Aria Fischer and her most abnormal year yet

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Aria is like your average teenager. “I like to go to the beach, hanging out with my friends, and cooking with my mom,” she says. “Just normal teenage stuff.” Except that maybe she’s not. Okay, let’s say she’s had a pretty unusual year. 

Witness the beautiful carved wooden box she holds. Twisting it open, she reveals a small slot holding a Rio pin, and a grand, velvet lined space nesting the truly grand – the Olympic gold medal she earned in Brazil this summer.

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Aria Fischer

Along with her sister, Makenzie, 17-year-old Aria Fischer has just returned from the women’s water polo dominant run at the 2016 Olympic Games. The Games of the XXXI Olympiad, as they are officially known, were the crowning achievement of a year of intense training, and on the back of another eight or so years in the pool in which Aria has perfected the athletic and strategic skills of water polo. 

“It’s the weirdest feeling,” Aria says looking back at all she experienced in Rio. “I haven’t had a chance to stop and think. Now I’ll have the chance.” 

In the spotlight

When she wasn’t in or around the pool during those weeks of August, she was swept up in the rarified atmosphere under the Olympic spotlight. She met and made new fans of water polo with the likes of actor Samuel L. Jackson and comedian Leslie Jones. The team was featured with Al Roker on the Today Show, and given mounds of swag clothing from Nike and Ralph Lauren.

“We got so many clothes for us to wear,” she says. “Nike shirts, a bunch of jackets, three pairs of shoes, pants… Ralph Lauren pants, shirts, jackets – all USA themed. There were two stuffed suitcases (they also gave us)!” 

Add to that the winner’s shirts with the polo pony in gold and “Medalist” embroidered on them. It’s a good thing the team was all measured and fitted en route to Rio because Aria looks to have grown at least an inch in the last year – now reaching six feet. “My old clothes don’t fit anymore!”

The clothes fitting was done in Texas, along with some of the other athletes, including track and field, fencers, and the men’s rugby team. 

“It was exciting to meet well-known athletes, but also other small sport athletes like pole vaulters,” said Aria. “I discovered new sports and watched them on TV and learned about them.”

Yes, they had a little downtime in between games, right up to the semifinal against Hungary, and the gold medal match against Italy. 

Then came the shining moment in the spotlight.

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“It’s really something walking out of that tunnel representing the USA. It’s great,” she says with a big smile. “The podium – that was nice! When you’re up there, you’re thinking about everything and everyone who’s gotten you there. It’s very emotional and happy. Then the flag goes up and it feels great to achieve a goal for your country, your family, friends, and yourself.”

Definitely not a normal day in the life of a teenager.

The pool of family

Aria Fischer’s family has been supportive in the pool and out. Mom, Leslie, and dad, Erich, were also water polo players – Erich having played for team USA in the Barcelona Olympics. And sister Makenzie is a stellar player who made several game-changing goals for the US in Rio. 

“Makenzie and I have played together all our lives. It was great to play at the highest level and experience our dreams together,” said Aria. “There are not really enough words to describe what goes into that.”

To help the girls achieve their goals, the family relocated up to Long Beach last year, where they could be close to the pool for training with the national team, and so that Aria would have less of a commute and more time for doing her studies as well – on hiatus from Laguna Beach High School. 

“I liked online school because I had this goal I wanted to achieve,” she says. “But it was a struggle to adjust to as it was unconventional.”

There’s nothing conventional about this family, or the team of athletes she calls her sisters. 

“The year helped me mature a little bit. I had to be responsible – commuting to my ‘work’ (at the pool) and I had to still do schoolwork after six-hour training. But the people I was surrounded by… strong, independent women. It was great to have that perspective.”

The unknown

The hardest part of the training leading up to the Olympics was not knowing if she’d actually make the team. Aria is, after all, a youngster despite her wise outlook. 

“I always believed in myself, but there was a lot of doubt from the team that I’d make it,” she recalls. “It was a little surprising I made it.”

But make it she did, and Laguna enjoyed the journey along with her. There was the city’s kickoff event in July, in front of City Hall, where the Fischer girls were honored and in turn gave out autographs. Then there was a viewing party at the community pool to watch the Games, and there were folks who made the journey to watch it live as well, including LBHS coach, Ethan Damato.

“We had people from Laguna there, and people from the school. I had no idea they were coming!” said Aria. “That was cool.”

The surprise when they returned to Laguna was a house decorated with banners and golden balloons. “Nice!” And this past weekend there was a rally at LBHS stadium to honor Laguna’s golden girls.

Back down to earth?

Coming off the high of the Olympics is a bittersweet experience. It’s “weird and an adjustment” being back, Aria realizes. There’s the glorious win still casting its rosy glow, but now the team has gone on its individual paths. Like any production in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, team unity is something Aria will miss.

“They’re like my sisters; my friends,” says Aria. “You train and train and all of a sudden it’s gone. But I’ll always have positive memories because of how it came out.”   

There will be occasional team reunions, like last week when they went to an Angels game – teammate Courtney Matthewson (now a two time Olympian) threw out the first pitch. And they will reunite sometime in the foreseeable future to train for the next Olympic games, though who’s in and who’s out will not be determined for quite a while. With her talent, and being the youngest member of the team, chances are looking good for Aria Fischer.

Next up – being normal

Still, it’s hard to have goals when you’re a teenager. Sometimes you’d rather just sleep in. Aria assures that she is very glad to be home and “catch up.” 

“First thing was just unpacking, laundry, and sleep!” she says.

And, of course, the LBHS water polo team is happily expecting her return for this, her senior year. The girl’s play season is in the spring, but there are practices, physical training, and club team games on the horizon.

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Being “normal” is the norm again. “I’m excited to take classes normally again,” says Aria. “LBHS is a great school. I love to see my friends again.”

She’s still figuring it out, but says that she likes science, math and, especially, creative writing. Potential colleges in the near future include the usual high-end water polo suspects like Stanford, USC, and UCLA.

It would be easy to say the world is her oyster, but hard work is the backstory there. Aria has shown by example what vision and determination can do, and now she’s got the gold to prove it. What’s up next?

She laughs, “Being a normal teenager again! It was fine being abnormal though.”

And then she gives it a second thought, “I’ll never be completely normal!”


Jason Feddy: Using his voice in very many ways

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Jason Feddy is very funny. If you’ve ever tuned in to KX93.5, Laguna’s only FM radio station, you probably know that. A well known local musician, in addition to being a deejay and director of production at KX93.5, Feddy banters easily and humorously, bringing that very British sense of the absurd to just about everything.  

If you only know Feddy in his rock-n-roll-inspired roles, it may come as quite a surprise that he has another deeply fulfilling side to his musical career: that of a cantor/soloist at a conservative Jewish temple in Newport Beach. 

The role of the cantor is, according to the dictionary: “an official who sings liturgical music and leads prayer in a synagogue.“ 

Rocker, deejay…cantor? Why not? Feddy certainly has enough passion and energy for all three.

Coming to America

When asked what brought him to the US from England, Feddy quips, “British Airways.” And while I’m sure that’s true, Feddy says there were other reasons he crossed the Atlantic. 

“It was time for a change. I went to Las Vegas to get sober. My brother was there and had already gotten sober. My dad lived in Laguna Hills. I had friends here; spent summers here as a kid,” he explains. 

In April 2000, Feddy got his first local gig at Hennessey’s. He played music and worked a construction job mixing mud for tiles for two years “until I was legal,” he says. 

A year after that he made the transition to music full time, ready to take the “leap of faith” that he could make a living solely with his music. Working challenging day jobs and playing at night is not easy.

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Jason Feddy, musician, DJ, cantor/soloist maintains some of his English ways

Zionism, socialism and rock-n-roll

“I never doubted that I’d make my living at it (music),” he says. He got a guitar when he was ten years old, but singing came first. “I was part of a Zionist, socialist youth movement in England,” he says laughing at the incongruity of how that sounds today. “It was the best thing ever. I went to camp two times a year, everybody sang. They needed someone to play guitar.” And that’s how it all started.

The next big thing…

Feddy says he had success in England and was touted as “the next big thing for many years, but it never really panned out.” There is no bitterness in his voice when he says it, no blame. He does not give the impression of someone living in the past. 

Rather, he says, “I was excited about being in California…I was excited about having a new life. I felt reborn. It felt like everything was a new opportunity.”

A talent for surrounding himself with incredible people

“When I came to Laguna I kind of knew the ropes (for being a musician). The ropes are: be consistent, work hard, be reliable and be amenable. My real talent is surrounding myself with incredible people. Incredible people are generally not irresponsible. It’s important because at the end of the day there is always someone else,” he says.

Solo shows, The Beatles and Shakespeare

Feddy is ingrained in the local Laguna music scene. He has regular shows at the Hotel Laguna on Saturdays and Las Brisas every other Wednesday, in addition to gigs at Fashion Island and the Irvine Spectrum. He is also working on a CD with “legendary producer Ed Stasium.” 

They are putting together ten songs from Shakespeare’s plays, another long-time Feddy project. His wife of eight years, actress Ava Burton, is collaborating with him on the project. 

He has another English-born project as well, his Beatles tribute band, The Beatroots. 

Formed in 2006, according to Feddy’s website, they “play the songs of The Beatles in their own inimitable style…”

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Jason Feddy with his custom guitar in his home office/studio/music room

Talking about spoons

If music has literally been a lifelong passion, Feddy’s radio career has been somewhat of a happy accident. “I volunteered at the radio station in the fall of 2012. Tyler Russell (founder and program director of KX93.5) who, back then was 13 years old, called me because somebody told him about me,” explains Feddy.  

Just to be clear, Tyler Russell was not actually 13. He was closer to 22, but you can appreciate Feddy’s point, how much older he felt than Russell. “I went to lunch with him at Zinc,” continues Feddy. “I had no idea why he wanted to talk to me. He tells me ‘I’d like you to do a show.’ I’m thinking, ‘about what?!’ Then he tells me, ‘Everybody loves an English accent. Talk about spoons. It will be fine’.  So, I’ve been talking about spoons for four years.”  

Deejaying as a public service

Feddy started as the mid-day DJ, but now has the all-important morning slot, in addition to his director of production role. 

“I’m the right age to do this now,” Feddy says. “I’m aware that I’m part of a team. It’s not about me. Even when I’m being a lunatic on the air it’s all for the station. And just as important, I’m there as your friend as you drive in to work. I’m there to give you a giggle. These acts of service are good for a recovering alcoholic.”  

He pauses with a stricken look on his face, then, with great humor, of course, launches into a lament about how horribly self-important he must be sounding. So let me be the one to reassure him, and readers, if necessary, that there was no need for his lament. 

If anything, Feddy comes across as truly appreciative of the chances he has to connect positively with people on the radio or otherwise. 

KXclusive 2016

In talking about his radio station duties, Feddy enthusiastically mentions that KX 93.5 has its biggest fundraiser coming up on September 30 at Montage Laguna Beach.  

“There’s a band called Painbirds with members of Train, Sugar Ray, Doobie Bros., Steely Dan [involved]. There’s also the 133 Band, of which I am a part, along with local legends such as Steve and Beth Wood, Nick I, Alan Deremo, Paul Pedersen, Bob Hawkins and Drew Hester.”  

Now he can add Cantor/soloist to his resume

Between the music playing and deejaying, it seems hard to believe Feddy has more room on his plate, but he does. “Recently, I was asked to be cantor/soloist at Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach. When I got the job no one was more surprised than me. Well, my family was maybe more surprised,” he says.  

Every Friday and holiday Feddy plays music and sings at the service. He speaks Hebrew. “My Judaism is linked to Israel and Israeli issues. I’ve been doing this for two years. Coming up are the high holidays so my head is really in the books.”

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Jason Feddy may be relaxing or he may be studying for the high holy days

Two faith-based projects

Feddy’s commitment to his faith doesn’t end with cantoring. He recently partnered with Rabbi Marsha Tilchin to begin a new Jewish collaboration in Laguna. “There are 12 churches and one Jewish center in Laguna. I think it’s good to have a place for Jews to meet up and do Jewish things,” explains Feddy. 

The group held their first meeting at Mozambique on August 19 and more than 100 people attended the service and dinner. The next one is September 16 at 6 p.m. (Visit www.jewishcollaborativeoc.org to learn more).

But that’s not all, folks. Feddy has a “pet project” called Music in Common.  

“We bring groups of Jewish, Christian and Muslim kids together to learn song writing. We got a My Hero Award for it,” he says proudly. 

It’s a workshop where kids, ages 15-20, learn to write songs. 

“They have a transformative experience,” he says. Finding the kids to participate is not easy. “If anyone has kids these ages, please email me,” he pleads. Write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if interested.

Many pieces make up a cohesive whole

All of these seemingly disparate pieces actually make a very cohesive whole, the religion and the music inextricably intertwined. The Shakespeare project, his Beatles tribute band, the solo work, his radio career, his commitment to his faith all complement each other, the way his British-ness and his present beachside home somehow work so well together.

A fan of the weather and celebrating our differences

“I’m very grateful to Laguna. It has given me a stage for my shtick,” Feddy says. But his “shtick” is much more than witty banter. 

“There are certain things I really believe in…I believe in being respectful, really respectful, not in a posy-way because life is too short.  There is a dignity in the differences between us,” he says emphatically.  

Jason Feddy definitely has more to talk about than spoons.



Spin on a bike at her studio or spin a fringed ‘Brella on the beach: either way, Shelley’s got you covered

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Back in 2014, Shelley Arends-Cornwall began a serious search for the perfect beach umbrella: something “cute,” something that would stand out amid the colorful but predictably patterned ones that she saw every day on the beach. And the umbrella had to be lightweight. She’d had it with lugging the equivalent of a large, unwieldy animal – one with sharp spokes, moreover – either from her home on Flora Street or from the car to the water’s edge when she went surfing down in San Clemente. (She’s a longboarder.)

So she made her own, fringe and all. Both friends and strangers loved the design. 

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Shelley in her element: Surf, sand, and shade beneath one of her Beach Brellas, this one designed to attract the male market

That’s when her older son Zac asked a simple yet profound question: “Mom, why is there an ‘um’ in umbrella?”

Perhaps it was at that moment, Shelley surmises, though she can’t say for sure, that her personal quest to find the ultimate in beach umbrellas took on a whole new dimension. Indeed, why the “um?” Why the hesitation? Who needed an “um” when you could simply jump straight to Brellas? Beach Brellas?

A quick Google search revealed that the address www.beachbrellas.com was available. And so Shelley’s latest entrepreneurial adventure took off. 

Did she think it was meant to be, then, I asked, that she would create a line of handmade Brellas for the hip and discerning beach-goer?

“I don’t know about it being meant to be,” Shelley responds as we talk at the Heidelberg Café about her life and times pre- and post- the Beach Brella launch. Straw-blonde, with a great tan and a light-up-the-room smile, adventurous and an ocean-lover, she’s a Lagunan through and through. 

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Shelley Arend-Cornwall is a Lagunan through and through

 “When I come up with an idea, my brain just doesn’t stop,” she says. “Things just seem to evolve. I’ve started quite a few businesses. I was always that girl in high school who wore something different just because I wanted to, then I’d see others wearing the same style.”

The trendsetting talent that comes so naturally to her has been a consistent factor in all her ventures, and never more so than with her fringed Beach Brellas, many of which, for all their sturdiness, have the look of floating jellyfish as the sea breeze blows.

“Girls really get it,” she says. “They’ve been able to buy designer bathing suits and towels and bags, but there’s been nothing quite like my Brellas before. We call it modern vintage chic.”

Before Beach Brellas, Shelley’s career had literally gone from soup to nuts. Or, more accurately, from seltzer to soup to nuts.

From seltzer to spinning, to Beach Brellas: It’s all about the brand

After college, Shelley began working in marketing for NY Seltzer, an iconic brand of bubbly water that offered natural sodas in different flavors, but without the traditional coloring (strawberry tasted like strawberry, but it wasn’t colored red). Shelley had a terrific career with them. Then the company was bought out. In any case, it was time for her to move on.

“For a while, I owned a deli, Between the Slices, in South Laguna. It was wildly successful, but I was happy to sell it after my boys were born. But because of the demand, I continued making soups at a facility in the Canyon,” Shelley says.

After her business grew to such an extent that she was producing 400 gallons of various kinds of soups a day (that’s 6,400 cups of soup, I calculated!) in batches of 40 gallons to ensure that their home-made taste was maintained, she realized that her work-life balance was out of whack.

For a number of years she owned and ran two vacation rentals in South Laguna – legal ones, Shelley emphasizes – which was a perfect job while her sons, Zac (now 25) and Zane (now 22), were growing up.

And then came the nuts: sports nuts, that is, who love the way she has taken spinning to a new level, as attendance at her RhythmRide classes prove.

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At her Rhythmride classes, the beat goes on

“Johnny G started the spinning craze,” Shelley told me. “My innovation was to add new choreography with music that has a beat according to the riding rhythm, so every level of spinner can benefit.”

(Before I interviewed Shelley, I was entirely ignorant about spinning. When she mentioned Johnny G’s name, for a moment I thought she said Kenny G, and I wondered how Pan Pipes could inspire anyone to work up a sweat. When I realized my mistake, I looked up Johnny G, only to find out he was a fellow South African, now Californian, who in the late 80s, with his wife pregnant, hit upon making a stationary bike as a way of training and building up cardiovascular stamina for a long ride without leaving home. Who knew?)

Shelley has no intention of franchising her RhythmRide classes, though the name is trademarked.

“Too much commitment,” she says. “I want to be able to surf, waterski and do other things I love.”

It’s the Beach Brellas that occupy most of Shelley’s time now, whether she’s trawling through vintage stores looking for fabric ideas or managing the manufacturing process, one of her least favorite aspects of the job, along with bookkeeping.

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It ain’t heavy, it’s my Brella…

“I’m creative, I love the design aspect and the marketing, but sometimes, now that they are becoming so popular, the logistics can be overwhelming,” she says. “I’m lucky that my husband Kelly is handling most of those aspects for me.”

I can attest that Beach Brellas are wonderfully lightweight. Currently nursing a broken shoulder, (damn you, flip flops and a high curb!) I was still easily able to tote a Beach Brella in its pocketed bag using just one hand. If I were more agile, and more coordinated, and about a hundred years younger, I could imagine twirling and tossing it like a cheerleader’s baton.

Shelley’s future looks to be made in the shade

As to the future, Shelley is looking forward to seeing evidence of her Beach Brellas on beaches and riverbanks all over the world, from Bondi Beach to the Black Sea. Already they are available in 25 stores and several have been planted in the coastal sands of Nantucket and Florida.

Shelley is also a tremendous supporter of youth sports, from football to volleyball to cross-country to soccer, providing a venue for fundraisers, and she supports local entrepreneurs of every stripe. She holds at least one charitable event a year and is active with the Food Pantry.

When she is not quite as busy (!), Shelley would love to form a group of local entrepreneurs, not so much for networking – she feels that Laguna business people are already wonderfully supportive of each other – but as a way to “dreamstorm” new ideas that are creative, logistically feasible, and thoroughly Laguna.

If Shelley does have it made in the shade, it’s only because of her dedication and her creativity, and, of course, her willingness to take the “um” out of umbrella.


Dr. Jason Viloria: A new Superintendent for LBUSD

By: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach Unified School District’s (LBUSD’s) new Superintendent, Dr. Jason Viloria, Ed. D has most definitely not taken the summer off. On the job since March, Viloria has been busy. He generously found the time to meet with me, but in what I gathered was a well-established pattern, there was someone walking out as I walked in, and someone, Thurston principal Jenny Salberg, to be exact, waiting to see him when I left. 

Meetings, meetings and more meetings

 “I’ve been meeting people all summer: PTA, SchoolPower, the City Manager, the fire department, the Boys and Girls Club, parents, the police…we are all invested,” he explains. His belief in the community’s “investment” in our local schools is what motivated him to meet quarterly with Police Chief Laura Farinella, for example. 

“She’s working with our kids too, so it’s important to build those partnerships. I met with Captain Jason Kravetz regarding the Healthy Kids Survey. I think it’s important for them (the police) to see and hear from us. I think they appreciate that.”  The California Healthy Kids Survey  “…evaluates how well schools meet students’ needs for school safety, drug and alcohol prevention, mental health, and other factors that influence learning,” according to the LBUSD website. 

Jason Viloria, Laguna Beach Unified School District’s new Superintendent

Communication is key

All these meetings, whether they are specific to education or, as with the meetings with the police department, deal with broader wellness issues, highlight Dr. Viloria’s belief in the importance of communication. In fact, he sees it as one of the critical components of his job, especially with Laguna being such a self-contained city. “It’s not very often that you can work in a school district that serves only one city. Capo Valley (School District), as an example, serves something like ten cities. We have one city.  t is unique: one fire department, one police…” 

And if Dr. Viloria believes communicating with outside agencies is important, then communicating with the Board of Education is essential. 

Empowering the Board of Education

“One of the reasons I applied for this job is because of the Board, the support they give to each school site. It’s a great thing to see,” he says. “It’s interesting because most people think that the Superintendent runs everything. The truth is I work for the Board of Education. My job is to implement their goals. One of my jobs is to empower the Board.  They need to make informed decisions so I’ve been working on enhancing the communication from my staff to the Board,” explains Viloria. “Communication is always an area we can improve on. Really hearing what the Board is trying to accomplish; principals being able to communicate with their staff, teachers and parents…it’s a two-way street.”

A LBUSD parent, too

Viloria lives in Laguna Beach with his wife and kids, both of whom attended LBUSD schools before their dad got the job as Superintendent. This gives him a unique perspective. “I have a vested interest,” he says.  “I want my children to be well-rounded students.  I’ve been pleased with what they’ve been coming home with,” he says.  Might it be awkward for a teacher if one of his or her students is the Superintendent’s kid?

“I’ve talked to other Superintendent’s who have had the same situation and they say it’s pretty easy to strike that balance,” he says confidently.

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The LBUSD offices are quiet but only because it’s a Saturday

A focus on developing thinkers

It’s safe to say that pretty much everyone wants “well-rounded students.”  

It’s also safe to say that the devil is in the details.  

“The pendulum always swings. We need to be able to look at the research and make sure the pendulum isn’t swinging in the wrong direction,” he says. “It keeps you from chasing the shiny new object.” However, while we don’t want our educators changing course every time a new study comes out, we do expect them to prepare students for the future.  

“We are educating students for jobs that might not yet exist. We need to focus on critical thinking skills. That’s not about a certain class. The focus has moved back to developing thinkers. Businesses don’t want problem solvers. They want people to solve things before the problem arises,” explains Dr. Viloria.

Making choices isn’t something every school district gets to do

How the District goes about developing “thinkers” is up to the Board. According to Dr. Viloria, once three of the five Board members agree on something, that’s a consensus.  Once there is a consensus, “We move forward,” he says. “There are generations of people who live here and whose kids are in the schools. There are people moving in because of our schools. Our budget is significantly stronger than other schools,” says Viloria. “This means we have choices. Sometimes that’s a challenge. We have to look at things and ask, ‘How is that going to achieve that goal or solve that problem?’”

LBUSD’s 4CLE and the modern classroom

One of the large-scale projects Viloria is continuing to move forward is the District’s 4CLE. It is an effort to modernize the classroom setting to enhance instruction. “We, along with SchoolPower and others, are able to change the learning environment.  That’s pretty cool. The focus is in the classroom. (LBUSD Chief Technology Officer) Mike Morrison is a rock star,” says Viloria emphatically.

A model for other school districts

This push is not something the District is doing in a vacuum. “We just did a presentation around our 4CLE classrooms to 24 other Superintendents.  After the meeting, at least five said, ‘I want to see what you’re doing in your classrooms.’  Other people are doing innovative things, too, of course. But that’s pretty cool to be able to help other districts with the work we’re doing,” he says.

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Dr. Jason Viloria, officially on the job since July 1, in his new office

An “unprecedented time” in education

Calling now an “unprecedented time” in education, Viloria mentions the rise of technology and the implementation of standards as the two main reasons for this sea change.  “Change can be uncomfortable for people,” he says.  

“It is OK to be uncomfortable with change.” 

Technology and the learning environment

Google recently held a summit attended by Orange County teachers. Its focus: how to use technology to create a better educational experience for students. To make a point, Viloria asks, “Who is Ann Frank?”  

Not that long ago, if someone asked you that question, your answer would be based on what you remembered learning about Ann Frank. Now, he says, “You can ask Siri.” Having information at your fingertips is a new phenomenon, relatively speaking.  “How does it truly impact the learning environment? How do we enhance it? How do we make sure students aren’t sitting passively?” he asks. “The 4CLE classroom is part of this,” he says.

Waiting for instruction to start

Before anyone thinks that all of this talk about communication and 4CLE classrooms means Viloria has forgotten about classroom instruction, let me assure you it’s very much on his mind. However, while he was hired in March, Dr. Viloria didn’t officially start until July 1 and thus there has simply not been much instruction to witness. With the school year fast approaching, that will change soon. 

Supporting what happens inside the classroom

 “One of the best things about education is everyone’s in it for the right reason,” Viloria says. “Educating kids is so rewarding.  My focus has always been on supporting what happens inside the classroom. That is what’s most important to me. We are all trying to support students and to help them become well rounded.  We need to always ask, ‘Are we meeting the needs of our students and, if not, what changes do we need to make to do it better?” 

The questions sound good. We should all pay attention to the answers.



Shaun MacGillivray: Continuing an epic local family tradition that’s making an impact around the world

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Shaun MacGillivray, president of MacGillivray Freeman Films, says he got his start in the family business as “a cheap extra.”  Of course, when the family business is making epic nature films, being an extra, cheap or otherwise, means your “set” could be Palau, and your job might entail being filmed while snorkeling there. 

“I caught the bug early,” MacGillivray continues. “Going to all these locations as cameras were rolling; seeing rough cuts on the VHS player and giving my two cents; watching it with my peers…I realized this is so cool.”

From “Five Summer Stories” to “Fly!”

Shaun’s father, Greg, started it all in the 1960s with his legendary surf film, “Five Summer Stories.”  As a result of that iconic piece of filmmaking, MacGillivray Freeman Films was invited to produce the IMAX film “To Fly!” for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 1976. The company has since produced 38 more IMAX films.

MacGillivray says that when they started there were “…four IMAX theaters and now there are 1,000.”  Clearly, the public has embraced these large format films, in no small part because of the movies MacGillivray Freeman has created. 

The newest release: “National Park”

MacGillivray Freeman’s film “Everest” was their highest grossing movie, while “Dolphins” and “The Living Sea” were both nominated for Academy Awards for Best Documentary Short. The title of their latest release, “National Parks”, says it all.  

“We have always wanted to make a film about our national parks. It’s the 100th anniversary (of the National Park Service) this year. We got Brand USA, Expedia, and Subaru as partners. It took two years to make, going park to park. Six months for scripting, six to eight months of editing…we got the right script and the right narrator. Robert Redford was inspired by the story. I wanted to get fantastic music. We have Bruce Springsteen singing This Land is Your Land. It’s iconic,” explains MacGillivray.

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Shaun MacGillivray brings his personal warmth to the film making business

The film tells the story of how the parks were developed.  

“John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt…” says MacGillivray, “they say it’s ‘the most important camping trip of all time.’”  

If MacGillivray sounds excited about their latest release, he is, calling “National Parks” his favorite of all their films. “I remember how awestruck I was as a kid,” he recalls of an RV trip he took with his family to some of the parks. “I can’t wait to do that with my kids.”

The importance of partnerships

When we met, MacGillivray had just returned from a member screening at the American Natural History Museum in New York.  

“There were more than 700 people. Most of the (IMAX) theaters seat 400 people. It was just incredible; huge laughter, huge gasps…incredible,” he says enthusiastically. 

 But while his could possibly be considered one of the best jobs ever, it’s not all screenings and epic locations. It is a business, and these films need money to be made.  Finding that money and those partners is one of MacGillivray’s responsibilities. One of his favorite partnerships was with Coca-Cola and the movie, “To the Arctic 3-D.”  

“Coca-Cola worked with the World Wildlife Fund and we helped inspire four million people to do a ‘text to donate’ campaign to preserve an area in Canada for polar bears. I love those types of partnerships,” he adds.

Compelling stories for social responsibility

The audience for MacGillivray films is, according to MacGillivray, “25 percent school children.”  While a riveting story and breathtaking visuals are hallmarks of their films, there is a strong public service aspect to them as well. 

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The numerous MacGillivray Freeman awards practically need a room of their own

I asked him if he ever despaired, having seen so much of the world and sometimes how degraded it is, despite so many people’s efforts.  

“You gotta keep up hope,” he says. “And I think that’s important for our story telling. The story about humpback whales (‘Humpback Whales” 2015) is an incredibly positive conservation story. They were hunted to the brink of extinction, but once we heard their song…they haven’t come back to where they were, but their return has been pretty incredible.”

Inspiring kids to get more engaged

Other ways MacGillivray Freeman films subscribe to conscientious filmmaking is by trying to encourage kids to think about their own possibilities.  

“The beauty of our genre is you can inspire kids to learn about and get more engaged in topics they wouldn’t normally gravitate to. We made a concentrated effort, for example, to find young women biologists to inspire young women,” says MacGillivray.

Spanning the globe from Laguna Beach

They have also made a concentrated effort to stay in Laguna. Greg MacGillivray grew up in Newport Beach, eventually moving to Laguna with his wife, Barbara, who is the director of research for the company. Shaun MacGillivray and his sister, Meghan, grew up in Laguna, attending Laguna Beach schools when they weren’t being whisked around to exotic film locales. Now a parent himself, Shaun is also bringing up his kids in Laguna. 

Conveniently, the MacGillivray Freeman offices are in the historic Villa Bella. Their offices have an old-fashioned feel to them, highlighted by a mini-museum of different antique motion picture machines and a decidedly old school (looking, anyway) screening room.  

Of course, there is nothing antique or old–fashioned about the way MacGillivray Freeman make their films.  Rather, they are known for pioneering filmmaking methods that help set their work apart.  

One World One Ocean

Another project that sets MacGillivray Freeman apart from other film companies is their One World One Ocean campaign. According to their website: “In 2012, we launched One World One Ocean, a campaign engaging audiences across all platforms, designed to change the way people see the ocean and to spark a global movement to protect it.”  

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Editing a film is vital in shaping the final product

By using all types of media, the hope is “to inspire, educate and connect millions of people” to restoring our oceans. The goal is to use the company’s fan base as a jumping off point for a movement they hope will encompass one billion people to actively help heal our oceans.  

MacGillivray Freeman Films doesn’t adhere to the mantra “think globally, act locally.”  Rather, they think globally and act globally. But that doesn’t mean they ignore what’s going on here at home.

Hoping to create a Sawdust Festival project 

“We’ve been working with the Sawdust to do a short documentary. They’ve been trying to fundraise for it. We’ve gotta do it! There has to be something commemorating the 50th anniversary. It’s a big deal,” says MacGillivray emphatically.   

The MacGillivrays may be known for their large format, exotic documentaries, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing and very capable of making a great movie about a local institution.



Novelist Kaira Rouda – and her books – sparkle with humor and heart: we’re lucky to have her in Laguna

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

One look at Kaira Rouda’s face while she is writing one of her novels, and husband Harley knows exactly what kind of character she’s working on. 

“He cracks up,” Rouda says. “He’ll say, you’re writing about a bad guy, right? Because I’ll be frowning and looking angry. Or smiling if I’m writing about one of the characters I love. I can’t help it, I have favorites, although I always try to give my antagonists some redeeming qualities.”

Just as well Rouda isn’t a poker player.

Meeting with Kaira Rouda was great fun. Despite her stunning blonde and blue-eyed good looks and “writerly” success, she is a down-to-earth, chatty person, and not in the least pretentious or imperious as I had feared that someone with her attributes and accomplishments might be. (I’m easily intimidated.) In fact, so friendly was she in her comfortable home that I found myself babbling on about my life and times, forgetting that I was supposed to be interviewing her, and not the reverse. 

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Kaira’s dog Tucker likes to supervise Kaira’s writing at her stand-up desk

At one point, Frankie, one of her dogs (Rouda describes her as “a sort of bichon”) took up position on the couch cushion and patted my shoulder with her paw, proving that Rouda’s dogs are just as friendly as she is. Her other dog, Tucker, is a shipoo, a mixed breed with a name that can’t help but invite jokes.

Rouda sent me into giggles telling me about Frankie’s battles with her weight, and their attempts to walk it off, which usually result in them both reclining in the shade within a few hundred yards of her house – and how a neighbor seemed offended that her dogs had such pedestrian names despite living in prestigious Emerald Bay.

“I should have named her Francesca, maybe?” she said.

Then I suddenly remembered that I was a reporter, not a friend (not yet, anyway) and began asking questions.

Rouda began her career as a reporter and subsequently worked as an advertising executive and copywriter in Columbus, Ohio. She received her first publishing credit when her nonfiction book, Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs was published by Wiley in 2008. The book was inspired by her love of branding strategies, especially with regard to franchises, and in turn the book inspired the Real Living brand, a business that Rouda and her husband founded. 

In 2010, after great success, they sold the business, the family moved to California. “I’d always dreamed of living near the beach,” Rouda said.

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Kaira’s dogs, Tucker and Frankie, are as much fun and as friendly as she is

Then in 2011, with all four kids – three boys and a girl (sons Trace, Shea and Dylan, daughter Avery) – out of the home and living independent lives, Rouda began to wonder what she should do with her time. Back in Columbus she had worked with a homeless shelter, but, new to the community, she wanted time to survey her options in the nonprofit world. Yet she knew she had to work otherwise she would be bored, given the relative silence in the house. 

“I decided to write woman’s fiction,” she said, “which was satisfying, but those books take a year or more to finish. My first book was Here, Hope, Home. Then a friend of mine suggested romance writing. I gave it a try and had so much fun! There is a formula of sorts, but I don’t stick to it exactly. I’d say I write domestic suspense, anchored by place. I do always provide a happy ending, though.”

Sources of inspiration

Rouda’s love of Laguna Beach and a discussion with her hairstylist about reality shows stimulated a great idea for a series of books.

“I wondered what must it be like to be someone who was on a reality show – the way Laguna Beach high school students were – ten years or so after having your life exposed on TV? What kind of a lasting impact would that have on your relationships?” Rouda said.

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Kaira is a novelist whose books vibrate with humor and heart

This idea led to four books (so far) set in Laguna. Her brilliant concept is to focus each book around each of the original stars of the reality show as they grow older, providing an unusual nexus of plot and character going forward.

“Setting is foundational to me,” Rouda says. “I love Laguna’s small-town feel, going to Zinc and recognizing friends, feeling like Norm in the TV show “Cheers.” I love the smells and the sounds and the ocean. I hope I never take living here for granted.”

I asked about her writing process, a question that most authors get at one time or another.

“I don’t really have one,” she admits. “I write when I want to write, when it feels good. I don’t outline. I follow my instincts. I hate to be so vague, but that’s just what it’s like for me.”

Though Rouda has gained increasing recognition as an author of note, and has given presentations around the country, including at the Romance Writers Association on topics such as “The Real You and Authors,” she rather likes the relative anonymity that comes with being a novelist rather than, say, a reality show star. 

Her low-key life may change next year, when her most recent book is slated to be published by a brand new imprint of a major New York publisher – the details can’t be reported just yet – though Rouda also fully understands the vagaries and the challenges of the publishing business, where best-sellers are never guaranteed even for the most talented of authors.

A love of the ocean, yoga, and fruit trees

No matter.  She’s quite content to attempt paddle-boarding (but only in ideal circumstances, when there is no wind and no swells, and, she notes, she is still getting used to how cold the water is here), to read her favorite authors including Liane Moriarty, Mary Kubica, and long-time favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald, and practice yoga, though a minor injury is keeping her from doing much of that right now. She also keeps fit by working on a stand-up desk that alternates as a treadmill.

“It’s good to get in your 10,000 steps that way,” she said. (While Tucker and Frankie both like to watch her work, neither chooses to join her on the treadmill, with Frankie particularly averse.)

Perhaps Rouda gets most joy, she says, other than family, from checking on her fruit trees, pomegranates, plums, oranges, peaches and avocado. “I love the way things grow here!” she says. 

Just as Rouda herself is flourishing, as well as her books, thanks to her pleasure in Laguna Beach as her muse, and the fruitfulness of her imagination. 

Visit www.kairarouda.com to learn more about Kaira and/or download some of her “Real You” wisdom for authors and entrepreneurs.



John Eagle: Sawdust artist flies high with happiness 

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

John Eagle still gets the chills remembering the day in 1989 that his teacher and mentor at LCAD, Javier Alvarez, walked into his makeshift studio, took one look at a five by six foot depiction of Laguna Canyon that Eagle had been working on, and said, “Wow, you’re painting, Johnny!”

At that time, Eagle, now 78 years old, was in senior management at an insurance company. Since grade school, he’d dabbled in painting, but he didn’t think he could make a living out of his art, especially with a wife and kids to support.

“I’d always appreciated art, seeing the reverence my teachers had for the work of the Masters, but I wasn’t good at drawing, although a number of the other kids in my class were,” Eagle says. “I didn’t have the best fine motor skills, still don’t. But I loved color, especially influenced by growing up in Hawaii, I think, surrounded by all those vibrant plants and flowers. So then, and still today, I enjoy pushing beautiful color around, using a warm palette, creating harmony on the canvas.”

John Eagle and his beloved wife Taffy, “as sweet and bubbly as her name”

Eagle decided to try his luck at the Sawdust Festival in 1991. He sold 65 paintings that summer, and around 30 in the winter, and never did go back to his insurance job, though his original plan had been to return to the corporate world the following January. Despite enticing offers from his former company, his mind was made up: he’d found a way to do what he loved and take care of his family.

He’d happened upon Laguna Beach during a business trip, while living in the Bay area. “I was driving south from Newport Beach and at some point, I just stopped the car, gaga at the beauty,” he says. “I’d always been a beach bum. I got out of my car and swam in the ocean. Later I saw downtown and all the galleries. I knew I’d found my lifetime home.” 

After moving to Laguna, he started taking part-time lessons at LCAD in 1987. 

“My teacher said, ‘John, take a year and bring me 50 paintings and let’s talk,’” he recalls. “It took me longer, maybe a year and a half, but that’s what I did. He looked at them, picked out five, and said, ‘okay, these are good, they’re saleable. Here are the reasons why, see the techniques you’ve used, why they are unique to you? They aren’t just happy accidents. The rest, put them in the Dumpster.’”

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Eagle’s booth is popular for its iconic paintings of Laguna

Eagle said that’s how he learned to make the kind of art that people would want to buy – art that makes other people happy, not only the artist himself.

“That’s what’s so great about being an artist, or a musician, or a writer, I think. We get to enjoy the release from tedium that comes with creating, and we see our work pleasing and benefiting other people,” Eagle adds. “What’s important is to be passionate and productive, and to develop a unique style. That’s what makes an artist successful, not technique alone, or even talent alone, except in rare cases.”

His cheery mien is no doubt another reason why festivalgoers are drawn to his booth and why he is so well liked around town and appreciated by his students.

A plein air artist and Impressionist whose paintings changes according to the light and the distance of the viewer from the art, he loves to be outside. 

“It’s healthier, too,” he says. “I also love to surf and hike. I still do 100-yard sprints. You have to be fit to be in this business. I can’t imagine being confined to a studio.”

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Is there any accounting for taste – and color preferences?

We discuss why some people love one color, and others another, and why different tastes in art exist. Eagle believes that one’s upbringing has a lot to do with taste and color choices, but in ways we may never truly understand.

There is another incident that raises happy goosebumps on Eagle’s tanned arms. One day he arrived at his booth to find a note from his then 10-year-old granddaughter. “Grandpa, you are a great artist,” it said. Eagle kept that note. He still gets emotional thinking about it. 

“We all need validation,” he says. “Sometimes it comes at an unexpected time from an unexpected place.”

The note resides in his bank safety deposit box, and its writer, Jessica Kirker, is now living in London and studies art.

His two sons and two daughters didn’t turn to art. “I guess they say it skips a generation,” he says. Which is just fine with him, as long as his kids are happy. 

Eagle feels lucky that his beloved wife, Taffy, “as sweet and bubbly as her name” handles much of the logistics of his business, leaving him free to ponder the landscape and paint. “Couldn’t do this without her,” he says.

He tells me that he considers the ocean “a giant tranquillizer,“ and that he feels uncomfortable when he is not around water.

But he is clearly comfortable at his booth, surrounded by his serene paintings, on the lookout for festivalgoers who will want to take a piece of Laguna home with them.

He smiles. “I still feel like I’m playing hooky,” he says. 

“This is just too much fun.”


Dr. Ken Garcia: Healthy smiles and guitar strings

By: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

You’re probably familiar with the story of the young, talented musician who walked away from his passion to find a more stable profession, only to regret and wonder what might have been. While parts of this tale certainly echo the story of Dr. Ken Garcia, his ending is happier.  

He may have been a talented young musician who chose to pursue a more stable – and very prominent – profession as a dentist, but he certainly didn’t abandon his passion for music.  Walk into his dental office and you’ll see how true this is.  

Mini-concerts in the waiting room

Upon entering, it looks like a fairly typical medical office waiting room.  That is, until you see the small stage all set up and ready for action right in the center of it.  Root canals by day, guitar solos by night (or even, sometimes right in the middle of a work day).  Dr. Garcia is probably not the only dentist who also happens to be a professional musician, but I can’t imagine it’s a large club.  

It seems particularly fitting that he does what he does in Laguna.

Dr. Ken Garcia, Laguna Beach dentist and musician

San Bernardino and the Hawaiian beach style

“When I think about it, I didn’t know one person from San Bernardino that moved to Laguna.  People say, ‘How did you pull that off?!’  And I say, ‘I really don’t know,” muses Garcia.  And while he’s a native Californian, when you talk to him about his journey to Laguna from San Bernardino he speaks like he’s from somewhere far, far away.  And, really, for a kid who grew up in a working class family in Bloomington (part of San Bernardino) Laguna Beach is a somewhat exotic locale.  But if Laguna was relatively unfamiliar to Garcia growing up, beach culture was not.  

“My uncles’ lived in Long Beach and we’d go fishing and have luaus.  My mother had 17 brothers and sisters and they married Filipinos.  It was like the Hawaiian beach style to me,” he says about his early days.  Yet beach living was not to come for many years.

The cardboard piano prodigy

What did come was music.  “All my uncles played music.  When I was seven the hall monitor at my school told me she taught piano.  She told me, ‘I’ll give you lessons for free.  After you complete one music book you can do a recital.’  The problem was I didn’t have a piano so I had to practice on a cardboard piano I made.  I wrote a song about it,” remembers Garcia.  He also remembers his dad not going to his recital, and telling him there was no money for a piano.  

“My dad didn’t really know who I was.  I wasn’t mad at him.  He just didn’t understand me,” explains Garcia.  

A one-man rhythm section

From piano he moved to the guitar.  “My uncle told my mom, ‘He really needs a guitar,’ I picked it up quick without lessons.  I became the rhythm section for my uncles.  Then my brother started making good money at his job and started buying me whatever I needed.  I started playing all over.  Then my dad got excited about it.  He loved music,” says Garcia.  His father loved it so much that he tried to convince young Kenny to stay with it.  “My dad said, ‘Play guitar.’  My mom said, ‘You’ll just play in bars.’  And my dad was like, ‘What’s wrong with that?’”

Musician or dentist?

Garcia says what prevented him from focusing exclusively on music as a career was self-doubt; not about his skill level, but about his ability to maintain the discipline he knew he needed to make it.  “A lot of it was I didn’t know if I had the knowledge to manage myself.  Even though I was practicing five hours a day, I didn’t know if I was always going to have that discipline.  I was just a kid still.  Because of that I made the decision to go to school.”  

Garcia’s older brother had gone to school to become a dentist and because he liked the way dentists can manage their own schedule more than doctors, the younger Garcia followed suit.  Again, Garcia says, his dad didn’t immediately jump on board.  “He didn’t think I was smart enough to go to college,” he says without a hint of bitterness.  “He didn’t really know my strengths.”  

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Dr. Garcia plays with his wife, son, daughter and niece in front of his office

Being called “doctor” and learning the value of “no”

Garcia was not only smart enough for college, he was smart enough for dental school, eventually becoming a dentist and opening two offices in the inland empire. “I viewed dentistry as something that was going to give me the opportunity to do what I wanted.  Plus, back then,” Garcia says smiling, “I was excited to be called ‘doctor’”.  But the music, he says, “Never stopped.”  

In fact, Garcia feels the skills he has learned as a doctor have helped his music.  “It has helped me say ‘no’.  When you say ‘no’ you become more valuable.  I try to tell other musicians that.”

Goodbye smog, hello Newport Beach

 Something he said “yes” to that started him on his journey to Laguna was an apartment in Newport Beach.  “In my 30’s my wife and I had a house, nice cars and a view of the smog (in the inland empire),” he says.  So they drove straight down the 55 Freeway until it ended in Newport.  “We went down there and visited,” he says, eventually getting an apartment there.  However, neither he nor his wife liked Newport much. “It was too crazy, too much of a party town for us.” 

A gig at the Marine Room changes everything

So the couple decided to go back to their house with the hazy view – but not before Garcia played a gig at The Marine Room in Laguna.  “I told my wife the next day, ‘Let’s check it out; it’s really cute’.  We didn’t even know how to get there.  We just went ‘that’ direction and ended up at Fisherman’s Cove,” explains Garcia.  They saw a “For Rent” sign out in front of a house there.  A man approached them asking if they were interested in renting it.  They all went to dinner and the place was theirs.  Still they kept their house inland, just in case.

Living in Laguna, working in Fontana and playing the Marine Room

After living in Laguna for a while, the couple decided they weren’t going to return inland to live. However, Garcia still drove east every day to work at his dental practice.  “I’d drive to Fontana, work eight hours, drive back (to Laguna), go play the Marine Room – we had no kids then,” Garcia says. 

Finally, his wife asked him to move his practice closer to home.  “I met some really smart dentists.  They helped me.  I put my practice up for sale in 2002. It sold in the first day.”  In July, 2002, he opened his practice in Laguna Beach.  2002 was a big year in other ways, too: Garcia and his wife bought a house on Poplar St. in north Laguna and, most significantly of all, they adopted their son, Tayber.

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Dr. Ken Garcia with a “patient”, his daughter Lea

Feeling “unstoppable’ until…

Along the way the Garcias added a daughter, Lea, to their family and things were going great.  “At 57 I felt unstoppable,” says Garcia.  “I felt like nothing bad could happen to me.”  It was 2014 and, as sometimes happens when things are humming along, Garcia was thrown a potentially life-threatening detour: a brain aneurysm.

“I wondered if it was because I’m a type A personality.  Then decided that no, it was just bad luck.  I was depressed for a year. I was on all these medications.  I thought, ‘How did I get put back so far?’ Garcia seems to have recovered fully, but he says he rarely drives.  “I walk everywhere in town.”  He continues, “I told my wife, ‘It’s never been easy.’  We thought about moving down south (near San Diego), but since I got sick we’ve been enjoying our time here.”  Since he can’t fly, home is where they vacation.  “The last six months my family has been hiking a lot,” he says with a laugh. 

Mini-concerts, football and family

Garcia is also helping coach his son’s football team at LBHS.  “I tell the boys to live for the moment.  I tell them ‘You’ll probably never play football when you’re 20 and definitely not when you’re 40 or 50 so enjoy it now.”  His son used to be a percussionist but, “Because of his sports schedule,” Garcia says, “he doesn’t have time.”  

His daughter sings, however, so music is still in the family.  And it’s also at the office. “We have a lot of talented musicians who come to see me when they need to see a dentist.  There have been some great mini-concerts:  Dave Mason, Donovan Frankenreiter…” he rattles off several more names but my hand can’t keep up.

Making his own luck

“I got lucky,” says Garcia modestly.  

Luck is usually involved to some extent in all success stories.  However, luck is not what drove young Kenny Garcia to become a highly accomplished musician.  Luck is not what got him through dental school. Luck is not what has built a thriving dental practice.  

If Dr. Garcia is lucky, most of that luck would seem to be the kind he made for himself.



Monica Prado is a magician with her mosaic art

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

In 1979, following her high school graduation, Prado, now a successful ceramicist, visited Chinautla, Guatemala. At that point, she hadn’t focused on a particular profession or chosen a college major. She was on a mission as part of a nonprofit group helping to rebuild a washed-out bridge and supply store in one of the poorest areas of the country. 

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Monica works at her booth at the Sawdust

While in Chinautla, Prado became mesmerized by the pottery produced by the villagers, who hauled clay from riverbanks and formed it by hand into bowls and animals and figurines. They had no pottery wheels, no fancy kilns, no special tools, yet many of the designs were reminiscent of the finest Greek designs. 

She was inspired.

At the Sawdust Festival, where she’s been exhibiting her ceramics – featuring fine mosaics with a contemporary color palette – for sixteen years, Prado shows me a one-of-a-kind bowl made for her by a Chinautla villager more than three decades ago. The piece is decorated with grapes and leaves. Nowadays trees and fruit and birds find expression in her serene works of art. 

There’s also a beautifully misshapen turtle that I immediately crave to have as my own. But these are Prado’s muses, not mine or anyone else’s to own: they are palpable and enduring evidence of her long-ago artistic awakening.

Yet that wasn’t obvious to her when she first returned to the States. The desire to become an artist lay dormant while she went to college, where she majored in social anthropology and social work. After graduating from Cal State Long Beach, she pursued a career working for political campaigns that she believed would make the world a better place.

“I still do some consulting work, but I feel so lucky that Laguna is a place that focuses on making it possible for artists to earn an actual living,” Prado says.

Prado has several times visited Europe in search of inspiration “whether it is from the inside of a church or a bank logo,” she notes. 

The influences of Barcelona architect Gaudi and mosaic master Marco de Luca are evident in many of her creations – de Luca, who memorably said, “I want each mosaic to have the maximum liberty to be itself.” 

Similarly, “I don’t start with a theme or idea,” Prado says. “The image evolves.” She points to Spanish Grotto, one of the works hanging in her booth. “That changed time and time again over the last year, only a few weeks ago taking its final form.”

In her work I see a fusing of the visual and the visceral: art that is aesthetically appealing to the senses and also creates some kind of order out of inchoate emotions, leaving the viewer somehow soothed.

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A reflection of Monica’s beautiful ceramic art

Along with creativity, caring remains a consistent thread in Prado’s life. So it is that she provides consulting services to the director of development for the Laguna Community Clinic, which provides continuity of care for many people who would otherwise fall through the cracks in our complex health care system. 

“Within an area of just 5,000 square feet we handle 15,000 patient visits per year,” Prado notes. “Nine exam rooms plus a full laboratory and pharmacy are all located onsite. It’s an ingenious use of a small space.”

James Koch, who is HIV-positive, says of the care, medication and love he received when he needed it, “I want to thank the Clinic and Dr. Korey Jorgensen for giving me the opportunity to grow old.” 

That’s the kind of tribute that gladdens Prado’s heart and makes her work for the Clinic worthwhile.

She is also the president of the Board of Trustees of the Artist Benevolence Fund. The Benevolence Fund got its start in 1987, when a critically ill artist needed financial help, and local artists clubbed together to help him. Since then the fund has helped literally hundreds of artists through difficult times caused by illness or natural catastrophes.

“That’s it, though,” she says of her work in both the profit and nonprofit arena. “I have no desire to be a multitasker. I feel lucky to have such a deep, full life here in this beautiful place.”

Prado loves to hike the Canyon trails or walk along the beach with her brindled Australian cattle dog, Shasta. “On my travels and in nature I soak in the inspiration, and on the beach in Laguna I sort it out,” the Canyon Acres resident says. 

With that, Prado is ready to do business at the booth and we say farewell. 

I drive away, thinking about what Monica told me about her dog, Shasta – how she, the daughter of working dogs, cannot help but follow her instinct and so does her best to herd other dogs at the dog park – just as Monica Prado herself cannot help but create and care, because that’s simply who she is. 

To take a look at Monica’s art, visit her booth at the Sawdust Festival or her website at http://www.pradomosaica.com.


Beth Fitchet Wood & Steve Wood: The talented musical duo shares their story – with a common voice        

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When I met with Beth Fitchet Wood and Steve Wood, I had the distinct impression I was talking to one person. Of a like mind, they never fail to finish each other’s sentences.

Beth: “Music has always been a part of me, since I was three or four.” Steve: “Music energizes.” Beth: “It’s not that it’s part of your identity, it’s way deeper than that.” Steve: “Like any good relationship you make the choice to go deep. You don’t put yourself first. You’re serving music.” Beth: “You’re not first, music is first.”

Absolutely, they think alike. They’ve been soul mates, and in service to music together since 1969. Originally with the band Honk, the pair has collaborated for many years performing with big name concert acts, as well as at the local art festivals. This summer they will be playing at all three festivals – plus a Honk reunion, coming up Aug 5 at the Coach House. Additionally, Beth composes and teaches piano and voice, and Steve composes and records the music for MacGillivray Freeman’s IMAX Films.

Hatched on a Hoot night

They met at the famed Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, where they were each trying out for a gig. It was open mic night, known as “Hoot night,” a good stepping-stone toward booking a job. As Steve tells it, The Golden Bear was generous toward musicians, “As soon as you got a job there – even as opening act – you got paid.” Which was pretty great, because back then he was paying $75 a month for his Laguna Canyon rental, and stood to make $25 a night for gigs. 

In those days, a musician could afford to live in Laguna Beach. (As he says, it was when Laguna was “an artists’ colony, not a collectors’ colony.”)

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Beth Fitchet Wood and Steve Wood

Both are self-taught musicians. Beth leans toward “Jazz Americana,” and Steve cites jazz, rock and roll, and multi-cultural influences. Of his musical sensibility, Steve says, “I’m less of a performer, more of an architect.” But Beth interjects, “He’s really good at rock and roll!”

As far as favorite musical influences, Beth cites Bob Dylan. Steve thinks of Rachmaninoff. “And Bach!” Beth says. 

The analog life

The pair has just returned from their little cabin in the woods of New Hampshire. Steve had a very unwelcome guest there, in the form of a tick whose bite had launched him into a high fever. Thankfully his Laguna doctor figured it out quickly, and had him on the mend with antibiotics right away, so he could reflect fondly of their time there. 

It had been Beth’s grandfather’s cabin – now a sanctuary in the woods for the Woods. “No TV, no internet, no distractions. We play music,” said Steve. “It’s an analog life instead of a digital life,” said Beth. 

A cabin on an island in the middle of a lake – sounds idyllic. Except for the ticks. 

When they get their next breakaway it will be to Croatia, sailing on the clear, blue Adriatic with the MacGillivrays. No doubt, these travel experiences bring them and their music fresh perspective.

A Laguna journey

Beth Fitchet grew up in Phoenix and found her way to LA in the heyday of the music scene there by the early 1970s. She was the girl folksinger onstage at the Troubador and at many other Southern California Hoot nights. 

She recognizes that her original music is not the typical bar-band type. “It’s not that great for drinking music. People don’t just space out when they listen to me,” she says. Of course, with bars being the most available venues, it has not always been easy being a thinking person’s musician, rather than a drinking person’s musician. 

“It’s not great for my business!” she laughs.

Then Steve shared his background as Laguna local wannabe. 

His dad was the unlikely combination of FBI agent and beatnik piano player. Both his parents were freaks for the beach. “My parents were beach-niks from the San Gabriel Valley,” said Steve. “I’ve never known anybody as in love with the beach as my parents. So they came here!”

Much as they loved Laguna, his parents bought where they could afford, in Newport. Steve managed to make it to Laguna once it became affordable following the mudslides of 1969. “I wanted to be a local so bad!” he says. “I’d hang around the lifeguard stands, and write information down for them – like a Junior Guard.”

He surfed to his heart’s content, while also founding Honk, and matching up with bands such as Kenny Loggins’ (as keyboardist and musical director), and the Pointer Sisters. 

Ultimately, becoming a Laguna local, Steve feels he’s completed his parent’s journey.

The jewels that are family and friends

The Wood family includes two sons, Nate and Jimmy. Nate, a musician, is back east, living in Brooklyn and playing in a band called Kneebody. Jimmy is a wood cabinetmaker, and a Tae Kwon Do instructor. He got his mom and dad into Tae Kwon Do, too, which they are all happy about. 

“We do Tae Kwon Do four times a week,” Steve says. “Pretty good for a couple of 67 year-olds!”

A big part of Beth and Steve’s “other family” are the musicians they have known and played with over the years, such as Honk, as well as several musicians they produce from all over the world.

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At home at their piano

Although Honk seemed headed for the big time, it’s probably due to their dis-banding that the members have all stayed friends. “We just couldn’t keep the spirit up with all the commercial pressures,” said Steve. “Fortunately we broke up because we are all still best of friends all these years later. Plus I got to keep the family jewel, Beth!”

Steve has been long-time friends with fellow Laguna local Greg MacGillivray, now the biggest producer of independent IMAX documentaries. They share a love of surfing, and of music. To have a professional and personal connection is something rare – and fun. As Steve says, “I have composed and recorded 25 scores for him and this has led to many adventures and friends around the world.”

Together with one voice

Beth Fitchet Wood and Steve Wood have music coursing through their veins, and they’ve managed to be financially supported by music their whole lives. But whether playing acoustic in a cabin in the woods or jamming on stage, recording original scores in the studio or producing international musicians (such as the “Bob Dylan of Slovenia”), they do it together best.

Steve adds, “We enjoy hanging out together. We’re best friends – so, everywhere we go, everything we do, we want the other there.” 

Spoken as one.


Sandra Jones Campbell: Comfortable with change 

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Sandra Jones Campbell was making her way up the coast of California when she and her then husband stopped in Laguna Beach. The Patriots’ Day Parade was going on and Campbell says, “This (Laguna Beach) just felt right. It’s like everyone who comes here and they say it’s like they’ve come home.”  Apparently, it still feels right since that was 30 years ago and Campbell is still here.

An exhibitor at the Festival of Arts since 1988

Back then she was an established artist from Portland, Oregon, looking for a new audience for her work. Laguna Beach offered her that and more.  

“This seemed like a place I could blossom. You get to a place in your career where you have to make a change,” she explains.  

An artist who specialized in watercolors, Campbell says she changed to water-based oils because she was developing a “more fluid kind of style.” If you pay any attention to the Laguna art scene -- or even if you don’t -- you have undoubtedly seen Campbell’s German Expressionistic-inspired, bustling political and social scenes.

Represented locally by the Pacific Edge Gallery as well as an exhibitor at the Festival of the Arts since 1988, Campbell’s work is a familiar sight. Publicly, her work has been used for the Festival’s banner. 

“The Festival has been good for me and good to me,” she says. Campbell was also commissioned to paint a mural in downtown Laguna. When you see her work, you know it’s hers.  

Local artist Sandra Jones Campbell in her studio

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Old photographs and “714”

“I love old photographs,” she says emphatically. Campbell says she has hundreds of photos that inform her work. 

Another somewhat unlikely influence was a free magazine called “714” that people in Orange County found in their driveways back in the late ‘80’s. It had photos from different social happening around town and, Campbell says, “It was perfect for my figurative style. I started noticing the social scene here. It was very different than Portland,” she says as we laughed about those days of big hair and big…everything.  Seeing it as somewhat of an outsider allowed her to appreciate it while seeing it with a critical eye.  

She says her work isn’t “quite satire, but…”  The “but” is telling.  While Campbell describes her paintings as “pretty” they are much more than that. 

A tattoo artist and a barrel racer

While Campbell is known for her paintings depicting social events, her work isn’t all cocktail parties and bar scenes. She lived on a ranch in eastern Oregon for many years and images from those days can also be found in her work. 

“The ranch was heaven for the kids,” explains Campbell of living there with her son and daughter. “But it was stifling for me as an artist.” However, the “shadow of cowboys and images from the Oregon trail” are things she says she can “slip back into very comfortably.”  

Interestingly, her children followed two distinct passions from those days in the ranch.  Campbell’s son is now a tattoo artist who, she says, “is a much better illustrator than I am.”  

Her daughter fell in love with horses and barrel racing.  Campbell says that there were a lot of people working at the ranch, which meant there were a lot of built-in baby sitters.  One of them was a cowboy who taught her daughter to ride at an early age and she was hooked.

Being called an artist just felt right

Campbell herself was hooked at an early age on the idea of being an artist.  She recalls being in third grade and one of her classmates saying, “’Let Sandra do it. She’s the artist.’  When they said that it just felt right.”  

Back then she says she was drawing hydroplanes.  “I was exploring movement,” she remembers with a laugh.  “By the time I was done with high school I’d had a lot of opportunities. I went to a camp that was like ‘Fame’ -- in 1964!” she says.

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Sandra Jones Campbell blends into one of her paintings

A need for change

A constant in Campbell’s career is her willingness to seek out change. “I went back to school in 1980,” she says. “I’d been painting romantic, pastoral women. I was bored with them. So I went back to school and studied with James Kirk (at Western Oregon State College). I spent an entire semester there and all I did was art. It was lovely of my family to let me live away and study art. It was a kick start for me at the age of 30.”  

This “kick start” coincided with her own socio-political awakening. After her studies she says, “I was being radical.  In my paintings the women were not pretty.  I was turning 31 and I was feeling all the ‘times’ of being a woman.”  

Celebrating openness

Now, Campbell says, some of that inner turmoil has subsided. “I find that I still have my own controversy, but I’m in a very, very graceful place right now. I’m very receptive to what’s going on in the world.  But I’m a little bit more content now. I just love the fact that I get to do what I love.  It’s very rewarding.”  

And she is branching out and embracing other artistic mediums, as well, opening up her fabulous studio to others. “We had the Bare Bones Theater here in June. It’s more of a reading than a play. It’s wonderful. I’m getting to explore by letting people come into this space.  All we have to do is be open to it and it comes.”  

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One of Campbell’s paintings creates a lovely spot in her Laguna Canyon studio

A charmed career

Campbell has won many awards and has achieved great success. By her own admission her career has been “charmed.” 

Believing “Your deepest feeling is your highest truth,” she says she never doubted her career as an artist. Despite her success and longevity, she still continues to push forward and challenge herself.  “Now I’m really comfortable. I’m comfortable with where my art is. But I’m always ready for a change,” she says somewhat mischievously.


Poet, broker, painter and more: Kate Buckley is a woman of many talents, inspired above all by home

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Since her childhood, Kate Buckley has been actively seeking the answer to a question posed in Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day: Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?

“I know it sounds impossible, but I’m interested in everything,” Buckley says, sitting on a white couch in her beautiful Laguna home, which she has decorated in a gorgeously contemporary, yet eclectic style. “My mind is always telling me, let’s explore this, let’s explore that.”

Kate Buckley

For Buckley, then, the question of “what it is [she] plans to do” has never, and probably will never offer a single answer, and for her that’s a good thing. Over the years, she’s investigated many different fields, from art to health and nutrition to business – and she has several accomplishments in each of these areas. 

(Given the above, in a weak attempt at humor, I asked Buckley what she wasn’t interested in, or perhaps just hasn’t done yet. She thought for a while. “Calculus,” she said. “I can’t do calculus. Or surgery. I’m not a musician, though I love Brazilian jazz.” 

She says this with her brow just slightly furrowed, in a completely unpretentious way, and I have a strange feeling that after I leave, she might just study some math, or perhaps check out a medical encyclopedia, or sign up to learn the saxophone, because why not?)

Let’s take a closer look at Kate Buckley’s many-splendored life.

Hitting a home run with domain names

Working as a broker for the Castello Brothers, Buckley recently scored big, selling www.rate.com for $725,000, the fourth biggest domain sale reported in 2016, according to The Domain Industry News Magazine. She specializes in ultra-premium domains, website names with the greatest value.

“I met and began working with the Castellos back in 1998, when they had the foresight to accumulate domain names,” she says. “At that early time in the Internet’s history, few people predicted their future value. That’s been a key part of my success.”

Domain names mark a company’s home on the Internet, of course, and are therefore a key part of a company’s branding strategy. Brand management is another skill at which Buckley excels. She offers marketing services through her company, Buckley Media Group. 

Domain names brought Buckley to Laguna from Kentucky via New York and Palm Springs: after co-launching www.palmsprings.com, she focused on www.lagunabeach.com, and once she had explored our multi-faceted city, decided that this was a place that reflected her own personality. 

Kate believes in good, clean eating and knows how to make that happen

Buckley is also an accredited life coach, and has worked with CEOs and others on many aspects of their lives ranging from nutrition to business and romantic challenges. 

“I like to think that by reframing our stories, we can reclaim our past in a positive way, especially as no one has perfect memories, another aspect of the mind that fascinates me,” she says.

Poems inspired by Kentucky, her place of birth, win many prizes

Somehow Buckley also finds time to write, to frame her own stories, many inspired by her Kentucky home, where she spends part of her year. 

Poems that appear in her two books, A Wild Region and Follow Me Down – as well as numerous literary journals – have won the North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize and the Gabehart Prize for imaginative writing. 

What do poetry, domain name sales and brand marketing have in common, I wondered?

“All involve observation, strategy and detective work to arrive at the right place, to provide a sense of shared experience,” she says. “And they demand creativity, and curiosity, which has informed my whole life. I started writing poetry at the age of three and a half. I’m high energy and I’m always looking for solutions to challenges.”

Not surprisingly, Buckley describes herself as a serial entrepreneur – and more surprisingly for someone who in conversation appears so grounded – a mystic. 

I ask her what that means, to be a mystic. She thinks for a while, her hands curled around a mug of Earl Grey tea, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel Murphy nestled happily by her side. 

Murphy the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is Kate’s constant, adoring companion

 “When I’m in the woods in Kentucky, I often have the sense that I’m downloading the voices and emotions of others, living or dead, who have also walked among the trees, generations earlier,” says the ninth-generation Kentuckian, who loves to immerse herself in nature. 

(It’s interesting to me to hear words such as download and bandwidth in conversation with Buckley, and to realize how closely her worlds intertwine.)

She hastens to clarify that the images she senses are not always positive. 

“The beautiful and the brutal necessarily coexist,” she says. “That’s the great mystery of life.”

These preoccupations are evident in her poems, many of which take as their themes the malleability of memory and the transformational nature of landscape.

Her paintings also reflect these themes. 

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Kate Buckley is surrounded by beauty of her own making

Because, yes, Kate Buckley is also an artist. Her paintings adorn the walls of her Laguna Beach home, which is decorated in pink, cinnamon and green tones and seems to beg for coverage in Architectural Digest.

Buckley is a yogi, and loves Ritual Arts Yoga here in town on South Coast Highway. Teacher Cole Jacobs is a favorite of hers. She’s a hiker who loves our wilderness trails. She likes to cook and to garden. And to travel. And antiquing. 

Volunteering is another interest

Buckley is also a serial volunteer.

“Just yesterday, I received news that I’m going to be a Big Sister to a young girl in Dana Point who shares many of my interests,” she tells me. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

Buckley is a past and present volunteer for the Friendship Shelter and the Peace Exchange.

With her friend Gretchen Westgaard, she co-founded the Laguna Beach Hiking Club, which she says is perhaps the best example of how a passion of hers, in this case hiking, has resulted in productive community building, something she loves.

One of Buckley’s next goals is the publication of a collection of short stories, one of which was shortlisted for the prestigious UK-based Bridport Prize.

At this point in the interview, my mental mailbox had reached capacity, so to speak, though I guessed that there were many more interesting topics to cover with Kate Buckley in the future. 

I said goodbye to her and Murphy (what a dog!), thinking how lucky Laguna Beach is that Kate Buckley calls the city her home and to benefit from her generosity, her multiple marketing talents, and her musings.


Joe Hanauer: A Laguna visionary respects the past, supports the present and plans for the future

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

  Joe Hanauer says that when he and his wife, Jane, contemplated moving to California from Chicago 25 years ago, they thought, “Let’s do this. It will be fun.” Joe didn’t think it would last.  “My thought was, this is going to be brief; maybe two, three, four years might be plenty,” as he remembers. “This California lifestyle seems kind of crazy to someone from the Midwest.”

They ventured west because Hanauer had sold his company to another, located in Newport Beach. The Hanauers chose Laguna because, as Hanauer explains, “Our youngest daughter was five at the time so our focus was on what type of environment we wanted to bring her up in.  We looked at other places, Newport, for one, but culturally it wasn’t what we were looking for. Laguna fit the bill. Its size, culture, schools, values… Plus it’s a lovely city.”

Joe Hanauer at his offices at The Old Pottery Place in Laguna Beach

Coming west and staying

Hanauer figured he’d be with the new company for three to four years then return home.  However, his involvement lasted much longer.  “It ended up being 11-12 years,” he explains, “But the other part of it is, just as you would expect: friends, the lifestyle and the shallower things like the weather and the beauty of the scenery. They became pretty compelling reasons to stay.” 

Finally, he says, after close to seven years in California, they finally sold their family home in Chicago. It was official: they were now Lagunans.

Investing around the corner

Hanauer is chairman of the board of Move, Inc. and a principal at Combined Investments, LLC. In town, however, he may be better known as the developer of The Old Pottery Place (formerly the Pottery Shack). 

“I mostly do business in other parts of the country,” he said. “[When I get involved in something] where I live, it’s not because it’s a core business, but because I like investing in the community. When we were in Chicago, I did the same thing. Snow Mass, the same thing. So here, it was just a natural continuation. I’ve always been interested in doing stuff around the corner. It’s satisfying beyond the project’s economics.”

Giving an iconic property new life

Hanauer describes the old Pottery Shack as an “iconic property since the 1930’s.”  His interest was based on what it could become. 

“Lots of people had ideas about what to do with the space: hotels, supermarkets, a Rite-Aid. What I tried to do that worked was take the ‘history’ (and I use the word loosely) back, and look at the role it played in the neighborhood.”  

Hanauer, fortunately, decided that what was needed was what exists there now: offices, restaurants and shops. Sorry, Rite-Aid. 

“The fringe benefit,” says Hanauer, “is it ended up having a beneficial relationship to the businesses up and down the street. Today it’s a much more dynamic neighborhood than when the Pottery Shack was in its decline.”  

It has been so energized the area’s local merchants formed the HIP (Historic and Interesting Places) District “as a way to communicate the large diversity of dining, shopping and services along PCH from Thalia to Bluebird,” he explains. 

Finally, Laguna Beach Books is born

Another “fringe benefit” is that Hanauer’s wife, Jane, was able to become one of the center’s tenants with her bookstore, Laguna Beach Books.  

“She has wanted to do that most of her life.  She had been talking about it forever, wherever we were.  She’d say, ‘Gee, Joe, this spot would be terrific for a book store.’  I was maybe the selfish husband.  I’d tell her, ‘You’ll be tied up. We travel so much…’ She’s very smart, very well read so when we were doing this she did the same thing.  Eventually, my arguments diminished,” he says with a laugh.  “This has been her first business. Here she is ten years later. She loves it and it has been great for the community. She’s there six days a week. It’s her life.”

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It was important to Hanauer that The Old Pottery Place retained elements from the original Pottery Shack

Bringing music to the masses with Laguna Beach Live!

A keen interest in what’s “good for the community” doesn’t end with business.  Hanauer is heavily involved in several local arts organizations, like Laguna Beach Live!, which is one that is close to his heart. Back in college he minored in music, though he insists he has “no talent.”  Regardless, he loves music. And he recently began taking piano lessons – again.  

Hanauer sits on the Board of Laguna Beach Live! and says that the group’s mission “is to supply good, quality music for everyone.”  The group puts on Jazz Wednesdays, for example, throughout the summer at Hotel Laguna.  “It’s great jazz for $20. It’s in town so it’s accessible. We will arrange pick-ups for seniors. Having it be accessible is very attractive to me,” he says.  Education for children is also a priority for the organization. (For more information visit lagunabeachlive.org)

Seeing the value of The Laguna Playhouse, beyond the shows

Another organization Hanauer is involved with is Laguna Playhouse, serving as its board co-chairman. “I’m very involved with that. My involvement isn’t so much based on being a theater buff,” he says. “It’s more about the importance the arts can have for the community, and the way people think and believe.”  

He explains that his interest in The Playhouse began when they sold him the building next door.  

“I became aware of some financial problems the Playhouse had. It was during the Great Recession. So I got involved, more as a matter of trying to assist the Playhouse in being able to have the kind of influence it should have, rather than from a love of the theater.”  

He proudly tells me that now Laguna Playhouse has 80,000 people a year going through to see 325 performances of music, theater and youth theater, in addition to their outreach to schools throughout Orange County.  

“The Playhouse is a critical element of the community,” he says emphatically. 

And Hanauer sees that as important, whether you’re a fan of live theater or not.  “A lot of people use Laguna as a bedroom. If they’re interested in the arts they [may] look for it elsewhere, but there is a lot to be had right here,” he says.  

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Joe Hanauer stands in front of a mosaic at The Old Pottery Place that states, “Do not sacrifice freedom for pomp or show”

The importance of supporting local everything

Just as he values a vibrant local arts scene, Hanauer views shopping locally as a crucial element of the community – and it’s not because his wife owns a local bookstore.  He worries that people “don’t recognize the impact of having services for locals as well as visitors. It impacts our town,” he says. “When you go to places where residents don’t support their local businesses, you’ll find a lot of condo sales offices, but you won’t see people strolling. And shopping locally is just a matter of habit.” 

Hanauer sees things very holistically, which may be why it’s so important to him to support the things that make Laguna so uniquely Laguna. 

“With our nearly 100 year old Playhouse and Museum plus outstanding organizations such as Laguna Dance, Laguna Beach Live!, Laguna Concert Band and so many others, they can only grow and become even better if supported by the town’s citizens.”

With citizens like Joe Hanauer giving back to the community he lives in, Laguna has been truly gifted. Laguna remains the grateful beneficiary of his care and concern for its history and its future.



Amy Kramer: Helping out Laguna Beach schools

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Amy Kramer’s arrival in Laguna Beach 21 years ago was not the realization of a life long dream. “My husband is a builder and he found a lot in Arch Beach Heights.  He built a house and we ended up moving in,” she says. “There was no big plan. It just kind of happened. He just kept building spec houses in Laguna,” she says, good-humoredly.  

Prior to coming to Laguna, the couple lived in Cypress.  Kramer worked in marketing for a medical device manufacturer located in Irvine. Clearly, whether coming here was fate or happenstance, the Kramers have embraced their hometown, “I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere,” Kramer says, sounding somewhat surprised.

From CSULB to Japan and back

A Cal State Long Beach grad who grew up in Burbank, Kramer thought she was going to become a professor. Now she says she finds that idea “totally funny.” 

She received her Master’s in Communications from CSULB, but says that she realized she wanted more “real world experience” than academia could provide.  

Not quite ready to settle down career-wise, she took a job teaching English conversation in Japan.  

“I got a job as an ‘emergency teacher,’ so I would travel to the locations as people’s contracts ended, mostly through central Japan.”  

She has not returned to Japan since, although she says she’d like to take her oldest son, Josh, before he goes off to college next year.

Amy Kramer, outgoing SchoolPower president

The perfect work schedule ends

When Josh was six months old, Kramer said she had “a perfect schedule” at her work,  “I had come back to work part time. It was great!” she says with a laugh. “But then I got pregnant with my daughter…” Her company explained that the part-time thing wasn’t really working for them anymore. 

But Kramer couldn’t commit to the crazy hours she had been working prior to becoming a mother.  

“They asked me if I wanted to resign, or be fired so I could get benefits,” she explains. So resignation it was, albeit grudgingly. “I really liked that part time thing,” she says laughing.

Helping out wherever her kids were

With two kids one year apart, Kramer clearly had her hands full. 

Not too full, apparently, because she decided to run the Laguna Presbyterian Preschool fundraiser for the two years since her children went to school there.  

“After that I volunteered in my kids’ classrooms; I did PR for SchoolPower for two years and then I got pregnant with my third kid, James.”  

She continued to stay in the mix by producing the Top of the World Elementary newsletter and, as her oldest kids progressed through school, handling the public relations for Thurston Middle School.  

At each new school her children attended, Kramer worked to make a difference for them, and the rest of the students.

President of Laguna Beach Republicans Club

Amy also worked to make a difference in people’s opinions by branching out from her kids’ schools and becoming president of the Laguna Beach Republicans Club. She jokes about her rare bird status of being a fairly outspoken conservative in what she sees as a pretty liberal town. 

People took interest in what she had to say.  

“About a year after (becoming president), Andrea Adelson at ‘The Indy’ asked me to write a column. It was basically the ‘conservative take’ on local Laguna; everything I wrote had to be tied back to Laguna. And after doing that for awhile, I went to write for Stu (Saffer, of StuNews).” 

I asked her if she was ever taken aback by people’s reactions to what she wrote in her column. “You know, I was surprised,” she said. “There are a lot of conservatives in town but they’re pretty quiet. I always remind myself to try and see all sides while putting my opinion out there. It’s really good for learning diplomacy. But I believe things are better when there are different voices.” 

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Amy, with her youngest son, James, a 4th-grader at Top of the World

Jumping back into SchoolPower with both feet

Kramer’s openness to other voices definitely served her well in her next phase of community service: her return to SchoolPower.  

Re-emerging as a trustee in 2013, Kramer wasted no time diving in, co-chairing SchoolPower’s Dinner Dance (with fellow trustee, Nina Langton). 

“The organization had changed for the better, in my opinion,” she says.  “It was tighter, more efficient and much more process oriented.”  

As for co-chairing the Dinner Dance, one of the things Kramer wanted was for the theme of the night to reflect back on its purpose. “I think it’s helpful to have a foundation for the message.”  

Is it an earth-shattering change to an event with a 30-year history? No, but it exemplifies Kramer’s ability to gently and smartly tweak an idea while striving to better its outcome.  

She went on to co-chair the event again (with Angela Shipp) the following year.  For an evening that consistently brings in hundreds of thousand of dollars for Laguna schools, raising your hand to put it all together is no small undertaking.

President of SchoolPower, among other jobs

Kramer didn’t stop with the Dinner Dance, deciding to take on an even bigger challenge, and become SchoolPower president this past year – in addition to being in charge of the Dinner Dance’s silent auction.  

“I like SchoolPower because it’s bigger-picture thinking,” she says. “I like that it impacts the entire school community. I felt I had stuff to give and could make the biggest impact there [at SchoolPower].”   

Kramer’s tenure as president had just ended when we met, an event she saw as bittersweet.  She says, “You don’t necessarily realize what you want to do until it’s done.”  

Pondering life at a cross roads

As SchoolPower’s outgoing president, one might expect Kramer to rest on her laurels. Rest, it seems, is not high on her list of priorities. She is planning on getting back to helping out with the Dinner Dance for 2017, in addition to continuing to work part time with her husband, something she has done since 2007.  

“I really enjoy doing it… And we’re still married!” she says, laughing.  

As for what’s next, Kramer says she’s not quite sure. “I’m kind of at a crossroads.  Being SchoolPower president requires such a big amount of time and energy,” she says. “I need that kind of stimulation… So right now, I’m kind of in this weird limbo.”  

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Amy, her son, James, and husband Josh, a local builder

Thinking about more than Laguna’s schools

Wherever her interests take her next, it’s a safe bet they won’t take her out of Laguna. “We’re really blessed to be here,” she says. “I grew up in LA.  You couldn’t go to public school there then. I just think we’re so lucky!”  

And while she obviously has a passion for Laguna’s public schools, they’re not her only interest.  

We chatted briefly about city happenings. Amy is curious about many things; things like the trolleys and whether they are really benefitting local businesses, or simply clogging our already jammed streets.  

“If they’re bolstering local businesses then that’s one thing. If not, then maybe we should reassess,” she says, thoughtfully.  

Kramer asks such questions because she really wants to know the answer; it’s important to her to see if things are operating at their highest level. If they’re not, she’s more than willing to roll up her sleeves to see if she can help. 

Laguna’s schools have benefitted the most so far, but who knows what’s next?


Ellie Tipton Ortiz: A balance of professional, family, and community life – and some fun thrown in the mix

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Aga Stuchlik

You wouldn’t think a paralegal could be so happy. At least not one who gets in the middle of divorces – by choice. But Ellie Tipton Ortiz always has a smile on her face, and has the quick, ready energy to jump into anything. Even into the thick of it.

“I love what I do!” she explains cheerfully. “I love socializing…being out in the community. I want to make a difference.”

I chuckle to myself as I imagine her sunny personality between two bickering partners. But that’s what a divorce mediator does. 

“We end in agreement,” she says. “It doesn’t always start out that way; we have had some screaming matches! But there are rules to keep things positive, not raise your voice. Sometimes, if there’s no one interrupting, and they hear themselves say something over and over, they think, ‘Hmm, that doesn’t sound so good.’”

Ah, sweet harmony, more or less, in the end. 

Ellie Tipton Ortiz

Ellie believes she may have come to this career by way of her own family. She describes her brother as being particularly affected by their parent’s divorce. The feeling of the family falling apart inspired her to reach out and help people.

“I made a video from the heart about why to do mediation,” she said. “It’s less damage to families. If parents can get along, kids aren’t damaged by that poison coming home.” Plus, a traditional divorce can take a long, embattled time. “Three years versus three months. It’s more friendly: not enemies.” (themediatoroc.com tells the specifics of divorce mediation, and her laguna-legal.com gives an overview of what they do.)

I can imagine she’s seen all the good, the bad, and the ugly that can transpire between two adults, but I can’t help myself from asking if any of them ever get back together. “Yes!” Ellie says. “A lot of times people get it in their head to divorce, then they get it off their minds, and out of their system.”

Ah, sweet mystery of life.

How did this seemingly happy-go-lucky person become the go-to mediator in Laguna Beach? “I’m a technical person,” she explains, “not artistic/creative. It’s why I’m good at mediation. I’m not emotional.” 

Ellie started by doing regular legal court certified documents, “Then people started asking me to mediate. I didn’t even know I was mediating, but people told me, ‘You were the best!’” So she carried on with what she does best, and she’s glad of it. 

“I feel like I’ve made the biggest difference in divorce mediation. I think I have a gift,” she says.

Organizing and Uniting

I met Ellie several years ago through her involvement with The Woman’s Club. She has been on its board for five years, and served as its president for two years. Within organizations, just as within partnerships, there can be political differences, and that’s where Ellie Ortiz shines. “My mediation skills help with political differences, like at the Woman’s Club,” she says. “I was good at uniting and bringing people together.”

Ellie in her comfortable and calming office

As the president, Ellie created an historical wall at The Woman’s Club celebrating Laguna’s history. She also started a charitable assistance program for Laguna Beach School District families. The Woman’s Club provides supplies such as backpacks, school supplies, and sports equipment, and liaises with the schools to reach out to provide for those in need. 

Additionally, Ellie is part of Soroptimist International of Laguna Beach, does volunteer events for Glennwood House, and is an affiliate member of the Laguna Board of Realtors. “We do community things like Taste of Charity,” she said. “They all do so many wonderful things, and I want to be involved with all of them!”

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to her husband, Roland, but he kids her, saying, “Remember us? We’re your charity!”

Woman of the World

Ellie is culturally Persian, and her husband, raised in Argentina, is Spanish and Italian. Their multi-cultural family includes Jake, 19, Cameron, 17, and Layla, 15. They are most certainly globetrotters. 

In 2007, Ellie and Roland figured it was a good time for the family to experience living abroad. Their children were young enough that they were open to the idea too. So they packed up their stuff and moved to a small fishing village in Spain. The kids were immersed in public school there, loved it, and now they all speak Spanish fluently. 

“It was the best time!” said Ellie. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Roland is a motorcycle/Moto GP enthusiast. He created a business for lifestyle European motorcycle brands called Euro Papi, and he collects and restores vintage motorcycles. (“We have five in our living room!” says Ellie. “It’s our museum.”) While in Spain, the both of them travelled around on motorcycles, visiting his family in the north, and their many new Spanish friends.

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Ellie and Roland Ortiz with one of his vintage motorcycles

During the summer, when the kids were out of school, the family returned to Southern California, near where Ellie grew up in Laguna Niguel…a beloved little town called Laguna Beach.  “It’s closest to the European lifestyle,” says Ellie. 

For two summers they rented the former home of Rita Hayworth. “We made the best friends and the best memories there.” On the third summer, they moved back to Laguna Beach for good.

Home is where the heart is

Now Ellie runs her business, Laguna Legal, in town, and Roland continues Euro Papi online (EuroPapiUSA.com). You may see him tooling around town on one of his vintage cycles with a group of friends. “He calls it ‘Putt-putting around,’” laughs Ellie. “But, he’s happy, I’m happy!”

The kiddos are in school – Jake studying to be a diesel mechanic to work on oilrigs in Canada. Cameron’s at Pomona studying medicine and writing, and Layla is at Laguna Beach High School where she’s also a tennis player.

One thing Ellie loves to do is cook, and she loves it even better when joining up with Layla. “My daughter is a really good cook!” she boasts. “I love cooking with her. She’s like a precise surgeon!” I know that Ellie is a really good cook – specializing in Persian fare such as the herb and vegetable stew, Ghormeh Sabzi. It’s a dish she may bring to one of the many charity functions she attends.

Cooking, sharing meals with family, and entertaining are the things that balance Ellie’s time. She’s really good at uniting and bringing people together in all sorts of ways, political divide or no. And she does it all with joy and energy. It is fitting that she was drawn to a profession symbolized by the scales of balance.

You will surely see Ellie Tipton Ortiz at non-profit events in Laguna Beach, usually lending a volunteer hand. You may see her professionally, working out equitable solutions, and you may see her sipping a latte at the café Zinc. 

Trust me, you’ll know her by her smile.



Mike Tauber: The Laguna artist very much at work

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If the name Mike Tauber doesn’t ring a bell, his artwork certainly will.  Whether it’s his beautiful tile installations all over town (at the Laguna Beach Water District or along Mermaid Street, to name two) or his dancing sardines along the wall of the Hagan Place apartment building on Third Street, or even his painted murals outside Whole Foods; if you’ve driven around Laguna, you’ve seen Tauber’s work. 

Mike Tauber

When we met at his studio on Laguna Canyon Road he was swamped. There was commission work to be done, pieces for this year’s Festival of the Arts to be completed, and an important event that he is involved with called “Art-to-Go” coming up on June 2 at City Hall. After that event he’ll be heading over to Nuance Home at the Old Pottery Place for another event… If you thought the life of a working artist was easy, think again. 

“Art to Go” for a good cause

“Art-to-Go” raises money for The Artists Fund, an “artists’ disaster relief fund,” as Tauber describes it.  He is responsible for coordinating the fundraising of the event that pools money to help artists in case of flood, fire or illness.  This year’s theme is “shoes.” 

“We encourage everyone to show up with fabulous shoes,” he says, enthusiastically.  

The artists donate a work of art they created out of shoes. Tauber had two artist’s pieces at his studio that I got a sneak peek at: a boot that had been turned into a floppy-eared dog and two wedge sandals that morphed into a bug-eyed insect.  Both were very creative and utterly unique. Tauber’s own creation was two metal relief pieces depicting a man’s oxford and lady’s classic pump.  The pieces will be on display at City Hall then they’ll be shown at the Festival grounds where they can be purchased.

From Illinois to San Diego State University

An Illinois native, Tauber came to the west coast when he transferred to San Diego State University. “I did a lot of ceramics there – a lot of different things. When I graduated I was a draftsman so I had some practical skills. I focused on painting,” he says. “I started working for the building industry in the early 2000’s. But I wanted to do more outdoor pieces. My degree is in environmental design so I like art that relates to a space as opposed to strictly gallery work.”

After college, Tauber took a job in Los Angeles with the famous interior design firm, Cannell and Chaffin. He learned the ropes, and then hightailed it out of LA.  

“I did not like LA,” he says. “I’m not a big city guy. I’m a cornfields kind of guy!” he says with a laugh.  

He took a job in San Clemente. “Everyone told me, ‘If you’re going to work in San Clemente you have to move to Laguna!’  I like the small town, the thriving arts industry here. Plus I work for a couple of non-profits so I have to be here,” he explains. And while Laguna has become his hometown, it’s one of the reasons he’s so busy, because, as he says, “It’s not cheap to live here.” 

Creating painterly ceramic tiles

One of Tauber’s first big projects in his hometown was for the Laguna Beach Water District.  “They called me to do a mural in 2005.  I decided it was best to do it in ceramic tiles. I was also painting at the time, but in 2008 I re-juried in ceramics for the Festival. I just enjoy the medium,” he explains.  

Of his ceramics style he says, “The aesthetic is painting – all the disciplines of plein air painting – but it’s not common to see it in tile.  Why would you do that?  It’s hard.  You don’t normally see those two disciplines together.” 

Tauber points to mid-20th century travel posters and the old packing labels used on orange crates as influences on his tile work.  There is a glow to them that is very painterly yet also very graphic.

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One of Mike Tauber’s painterly tile creations along Mermaid Street

A diverse range of disciplines

As a self-proclaimed “working class artist,” it’s important for Tauber to be diversified for artistic as well as economic reasons.  “Artists can get a little bit set in their ways so it’s good to do other things: painting on canvas and large murals, teaching, ceramic tiles, metallic relief work. I appreciate it when people notice the aesthetics in my mediums; that they are seeing my style.”  

Tauber makes “Art” with a capital “A” as well as “art” that helps pay the bills. “I do a lot of production painting,” he explains. “It’s not necessarily portfolio work, but you’re using your technical skills.”

One example of this kind of work is his partnership with Geppetto’s Toy Stores in San Diego.  “I do these commercial projects that are financially rewarding, but also fun.  I enjoy going to San Diego and painting these giant cartoons,” he says with a laugh. “My clients are the best. I’ve been with the Toy Store for 20 years! These really good, professional relationships are critical. I feel very lucky to have them.”

Tauber is also appreciative of public art. “Public art can make the whole area better. It gives the location a sense of identity.  Hopefully, everyone who sees it appreciates it.  It can help make them respect the place a little bit more when there is art there.”  

One of Tauber’s public installations, the sardines on the Hagan Place apartment building, is just such a piece. Deceptively simple, it enhances what had been a big, bland wall. Tauber says this piece is “an example of where the space informs the art. I like the relationship between two dimensions and three dimensions…[the sardines] look like they’re jumping off the wall, especially at sunset.”

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Mike Tauber’s work, “Sardines,” at the Hagan Place apartments

Why sardines? 

“This building parallels Wyland’s big whale mural on PCH. I perceive myself as a working-class artist. I like to root for the underdog.  The sardine is just as important as the big guys at the top.  The whale can’t survive without them,” he explains with a mischievous smile. “I like it that those two pieces are speaking to each other.”

Working the other part of his brain

In addition to the many different artistic disciplines Tauber works in, he also likes to exercise the other part of his brain with his non-profit work.  “When I’m tired from too much production I like to do the non-profit work, get more intellectual. The art can be very physical.” Besides “Art-to-Go,” Tauber is involved with LOCA as their marketing manager, as well as a teacher.

A new teaching gig that he’s excited about starts this summer at The Festival.  “[Artist] Tom Swimm and I are teaching fun stuff at the Festival on Saturday nights throughout the summer,” he says. “I really look forward to that. I love teaching, but tiles are too hard, there are too many steps – painting is much more straightforward. It will be a fun reason to come to the Festival. The grounds are so beautiful at night.  Come, have a glass of wine with me and we’ll do some painting! It will be way more fun than going to the same old bar!”  

Tauber sounds genuinely enthused about the prospect.  But while teaching art to potentially un-artistic types like myself under the stars with a glass of wine doesn’t sound too terrible, just remember it will likely be the 10th project Tauber has managed to get done that day. He makes it all work by working – a lot.  

Despite his workload, he somehow manages to find a little time for fun: listening to live music, mountain biking in Woods Canyon, photographing the kelp off Casino Point in Catalina.  He also likes to host game nights with good, old-fashioned board games: a by-product of his youth. Growing up in a family with four boys it’s no surprise that competition was a staple.

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Mike Tauber in front of one of his murals for Whole Foods in Laguna Beach

More plans, more work

While his brothers followed more corporate routes of employment, Tauber says his “parents weren’t thrilled with (his) decision to become a self-employed artist.” However, his drive, talent and pragmatic approach has meant steady work throughout his career.  

And he’s not done yet.  

Tauber would still like to become an Artist in Residence at a national park, secure more commissions in other countries (he has already completed one in Australia and one in Brazil), and organize more programs for arts organizations, like Art-to-Go.  

In his words, to make it as a working artist you must: “Narrow your vision, expose yourself to a lot of different disciplines and turn it into your own vision. Work in the industry, develop practical skills, work with non-profits that can help get you closer to your goals, treat clients with respect, be prepared to work really, really hard – and meet your deadlines.  

“Also, there is value in taking commercial jobs that you don’t want to sign your name to.  At least it keeps your brushes wet!” 

And, he adds, “Stay humble.”   Young artists take note.


Ellen Girardeau Kempler, winner of Ireland’s Blackwater International Poetry Competition, is a poet with a mission

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

 

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“Place poet” Ellen Girardeau Kempler and her “self-esteem cave” where she surrounds herself with reminders of her achievements and happiest times

Three-time winner of Laguna Beach Library’s annual poetry prize, and more recently the winner of the prestigious Blackwater International Poetry Competition – based in West Cork, Ireland – Ellen Girardeau Kempler is a much-published Laguna poet with a mission. She wants to help people to “feel in [their] deep heart’s core” (a quote from William Butler Yeats, one of her favorite poets) a visceral connection to the immensity and mystery of our universe. 

“When we are open to the unexpected, both poetry and place can awaken us to the deep link between the personal and the universal,” she says. “If throughout your life you continue both physical and intellectual exploration, you are more likely to sense the magic around you.” 

Kempler’s trip to Chilean Patagonia in 2013, during which she caught sight of Andean condors flying free in the immense, glacier-carved landscape, was a transformative experience for her, bringing home the importance of being receptive to the power of the universe and reminding her how close California condors came to extinction in the eighties.

“We need to pay attention so that we will be alert to astonishment,” she says.

Kempler quotes Matsuo Basho, a Japanese poet considered the master of haiku, from his introduction to “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” to make her point. 

“Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one—when you have plunged deep enough…to see something hidden glimmering there.”

In this quote, Basho, who lived from 1644 – 1694, seems almost to have anticipated the ‘selfie’ obsession that consumes our society these days, with him admonishing us in advance of the perils of narcissism.

“We’re so caught up in branding ourselves, and seeking attention, that we don’t seem capable of living in the moment. It’s all about who will see us and what they will think of us based on the image we choose to project,” Kempler says. “Usually what’s in the background is ignored, but that’s where the condors fly and the whales spout and the unexpected happens.”

Also, Kempler notes, so much photo-shopping is done these days that the public is often suspicious that stunning natural photos – such as the Milky Way reflected on Lake Titicaca – are not real. “The only way to know the reality of nature is to become a personal witness to the phenomena that occur – and it isn’t always possible to predict their timing,” she says.

The value of wandering—and waiting

Kempler’s visit to Patagonia brought home to her to the realization that being willing to wander without expectations, at home and abroad, could greatly enrich her life. She recalls one of the most wonderful travel experiences that she has had by simply “putting [herself] in a place” without too many expectations. 

“In Reykjavik, our travel group took overnight shifts, hoping to see the Northern Lights, but that night there was nothing to be seen. The following night was so cold and windy, I gave up after a while and went inside the hotel. But eventually I went outside again.

“Suddenly the night sky changed, and bands of green began to circle and enclose us, interspersed with shimmering lights made up of transparent rainbow colors. It was an otherworldly feeling, as though we were literally seeing the wind.” 

Kempler says watchers reacted in almost primal ways, dancing and screaming at the sight. 

“It’s particularly important that people understand how connected we are to nature in these times of climate change. In recent years, I traveled to the Athabasca Glacier in Canada, and saw just how fast the ice is retreating,” she adds “The glacier has lost half its volume in the last 125 years.”

That’s one reason why Kempler built a website, Gold Boat Journeys, to inspire others to explore the written word and the wonders of the world in person, and to share her own life-changing experiences.

Not just a “place poet”

While Kempler is happy to be known as a “place poet,” she writes about a range of subjects. Birthday Wish, the poem that won the Blackwater International Poetry Contest against strong competition from poets all over the world, from Sri Lanka to Ireland, is a poignant reflection on her dying father’s last days. Although he, a theoretical physicist, could no longer understand complicated algorithms, he was able to read, on his e-reader, an illustrated biography of Marc Chagall, given to him by Kempler. The thought that her dad was still able to appreciate patterns and colors and abstract images in his last weeks has been a comfort to her.

 

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Besides travel, Kempler loves her terrier Arlo and hosting a Little Free Library

The Laguna poet will be flown to the West Cork Literary Festival, where she will read her poem and enjoy four nights free accommodation. She’s hoping not to have to drive – one of her most humbling experiences, she says, involved a solo trip to Ireland, a pink rental car and the challenges of driving on the left hand side of the road, especially around roundabouts. The toll collector told her not to worry to pay. She had suffered enough, he felt. She agreed.

Kempler says that writing poems, besides giving her pleasure, has helped during difficult times in her life. She has established her office as a “Self-esteem Cave,” noting that like most creative people, she often doubts herself and needs to remind herself of her achievements (which include being a finalist for the Tucson Festival of Books and Ireland’s Fish Poetry Prize, judged by Billy Collins). 

Here in the “cave,” she has hung her prize certificates and a map of the world, and her desk and shelves contain reminders of her journeys to Ireland, Iceland, Patagonia and other destinations, along with books by favorite poets including Yeats, Pablo Neruda, and Emily Dickinson.

Travel is great, but you don’t have to go far afield to experience the wonders of nature. Kempler recalls going for a walk on the beach in Laguna and being lucky enough to see a mother whale and baby gamboling in the ocean.

Armchair travel that engages the mind and the spirit

Visiting Kempler’s website is a journey in itself. Here the hyperlink-clicking visitor will find inspirational quotes, writing prompts, even a writing contest, along with stunning travel photos and an invitation to use her consulting services through her Gold Boat Journeys. She’s also a whiz at social media and for a while worked as a consultant for Expedia.

Kempler, who has in the past handled marketing communications for the Laguna Canyon Foundation and Laguna Art Museum, and her husband Roger, a lawyer, are the parents of two grown daughters, Alex and Holly, and a cuddly terrier named Arlo. Since moving to Laguna Beach in 1997, they’ve been active volunteers for a variety of nonprofits including the Laguna Playhouse, Pageant of the Masters, Friendship Shelter and Transitions Laguna. The Kemplers have also hosted plein-air artists from all over the world.

“My favorite thing about Laguna is that it is an island surrounded by wilderness – the greenbelt on three sides and the bluebelt on the other. I love listening to the city’s soundtrack from here where I live on Top of the World: birds chirping, owls hooting, coyotes howling, wind chimes dinging, kids skateboarding, the boys down the street practicing drums and piano, punctuated by echoes of fire trucks, seals barking and other noises from down below,” she says.

Besides writing, traveling and volunteering, Kempler enjoys an eclectic range of activities including picking berries and baking pies, taking pleasure in the books that come and go from her Little Free Library, and watching the occasional TV mystery and drama. 

In September, Ellen Girardeau Kempler, an Oregon native who loves “green places,” will head to Japan to enjoy its natural beauty, and she hopes, see snow monkeys – and who knows what else? She looks forward to finding out.

Visit Ellen Girardeau Kempler’s website at www.gold-boat.com. You never know what you might discover.



Dr. Korey Jorgensen: Specializing in helping others

By: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Korey Jorgenson began his work at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic (LBCC) as a volunteer back in 1972.  “I was attached to the Marines…I was a doctor at the El Toro base.  One of the people I worked with was Bill Anderson (now at Sleepy Hollow Medical Clinic in Laguna Beach).  He was one of the physicians at the Base and he said I should look at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic as a place to volunteer my time,” explains Dr. Jorgensen.  

He did more than look, continuing to see patients at the clinic until November of 2014 (that’s 42 years, if you’re counting).  Not only did Jorgensen find LBCC a good fit for his services, he found the city to be a good fit for him personally, as well. “When I got out of the service in 1973 I was really ready to make Laguna my home,” he says.  

Leaving a thriving practice for Laguna Beach Community Clinic

The Laguna Beach Community Clinic was founded in 1970 as “a free clinic.” While the Clinic still serves low-income and uninsured patients it is no longer “free”, but rather relies on a “sliding fee scale and public support funds for care reimbursement” according to the group’s website.  It is a licensed non-profit agency.  Dr. Jorgensen continued his private solo practice in Costa Mesa as a family practitioner and an HIV specialist while also working at LBCC.  In 1991 he decided to take “a break” from his solo practice and start an HIV treatment program at LBCC.  

“I stayed at the Clinic from then on,” he says.  

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Dr. Korey Jorgensen just stopped seeing patients at LBCC after 42 years

Bringing his HIV treatment expertise to LBCC

Before Dr. Jorgensen arrived the Clinic didn’t have anyone who was knowledgeable about HIV, nor did they have any funding to pay for such treatment.  Under Dr. Jorgensen’s leadership, LBCC utilized money from the Ryan White Foundation, a federal program named for an HIV positive boy who had been discriminated against as a result of his having HIV, and partly funded by a tax on cigarettes. However, in 1991 HIV was “still a death sentence,” says Dr. Jorgensen.  It wasn’t until 1996 when better treatments were discovered along with better testing.  “This allowed doctor’s to more effectively treat and monitor patients with HIV. Then the death rate started to go down.”

“Everything has gotten better” for those with HIV

Things have changed so much in regards to HIV since it first arrived – its treatment, the public’s perception of it – that it’s hard to remember how dire a diagnosis of HIV was back then, not to mention the paranoia and fear regarding its transmission.  

“People’s attitudes have changed,” says Dr. Jorgensen.  “There is still a stigma attached to it, but there is a much better understanding of how it is transmitted; not from kissing, not from sharing a utensil.”  

As the only HIV treatment center “south of the 55”, as Dr. Jorgensen points out, he has seen many – and lost many – patients through the years.  Thankfully, things have improved. “Everything has gotten better…it has totally turned around,” he says.  Nevertheless, there are still 50,000-60,000 new cases a year.  This has been the statistic for the past 20 years with certain ethnic groups making up a larger share of those numbers, according to Jorgensen.  

“Women of color,” Jorgensen explains, “are a growth group for HIV.  Latinos, who are a hugely important group in Orange County, for example, bear a disproportionate share of the disease in the county.”  

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Dr. Korey Jorgensen, a past recipient of the Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade Citizen of the Year Award, on the deck of his Laguna Beach home

Retired but still heavily involved

Dr. Jorgensen, who, up until his retirement, was one of three doctors seeing patients at LBCC, also served as Clinic Director for several years.  And while he may be “retired” from LBCC, he is still involved.  “I donate money.  I also collaborate with staff on a pain management program; I have an advisory meeting with Dr. Bent, the current Clinic Director who is retiring soon; and I also collaborate with the people who write the newsletter, a very effective tool for informing donors what the clinic is doing with their money.  My fourth role is my involvement with maintenance issues.  No one was doing it when I Ieft so…” he says laughing.  I’m just guessing here, but I got the feeling that Jorgensen would happily hand off this particular responsibility in case anyone is interested.

Grateful for the kindness of strangers

And while no one disputes the importance of maintenance, Jorgensen strongly believes in acknowledging those who donate to LBCC.  “Without them we don’t exist.  Being alert to the fact that you depend on the kindness of donors…and strangers…you must be ready to thank them.  Many of my friends support the Clinic because they know I work there,” he says.

The LBCC’s biggest fundraiser just took place on May 5.  “The Cinco de Mayo fundraiser is a fun, fun party,” he says, “and a major source of funding.”  There is also “Handbags for Health” where high-end, vintage handbags are donated and then sold to raise money for LBCC.  “We also participate in ‘I Heart OC’ as well as make an annual appeal four times a year where we ask for money.   And we have grant writers, too.”  All of these things help keep the LBCC running and able to do its important work.

Chairman of The Laguna Food Pantry

The Laguna Beach Community Clinic is not the only place Dr. Jorgensen helps do important work.  One might think that with his retirement from seeing patients at LBCC Jorgensen would be honing his golf swing or some other equally indulgent activity with his new found free time.  If he is, it didn’t come up in our conversation (and it would mean his days have more than 24 hours in them).  Rather, Jorgensen finds time to be the Chair of The Laguna Food Pantry.  

“The Pantry gives away 2,000 pounds of food each day,” he explains.  “At least one third of these folks (who receive food from the Pantry) live, work or go to school in Laguna Beach.”

From running an efficient meeting to feeding 3,000 families a month

Jorgensen has been involved with the Food Pantry for “about 10 years”, he says, and was asked to join their Board by Jane Fulton, who was then the group’s Director.  

“I became the Chair because I know how to run a meeting,” he says with a laugh. 

Jorgensen explains that The Laguna Food Pantry gets food from Ralph’s, Pavilions, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and, now, Gelson’s.  “We also purchase what might be in short supply.  We give out fresh fruit, vegetables, frozen meat, canned goods, bread by the baleful – a lot of bread.  I think we serve 3,000 families a month.”  Jorgensen says that while the group happily accepts food donations, their preferred method of receiving support is cash.  “We can buy the food really cheap so the money goes a lot further,” he explains.  They have their “Pantry Palooza” coming up on June 10 at the Marine Room.  Jorgensen says it’s a “very, very fun event” that runs from 5-7:30 with “a great band for dancing and a terrific taco bar.”

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Dr. Korey Jorgensen somehow finds time to tend to his avocado tree

Laguna Beach HIV Advisory Council

And still Jorgensen finds the time to help more.  He is part of the city’s HIV Advisory Committee.  “It’s mostly to educate people about HIV and reduce the stigma of it,” he explains of the group’s purpose.  “The meetings are once a month.  They are outreach meetings.  This is not a charitable organization, but an advisory committee.  But I value my involvement.  I’m the only doctor.  The rest are concerned citizens – about 20 – who get together.”  The group meets on the first Thursday of every month from 4-5 p.m.  Check the city’s website for more information.

And still more interests…

Jorgensen does have interests outside of his philanthropic work, though when he has the time to indulge in them is a mystery.  “I own and manage three apartment buildings in town.  And I enjoy doing that.  I enjoy going to the museum for music.  I love the (Laguna) Playhouse, No Square Theater and Theater Out in Santa Ana.  It’s a gay-themed theater, like No Square, with amateur actors and lots of energy, signing and dancing.  It’s really a lot of fun,” he says.

Homework, snack and a standing handball game

However, it seemed pretty obvious during our conversation that the thing he enjoys most occurs every Wednesday.  “My son and daughter-in-law live close by.  I spend every Wednesday with my grandson who is eight.  I pick him up after school and we do homework, play handball, have a snack…it’s really, really great.  He loves coming over,” says Jorgensen with satisfaction.   

Which makes me think that in addition to continuing his lifelong work helping others, Dr. Jorgensen’s got game.  

Eight year olds are known to take their handball pretty seriously.


Mia Ferreira: Improving lives and providing shelter for those less fortunate, one warm smile at a time 

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Aga Stuchlik

Mia Ferreira ups the happiness quotient in any environment she enters. But her easy-going nature, and sunny smile belie an earnest yet caring take-charge administrative style. Just ask the residents at the Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL).

Mia is the Program Manager, effectively running the ASL homeless shelter in Laguna Canyon.  With a rotating staff of ten, Mia supervises, handles case management, and coordinates efforts with Friendship Shelter for the 45-60 “guests” who show up every night at the ASL.

“People come to us very broken,” says Mia. “A lot have serious mental illness. Their families may have written them off; they’ve been overlooked. I try to engage and show them I care, remember their names. 

“They’ve been treated like ‘clients’ and now they are ‘guests.’”

Mia Ferreira

In such an emotionally charged situation it’s easy to see what a difference a kind-hearted and engaging leader can make. One example is a guest that Mia was able to connect with through her unique sensibility: It was a flower that brought them together.

“There is one guest who is seriously mentally ill. She sits outside all day. She’s earthy,” said Mia. “Every day I brought her a gardenia from my garden – and because of that I’ve gotten to know her, and gain her trust.”

Family, school, work

Mia’s relationship to Laguna and the South County has come full circle. As a youngster growing up in Capo Beach she first had dreams of going to college far from home. Of course, she’s no dreamer, so she made that happen. “I swore I wouldn’t come back,” she jokes. 

After undergrad in Hawaii, she migrated over to the east coast and pursued her Master’s in Public Health at Emory University. Proudly an activist for social justice, she fondly recalls living for a time in Chicago while busy with anti-war protests. Mia was back on the west coast, working up north in Salinas with a homeless organization – a soup kitchen, work and arts co-op when her dad became ill. She wanted to help him out and has since found herself back on home turf.

Every step of the way Mia has been involved with social service agencies, working with the poor and homeless. It’s just in her nature. She laughs, “Crazy people love me! It feels good. I’m still smiling.”

And she’s going to school again on top of everything else she’s doing. At night she’s at class earning a second Master’s Degree, this one in social work. “I wanted to learn more clinical skills – learn more ways to engage people,” she says. “How do you help people effect change in their lives? I see it happen all the time. I’m getting better and better at it.” No doubt!

Her time, her mantra, “Family, school, work!”

Finding balance

Of course there has to be balance in one’s life when faced daily with the needs of the mentally ill and suffering. Mia meditates, and has a spiritual practice. She also loves to go biking with her mom, and go with her partner and 10-year-old stepson to Salt Creek Beach for his surfing, or to his soccer games. She loves the outdoors, the beach, and creating artwork – mosaic and block printing.

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Mia is the always-cheerful program manager at the Alternative Sleeping Location

In her own life, as well as those she looks after, she says it best: “I believe in the possibility for everybody to lead a thriving life.”

Laguna has come to own a special place in her heart. “I’m so impressed with Laguna Beach,” she says. “The only [South County] city that has a homeless shelter!

“So many people in the community have commented to say ‘thank you for doing this important work,’ but anybody can do it – be kind to the homeless.”

The journey

For Mia Ferreira it’s about the journey more than a destination, though there have been a few recent blue-ribbon outcomes for ASL guests. “We just housed 44 people in permanent housing,” said Mia happily. “We screened over 90 people starting eight months ago, and got 44 into housing – apartments all over Orange County.”

That’s quite an accomplishment, considering it was a countywide application for HUD grant monies for just 100 housing units. Applicants had to be screened and identified as both chronically homeless and with a disabling condition.

“Meeting people where they’re at, non-judgmental, and loving…” is the way Mia describes the ASL approach to connecting with their guests. In this way they are able to start a journey toward wellbeing, and even success. Success came to one recently. “One guy did it!” said Mia. “He got a Pell grant to go to school. He did it and has a job now.” That makes her smile even brighter.

At work at the ASL office

Mia’s work at the shelter gives her joy, and that joy is infectious. “I have a strong sense of belief that my happiness is tied to other people’s happiness,” she says. The fact that many of the ASL guests stop by to say hi, and just want to hang out with her is testimony to her approachable leadership style. She is a friend to all. And her friendship adds a measure of dignity to the lives of the ASL guests.

The destination

 “People should work in jobs they would volunteer in,” Mia says. “This work is about wanting to live my values.” 

Clearly Mia has found her life’s passion in helping the needy in whatever way she can. But the way forward for the people who rely on the ASL is something Mia thinks about every day. “We need more affordable housing options in Orange County,” she says.  “A lot of folks have only minimum wage jobs.” 

For those who are homeless with no jobs, as many are in Laguna Beach, there is also the matter of what becomes of them during the day. For this Mia would like a magic wand. “If I had a magic wand I would create, in South Orange County, a day center. A drop-in center where there would be mental health and substance abuse services, case managers, and activities – things to do during the day.” 

Musings? Not likely for long. If anyone can create a magic wand to improve the lives of homeless people, it is Mia Ferreira.


Derek Ostensen: Keeping open space green and real

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

I met Derek Ostensen, of Derek Ostensen and Associates, at his home in North Laguna that is as close to the open space as one can live. This is fitting since Ostensen has committed his working life as an environmental scientist/ecologist to preserving open spaces. 

Our interview started off on unusual footing. He and his wife had just purchased a virtual reality head set and he, being a gracious host, asked me if I wanted to try it out.  After putting the headset on, I first found myself atop a very tall building that definitely kicked my acrophobia into gear. Then I was face to face with a raging, frothing T-Rex.

Virtual reality is very cool, indeed.  But I was there to talk to Ostensen, a Laguna native, about his work protecting open spaces in his hometown, as well as other places in California. 

Derek Ostensen, environmental scientist, ecologist and Laguna Beach native 

For him it is truly a labor of love. “I love wildlife and I love nature – that applies throughout the world. But Laguna has exemplary attributes; the arts, the education system, the sense of community, and the environment are all parts of that. The ability to quickly be in the wilderness is an important part of Laguna. That’s why I feel really passionate about preserving the open space in Laguna Beach,” he explains. 

An existential decision brings him home

Saving Laguna’s open spaces started with a letter to the editor. Well, that’s not entirely true. Before the letter, there were undergraduate degrees in digital media and environmental studies, and a Master’s in ecological restoration. 

There was a job with The Discovery Channel that resulted from winning a nationwide internship search, and lined up perfectly with both college majors. While he enjoyed the work at The Discovery Channel, he says, “I had an existential decision to make.”  The Discovery Channel is in Silver Springs, Maryland.  “I had to decide if I wanted to live an east coast life or come back home.  I’m really close to my family and it was really important to me to continue that relationship with them, and with the town I love so much.”

So back he came.

A letter can only accomplish so much

Then came the letter.

Carrying on his commitment to conservation and getting the message out about the importance of protecting the natural world, Ostensen was dismayed when he came home to find out how much of the wilderness surrounding Laguna was still in danger of being developed. “I wrote a letter to the local paper saying that the city had accomplished so much but that it was surprising to me that there were still so many large parcels vulnerable to private development. But you can only accomplish so much with writing a letter,” he says, laughing.

A mentor and commitment to the Laguna Canyon Foundation 

Scott Ferguson, a family friend and highly experienced conservationist who now serves as the Southern California Director of for the Conservation Fund, a national land conservation organization, read the letter and called Ostensen to meet for coffee.  

“He told me that writing letters to the editor was a fine and decent enough thing to do, but he offered me the opportunity to work with him and learn the process by which large amounts of open space are protected,” says Ostensen.  

Ferguson gave Ostensen a job, and this led to Ostensen’s first partnership with the Laguna Canyon Foundation (LCF), helping “link corridors and preserve rare species” throughout Laguna Beach.

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A hiker sets off on a trail through some of Laguna’s open space   

 “It was a fun and fascinating experience,” says Ostensen.  “Each property came with its own unique history and set of family complications. We had to find common ground in an unsolicited way. It was challenging and extremely rewarding.”  

Some of the stories he relayed to me could easily be their own reality television show. “I’m so grateful for these wonderful landowners,” he says, telling me about one of his favorite acquisitions that also happened to be one of the smallest.  

“Ralph Hahn, who lives in Laguna Canyon, has a profound love of the canyon. He had ten acres above his house. We didn’t have enough money to buy it for the appraised value, and he accepted less for it. To this day, we still see each other all the time. There are many relationships like that that have developed.”  

Ostensen’s work with LCF has been long and varied. A consultant for them since 2003 (as well as to The Conservation Fund), he has worked to help them facilitate the permanent preservation of open space in Laguna Beach.

Preserving and restoring the land

Ostensen says that while “the majority of top priority purchases have been completed,” there are still 400 acres left to complete all of the open space acquisitions in Laguna. One of the largest remaining parcels that Ostensen worked to preserve, 150 acres – adjacent to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and Moulton Meadows Park – was purchased by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) just 12 months ago from Driftwood Properties. 

“OCTA has accomplished some of the biggest conservation successes in the past seven years. My hat goes off to OCTA. We are very grateful for their partnership.”

Again, working as a consultant for the LCF, Ostensen says, “My partners and I have preserved 15,000 acres across California. I’ve restored 100. Yet I find that part of it extremely meaningful.  

“When you start restoring a space you don’t have a sense of nature; it has been so degraded. But in a few years you can see the wheel of life coming back to the land. I want that to be a major focus of my life.” 

Despite all his success, Ostensen is knee-deep in, perhaps, his toughest project yet: restoring Aliso Creek. 

Working to restore Aliso Creek

In order to restore the “wheel of life” to Aliso Creek, Ostensen must focus a lot of time, money and energy on first eliminating arundo, a non-native species with an almost bionic propensity to grow. It’s a giant reed that can decimate up to 75% of the native habitat, from the nearly 20 miles of creek.  

“It’s a ten year process to restore the creek,” Ostensen says. Permitting alone took three years, he tells me, and it has taken over 18 months just to kill the arundo. They have removed 4 million pounds of the stuff so far. 

“It’s definitely a team effort, but it’s our hope that over the next decade, Aliso Creek will transform from a degraded habitat into a drastically improved, healthy creek with improved water quality.”  

Just the idea that progress is being made – right now – is something many who have followed the long tortuous plight of Aliso Creek probably never thought they’d see. Yet to talk of its completion? Even more fantastical, but true, thanks to people like Derek Ostensen.

High-rises on Main Beach?!

“There could have been high-rises on Main Beach,” he says with just a hint of indignation. “There are people in this town who have contributed so much [to preserve it].”  People like the ones who marched to preserve Laguna Canyon in 1989 when Ostensen was eight years old.  

“My parents picked me up from soccer. I still had my cleats on, and I saw 10,000 people all committed to saving the canyon.

“The community put so much effort into that – and seeing that it was saved reinforced in me that people could band together to accomplish great things.”  

The event to save Laguna Canyon was huge, but there are others that happen without fanfare. Ostensen likens it to “A thousand cups of tea.”

“I feel an infinite sense of wonder for nature; the way plants can adapt to harsh conditions, the extraordinary design of a wildflower,” he says. “I want to contribute as much as I can to protecting that. It’s all amazing to me.”

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Derek Ostensen relaxing at home with his daughter and the dogs.  (He and his wife went to Laguna Presbyterian Preschool together!) 

And while he gets particularly passionate about Laguna’s open spaces, his work spans from LA to the Mexican border, and east through the Mojave, providing him with a lot of different habitats to immerse himself in. These habitats once preserved, however, still need attention.  

 “We have gone through the last 60 years preserving the land. Sometime within the next 10 to 20 years the remaining open space (in Orange County) will either be developed or preserved.  

“The population of Orange County continues to increase dramatically, and the open space is experiencing increased visitation. The mission is shifting from preserving the land to educating people how not to love it to death!”  

It’s a startling reality when you think of it.  With no more land left to save, preservation must give way to stewardship.

Laguna’s wilderness is not an accident

All of this got me thinking about my experience with the virtual reality headset. It’s a very cool gadget for experiencing things like a volatile dinosaur. However, it is not how I would like to experience nature. I want the real thing. I want to smell the sage, stopping to pull the thorns out of my socks while listening to a quail call to its mate.  

The amazing thing is, thanks to people like Derek Ostensen, if you live in Laguna Beach, you can experience these things within minutes of leaving your house. 

“I feel a tangible sense of gratitude for all the people who have worked so hard to create and protect the things about Laguna Beach we all love so much,” he says. That gratitude is something we all should consider.  

It’s easy to take for granted, but one doesn’t have to look far to find other cities where the wilderness has long since vanished. Laguna would look a lot different if people like Derek Ostensen hadn’t cared – and didn’t continue to care – so much to protect it.


Justin Myers: mover, shaker and willing helper

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The word ‘no’, it seems, is not in Justin Myers’ vocabulary. The thirty-two-year-old has resided in Laguna Beach for nearly three years, and he’s already made a significant impact in town, simply because he has a hard time turning down an opportunity to help others. 

Justin was raised in Newport Beach, and he jokes that during his upbringing he “volun-told” at the insistence of his mother, who was involved in some local charity organizations. But it’s clear when speaking to Justin that volunteering is not something he’s ever really felt forced into. 

Rather, he’s always had an inherent desire to help others. 

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Justin Myers

When he was a student at Corona del Mar high school, for example, he set out to meet the minimum community service requirement of 80 hours, which he far exceeded. 

“I ended up having close to 3,000 hours of community service,” he says. “I was involved with Boy Scouts, and I was an Eagle Scout. Serving the community has always been instilled in me, and it’s something I enjoy.”

Justin’s dedication to service benefits Laguna Beach today in many different ways, and his willingness to say ‘yes’ and contribute his time, talent and energy to those in need is inspiring. 

“Laguna is such a great community, and it’s so incestuous in nature when it comes to philanthropy and being involved here,” he says. “It’s just great to see how active everyone is in this community.”

Getting Started with Sister Cities

One particular organization about which Justin has always been passionate is Sister Cities International—a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network dedicated to building and strengthening partnerships between the US and its international ‘sister cities.’

Justin got involved at a young age with the Sister Cities exchange program between Newport Beach and Okazaki, Japan. He made his first trip to Japan in 1997 at the age of 14, and he has since served as a chaperone for students on the same trip, as well as to Newport’s French Sister City, Antibes. 

“It really has had such a profound impact on my life, to experience life outside of the ‘orange curtain,’ and the whole premise is about promoting art and cultural exchange,” says Justin. 

In 2008, Justin got a call from the French Consulate, asking him if he’d be willing to support Laguna Beach’s Sister Cities exchange program. And, of course, he said yes. 

Though he’s lived in Laguna for a couple of years, he’s been actively involved in Laguna’s Sister Cities Association for close to a decade, and he was recently appointed to serve as the organization’s president. 

Today, he’s actively working to bolster the relationship between Laguna Beach and its Sister City, Menton, France, as well as San José del Cabo. And, in 2012, Laguna Beach City Council approved a friendship alliance between Laguna and St. Ives, England; Justin is currently working with LCAD on an artist exchange program between the two cities.

Extending His Reach to Countless Other Groups

Through his involvement with Laguna Beach Sister Cities Association and by relocating to Laguna several years ago, Justin has met many other community-minded people, who have seen in him the potential to make a significant impact in other ways. 

“It’s just been kind of a snowball effect,” says Justin.

He was asked, for example, to contribute his time and skills to build a website for the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library. Once the project was completed, Justin joined the nonprofit organization, to which he regularly volunteers his time, managing projects and helping the library with its website, emails and tech issues. 

When the Laguna Playhouse celebrated its 90th anniversary, Justin was asked to join that committee—and he was soon invited to join the board, too. Today, as a member of the Playhouse’s board of trustees, Justin enjoys helping the organization with its development and fundraising initiatives. He also volunteers his time in support of the Playhouse’s Youth Theater program.

And, more recently, Justin was brought on as the director of the Laguna Food Pantry, where he works part-time. Though there are many rewards for Justin when it comes to giving back to local families in need, he particularly loves watching families in need come in and pick out healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables together. 

“That’s why I get so actively involved,” he explains. “Everyone sees Laguna and thinks it’s such a wealthy town, but there are so many people in this town that are underserved and have a need for things,” he says.

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Justin At Work at The Laguna Food Pantry

As for the challenges of being involved with so many thriving charities and non-profits? “It was a bit difficult at first to kind of shuffle my time around, and tough to get people to take me seriously because I was so young, but I think I have proven myself in terms of my involvement,” he says. 

And he has proven himself in the community—and enough to earn support and backing as he puts plans in place to revive Laguna’s Lions Club chapter, another nonprofit that has the potential to accomplish so much with Justin at the helm.  

Food and Wine

Of course, along the way, Justin has also built a career for himself. An international business major, he has an entrepreneurial mindset, and he recently started his own event planning and catering company in town. Prior to that, he ran the Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery’s special events. 

He has also worked with Lindsay Smith-Rosales, executive chef and co-owner of Laguna’s Nirvana Grille on some social media and marketing efforts. Starting his own Laguna Beach-based catering company married all of his skills—especially entertaining and connecting with people—together naturally. 

And, even when he’s not working, he’s still making the people around him happy.

“I love entertaining, and I love cooking, it’s my passion… usually on a Sunday my friends are all here at my house having brunch—usually lavender pancakes,” he says. 

A North Laguna resident, Justin also enjoys relaxing at the beach, and you can find him on the sand with a glass of wine in hand when he has a free moment. Which, of course is rare. 

Justin’s focus today is getting others involved in the causes and organizations about which he cares deeply, and he’s confident that he’ll be able to motivate others—no matter their ages—to get involved, too. 

“Really, I want to grow awareness about some of these groups that aren’t as well known, and I want to get younger people involved, because there’s no sustainability with these organizations if the younger generations aren’t there,” says Justin.


Aga Stuchlik: Passionately capturing life

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Agnieszka Stuchlik, or Aga, as she’s known, came to Laguna Beach it was originally meant to be a quick stop on a longer adventure.  “I was supposed to be here for a very short time, but ended up staying.  I loved the community!” she says.  So that, and the fact that her traveling companions were unable to secure their traveling money encouraged Aga to think longer term about Laguna.  

Five years later Aga is still here, but she has made some changes: leaving her longtime position at Laguna Coffee Company to augment her passion for outdoor adventure by working at REI. She’s been in the action sports department since November.  

“It was a hard decision, but it was time to move on,” she explains.

Determined and adventurous

 Born in Poland, where she lived until she was 18 and old enough to travel on her own, Aga got her passport and went off to see the world.  

“When I got my passport I went to England.  The first time it was for two months,” says Aga.  “When I was there I knew there was no way I am going back [to Poland]. It’s so hard to travel in Poland. Not everyone has cars, like here, so it’s very hard. In England you can go wherever you want.”

She did return to Poland just long enough to finish her degree. “Then I went back to England for nine years.”

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Agnieska Stuchlik, “Aga”: traveler, photographer, hopeful U.S. citizen

For six of those nine years, Aga says she lived in and worked with the Polish community there. “I didn’t learn English at all,” she says.  Wanting to rectify that, she began studying English, became fluent, and took a job “as a postman during the day and a long distance motorcycle messenger at night.”  

Ignoring the rules of a “macho” society – and her mother

Motorcycle riding was familiar to Aga because that’s how people got around in Poland when she was a kid, or I should say, how boys and men got around.  For girls, it was not encouraged.  Aga didn’t care.   

“Poland is a very macho society,” she explains. “I bet now it’s changing, but when I lived there it was a big deal that I rode a motorcycle.  I just had to do it.  My mom said ‘No, don’t do it,’ but I would say I was going to a sleepover and go riding.  

“When I showed up with a motorcycle my mother said, ‘I’m not talking to you!’”

Fortunately, her mother changed her mind about speaking to her daughter, if not about motorcycles. 

Aga has not abandoned her love of motorcycles.  She is the proud rider of a cherry red Yamaha R1, and to hear her describe the enjoyment she gets from it is to hear a truly passionate devotee. 

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Aga Stuchlik with her prized Yamaha R1 motorcycle

“I don’t know how many people go to work and say ‘This makes me happy.’ I never feel that way in a car, but a motorcycle is just so joyful,” she says. “I know I have to stop at lights, and it can be windy and all that, but it still makes me happy. It’s dangerous and uncomfortable when your shoes get wet with rain, but I have joy just touching the air. I just want to feel the air because it’s fun!” 

It makes me wonder what I’m missing in my car with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning set to a comfortable 70. 

Laguna Coffee helps launch a career

Aga’s joy in touching air, and her freedom of spirit have coalesced into another love: photography.  Photography started as a way to show her friends and family her travels, but it has developed into a new and meaningful career.  

“I think it started in England,” she says. “It was more…I wasn’t thinking about it much…but when I moved to Australia, it picked up.  Then when I got to the States people made me realize it was something I can do.”  

Many of those “people” were regulars who got to know Aga at the Laguna Coffee Company. “You think, ‘It’s just a coffee shop,’ but it gave me a start.  It gave me a home. These wonderful people… gave me so much,” she says of her time behind the counter there.  

It was not hard to see the bond she formed with some of the patrons there. In the span of our 45-minute interview at Laguna Coffee at least five people came over to give her a hug.

She tells me that it was her Laguna Coffee customers who helped her to believe in her talent. “I met a lot of people who encouraged me to put myself out there. Stu (Saffer of StuNews) was one for sure.  He always believed in me and poked me to do more. I’m not a very brave person, but they pushed me to do something different.  Also, it’s so easy because I love to travel and there are so many things to take pictures of.”

Bravery is in the eye of the beholder

I told her that I found it humorous that she doesn’t think of herself as brave. She, who rides a motorcycle everywhere; took off to live in several foreign countries; will go car camping in Canada in 20-degree weather; or will hike and rock climb to get to a waterfall (only to find out it’s dry). To me, she is the very definition of brave.  

When I tell her so she dismisses the idea. For her, embarking on these adventures is just who she is – it’s natural.  I still call it brave, but, then, I think camping five miles away from a Costco is an adventure.  

A versatile photographer who hopes to inspire others

Aga takes her photography seriously. She is enrolled in photo classes at Orange Coast College and she says they have helped her tremendously.  

“I do a lot of pictures of products. I’m very versatile,” she says of her work. And while she has learned to photograph different things, her true love is photographing her travels.  “People are so go-go-go here! They don’t take time off.  And I understand; it’s so expensive to live. But maybe one of my photos can inspire them to take a day off.  

“In the end, I will have those memories.  I want other people to have those memories, too,” she says emphatically.

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Aga sees photo-worthy moments everywhere

Some people say things like that because it sounds good. Aga means it. She wants to share her joy. (To see her work you can go to her Instagram account at @agaxbike and you can also see it online).

A hopeful citizen who will always consider Poland home

Despite her determination to never live in Poland again she still views it as home. “It is where I grew up.  My family is there.” Next up is a trip to Poland, England, and Iceland. She has also recently applied to get her US citizenship.  “They said it takes from six to eight months so hopefully I get it before I go home.”  

After that, who knows?  Her dream is to photograph penguins in the South Pole.  “They’re my favorite animals,” she says. “I’m looking into volunteer opportunities to help get there.”  

I’m sure it’s not a matter of “if” this excursion happens, but “when.” Aga is nothing if not resourceful.

A remarkable “regular person”

“When communism broke down we didn’t have anything like here. No skateboards, no scooters. We’d play hockey on the pond,” she says. “Boys rode motorcycles; girls learned to cook. I don’t cook very well, but I can put a motorcycle together! That’s how I got my first bike. 

“My friend gave me a bag of parts and I just put it together,” she says matter-of-factly.  And that says a lot about Aga.  She’s happiest in places with “no reception” and could easily “live in a tent.”  But she will always have her camera handy.  

“Maybe people will see my pictures and think, ‘Hey, she’s a regular person and she did it,’ and they will want to do the same,” she says.  

She may be right about inspiring others to get out and see the world, even if it’s the world close to home. However, I have to disagree with her on one thing: she is anything but “regular.” 


Terri Meisberger: You’ve seen her at The UPS Store Laguna Beach… but wait, there’s more.

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

It would be so easy if a person could be summed up in one sentence; he’s a great guy, or she’s an atomic expert. But we humans are complex individuals. I found such is the case with Terri Meisberger. I’ve known Terri for many years – in the way that one knows a neighbor or a common school parent. So it was delightful and insightful to discover the facets of her life that don’t pop up in casual company.

Terri Nathan Meisberger

Fact one: I never knew she was an engineer. She’s the face and the force at the UPS Store in North Laguna. She’s mom to three kids (at one time, one was in each of the three school levels – TOW, Thurston, and LBHS). And she has a whole backstory to her days as Industrial Engineer Terri Nathan. 

Engineering days

“I was living in Dallas, and got my MBA while I was working at Texas Instruments,” she said. “It was such a fun place to get started.” That’s also where she met Mark Meisberger, the love of her life for 27 years now.

In her Texas days she went from work in manufacturing engineering at Texas Instruments to tech marketing for Rockwell International. Fact two: She travelled all over the world for Rockwell educating people about Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

When the company made changes, did mergers, and eventually moved, Terri was ready in case she got laid off, and so was Mark. “We had a bet, whoever got hired first, we’d move there,” said Terri. “He got Toshiba, in Irvine.” So, move they did to Orange County, and Terri managed to continue with Rockwell as it merged with Conexant, also in Orange County.

The couple soon found that Texas style notions for a home did not match up with southern California reality.  “We had relocation people and looked at every neighborhood in California!” Terri laughs. “Got rid of the pool – check. Got rid of the 3-car garage – check. Got rid of the 3,000 square foot house – check.” 

Finally, her boss, who had been extolling the virtues of Laguna Beach, got her ear. “I hated the cookie-cutter communities, and he kept saying, ‘Look at Laguna Beach!’” So they Laguna-sized down from Texas-size, into a 25-foot lot house in Arch Beach Heights, and loved it. “It was a great house and a great location.”

But that isn’t to say that a girl who grew up in Chicago and moved here from Texas would be prepared for the kinds of extremes we all faced here in Laguna in the 90’s. 

A different sort of life in Laguna

“Arch Beach Heights was scary at first. I’d lived there six months and there were the fires, then there was the mudslide, and then the Northridge earthquake. Mark was in Japan during the earthquake. I didn’t know what to do – go to work? Stay off the roads? I was not prepared for that.” 

She was flying back from a business trip as the fires raged in Laguna in 1993. “I flew over that from Oklahoma,” she said. “People helped shuttle folks into town… they offered to let us stay with them. It was my first glimpse of what Laguna really is: people helping people. I was a total stranger. So many people lost homes, but people helped however they could. This is such a unique town.”

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Mark and Terri Meisberger at The UPS Store

The Meisbergers moved to Top of the World when along came kiddos number one (Matthew), two (Ryan), and three (Luke). Having children raises lots of complicated issues, and for Terri that began after her second. When it became evident that there were “nanny issues” so awful that Terri really doesn’t want to talk about it, she made the decision to quit working, and stay home to raise the boys. 

After her third baby, Terri discovered a lump in her breast. “I thought I had the flu,” she says. “Turns out, it wasn’t.” 

The “C” Word

Fact three: Terri had the kind of breast cancer so rare, she had to research it herself to figure it out.

“I was nursing the baby [Luke] when I found the lump. I was lucky to find it,” says Terri. “I’d never had a mammogram. It might have been years before I’d found it. He saved me!”

From then on, it was a brave new world. “Everything the doctors told me, it was the opposite,” she said. “At first they said it’s slow-growing, you’re not going to need chemo.” But she had a type of cancer very untypical for a young person, called “Hormone Positive.” 

“I wasn’t on the 80/20 bell curve of average cancers,” Terri says. “An ‘Oncotype DX’ [genomic] test tells the likelihood of recurrence. You have to be your own advocate.”

Terri went on to explain that doctors generally treat patients as an average without examining further for more rare cancers. They also generally advise lumpectomy over mastectomy. “They don’t promote it,” she says. “If I want to live five more years, I had to do it.” She received the chemo and endured first one mastectomy and then the other. “To me it was a high risk I’d have [the cancer] again. I didn’t want to mess around.”

She witnessed the community gathering together again in support, this time for her. “I don’t tolerate drugs well and had severe reactions. Everyone came to my rescue,” she said. “So many friends helped – brought meals, took the kids… And Mark. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

The message Terri wants to get out is early detection. She was just out of chemo with a lot of complications herself when her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her mom was told she had six months. “I feel, after seeing what she went through, fortunate to have a diagnosis very early. 

“I’m totally a fan of early detection. Prevention is a lot easier!”

Attitude is everything

To say the least, it was “a tough few years” while Terri battled cancer and mourned the loss of her mother. The thing that keeps her going is her ever-positive attitude. “Everything happens for a reason,” she says. “I’m stronger for it. I have three great kids! My family keeps me grounded. Just make the most of every day and be the best you can be!”

The best of life these days includes the UPS Store, which Terri says is like a social hour every day, being with the kids and their sports (tennis, surf, basketball, football, soccer – and deep-sea fishing. Phew, that’s a lot!), and supporting the community with her volunteerism, including raising money for the sports teams and being part of the Orange County Women’s Health Project.

The little store with it all

The UPS Store Laguna Beach was originally Mark’s baby. He had been travelling a lot for business and his company even dropped those dreaded words – you’ll need to move. Oh no, he thought, and started searching for opportunities to stay in Laguna.  The former Mailboxes, Etc. was up for grabs in Boat Canyon. He started there as the Mailboxes corporate identity switched over to UPS. For a while he got a second UPS store in Long Beach with a partner. It was after he sold that branch to the partner that Terri jumped in to help out at the store here in town. Mark has since gone back to corporate life with Samsung, and Terri is manning the helm at UPS.

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It’s the little store that can. In a relatively small space, UPS Laguna Beach houses everything from post boxes to shipping and printing services, and sells everything from gifts to greeting cards. 

“We try to be everything for people, the festivals, galleries – making the shop work for everyone.”

Their store is the number one UPS Store in Orange County, and this year the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce awarded it Professional Service of the Year. The business is a big supporter of sports, such as Laguna Beach Little League and the Jogathon, and with organizations such as the Chamber, and Laguna Beach Business Club. They’ve recently taken a second location in Rancho Santa Margarita; hence Terri is even more busy than usual. 

Meanwhile, when she’s not at the shop, or opening the new one, Terri loves to cook. She’s taken the best of the Laguna Culinary School courses, and enjoys serving it up to her friends. But she’s most proficient at preparing one thing, as her son Matt hauls in the catch from his deep-sea expeditions. She smiles, “A lot of fish!” 

She’s been in a book club “…forever! It forces me to read!” And if there are enough hours in the day, she likes to travel with Mark, work out, hike, and train her new puppy, Abby, the cute yellow Labrador. Terri Meisberger has many facets to her life, yet she remains always calm and considerate. She’ll take the time even at the busy shop to enjoy the “social hour” that it is with her many customers who are also friends. 

She has been candid and open with me, and it is a privilege to share her story.


Alex Rounaghi: A bright future looms on the horizon for this LBHS senior  

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Alex Rounaghi, a senior at Laguna Beach High School, is doing what many high school seniors are doing at this time of year: waiting to hear from colleges.  But Rounaghi may be in a less stressful position than a lot of his classmates in that one of his top choices, Georgetown, has already accepted him. He’s just waiting to see if anything comes in that may change his mind.   

One of the most competitive colleges in the nation – with a 16% acceptance rate – is not bad as a “yes” to have in one’s back pocket. 

Senior Class President, Secretary General, to name two

Georgetown, near Washington DC, is a good fit for Rounaghi since he has spent much of his high school career focusing on government and world issues. He is senior class president (and held the same office as a sophomore). He is co-Secretary General of the Model United Nations (MUN), holding that position for the past two years.  In his junior year, Alex was chosen as a Boys State delegate by Laguna Beach American Legion Post 222 and traveled to Sacramento for a week’s education in government.”

He also played on the LBHS volleyball team for three years, only giving it up this year because, “there just wasn’t enough time in the day.”

Alex Rounaghi

Senate Page and Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade Junior Citizen of the Year

There is an abundance of high-achieving kids at LBHS (and everywhere else, it seems).  So many, in fact, it makes me reflect on what the heck I was doing with myself back in high school – certainly not running an 80-student program while putting on a 600-student MUN conference, or serving as a Senate page in Washington DC – two things Rounaghi has done in the last 12 months.  

For these efforts, and others too many to name, he was chosen as Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade Junior Citizen of the Year for 2016, an honor he shared with another LBHS senior, Elle Madhavi. Not bad for a span of less than 365 days. 

“Super interested in stuff”

In addition to all of this, Rounaghi has maintained a 4.4 GPA, which means when he says he doesn’t have time for volleyball, it’s not because he’s watching “I Love Lucy” reruns.  He explains his many accomplishments this way: “For me, I’ve always been super interested in stuff. I started high school wanting to be a doctor. So I volunteered at the hospital. Then I got interested in politics and government through MUN and the 2012 election.”  

His interest in politics and government peaked when Rounaghi took it upon himself to become a Senate Page. The Senate Page Program is a highly selective program whereby high school students are invited to work for their state’s Senator, side by side on the Senate floor.  

“I don’t even know how I found out about it. I just researched it on the Internet, and it seemed super interesting to me. I applied to both Boxer and Feinstein, not expecting too much, but then later, in April 2015, I found out I was Senator Feinstein’s page,” he said. “I was super excited.  I memorized every senator’s name…it just got me more involved.”

Serving our nation’s leaders

Alex and his family arrived in Washington DC on July 4th. “It was super cool to be there then,” he said as he smiled.  

His family left when he started work on July 7th and Rounaghi moved into Webster Hall, the Senate Page Residence, for five weeks.  

“We’d put on our uniforms and sit in the middle of the Senate. We set up podiums and got water…simple tasks, but it was cool to be so close to them and hear the nation’s leaders talk about their weekends, and things like that,” he said. “It was also hard sometimes. Once, I had to work from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., but still, that was super cool.  

“Another aspect I liked was being surrounded by the other pages.  One of my roommates was from Louisiana. I keep in touch with him.  And then one guy from Kentucky and another from Nevada are going to Georgetown…maybe more.  They’ll find out this week.”

When he returned home he resumed his duties as co-Secretary General with Elle Mahdavi, who was also selected as Patriots Day Parade Junior Citizen of the Year this year.  

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Alex Rounaghi and Elle Mahdavi, Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade co-Junior Citizens of the Year, at the Parade Honoree Brunch at Tivoli Terrace last February

The Model United Nations

Rounaghi says he applied to be MUN Secretary General his sophomore year. “It’s basically a dictatorship,” he says with a laugh. “They just selected me and I’ve been doing it for the past two years.”  

According to the MUN website (unusa.org), MUN is an “authentic simulation of the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council, or other multilateral body, which introduces students to the world of diplomacy, negotiation, and decision making.” Students take on the role of Ambassadors of UN-member countries and prepare draft resolutions, debate and strategize how to solve real world issues. There is a competitive aspect to this, as well, with the best student “delegates” receiving recognition after attending a MUN conference.

A doozy of an election to cast your first vote

Since he has some political experience as class president and with MUN stressing diplomacy and problem solving, I asked Rounaghi to weigh in on this year’s presidential election, which is clearly lacking in the former, and, one could argue, the latter, as well. 

“The election is bringing out the worst in our political process. Compromise is now a dirty word. We should focus on experience, not vague or extreme ideas,” he says. “It’s super entertaining, but I don’t think it’s good for our country as a whole.”  

When I asked him to describe his duties as class president, Rounaghi says his job is to “achieve what people want while being pragmatic and realistic.”  Huh. If only…

Going to college with an open mind

Wherever Rounaghi ends up in college, he says he would like to study economics and government. However he adds, “I want to go to college with an open mind. I know I’m not going to be a scientist, but maybe I will study law or business…I want to find out what I’m truly passionate about.” 

In the meantime, he has a few more months of high school – and Laguna – before he sets off on his next journey.  Short-term plans include getting a summer job and “spending time with my friends here. LBHS is unique in that everyone is friends with everyone, and I will definitely miss that.”  

Other things he will miss about home? “I will miss the beautiful beaches, views, hiking trails, and everything else that makes Laguna so unique.”  One thing that won’t be hard to leave behind?  The familiar refrain, “I won’t miss the traffic,” he says.

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Alex Rounaghi, taking a rare moment to relax at LBHS

Rounaghi says he’s not worried about leaving home. “I feel confident about it.  You come home at Thanksgiving, winter break, spring break…” he says. “You can call – whenever.”  

While he’s excited, there are two people who may not share the enthusiasm for him moving all the way across the country. “I don’t know about my parents,” he says, grinning.  Of course, they will get used to the idea.  

Rounaghi texted me after we met saying he has also been accepted to Dartmouth. Will it be Washington DC or New Hampshire? Either way he’s heading east to discover his passion. For someone with a strong interest in “stuff”, it’s bound to be an exciting journey.


At home with Rona Gromet

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Rona grew up in the Bronx in New York City, but followed a strong instinct to head west as an eighteen-year-old. And it was an intuition that, as it turns out, was spot-on.  

“I just looked at a map of California and picked the farthest school south on the beach,” she says. Rona attended San Diego State, and has called Southern California home ever since. And, though a mix of fate and brave determination brought her out to California, something much deeper has kept her here: a love for her community. 

In 1990, she moved to Laguna Beach, and it’s very clear when talking with Rona that she couldn’t picture herself living anywhere else. 

She and her husband, Stevan, raised their three children in Laguna, and have been active members of nearly every aspect of their community, from school sports to philanthropic endeavors. 

“I love this town, it is beautiful. I don’t ever leave Laguna if I don’t have to,” says Rona with a genuine smile. 

And her passion for Laguna explains Rona’s long history of giving back to the town, particularly by opening up her home to its residents, non-profit organizations and those in need, and for no other reason than the fact that Rona simply loves helping others.

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Rona Gromet

Park Avenue Parties

 Roughly ten years ago, Rona and her family moved from their house on Marilyn Drive in South Laguna, to their current home on Park Avenue. And, just like her move to California, Rona knew instantly that it was a fit. 

“When I first saw it, I thought, ‘I have to have this house!’ It was so warm, inviting and welcoming,” she says. Which, interestingly, are the very words that I’d use to describe Rona. 

When I visited her Tuscan villa-style home last week, she greeted me outside a stunning, oversized front door and led me inside with earnest conviviality. The home is gorgeous, impeccably decorated and large—in fact, it sits on a 150,000 square-foot lot. 

It offers sweeping views of the canyon, and a spacious, open outdoor area with a pool, hot tub, outdoor fireplace, and plenty of seating.

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The Stunning Outdoor Space at the Gromet Home

But it maintains a cozy, well-lived-in feel. And that’s thanks, in part, to the four family pets—two dogs and two cats—that also greeted me once I stepped inside, and to the beautiful photos of the Gromet family of five that decorate the most frequently used room in the house: the family room. 

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Kobe, the Gromets’ Golden Retriever 

Rona’s now adult children happened to be home for the weekend, and she was visibly happy to have a full house again. Rona loves when there’s a gathering of any kind at her home and she has the opportunity to entertain in a space that was made for celebratory get-togethers. 

 “I am a social animal, and I love having parties and entertaining,” she says. “I just have a soft space in my heart for people.” 

 This ‘soft space’ has led Rona and Stevan, over the last decade, to open up their home just as readily to visitors and guests, too. The Gromet home has hosted countless fundraisers that benefit local institutions such as the Laguna College of Art and Design. It has also seen Laguna Beach Live! and Pacific Symphony concerts, and smaller-scale parties such as an afternoon tea party to raise money for families in Nepal through the local R-STAR Foundation. 

And, in 2007, the Gromets welcomed Hillary Clinton to their home after being asked by close friends to host a fundraising event for the then presidential hopeful. 

More recently, the home has seen personal gatherings—such as a festive, joyous family party for Rona’s birthday. 

No Place Like Home 

One of the most memorable gatherings for Rona, however, was the 2014 fundraising event hosted at her home for Steven and Michelle Chapman, following the news that their then-25-year-old son, Stephan, had been diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma. 

“It felt really good that we could raise money and help,” Rona says. 

She recalls a band, the donation of an impressive amount of food, and a silent and live auction. But what she loved most about this particular fundraiser is also what she loves most about Laguna Beach. 

“It’s such a small town, and it feels like a small town. It’s tight-knit, and if something does go wrong, people come together and want to help each other out.” 

This mindset has motivated Rona to extend her impact far beyond Park Avenue; she’s been involved with and attended fundraising events for other local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, and SchoolPower. She also participates annually in the local Relay for Life event. 

And she’s encouraged her children to take her lead, too. For example, she and her daughter Danielle—who is currently a sophomore at CU Boulder—enjoyed volunteering their time together at the Friendship Shelter over the years. 

As a matter of fact, the Friendship Shelter may inspire the next big fundraising event at the Gromet home. Rona explains that she has a soft place in her heart, too, for the local organization. And, when she’s asked to help out and host an event, she’s almost always game. 

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Rona At Her Home on Park Avenue

“I feel that we’re very fortunate to have this kind of space, so if it’s needed, why not offer it up? That’s my general attitude—if I can help, then why not?” she says of her role as one of Laguna’s most kind-hearted hostesses.


Cary Redfearn: Lumberyard’s heart and soul

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He’s kind of quiet, and admittedly a fairly private guy, yet Cary Redfearn occupies the most popular corner in Laguna Beach. There isn’t an elected official, a theatergoer, or even a Farmer’s Market visitor who can resist the siren call at one point or another. In they come by the sidewalk-full, into Lumberyard’s everyone-knows-your-name embrace, and there’s Redfearn at the helm, sure to stop by for a quick howdy-do and a chat. He knows everyone’s name after almost eight years on this lively corner.

Cary Redfearn

Private guy or no, Redfearn is the first to step up for an ever-rotating turn of community events, giving of his popular watering hole space wholeheartedly. Programs including SchoolPower, athletic boosters, the Community Clinic, and other local non-profits count on the Lumberyard largess like a long-sought oasis, where there’s room for everyone and you can be sure a good percentage goes toward what’s near and dear to the heart of the benefit charity.

“One reason we do so much with the schools [in Laguna Beach] is because of my kids,” Redfearn says. “They’ve gotten a private school education for public school prices. Now my kids are in great schools [Berkeley, and Cal Poly], and it’s because of the Laguna Beach schools.”

It’s intimately about family

The Redfearn family – Cary’s wife Suzanne, daughter Halle, and son Joseph have long understood the restaurant life. Cary and Suzanne have been married 23 years during which time the restaurant has always been like another family – six days, five nights a week. “She knows that, and understands that,” says Cary. Suzanne has been the brain-stormer behind the SchoolPower Chef’s Challenge concept, an event in which the various school principals face off in the kitchen for culinary bragging rights.

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Redfearn’s restaurant, The Lumberyard

The Redfearn kids have helped out with hostessing and bussing at the restaurant too. “Joseph’s first day - he was on his feet for five hours,” remembers Redfearn. “It gave him a new appreciation for the business.” With his self-deprecating sense of humor he gave his kids a bit of advice, “There are easier ways to make money!”

The life of a restaurateur is a mixed bag. One part, it’s a long-suffering lifestyle, “It’s tough to be away. It’s a very personal business.” One part, it’s a lot of fun, “It’s one of the things that keeps me young. It’s a social world – with good food and community.”

And then it’s also one part trying to keep it all in perspective.

“My wife said to me, ‘Every now and then, when the restaurant is full, take a look around and see people enjoying, celebrating – and realize that you’ve created that space.’ I generally try to do that. I feel lucky.”

I happen to know that Cary, Suzanne and the kids are busy enjoying a long-wished-for escape together to the land of milk and honey right now. Well, make that Buffalo mozzarella and other formaggi, plus pasta, and you get the idea. Yes, mecca for anyone, anywhere, interested in food and travel: Italy.

 “I love to travel. I love to cook,” says Redfearn. The family is celebrating Suzanne’s “big birthday” all together, with Italian panache. On the itinerary are culinary adventures like truffle hunting with a chef and cooking in the wine region. 

“I’m probably going to come back with all kinds of crazy ideas from Italy.” 

We look forward to that! 

Continually passionate about work

Laguna’s ocean started out coursing through his veins when Cary Redfearn was just a lad. His family would come down the coast from Los Angeles and visit often. 

“My dad loved to bodysurf,” he said. “One week turned to two, then to a month. My parents said, ‘When you graduate, we’re going to move to Laguna.’” Thankfully they owned up to those words in 1974, and Cary joined his dad in the love of bodysurfing at Oak and Victoria beaches. 

Meanwhile, he put himself through college working at restaurants. By the early 80’s, Redfearn found the way toward his ultimate goal.

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The Lumberyard’s handcrafted feature table

“I’d been dying to get my own restaurant. I found out Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach was available, and I made an offer,” said Redfearn. “I offered to rent it when the owner didn’t want to sell. I re-opened Walt’s in 1985 as GM, with Walt Babcock.”

He and Walt went on to launch Oysters, in Corona del Mar. They partnered together for 18 years, with Redfearn buying Babcock out in the last four.

“It was my first ownership,” says Redfearn. “I took a pay cut – no pay checks, no bonuses – suddenly you’re responsible for payroll, taxes, loans… it was scary.”

It worked out well though, with Redfearn attributing that to a good concept and a good chef. By 2004, the restaurant was recommended by an incognito reviewer, and invited to the prestigious James Beard House, in New York City, for a one-night culinary showstopper.

“I brought the chef and four other cooks, my wife, and all the demi-glaces,” said Redfearn. “You get one night, and present a multiple five-course menu.”

The night was a big success, and “showed where our restaurant was at the time.”

Redfearn and Oysters continued until the dream location presented itself, on the corner of Forest and Third, in Laguna Beach: the former Cedar Creek Inn.

“I always wanted a location in Laguna,” says Redfearn simply. 

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Redfearn at Lumberyard’s U-shaped bar, right up front

Now, being a business owner as well as Laguna resident, Redfearn brings a lot to the table. He’s newly on the board at the Chamber of Commerce. He says he’s “a rookie” among the good people who care about the town and make a difference, but he’s “in the thick of it.” He sees the city, for better and for worse, from multiple perspectives. 

And ultimately about sports

One of the joys of family life is sharing a common passion, and for the Redfearns that means baseball.

“I coached Little League, and always sponsored, first with Oysters and now Lumberyard every year,” says Redfearn. “Also slow-pitch softball league in the summer season.

“As a family, we love baseball. We do fantasy baseball. We’re huge Giants, and Angels fans.” His eyes light up when he mentions Lumberyard’s attraction, “[Angel’s manager] Mike Scioscia’s been in, Torii Hunter’s been in…”

Baseball boosters have hit a home run at Lumberyard too. One of the fun fundraisers they do every year is coming up on May 12. The LBHS varsity team will be out front, in uniform – and waiting on tables. (Make reservations mentioning the team in order to to be included on the fundraising).

Redfearn also manages to stay in shape with basketball. “I continue to do basketball at the Boys and Girls Club in San Juan Capistrano with a bunch of old guys like me,” he laughs. “If I didn’t do that, I’d be yelling at the staff more! It’s my release. It’s great camaraderie.”

So, when you don’t happen to see Cary Redfearn up front and center at Lumberyard, it’s probably because he’s playing sports or watching sports. 

If it’s Sunday, he’s making the family meal (“I love braising!”), with a glass of wine in hand, and sports on TV.


Dr. Diana Kersten: local eye surgeon, global reach

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Diana H. Kersten, MD, a board certified ophthalmologist and partner at Harvard Eye Associates, went to the University of Iowa, College of Medicine, because it was close to her home in Iowa City. “They have this huge medical center. It really dominated everything.  Three quarters of our neighbors were doctors. It was just really prevalent. I think of my friends, seven or eight of us went to med school. 

“I remember one of my friends went to business school and I thought ‘Why would you do that?’” she says with a laugh. 

Discovering a more “delicate” surgery

Thinking she was going to be an orthopedist, she nevertheless took a summer internship in ophthalmology.  “I thought, ‘That’s so cool!’” It didn’t hurt that the University of Iowa had one of the top three ophthalmology programs in the country. 

“Lots of surgeries are pretty masculine. This (eye surgery) was like a tea party! It was so delicate.”  

It turns out, that “there’s a lot of hammering,” as she describes it, in orthopedics – the opposite of a tea party. After spending some time with Dr. Kersten on her comfortable couch in the lovely Laguna home she shares with her husband, Mike, and son, Lucas, it seems only natural she’d gravitate towards such an intricate practice. She is the definition of elegance, even with wet hair and bare feet. Her demeanor is both gentle and calm, two traits that I, for one, think would be tremendously useful for any type of surgeon, especially one who works on eyes.

Dr. Diana Kersten, partner of Harvard Eye Associates

Who forgets to mention Harvard?!

 Paired with this elegance is understatement.  Getting in to a program ranked in the top three in the nation is obviously no easy feat, yet Dr. Kersten talks more about how she had decided to go into ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) practice if she didn’t get accepted into Iowa’s ophthalmology program. She acts as though getting in was just something that happened, when clearly it wasn’t. 

I later find out (but only because I went on Harvard Eye’s website) that she trained in ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. With the name of her practice perhaps I should have realized, but who forgets to mention Harvard training? In my notes I found mention of a “residency in Boston,” but that was it.  I’m sure, actually I know I’d find all kinds of ways to work my time at Harvard into completely unrelated conversations, let alone an interview.  And yet, with Dr. Kersten it’s not that surprising.  

She is brilliant, hardworking, and formidable, yet like most truly accomplished people, she just doesn’t seem to feel the need to tell you she’s brilliant, hardworking and formidable. 

A passion for international ophthalmology

In addition to that whole Harvard thing, Dr. Kersten also completed a fellowship in International Ophthalmology.  She has worked extensively in underdeveloped countries, spending two months in Kenya during her last year of med school. “It was amazing. I fell in love with international ophthalmology,” she says.  Because she was a “little younger than (her) classmates” she took two jobs overseas: one in Nepal for three months and another with Project Orbis.  

She explains that with Project Orbis, doctors traveled on a DC8 aircraft. The back of the plane was equipped as a small operating room. The team of doctors flew in, stayed three weeks, performed cataract surgeries or conducted lectures. She did this for a year. “It was a great experience,” says Dr. Kersten. “We went to Eastern Europe, Sudan, northern Nigeria, Tunisia, Mali…It was a really great experience. I got to meet so many people. After I came here (to Laguna) I worked for them once a year for a week or two.”

New responsibilities but still committed to helping others

Still active in international ophthalmology, despite adding the extra responsibility of becoming president of Harvard Eye’s new surgery center (on top of her regular surgical responsibilities), Dr. Kersten is involved with Direct Connections.  

“[Laguna Beach local] Mary Ellen Carter started this non-profit called Direct Connections with Africa. She’s a retired social worker, a real dynamo,” said Kersten. “I went to Malawi last May and had an amazing experience. It’s one of the poorest parts of Africa. People can’t even get glaucoma drops. I brought 100 pounds of eye drops.  There are clinics that provide free surgery, but the people are so poor they can’t afford to get to the clinics so I paid for their transportation to the clinic. There is one cataract surgeon per one million people. It’s very humbling. There is nothing like it to make you feel grateful. We can be so quick to be critical here, but there they can’t even buy something as basic as glaucoma drops.”  

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A photo in Dr. Kersten’s home of a family waiting for a mother undergoing 

eye surgery

What are cataracts?

Dr. Kersten says that in terms of her practice, “I like being a generalist.”  However, she mostly does cataract surgery. She explains that a cataract is, “When the lens of your eye gets cloudy, usually when you’re 65 or older, but sometimes if you’ve had an injury or taken prednisone it can happen much younger.  UVA light and diabetes can be part of it, too. It’s very common.  In fact, it’s kind of rare to see a 90 year old without cataracts. You may not need surgery for them, but to some degree it’s just a natural occurrence,” she explains.  “To correct it you’re vacuuming out the old, cloudy lens and replacing it with a clear lens.  Now is such a great time to practice.  The innovations make it a little more fun.”

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Dr. Kersten with son, Lucas, and husband Mike Austin, Dir. of Finance at Friendship Shelter Laguna Beach, and their newest adopted member of the family

Staying with and helping grow Harvard Eye Associates

When Dr. Kersten came to Harvard Eye there were two doctors: she was the third.  Now there are 13, with five partners, of which she is one.  It’s an impressive resume and according to Dr. Kersten, somewhat unusual because Harvard Eye was her first real job – and she never left.  

“That’s not usually how it goes,” she says.  

And while she gave no indication of retiring anytime soon she does say, “When I’m ready to retire I’d like to slow down and do more international surgery. There are new procedures I’d like to become proficient at.”  

Trying to do it all

In the meantime, she will keep up her busy work schedule, try to find time to read, exercise and, most importantly, spend time with her family.  And just so you know she’s human, she mentions that she, like every other working parent, sometimes finds balancing the two a challenge, like when her son, Lucas, a water polo player at LBHS, tells her he wishes she could come to more of his games – something she would undoubtedly like, as well.  And while she, like every other working parent, does her best to do it all, I’m just guessing she makes it look a lot easier than it really is.


James Pribram: ‘Eco-Warrior’, professional surfer, and compassionate Lagunan

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

James Pribram can still remember—with impressive clarity—the first time he tried surfing. He was a few weeks shy of seven years old, and he followed his older brother out to the arch off Pearl Street Beach. The first set came in, James got thrown around, and he was frightened and started to cry. When he finally caught a wave, he rode it all the way to shore, beached it, and ran home, tears still streaming down his face. 

“When I calmed down, I thought, ‘That was easy, I caught a wave and stood up!’ And I wanted to get back out there. From then on, my chosen path was always surfing,” says James. 

 

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James Pribram

Indeed his path—which took countless sharp turns in unknown directions, and brought him around the world—was formed by his passion for surfing. 

But it was also a path dotted with powerful experiences beside the ocean, which James has long viewed as far more than just a playground for his sport. He has an inherent passion for protecting beaches and surf breaks worldwide, which eventually granted him a different title: Eco-Warrior.

 “My earliest recollection was the ocean. It was my first love,” he says. 

Today, James runs the Laguna Beach-based Eco-Warrior Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at preserving oceans and beaches through education and activism. He is one of those rare, compassionate individuals who are determined to leave the world a better place than they found it. 

And though he’s seen much of the world, from exotic beaches to devastating environmental disasters, Laguna Beach will always be home to James. It’s a place that taught him many of the valuable lessons he’s learned—from how to navigate big waves and look after other people, to the importance of forging your own path and making a difference.  

An Education

 James was raised on Ocean Way, off of Pearl Street, and from the time he turned seven, he found immense joy—and success—on his surfboard. The first surfing contest he entered was the Brooks Street Classic; it was 1981, he was 10, he did well, and the exhilaration of the competition hooked him. 

He started competing locally, and by the time he entered high school, he had been invited to join the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA). He thought he had the world at his fingertips—that he’d make the NSSA national team that year—that surfing was everything.

And then he found out, during his freshman year, that his GPA was below NSSA’s required average. 

“That lesson changed my life. That was the first major crossroads in my life: quit and drop out of high school, or buckle down and do the work. It taught me that there is much more to being a champion than just your sport. You need also to be reliable, articulate, and responsible,” says James.  

He made the decision to stay in school, though it wasn’t an easy one. Not only did James prefer the ocean to the classroom, but he was also born with a speech impediment. 

He insists that no one made him feel different or made fun of him—it’s one of the best things that he remembers from the Laguna Beach he grew up in—and he’s still close friends with some of his classmates from Anneliese Schools. 

“But the classroom was just never my thing,” he says.

Nevertheless, he fought hard to get his grades up, with the help of his mother, who played an instrumental role in James’s eventual academic success. James recalls her sitting down with him every single day to help him throughout the remainder of his high school career.  

By the time he graduated from high school, he’d made the NSSA National Team, helped the LBHS surf team secure the national championship title, and he’d won the 1988 high school state championship. 

The day after high school graduation, he was on a flight heading to Australia to compete. 

“It was a huge deal for me. Nothing has ever come easily for me, but that’s the best possible lesson: no matter what it is, you have to work hard for what you want. That experience changed my mindset,” says James. 

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Making Waves

James became a professional surfer in 1990, competing in the U.S. Pro Tour, the Bud Tour, and the ASP Tour. 

And, in 1993, ESPN offered him the opportunity of a lifetime: to travel to Tahiti, where the network would film the surfing series “Hot Summer Nights”. The show was a huge success, and James found fame almost overnight. He traveled all over the world to film and do appearances, and he was featured in magazines and on the runway at various fashion shows. 

“I remember walking down the beach off Pearl, and people were coming up to me, stopping me. Up until that point I hadn’t really grasped what had happened, but in the blink of an eye my life was different. The show shifted my career from being a professional competitor, to being an ambassador of the sport,” he says. 

After 9/11, when the economy tanked and there were fewer professional events and opportunities for him, James eventually returned home to Laguna Beach to figure out the next step. 

In the fall of 2003, he founded the Aloha School of Surfing, and his timing couldn’t have been more perfect. That summer, MTV settled into Laguna to film “Laguna Beach”, and business was suddenly booming. James continues to run the surf school today.

The Eco-Warrior

Of course, along the way, James thought constantly about the state of our ocean and beaches. With the influx of tourists in Laguna, he couldn’t help but notice a subsequent influx of trash where it shouldn’t be: where he was getting in the water to surf. And he wanted to do something about it. 

James believes that, having been raised in Laguna Beach, the desire to make a positive change was instilled in him from a young age. 

When he looks back on the Laguna in which he grew up, he remembers there being an incredibly strong sense of community. He recalls the “older guys” who looked after him and taught him to be respectful and to take care of the things he loves.

“I grew up in an era where caring for the town and causes you believe in, that was part of our culture—I remember people like James Dilley, who were a big deal. I remember the March for Laguna Canyon. I feel like I’m just living up to the culture I was raised in,” he says. 

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A Walk Along The Beach

He took that spirit in 2005 to Dick Baker of Ocean Pacific, and said he wanted to get support for a major beach cleanup. 

James was handpicked by OP to serve as an ocean advocate for a three-year project that would take him to beaches around the world. His role? Serving as a spokesperson for environmental and ocean-related issues. 

His first trip brought him to Chile, where he marched with other activists to protest a paper mill that was dumping chlorine into a nearby river. On that trip, a photo was taken of him holding a cross wrapped in olive branches for good luck; though James insists that he was merely in the midst of thousands of fellow protesters, in the photograph he appears to be leading the charge. The photo became an iconic, powerful image; he was soon dubbed the ‘Eco-Warrior’. 

Bettering the Laguna of Today

After he fulfilled his end of the deal, James returned home to Laguna Beach, still thinking about what he could do to help make a change and advocate for the ocean. And, once again, his timing was perfect. 

In 2011, he famously saved Maira Kahn, of Irvine, from drowning just off Pearl Street Beach. He was eating lunch on his parents’ deck when he saw her get swept off a rock by a set wave and thrown into the ocean. 

“We still keep in touch. I went to her wedding recently,” says James. “Maira was the one who said to me, ‘Hey, you’ve done all of these incredible things, but what are you doing for your home?’ I made an important realization then,” he adds. 

In 2014, he founded the Eco-Warrior Foundation, which is different from other non-profits of its kind in that it doesn’t raise money; it’s run by volunteers who get their boots on the ground and their hands dirty. Its Upstream Initiatives and Adopt-a-Beach programs have made a significant impact locally, and they rely on participants—especially Laguna Beach residents—for help. 

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 “When people show up and pick up trash, they feel empowered, and those conversations that people have when they’re working toward this common goal, well, they bring the community together,” he says.

James hasn’t gotten in the water very much since August, due to a couple of injury- and skin cancer-related surgeries, so he’s focused on slowing down, building his foundation, and pursuing some other hobbies, such as yoga and meditation. And, of course, he spends as much time as he can back at his childhood home on Pearl Street, where he visits often with his parents. 

“It seems like I’ve been trying to get to this place for my entire life… where I’m healthy, happy, and back on the beach. If I could envision perfectly my life the way I want it to be, well, that’s exactly what it is today,” he says. 

Ever the compassionate champion for the ocean, he adds, “And, I’m where I need to be today to take my foundation to the next level.”

For more information, visit www.eco-warrior.org


Raise a glass to Renae Hinchey: She’s keeping our water clear and flowing through the Water District

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Clean water direct from the tap is a standard Americans expect, and just one of the reasons we were collectively horrified at the news from Flint, Michigan. But available and clean drinking water is something we humans can no longer take for granted. It is our responsibility to life on earth that we practice ecological balance to ensure the sustainability of our water supplies. 

Of course, here in Laguna Beach we are constantly reminded of the state of our water, or lack thereof. We can thank Renae Hinchey, General Manager of Laguna Beach County Water District (LBCWD), for minding our taps – keeping them clean, safe, and flowing.

Renae Hinchey 

Hinchey will have been with the LBCWD for 16 years this June. She was in the public water industry in Riverside prior to that, for 26 years. You could say she’s been deep in water for many years.

“Water is interesting. That’s the reason I’m here,” she says. “I like the challenge. Something is always happening!”

Such as troubleshooting, and emergency planning: What if there was an earthquake up north, and the supply line to our Colorado River water was broken? 

“It could take days to fix a break,” Hinchey explained. “We used to have five days of storage supply. Now we have a three-month supply.” Phew. A broken supply line is one of those worries that keep a water district manager awake at night.

Of course, if the water is local, you can fix it a lot easier.

Back in the Day

In the Wild West days of Laguna’s ranch beginnings – in the early 1900’s, there were a few shallow wells in Laguna Canyon. Ranchers would transport the water in buckets by horse and cart. Those wells dried up, and by 1922 even the drilled wells there were unusable, as they had become too salty. So, a committee of five guys headed up to Huntington Beach and posed as a duck club to get some water down here to Laguna.

That worked, and by 1925 Laguna voters passed a bond to create its own County Water District. Despite Huntington Beach suing Laguna Beach for snagging some of its water (they lost), that well water, too, became unusably salty. In 1943, Metropolitan Water supplied the Colorado River water via aqueduct, for which residents paid dearly.

“Reliable water has always been difficult for Laguna,” says Hinchey. 

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The downtown office and gardens

And expensive. “In 1989 it was $356 an acre-foot,” said Hinchey. “Now it’s almost $1,000. We are a non-profit. We’ve had to raise the rates.”

A reliable, local supply is the answer.

Local Water – There is Such a Thing!

The most important thing on Hinchey’s agenda these days is local groundwater. 

“Metropolitan water prices keep going up for imported water. We want our groundwater back,” says Hinchey. “It’s been a fight since the 80’s.” 

Metropolitan countered that Laguna had “abandoned” its well rights, and could not enforce its use again. But Laguna had an adjudicated judgment from 1933 for groundwater. 

“We got that done. Then let’s get that groundwater again!” says Hinchey. “This is my fourth attempt.” 

She added that the political climate now is different now than in the past. “We don’t need a lot of water, so everyone finally agreed. It was worth all the energy and effort so we have a local source of water. It’s just extremely important.”

Water from the Santa Ana River Basin is all set to be flowing into our taps, and Hinchey is sure it will not only be reliable, but also that rates will be able to stabilize.

Best Person for The Job

 While Hinchey was working in the private sector, she was cognizant of fluctuating economic realities in Southern California. She sought out a good, stable job and landed herself in the public sector – working public administration, for a water district in Riverside County. She worked 11 years there while also earning here Master’s Degree in Public Administration as well as getting her teaching credentials.

“I’m very energetic, so I’d work at the [Western Municipal] Water District, and teach three nights a week,” said Hinchey. She taught business and publication writing. 

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General Manager of Laguna Beach County Water District, Renae Hinchey

Moving on from Assistant to General Manager at the Water District was not easy, and not because she isn’t talented and intelligent. She’s simply the first female.

“I had push-back as the first woman,” says Hinchey. “I’d be at a meeting with all the GM’s at the time, and I was the only woman in the room… I had one employee say, ‘I won’t work for a woman!’”

There are now three women General Managers in Orange County. “I’m the first, and longest standing,” Hinchey says proudly. “I speak when I have something important to contribute.” She is aware of setting a positive and competent example of female leadership in this male-dominated sector.

Learn History at the WD, Right Downtown

One of the noticeable examples of Hinchey’s influence at the Water District offices downtown is the display right up front. “I’m big on the District’s history,” she says. There hadn’t been enough information about it for the public, so she set up a big display wall with facts and historic photos. “How we got started and the progress the District’s made – all the unusual things this District has done.”

For example, the building itself is the oldest municipal building in Laguna. The Water District, established in 1925, shared the building with the City, established in 1927. They all cozied up with the prisoners, too, as the jail resided there as well.

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The District’s history wall

These days, people stop in at the relatively new front reception window. Or they tune in via social media. “We do a lot on Twitter and Facebook,” says Hinchey. “If you ‘like,’ you get [water conservancy] tips.”

And then people phone in. “We get a lot of people calling in on neighbors,” she says. “We have to take it seriously, and be diligent.” 

Water snitches will be heard.

Conservation Minded Above All

There are not so many different issues amongst Orange County cities, as all have been reliant upon imported water. “The projects may be different, but the goal is the same – clean, reliable, sustainable water,” says Hinchey. “But we don’t have a huge population here. Laguna is built out, so water can be conserved.”

Still, it was a little annoying that after so many successful years of conservation, Laguna was asked to further cut back by equal percentages to our less-than conservative neighbors. “We were buying 4800 acre-feet a year, and brought it down to 3300 acre-feet since 2000,” said Hinchey. “We took it seriously.

“We’d conserved 30% already, then needed another 24%.” We got to 22%. But Hinchey is motivated and energized in dealing with the current drought. 

“We have very conservation-minded people here. I can’t believe the things people do! I’m amazed.”

The next step will be toward alternative technologies, like water desalination. We can count on our head of the Laguna Beach County Water District to be progressive. 

“We need to be out there looking for other sources of water in the future,” she says hopefully. Being open-minded and learning about science and engineering breakthroughs will be part of the job. Hinchey is up for it.  

“I like a challenge. I love this job!”


Mark Lewis: Puts LBHS girls basketball on the map

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

As Orange County’s smallest public high school, LBHS posts some pretty impressive results in the world of high school athletics.  At around 1,000 total students Laguna Beach High School successfully competes with schools many times larger.  Certain sports garner a lot of attention (girls water polo, anyone?) while others seem to only generate enthusiasm for the players and their parents.  It’s understandable, but unfortunate because there are some great sports stories taking place in the gym, on the field, or wherever Breakers are competing.

Mark Lewis, LBHS’ girls basketball coach and 2012-13 Coach of the Year

One of the most compelling success stories that has quietly and consistently unfolded over the last five years at LBHS, is the girls basketball team.  Beach towns are not generally known for their prowess on the basketball court.  However, with a small yet dedicated squad, coach Mark Lewis has put LBHS girls basketball on the map.

A former basketball star moves to Laguna

A former star basketball player at Tustin High School who went on to play at CSULB, Lewis is now the Director of Public Works for the city of Fountain Valley.  He and his wife, Melanie, came to Laguna right after college and eventually started a family.  “My wife and I are both athletes so we wanted our kids to be active,” he says. As a result, he adds,  “I coached everything, even sports I didn’t know much about.” 

Not surprisingly, both Lewis’ kids, Brandon and Alexandra, eventually focused on basketball. Since this was a sport he obviously knew a lot about, he happily continued coaching them.

A determined daughter makes a request

However, when Brandon entered high school only Alexandra, four years younger than her brother, was still in need of his coaching services. He assumed when she got to high school, he’d hang up his whistle.  Alexandra had other ideas.  When she got to Thurston she told her father she wanted his role as her coach to continue once she started at LBHS. The problem was, as Lewis says he explained to his daughter, “It’s not that easy to become a high school coach.  You don’t just volunteer and get to do it. I figured she’d just get over it eventually, but she was relentless. Finally, I was just like, ‘Get over yourself!’” he says, laughing.

She didn’t.  And amazingly, between her 7th and 8th grade year, the LBHS girls basketball coach, Jon Hendrickson, resigned. Because of Brandon’s success as a LBHS player (he set a school record for most three pointers in a season), Lewis was familiar with then athletic director, Mike Churchill.  “No one wanted to coach the team so I went to see Mike Churchill and he said, ‘Are you serious?’ I knew [then principal] Dr. C and some of the school board members so there was some comfort there, I guess, and I got the job.  I inherited a team and a schedule.  

“They’d just graduated their top two players.  Four girls decided to quit two weeks before the season.  We lost every game.  It was a rough,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Winning begets winning.”

Lewis admits he is “probably more intense” than his predecessor was.  He lost girls to his new schedule (no more two weeks off over winter break) and demanding training regimen, but the ones who stayed saw their hard work rewarded with results.  

“I knew what I wanted to accomplish.  I thought it was fair to ask the girls to put their best effort on the floor.”  

In addition to having the girls play together, he also gained control of the schedule.  He admits he didn’t exactly schedule the toughest teams right off the bat, but they won two tournaments and broke the school record for number of wins (19) in a season his daughter’s freshman year.  

“Winning begets winning,” he says. The days of losing every game became a distant memory.

Coach Mark Lewis runs through drills with his team in the LBHS gym

The challenges of injuries and demographics

Still, the program hemorrhaged players: some to injury (torn ACLs are a problem), and some to pursue other interests.  When asked why so many girls seem to migrate away from the sport (or not try it at all), it’s clear it’s a subject he has pondered quite a bit. “Girls basketball in south Orange County…it’s a different demographic.  It’s really hard to get girls interested in basketball. It is a very physical, skilled game.  You need to have a certain skill level to play.  You can’t get lost on the court.  

“But I’m recruiting!  I go and talk to the girls volleyball team and tell them, ‘You don’t have to be a basketball player.  You can be a volleyball player who plays basketball,’” he says emphatically.  “We also do really fun things as a team.” 

A Coach of the Year pulls out all the stops

Coach Lewis knows that fun is a great recruiting tool and he’s not afraid to use it. “This year we played at Staples Center before a Clipper’s game; we went to Hawaii, Catalina…other coaches tell me ‘You’re doing all that in one year? How do you not have people wanting to play for you!?’”  Such is the life of a high school basketball coach in a beach community, even one who was voted Coach of the Year in 2013-14.  

“We have a lot of great athletes come through our high school,” he says.  “They just play other sports.”

There are collegiate opportunities for girls basketball

Maybe it’s the seeming abundance of collegiate opportunities in the other sports?  Lewis tells me that there are plenty of collegiate opportunities for girls who play basketball at a school like Laguna. “Is Laguna going to produce a lot of D1 [Division 1] players?  Probably not, but there are a lot of places for them to play at a D3 level. I have a player who is playing at Vassar. There are definitely opportunities.”  

Making the most of his opportunities is something Coach Lewis excels at.  When asked about his strengths as a coach he says, “I think I know the game really well and I can teach it to the talent level I have.  You have to know your personnel.  I’m able to tap into what makes them go.  I know what I can and what I can’t get out of the girls.” 

Walking the line between coach and father

And when “one of the girls” is your daughter, that’s a good skill to have. “We have an amazing relationship as player and coach and then as father and daughter off the court.  I probably am harder on her, but I’m harder on my better players and she’s one of them.  What’s harder for her is the scrutiny she’s under for being ‘the coach’s kid.’  Plus she hears stuff about the coach, which is different when the coach is your father.  But she knows how to walk that line.  She handles it all really well.” 

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LBHS girls basketball players practice before their CIF game

Four record-breaking seasons 

Fast forward through the last four seasons:  Alexandra is now a senior. This is her last season. The team has gone to CIF for four straight years. They have won 19 games every season except this one, where they won twenty. They won league this season for the first time in 11 years and for only the second time in school history. The team was going for win number 21 against St. Paul in the 2nd round of CIF on Saturday.  Coach Lewis was hopeful, but not optimistic.  “They are a really tough team,” he says simply.  

When a sister breaks her brother’s school record

For now, Lewis says, “When I’m on the floor coaching, I’m in the moment, but sometimes I do stop and look at what’s going on as a dad, and I can say, ‘Hey, that’s my kid out there.  That’s pretty cool.’” Like when Alexandra broke her brother’s three point record this year with him in the stands cheering her on?  For a coach, coaching his daughter, it probably doesn’t get much cooler than that.

A season of firsts and lasts

 With the tough CIF game looming, Lewis says that this season has been one of “lasts” for him and his daughter, as player and coach.  As in the “last home game” or the “last time they will play Estancia”…those kinds of “lasts.” And, depending on how their game on Saturday goes, it could possibly just be the “last” game, period.   

Regardless of the outcome, the LBHS girls basketball team has worked its way out of the basement to achieve an impressive lists of firsts in the school record book. This is in no small part to a coach who takes pride in the fact that his small team is recognized for playing basketball “the right way.”  

Of course, winning doesn’t hurt, either.  

The girls lost that game to St. Paul; the final “last” for Coach Lewis and his daughter, in a long list of firsts.



Stu Saffer: A grudging subject, honored Citizen of the Year, and Laguna’s number one newsman

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Stu Saffer is being honored as Citizen of the Year by the Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade Association this year. That is the only reason he agreed, begrudgingly, to be featured in this week’s “Laguna Life and People.”  It’s hard to tell the man whose name is on the masthead what to do. Of course, he has a deep sense of community spirit that prompted his acquiescence (plus Shaena can be very persuasive).

Stu Saffer

A father’s short-lived, but powerful influence

Born in Washington DC in 1942, but raised in rural Middleburg, Virginia, Saffer has lived many lives. He is the youngest of four children who lost their father, the town doctor, when Saffer was only 11 years old. 

Before his father’s untimely death, Saffer says, “I got a lot of one on one time with him because I was the only one still at home. He was a country doctor. Our phone would ring at 2 a.m. and I’d hear his car start. He believed in treating all people the same, and giving back. Sometimes he got paid in produce, or a nickel a month from people who couldn’t afford to pay him.” 

His father’s dedication to those he served made a lasting impression on Saffer who also believes strongly in giving back.  

“Those aren’t just words to me; I’m not just saying that,” he explains emphatically.  It’s real.” 

That commitment to community is what fuels Saffer to deliver two editions of StuNews a week, tirelessly and without respite.  Well, that and his absolute love for what he does.

Family loyalty takes precedence over a dream job

Determined to become a reporter when he graduated from college, Saffer had his new career with the Houston Chronicle all mapped out.  

“That was exciting,” he remembers.  “It was my dream job.” 

Unfortunately, he got a call from his oldest brother who needed him in California to help him with his business selling semiconductors. “My brother said, ‘Writers don’t make any money!’ So a year later I’m in LA (selling semiconductors), and I’m miserable. My brother and I were entirely different personalities. He measured everything by net worth.”  

Saffer adds, “He was a very unhappy person.” 

Just to add insult to injury, a year later, while watching the Academy Awards, Saffer sees his brother, the one who warned against the vagaries of writing for a living, sitting next to Larry McMurtry who had just won the Best Screenplay Oscar for “The Last Picture Show.”  

“He was the ‘poor’ writer my brother knew!” Saffer said indignantly. “I called him and said, ‘You SOB!’ He just said, ‘Well, sometimes a writer can get lucky…’”

The Vietnam War, Great Books and other jobs

After he quit working with his brother, Saffer took a job with Teledyne. 

“They were building helicopters for the Vietnam War. I was against the war so I was in kind of a funky position. I decided I couldn’t do that anymore, so I quit,” he says. “Then I started having fun.”  

The “fun” ranged from selling swimming pools to “The Great Books of the Western World.”  That was pretty lucrative. “Those books were great!” he said. “I sold the leather-bound books for $1,600 a set. I wouldn’t sell the ones that weren’t leather.”

Saffer says he was still “trying to write”, but he also wanted to get into the real estate business.  

“I got into the mortgage business in the 1970s. I had a very successful company, Churchill Financial Group,” he said. “We sold it in the early ‘80s [which is about when Saffer permanently moved to Laguna]. We had over one hundred employees. After we sold it I went to work for a savings and loan. I didn’t care as much about money. I’d been divorced two times by then. I’d made money; I’d lost money. It was something that was important to me at one time, but then it just became less important.”

The importance of children

Something that was always important was his relationship with his adopted daughter, Jackie.  Saffer was married to Jackie’s mother and had adopted her children.  Jackie was a toddler at the time, and the two developed a strong relationship that lasts to this day, even if the marriage to Jackie’s mother didn’t.  

“We were really close and had a lot of fun,” he says about those days. 

They lived in north Tustin at the time.  Saffer coached Jackie’s softball team, and the two went on long bike rides every Sunday. “We’d always end up at IHOP. I think that’s the only reason she went with me,” he says with a laugh.  

Jackie now lives in Naples (Long Beach) and has four teenaged sons. “No one could give me a better gift than that,” he says earnestly. 

Another gift is his relationship with his “surrogate son,” Brandon.  

“I wouldn’t be doing this [meaning StuNews] without him,” says Saffer. 

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Brandon joined Stu for one of the Stu News community gatherings at zPizza 

Brandon was the son of a single working mom who happened to live upstairs from Saffer. “I met him when he was one and we bonded fast and quick,” Saffer said. “I didn’t go out anymore because I wanted to spend time with him. His mom worked at night so I became the baby sitter.” 

It changed Saffer’s life. “I got involved in Brandon’s life. I started paying attention to what was going on in town – something single people don’t necessarily do. He made me settle down. 

“He’s thirty-one now, and I expect him to ride with me in the [Patriot’s] parade.  I will always be grateful that his mom let us bond. It was good for both of us.” 

From printing press to online newspaper

Though Saffer’s personal life had settled down, his professional life was booming. He finally found the career in journalism that had been his dream from the start. 

He ran, and ultimately sold, both “The Laguna Coastline News” and “The Laguna Beach Independent” (that he launched from scratch). But Saffer still was not ready to abandon the newspaper business.

He says that he had an online version of ‘The Indy,’ but it wasn’t much and no one paid attention to it. “I found out that [generally] online papers are broke. They have a hard time selling ads. But I had this concept that is StuNews. 

“I don’t mind taking risks,” says Saffer, knowing profits were going to be hard to come by.   

“It took awhile to get it how I envisioned it,” he said. “I wanted it to read like a newspaper. I wanted it to have ads along the side and in the middle, like regular newspapers. I modeled it after ‘USA Today,’ without long stories since people don’t read long stories anymore. And it worked!” Yes it did.

“People liked it once they figured out how to read it,” he says. “Plus the ads are there as in a regular newspaper, subliminally.” 

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Stu with many of Stu News’ readers and friends at SNL event at GG’s

The community rallies in support of “StuNews”

Not long after Stu Saffer launched StuNews, he was diagnosed with cancer. He knew the newspaper had already made an impact on the community when the people of Laguna reached out with their hearts. 

“A wonderful bunch of women in this town decided to do a fundraiser,” he said. “They said, ‘We know you won’t accept it, but we’re not going to do it for you; we’re going to do it as a fundraiser for StuNews.’  

“They called it SOS (Save Our StuNews). Four hundred people came – and the business was only six months old!”  

This was the first time, Saffer says, he was “humbled” by his community. “They kept it afloat,” he said. “After something like that, you know you have to make it work. You have to give back.”

He has, and Stu News Laguna (SNL) flourishes.

The importance of Shaena

The “making it work” part was aided tremendously by the addition of Shaena Stabler in 2011.  

Saffer became acquainted with Stabler when she was working on a fundraiser to aid victims of the Haitian earthquake in 2010. “I told her I’d promote her event in every single issue,” he said. “That was it. Then she contacted me a year later and said she was thinking of making a change. She was at ‘The Indy’ selling ads for them. I was having trouble selling ads. So we met at Jean Paul’s and I had no idea what I was going to say to her. 

“Then it hit me as I sat down with her. I said, ‘I know how good you are. I don’t think anyone can do what you do better; I don’t think anyone can do what I do better than I do. Together we ought to be awesome. I will give you half of my business.’” Just like that, Stabler became Saffer’s business half.

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Stu with his business partner, Shaena Stabler 

“Shaena became my partner,” he said. “She understood what I wanted to do. She didn’t fight it. We set mutual goals and all that, but within ten days I knew she was the right person, and she knew she was the right person. It was fun! And we’ve had fun ever since. I want her to be the best she can be. The two of us have made this work, and it never would have worked without her.” 

Shaena writes the checks, Stu writes the news. 

Health issues are an uphill battle

And how he writes the news is no easy feat. Saffer survived cancer, but has had further health problems to deal with. 

“I have this thing called pulmonary arterial hypertension,” he said. “People didn’t used to survive from it. Still, there’s no cure, but I have a wonderful doctor, Dr. Michael Rovzar, who specializes in this.”  

Dr. Rovzar has a staff dedicated to dealing with the insurance companies and writing grants so that the very expensive medication needed to keep patients with this condition alive is possible. Talking to Saffer about this was a lesson in everything that is frustrating about our health care system. Suffice it to say, he is extremely grateful to his doctor and his staff. However, even with the medication, Saffer finds almost every activity incredibly strenuous. 

“The problem is I still can’t breathe well when I’ve had to exert myself,” he explains. “It’s hard for me to walk and distance; my breathing gets stressed and it takes time for my breathing to recover. That’s the biggest problem.” 

The daunting consistency of deadline days

And yet, the deadline days come twice a week regardless of how he is feeling.  “Every Monday and Thursday are deadline days,” says Saffer. “Maggi (Henrikson) and Elizabeth (Nutt) have their assignments. Allison (Rael) goes to the police department and goes through the log for me.” That starts the publication wheels moving. 

Saffer explains the online formula, “I formulate the questions and get answers back from the police department. That whole process takes a lot of time. 

“I decide where every article goes, and I send them to Michael Sterling, our web master, around 1 or 2 a.m. Then I do the final layout. That takes time, a lot of effort.” 

And keeps him up late! Many issues are not completed until the wee hours, but Saffer feels that sense of accomplishment twice a week, every week, with no time off. 

“I’m very proud of every issue. It seems daunting, but it’s just fun,” he says. “Especially now. I really can’t do anything else! That’s one reason I love it so much. It’s my lifeline; it keeps me alive.”

A natural hitter and happiness

Another thing that undoubtedly keeps Stu Saffer going is his love of sports, particularly baseball. He is an admitted sports nut.  

Baseball is a particular favorite because back in the day he was a gifted hitter. “I was a pure hitter,” he says. “I could hit like the best of them. You can’t learn to be a hitter; you just have it. 

“People said I could do whatever I wanted in baseball, and maybe I could have, but what they didn’t tell me was the second part of that, which is that you can do anything if you make sacrifices. I learned that with Brandon. If I’d learned that sooner, who knows? I do know that I wouldn’t be any happier than I am now.”

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This year, the Patriot’s Parade will celebrate 50 years – and Stu, as 

Citizen of the Year

Part of that happiness is due to his selection as this year’s Citizen of the Year.  “When Charlie Quilter [the president of the Patriots Day Parade Association] called me and said I’d been chosen, he asked, ‘Would I accept it?’ said Saffer. “I guess I have a reputation of not accepting tributes. But this really humbled me. It made me feel wonderful.  

“I love what I do. And I love it for all the right reasons. I consider myself to be the luckiest guy around. I get to write about the town that I love. I just feel lucky to be here.  And then to be Citizen of the Year…nothing could make me happier than that.” 

Finding a replacement…as if

Saffer says that he wanted StuNews to “make Laguna Beach a little smaller.” I think everyone would agree that he has achieved that goal. Next up is to find Stu II.  

“In my perfect world I will find my replacement,” he says rather hopefully. “I will find someone who has a passion for Laguna as I do.” 

And while he may entertain the idea of finding someone to fill his shoes, we all know there’s only one Stu – and he is more than StuNews, which is saying a lot.


Laguna’s Nicole Anderson on family, community and what work/life balance means to her 

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

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Nicole Anderson

We’re sitting in Nicole’s pristine, beautifully decorated North Laguna office—which is as warm and inviting as the attorney herself—when I ask her about the photographs that will accompany this piece. I suggest that they be portraits taken at Anderson Law Group Inc., the thriving law firm she founded and runs today. But Nicole has a different idea.

 “Can we take them at my home, with my family?” she asks. “It wouldn’t feel right to have photos done without them present. They are a better reflection of who I am.”

The sentiment is quintessential Nicole, a bright and successful self-starter who, at the end of the day, is all about her family; Nicole is married to Laguna native Peter Anderson, and they have two young sons, William and Barrett. 

But Nicole, in addition to working as a practicing attorney and spending quality time with her family, is active in the Laguna Beach community, and a devoted volunteer. I sat down with her to learn exactly what it is that motivates her, and how she balances it all.

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Nicole and Peter Anderson with their sons, William (5) and Barrett (3)

Colorado—Where It All Began 

Nicole graduated in 2004 from Colorado College (CC), where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in International Political Economy and had the opportunity to study economics and international law abroad for a year at the London School of Economics.

During her freshman year at CC, she met Peter Anderson, who was studying geology and who happened to be a third-generation Lagunan. Though the two dated throughout college, they parted ways briefly to pursue graduate school opportunities. For Nicole, that meant returning to her home state of Michigan, where she earned her J.D. from Wayne State University Law School.

Nicole’s father works in estate planning and business law, and one of her first jobs growing up was making copies in her dad’s office. 

“He’s always been a mentor to me,” says Nicole.  

Following law school, Nicole clerked for the United States Attorney in Detroit, Michigan, and then served as a law clerk for the Honorable Judge Gadola, Federal Judge of the Sixth Circuit, as well as for Cline, Cline & Griffin in Michigan. 

Ultimately, Nicole relocated to Laguna Beach, married Peter Anderson, and earned her Masters of Law from Chapman University School of Law in 2011. As for adjusting to life in Laguna? “I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she says.

Anderson Law Group, Inc.

In 2008, Nicole was working as a partner at the Law Offices of Anderson and Le in Orange County when she made an important realization: the intense hours required of her as partner were not conducive to a healthy work/life balance.

“At that point, I thought to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I wanted to become a mom, and I wanted more flexibility in my life,” says Nicole.  

She made the decision to start Laguna Beach-based Anderson Law Group Inc. in 2009, which presented to Nicole an incredible opportunity for growth, as well as a new standard for work/life balance. 

“The firm grew slowly, but it was just me. And it’s not just about practicing law—it’s learning how to run a business. After doing it all myself, I truly respect self-starters, and as a business law attorney, I’m better able to help people navigate the process of starting their own businesses,” says Nicole.

Today, it’s a highly specialized firm that’s dedicated to estate and business planning law. Roughly 90% of Nicole’s clients are based in Laguna Beach, and she’s found success largely through word-of-mouth referral. 

Founding Anderson Law Group has enabled Nicole to keep her family at the forefront, to take vacations, and to inspire her all-female staff of four to seek a similar balance. 

 For Nicole, it also means entirely free weekends with her boys. She loves to bike down to the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, practice yoga, hit the beach, and explore the trails behind her family’s Canyon Acres home during her downtime.

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The Anderson Family

And, of course, regular date nights are a must, too. She and Peter, an engineering geologist who recently founded his own company, can be found dining at local eateries such as La Sirena, Broadway, and 230 Forest. 

“Peter is very involved, and he keeps the family running!” says Nicole. 

Bettering Laguna for The Next Generation

 A flexible schedule also frees up space for Nicole to volunteer her time to multiple community organizations. Giving back has always been a part of her life, and it was her parents who instilled that value in her, having led by example. Her father was president of their hometown’s community foundation for ten years, and her mother is a nurse who has volunteered her time at a community clinic.  

Community service is essential to Nicole, and she simply can’t imagine seeing it any other way. 

“I love Laguna. Without this town and this community I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s so important to give back, and in the end you get way more than you give,” says Nicole. 

She has dedicated her time to the Laguna College of Art and Design, where she served on the Board of Trustees from 2009-2014. And today she works with the Laguna Beach Community Foundation as a three-year member of the Board of Trustees. 

With two children who will go through the Laguna Beach school system, Nicole has also taken an interest in supporting education-based non-profits. She serves on the endowment committee for both the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach and SchoolPower’s Endowment. 

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Nicole and Peter’s eldest son William with Oscar, the family’s Black Lab

Nicole is particularly excited about her volunteer work with an organization called NextGen, of which she’s been a part for several years. NextGen is aimed at engaging the ‘next generation’ of Laguna Beach locals, and inspiring them to give back to and get involved with their community, especially as it pertains to playing a role in shaping Laguna’s future. 

“If we don’t use our voices, they’ll never be heard,” she says. 

Nicole helps run and host fundraisers and events for the organization, and she works to motivate younger residents to attend City Council meetings and get involved with Laguna’s multitude of non-profit organizations. 

Ultimately, the family-focused and hardworking Nicole wants to ensure that Laguna remains the wonderful place it is both for her own children, and for generations to come. 

“I’m usually the youngest person on the boards I serve, so I’m working to engage younger generations to become a part of the decision-making in Laguna Beach that will affect all of us and our kids,” says Nicole.


Brian Crawford: Capturing the beauty of yoga

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Brian Crawford moved to Laguna as a sophomore in high school, he says it was a good, and much needed, chance to start fresh. Coming from the Bay Area, Laguna Beach was nevertheless a familiar place as his family had visited many, many times. He fit right in, becoming friends with the skim boarding crew. He says he would just sit and watch from the beach: No video, no photography, just watching.  

Before he moved south, Crawford says he used to make home movies, but in Laguna his friends made skateboarding videos. That was their thing, and so he let that interest go. His interest behind the camera would, however, return – in a big way.

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Brian Crawford

 “Once I graduated from Laguna [Beach High School], I needed to figure what the hell to do,” says Crawford.  First he went to work for his brother-in-law’s car dealership, but in 2008 he lost that job. It was both a curse and a blessing. He went back to his interest in videos and moved to Los Angeles to see what would come of it. 

The most important thing that came of it was Crawford’s realization that he needed to get sober, and that where he lived was “so important” to his mental state.  

So back to Laguna he came.

Stu News Laguna photographer

One evening Crawford took at picture of the sun setting at Oak Street. He remembers thinking, “This looks like a decent shot.” So he sent it to his dad for a second opinion. His dad agreed. “I’d been reading Stu News Laguna so I sent the picture to Stu, saying ‘I thought you’d like this photo’.” He did, and Crawford eventually began working for StuNews as a photographer.  

He was also working at Gina’s delivering pizzas, and says that on his deliveries, “I would drive a pizza up to Top of the World. It would be sunset, and I’d see an image while on this delivery. I’d post it to Stu and it was so awesome to get recognized for what I was doing.”

Adding a human element to his photos

Four years ago, with his creative eye working, Crawford happened to spy Liz Campbell at The Stand. Liz is a yoga instructor at Ritual Yoga.  “I love nature photography, but I’d never done people with it. But Liz has these beautiful tattoos and I thought it would be cool to shoot her at the Top of the World caves,” explains Crawford. 

“She was a little freaked out, a little hesitant, but she came, and we went to the caves. We had such a rad experience. It was just like creating a landscape photo, but adding the dimension of a human adds a whole other level…it’s harder and more beautiful. These yoga poses are so beautiful. Yoga is one of the most beautiful things!”

From these modest beginnings, Crawford has built a name for himself as a well-respected yoga photographer. 

Ritual Yoga leads to Instagram – and a career

“Liz’s shoot was really successful. I approached Ritual Yoga. When they saw the photos they were like, ‘This is so rad. We like your photographs! You’re doing our website.’ 

“So I shot a lot of images.  And I got paid!” he says with a laugh.  “I thought this might work for me. I may not be working at Gina’s for the rest of my life.”

Things really picked up when he finally acquiesced to his friend’s advice and went on Instagram.  

“I was always against it, but I thought, ‘All right, I’ll give it a shot.’ So I put some photos on Instagram and I got totally inspired,” he says. “There was this great feedback from the yoga community. I enjoyed making people feel inspired and happy.”

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Photos by Brian Crawford photography

Crawford’s photos combine the beauty of nature and yoga

Crawford’s niche has allowed him to travel all over the world.  

“I started to gain a following. I found a passion for yoga photography. I fell in love with it,” he says. “I love meditation – and yoga is based around meditation. As I got deeper into it I thought, I need to get involved with these people. This is my path. So I started marketing myself as a yoga photographer. 

“In two years, I have 20,000 Instagram followers. I have followers who have a million followers, who have reached out to me. Yoga is a small world, but it’s not too small. I’ve been able to make a name for myself.”

An idol becomes a friend

When we met, Crawford had just returned from Hawaii a week ago.  It marked a pinnacle of his career thus far. “I have this musician…my favorite musician ever. I listen to him every day!” He said. “Then we connected on Instagram, and he started following me. I was so honored! 

“I was working on Kauai and he lives on Maui. I reached out to him. I came to his house and I took photos of him and his daughter. He trusted me. He let me into his home. We became friends.  

“Everything I wanted to do – I accomplished last week. I joked with my parents that I was retiring,” says Crawford who seemed genuinely surprised and humbled by his good fortune. 

The musician, whose name he mentioned much later in our interview, is known as “The Grouch.”  

Since he still needs to make a living, Crawford will not be retiring, despite his recent accomplishments, anytime soon. 

 Motivated to share the beauty of yoga  

His next goal is to cultivate a celebrity clientele to elevate his exposure as well as attract a larger audience to the beauty of yoga.

 “I want to inspire people who don’t know yoga to try it,” he says. 

Crawford practices yoga every day. As a testament, he cites his personal experience. “I blew my back out a year ago. I went to the hospital; I could not move,” he said.  “I thought my career was over. Once I focused on my physical therapy, I realized it’s side by side with yoga. I just needed to hit my yoga program twice as hard.”  

Doing so has helped Crawford reach healthy, spiritual, and artistic heights.  

“That’s what life is about.  You have to get rid of these things that stand in your way. Living a healthy, conscious lifestyle inspired me to be my better self.”  

It has also helped launch a career. 

 

Brian Crawford’s work can be followed on Facebook at www.faceook.com/Briancrawfordphotography, on his website, www.briancrawfordphotography.com, or on Instagram at @Briancrawfordphotography.


Katie Bond: a caring heart in Laguna – and Africa

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Katie Bond lives with her feet firmly planted in two worlds. Here on U.S. soil, she manages to keep grounded with her practice of yoga. On the other side of the world, she connects through The Peace Exchange, her non-profit creating fair trade business opportunities for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are the two worlds Katie has a deep connection with, body and soul. 

Katie Bond

There was a time when Katie Bond was a small-town, Midwestern farm girl. Her family still operates the Ohio farm, Bond Family Cattle, and they’ve raised grand champion cows and pigs. Most of her family were also teachers: Dad, a school principal, mom and brother both teachers. She became smitten with the west coast, though, because of great uncle Noah. He was the Deputy Sheriff of Orange County.

“Mom and dad couldn’t afford [to live here], but loved road trips to visit him for summer vacation,” Katie remembers. “Ride horses… go to Disneyland… I thought California was magical!”

When she had an opportunity to transfer from college in Ohio to Cal State Fullerton, she took it. Despite leaving familiar surroundings, Katie was drawn to the sunny side of life.

“We had just come out for Christmas, and the sun was out at Balboa Island, and I thought, wow, I’m at the beach!”

At Fullerton, Katie majored in Communication, and went on to grad school at Azusa, where she was made an offer to teach. After almost seven years of teaching, though, she realized that wasn’t her passion.

“I thought, I’m 29 and I have a great job, but I never wanted to be a school teacher,” she said. 

“I wanted to move to Laguna and teach yoga!”

Feeling the lightness in Laguna

Katie acknowledges having “always been into fitness” (she was even on the cheer team at university), but yoga was something else altogether. She learned the practice of yoga when she moved to California (of course!), and it just took hold of her – body and spirit. Being able to teach yoga was a dream come true, but folks back home thought it was a little weird, like some kind of cult.

Katie laughs, “Friends sent letters, ‘Are you okay? We’re worried about you!’”

She’s now in her eighth year of teaching yoga at The Art of Fitness, in Laguna, as well as spin classes. 

“I love the yin and yang of spin and yoga. They’re opposite,” says Katie. “It’s about good music, creating a feeling of lightness, sharing some good energy.”

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On her way to yoga, by the beach. What could be better?

In addition to yoga, Katie’s mind was opened to another world once she moved to California. She was working at a store at the same time she was teaching, to make ends meet. The store, called 10,000 Villages, introduced her to the concept of Fair Trade. And in addition to being a lifelong active-fitness person, she is also a lifelong do-good-things person. Fair trade became the motto for her next phase of life.

Fair Trade makes a difference

“I always wanted to encourage people, and work internationally,” Katie said. “Fair trade makes it all come together. You’re helping people in extreme poverty – you’re getting at their basic needs. Education helps get people out of poverty. Fair trade businesses enable them to have money to send their kids to school.”

For businesses to be accredited as Fair Trade they must be certified by three different governing bodies. In this way it is ensured that workers are paid directly a fair wage, without corruption, abuse, and graft. 

“Fair Trade has to have less than five middle men. There are usually eighteen,” explains Katie. “You’re working in the poorest of the poor places and making an opportunity the people wouldn’t otherwise have.” 

One day while working at the 10,000 Villages store, an invited speaker came to talk about life in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That was it: the thing that resonated with her heart.

“Congo chose me,” she states simply.

The Peace Exchange – global and local

“Congo is poor, and known as the sexual violence capitol of the world. With that knowledge you can’t not do something,” Katie says. “Education is powerful!”

She thought, how can we help?

Katie started The Peace Exchange. Raising money and raising awareness, she found like-minded people to partner with, and set up sewing centers in the Congo to provide local women with economic opportunities.  

“We provide resources, pay shipping, and pay workers a fair wage,” says Katie. “The women there are victims of sexual violence. We have guarded, gated – protected sewing centers.” 

The danger of sexual assault is an every day fear for the women of the Congo. According to Katie, the first conviction of a rapist only happened five years ago. Women are regarded with very little respect, but the sewing centers created by The Peace Exchange have opened a window for change. The women work only in the daylight hours so they will be safely home before dark. (Laguna’s non-profit, Wheels for Life, has recently given them a grant so that the women can have bikes to ride to their work as well).

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Photo by The Peace Exchange

Seamstresses at work at one of the three Peace Exchange sewing centers

The employed seamstresses not only have money to provide for their families, but they have a newfound sense of respect and dignity.

“It’s about connecting with people,” says Katie. “I talk with a woman about her rape, and then a year later she tells me how she’s a breadwinner, and sending her kids to school. I feel I owe it to them to have the opportunity to succeed.

“It’s something I feel born to do. I love Africa.” 

Katie had an affinity for Africa ever since she was little. She smiles, “I’d ask my parents every year at Christmas for an African brother or sister.” Now she has them.

“Thirty-three sisters in the Congo who count on me!”

Products to market

The Peace Exchange products, including tote bags, yoga bags, and clothes are handmade with colorful African fabrics. They are shipped to distribution centers, such as the one Katie set up in her hometown in Ohio, staffed with volunteers, retired teachers and friends (“They’re still not sure about yoga!”). Presently, The Peace Exchange is getting their products into stores in the U.S. and the U.K, where they are doing a fashion show this year with models from Congo included.

The products can often be found at the Farmer’s Market here in Laguna, and in local stores such as Laguna Coffee Co.

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Some of The Peace Exchange’s African-made products

Katie is not one to be daunted by the giant scope of her passion project, not to mention the endless fundraising needed. “It’s like conducting an orchestra – keeping it all in harmony,” she says. “Sometimes a string pops, but I call it ‘failing forward!’ We’ve been fortunate. We’re not giving up.

“My bad day is never a bad day when you’re doing this kind of work. Many times it seems too hard. There’s pressure to pay the women – and yoga can’t afford that. But I set out to do good work. It’s hard… humanitarian work is hard but good things happen.”

Somehow her Christmas wish and dream of international work has come together like pieces in a puzzle. And the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

“Sweat equity, I’ve put in a ton, but now it’s worth it. I get paid to do yoga and spin, which I love, and I get to help people. I’ve wanted that all my life – I just didn’t know what that looked like!”

Good things happen for a reason – and with the dedication of good people like Katie Bond.


Mary Blanton: A gifted El Morro teacher pays it forward and back

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Eight years ago, my son, a student at El Morro Elementary School since kindergarten, showed up for his 3rd grade year. His teacher, a woman named Mary Blanton. The sign on her door read “Club 54.” I had no idea then, but figured it out pretty quickly, that he was going to have one of the best scholastic years of his life. 

In need of some confidence, Mrs. Blanton swooped him up, bestowed her incredible generosity of spirit on him, energized his mind and, after nine months in her care, was almost unrecognizable. The unsure, reticent boy who entered her class, left it a confident, curious 4th grader. Thank you, Mrs. Blanton!  

Mary Blanton, El Morro Teacher and 2012 LBUSD Teacher of the Year

I mention this not because my child’s academic life is of such interest, but because you might as well know that I am as biased as one can get in regards to Mary Blanton.  However, I know I’m not alone in my fandom.  Blanton was recognized as LBUSD Teacher of the Year in 2012.  In this school district, that kind of recognition means a lot.  So when we sat down together I assumed we would talk about her career and teaching.  I learned, however, that there is a lot more to Blanton’s story than her countless hours spent in a classroom.  

Mary Blanton embodies the kind of community spirit Laguna is known for. And as she has swept up so many with her loving spirit, when she needed it most, the favor was returned.

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An appropriate motto for all teachers

A family tradition of giving back

“I just wanted to help,” says Blanton of her days after graduating from CSULB with a teaching credential.  She credits her parents who thought it “more important how I’m helping than what I do.”  

Blanton and her husband, Everett, have passed those same values on to their three sons: Bryce, Noah and Aiden. “When you start to give back, the reward in that is tremendous,” said Blanton. “You tend to want to gravitate to that.” 

That desire to give back makes the fact that Blanton is in Laguna at all a rather happy accident. “I wanted to teach inner-city kids; work at places where it’s harder to find teachers,” she said.  However, in the late 80’s when she was looking for a job, teaching positions were hard to find.  So, right after college she went on a mission trip and helped build a runway and medical clinic on an island adjacent to Papua New Guinea. 

Talking her way into a job of almost 30 years

An Orange County native, when she returned home she took a job as a substitute teacher at El Morro. At the time, El Morro was also hiring full-time teachers.  “I was so naïve.  I got paper-screened out!” says Blanton, meaning they had looked at her resume – and put it in the “no” pile. Not realizing this, Blanton introduced herself to the principal and, next thing you know, she was hired.  

“We didn’t get paid very much,” says Blanton with a laugh.  “I had to keep working at Laura Ashley for clothes so I had something to wear to class.  My intention was to stay until I could get a position in the inner-city, but seeing what a caring, loving community Laguna Beach is…”  

Almost thirty years later she’s still here.

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In class with some of her kindergarteners

Her first year, Blanton was charged with 33 first graders.  “I would come home so exhausted!  I wondered if I should even be a teacher,” she says.  “But there was such an incredible esprit de corps with the staff. It was this great community. I didn’t want to leave. They came to my wedding, held my babies…”  

Most of that original staff has since retired. “I’m so thrilled when I see them now.”

Blanton brought her desire to give back into the classroom. There were sock drives, coat drives, and a project where several of the classes got together and made Valentines Day gift bags for the children at CHOC Hospital.  “We filled them with crayons and stickers…things like that,” she remembers. 

An accident changes everything

As much as Blanton loved teaching, when she and Everett began their family, the plan was for Mary to eventually stay home with the kids and for Everett to keep working as a graphic designer. However, those plans changed when their oldest son, Bryce, who was three at the time, knocked himself out on the playground.  As a precautionary measure, he was sent to the hospital to get a scan and make sure he didn’t have a concussion. What they found was so much worse.  

Bryce had a brain tumor. And, after many agonizing tests, they were told his life expectancy was eight years old.  In an example of how things can come full circle, when Bryce checked into CHOC to begin his treatment, he received one of those special gift bags made by his mother’s class. 

Too many people to name help carry them through

It’s at this point in Mary Blanton’s story that the names of the many people who helped their family cope with what is surely every parent’s nightmare pop up: Virginia Healy, a mom at El Morro, Michael Muhonen, their neurosurgeon at CHOC, Lee Drucker (aka Lee Rocker), a parent of one of Blanton’s students who put on a concert on Bryce’s floor that had the doctors and nurses swing dancing in the halls, friends who left groceries, dinners, and countless other kindnesses she named – but my fingers couldn’t keep up.  

“The outpouring was amazing. Teachers giving me their sick days… the school district was great…People come along side you and carry you through.”  

At this point in our interview, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

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Mary with her husband, Everett Blanton

Because Bryce’s tumor was not presenting in the usual fashion, the Blantons had to make a lot of choices without a lot of concrete information.  When it came time to choose a treatment, there were two in the clinical trial stage.  They rolled the dice and the one they chose, thankfully, is now the protocol for this kind of tumor.  After two long, hard years of chemotherapy, the tumor began to shrink.  Even his optic nerve, which was damaged by the tumor, miraculously repaired itself.  

Bryce Blanton celebrated his eighth birthday, and his ninth… and this year he’s celebrating his 21st.  He was on the student council at LBHS, played on the basketball team, and was voted Laguna Beach “Junior Citizen of the Year” at the Patriot’s Day Parade for all of his good works on campus.  Bryce is now a college student.

A faith in bigger forces

During all of this, Blanton continued teaching.  “I had really good insurance,” she confides. She also had a toddler who got dragged to a lot of doctor appointments.  “I think that’s why Noah is so under the radar,” she says of her middle son, a basketball star at LBHS who now plays for Westmont.  

When I asked her how she continued to teach, to do a job that requires so much emotional energy, she says, “There are bigger forces. It really is my faith in God. I knew that, no matter what happened, God was with Bryce.” Then she adds, “I hope my teaching didn’t suffer. I guess you’d have to ask parents of the kids in my class.”  

If it did suffer, that would be expected.  However, knowing Mary Blanton, it’s extremely unlikely.

Making the most of every minute with family

Blanton tells me of how she spent this past New Year’s Eve. The Blantons – all of them – and two other families, made the trek to Westmont to spend the night with Noah. “He’s in college…I’m sure he had a lot of other things he could have been doing,” says Blanton, laughing. But they all spent the night crammed in adjoining rooms, playing board games and eating pizza. “I just want to hold onto every last minute. As much as I miss the young side, when you see the men they’re growing into…when you realize ‘I would want to be friends with these people’…that’s very special.”

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Tools of the trade for a kindergarten teacher’s “amazing classroom”

The value of engaged parents

Blanton has taught every single grade at El Morro, but spent the bulk of her career teaching third grade.  For the past two years she has taught kindergarten as well as helmed the ESL (English as a Second Language) program.  While her true love may be third grade, her eyes light up when she talks about her “kinders” (“Those days when they wrap their arms around you…” she says smiling) and especially her ESL classes.

“I love what I do. I’m passionate about what I do. I think it is so important for all kids to be provided with a good education.”  

Blanton credits the strong community partnership with the school district, specifically mentioning PTA and SchoolPower.  “If you look around this classroom; it’s an amazing classroom. I used to have to buy pencils with my own money! This weekend, for instance, I just painted and magnetized a wall in my classroom. No more chart paper – yay!”  

But, she adds, “If you strip it all away and just give me parents who want to work with their kids, that’s a game changer.” 

How do you want to change the world?

Mary Blanton is also a game changer.  She tells me that “Bryce and Everett are the two best examples I know of how to live life well.”  While I don’t dispute that at all, I would like to amend the list to make sure her name gets added, as well.    

“We should be letting the people closest to us know that we love them. Teenage boys, newly adult boys, they need to hear it, too. Putting words of encouragement over kids, really seeing what their gifts are. Letting them know that they’re enough. 

“Maybe instead of asking ‘What do you want to do?’ ask them, ‘How do you want to change the world?’ That’s the question I would pose.”  

Later, Blanton sends me an email to let me know she was not the originator of these ideas.  Regardless of who articulated these ideas first, Mary Blanton brings them to life every day. Just ask anyone who knows her.



Jonathan Burke: LCAD’s president and a community leader

By ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

2015 was an important year for Jonathan Burke, president of the Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD): he celebrated 35 years of serving the school, and five years of leadership as its president. Burke has played a significant role in transforming LCAD from a small arts school to an accredited, degree-granting institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

 And, along the way, he’s brought student housing to campus, started a summer artist-in-residency program that sponsors internationally recognized artists, and he founded a downtown gallery that brings high-caliber exhibitions to the Laguna Beach community—to name just a few of his accomplishments. 

But when you talk to Jonathan Burke, he’s focused, like all good leaders are, on the future, not the past. 

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Jonathan Burke

“My vision for the future is to be recognized for what we do,” says Burke. “I want LCAD to become the Julliard of art colleges.”

Burke’s beginnings

Burke was born and raised in Kansas City; his father was a Hollywood actor, and his mother was a painter, so the arts have always been a part of his life. But it was his mother’s influences in particular that helped shape Burke’s path.

First, he followed in her footsteps by enrolling in the Kansas City Art Institute, where he earned his B.F.A. in painting. It was his mother, too, who set him up with Linda, Burke’s wife of 40 years. Burke and Linda’s paths crossed one summer in Kansas City while they were both home on a temporary break from pursuing their respective masters degrees in the arts. Their mothers attended high school together.

The two were married shortly after at Cambridge City Hall. Burke was living in Boston while working toward an M.F.A. in painting from Boston University, and he went on to teach for a year at Massachusetts College of Art, which marked the beginning of a decades-long teaching career. 

“Teaching has always been enjoyable to me, and it makes me a better artist,” says Burke. “It doesn’t take away from my creativity; rather, the ideas students have energize me,” he says.

After a year, however, Burke and Linda grew tired of the cold, and longed to be closer to their family, which had started to migrate West. His parents retired in Santa Monica, his sister was in LA. And so, they packed up their car and their two cats, and moved to San Francisco, where Linda got a job at an art gallery, and Burke at a painting conservation lab. 

Burke loved his work in painting conservation, and had even made the decision to pursue a PhD in the field, but he soon made the unfortunate realization that exposure to the lab’s chemicals was poisonous to him, causing health problems. That’s when he took a break, and started thinking about teaching and the next step. 

And that’s also when he and Linda made a visit to Santa Monica. During that trip, Burke’s parents suggested that he and Linda, who share a deep appreciation and love for art, venture down to a little town called Laguna Beach. 

“I remember coming down to Laguna in January, and it was a beautiful, sunny day. Bees were buzzing around the flowers, people were playing basketball at Main Beach, and the Christmas cacti were in bloom,” reflects Burke. “I said to myself, this is the cutest town I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t forget about it.” The year was 1979.

The opportunity of a lifetime

When he returned home to San Francisco, his mother called him, and explained that she’d read in the newspaper about a small art school in Laguna, after there’d been a fire in its administration building, which burned down. She suggested that Burke reach out to the school to see if they were looking for faculty. 

Burke mailed 20 slides from his portfolio, a self-addressed and stamped envelope to get said slides back, and a letter of introduction to the school. He was almost immediately hired as teacher, and soon after, as chair of the school’s drawing and painting department. 

“They told me that I could build the program that I wanted, one that would be the best representational drawing and painting program in the country. It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Burke, whose interest has always been preserving and reinvigorating representational painting as an art form. 

Burke moved up the ranks quickly, becoming dean and then VP of student affairs. Shortly after he started at LCAD, the school became an accredited, degree-granting college of the arts, and it’s seen only upward movement and tremendous growth, especially since Burke took over as president in 2010.  

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The North Campus at Big Bend

“I’ve had a habit of never saying no, because I’ve always been curious about how the next thing would affect my life,” says Burke. 

No matter his role, his mission from the beginning was to find passionate young artists and to help them understand their places in the world and their voices as artists, and to educate them so that they’ll become masters of their talents. To accomplish this, Burke established a masters program at LCAD, as well as game art, digital media, design and animation majors, and a figurative sculpture program. 

He has recruited some of the world’s most talented students, and brought in some of the most revered professionals to teach master classes in their respective media. 

Art school oasis 

Burke credits some of LCAD’s success to its location, explaining that only in a town that has that reverence and respect for art can artists—and their community—truly thrive and grow. But he insists that nature has a lot to do with it, too. 

“We’re in this absolutely beautiful, inspiring place, the best location of any art college in the country, and I can tell you because I’ve been to all of them,” says Burke.

He believes that being surrounded by the soothing qualities of nature plays a significant role in student happiness and creativity. Establishing housing for freshman students or those students beyond commuting range just blocks from the beach, and exponentially growing the campus itself are some of his proudest accomplishments.

But he’s also proud of the fact that he’s built a college whose resources extend far beyond campus. Really, it’s a school for the Laguna Beach community, too. 

He’s worked with Laguna Art Museum to co-brand exhibitions, created a series of Saturday and summer courses—such as stone carving and live drawing—for community members, and he founded LCAD’s pre-college program, for curious and passionate high school artists who wish to take college-level art classes over the summer to gain experience and build their portfolios. 

He also started an art teacher appreciation program that provides free summer art classes for local art teachers to help them remain creative and to reward them for their work during the school year. 

Burke himself continues to teach fundamentals of drawing at LCAD today—one class per semester, to be exact, but he says he’d teach more if he could. 

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Burke greets prospective students on a tour of the college

One of Burke’s New Year’s resolutions is to drive home to Laguna residents the fact that the college is open and available to the community, and that everyone should make an effort to visit LCAD’s campus. And he has every reason to be an eager host. “I want to encourage people to come and take a tour and to see what’s happening here,” he says proudly. 

“The four words I hear most often from visitors are: “I. Had. No. Idea.”



Brittany Lis: Shining up Marine Room with creativity

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Knowing talent when you see it is a helpful tool when building a portfolio of businesses. So when Brittany Lis applied for a job as a bartender at House of Big Fish several years ago, she says co-owner Richard Ham told her, “I will give you the job, but you’ll end up hating it.” Instead, he offered her the position to manage the corporate office of Casa Resorts, of which he is a co-owner.  Lis accepted, and found herself working for Ham and Chris Keller, two men with very distinct management styles. 

“Richard and Chris are very different, but they balance each other out,” she says.

 

Brittany Lis

After about a year of working at the corporate office, Lis said Keller told her, “If you want to help me, I need help with this.”  “This” was a daunting stack of papers with various projects needing attention. The one on top dealt with the Marine Room, the historic property that Casa Resorts had recently purchased from Kelly Boyd, who had purchased it from the Eltermans, the original family owners of the landmark bar. 

“I don’t live in Laguna; I live in Aliso Viejo. I wasn’t that familiar with Marine Room.  Chris asked me to check it out and I did,” Lis said. “Me, coming from a creative background, I just started having all these ideas. I learned the history. Some renovations were happening at that time so I was there and just started throwing out, ‘What do you think?’ Chris was trusting, and said, ‘OK!’”

Making the most of an opportunity to help

Lis began splitting her time between her corporate office duties and the Marine Room.  Then, Casa Resorts decided to partner with Interstate Hotels and Resorts. 

“After that, there wasn’t really anything for me to do anymore except manage the Marine Room,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wait a second…’ I was doing the creative stuff. Doing the day-to-day management is a different skill set.  But I have an extraordinary team behind me.  We all keep it afloat.”

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The marquis sign is one of Brittany Lis’ signature touches

The night Justin Bieber came to play

When stars like Justin Bieber make an unannounced appearance, it’s safe to say that the Marine Room team is doing much more than just keeping afloat.  

“He showed up totally impromptu!” says Lis. 

“I was thinking, this guy looks a lot like Justin Bieber,” she says, laughing.  It wasn’t until after the two went outside, took a stroll to the movie theater and Lis saw him give his body guards a thumbs up that she realized it really was Justin Bieber.  

“No one really knew. There were a couple people who knew it was him, but they were being cool,” Lis said.  “We were dancing, but then a girl ripped his hoodie off his head. He said, ‘Aww…why’d you need to go and do that?’  I guess he figured since his cover was blown he might as well get on stage. He sang two songs, Drake’s ‘Hot Line Bling’ and ‘Sorry.’ He was there for, like, two and a half hours. It was so cool for him to do that!  We want him to be able to come back and always have a good time!”

The many facets of having a good time

Lis is very clear on how the Marine Room should ensure everyone has a good time, not just world-famous pop stars.  Because of the bar’s long history (it has the second oldest liquor license in Orange County, according to Lis), “It has a prohibition era-vibe to it. 

“I did not want Marine Room to feel corporate,” says Lis. “I want people to feel so comfortable they’d bring their laptops and do some work; or (for the ladies) come in wearing a black cocktail dress, feel sexy and get hit on; or come in wearing jeans and a t-shirt and feel comfortable. I wanted this project, like all my projects, to have many facets to them, like a diamond.”

The prohibition-era vibe is also why, Lis says, she wanted to brand the tavern as a whiskey bar.  “We have over 200 whiskeys -- the most in Laguna.  There are some really great selections, some from Japan…That’s the vibe, like a leather tufted couch where you sit and have a glass of whiskey… like you’re in someone’s house.”

Nighttime is the right time at the Marine Room

An accidental model makes the most of it

Lis’ mention of Japan leads us in another direction: her life before Casa Resorts and the Marine Room.  When a friend who was an aspiring photographer asked her to be one of her models, Lis found herself, somewhat accidentally, with a new career.  

After awhile she says, “I realized that all the clients who were booking me were from Asia. I thought, ‘I wonder if I sent my portfolio to some Asian agencies if I’d get a response’.  Within a week I had a response from Japan. My mom was freaking out [about Lis moving to Japan]. But I was thinking, ‘You have to go! This will be the greatest thing for you!’”  

So she went, working and traveling all over Asia, eventually meeting her husband, a Russian, who was also modeling there.  Eventually, despite the glamour and the fun, Lis and her husband decided it was time to come home. 

“It’s not me,” she says of her modeling days.  “I used the fashion industry to travel.”  And, perhaps, find some good Japanese whiskeys – and her husband.  

Keeping her creative juices flowing while “maintaining”

After jet-setting around exotic locales, managing a local bar seems like it could become rather monotonous. Not so, says Lis. “I’ve gotten used to the maintaining part.  My biggest fear is getting burned out. You have to be creative if you’re a creative person. I’m still creating! There are so many projects, so many things I want to do. Yes, you have the accounting, the P&L, and all that, but it’s easy when you’re creating. I have my expectations – and most of the time it’s good!” she says with a laugh.

The Marine Room makes time for community

Many of the projects in which the Marine Room participates benefit the community.  From the Food Pantry to KX93.5, to many other local organizations, the Marine Room is willing to open their doors for a worthy cause.  

“Anyone who knows Chris…he’s a community guy.  He’s heavily involved in helping Laguna Beach.  He’s the one behind those things.  We’re more than happy to help,” says Lis.  She’s also more than happy to keep learning from her mentors.

Learning from the best has been a great experience

“How blessed am I?  Richard and Chris have taught me so much,” says Lis. “So many people want to know how they do what they do.  They’re my mentors and I am so grateful for the opportunity.”  

And she’s not done learning or creating just yet.  “I’m not done at Marine Room, but I think it will get to a point where I will be done,” she says. “I want to do the fun part.  I like to go into businesses that are struggling and help; see something that has potential, and shine it up!”  

Lis says her experience at the Marine Room has been “the best experience for me, because it succeeded. I might feel differently if it had not, but it has been amazing.  

“We are thankful we have the support of the community, and outside the community as well.  We hope to keep it going for another 82 years!”


Dan Pingaro: sailor, ocean advocate, and Community Foundation’s captain for non-profits

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Dan Pingaro is the captain at the helm of Laguna Beach Community Foundation. But it’s not the first time he’s been a captain.

Dan Pingaro, Executive Director of Laguna Beach Community Foundation

Before arriving on Laguna’s shores, Pingaro was Chief Executive Officer of Sailors for the Sea, a conservation organization that “inspires and activates the sailing and boating community toward healing the ocean.” 

Founded by David Rockefeller, Sailors for the Sea began as a local east coast organization with zero programs or staff. Pingaro, as the first CEO, grew it into a global concern, creating four affiliate offices on three continents, multiple partnership programs such as the America’s Cup, and creating a diversified funding base. Ultimately, Sailors for the Sea is a way to contribute and create a legacy of change to effectively address environmental threats to the ocean.

Pingaro has had a life-long love for the ocean. He was a county lifeguard at Aliso Beach as a teenager, and fondly remembers fellow lifeguard and PMMC co-founder, Jim Stauffer, and many fun times in Laguna. “Really good memories of going to The Stand for lunch!” he laughs.

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The ocean, his other “office”

Early in his career he created a foul-weather apparel and gear company for sailors, hikers and climbers, called ClewGear. “It was technical and fashion. We sourced materials and manufactured everything in the US,” said Pingaro. 

“With unique, functional components, it’s the best of its class – to this day,” he says proudly.

He met his wife, Kim, on the water too, as they both enjoy sailboat racing. They moved here from Mill Valley. Now, after almost two years of living in Laguna, they both enjoy the weather better than up north, and they like to spend time on the water – surfing, sailing or swimming, when they can.

Navigating his way to Laguna

After his mom died, Pingaro was hoping for an opportunity to live closer to his dad in Orange County to be able to help him out. He still thought of Laguna and had kept up with the goings on in here through his friendship with Greg McGillivray, and their ocean conservation work. When the position with Laguna Beach Community Foundation opened up, Pingaro was the right guy at the right time. 

His dedication to the environment and pursuit of global sustainability together with his aptitude for fundraising and investment strategies has made him a natural fit for the LBCF, whose goal is to provide strategic philanthropy advice.

Prior to his position with Sailors for the Sea, Pingaro had spent ten years with the US Environmental Protection Agency, in San Francisco. He was responsible for grants and financial management, environmental planning and program development. He was on the America’s Cup Sustainability subcommittee, and was the first recipient of the Surfrider Foundation’s Thomas Pratte Memorial Scholarship. Pingaro brings this background to the forefront at LBCF, where he oversees this non-profit for non-profits.

Laguna Beach Community Foundation gives back

“Our Board and Investment Committee are entirely volunteer, so we are a non-profit helping other non-profits, and advising at a very low cost,” Pingaro explains. 

Since he’s been on board, funds and fund holders have increased significantly.

“It’s been great to have the opportunity to grow an organization,” he says. “The communications committee, the board, the staff – all do a great job.”

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Pingaro’s “official” office at LBCF

LBCF offers expertise on planned giving, plus a free speaker series every third Thursday of the month. Anyone may attend but space is limited to 25. The January speaker, for example, is Ed Fuller, former president and managing director of Marriott International, current president and CEO of the Orange County Visitors Association, and president/co-founder of Laguna Strategic Advisors. 

In February the LBCF series will feature a grant writing seminar.

“It’s crazy – it’s free!” enthuses Pingaro. “And it includes free lunch.”

The series is for non-profits to better market themselves or to learn about other local and global opportunities to give them a leg up. The LBCF also publishes a newsletter full of advice and strategies that anyone can sign up for at: www.lagunabeachcf.org

Time, Treasure and Talent

“It’s surprised me how much of a village community there is here, with an incredible number of non-profits,” said Pingaro. “The philanthropy has surprised me in a positive way.”

He relishes the number of programs that Laguna is lucky enough to support, such as arts, the environment, and human health – as evidenced by a good cross-section of its non-profits. LBCF will steer individuals, families, and other group investors toward the non-profit that speaks to their desires, and will endure as a legacy. Any non-profit can take advantage of LBCF’s national grants database for free. They can also match up individual volunteers with specific goals.

“We’re the hub to learn about the non-profits,” he says. “We’re here to support you and your community.” The LBCF motto is: People give Time, Treasure or Talent.

Having settled into Laguna as home, Dan Pingaro is just steps from his house to his office to the beach. He realizes it doesn’t get much better than that. 

From an ocean conservation standpoint, he’s noticed the waters off Laguna have more fish now than he remembers in the past. 

And from a philanthropy point of view, he’s found there are plenty of fish in Laguna’s sea of generosity.


Laura Farinella: Laguna Beach’s Chief of Police

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Laguna Beach Chief of Police, Laura Farinella, graduated from Chapman University with a degree in communications she started her working career doing pre- and post-production on films.  “I loved Orange County so much so, I was traveling to Sunset and Gower (in Hollywood) regularly.  But that got old,” she explains. “It wasn’t the team environment I was looking for.  I’d always played team sports.  And the work was inconsistent and unreliable. So when I decided to do something else I thought, ‘Now what do I do?’”

LBPD Chief Laura Farinella 

She moved to Long Beach with a friend of hers who worked at Vons.  Farinella took a job there in the meat department.  Then she met a friend from high school.  “She was a cop. It sounded interesting. I get bored easily, I didn’t want to sit behind a desk,” said Farinella. “I got my civil service book (to study for the entrance exam) and that was that!”

Finding her passion in law enforcement

She went through the police academy in 1990.  “It’s six months of boot camp and college at the same time,” Farinella says.  When I ask if she ever considered quitting she says, “Regularly! People are yelling at you all the time, but that sets the foundation.  Once you get out and apply it, it’s a very exciting job.

“When I was driving around Long Beach I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for doing it. I loved it. There was a lot of potential for mobility at Long Beach because it’s such a big force.  I took advantage of what they had to offer,” she says.  

Eventually, Farinella became a training officer, then a recruit drill instructor. “I liked the teaching aspect of that.  To be able to mold the new recruits is a pretty cool job, but then I got promoted out,” she says.  

Persevering in a male dominated field

With a ratio of 90% men to 10% women in the force, Farinella says, “You need to find great mentors. Mine were male because there were no female mentors to be found.”  As for bias, she says it existed, but the examples she gives didn’t come from her fellow officers.  

After responding to a call with her female training officer, Farinella recalls the people she came to help saying to her, “They let you two work together?” Another call was met with, “We didn’t call you.”  

“And this was from the public!” says Farinella ruefully.  When asked why there aren’t more women doing police work, Farinella, a mother of two, who is married to a Long Beach detective says, “Shift work when you’re having children is very hard. It’s long nights… you get called out in the middle of the night.  After they have kids, many women retire.”  

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Laguna’s first woman Police Chief

As far as how she handles the life/work balance, Farinella says, “We don’t get to pick the kids up at 3 o’clock. You feel bad about that. But we have family time in the evening.”  

And her kids get to say their mom is the Chief of Police.  Farinella admits, “Yeah, I think they think that’s something.”

Big time training for a small town

With the recent mass shooting events, and the closing of all Los Angeles schools the day before we met, our conversation naturally turned to this tragic “new normal.”

 “If we have a major event, I can handle that. I have relationships worldwide, nationwide and region-wide,” said Farinella. “If I need an asset I know where to get it. We always have to be aware, even though we’re little Laguna Beach – we are constantly talking about active shooter scenarios.  I have my secret clearance, and I’m always getting briefings.” 

Because Farinella spent most of her career in Long Beach (rising to the rank of deputy chief, the first woman to ever hold that position in that city’s history), she brings with her skills that, while not necessarily needed on a daily basis in Laguna, would be very helpful in the event of…well, in the event of something terrible. While the fact that this is a “constant” issue for our police department is a depressing thought, it’s nice to know how prepared they are – just in case.

In addition to what the police are doing, there are things the public can do, as well. “You can always go back (when these tragic events happen) and find something.  Someone said something.  If something doesn’t feel right, say something,” Farinella advises. “A knock on a door from a police officer may be all you need.  And it can be anonymous.”

Community policing shows results

What Chief Farinella is doing that impacts the city more regularly, is part of her practice of “community policing.” 

“This is the community’s police department,” she says. “We talk about providing concierge service but I don’t want there to be a divide.  I think dialogue and a level playing field are very important.”  

To that end, Farinella has implemented several outreach programs, including Coffee with a Cop (where the department provides coffee and anyone who wants to have a conversation can come and talk to an officer), the Dog Walker Watch program, a sort of neighborhood watch program for those out and walking about. There is also the Dinner Downtown Footbeat.  

“We brought the seven bars we are called to most often together, and said, ‘Let’s deal with these problems.’ We have reduced our assaults by 50%,” says Farinella proudly. 

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Additionally, the department sends officers to the youth shelter regularly in hopes of giving the kids there a positive encounter with the police.

Happy to give back to Orange County

“I love it every day I come here,” she says.  After driving to Long Beach for 16 years from Rancho Santa Margarita, Farinella says she is happy to have “two more hours in my day.”  But there is more than extra time that makes her happy with her new job.  “Now I can give back to the county that has given me so much.  

“It’s the cherry on top to work in Laguna Beach! I wanted my last years in law enforcement to be able to give back, and get back to community policing.” 

The LB she came from has 968 sworn officers; the LB where she is now called “Chief” has 50.  Of course, there are differences in the day-to-day issues between the two city police departments and I, for one, find that very comforting.  Chief Farinella’s log sheet may read differently here than it did in Long Beach, but it’s nice to know that whatever calls come in, she most likely has had experience in dealing with it – especially in these days when the unthinkable has become tragically common.


Peter Blake: the art dealer extraordinaire 

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

With dogged determination and against most odds, Peter Blake has carved a name for himself, and for Laguna Beach, in the international art world. 

There was a time when he thought he would be forever trapped inside a restaurant, like his childhood spent in his dad’s New York luncheonettes, diners, and coffee shops… “Places with those huge menus,” Blake recalls. He knew he had another passion, but it wasn’t going to be an easy road.

“I was desperate not to end up in the restaurant business,” the gallery owner said.

But restaurant work was not always terrible. That’s how he made a start at a new life right here in our little town.

Peter Blake 

Blake landed in Laguna having wended his way westward from New York via Dallas. His then-wife was not enamored of Dallas and gave him the choice, “New York or DC.” They reached a compromise when Peter countered with, “Let’s give California a try, and if that doesn’t work we’ll move back east.”

He describes driving down the coast from LA and seeing the rocky cliffs by Crystal Cove, entering Laguna – and it was love at first sight. “I thought, my God, this is it!” So move they did, and Peter Blake got a job in what he knew best: a restaurant. 

Romeo Cucina became like a second home, with Blake beginning as a waiter in the mid-1980s, and working his way up to becoming the General Manager. Then in 1993, he and the bartender from the Agean Café realized their joint dream, and opened an art gallery.

Careful when you follow Peter Blake 

“You don’t have to go to Harvard Business School to know when a recession is coming. Just follow Peter Blake!” he laughs. 

The gallery opening was indeed followed by a recession, and then even worse. After opening the unfortunately named Fire Gallery (complete with painted flames in the windows) in the Village Fair, the disastrous Laguna firestorm came. 

“I was working at the gallery seven days a week, and at the restaurant five nights a week. And we were putting in the gas pizza oven at Romeo. When the Laguna fires happened the fire department let me through – you had to have a damn good reason to get through town then, and the gas oven was it,” said Blake. “I was back and forth, back and forth. I thought I’d lose the restaurant or the gallery that day. It was really scary.” 

After that, of course he changed the name of the gallery, and carried on for three more years at both jobs 24/7, until the gallery was able to financially break even. Then he was able to bid farewell to the restaurant world, diving full-time into the ever-uncertain art world.

Reviving Gallery Row

The Peter Blake Gallery opened on Gallery Row at a time when conditions looked much different than they are now. What is now Madison Square Café was then a drug den, with squatters living on the premises. As if it isn’t hard enough for merchants trying to pay the rent by selling art, it was difficult to attract visitors to that area. But Peter Blake not only has an eye for cutting edge art, he also has a progressive, trend-setting sense of the space in which to view art. His minimalist, modern gallery with a big glass front was an immediate eye-catcher, and helped to resuscitate the Gallery Row district.

Click on photo for a larger image

 

To market the area further, Blake and fellow gallerist, the artist William (Bill) DeBilzan started First Thursdays Art Walk in 1998. 

“The galleries were all struggling, and we started to promote Saturday night as art night. Then Bill heard from a Portland friend about First Thursdays,” said Blake. “Siân Poeschl helped with organizing, creating a board, and with the conditional use permits. We wanted it to stay pure, and worthwhile for the entire community.” 

First Thursdays Art Walk’s mission is to promote art education and appreciation in Laguna Beach, and is funded by member galleries, local art institutions, lodging establishments, and the City of Laguna Beach. The first Thursday of the month has now become legendary in Laguna, and another good reason for the local community to get together.

In 2001 Blake further enhanced the North Laguna area with the opening of his now-ex wife’s clothing shop, Fetneh Blake. It was a stressful process getting the shop permitted through the city, and following on the heels of 9/11. Blake attributes the stress of the experience to the end of their marriage. Today, however, they remain on good terms, Blake has re-married (to Stephanie, an artist), and the Fetneh Blake shop has been wildly successful. 

On Ocean Avenue the gallery finds its home

Fast-forward to 2008 when Peter Blake Gallery moved into its new space on Ocean Avenue, for which Peter Blake sunk his life-savings (close to $200,000) on improvements and permits. Then, guess what? Yes, another recession.

Blake jokes that he’s not some guy up on the hill, living behind gates, gazing at his monochromatic paintings. He’s the guy who has had to move into a small apartment, and struggle for the cause of art.

“I came from nothing,” he says. “I didn’t go to college. I didn’t go to art school. I work seven days a week. But you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to move anywhere else – any city in the world. I love this town.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Peter Blake Gallery, on Ocean Avenue

The recession continued to stink, however, and Blake admits to being late on the rent at the gallery every month until 2013. He had to be creative not only in finding art that speaks to people, but in finding ways to reach out with that art to the buying public.

“Galleries on the internet and art fairs were happening – two things I thought were ridiculous,” said Blake. “Buy art from a computer screen? Hang art in temporary shows, temporary walls, with harsh lighting?” It seemed unreal. But it has happened for Peter Blake in a big way.

Taking art on the road

Fresh off the plane from two art shows, Blake is more than happy to be home. “I’ve never been happier to be home,” he says. His head is still drumming form the electro-Cuban beat pumping out at Miami Art Week, and from the bustle of a Dallas art show. It may have seemed inconceivable once, but these and other art shows have heaped international recognition on the Peter Blake Gallery, and have become part of Blake’s monthly agenda.

Miami Art Week, for example, is a highly prestigious juried show for which you have to plunk down $500 and your art intentions to even be considered as an exhibitor. More than 800 galleries applied this year for the 100 slots available. “It’s a huge honor to be vetted in,” says Blake. The down side is rejection. “They email you and send you a hard copy,” he said. “It’s double humiliation!” 

This year was the second year that Peter Blake Gallery has been accepted and exhibited at Miami Art Week. Though a bit worn out afterward, Blake remarked about how the show puts Laguna Beach on the map. 

“Every booth has the name of the gallery, and the town they’re from,” he said. “There was Los Angeles, New York, Beijing, Caracas… and Laguna Beach. That brings notice to Laguna Beach that has transcended my name. It’s given our art a good reputation.”

Home sweet home

Peter Blake is a visionary art dealer who would love to see more visitors, and locals alike, enjoying galleries and shops in our downtown. He hires LCAD students to work in the gallery because he likes the way they think out of the box (“Sometimes they find out how hard it is and they change their major,” he laughs). 

“We need to engage and support the arts,” he says. “To re-invigorate the town we don’t need typical run-of-the-mill shops. We need interesting stores that attract locals and visitors.” Plus mom and pop businesses like Peter Blake Gallery.

His dream for the future is a walking-friendly downtown with one or both Forest and Ocean Avenues closed to traffic, and any business that wants park-lets to have it. 

He is passionate about a safe, accessible downtown, and the successful future of Laguna’s reputation as an arts community.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Dianne Russell, 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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