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Lynn Gregory: A force for Laguna schools is on to her next adventure

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach schools have benefited greatly from the efforts of countless people. From administrators to teachers to volunteers, in grand initiatives and small daily gestures, so many people have contributed to making Laguna schools a source of pride in the community. And while this is nothing if not a group effort, there are certain individuals who make a singular difference. Lynn Gregory, the Laguna Beach Scholarship Foundation (LBSF) coordinator, is such a person. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, she “has been” such a person, since Gregory is leaving the district she loves, not to mention the country she loves, for Budapest, Hungary. 

A fixture at three of Laguna’s four schools

Gregory has been a fixture at three of Laguna’s four schools for close to 20 years: El Morro, Thurston and LBHS. She and her husband Scott moved here as newlyweds in 1994. They looked at other places – Corona del Mar, Seal Beach – but chose Laguna, even though what they could buy needed some work. “We could afford tar paper and plywood,” she says with a laugh. But they remodeled and started their family. “It has been our home ever since. I’ve never lived in a place where a community becomes your family. Maybe because we didn’t have any family out here…” she muses.

A legacy at El Morro Elementary

When her oldest son started at El Morro Elementary, Gregory began volunteering at the school. “It was Melanie Lewis’ fault,” she laughs. Lewis was El Morro’s PTA president at the time, and she knew a good thing when she saw it. “I just jumped in,” says Gregory. “I loved the connection with the parents. I fell in love.” She began to take on more and more responsibility until she herself was PTA president for two years. And she left a legacy with programs and practices that are still being used today like Character Counts, Strike Team, Spirit Wear, as well as getting a teacher’s lounge, and helping make changes to Boo Blast so that it became a successful fundraiser.

Lynn Gregory closeup

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Lynn Gregory, Laguna Beach Scholarship Coordinator and volunteer extraordinaire, is stepping down. She and her husband will be moving to Budapest, Hungary in November.

Choosing to work for free

 “My husband tells me I have a problem with boundaries,” she says with a laugh. “He’d say, ‘Remember, you’re a volunteer.’” While his hints were acknowledged, they were also ignored. Gregory simply can’t do anything halfway. That’s why she finally retired from her job as a flight attendant when her oldest son was in fourth grade. “I had to choose a paying job or PTA president,” she says, laughing as if there was any other choice she could have made. 

 Leading all the way 

And she continued to make that same choice when her boys moved on to Thurston, again helping to implement PTA programs that are still going strong today like the Epic Challenge and the Sports Swap. And she still wasn’t done, dedicating even more time and energy to SchoolPower by chairing its Dinner Dance for several years and serving as president.

Volunteering is a manifestation of her faith

 Gregory is quick to pile the praise on others. If you talk to her you’d think she was merely a bystander to all of these things. She credits the many people she has worked with and, more importantly, her faith. “I believe that my desire to serve is a direct correlation to do what I am called to do,” she says. Luckily, I have seen Gregory’s effectiveness first hand so I can vouch for her efficacy. 

Beware the double handshake

One of the things that make Gregory so effective is that, not only is she willing to work extremely hard, she is good at getting others to join her. Those of us who have had the pleasure of working with her over the years joke about “the handshake.” 

Gregory is from the south. Despite her years in California, she has not lost her southern charms, and she’s not afraid to use them. If you should find yourself in Gregory’s very elegant, double-handed handshake, there is a very good chance you will find yourself agreeing to do something you had absolutely no intention of agreeing to. And she will make it seem like it’s all your idea.

Lynn Gregory sons

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Lynn Gregory proudly shows off a photo of her two favorite kids, sons Harrison and Thomas

Finding the Laguna Beach Scholarship Foundation

Gregory continued her volunteer efforts even after she got the job with the Scholarship Foundation, but the fact that she got the job to begin with was a bit of a surprise. First, she was made aware of the position on the last day of the job posting. “We were traveling,” she recalls. “I didn’t even have a resume.” But it sounded intriguing enough that while in the airport lounge, she dictated her work achievements to her husband who wrote them down on a napkin and then into a workable resume. 

“Lo and behold, I was hired,” she marvels. She did ask her boys for their blessing. “I didn’t want to encroach on my kids’ territory,” she says. They were unanimous in their support, although looking back Gregory thinks their support was more practical (easy access to lunch money) than selfless. 

Helping students, donors and LBUSD

Regardless, she took the job and has been the LBSF coordinator for the past six years. The LBSF acts as a liaison between scholarship donors, LBHS and its students. In addition, it develops funds, manages the scholarship application process for students and provides oversight of managed funds. It is governed by a Board of 30 volunteer trustees, and anyone is welcome to become a trustee. Gregory works for LBUSD and is tasked with coordinating with the donors and the students.

It’s about more than the money

 ”It’s a community, grass roots organization. They now give over $500,000 to our kids,” marvels Gregory. “But what I’ve noticed is it’s not just about the money. It’s the acknowledgement. The kids like to be recognized. They need to be validated. I’m not someone who thinks everyone should be given a trophy for just showing up, but these kids are working really hard and they need to feel seen.”

Lynn Gregory Lynn and Scott

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Lynn Gregory with her husband Scott at their home in Laguna Beach

That is a mantra, of sorts, for Gregory. She is dismayed at the pressure so many high school kids are under. “There’s so much undo pressure. They don’t deserve it,” she laments. She quotes her co-worker who likes to say, “College is more about the plan than the place. And there are so many plans!”

Sad to leave but happy to go

 However, as much as she loves her job, she is leaving – and soon. “You might as well pull my heart out,” she says. “The Scholarship Foundation has been the pinnacle for me. I think I was meant to be a cheerleader, an encourager for these kids. They strive and they work so hard. Sometimes they need to hear it from someone other than their parents. Being in this position has allowed me to take part in that. I will miss it.”

She will miss it, but she’s looking forward to this new phase in her life. “I’m excited for the adventure,” she tells me. “It’s a perfect time.” Her boys are out of the house and the former flight attendant is one who has always loved an adventure. “My mom used to say ‘Where the wind blew, Lynnie flew,’” she says.

 The wind has come up again, and is blowing the Gregorys halfway across the world. “I’m looking forward to spending time with my husband,” she says. And there is a city to master, cooking classes to take, and a very foreign language barrier to try and overcome. “I suppose I’ll give it a try,” she says gamely of learning Hungarian. “But the street signs are crazy!” And because she is who she is, Gregory has already reached out to several international schools to see if they need any assistance.