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David Koning: With only half a heart, he does nothing half-heartedly 

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When someone introduces himself with, “I am the only kid in the world that has a half of heart that is over the age of 31. I was dead for six minutes and came back to life four times,” it gets your attention. That’s David Koning’s opening line when he contacts people to make things happen and tell his story. And evidently, it gets everyone’s attention. 

As a result of his countless telephone calls, he’s appeared on Fox News, Good Day LA, The Today Show, and ESPN, to name only a few, and has been interviewed for every newspaper in Orange County. Contrary to what one might expect, he doesn’t get nervous. “I crave it,” he says. After 30 calls to Family Feud, he finally got his family on the television show. No obstacle is insurmountable, it seems.

Thirty-one-year-old Koning may have been born with only half a heart, but he does nothing halfway. Without exception, everyone at Glennwood Housing, an independent living facility serving special needs adults 18 through 59, where he’s lived for the past five months, agrees on his outgoing, upbeat personality, humor, and his ability to connect with people. And, most importantly, to get what he wants. Doggedly persistent, in his mind, nothing is unattainable.

The fact that he’s even here is a stunning example of turning the impossible into the possible.

Facing the impossible 

 David was born prematurely with hypoplastic left-heart syndrome, which meant he was missing the left ventricle. He was not expected to survive. His parents Chris and Pam, already with a three- and five-year-old at home, were given a short list of options: let him die, try experimental heart surgery or wait for a transplant. 

His mother Pam says, “We wanted to do everything possible, with no regrets.”

When David was one week old, they took him to Philadelphia for the experimental heart surgery. He spent several months in the hospital (his mother at his side) and subsequent surgeries followed. During the third surgery, when he was less than two years old, he suffered a cardiac arrest and was without oxygen for six minutes. 

Pam says, “Only a very small percentage of children survive cardiac arrest.” As a result, he developed cerebral palsy and seizures.

Given his time in the hospital, one wonders how he developed his amazing verbal skills. Pam says, “The hospital is where he learned to communicate. He spent months there, and the staff and doctors would come by and talk to him.”

LLP David Koning with parents

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David with his parents, Pam and Chris

Home schooled for five years, when his parents moved the family from San Jose to Laguna, David started Thurston Middle School. In 2007, he graduated from Laguna Beach High School with a diploma, not with a certificate of completion. He was mainstreamed during his school career, and not only was the 2007-2008 yearbook dedicated to him, he marched down the aisle at graduation right behind the valedictorian.

His mother gives the highest praise to the school and the principal at LBHS at the time, Nancy Blade, who not only stepped in to make sure he received a diploma and not just a certificate of completion, but tutored him in algebra. During his time at LBHS, he was busy as the team manager for both boys and girls volleyball, and could often be found having lunch surrounded by volleyball players.

Why Glennwood, why now?

At the beginning of this year, David decided he wanted to move out of his parents’ home. “I wanted some independence away from Mom and Dad.”

“We chose Glennwood because it’s a smaller group home. It’s a beautiful property with a great atmosphere and staff, and it’s near our home,” says Pam. “Caring permeates this town. I’m so thankful he’s in Laguna.”

Glennwood’s Chief Operating Officer, Faith Manners says, “David has a fantastic ability to connect with people in the community, and if Glennwood ever gets a news channel of our own, he would certainly have the skills to deliver as an on-air anchor for us! I think his confidence and quick wit have served him very well in his life, and he certainly has a tenacity that is impressive to many of us that know and love him. 

David grew up locally and so he has a real connection here in Laguna and in Orange County in general. We welcome his energy and enthusiasm and we are really grateful that he has joined our community at Glennwood House.”

Doesn’t take no for an answer

“A phone in my hand is a dangerous weapon,” says Koning, who spends hours on the phone each day getting things done – talking to the Mayor of Anaheim about the Ducks, contacting heads of corporations about what they’re doing to help the disabled, matching corporations with disabled organizations, and currently, persuading local businesses to donate items for the silent auction for Glennwood’s upcoming fundraising event. 

LLP David Koning looking down

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David makes the impossible, possible

“I don’t take no for an answer,” he says.

And that philosophy has paid off. His tenaciousness resulted in meeting Dr. Phil (“I know a lot of people in the TV world,” David says) and several NBA players, including Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. In 2008, David started Changing Children’s Lives, an outreach for disabled and troubled youths, which connects sports teams with charities to provide tickets to sporting events. The concept developed during a business trip with his dad to New York, when he called the Mets, and got tickets to a game for the Boy and Girls Club. 

Zest for communication

His father Chris admits, “David has a zest for communication.” And not just the goal oriented kind. He has a knack for drawing out the other Glennwood residents as well and has been put in a leadership role. His verbal skills must be instinctive, because Pam says that as they traveled all over the world, he would make friends with cruise crewmembers. He likes traveling, “Once you get used to it, it’s fun,” he says.

He also has a zest for writing. David says, “I am writing seven books right now, and I have finished one of them. It’s a children’s book about a disability dog.”

Besides his love of writing and talking on the telephone, David loves basketball, the Lakers and Warriors (his dad is a big basketball fan), and hockey, especially the Ducks. Through phone contact, he has gotten to know the Anaheim Mayor, and he gives David tickets and use of the Mayor’s Suite for games.

 His interest in basketball started early. Pam says, “When David was a toddler in the hospital (he didn’t walk until the age of four), they put him in with blind kids to play basketball (the nets had beepers), and he would steal the basketball.” 

Basketball and good friends

Now David shares his love of basketball with one of his close friends. A student at Regis University in Denver, Chandler White will be soon be transferring to Chapman College in Orange. He met David through their mothers, and Chandler and David frequently play basketball together. 

Chandler says, “He’s a great friend, entertaining and energetic. I’ve never seen him down, he is always upbeat and easy to be around. I can always count on him to brighten my day.” 

Of course, David is hoping that Chandler will make it to the NBA. 

Chandler adds, “David is very smart and super encouraging. He’s my biggest supporter and always in my corner.”

When he can, Chandler reciprocates by watching David play on the Special Olympics Basketball Team, The Irvine Eagles, where’s he known to have a great three point shot.

Popular with Glennwood residents and staff

During our conversation, Glennwood staff members drift in and out, offering comments: With 45 residents and 20 staff members (some who are around David’s age), David has plenty of people to share conversations with. And it’s obvious, everyone loves having him around.

LLP David Koning shooting basket

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David nails the shot – all net

“David has been a great addition. He helps plan events and makes things happen, and he’s funny and entertaining,” says staff member Heather McGough.

Molly Minikey, another staff member adds, “He’s a unique person, very outgoing. Whenever you’re feeling low, he cheers you up. He’s very talkative, and can always make you laugh. And he loves Kobe.” 

Staffer Kyle Mayor says, “He likes to hold conversations. I think that’s a good thing.”

And all say he’s a big dancer. To celebrate birthdays, Glennwood throws parties and provides a DJ for dancing. Considering the number of residents (and staff), that’s a lot of parties.

David has garnered the attention of one resident in particular, and apparently, the feeling is mutual. Kelly was a guest of the Konings for a family dinner on Mother’s Day. 

Chandler says, “David called me the night before and said he wanted to sing Kelly a song on Mother’s Day. And he sang the song ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from Titanic. He has a good voice.” 

Konings host residents on Sundays

The Konings also host residents every other Sunday afternoon for ice cream sundaes. All residents are invited, and it’s clear by the greetings and hugs when Pam arrives at Glennwood, that she is considered everyone’s surrogate mother. 

Pam says, “I love these kids. They’re so sweet. They grow on you.”

Resident Spencer Vanduzer, who has two jobs, at Gelson’s and Panera, says, “David’s a great friend. He likes to talk about sports. He’s funny.”

Although Glennwood has a work program and encourages residents to have a job (two in Spencer’s case), David has yet to find one, and is still looking. Instead each day, he visits Harbor House in Laguna Niguel and participates in enrichment programs. 

Franklin Casco, the Jesus Coach from The Holy Spirit Broadcasting Network, who has known David for seven years, sums up what everyone else has said, “David Koning is a great young man, and he’s overcome some serious adversities. He’s inspiring to be around.”

A fighting spirit

Max Trueblood, who is acquainted with David through an exchange four years ago regarding relocating the Clippers to Anaheim, tweets for David and links his story to sports contacts. Max knows first-hand of David’s resolution. “I got 15 calls from him in one day.” 

He continues, “David is very persistent, but what people need to understand is that if he didn’t have this instinct, maybe he wouldn’t have survived. The fighting spirit kept him alive.”

It’s clear that although David has survived unfathomable difficulties, he’s also experienced many victories. He has the support of wonderful parents, his brother Michael and sister Michelle, and he has no lack of good friends, inside and outside of Glennwood. Through his diligence, he’s made incredible contacts and provided hope and assistance to those with disabilities. And, without a doubt, he’s engaging and funny and connects with everyone he meets. 

It’s easy to understand why he doesn’t take no for an answer, he doesn’t have to, who could say no to him?


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Sheila Bushard-Jamison: It’s all in the family

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Bushard’s Pharmacy is part of the fabric of Laguna. That happens when a business thrives as long as Bushard’s has. Joe and Mary Bushard came to Laguna Beach in 1942. In 1960, after renting several spaces, Joe built his pharmacy on Forest Ave. where it still is today. 

From father to daughter

The Bushard’s daughter Shelia, now Sheila Bushard-Jamison, has followed in their footsteps, running the business both with a partner, as well as alone for the past 30 years. To keep the family business going was definitely not part of a master plan. Bushard-Jamison had other ideas for her life when she earned a masters degree in Environmental Science. But, she recalls good-naturedly, “I couldn’t get a job! My dad’s manager had sadly just had a stroke. He needed my help.” So she jumped in.

It was definitely not a foreign place. Bushard-Jamison had worked at the pharmacy in some capacity since she was 13. “My dad trusted me, obviously. And when he was ready to retire I took over in 1986. My partner at the time, Tony D’Altorio, was the pharmacist and we were partners for 22 years. He passed away in 2007, so since then, I’ve been on my own.” At least she was.

LLP Jamison closeup

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Shelia Bushard-Jamison, owner of Bushard’s Pharmacy, a Laguna Beach institution

Now a mother-daughter team

In 2010, Bushard’s daughter Marisa graduated with a business degree from Loyola Marymount University. The business climate back then was extremely rough for just about everyone, especially new graduates. This prompted Bushard-Jamison to ask her daughter if she wanted to come work with her. “She embraced it,” says Bushard- Jamsion. “She likes the business side of it. She’s so much more tech savvy than I am. And, a lot of my customers are aging. We have to keep the younger ones coming in.”

So, despite a lack of intention, it seems as though this family business will stay in the family for quite some time. Marisa is ready to take the reins, according to her mother, but it doesn’t sound like Bushard-Jamison is ready to “cut the leash” just yet. 

And this dynamic makes Bushard’s a rather unique place. It is definitely a modern pharmacy, but there is a palpable nostalgia one feels upon entering. Maybe it’s the building? Maybe it’s the employees, some of whom have worked there 20+ years? Maybe it’s how everyone knows your name when you come in? It is probably all of these things, and then there are the M & M’s.

A commitment to customers – and M & M’s

Bushard-Jamsion says she started putting a dish of M & M’s at the pharmacy counter many years ago. Her partner Tony was not a fan – at first. “Then he started buying them!” laughs Bushard-Jamison “I have to make sure we have enough all the time. I’m running to Costco to keep our stash full.”  The candy, small as it is, says a lot about the way Bushard-Jamison runs her business. People come in and have a few M & M’s, even if they’re not there to buy anything. “It’s fun to visit and catch up. We try to make people happy and have a good time. We always try to take extra care. We each have a group of people we know really well, and it’s really great to see them when they come in.”

Known for their perfumes, among other things

Another Bushard’s trademark is the perfume. People check in from all over the country in order to pick up a favorite fragrance that they can’t find anywhere else. “It’s so funny,” explains Bushard-Jamison. “Mitzi Interlandi…she started working here and was totally into fragrances. She created relationships with these companies, and it just kept building.” Interlandi came to work in 1980, retired in 2008, but not before she trained her replacement who now knows as much as her mentor.

LLP mother daughter

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The dynamic duo: Marisa Bushard-Jamison with her mother Shelia in front of their family-owned and managed business

While Bushard’s definitely echoes some of the better things from the past, it is not stuck there. Every Bushard who has been involved in the pharmacy has demonstrated innovative thinking. Joe Bushard fought the city to build the breezeway that connects the parking lot on Ocean to Forest Ave. “Can you imagine?” muses Bushard-Jamison at the thought of that ubiquitous pathway not existing. 

A voice for local merchants

While very active over the years with the Chamber of Commerce, Bushard-Jamison herself tried several different ideas to help keep locals shopping in town. She, like all Laguna residents, realizes the town is up against a fierce adversary: lack of parking. 

To combat locals’ inclination to head to a mall, Bushard-Jamison says they tried the  “Our Town Until 10:00” where businesses were encouraged to open early so locals could shop before the crowds came. She also helped convince the city that the parking meters should be for three hours instead of two. “You can’t go to lunch, look around and maybe do some shopping in two hours,” she explains. But the problem is only getting worse and that worries Bushard-Jamison. “I don’t think there’s a long-term plan and that concerns me.”

Deliveries help customers get what they need

 With that in mind, Bushard-Jamison decided the pharmacy needed to start making deliveries. “People who can’t get here or don’t want to try and get here, they still need their medicines. We deliver six days a week.” And as with all good business owners, when something needs to get done, sometimes you have to do it yourself. Her driver was going to be unavailable this weekend which means Bushard-Jamison was taking over. Driving on a weekend in full summer traffic is no picnic, but Bushard-Jamison was sanguine. Small business owners must wear many hats.

A family with deep roots in Laguna

And if there was an award the “The Most Local Family” of all local families in Laguna, the Bushard-Jamison’s would be hard to beat. Bushard-Jamison’s husband was also born in Laguna. His father was a member of Laguna Beach High School’s first graduating class. Both sets of in-laws were friends despite the children not meeting one another until college. This is because Bushard-Jamison went to a private school in Anaheim. She says her parents weren’t thrilled about Timothy Leary’s presence in Laguna and decided it was safer to send her away. After college, Bushard-Jamison says she traveled a lot, but never considered leaving Laguna. At the time, she didn’t want to leave her boyfriend. Since the two have now been married for 38 years, it seems like she made a smart choice. 

LLP Bushards breezeway

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The front of Bushard’s Pharmacy and its connecting breezeway that Jack Bushard fought for back in the late 1950’s

As a Laguna Beach native, Bushard-Jamison has watched her hometown evolve from an idyllic beach community to a world-class tourist destination. Talking with her about the old days, it’s easy to feel a sense of longing for what things were like then. “When I was a kid there were cows grazing in the canyon,” she says. Everything anyone needed could be found downtown, according to Bushard-Jamison. There were shops along the boardwalk (before Main Beach park was created) and Allen Cadillac sold its cars between Oak and Brooks Streets. And you could make it from point A to point B considerably quicker. Times have certainly changed.

What has not changed is how Bushard-Jamison values her customers who were once her father’s customers, and who will eventually be her daughter’s customers (and possibly her son’s, though he is currently enrolled in film school). This continuity is not something she takes for granted. “My dad loved Laguna. He was very encouraging for me to take over and that was a blessing. We’re all very blessed to live here, and I’m really lucky to still have this store.” 

Bushard-Jamison may call it luck, but luck isn’t delivering prescriptions over a sunny, tourist-packed weekend.


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Rick Conkey: Coached LBHS boys tennis team to CIF championship – would also like to change the world

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Rick Conkey managed to do this year what no one has done since 1982: coach the Laguna Beach High School boys’ tennis team to a CIF championship. Not bad for a guy who just completed his first full season as the Breakers’ coach.

The secret might be “the rug,” his theory on how and where to make contact with the ball; or instilling in the kids his mantra of “pressure is a privilege;” or his method of breaking down the parts of the game into a step by step process. It could be any of these things and, of course, it probably has a lot to do with all of these things. However, I would venture that the most valuable thing Coach Conkey’s team learned from him is much more basic. “Instilling the love for the game is vital,” he says. 

His theories aside, he is quick to acknowledge that the team’s success was not a one-person job. He credits assistant coach Nicholis Radisay, in a big way. “His passion, dedication and organizational skills contributed to the team and its outcome.”

Additionally, reaching out to the larger community also had a positive impact.

“Many of the town’s ‘Laguna Tennis Legends’ were also invited down to give a fresh perspective and new energy…it all made a difference.” 

Tennis opens the door to music

Conkey’s passion for the sport of tennis is not subtle. He has dedicated almost his entire working life not just to playing and coaching, but trying to build a community around the sport he loves. It was this commitment to building a tennis community that opened the door to his other love: promoting music. The two activities may seem a bit at odds, but in hearing Conkey’s story, that one would lead to the other makes perfect sense.

llp rick conkey portrait

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Rick Conkey, music promoter, tennis pro and now CIF Champion coach of the 2018 LBHS Boys Tennis Team

Teaching keeps him in the game

Conkey grew up in Newport Beach. However, he was not your typical tennis club kind of kid. Tennis lessons were an extravagance, but one his mother, a teacher, indulged by working as a tutor after her school day ended in order to afford them. He managed to get good enough to attend the World Junior Tennis Academy in San Diego on scholarship. Unfortunately, he got injured. Teaching became the way he could stay connected to the game he loved.

Coaching took him to Europe to work with top ranked juniors as well as stints at other prestigious programs, including the Jack Kramer Club where he remembers being asked to work with a young Pete Sampras.

Putting the community back into tennis

After his European coaching tour ended in 1996, Conkey came to Laguna. He opened a small tennis shop and tried to recreate the enthusiasm for tennis he remembered the town having when he was a boy. “When I moved here I could see that there was no passion, no community. The players didn’t even really know each other,” he recalls.

So, he compiled an extensive 1,200-person database with names, abilities and genders, along with a 300-person tennis ladder. He started a tournament that grew to 350 entrants but, still, things didn’t feel quite right. “There was an interest. It just needed something to bring it all together.” That “something” was simple enough: events for people to come socialize…and listen to music. 

“I’ve always been a lover of music,” says Conkey. “My brother is a flamenco guitar master. I never understood the depth of my musical knowledge until I started putting these parties together. The reviews of these events were fantastic and the reason was because of the music.” With the success of his events, Conkey began to look outside the tennis world. If tennis players liked the bands he found, he figured other people probably would too.

llp rick conkey playing

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Rick Conkey in action at the vintage Laguna Moss Point tennis court, where he has been teaching for years

The Blue Water Music Festival is born

This then led to the creation of his Blue Water Music Festival. The first one took place in 2014 with another one the following year. Conkey says he’s aiming for 2020 for number three. While the event allows Conkey to showcase musical talents he admires, the event also exemplifies a formula he is committed to: 50 percent of the proceeds go to nonprofits. “It’s a pie in the sky idea,” admits Conkey. “It’s about harnessing ideas, but we need to monetize that. I feel this town has an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that a music festival can raise money for many organizations. The musicians can be part of it, too, by bringing their audience.”

A blatant idealism colors every venture

Conkey is not shy about voicing his idealistic goals. He talks a lot about changing the world. He really believes he can create something out of the things he loves that can make a significant positive impact. 

His latest venture is BC Space in downtown Laguna. “It’s the vision of Mark Chamberlain (who recently passed away) and his original partner, Jerry Burchfield. Their vision was to present provocative art that makes people think,” explains Conkey. With Chamberlain’s passing, the mission has fallen to Conkey to keep it going. No easy task, especially as he says his rent for the space just doubled.

llp rick conkey backhand

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Rick Conkey demonstrates a backhand volley at the Moss Point tennis court

Looking to keep BC Space alive downtown

BC Space is part art gallery, part music venue, part theatre, carrying on the legacy of Chamberlain and Burchfield (the B and C in the name). Conkey says he is in the process of creating a calendar.

“A huge transition is taking place,” he says. “We’re searching for patrons that understand the value of this amazing space.” For more information about the space visit www.bcspace.com. It has a lot of interesting background on what has become an almost too well-kept secret venue.

“Laguna is an artists’ colony. We should be the leader for demonstrating the power of art in the world. If we can demonstrate that this formula works, we’ll have a lot more fun, learn a lot more, and change the world forever,” says Conkey.

Sports, the arts and The Artists

And, oddly enough this all circles back to what brought Conkey to Laguna in the first place: tennis. He tells me of a discussion he had with his team and how they, now the LBHS Breakers, like to refer to themselves as “Artists” (the mascot LBHS used prior to becoming the Breakers). “The highest level of athletes are called ‘artists.’ The Jordans, the Federers, they are all artists. It’s kind of interesting when you think about it.” And this link between sports and art and how they can foster community is what fuels Conkey’s ventures and his idealism.

Will Conkey’s vision for art and music change the world? Such things are hard to quantify. The fact that he’s trying is certainly worth applauding. What is very quantifiable is his success as a tennis coach. Conkey never doubted his team would win CIF. “I took a long term vision. I thought it would take four or five years to get where we wanted. It took a year and a half,” he says with satisfaction. Changing the whole world will undoubtedly take longer, but Conkey is determined to keep trying.


Bob Mosier, Biscuit Bomber: From World War II to the World Wide Web

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

At a time when our world would most benefit from the wisdom of the Greatest Generation, we’re rapidly losing them. Men and women born into the Depression, who endured the atrocities of the Second World War with stoic patriotism, have something to teach us youngsters. They returned with resilience, a strong work ethic, and an unwavering sense of responsibility. They don’t view themselves as heroes, but merely as people called upon to do a job, and do it well.

For those who remain from that generation, time often takes its toll on the mind. Even if their memories are intact, many who fought in WWII feel reluctant to talk about their time overseas. 

All of this makes one gentleman in our midst a particular treasure. Bob Mosier, 93, eagerly shares his tales. Not only did he fight in WWII, he volunteered for the draft at the tender age of 19 and became a “Biscuit Bomber” by the time he turned twenty. His stories are legends, documented in his memoir, Flying with Biscuit Bomber Bob: The Untold Story of WWII Air Transport in the Pacific and a nearly three-hour film stored in the archives of the Palm Springs Air Museum.

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Bob Mosier at home with his book

War has a way of making men out of boys, and heroes out of commoners. Bob is no exception. He saw Hiroshima and Nagasaki first hand. He delivered food, ammunition and supplies to thousands, and transported hundreds of prisoners of war. A Japanese officer surrendered his sword at the sight of him. Risking his life became a daily decision for over two years. Those experiences can’t help but have a profound effect on a young man coming of age.

As George Santayana famously reminds us: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Bob Mosier (or Papa Bob as he’s affectionately known by family and friends) has much to teach, and stories to tell. These are but a few of them.

An early fascination with flight

Bob’s introduction to flight was the sight of the German Graf Zeppelin when it completed its ambitious around-the-world adventure in 1929. Bob was only five when his father took him to see it. His gaze remained high, watching the barnstorming bi-planes doing stunts over Mines Field in Los Angeles. That’s when Bob first seized on his dream of becoming a pilot. 

But tragedy struck when Bob began high school. His father contracted meningitis and was admitted to the hospital one day, never to return home. “The family was so suddenly deprived of his love, help and guidance that we suffered from both his loss and our own bewildering future plight,” Bob says in his memoir. 

Whether it was that early exposure to the world’s most epic flight, or the sudden surprise of his father’s passing, Bob went headlong after his dream. He applied, and was accepted, for flight training in the U.S. Army Air Force. Bob was off to New Guinea, to fight in the world’s greatest war, while still only a teen. 

The Biscuit Bomber

Bob celebrated his 20th birthday on a troopship sailing to New Guinea. Once in the South Pacific, he joined the 57th Squadron, 375th Troop Carrier Group, known as the “Biscuit Bombers.” Flying C-46 and C-47s (called by General Dwight Eisenhower “one of the most important weapons of World War II”) Bob and his troop delivered ammunition, rations, and other supplies to forces on the ground, and transported wounded soldiers, army nurses, and POWs back to safety. Their planes were unarmed, often landing in the midst of enemy fire on inadequate patches of dirt carved out of the jungle, often not stable enough to hold the weight of a plane. 

Flying in the South Pacific meant Bob was over water more often than land, making navigation difficult and forced landings impossible. As Bob proved time after time, a meticulous mind combined with bottomless bravery makes an effective pilot.

Finding freedom in mortality

Bob went to war believing he wouldn’t come home. Embracing his own mortality, while retaining an optimist’s sense of adventure, allowed Bob to take even more risks than most – in an environment where risk was an inherent way of life. He adopted a philosophy that he was going to have fun, doing what he loved, for as long as he could do it. That attitude – along with tremendous flight skills, an outstanding sense of navigation, and a lot of luck – helped Bob survive. He never hesitated, and his bravery paid dividends.

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Bob with two-year-old Blackjack, a Pomeranian

On one notable occasion, Bob barely got his C-47 off the ground, not knowing the plane exceeded the maximum cargo weight by 2,500 pounds. A tall jungle surrounded the short runway. With only a few feet of altitude, and too much speed to back down, Bob spotted a small slot in the forest. He banked his wings, scalping several trees, but made it up and out. He was still a young pilot, without a lot of flight hours. Most of his experience was under extreme circumstances that looked more like scenes from action films than real life.

“I suppose you could say we had a steep learning curve,” Bob says in his memoir. “It is not an exaggeration to say that you either learned fast, or died trying.” 

Avionics have come a long way since 1944. Planes took off into thick clouds, heading out over the Pacific, with little more than maps and slide-rules to guide them. Navigating was done with TLAR (“That looks about right”) technology. As Bob tried explaining the complicated, yet primitive, calculation methods he used to determine his flight path, my head started to swim. What I understood was this: Bob flew a C-47 over endless expanses of water with limited fuel supplies, in inclement weather, and unreliable navigation systems. Even minor mistakes couldn’t be tolerated because landing wasn’t an option. His passengers were often prisoners of war, wounded soldiers, or army nurses headed to the battlefields. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

“A hero,” Tom Hanks once said, “is someone who voluntarily walks into the unknown.” Flying into the unknown is a whole other matter.

Unforeseen enemies of war

Weather was often Bob’s worst adversary. Storms and typhoons could be as dangerous as enemy fire to an aircraft. Forced landings had grave and unknowable consequences, and Bob’s position close to the equator put him in the center of several storms. 

In September of 1945 (after the signing of the peace treaty), while transporting British POWs from Hokkaido, Bob found himself flying into the eye of a typhoon. Lacking the fuel to turn around, he spotted a strip of dirt 150 miles from Tokyo and landed. As his crew looked around, a single Japanese captain came toward them, removed his sword, and planted it into the ground. The captain assumed Americans had come to capture him, and he signaled his surrender. Once Bob’s team explained they’d been forced to land, and had plans to leave once the storm passed, they were offered a hearty meal of rice – five pounds per person. Even for starving soldiers and POWs, five pounds apiece proved more than they could chew.

As the war wound down, and the weather heated up, Bob made several attempts for Okinawa, each time thwarted by a storm. Deciding he’d had enough, he soldiered through a dangerous squall and was the first plane to land in more than a week. A colonel came running out of control to greet him. Before Bob knew it, they were airborne again, headed for northern Okinawa. Little did he know, but Bob was delivering the colonel to the site of Japan’s surrender.

Comedy is tragedy’s twin sister

Often it’s the moments of greatest intensity that require a lighthearted attitude. War and peace are two sides of the same coin. So are comedy and tragedy. Bob has the heart of a comic. He’s quick to laugh, eager to seek out fun, and has the disposition of an optimist. His memoir is peppered with tales of good times. 

Bob and best friend Cliff made a secret map between them, a grid of random numbers scrawled across an axis overlaid on a map they each squirreled away in their gear. With this method, they could always find each other by communicating their location in code. And they did. Cliff sought out Bob for off-duty adventures whenever he could. 

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Bob Mosier signs his book

Who else but Bob would laugh while fishing a dropped flashlight from the foul muck of a latrine? Or play poker for 48 straight hours on a sleep-starved ship bound for New Guinea? But one of my favorite themes of Bob’s memoir was his internal radar primed to locate beautiful nurses. Based on the twinkle that remains in his eye, and the bikini-dotted beach below his home in Fisherman’s Cove, I’d say that radar is still intact.

I’m convinced his infectious optimism and fun spirit are largely responsible for his success, as well as his long life. Survival requires both instinct and attitude, and Bob is no defeatist. 

From World War II to the World Wide Web
(A line borrowed from Bob’s memoir)

Once Bob returned home, he went on to a storied career as an electronic engineer, working first for Collins Radio Company (which supplied much of the equipment in his C-47).  Bob’s work in digital communication paved the way for 4G broadband cellular technology still being developed today. His efforts aided in the creation of Navy Tactical Data Systems (NTDS) used to keep track of warships. He worked on the California Digital Computer (CALDIC), now on display at the Smithsonian. He was also an early pioneer of voice recognition software. Bob developed code for missiles used against Russia, cryptographic equipment, and frequency standards used in worldwide clocks. His efforts laid the technological foundations for cell phones, email, and the internet. The list goes on. 

Keeping family close and conversations interesting

Before Facebook, there was BOBNET, a computer network system Bob developed to keep over 1,500 family members and friends updated on life events. His daughter, Nancy, already spotted the potential privacy issues involved. But Bob’s motives were clear – family and friends always come first.

Bob’s passion for technology, unquenchable curiosity, and infectious love for learning kept his family dinners active. Meals were educational opportunities. A given night’s topic might be Morse code. His daughters learned not to ask passing questions unless they were ready for a dissertation from Dad.

Family, Bob says, is his greatest achievement. “Family is the best. If there’s anything worth preserving, it’s a happy family.” To them, Bob leaves the legacy of flight. Three of his children and two of his grandchildren are pilots. One grandson is a lieutenant colonel and professor in the Air Force. 

One day at a time

I call Bob up after our initial interview to ask for more advice. I want to know his secret to a happy and successful life. He laughs. “Well,” he says, “people always ask how I stayed married for 68 years. The answer is: one day at a time.” 

I think back on Bob’s time in the war, losing his dad, loving one woman for 68 years, raising four children, and his successful career as an engineer. Maybe that’s the answer to all of it – one day at a time.


Rosalind Russell: The “Goat Lady” has changed the lives of many Nepalese woman & children 

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Rosalind Russell is surprisingly glamorous for a woman known as “The Goat Lady.” And while the nickname is accurate (Russell estimates 15,000 goats have been dispersed throughout villages in Nepal as a result of her work), it doesn’t tell the whole story. For that we’d have to attach additional words like “school” and “self-sustaining” and “female empowerment” to her nickname. For Russell has not only boosted needy villagers’ earning power with goats, she has changed their lives.

Finding Rabindra in Nepal

Back in 1988 Russell was traveling the world, visiting places she found of “spiritual interest.” She was in India when she met a friend who convinced her to see Nepal. “It was glorious,” she remembers. But the grinding poverty that she was grateful to have left behind in India was certainly present in Nepal.

While exploring Nepal, Russell met an 11-year-old boy named Rabindra. He stood out from all the other street urchins she encountered. “He had the best English,” says Russell. Rabindra convinced his new friend to let him show her around. “We just really liked each other,” explains Russell.  

 

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Rosalind Russell, aka The Goat Lady, and Founder and Director of R Star Foundation

Eventually, he invited her to meet his family. Russell first met the boy’s grandmother, who was resting at their Kathmandu home following cataract surgery. She recalls being dismayed to see the poverty in which they lived. Her hosts generously offered her some popcorn to eat and, while she wasn’t inclined to accept it, she says, “I could not say no.” This would not be the last time Russell found it hard to say “no” to Rabindra.

Making an empty promise that wasn’t

Over the two weeks they spent together, Russell and Rabindra formed quite a friendship. “I had really bonded with this kid,” she says. As she prepared to go back home to Laguna, Russell says she promised Rabindra she would return someday. But, she admits, it was a false promise. 

She had seen enough suffering. Whatever her plans were going forward they did not include a return visit to Nepal. “I was never returning to that country,” she says. Russell flew home to her husband ready for her next adventure.

Coming home to a new, unforeseen adventure

Once home there was definitely a new adventure waiting for her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one she was prepared for. Her husband asked her for a divorce. So, Russell did what people frequently do in that kind of situation, she reassessed. “My whole life had changed,” she says. 

She contemplated going back to medical school (she had previously dropped out halfway through) but realized she didn’t really like it. She thought about becoming a vet because she loves animals. However, she couldn’t shake the voice in her head that kept repeating “ministry.” She eventually listened to that voice and became ordained as a minister in 1992. “I was one of the first straight ministers doing gay marriages,” she says with pride.

 

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Rosalind Russell holding a photo of herself with some of the Nepalese villagers her organization works with

Her ministry work kept her very busy as she performed both weddings and funerals. She even started a prison ministry that is now in its 37th year. Her longest running congregant has been with her for 27 years, and only one of the men she ministered to has returned to prison after his release. 

Finally, keeping her word – and bringing goats

Throughout all of this, there was still Rabindra. Even though it had been many years since Rabindra had seen his American “mom,” he never forgot Russell’s promise to return. (Rabindra started calling Russell “mom” with his own mother’s blessing. He explained to Russell that his mother said, “Yes, sure, she’s your mom too. She would die for you.”) Rabindra was insistent that Russell keep her promise and return to see him. “Mom, when are you coming over?” he would ask repeatedly. Russell finally acquiesced.

Since she was going to return to Nepal, Russell decided she wanted to arrive with gifts for Rabindra and his family. “I decided to bring goats,” she says after remembering how Rabindra spoke of their importance. Plus, “They’re in our backyard (grazing the hills in Laguna), and I’m a Capricorn and they’re kind of goat-like, so that’s how the whole goat thing started,” explains Russell, as if everyone would, of course, come to the same conclusion.

Not everyone thought goats were a great idea

 Rabindra was not impressed with his “mom’s” plan. “That’s stupid,” Russell recalls him opining about the goats. Nevertheless, she remained undeterred and 200 goats were delivered to two villages upon her return to Nepal. 

Two goats each were given to the women in the villages. They were ecstatic, but there were strings attached. In order to receive this gift, the villagers had to promise they would give away a goat. “It’s a pay it forward program,” explains Russell. The gift was accompanied by a micro-financing program. Another caveat: everyone had to work together. In the Hindu caste society this is no small order. And yet, though she was met with some resistance at first regarding both caveats, Russell says, “This has changed their hearts.” 

First goats, then a school

After such a successful return to a place she really hadn’t wanted to ever see again, one would hardly fault Russell if that were the end of her charitable acts. After all, in her one visit she had done more for total strangers than most people ever think about doing.

However, the goats were not going to be the end of it for Russell. One of her friends, upon hearing about the goats and the largely illiterate villagers who received them, suggested that the village needed a school. “I should have never listened to her!” laughs Russell. But she did. And now a TOWN-N school, catering to pre-school up to fifth grade, exists as a result of her work. Girls attend free of charge, and the children are taught in English, and are exposed to the outside world with Kindles and books. “The kids are testing in the top 10 percent. It’s outrageous,” exclaims Russell proudly.

A personal loss followed by a global one

And how nice if the story ended there. Unfortunately, two catastrophic events took place -- one global, the other personal – that forced Russell to reassess and adapt again. The first was personal. In 2008 Russell’s home of 29 years burned down. She fought the insurance company for years only to come away with virtually nothing. Now she lives in a one-room pool house. And yet she and her R Star Foundation never wavered from her Nepalese mission. She speaks of her loss as just that, something she lost. As one who has seen true suffering, third world suffering, she has decided that this event that caused her financial devastation was unfortunate, but not tragic.

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In her spare time, Russell trained her Abyssinian cat, above, to walk on a leash

The second event she definitely classifies as tragic. In 2015 Nepal was hit with an earthquake that killed an estimated 10,000 people and injured well over 22,000 people. The country has yet to recover. And this has changed R Star’s mission, but just a little. Russell says that while the earthquake struck on April 24, by April 28, Rabindra was leading the charge to deliver supplies to the villages. By June 2, the school was reopened. However, much of the infrastructure has not been rebuilt and this has handcuffed R Star and what it can do.

Working with limitations

Rather than acquiring more goats, Russell says the group has turned to a professional goat judge, Dan Laney. He is helping the villagers care for the goats they have. “He teaches them how to do hoofing, and things like that,” says Russell. The group has built 30 greenhouses as well as organized a coat drive to help keep the villagers warm since their houses, rebuilt since the quake, are subpar for the harsh environment.

An entire separate column could be written specifying all the things R Star has done – and continues to do – for the people in Nepal. Every dollar they raise goes to the mission. The group is adaptable, practical and, looking for “outstanding Board members.” 

And if I really wanted to keep it going, I could write about all the other community organizations Russell belongs to (trust me, it’s a lot). But, perhaps, that will be another story. This story is about a woman who has turned personal setbacks into a truly meaningful life’s work. Russell, herself, is quick to give credit to others, but it’s clear she is the driving force. So let’s give credit where credit is due. 

Despite telling me unabashedly that, “Poverty isn’t my pleasure,” Russell has unflinchingly continued to battle against it, even in the face of great personal loss. “We’ve gotten very good at what we do,” she says. “Now, I even like my moniker, “The Goat Lady.” And that’s fortunate, because there are a lot of people in Nepal who are hoping the woman it belongs to, is around for a long time.


A Life Rewritten: How a devastating diagnosis has put 

Summer Tarango’s future into sharper focus

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photography by Mary Hurlbut

Last July, Summer Tarango’s life looked fulfilling, at least from the outside. She was the operations manager at zpizza, a satisfying job she’d held for 14 years. She owned her own catering company. Her relationship with longtime boyfriend, Ed Benrock (a drummer for Jamestown Revival), stood on solid ground. Summer had a posse of good friends, two close sisters, and a strong bond with her mother. “I was happy,” Summer says, looking back. “But nothing was exciting. I was going through the motions.” 

Summer and Ed celebrated the Fourth of July weekend with a bike ride in Austin, Texas. She admits to some trepidation, but – true to her nature – Summer seemed up for anything, and didn’t want to put a damper on the day by confessing any fears. 

The ride ended with a bad fall. Summer suffered a significant laceration on her forehead and a banged-up knee, though nothing that time and stitches shouldn’t resolve. As the months wore on, however, the knee didn’t heal. Doctors suspected an infection. 

When Summer discovered a lump in her armpit, they feared the infection had spread. Afraid to pierce the lump and risk spreading it further, they waited…and waited, treating her with antibiotics. Nothing improved. Finally, before sending Summer off to an infectious disease specialist, her doctor performed a biopsy to rule out anything significant. They weren’t worried, they said, but they wanted to cover their bases.

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Smiling Summer presents a pretty picture worthy of her name

As Summer sat alone in a parking lot on her way to work the Friday before Thanksgiving, the call came. Summer, at 42 years of age, had stage 3C triple-negative breast cancer – and it was aggressive. Further testing revealed she also had the BRCA mutation. Treatment, she was told, could not wait. Within two weeks, Summer had begun her first round of chemotherapy.

A triple-negative diagnosis and the BRCA gene mutation

Triple-negative breast cancer is more common in younger patients, and more common still in women with the BRCA gene. The three typical receptors that fuel breast cancer – estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2 gene – are not present in these types of tumors. The result is that common treatment methods – hormone therapy and other drugs – that target those receptors can’t be used. This cancer tends to be more aggressive, though still responsive to chemotherapy.

A BRCA mutation is a change in either of two genes – BRCA1 or BRCA2 – that prevents that gene from working properly. Both BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes. Summer is the only woman in her family with the mutation.

All this adds up to a complicated diagnosis, and a long and grueling treatment plan utilizing a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. That would be difficult for any patient to hear. For Summer, coming from a background rooted in holistic medicine, her choice was made even harder.

Mother of all healing

Summer’s mother, Vijaya Stern, teaches and practices Ayurvedic medicine in Laguna Beach. Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, developed approximately 5,000 years ago in India. It’s based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. 

“When the soul is hindered by the divisive nature of the ego, ‘dis-ease’ begins to manifest,” says Vijaya Stern on her website, www.livingrasa.com. 

Vijaya has studied this ancient healing practice since the late 1970s, when Summer was a toddler. At her Living Rasa studio, she offers healing, yoga, classes, and retreats. Vijaya’s patients are treated with herbs, not pharmaceutical drugs. Health is managed with diet, meditation, yoga, and other natural practices. 

Western medicine – particularly aggressive and invasive treatments like chemotherapy – is obviously in direct opposition to Ayurveda’s philosophy. Even the antibiotics Summer took for that initial knee infection were her first experience with Western medicine. Vijaya’s beliefs are clear: “Ayurveda sees all of creation as the Mother herself.” 

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Summer finds meditation calming, and combines Western and holistic/ayurvedic approaches to help her heal

“Going through chemo is not what she would have wanted [for me],” Summer says. “I told her, This is what I’m doing, and you have to accept my choice. She does, but she struggles with it.”

Summer’s diagnosis has been an amazing teacher for both mother and daughter, she says. “I thought we were so close, and we are, but we’re getting challenged. I don’t invite her to chemo. I can’t expect her to watch that happen. But I’ve found the places where she can be of assistance: dietary help, or just giving me attention and love.”

East meets west

Summer is embracing both ends of the medical spectrum on her journey to recovery. Perhaps that’s not uncommon. But, in Summer’s case, it feels a bit more urgent and necessary. She draws strength from her mother’s practice, following a strict diet as best she can, incorporating yoga and other spiritual practices. 

Summer works with an integrative medicine specialist, receiving Vitamin C infusions, weekly B12 shots, and other alternative supplements and strategies. She uses an app called “Insight Timer” for guided meditations and relaxing music, which I went home to download and now use myself. 

But she’s also enduring the debilitating rounds of chemotherapy (including a particularly aggressive regimen of a drug called “The Red Devil,” which is even worse than it sounds). And she’s planning ahead for a future full of more chemo, radiation, and surgery. 

“When I was diagnosed my first thought was, I’m going to be so inspirational to people. I’m going to show everyone how to cook. I’m going to stick to the Keto diet my doctor wants me on. I was going to show everyone how you can be so amazing during cancer. But chemo kicked my ass. Most days, I’m just trying to get any food in,” Summer says.

“Now I’m giving myself some grace. That plan didn’t happen, and it’s okay. I’m getting out of bed, getting dressed, and saying ‘yes’ to things. Just getting through is a victory.”

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Summer finds comfort in the natural beauty surrounding her mother’s home

As Summer tells this story, I find her authenticity far more inspirational than her original plan. Strength in the face of crisis takes many different forms, and “success” has shifting definitions. Discovering our limitations, accepting them with grace, and finding new ways to accommodate them…that strikes me as success.

A healing circle: the defining moment

About a month back, Vijaya held a healing circle for Summer. Thirty two women spanning several generations (from their 30s to their 70s), some close to Summer and some close to her mother, gathered in Vijaya’s home. They shared their hopes for her, as well as their observations of how Summer impacts their lives.

One friend told Summer she was the chain in their friendship necklace, gathering beads of women and stringing them together to create something unique and beautiful. “It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced,” Summer says.

A friend of Vijaya’s performed Reiki, a Japanese practice that promotes physical wellbeing through the laying on of hands, using touch to activate the body’s natural healing process. “Because of the Reiki, I was so incredibly present,” says Summer. She describes the music, the incense, the whipping of an eagle feather over her head, transporting herself back to the moment as she’s describing it.

“I’d never been that present in my life,” she says. “Six months ago, I don’t know if I could have taken that in. Now I was able to look in every woman’s eyes and listen. Before, I would have been self-deprecating. Now I need it. I need the love and energy. How else will I get through this?”

It’s clear, in our time together, that this moment marked a defining change in Summer’s life. “I didn’t know an experience like this existed,” she said. “And now I want more. I want to live in that moment.” 

Meaningful conversations: A Soulful Project

Summer also wants more meaningful conversations. Before her diagnosis, she’d been working with Summer Meek from Soul Project on ways to forge deeper connections with women. Summer is part of what she laughingly calls a coven – 13 girlfriends whom she’s carefully strung on her friendship chain. 

The dinners are intended to gather women together for meaningful discussions about soulful topics. In other words, not your typical ladies-night-out-wine-and-gossip. It’s a chance to be real with each other – vulnerable, authentic, and honest.

Summer looks forward to the day when she’s strong enough to make those dinners happen. In the meantime, she stays close to her coven. The women all show up for her in different and important ways. I ask how her diagnosis has changed her relationships with friends. “It’s just exaggerated things that were already there,” she says. For the good and the bad.

Summer’s Backyard Barbecue

In the meantime, before the Soul Project dinners and intense conversations, Summer is celebrating life with a Backyard Barbecue intended to raise money for her treatments. On Sunday, May 20 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., friends, family and anyone interested can join in at the Blinking Owl Distillery in Santa Ana. Ed’s band, Jamestown Revival, will play. Nirvana Grille will support the event (Summer’s sister, Lindsay, is the chef and co-owner of Nirvana). 

To learn more about how to attend or participate, visit www.youcaring.com/summertarango-1171518.

A life being lived, a story being rewritten

Not every narrative has an easy ending, and Summer’s story is still in progress, a new page written each day. There are a lot of unknowns. But there are also a few beautiful certainties. 

“I don’t see the point of working my way through this just to go back to a mundane life. What’s the point?” she says. “This is really hard. Chemo is hard. Here’s the chance to work through relationships, create the life I want, and explore my wildest dreams. What brings me deep joy? How can I bring these experiences that I’ve had to other women? I won’t finish this and go back to life as it was. I’m already seeing glimpses of it. It already looks totally different.”

Now and again, life forces us into a wormhole. Challenges arise that push us through some painful portal that changes us forever. Looking back from the other side – 

with the perspective gained from an intense experience, instead of the inevitable slow roll of time – our old lives can almost seem unrecognizable. Call it wisdom, call it personal growth, call it a gift. Not everyone gets it. 

It’s not easy to learn vicariously through others’ obstacles. But it’s worth reminding ourselves to pay attention, and to stop accepting the status quo if it’s no longer serving us. Other ways of living are within reach, if only we’re willing to stretch ourselves, take risks, and seize opportunities. That seemed to be the lesson embedded in Summer’s story. 

As Summer faces life’s biggest question – What’s the point? – I’m certain she won’t stop until she finds her answer. In many ways, maybe she already has.


Larry Ricci: Embedded in Laguna’s LGBTQ culture, then and now

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

During the time Larry Ricci owned his interior design firm, he was known as the “Spaceman,” because when he walked into a space, he knew, “It’s my canvas, I see what it’s going to be, and I execute it.”

Odd, and yet an apt nickname. In 1972, when he came to Laguna Beach, it’s as if he decided this would be the space, the canvas upon which he was going to design and build his life; one that included being an artist, musician, singer, songwriter, producer, original member of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Chapterof ISID, original board member of The Heritage and Culture Committee, and founder of Club Q. (And more endeavors that he didn’t get around to talking about during our interview.)

Creation of Club Q

We meet at Susi Q, where almost five years ago, he presented the idea of a club for LGBTQ seniors, a now thriving group, Club Q, whose slogan is, “A social club for the LGBTQ community and friends.” 

When I first interviewed Larry, a year ago, a monumental event had just taken place, one that affected him deeply. On May 9, 2017, the Laguna Beach City Council proclaimed June as LGBT Heritage and Culture Month. Larry says that as the last sentence of the proclamation was read, “Forever the month of June is recognized as LGBT month…” it was very emotional. The forever did it for him. “It was the first time I felt respected for who I am instead of being discriminated against for who I am.” 

And it’s apparent the words still resonate with him. He’s been waiting to hear them for a long time.

Arriving in Laguna Beach in 1972

Larry landed in Laguna after moving from his birthplace, Seattle, WA, to Huntington Beach in 1971, arriving here a year later. “This is where I came out in my adult gay life,” he says. “I met all these wonderful people and a huge community and within it, magnificent art and artists.” During the 1970s and 1980s, he was very involved in the art world and knew most of the LGBTQ artists. 

Recently, he found a way to celebrate them, with the first exhibition to feature art provided by LGBTQ artisans, “Harmony Art Exhibit.” 

Larry says, “I approached Susi Q when I knew the exhibit’s theme would be harmony, peace and unity. A lot of LGBTQ artists certainly helped shape the art culture in Laguna Beach. The idea was extremely well accepted by Susi Q and Gallery Q. The exhibit will feature current pieces, as well as historical works, from LGBTQ artists in the community. I was able to acquire many pieces from the 1960s forward to honor those decades in which the LGBTQ artists really did help shape the art colony as it exists today.” 

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Larry gets snacks ready for Club Q’s Movie Day

Scheduled in conjunction with Laguna’s Pride Month, “Harmony Art Exhibit” will be presented by Gallery Q at Susi Q (in the multi-purpose room) from May 7 - June 29, with the official reception on Friday, May 11 from 5 - 6:30 p.m. 

Three pieces from Larry’s own collection – by artists Pegi Wear, Barbara Brown, and Orlando Botero – will be included in the exhibit. His close friends, Wear and Brown (who are both now deceased), owned Contemporary Arts Gallery on the corner of Myrtle and PCH (the A-frame building) in the 1970s. Larry admits he drove by there not long ago, and thought, “Well, girls, we have one more show to do.”

Time now measured in decades

“I talk of time now in decades,” Larry says. And admittedly, he’s done quite a lot in over four of them.

During the ‘80s, he painted abstract mixed-media pieces that were shown in two galleries. As if that’s not enough, every Friday and Saturday for four years in the mid-‘80s, Larry and Jim Harding performed at Main Street Café, which was a piano bar at the time, sporting a grand piano, no less. Larry played the piano and sang, and Jim played the bass guitar and sang. “We did cover music from the ‘80s and some of my original songs,” Larry says. “I can still picture the crowd around the piano.”

In the ‘90s, he was a production designer on a short film and a feature film (for which he wrote the title song). 

For 25 years, he owned an interior design firm in Corona del Mar, and traveled all around the country designing: shopping malls, gourmet markets, funeral homes, retirement homes, yachts, and corporate buses. He freelanced for another 10 years after that, and while on a lengthy assignment in Alabama, he owned a 26,000 square foot Antique Mall and Consignment store. He now consults, proving true the adage he relates, “Designers never quit, they die.”

Stepping away as facilitator of Club Q

Now he’s embarking on yet another chapter. As of June 1, the fifth anniversary of Club Q, Larry has decided to “step away” from his position as full time facilitator. “Due to new commitments with work responsibilities,” he says. “It was an extremely difficult decision to make, because I’ve had this up and running for five years. And having been its founder, it’s hard to let go.”

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Club Q Movie Day, the third Friday of each month

Larry explains the plan for Club Q after he steps aside, “There have been multiple conversations and networking with other LGBTQ organizations. Three other groups, Shanti OC, LGBTQ Center OC, and the LGBTQ Heritage and Culture Committee, will be involved in upcoming gatherings of the Club. In co-partnering with these other organizations and services, each will take over one of the designated time periods a month. We have the first and third Friday afternoons of the month, and these groups will be woven in at these times to bring in more people. They will rotate in on the first Friday, and the third Friday will still be Club Q movie day. Susi Q will facilitate until a new steering committee is created.” 

He says of the new format, “It’s the arms and fingers of five years of networking, bringing these organizations in to Susi Q to be with LGBTQ family and friends.”

The Club Q members look forward to new and exciting adventures with Club Q, but, of course, they will miss the leadership they had with Larry. 

And, yes, he will still be part of Club Q, but as a member.

A time of celebration, a time of sorrow

The more one learns about Laguna’s rich gay culture of the past 40 plus years, the more it appears to embody periods of absolute joy or absolute grief. As described by Larry, it was a dizzying and dazzling life in Laguna in the ‘70s, a mecca of energy and artistry, and then came the impenetrable sorrow of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Larry recalls those times, “In 1984, along with Ed Smith, Jim Reed, and Rick Hernandez, we put on a musical review in Jim Reed’s house from 11 p.m. to midnight and raised $26,000 as seed money for AIDS Services Foundation (ASF). The next year, we held it at the Woman’s Club and raised $100,000 for ASF. We skipped a year, and then in 1987, we raised $150,000 for them.”

An unforgettable walk

On December 1, 2017, I had the privilege of going on an unforgettable walk with Larry and members of Club Q to the police station to deliver toys for Spark of Love, and then to Main Beach for the commemoration of World AIDS Day. The day and evening, (which also included Hospitality Night), involved a strange juxtaposition of emotions. In the amount of time it took to reach the cobblestones at the beach, joy melded into sadness, as Larry and Ric Uggs related the stories of what it was like back then. 

Larry said, “I’ll never forget that 10-15 years of constant loss. In the early 1980s, we worried when someone said they weren’t feeling well. Because it seemed to happen quickly after that. They’d be gone in 30, 60 or 90 days. I was in the interior design business and many of design shops closed because the proprietors died. We’re here to celebrate those lives and grieve their deaths.”

Attendees at the ceremony were asked to write the names of friends and family members who died from AIDS on small pink hearts. 

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On June 1, Larry steps away as Club Q facilitator

Visibly shaken, Larry told me, “I started writing down the names of my friends, and I got to six, and I couldn’t go on. Back when they started dying, and the number got to 30, I said I don’t know what to do. A friend gave me some good advice. ‘Larry, stop counting.’”

Then a group of four people read the names of those who died, and a small bell rang after each name. And then the moderator asked for people to call out the names of those they knew who hadn’t been mentioned. Between Larry and Ric, they called out another 30 or more names. 

“These were sons, children, husbands, and wives. It’s not just a gay disease and never was,” Larry said.

Since 1972, Larry has both lived as part of and been witness to the LGBTQ culture in Laguna, a historian of the times. And his achievements – the founding of Club Q and now the co-partnering with other LGBTQ organizations, the first exhibition of LGBTQ art, and his role as one of the original board members of the Heritage Culture Committee – speak to the multifaceted life he’s led, the joy and grief of it all. 

In every case, he saw what could be, and he made it happen.


Pastor Rod Echols: Raised in Memphis, he loves Laguna and the Neighborhood Congregational Church

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Just when Pastor Rod Echols decided he was ready to become a full time pastor, Laguna’s Neighborhood Congregational Church reached out to him. “I was approached by this church right when I started my search,” recounts Pastor Rod. Not intimately familiar with Laguna Beach, Pastor Rod says it did check one of his non-negotiable boxes: it was in southern California. So he did some research. “I started looking into the community. It was so strong, so progressive...It was evolving onto everything I wanted to be as a pastor. I was honored to be hired.” 

Finding the right place to make a big change

Now, with almost a year of full-time ministry behind him, Pastor Rod is nothing if not enthusiastic about the future. “I feel, especially being so new in my role, like a kid in a candy store.” He has embraced the city’s quirks, and is delighted to be in a community that is so close-knit. “I’ve never served in a town like Laguna. It’s a town that values conservation, healthy living; it has strong connections and values. You can feel it here; it’s so strong. I really love that.”

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Pastor Rod Echols of the Neighborhood Congregational Church

Finding it easy to honor his mother’s wishes

Pastor Rod is a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC). The UCC is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination. It is known for being socially progressive with an emphasis on interfaith efforts. As for how he came to be a pastor, he says with a laugh, “I was toldI was going to be a pastor.” Raised in Memphis, Echols says his mother had plans for her son. Those plans included him being part of the church, albeit a different church than the one he represents now, and not just as member of the congregation. It didn’t take long for his mother’s wishes to take root. “I had the desire very early,” he recalls. 

Leaving Memphis for Brown University

Another one of his mother’s wishes was that he seize his opportunities. This meant leaving Memphis to attend Brown University in Rhode Island. Echols originally planned on becoming a doctor. However, once there he says his eyes were opened to a wider world-view. All of this newness profoundly affected him. “There were so many different people and beliefs. I found myself going back to where I started.” He became an informal, in-house pastor to his fellow classmates, and this planted the seed. 

Seeing religion through a new lens

What helped the seed flourish were some of Echols’ professors at Brown. “They blew my mind,” he remembers. “They exploded the categories. Christ, salvation, love, grace…they made them more inclusive, more colorful.” This inspired him to go to Boston University for graduate school where he received a Master of Divinity. “Without them, without their persistence – and it was very strong persistence – I would not be here now,” he says with a laugh.

Despite his faith and the calling to serve, Echols’ paying job was that of a professional fundraiser. He has worked for universities and non-profits, like the United Way. A job with the University of California San Diego brought him west. 

Seeking counsel to take a very big step

Then he had an epiphany, of sorts. “In 2010 I shared my heart with the pastor at Fairview Church in Costa Mesa,” he says. He had been a volunteer pastor there for many years. “I opened up to her and expressed my feelings and my story to her. I started as a conservative, fundamentalist, black preacher and had become an open, affirming man of faith.” And he wanted to preach. “I knew my calling was to make this step.”

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Inside the lovely Neighborhood Congregational Church at 340 St. Ann’s Drive

A love for something greater, kindness and social justice

He believes he is well-suited to make an impact as a church leader because of his focus on three things: one is a “proactive” commitment to loving and worshipping something greater than one’s self; the second is a focus on kindness; and the third is a fierce belief in social justice. “I feel strongly for people who don’t have the built-in advantages that other people have. People of color, the homeless, the LGBQT community…I want to help people searching for wholeness. These are the things that drew me into being a pastor as opposed to staying where I was.”

These tenets of his belief fuel his ambitions for the Neighborhood Congregational Church. “I want this church to be an indispensable part of the community. I want our kids to have a safe place for nurturing. Here, we are seeking wisdom together.”

The World Peace and Justice Weekend, June 9-10

To that end, the weekend of June 9 and 10, the church is hosting its first World Peace and Justice weekend. Pastor Rod describes the weekend as “an embodiment of seeking wisdom. It’s active. You are embodying peace in action.” There will be interfaith dialogue and meditation, a hands-on justice initiative and a concert benefitting world causes, as well as a presentation on compassionate parenting.

A deep gratitude for his parents

Pastor Rod speaks devotedly about his own parents. “My mom is so proud of me. Her strong faith is now my strong faith. Her passion for helping others is my passion, Her kind soul is what I’m trying to be for the church,” he says. He is equally grateful to his father. “He has been a real rock for me. He is my practical guide. He has been so tremendous.” Pastor Rod hopes to pass on their example to his own family someday, but first he needs to find the right woman. And it would be a plus if she loved IMAX movies and comic books, as he does, though it’s certainly not a requirement.

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Historic plaque welcomes congregants to the Neighborhood Congregational Church

Making the NCC a vibrant part of the community

In the meantime, Pastor Rod will put his considerable energy into growing the Neighborhood Congregational Church and making it a vibrant part of the community.

When I ask him to describe the United Church of Christ he says this, “An old pastor friend of mine used to tell this joke: UCC stands for Unitarians Considering Christ.’” Pastor Rod insists that it’s funny (my religious ignorance made glaringly obvious by the fact that he had to assure me of its humor). But he went on to explain that while we could debate the joke’s humor, it was a fairly accurate description of the UCC. 

“It’s not rigid or closed off. It speaks to the idea that Christ is a unifying force. Some call it Buddha, some call it a spirit, some call it light. We call it Christ.” 

This is what Pastor Rod believes. He also believes in the power of his church to be a unifying voice in these fractured times. “What we are seeking to do, our goal, is to orient ourselves as the sacred gathering space for seeking wisdom in Laguna Beach and the wider community,” he explains. An ambitious goal, to be sure, but one to which Pastor Rod is committed.


Corwin Allard (10), calm and confident kid extraordinaire, is a TV and baseball star

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

There’s never been a more dauntless and collected kid than Corwin Allard in my view. During our conversation, I was tempted to ask his mother if she’s certain that he’s not really a small adult masquerading as a ten-year-old. Corwin juggles two demanding pursuits, as a TV actor and as an award-winning pitcher on Big West BPA Travel Baseball Team, while at the same time maintaining straight As in his fourth-grade subjects at Top of the World Elementary. 

All these responsibilities would put even an adult into a tizzy, but Corwin handles them as if it’s life as usual. And for him, it is. Nothing ruffles him, it seems. Just the weekend before, his Travel Baseball Team won the Big West 10U Elite DI Triple Crown Spring Championship Arizona Tournament (a three-day national tournament). 

But he had no time to rest on his laurels.

On the road again

After the tournament ended on Sunday at 6:30 p.m., he and his parents, Chris and Diane Allard, packed up and rushed back to Laguna, arriving after 12:30 a.m. With only time for a quick bit of shuteye, he and his mom then got back on the road at 6:30 a.m. for an 8:30 a.m. call for a guest shot on the finale of the long-running (nine seasons) ABC sitcom, The Middle.Whew!

How he got started on this-fast paced acting track began with a much younger Corwin sitting in front of the television watching live action shows on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, and deciding, “I can do that.” It appears that once he sets his mind to something, it happens.

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With the support of his parents, Chris and Diane, Corwin does it all

Soon after, he got an agent (he still has the same agent and manager). He then appeared in the 2014 movie, All I Want for Christmas, in 2017 as Decker Jr in the Cartoon Network series Decker, and then as Peter Gardiner, neighbor to the Huang family in the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat.

“What television series would you most like to be on?” I ask.

“Stranger Things,” he says. “It never gets old. I’ve watched it over and over again.”

Even though Stranger Things is obviously not a comedy, Corwin admits that, as an actor, comedy is his favorite genre. And some funny unscripted things have happened on set.

“What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened during filming?” I ask.

“During a Firestone Tire commercial, my fake mom was in the car, and she was supposed to pop out of the sunroof with a cake and a piñata, but she spilled the cake all over the windshield and ruined the piñata.” Retake!

Fun on the set

Recently, Corwin finished filming his role as Ben Rogers in The Adventures of Thomasina Sawyer, the story of Tom Sawyer told from a female perspective. The movie was made by USC film grad students and is currently in post-production. 

When you get a bunch of kids together, interesting things occur, it seems.  “Anything weird ever happen during filming?” I ask.

“During a break in filming The Adventures of Thomasina, my friend Jaden was eating a donut, and we were called back on set, and he said his line while chewing the donut.” Another retake?

Jaden has turned out to be a friend Corwin sees outside of acting, though sometimes, as Diane says, “They might be up for the same part.”

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A ring on every finger, Corwin sports his many baseball rings

“Are you ever nervous or get stage fright?” I ask him.

“No,” he says. 

Diane adds, “He doesn’t when he pitches and plays baseball either.”

Without a doubt, “unflappable” is a good quality for both acting and baseball.

Although there are no actors in his family, there must be a sprinkling of performance and athletic genes in Corwin’s makeup. Dad Chris played volleyball on scholarship for USC and went on to play on the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) and MPVA (Midwest Professional Volleyball Association) tours for over 10 years before settling into a management role within the corporate world.

From fitness/figure competitions, Diane segued into a UFC sponsored infomercial and marketing program promoting a set of instructional workout DVDs featured in Shape magazine. A few years back, she also appeared on The Price is Right with Corwin’s older brother, Blake, 22, who is a guitarist with the band Joyous Wolf. 

It’s a big age difference, but brothers still fight, don’t they? 

“There’s not that much to fight about,” Corwin says.

Diane adds. “And they’re both very mature.”

Corwin recalls memories of playing chess, Banjo 1996, and video games on his first Xbox with his brother.

Now Corwin plays the interactive baseball video game “MLB The Show 18” with his baseball coach, Pac Gutierrez, which apparently is helping Corwin with his game. Not only is he a star pitcher, he plays third base as well.

Baseball treasures

Although Corwin’s room is filled with baseball memorabilia, there are two things (or rather 38 things) he’s especially proud of; his 10 baseball championship rings —awarded for being either tournament champions or finalists (second place) — and his 28 bats. “None of the bats are wood,” Corwin says. “You can’t use those until college.”

With all that’s going on, one wonders if there is anything typical about his life. Well, his fourth-grade class studied Missions (haven’t fourth graders been doing this forever), and his San Pedro Mission was made of colored beans. But, what’s not typical, is that to maintain his grades, when he’s filming, he works with a teacher for three hours a day between takes. His favorite subjects are math and history. 

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A roomful of baseball memorabilia

Along with school, either of his pursuits would keep any kid and his parents hopping. Yet the family appears to seamlessly interweave these two demanding activities. 

If there is a baseball tournament, “We book-out with the agent, so he won’t schedule any auditions for him,” Diane says. “Sometimes he does have to miss baseball practice because of auditions and call backs, but then on weekends, he puts in the work.”

The logistics of two demanding pursuits

Of course, none of this could be accomplished without the support of his parents. The logistics of keeping all these tops spinning requires a substantial amount of planning and driving. Traveling to auditions (which can involve multiple auditions with directors, producers, and writers for one part), and then back again for callbacks isn’t unusual. 

(And that’s not even factoring in the anxiety of waiting for callbacks and “an avail,” which is the step after a callback to determine the actor’s availability.)

Further, by the very nature of being on a Travel Baseball Team, there’s a lot of traveling involved with that too. Sometimes acting and baseball very nearly conflict, but the Allards seem to work that out. On one occasion, they had to leave a baseball tournament in Hacienda Heights to go for an acting call back, but returned for the next game, picking right up where they left off.

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Ready to swing

On March 31, Corwin and his parents were off to the USSSA (the national governing body for elite level players) All-American Showcase in Santee. It was the national tryouts for the Far West Region, in which 25 top elite players are chosen to compete in Florida during the summer. 

Diane reports, “The showcase for the USSSA All-American went very well, we think Corwin definitely has a good chance of making the team! We will not know for sure until June 21. We do know that Corwin had the highest corner infield velocity (60 mph) out of the entire Far West region (which included kids from the Mesa district, the Mira Loma district and the San Diego district) for his work at third base. He also had the second highest fastball pitch speed (58 mph) out of the district that he tried out in (San Diego).”

As competitive as Corwin is, it’s apparent there’s no competition between acting and baseball in his mind. He says, “I want to be a professional baseball player.” His favorite baseball player is José Altuve.

No limits in the future

Whatever he decides, the sky is the limit for Corwin, whether it be acting or baseball (or maybe there will be a third or fourth endeavor). Undaunted, this multi-talented kid extraordinaire can handle it all. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he one day appears on his favorite television series, since once Corwin sets his mind to something, it materializes. 

Stranger things have happened.


Thea Walsh: Water polo dreams

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

Laguna Beach High School senior Thea Walsh is, like many of her fellow seniors, filled with mixed emotions. There is reluctance to close the chapter on her high school years along with excitement and anticipation for what is to come next. For Walsh, her next chapter officially begins when she realizes her dream and starts as a freshman at Stanford in the fall. “I’m so excited. It was a dream of mine to go to Stanford,” she says. “I didn’t realize I could actually get there until about 11th grade,” she says, still seeming a bit surprised at her good fortune.

A goal of many, realized by very few

As one of the best water polo players in the country, Walsh will play for the Cardinals and be reunited with her fellow Breakers Aria Fischer and Bella Baldridge. Walsh says she has wanted to attend Stanford ever since she played her first Junior Olympics there when she was 12. In that, she is not alone.

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LBHS senior Thea Walsh will take her water polo skills to Stanford in the fall

In age group water polo, the Junior Olympics alternate every other year between southern California and northern California. When they are held in northern California some of the games are held at Stanford’s pool. This experience translates into almost every young polo player declaring at some point, “I want to go to Stanford.” Alas, with a less than five percent acceptance rate, the dream becomes reality for only a very few.

An academic interest in science

Walsh says she hopes to study bio-medical engineering or human biology at Stanford. Clearly, her abilities aren’t just limited to the pool. “I’m excited to get to Stanford because I know I will get the best education and the best treatment (as an athlete),” enthuses Walsh. And her excitement is well-deserved. Her road to get there, and the schedule she has endured to make it a reality, have not been easy.

Surviving the grind

“With water polo you’re always grinding,” she says good-naturedly. “For the high school we have morning practice three times a week so I get up around 5 a.m. Then there’s school from 7:30 to usually around 1:30. Then practice after school every day for two to three hours. Then you have you find time to eat, sleep and do homework.” 

Finding time wherever possible

During club water polo season, the times may be different but the hours put in are the same, even more when you factor in the driving to and from practice. “Those days it’s like a four-hour practice,” she says. “I realized that those were four hours I could have been doing homework,” she says. “So I tried to find the one or two classes where I could do my homework when I didn’t have to do anything,” she admits. 

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The LBHS pool is practically a home away from home for Thea Walsh

The Junior National Team is another commitment

Walsh’s water polo is not confined to just high school and club. She plays on the Junior National Team, as well. Luckily, LBHS girls coach Ethan Damato just so happens to be one of her national team coaches. “If he had to miss something, I had to miss something,” she says of her overlapping commitments to her many teams. “Last year we missed three weeks in December, but other than that I haven’t missed too much of high school (polo).” During those three weeks she competed in the FINA Youth World Championships in New Zealand where the team finished fifth.

Rising to the competition

It is clear Walsh relishes the competition of the national team. “I love the national team because it takes me to the next level. They elevate my play. Every person there is the best from their high school or club,” she says enthusiastically. Plus it has broadened her horizons with trips like the one to New Zealand as well as the chance to play against college teams like UCLA and UCSB. This summer she says her goal is to again make the national team and go to the Youth World Championships in Serbia.

A band of sisters on the LBHS team

That being said, Walsh is equally devoted to her high school team. “Socially, I love the girls on the high school team.” She has played with most of the seniors on her team since she began playing when she was 12 years old. 

Trying just about every other sport before finding water polo

Walsh says she came to polo after playing almost every other sport there was. She was at the pool as part of the swim team when Laguna Beach parent Scott Baldridge began his recruiting. Baldridge, a former collegiate water polo player, along with Erich Fischer, a former Olympic water polo player, can be credited for helping build Laguna Beach into a girls’ water polo powerhouse.

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The encouragement of her community and peers means a lot

A persuasive parent gets credit

“I was on swim team and Scott Baldridge kept pushing (me to try water polo),” she remembers with a laugh.  Back then, Baldridge and Fischer encouraged, cajoled and occasionally begged their daughters’ friends to give the sport, which they coached through the city, a try. 

Two persuasive parents help create a dynasty

The two dads proved to be good coaches and excellent recruiters as many of the girls they coached have gone on to play collegiate water polo, including their own daughters who all went on to play at Stanford. Makenzie and Aria Fischer took it one step further by not only playing in the Olympics, but winning gold medals.  

Finding her place in the goal

For Walsh, once she found polo, she found her sport. “I started out as a field player and I was really bad,” she recalls. “On our 12 and under team we took turns being the goalie. I was pretty good at it and I just stayed there,” recalls Walsh. “I hated swim. I begged not to go. When I started polo I actually wanted to go to practice. That’s why I made the decision to play polo.”

Blocking penalties becomes her “thing”

Saying there was “no question” she was going to play in high school, Walsh got her first taste of big time success when her 14 and under team won the Junior Olympics. “I got MVP of the tournament. We went into a shoot out and I blocked some shots. I realized I liked that. Goalies aren’t really expected to do that and so that kind of became my thing,” she remembers. She adds, “A bunch of other girls could have gotten MVP at that tournament.”

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Walsh hopes to hang another banner, of the Olympic Gold Medal kind, at the LBHS pool someday

Knowing the value of waiting – and learning

Walsh is quick to credit her teammates, both past and present. Her freshman and sophomore years she played behind LBHS goalie Holly Parker. Some girls with Walsh’s pedigree and talent might have complained or transferred to a school where they could get immediate varsity experience. Walsh saw the wait as a positive thing. “I was able to get a handle on things. Holly is really good and she pushed me to compete. She is a big role model for me.” Parker currently plays for USC. 

Looking on the bright side

This year the team didn’t have the season they expected. Admitting that the pressure to keep their undefeated streak alive and win every game “sometimes sucked,” Walsh still sees the her final high school season’s glass as half full. “We overcame obstacles and ended on a positive note,” she says. When asked what she will miss most about leaving LBHS she doesn’t hesitate. “The girls,” she answers emphatically. “They’re like a second family to me now.”

Not afraid to go for her dreams

With her high school days winding down, Walsh can look ahead to a summer filled with “a bunch of different trainings.” And while getting to Stanford checked the box for one of her dreams, there is another one, an even bigger one, out there waiting. “Making the Olympic team is one of my biggest goals right now,” she says. Currently, there are three banners hanging at the LBHS pool in honor of the three LBHS water polo players who became Olympians. Here’s hoping Walsh can make it four.

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