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Laguna Beach


John Campbell: a view of Laguna through good times and bad, old times and new times

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

From Laguna’s floods, fires, felled trees, and forced entry – you name the catastrophe, and John Campbell has been there. Not because he’s unlucky. His insurance business has helped countless residents recover from their losses. He’s the guy who makes lemonade out of lemons.

The good, the bad, the ugly, and the recovery

In 1998, Laguna suffered the worst commercial fire in its history, and a 10,000 square foot building was in ruins. It also happens to be where the John L. Campbell Insurance Agency has resided since 1977. I’m pretty sure they had some good insurance coverage themselves, and were able to return to the building once it was reconstructed. His offices command the top floor with great street-side views of the goings on along Forest Avenue.

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 John Campbell

Very early in the morning of December 22, 2012, Campbell found his usual gym, The Art of Fitness, was closed. So, despite the rain he headed to work. Squish-squish went his flops-flops on the ground. As he looked down the length of Forest Avenue he quickly assessed the situation. At his building the water was up to the doorframe, but across Forest Avenue it’s about a foot lower. There was mud everywhere. The Marine Room on Ocean Avenue was under 3-4 feet of water. 

Then there was the arson fire in 1993 that burned almost 400 homes. 

“I had 20 total losses and 60 other fire-related claims. Clients were staying all over the place – with daughters, sons, anyone,” Campbell remembers. “I contacted them all. I was lent a cell phone (they were about ten pounds then), and found them all. I wrote $10,000 checks on the spot to use for food, lodging, whatever it takes. 

“That’s what a small business owner does. That’s Laguna Beach. You take care of your clients and they take care of you.”

The upside of the story is that everyone re-built, thanks to insurance coverage. “There was a guaranteed re-build replacement in those days,” Campbell said.

I remember when

John Campbell is a born and bred Lagunan. His parents moved here in 1948, and his dad was an electrical engineer following the service. They lived for a time in Garden Grove, near his dad’s work, and to Campbell, it was almost heaven. “It was all agriculture then,” he recalls. “It was strawberries, corns, beans – miles of farmland. It was great.”

His uncle ran a repair and sales shop, Klass Radio and Appliance, on Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach. As a kid, John worked there fixing toasters, radios, and TV’s. “It was before microwaves,” said Campbell. “Before you threw everything out!”

Then his uncle was murdered in a robbery, by an ex-convict. It was bittersweet that the uncle’s life insurance money to Campbell’s mom enabled the family to buy a home in Laguna. 

As a teenager, Campbell remembers the iconic things that gave Laguna its reputation and personality.

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“That was an interesting time. I saw some strange things,” he said. “There was the hippie canyon event. I had long hair too, whatever, but I was focused on school.”

He commuted to Cal State Fullerton, first studying engineering, then history and anthropology. 

It was a car accident in 1974 that led him to the future he lives today in the insurance business. 

The car crash in front of the Laguna Royale left him with a broken ankle, femur and neck. He was in traction in the hospital for three months. A friend of his parents came to visit him and told him that he’d be eligible for Social Security disability, and to get training and licensing for insurance. He could come and work for him.

He became an agent for the guy’s agency until 1982 when the business fell apart because the man was running a Ponzi scheme. Thankfully Campbell knew enough about the legitimate business, and had plenty of contacts around town. He opened his own shop and eventually bought up others as well.  

Here’s to good times

There is a personal tradition on Swallow’s Day in San Juan Capistrano. Every year Campbell and his wife Lu would go to the Swallow’s Inn in remembrance of the day they met.

It was March 19, 1977, when Campbell met Lu at a wedding. A friend introduced the couple, and it was love at first sight. By June they had moved in together and in July they were married. 

“She was 19 years older, so it was kind of scandalous,” Campbell admits.

Lu was an artist at the Festival of Arts for a total of 32 years, 16 years as a ceramicist, and 16 as a watercolorist. Sadly, she just passed away this past January after an eight-year battle with lung cancer.

During their marriage, the Campbells loved to travel. One of the places that inspired Lu’s art, and John’s love of good food, good wine, and good friends is the tiny Chianti village of Panzano, Italy. 

“Lu and her friend Sally spent a month there and loved it. It’s all she could talk about!” laughs Campbell. Then he gave in, “Okay. Uncle. I get the picture!” The three bought a place there, and continued to visit for many years. Lu’s ashes are scattered there.

Campbell’s offices are festooned with postcards from Italy and other places they enjoyed travelling around the world. Next up he’s planning a trip to France and Amsterdam this year.

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A community volunteer

A big part of the lifeblood of Laguna’s community services has been generated by John Campbell’s energy. He joined the Jaycees in the 70’s, raised funds for Boys and Girl Scouts, he’s a Business Club past president, and he’s been on the Chamber of Commerce Board for six years. Phew. And then there’s the Rotary Club. He loves the annual Rotary car show, and has been a sponsor of the show’s antique “Woodies” since day one. He is the only Laguna chapter president who has been its president twice.

New times 

In his free time, Campbell loves to cook, and he balances that with exercise – weights, core work, and spinning at his ever-favorite gym, The Art of Fitness.

And he has found love and support once again in his life, with long-time friend of both he and Lu, Dianne Reardon. The two are now engaged.


Elsa Brizzi: open minded, compassionate educator, and she loves a good laugh too!

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Elsa Brizzi is really good at letting go. Letting go of self-doubt, releasing inhibitions, and opening herself up to freedom. She also has a way of inspiring that same sensibility in others.

This was evident to me when I witnessed her reception as Woman of the Year this year at the Woman’s Club. Turn after turn, friends and family spoke about the unique characteristics that have made her the dearly loved aunt, the unwavering friend, and the non-judgmental mentor.

Elsa Brizzi

When we sat down to chat recently I was immediately embraced by her warmth and genuinely compassionate nature. She had already made friends with a random neighbor at the adjacent coffee table while she awaited my arrival. I could tell the “new friend” would rather I had not shown up, so she could continue their conversation, getting to know Elsa better herself! Elsa’s warmth is enveloping.

A renaissance woman

Elsa Brizzi is also a woman ahead of her time. When she was facing the expected path of wife-dom and motherhood in the era perhaps now known as the Mad Men era, she took a long, hard look at what that option looked like to her. Ever the progressive, Elsa could see that was not her path; too restricting. 

“So I joined the Navy,” she said.  “It was the late 50’s, after the Korean War, and I was very patriotic. It was a good way to donate my service.”

Serving in the Navy for two years, she learned to be a weather forecaster. She was stationed in New Jersey where the dirigibles came in. Her time in the military also paved the path toward a new life.

“The GI Bill is how I went to college and could buy a home with no money down,” she said.  “I got a house in Garden Grove, and commuted to Cal State Los Angeles. My sister had a surfer husband, and kids in Laguna Beach. She found a house for me, and I loved it. I got another job just to afford it!”  

Yes, that’s two jobs plus college. No one has ever accused Elsa of being lazy!

Beyond being an admirable student, Elsa became impassioned as an educator. She went to USC on a Ford Foundation Grant to earn her teaching degree at night.

Early on, she got a teaching job at a junior high school, a formal school in Pasadena. The kids were not paying attention. “I had to get them involved,” she said. “So I took the desks and chairs and placed them in a circle. Then they got to know each other, got comfortable. And they found out that making a mistake is okay. Correcting it is wonderful!” 

It wasn’t the stuffy school way. “I got a terrible evaluation,” she admits. She was admonished. “My desks were not in a row!” She smiles, “I left that school.” 

She went from there to an alternative school, where the teachers, in fact, had to make presentations to the students to get them to join the class. That is more her style.

From the outside looking in

Having grown up with a German father, and a Spanish-Mexican mother, in L.A., Elsa blossomed in a multi-cultural landscape. 

“Where we are raised, how we are raised, affects how we learn. There’s something inspirational being in diverse groups. I love being in that environment! It’s terribly exciting to see how people take things in,” she says enthusiastically.

After a two-year stint exploring her creative side, in a seaside house she built herself, in Mexico (with Moroccan design influences), she packed up her ceramic and welding studio, and got into the business of teaching teachers. She started a bilingual program underscored by her great interest in matters of the mind.

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Elsa made this art piece for her house 

“I’ve always been into philosophy and psychology – how do bilingual kids feel learning English?” she asks. “In Rogerian philosophy they flourished.” 

She was hired to train minority teachers. “The program is cross-cultural, to learn communication skills. And I wanted teachers that looked like the kids they taught,” she explained. “I started with giving the aids a title, a ‘Para-Professional’. With a title and training they get respect.

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“I brought the teacher corps program to USC to push for para-professional training. I did programs and conferences with both the teachers and the para-professionals to train as a pair. The para-professionals could also get training and credit toward a teaching degree.”

She then launched a program to get disenfranchised immigrants and poverty bound parents turned on by education. “I did grant writing to Head Start to train single moms and parents with no careers to get college credit units, and we’d help them get into college. They learned to be teachers as well as good parents.”

Elsa is the kind of person who can relate to a variety of people, and always finds a way to bridge the cultural gaps. The culmination of her years as an educator, her heart full of compassion, plus her deft hand at artistry is best symbolized in her book, You are a very special You. She wrote it, illustrated it, and translated it into three languages (English, Spanish, and Chinese).

Bridging cultures and generations

Two years ago Elsa started a literacy program linking seniors as mentors, with second-grade children. The Intergenerational Literacy Enhancement Program pairs an adult with each child. Together they work with the textbook, You are a very special You. The interactive use of the book enforces confidence-building messages, such as “No one thinks the way you think… In the tub… Or in the sink”, and “You are special in everything you do… And everyone around you… is very special too!” 

The idea, Elsa explains, is that both the mentor and the child will have learning opportunities in which to share their feelings and ideas.

“Who you are is in self-discovery,” she says. “In the program book, you relate to an older person. How you act toward me is how I expose myself – or feel proud about myself – in your presence. It’s about head and heart. The mentor furthers praise, proximity, and [reinforces that] making mistakes is okay, celebrating correcting is even better.

“It’s wonderful! I’ve learned so much and experienced so much. I saw how outsiders were treated. I’ve learned to treat mistakes as learning experiences. You’ve already made the mistake – now they’re learning experiences!” 

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Kids participating in Elsa Brizzi’s reading program at the library

Kids and seniors participate in the program at the Boys & Girls Club during the months of January, February, and March, and also at Laguna Beach Library for their reading program. Volunteer mentors come from the Susi Q Center, and AAUW. All get special training for the program “interactions”.

The library gives a presentation for parents to come and see the kids share the book, and their own work. In this way, as Elsa describes it, the parents do the interaction too and can then follow up and reinforce the messages at home.

“It’s a program of self-discovery for me too,” she said. “We’ve all got such potential! I’m learning all the time. Heart and soul and brain turned on – continually growing all the time.”

Yes she is!

And to keep the physical in as good shape as the metaphysical, Elsa has also completed her training as a water aerobics instructor. She teaches a class every week in Foothill Ranch, where “the pool is covered and it’s a nice 80 degrees.” Then she gets back to her garden in Laguna where she claims to have the biggest figs around.

In closing, I am touched by Elsa’s care and concern to make our community, and our country ever better. 

“Education is so very important. Just laws, good education, good health care, that’s what any society, any country needs,” she says. “Our children are critical. This community can BE leadership, and show the way.”

With leaders like Elsa Brizzi I believe that’s true.


Laguna powerhouse Laura Tarbox on success & community

By ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

When speaking with Laura Tarbox, the words that come up most frequently are ‘family’ and ‘friends,’ her focus during our interview, despite the fact that we’re seated at the Newport Beach headquarters of the Tarbox Group—the wealth management firm Laura founded 30 years ago. There is an unmistakable down-to-earth quality and warmth about Laura that make her true values come across as clearly as the view of the Pacific Ocean directly behind her. She is a people-person, which is undoubtedly a quality that has helped her along the path to becoming the woman she is today: a hugely successful financial advisor and one of the leading benefactors in the Laguna Beach community. 

The Tarbox Group’s beginnings

Laura, raised in Santa Monica, attended UCLA and—despite her parents’ protests—majored in English. After she graduated in 1980, she found herself faced with the classic dilemma: what do I do with my English degree? 

Fortunately, Laura’s mother’s boyfriend, a stockbroker, had an entry-level opportunity for her at his Tustin office. And with that, Laura did what she thought she’d never do: leave West L.A. and head south for Orange County. She moved to the Victoria Beach area of Laguna Beach, and commuted back and forth along Laguna Canyon Road each day. 

While Laura fell in love with Laguna Beach, she simultaneously became captivated by the financial world. Though she initially spent her first days and weeks post-college cold calling, she was hooked by the industry. Only five years after graduating from college, Laura made the decision to start her own company in 1985. 

“I was working 60-80 hours a week during that time,” says Laura, who held several other jobs—delivering the Wall Street Journal, for example—while she worked tirelessly to build the foundation for the Tarbox Group. 

Her company was one of the early firms to offer fee-based wealth management services. Going against the grain in that sense for Laura meant that those early years required intense effort and determination. But when asked why she didn’t want to build a commission-based business, Laura will simply tell you that she thought she was “doing the right thing.” 

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At work

Today, not only does Laura still have clients from those early days, but she’ll also tell you that the majority of her clients—roughly 100 families—have become close friends of hers. 

As for the Tarbox Group? “It’s like a big family,” she says. 

Which is important, considering the fact that there were obvious challenges present for Laura as a woman entering the financial world, and especially one with an entrepreneurial mindset. She’ll admit that it remains a struggle for her to this day—though she’s had countless victories over the years. One shining moment for Laura? The day she realized that if she wanted to paint her office walls and have her letterhead be purple, then they’d be purple! It’s her company, after all, and she’s learned to embrace who she is as its leader. 

“The number of women in financial services hasn’t really changed much over the years,” she says, “but I’ve always used that to my advantage.” Even still, Laura says that in meetings held at her office, salespeople will sometimes fail to make eye contact with or speak directly to her, even though the company is her namesake. Moments like those, however, don’t hold Laura back. She’s strengthened by her experiences, which she’s shared with countless of those young women and students whom she’s mentored and taught over the years. 

“Numbers and financial skills… anyone can learn those. People skills are so important in this business, because you become so integrated into people’s lives… and I think in many ways, women do better there,” says Laura. 

Laura understands that there are many emotions and issues around money—one of the biggest challenges for her in her day-to-day work—and she’s found that the more personal you can get and the more you can connect with clients, the more it becomes a team effort, where trust and strong relationships are built naturally.

Serving the Laguna Beach community

Relationships, collaboration and connecting with others are values that have enabled Laura to find success and fulfillment in other areas of her life, too—especially when it comes to community service. She was raised by parents who instilled in her the importance of giving back to your community; her father was a member of the Big Brother organization, and her mother held leadership roles within the Girl Scouts organization. For Laura, time spent giving back is just as important as time spent within the four purple walls of her corner office. 

Before her daughter was born and during her first few years as a Laguna Beach resident, Laura joined the SchoolPower Endowment Fund as a Board Member. Soon after, she started to devote her time to other Laguna non-profits, such as the Laguna Canyon Foundation and the Community Clinic. 

It wasn’t until she joined the Laguna Beach Community Foundation in the early 2008, however, that Laura discovered an organization through which her leadership could have the greatest impact in terms of connecting with and supporting countless, wide-ranging local non-profits. Today, she’s the Founding Chair, and is undoubtedly responsible for much of the organization’s tremendous growth and success since it was founded in 2004. 

“For me, joining the Laguna Beach Community Foundation was the best decision…a natural fit for what I do business-wise, and I love Laguna,” says Laura, who works most frequently on the investment side of the organization. She loves working with a foundation that can reach all of the other sub-organizations and non-profits in Laguna Beach, and she is a big believer in the organization’s mission: strengthening the Laguna Beach community by encouraging, supporting, and providing expertise and resources for its non-profits. 

It’s a lofty mission, considering the fact that Laguna Beach’s zip code boasts one of the highest numbers of non-profit organizations in California. The sheer number of non-profits can be a challenge, according to Laura, but the LBCF has helped provide so many organizations with tools that they might not otherwise have access to—such as board infrastructure and tax counsel.

 “We see ourselves as unique and special, which we are,” says Laura, when asked why she thinks Laguna Beach has such a wonderfully philanthropic spirit. She also adds that she’s found many great friends through her work with non-profits; the spirit of giving is one that helps form unique bonds among Laguna Beach residents. 

Laura’s vibrant life

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At home

Although it’s hard to believe that Laura has time for anything but work and the LBCF, those things are just a part of what makes her who she is. Today, Laura resides in a beautiful ‘coastal craftsman’ on Manzanita Drive, and she’s an avid reader and adventurer. Some of her favorite activities are partaking in her two local book groups, and practicing yoga at YogaWorks. 

She’s also part of a group of women who embark on annual hiking adventures to various mountain communities in the US; last year, they hiked in Jackson Hole. Oh, and she also somehow finds enough hours in the day to run on a regular basis, too, and to grab a bite at Zinc Café, her favorite Laguna hangout. 

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Laura is also a devoted mother to daughter, Jane, who is a sophomore at the University of Maryland. When asked if her daughter will follow in her footsteps, Laura says, “No! My parents constantly scolded me about getting a degree in English, saying it was impractical. My daughter loves music, and I’ll encourage her to pursue a career in the arts, even if she has doubts about it… I’m happy to just be supportive of her no matter what path she chooses,” says Laura.

Oh, and her best advice to women, self-starters, and people in general? “Be yourself, and play to your strengths,” she says, with the confident smile of a woman whose strength knows no limits.


Neil Skewes: A true professional behind the bar

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Until meeting Neil Skewes, I’m not sure I had ever met a true bartender. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve met plenty of people who work behind a bar and mix drinks.  But a bartender – one who revels in the profession, and sees it as such…I have not met many, if any, of those until I met Skewes.  

Skewes is that kind of true bartender, as well as the bar manager at Starfish Laguna Beach, and he loves what he does.  He has been doing it in Laguna since 1999 when he started at French 75, but his career stretches back much farther than that. 

 “I grew up in Michigan.  I started managing a gas station out of high school and my brother started waiting tables at a fancy French restaurant,” said Skewes.  “I figured if he could do it, I could do it.  I just took to the business.”  

He started tending bar full time in 1985.

Neil Skewes

Working to make you feel better

Talking to Skewes about “the business” makes one appreciate the true professionals that work in the restaurant industry.  Much is made these days about chefs, and rightly so, but when you are served by someone who is a true professional, you know it – and it just makes whatever comes out of the kitchen that much better. Skewes approaches his job as much a performance as crafting cocktails.   

“I love working with the public.  I love changing people’s disposition,” he says.  “I really enjoy making someone feel better leaving than when they came in. That makes it really rewarding.”  Add to that a devotion to creating signature cocktails, and it’s no wonder people follow him wherever he goes.  

“I am a foodie. I love good food,” he adds. “Good food and drinks are one of the great things of life.

“I love putting flavors together…ten years ago I started doing that.”

And “that” is not something he takes lightly.  

Getting creative behind the bar

When we first spoke, I asked him for a drink recipe that he thought was pretty original.  He delivered.  But then the next day he called me back because he said that, after thinking about it, the one he originally gave me “may have been borrowed by other restaurants”. (Duly noted, Skewes is exceedingly diplomatic, very quick to praise others and not very interested in talking about himself.  This makes him a very delightful person, but a challenging interview.)  He asked if he could give me another drink recipe. 

The “Laguna Lemonade”, as he calls it, is a coconut strawberry lemonade made with fresh strawberries, coconut vodka, fresh squeezed lemon juice and house-made lemon grass syrup. Sold!  He also mentioned a Harvest Martini with cinnamon apple liqueur, cranberry juice and a sprig of mint, which sounds delightful.  

Seeing as it’s now October, the coziness of autumn should be beckoning, but since it’s still 85 degrees, the Harvest can wait…I’m all about the Lemonade.  But I digress…

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Laguna Lemonade and other colorful and creative drink concoctions 

The success of Starfish

Skewes started at Starfish in June of 2011.  He was brought over by Nancy Wilhelm but effusively credits new owners, Archie O’Connell and Gretchen Andrews for the restaurant’s success.  

“They have worked diligently to get the word out about this place.  They have worked tirelessly to make this restaurant a success,” he says.  Their commitment to the restaurant comes up repeatedly in our interview.  As someone whose career spans 30 years, he has seen a lot of restaurants come and go.  In other words, he undoubtedly knows good management when he sees it.

A career of loyalty and longevity

“I find myself content wherever I’m working.  However, it’s a fickle business.  Sometimes places just run their course.  I stay until it’s not viable for me to stay any longer,” he explains. “I was at the Ritz Carlton for five years, the Dana Point Resort (now the Laguna Cliffs Marriott) for five years, French 75 for five years…now Starfish for over four.”  When you think of the normal turnover in the restaurant business, such longevity is astounding.  

After talking with Skewes, it’s not surprising.

Several times in our conversation I tried to get him to take credit for people following him from one place to the next.  The most I could get from him was to say that “people have said that, but I don’t think that’s true.”  Then he heaps more praise on O’Connell and Andrews! 

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Neil Skewes works his magic behind the bar at Starfish Laguna Beach

Working on weekends suits him just fine

He doesn’t limit his praise to the workplace.  Skewes has been married for 20 years.  He smiles and says, “I married up.” His wife is currently serving as the mayor of Laguna Niguel, and has her own business, Five Star Weddings and Events.  

“She’s a dynamo,” says Skewes. “She has run that business for ten years.”  Luckily, their hours are similar.  

“I love my schedule!” enthuses Skewes.  “When my alarm clock goes off it means I’m going fishing or skiing,” he says with a laugh. Work often goes late into the night. 

“The shifts are long.  It’s a performance.  It exhausts…takes a toll.  That’s why we normally work four days a week,” he explains.  

He tells me how he and his wife had a rare weekend off and decided to go to the movies. “It was so uncomfortable. You can’t find a parking spot; there was a huge crowd…we’d never seen that before.  When we got to the front of the line the movie was sold out.  I’d never heard of that!”  Turns out, he prefers his Monday nights out; there’s plenty of parking.

The value of human contact

Skewes’ schedule is just one of the perks of his chosen career.  Another important one, as he sees it, is that while he’s working he gets to try to make people feel better. 

“People are looking for human contact.  I think that’s more of a valued commodity these days,” he says of his job.  He also likes that he knows he can go anywhere and make a living doing what he loves.  

He tells me of how he arrived in the Florida Keys as a young man with $15 and no place to stay, only to land a job waiting tables and enough money to secure a place to stay in the same day.  Though his life is much different now, as exemplified by when we spoke, he was lounging by the pool with a pot of coffee nearby – but the work, more or less, is the same.  

And as far as Neil Skewes is concerned, that’s a very good thing.


Angie Miller: with can-do spirit, she’s a giver, a doer, and she likes having some fun in between

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

I’m trying to keep up with Angie Miller, but her thoughts and words are as busy as her life in general. She’s got her corporate advertising, design and promotions company, Miller & Associates, firing on all cylinders and an event company she’s partnered on (Fun is First), for which she is, no doubt, the life of the party. She’s an artist. She’s big on pinnipeds (serving on the board at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center), humans (on the board of the Laguna Beach Community Foundation), and flora; she’s a certified Master Gardener. 

Oh, and then she’s hopping aboard Semester at Sea’s ship with her friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She calls him Little Arch!

Angie Miller

I can’t stop writing as we talk, and I can’t stop laughing at her off-the-cuff tales.

There was the time she thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to get other people’s take on me? So, she sent out postcards to friends, teachers, family, and people who have influenced her, asking, “What is an Angie Miller?” The responses came back in all forms. “The collection is the funniest little thing,” said Angie. “There were words, poems, photos – and even scratch and sniff!”

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Angie has had 12 years of classes and been certified as a Master Gardener

Or the time her friend and business partner at Fun is First threw her a parade for her birthday. Karen, who Angie calls The Queen of Fun, got the high school marching band to bring their oohm-pa-pa on down to Forest Avenue, and Angie, who at the time was not in the mood, was forced to get out front with a baton. You can’t help but change your mood when that happens!

“I couldn’t have started a business with someone more fun,” Angie says about Karen. “I was so uptight – I’m selling heart valve parameter charts!” Fun is First is the perfect foil to Miller & Associate’s straight-man.

One of her long-time clients is Edwards Life Science, for whom Miller & Associates does marketing display type products. “It’s like bi-polar with the two businesses,” she laughs. “It’s stents, and vascular stuff – or party.” 

Heading West – and around the world

Back in the day when Angie Miller was trying to shed her Georgia accent as a college freshman in California, she would drive her roommates slightly nuts. She was an art major who freely admits, “I would do anything!” One day she’d move the dryer into the living room so she could work on silk screening 2,000 shirts. Another day she’d be on a Master Framing project, and fill the place with frames of every size.

Ever hardworking and motivated, Angie attended Chapman University on a full scholarship. After graduating with a Fine Arts degree, she expanded her silk-screening into graphic design and into a full-on marketing business. Her first real workspace was at the Newport Shipyard, and her clients quickly grew: “start-ups” such as Platinum Software, and Three-Day Blinds. When the business moved to Laguna Beach they were the biggest shipper at the local FedEx. 

She attributes her entrepreneurial drive to her junior year, when she went out on Semester at Sea, a shipboard program for global study abroad. It was a work/study situation, and Angie worked as the ship’s photography assistant. The program taught her about the world, and more importantly the world of ideas, which she loves. “That’s when you realize the world is flat,” she says.

Semester at Sea studies include mentors and world leaders on occasion, such as the civil rights activist Julian Bond, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Angie is a founding board member of Semester at Sea’s Alumni Board of Directors and still joins the group at sea a couple of times a year to serve as a mentor to the students.

A commitment to care

A couple of things have caused life-changing moments for Angie. Professionally, she has worked hard to keep the business moving forward; from personally fighting for small business laws in Sacramento, to recovering from the heartbreaking loss of many clients in New York on 9/11. 

Personally, she made a decision to help someone who had become close to her: the Laguna FedEx driver, Susan. Angie and I talked on the exact anniversary of Susan’s death 11 years ago. 

“When she got cancer I committed as a friend to help her. I took time off work to care for her. We had a team; it was a hell of a journey,” she said. “It made me realize I need to be not so serious about work.

“There was quite an impact. I lost a chunk of business when I took care of her – so now I do what I like.” 

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The business she has, she likes. And her time to “give back” has grown exponentially. Those are the things that matter to Angie Miller.

“You know people for all different types of reasons,” she says philosophically. “That’s what I love about it.”

First things first

Perhaps she met her Fun is First partner to balance all the “whacky-doo” stuff she does with brochures and serious medical subject material. “We were not thinking it would be a big thing,” said Angie. “Fun is First was meant to do little pretty parties!”

Then they got a big ole party in San Diego, and then they got another biggie right in their own backyard – the opening of the Montage. They put on a doozy. 

“That was the best thing that ever happened,” Angie said. “It’s amazing that we sell fun. And we like it when fun comes back!”

Montage’s party lit up with fireworks, literally. The only other time there were private fireworks in Laguna that I know of? At Angie Miller’s 40th birthday. Not that it could ever happen again, but be on the lookout for something coming up – Angie’s birthday is November 19. 

Like the song says, the future’s so bright I’m wearing shades! 

Angie’s worked out a good balance in her life of hard work, good fun, and giving her best to many of Laguna’s charities. And she does it all with thoughtfulness, humility, and joy. Her head may be dreaming up some new schemes, but her feet are firmly planted on the ground. 

Going forward, Angie is making plans… 

“Good friends, good health, throw some travel in there – and make it flat!”


Christine Casey: Determination to do it right with Chhahari – a lifeline for at-risk children in Nepal

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut and Chhahari

The first thing Christine Casey decided to do when her only son went off to Stanford University was to leave the desert and return to Orange County. She arrived in Laguna Beach in 1995. The next thing this retired banker and single mother did was to get involved in her community, volunteering her time with an AIDS services organization, her church (St. Catherine’s) and the Assistance League, to name a few.  

“I’m not one for sitting around watching television,” she admits. 

A life-changing trek to Nepal

To further the point, in 2004 Casey went on a trek to Nepal… even her leisure activities aren’t very leisurely! But this trip turned out to be a life-changing event – and not just for her. 

Profoundly moved by the plight of the abandoned and orphaned children she saw there, Casey could not stop thinking about them when she returned home to Laguna.

Christine Casey 

“Seeing kids discarded like garbage…it stays with you,” she said.  “I told my son I really wanted to go back there and do something for those kids.  He helped me realize that I could go back. I had no restrictions; no husband, no children at home…so I backed off all the other things I was doing and started getting money from people, from my church, to help the kids.”

Tom Davis, Chhahari and making a real difference

Realizing that to be truly effective she needed to form a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, she called local lawyer, Tom Davis.  

“I knew his wife, Martha, from volunteering at AIDS services, so I called him, explained who I was and what I needed.  For a very small retainer fee he helped me set up Chhahari. That was the last one I ever gave him! Now he’s the Chairman of the Board.  This guy…you can’t even believe how great he is,” says Casey enthusiastically.

Chhahari, Nepalese for “shelter”, is the organization Casey formed in 2007 to help some of those children she met in Nepal.  

Chhahari’s mission states that it “…is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds to provide food, shelter, education and health care for the multitude of orphaned and underprivileged children of Nepal.” Chhahari currently houses and cares for approximately 25 children.

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Chhahari kids get to smile and have some fun together 

The process for vetting the children who come to Chhahari is extensive. They must either be orphaned or their families have no ability to care for them. 

“The only way to change these poor, corrupt countries is from within,” laments Casey. “They want to keep the poor - poor.” 

Determined to do things right

Setting up a charitable organization in Nepal was neither simple nor straightforward. Finding the right people to run things almost 8,000 miles away was the first challenge.  

“I was a banker my entire adult life.  I want the nuts and bolts to add up at the end of the day,” she says, adding gratefully that she has “full faith” in the Nepalese people working for Chhahari.  “There has never been a penny missing.”  

And she can count the pennies because the operating budget is about as tight as it can be. “We are all volunteers,” she said. “I pay my own way back and forth every time I go. Our budget is $35,000 a year. $500 of that goes to marketing and advertising.  Other than that it all goes to Chhahari. I had to make it so that I know that your money is going here and doing exactly that.  We are doing it the right way.”

Unlike the United States’ “failed foster care system”, as Casey calls it, her kids never “age out.”  

“We will never kick a kid out in the street,” she says. “You need to give them a chance.”  Making them leave before they are ready means they have to deal with the same problems at-risk kids do here, even if the means are different. 

“Glue sniffing is a big problem there.  So is alcohol…it’s the homemade kind that kills you, by the time you’re 30,” she says sadly.

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The children of Chhahari

Beyond their basic needs, Casey is determined to bring her charges into the 21st century. “I took them to see ‘The Laramie Project’,” she says. (The Laramie Project is a play, based on the aftermath of the young gay man, Matthew Shephard, murdered in Laramie, Wyoming.)  

“The play came to Nepal.  It was a hard thing to explain [to the kids]…the whole LGBT thing… but they eventually got it. I saw two of our boys crying during the performance. 

“It’s important to me that they are educated academically, but also socially in the world,” she says. 

“We have Hindus and Buddhists in Chhahari. There are very strong caste systems. During the earthquake, rice would be dumped far outside a village, and if the area was within a certain caste, no one would go in there to bring it to them! That’s how bad it is. 

“We had to teach our kids that they we’re all brothers and sisters,” she continued. “Now they don’t know the difference. They ask me, ‘Nanna (that’s what they call me), …why are the people fighting?’ 

“I try and explain it to them, but they see here that it can be different. It has them thinking.”

Walking the walk – and then some

Casey’s commitment to her cause got me thinking, as well, especially when she told me she lives in affordable housing, in a 10x20 foot room.  “I used all my savings to start it [Chhahari] up,” she says.  “I’ve lived the good life. I’ve traveled. I don’t need anything…

“I don’t need any more clothes. Where would I put them? I have everything I need,” she says in her matter of fact way. And this revelation absolutely shocks me. It’s so surprising that I’m sure it says something about my own priorities that I wouldn’t care to admit. 

When Casey says she has given everything to Chhahari, she isn’t exaggerating. And she certainly doesn’t want to make a fuss over it. It is a choice she made and she is very content with it. 

A devout Catholic, Casey brushes off my compliments and admiration. She speaks of her mission as just something that must be done, no applause, no fanfare. …It’s just about raising enough money to help “her children”, and make their world better.

Another opportunity to make a difference

“We are not free from problems,” says Casey about the Chhahari non-profit. “It is always three steps forward, one step back. The government is a hindrance. The earthquake was even worse. It was very traumatizing for our children, even though none of them were hurt.”  

But so many others were. And Casey has found another way to help: prosthetics.  

Because of the earthquake, Casey’s kids lost friends or had friends who became amputees.  “They came to me and said, ‘Nanna, maybe we can help these children?’ And it was so…this was my impetus,” she says, again repeating her mantra, “We are going to do this right.

“A five year old child will need six to ten change-outs (of their prosthetic limbs) in their lifetime… They need rehab… The families need training to show them how to deal with these issues and injuries,” she explained.  So she has partnered with a Nepalese man in Kathmandu who makes prosthetics.  

She recently had a fundraiser in Corona del Mar to support this new outreach program.  And of course, it circles back to Chhahari.

“I want them to be socially conscious.  They’ve never been taught. These countries are so poor; the people are so poor that they turn into takers. I want them to learn to look outward,” she says.  

Every child has potential and deserves a chance

She tells me about one of her children who has developed into an award-winning artist.  “Every child has potential and deserves a chance,” says Christine Casey.  

“If he was tending goats, this would never have happened!”

Casey is not naïve; she knows that giving 25 kids a chance isn’t going to change the world. However, as the saying goes, it has changed theirs. And who knows what happens beyond that? 25 can turn to 50, and on it goes. 

Christine Casey is not stopping. “I’m 72 years old.  I’m in good health.  My life is Chhahari,” she says simply.  

Christine Casey is a woman of modest means who set out to make a difference in the world, and does so every single day. It’s rare to meet someone willing to give everything they have for others. But she did…and still does.  

The next time I’m tempted to buy something to put in my already-full-closet, I will stop and think of her. Another pair of shoes? Or the chance to make a difference somewhere? The answer should be easy.  

For Christine Casey, there isn’t even a question.   

To find out more about Chhahari or to make a donation go to www.chhahari.org.


With Cerno, it’s product innovation, development and dedication – plus friendship

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If there is such a thing as “typical” Laguna Beach childhood, Cerno co-founders Daniel Wacholder, Nick Sheridan and Bret Englander, might be its poster children.  Sheridan and Englander attended Laguna Presbyterian Preschool together all the way through Laguna Beach High School. They met Wacholder in middle school. The three boys surfed at 9th Street, played club volleyball and, maybe not so typically, enjoyed creating stuff.  

“Usually for fun we’d just build things,” remembers Englander. “We built a huge palapa on 9th Street back in high school that lasted at least half-way through college… We built a stairwell at the end of Circle Drive to memorialize a friend who passed. Dan and Nick built boats from scratch…”

Englander says they sailed the first boat they made to Catalina at midnight, much to the chagrin of their parents. 

Their latest and most lasting endeavor is Cerno. As stated on their website, it is an industrial design and manufacturing company innovating modern LED lighting fixtures and furniture. 

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Bret Englander, Nick Sheridan and Daniel Wacholder of Cerno

Cerno’s designs have won numerous industry awards and they finally – and with some sadness – outgrew their Laguna Canyon Road space and had to relocate to Irvine. But these three friends, each with a separate yet equal role in the building of their company, are not coasting yet, although they are finally down to a five-day work week after six years of 12 hour days, six days a week. 

They have big plans: leaving their well-respected niche status to become a big time player in their industry.  After spending time with Bret Englander, Director of Sales and Marketing, and hearing their story, I’m a believer.

Three friends, three different backgrounds and a lot of respect

After graduating from high school, the three friends went their separate ways to college.  Wacholder, Director of Operations and Engineering, studied engineering, Sheridan, Director of Design, studied architecture and Englander studied journalism.  After college, they went to work in different businesses, doing different things and eventually concluded that what they really wanted to do was something together. 

“We had these three diverse educations and diverse work experiences that gave us a respect for each other – plus this trust we had developed over our years of friendship,” says Englander. “We all wore a lot of hats, and still do, plus we all work really hard.  We are competitive about how hard we work, still to this day.” 

A successful trade show launches a brand

“We wanted to be a design company,” says Englander. 

First, there was a furniture venture, but they wanted something more technical.   Wacholder, an avid reader, as Englander describes him, was learning a lot about the innovations in LED lights.  They were becoming decorative and Wacholder said, “I think we should explore this.”  

So, armed with prototypes only, they went to the Dwell Trade Show.  

“People were like, ‘What are these?’  And fortunately for us we ended up selling several thousand dollars worth of lights,” said Englander. “After that, we decided we were just going to focus on lights.  Our learning curve was vertical.”

He and Sheridan spent a month in New York.  According to Englander, “That’s the market. We’re isolated on the other coast.  

“We learned we weren’t anywhere near as novel as we thought we were, technically.  But aesthetically, we were novel. I credit Daniel for that. The older manufacturers were putting old technology in new forms.  We were designing new technology.”

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One of Cerno's signature lights, made in California

The market responded to their product as evidenced by the fact that they’ve gone from about 3,000 square feet to over 12,000.  

“Every move has been terrifying,” says Englander. “But so far it has proved to be the right decision every time.”  The space is utilized for both offices and warehouse as well as manufacturing.  

California-made and Laguna-proud

Cerno products are made in California – not just assembled in California – but made here.  “We’re super proud that we do it here,” says Englander.  He tells me about the recent GE decision to move jobs overseas.  “I take it as a defeat.  We’re not a player, but if you have 1,000 Cernos then those jobs start to add up.”  

Another thing Englander says they are proud of is that there are six LBHS graduates working at Cerno.  

“The Laguna Beach community has been so supportive and genuinely curious.  People I know, but don’t know well, ask how we’re doing all the time. That’s rad!”

Cerno is very much of Laguna, regardless of where they are headquartered. “Leaving the canyon was emotional for us, even though it was long overdue,” says Englander.  “We’re attached to the old Laguna, the beach culture.”

Englander also credits their geography with giving them idea that they could be successful. “Growing up in Laguna you see all different types of success.  All the surf companies that have come from here…when you know it’s possible – that’s part of the privilege. You’re naively optimistic because you see the success stories all around you.”

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Another innovative Cerno product

Belief plus hard work – lots and lots of hard work – have all contributed to their success.  “We jumped into the trenches together with the attitude that it was going to be really, really hard.  But failure was not an option,” says Englander.  

That work ethic is still with them, and they still compete to see who can work the hardest.  But it’s nice working “only” five days a week.  

“It was time,” Englander said. “We needed to spend time with our families – and go the beach a little bit more.” 

He smiles. Cerno may have left Laguna, but Laguna has definitely not left Cerno.


Don Sciortino: living the dream

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He received the word of God back in 1972. Don Sciortino was going to community college in Long Island, NY, during what he describes as the “Jesus Movement days” – when young people were looking for alternative ways to perceive reality in the summer-of-love times. He wasn’t particularly religious, and he was partaking of substances to alter his mind as everyone else in college was. Then he took a Philosophy & Religion class, and had a tiresome assignment; they had to read from the Bible, The Sermon on the Mount.

Don became friends with a classmate who happened to carry the Bible. He asked if he might borrow it so that he could get his homework assignment done. That did it.

“I had a spiritual encounter. It was the greatest experience I’d ever had,” Don remembers. “God encountered me like liquid love, going deep inside me. It changed my life.”

Don Sciortino

Indeed, the experience of learning and understanding God’s love led Don to a life lived in terms of Jesus’ teachings. “Jesus heard his father’s voice. God made us not to do to life alone – but to be connected. From Jesus’ connected life, he led people to God,” Don explained. “I wanted to model the life of Jesus.”

Pastor Don has walked that talk. 

Becoming a Shepherd

Don and his wife of 40 years, Karen, met at church – of course. They both were on staff with the Vineyard Church, an offshoot of the Calvary Chapel, “But more charismatic expression,” as Don describes it. That was back in Long Island, but the two headed west to Anaheim, Mission Viejo, and then to the Vineyard Community Church in Laguna Niguel. One day while driving through Laguna, Don had an epiphany.

“I had a supernatural vision driving in front of Main Beach,” he said. “It was a vision of Jesus with a choker necklace on. It was a message, and a strategy in my heart, that necklace of different earthly stones. Then Jesus spoke to me and said, ‘Create a community here, and speak to me’… 

“We sold our house [in Mission Viejo] in one day. It’s been five years now – we love Laguna. It’s so diverse here, and the call of my life: make God visible and love people.”

Pastor Don has been the pastor now for these five years, and serves up his message of love around the clock, and all around the town.

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Photo by Maggi

Net-Works “Living Room”

His Sunday morning message is delivered at The Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach, starting with a breakfast at 9:30. By the afternoon, he is likely back at his Net-Works “Living Room” which is a place to talk, think, pray, and house group gatherings and events – located in the shopping plaza at 303 Broadway. His “flock” of friends, the poor, and the needy stop by regularly for soul-comforting, or a bite to eat, like on Wednesday mornings when he hosts “Bible & Bagels” (the space is conveniently next to Shirley’s Bagels). 

By Sunday evening he may be putting on his live KX93 radio show, “Stairway to Heaven” in which he features songs and lyrics talking about a higher love. “I do a little talk, and tie in some rock and roll songs,” says Don. “Life is a journey that invites and demands us to find answers beyond ourselves. My desire is to give some help and hope in connecting our heart-cries with heaven. It makes the Bible culturally current.”

It’s Net-Work-ing

The community of Laguna Beach is integral with Pastor Don’s mission. 

“I want to be a pastor in and to the city. Then I have the responsibility to love them and care for them. The city is my parish – my flock,” he says. “Embracing all the people – that’s what heaven is going to be like: community, shared life, diversity. A renaissance is coming of people sharing and doing life together.”

The encompassing theme of Pastor Don’s philosophy is that humans are connected one to another, and all to God. He has formed The Laguna Beach “Net-Works”, an affiliation with the association of Vineyard Churches, to bring people together for Sunday gatherings “to celebrate and encourage our identity and mission as God’s people” and weekly groups “to help others pursue their passions and heal their pain” as well as other weekly community groups.

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Photo by Maggi

“We love our city, Laguna Beach,” the mission statement reads. “We love its distinctiveness and heritage as both an artist’s colony and an eclectic marketplace community, as well as being a place of refuge, refreshment and beauty.

“Our desire and mission is to live a life of love as Jesus did, making God and people visible.”  

To keep Net-Works funded, and as another form of sharing some community love, Don has also networked in retail fashion. He has just launched a new shop in town, Laguna Exchange. 

Laguna Exchange 

Laguna Exchange is a non-profit retail store featuring fashion and jewelry, and the neat trick is that the customer can buy, sell, or trade. This is not a thrift store, though the clothes are, for the most part, used. 

“I love fashion and clothes,” says Don. “Plus a place to offer retail with a purpose.”

Modeled after the Buffalo Exchange, this retail adventure offers the customer good quality, unique, and vintage items which they can purchase either by paying for it, or by exchanging items of equal value. The shop purchases items outright, receives them by donation, or pays for items with store credit. 

Don was thinking up the concept for a good year before they opened. He queried kids around town if they shopped at a Buffalo Exchange, and got a resounding yes. He raised money, and searched for the perfect location. The former bead store on South Coast Highway proved to be the right place at the right time. 

“Many of our community come to us from mental institutions and jail,” said Don. “It’s the wealthy that carry us. But I thought God doesn’t want us just to make it. I want to create more.” The store. “God said to me, ‘What’s coming is what you’ve waited for your whole life.’ I was supposed to network the pair – struggle and passion. And I thought of Jesus’ necklace, and this was a bead store…” It just seemed so right.

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Laguna Exchange

Then he set about fixing up the space and renovating, which additionally provided jobs for several of his unemployed flock. Homeless individuals renovated ninety percent of the store. One was able to get a handyman job after this, and then a car, and even a place to live. 

“The connection just grew. It’s just amazing. I saw him on the balcony over PCH having a cup of coffee,” said Don with a tear in his eye. “Change happens when we’re connected. Change doesn’t happen alone.”

The store raises money to provide for the less fortunate in Laguna Beach: the homeless, single moms, mentally ill, and those struggling with addiction. “We open our doors to give people a unique shopping experience with purpose. We open our hearts to work with those who are ready to transition into a new season of life.”

Don’s passion for community stems from his own personal mission to live a life according to Jesus’ teaching. And the store is the vehicle to drive them all together. 

“Let’s network all the non-profits in Laguna. Not only the poor, homeless, mentally ill and addicts – but I also want to bridge to LCAD, and Laguna Beach High School,” he said. “Young people want to do good works with money.”

The store motto is ‘People Help the People’ and, so far, the message is growing.

Every day is Sunday morning

When Pastor Don is not preaching, he’s taking the homeless into his own home, or finding them some temporary shelter. He’s serving food and words of care for single moms. He’s offering young people a place to play and enjoy music at the shop every Friday night. And he’s mindful of focusing the community on a higher purpose.

Next up will be the “Giving Thanks Party” at Mozambique on November 18, a celebration of food, friends and music. It will include “stories from our local friends that we have had the privilege to serve” as well as opportunities for donation. (Want to buy dinner for someone? Contact mailto: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

November is National Hunger and Homeless Awareness month, so the shop is jumping in with all feet to help where they can. December the focus will be on supporting single moms at the holidays. It’s all part of a dream of a better world.

“God made us to be dreamers,” says Don. “He’s the ultimate dreamer, and shares that with us. The dream is to have a good life, a productive life, and help people. 

“This community is an incubator for dreamers. I’m doing my dream!”



Lisette Chel-Walker: She serves the City of Laguna Beach and enjoys every moment enthusiastically 

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Lisette Chel-Walker has worked for the City of Laguna Beach since 1983.  “I was the youngest when I started, now I’m the oldest,” she says with a laugh.  Elected as City Clerk in 2012, Chel-Walker began her career at the city with the Police Department – and stayed there for 25 years.  

Hired as Parking Cashier, Chel-Walker eventually ran the entire parking system from receiving all complaints and calls, to mailing late notices, as well as keeping the statistics for parking and traffic.  

Lisette Chel-Walker

Now, as the elected City Clerk, she says her job is to “…promote public participation in municipal government and serve the public, elected officials and the City organization by accurately processing, recording and archiving municipal records for ready retrieval.”  In other words, “this is a paper office,” she says.  

And she owes her career as a civil servant to her father, who was an assemblyman in Long Beach, although it was practicality, not nepotism that prompted the suggestion.

For hire: an aerobics instructor with “experience”

When Chel-Walker first moved to Laguna she started working as an aerobics instructor at the Laguna Health Club, and the Girls Gym.  

“I was a dancer my whole life,” she said. “I came here, went to the Laguna Beach Health Club for a job and said, ‘I teach aerobics,’ even though I really didn’t.  They hired me and we had the best classes!  I was teaching about 12 classes a week. Shape Magazine did an article on me. It was a big, fun thing.  

“Then my dad said to me, ‘What if you get sick? You need a city job.’”  So, being a dutiful daughter she went down to the City and got the job with the Police Department.

From Parking Cashier to City Clerk, she listens to the people

Dealing with the public can be a trying experience, no matter what the job is.  But especially dealing with people who get parking tickets…they’re not the happy customers. 

“I used to field at least 30 complaints a day. I loved talking to people. They were sometimes irate – I’d let them talk. They just wanted to be heard,” she says brightly. “They would always pay their ticket at the end.”  

I’m not sure how many people “love” talking to angry people, but I got the impression that Chel-Walker really does like talking to people, irate or otherwise. And this makes her well suited for her current job as City Clerk, an elected position.

 “A City Clerk is all about details and dates and listening to people.  We are the face of the city, the point of contact,” she explains.  “Customer service is my specialty. I try to be available anytime. I’ve always been a team player. I’m here to promote public participation with the City. You should feel welcome to come in here and get anything.”

Clearly, if you don’t view the City as attentive, you haven’t reached out to Chel-Walker. “We pride ourselves on answering the phones and answering people’s questions.  If we don’t know the answer, we will find out,” she says, adding, “And I don’t mind working 17 hour days when there is a Council meeting.”  

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Lisette Chel-Walker’s office in Laguna Beach’s City Hall

Travel and music – but let’s have good seats

Despite those long days, Chel-Walker carries her enthusiasm into her free time, as well.  As a former owner of a travel agency who is married to a retired pilot (“His line was, ‘Marry me and fly free’ – except that meant stand-by. He left that part out!” she says, laughing), Chel-Walker loves to travel. 

“I love planning group trips. I like being around people. We went to Oktoberfest last year,” she says happily. Coming up next is a trip to Costa Rica. “Nothing makes me happier than being able to include my friends with me on an adventure.”

Another passion is music.  “I love to sit in the first few rows of a concert,” she confesses.  She crossed an item off her bucket list when she took her 22 year-old daughter, who is also a dancer (in her final year at San Francisco State University), to see Elton John. “We sat in the front row. I’ve seen him 20 times. I love 70’s music!  But I’m from that era,” she smiles.

And while you can’t take her aerobics classes any longer (she stopped teaching in the late ‘90’s) you can find her taking a daily jog around the LBHS track.  

“I like to run by myself,” she says. “I run a slow pace. It takes me 40 minutes. It’s a good time to think.”

Sun plus art equals home in Laguna

“To live and work here in Laguna is amazing,” says Chel-Walker. “This is my home, even though I grew up in Long Beach.” 

As a child her father brought her to Victoria Beach in Laguna. “There were the biggest waves!” she recalls.  It took a boyfriend to bring her back again, as an adult. “That just brought me here. I loved everything about it! I loved driving in from the Canyon… it was magical. Every time I was here I was happy,” she says. Her relationship with Laguna outlasted the one with the boyfriend, and Chel-Walker seems more than fine with the way things worked out.

The weather suits her too. “I love hot weather,” she says. “I’m a sun-worshipper.”  

She attributes her love of anything tropical to her Dutch father. “He came from cold Holland,” she says as an explanation for his love of the beach. “I’m a beach girl,” she says. “I take after my dad.”  

However, one thing she inherited from her mother, who was an artist, was an appreciation of art. “I love art, especially by local artists,” she says. “I try and buy a piece of art from every City Hall show.”  And her office looks as though she means it – every wall is covered with colorful, vibrant paintings.

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Part of Lisette Chel-Walker’s art collection.  These pieces are by

 fused glass artist, Maggie Spencer  

It’s not surprising that she is attracted to such paintings; “colorful” and “vibrant” can also be used to describe Chel-Walker herself. As a holder of the “oldest profession in government, along with the tax collector,” her enthusiasm for the job and the city she works for is contagious – and a bit surprising. 

Admittedly, I didn’t have a clear picture of what a City Clerk did prior to meeting Chel-Walker, but whatever I had vaguely envisioned was proven patently false after we met. No soulless bureaucrat here. As an example, when City Clerks were given permission to perform marriages, this go-getter took it upon herself to create wedding vows for those she married. 

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Chel-Walker holding a photo of one of the marriages she has performed as 

City Clerk 

“I wanted it to be unique,” she says. “I googled wedding vows that weren’t religious. I pulled in the things that I liked.”  And then she talks to the couple. “I ask them why they want to be married here and things like that. I just try to personalize it a little.  Why not?  Everyone is unique.” 

That’s true for couples wanting to get married and it’s certainly the case for Laguna Beach’s City Clerk.


Singing praises for the singer in the band: 

Poul Pedersen

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The first time Poul arrived on Laguna’s shores was in the late 1970’s. It was a damn sight better than the condemned building he called home in Baltimore. There, he would warm up in the wintertime by filling a bathtub full of hot water to jump in straight from bed. “It had running water and electricity. I built a loft along one wall,” Poul said cheerfully. “I was young!” 

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Poul Pedersen

One day he met the world’s first real professional surfer, Corky Carroll. Carroll was also a singer/songwriter, and came to see Poul’s band, The Four Muses, when they opened for Linda Ronstadt. Carroll liked the band, and he and Poul became friends. He told Poul, you gotta get out to California. So he did. 

He got a delivery car to drive to San Diego, actually moved in with Corky Carroll, and started working at Surfer magazine.

“I worked in the warehouse, mailing out T-shirts and stuff, and being a janitor,” Poul said. Finally enough was enough with that line of work, and he paid attention to the voice inside his head. “I’ve got to get a band,” the voice said. 

He started The Breeze Brothers, an R&B band, and got local gigs, including at The Sandpiper, and the Wind & Sea, in Dana Point. From there his band grew, changed, and evolved: A duo with Bob Hawkins (playing at The Marine Room); The Heat Band; The 133 Band… and, of course, The Missiles of October.

He has never had to return to janitorial work. 

It’s about the music – and then some

Missiles of October is a name Poul dreamed up after having seen the docu-drama of the same name. 

He remembered the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolding on the television when he was a lad, dressed in his Cub Scout uniform. JFK was on the TV in the background and his dad, in his Marine Corps uniform, was before him, wagging his finger, no, no, no. “I was trying to show him how to do The Peppermint Twist,” Poul laughs.

Missiles was formed in 1991 by Poul Pedersen and Bob Hawkins. Having played for 25 years at The Marine Room, the current members of Missiles of October, Poul (vocals), Richard Bredice (lead guitar), Jimmy Perez (bass guitar), and Frank Cotinola (drums) have moved with their considerable following to The White House for their regular Sunday afternoon gigs.

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On bass, Jimmy Perez warms up for Missiles of October

They perform a smattering of original music as well as covers with their own unique flavor.

“Generally I bring in the music – and make sure they’re interested in it,” says Poul. “We all like the Missile style. They all put their own spin on it, so it’s an original sound.”

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Frank Cotinola warms up the eardrums!

The Marine Room is going through their own changes, but Missiles is sticking to its own style, which they can do at The White House. “With The Missiles we have tables and dancing,” says Poul. “The White House is one of the last old-school nightclubs in Laguna.”

Judging by the crowd they’ve drawn in, it seems to be a perfect fit.

But Poul and band mate, Jimmy Perez, are no newcomers to The White House. They played with The Heat Band there for almost ten years, back in the 80’s. Additionally, Poul has been known to take up the solo mic there. 

“I’ve been doing open mic night once a month at The White House,” he said. “Candles on the table… it’s a little more intimate.

“I feel really fortunate to make a living playing music,” Poul added.

He has paid that good fortune forward by contributing music to charity, as he did when his first Missiles band mate had a major heart attack. Missiles of October put on a big fundraiser to help Bob Hawkins deal with his medical bills. 

The other musical passion project for Poul Pedersen is the 133 Band. Local, Clay Berryhill got the ball rolling by inviting several of Laguna’s most well-known and well-loved musicians to be in a band together. The concept of putting bandleaders together begs the question, who leads? 

“It’s a band of bandleaders,” says Poul. “All the egos in the band – but interestingly enough, it’s been lots of laughter, lots of talent. It’s really been fun.” For their first gig, the band opened for The Beach Boys when they played here in Laguna a little more than a year ago.

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Berryhill has launched not only a CD from the project, but also a movie about the making of the band, called 133 The Road to Laguna. The documentary is aiming for film festivals such as Sundance or South by Southwest.

“I wouldn’t be involved with [these musicians] if it weren’t for this film,” said Poul. “We just didn’t all cross paths.”

Coming full circle

  Poul was born in Austin, Texas, but moved around quite a bit with his Marine Corps family, landing for a length of time in Virginia. He taught himself how to play guitar when he was 12, with a Beatles songbook. “I thought I was so sophisticated,” he laughs. “As a teenager things were so important.” 

He “got on the singer/songwriter” style of the times and into the reflective approach of the lyrics of the 60’s and 70’s. “I feel fortunate to have grown up with those influences,” he says. It was one part old-school America, one part innocence lost. He cites Van Morrison as a seminal influence (“I like the way he takes Celtic and Blues, and puts them together”).

On a side note, our own Stu Saffer had a most unusual “first” meeting with Poul. Of course they met here in Laguna, but they both shared an Arlington, Virginia background. As they were talking, Stu flashed back to his days as a mail carrier, and said to Poul, “You lived at 308 S. Irvington Street!” Poul was so taken aback he said the hairs on his arm stood up. Quite a history – and quite a memory that Stu has!

Laguna really became home for Poul when he found a home for his band here, and when he met Woody, his soul mate of 27 years. She was then a cocktail waitress at Hotel Laguna, and is now a manager there. With their working schedules they are really like Laguna ships passing in the night.

At least we know that Poul can be found every Sunday at The White House rocking the classic Missiles of October way.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

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

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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