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Judie Mancuso gets the word out for creatures who have no choice, no voice, no vote

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Getting the word out for animals” is Laguna resident Judie Mancuso’s passionate mission, and she accomplishes it in a groundbreaking way – by fighting to create legislation that protects and saves the lives of animals. She has long been recognized as a leading advocate in California’s battle for animal protection laws. 

In the 12 years since founder, CEO, and president Mancuso started Social Compassion in Legislation (SCIL), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, 16 bills (including the one that was just passed last week) have been put into law in California that have significantly changed the lives of animals long term. Her organization sponsors and supports landmark legislation that promotes the care, rights, and protection of animals. 

Mancuso has been featured multiple times in the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register, and has been interviewed on CNN, HLN, Fox News, BBC, NPR, NY Times, NY Post, SF Gate, Sacramento Bee, and many other periodicals, radio shows, online news publications, and all local major network stations. 

Just this past Sunday, Mancuso was on a news conference with NBC’s Conan Nolan to discuss the passing of Wildlife Protection Act of 2019 into law: “People are coming of age on these issues, and the public opinion is shifting.” 

To view the interview, click here.

Mancuso and her organization have had much to do with this change.

Results driven campaigns

One of SCIL’s most well-known successes was the passing of Bill AB 485, in October of 2018, which made California the first state to ban the sale of puppy mill dogs in pet stores. The bill, which also covers cats and rabbits, requires that pet stores only sell shelter/rescue animals.

Mancuso was instrumental in passing the Dining With Dogs law that makes it legal for restaurants in California and New York to offer areas for people to dine with their companion canines. More states are expected to follow suit.

Additionally, she founded the Pet Lover’s License Plate, a California specialty license plate available through the Department of Motor Vehicles, which was created to raise awareness regarding pet overpopulation and fund free and low-cost spay and neuter programs throughout the state. To date the plate has brought in more than 1.6 million dollars for free spay and neuter surgeries. 

Judie Mancuso and dog

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Judie Mancuso with Dinky Pooh

This is a particularly significant week for SCIL. On September 5, the AB 273 (Gonzalez) Wildlife Protection Act of 2019 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. It prohibits commercial or recreational trapping on both public and private lands, making California the first state to outlaw a centuries-old practice of commercial trapping of native species, including gray foxes, coyotes, badgers, beavers, and mink, whose pelts are often sold in foreign fur markets.

Mancuso says, “The signing of this bill into law is the result of compelling data and a change of heart in public opinion regarding animal cruelty.”

Deadline to sign or veto bills

Governor Newsom has until October 13 to sign or veto all bills that come to his desk. Right now, Mancuso has two others awaiting signature and three more one step away – SB 202 Blood Banks (would allow for animals that live with their owners to give blood at commercial blood banks), SB64 Pet Microchipping (currently on the Governor’s desk, passed full Assembly vote 76-0 on September 2), AB 733 Aquatic Toxicity (hazardous waste must be disposed of properly), SB 313 Animals: prohibition on use in circuses (ban on statewide traveling wild-animal exhibitions, passed State Senate), and AB 1260 Endangered Species (also currently on the Governor’s desk). This bill would ban the importation and sale of skin and other body parts from lizards, hippopotamuses, and caimans. 

Mancuso says, “If Governor Newsom signs them all, it will be the first time in history that this number of animal protection bills have been passed and signed into law at the same time.”

Advocating for animals even before SCIL 

Even before founding SCIL, Mancuso had long been an advocate for animal rights.

Although she was born in St. Louis, Mo., and came to Calif. when she was nine months old, the family only stayed a short time and moved back to St. Louis because her mother was homesick. Not surprisingly, Mancuso loved animals as a child and wanted to be a veterinarian. Eventually, 25 years later, she came back out west – to Los Angeles. 

She was appointed as a public member to the California Veterinary Medical Board in July of 2010, where she served the maximum of eight years, two four-year terms. Following a successful 20-year career in the information technology industry, she began using her skills and expertise for advocacy, legislation, humane education, and other pro-animal program development. 

Judie Mancuso three dogs

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With Twiggy, Petula, and Dinky Pooh at Alta Laguna Park. Mancuso also has five cats at home.

In 1995, Mancuso moved to Laguna, selecting this location, “Because of the beauty and its proximity to everything, and the open space and wildlife.” 

How SCIL was born

During her time in L.A., Mancuso says, “I was protesting and saving animal lives one at a time while doing rescue work in Los Angeles. I realized we needed something that would really make change and affect animals on a larger scale, and what we were doing wasn’t moving the needle large scale. So I decided to go big with something sweeping like legislation. My background in information technology gave me the foundation to create solutions and find a path to success. We are results driven.”

When she says “we,” she’s including her 10-person board which consists of: Simone Reyes, VP Communications, Leah Sturgis, VP Wildlife, Nickolaus Sackett, Director of Legislative Affairs, Margaret Perenchio, celebrity superstars Diane Keaton and Maggie Q, Haze Lynn, Katie Cleary, and Dr. Karen Halligan. 

A SCIL event Mancuso hosted in July to welcome Keaton and Maggie Q to the board raised $164,000.

Sponsoring legislation is expensive

Since she founded SCIL, Mancuso says, “many people and groups are coming to me saying, ‘We’d like to do a bill on this or that...but I have to say, ‘not without funding.’ Sponsoring legislation is an expensive task.” 

Mancuso currently has six contract lobbyists working for her nonprofit, both state and federal. Her organization also partners with some big groups to utilize their expertise and hundreds of thousands of supporters around the state. They include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). 

She says, “We only have so much expertise – they have doctors, scientists, an army of attorneys and other experts. My group is teeny tiny compared to them, but we have the political strength and know how to get things done.” 

A long path to the governor’s desk

Evidently, it’s not an easy process to get a bill on the governor’s desk for signature. It’s an arduous course of action. Mancuso explains that it requires the navigation of necessary governmental paths, which involves lobbyists, public relations, the Assembly, and the Senate. 

The ideas for bills come from a variety of sources – board members, donors, supporters, elected officials, and Mancuso herself. The SCIL board then votes on the bills to determine which they’ll sponsor. Based on what they decide, other groups and individual supporters provide funding. 

Judie Mancuso kissing

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Dinky Pooh

Mancuso says, “We pitch the bill to an assemblymember/senator and ask if they want to carry it for us. Sometimes a member of their staff is excited about the bill and that helps the process.”

However, she’s immersed on a local level as well. 

Last year, Mancuso ran for a seat on the Laguna Beach City Council.

Recently, she was appointed to the Laguna Beach Environmental Sustainability Committee for a two-year term. Mancuso says, “We are considering a couple of important issues – banning of plastics and pesticides.” 

Advocating for animals here in the wilderness, she fought the City Council’s decision to allow the trapping and killing of coyotes in the city. Her outcry and grassroots support led to the reversal of the decision.

California is an influencer

​ Mancuso made headlines as the organizing force behind the fight to spare the life of local mountain lion P-45 after the Department of Fish and Wildlife issued of a 10-day permit allowing ranchers in Malibu to shoot and kill him after four alpacas were found dead on a farm. The permit was ultimately revoked, and the permit holder instead decided to work with Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service, and the Mountain Lion Foundation on better ways to humanely protect their animals from mountain lions. Mancuso was instrumental in that outcome.

Based on her actions, this was a significant step in helping animal welfare organizations in their desire to ultimately pass new legislation to make it tougher to obtain kill permits.

​“California is a significant influencer on the nation,” Mancuso says, “It is the fifth largest economy in the world, as we go, so goes the nation.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Mancuso – and her organization SCIL – is a significant influencer in the welfare of many creatures. She has given them a voice and a vote, and all animal lovers applaud her.

For more information on SCIL, go to www.socialcompassioninlegislation.org.


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Vladimir Kush: In a world of pure imagination

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut 

At first, the paintings of artist Vladimir Kush beckon the viewer in, then a glance turns into a second look, and soon, mesmerized, the observer is seduced, unable to look away. Kush says that patrons often admit, “I’ve seen this in a dream, but it’s nebulous, just out of reach.”

“Collectors become addicted to that, the extraordinary angle of looking at things,” says Kush Fine Arts Gallery Manager Brian Stewart. “He has 45,000 collectors worldwide.”

Masterfully and mysteriously, Kush bridges the gap between imagination and reality in all of his creations – paintings, watercolors, sculptures, books, and jewelry. Kush Fine Art in downtown Laguna features only his work, so everywhere the eye falls is another magnificent example of what he says is his goal – to reflect the world in the mirror of metaphor. 

Metaphorical Realism 

In representing the universality of nature, Kush often uses moons, suns, clouds, flowers, animals, insects, and water, however, not in the tradition and expected way. In his works, a surfer rides the waves of a tree trunk, an elephant has a trumpet for a trunk, and humans climb a golden spiderweb overseen by a giant spider.

The connection between artist and viewer is on a microscopic level, invisible to the eye in the conventional sense – images aren’t static but have a jiggly dreamlike quality as if in a cosmic dance – out of focus, yet almost known.

Vladimir Kush outside

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Vladimir Kush in front of his gallery

Kush is the epitome of the American Dream. Born in Moscow, Russia during a time when imagination was suppressed, he flourished in Laguna, where creativity is revered, and opened his first gallery in 2005. Kush now owns two additional galleries – in Maui and Las Vegas (in Caesar’s Palace). 

On August 22, he returned to Kush Fine Arts downtown for a few days to unveil the 7th Human Compilation, in a series. Over that weekend, 240 people attended the unveiling and presentation event. Additionally, in an unprecedented occurrence, the transaction of the sale of one of his paintings was finalized in public. Human Way, an original oil on canvas, was sold to the Founder of Blockchain, Andrew Keys.

As Diana Pinck says in her article “Metaphorical Realism, The Art of Vladimir Kush” in Artist PROOF Magazine, “Kush’s paintings use metaphor to describe the joy of the world, the interconnectedness and dichotomy of all the powerful and driving forces of nature and the universe.” She adds that he was the first artist to use metaphor as his method. 

For Kush, the idea of metaphor as mirror of the world began a long time ago in Moscow. Although Kush’s father Oleg had artistic inclinations, he studied mathematics and physics and taught his son that the “visual metaphor” or idea should be transparent as a formula or equation. 

Kush says, “A ‘good metaphor’ is essentially a formula because it connects seemingly distant notions.” 

Vladimir Kush painting

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“Infinity Trail” painting and “Rose Awaiting” sculpture

Creativity blossoms at a young age

“At the time of my childhood, Russia was still behind an Iron Curtain, and the only way to see exotic and unusual places was by traveling in my own imagination.”

He was already sketching at the age of three and began attending art school at seven. “I was very lucky that my first art teacher did not suppress imagination and allowed certain freedom in the student’s creative flow.” At 12, he went to see an exhibit of 20 avant-garde artists, and his father encouraged him to start experimenting with surrealistic ideas. 

However, he is not a surrealist artist, but a metaphorical realist, and he explains the difference, “The possibility of truthful depiction of the material world combines with my own vision of cultural world tradition and mythology.”

After 10 years at the art school, Kush entered the Moscow School of Art and Design, but within a year, he was conscripted into the Russian Army and served a two-year term. For the most part during that time, he was assigned to produce large paintings for various purposes. 

Kush readily admits that attending art school in Moscow was not without criticism, pressure, and rigorous training, which he believes is lacking in some art classes in the U.S. “There is no progress without it,” he says. 

He also believes art has been replaced by a more digitalized industry, and as a result, the quality is changing. “It’s a skill and few want to take the time.”

Vladimir Kush outside

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Kush with “Route 66” sculpture

How his career began in Laguna

In the early 1990s, the Iron Curtain dropped, and Kush was able to emigrate. In 1991, he came to Los Angeles and soon after visited Laguna where he decided to stay. “I had a sublime connection to the town. I couldn’t let it go, I had to conquer it. I remember walking around taking photos and thinking it would be such a dream to exhibit here.” 

And he did – as an exhibitor at the Festival of Arts. In 2005, the first Kush Fine Arts Gallery opened on Coast Highway next to C’est La Vie restaurant, then it moved to 265 Forest in August of 2009, and in 2015, relocated to the current space at 210 Forest Ave. 

Prolific artist

“The American Dream is not an overnight success or a fairytale, it’s not achieved without effort,” Kush admits. “I don’t fit into any traditional category or belong to any art establishment or commercial art galleries. I have no public relations. I’ve had no outside investors. It’s been achieved by appeal. It’s all from the love of art work.”

Currently, Kush spends most of his time in Maui with his wife Oxana and two daughters, Veronica, who is seven months old, and Victoria, who is three.

Vladimir Kush books

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Kush’s books 

Stewart says, “I would say he is the most prolific artist of our time without a doubt. I’ve been in this business for 13 years and have never encountered an artist with his ability to create as much as he does.”

Adding to his already vast repertoire, Kush began producing sculptures 20 years ago, and has been designing jewelry for the last 10 years. 

Multi-faceted is an understatement when it comes to describing the diversity of his accomplishments. He has since added another endeavor – books. 

Kush’s watercolor of the sheep covered in seashells prompted his father Oleg to write the award-winning children’s book Aries and the Sheep and an Apple iPhone application in which kids can color the illustrations (more apps are in the works). Recently, Kush published Metaphorical Journey, a poetic catalogue of his major paintings and drawings through 2002. He also produces magazines and animated pieces.

7th Human Compilation

Kush explains how the Human Compilation series began. “It was a period beginning in 2000. I was trying to define the notion that all people have in common love, time, and sensation of space, and it was important to compare these things other than in metaphor. Basically, the Human Compilation series serves as a timeline that I considered a script – dividing time by each episode and by doing so – to communicate to all people the legacy of human spirit.”

Vladimir Kush jewelry

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Jewelry designed by Kush 

Now when he releases the sketches, even before the series piece is finished, collectors will quickly buy them up to add to their other series acquisitions. 

“I’m a classic painter,” Kush says when asked about his process. “I start with black and white drawings, or watercolors, and do multiple drawings with pencil and/or ink. It takes skill, there are no tricks. The concept is transparent, and I work to cleanse it. As written by William Blake, ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite.’ It’s intellectual. Sometimes the conception is unknown to the artist himself.”

Nature is a temple

Kush quotes Charles Baudelaire: “Nature is a temple in which living columns sometimes emit confused works.”

It seems a fitting reference, since Kush’s imaginative works decode that confusion, making the invisible visible in a mystical way that bridges the gap connecting us all. Then he entices the observer to discover that relationship: “You only have to start noticing, and that miracle of connection is everywhere.” 

In his works of art, there is no choice but to notice.

For more information about Vladimir Kush, go to www.vladimirkush.com.


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Laguna Dance Festival founder Jodie Gates shares the rigor underlying her fairytale life

Story by MARRIE STONE

If Jodie Gates were to write her life’s story, it might sound a lot like a modern-day fairytale. A little girl, born in Sacramento in the 1960s, dreams of one day becoming a professional ballerina. While performing onstage at age 15, the iconic choreographer Robert Joffrey sits silent in the audience, assessing the young dancer. When the curtain falls, Joffrey offers the girl the opportunity to come to New York and stud – on scholarship – with The Joffrey Ballet. But she is too young. Her mother won’t allow it. 

Joffrey returns the following year and, once again, encourages the girl to come to New York, an offer she cannot now refuse. She advances from student to apprentice in a mere three weeks and begins her professional dance career at age 16.

The story is sweet, the ending happy. The young girl dances all over the world – on nearly every continent – for over 25 years. When at last she retires her slippers, she continues doing what she loves – choreographing, directing, and teaching. Her opportunities broaden. Her successes pile up.

But behind every real life fairytale lies a path paved with incredible determination and unimaginable discipline. There are no short cuts. That’s the true story.

Laguna Dance closeup

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Courtesy of Laguna Dance Festival

Jodie Gates – Founder of the Laguna Beach Dance Festival, Professor at USC, Choreographer, Director, and former principal ballerina for the Joffrey Ballet

In the beginning

Jodie’s story began the way most little girls’ stories begin – a distant dream of one day becoming a prima ballerina. “Genders were less blurred in those days,” Jodie says. “Young girls dreamed about being ballerinas, as young boys thought about becoming firemen. Now it’s okay for a woman to think she might someday be a CEO, and I love that.”

For Jodie, ballet began at the age of 7. “It was about falling in love with what it meant to move to music,” Jodie says. Her sister, 11 years her senior, also studied ballet and became a role model. Her mother and grandfather supported her, taking Jodie to countless classes and watching her thrive. “It was wonderful for my whole family,” she says. “My mother supported me without even really knowing what it meant.” 

Jodie’s mother passed away in June, and it’s given Jodie time to look back on what her unwavering support and dedication meant to Jodie’s career. “I’ve been able to reflect upon all those moments – all the successes and challenges – and what that meant to my mother and myself. I’m very grateful for what she gave me.”

Her mother even moved with Jodie, in part to watch over her during those early years, and in part to fall in love with an art of her own and become active in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. 

The elusive role of Juliet

That fateful day on the Sacramento stage sealed Jodie’s successful future. Her career with The Joffrey Ballet would span 15 years and cross several continents. In 1995, she would become the principal dancer for The Pennsylvania Ballet and, in 1999, she would move to Frankfurt where she taught, staged, and produced ballets around the world for William Forsythe’s Ballet. But before all that, before the wide acclaim and rock star status, there was still a young woman uncertain about the future.

Laguna Dance master class

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Courtesy of USC Kaufman School of Dance

Jodie teaching class at USC Kaufman School of Dance

Alongside Jodie’s childhood dream of becoming a prima ballerina ran her desire to dance the role of Juliet in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. “It’s such a lovely story,” Jodie says. “The score is stunning and incredibly complicated.” Aside from this, the role simply spoke to her. “Every young woman wants to fall in love,” she says.

Jodie was so enchanted by the piece that, at 10 years old, she performed the entire three-act ballet for her mother in their living room, playing all the parts. “The score is long,” Jodie says. “So you can imagine the patience on my mother’s part.” 

Fast-forward 15 years and Jodie is now dancing in The Joffrey Ballet when the Prokofiev score comes into the repertoire. Jodie sees an opportunity for her dream to be realized. There are three casts, meaning three Romeos and three Juliets, enabling the ballet to be performed night-after-night, as well as on tour. Alas, Jodie is not called to learn the part and is, instead, given a much smaller role. 

Knowing there was no chance of seeing the stage as Juliet, Jodie nonetheless persevered. The dance itself meant more than the performance. “I asked the director of the Joffrey if I could understudy the role of Juliet,” Jodie recalls. “I promised I wouldn’t get in the way.” Jodie danced silent and alone in the backdrop, content enough in her private role as Juliet.

Two months before opening night, a director flew in from Europe to determine who, among the three couples, would dance the part on opening night. As he studied the couples, he noticed Jodie rehearsing alone in the background. He called her forward. He wanted to see her dance, after lunch, with a partner she hadn’t practiced with before. Her passion and dedication to the role surpassed every other obstacle, and Jodie came to be chosen to dance the part of Juliet at Lincoln Center on opening night. 

“I share that story with my students in an effort to tell them I’ve been there,” Jodie says. “I made that happen out of sheer will. I just wanted it so much, and I caught this man’s eye. That role was very meaningful. If something means that much to you, even if you’re not cast, even if you’re the understudy, learning a part in the back you don’t think you’re ever going to perform – do it. Learn it.”

How the President’s son became her prince

Shortly after Jodie’s arrival at The Joffrey, she was paired with a partner who set a high bar for fame and recognition. Ronald Prescott Reagan, son of President Ronald Reagan, became Jodie’s Romeo. “He was a beautiful dancer and a wonderful partner,” she says. “Kind, articulate, and smart.” They performed the duet on tour in Hong Kong, followed by an entourage of secret service agents and bodyguards. “We were treated like kings and queens,” Jodie says. “I just assumed that’s how all travel was.” The Reagans weren’t the only first couple who saw her perform. Jodie also danced for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 

The Joffrey Ballet was at its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, and its dancers held rock star status. Opportunities began to pile up at Jodie’s door. She met Gene Kelly, Michael Douglas, and worked with Prince. Throughout her career, she performed across North and South America, Russia, Asia, Australia, and Europe. 

Laguna Dance Mikhail

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Courtesy of USC Kaufman School of Dance

Jodie with Mikhail Baryshnikov (on left) and choreographer William Forsythe 

Jodie’s second act

When Jodie retired her slippers at the age of 40, a new life awaited. Her second career was as impressive as her first. Since 2005, Jodie has choreographed over 60 ballets created for Germany’s Staatsballett Berlin, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, American Ballet Theater II, Washington Ballet, and The Juilliard School, just to name a few. Her work has been performed around the world, including the Kennedy Center, Princeton University, the Helsinki International Ballet Competition, the Vail International Dance Festival, and many other venues. 

Jodie also taught, staged, and produced a number of ballets for William Forsythe, including productions at Prague National Theater, Zurich Opera Ballet, Teatro La Scala, Paris Opera Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Houston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and Pennsylvania Ballet.

In 2006, Jodie took these skills and talents to teach as a tenured professor at University of California, Irvine and, in 2013, was chosen to lead the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California. “The opportunity to launch a new school at USC – the first school to be endowed in over 40 years – was the chance of a lifetime. I wasn’t looking to leave UCI. I was recruited to do something that very few people would ever have the good fortune to do – to create a curriculum from the ground up, to build a staff and faculty, and to recruit students. I am able to show them the value of a fine arts degree in dance.” 

Laguna Dance Glorya

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Courtesy of Laguna Dance Festival

Jodie with philanthropist and founder of USC’s dance school Glorya Kaufman and famed choreographer William Forsythe

How do all these talents and skills across various roles – as dancer, professor, choreographer, and director – coalesce? “It’s all coming from me. I find as I develop as a person, I dance less because it’s not what I do anymore, but it’s who I am. It’s all a part of who I am. When I create a piece, it’s part of my publishing. Instead of writing books, I make dances. My research feeds who I am as a professor. Leaving my desk and having that one-on-one contact with my students uses a different side of the brain. I love to stimulate and educate myself.  I discover new leadership skills I didn’t know I had.” 

Even as a young girl, Jodie recognized the skills she was learning were transferrable and would serve her in every capacity of life. “Now that I’m a leader in the field – an educator and director – I value the amount of dedication and perseverance it takes to be a professional ballet dancer,” she says. “What is a fairytale story is also an incredibly rigorous discipline. I wouldn’t recommend it to the faint of heart.”

Founding the Laguna Dance Festival

To the residents of Laguna Beach, Jodie’s most recognizable contribution might be the founding of the Laguna Dance Festival in 2005. “I always look for the needs and voids in any community, and how can I help facilitate filling those voids,” she says. “As an established artists’ colony, Laguna is primed to expand into the performing arts and be a leader. We should be that west coast presence that’s known for hosting an annual dance festival. That’s the Laguna Beach I believe in and want to live in.”

The Laguna Dance Festival’s repertoire spans modern, contemporary, classic ballet, and full-length ballet. “I don’t have favorites,” Jodie says. “I know what I’ve gotten out of experiencing dance, not just as the performer, but as the viewer. The word experience is what we all want as human beings. We want to experience an emotion or feeling. Dance is such a visceral art form and it was a void in our community. I advocate for the art form because it’s gotten lost. Most people don’t know the joy it can bring. It’s ephemeral. It feeds your soul.” 

Laguna Dance versa style

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Courtesy of Laguna Dance Festival

Jodie with Versa-Style Dance Company founders Leigh Foaad (on left) and Jackie Lopez

Teaching in the 21st Century

“Ballet is a field unique unto itself, and one that’s shared from teacher to teacher,” Jodie says. “It’s an art form that can’t be learned by watching video. It’s an oral tradition, passed down through the generations.”

Despite its deep and established roots, Jodie also believes dance must speak to the current culture and reflect the present time in which it’s performed. “Ballet is a preservation of our history,” she says. “To see classical, traditional ballet is sublime. But it’s imperative that it reflect the culture in which we live.” Jodie likes to see ballet dancers who have different body shapes, different skin tones, who have different styles and ways of moving. “That belongs in ballet as well. That’s the contemporary world we live in, and I advocate for that quite a bit.”

Jodie encourages women to create their own dances and cultivate their own style. “Women should not simply exist as the muse for the director. I tell dancers, ‘You can be the director.’ It’s important to break the hierarchy set up in ballet 300 years ago, see who we are today, and respond.” 

For the little girl who once danced alone in her mother’s living room, striving for the stage to one day perform her Juliet, Jodie’s quest for perfection never ends. She continues falling in love with ballet in all its iterations. More important, she persistently shares that passion with audiences young and old, near and far.

This year’s Laguna Dance Festival, featuring world-class dance performances by Parsons Dance Company, RUBBERBAND, and Ballet West takes place on Friday, Sept 27 – Sunday, Sept 29, at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Laguna Dance Festival website at www.lagunadancefestival.org.


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Linda Schmidt: Making a stand to save the rhino

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Linda Schmidt left South Africa to pursue a postgraduate degree in America, her plan was to stay for two years and then return home to her family. Despite her intentions, Schmidt and her husband never made it back to South Africa, at least not permanently. 

A two-year stay turn into 20 plus years

They found Laguna Beach when relocating from Denver. At the time there was a local store featuring South African goods. The couple heard about it, came to check it out, and decided to give the town it resided in a try. 

“We just fell into the rhythm of Laguna,” recalls Schmidt. “We just became involved in things: Mom’s Club, SchoolPower – it just progressed from there.” The roots got stronger. “A lot of people are from somewhere else,” explains Schmidt. “So we became each other’s family.”

The urgency to save a species from extinction

 Despite Laguna becoming home, Schmidt retains strong ties to her homeland. It is those ties, as well as a profound sense of “if not me then who?,” that prompted her to embark on an ambitious labor of love: to help save rhinos from extinction.

Linda Schmidt close up

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Linda Schmidt, founder of Cause Conservation, a nonprofit dedicated to saving rhinos from extinction

“Conservation has been a really big part of my history,” explains Schmidt. “My mom has been involved as long as I can remember. Our family traveled a lot to remote African countries.” Her parents’ enthusiasm trickled down to her, although she may not have been aware of it at the time.

The family camped all over Africa. They explored sites where elephants traipsed through their camp. “There is a beauty and a grandeur about nature,” says Schmidt. “I think nature is the teacher. There is an innate wisdom to be found there.”

Learning about poaching and its depressing efficiency

Schmidt’s call to action came ten years ago while she was in South Africa. A park ranger spoke to her group about the poaching crisis plaguing, not only rhinos, but elephants, pangolins, and so many other animals. “It wasn’t on anyone’s map at this time,” says Schmidt. “This was something very few people knew anything about.” 

Appalled and motivated to spread the word, Schmidt organized a trip for a Laguna Beach group to visit South Africa and learn about the crisis for themselves. Because her goal was creating awareness, she had to first educate herself.

Educating herself so she can educate others

“I met some key people in South Africa in that process. There are only a few,” she says. A somewhat discouraging finding was that a lot of the groups raising money to combat the problem of these keystone species’ potential extinction were not particularly effective. “A lot of the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) were not hitting at the grassroots level. I realized that if we empower the community, we empower nature,” she says. 

Forty people from Laguna went on this first trip. It prompted her to want to do more. “How could we open the window in South Africa to our world?” she wondered. “How do I make a real difference?” 

Linda Schmidt nature

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Born in South Africa, Linda Schmidt’s parents passed along their love of the natural world to their daughter

She views herself as occupying a rather unique position. “I’m a South African girl who is an American, too.” And she realized getting people in the U.S. concerned about the destruction of these majestic creatures would be critical to their survival. She formed the no-profit Cause Conservation, a “true labor of love,” to formalize her mission.

30 percent of rhino population lost in the last 10 years

The more she learned the more urgent her mission became. Thirty percent of the rhino population has been lost in the last 10 years. In 2017, 1,028 rhinos were poached. In 2018, that number dropped, however, it was still a terrifying 769. There are only 24,000 rhinos (black and white) left. At that rate, it does not require advanced math to realize the species is facing extinction in the mere blink of an eye. This is not something that can be debated and mulled over for years to come. Decisive, effective action must be taken now if we are to prevent these animals from becoming a mere memory.

Effective programs are in place, but they’re expensive

The good news is, according to Schmidt, a three-pronged approach to this crisis has proven successful. The bad news is none of the steps are easy. De-horning the rhinos is one essential component. It is a very effective way to keep them alive because they are poached for the perceived medicinal value of their horns. If they don’t have horns, there is no reason to kill them. Additionally, removing rhino horns is not debilitating to the animal and they grow back, unlike with elephants. 

The second necessary component is the Anti-Poaching Units or APUs. Protecting rhinos from poachers is a very dangerous job. The poachers are well-equipped and ruthless. Training and equipping rangers to protect the rhinos on the ground is essential to their survival.

Linda Schmidt students

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At Schmidt’s home, LBHS Remember and Give Club members make decorative hearts that were delivered to the Nkomo School in South Africa

The third thing needed is education. Schmidt describes a program that sends people into hospitals in Asia to speak directly to new mothers to try and convince them that rhino horn will not help them with lactation. Such a painstaking, singular approach has proven successful, but it is but a ripple in a situation where a tsunami is required. 

Raising awareness is key to raising money

 As Schmidt pondered the best way she could make a difference, one thing became clear: money was needed. “What shocked me is how expensive it is (to keep these animals safe),” exclaims Schmidt. “To dehorn a rhino is $3,500. Tracking equipment is $3,200, and it costs $5,000-10,000 for one APU ranger.” Additionally, to relocate a rhino is $50,000. 

Rhino Awareness Week is coming to Laguna

In order to raise money, she realized she must first raise awareness. To that end, she and her team of volunteers (the Laguna Beach APUs, as they have nicknamed themselves) have created Rhino Awareness Week. The event kicks off on Sunday, September 15 with a screening of the documentary Breaking Their Silence. The director Kerry David will be in attendance to answer questions at Laguna Beach High School Artists Theater. Schmidt says when she first saw the film at the Newport Beach Film Festival, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It speaks to the crisis in a very honest way.” 

There is something for everyone during the event

From there, the event will offer a reggae night at Mozambique, a lecture by award-winning conservationist Simon Naylor, a spin class at Rhythm Ride with a live DJ to benefit the rhinos, a surf contest put on by Mo Van de Wall, a Laguna Beach surfer and instructor who used to work as an African ranger and, lastly, an African-themed private fundraising event. It is a full week of wide-ranging activities all in the name of raising awareness and funds to help save rhinos. 

There is something for everyone during the week-long event. For more information on the Rhino Awareness Week, visit Cause Conservation’s website (www.causeconservation.org). The group’s website is very informative, providing a lot of information on the plight of the rhinos and other animals, in addition to the group’s upcoming event.

Linda Schmidt teachers

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Linda Schmidt with the principal and a teacher of the Nkomo School, two “extraordinary women,” whose work in educating local students helps decrease poaching

Laguna students help South African schools

An example of work Schmidt has already been involved with is the cross-cultural collaboration with the African Foundation, one of the beneficiaries of Rhino Awareness Week. A group of Laguna Beach High School and Thurston Middle School students, who are part of the Remember and Give Club at both schools, visited the Nkomo School in the Mnqoboqazi community in South Africa. The school is run by two “extraordinary women,” according to Schmidt, whose efforts “are making a significant difference to education and conservation education in their village. The result is lower poaching.”

It is up to us to act

If this group of volunteers from Laguna Beach led by Schmidt is already making a difference, it stands to reason that with the help of more people, they can make even more of a difference. “Wildlife can’t survive without partners in every country. The rhino is just one key example,” says Schmidt. “I have a responsibility. I can’t stand back.” And she isn’t. However, if we are to save the rhinos from extinction, she and her fellow Laguna APUs need our help. As Schmidt likes to say, “The greatest threat to our wildlife is the belief that someone else will save it.”

Members of the Laguna APU are: Krista Shaw, Sarah Murphy, Cindy Newman-Jacobs, Kirsten Warner, Diane Fisher, LaRae Martin, Debbie Naude, Denise Campanelli, Nathalie Assen, Kim Duensing, and Emily Van De Wall.

For more information, visit www.causeconservation.org.


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Casey Parlette: Celebrating the natural world

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Casey Parlette likes to keep things interesting. As a sculptor who has lived more lives than seems possible for someone his age, he feels an affinity for his chosen medium because, as he says, “The possibilities are endless. There are no restrictions. If you can think it and you can figure out a way to make it you can do it.”

Born in Laguna, Parlette moved to San Diego when he was four. However, he returned often to Laguna where his grandparents still lived. After graduating from high school, Parlette got a job as a Laguna Beach lifeguard while attending Orange Coast College, eventually transferring to UCLA. There he graduated with a degree in Anthropology and was faced with the question that many college graduates must answer: “Now what?” 

From commercial diving to discoveries in the Amazon

Parlette’s response was not what you might expect. He took a job as a commercial diver in San Diego and continued lifeguarding in the summers. During a break from his diving work, he decided to visit some family that lived in Lima, Peru. “I ended up in the jungle,” he says. There he learned how to put expeditions together. “There hadn’t been a lot of that up until that point,” he recalls. “I figured there’s a good chance you’ll find something new.” He was right. Parlette discovered two new species of fish, one that is named after him.

Casey Parlette close up

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Local sculptor Casey Parlette is at the Festival of the Arts and the Sawdust Festival

Summer lifeguarding in Laguna Beach turns full time

His dive work resumed and he returned home “25 pounds lighter,” he says with a laugh. Then that job concluded and Parlette became a full-time Laguna Beach lifeguard.

So when did Parlette have the time to develop his artistic skills? “I’ve always done stuff,” he explains. “Art comes natural to me. I’ve been lucky. My family has a lot of great artists and craftsmen. There have been a lot of people I’ve been exposed to who have been great influences.” Parlette’s father was a carpenter. Parlette says he was always interested in “making stuff.” And his career grew from there.

Approaching his art as a business from the beginning

Parlette first exhibited his artwork at the Festival of the Arts in 2008. “I approached it as a business. It evolved as it went,” he says. He was successful enough to come back the next year and then every year since. And while working as a sculptor was becoming a full-time job, he still had a full-time job as a lifeguard. The two simultaneous careers were extremely challenging, but they became unsustainable when his son turned two. “I just didn’t see him that much. I didn’t like that at all,” says Parlette.

Something had to give

With something needing to give, Parlette sat down and took a look at both jobs. “I lifeguarded for 23 summers. 12 were full time. I loved it. I still love it. But I did most of what I wanted to do there. With the art, I knew I’d only scratched the surface.” So art won. Parlette has been singularly committed to sculpting ever since.

Casey Parlette hermit crab

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Casey Parlette is inspired by the natural world and seeks to raise awareness about it through his original, one-of-a-kind creations

He says giving up the security of a regularly paying job wasn’t quite as much a leap of faith as it may seem. “I had been doing both for a long time so I kind of knew what I was looking at,” he explains. “I’m fine with calculated risk. There’s inherent risks in everything.” He had been successful as a sculptor while still working full time as a lifeguard. With just his art to focus on, it stood to reason his success would not only continue but grow. His bet has paid off.

An artistic vision brought to life by a master craftsman

Even though Parlette participates in the Festival of the Arts, the majority of his work is commissioned pieces. Visiting his studio on Laguna Canyon Road is a sensory experience. There is wood, metal, and all manner of creations in various stages of completion for people who want to own one of Parlette’s interpretations of the natural world. A hermit crab hand carved out of an interesting piece of wood. A fish whose head is hammered out of metal and whose body is a glistening piece of eucalyptus. Parlette’s work blends imagination and master craftsmanship into familiar creatures interpreted through his vision. 

 “I’ve always been drawn to the natural flow,” he says. And while he is adamant he doesn’t “want to be the guy who just does the wood and metal fish,” he is drawn to stories that represent the natural world. “All artists are telling a story. My work is a physical representation of a story.” His work also represents longevity. He has a commissioned piece at Diver’s Cove. “It’s very cool that that’s going to be there long after I’m gone. It will speak for me in my absence,” he says.

Every piece is part of a legacy

Parlette likes the multi-generational aspect of his pieces, the fact that the pieces will be passed from one generation to the next. “It becomes part of the family’s legacy and story. It gains value because of its history,” he explains. 

The idea of legacy goes into the creation of his pieces too. He works with sawmills that will give him a head’s up if they come across a particularly interesting piece of wood. He also relies on a company called Street Tree Revival that specializes in urban wood recycling. “I give these pieces of wood a second life, and they’re not coming out of the rainforest which is nice,” he says.

Casey Parlette son

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Casey Parlette works seven days a week on his sculptures, but he always makes time for his son

Creating wearable sculpture as a new venture

All of this meticulous work that goes into every one of Parlette’s pieces means they are not something everyone can afford to own. As a response to that, Parlette decided to add another venture to his already busy schedule: a jewelry line he debuted at this year’s Sawdust Festival. “I use titanium,” he explains. “It’s so light and so unique. I can make it into a wearable sculpture at a price point that’s good for just about everyone.” He tells me how delighted he is when he sees his jewelry on people just out in the world. “It has been a neat thing,” he says.

And while he has found the extra work rewarding, exhibiting at both shows has not been easy. “The juggling act with the two has been challenging,” he admits. “But it has been really, really fun.” He has enjoyed the camaraderie with the other artists. He has also learned from them. 

Seeing every piece as a story

“It was explained to me early on that if you look at art as having a story to tell then the goal is to get it out there into the world,” he says. “That conversation was good for me. Everything I do is a one-off. Even making similar pieces is a one-off. All are different.” And while he says it’s hard to part with his creations (“They do become a bit like your kids,” he admits), the goal is to send them out into the world. 

Casey Parlette booth

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Casey Parlette’s booth at the Festival of Arts showcases some of his creations

He has another goal, as well. “For me it’s more than just making a pretty thing,” he says. He wants to bring awareness specifically to the creatures he has created in addition to the natural world in more general terms. “It’s really cool when art transcends, when it’s not just a decoration.” For example, he created a piece for Mission Hospital’s organ and tissue donor memorial. Titanium butterflies “spiral heavenward” in colors representing adult and child donors. 

On the one hand, it’s a sculpture of butterflies. On the other, it is a celebration of the donors whose gifts allowed others to live. “The ultimate goal is to make something more than it is,” explains Parlette. To imbue meaning beyond an object’s actual representation is no small task, especially when that object seems familiar. However, once you see Casey Parlette’s work, you will applaud his ambitions. His creations are beautiful representations of the natural world. They are also much more.


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Closing the Circle: After spending a lifetime in the ocean, David Skarman still has waves left to conquer

Story by MARRIE STONE
Photos by Mary Hurlbut

On the morning of August 25th, well before dawn, David Skarman will enter the dark waters off Catalina Island’s Isthmus Cove. Lying prone on a paddleboard, fueled by 1,000 calories of liquid energy and a large dose of adrenaline, David and 99 others will begin the 32-mile marathon to Manhattan Beach. Powered only by their own arms, and whatever psychological strength it takes to endure seven-plus hours of navigating punishing waves, open water vessels, and dangerous sea life, only about 80 percent of them will finish. For those who do not, it won’t be because they weren’t up to the task. It already took Herculean strength for these elite athletes to even qualify.

David describes himself as a survivalist, and that’s exactly what this race requires. Competitors come from all over the world – Australia and Canada, France, Hawaii, California, the Pacific Northwest, and east coast. There are no age categories, and participants run the gamut. At 57, David is one of the older men to compete. But as surf legend Laird Hamilton once said, “There are strong young guys. But there’s nothing meaner and more experienced than a fifty-year-old tough guy.”

Closing the closeup

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David Skarman in his Laguna Beach home

David has experience on his side. This will be his sixth Catalina Classic. And there’s never been a time in his life when the ocean hasn’t played a critical role. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, as a kid, surfing was his savior. Half a century later, the water is still where David makes his second home.

Mother ocean, father shore

David spent his youngest years growing up in Corona del Mar’s Cameo Shores. He had a key to the private beach, a surfboard, and an unquenchable desire to be in the water. But things wouldn’t always be so idyllic. 

Like many survivalists, David had a difficult childhood. His parents divorced. His mother moved away. After his father remarried, his stepmother ordered him out. David found himself – at age 15 – living on Laguna’s streets. He scrambled to find odd jobs, in gas stations and anywhere else that would hire him. His father slipped him some cash before the new wife found out, and David used it to buy a 1962 VW bus, which he lived in for the next few years. Ultimately he found his way to Oak Street Surf Shop (now Laguna Surf & Sport) where he worked as a stock boy. At 18, with the help of some investors, he figured out a way to buy the store. 

Surfing, and the ocean, wasn’t only a hobby or simply a career. For David, it was life itself. He may have learned more life lessons from the sea than he did from his parents, and the ocean became the place he turned to for comfort and strength. 

Sea skills translate to land

The skills he learned at sea served him well on land. Being prepared, anticipating difficult conditions, keeping his mind focused and his body in shape all led to a life of success. David would go on to become a personal trainer and, eventually, the Vice President and General Sales Manager at California Title Company, where he’s worked since 1998. 

He also applies his abilities and altruism to firefighting, working as a volunteer Senior Reserve firefighter to Station 11 in Emerald Bay for 28 years. David earned the honor of Firefighter of the Year in 1992 and stepped up to protect our town during the 1993 fire. 

In his “spare” time, he parents two little boys with his wife, model Victoria Whittaker.

History of the Catalina Classic

The Catalina Classic, known as “the granddaddy of all paddleboard races,” is the oldest and most celebrated endurance race of its kind in the world. It began in 1955 but didn’t gain consistent momentum until 1982. This month marks its 41st year. 

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The annual poster hangs in David’s home

Qualifying is no easy feat. The event is limited to 100 people, and the only slots open are from those who didn’t complete the race the previous year. For those few spots left, competitors must endure several qualifying rounds and demonstrate complete preparation.

While the race doesn’t separate participants by age or gender, it does delineate the competition by two different classes – stock and unlimited. Stock boards can be no longer than 12 feet and weigh no more than 20 pounds. The unlimited class is, well, unlimited. Boards can be up to 18 feet long. “What’s sexy about the Stock Division,” says David, “is that the boards are the great equalizer. It comes down to the guy on the board.” But each board has different advantages, depending on the day.

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David displays his Stock and Unlimited Class boards

Paddlers aren’t out on the open water alone. Each competitor has a team that follows from a prescribed distance. The support vessel includes a captain, a navigator who charts the course and wards off dangerous predators, and a handler who monitors nutrition, hydration, and general wellbeing. “It’s a team effort,” David says. “And that navigator is key.” 

Craig Lockwood, founder of Waterman Paddleboards and a longtime municipal lifeguard, had been David’s navigator and mentor throughout his paddling career. He began training David in 1988 and rode with him until 2017. But now, as Craig enters his 80s, it’s time for David to find a new navigator. He’s entrusted the job to his eldest son, Jonathan. 

A proven performer

David has an established success record in the competition. He won the 1989 Catalina Classic Stock Class with a time of 7:08 and placed 6th overall. The following year he came in second in the Stock Class at 6:48, and 9th overall. In 1991, after a girl (who then became his wife) got inside his head, David slipped to 4th place in the Stock Class and decided to retire his board. “If I wasn’t winning,” he says, “I wasn’t going to compete.”

Closing the mini boards

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David holds his miniature boards, one given each year he completed the Catalina Classic

He never gave up on the ocean, though. The following year, he turned his attention to outrigger races. “I wanted to close the paddle circle,” he says. David joined the Newport Outrigger team and competed in world sprints, again doing the Catalina Crossing from Avalon to Back Bay. His team placed 6th in 1992. But for David, team sports weren’t where his skillset lay. “I didn’t like the team aspect,” he says. “I’m a solo guy. If one guy is off, the whole boat is off.”

He returned to the Catalina Classic in 2017 under grueling conditions. Last year, he finished 16th in the stock class with a time of 7:17 (note that, 30 years later, his times haven’t much changed). This month will be David’s first time competing in the unlimited class.

The most difficult race to date

The 2017 Catalina Classic may have set the benchmark for physical and psychological endurance. David worried it would be a difficult day shortly after entering the water, but his innate optimism initially prevailed. The event would take all day, and he figured the weather was bound to improve. Instead, it only got worse. 

“It doesn’t matter how hard you train, or what your nutritional program is like, or what your mental state is. You could have done everything in the world. When the day arrives, you still wonder if you’ve done enough,” David says.

That morning, the weather changed. By the two-mile mark, when David turned his head, he could see it in the other men’s faces. “Everyone’s look said, ‘This is not good.’” Mother Ocean will dole out whatever she doles out, and that morning she was in the mood to dole out rough water. 

“Conditions were so brutal and gnarly, guys were dropping out left and right,” David says. “All this radio traffic was taking place as people were being pulled out.” These were some of the strongest athletes in the world. Everyone was qualified and trained for this event. “We knew no matter what time we’d set in our heads for the event, we’d have to add 45 minutes to an hour. We just weren’t mentally prepared for that.” 

Closing the on board

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David displays the power stroke on his Bark board, once owned by last year’s winner Lachie Landsdown

As racers reached the R10 buoy, just a few miles off the Palos Verde coast and 24 miles into the race, the situation grew even worse. Headwinds picked up and David still had many miles to go. “It’s like running a marathon and, at the last stretch, you’re told you have to run the last 10 miles uphill.” The winds, the tides, everything was against him. David’s music ran out and the battery in his headphones went dead. He was left with only his own thoughts and exhaustion. 

But he was determined to finish the race. He put his head down, reset his determination, and logged a time of 7 hours and 53 minutes.

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After completing five Catalina Crossings, David took the plunge and got the traditional Tommy Zahn tattoo

Today, David trains a minimum of two hours, and often upwards of four hours, per day. He has 444 miles of training under his belt this year and, by the time August 25th arrives, he will have 550 miles logged as the precursor to the event. 

Paddling for a cause

When he returned to the sport, David decided to marry his two great passions – the ocean and philanthropy. “I want to be a vehicle for a bigger cause,” David says. “I have the ability. I have the network of people I know. And I have the means.” 

David discovered the Mauli Ola Foundation, run by Hans Hagan, and knew he’d found his cause. Mauli Ola – meaning “breath of life” – serves children with cystic fibrosis by getting them into the ocean, where the saline acts as a natural therapy. Spawned from a genetic engineering company, the foundation brings professional surfers from all over, but primarily Hawaii, to take kids from hospitals and bring them into the ocean. “After 20 minutes in the water, they can breathe,” says David. “It’s an organic, natural therapy.”

To date, David has raised over $7,000 for the Foundation. He partners with Berkshire Hathaway, an organization that’s been a generous and active donor. This year, he will paddle for the cause once again and is on track to raise at least as much as last year. 

The Waterman’s journey

“The sea calls to everyone, but Watermen speak the language of the sea.” This from “Watermen Defined” on www.originalwatermen.com. “Surfing, free diving, paddling, kayaking, ocean swimming or even lifeguarding alone does not make a Waterman. Watermen are defined by those who speak the language of the sea. They learn the language of the sea by the accumulation of experiences. It is these experiences that give Watermen the in-depth understanding of the ocean only a Waterman would know.”

Although it’s not a title he claims, the notion of the Waterman seems to sum up David’s life. And while it’s an elusive designation, the parameters hotly debated in surf culture and beyond, there’s beauty in its purity.

“When we call someone a Waterman, maybe what we’re really saying is that that person is entirely and uncommonly devoted – to their core, in a subculture already rife with uncommon devotion – to a coastal life lived in its totality,” writes Brad Melekian in The Surfer’s Journal. “To the raw, edge-of-nature wilderness experience that the ocean can offer, and to the possibility that such devotion can lead to a better existence not just as a person in the ocean, but as a person in search of a meaningful life.”

David speaks with reverence about his quest to become a Waterman. It’s not a title that can be sought, nor a label that a man can bestow upon himself. Even the mere desire to achieve it suggests it will remain forever out of reach, for true Watermen are beyond such things. And yet…


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Steve Dicterow: This Brooklyn native is committed to serving Laguna

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Steve Dicterow came to California after graduating from college when his “whole family” moved west from New York. He attended USC’s Gould School of Law and, upon graduation, took a job in Orange County. He and his wife chose Laguna Beach for their new home because his wife, who is legally blind, found Laguna to be “particularly accessible.” 

Thirty-six years later, they’re still here. However, he hasn’t completely shed his New York City roots. “I still have a lot of Brooklyn in me,” he says nodding.

Wanting to see his values represented

Those Brooklyn roots are undoubtedly helpful in his profession as an attorney, but they also can’t hurt in his role on Laguna’s City Council. Dicterow, the current mayor pro tem, has served a total of 19 years on Laguna’s City Council. 

He became interested in local issues when his wife was pregnant with their daughter. “I didn’t much care about city matters before this. The community ought to reflect what I care about,” he remembers thinking.

Steve Dicterow closeup

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Current Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, who has served on the city council for a cumulative 19 years

Dicterow joined different organizations, like the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Association and the North Laguna Business Association, among others. In 1994, he decided to run for city council. “It was more of an ‘I’m involved. I see what’s going on’ and, by 1994, I felt the city council did not reflect the same values I had: public safety and land use issues. Those are essential parts of local government,” he says.

12 years the first time around

Dicterow’s first go around with the city council was 1994-2006. He stepped down after those 12 years because he had a business that required him to be out of the country frequently. He didn’t feel he could successfully run his business and be on the city council. 

However, by 2012 things had changed. He was no longer running that particular business so that impediment had been removed. Additionally, he says, “I felt that the council at that time was a caretaker council.” This prompted him to run again.

Evolving yet remaining true to his core

“You always evolve,” he says of how he has changed in the ensuing years. “My basic core values are the same, but I have acquired more knowledge and I am more skillful.” 

His formative years influence what he cares about

From when he began his city council career to now, there is one thing he has always been committed to: public safety. “I was a true street kid,” he says of his youth in Brooklyn. “We played football in the street, sewer to sewer. When you grow up like that muggings are common. You get very conscious of street crime.” 

The role of government in business

Another issue that Dicterow is passionate about is the government’s role in business. “I don’t think it’s the government’s role to help businesses succeed. It is our role to get out of the way,” he says. That kind of sums up his overall philosophy on government, as well. 

The city government has its limitations

And while there are issues that plague Laguna that Dicterow would obviously love to solve, he is well-versed in the limitations he and his fellow council members operate under. “People often forget that we are not the federal government,” he says. “Things we’d like to do, i.e. crime prevention, are against the constitution.”

Steve Dicterow partner

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Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow with his law partner William

 Levin outside their downtown office

Even seemingly simple things like parking meters are not under the city’s control. “We have to get Coastal Commission approval,” he says somewhat ruefully. “State and federal rules create these impediments. It looks easy until you know all the rules,” he says.

It’s not as easy as it seems

This may be something to keep in mind should you attend a city council meeting. If something seems obvious and it’s not being done, there’s a good chance it’s much more complicated than it seems. Acknowledging this may help keep the public discourse more civil. Because, while Dicterow says many of the key issues the city council deals with are the same as when he first ran for office, one thing is very different.

A certain lack of civility has emerged

“There is a certain nastiness that didn’t exist in ‘94. Back then we still tried to work things out, compromise. Now, some people are mean-spirited. I used to enjoy city council meetings. I don’t enjoy them much anymore,” he says flatly.

However, he enjoys the work. “I still feel like I have a lot of energy and a lot of ideas but putting up with certain members of the community whose sole purpose is to make your life miserable…” he says trailing off. But there is still some fight left. “I’m a street kid from Brooklyn,” he says. “I’ve never backed away from a fight.”

Working to change what can be changed at the city level

So he will continue to fight for what he thinks is best for the city he calls home, while being realistic as to what he and his fellow council members can achieve.

Steve Dicterow working

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Steve Dicterow is committed to doing the city’s work

Cities are left to contend with issues not of their making

Take the homeless situation in Laguna. As Dicterow sees it, the city is tasked with fixing a problem not of its own making. In the past, he explains, people who were mentally ill or otherwise incapacitated were not left to their own devices. “This person who is no longer competent, they’d be taken care of properly. Now, if they’re not a criminal, but they can’t take care of themselves –the state has failed us. And the state’s failure becomes our problem.”

Social media has created a new set of problems for Laguna

Another obvious issue is the traffic. While Dicterow maintains the traffic isn’t that much worse than it was in the past, he does acknowledge that Instagram has had a tremendous impact on the city’s southern beaches, for example. 

“People’s memories of the past often romanticize it. The statistics don’t always back up their memories,” he says.  “However, the internet and social media have had an impact on this town in ways people haven’t talked about. Like the beaches in South Laguna, they were a secret. Now, the traffic there has gone up exponentially.” The area doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle the crowds, but they keep coming anyway.

Focusing on prevention

And there is no simple fix for that, at least not one the city can enact. So Dicterow focuses on things the city can do, like fire and crime prevention. “Nobody notices great prevention,” he says wryly. As well as the ever-tense issue of property rights (with views being a particularly challenging issue).

View equity vs. the right to a view

“At the city we have a direct investment in maximizing everyone’s views,” says Dicterow. “When property values are higher we get more money.” But it is a tricky balancing act. “The concept is not a right to a view but view equity. You can’t say because you were here first, you get all the views.”

And while such things are more micro than macro, they are the things that directly impact individual citizens’ lives, much more so than most things being discussed in Washington D.C. Hence the passion they engender. 

Steve Dicterow truck

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Steve Dicterow believes strongly in doing what the city can do well, like fire prevention

To run or not to run again?

When asked, Dicterow was neutral on whether or not he will run again. Will the perceived nastiness motivate the former Brooklyn street kid to continue to fight or will it convince him it’s time to hang up his gloves? We shall see. 

In the meantime, Dicterow will continue to do the city’s business. “The pressure from outside Laguna Beach is more than it’s ever been. Things always evolve,” he says. 

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is his commitment to the residents of Laguna Beach. “I’ve always been concerned for people who play by the rules,” he says. “I want to make sure those people are protected.” 


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The Memory Collector: Artist Elizabeth McGhee’s fascination with genealogy, odd objects & storytelling

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Elizabeth McGhee’s great-grandmother died a few months after she turned 11, little could comfort her. The two were close, and young Elizabeth hadn’t yet experienced significant loss.

She’ll always be alive in your mind, Elizabeth was told. The child took the tired adage literally. “I didn’t want my grandma stuck in the black void of my brain,” Elizabeth recalls. “If she was living in there, I needed to imagine her house down to every detail. She needed a nice place.” Memory by memory, she concentrated on building Charlotte Blake Light’s home. Elizabeth spent time picturing the glass door that led out to Charlotte’s patio, the feel of Charlotte’s carpet on her toes, the smell of the ocean nearby.

In time, Elizabeth would come to have more in common with Charlotte than she ever could have predicted. But we’ll get to that later.

The Memory closeup

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Festival of Arts artist Elizabeth McGhee

Around this time, Elizabeth developed an intense interest in genealogy, an unusual hobby for an adolescent girl. Quiet hours were spent researching dead relatives, finding their graves, and uncovering their secrets. She discovered her family tree, like all family trees, was dotted with angels and demons. There were slave owners. An ancestral gun was rumored to have been used on the Trail of Tears. But there was also a man who became a remarkable advocate for Native Americans.

“We always thought my mother’s side was part Cherokee,” Elizabeth says. But DNA tests didn’t reveal a drop of Cherokee blood. Instead, there were traces of African American ancestors – a counterpoint to the slave-owning relatives on her father’s side. The stories, good and bad, are all rich fodder for her imagination.

Elizabeth also collected old objects from swap meets – letters and postcards, photographs of families she’d never know. She bought the dusty diaries of people most certainly dead. She found tarnished toys and cheap oddities. “My dad and I would go to swap meets every weekend, collecting stuff, learning about stuff, finding old rusty things and figuring out what they were,” Elizabeth says. “I love rescuing things that have no inherent value. Then I tie them into my still life paintings.” More on that later, too.

When painting became a serious part of Elizabeth’s life in college, all these quirky interests began to coalesce. Though she’s reluctant to acknowledge the intersections, echoes of her obsessions appear in her art. She’s quick to make connections, she enjoys playing with symbolism, and she likes rescuing objects and ensuring they find a proper home. 

Elizabeth is the consummate collector – of memories, records, letters, toys, or any curiosity that captures her imagination. She dusts them off, gives them life and context, and puts them into hands that will appreciate their value.

But, in a larger sense, everything Elizabeth does is a type of storytelling. 

The art of the story

It’s not surprising that Elizabeth’s first love – before painting – was writing. “I wanted to be a writer as a teenager. I was bookish, always learning about what I didn’t know or [correcting] misconceptions about what I thought,” she says. “Like torches!” Here, Elizabeth gets so animated that she hops from her stool to talk about the practicality of torches and how they’ve been misrepresented in film. She’s like that – so enraptured by research and arcane knowledge that she can hardly hold still. 

Before receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree, cum laude, from Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) in 2009, she started studying animation at age 14. “I’d taken the animation class for two years before they discovered I was too young to be enrolled,” she says. “They made me a teacher’s assistant so I could stay.” But moving pictures proved too frenetic and didn’t give Elizabeth the time to slow down and focus on the rich and often hidden details that portraiture and oil painting allows.

Elizabeth’s love of storytelling is everywhere in her art, particularly her Mythica Series. When it’s complete, there will be 80 paintings that modernize ancient Greek myths. “I plan to explore how our digital age relates to archetypal stories that have been passed down through the millennia,” she says in her Artist Statement. The 40 completed thus far are playful. Medusa holds a snake-like extension cord; Icarus plays with a paper airplane as colorful feathers float above his head; Hestia holds a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

The Memory three women

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Elizabeth with three portraits from her Mythica series – Hero, Dendritus, and Gaia

In studying the masters, Elizabeth found herself drawn to lowbrow humor often embedded in classic pieces. Large paintings that are heavily populated with people often contain hidden wit. Watch for harbor scenes, she says. “There’s always some dude taking a dump off the side of a boat. It makes you realize people back then were just like us. They had the same messed up humor.”

Her own still life pieces are full of play, and not only because they’re often occupied by toys. She’s a lover of the pun and likes to work with idioms. She’s got stacks of books on slang and lingo to ignite ideas. A row of wooden alphabet blocks, all the letter “I”, are topped with Dots candies. An old cast iron Humpty Dumpty looks down upon a pile of broken eggshells. 

She also enjoys the juxtaposition of the innocent alongside the naughty. “I’ve always been interested in words and double entendre. That got into my art.” In one recent painting, vintage Coke bottles and cans sit in a line. “I wanted to include a pile of sugar, but the image was too on point,” she says. So she substituted a plastic straw. In another, a steel screw is driven into an alphabet block. Naturally, it’s the letter “U”. “I probably inherited my mom’s analytical interest in history and my dad’s silliness.”

The Memory Coke

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Elizabeth poses with “A Line of Coke”

Elizabeth says it amuses her to take an object otherwise considered junk, elevate it into fine art imbued with meaning, and thereby give it monetary value.  “Toys are our first experience with symbolism,” she says. “People are willing to engage with toys and remember that sense of play. We lose that as adults. But play allows us to come up with new ideas.” 

Once again, it’s all about the art of the story.

A family tree full of artists

Speaking of great stories, what about that great-grandmother – Charlotte Blake Light – and the indelible impression she left on young Elizabeth? At the time of her death in 1996, no one yet guessed at Elizabeth’s eventual career in art. Maybe it was lying dormant in her DNA.

In 1950, around the time Charlotte turned 50, she left her husband and pursued a career in painting. She moved to Europe to study with Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka and, when she returned to California, Charlotte began showing her impressionistic paintings at the Festival of Arts. Sixty years later, Elizabeth would follow in her footsteps and become an exhibitor in the Festival. But that’s not the only coincidence. Charlotte was also one of the founding members of the San Clemente Art Club where, decades later, Elizabeth would become a juror. And, of course, they both made their homes by the sea.

Charlotte wasn’t the only artistic trailblazer in Elizabeth’s family. A long line of ancestors – all of them women – carried the artistic torch. Elizabeth’s great-great grandmother, Harriet Forward Blake, was the first female head of the art department of The Iowa State Normal School in the 1890s. Two 19th century Irish sisters were also oil painters. And a 5th generation grandfather (Harriet’s grandfather) sold artistic supplies in London sometime in the 19th century. “Mr. Forward’s Oil and Color Warehouse” operated from 1810 to 1840.

The Memory single painting

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Elizabeth’s family tree includes a line of artists, all of them women

The truth behind the starving artist adage 

For all her success – and there has been a lot of it – making a living as an artist in Laguna is still a struggle. Elizabeth doesn’t own a car. She’s only flown once since childhood. And she mostly maintains a diet of spaghetti, butter, and garlic (when she’s doing well, she springs for Ragu sauce). “If you watch the Food Network while eating,” she says, “the food actually tastes better. When they talk about all those fancy herbs, you can almost taste them. Like the invisible dinner scene from the movie Hook.”

Elizabeth makes the most of her modest one-bedroom. Books and toys are stacked to the ceiling. Storage bins are packed with supplies. Every object reflects her humor and whimsy, and household items are often repurposed for art. A coffee cup can act as a perfect ballast to secure a string of bell peppers for her piece, “Carol the Bells.”

Her financial concerns are somewhat surprising given that the prestigious Gallery Henock in New York City represents Elizabeth. Her work has been exhibited in Alabama, Oklahoma, and throughout California in more than two-dozen shows. She’s had several museum showings and has been an exhibitor in the Festival of Arts for ten consecutive years.

Her father – a reluctant accountant in the aerospace industry – advised her, “It’s better to be poor and struggling while doing what you love.” She couldn’t agree more. She supplements her art income by working part-time at Laguna Art Supply and teaching classes through LOCA. She facilitates art talks at the Festival, acts as a docent, and serves on the Artist Funds board.

Though there’s rarely a time she can relax and not worry, she’s used to the hard work. While at LCAD, she still managed to log 32 hours a week at Domino’s Pizza and take 18 units every semester. 

Playing hide-and-seek with the dead

But when she’s done with work, Elizabeth retreats into history and spends her leisure time living in the past. She describes herself as Wednesday Adams, who also likes playing with dead people. She’ll scan thousands of names on a census looking for lost relatives, scouring antiquated articles on Newspapers.com, and strolling through cemeteries. She loves contributing to Find-a-Grave, an online service that allows members to upload photographs of headstones and burial plots so genealogists can locate their ancestors. “People can’t hide when they’re dead,” she says. 

Her real thrill is reuniting friends – and even strangers – with their deceased relatives, and she’s had remarkable success. Letters lost when a storage unit was repossessed found their way back home because of Elizabeth. A jealous great aunt who, decades ago, stole a pile of her sister’s jewelry, returned the treasures to her niece after Elizabeth uncovered her story. A 19th century oil painting found its way from Kentucky back to her co-worker, Janet.

The Memory with plaque

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Janet Kolle, co-worker at Laguna Art Supply, holds an 1820s portrait of her great-great-great grandpa that Elizabeth discovered in Kentucky

But there was one woman Elizabeth decided to keep all to herself.

Flora Montgomery and legacies that last

By the time Elizabeth encountered Flora Montgomery, Flora had been dead for 35 years. Elizabeth first acquired Flora’s diaries at a swap meet in San Diego in 1999. A year later, by pure luck and happenstance, she found a cache of letters Flora exchanged with Richard Camier, a Canadian farmer and wannabe suitor. The correspondence dated from 1920 to 1925. Elizabeth found yet another batch from 1944 to 1949. “Usually I try to find people’s descendants and reunite them,” she says. “But Flora? She’s mine.”

The letters detailed Richard and Flora’s daily lives – bad crops and favorite books, the skyrocketing rents in San Francisco when Flora moved, and the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Richard confessed his love. Flora expressed her regret. Eventually, Richard returned to his native Ireland without her. Elizabeth found evidence of Flora’s death in 1964, and a record of her grave in Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego. “Someday I want to get down there,” she says. But without a car, it’s difficult.

For Elizabeth, who once built a mind palace in which her great-grandmother could live, Flora built an equally vivid mental landscape for Elizabeth. 

This is Elizabeth’s goal with her art. It’s another attempt at immortality and connection. “My art is going to outlast me,” she says. “It’s a way for me to have conversations with people I’ll never know. This is my legacy.”


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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.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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