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Kelly Boyd: Part of a remarkable Laguna legacy

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Boyd is a third generation Lagunan. Not many people can claim that. He has been here his whole life, minus a stint in Vietnam. “I was there in ’66 for a year and then came back.” Leaving Laguna was never something he contemplated. “Our family has been here since 1871,” he says simply. “It’s home.”

A commitment to “Laguna Beach of Early Days”

To honor his family’s history, Boyd recently re-published a book that his grandfather, J.S. Thurston, wrote back in 1947, “Laguna Beach of Early Days.” It took Boyd two and a half years to get this labor of love back out in circulation, but he did it. 

“He (J.S. Thurston) was a farmer in his 70’s when he wrote that. Ben Brown’s was his first settlement.” The book, according to a blurb from The History Press, tells of Thurston’s  “personal account of growing up in Laguna and presents an intimate look at the settler’s hardships, relationships and perseverance.” Boyd’s connection to this town is long, and it is also deep.

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City council member Kelly Boyd relaxes at his home in Laguna Beach

Making sure the Marine Room stayed in good hands

He is on the final year of his fourth term serving on the city council (the first term was back in 1978-82) the other three have been consecutive. During his third term in office Boyd was diagnosed with bone cancer. “My oncologist told me, ‘Right now, you don’t really need to worry about things.’” In other words, eliminate what stress you can.

So Boyd, who had owned the Marine Room in downtown Laguna since 1987, decided to sell it in 2012. “I decided it’s time; it’s time to sell. I approached Chris Keller because he’s a local guy. He has had it ever since, and he’s a great guy.” 

As for his city council duties, Boyd stayed on. “I’m sure there were some people who were hoping I’d resign,” he says with a laugh. But Boyd fought through his treatment and is now feeling strong (his cancer is in remission).  

All good things must come to an end, even public service

Nevertheless, when his term ends, he says he’s not running again. “I’ve enjoyed being on the council. Eleven years…it’s at the point of burnout.” He and his wife, Michelle, bought a second home in the desert. Boyd says he’s looking forward to spending more time there, without the need to rush back for a meeting or other city business. 

In 70 years, Laguna has changed…a lot

And while he may seek some well-deserved down time in the desert, rest assured he will come back, even if the Laguna he comes back to is vastly different from the one of his youth. With 70+ years under his belt living in the same place, one can forgive Boyd if he looks back fondly on the good old days and a bit skeptically at the present ones. “I think it (Laguna) has changed a lot and not necessarily in a good way, in my opinion,” he says. 

Changes outside the city greatly impact things inside the city 

The things that irk Boyd are pretty much the things that irk all of us: traffic, high housing prices, empty storefronts. It’s just that while some of us may remember when there was less traffic, Boyd can remember a time when there was no real traffic to speak of. 

Back in the day, Boyd says when he and his brothers needed school clothes, it meant driving all the way to Santa Ana. “There was nothing out there but orange groves.” Over time, the orange groves gave way to tract homes. “What’s really affected the city is everything that’s been built up behind us.” And there is just nothing anyone can do about that.

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Some Boyd/Thurston family history (Boyd as a child, lower, far right)

Longevity can provide a different perspective on the City Council

Sometimes his long history with Laguna puts him at odds with his fellow council members. Take the Marine Life Protection Act, for example. A lifelong waterman (Boyd was the Jr. Surfing Champion 1957), Boyd is not a fan of the city’s fishing ban. 

“My brothers and I were fishermen. They’re taking the little guys like us and hurting us,” he says. The problem, as Boyd sees it, is with the boats hauling the big nets. He was the lone dissenting vote in opposition to the ban. “I’m the only one (on the council) who grew up here and knows the ocean. My problem is once the government takes control of something they never let it go. They’re probably never going to reopen these areas and to me that’s wrong.”

Laguna’s one middle school honors Boyd’s family legacy

But one can forgive Boyd if he at times can sound a bit cranky about the state of things. In his lifetime Laguna has grown from a sleepy art and beach community into a global vacation destination. He remembers when the elementary, middle and high school were all on Park Ave. It’s also worth noting his grandfather donated the land for Thurston Middle School and it was named in honor of his grandmother.

Some of the best parts of Laguna never change

And yet some of his favorite things remain the same. “I love the community. I love what it has stood for: the arts community, the Pageant, the Festival. I was in the Pageant when I was a kid – we all were. That was fun! Everybody was into it.” 

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Boyd and his wife Michelle will celebrate 35 years of marriage this month

A big thumbs up for the city’s management

He is also enthusiastic about how the city is being run. “In my opinion, John (Pietig, City Manager) has put together a great management team; the best I’ve seen in 11 years.” He credits Laura Farinella, Laguna’s Police Chief, for her handling of the protest two weeks ago. Apparently, another one is in the works for September. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says about the animus between groups today. “To me, it’s really scary. I don’t think it’s healthy. To quote Rodney King, ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’” he says with a shrug.

Boyd pleased that he’ll be the Mayor when his final term in office ends. “That’s how I want to go out,” he says. “I just hope that in 2018, an election year, Laguna remains civil. The turmoil in Washington DC is drifting to a local level. It’s not good.”

A year to celebrate impressive milestones

Why can’t we all get along, indeed. This a question Boyd will leave for others to solve. “It’s time to let other people, younger people be heard,” he says, As for him,  “I think I’m going to be glad to get out of here,” he says with a smile. He is celebrating 35 years of marriage to his wife, Michelle, this month, yet another thing for which he is grateful.

And that’s not the only celebration he has planned. He’s hosting a 55th class reunion at his house, “For those who can come. There aren’t a lot of us left,” he says with a laugh. 

Boyd’s longevity as a public servant puts him in a very elite group. Laguna is the better for his loyalty and service.


Victoria McGinnis: Living a life of symmetry

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

There is a symmetry to Victoria McGinnis’ life. With two homes and two careers, she seems to like things in pairs. But it goes even further than that. Her two careers, though seemingly different, are actually quite similar, at least the way McGinnis approaches them. She has found her place both on center stage as a performer and behind the scenes as an editor/director/producer. The performing part seems to have been pre-ordained; the other speaks to her resourcefulness.

A performer from the start

As a native New Yorker, McGinnis began performing with her father, a big band drummer and orchestra leader, at the age of three. “It was at the Riverboat Room, a posh supper club in the Empire State Building. He had given me the direction, ‘After you finish singing the song, I will gently squeeze your hand and that is your cue to leave the stage.’  Well, I finished the song, he squeezed my hand, but I made like I didn’t notice. He kept squeezing my hand. I looked up at him and he saw in my eyes the way I felt, how much I loved being there. He then turned to the audience and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a bit of a problem, my daughter doesn’t want to get off stage!’ The audience roared! I loved it!” she recalls. The two began regularly performing as a duo when she was 16. 

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Victoria McGinnis, singer, editor, producer, director and Laguna Beach resident

A graduate of Fordham University, McGinnis studied theater. “I was always in front,” she explains. Center stage is someplace she feels very comfortable. Her introduction to the behind-the-scenes world arrived after she graduated.

Being nice wins her a ticket to the mailroom

 McGinnis says she took a job at a production company doing voice-overs. One day she got a strange request. “They asked me, ‘Can you sit in our mailroom and handle the mail?’ The mailroom person had quit.” Not jumping at the chance to sit in the mailroom, McGinnis says she reminded them she was their voice-over person. “Why did you ask me?” she remembers questioning. “They said, ‘Because you’re nice,’” she recalls with a hint of exasperation.

A poor candy selection is a motivator

Once in the mailroom, McGinnis says, “I was bored. They had a bad vending machine, bad candy. So I started researching vending machines.” She says she found machines that were better and cheaper. The office manager was all for it. 

In her enthusiasm for securing better snack food for herself and co-workers, McGinnis says she decided to take charge. “I sent out a global voice mail asking what kind of candy and stuff people wanted in the vending machines. It went to everyone, the head of the company…everyone. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed do that,” she says ruefully. The office manager was stricken. “She was telling me, ‘You can’t do that! You might get fired.’ I was scared to death!” remembers McGinnis. 

Her quest for better candy pays off

 Later that day, just like in the movies, she saw the head of the company heading her way. This, she assumed, was not going to be good. He approached her, “Are you Victoria in the mailroom?” She says she remembers feeling pretty confident that she was going to be fired on the spot. Instead, she recalls, “He shakes my hand and passes me a slip of paper with a big smile on his face and says, ‘I’ll take M&M’s.’“ After that people started hiring me as a production coordinator,” she says with a laugh.

Editing is an “aha moment”

She didn’t stay a production coordinator for long. An editor at the production company she worked for invited her to watch him edit one of his projects. “It was an ‘aha’ moment. Editing images together is so much like putting two notes together. I couldn’t get enough of it,” she says. In six months after watching and learning, she was hired as an editor. “I was with that company for four years,” she says. She has since added producer and director to her resume, in addition to editor.

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Victoria McGinnis in her element at GG’s Bistro

Victoria’s bicoastal aspirations began in 1997 when McGinnis came to Laguna Beach for the first time after her father passed away. Not only had she lost her father, she had lost the other half of her act. Obviously, it was a very emotional time. A friend, sensing McGinnis’ need to get out of New York, invited her to Laguna Beach.  “New Yorkers think southern California is all just LA,” laughs McGinnis. Her friend convinced her, “’It’s better than LA!’” 

Finding Laguna at the right time

On the drive home from John Wayne Airport, McGinnis says it was nighttime. They drove through the canyon, down Broadway where, ahead of her in the distance, she saw nothing but blackness. Questioning her friend about this strange phenomenon, she was told it was the ocean. “What?!” McGinnis says, recounting her surprise. “I didn’t realize it was right next to the ocean!” If timing is everything, then the timing was right for McGinnis to find Laguna. “It was an amazing week for me to find this town – so lovely, liberal and open.” So she started to seriously consider living here, as well as NYC.

In 2003 she made that a reality and got an apartment in town. She maintained that same apartment until she bought a home here two and a half years ago. She explains she used to divide her time seven months in New York and five months in Laguna. Since the home purchase, however, that ratio has shifted to favor more time in Laguna.  Her partner, Tori Johnston, is a 20-year Laguna resident originally from Scotland. “She had four daughters when I met her so now together we have four daughters. All Laguna Beach girls,” says McGinnis proudly.  

Putting down roots in Laguna inspires a desire to get involved

Since becoming a homeowner, McGinnis says a newfound desire to get more involved in the community promoted her and Johnston to become Board members of Chhahari, a local non-profit that runs an orphanage in Nepal. To hear McGinnis talk about the kids who reside there, whom she hasn’t met personally and only knows through the videos she edits from other people’s footage, is to hear a woman passionate about this cause. “I feel like I need to meet them,” she says emphatically. She and Johnston are looking to do just that in 2019. McGinnis proudly tells me their eldest daughter has already been there.

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Victoria McGinnis is an exceptional multi-tasker, singing and playing percussion

Laguna is becoming her own personal musical

For now, McGinnis is more than content to perform her standing Wednesday night gig at GG’s Bistro in addition to performing regularly at the Sawdust Festival, and other gigs around the southland. “I’ve been at the Sawdust a lot and I love it! There is such anonymity in New York. It can be very lonely. Here, in Laguna, it’s amazing for me. So many people walk by and wave. And at GG’s, with the great locals…There are nights where everybody’s singing ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’…It’s how I’ve wanted to live my life. You walk down the street and everybody’s singing.”

A father’s words ring true

Apparently, her father, who never visited the west coast, was right when he told her, “Dolly, (he called her Dolly) you belong in southern California. You love the sunshine. That’s where you should be.” And while she is by no means relinquishing her New York ties, she says now home is where her house and family are. “I feel like I’m finally a local. I feel like I’m really settling, really enjoying things.”


CNN selected Ryan Hickman, featured in August 15 edition, as one of their five Young Wonders—“youth making a positive impact on their communities.” Congratulations from all of us at Stu News Laguna, Ryan!

Kid Crusader:

Eight-year-old Ryan Hickman’s Trash for Cash campaign benefits PMMC to the tune of thousands

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Eight-year old Ryan Hickman entered the world wanting to make it better. From the time he was tiny, he was obsessed with trash – collecting it, sorting it, recycling it, and using large portions of his proceeds to give back. His cause of choice is the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC). In just over a year, he’s donated nearly $5,000 for the care and treatment of the seals, sea lions and elephant seals rescued by the PMMC.

“Ryan’s enthusiasm and commitment to recycling is remarkable,” says Michele Hunter, the Director of Animal Care at PMMC. “He’s like a star. Every time he comes in, we all start shouting, ‘Ryan’s here! Ryan’s here!’”

At age three, Ryan accompanied his dad to the local recycling center to cash in some bottles and cans. That trip transformed his short life. The next day, he announced his plan to distribute bags to friends, family and neighbors, encouraging them to save their recyclables for him. Little did he know where it would lead.

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Ryan is passionate about recycling – and sea lions – luckily for PMMC

Ryan’s passion became infectious. He soon had everyone he knew – and many he didn’t yet know – contributing to his cause. Neighbors told their co-workers, teachers told their friends. Now Ryan has clients all over Orange County. He makes the rounds each week, collecting cans and bottles from businesses. He sorts, cleans, crushes, and packs them to make those regular trips to the recycling center. 

“There’s never a day when he doesn’t want to recycle,” says his mother, Andrea Hickman. “Even in the pouring rain.”

“Except holidays,” Ryan says. “I need to take holidays off.”

All that collecting has translated to more than 251,000 cans and bottles, or 56,000 pounds of recycling. Recently he broke his own record for a single trip to the center, earning a whopping $542. It pays to recycle.

Student as teacher

“Before I met Ryan,” says Andrea, “I didn’t know anything about recycling. Now we just installed solar panels in our home. That’s all because of what Ryan has taught me.” 

Ryan recognized all that trash was ending up in our ocean, threatening the environment and endangering the marine life. And if there’s one thing Ryan loves next to garbage trucks and recycling, it’s animals. So he’s taken his message across the globe, encouraging kids just like him to protect the planet, letting them know – no matter how young or how small – they can make a difference.

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“Whenever he comes in, we all start chanting “Ryan’s here! Ryan’s here!’”

Ryan receives letters, messages and phone calls from around the world. He recently Skyped with students in Bali. They asked him all kinds of questions about recycling—how and where and why—curious about his passion. 

When Ryan and his family visited Belize earlier this year, he was recognized by the locals. A celebrity was in their midst. He was struck by how far Belize has to go in their trash collecting efforts. “If we spent a month there, just cleaning their streets,” says Andrea, “We could have made a real difference.”

So in addition to the money he makes from recycling, he began offering “Ryan’s Recycling” t-shirts for $13. All profits go straight to the PMMC, which he visits every chance he gets (and takes care of his bins, collecting their recycling while he’s there).

“Ryan’s story shows that a little kindness goes a long way,” says Hunter. “You can make a real difference in the world at a very young age.”

We are the world

Above Ryan’s bed hangs a map of the world, filled with colorful pushpins. Every pin represents a place in the world that’s contacted Ryan for a t-shirt. There’s a special breakout map of the United States in the upper corner because there are too many pins for the size of the map. “We’re big in Asia,” says Andrea. “And Europe.” The map bears that out. Europe and Asia are indeed running out of room. 

Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Australia, Pakistan – they’ve all heard about Ryan and his recycling crusade. There’s even one pin stuck in the center of the Pacific Ocean. It’s from a ship stationed out there, whose crew found Ryan and ordered his t-shirts, so he packed them up and shipped them off to the middle of the ocean. 

The map is not only a great lesson in world geography, it’s also a wonderful way to connect Ryan to the planet he’s trying – bottle by bottle – to save. 

As we talk in the living room, Andrea tells me they just got a video from Dubai.

“Where’s Dubai?” asks Ryan.

“In the middle east,” she tells him. “Near Saudi Arabia.”

Not content with his mother’s lack of specificity, Ryan runs to his room to look at his map. “I gotta know,” he says. “How do you spell it?” He returns to announce that Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates, and confirms there’s a pushpin to mark the spot.

Every pin means more money for the marine mammals at the PMMC. Ryan’s t-shirts translate to food, electricity, medicine and water. “All the things it takes to run the center and care for the animals,” says Hunter. To put it in perspective, he’s donated more than 10,000 pounds of fish to feed the mammals.

Ryan’s recycling goes viral

Sometime in 2016, Ryan’s story went viral. Ellen DeGeneres heard about Ryan and invited him on her show, donating $10,000 to his cause, along with a Ryan-sized trash truck he drives around his cul-de-sac collecting cans. (He’s a remarkably adept driver, and can parallel park better than most adults I know.)

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No job is too big or too small for Ryan’s recycling

He also received a new Dell laptop from Adrian Grenier, which happened to coincide with his birthday in July. Now he can keep track of his business.

Ryan has been profiled by hundreds of web sites, newspapers, and television and radio shows around the world, including CNN, Ryan Seacrest, Bill Handel, PBS, Good Morning America, and ABC World News. He’s had shout outs from Chelsea Clinton, George Takei, and Fabien Cousteau. Congressman Darrell Issa recently visited Ryan in his home. And the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Mayor and City Council of San Juan Capistrano all presented him with awards. 

Next month, the PMMC is honoring Ryan at a gala event for his contributions. “I bought a special shirt with whales on it,” he tells me.

Saving for the future

“Ryan is a saver,” says Andrea. “He doesn’t want to spend a single penny when it can be saved.” Every aluminum can earns him a nickel. Bottles are more. But, he warns, be careful about wine bottles. The recycling centers have too many and they take up too much room, so you’re not going to get as much for them.

How much has he managed to save in his short life? More than $25,000. That’s quite a college fund. “No,” he tells me. “I’m saving to buy a trash truck.” The one he covets is $120,000. Save he must. But he’s well on his way. 

“We’ll talk about that,” says Andrea, winking over at me. “I don’t know what the HOA will say.” 

A head for trash

Even without the real thing, Ryan has a good start with an impressive collection of 18 toy trash trucks around the house. They’re stacked in his closet. He rolls them across the living room floor. “He was just born loving trash trucks,” Andrea says. “All the local drivers know Ryan. They’ll pretend to pick up the wrong can and Ryan goes wild, yelling at them to stop. It’s really cute.”

Ryan also supervises Mr. Jose, the custodian at his school. “He calls me his boss,” says Ryan. “I help him clean the campus, and I get to ride in his golf cart.”

His business has earned him entry into the CarbonLITE and RePlanet Processing facilities tours. There he’s learned how recycling really happens, from start to finish. The process is overwhelming and impressive. His website tells the tale through photos and videos.

What else does he love? SpongeBob, fidget spinners, math (“I like counting money!”), and frogs. Ryan’s room is filled with frogs. Stuffed, plastic, figurines, rugs, sheets, pictures and pajamas. None of them living pets, at least that I noticed. But they represent his favorite color—green.

Planning ahead

I ask Ryan what he wants to do when he’s older. 

“Run your own company?” offers his mom. 

“Drive a trash truck,” he tells her. 

“How about owning the trash company?” she says. 

He looks at her. Apparently there’s more to talk about. But they have time.

In the meantime, Ryan’s entrepreneurial spirit is saving the lives of countless marine mammals here in Laguna Beach. The little man has a plan, and it’s paying big dividends for both our town and our planet.

Kermit the Frog used to lament, “It’s not easy being green.” Not only is it easy it’s fun – and profitable.

To read more about Ryan’s story, purchase a t-shirt, or donate your recyclables to his cause, visit Ryan’s website at www.ryansrecycling.com.


Jason Allemann, new principal of LBHS, can’t wait for the 2017/18 school year to kick off 

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

New principal of Laguna Beach High School Jason Allemann plans to participate in classroom and athletic activities, roam the campus at recess, and generally be a visible presence during as well as before and after the school day. 

Yes, he’s dedicated to developing long-term strategies to improve communications between and among school staff, teachers and parents and the Laguna Beach community. 

Yes, he wants to encourage a positive and non-discriminatory attitude on campus and to celebrate academic and athletic achievements. 

Yes, he knows that time spent on administrative tasks is vital in the smooth running of an educational institution. 

But Allemann is not going to be confined to his office while working on those aspects of his job.

“Does a football coach leave the field when the game begins?” he asked rhetorically as we sit in his office discussing the challenges inherent in heading up a high school in these turbulent, social-media-dominated and sometimes, sadly, drug-addled times. 

“No. He’s on the field, encouraging players, cheering them on, checking for problem areas, devising solutions, seeing what’s going on in real time,” he said. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

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Jason Allemann in his element on the LBHS school campus

Sports analogies come naturally to Allemann, who grew up in Dana Point and most recently was principal of Dana Hills High. He and his family have always been active in athletics, and he counts himself lucky that his three kids are each interested in different sports: daughter Avery, 15, loves volleyball; Caroline 12, enjoys tennis; and son James, also 12, is an avid footballer – Allemann coaches his team – and the entire family, including wife Kristin, a special-ed teacher, enjoy a range of ocean sports.

But it is education that is Allemann’s true passion, though he admits he didn’t spend his youth dreaming about becoming a high school principal.

“Kids don’t, do they?” he said. “It’s not exactly a glamorous job. They dream about becoming police officers or fire fighters or maybe rock stars. But no, it was a winding road that brought me to this place.”

Before I followed up on Allemann’s winding path, I asked him if, as a kid, he had indeed nurtured a passion for a particular career.

Allemann, who has a breezy charm, and whose optimism about the world – not to mention his new job – is quite contagious, turned serious.

“For a while as a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. But people said to me, why would you want to do that? That takes so much work. It takes forever to finish your education. And partly for those reasons I didn’t pursue that.” 

Allemann rolled his Fidget Cube – a gag gift meant to acknowledge his restless desire to be on top of every aspect of his job – between his finger and thumb. “It’s my hope that every student in this high school is encouraged to pursue whatever his or her dreams are, no matter how challenging.”

Yet, he assured me, his enthusiasm palpable, “Doesn’t mean that I wish I had become a doctor. I love what I’m doing now. I’m thrilled with this job and I’m especially excited to be in Laguna. I’m looking forward to understanding the culture here more deeply and becoming involved with the community on every level.”

Jason Allemann

Allemann graduated with a major in Psychology from San Diego State University. Later he would go on to earn his Masters in Social Work at Cal State Long Beach, then a PhD in Educational Leadership at USC.

So, the winding road: “My senior year project at San Diego State addressed issues related to after-school care in the Mira Mesa area. I saw how parents arrived to pick up their elementary school kids, worn out after an exhausting day at work. 

“I talked to a few dads and they told me how much they would love to be able to just spend time kicking a ball around with their kids once they got home, but instead they had to oversee homework,” he said. “They had to take on the role of taskmaster instead of being able to just have fun with their family.”

In response, Allemann devised an afterschool program that incorporated supervised homework and other seemingly minor but important changes that came about after discussing issues particular to working parents. He then approached other afterschool programs and helped them introduce similar programs.

“The parents were super happy,” he says. “That project, this job – it’s all about talking, and mostly listening, and being willing to try something new. Communicating with everyone involved.” 

Which is exactly the approach he plans to bring to his new role at LBHS. “I love the intimacy of this community,” he added. “I can’t wait to get to know more about Laguna and get involved.”

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Jason Allemann is Southern California born and bred

After graduating from SDSU, Allemann worked to help developmentally disabled adults with living skills. 

“We’d teach them how to handle basic but important tasks such as creating a grocery list, shopping at a store – what goes in the refrigerator and what doesn’t, for example, as simple as that,” he explained. “Our goal was to help them live independent lives. It was very rewarding to feel we were making a difference. It reinforced that small changes can have a huge impact.”

Later in his career, Allemann was employed as a school counselor helping kids with severe emotional diagnoses. Then counseling evolved into a job with administration and from there to becoming an assistant principal. 

Allemann served as principal at Katella High School in Anaheim for four years and most recently spent six years as the principal of Dana Hills High.

How transparent does he plan to be about the challenges that LBHS, like all high schools, face?

Allemann shrugged, clearly unfazed. “I see problems as learning opportunities,” he said. “I’m not going to be shy about addressing issues publicly and engaging the community in finding solutions, whether it’s racism or unintended discrimination or any other matter. There are problems in every industry. I’m lucky to have a range of resources at my fingertips.”

He paused a moment and then said, “You know, it’s a luxury to have this job, to work with kids. You never stop learning.”

At this point in the interview, the Fidget Cube was getting a workout. I could tell that Jason Allemann was ready to return to his computer to check his emails and get going on projects much more rewarding than talking about himself. 

Clearly, for him it was nearly game time and his inner coach was raring to get going.

I have a feeling that his energy, enthusiasm and insights are going to bring a whole new dimension to a high school that is already one of the finest in the country.

Tuesday September 5 the school year kicks off, and Jason Allemann is ready to roll.


Ron Pringle: Of service to the music and his community

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Ron Pringle says he was “never not making it happen,” at least in regards to his music. As the lead singer for reggae band World Anthem, Pringle, perhaps better known as Ron I, says he knew from an early age where his future lay. “I was always singing. At three years old I made the declaration that I would be a singer,” he says. 

While attending El Morro Elementary he met his best friend Nick Hernandez who, remarkably, is also a lead singer (for the band Common Sense). Both bands are Laguna Beach fixtures, but they have audiences well beyond Laguna Beach.

A progression from rock to reggae

Pringle started his first band Albatross in seventh grade. It was a rock band. As he got older, Pringle says his musical tastes widened. “I started getting into (bands like) Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse. It was a natural progression, coming from this area, living where I lived.” What he mentions, but does not detail, is a period of time where he exercised his wilder impulses. But those days are behind him.

A champion of sobriety

“I haven’t had a drink in 29 years,” he says matter-of-factly. As a devoted member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Pringle says, “My primary purpose is to stay sober.”  On the day he decided enough was enough, he remembers, “I had a moment of clarity. Nothing good happened until I gave up drinking.” 

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Ron Pringle, aka Ron I, singing with his band World Anthem

Now, he sees his life with a purpose beyond making music. “I work a lot in the community to help young men live the life they want to live without using drugs or alcohol.” He cherishes the “victories of people choosing life” and he truly mourns those who were unable to attain them.

Reggae is more than just music, it is a philosophy

It is clear Pringle is a man of deep thought and feelings. His immersion into reggae music is more than just an appreciation of its rhythms. He has whole-heartedly embraced its philosophies. “Reggae became one with my soul and spirit,” he explains passionately. “It became part of my DNA.” 

He credits the late Eric “Redz” Morton as having a big influence on him. Morton was one of the co-founders of the iconic Laguna band, the Rebel Rockers in the late 70’s. He died in 2013. “I honor him,” he says solemnly. For Pringle, reggae’s sense of community is particularly powerful. “The positive vibrations…there is no separation. That’s why it is ‘I’ and ‘I,’ not ‘me’ and ‘you’.”

Seeking information in a quest for freedom

When we met, Pringle joked that he was going to enjoy the interview process because it gave him a chance to talk about his favorite subject: himself.  However, that declaration could not have been further from the truth. 

Pringle, while not reluctant to talk about himself, was much more interested in discussing his thoughts on the Federal Reserve. It was not a direction I’d imagined our conversation going, but Pringle spoke eloquently about his distrust of that institution, its history and his version of its impact on the world.

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Ron Pringle and his cherry Skylark 

He is a student of a book titled “The Creature From Jekyll Island” by G. Edward Griffin. While some label this book a conspiracy theory others, like libertarian idealist Ron Paul, see it as “a superb analysis.” Pringle clearly agrees with the latter. “I encourage people to seek information. I want the truth and rights. It all comes down to freedom,” he says. 

Devoted to his message: love and unity

Despite his somewhat dark vision of geo-politics, Pringle says for him it’s all about love. “My message is one of love and unity. There is no problem in the world that more love on top of love and more love can’t overcome. It truly is the magic. And music is love. Togetherness and unity is love. Kindness is my religion.”

A passion for the waves and water

Pringle also holds a soulful connection with the ocean. “I will be in the water until my dying day, when I’m 140,” he says with a smile. “I spent my life skim boarding.” Listing off the giants of the sport who he would try and emulate when he was younger: Tex Haines, Chris Henderson, Kyle Treadway, Pringle says admiringly, “We learned from them.”  And getting older hasn’t dimmed his enthusiasm. “I’ve always been pushing the limits. The summer of my 50th birthday I tried to get the biggest waves I could,” he says proudly.

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Ron Pringle takes a moment at Blue Lagoon beach

Laguna is a good place to call home

With his love of music and the ocean Laguna is a pretty good place for Pringle to live with his family, something he is very much aware of.  “I love my life. I love Laguna. I love music. I’m so grateful. I’m grateful to be placed in this time and space in Laguna Beach. I’m just here to be of service. If anyone needs anything they can count on me to be of help.” 

And if anyone just wants to listen to some great music, World Anthem is here to service that need, as well. The Sandpiper, The Cliff, the Sawdust…on a given night you’re likely to find them someplace in our town, and Ron I will be there embracing the community that comes to hear the music.


Tristan Abel: a mixed media artist blurs the lines between art and life

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photographs by Mary Hurlbut

Tristan Abel’s art teems with passion and power, from his popular waves done on wood with colored pencils and ink, to the large guns, and ominous battleships. Yet he also paints giant roosters and diminutive watercolors, one of which combines bullets and flower blossoms. The pieces in his booth at The Sawdust Festival suggest a split personality. “I paint whatever comes into my head,” he says, smiling.

“Mixed media is a blending of fields,” he explains. “You see all the tools available, get an image or a feeling, and don’t be afraid to blur lines.” Tristan is also an illustrator, sculptor and woodcarver, and he combines all his talents in a stunning way, utilizing wood, colored pencils, oil, and more. One of his experimental pieces, an animal skull with horns painted on Masonite, then carved out in relief, results in a striking smooth versus painted texture. 

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Tristan working on underpainting of a battleship

And Tristan is certainly not afraid to blur the lines between art and life.

As a member of the well-known multigenerational Abel family in Laguna, Tristan comes from a long line of artists. He is the great-grandson of Carl Abel, a master woodcarver who came here in 1937 from Denmark, grandson of architect Chris, and son of Gregg, who owns an architectural design and construction firm, and is also a painter and woodcarver. His mother is an interior designer. 

“I always knew Laguna was a special place to live,” he says. “If you go anywhere away from Laguna on vacation, and come back, even though you were somewhere beautiful, you come home to something beautiful. It’s just a treasure to live here and to be surrounded by art all the time.” One of his fondest memories is going to Hapi Sushi for frequent lunches with his father and grandfather.

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Tristan Abel, painter, illustrator, sculptor, woodcarver

At fourteen, Tristan started working at his dad’s construction firm. “Working with my dad was time well spent,” he says.  “He always emphasized hard work.” And Tristan hasn’t stopped. He’s the embodiment of movement, he’s never still, it seems, and he puts quite a lot into the mix. Not only is this his third year at The Sawdust Festival, he is a senior at LCAD, works for his father’s construction company (he has three sites going on now), and is husband to his wife Sarah. 

He will complete his BFA the end of this year in Painting and Drawing with an emphasis on sculpture, and has endless compliments for LCAD. “I fought going to school for a while, but I love it. I learn something new each class. It’s all classical,” he says, “the way the old masters learned, figure and life drawing. The teachers are so good.” His sister Lea, also an artist, graduated from LCAD, and coincidentally, the building was designed by his grandfather Chris.

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Completed battleship

Not surprisingly, since art and creativity run in his family, Tristan has always been interested in art. “I remember sitting on the floor of my dad’s architectural office, and drawing on Xerox paper with ink pens for hours. My parents always encouraged me, and from grades one through four, I attended the Community Learning Center, an alternative school that focused on creativity.”

 Tristan is the fifth-generation woodcarver in his family, starting with his great-great-grandfather in Denmark who taught his great-grandfather, then it was passed down to his great-uncle, and his father. And to carry on the family legacy, at age eight, his dad taught him to carve on mahogany and oak, and Tristan still uses his great-grandfather and great-uncle’s tools in his work and to do traditional wood carvings for his dad’s Bungalow and Craftsman style projects. 

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Tristan and Sarah anticipating new journey, parenthood

And Tristan has a new project – one he is over the moon about. He and Sarah, who he describes as his best friend, are expecting a baby in December, conveniently two days after he graduates from LCAD, and he can’t wait to be a father. “I’m so happy to be starting a family with my wife Sarah.”  On Valentine’s Day, they were married under the Pepper Tree in front of City Hall. Sarah, who he met at a friend’s birthday here in town, is a pre-school teacher at Newport Coast Child Development Preschool.  

“Now that we’ve found out we’re going to have a baby, it seems like the most important thing in the world,” he says. “I want to give my kid everything, the safety and nurturing, that my parents gave me. Even with my art, I have a whole new drive, a new purpose.”

Tristan in rare moment of repose, contemplating art, life, and fatherhood

However, Laguna may lose Tristan and Sarah next year (for a while anyway).  They plan to go to Omaha, NE, where Sarah is from and where her family still lives. “Omaha has a good art scene and art museums,” he says. “And maybe we’ll go back and forth between there and Laguna.” 

Time for Tristan to get back to his construction project. I ask if he ever takes wood from the sites to recycle or carve and use in his art, and he points out an incredible bench and counter top in his booth, a redwood tree cut down from a construction site, a beautiful and perfect example of blurring life and art.


Scott Tenney and Mariella Simon: The “parents” of Bluebird Canyon Farms

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Remember when you could stroll down the road to the local farm on a warm summer evening and pick up some fresh, ripe tomatoes for dinner, and maybe some of their own batched honey? Me neither. 

Well, now you can. And a whole new generation will grow up in Laguna Beach with that kind of locally produced farm-fresh food available just a stone’s throw down the road. Welcome to Bluebird Canyon Farms, a place that requires the same loving care as a baby, and is the brainchild of Scott Tenney and Mariella Simon.

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Mariella Simon and Scott Tenney

It began in a garden

Scott and Mariella met, appropriately enough, while Scott was putting in a garden for Mariella’s neighbor. Twenty-five years and two children later, the pair have a made a home and farm in Laguna Beach. Their sons, Liam (a student at Chapman University) and Sam (in San Diego studying to be a paramedic) may be grown up, but the farm is the baby of the family, and requires constant tending. Often the whole family pitches in to lend a hand, along with full-time staff including Farmer Leo (aka Ryan Goldsmith) who farms the market garden which provisions the weekly downtown Farmer’s Market, Kathy Tanaka who handles education and artist programs, communication and product development, and a whole bevy of volunteers. 

It takes a village.

A garden, and beyond

“We love nature. We grew up in nature. We always had our hands in the soil,” says Scott, who grew up in a rural part of New Jersey. 

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Bluebird Canyon Farms’ fresh ripe tomatoes

Seven years ago, the couple drove by a plot of almost 15 acres that was for sale in Bluebird Canyon. “We drove by and saw the ad – it was not for the faint of heart,” Scott laughs. Mariella, who grew up near the Alps in Germany agrees, “Scott and I looked at it and thought it would be an amazing garden – we were very naïve!”

It was a rust bucket of hilly land; no roads, no connection to sewerage, no retaining walls. But it was affordable. Mariella, a laboratory scientist (she just received her PhD in mitochondrial research), said they walked the property on the weekends and found above ground water pipes broken and electric lines just strung about. “It was in horrible shape,” she said. Scott reflects, “We knew what we were in for!”

It took four years to wrestle the land into workable and sustainable shape. But it wasn’t just for the growing of organic fruits and vegetables, bees and honey production. They had Big Plans.

“We wanted to share that love of land, and local food,” says Scott. “I hoped we’d grow and share food – and share knowledge.”

As stated on their website (www.bluebirdcanyonfarms.com), “Bluebird Canyon Farms strives to be a community resource and to be recognized as a model of sustainable urban living.”

Growing fruits, veggies and skills

The farm vision includes not just the delicious and organic. The community resource part that Scott and Mariella are passionate about also includes education, science, and art. One aspect of that is their Growing Skills program – a program to educate and train the next generation in the multi-faceted world of farming. The Growing Skills concept is geared toward youth and individuals with developmental challenges so that they can learn about sustainable agriculture and about working together as a team. 

In his science-y way (he is an engineer, after all), Scott explains running a farm like this: “It’s a rich sync of technical and non-technical labor demand. It’s a perfect place to provide hands-on training. You solve electrical issues, plumbing, irrigation, soils technology…” 

Yes, farm work isn’t easy, or one-dimensional. 

Growing Skills is a program that Scott and Mariella would like to see including educators and perhaps non-profit grants in order to oversee and track each participant’s success. For these young people, it’s ultimately about learning technical skills, working as a team, and building a relationship with the land. 

“There’s a hunger, yet lack of training that kids have now,” said Scott. He’s envisions a bountiful future with the program.

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Some of the farm products including their own honey, and herbal salt scrubs 

Another important focus at Bluebird Canyon Farms’ is community outreach including their co-op market, an ongoing lecture series, cooking and gardening classes, and featured artists and art programs. In the next couple of weeks, for example, there’s the Gourmet Gardener Cooking Class, Brunch with Sue Bibee, a Robust August Farm Dinner, and Artist Paint Day. (More information, sign ups, and volunteer opportunities can be found on their website).

If you’ve wanted to get a glimpse inside the incredible goings on at the farm, stroll on down and check it out during their Farm Tours, usually offered on Thursday mornings.

Bluebird’s hippie past

Art is not only a present-day feature at Bluebird Canyon Farms, it’s in its DNA.  Before it fell into disrepair and was reincarnated by Scott and Mariella and their team, it was actually an artist’s colony like much of Laguna. This one was spearheaded by Roger Van De Vanter, a multi-media artist whose work is exhibited in collections worldwide, including the White House and the Guggenheim Museum. (He was also an original member of the Sawdust Festival, and created a style of multi-layered rubber sandals that was the inspiration behind the Rainbow Sandal Company).

Van De Vanter’s artist colony hosted merry gatherings including the likes of Ken Kesey, Jimi Hendrix, Sonny and Cher, and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.

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“Farmer Leo” getting produce ready for market

In those days, and certainly in the decades preceding them, there were ranches and farms scattered around Laguna. Today, Bluebird Canyon Farms stands alone as Laguna’s local operational farm. It represents a fresh, new link in the chain of Laguna’s rich history.

“We wanted to keep it in the Laguna spirit,” says Mariella. “Re-built in kind.”

A farm and a home by the sea

The connection to history, the connection to community, and the connection to native flora and fauna are paramount for Scott and Mariella as they progress at the farm. There’s a sense of respect for the past – to learn from it – so that it can be sustained into the future.

“You evolve; it’s the thread that runs through our lives,” says Scott. 

The farm nods to Laguna’s past with board and batten architectural elements, lending a cottage feel. But behind the scenes, the pair have scienced it up. 

“The site has a very sophisticated water system, cleans run-off before it is released, and there’s a solar electric system,” said Scott. “We minimize waste, compost everything that can be, use cistern conservation, and irrigation evaporative controls.”

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A view from the top at Bluebird Canyon Farms

Ultimately, the couple reflects on their farm’s soul: “We started slow and restored the site. We honored the buildings that were here. We honored the hippie past,” said Mariella. “It grew organically, with people and their talents. We just put it together.”

“We love nature, arts, science,” says Scott. Mariella, of course, concurs, “It’s sort of consistent!”

The farm, and Laguna, has become the home dreams are made of. “I wanted to be in a place that had a town, by the sea – neighbors with connection to each other,” Scott says. “It feels good.” 

It feels good to have you both here, too. Your baby, Bluebird Canyon Farms, is the local farm down the road we would all like to grow up with. May the baby grow up healthy and strong.


 

Adam Neeley: “Painting with gemstones”

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Adam Neeley and his dad set out on a road trip ten years ago. Their quest? To find the perfect spot for Neeley to open his jewelry design studio. He was 23 years old. The plan was for him and his dad to start in Carlsbad and drive all the way up the coast to San Francisco. They figured somewhere along the way they’d find the right place. The trip ended much sooner than planned. 

“When we got to Laguna I said, ‘I don’t need to go anywhere further,’” remembers Neeley. And he didn’t. He set up his eponymous gallery in north Laguna and, other than moving across the street, he has been there ever since. North Laguna is both his literal and figurative home.

His studio and the FOA offer two different clienteles

Arriving too late to enter the Festival of the Arts when he first arrived in Laguna, Neeley managed to do so the following year and has participated every year since, making this year his 10th. “The gallery is for more custom and couture pieces,” he says. “The Festival showcases pieces in my Design collection. It’s more for visitors and tourists.”  

The two sites provide crossover, despite their different focuses. “We get clients in the studio that we met at the Festival. They may start out with a $2,000 piece and then come to the studio for the next level.”

The “next-level” pieces are his couture pieces. They can be priced at more than $100,000 and are one of a kind, museum quality pieces. “They’re larger, on a grander scale, with rare stones. I push myself with the design. Sometimes I will have a stone in the safe for five to ten years before I come up with the right design.” It’s a long way from his silver and turquoise southwestern designs he hawked throughout the west during his middle and high school years.

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Adam Neeley, of Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry in Laguna Beach

A hobby becomes a profession early on

A Colorado native, Neeley says his father was a “rock-hound.” 

“We spent our weekends rock collecting. I’d find a crystal or a stone and I’d want to know what was inside. So I started hanging out at rock shops. I was doing this since I was ten years of age.” 

After a while, Neeley says he collected so many stones that his mother suggested he do something useful with them and make her some jewelry. “So I started silver-smithing at ten.” This is where the southwestern style evolved. “When I was 14 I entered my first art show in Telluride. I priced my pieces at $60 which seemed like a lot to a 14 year old kid. They were turquoise, smoky quartz…I sold out in two hours!” It was then that Neeley and his parents realized the hobby could actually become a profession.

“From then on, middle school through high school, I did art shows every weekend.” 

A focused and thorough education

Eventually, he moved away from his southwestern roots to develop his own unique style. Now, he says he prefers pieces that are “…clean, modern and asymmetrical,” but getting there was a process. First, he apprenticed in gold work in Colorado, then he moved to Carlsbad and attended the Gemological Institute of America, becoming a graduate gemologist. From there he attended Le Arti Orafe in Florence, Italy, one of Europe’s most prestigious gold-smithing institutions. 

After that he traveled to New York to refine his platinum-smithing skills and learn computer-aided design, then he returned to Carlsbad, ultimately landing in Laguna. They were busy and highly focused years. But there were difficult decisions along the way.

Finding the path that let him do it all

In the beginning of his career, Neeley says he wanted to be a designer for a big company, like Tiffany’s or Cartier. However, he also likes to craft individual pieces. Designers at these companies don’t get that opportunity very often. He also contemplated becoming a gemstone buyer. That job entails travel and spoke to his love of selecting the perfect gemstone.  

However, that career would not have fulfilled his love of design. So there was only one path that allowed him to do it all: his own studio. “Now what I do involves all the other aspects of these other careers: buying, cutting, designing.”

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Adam Neeley with one of his newest creations

His process is like “painting with gemstones”

As his design aesthetic developed, Neely found his signature style. “I draw a lot of inspiration from nature,” he explains. “The curves of a flower blossom or the colors of a sunset. I do a modern interpretation of those kinds of things. I like clean, fluid lines that showcase the gemstones.” One of his goals is that his pieces are recognizable as an “Adam Neeley piece.” 

“A lot of people get stuck in trends. I’m sensitive to trends, but want to keep my aesthetic.”  He sees his process as “painting with gemstones.” A particular favorite stone is tourmaline. It comes in so many colors,” he says enthusiastically. “I have these boxes filled with accent stones. I pour them out next to the main stone and see what harmonizes with it.”

A signature process: Spectra gold

Besides his “painting with gemstones” Neeley has also developed a gold that, according to his website is a “unique and time intensive alloy” called Spectra gold. It can never be poured into a mold and so must be crafted entirely by hand. When used, the Spectra gold piece starts out a vibrant gold color and gradually lightens to an almost white gold color.

“I love the effect of ombre,” says Neeley. “It creates movement.”

Awards for acclaim and motivation

This attention to detail and innovation has resulted in Neeley winning many awards for his jewelry pieces. When we spoke he was about to create a bracelet for a show he has already won twice. “It’s kind of like a Wonder Woman bracelet,” he says, describing the piece made up of yellow diamonds that fade to white diamonds, like the Spectra gold. “I’m excited to see what happens,” he says.  

The shows provide necessary publicity, especially when he wins. However, that’s not the only reason he enters them. “I like to personally push the envelope,” he says. 

A gallery in San Francisco is a work in progress

And that’s why he opened a gallery in San Francisco in 2012. Unfortunately, as is extremely common in San Francisco these days, his rent doubled. “We moved to a new location, but it wasn’t our cup of tea. We are in the process of looking for a new space,” he says. The San Francisco clientele offers exciting possibilities. 

“The city is so involved in dining and dressing up. People do dress for the red carpet. Sometimes, in Laguna we want it more casual. There (San Francisco) the more sparkle the better.” For a jeweler, it’s clear why the combination of the two locales is so appealing. 

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Adam Neeley at his studio at 352 N. Coast Highway

Aspiring to reach lofty heights in his field

Neeley’s ambitions don’t stop at the west coast. He’d like to expand to New York one day and grow his business, specifically his couture business. He mentions Wallace Chan and JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal) as designers whose careers he aspires to follow.

“I would hope to jump to their levels. Their pieces are incredibly dramatic and push the boundaries of what is technically possible. I would be very happy to be at that level.”  

As far as his couture collection goes, Neeley says he wondered, “If we build it will they come?” Apparently, the answer is “yes.”  Neeley says his couture pieces are selling “very well.” 

Jewelry as “wearable art”

Regardless of how far Neeley takes his creations, he will continue to push himself and his chosen medium of expression. “As far as design, I’m always looking to do something I’ve never done before. I encourage people to see jewelry as wearable art, like a sculpture.” 

To see Adam Neeley’s creations you can visit his studio at 352 N. Pacific Coast Highway or at the Festival of Arts through the summer.


Fate favors the fearless: Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laura Henkels

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Necessity isn’t just the mother of invention. It’s also the mother of reinvention. And Laura Henkels, Executive Director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, has mastered the art of reinventing herself over and over again. Though some of her prior careers may not seem like natural stepping stones to her current role as director, every field she’s mastered has honed her skills, expanded her knowledge, perfected her approachable style, and made Laura the ideal fit for a very fun job.

Hair today, gone to work tomorrow

The year was 2011 and the country was still suffering under the effects of the recession. Laura, a single mother of two sons, had been laid off. Panic started to settle in.  A childhood friend worked as a hairdresser at Tiare Hair Design on Forest Avenue, and offered to do her hair. But fate had more than a great hairstyle in store for Laura that day. A woman sat next to her and overheard Laura’s story. “There’s a job opening at the Chamber of Commerce,” she said. “Come work with me.” 

Within days, Laura was the Marketing and Event Manager for the Chamber of Commerce. 

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Laura Henkels, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce

A year later, without even applying for the job, she was promoted to Executive Director. “I had no idea when they called me into the office that they were offering me the job,” she says. 

Laura had always worked in the private sector. “The traditional path would involve city or government background, experience with nonprofit organizations, or working with member-based groups,” says Laura. “But when I look back, everything I’d done had prepared me well for this job.”

Looking at Laura’s resume, filled with sales and marketing experience for newspapers, banks and businesses, it makes sense after all that she was prepared to be an effective Director for the Chamber of Commerce.  

Laura is a people person. Her ease with every kind of personality is remarkable. She’s a natural conversationalist, engaged and curious. She’ll chat with the homeless as easily as she’ll talk to the town’s mayor, business leaders, or the fire chief. Her skills cut across industries, subject matter, and time. 

“I started over at 50. Everything about this job is so different,” Laura says. “But I pick things up quickly. And I absolutely love what I do.”

She’s happy taking risks and trying new things. In a word, Laura is fearless. 

From philosophy to finance

The fearlessness started young. Laura put herself through college, working at Lake Tahoe as a blackjack dealer. Self-sufficiency is another theme that’s played throughout Laura’s life. “I’m really proud of that,” she says. She double majored in philosophy and political science, setting her sights on law school.  She credits those degrees with honing her critical thinking skills.

Shortly after college, while working in retail in the Bay area, she was recruited to Citibank, starting as a teller in a satellite branch out of a grocery store. “I was recruited right off of the retail sales floor at The Broadway…by a president of the bank,” says Laura. 

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Laura Henkels with Nia Evans, events & marketing manager – an awesome team

Within two years, she was one of the first females chosen by Citibank California to be licensed as a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and, sponsored in earning both Series 7 and Series 63 licenses, qualified as a fully licensed Private Wealth Manager. 

From there, Laura was recruited by the Los Angeles Times to “work the wire-houses” in Manhattan and their agencies in order to make their business section profitable. Within a year, she was promoted to events manager for the Los Angeles Times and all of its national offices.

Laura never had to look for a job. She was sought after and recruited, again and again. Each time she took the challenge, leaving lucrative and stable careers in favor of trying something new.

History repeats itself

Laura’s love of local businesses, entrepreneurship, and adventure may have come naturally. Her grandfather was a partner in the oldest retail store in downtown Los Angeles, Dearden’s. 

In the 1940s, Laura’s grandfather, who spoke only Spanish, had a vision. He convinced his partner to cater their business to the Hispanic market. Seventy years ago, Latinos were not a target audience for retailers. But Dearden’s offered a sales staff that spoke Spanish, and an in-store credit program for their clients. They sold electronics, furniture and, more recently, cookware, watches, perfume and more. They weathered recessions, adapted to trends and market changes, and cultivated a culture of loyalty among their customers.

Dearden’s department store celebrated 108 years in business this year, making it one of the longest running institutions in L.A. Sadly, however, after suffering from the recent recession and crippled by competition in the online market, the store was forced to close its doors—and all eight branches—last week. 

Her grandfather’s legacy lives large in Laura’s mind. “Laguna Beach is unique,” she says. “There’s so much support from all the businesses and members. That support is critical because retail is tough.” Laura brings that respect for her grandfather’s model to her work. She laments how much business now goes either online or out of town, and sees the impact of those consumer decisions on our local shops.

Memory Lane intersects Laguna Canyon Road

Memories of her grandfather mingle with her earliest memories of Laguna Beach. Laura began coming to the town as a child in the 1960s. Her family had a house near Ben Brown’s. She has vivid memories of Laguna Canyon Road in the 1970s. “People sold stuff out of their vans—incense, rugs, macramé plant holders. It looked like the Sawdust Festival stretched down the street.” The town always drew artists, bohemians, hippies, and entrepreneurs. Some of those early years in Laguna still remain among her favorite memories. 

Santa’s chauffeur

Now Laura makes memories for her own children. One notable opportunity came a few years back, when Laura acted as driver for Santa Claus on Laguna’s annual Hospitality Night.  2013 was her first year as Events Manager at the Chamber, and she was tasked with transferring Santa to the firehouse. Her son, Dillon, was eight at the time and still a firm believer in all things Christmas. Clearly, his mom had the coolest gig in the world. She even let him bring his best friend along for the ride. 

“Santa pulled up in a Toyota Camry,” Laura recalls. “Dillon looked a little worried, wondering why Santa wasn’t in his sleigh. I told him Santa was trying to stay under the radar.” Dillon seemed to accept this, particularly because this man had to be the real deal. His beard was 100 percent authentic. 

“Dillon’s eyes were like saucers,” Laura says. “He couldn’t even speak. Then his friend asked, ‘What kind of job does your mom have?’ and Dillon told him, ‘She’s the lawyer in charge of Laguna.’”

Let’s face it. Laura’s cooler than any lawyer. Among other things, she’s Santa’s chauffeur.

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The Chamber works hard to inform residents and visitors about local businesses

The Chamber of Commerce is hard at work all year round. But there are a few notable events Laura encourages residents not to miss.

Small Business Saturday: Held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday encourages the community to “think local, be local, and buy local.” Businesses take to the sidewalks, offering special deals and promotions. Guests carry a passport, stamped by each business they visit. They can submit that passport into a raffle for prizes. Last year, that included a two-night stay at The Ranch.

State of the City: The annual State of the City luncheon takes place each spring at the Montage Resort. It gives attendees the opportunity to hear the city’s activities, including planning and infrastructure projects, customer service enhancements and the city’s financial condition.  It’s one of the most well attended events in town, bringing together citizens, non-profits, businesses, city council members and others.

Taste of Laguna: The event takes place in the fall on the Festival of Arts grounds. Thirty-five local restaurants participate, recreating their unique dining spaces in a beautiful environment, and allowing chefs to interact with the guests. “It feels like you’re a tourist in Italy, stumbling into this incredible night. It’s one of those experiences that stay in your mind the rest of your life,” says Laura. “It’s just that magical.”

A few of Laura’s favorite local businesses

Who better to ask about local shops and restaurants than the Director of the Chamber of Commerce? Laura agreed to share a few favorites:

With two teenage boys in her house, Laura can’t stay away from Hobie Surf Shop. “There’s always something in there for all three of us,” she says. 

Then there’s Buy Hand. Everything in Buy Hand is made—yes—by hand. From jewelry to home goods, pet bling to baby clothes, every piece is unique and one-of-a-kind. “A perfect shop for gifts,” says Laura. “I love that it’s owned by two sisters and features the work of local artists.” 

Laura is a self-proclaimed bibliophile. Her weekends are spent in libraries and bookstores. Laguna Beach Books, with its knowledgeable staff and on-point recommendations, topped her list of places she loves.

 Then there’s the farro salad dish at the Lumberyard. And the $10 lunches at Skyloft. The list goes on – far too long to print all her favorites here. 

Laguna is Laura’s kind of town

There’s something about Laguna. It’s energetic while it’s tranquil. It’s inspiring while it’s healing. It’s bold while it’s beautiful. It’s social and soulful, vibrant and peaceful, artistic and entrepreneurial. And it rewards the person who craves reinvention. Laura seems drawn to all those things. 

19th century poet James Russell Lowell once said, “Fate loves the fearless.” That rings true for Laura. It was fate, every time, that led her to something new. And fearlessness that allowed her to make the leap.


Joselyn and Todd Miller: Global Grins, and a gritty fight against a rare disease

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Todd and Joselyn Miller have deep roots in Laguna Beach. Joslyn’s great aunt built one of the first homes in Emerald Bay; her grandfather owned Village Liquor on Thirdand PCH; and her grandmother (on the other side) lived on 5tth Ave.  

Todd’s grandmother lived in Emerald Bay and his parents met on Emerald Bay beach in 1957. 

Now Joselyn and Todd are carrying on the family tradition of living in Laguna (Emerald Bay specifically), but it took a trip to distant lands for them to meet.

A Semester at Sea becomes a transformative event

“We were both at USC but didn’t know each other,” explains Joselyn. Both had signed up for the Semester at Sea program. “Sailing around the world will change your perspective,” says Todd. Now, many years out of college, he is still such an enthusiastic proponent of the program he serves on its Board of Directors. And the program continues to impact his outlook. 

Through his work with the Semester at Sea program Todd says, “I’ve met Desmond Tutu, Sandra Day O’Connor…” These introductions were the spark that ignited the couple’s desire to launch a non-profit.

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Todd and Joselyn Miller, Laguna Beach residents and founders of Global Grins

Simple and impactful translates into Global Grins

In 2010, with their two kids, both LBHS graduates, well on their way to adulthood, Joselyn says she and Todd had been really trying to come up with an idea for an impactful non-profit. “We knew we wanted to help people world-wide, but we didn’t know what we wanted to do,” she says.  Todd credits Joselyn with coming up with the idea that has since become their charity, Global Grins. 

Joselyn explains that they were inspired by the effectiveness of mosquito nets in the sense that providing mosquito nets is a simple, low-cost solution to the complex problem of preventing malaria. 

Thinking along these lines she came up with the idea to deliver toothbrushes to needy people. “We realized no one was doing this,“ Todd explains. “No one was just focusing on the toothbrush.”

More cellphones than toothbrushes

“There are more cell phones than toothbrushes in the world,” adds Joselyn, quoting a UN study. “Two billion people don’t have a toothbrush. There is a profound relationship between poor oral hygiene and all kinds of health problems: cancer, diabetes, stroke.” She brings out four carved sticks that resemble rustic unsharpened pencils and serve as toothbrushes in some parts of Africa. “These are what some people view as toothbrushes,” she says ruefully.

100 percetn of money raised goes to the mission

With their mission established, the Millers launched Global Grins with a kick-off fundraiser in Emerald Bay. The event raised approximately $35,000 that night. “The majority of people there that night were Laguna people and they have continued to support us,” says Todd. “It’s very rare, but with Global Grins 100 percent of the proceeds we raise goes to the cause. We are 100 percent volunteer-driven. 0 percent goes to salaries,” he says proudly.

A milestone is near: Almost one million toothbrushes delivered

The way it works is pretty simple. Volunteers make up their Delivery Squads. “Every day we get emails from people who want to take a free box on their travels,” explains Todd. “All we ask in return is a photo of the delivery.” 

The photos, explains Joselyn, are used in the group’s social media campaign. Because the toothbrushes are packed in a small, shoebox-sized box, they’re easy to travel with. Todd explains that often members of the Delivery Squad (and anyone can be part of the Delivery Squad) say that delivering the toothbrushes is often the most impactful and memorable part of their trip.

“For some, it’s a first time philanthropy for people. It provides them with a special emotional experience.”  

The formula is working. Seven years in and they are about to hit an impressive milestone: one million toothbrushes.

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The Millers with some happy toothbrush recipients in Los Angeles

At home and abroad, Global Grins has delivered toothbrushes

The Millers recently returned from New Zealand where Todd was playing a Masters event in volleyball. (His team won the National Adult Championships in 2015 and 2016 where he was voted All-American. He also played at USC.) They had planned on visiting a homeless shelter in Auckland to deliver some toothbrushes. Todd says he asked if any of his teammates were interested in going along. 

“Everyone said ‘yes’. Their wives came. It was so cool. Everyone helps everyone. Every city has a need.” Adds Joselyn, “From the Friendship Shelter and the youth shelter in our hometown to the most remote areas, we’ve delivered toothbrushes. A lot of times it’s the first time they’ve seen one. Every day I get photos (of the deliveries) and I say, ‘Wow, this is amazing. These people are beyond stoked to get a toothbrush!’”

From adventurer to adrenaline junkie

In addition to delivering toothbrushes and playing volleyball, New Zealand provided Joselyn with the opportunity to do some bungee jumping. While she says she has always been adventurous, she is now a full-fledged adrenaline junkie. The reason for her evolution? Coming out the other side of a two-year battle with two life-threatening illnesses undoubtedly has something to do with it.

Something was not right

In the spring of 2012, Joselyn says she knew something was not right. It took seeing 12 doctors before she was finally diagnosed with Shulman’s Syndrome. Never heard of it? That’s probably because there have only been 300 documented cases.  

While undergoing treatment for Shulman’s Syndrome, Joselyn developed aplastic anemia. Basically, her red blood cells failed. “I needed a blood transfusion every 48 hours,” she explains. After more than 100 transfusions, doctors’ decided they needed to do something else. A bone marrow transplant was ordered. Fortunately, Joselyn’s only brother was a match, something that happens only 25 percent of the time. 

A renewed commitment to her bucket list

Fortunately, Joselyn’s transfusion was a huge success, which isn’t always the case. “A lot of people die during the process or end up with a bad quality of life,” explains Todd. For Joselyn, she says she started feeling “normal” in 2014. “I just ran a couple of 5K’s and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that,” she says. “My bucket list is a huge focus of my life.” 

And while Todd was with her every step of the way during her illness and recovery, he did not acquire her passion for things like bungee jumping and skydiving. “He had a very busy schedule when I went skydiving,” she says laughing.

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A Global Grins box, ready for distribution anywhere around the world

Advocating for “Be the Match” bone marrow registry

This life-altering saga presented the couple with another mission: Be the Match, a bone marrow registry. Because of Joselyn’s illness they have become huge advocates for bone marrow donations. In typical Miller-fashion, in 2014 the couple recruited more than 200 registrants during the Fourth of July festivities in Emerald Bay. 

“The City of Hope holds a big event and they don’t get 200 attendees,” say Todd proudly.  

From that registry they know first-hand of two people who have gone on to save lives with their bone marrow donation. Their son, Rex, was one. “He donated to save a man’s life in Italy,” says Todd beaming. 

Global Grins has impressive partners

Through it all, the couple has maintained their commitment to Global Grins. While Todd says he kept it “limping along” with Joselyn in the hospital for 100 days, once she returned home it started up again in full force. 

“I was quarantined. So I had nothing to do but get it going again,” she says with a laugh. And it is going. They have partnered with Semester at Sea (the students visit orphanages and deliver toothbrushes); the US military (on their humanitarian missions) the Peace Corps as well as local organizations. 

Recently, the group was awarded Organization of the Year by Operation School Bell, an LA-based philanthropy that provides at-risk and needy children new school clothes and supplies.

A blog, a book and the gift of a new attitude

Next up, Joselyn is turning her blog of her fight back to health into a book (joselynsbrawl.com). “It has gotten over 100,000 hits. If it helps people with health battles…” she says with a hopeful shrug. Todd adds, “It’s pretty powerful. I think it gives people who are battling some hope. They think ‘if she can do it, I can do it.’” And she certainly has done it. She beat the odds and has made a very conscious decision to make the most of it. “I’m glad it happened. So much good has come of it. This new attitude is a gift.”

For more information about Global Grins or to become part of the Delivery Squad go to globalgrins.com.

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