Scott moved here for good in 1999 he had some Laguna history. He lived in the canyon for several years in the 70’s and 80’s, and even got married. They were friends, she had a “cool little kid”, and Scott didn’t want to see them go on welfare. He helped her to get a job, and the son to stay in school. “I’m a catch, I guess,” he laughs.

“I got married to be a dad, not to be a husband,” he said. They are actually still married even though she moved a long time ago. And they have stayed friends. “We just can’t live together,” he says. “I’ve been married 30+ years. Works for us!”

It’s art, it’s a car – it’s an Art Car

The other thing that marks Scott around town, and anywhere else, is his mode of transportation. 

It all started in a small garage in LA in 1986.

Scott was the proud owner of a 34 year-old VW. It was a little beat up, with three different colors of primer, but ran like a champ. So he decided to let some friends on a graffiti crew go wild sprucing it up. “I told them, ‘I don’t want to know what you’re doing, just wow me.’” Work progressed in his driveway, and despite police cruisers passing back and forth making sure, it was all very legit - and artistic. 

Submitted photo

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The original Virgin of Guadalupe extra-terrestrial VW

“They painted it up space themed, and I’ve been on that ever since,” says Scott. 

The Virgin of Guadalupe as an extra-terrestrial caught the attention of another friend who said, “You gotta meet my friend…” And so it went until there were five or six cars worthy of attention.

Some of the other art cars were on their way to Stanford Children’s Hospital for a show. So Scott went along, and has been doing shows ever since. “The kids love it the best,” he says. “They don’t have adults filters. They just say, ‘That’s cool!’”

Scott has had three art cars now, including an Avatar themed VW (that, sadly, was demolished in an accident), and his current Star Wars Darth Maul themed “Galactic Please Patrol.”

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Scott and Amber with the Galactic Please Patrol car

“I’m constantly doing this one,” said Scott. “Trying to make it my old car again. Now I’m putting in a sunroof, and new pop-out windows.”

He’s been to art car festivals in Seattle several times, as well as San Francisco and Texas, but it’s expensive just to get there (especially Texas!). “They’ll usually house you, and feed you, and pay twice what your gas costs to get there.” Really, it’s for fun and community.

Being an outsider

Scott will often put on his kilt (“Once you wear a kilt, it’s hard to wear pants!”), get in his latest car, and go in search of art.

Not too long ago, he was on his way to Slab City, that place in the desert where squatters and RV’s camp “off the grid” amongst the concrete slabs left from abandoned World War II Marine barracks. It’s another form of community. Nearby, there’s a sculpture garden called “East Jesus”. Scott met a man there who cleaned up trash and arranged it, creating “art builds”, and a sculpture garden. It is something of beauty from some things of decay.

The man Scott met was one of those people impacted by Scott’s persona. “I impressed him,” Scott said. “He had this connection with me.” 

They talked about life, art, and feeling different from other people, like an outsider. The man listened as Scott told him about Burning Man (the living community of art, temporarily constructed and attended by more than 50,000 people for one week every summer in the Nevada desert), and how he wanted to go, but tickets were so expensive. 

When Scott got home, he received a package from the man. Inside were Burning Man tickets and five ounces of silver. Scott’s not sure about the silver, but the man told him that he related to him because he too felt outcast and uncomfortable when he was young. Until surgery, he was self-conscious and ashamed because he had a condition of gynecomastia. 

Scott had never been to Burning Man before this year, and it was a transformative experience. The connection with the other people there opened Scott’s heart. 

“They are my people,” he says. “They are my tribe.”

The man in East Jesus has promised Scott tickets to Burning Man for the rest of his life.

Forever is a long time, and Scott believes in living in the moment. “Live in the now,” he says. “Be more dog!”

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie  Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

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