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From Novelist to Ghostwriter to Stu News Editor:
Lynette Brasfield Prepares to

Take Another Leap of Faith

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Lynette Brasfield embraces the great unknown. Mysteries intrigue her, change excites her, and uncertainty inspires her. That kind of curiosity – coupled with a writer’s eye for detail, an editor’s ear for language, and an immigrant’s taste for adventure – make for rich writing. It also makes for a fascinating life. Lynette sees the world through a unique lens and has been sharing her perspective with Stu News readers for the past two and a half years. But, as with all good things, her time with the paper is coming to a close. 

From Novelist stained glass

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Decades before making her home here, 

Lynette fell in love with Laguna and now happily calls it home

Writers rarely relish the spotlight. They tend to be introspective. They observe and listen, scouting out stories and tracking down leads. Then they spend a lot of solitary time behind the screen, distilling all they’ve learned. Lynette is no exception. But today we have the chance to crawl behind Lynette’s computer and sit beside her for a while, hearing her own childhood tales, early influences, life’s surprises and hardships.

A South African diamond in the rough

Heat, pressure and time – the three necessary elements for producing South African diamonds. They’re also a potent combination for creating an artful writer. Born in Durban, South Africa in 1955, Lynette grew up under the heat of apartheid. “Blacks were not allowed to live in the same areas as whites,” she says. “It’s not like they sat at the back of the bus. They had an entirely separate bus.” It was like that for everything –

beaches, schools, even language. 

It wasn’t until the year before Lynette left for university that the government permitted televisions inside people’s homes. “As a teenager, I knew apartheid was a terrible, inhumane policy. But the government allowed no television and censored all news, realizing that the truth would whip up a bloody revolution. We knew by osmosis that bad things were going on. We didn’t know specifics. No excuse really. And I was caught up in my own dramas.” 

Apartheid wasn’t the only the silent, and somewhat benign, at least for white people, backdrop behind Lynette’s early life. The real war raged inside her home. Three months after her parents divorced, her father died of an unexpected heart attack at age 39, leaving behind little money and an ex-wife who suffered from mental illness, including paranoid delusions. Lynette was only nine. She and her sister found themselves trapped inside their mother’s escalating nightmare. 

From Novelist by gate

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Living now in the place of her dreams

“Most of my childhood was about survival,” she says. “All I ever did was go to school, lapping up the praise, the one area of my life I could control, and I read a lot. Escaping into books was my way of saving myself from home life.” 

While institutionalized for a short period of time, Lynette’s mother received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), an experience that only intensified her paranoia. “Every time she got a new job (she was a shorthand typist), she thought her bosses were taping her or putting drugs in her tea,” Lynette says. “There was a painting on the wall that she decided was causing hallucinations. So she would confront her boss and of course be fired.” 

Her mother believed the government was conspiring with family members against her, so her family members were banished from her life. She believed her light fixtures were bugged and Lynette’s friends were brainwashed. 

As a result, her mother was unable to hold a job and ran up mountains of debt. “I still remember the horror of waking up in the morning and realizing she wasn’t getting ready for work, which meant she’d been fired again.”

Lynette flourished once she escaped her childhood home with its poverty and paranoia. She attended Rhodes University in the Cape, emerging with a first-class Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History, and earned a graduate degree in English Literature from Natal University.

What came of those dark years was a love of reading and an appreciation for logic. “I kept trying to reason with my mother,” she says. “To this day, when something’s illogical, I feel this physical reaction and a need to fight against it.”

Life lessons, writing lessons, and “Nature Lessons”

Difficult childhoods are good fodder for fiction. Sometimes, the best way to process an impossible experience is to invent new characters, modify events, and find emotional truths in fiction. Thirty-five years after her father’s death, after a zig-zag career in fields including sales, teaching, and finally public relations, Lynette found her voice and began telling the story only she could tell.

Nature Lessons was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2003, astonishing readers with its emotional depth, complexity and honesty. The novel evolved from a short story, “Suits, Spines and Spikes.” “Nature Lessons refers to the way this little girl protected herself from her mother’s barrage, much like animals do. You either run away or put out your spikes.” Those instincts, Lynette says, stay with you for a lifetime. 

From Novelist Nature Lessons

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“Nature Lessons” was published in 2003 by St. Martin’s Press

Although Nature Lessons is her one published novel to date, Lynette never lost her love of the written word. “I’m naturally a writer who writes from experience,” she says. “Other novels I’ve worked on lack the authenticity of Nature Lessons, which was based on my life. It wasn’t easy to write, but there was a lot of great material there.” She pauses and laughs, “As a few would-be novelists have noted with some envy!”

After fiction, Lynette turned her experienced pen onto ghostwriting and, of course, journalism. 

Stu News: A chance to have her way with words

In 2016, Lynette brought all those lessons with her to Stu News. She began as an Associate Editor and, when editor and co-owner Stu Saffer was hospitalized in 2017, she moved to Managing Editor. By 2018, burned out from the demands of producing several original stories a week and editing many more, plus interviewing people and attending events, she scaled back to become Features Editor.

The job allows her to showcase her many passions – animals, nature, and travel to name only a few. An avid cat lover, Lynette highlighted the wonderful work of the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats. She’s profiled a pig, a therapy cat, and a feline movie star. She took readers with her on an Alaskan cruise, Utah’s Red Mountain resort, and to Chile, as well as countless local adventures and stay-cations. She meditates often on trees and hiking trails. She even gave of her face for the sake of a story, writing about her experience at Laguna Beach Aesthetics.

“Lynette is the epitome of grace and determination,” says staff writer Samantha Washer. “These qualities don’t always coexist, especially in an editor, but she’s that rare person that manages to make everything look easy.”

What readers may appreciate most is Lynette’s fantastic sense of humor. A lover of the pun, Lynette’s wit and intelligence elevate every story. “When she wrote her first stories for Stu News, I was laughing,” says Contributing Editor Maggi Henrikson. “I love her writing style and the sense of humor that works its way in.”

Tough topics ignite intrigue

For all of Lynette’s humor and whimsy, the deeper and more fraught themes seem to pique her interest – hidden pain, secret shame, and life outside the mainstream. When asked about her favorite projects over the past few years, some difficult topics appear as common threads: aging, homelessness, misunderstood religions and discrimination against sexual orientation. Sometimes several of these subjects can blend together at once. 

She toured two Orange County mosques with Hoffy Tours to gain a greater understanding of Islam. “What is it about Islam,” some participants wanted to know, “that breeds terrorism? How do women feel about wearing the hijab? How can women snorkel while maintaining their modesty?” Lynette never skims the surface in her work. She dives beneath, seeking answers to hard questions and accessing the hearts that lie below the stories. In other words, Lynette is a writer’s writer.

She’s sat down with homeless men to hear about their lives and look for concrete solutions to many of their common problems. She’s tackled discrimination issues against the aging LGBTQ community. In several of her stories, Lynette looked at the isolation that comes with aging, and wrote about how LifeLong Laguna, Laguna Seniors’ program, can help.

“There are no words to properly acknowledge or thank Lynette for her contributions to Stu News Laguna these past two and a half years,” says Shaena Stabler, Owner, Publisher, and Editor of Stu News. “It has been such a privilege to work side-by-side with her, in the trenches together, to put Stu News out and to honor Stu’s memory every day with what we do. Our readership has grown over 30 percent in the last year. Lynette has been critical to our growth.”

Global perspectives on local life

Lynette’s curiosity about the world also compels her love of travel, specifically travel that incorporates wildlife. During her time at the University of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), working as a library assistant, Lynette and a friend hitchhiked to Victoria Falls, a roughly 450-mile journey they took in the center of a civil war, not to mention a lot of lions. 

In the years that followed, she’s made her way through Turkey, Borneo, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Greece, Mexico, New Zealand and Patagonia. She’s spent time with family and friends in Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, Africa. She’s been to countless countries, and several U.S. States. 

It gives her perspective, an appreciation for other cultures, and leaves her in awe of all the hidden treasures tucked around the world. She’s swum in the Pastaza River, a tributary of the Amazon, along with pink dolphins and piranha. She’s seen the boiling mud pond in Rotorua that looked like a thousand brown frogs jumping. And she’s watched a mother hippo defend her son from an adult male in Ngorogoro Crater. The world, it turns out, is full of infinite wonders.

From Novelist books and boot

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Even a travel writer needs a few travel guides.

For all that travel, Lynette loves calling Laguna Beach home. She moved here from Irvine in 2013, and still celebrates the day every year. 

What lies ahead

What does life look like when ten more hours suddenly open up in your day? Lynette’s not worried. She has an exciting travel schedule planned – Death Valley this December, and Costa Rica next year. She looks forward to freelancing for a few publications, maybe doing some PR here and there, as well as teaching a fiction workshop this fall through the City of Laguna Beach’s Literary Laureate program. Her feet (usually clad in tennis shoes or hiking boots) rarely stop moving.

“For Lynette, nothing seems to be out of the realm of possibility,” says Associate Editor Dianne Russell. “She jumps into each new endeavor with enthusiasm, savvy, and an incredible amount of talent.”

Lynette also looks forward to more time with her husband, Bill. Married now for 22 years with four children between them (two sons who are both professors, for Lynette, and two daughters for Bill), family life keeps them both busy.

From Novelist and Bill

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Lynette and Bill Brasfield in their Laguna Beach home

The circuitous journey continues

Life’s road rarely runs straight. From her time in South Africa, it would have been impossible to predict the future – a lost girl trapped beneath a mentally ill mother’s thumb in a country full of oppression. Who would imagine she’d emerge so successful? Looking back, maybe it feels inevitable. 

Whatever treasures the future holds, they will be endlessly interesting and wholly authentic. We at Stu News, and the greater Laguna community, wish you well on your next leap, Lynette. We can’t wait to hear the stories!


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Kai Bond: Junior lifeguard grows up to be Captain of Marine Safety

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Captain Kai Bond says, “I started my career at eight.” 

And that’s not as much of an exaggeration as you might imagine. Even at such a young age, Bond had already developed a special attachment to the sea. That’s when he enrolled in Laguna’s Junior Lifeguard Program. Fast forward to 2018, and he’s now Captain of Marine Safety and has been employed by the City for 23 years. 

Although Bond wasn’t born in Laguna, he grew up here, and the ocean has always played a major role in his life, so the journey from Junior Lifeguard to Captain of Marine Safety isn’t unexpected, but it took a while. 

Love for the ocean started as a child

From the time he was a small child, Bond and his family spent a lot of time at the beach. He and his dad surfed at San Onofre and, of that time, he says, “I loved the ocean environment. Everything about it was exciting and fun. And the ocean is in a constant state of change.”

Bond participated in the Junior Lifeguard Program every year (from 8) until he was 15. I ask if there’s anyone from those days still around?

“Mike Guest,” he says. “He’s worked here for 40 years. He’s still out in the field making things happen.”

Logical step from Junior Lifeguard to Lifeguard

Not surprisingly, after the Junior Lifeguard Program, Bond tried out for lifeguard. “I was very excited about it. It was the natural next step. I found I had a passion for public service, I like to interact with the public, and I understand the beach is a place you’re supposed to have fun, but be safe.”

He was hired as a full-time lifeguard in 1995, and in June of 2006, he became an officer with Marine Safety. In November of 2017, he was appointed Captain of Marine Safety.

Kai Bond closeup

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Bond became Captain of Marine Safety in November of 2017

However, while growing up, he couldn’t spend all of his time in the water. 

Bond attended Top of the World Elementary, Thurston Middle School, and Laguna Beach High School. Then he continued on at Orange Coast College and Long Beach State, where he earned a degree in Film and Electronic Medium Management, which turned into being a production assistant on films. 

This work translated into long days in Los Angeles, but he was still deeply entrenched in Laguna. 

“I was commuting from Orange County to work. I always had a connection to both jobs. I would work a few days up in LA, then come back and lifeguard. There was never really a clear-cut separation. But I realized happiness was in location.” 

Happiness is in location

Currently, he lives in Laguna Hills with his wife Tonya, and daughters, six-year-old Ruby and five-year-old Penny. He met his wife through mutual friends, and although he excels in interacting with the public, he says, “It took four to five years to get up the courage to ask her out.”

With his new position as Captain of Marine Safety, comes a tremendous amount of responsibility – public service and education, overseeing lifeguards, interaction with City staff, contact with community members and visitors – there are many plates to keep in the air, and his training as a production manager serves him well. Because isn’t that exactly what production managers do, make sure everything is running correctly, and I mean everything? And the challenges are increasing.

Kai Bond inside tower

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View from the lifeguard tower

“The number of beachgoers is up, there has been a significant increase. We had 6,000,000 visitors last year,” Bond says.

That’s a substantial number of people to keep an eye on.

He continues, “There are a lot of factors that contribute to beach attendance. Laguna is a beautiful place to be, it’s a year-round resort. With the continuous building in Irvine, residents want to drive down the 133 and put their feet in the sand. It’s easy and fairly inexpensive. And social media is another big factor, people posting pictures and commenting, ‘come down to the beach, it’s beautiful.’”

Emphasis on safety

Of course, an increase in visitor attendance means an increased emphasis on safety, and that’s uppermost on his mind. As Watch Commander, Bond handles all the daily operations, critical rescues, and major medical situations. He oversees a minimum staff of 60 people, although he says, “We can bring on a few more depending on the conditions.”

Training is critical

“There is a huge emphasis on training. We are putting lifeguards out there without immediate direct supervision, and they have to perform at a very high level. They could be anywhere from Main Beach to an isolated area with rocks and reefs.”

Bond explains that they are on a continuous vigil without letup, constantly executing the “z scan.”

He expands, “Lifeguards scan the coastline by looking from the horizon to the beach in a “z” formation. This occurs in their area between their neighboring towers. I believe it gives beachgoers a sense of comfort to see that type of vigilance from a lifeguard.”

Additionally, they have rigorous criteria that must be met. Current lifeguards must requalify every year in order to return. They must be able to swim 1,000 meters in under 20 minutes and have recertification in CPR and first aid.

Kai Bond lifeguard

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Lifeguards scan coastline from the horizon to the beach in a “z” formation

Bond says, “My first day as a lifeguard was the longest day. I was nervous and hypervigilant. I’ll never forget it. Scanning for eight hours a day for a 16-year-old is difficult, but it gets better with more experience. We train to a very high standard.”

In addition to his operational duties, Bond also must attend a fair amount of administrative and City Council meetings, and he works closely with the Fire Department and the Police Department.

“I’m lucky to be able to interact with the Police and Firefighters and the City personnel. The people I work with make this job great. We have a lot of outstanding people here in the community,” he says. “I’m very fortunate to be a part of this community and to work with our city. Growing up during the time I did was definitely a privilege. My goal was to be in the Marine Safety Department. I’m honored and proud to be at this point in my life.”

Facing daily challenges 

It’s clear Bond loves his job.

“I get to work with great like-minded people in public service and safety. I’m fortunate to wake up every morning and want to go to work. I see every day as a new and exciting challenge.” 

What is his biggest challenge?

Bond says, ”We have more and more people every day, and the number is going to increase. This year has been different than in years past. People are coming at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. at night, which is the time they would usually be going home, and the crowds are staying a lot longer.”

The summer is now not the only busy time of year. “Spring breaks are at different times now, so the spring break is longer. It feels like summertime all year round.”

However, dealing with the public must be frustrating at times to lifeguards.

Bond says, “They learn to be very patient and direct if needed. Everything we do, and all of our actions, are based on public safety. And it’s difficult for a beachgoer to argue against the safety of the public. Hopefully, they understand that safety and the interest of the public are the lifeguard’s focus, and that they go hand-in-hand. Usually 99 percent of the time, beachgoers are compliant.”

Kai Bond with car

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Summer all year long now in Laguna 

Bond spends a considerable amount of time educating the public, and as result, he’s been to all the schools in town. He lectures on beach safety, and the kids are able to come to the lifeguard station as well for more interaction. 

His sister, Brett Dick, is a first grade teacher at Top of the World. Bond says, “One of the wonderful things I get to do in the education portion of my job is giving back. I got to read Dr. Seuss to her class. I sat in the same classroom that I had been in when I went there. It was a full circle moment.”

Other things have come full circle as well. Does Bond still surf? The answer is yes, and now he’s sharing his love for the ocean with his girls.

Viewing safety from a parent’s perspective

“Now, with my daughters, the big thing is family beach day. At their ages, they’re getting acclimated and in a comfort zone. They’re certainly enjoying the warm days and water. They’re starting to body board. It’s fun to see their first experiences in the water.”

Even though safety has always been prominent in his mind, he says, “It’s different now that I have little girls, it heightens the importance of preventing accidents. Being a parent gives me a different perspective.” 

When asked what’s the best part of his job, Bond says, “I’m always drawn back here, knowing that this was a community and organization where I wanted to work. I really love this career. It’s challenging mentally, and I love the physical aspects, especially making a critical rescue with a good outcome. And I get an opportunity to train staff and see them execute critical rescues as well. That’s why we’re here.”

Given the number of people flocking to our beaches, ensuring their safety appears to be a Herculean task, but if anyone can do it, it’s Captain Bond and his staff of lifeguards. 

Without a doubt, the journey from Junior Lifeguard to Captain of Marine Safety took some time, but it appears as if Bond was destined for this position from his very first swim in Laguna waters.


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The Guitar Shoppe: A true Laguna Beach institution

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The Guitar Shoppe has stood on the corner of Fairview and PCH since 1972. Now expanded to four suites from its original one, it is an anomaly: an independent storefront that has managed to survive – even thrive – in a brutal retail climate. 

Finding an infinite “rabbit hole”

Owners Jim Matthews and Kirk Sand have owned The Guitar Shoppe since the beginning. Sand came to California from Illinois in 1972 to study classical guitar at the University of Redlands. Coincidentally, 1972 is the year Matthews opened the Guitar Shoppe (Sand joined as an owner in 1974). “I fell down that rabbit hole of guitar. Once you get the bug as a kid you pretty much don’t want to do anything else,” explains Sand.

He was a fixture at the local guitar shop in Illinois and learned much of the business there. When he first came to California he worked at the Fender Guitar Factory. Eventually, he found the Guitar Shoppe, and that was it.

Is that snow?

“I came to Laguna and walked down to Shaws Cove – remember, I’m from Illinois, everything is muddy bottoms and crawfish. When I saw that water I thought ‘I’m not going anywhere. This is my spot,’” remembers Sand. California was so delightfully foreign to him that he thought the “L” that sits in the hills above Laguna Beach High School, painted white at the time, was a patch of snow. 

Elvis and The Beatles are to blame

Matthews, on the other hand, was much more familiar with the ways of California. “I was an Air Force brat. I went to high school in Riverside and college in Long Beach,” he explains. 

We were on the path to finding out how he came to his involvement in The Guitar Shoppe when the conversation took a turn to Elvis. Sand is very gregarious. Matthews, on the other hand, is happy to let the conversation shift from him to another topic, especially if it’s music.

the guitar shoppe both

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Kirk Sand and Jim Matthews, owners of The Guitar Shoppe, work the counter

Elvis comes up quite a bit in our conversation. He and The Beatles feature prominently in the musical biographies of both men. “I wanted to be a Beatle. He wanted to be Elvis,” says Sand of his and Matthews’ early musical inspirations. ”You always want to be a rock star. I mean, let’s face it, most guitar players start because girls like it.” 

Matthews elaborates, “In the ‘50s it was Elvis. I got my first guitar. I didn’t know what I was doing. I got the knee moving, the sneer…” Sands interjects, “He has an incredible singing voice.” Matthews accepts the compliment, “Why, thank you.” It’s a brief exchange but it shows a little of how these two men have survived such a lengthy partnership: a deep amount of respect for one another mixed with a good sense of humor.

Rock star dreams give way to an incredible legacy

It is fortunate for guitar aficionados everywhere that the rock star thing ultimately didn’t pan out for these two. From their once small, now greatly expanded storefront, they have touched the lives of countless musicians, both known and unknown. 

A true School of Guitar, in all ways

“We have a “School of Guitar,” says Sand. “Not to brag, but we have some pretty incredible guitar players coming in here: Sting, Richie Sambora, Jose Feliciano.” Adds Matthews, “Some of our students have won Grammys.” 

Of course, the majority of students are not guitar gods. But whatever their level, the instructors at The Guitar Shoppe are total pros with a long history of teaching. “Two of our teachers, Randy and Peter, have been here for 40 years. We select our teachers. They have to be good teachers, not just good players. Randy has had students for 20 years!” says Sand proudly.

the guitar shoppe guitars

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There is something for everyone at The Guitar Shoppe, including custom guitars

The six studios were all full with students when we met. The shop was bustling with activity and there are guitars everywhere. The shop sells $10,000 guitars and $100 guitars. They even have private label guitars. This is how they have adapted to what has become the latest scourge. 

According to the partners there have been two big “storms” to hit their business. The first was the emergence of the big guitar stores like Guitar Center. The second, and latest, is a problem all retail stores, not just guitar shops, are having to contend with: e-commerce.

Adapting to the times to stay relevant

So, Sand and Matthews had to adapt. “Now, everybody is selling guitars,” laments Sand. However, one of the reasons The Guitar Shoppe survived the big store inundation is the same reason it is making a formidable stand against cheap guitars on the internet: service. 

It may sound cliché but, as Matthews explains, “Guitars aren’t like a VCR. They’re individual. Even guitars that are the same make and model can be different.” For that reason, everyone who works at The Guitar Shoppe must know their way around guitars. In fact, they all know how to build them. Because an important part of making guitars sound good is the set up, it’s something The Guitar Shoppe prides itself on. However, not every place that sells guitars offers that service. The big super stores would, for example, send their customers to The Guitar Shoppe for that service. Once their customer came in, they would almost never go back to the big store, and The Guitar Shoppe would gain another customer.

The importance – and enjoyment – of repairs

“I’ve always been heavy on repairs,” says Sand. “They’re paramount.” Matthews agrees, adding, “It’s a diversion. It’s enjoyable, for certain people, to work on guitars. They get the satisfaction of working with their hands. It makes some people happy.” Clearly, Matthews and Sands are those people. “There are always three to four guys working on guitars here,” says Sand.

Making a name in custom guitars

Taking the business of repairing guitars a step further, Sands began making custom guitars years ago. To date he has made 780, developing such a reputation he is back-ordered two years. He made guitars for Chet Atkins (“Mr. Guitar”) and that really jump-started his business. “When you make something for someone like Chet Atkins, everyone takes notice,” he says. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be rich and famous to order a custom guitar. “Just rich,” laughs Sand.

Making the most out of inexpensive guitars

And you don’t even need to be rich to buy a regularly manufactured guitar at The Guitar Shoppe. They sell their privately labeled guitars starting around $100. “We sell a lot more inexpensive guitars than expensive guitars,” says Matthews. “It’s kind of counterintuitive. We don’t recommend a beginner buy an expensive guitar. You have to become sophisticated to be able to know what you want.” 

And since Matthews and Sand know what they want, they say they “cherry pick” the inexpensive Chinese imported guitars they sell. Matthews says, “We make them better, and if you have a problem with it, we fix it.”

Not enough time for actual playing

All of this, the repairing, the custom making, the running of the store, means surprisingly little time for the thing that got them both in the business to start with. “I wish I had more time to play the guitar,” says Matthews. “I still love it. When I’m at home and I pick up the guitar I think, ‘Why don’t I do this constantly?’” Sand still manages to attend conferences like one for fingerstyle guitar, a la Chet Atkins. “It’s the rhythm and the melody at the same time. It’s like a mini-orchestra,” explains Matthews.

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The Guitar Shoppe manager and luthier Ben Wagner shows how it’s done

That is a very apt description. I can say that because during our interview Sand and Matthews called Ben Wagner, one of the managers, over, and asked him to play. He grabbed a guitar, sat down and played a lively yet extremely complicated song so effortlessly that even to my uneducated ears it sounded ridiculously impressive. This spawned a conversation about music from country (they are impressed with many of country’s new musicians) to rap (“How can you hum to that?!” wonders Matthews.).

Survival depends on creating an experience

In their 46 years, they have seen a lot of music trends, but people’s love for guitars has, thankfully, not wavered. “If we could have gone out of business, we would have,” laughs Sands. Matthews adds, “When we started we never looked that far into the future. Back then, five, six years is a long time when you’re young.” 

Now, they may not be quite so young, and 46 years through the lens of hindsight undoubtedly seems like the blink of an eye, but they’re still here. “If we can get through this current internet-thing…” sighs Matthews, “Stores like ours that create an experience will survive.” Judging by the number of people I saw coming and going through The Guitar Shoppe doors, he looks to be right.


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Brittany Charnley: Hometown girl and blogger carries on Laguna traditions in a cool hip mom way

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If readers recognize Brittany Charnley from her picture, it’s no surprise. From the moment she arrived here with her family as a two-year-old, she began a life-long (though she’s only 29) love affair with Laguna. It’s next to impossible to mention an activity offered in the city in which she hasn’t participated or a place at which she hasn’t worked or volunteered. The connections are as varied as they are endless, and as a result, Brittany is deeply embedded in Laguna’s culture, and it in her.

Her emotional ties to the City brought her back to Laguna after graduating from Pepperdine University in Malibu with a degree in Public Relations. But why return when so many young adults want to leave their hometowns, especially when the cost of living here is exorbitant? 

Love affair begins

Brittany says with obvious affection, “I love Laguna and the hometown feel.”

And it goes without saying, a big draw is that her parents are still nearby.

Although she wasn’t born here, she doesn’t remember living anywhere else. Her introduction to the City began after her parents, Michelle and Sam Clark, moved here from Denver with toddler Brittany and her older sister in tow. At that point, her dad’s career in the Navy had ended, and he went into equipment leasing. Her mother Michelle worked in Laguna’s Waste Management Department for 20 years and was also very involved with the Chamber of Commerce. 

Brittany Charney closeup

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This hometown girl loves her town

Brittany’s kinship to the town can be credited to her parents. Due to their busy careers, they put her in numerous programs and activities, and that’s when her relationship with Laguna began to form. She attended Anneliese Preschool, then went on to Top of the World and then Thurston, and graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 2007. 

During those years, she was a member of the Boys & Girls Club, winning the Member of the Year Award in 1999 (which means she’s always a member). She credits LBBGC with her love for sports. 

“That’s where I learned to play pool, and I’m a good player,” she says.

Also active in basketball at LBBGC, the high school basketball coach saw her playing and recruited her for the LBHS team. She ran track in high school as well, and participated in soccer, but it conflicted with basketball, so she had to make a choice, and basketball won. 

With the support of her parents, she excelled. Brittany says, “Although they worked, my parents attended all of my sporting events.”

No grass grew under her feet

Apparently, as a child, she was rarely idle. Her parents kept her busy, very busy, making sure she was jumping into all Laguna had to offer. Brittany joined Brownies and Girl Scouts, and also took dancing lessons at the community center (before it became Susi Q).

In 1996, when she was in first grade, she appeared in the painting “Sunday Morning” at Pageant of the Masters and made the cover of the program. Her mother was a volunteer backstage, working on headdresses. 

Brittany adds that Festival of Arts artist Michael Obermeyer appeared in the painting as her dad.

Although not during consecutive years, Brittany appeared five times in the Pageant, and then worked as an usher for a year. 

Brittany Charnley with family

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Kent, Blake, and Brittany enjoy a day in the park

The ties to the artistic community don’t stop there. From age 15-25, she worked summers at the Sawdust Festival at the Taco Bowl and Thasos restaurants. (Through the years, she’s also worked at other places around town: House of Big Fish, Nirvana Grille, and The Marine Room.) 

At the Sawdust, she came to know many of the exhibitors, and one in particular who played a pivotal role in Brittany’s important life events. A long-time Sawdust exhibitor, Mary Hurlbut, Stu News staff photographer, took Brittany and her husband Kent’s engagement and wedding pictures. And the ceremony was, where else, but at Hotel Laguna. 

For Brittany, it seems everything happens here in Laguna. She even met her husband Kent, who’s from Michigan, at Ocean Brewery. He’s worked all around town as well: Big Fish, zpizza, Banzai Bowl, and the Montage.

Creating a sense of community online with thecoolhipmom.com

In 2017, Brittany found a way to incorporate this hometown feel into a wonderful and beneficial enterprise. Last year, she launched her blog www.thecoolhipmom.com as a resource for parents and to create a sense of community among mothers and families in Orange County. Even before her two-year-old daughter Blake was born, Brittany had questions – What should I pack for the hospital? What about playgroups? How should I be feeling? – and nowhere to get answers from her peers.

In a sense, blogging is a way of alleviating isolation, and the response has been overwhelming. And although she wanted to be a television reporter when she was younger, she can now use this desire for reporting and storytelling in her blog posts.

“The response has been all positive,” says Brittany. “I’ve had no negative comments.”

Its focus is multi-faceted: Motherhood, Disneyland, Laguna Beach, and family fun. But it also includes social commentary and technology news. A few of the recent blogs topics have been: The Ultimate Kid Friendly City Guide to Laguna Beach, 12 Things You Must Do at the OC Fair with Your Toddler This Summer, LA Dance Project’s OC Debut, and One Hope and Global Genes’ New Wine Collaboration Helps to Support Rare Disease Patients. 

Brittany Charnley jumping

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Brittany jumps for joy in her new endeavor, OC Lifestyle and Mom Blog

The concept to initiate a blog came in a roundabout way. After Brittany became a mother, she met with a visiting college friend who mentioned, “You’re literally the same person. You haven’t changed.”

Brittany’s response was surprise, as if why wouldn’t I be? She admits, “There’s a misconception about how mothers are supposed to act. We can just be who we are, and I want to inspire and encourage moms to remain who they are.”

Much like her parents during her childhood, Brittany and Kent are now busy as well with their careers. She works full-time as the Director of Marketing for a private Christian school (with four campuses) in Yorba Linda. Kent is A/R Business Office Associate (in Finance) at Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa.

Passing on family traditions

Although Brittany’s blog is named “the cool hip mom,” she admits that’s not a self-proclaimed title, however, it seems a role she fits to a “T.” She’s already instilling in Blake a sense of community and tradition. Her daughter is attending the Anneliese Preschool just as Brittany did, and no doubt will go to the same elementary, middle, and high school, possibly even have the same teachers. 

Brittany says, “Many of the same teachers I had are still in the district, although they may have changed schools.”

Like Brittany, Blake also goes to Hospitality Night (Brittany holds fond memories of the karaoke at Hobie Surf Shop), park concerts, and the Patriots Day Parade in which Brittany rode on various floats during the years. 

Brittany Charnley walking

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Laguna will be home to old and new family traditions

The connections are endless.

Her parents are friends with Kelly Boyd, and she remembers spending the Fourth of July celebrations at the Boyds’ home. 

However, many young adults who were raised here and have good memories have moved away. (Her older sister now lives in Las Vegas.) So how many grads in Brittany’s high school class have stayed here or come back? 

After attending her 10-year LBHS reunion last year at the Hotel Laguna, Brittany says, “Many have stayed here, some are vendors at the Farmers’ Market or have other endeavors in town.” 

It’s not difficult to label Brittany a hometown girl; she knows this town inside and out. Yet even in her short 29 years, she’s witnessed changes. 

“I understand that the town must cater to tourists,” she says, “But the vibe still flourishes, and the City has stayed true to the heart of hometown, local feeling.”

She agrees that it’s a perfect place to raise her daughter, “The public schools are like private ones, and you can walk everywhere, and there are so many activities outside.”

A new generation grows up in Laguna

What wonderful traditions Brittany’s parents have passed on to her, and which she, in turn, will pass on to her daughter.

Her mother Michelle says, “We were super excited when Brittany decided to come back to Orange County and start her career and family. It brings us such joy and brings back the memories when we pick up our granddaughter from preschool.” 

Brittany says, “As my daughter grows up, I hope that the family atmosphere and spirit of community remains in Laguna and that she grows up to see how unique the
town truly is!”

Although Brittany may not claim to be a “cool hip mom,” from all accounts, she certainly appears to be. After all, she’s raising another hometown girl who, no doubt, will love Laguna just like her mom.


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Bella Nenadov: This young entrepreneur has things figured out

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Bella Nenadov is not afraid to take risks. She’s also not afraid of change. Both of these traits have served the 13-year-old Thurston Middle School student well since she arrived on the West Coast from Ohio three years ago. 

Immersing herself in foreign languages

Bella says her father’s job is the reason the family relocated. Originally, the family relocated to Laguna Niguel. But, Bella says, “My parents heard how good the schools were in Laguna Beach so we moved here the next year.” And Bella has taken advantage of Laguna’s schools, immersing herself in one of her passions: foreign languages. This September, when Bella starts 8th grade, she will take French and Spanish. Additionally, she says she is determined to teach herself Italian over the rest of her summer.

Embracing one of Laguna’s specialties: water polo

Another project Bella has taken on this summer is to become competent as a water polo goalie. She’d like to fill the position on the Laguna Beach 14 and under girls’ water polo team when the new season starts in September. “I want to be the B team goalie,” she says. She explains the current goalie moved on to high school so there is a position that needs to be filled. As a new recruit to the game (it’s not a big sport in Ohio), she has decided it’s her best chance to make a contribution. “We just got a pass to the pool so I will go and do drills. And my dad and brother will throw balls at me,” she says with a laugh. There is no mention of private lessons or clinics, instead she seems determined to master these skills on her own.

Known for her treats for both people and pooches

This self-determination doesn’t end at the pool. Bella came to our attention because she makes natural, homemade dog treats, in addition to baked goods for people, and sells them on the weekends at Moulton Meadows Park. Her schedule isn’t rigid, but she tries to set up her table at least every other weekend. Her treats, it seems, are quite a hit.

LLP Bella closeup

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Bella Nenadov is 13 with a reputation for baking exceptional treats

Her motivation for creating the dog treats was her own dog, a Yorkie-bichon. “They’re very picky,” she says. Her motivation for creating her human treats was herself. “I love cupcakes,” she says smiling. “My favorites are probably blueberry-lemon or raspberry-lemon. I go outside of the box, but not crazy.”

Besides selling to her neighbors, Bella has fans who work for the city, too. “There was this one city workman who bought some cupcakes ands granola. Then he got on his radio and said, “Guys! You’ve gotta come down here!” says Bella. Her mom Jessica adds, “It was a treat for everyone. They enjoyed it and they made Bella feel really good.”

An entrepreneur who keeps it in the family

While Bella has taken ownership of her baking, it has been a family affair. She says her mom is an “amazing” baker, but credits the idea for selling her treats to her dad. “He’s in business. He said, ‘Bella, you could be an entrepreneur.’” She took his words to heart. Her younger brother also has a key position. “He’s my little publicist,” she says.

LLP Bella working

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Bella in action, carefully creating her delicious dog treats

Using her profits for another Laguna specialty: surfing

The success of her venture allowed her to set a goal for her profits: surf camp. The Ohio native wanted to learn how to surf. “I told my mom and dad that I wanted to do surf camp and that I was going to pay for it.” So she did. And while learning to surf wasn’t easy, the idea of giving up was never entertained. “It’s always better when you work for it because you stick with it,” she explains.

A surprisingly sound business philosophy for a 13-year-old

Despite all she has going on, Bella has plans to grow her business. “I want it to be pretty big,” she says. “I want to spread it to our city.” She plans to continue her sales at least every other weekend (water polo schedule permitting) when school resumes. She has an email address for orders: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., but after that she plans on just seeing what happens next. Her business strategy is relatively simple. “Just keep working hard. Have that mindset and always be patient. And be willing to put yourself out there,” she explains.

LLP Bellas treats

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One of Bella’s finished products

She offers such wisdom in a very matter-of-fact way. She is only 13, after all, so she has no idea how unusual her commitment to her goals is. Of course, her mom knows. “She’s very courageous. It’s amazing to watch. She is very inspiring for others. And she has a good voice for being courageous.” 

She is also a great example of just doing it because you want to. When she set up her table at Moulton, she had no idea how many people, if any, would show up. “At first you think no one is going to come. And then, later, some people come, and then more people come. You just have to wait it out,” explains Bella. Hard work, faith and patience are key ingredients to success. For Bella, it’s just one more recipe she has managed to perfect in a very short amount of time.


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Suzanne Redfearn uses her architectural mind to build fictional worlds and a thriving literary community 

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Every good novel includes a few essential ingredients: strong characters, a compelling plot, some unfulfilled desires, and lots of obstacles. Done well, there are also difficult questions that lie at its core – sometimes philosophical or spiritual, sometimes ethical or practical, but always universal. What is the nature of good versus evil? What happens when evil is disguised to seem good? Where is the line between helping our children and hurting them? Will we recognize it when it arrives? How far will we go to save them?

Suzanne Redfearn’s life reads like a great novel. She’s a strong, purposeful, and driven central character with an intense desire to create new worlds from nothing. And she’s had some obstacles to overcome along the way. More important, she’s curious about life’s big questions – the meaning of marriage, the dangers of celebrity, the delicate balance between risk and reward. Curiosity, more than anything, motivates Suzanne’s love of fiction. One can always tell the writers driven by a desire for fame, or book sales, or (God forbid) money. Suzanne is in it to discover. That makes all the difference.

Suzanne Redfearn closeup

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Suzanne Redfearn, architect, novelist, and Literary Laureate

Starting from scratch

At age 15, Suzanne’s life looked a lot like that blank page every novelist faces for the first time. She grew up on the east coast, and alludes to a less-than-perfect childhood (always a good foundation for any future novelist). She moved, on her own, to Santa Barbara, putting herself through college beginning at age 16, and eventually earning a marketing degree.

While working as a server at Corona del Mar’s former Oyster’s Restaurant, she met owner Cary Redfearn. What began in friendship grew into a marriage that’s lasted a quarter of a century…and counting. Cary encouraged Suzanne to pursue a career in architecture, and supported her through school. “I always wanted to be an architect,” Suzanne says. “But it felt crazy. Like being a writer, it didn’t feel like a real job. It just felt out of reach.” Proving again that nothing is out of reach for Suzanne, she graduated summa cum laude from California Polytechnic University. 

When Cary closed Oyster’s and purchased the Lumberyard Restaurant ten years ago, Suzanne’s architectural talent paid dividends. Her vision transformed the space, retaining its historic foundation while updating the interior to lend a more contemporary feel. Nearly a decade later, she would go on to design the beer cap sculpture in Slice Pizza across the street, which she and Cary opened last year. 

Along the way, Suzanne also owned a cookie company, worked as a graphic designer and copywriter, and invented Wonder Laces (“the better shoelace – healthier for your feet, more comfortable, [with] six times the knot strength of normal shoelaces”). She’s the mother of two grown children, an avid surfer, golfer, skier, and Angels’ fan. Curiosity, ambition and creative energy have led her in a lot of directions, every one of them fulfilling and fun, most of them solitary, and all of them good fodder for fiction.

There are three things in life, Suzanne tells me, that determine happiness and satisfaction: your spouse, your hometown, and your career. “I feel like I hit the Triple Crown,” she says. Suzanne discovered Laguna because of Cary, and her career aspirations – both as architect and novelist – flowed from there. “It all came down to that first good decision of finding the right person. Without that,” she says, “the rest just wouldn’t have happened.” 

The architecture of a novel

Architecture and writing have always struck me as intellectual sisters. Beyond vision and creativity, they both demand careful construction. “I wouldn’t be a novelist if I hadn’t been an architect,” Suzanne says. “Both require you to start with nothing. It’s overwhelming, and it’s long-term.” Much of Suzanne’s life has required faithful leaps, from her move to the west coast to settling into an uncertain career in architecture to the terrifying decision to undertake the novel. But one leap begets another. Each one builds confidence and establishes trust. 

Suzanne approaches books the ways she approaches buildings. “I walk into an empty space and know it only works one way. That’s its true self.” 

Terroir is an oenological term referring to the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced. It includes factors such as soil, topography, and climate. Suzanne says, “I allow the terroir – the essence of the site – to dictate what the building is going to be. You can’t come in with a preconceived idea. It won’t work.” That principle applies equally well in writing. “The story wants to be what it wants to be. You have to allow it to grow organically. The characters dictate what’s going to happen.”

Suzanne sees herself more as a conduit or channeler of stories, rather than their creator. “The story is there – the characters are on their journey. I just have to keep reeling it in. It knows what it wants to be, so when I finally find it – it’s natural.” That might mean writing 800 pages to end up with 400. Suzanne likens it to a maze, with a lot of dead-ends. But, ultimately, there’s only one obvious solution. 

“Drive time is when it comes together. When I’m not actually thinking about the story, that’s when I come up with the solutions,” she says. “The unexpected is always where the beauty lies in the story.”

The magical moment when life leaps to fiction

When Suzanne published her first novel, Hush Little Baby, in 2013, Cary wore a shirt to her launch party that said: “It wasn’t me.” Superficially, Suzanne’s protagonist looked a little familiar – Jillian Kane had a successful career as an architect, a gorgeous home, a doting husband, and two perfect kids. But Jillian’s marriage was privately dark, decidedly abusive, and obviously nothing like Suzanne and Cary. Still, those surface similarities gave Suzanne the ability to access Jillian’s character. After that, like every great book, all bets were off.

Suzanne Redfearn books

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Suzanne holding Hush Little Baby and the anthology at Laguna Beach Books

No Ordinary Life came out just three years later. It explores the price of fame and the risks embedded into the lives of child celebrities. It also returns to one of Suzanne’s favorite themes – the lengths mothers will go to protect their children. The idea came to her while waiting in line at the grocery store, scanning the tabloid headlines. Zac Efron, who is roughly the same age as Suzanne’s son, had just reentered rehab for the second time. It made her curious about the dark side of celebrity. This is the recurring motif in any novelist’s life: I saw this thing, and it got me wondering…

In An Instant, her third novel, is due out in early 2020. Suzanne scored a two-book deal with Lake Union Publishing. I won’t spoil the surprise here, but for fans of The Lovely Bones, you’re in for a future treat. 

The limitations of talent and the need for persistence

Successful writers will tell you that talent – while necessary – is less essential than perseverance. For every novel Suzanne has on bookshelves, she has two or three more in her drawer. Slow and steady is the necessary recipe for achievement. Novelists sometimes look like overnight success stories, but they often have a decade (or more) of quiet toiling in their past.

Persistence is something Suzanne knows about. She doesn’t miss a day of work. She arrives at Starbucks early in the morning for a two to three hour stretch, and shows up again mid-afternoon for another session. Writing, like any job, requires the author to show up. Lawyers, plumbers, veterinarians – none of these professions tolerate waiting around for bouts of inspiration or the arrival of the muse. Writing is no different. Novelists, of course, only get paid for the books that sell. Writing a dozen manuscripts that never make it to bookstores is a thankless task, which is why it requires the love of the journey, and a near disregard for the destination.

It’s all about living outside your comfort zone, taking on terrifying things, uncertain about their outcome.

Laguna’s Literary Laureate

Speaking of taking on terrifying things…earlier this year, Suzanne was appointed Laguna’s Literary Laureate (along with co-Laureate Lojo Simon). Suzanne was less interested in the title and recognition, and more excited to serve as a cheerleader for the arts. She’s created and facilitated several events allowing local writers opportunities to gather and be heard. And she’s become an ambassador for the written – and spoken – word. 

Take, for example, poet and spoken word artist Phil Kaye. Suzanne brought Phil to Laguna last month for a one-night performance at the Forum Theatre at FOA. She invited five high school poets to share their own work as an opening act. “These kids had been harboring this inside. There’s no venue for this. There’s no reason for them to do this,” she says. “It was poetry. It was art. I was blown away.” 

Like architecture or writing, Suzanne feels her position as Literary Laureate is another experience that’s telling her what it wants to be, and she’s merely acting as its conduit. “I feel like I’m just along for the ride,” she says. “I’m always thinking, Wow…so that happened! It’s a position that tells you what it needs.” 

Like all her prior endeavors, the job also requires faith. “It’s believing. No matter how bad or scary or overwhelming – you have faith you’re going to get there. I can’t tell you the knot in my stomach over these events. But I show up, put it out there, see what happens, and have faith that it’s going to find its way.” 

Suzanne also initiated the citywide poetry and prose contest, inspired by a photograph taken by Jeff Rovner in a Burmese monastery last year. “Another project that took on a life of its own,” she says. Forty-three writers contributed their works, which Suzanne turned into the book, Laguna Beach Anthology of Poetry and Short Fiction.

“A lot of credit goes to Third Street Writers and Jane Hanauer (owner of Laguna Beach Books),” she says. “The people who are already doing this around our community.” 

The builder who builds community

Suzanne loves the collaborative environment Laguna inspires. “It’s not so competitive here,” she tells me. “We’re all creative in our own ways, and we’re invested in building each other up.” 

Suzanne Redfearn Shoreline

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Suzanne and Tami Cahill, building community at Laguna’s Shoreline Project last weekend

A city that encourages the arts makes each of its members better. Even those who aren’t artists benefit from being surrounded by beauty, inspired by creativity, and supported by women like Suzanne. She’s spent her career building both structures and fictional worlds. But perhaps Suzanne’s greatest gift to Laguna is building community, which also requires perseverance and faith. And, just like architecture and fiction, the unexpected is always where the beauty lies.


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Amy Eidt Jackson: Painter, teacher and tree hugger

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Amy Eidt Jackson says she did not know the alphabet when she entered first grade. This, despite her mother, a teacher, working diligently with her. “It was miserable for me,” she recalls. The thing that saved her was art. “I had an amazing art teacher. I excelled there. It was the only thing that gave me self-esteem as a child.” 

Finding confidence through art

Jackson managed to slog through elementary school to make it to a seventh interview with Harvard and an acceptance to Smith College. She decided to attend the University of Massachusetts for economic reasons. Clearly, whatever plagued her in her younger years she grew up to conquer. But it was art in those early years that gave her enough confidence to persevere.

10 years at the Sawdust Festival

Now in her 10th year of exhibiting her paintings at the Sawdust Festival, it is clear that the importance of art to her life has not diminished. In addition to exhibiting her paintings she also teaches art to children and adults, has a history of involvement with the Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, and other local arts organizations. 

LLP Jackson close up

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Amy Jackson, artist, educator and Laguna Beach resident

The fact that she is an exhibiting painter with her works in galleries in Los Angeles and Vence, France, where, Jackson tells me, Matisse retired, may seem like an obvious outcome for someone to whom art was such a salvation. However, her path to becoming an artist took some time.

Becoming an “artist” was not a goal out of college

Jackson studied art history, economics and fine art in college. She made a conscious choice not to become “an artist” because, she says, “I didn’t want to suffer.” After she graduated, the Massachusetts native spent time in Italy and England where she decided that being an art dealer would combine her talents and interests. Then her parents relocated from Massachusetts to Mission Viejo.

Mission Viejo is definitely not Laguna

Feeling like she was losing contact with her family, Jackson came west, too. Knowing that Mission Viejo was not going to win over their daughter’s heart, her parents took her to Laguna Beach and told her that it was Mission Viejo. That ruse didn’t last long, but blood is thicker than water and Jackson stayed anyway.

The Laguna Art Museum is the genesis of many lasting things

Eventually, Jackson moved to the real Laguna and got involved with the Laguna Art Museum. She met her husband on a blind date set up by friends she’d met at the museum. “It’s the genesis of a lot of great art programs as well as my marriage,” says Jackson of the museum with a laugh. 

Despite her involvement with the museum, Jackson’s career at the time was in interior design. By happy accident, Irene Updike, a well-known designer at the time and now a very well known author and speaker about the Holocaust, was her mentor. “It wasn’t my dream,” says Jackson of being a designer. “So I didn’t care about it. That made it really easy to succeed. As an artist I find it very difficult to sell my own work because it’s so important to me.”

Her children lead her to teaching art

When the third of her four children was born, Jackson stepped away from designing. This allowed her the time to begin painting in earnest. Her children got her involved in teaching art. She began working in their El Morro classrooms with a “Meet the Masters” program. When she moved her youngest child to the CLC program at Top of the World she began teaching there. Eventually, she says she was asked to step down. “I was too messy and unstructured,” she says with a shrug.

LLP Jackson studio

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Amy Jackson at work in her backyard studio

Surrounded by artists around her Laguna Beach home, Jackson credits them with motivating her to begin exhibiting at the Sawdust. “I have always loved the feel of the Sawdust and what it is about,” she says. She was painting on her own and very involved with LPAPA. “I was selling a lot of my work and I wanted a gallery space that was mine.” Taking a booth at the Sawdust checked all of those boxes.

Several years ago, Jackson began teaching art again, this time at St. Catherine’s in Laguna. “They wanted a more creative art program,” she says. Her program, called “Art Studio Education,” turns the classroom into an art studio. “I teach the kids the tools to express how they feel,” she says.

Teaching is a give and take

She takes her job as a teacher very seriously, even though it is very time consuming and cuts into her personal painting time. “It takes away,” she admits. “But it also gives back.”

Jackson will be teaching two classes at the Sawdust this summer. The first one, “The Language of Landscape Painting” is a color theory class that will be held this Wednesday. 

A love for Laguna’s trees leads to a stylistic shift in her painting

While Jackson is known as a plein air painter, her style has evolved over the last few years. She credits her newfound passion for saving Laguna’s trees with helping her transformation to a more abstract style. “It’s interesting that my interest in trees brought me to paint horizons and not trees,” she says laughing. 

She has an ambitious plan for helping save Laguna’s trees. Jackson wants to organize a “tree hugger” event. “One of my biggest passions is to have a paint-off of our beautiful trees. We can sell the paintings to buy plaques to present to people who have a heritage tree on their property. I’m hoping to do this next year,” she says enthusiastically.

LLP Sawdust booth

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Amy Jackson’s booth at the Sawdust holds a good representation of her work

More ambitious plans for art education

For now, Jackson has her hands full manning her booth at the Sawdust, teaching her classes and making plans to open an art school at her Back Bay studio. “I’m looking to create art studio education in Back Bay, but I’m also looking to foster more creative arts programs in schools.”

And, of course, she will continue to paint. Influenced by Matisse and Wolf Kahn, as well as street art, Jackson says, “I want my art to be something that speaks to people and gives them joy. I know that sounds trite, but I want everyone to recognize their own voice. A lot of people have started paining at my encouragement,” she says. And it’s easy to see why. 

While Jackson certainly knows the “rules” of painting, she is definitely not bound by them. Her methods may be “messy” and “unstructured,” but isn’t that the fun of it all?

“Art has that magic ability to turn places around,” she says. What it can do for places, it can also clearly do for people. 


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Master of the Pageant? That would be Diane Challis Davy, long-time director of the show

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Diane Challis Davy’s mind must work like a carefully curated museum. If we could wander around inside, I imagine we’d find vast halls filled with classic paintings, marble sculptures, antique clocks, and art deco furniture. Chamber music might swell at any moment – maybe a minuet or an occasional Beach Boys song. I picture long corridors of mental rooms where costume makers sew taffeta gowns, makeup artists apply their magic, and set designers paint every blade of grass with precision. Diane, known as “Dee Dee” or “Dee” amongst associates and friends, has not only been the director and producer of the Pageant of the Masters for 23 years, she’s been the visionary, the overseer, and its chief cheerleader.

The longest running director in the Pageant’s 85-year history, and one of only a small handful of women in that role, Dee imprinted both her vision and passion on the Pageant and made it utterly her own. “I can think of no one more perfect for the position,” says Dan Duling, the 38-year veteran scriptwriter for the Pageant. “She grew up in Laguna, studied theatre and art, volunteered in the Pageant, learned all she could about every aspect of theatre during her education at Laguna Beach High and later CalArts, and proved herself capable behind the scenes at the Pageant, mastering every facet of production.”

It takes a unique personality, and a complicated mixture of skills, to wear so many simultaneous hats and wear them all equally well. Dee has mastered the art.

LLP dee dee

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Diane Challis Davy, aka Dee Dee, aka Dee

The art of organizing art

The notion of orchestrating the Pageant around a chosen theme was Dee’s brainchild. Prior to her involvement, the show was simply an assemblage of random pieces of art produced by “masters.” The only exception was the 1976 Bicentennial show. That show, its theme and its organizational structure, inspired Dee. Now the theme is selected more than a full year in advance. In fact, “Time Machine” has already been announced as the 2019 theme.

“It’s been a godsend for writing and researching the show, as well as for marketing each year as being fresh and worth coming back to see what’s next,” says Duling. “I think of it as looking at art through different prisms, and sometimes being able to re-approach a piece we’ve done before but from such a different angle and storytelling perspective that it feels brand new.”

So when Malcolm Warner, Executive Director of the Laguna Beach Art Museum, approached Dee last year to suggest the Pageant commemorate the Laguna Beach Art Association’s 100th anniversary, the spark for this year’s theme ignited. “Dee was very interested in our 1930s model of the original LBAA art gallery, and worked hard to include it in the program,” says Janet Blake, Curator of Historical Art at the Laguna Art Museum. “It’s a great tribute to the LBAA, which we really appreciate.”

LLP lineup of scenes

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Dee surveys the lineup of scenes for the Pageant

In many ways, Dee’s role seems as much curator as director. “I see a curator as a catalyst, generator and motivator,” Hans-Ulrich Obrist, art historian and critic, once said. “A sparring partner…and a bridge builder, creating a bridge to the public.” I don’t know if Dee would agree, but decades of sold-out shows suggest she’s built innumerable bridges.

Making the magic happen

How does Dee do it, year after year? “You have to be aware and open to new ideas,” she says. “With Google, it’s easy to dream on different subjects, and easy to do research. In the 1980s and early ‘90s, it was a lot of trekking to the library.”

Once she settles on a theme, a group of volunteer research committee members begin their annual competition for selecting the pieces of work. They take the theme title and start making suggestions. “It’s a competitive game we play, the 80 to 100 people who sign up to make recommendations vie to get their work in the show.” Dee holds a “show and tell” meeting in September, allowing every member to argue their case for a piece of art. 

“Dee and I have the most fun…when we start kicking ideas around, daring each other to try things we’ve never tried before, looking for as fresh a variety of elements as we can,” says Duling. “We put things on the board, rearrange them endlessly, the reject pile gets bigger and bigger, and just when we think we’ve come up with a great show with a beginning, middle and end, we pick it apart and make it even better.” 

“Hundreds of images are emailed,” says Dee. “They have to be analyzed based on whether they will be presentable on the stage, whether they can be reproduced.” Then they must be sequenced. “We like to move the show from side stage to roof to garden. We make a program that has movement and good pacing.” 

Selections are made in late October, and the launch party occurs in November. By January, the cast is selected and rehearsals are underway every Thursday evening (rain, shine, wind or frigid air) until the Pageant debuts in June. “June is panic time,” Dee says. “We rehearse like mad. We bring in the professional orchestra and rehearse four times with them.”

The surrounding neighborhood always gets a sneak peak. “They heard music by the Beach Boys this year and got pretty excited,” she laughs.

The importance of surprise

The goal is to keep the show fresh, interesting and exciting. That might mean a gondola floating into the audience, an unexpected ambush by Native American Indians, or a horse galloping across the stage. The audience should expect something new, year after year.

And, because it’s live theater, anything can happen at anytime. Surprises aren’t always reserved for the audience. Once, a skunk wreaked havoc in the orchestra pit. More recently, a posse of raccoons fought so loud in the bushes, it became a significant distraction. Then there were those “privacy patches” that failed to adhere. And a marble sculpture who fell from his perch and was forced to crawl off stage. Of course there’s always the child actor who wiggles or giggles. 

“These are some of the audience’s favorite moments,” says Dee.  Of course, she’s right. Art is best when it’s fun, and even better when it’s unpredictably funny. When art is relatable and human, full of frailties, vulnerabilities and surprises, the audience feels as much participant as observer. They know they’re seeing something unique and special, just for them.

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The audience loves to see the secrets behind the “living painting” – this one is "Catching Fish at the Beach" by Franz A Bischoff

And, of course, context is everything. “Dee and I share a deep fascination with the psychology of time and the paramount importance of context,” says Duling. “Context can make a tragic image funny, a comic motif painfully sad, a failed life a personal success, a simple gesture a life-changing moment.”

If you build it, they will volunteer

The Pageant of the Masters has operated under the philosophy, “If you build it, they will come” for 85 years. Not only does the amphitheater sell out night after night, but the volunteer staff grows year after year, swelling now to over 500 members. Of an original pool of 1,300 in the initial casting call, only 450 people are chosen. A full two-thirds are turned away. There are two rotating casts of roughly 150 people each, as well as substitutes and understudies.

“Volunteer sign-ups have continued to grow during Dee’s tenure,” says Duling. “The volunteer research committee was once a handful of folks looking to take part in the earliest stages of the creative process. Now it numbers over 100 members. This is all because Dee knows that the more involved people are, the more the show’s success will mean to all involved. She leads by enthusiasm, example and a superhuman work ethic. And she does it with grace, style and a wicked sense of humor.”

I ask Dee what contributes to this enthusiasm. “It’s the cachet of being at the beach in Laguna. It’s tradition. Plus people are fun backstage,” she says. “They love to meet lifelong friends. Generations of families participate – little kids and grandparents. It’s a generational mix and people just love to be there.” 

Dee met her own husband during the show. In the early 1980s, Steve Davy came as a guest of local photographer Rick Lang. He met Dee backstage and then, a second time, when Dee entered his antique shop to have a Chinese screen repaired. They began dating then, and went on to have their only son, Tommy Davy. 

How frequent are those marriages and connections at the Pageant? Dee laughs. Two years ago, Dan Duling did an entire article for the souvenir book on the many connections forged at the Pageant.

The enduring gifts of Dee and the masters

Dee has a ribbon of nostalgia that runs right through her core. She recently moved into the apartment over her father’s old art gallery. The Patriots Day Parade is her favorite annual event, along with the Pageant of the Monsters (held once every five years). “I’m really into the nostalgic local traditions,” she says. 

I suspect that streak plays a critical role in her success. Along with her love for theater, art and costume design, Dee’s passion for connecting the audience to the past, as well as fostering lifelong bonds within the community, is what makes the Pageant both emotional and beloved, whether one is spectator, cast or crew. 

“This is where we live,” says Duling. “In a theatre of art, telling stories abetted by surprising, original music, and using stage illusions to reveal what the Pageant has always been about at its core: a testimonial to art’s inclusiveness, the belief that it has something for all of us. Endlessly simple, mind-bogglingly complex.”


Laguna Logo

SliDawg: An enviable life of adventure

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Steven “SliDawg” Chew’s family home burned down in the ‘93 Laguna Beach fire, he says, “It kind of freed me.” His family basically lost all of their possessions, though the family has since rebuilt. “It taught me that all we really have is family and friends. Nothing can burn those down. I became less materialistic.”

This became a seminal event in Chew’s life. Born and raised in Laguna, Chew went through Laguna’s schools and surfed Laguna’s beaches as a kid. He was on the NSSA National Team in high school and when he graduated he had to make a choice: go to college or try to become a professional surfer. He chose the former and headed off to San Diego State to study painting.

A trip to Bali is life changing

The year of the fire, he was in his last year at San Diego State. He didn’t go back for his final year. Instead, he got a job designing for the brand World Jungle. This led to an opportunity to create a line for a Japanese brand, Roar. 

“I made some money. So I went to Bali for two months. I got some incredible waves,” he says. “It changed my life.”

LLP SliDawg Chew

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Steven “SliDawg” Chew

 Bali was life changing for Chew because it instilled in him a bug for travel that has yet to release its grip. Since then he has managed to live an enviable life of surfing and travel and he has no intention of changing lanes anytime soon.

Surf camp, Tavarua, and Purple Corduroy

Chew funds his travel with two steady gigs: he runs the SliDawg Surf Camp through Laguna Surf and Sport in the summer, and he works as a lifeguard on the Fijian island of Tavarua in the winter. Designing t-shirts is still a passion (he is currently working with Soul Project and Laguna Surf and Sport, among others), and he is a partner in the wine label Purple Corduroy. As I said, it’s hard not to envy Chew’s lifestyle.

LLP SliDawg Waves

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SliDawg’s surf campers hit the waves in Laguna

The surf school he now runs was originally started by Billabong and headed by one of their team riders, Donovan Frankenreiter. When Frankenreiter’s music career took off they asked Chew to take over. He has been running it for the last 17 years. “It has always been like a fun summer job,” he says. “Every year it gets more and more fun.”

When asked what’s the biggest change he made to the program since taking it over, he laughs and says, “I got more help!”

Surf Coach of the Year

The camp is incredibly popular. Last summer, there were weeks when Chew says he was “overwhelmed” with kids just showing up. “I can’t take 50 kids to the beach!” he says shaking his head. 

Even when 75 percent of the kids who attend are local, they still need attention and supervision. He no longer needs to advertise. People just find him. Chew was voted “Surf Coach of the Year” by OC Weekly. (This means his sessions fill up fast, so make sure there’s room before you send your kids).

It’s no wonder Chew’s camp is in such high demand. His genuine enjoyment at being in the water day in and day out with the kids is obvious. ”We have a lot of fun,” he says. “If I’m not having fun then the kids aren’t having fun!”

LLP SliDawg Camp

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Everyone has fun at surf camp! 

And there seems little chance that Chew is not going to enjoy himself.

After surf camp, the next adventures begin

When surf camp is over in September, Chew’s next adventure is in Pahones, in Costa Rica. He says it’s the “longest left” in the world. “I’m a goofy foot and that’s good for left point breaks. It’s really beautiful and rustic, lots of wildlife.” He plans to stay for at least a month. In October he will head to Tavarua to lifeguard and stay through December. 

Fiji is a special place for Chew. “It’s hard to beat Fiji,” he explains. “They’re the nicest, warmest, funniest people. After 20 years, it’s all about the Fijians.” 

This past year he went from Fiji to New Zealand with his old high school friend and Foo Fighters’ drummer, Taylor Hawkins. “We spent a month there. It was super beautiful.” 

He also recently taught Google founder Larry Page’s kids to surf. “They flew me and my crew to Fiji. I taught them how to surf. They’re not the computer nerds you’d think; they’re super active. They were helping save sea turtles, pretty down to earth people,” he says. 

I would be writing page after page if I detailed all of the adventures Chew mentioned to me. Suffice it to say, not all trips have been surf trips, although it is definitely a theme. “The ocean and my surf board are my lover,” he says. He found this out when he decided it was time to “get serious.” 

Growing up is overrated

“In 2004 I was like, ‘Alright, it’s time to find the gal, have the family, get the solid job.’ I tried that for three to four years, and I found that being a grown up is overrated. I do have Peter Pan Syndrome, but there’s no time to waste in this life.” So, he has tried to follow his dad’s advice and be a “well-rounded” person. 

And while acknowledging that not everyone is suited for his globetrotting ways, he is a strong advocate for travel in general. “I’ve never met a racist traveler. It opens you up.”

Despite his love for seeing the world, Chew isn’t ready to become an ex-pat anytime soon. “I don’t want to turn my paradise into a bitter place. And I’ve seen that happen a lot,” he says. “I like to spend at least two to three weeks, get the local vibe and then move on.” 

When he has finished moving on, he always comes back to Laguna. He knows home is where the heart is, “Laguna is the best home base ever. I get sad when I fly into LA, but once I’m in Laguna it’s all good.” 

And as good as Laguna may be, Chew will nevertheless head off for another adventure, only to come back and do it all over again.


Laguna Logo

Dr. Jerry Tankersley: After 46 years the time has come to say goodbye to Laguna Presbyterian

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Jerry Tankersley preached his last sermon at the Laguna Presbyterian Church last Sunday. After 46 years at the church, Dr. Tankersley leaves large shoes for his congregation to fill. 

As for why now, Dr. Tankersley says, “Well, I think I’ve accomplished what I set out to do when I came here.” However, he acknowledges that while he may be ready to pursue other things, “The work of the church goes on and on. We’re always redefining ourselves. We’re always asking ourselves where the spirit is leading us.”

Retiring but the work won’t stop

That drive forward is certainly not halting with Dr. Tankersley’s retirement. He has every intention to continue his life’s work. “I am going to have to find other places to teach. I’ll have plenty of opportunities to use whatever gifts God has given me. It’s a whole new mindset. I’ve got to find a new definition for what it means to continue to serve.” 

In his role at the Presbyterian Church, Dr. Tankersley has found many ways to serve, both far and near. This, plus the fact that he finds Laguna a very stimulating place, is what has cemented his longevity. 

“I came here when I was 35 years old. It has been such an exciting place. All the major events of American culture through the past 50 years have blown through Laguna,” he says. 

This is important because, according to Dr. Tankersley, the Presbyterian Church is a socially engaged church. “We are a denomination that takes on major issues: war, peace, human sexuality…The church came to America in the 1600s. It has been a part of every major debate in the history of this country.”

LLP Tankersley close up

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Dr. Jerry Tankersley, lead pastor of Laguna Presbyterian Church for the past 46 years, is retiring

This would explain the depth and breadth of Dr. Tankersley’s service. Back in the 1980s, for example, he was named the first pastor to serve on the AIDS task force by Laguna’s mayor. “That was very rewarding,” he says. 

And that kind of reach has continued ever since.

A reach that has extended far beyond the walls of the church

As far as his activities outside of Laguna, Dr. Tankersley rattles off a list of mission trips and exchanges he has led over the years, in Mexico City, East Africa, India, Israel, Palestine, Romania; returning to some of these places multiple times. Each trip had a specific purpose – rebuilding an orphanage, ministering to recovering lepers, establishing a Presbytery. He describes them all as “wonderful,” “meaningful,” and “fascinating.” 

Getting exposure on a national stage

In addition, Dr. Tankerlsey has been able to work with the Presbytery at a national level. In 2002, he was “drafted” to stand for moderator of the 214th General Assembly. “Thankfully,” he says, “I was not elected, but it opened doors for me.” 

These “openings” allowed him to get involved with issues surrounding Israel and Palestine as well as building relationships with other Christians as well as Jews and Muslims. 

He also worked on the Belhar Confession. 

“After eight years, the General Assembly adopted it,” he says. “It deals with race and racism. That was a very rewarding experience. I grew up in Texas during the time of separate but equal, so it is an important issue for me.” 

For someone with a PhD in Government, these extracurricular activities clearly added more stimulation to an already invigorating career.

There were times of restlessness

This is not to say that Dr. Tankersley never thought about leaving Laguna. He says he got a bit “restless” when he was 45-55 years old. Other churches, larger churches, had contacted him and tried to woo him away. 

“I visited. I thought it through. I prayed it through,” he says. “I didn’t see a church that could match this one. After I flirted with these other situations, I finally decided ‘I’m going to go for broke and go deeper here (in Laguna). If they decide they no longer want me, so be it.’ That day never came.”

Leaving on his own terms

Because “that” day never came Dr. Tankersley has the luxury of leaving on his own terms. Big projects, like the $15 million retrofitting of the church he undertook have been seen to completion. “We have paid all the bills,” he says. “The church is debt free.”

If it was otherwise, one gets the sense Dr. Tankerlsey might feel there was still unfinished business to deal with. Now, with no major loose ends, the time is right to retire. 

LLP Tankersley family

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Dr. Jerry Tankersley and his family celebrate his last sermon at Laguna Presbyterian

As he reflects on the past 46 years, Dr. Tankersley says, “It all went so quickly!” 

He remembers when he first came to Laguna. “I came trembling,” he says. But he was embraced. “There are a lot of churches that devour pastors. This is not that kind of church. It builds pastors. There is so much gracious support. In the 100 years of this church, I am only the third long-term pastor. It has a way of absorbing your life. If you come here, you better plan on staying.”

A future filled with work and a little relaxation

Dr. Tankersley would like to spend his future reading and writing. He has volumes of sermons to organize and even books to write. 

“I hope to have some opportunity to smell the flowers,” he adds. “I am looking forward to enjoying Laguna, walking on the beach, looking out at the hills.” 

He says he’d also like to travel, but sadly his wife had a stroke last year. She continues to recover, so those plans will have to wait until she is ready.

“It’s a mystery how my life has played out the way it has,” he says. He certainly never thought he’d stay in Laguna for 46 years. In fact, at one point in his life, he wasn’t sure he’d be welcomed back to the church at all. 

Finding grace in the church when he most needed it

As a young man, Dr. Tankersley was divorced, and this is not something the church takes lightly. “I thought my life was over,” he explains. “Then I experienced the grace of God.” 

At the time he was connected with the Presbyterian Church in La Cañada. The pastor there had, according to Dr. Tankersley, a “similar experience.” Dr. Tankerlsey was pleased to find his life in the church was far from over. He was embraced, and that experience has never left him. 

 “People need a church that is filled with grace. I don’t recommend it [divorce], but it happens.” He explains that when he stood for Moderator during the General Assembly he told his fellow pastors. “I wanted them to know me,” he says. “This has become part of my style. I try to be transparent about who I am.”

LLP Tankersley preaching

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Dr. Jerry Tankersley preaching his final sermon on Sunday

“People know I’m quite serious about my own spiritual life,” he adds.  “I not only want to talk the talk, but also walk the walk.”

After 46 years, still striving to improve his message and messaging

Dr. Tankerlsey’s quest for openness and grace is a consistent theme in his sermons. However, there have been stylistic changes over the years, if not thematic ones. When he first started preaching, he says he was very concerned about “literary precision.” In 1990, he decided to preach from the center of the church. “That has brought a dynamism,” he says. Now, he says, “I feel like my preaching is at a whole new place. It has a depth I didn’t have in the early days.” 

Even so, after all these years, Dr. Tankersley feels he is still honing his craft.  “I’m still trying to interpret text and be faithful to the story and also preach in a relevant way to the congregants. You never feel you’re adequate for it.” 

Clearly, his longevity would indicate he has not been “adequate,” but, rather, exceptional.

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