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Karen Polek: a medicine woman for the new age

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Karen Polek is a healer. It has been her life’s mission since she can remember.

Karen Polek

“I’ve always been a sensitive person,” she says. “It’s a gift from God, really.” She felt it in her hands especially. “When I was very young, I remember my hands moving. They were highly sensitive.”

Polek used those hands to help her father, a farmer, pick the tobacco they grew in western Connecticut. Those were the times when kids would play in the cornfields as the crop dusters flew overhead. She remembers building things with the empty DDT pesticide cans. And those hands turned brown from the tar on the tobacco leaves.

Her mother, a devout Catholic, did not appreciate her young daughter’s special sensitivities. Being the good daughter, Karen conformed to her conservative environment. “I learned to stifle my energy,” she said.

She went down the expected path, pursuing a marketing career in a traditional corporate environment, and married a man working for the same company. The moved to Laguna in 1975, while she worked for Combustion Engineering, and her husband, an engineer, worked on the San Onofre power plant. Her mainstream world started to spin in a different orbit after their divorce. 

Past and present

Polek became more interested in the spiritual aspects of life: meditation, therapy, healthy eating, and exercise. “Your answers are within,” she says. “It’s just a matter of getting quiet and listening.” She slowed down, and paid attention.

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” she says. Her “teacher” appeared in the late 1980’s, when she began to study holistic health practices. Finally it all made sense to Polek as she was able to grow and utilize her sensitivities.

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The healing office

She studied at ISPB College in San Diego learning massage and other techniques as a health practitioner. After a thousand hours of training she opened her holistic practice in 1988. She continued to learn physical and emotional therapies, and one day a special teacher found her and guided her to CranioSacral Therapy.

The Cranium and the Sacrum

CranioSacral is a therapy developed by an osteopathic physician, Dr. John Upledger, in the early 1980’s as a way to relieve pain and dysfunction in the body, and improve whole-body health and performance. Practitioners use touch to evaluate the flow of the central nervous system.

“The beauty of CranioSacral Therapy is that it’s a gentle and self-corrective method,” said Polek. “It balances the neurological system; brain, bones, spinal fluids, and everything in between.” 

She was trained at the Upledger Institute about how to listen with her hands. As the spinal fluid is created in the cranium, it then sends forth into the body nutrients that protect and cleanse the neurological system. 

“There’s a flow of the cerebral spinal fluid,” she said. “I was taught to feel it and listen to the cranial movements of the bones as it goes back and forth.”

The body and the mind 

A part of CranioSacral work is what they call SomatoEmotional Release. “Most of our physical problems are a result of an emotion,” says Polek. “We guide the person to dialog with their body.” 

That can lead to an emotional release. 

“There are ‘Aha’ moments, maybe laughing hysterically, crying, or pain. It’s tapping into a memory,” she says. “The body stores memory in its tissues. The more your cerebral spinal fluid is balanced and flowing, the emotions can come out, and the body can get rid of it and heal.”

At her office in Laguna, and another office shared with a partner in cognitive therapy, Laurie Brodeske, PhD (Care Psychological Services), in Santa Ana, Polek sees a wide range of patients, including cancer patients, pregnant moms, newborns, and the elderly. About half of her patients are special needs children. 

There’s a thing called Reactive Attachment Disorder in cases where the child may have experienced abuse in utero such as drugs or alcohol, or children of sexual abuse. Polek works with many of these children once placed in foster care. 

“There’s such a trust issue with them, it’s hard to attach to parents,” Polek said. “Guilt can prevent the attachment, so they self-sabotage. 

“Kids can’t always decipher what their emotions are,” she continued. “I work with a cognitive therapist at the same time. I can feel when their cranial rhythm goes out, and that’s when we know to guide them into their feelings [with cognitive therapy].” 

Illness and Health

The best success story Polek shared was about a mom at Camp Pendleton. Her husband had been deployed so she was alone when she gave birth to their first child. The attending doctor immediately noticed a problem with the formation of the bones in the newborn baby’s skull, and he referred the mom to a specialist to perform a dangerous, yet necessary surgery.

Before that could happen, Polek was brought in. She did two cranial release sessions with the infant. When the mom took her baby to the specialist, he simply said, “Why are you here? There’s nothing wrong.” The bones had been perfectly re-aligned.

Dolphins and Therapy

If there’s one thing Karen Polek likes more than healing people, it’s dolphins. And even better than that, dolphins that heal.

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With her unique sensitivity, Polek can feel the dolphin’s energy. “You can see the sonar energy as they scan your body,” she says. “You can feel their energy on their rostrum.”

At one time, Polek was helping a patient who had been in a car accident, which severely damaged his hip. Polek was holding the man as he floated in water amongst dolphins in a natural lagoon. She watched as one dolphin swam to the far side of the lagoon. The next thing she knew, that dolphin came at lightening speed and bumped her away from the man. The dolphin stayed, and then gently rested its nose (rostrum) directly on the man’s hip.

She found that out at the Upledger Dolphin-Assisted Therapy clinic in the Bahamas. Polek often attends sessions there, to work with these intelligent and sensitive mammals. The dolphins provide their own form of healing within a gated lagoon during four-day intensive programs, which allow therapists and patients alike to experience the dolphin’s natural ability to sense and nurture humans.

The best of Karen Polek’s life has been guided by sensitivity, caring and feeling. The experience is in her hands and in her heart.


Marian Keegan and Fernanda Rocha

The Art of Fitness: The evolution of a partnership

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

Art of Fitness owners, Marian Keegan and Fernanda Rocha, have worked hard to create a place that provides more than just a good work out for their clients, although with 40 exercise classes a week for $88/month, they certainly have done that.  Keegan said she “was called to be in the space” where her gym is now.  

“Everyone knew this place as Jean’s Market, but then it was a church. To me it still is a church, just a different kind.”  

This passion is what elevates Art of Fitness beyond just a place to sweat. 

Partners with different backgrounds, but similar values

Despite being from seemingly very different places, Rocha is from Brazil and Keegan from the Midwest, their backgrounds are surprisingly similar.  “We have a lot of core values together,” explains Keegan.  Both come from big families; both earned academic degrees in exercise-related areas and both were drawn to Laguna Beach. 

“When I first moved here I lived in Lake Forest.  I couldn’t understand why my Laguna friends wouldn’t visit me,” explains Keegan laughing. “They wouldn’t leave the bubble.  I figured it out pretty quick. I feel like I was born here.  I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

The Art of Fitness, Laguna Beach

An adventure turns into US citizenship

When Rocha arrived in the US 14 years ago she was not planning on staying, let alone becoming a US citizen.  “I came here because I wanted to do something.  I wanted to explore.  I took Business and Marketing classes at UCLA, just getting knowledge about the fitness industry.  I had the vision that I could experience something new here, but it was not my intention to stay.” 

Armed with a degree in kinesiology from Brazil and a thirst to learn, Rocha hit LA then branched out, eventually landing in Laguna 10 years ago - and hasn’t left.

Fernanda Rocha, co-owner of The Art of Fitness

Laguna Beach means volleyball all year round

Keegan, similarly, came to Laguna Beach while traveling on vacation over 20 years ago.  “I was running health clubs in Houston.  I went there to get my PhD in fitness - no one had any education in fitness back then.  I ended up liking the business of fitness clubs as opposed to teaching.  I loved it here.  I played basketball and volleyball in college (at Northern Kentucky University).  I thought, ‘I can play volleyball all the time here!’” Keegan didn’t work in fitness when she arrived, however, deciding to open her own commercial upholstery business.  “In five years we had 800 restaurants.  So I just would come and hang out in Laguna.”  Then “the space” opened up and Art of Fitness was born.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Keegan.  “Everything about it has been good. We’ve had marriages; people have lost 40 pounds…so much of my heart has gone into this place.  I love what I do.  I’m excited to go to work every day. In the beginning, I had to fight the city - for five years,” explains Keegan. “It was very difficult.  I had to constantly prove we were a good fit.  Now, it’s worked out.  It wasn’t easy, but now I appreciate what they were doing.  I mean we’re not competing with 24 Hour Fitness!”  

Marian Keegan, co-owner of The Art of Fitness

From business partners to “family”

After several years of going it alone, Keegan met Rocha and the two eventually became partners, both in business and in life. “Fernanda lights the whole place up.  She’s very talented.  Her classes are packed.  She’s the best instructor I have ever seen in my whole life.  She’s also really organized.  I’m not so organized.  That’s good for me.” 

Their relationship became familiar to many from their stint on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”  However, sitting down with the two of them now they are decidedly un-dramatic. “We are family now,” Keegan says. She’s referring to Rocha, of course, but she could just as easily be talking about their clients. Rocha feels the same.  “We are the Art of Fitness family.”  

Fernanda Rocha teaches a class at The Art of Fitness

Change is good, in life and business

 Rocha says her experience on the show was both a “good and bad experience.” Nevertheless, it undeniably opened doors for her and they’re still opening today.  She is currently working on a re-launch of her Jiinga Workout and Jiinga Brasil fitness clothing line, as well as becoming the face of a new television venture in Brazil next year.  Yet, despite all these projects, The Art of Fitness is never far from her thoughts.  

“The idea is to create a health and wellness facility.  Marian and I talk about this.  There is a need to explore the mind along with the body.  Laguna is a perfect place for this.”  When I spoke with Keegan she mentioned their desire to offer a transcendental mediation class for her “Type A” clients as well as their goal to have a full-time nutritionist.  “If you listen to your clients they will tell you what they need,” says Keegan.  Which explains why the club has been remodeled five times in its 13-year history.  “We’re always evolving,” says Keegan.

The Art of Juicing takes it to another level

A recent addition to the evolution is the Art of Juicing, their locally sourced, organic, cold-pressed juice bar.  Keegan enthusiastically explained the special process for washing the produce (a lot of talk about ph levels that went over my head), the care that goes into making their almond milk (suffice it to say it’s quite laborious).  

“Our nutrient value is off the charts!” she raves.  

She then told me of one of their clients whose liver enzymes were extremely elevated.  After two weeks of juicing, they went back to normal.  While I can’t attest to the long-term benefits of their juice, I will say that when we met I was in the middle of a horrible cold. Keegan gave me a juice for the road.  I don’t know if it was the dandelion greens, the turmeric or just knowing I was going to go home and get back in bed, but I definitely felt better after I drank it.

Marian Keegan runs a spin class for her clients

A community, a family, a place to feel better

And isn’t that the point? Don’t we just want to feel better?  Whether it’s a frenetic spin class or gentle yoga, don’t we do these things to feel better? (OK…looking better is up there, too.) But sometimes feeling better isn’t just about sweating or burning calories.  Sometimes it’s about feeling like you matter.  Marian Keegan and Fernanda Rocha understand that.  They’ve become like family to each other through the years and see The Art of Fitness as an extension of that family. 

“We get involved in our clients’ lives,” says Rocha.  “80% of my friends are from the gym,” explains Keegan.  “This place is more than a gym.  It’s a community, a family…The biggest compliment we can get is when someone says, ‘I have no idea why I’m at this gym, but I’ve been here for five years and I’m not leaving,’” she says emphatically. “That’s when you know you’re doing good.” 


Tom Davis: reflection and inspiration, or how many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos By MARY HURLBUT

He’s a little quiet and seems often serious, even though I know he has a good sense of humor. Tom Davis just may be the opposite of all those lawyer jokes. 

A giver and a doer, Tom is the kind of person to reverse the lawyer stereotype. He’s reached out way beyond himself, and given many others a lift up. He’s so involved with non-profits, he laughs that his legal work is not much more profitable. He calls it his “theoretical work”. 

He’ll take the lawyer jokes and professional epithets with stride, and a quiet chuckle.

Tom Davis

During our conversation the other day we were both thinking about what the meaning of a career is in relation to the meaning of a life. On the one hand you have your own goals and aspirations, including the drive for success – maybe accolades and “gold stars” on your professional report card. 

On the other hand you have responsibilities to your soul: your relations with other people, the joy of a family, and a perspective beyond your own sphere.

Recalling his own very serious awakening  

There he was going through life with all the gifts of brain, ability, and circumstance. Tom grew up in North Hollywood, graduated from USC and then completed post-graduate work at Duke University Law School. He got great job offers. He was hired and working at a big-time law firm in Newport Beach, when his father went suddenly and drastically ill. His father was young: just 67. 

It was acute leukemia, something I know about from first hand experience. My brother-in-law was a young 70 year-old, a former coach, who ran every day and ate all the right veggies. One day he was tired, and a few weeks later he died. There’s shock, disbelief, and a great sense of cursed un-fairness in the universe.

Tom’s father, too, just felt a little tired. Two weeks later, he was in the hospital.

While the family was still in a state of denial, Tom’s father called him and his brothers to his bedside, individually. He had a parting message for each of his sons.

His father could see that some change was needed. Tom was at a stage and place in life where he thought the world revolved around his orbit. 

“He might have seen some self-centeredness,” Tom recalled. “He said, ‘I think your strength is in community involvement.’ He felt I had more to offer than focusing on my own little life and career.”

His father’s words hit home, and he took them to heart

And so, now here we have Tom Davis, board member of St. Mary’s Church, the Peace Exchange, the Chhahari Organization Nepal, active with Glennwood House, the Friendship Shelter, OC Shanti, the Surfrider Foundation, and the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, just to name a few. 

He has embraced his father’s words not only in deed, but also in passion. And dad was right, community involvement has made his life that much richer.

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“The work we do as lawyers is difficult and stressful, and often not emotionally or spiritually fulfilling,” Tom said. “Non-profits offer a lot more in terms of those rewards.”

The Chhahari Organization, for example, has made a real difference in the lives of the 25 Nepalese children it houses. “These are kids who were living on the streets. They might have been sold into slavery, sold for their organs, or for sex trafficking,” Tom said. “They would most likely be dead without this program. There’s no government organization that protects them.”

Then there’s the lighter side

I actually do go back a bit with Tom and his wife Martha. Our kids were in school together at the same time, and I always loved watching Chandler Davis in her many fantastic theatrical productions from middle school through high school. The highlight for me was seeing Chandler as Maria in the LBHS production of The Sound of Music.

Martha Davis is also accomplished on the stage, and I think she got her husband bitten by the bug. Martha is a dancer and an athlete, along with a shared commitment to theater, and community organizations. She’s been busy raising their kids, Sarah and Chandler, and did much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes at the school theatrical productions. Currently she’s working with “The Pearl”, a yoga, hiking, and cleansing retreat located in Laguna Canyon. 

Tom may have been front-row center at all the kid’s performances, but Martha got him on-stage, singing with her in Laguna Tunes, the fun choral group, and he’s hooked.

“We’ve got a concert coming up (Dec 19), with some jazzy Christmas tunes,” Tom said. “It’s not a serious classical concert. We do fun and funny music.”

Now their daughter, Sarah, a graduate with a degree in chemistry, has said that she wants to pursue theater. Looks like it runs in the family!

Tom also has a daughter from his first marriage, Jessie, who works with him at his law firm, Davis Law. “And my grandkids,” says Tom. “I want to mention Sophie and Preston!” Sophie is four years old, and Preston is two months. “Jessie’s a great mom,” he adds.

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Life is a great balancing act of work, family, love of one’s self, and love of others. 

What’s next Tom?

“If I could do anything at this point of my life, I’d like to travel, and hang out with my grandkids - and those grandkids yet unborn. But there is one other thing I have had in the back of my mind for a long time. 

“It’s a project, or a book or maybe a speaking gig,” he continued. “I’d like to work with a group of like-minded lawyers and write and speak about ‘The Soul of a Lawyer’. 

“I started this not-yet-project about 20 years ago. In fact I gave a talk to group of lawyers entitled The Soul of a Lawyer at about that time. In my profession, as in many others (or maybe all others), we get caught up in the work, the necessity to make a living, and as a litigator ‘the battle’. 

“We often lose sight of ourselves, our souls, our real purpose in life, which I think is to love, to care for each other, and to teach and learn from one another. I want to try to discern and share how we do our necessary work but not lose ourselves in the process. 

“Non-profit work is one way that I do that, but there are many other ways. I would like to explore that.”

A lawyer with a soul – that’s not a joke. That’s Tom Davis.


Carrie Reynolds: Finding ways to do it all

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Carrie Reynolds wears many hats.  Not literally, (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her wear a hat other than the occasional baseball cap), but she is one of those people who manage to do more than most.  This makes interviewing her both a pleasure and a challenge.  Do we talk about her successful marketing consulting business, Reynolds Design Group?  Do we talk about her charitable endeavors?  Or “The 10 Boys Who Care”, a philanthropic group she started with her son, Sam, and some of his Thurston classmates?  Then there’s Lagunatics and her “Nollaig Na Mna” event she hosts every year.  Where does one begin? 

Carrie Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Design Group

Going all the way to the coast

Let’s begin 25 years ago when Carrie and her husband, Mike, moved to Laguna from Laguna Hills. Back then she was driving to LA everyday for work and Corona del Mar was “too expensive.  Mike said he didn’t move all the way from Illinois to stop five miles from the ocean.  So we got married and closed escrow on a teardown the next day, but we didn’t tear it down.”  Eventually, they rebuilt their falling down cottage into an award winning home – designed by Mike – which they still live in today. 

After commuting for two years, Reynolds was hired by Pepsi Co. in Irvine where she worked for eight years on the restaurant side.  Realizing corporate life wasn’t for her (“I said if I’m still here when I’m 35, shoot me.”) she thought she’d start her own consulting firm.  But then she got cold feet.  

“Prudential Real Estate offered me their VP of Marketing position.  I took it out of fear.”  Working there for a year helped her conquer her fear. “Prudential is an insurance company.  They’re very staid, very follow the rules.  That wasn’t for me either.”  So Reynolds Design Group was born.

Taking advantage of new technology

“When I started the Internet was exploding.  I started doing consumer research online and this changed the research model.  I can do it out of my house, there’s lower overhead for me, which is good for my clients.”  A key opportunity was when Reynolds was asked by Apple to do a segmentation study that would tell them who actually shopped in their then four stores.  Finding this information so valuable, Apple incorporated it into their next ad campaign.  It was a good start for Reynolds’ fledgling business, now in its 18th year.

A graduate of UC Davis, Reynolds says she has always worked.  “My parents had nothing.  I never knew anything else.  When I went to Davis I worked during the year and then I’d come home and pack pears in the summer.”  It was a very different life than the one her only child, Sam, enjoys.  “I’m sure we’re ruining him,” she says with mock conviction.  “But we haven’t seen this movie yet.”  

A challenging baseball season offers an opportunity

Though the movie is far from over, Reynolds, like any good director, is doing what she can to make sure it has a fulfilling ending.  With Sam’s baseball team slogging their way through a 2 and 12 season, Reynolds came up with an idea. 

“During the baseball season we were so impressed with the kids’ attitudes. We were getting all depressed as moms, right? But they really were showing strength of character.”  This fact, coupled with Jon Madison offering up some of his unsold Christmas items for charity, as well as hearing about her friends, Kendall and Chris Clark, and their scholarship to LBHS students converged into the idea for “10 Boys Who Care.”

10 Boys Who Care, Back row: Gustav Morck, Sam Reynolds, Carrie Reynolds, Noah Linder, Kent Cebreros. Front row: Ayrton Garcia, Zack Bonnin, Mason Lebby, Blake Pivaroff, Sam Kluver and Enzo Sadler

10 Boys Who Care helping others

10 Boys is a group of, yes, ten Thurston Middle School boys, who raise money throughout the year to provide scholarships to LBHS seniors who exhibit excellent sportsmanship.  The group has officers, takes minutes – everything an “official” non-profit does to run smoothly.  

“I wanted it to mean more.  I want them to be doing it for more than just the service credits.  Now people come up to them and ask for help.  It’s great.  They made $400 busking at hospitality night!  The town’s generous.  Last year the boys gave $3,500 worth of scholarships with the money they raised.  They read every one of the 30 essays they received, discussed them and made their decisions.  And they can almost run meetings by themselves,” she says with pride.

Reynolds’ philanthropy does not end with 10 Boys. She has her own causes she gives her time and talent to.  She was on the Board of the Boys and Girls Club for five years, has been a SchoolPower trustee since Sam was in kindergarten, she sits on the Orangewood Foundation’s marketing committee, sits on Thurston’s PTA Site Council and is involved in the PTA’s parent education series, Coffee Break.  All this while somehow cranking out a 40-hour workweek.

 

Conquering fears and finding a family in Lagunatics

As if this isn’t enough, Reynolds finds time to perform with Lagunatics, something she has done for the last eight years. “Every year I ask Bree (Rosen, the Lagunatics founder) to fire me,” she says with a laugh. “I did it originally because the thought of it made me so uncomfortable – like the Aquathon.  But now I’ve gotten over that part of it.  And it has introduced me to a community of people in town that I would never know otherwise.  The family is interesting.  We get close.” As for the Aquathon, she did that to overcome her fear of swimming in the ocean.  “I’m not saying I’ll swim out to the buoy by myself but…” Oh, well. She may have conquered her fear of performing, but that ocean thing is apparently still a work in progress.

Nollaig Na Mna hits Laguna

Something decidedly not a work in progress is Reynolds’ social media prowess.  A fun way she has used it is to connect with her 62 first cousins in Ireland.  There they have a tradition called “Nollaig Na Mna” (Christmas for the Women).  The idea is that the men serve the women who use the time to connect, relax and make a wish on a three-legged stool.  Reynolds and her sister thought this was a great tradition and imported it to their respective towns in California.  While unsure how many Nollaig Na Mnas she has hosted with the help of Jon Madison at his Madison Square Garden and Café, it has become quite the event over the years. 

“I love bringing an Irish tradition here that helps me tell my girlfriends how much they mean to me. It is a few hours of sharing stories, making personal wishes or declarations on our three legged stool and reminds us what having girlfriends means to us in our lives. I wish we had the chance to all do it a little more often.”

Recognizing a good idea, bringing meaning to it and then making it happen.  This is how Christmas for the Women, Laguna Beach-style, came to be, and it’s also a good description of how Reynolds approaches her life.  

And she does it with a wicked sense of humor.  When I contacted her to set up our interview her response was typical Carrie, “What the heck is the topic? Crazed mother of an only child…or crazed wife?” Of course she left out crazy entrepreneur, crazy “renegade do-gooder” (her words) and crazy fear conqueror.  

Maybe we should all be so crazy.

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A Reynolds Family Christmas Card



Ivan Spiers: The man behind peri-peri and apparel

Story by MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He may not always enjoy the fact, but Ivan Spiers manages to shake things up.

This week he was a little emotionally bruised after yet another City Council meeting having to do with parking at his iconic restaurant and music venue, Mozambique.

“I want to be a good neighbor. I want to help everybody,” he says. “I just don’t want to be micro-managed. I don’t need this aggravation.”

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In the 10 years of operating Mozambique there have been great times, like the many charity events Spiers hosts there, and the amazing musical talent he has drawn to their first class performing and recording space. 

But there have been miserable times, too, like when the economy tanked in 2008. “Then the world fell apart,” said Spiers. 

His main source of income, the apparel industry, suffered disastrous times, and the restaurant business changed suddenly for the worse as well. “Every business was impacted. It’s still impacted. Our restaurant business went down 60 percent overnight.”

But he put his heart and mind into it, and used some creative thinking to stay in business. “Mozambique was a more formal restaurant until then. We had to re-work the menu, and make it affordable for everybody,” he said. “We stuck with it, and never laid anybody off.” 

Mozambique is a big employer in town, and that became the main issue with parking problems most recently. The restaurant staff had been parking on side streets, which bothers some of the neighbors. It was agreed that the employees will now be shuttled from off-site leased parking sites to their jobs at the restaurant.

While we talked about some of these challenging situations, Spiers’ best buddy, Max, helped him to keep his calm. Max is one gentle giant of a dog, who also happens to be a 110-pound therapy dog. His day job is to visit hospitals and VA centers where he brings his sweet charm and calming influence. Spiers has raised him since he was a puppy – surprisingly once the runt of the litter.

Max nudged his hand, asking for more fluffing and scratching of those enormous ears. 

“I bought this building by accident,” Spiers continued. The former Tortilla Flats building had been vacant for years when he drove by almost 13 years ago. “I came to the auction, and thought it would be a good idea to open a restaurant.” Little did he know it would take two and a half years to renovate. “It was falling down – a lot more than we thought,” he said. “It was just a garbage pile.”

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Now it is one of the most popular places in Orange County to see live music, or enjoy great food spiced with their famous peri-peri sauce, and gaze out on the ocean toward the Laguna sunset.

Roots

One side of the man has the giant persona of an international business magnate, and on the other is Spiers’ quiet, kind demeanor. His polite South African nature is always the undercurrent.

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He grew up in a small town that defies spelling much less pronunciation. Umhlatazana was about an hour and a half from the nearest city, and his parents ran a trading store, selling whatever was needed. “From plows to clothes, to food,” said Spiers. “You name it, we sold it.” 

The community was small and multi-racial – and everyone got along. Once roads and bridges were constructed enough to travel quickly to the city, the family moved to Durban. Ivan was 13, and heard for the first time the word “apartheid”. 

Living in Durban, he witnessed enforcement by the government to a racially segregate society. Ivan knew he had to get out as soon as he could. 

He moved to London when he was 19 and found a job with EMI, the music recording and publishing company. It seems obvious now in hindsight that music would play an integral role in Spiers’ life. But, of course, his father and the government of South Africa had other plans for him.

His father wanted him to be a banker. The idea was to join his banker uncle who lived in Hong Kong. The government’s rule was that first he’d have to serve two years in the army.

Spiers did all that, but only lasted four days as a Hong Kong banker. “It was terrible,” said Ivan, simply. “You’re making a big mistake,” said his father.

But at 21 Ivan Spiers was still too young for the stuffy life of a banker. He wanted to play rugby and surf. 

So he went to Australia and did just that until a rugby accident landed him in the hospital. The injuries to his ribs, and a broken spine still plague him today.

Once recovered and back on a surfboard, Spiers met his California connections. They were a bunch of young guys, all good friends, surfing in the Canary Islands. One of them had a family ranch in Monterey and said, “Come to Monterey, we’ll get you some work.”

That was in 1972, and consequently Spiers has added lettuce picker to his resume. 

At that time the economy was booming, gas was 40 cents a gallon, and you could buy a decent car for $500. Picking lettuce was very good money – about $400 a week, but hard work. “The first two weeks almost killed me,” said Spiers. Then he learned from the guys who’ve done it for years how to do the lifting. Just like music, it turns out it’s about rhythm.

Growing a business

It was in Monterey that Spiers began his huge career in the apparel industry. Out by the airport there was a sweater and sport coat factory. Ivan got to know the owners and began buying goods from them and selling.

By the early 1990’s Spiers had amassed 29 large retail stores, and had his own family. He has three children; twin daughters now living in Austin, and a son now living in New York. 

“In 1992 I thought I was retired,” he said. But the financial reality of life post-divorce meant he would keep his nose to the grindstone.

Thanks to many friends in the area, Spiers moved from Monterey to Laguna. He continued to flourish in the apparel business to the point where he is now known as an industry veteran. He has helped launch brands with financing, and he’s created manufacturing, warehousing and distribution networks worldwide for everything from clothes to shoes to sunglasses.

Though Laguna is home base, Spiers is global citizen. He’s in Sri Lanka, and much of Asia at least a few times a year, plus Panama, the UK, and Canada. This week he was closing the deal on a big merger that he was pretty mum about. “You’ll read about it,” he said, slyly. 

He comes off as a behind-the-scenes guy, somehow maintaining his privacy despite his high profile. It’s that kind of humility that makes him approachable. 

Music for the soul

When it comes to music, Spiers jumps in, hook, line and sinker. He appreciates everything about music, and plays the guitar as well. He’s been known to rock it on the Mozambique stage just for fun, with friends like Nick I, and Bob Hawkins. 

This past October, Spiers opened Daryl’s House with rocker Daryl Hall, in Pawling, New York. It’s a restaurant and music venue that also broadcasts shows live on the Internet. “It’s been great,” Spiers said. “We’ve been so well received.” 

During the live broadcasts there are about 80 people employed at Daryl’s House, and Spiers has been surprised at the support they’ve been given. “Governor Cuomo sent someone – in a suit – to see if they could help!” he said. “They want it to succeed and make sure we’re well taken care of.”

 Daryl Hall will be playing there himself, on New Year’s Eve, and the show will be broadcast. His former partner, John Oates, will be performing at Mozambique on Feb 4. Spiers is keeping Hall and Oates rockin’ on both coasts.

At home in Laguna, Mozambique is like Spiers’ community gathering place. He has opened its doors to countless non-profits for their fundraising efforts. He has made friends with musicians, and even the neighbors. 

“I try to help everybody,” he says.

And he does. It’s just in his nature.



Maggi Henrikson: Bringing her enthusiasm to StuNews

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Maggi Henrikson could not wait to be featured in Laguna Life & People.  And if you believe that we should talk about some real estate deals involving the Brooklyn Bridge.  Henrikson, Associate Editor of StuNews, is accustomed to asking the questions, not answering them, but she showed her commitment to the cause and made time during a busy holiday season to sit down and chat.

An auspicious start in journalism

 Henrikson’s journalistic career had an auspicious start with “The Top Sail Tattler,” the neighborhood newspaper she created as a child in Connecticut. She wrote stories then would go door to door and sell them.  After “mimeographing” the needed copies she’d hand deliver them to her paying customers.  

Her journalism career took a rather lengthy hiatus after she ended her efforts with “The Tattler.” First there were things like middle school that needed to be completed followed by the rest of her schooling, college, an art career, marriage and a family.  However, when she finally returned to her journalistic endeavors, she did so with her characteristic enthusiasm.

Maggi Henrikson, Associate Editor of StuNewsLaguna

Curiosity leads to StuNews

“I’ve always been creative: painting, drawing, making jewelry.  I’ve even made lamps.  Stu(News) fulfills a lot of that.  I love words.  I love to be stimulated in that way.  When we decided to remodel our home that took two years.  I was bereft when it was over. What was I going to do?  ‘Stu’ came along at a good time,” says Henrikson about her growth at StuNews.  It started out innocently enough. 

“I was involved in the schools, PTA, water polo, all that kind of stuff.  I started sending things to Stu about water polo and the Glennwood House.  Stu liked what he saw and I started doing more…the photo quizzes; we started the dining section.  It was organic.  I guess it was meant to be.  I’ve always been curious about all kinds of subjects,” explains Henrikson. 

A plane ticket and a dozen roses

Another thing that was meant to be was her marriage to her husband, Richard. 26 years ago, he sent her a plane ticket and a dozen roses in hopes of enticing her to leave New York City, where she worked as an art consultant, for Laguna Beach. 

“I lived on Martha’s Vineyard for seven years and I remember hoping the man I married would love it as much as I did.”  He did, but his work was here and Henrikson was game to try something new.  So she moved to Laguna with plans to continue her consulting career.  After all, Laguna Beach is known for its art so she figured the transition would be easy.

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Maggi Henrikson and her family: sons Nick and Erik, Maggi and husband, Richard

From art consultant to stay at home mom

“I naively thought I could just pick up and continue doing what I was doing there, here, but the art scene was a little different than in New York,” she says with a laugh, “So I ended up driving to LA a lot, which was not great.”  Luckily, a gallery called Sata Fine Art opened in Costa Mesa that was more her style.  Owned by a wealthy Japanese businessman, Henrikson worked with him and the two made plans to create art tours at his French chateau.  Unfortunately, the owner ran into financial problems and the tours  – and gallery – were scrapped.  Pregnant with her first child, Henrikson decided this was a good time to stay home and be a mom. 

“I hate it when people say ‘just’ a stay at home mom.  I really think we should be factored into the GDP,” she adds emphatically.

Immersed in family life

As a mother of two boys, Henrikson was fully immersed in the rhythms of her family.  Her oldest son, Nick, has special needs and her other son, Erik, was a star goalie for the LBHS boys water polo team.  Both required a lot of her attention and energy.  Her efforts paid off as Nick is quite the town celebrity with his job at Ralph’s and Erik is playing water polo at Johns Hopkins University.  With her boys grown, all of that energy had to go somewhere. Lucky for the readers of StuNews, Stu Saffer, founder of StuNews, knew a good thing when he saw it.

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Maggi Henrikson at home working her magic

Becoming an important asset to StuNews

“It has been fun having Maggi on board!” enthuses Saffer.  “Her contributions have been amazing, especially when I think of where she began. In my wildest imagination, I never would have thought that she would have become such an important asset to us! Thank goodness Shaena [Stabler] saw Maggi’s talents!”  

Henrikson is also somewhat surprised at how it has evolved.  Agreeing to become associate editor about a year ago expanded Henrikson’s role at the newspaper. “I write stories, I edit other people’s stories and PR pieces.  I do the photo quizzes and birthdays.  People submit stuff and I’ll investigate and research.  We just had the whole election season with an online discussion with our readers where we followed up on their questions to the prospective candidates.” 

 A lot goes into putting out a community newspaper twice a week.  The old adage “the news never sleeps” means there is always something to add and do and create.  Just managing her StuNews duties is a lot, but Henrikson has other interests she likes to indulge in, as well.  Balancing her many interests was something she had to consider before accepting the associate editor position. 

“I told Stu I was still going travel and all that and he said it was no problem.  

It works out,” she says.

Making time for travel, tennis and other endeavors

Their travels take them all over, but the Henriksons have set up homes away from home, as well.  They have had a house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for 16 years, as well as a 200-acre farm near Olympia, WA.  Henrikson is also an avid tennis player. ”I love playing tennis.  I will play it anywhere!” she says enthusiastically.  “The reason we started going down to San Miguel de Allende is because it’s the art capitol of Mexico, but I could also bring my tennis racquets. 

“We found a school for the boys where they could learn about the culture, the language and do field trips.”  She told me that she’d driven there three times – a 34 hour drive – when her boys were young. A 34 hour car ride with young boys and dogs is not a journey for the faint of heart, which tells you a lot about Henrikson’s enthusiasm.

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Maggi and her dog, Banshee, on her lovely deck

And while all of this is definitely enough, Henrikson has ideas about new ways she wants to contribute to StuNews.  “We are always talking about our passions. I love home design, architecture, food, travel.  If I had the time I’d love to have a feature about the Laguna lifestyle: travel, real estate, living. Kind of like what they have in the Sunday Section of the New York Times.”

The only thing stopping her is the time to make it happen.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this new section should appear in StuNews one of these days.  Henrikson has a way of taking her interests, weaving them together and making them something more  – a talent we, as readers, get to enjoy every time we click on StuNewsLaguna.


Kathy Conway has numbers and heart for art

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

And a one, and a two… Somehow, Kathy Conway must have that rhythm in her brain. She’s the other half of a dynamic accounting duo, and a huge part of the Laguna Dance Festival to boot.

Kathy Conway

What once might have been the isolated life of a number cruncher blossomed and multiplied two-fold when Kathy connected with her husband, Mike. And what once was a small, yet talented dance community has flourished into a world-class destination for dancers of every stripe to perform in Laguna Beach before a world-class audience of aficionados.

The Duo

Kathy and Mike have their own love story – and it involves numbers.

They first met back in the hippie 60’s. They became good friends, albeit with different spouses. Fast-forward a couple of decades, each was post-divorce, when one sunny Laguna day a friend said to Kathy, “Hey! Mike’s in town.”

That was in 1983. July 21, 1983, to be exact. “And we haven’t been apart since,” said Conway. In fact, they just celebrated their 35th anniversary on Christmas, just a few weeks ago.

Not only have they not been apart socially, they’ve also been connected professionally since then. Mike is a CPA, and Kathy a full-time accountant. For 30 years now, the accountants are known as Conway Financial Services, providing property management and financial consultation.

“We’re a 24/7 couple, and we do it very well, if I do say so,” said Kathy. “I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be with.” 

Aww, another number - 100% togetherness.

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Kathy and Mike, in their living room, where they meet with clients

Jointly, Kathy and Mike have four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Their CPA firm includes many friends, local businesses and charitable organizations. The Conways enjoy living and working in their creatively remodeled historic cottage, which is filled with artworks by Laguna artists.

Yes, she’s a nut for the arts, and thankfully so. Laguna would not be a visionary art community without the time, attention, and assistance of people like Kathy Conway. Especially with regards to budget and finance, artists can use a little guidance. “Artists have a real need to have someone take care of that,” she says, knowingly.

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Amongst her many volunteer activities, Conway serves on committees at the Laguna Art Museum, the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Woman’s Club, as well as other non-profits, and as Treasurer for Music Matters, the Laguna Canyon Foundation, and the Laguna Dance Festival.

The Dance

Conway first saw Jodie Gates perform with the Joffrey Ballet in the 1990’s. She had the great good fortune of meeting her, and when she retired, guess where Gates wanted to come? That’s right, Laguna Beach. 

Conway was there at the beginning with her friend, (former president of the Laguna Dance Festival) Janet Eggers. They were part of the think tank, hatching ideas for starting a dance festival with Gates.

The Laguna Dance Festival is near and dear to Kathy’s heart. It has been a success since the beginning in 2006, when performances were at the high school and other venues around town. It is now housed at the Laguna Playhouse with performances in September, and Master Classes offered at the LBHS Dance Studio.

The Festival draws the likes of dancers and dance companies from all over the world. One of their esteemed dancers, Desmond Richardson (“He’s just a glorious dancer – and specimen,” said Conway), did a Master Class last year that was sold out in ten minutes. 

It’s art and it’s also numbers. 

“It’s figuring out how to reach people. How to get more people to understand, and come,” Conway said. “I’m really excited with how well we’ve been received.”

The Days Off

When Conway is in normal form, she can often be found on the tennis court. Alas, she is still recovering after surgery following a nasty fall. But she and her new hip are just about to get back out there and call 40-Love.

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In addition to tennis, Kathy and Mike like to get away on two special occasions: birthdays and Valentine’s Day. For all their years together, they’ve escaped up the coast on those special dates to a secret hideaway in Big Sur. “Deetjen’s has been the best thing for us, for 30 years,” said Conway. 

Now we know! It looks nice too; one part European glamour and one part bohemian lifestyle amongst the redwoods. But the Conway secret will be safe – we won’t visit Deetjen’s Inn on those dates. 

Another Kathy Conway secret is that she loves to cook. Once that word gets out, people will be knocking on the door for her Louisiana Chicken recipe. Stay tuned, because she promised she’ll to give it to Stu News. Can’t wait!


Chip McDermott: Doing more than just showing up

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

There is a long way between seeing a problem and deciding to do something about it.  Many of us see things we don’t like, problems waiting for solutions, but we sigh, shake our heads and wait for someone else to fix it. Lucky for us, Chip McDermott, founder of Zero Trash, is not one of those people. Dismayed by the abundance of trash he saw on Laguna’s streets, he decided he might as well be the guy to do something about it.  So he did – and still does on the first Saturday of every month. 

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Chip McDermott, founder of Zero trash, in front of El Ranchito

The power of just showing up

For the past seven years McDermott has shown up at El Ranchito on S. Coast Hwy handing out T-shirts, bags and pickers to all who want to help him make Laguna a cleaner place.  Married with two young kids, it’s not like McDermott doesn’t have a million other things he could be doing on a Saturday, but he knew when he started Zero Trash that if he didn’t show up on every first Saturday of the month, it would be impossible to build any momentum.  

“You know how they say that most of success ‘is just showing up’?  Well, that’s true.  So I made a point to show up every week, rain or shine.”

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Zero Trash has a lot of local company support

From intern to entertainment executive

Showing up may be part of his success, but it certainly isn’t all of it.  That’s why this former voice major who studied to become a conductor, parlayed an unpaid internship into a five-year dream job at E! Entertainment TV. Of course, going from intern to executive was no easy feat, but neither was getting the internship to begin with. 

“I decided I wanted to work in the entertainment industry in either music or film.  Somebody told me you could get an internship to get started. I was working at Nordstrom and a lot of entertainment people came into that store and so I just started asking every customer.” So, yes, “showing up” is critical, but a lot of people showed up to work every day at Nordstrom; only one became E’s first music talent executive.

Leaving LA for Seattle and landing in Laguna

After those five years, McDermott began to tire of Los Angeles and the entertainment industry lifestyle.  “A buddy from high school was collecting data for film studios and asked me if I wanted to join him.  Eventually, I said yes.  I went to Seattle, we opened one office with, like, eight people, and now we’re in 23 states with 400 employees. I’ve been with my business partner longer than my wife.  He’s just an amazing partner. ” 

After 10 years in Seattle, McDermott decided he needed some sun so he and his wife started looking for places to live in southern California.  “I grew up in Orange.  We always came to Laguna Beach.  I felt then that if I was ever fortunate enough to pick where I could raise my family it would be at the beach.”  They first looked at Topanga, but ultimately chose Laguna.  And we are all lucky they made that choice or our streets and beaches would be a lot less clean.  

“I couldn’t believe Laguna had become this tourist town with trash,” he remembers thinking with dismay.

Chip McDermott at a Zero Trash assembly at El Morro School

Perseverance nets results

He started small. “I organized my street in 2007 to do a clean up.  Then I spent a lot of time talking to businesses and asking them to be a ‘street front supporter.’“  Then he did what many thought could not be done – he got the city and Waste Management on board.  “Without Toni (Iseman) I wouldn’t have gotten this done.”  The “this” he is referring to is additional trashcans and ashtrays all over town.  Iseman also introduced him to Michele Clark at Waste Management who helped him get sponsored allowing him to buy things like banners to promote Zero Trash. 

Building a sense of community through trash

“If it weren’t for a few great people, Elyse and Julie Shahan, Katie Ford and Robert Wolfshagen who owns Screenworks and gives me my shirts at a reduced rate – he’s huge! – I couldn’t do it,” says McDermott.  “A lot of this, for me, is about community.  I get to hang out with my neighbors and help out.  We don’t really get the chance to do that anymore.  I needed that.”  

Other communities have embraced his idea, as well. There are currently Zero Trash chapters in Aliso Viejo, Dana Point and Rancho Santa Margarita. Many other chapters have opened – and closed, a testament to how hard something like this is to sustain and McDermott’s fierce determination to the cause. “There are a lot of good intentions, but it’s hard to maintain,” explains McDermott sympathetically.

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Cigarette butts account for a lot of the trash on our streets

Retailers offer supplies and discounts

So if you’re finding yourself wanting to experience a sense of community or just want to do a job that needs to be done, you can show up on the first Saturday of every month (the next one is Saturday, Feb 7), grab a picker and get to work. Most people are familiar with the El Ranchito location because that’s the one where McDermott sets up and hands out the t-shirts.  However, there are four other locations: Hobie, Thalia Surf Shop, Laguna Beach High School (it’s an on-campus club founded by his niece back in 2009, but still going strong) and United Studios of Self- Defense.  The retailers, in addition to handing out pickers and other trash pick-up supplies, offer discounts on merchandise if you pick up from their stores.  “If you go to a location and need supplies let me know,” says McDermott. 

The best way to reach him is via email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Seven years, 52 Saturdays…and counting

 “I have a huge passion for this.  I don’t really know why.  When I started it my kids were five and four.  My wife has been awesome.  She understands its importance to me so I can be there most Saturdays, even now,” he says thoughtfully.  “The biggest misnomer is that it’s a beach clean up,” he explains.  The idea is to get the trash off the streets before it hits the beach. “People tell me they’ve seen an improvement, big time, around town,” he says hopefully.  Seeing the difference his efforts make undoubtedly makes it easier for McDermott to keep showing up, but seven years, 52 Saturdays…that’s almost a year’s worth of days given to the cause.  

Chip McDermott has definitely showed up.  Let’s make sure he’s not alone.


Hallie Jones: home is where the path leads

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Hallie Jones loves to read. In fact, she was an English literature major at UCLA, with a minor in creative writing. Knowing this, I mentally stage her life as a drama, set in a bucolic green meadow, long auburn curls flying in the wind as she rides an impatient mare up to the top of the ridge.

It was kind of like that.

When Hallie grew up in Laguna Beach, it was a different sort of place than it is today. It was a rural scene, and she did ride her horse through Laguna Canyon, perhaps singing the words, “Don’t fence me in…”

“We rode horses on Castle Rock Road,” she said. “It was my first experience of open space.” That was before the term “open space” needed to be clarified, for the undeveloped greenbelt around Laguna. Back then she even once saw a mountain lion in the Canyon.

Today, Hallie Jones is the champion for keeping the Canyon as pristine as possible. She has been the Executive Director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation (LCF) for a year now, and that makes her one happy camper. “Being able to take that passion and turn it into a career is a huge gift for me,” she said. 

One part is her knowledge and love of Laguna’s wild spaces, and the other part is the sense of community. Interviewing for the LCF position was truly a homecoming.

“I know a lot of these people. Coming into a community so dedicated to doing good, it was the best coming home,” she said. “I walked into that office, and I thought, ‘this is it. I’m never going to leave!’”

East Coast / West Coast

The intervening years took Hallie from bucolic Laguna Canyon, to finishing high school in Washington, DC, then to UCLA, followed by her first career move; the beginnings of a life dedicated to the environment – working with Heal the Bay. 

As far as leaving Laguna for Washington, Hallie was a bit of a fish out of water. “We moved the summer before senior year of high school,” she remembers. “I showed up with crazy hair and Birkenstocks.” 

It was an important experience because she had the chance to encounter ‘urban sophistication’. “But it was also isolating,” she continued. “After Laguna and knowing other kids my whole life, I had to stand on my own two feet.”

Those Birkenstock clad feet returned to the sunshine shores for college, and then she prepared for a career in the world of advertising. It was not to be. She was 22 and not so much interested in that type of corporate world. 

“I was into conservation,” she said. “Working with like-minded people toward a thing we could all agree on… I loved it.” That was at Heal the Bay, where Hallie and other like-minds collaborated, raised awareness, and took action to protect the health of the Santa Monica Bay.

Arriving Home

Hallie worked at Heal the Bay for 15 years. She lived in Mar Vista, got married and had a child. But Laguna was still in her blood, and her daughter, Emmie, now nine, was also enthralled with fun in Laguna. There’s a whole family here, including Hallie’s parents: her mom, artist Kathy Jones, and her dad, Mike, who teaches woodworking at Cerritos College. Hallie’s sister is raising her kids, and lives in Woods Cove. Hallie’s second child, a son, was born here in Laguna.

Her grandparents started it all when they came to live in Woods Cove.

Now that Hallie is a single mom, it’s very supportive having her family around. Emmie and her brother Kai, a kindergartner, have their cousins and grandparents, and thanks to their mom, they have the nature of the Canyon to play in. Emmie is a nut for horses too.

“My whole family is here. And my kids are going to the same school I went to [Top of the World],” she said. “One of the many things that is so satisfying about living here is really being a part of a community, and giving back.”

It seems like destiny, or the climax of her life’s novel that Hallie would be reunited with family and friends at home, while earning her dream job.

Laguna Canyon Foundation

“I have a deep connection to the land,” Hallie says in somewhat of an understatement. “I try to get out in the open space every day. It reminds me of what’s important, why we’re so lucky to live here.”

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The first year’s learning curve at Laguna Canyon Foundation included getting to know who is working on what. “I made sure to know all the players,” Hallie says. “Now I can stop and think, ‘this is the direction we want to go’.”

It’s leadership and communication that keep the organization working and thriving. And it’s staff and volunteers who keep the 40 miles of Laguna Coast Wilderness trails cleared and healthy.

“I’m a communicator,” says Hallie. “A people person. I like connecting people to the land.” The LCF office is in the Legion Hall, but Hallie is often at the Nix Nature Center, or out on the trails. 

One of the important things she is busy with is educational outreach, and there are two groups vital to that message: those that use the trails, and those who never have.

Hikers and mountain bikers are very connected to the beauty of the trail system, but often are not aware what impact their activities have on the natural habitat, or how they can help. LCF sponsors “Trail Work Days” so that these types can get in there and lend a volunteer hand. LCF volunteers help with trail restoration and removal of invasive species of plants. 

“It’s great for mountain bikers to see the work that goes into maintaining the trails, and the threats to it,” Hallie says. 

Unauthorized trails are a huge problem, and require frequent and extensive repairs.

The other groups LCF helps to educate are young people, especially those from Title One schools, such as the Santa Ana district. They provide a free educational program, and LCF pays for all the bussing. Schools of second, third, and fourth-graders come for the morning for field trips, games, and lunch. The purpose is to establish familiarity and also a sense of stewardship for open spaces. 

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Hallie. “Some of these kids have never been hiking, never known environmental ethic. They’ll say, ‘Are there bears here?’ It’s a new experience for them. It’s this incredible resource.”

Restoring passion, restoring nature

Hallie Jones is a creature of the earth. When she’s not walking on the trails, or at LCF raising much-needed funds to save them, she’s camping with her family in the Sierras or down to Baja to see the whales. She is at home in the wild places.

 Here in the Canyon there will soon be another trail opened, the “Lizard Trail”, a great point to look for Hallie’s favorite Canyon animal – the tarantula. We may not be lucky enough to see one, but they leave a distinctive footprint to look for. And though there have been no mountain lion sightings for many years, our gem of wilderness is home to many species, including bobcat, coyotes, fox, bats, and, especially this time of year, lots of nice, cool green.

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“When I was a kid, Laguna was artists and hippies, and that has changed to a certain extent,” said Hallie. “I think this town runs the risk of losing sight of its environmental heritage. 

“I like inspiring people to feel as passionate about this land as they did in 1990 to save and preserve it. I want my generation to feel that sense of ownership. They don’t know how hard we fought to save the Canyon then. It’s still under threat today. People need to understand and be aware of that.”

Her love of nature, born as a child in Laguna Canyon, and nurtured in the bays and by-ways is being passed on to the next generation. It’s a cycle of appreciation and remembrance from whence we came.


Jenny Salberg: Energy, balance and middle school

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“I couldn’t ask for anything more. I wouldn’t change anything. I’m still challenged.  I get up early and can’t wait to get to work.”  

When you can say this about your job after over 20 years, you know you are in the right line of work.  The fact that your work is dealing with the trickiest of all age groups – middle schoolers – means you aren’t wired like the rest of us.  Jenny Salberg, Thurston Middle School’s principal, really believes she has the greatest job in the world.  She’s so passionate about it; in fact, she had me thinking she had the greatest job in the world.  That’s some serious conviction.

Balance as life’s “white whale”

However, despite her dedication and commitment to her job of running one of the top rated middle school’s in the OC (Voted Best Middle School by the OC Register in 2013), Salberg has her “other” life, away from Thurston, that she shares with her husband and three children who she is even more devoted to than her job (which is saying something).  However, the demands of both work and family create a constant dilemma familiar to all working parents: the struggle to find balance.  

“It’s the white whale I can never seem to achieve,” explains Salberg.  “It’s the only time I really get in my own head, when I start thinking about if I’m doing enough everywhere, but I’m married to an amazing man who has supported me the whole way.”

Jenny Salberg, Principal, Thurston Middle School, Laguna Beach

Trying – and failing – to fight her calling

 When Salberg started out, education is not where she thought she would have landed.  The daughter of two educators, Salberg told herself, “No way.  I’m not going to do it.”  But as luck would have it, a teaching job became available at Covina High School so she took it.  “I taught three periods and would go home and take a nap. My husband, who was a sheriff at the time, would come home and say, ‘What are you doing?!’  So he got his certificate to substitute teach, and went into the classroom for one day. He came home and said, ‘Never again!’ It was the best thing that ever happened!” laughs Salberg. “Education probably was my calling.  I just tried to fight it.  I used to spend so much time in my classrooms. I loved it!” 

Salberg taught at Covina High for six years before she interviewed for an assistant principal position at Laguna Beach High School.  “I did that for four years and I knew I loved it.  You never know what the day will bring,” she says.  Then she moved to Thurston Middle School (TMS) where she has been for the past 11 years, first as assistant principal then finally getting the top job in 2011.  “I still remember my first year at Thurston.  The kids are so different than at the high school.  I thought I was only (interested in) high school, but there’s an innocence at the middle school level.  They’re not as independent, and I love that.”

Salberg with TMS students, Left to Right: Matt Blunk, Quinn Winter, Fernando Barrazza, Salberg and Taylor Kaye

Finding her passion at Thurston Middle School

If middle schoolers aren’t quite as self-reliant as high schoolers, Salberg says one of the benefits of her working full time is that her kids have learned to become very independent.  Her oldest daughter, a senior at an Irvine High School, applied to college all on her own, for example.  “Because I’ve always worked my kids are all very independent,” she says.  

But wait, Irvine schools? Why not Laguna schools? “I wanted them to have their own identity.  I think that’s very important, although my youngest still asks to come here,” explains Salberg.

The symbiotic relationship of home and work

She feels confident about that decision, but Salberg, like all parents, often wonders what the “right” thing to do is with her own kids. 

“It’s hard as a parent to know that what you’re doing is right.  How do you know when your kid turns out OK?  When they graduate from high school? College? When they get a job?  Is there ever that validation?”  But there is a symbiosis between parenting three kids and being a principal. “I can use lessons from school at home.  I am current on every topic and a little piece of everything here comes home with me.”

Bringing her work home with her has its benefits and, of course, a few drawbacks. “It becomes a certain kind of energy – fast paced, need to be in the know -- that you get addicted to.  It’s a hard thing to let go of; it’s hard to turn off.  Sometimes my husband will say, ‘OK…you’re not at school.” I try to go to the gym on my way home. That saves me.  Not everything is a level 10 fire,” laughs Salberg.

Principal Salberg in her office with staff members, Brad Rush and Jennifer Rush

Working to improve the educational experience for all students

When she is at school, this energy serves her well.  There is a lot going on at the middle school.  From implementing what the district has termed 4CLE classrooms that seek to create a “classroom environment centered on collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity” to revamping academic support classes, Salberg says she is always looking to improve the educational experience of her students. 

“I’ve got incredible teachers pushing themselves.  Things look completely different today, and that’s not easy.  It can be uncomfortable, but it’s inspiring,” she says.

The entrance at Thurston Middle School

Uncomfortable and inspiring could also be used to describe the middle school years.  The kids aren’t “little kids” anymore, but they’re not quite ready for the responsibility that comes with high school.  That transition can be tricky, but also exciting. “I want everybody to have good memories from Thurston,” explains Salberg.  “It’s such a make or break time.”  

Striving to not only achieve, but also to improve upon that experience, is a task not for the faint of heart – which is why Jenny Salberg is such a great fit. Listening to her enthusiastically detail the many things going on at Thurston almost – almost – made me want to go back to middle school (and who ever thinks that?!). 

“I love this community.  You can have an idea here and actually make it happen,” says Salberg. 

Lucky for us, Salberg has a lot of ideas – which means a lot is happening at Thurston Middle School.

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