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Officer Priscilla Angeloni: a rising star on an elite force

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Driving to work each day – or, more often, night – Laguna Beach Police Officer Priscilla Angeloni never knows what’s in store. On an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon last February, for example, she responded to a call on a secluded cove near Emerald Bay. One of Laguna’s frequent offenders was intoxicated and scaling the stony cliffs. He threw rocks at local lifeguards who tried to assist him.

By the time Officer Angeloni arrived, the suspect had made his way to Whiskey Cove, accessible only by a rickety old staircase no longer in use. “I felt like I was in Jurassic Park,” Angeloni recalls. “Everything was overgrown, and I just kept hoping these stairs wouldn’t collapse under me.” By the time she reached the beach, the Sheriff’s Department landed a helicopter on the rocky cove and took the suspect into custody.

“He ended up falling on the rocks and was moving very slowly,” Sergeant Jim Cota told Stu News last February. “The OCSD helicopter performed a hoist extraction.” 

Angeloni was the lucky officer who accompanied the 59-year old man on his helicopter ride to Riddle Field and made the arrest. “He’s a known offender who likes to fight with law enforcement,” Angeloni says. “He likes the confrontation.”

Such is a typically unpredictable day in the life of a Laguna Beach police officer. Priscilla Angeloni handles it all in stride.

Officer Priscilla closeup

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Officer Priscilla Angeloni at work

A passion for helping children led Angeloni to the force

Angeloni was the first in her family to get a college degree, and certainly the first to obtain a dual masters and top-of-the-class accolades from the police academy. 

Born and raised in Norco, California, Angeloni was recruited out of high school on a basketball scholarship to Concordia University in Irvine where she earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. During an internship at the Royal Family Kids Camp in Lake Arrowhead, Angeloni discovered her calling. The camp serves abused children in the foster care system and allows them – 

often for the first time in their young lives – to experience the pleasures of childhood and a model for healthy family life.

“That camp made me find my niche. I knew I wanted to work with kids,” Angeloni says. “But there’s little you can do without a masters.” The decision to continue her education became an easy one.

While working toward her double-masters in counseling and forensic psychology at Cal Baptist, Angeloni continued her involvement with children in the foster system. “It was more intense because now I was doing it throughout the year,” Angeloni says. “Kudos to people who do this work, because it definitely takes a toll. It takes a certain person with that [level of] will power.”

Angeloni still wanted to help kids, but realized she was focused on the wrong link in the chain. “I wanted to get the kids out [of abusive situations], rather than treating them afterwards.” She opted to take an internship with the LA Police Department while studying for her forensic psychology degree.

A standout in her class

Graduating from the police academy is every bit as difficult as it sounds. The application process alone is daunting. Candidates must demonstrate their physical fitness by completing an obstacle course, scaling a six-foot chain link fence, and dragging an adult-sized dummy. They must sprint, perform timed pushups, sit-ups, and other feats of strength. Then they undergo psychological evaluations and polygraph tests, background investigations, and medical exams. There are oral interviews conducted by a panel and written exams.

Once accepted, successful completion of the program is anything but guaranteed. Out of an original class of 30 at Golden West Police Academy, only 15 cadets graduated alongside Angeloni. Six women began, and four completed the program. 

Not only did Angeloni beat the odds, but she was the first female class president. Elected by her peers, Angeloni stood up at graduation and delivered the keynote address. 

Officer Priscilla equipment

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Graduating from the Golden West Police Academy is no small feat

Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela told the Golden West graduating class in 2017: “You will not always be appreciated to the degree you think appropriate. You will not always be respected like you deserve. You will be required to work when you’re exhausted. You will not always get the assignment or promotion when you want it. You’ll be asked to do things that are unpleasant. You’ll be forced to make hard choices. You’ll be expected to do the right thing when it’s difficult. You’ll see things that others never want to see. You’ll experience things that will break your heart. In all of this you’ll always be expected to be a better person, to keep your head up and continuously push forward and stay the course.”

Angeloni was one of the few who sought out this challenge and succeeded in accomplishing it.

The mutual admiration club

The Laguna Beach Police Department is a strong advocate for women on the force. Of a fleet of roughly 50 officers, nine are women, including Chief of Police Laura Farinella. “I’m a huge proponent of women in law enforcement,” says Sergeant Cota. Angeloni, he says, is a strong representative of women on the force. “We have several females like her,” he says, “but we use her as a lead.”

Angeloni’s strength, coupled with her caring nature, makes her an invaluable asset. “You want her in your corner,” Cota says. 

The affection stretches in both directions. Angeloni loves the intimate size of the department. “Everyone knows everyone,” she says. “In a place like the LAPD, you’d get lost in the numbers. Here, we know what’s going on in people’s lives. That was really important to me.”

When Angeloni’s father suffered a recent health issue, not only did she get the green light to immediately leave work to be with him, but she received a text message from the Captain that evening. “We’re more like a close knit family,” Angeloni says. “It makes all the difference.”

Keeping Laguna safe by keeping drunk drivers off the road

Today Angeloni focuses on keeping intoxicated – or otherwise impaired – drivers off the roads. “After working the job and seeing all the traffic-related accidents, I realized how little alcohol it takes for people to be impaired and what can happen in a split second,” Angeloni says. “I take pride in preventing that. I’ve found a different niche.” 

Officer Priscilla cars

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Officer Angeloni standing with her fleet of vehicles

Angeloni took a specialized course to become a Drug Recognition Expert. Throughout the 72 hours of classroom training, students learn how individual drugs manifest to produce specific symptoms. Most indicators are involuntary – 

pulse, pupil size, the way the eye reacts to light, and blood pressure.

Students then undergo 24 hours of field test training. They locate individuals on the street who appear to be under the influence of something. If the suspects consent to participate in the training, they can avoid arrest (or be assured the charges will be dropped). “We get to see people under the influence and diagnose them,” Angeloni says. “I’m a nerd about the science.”

Support from locals goes a long way

Angeloni also appreciates the community in which she serves. Not only does she enjoy the scenic views and vacation atmosphere, but the residents make a remarkable difference. “Everyone is pro-police here,” she says. “That is important and it’s not common.” People often take the time to smile and wave when Angeloni is parked in her car. “I feel the genuineness of those gestures. That goes a long way. I appreciate it a lot.”

Angeloni loves showing citizens the positive and soft side of law enforcement. “One thing I enjoy doing, if I pull someone over – I mean no one wants to be pulled over, they freak out – is to make their day by not giving them a ticket. I like reinforcing that positive image of a police officer.”

“Priscilla is a tremendous asset to the department,” says Cota. “She’s already a rising star. She’s gonna go places. I can already see it.”


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Jane Slowsky: A continuing legacy at the Sawdust Festival

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Jane Slowsky is a fused and stained glass artist who has exhibited at the Sawdust Festival since 1970. She hasn’t always been a glass artist. In her first show she sold batik pieces. Then she moved to silk screening. In 1981, she discovered glass. “Patty, my daughter, had attended a glass demonstration so we thought we’d give it a try,” remembers Jane. 

Patty is one of Jane’s four children. Two of her four children are glass artists like their mother. Patty was with Jane at the start. “She was with me the first time I sat at the Sawdust,” says Jane. They have continued their partnership as artists, and to make it even more of a family affair, Jane and Patty share their booth at the Sawdust with John Enfield, Patty’s husband, a woodworker, sculptor, and mixed media artist.

Jane Slowsky closeup

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Jane Slowsky is a fused glass artist who has been exhibiting at the Sawdust Festival since 1970

Looking to improve her cash flow

It’s quite a legacy for someone who first exhibited simply as a way to make extra money. “I had four little children,” explains Jane. “And I thought it would improve my cash flow.” It must have done that, and more, for Slowsky to keep it up consistently for almost 50 years.

49 years of selling at the Sawdust Festival

I met Slowsky at her booth right when the Sawdust opened. She hadn’t even gotten things sorted when two customers arrived looking to purchase some glass ornaments. Slowsky wrote up the orders on a paper ticket, calculated the sales tax from a printed out tax schedule, and carefully boxed her creations for her customers. At 91 years old and after 49 years of selling, Slowsky has her ways and they seem to work just fine for her. It’s a remarkable legacy born out of necessity. 

Jane and her four children arrived in Laguna on October 28, 1959. “We were on a merchant ship coming home from India and arrived in San Pedro,” recalls Patty. “Grandmother picked us up at the dock, brought us to Laguna Beach where my mom settled her family. She and I have never left.” 

Jane Slowsky studio

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The studio where Jane and her daughter Patty Slowsky-Enfield make their glass creations

Clearly, there is a story there. However, when we met, Jane was not particularly interested in talking about herself. What excited her, even after all these years, was talking about her work. At 91 years old, I decided she has certainly earned the right to talk about whatever she wants to talk about. Fortunately, Patty provided some welcome details.

Great cousin George brings the family to Laguna

According to Patty, the family came to Laguna because their great cousin George had left them a trailer, located at the former Treasure Island Trailer Park. Eventually, Jane bought her own home on Bluebird Canyon in 1974. She, John, and Patty all live and work there today. “She did it all on her own!” says Patty proudly.

Doing it all on her own

As of 1961 the children’s father was no longer in the picture. Jane worked full time with the State of California, Parole Division. She was the records officer for the southern division. She worked full time and had four kids so the idea of doing something to make extra money from home was appealing. “She could work at home on her art (batik) in the garage at night and Saturdays and Sundays and be at home with her children,” explains Patty. 

A mother-daughter partnership from the beginning

Patty is effusive in her praise of her mom, but she has been with her every step of the way. When they began their partnership, Patty was thirteen years old. “She was making batik peace signs and I was making macramé key chains. I learned to macramé at Thurston Junior High (now Thurston Middle School). I taught Mom and she taught me batik…working together started so long ago it was just normal for us. Our work ethic is the same and she’s a very positive person, which wears off one me – and that’s a good thing,” says Patty admiringly.

Glass is a liquid solid – and volatile

Their work ethic means they have more than mastered their craft. Jane says they know more about fused glass than most because back in the day the glass sheets they used were not necessarily compatible with one another. “A secret about glass is it’s a liquid solid,” explains Jane. “We started from scratch.” 

As she explains it, back in the early days of their career, the only way to determine what glass colors worked together without exploding, literally, was trial and error. Now, all the glass sheets she works with are compatible which makes her multicolored pieces much easier to create.

Jane recounts a story that embodies the surprising volatility of glass. “I was leaving the studio and knew (the piece) wasn’t compatible. It took four to five years but one day it finally blew up on the shelf – kapow!” she says with a laugh.

Jane Slowsky with Patty

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Jane and her daughter Patty have worked together since 1970 when Jane sold batik peace signs and 13-year-old Patty sold her macramé key chains

According to Jane, another interesting aspect of glass’ volatility arises when the piece has a bubble trapped inside it. Interestingly, that bubble will eventually move its way to the edge of the piece and disappear. “I have one that’s been getting close to the edge for ten years,” says Jane with delight.

Shattering the glass ceiling

The inconstancy of glass must be one of the reasons it’s so captivating. Jane and Patty’s creativity lends itself well to their chosen medium and they have had great success with their creations. An example is the “Shatter the Glass Ceiling” pin. 

In 1997, Vivian Shimoyama, a highly successful businesswoman and fused glass artist, was walking through the Sawdust and saw Jane and Patty’s glass jewelry. “She asked us if we would make her ‘Shatter the Glass Ceiling’ pin and, a few years later, ‘The Breakthru’ pin,” says Patty. This pin has become so well-known, it is pictured in former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s book Read my Pins

Jane was wearing a “Shatter the Glass Ceiling” pin when we met. “We made thousands of these,” she says proudly. A happy offshoot of that work, according to Jane, was they had so many pieces of glass left over due to the way that pin was created, it fostered even more creativity, like the way they use gold in their designs.

From earrings to Larry Flint’s bathroom

The Sawdust isn’t the only place the pair’s designs can be found. There was the time they worked on Larry Flint’s house. “We worked with my brother making stained glass windows,” recalls Patty. “We also made stained glass windows for a door company (The Oak Door Co.), and in about 1988 we were commissioned by Barbie Benton to make a glass tile mural in her son’s bathroom in Aspen, Colorado. That was a big project in glass fusion.” It seems like a pretty reasonable claim to say that at this point they’ve done it all.

Jane Slowsky booth

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Some of the vibrant creations Patty and Jane are selling at their Sawdust Festival booth

And they’re planning on continuing. “We get tired every now and then,” admits Jane. “But people like us and we like doing it, so we just keep going.” And when I ask how long they plan to keep going? The mother-daughter team gives me two reassuring answers.

Going for 100

 Patty says, “When we’re down in the studio working together, coming up with a new ornament, a new pin or earring design, or a plate design, I look across the table and see her working in her 90s, and I think to myself, ‘She’s as young as she was in 1970, with the same amount of creative energy.’” Jane is a bit more specific. “I’m aiming for 100,” she says with a definitive nod. 

Patty makes how she feels about her mother very clear. “All I want to say is I love being my mom’s daughter and business partner. She’s a fabulous woman,” says Patty. The Slowskys stand in stark contrast to their chosen medium. Glass may be volatile and fragile, but this partnership is anything but.


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Alex del Toro finds niche as The Termite Guy and gives back to the community

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Two termites walk into a bar and ask, “Is the bar tender here?”

Sure, it’s a familiar joke, but termites are serious business, especially for The Termite Guy. According to the company’s website, termite infestations cost homeowners over five billion dollars a year.

Laguna Beach resident and owner/operator of The Termite Guy Alex del Toro claims he chose that name because when someone needs help with any type of service issue, they immediately say, “call the guy.” And folks have been calling The Termite Guy since 1997. Although the name may have something to do with it, it’s more likely the result of his outstanding reputation. 

Del Toro is the “guy” who found a particular niche that has sustained him throughout 22 years in the business, allowing his company to grow to include offices in four locations – Santa Ana (the first), Ventura, Palm Desert, and Temecula.

Alex del family

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The del Toro family – (L-R) Lexi, Alex, Maria, and Nolan

The del Toro family is very much embedded in the Laguna Beach community and has been for 20 years. Alex, his wife Maria, daughter Lexi, and son Nolan moved to Laguna in 1999 (after having lived in Dana Point for five years). Lexi and Nolan attended K-8th grade at St. Catherine of Siena Parish School, and then went on to Laguna Beach High School, where both were star water polo players. An impressive collection of their awards and trophies is displayed on a wall in their home. Lexi graduated in 2013 and Nolan in 2015.

Just last month, Nolan graduated from UCLA, with a degree in history and will soon apply to law school. Lexi graduated from Harvard in 2017 and works in the Bay Area for Apple. 

Alex del awards

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Lexi and Nolan’s water polo awards

Giving back

The Termite Guy has been quietly giving back to the community for a long time. However, Stu News only recently found out about it when del Toro wrote a letter in response to the April 23rd Stu News column “Hope from the Homeless” by Frank Macias. Coordinated by Pastor Don Sciortino, the guest column “Hope from the Homeless” is an ongoing series featuring stories from those who have experienced homelessness in our community.

Immediately moved to action, del Toro said, “Homelessness has been a polarizing issue in Laguna Beach, and we need to come up with a better solution. It appears to us that Net-Works Laguna Beach is bringing a new humanistic approach to our homelessness issue.”

Donation to Net-Works

During the month of May, The Termite Guy donated $1 for every inspection scheduled and $5 for every job scheduled to Pastor Sciortino’s Net-Works Laguna Beach nonprofit. The fundraiser resulted in a donation of $2,212 to Net-Works.

Giving back isn’t a new endeavor. The Termite Guy has been doing fundraisers every year. “Last year, we supported Friendship Shelter, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we also helped out with pediatrics,” said Trina Andjani, marketing and graphic manager.

“The girls in the office pick a charity every month, and in that sense, everyone contributes. We do the fundraising the same way as we did for Net-Works,” says del Toro.

Alex del house

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The house that termites built 

How del Toro became the guy

When del Toro was in college at California State University at Fullerton, he interned with a financial firm, but he wasn’t keen on being inside. “The office time killed me,” he says. “Termite inspections gave me the flexibility to schedule appointments and be outside.”

While at CSF, he met his wife Maria who was also a student on campus. She now works in the company’s Human Resources Department and does the payroll.

“Along with a friend, I worked for a termite exterminating company, and then we started a company together. We had it for seven years, and then we split up. And it’s worked out,” del Toro says.

No doubt, while growing up, termites weren’t uppermost on his mind, but something else was – surfing. Del Toro was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Orange and started surfing in Newport when he was 13 years old. (His 90-year-old mother was born in LA as well, and now lives in Redding). As evidenced by the rack of surf boards outside his home, he is still an avid surfer – as are Lexi and Nolan. 

Alex del close up

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Alex in front of his collection of surf boards

Now that del Toro has an operations manager and general manager, it allows him the freedom to be outside and surf as much as he wants to – and to travel. A few months ago, he and his family vacationed in Indonesia.             

Working with local realtors

Although The Termite Guy services homeowners and commercial building owners, the majority of the business comes from top realtors and property managers. Because many of his clients sell homes in other areas, The Termite Guy services all of Southern California. 

“Throughout the years we’ve fostered lasting relationships and maintained memberships with California’s largest affiliations,” del Toro says.

His particular niche is in real estate transactions and his business is driven by the number of escrows. He works with the majority of the realtors in town, such as Harry Bithell, Diane Cannon, and the Skenderian Group. 

“In a town of 23,000, there are 500 realtors, which is a lot, and, at some point, I’ve worked with most of them,” del Toro says.

As a result, he has been in just about every home in Laguna. “Rarely do we do an inspection on a house that I haven’t been to before.” 

Even though they perform around 800 inspections a month, unlike many businesses nowadays, most of his clients don’t come from Google and Yelp. 

Alex del truck

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The Termite Guy on call 

“Working with the real estate agencies allows us the ability to focus on servicing and long-term objectives – more than just those that involve advertising. Realtors are concerned with closing on a particular date, and we are getting real estate agencies to use us weekly. We’re able to do volume without advertising much. I would have to spend $100,000 on advertising to get that type of volume. And because we want the longevity, we are naturally honest and forthright, so they’ll use us for years to come. We started that way. We knew that if we wanted to replicate it for 20 years, people would have to trust who they bring in,” says del Toro.

It’s apparent that his clients’ trust in the company and its services has paid off in no small way, and the community has benefited from those who call – and continue to call – The Termite Guy.

For more information on The Termite Guy, go to 

www.877termite.com/about-us/ or call (877) 837-6483.


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Jim Nelson: from finance to fright flick

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

How often has a happenstance meeting with someone changed the course of a life? No doubt, more than we know. Serendipity, destiny, or karma, whatever one wants to call it, Laguna Beach resident Jim Nelson experienced just such an encounter, and as a result, entered the world of horror filmmaking. 

Those of us who are aficionados of thriller movies would call it a “plot twist” – one that could possibly lead to dire consequences – but in this case, it led to an exciting and unexpected turn for Nelson, who is a financial advisor. He has lived in Laguna Beach for three years, and before moving here, was in Newport Beach for two-and-a-half decades.

Kismet

A couple of years ago, Alexis Kendra, actress and writer, was referred to Nelson for financial consulting. After giving her some advice, he asked what she was working on. It turns out she had just started filming a small independent project The Goddess of Love, which she co-wrote with Jon Knautz. 

Nelson says, “I was interested and followed the process to see how they got it done and with so little money. For them, it was a labor of love. Then I saw the movie and was very impressed.”

Both Kendra and Knautz have extensive backgrounds in film – she as an actor in movies and on television and Knautz as writer/director of several movies such as Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and The Shrine.

Nelson is an avid reader and one day Kendra gave him the script for The Cleaning Lady, a psychological thriller she had co-written with Knautz.

“I was driving home from Los Angeles, stopped to get a bite to eat and read the entire script in one sitting. It spoke to me. I loved it. So I called her the next day and said that it was the best thing that she’d written (that I’d seen) and asked what it would take to get it made,” he says.

And abracadabra, as fast as a dead body can fall out of a closet, Nelson became executive producer of the film. 

Jim Nelson closeup

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Jim Nelson enters the world of thriller film production

It appears to be a strange departure from finance, yet Nelson was familiar with the entertainment industry. He had experience working with worldwide production companies and rock bands, but strictly in the area of finance, so transitioning to executive producer of an independent movie wasn’t a natural step. Although he studied film – in the classic form – at UCSD, he majored in finance.

Nelson says, ”What does a producer do? Overall he is responsible for everything just as in finance – administrative and legal – and in ‘the buck stops here’ kind of way.” So maybe not that far off from the financial world.

Launched at Frightfest Film Festival

This new venture has taken him around the globe, traveling to several international film festivals to promote the film. The Cleaning Lady was released in August of 2018 at Frightfest Film Festival Cineworld Leicester Square in London, which is one of the biggest genre film festivals. It debuted on IMAX to 800 people and received good reviews. 

“With The Cleaning Lady, Knautz and Kendra have created a film that is truly twisted on every level,” says BloodyDisgusting.com.

Fans of the horror genre and psychological thrillers can’t help but whisper to the actors on screen, “don’t go in there.” Alas, they do anyway and are always sorry. 

Now there’s a new warning, “Be careful of your cleaning lady.”

It’s not easy to write a good horror flick, many try and fail. The story has to be subtle, not too predictable, and ultimately satisfying but not to complete resolution. The best are those that leave the audience asking, “what the hell did I just see?” The Cleaning Lady is just such a movie. A review by Flickering Myth says it “Beguiles and disturbs in equal measure.” To be sure. 

Jim Nelson DVD

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“The Cleaning Lady” is available on DVD, iTunes, Digital HD, and On Demand 

Screen Geek says, “On the surface, Alice (played by Alexis Kendra) seems like a woman who has it all: a gorgeous apartment, a booming career, a stunning physique, and a handsome boyfriend. The only problem is he’s married to someone else. Looking for a way to simplify her life, Alice hires Shelly (Rachel Alig) to clean her house. As Alice begins to confide in Shelly about her illicit affair, their friendship grows…and so does Shelly’s twisted obsession with her new employer. It soon becomes clear that Shelly has motives that reach further than a normal cleaning lady. Shelly wants to cleanse Alice’s entire life and will stop at nothing until she’s done.”

Any movie that begins the way this one does (for the squeamish, no description here) is bound to grab the audience from the get-go. Further, one of the characters wears a mask and there are burns involved, both of which are high on the creepy-factor scale. However, it’s not just gratuitous gore, there are serious undercurrents about obsession and its consequences. And the film raises the question of where to draw the line between justice and injustice.

Not your average horror flick

Nelson says of The Cleaning Lady, “The best compliment people give us is that our film is smart. There is substance to the script.”

It was shot in 30 days and came out on budget, thanks to Nelson and the detailed shooting schedule made by director Knautz. Oddly, the movie has another interesting Laguna connection. Although most of it was filmed at a ranch near Los Angeles, a day was spent shooting in the home of local attorney Larry Nokes (who’s co-executive producer of the film). Then it went to post production, editing, fixing sound, and adjusting the color before they could find an agent. 

Of the production, Nelson says, “Wait until the first time you see JoAnne McGrath’s scenes. She plays young Shelly’s mother in some flashback moments. She is so convincing, and I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say this…you will HATE her!” 

Agreed, she has crazy eyes.

Jim Nelson thinking

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Contemplating his next production

Surprisingly, there are 50 different markets around the world for this genre. A distributor can dub, add subtitles, or change artwork. RLJE, the distributor of the film, has exclusive rights to it in the U.S. and it’s now on iTunes, Digital HD, On Demand, and on DVD (stocked in Best Buy and Walmart). 

Nelson says, “RLJE is a big distributor and we’re very lucky to be with them. They did the artwork and we love it. They also redid the trailer.”

As he looks back at the making of the film, he says, “This has been the greatest project of my life. I’ve never worked harder or had so much fun working. I now understand the phrase, ‘labor of love.’ I’m so lucky to have met Alexa and worked with her and Jon on this project.

“When this enterprise came up, I asked a childhood friend and mentor of mine Mark Rowan for advice. He’s with Blue Collar Productions. I said, ‘I need to have a talk with you about an opportunity I have.’”

Rowan replied, “You’re going to do it even if I tell you not to.”

Of course, he did.

A true crime documentary

What’s up next for Nelson?

Another partnership with Knautz. “I just finished working on a true crime docuseries about the McStay family murders. The family went missing in Southern California in 2010 and their remains were discovered four years later buried in the desert outside Victorville. The San Bernardino police arrested a man in 2015 and, after being in jail for almost four years, his trial took place recently and he was found guilty.”

The working title for the project is Two Shallow Graves: The McStay Family Murders.

Nelson says, “Jon is obsessed with true crime and has seen every true crime documentary. We were introduced to the defense team of Chase Merritt who has been in jail for four years for the McStay murders. Through a liaison, we were able to spend time with them and were convinced after the meeting that Merritt didn’t do it. 

“After completing a substantial amount of paperwork, we were able to meet with the judge and get permission to have two remote control cameras in the courtroom. It was a very heated trial which took over four months.”

The film is now in post-production.

One never knows what waits around the corner, or what chance meeting might be the catalyst for a new unexpected adventure, so maybe it’s okay not to heed the advice offered by thriller fans, and “just go in there!” 

In Nelson’s case, it was a plot twist with a happy ending.


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George Nelson: 45 years of Fawn Memories

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

George Nelson learned a valuable lesson the hard way: when the corporation you work for offers you a promotion, you take it, especially when that corporation is Disney. “They wanted to send me to Disney World,” explains Nelson who was working at Disneyland when the offer was made. “But my wife was a California girl who didn’t want to move. I learned you don’t say ‘no’ to the corporate structure.”

Leaving Disney to do his own thing

However, while that “no” may not have been great for Nelson’s upward mobility at Disney, it did provide him with another opportunity, one that has lasted for 45 years. “I went to Beau (Boyd, his boss at Disney and the Director of Merchandise) and said, ‘I’m thinking of doing my own store.’ He said, ‘That’d be a good move for you.’” And he was right. Nelson opened Fawn Memories in Laguna Beach in 1974 and he – and it – are still here. 

George Nelson closeup

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George Nelson of Fawn Memories has been in business in Laguna for 45 years

Keeping a business, any business, thriving for 45 years is impressive. Keeping a retail store going for that long is extraordinary. One invaluable strategy Nelson uses is to change the store as the times change. “You listen to your customers who say, ‘Where can I get ‘this?’” he explains. 

From plant accessories to whatever people want next

When he first opened, Fawn Memories was a plant boutique. “I sold a lot of handmade pots and macramé,” he remembers. “From baskets I got into hats. I have a big clientele with hats, 200-300 styles.”

Nothing proved to be as big, however, as Beanie Babies back in their day. “That was a once in a lifetime run,” he says of the furor created by selling the collectible plush animals. “I was so fortunate to be on the ground floor of that. We had a great following, probably a two to three-year run.” Clearly, those were good years, but when the hype died down, Nelson regrouped and found the next thing his customers wanted. 

Catering to both locals and tourists

“I’m very conscious of selling to locals as well as tourists,” he says. “There’s a fine balance. You need both of them. We’ve achieved that. We have a very good repeat clientele.” As an example, Nelson says he sells a cap with “Laguna” imprinted on it as well as the same style blank. Tourists want the “Laguna,” locals prefer it without. It helps to know your customers.

George Nelson sign

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George Nelson outside his store Fawn Memories located in the Lumberyard Mall on Forest Ave 

Living in Laguna makes that a lot easier. Nelson came to the U.S. in 1969. Born in Australia to an American father and an Australian mother, he decided to come to America after he finished school. “My plan was to import vintage cars,” he remembers. His plans changed. “I ended up having so much fun and not working, that my nest egg disappeared,” he says laughing. He got a job at Disneyland. “It exposed me to souvenirs and the resort business.” These wound up being two very important aspects of his current business, though he did not know that then.

It helps to know your customers

Nelson first landed in Newport but found Laguna more to his liking. “I loved it,” he says. “For merchants, living here is a huge plus. You understand that without the connection to the community, it is hard to succeed.”

One of the things Nelson likes about Laguna is “It’s like a little Mayberry,” he says, comparing it to the idyllic small town from The Andy Griffith Show. “At one point, I had the fire chief’s wife working for me. That was another neat connection.” He still sells the fire department’s T-shirts. 

When Mary Hurlbut shows up to take photos for this story, the two start chatting about how three generations of Hurlbuts have shopped at his store. Over the years, he has developed a relationship with his customers. This is something his biggest competitors can’t touch, and it’s another key to his success. 

George Nelson hats

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Fawn Memories has a huge inventory of hats for when the sun finally comes out

His biggest competition is the same as every other retail store: online shopping. He recognizes the ease and simplicity of it. “To compete, my little niche, a lot of it you can’t find online. It’s a little more specialized,” he says. Plus, online vendors don’t know your grandkids.

Still loving the work

His own kids did not inherit the retail bug from their father. When asked if either his son or daughter have any interest in taking over the store, Nelson says good-naturedly, “None whatsoever.” He does hedge and say if he owned a surf shop his son might get involved, but as it’s not, his kids will continue to do their own things. “I have to say I love it. I have a passion. I’ve always told my kids if you don’t enjoy it, life’s too short.” 

Which is why, after 45 years, he can still be found in the shop. “I’m a working owner,” he says. “10 to 4 are about my hours. I still enjoy it. I get people who want to see me and talk to me. I’m not prepared to give it up just yet. To some extent I’m becoming the Walmart greeter at the store,” he says with a laugh.

A trusted employee fills a lot of roles

The greeter comparison is a joke, of course, but Nelson is lucky in that he has an employee who has worked for him for over 25 years. She now handles a lot of the day-to-day running of things. With his own kids lacking an interest in working at the store, this employee has filled that familial role to a certain extent. “She’s the daughter-type,” he says. “That’s the glue here. It’s almost unheard of in retailing (to have an employee for that long). I may be a bit of a father figure to her. She’s now very involved.” 

George Nelson girl

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Fawn Memories caters to both tourists and locals alike

Having such a trusted employee gives Nelson some freedom to travel (he had recently returned from Australia when we met) as well as indulge in his other passion: classic cars. “It consumes my time,” he says with a smile. Nelson is involved with Woodys and old Porsches and is a member of clubs with those interests. He really likes “the Woody guys.” “They’re my age group, old surfers, SoCal guys. They’re fun to hang around with. I missed that (time here).” 

Things have changed, and stayed the same

From the old days to now, much has changed. However, Nelson says a lot remains the same. “As far as the town, it’s still a lot of small stores. There are different owners, but not that much different than it was then. I appreciate what people have done to keep it cute and quaint.’

And while he has done a great job keeping up with the trends for his store, he has not been quite as proficient keeping up with technological advances. “I’m not really a social media person,” he says as he takes out his flip phone. “I’m really afraid what will happen if I lose the charger.” 

Hoping that crisis can be averted, Nelson suggests I come in and look for a hat, even though the sun has been buried in June gloom. We all know it will come out eventually. But like the hidden sun that will eventually reveal itself, there’s one more question lurking: Fawn Memories? What does that even mean?

Fawn Memories uncovered

The concept, it seems, came from the art department at Disney, the animators of Bambi, perhaps the most famous fawn. “What that name has done, it has allowed me to change merchandise many times,” he says appreciatively. 

He may not have known how helpful that would be when he opened 45 years ago to sell plant accessories, but as he has proved himself to be extremely adept at changing with the times, it was a fortuitous choice. The name doesn’t say much about what’s inside the store, which is a good thing, but it does speak to its longevity.


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Cutter Clawson: It’s all about the team

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach High School student Cutter Clawson has played baseball since he was three. His father was coaching his older sister’s t-ball team, they needed a player and so the toddler stepped in. “I’ve loved it ever since,” he says.

This is not to say he hasn’t done other things besides play baseball. He also played basketball and football, his other love. However, he gave up basketball before high school and quit football after being named MVP of the JV team his freshman year, once he verbally committed to Brigham Young University for baseball after 9th grade. “It has always been my dream school,” he says of BYU. 

Drafted by MLB Washington Nationals

The youngest of four LBHS graduates, Clawson said leaving Laguna for a bigger, more baseball-centric high school was never something he considered. “I always knew I’d go to LBHS,” he says. “I never thought it would negatively affect me.” And he seems to be right. On June 5th Clawson was drafted by Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals in the 33rd round.

Cutter Clawson close up

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LBHS senior Cutter Clawson had a choice to play baseball at BYU or go pro with the Washington Nationals. He chose college – for now.

Despite achieving what he acknowledges is a dream for any baseball player, Clawson has decided to postpone his major league dreams and go to BYU in the fall. He seems to have it all mapped out. “I told them the day I committed my plan was to do my freshman year of college, then go on a mission, and then when I come back, I will have my spot on the roster and see what happens. I will just work as hard as I can to have the opportunity to (go through the draft) again,” he says.

A two-way player with impressive stats

Clawson is a two-way player. He was selected as a pitcher in the draft but thinks of himself as both a pitcher and hitter. “Everyone thought I’d have one picked by now but I just keep working on both,“ he says with a shrug. 

The “working on both” thing seems to be a good strategy. As a sophomore at LBHS, he was named to the Cal-Hi All-State Sophomore 1st Team and Cal-Hi Underclass All-State 2nd Team. He received first team All-League honors for his batting .417/.463.616 (BA/OBP/Slugging) and had a fielding percentage of .991 at first base.

He also made the USA Baseball NTIS SoCal Team in 2017 and was one of just 80 players in the nation selected to play in the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars while also being voted to the Orange County All-County Team as a pitcher.

Cutter Clawson in action

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Clawson was drafted as a left-handed pitcher, but considers himself a 

two-way player

In 2018 Clawson made 1st  Team All-League and was selected to the Brewers Area Code Team. He was selected to play in the MLB sponsored “States play” series where he pitched three scoreless innings. Currently, Clawson is ranked as the #2 left-handed pitcher in California, and 6th in the nation. For the third year in a row, he made 1st Team All-Conference.

Happy to shine the spotlight on others

And while that’s a lot of stats, that’s not all of them. His accomplishments on the field are lengthy and impressive. But you won’t hear about them from Clawson, who is polite, engaging, and extremely modest. 

So modest, in fact, that when I asked him to share his best high school baseball memories, he didn’t hesitate. He talked about a game when he was a freshman that went 14 innings. His former teammate Will McInerney, who was a senior when Clawson was a freshman, played catcher for seven innings and then was called on to pitch seven innings. Clawson mentions that he was called up to bunt, but the story he wanted to tell was his teammate’s story. “It was a game I’ll never forget,” he says. The fact that this was the highlight he wanted to mention, in a career filled with his own personal triumphs, said a lot to me about the kind of person Clawson is. 

Looking to the future while appreciating the past

I got the sense that Clawson would have happily talked about all of his teammates on the seemingly countless teams he has played and continues to play on, but his LBHS teammates seem to hold an especially dear place in his heart. These are the boys he has grown up playing with, either at Riddle Field or club teams. And now that his high school career is over, the reality that they are going their separate ways is bittersweet. “I’ll miss playing at Skipper Carilllo field,” he says. “I’m going to miss all of them. They’re incredible. We’d do anything for each other, and our coaches, as well.”

Cutter Clawson and Bair

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Clawson happened to run into TMS PE teacher and former LBHS baseball coach Mike Bair. Clawson played for Bair when LBHS won their first and only CIF championship in 2016.

The question “What will you miss?” is a common topic for high school seniors before they go off to college. Clawson has clearly thought about it because his response after I ask is immediate. “I’ll miss the beach, obviously. I’m gonna miss my parents, but I have relatives (in Utah) which is nice. I’ll miss Baja Fish Tacos, and I’m gonna miss all my teammates, especially Colton Freeman. We’ve been teammates since we were 11 years old.”

“The most beautiful field…”

However, he cannot contain his excitement about going to BYU. “The baseball field is the most beautiful field I’ve ever seen,” he enthuses. He proceeds to list off the major league fields he has played on. “All of these are incredible, but nothing compares to BYU’s field,” he says. And there’s more to BYU for Clawson than just baseball.

 “It’s not just my dream school, but my best friend’s dream school, too. There’s a group of us going and that will make the adjustment easier,” he says. Academically, he says he’s interested in studying business or maybe sports recovery therapy. Whatever he decides, his priorities are firm: baseball, his church, and school.

Appreciating the importance of “we”

Community is clearly important to Clawson, but he is determined to make his way through his various communities his way. In that sense, his priorities mirror the sport he has committed himself to. Baseball is a team sport, but it’s the most individualized of team sports. “Baseball is weird,” he admits when asked about its unique dynamic. “But it’s definitely a team. Our quote we say (at LBHS) is we play ‘us’ baseball. That means everyone is on the same page, doing their job, playing their part.” 

Cutter Clawson and fans

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Clawson ran into some young fans and made sure to ask about their team

 And that must be what speaks to Clawson about the sport he has dedicated himself to because he clearly relishes getting the job done and doing his part. For now, the job will remain basically what it has been for the past four years, that of student-athlete.

A choice between two dreams

“It was a dream to get drafted,” says Clawson. “But it was in the 33rd round. I’m hoping to get drafted higher in a few years, and the college experience was worth more to me than where I was drafted.” Plus, attending college allows him the opportunity to fulfill his mission for his church, again playing his part. It’s all part of a very thoughtful plan for an extremely thoughtful young man who, for his age, just happens to be one of the best baseball players in the country. But don’t expect to hear that from him.


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Cottie Petrie-Norris is making changes

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Cottie Petrie-Norris is already running for California State Assembly – again. She ran in 2018 as a Democrat and defeated Republican incumbent Matthew Harper by a margin of 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent, impressive results for a first-time candidate who was given no chance to win at the start. Her victory is a testament to the power of grassroots campaigning, which I see as something to celebrate, regardless of one’s political affiliation.

The 2016 election was a motivating factor

She was motivated to run for office because, as she says, “After the 2016 election I took a step back. I wasn’t happy about who was representing me at every level.” So, unlike so many of us who just like to complain, Petrie-Norris decided to do something about it. It was not a decision entered into lightly.

Cottie Petrie Norris close up

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Cottie Petrie-Norris, State Assembly member for District 74 and Laguna Beach resident

“Running for office was not part of my life plan,” she says. But, there was a “singular moment,” as she calls it, where someone she admired gave her the confidence to move forward in her ambitions. Connie Layva, a California senator was the mentor who convinced Petrie-Norris she could do it. “Having someone nudge you along is so helpful – and interesting. Women need to be asked so many more times to run than men.” However, after much urging Petrie-Norris decided, “I think I can do a good job – a better job – and get results.”

Crediting a motivated grassroots campaign for her win

Her campaign consisted largely of “friends sitting around my kitchen table.” Her volunteers put in full-time hours. “That’s why I won,” she says matter of factly. “The way people showed up to support me was unprecedented.” Those “people” helped Petrie-Norris turn what was predicted at the start to be a 7 percent Republican advantage to a decisive win in her favor. And now she gets to think about doing it all over again.

While she says the grassroots support is still important for her “and all of us,” campaigning the second time around is not as intimidating as it was before. “It’s less daunting. I know what we need to do and how to execute. That’s a good feeling,” she says. Plus she has had such an active start, she is motivated to see her work continue.

The State Assembly is “California’s congress”

The State Assembly can be described as “California’s congress.” A member of the State Assembly represents their district at the state level. Petrie-Norris represents District 74. By contrast, Rep. Harley Rouda represents the 48th District of California at the federal level. “When I first started running my friends would say, ‘I’m so excited! Wait…what’s the State Assembly?’” she says laughing.

With her role clearly outlined, Petrie-Norris’ passions reside in environmental policy, the student debt crisis, and the opioid epidemic. She is also on the Accountability Committee, which was not something she expected, but now that she’s on it, she is finding it “Right up my alley.” 

A very active freshman year

The first bill she authored was to invest in infrastructure to combat sea level rise. She was equally proud to say she worked on a bill with Planned Parenthood to expand access to birth control via a smart phone app. There is also the committee she is on regarding student debt. “My goal is to use my position to bring experts in so we can find solutions. There are real opportunities to do that,” she says. And she is working on The Future of Work Commission. Though in its early stages, the goal is to be proactive about the ways automation and artificial intelligence will change the workforce. “We should be thoughtful and plan for the future, rather than get left behind.”

Away from home and family for much of the year

Her work means she’s away from home Monday-Thursday roughly eight months a year. Her two boys are in school in Laguna so her new responsibilities aren’t without personal sacrifice – sacrifices born by everyone in her family. Nevertheless, it is something she is glad she has taken on, hence her campaign for 2020.

Cottie Petrie Norris kids

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Cottie Petrie-Norris with her two sons during some much appreciated time at home. Her husband was away on a business trip.

Finding inspiration from others

When she is in Sacramento, there are meetings with different groups, press conferences, the business that goes along with getting bills passed. When she’s home, her days are filled with constituent outreach and meetings with local officials to make sure everyone is working on the same (or similar) pages. “I connect with so many people pouring their hearts and souls into their parts of the world. I find that so inspiring,” she says…


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Chuck Harrell and the Sandpiper: Two Laguna institutions

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The Sandpiper Lounge is a family business that also happens to be a Laguna Beach institution. Chuck Harrell, his brother Chip, and their mother Jeana officially took ownership of the bar on December 6, 1969. Part of its longevity can be attributed to the fact that it hasn’t really changed since – but only part. The rest must be attributed to the Harrell family and the way they have chosen to run their business. They are as much a part of the fabric of Laguna as their establishment.

The Sandpiper opened in 1942

Chip and Chuck’s uncle opened the Sandpiper in 1942 as a fine dining establishment. Their dad moved his young family from New York to Laguna join their uncle in his business.  After a few years, Chip and Chuck’s dad decided to get a different, better paying job. Tragically, in 1952, their dad was killed in a car accident.

“A really bad ‘50s”

“We had a really bad ‘50s,” says Chuck. “We lost my dad, my uncle, another aunt, and uncle in another car accident.” All of this loss meant the uncle who owned the Sandpiper had to sell it so he could help the family deal with all of the upheaval. However, while he sold the Sandpiper, he did not sell the building that housed the Sandpiper. “In 1959, he called my mom and asked if she’d manage the property and live in the apartment upstairs with us boys,” says Chuck. The quarters were tight but, he says, “We managed to survive.”

Chuck Harrell close up

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Chuck Harrell, owner of Laguna’s iconic Sandpiper Lounge (a.k.a the Dirty Bird)

They survived by working odd jobs. Chuck says he worked in restaurants as a kid, dutifully handing his paycheck over to his mom. “Being a single mom, every penny counted. But I kept the tips,” he says mischievously. 

The Boys Club of Laguna Beach deserves a lot of credit

The other thing he credits with aiding their survival was The Boys Club (now the Boys & Girls Club). “It was a saving grace,” he says. It’s worth mentioning that another well-known Laguna local, Donnie Crevier, also credits the Boys Club with no small degree of salvation. And, coincidentally, according to Chuck, Crevier and Chip were best friends growing up. As to how that friendship started? It’s not my story to tell, but I can say that it sounds like the Boys Club had its hands full. Not too full, however, to recognize the Harrell brothers with the Crevier Legacy Award in 2019.

In middle school, Chuck says he was placed in the “7-5” class. Back then, students were apparently organized by grade (e.g. 7 for 7th grade) with a one through five denoting A-F (A=1, B=2 and so on). Whether Chuck is being truthful as to his academic standing or not, he eventually graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 1963, his brother in 1962. Both were drafted and spent two years in the military. Chuck got out in March 1969. 

Why not try the bar business?

“We found out the guy who owned the bar was going to sell it. My mom asked us, ‘Do you want to try the bar business?’” With Jeana later telling her sons she was “rolling quarters to close the deal,” the Sandpiper became a Harrell family business venture.

Chuck Harrell Chip

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A painting to memorialize Chip Harrell, Chuck’s older brother and partner, who sadly passed away last year

When they took over, the brothers were 23 and 24. Luckily, Jeana had a lot of experience as a waitress. She had her spot at the end of the bar where, according to Chuck, she would sip on her “vodka seven.” “She came in every night. No matter how crowded we were she’d sit at the end of the bar and I could tell if something was bothering her just by the way she looked. She was very wise.” 

Jeana was “mom” to a lot of people

Jeana’s photo hangs at the end of the bar. Underneath it just says “Mom.” “A lot of kids in high school called her ‘mom.’ People here called her ‘mom,’” explains Chuck. The photo is a fitting tribute. There are a lot of photos hanging at the Sandpiper. There is an old, smudged photo of Chip, Chuck, and Donnie Crevier in their LBHS football uniforms. There is a painting hanging in tribute to Chip. There is a huge painting on the ceiling that Chuck says is him, but it’s really Jerry Garcia (the similarities are striking). There is 56 years worth of memorabilia on the walls that, frankly, most likely get overlooked when the bar is packed, and the live music is going. But in the light and quiet of day, it’s like a museum of days gone by.

Live music seven days a week

This is not to say the Sandpiper hasn’t progressed. Its progress is just very…subtle. “We have tried to stay with the times,” says Chuck. “But we do keep it old school. We like rock-n-roll. We tell the bands, ‘You gotta play some oldies but goodies. Our age range is 21 to god-only-knows, so…that’s how it is.” 

Chip and Chuck started the live music when they took over the Sandpiper. Chuck says he had friends who were in bands, so it seemed like a good idea. Slowly but surely the nights with live music grew to seven. 

The next generation, as well as the current generation, joins in

Now, Chuck’s son Spencer chooses the bands, in addition to working the door. For him, the Sandpiper is a part-time gig. He works at El Morro Elementary as a PE Coach and is going to get his master’s degree so he can “maybe become a teacher,” says his dad. 

For Chuck’s other son Grant, the Sandpiper is “more of his life,” says Chuck. For now, Grant orders the alcohol and helps with the bartending. And just to make sure everyone is represented, Chuck says he asked his wife Jeannie to come join them when his brother died. Jeannie has been involved with the Laguna Beach High School Scholarship Foundation for many years and has served as a director since 2014, according to the group’s website. “She’s been golden,” he says emphatically. “She changed things that needed changing. She has brought me up to the 19th century,” he says smiling. 

Chuck Harrell bar

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Chuck, behind the bar at the Sandpiper, his home away from home since 1969

“It has been quite an experience,” says Chuck. When asked if the idea of selling has ever been entertained, he says in mock outrage, “I’d have to get a job! I wouldn’t know what to do if I had to get a job!” This is after he confesses that coming home at 3:30 a.m. is not unusual. “It’s a tough business,” he admits. But it also never gets old. “If you keep your ears and eyes open all the time, you’re going to learn something new,” he says thoughtfully. “Like people may not be as bad as they think they are.”

What really makes the Sandpiper special

And this is, I think, the foundation from which the Sandpiper’s success is built. Yes, the live music is great. Yes, the bar’s frozen-in-time décor gives it a unique ambience, but there are other bars that offer some versions of those things. What truly makes the Sandpiper special is the way the Harrells have regarded – and continue to regard – their customers.

Because, let’s face it, lots of people in a small space drinking alcohol is a recipe for the occasional unruly behavior. “You talk to people, instead of arguing with them,” says Chuck. “Don’t take their dignity away from them. We tell them, ‘You can come back tomorrow, but tonight you gotta go.’” Of course, over the years, this strategy has gotten harder to execute. “Nowadays you don’t know everybody,” he admits.

“Everyone blends right in”

But whether you know everyone in the Sandpiper or not, most of the time you’re amongst friends. “It’s such a unique vibe. There isn’t one type of people that come in here. There are artists, surfers, business men and women, restaurant people…you put the whole thing in a barrel, mix it all up and everyone blends right into the crowd so easily,” muses Chuck. And there’s your recipe for success. Local or not. Wealthy or not. Young or not. Whatever you are (or are not), you are welcome at the Sandpiper. And it’s not changing anytime soon. 

Chuck Harrell mom

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A photo of Jeana Harrell, Chip and Chuck’s mother and partner, hangs in a place of honor over the bar

“The best thing of the whole deal is Grant and Spencer love this place,” says their dad proudly. They are the third generation of Harrells and eventually they will put their stamp on the Sandpiper. But for now, the second generation of the Harrells is still coming in every Tuesday and Thursday. Chuck says when they first took over ownership of the bar, “We had a good name for being good guys.” He credits that for their initial success. Some things never change.


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LBFD Captain Crissy Teichmann: Passionate about her profession

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos  by Mary Hurlbut

Captain Crissy Teichmann has been with the Laguna Beach Fire Department (LBFD) for 18 and a half years. Laguna was the first department that offered her a position and she was happy to take it. “I didn’t pick Laguna, they picked me,” she says. New firefighters have a bit of a fatalistic attitude when it comes to getting a job. It’s so highly competitive, if a department makes an offer, a new recruit generally accepts, no matter where it is. In Teichmann’s case, Laguna was a great place to start. 

However, starting and staying are different matters. Once you’re in and you’ve completed your “grueling” probation, it’s not out of the question to transfer to different departments – larger departments, for example, but even that isn’t seamless or without risk. And while Teichmann said she contemplated making a change after her first five years in Laguna, she ultimately decided to stay. Almost four years ago, she was promoted to captain, so the decision seems to have paid off.

Knowing what she wanted at the start

Promotions aside, when you talk with Teichmann about her job, it becomes very clear, very quickly that she loves what she does. “I knew in high school I wanted to be a firefighter,” she says. So she got to it. She worked for the Fire Service as a seasonal firefighter. She became a paramedic. She went to the fire academy. “I didn’t have to sit around and ponder life. I knew what I wanted to do,” she says. 

LBFD Captain close up

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Captain Crissy Teichmann has been with the Laguna Beach Fire Department for over 18 years

Doing what is necessary to stand out 

Sitting around is definitely not recommended if you want to become a firefighter. “You have to find ways to make yourself marketable,” she says. It’s a theme that comes up a few times during our conversation. Articles on the topic say it can take anywhere from two to seven years to become a firefighter, and that’s for the ones who get selected, many people don’t ever get the chance. So making yourself “marketable” is a surprisingly important part of the process.

To be a mom, or not is a serious question

Another important part of the process, for Teichmann at least, was deciding whether or not she wanted to have children as a firefighter. She says she really gave the subject a lot of consideration. “It’s not unrealistic to take time to ponder what type of parent you want to be,” she says. “I can be gone for 21 days at a time. How does that work? Women definitely do it and make it work.” But, she adds, “I was passionate about getting into the fire service. You have to be really dedicated to this profession. I decided I didn’t want to give up what I’d worked so hard for.” Fortunately, her husband, a policeman, was in agreement. 

And while Teichmann is at peace with her decision not to have a family, it’s a topic we spend a fair amount of time discussing, mostly because I am interested in what it’s like to be the only female in an entire department.

Laguna’s only female firefighter

Teichmann is not unaware that as the only female firefighter in Laguna Beach, it’s a point of interest. And, like many women in male dominated fields, she is happy to acknowledge her unique status but is determined not to make it the central part of her story. “The guys judge you, making sure you can carry your own weight,” she says. Everyone must meet the same physical requirements, for example. However, while everyone is accountable, there is a team aspect to all of it. “We help each other out. We’re doing it all together,” she says. 

LBFD Captain fire engine

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Capt. Teichmann with Engine One at the downtown fire station

Taking physical fitness very seriously

The physical aspect of firefighting is something Teichmann and the rest of the LBFD takes seriously. The LBFD provides its firefighters the time to stay in shape. Teichmann says that she and her current crew meet at 1,000 Steps at 5:30 a.m. to get their workout in, for example. 

The fact that they all do their workout together is one of the things Teichmann says she loves about her job. “I love the camaraderie. It’s a forced relationship. Everybody has a personality, but that bond we form here is what makes us so successful,” she explains.

Committed to fitting in

Being the only woman has not hampered her ability to fit in, even in the beginning when it really could have. Teichmann was hired just as the city was being sued by one of its female firefighters. “The guys were a little standoffish at first,” she recalls. “But I’ve always been part of the group. There’s never been that feeling of being different.”

“Goofing around a lot” is one of the ways Teichmann says the group bonds. “We’re lighthearted. You get to know people’s strengths and weaknesses. I love the guys I work with,” she says emphatically. And, in case you’re wondering, as I did, cooking at the station is a “thing.” “There can be some elaborate meals. But it is not OK to try out a recipe on the crew for the first time,” she says. “Guys who cook one bad meal are banished for life,” she adds only half in jest.

The job checks all of her boxes

In addition to the camaraderie, Teichmann says she was drawn to the job because it’s different every day. Plus, ”It’s cool to be able to help people. Every day is different. I’m an active, outdoorsy person and I like making decisions.” The only thing she doesn’t like about the job? “Getting a call when I’m in the shower, in the middle of shampooing my hair. That’s the worst part of my job. I’m serious!” she laughs.

LBFD Captain kitchen

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The fire station kitchen is an integral and important part of station life

The shampoo issue aside, Teichmann loves her job, the people she works with, and she has embraced the challenges Laguna provides. “I’d love it either way,” she says. “Small town or big agency. The plus side is I’m working with crews I know. And nothing is easy here,” she says. “We train harder.” 

Laguna may be small, but it’s never boring

The LBFD must contend with the open space and its dangers, both in terms of fire and injuries sustained on trails; they must execute a lot of water rescues which entail landing the helicopter “all the time,” she says. The houses and the access routes to them can be tough to navigate and lacking uniformity. There are even radio issues due to the terrain. “You just don’t have that in LA,” she says. “We see it when outside people (firefighters) come in. There is a huge learning curve.” In short, while Laguna may lack size, it doesn’t lack for action. “That’s part of the appeal,” she says.

Of course, Teichmann doesn’t mean disasters are appealing. But for someone who likes to do something different every day, Laguna provides ample opportunities. In the event there is a disaster, something that is on everyone’s mind with the knowledge that our very lush hillsides will eventually turn to fire fuel in the months ahead, Teichmann would like Laguna’s citizens to take the time to make a plan. 

Make a plan and stick to the plan

“People need to be able to stand on their own for awhile,” she says. “The city is doing a lot, but you can’t prevent it (fire),” says Teichmann. That means stock up on supplies, check and maintain landscaping to mitigate the threat to your residence, stay off the phone lines, and sign up for the city’s NIXLE alert system. Also, in case of evacuation, Teichmann says it’s incredibly helpful for people to put a sign in their window when they leave letting emergency responders know that no one is home. It saves time as they check the neighborhoods.

LBFD Captain gym

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The station gym, like the kitchen, sees a lot of action due to the importance of physical fitness 

Laguna is beautiful, but vulnerable. The LBFD never forgets that fact, and neither should we. Captain Teichmann is extremely serious when she says the best thing residents can do is “Be prepared. Have a plan and stick to the plan.” She’s talking about disaster preparedness, but she could just as easily be talking about her career path.

“I’m surprised by how many girls aren’t interested in (becoming a firefighter),” she says. “I wish we could get more women interested, but I want them to be realistic about the job and whether they want to do it.” Because, not to sound cliché, being a firefighter is more than a job. As Teichmann describes it, “It’s an intense profession. It’s also your second family.” And Captain Teichmann embraces both parts equally.


Laguna Logo

Laguna’s Crown Jewel: David Rubel, co-owner of Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers, celebrates 90 years in the
celebration business 

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

David Rubel, co-owner of Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers on Forest Avenue, has spent his life in the celebration business. From engagements and marriages to births and anniversaries, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers has been a trusted resource for helping clients mark significant milestones. This year, they’re celebrating a major milestone of their own. The store has been in business for 90 years, stretching across three generations, with the hope of adding a fourth in the near future. 

LLP David Rubel Trio

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Gary, Fredric and David at Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers

“When our grandparents started their jewelry business in October 1928, they probably were not thinking of building a legacy of three generations that would survive the Great Depression and World War II and witness the lunar landing and countless other memorable events,” the Rubels wrote in the opening to the Fredric H. Rubel Magazine last winter.

David and his brother Gary now operate two stores – one in the heart of Laguna’s village and the other in the Mission Viejo Mall. They both know the business well, having learned it from their dad, who learned it from his own father. The story of how it all came to pass is an interesting one, as is the not-so-hidden secret of their enduring success. 

Whether you’ve known David for a long time, or you’re just getting acquainted, there are several things about his family’s unique history that are bound to make you smile. And perhaps tempt you into treating yourself, or someone you love, to a timeless treasure from their store.

In the beginning

David’s grandparents met in the mid-1920s. His grandfather, Bernard, grew up in North Dakota, working in a pawnshop that specialized in jewelry. Rose, his grandmother, came from Minneapolis. She was a fiery woman, in every sense of the word. Rose stood no more than five feet tall with brilliant red hair and lived well into her 90s. “She was quite a character,” David recalls. The couple met and married in Los Angeles and honeymooned in Big Bear Lake. 

On the long car ride up, they happened upon new storefronts being built in San Bernardino, immediately realizing this would make the ideal location for a jewelry store of their own. Soon after, Crescent Jewelers was born. 

Typical of the day, the shop sold more than jewelry. “They stocked silverware and flatware, movie projectors, razors, all these sorts of things,” David says. “They sold on credit. Clients could put down $1 a week to buy an engagement ring for $35.”

Location, location, location

By 1940, the shop grew successful enough to open a second location. Frederic – Bernard and Rose’s son – was a teen. He had little interest in following in his father’s footsteps, studying at Berkeley, and meeting and marrying his wife Joan in the late ‘50s. 

But, in the mid-1960s, Frederic’s father suffered some medical issues and Frederic returned to assist his mother with the business. “My father has always made strong decisions,” says David. “He brought the stores into the modern era, figuring out how he could build the business and make it his own. He’s very adaptable and a great visionary.”

Frederic studied market trends and similarly structured businesses. He sought out the latest jewelry designers, bringing his clients interesting, yet classic, pieces ahead of what other jewelers offered. He focused the business on watches and high-end gems, dispensing with the “other stuff” his father sold.

By 1971, Fredric was ready to open a third location in San Bernardino, its first inside a mall and by far the most stylish, utilizing black glass and chrome highlights. This is also the time the business adopted the name change from Crescent Jewelers to Frederic H. Rubel Jewelers.

LLP David Rubel Fredric

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Fredric Rubel changed the course of his father’s business, setting the stage for the stores to become known for luxury brands and classic, hand-fabricated designer jewelry

From San Bernardino, the business soon grew and relocated from Riverside to Santa Ana in 1987 and, eventually, Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo. “When my brother and I came into the business, we were in one tiny store, bursting at the seams. We needed to branch out, but also needed the right place that fit what we were doing.”

Frederic and Joan still live in Laguna Beach and are celebrating 61 years of marriage this year. 

A relationship of trust

For over 50 years, the shops have offered some of the finest luxury brands available. They’re known for classic hand-fabricated designer jewelry in platinum or gold, ideal cut diamonds, and fine timepieces. They assist clients with custom jewelry design. They also offer watch services for Rolex. Both David and Gary are members of the American Gem Society, and five of their associates hold the coveted title of Certified Gemologist Appraiser. 

“Ultimately, we’re in the trust business,” David says. “Our designs are very classic. We see ourselves as advisors [as opposed to jewelry-makers or designers]. Our clients require good advice, and we’ve built strong relationships over time. We’re fortunate to have this longevity, allowing clients to get comfortable with us across generations. We’ve helped grandparents, their children, and their grandkids.”

LLP David Rubel David

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David Rubel believes in building relationships of trust and longevity with his clients

Multigenerational businesses aren’t wholly uncommon in the jewelry industry. “We were at a tradeshow in Switzerland five years ago, sitting with three other family-owned businesses,” David recalls, “and – at nearly 90 years old – we were still the youngest one.” In the digital age of the Internet, online shopping, and big box stores, the jewel industry is still one built on confidence and strong relationships.

He laughs, thinking about clients who have come in for special anniversary surprises for their spouses. “We’ll secretly help them both, neither one knowing the other has come in.”

The family has also sustained a state of trust among their staff and associates, many of whom have been with them for decades. Valerie Wilshire, the company’s trusted buyer, has worked with them since 1987. She was only 23 years old and, even then, interested in someday becoming a buyer. The opportunity arose in 2012. “She’s the best buyer we’ve ever had,” says David. “Obviously better late than never.”

But the award for longevity goes to Elsa Carlton, who’s been in the business with the Rubels for 50 years. “She was in high school when she was hired by my dad, around the time Bobby Kennedy was assassinated,” David says. Elsa drives over an hour and a half to work every day. “It’s worth it,” she says. “Watching the evolution of the store over the decades, moving from various locations and watching it grow…it’s been an amazing experience.”

Integrated into the Community

Much of this confidence has been earned through David and Gary’s deep and extensive ties to our community. David and his wife, Kerry, raised their two sons in Laguna. David coached Little League. Kerry was the quintessential team mom. “The whole world opened up to us with Top of the World Elementary. We met all sorts of wonderful families and got involved,” he says. David and his sons – Michael (27) and Evan (25) – participated in Indian Guides. They played basketball and soccer. 

The convenient location of the store allowed David to attend his sons’ games and events. “I could be working in the store and get down to Riddle Field or up to the high school in minutes. Then back to the shop afterwards.” 

LLP David Rubel store

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Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers is located on Forest Ave 

David is also heavily active in the local business community, serving as Vice President of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. He has strong relationships with other busainess owners, the City Council, and the Design Review Board. “We all work really well together,” he says, referring to recent remodels of his store.

A tight-knit family

For the Rubels, the family business isn’t all about business. Those close ties across generations, and between siblings, aren’t by accident. The sons of all generations came home to help out when their parents needed them. The parents were actively involved in their children’s lives. Fathers and sons talk almost every day. Brothers too. 

“We’re a huge sports family,” David says. “I played Little League as a kid. My brother, my dad, my boys – we all still text at night about the games. The families all get together.”

David’s son Mike, now living in New York, works for a diamond wholesaler. “We’re hoping he’ll come back,” David says. Adding a fourth generation to the family business would mean much to him. 

The business of giving back

“Because we live and work in the communities where our stores are located, it’s important for Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers to assist local causes,” they say. Outside of Laguna, the company supports Mission Hospital Foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and Camino Health Center (affiliated with Mission Hospital and St. Joseph Health), to name just a few.

But David’s passion lies in Laguna. In 2013, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers received SchoolPower’s Hall of Fame Award, recognizing 10 years of commitment to the Laguna Beach Education Foundation and Laguna Beach public schools. “Supporting SchoolPower is a no-brainer for us because we feel so lucky to be part of this community,” David said upon receiving the award. Gary, David’s brother, is on the SchoolPower Board, along with his wife Belinda. “It is such an easy relationship with SchoolPower,” he said. “Everyone is invested in the same thing. Everyone is pulling in the same direction.”

SchoolPower is not the brothers’ only local cause. The Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach has also been an organization they’ve committed to throughout their time in Laguna. David coached basketball when his boys were small.

To show their continued support, throughout May and June, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers will be donating $100 for each purchase of $1,500 or more to the Club.

In many ways, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers exemplifies what’s best about our town. What matters most is family and community, what’s valued highest is trust. The bonds they’ve built over the past century are as strong and enduring as the timeless pieces they sell. And they recognize the importance of giving back wherever and whenever they can. Along with the Rolex watches and Lazare Diamonds, these are the qualities that make Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers – and David Rubel in particular – the true gems in our little town.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

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