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Katie Bond: a caring heart in Laguna – and Africa

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Katie Bond lives with her feet firmly planted in two worlds. Here on U.S. soil, she manages to keep grounded with her practice of yoga. On the other side of the world, she connects through The Peace Exchange, her non-profit creating fair trade business opportunities for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are the two worlds Katie has a deep connection with, body and soul. 

Katie Bond

There was a time when Katie Bond was a small-town, Midwestern farm girl. Her family still operates the Ohio farm, Bond Family Cattle, and they’ve raised grand champion cows and pigs. Most of her family were also teachers: Dad, a school principal, mom and brother both teachers. She became smitten with the west coast, though, because of great uncle Noah. He was the Deputy Sheriff of Orange County.

“Mom and dad couldn’t afford [to live here], but loved road trips to visit him for summer vacation,” Katie remembers. “Ride horses… go to Disneyland… I thought California was magical!”

When she had an opportunity to transfer from college in Ohio to Cal State Fullerton, she took it. Despite leaving familiar surroundings, Katie was drawn to the sunny side of life.

“We had just come out for Christmas, and the sun was out at Balboa Island, and I thought, wow, I’m at the beach!”

At Fullerton, Katie majored in Communication, and went on to grad school at Azusa, where she was made an offer to teach. After almost seven years of teaching, though, she realized that wasn’t her passion.

“I thought, I’m 29 and I have a great job, but I never wanted to be a school teacher,” she said. 

“I wanted to move to Laguna and teach yoga!”

Feeling the lightness in Laguna

Katie acknowledges having “always been into fitness” (she was even on the cheer team at university), but yoga was something else altogether. She learned the practice of yoga when she moved to California (of course!), and it just took hold of her – body and spirit. Being able to teach yoga was a dream come true, but folks back home thought it was a little weird, like some kind of cult.

Katie laughs, “Friends sent letters, ‘Are you okay? We’re worried about you!’”

She’s now in her eighth year of teaching yoga at The Art of Fitness, in Laguna, as well as spin classes. 

“I love the yin and yang of spin and yoga. They’re opposite,” says Katie. “It’s about good music, creating a feeling of lightness, sharing some good energy.”

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On her way to yoga, by the beach. What could be better?

In addition to yoga, Katie’s mind was opened to another world once she moved to California. She was working at a store at the same time she was teaching, to make ends meet. The store, called 10,000 Villages, introduced her to the concept of Fair Trade. And in addition to being a lifelong active-fitness person, she is also a lifelong do-good-things person. Fair trade became the motto for her next phase of life.

Fair Trade makes a difference

“I always wanted to encourage people, and work internationally,” Katie said. “Fair trade makes it all come together. You’re helping people in extreme poverty – you’re getting at their basic needs. Education helps get people out of poverty. Fair trade businesses enable them to have money to send their kids to school.”

For businesses to be accredited as Fair Trade they must be certified by three different governing bodies. In this way it is ensured that workers are paid directly a fair wage, without corruption, abuse, and graft. 

“Fair Trade has to have less than five middle men. There are usually eighteen,” explains Katie. “You’re working in the poorest of the poor places and making an opportunity the people wouldn’t otherwise have.” 

One day while working at the 10,000 Villages store, an invited speaker came to talk about life in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That was it: the thing that resonated with her heart.

“Congo chose me,” she states simply.

The Peace Exchange – global and local

“Congo is poor, and known as the sexual violence capitol of the world. With that knowledge you can’t not do something,” Katie says. “Education is powerful!”

She thought, how can we help?

Katie started The Peace Exchange. Raising money and raising awareness, she found like-minded people to partner with, and set up sewing centers in the Congo to provide local women with economic opportunities.  

“We provide resources, pay shipping, and pay workers a fair wage,” says Katie. “The women there are victims of sexual violence. We have guarded, gated – protected sewing centers.” 

The danger of sexual assault is an every day fear for the women of the Congo. According to Katie, the first conviction of a rapist only happened five years ago. Women are regarded with very little respect, but the sewing centers created by The Peace Exchange have opened a window for change. The women work only in the daylight hours so they will be safely home before dark. (Laguna’s non-profit, Wheels for Life, has recently given them a grant so that the women can have bikes to ride to their work as well).

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Photo by The Peace Exchange

Seamstresses at work at one of the three Peace Exchange sewing centers

The employed seamstresses not only have money to provide for their families, but they have a newfound sense of respect and dignity.

“It’s about connecting with people,” says Katie. “I talk with a woman about her rape, and then a year later she tells me how she’s a breadwinner, and sending her kids to school. I feel I owe it to them to have the opportunity to succeed.

“It’s something I feel born to do. I love Africa.” 

Katie had an affinity for Africa ever since she was little. She smiles, “I’d ask my parents every year at Christmas for an African brother or sister.” Now she has them.

“Thirty-three sisters in the Congo who count on me!”

Products to market

The Peace Exchange products, including tote bags, yoga bags, and clothes are handmade with colorful African fabrics. They are shipped to distribution centers, such as the one Katie set up in her hometown in Ohio, staffed with volunteers, retired teachers and friends (“They’re still not sure about yoga!”). Presently, The Peace Exchange is getting their products into stores in the U.S. and the U.K, where they are doing a fashion show this year with models from Congo included.

The products can often be found at the Farmer’s Market here in Laguna, and in local stores such as Laguna Coffee Co.

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Some of The Peace Exchange’s African-made products

Katie is not one to be daunted by the giant scope of her passion project, not to mention the endless fundraising needed. “It’s like conducting an orchestra – keeping it all in harmony,” she says. “Sometimes a string pops, but I call it ‘failing forward!’ We’ve been fortunate. We’re not giving up.

“My bad day is never a bad day when you’re doing this kind of work. Many times it seems too hard. There’s pressure to pay the women – and yoga can’t afford that. But I set out to do good work. It’s hard… humanitarian work is hard but good things happen.”

Somehow her Christmas wish and dream of international work has come together like pieces in a puzzle. And the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

“Sweat equity, I’ve put in a ton, but now it’s worth it. I get paid to do yoga and spin, which I love, and I get to help people. I’ve wanted that all my life – I just didn’t know what that looked like!”

Good things happen for a reason – and with the dedication of good people like Katie Bond.


Brian Crawford: Capturing the beauty of yoga

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Brian Crawford moved to Laguna as a sophomore in high school, he says it was a good, and much needed, chance to start fresh. Coming from the Bay Area, Laguna Beach was nevertheless a familiar place as his family had visited many, many times. He fit right in, becoming friends with the skim boarding crew. He says he would just sit and watch from the beach: No video, no photography, just watching.  

Before he moved south, Crawford says he used to make home movies, but in Laguna his friends made skateboarding videos. That was their thing, and so he let that interest go. His interest behind the camera would, however, return – in a big way.

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Brian Crawford

 “Once I graduated from Laguna [Beach High School], I needed to figure what the hell to do,” says Crawford.  First he went to work for his brother-in-law’s car dealership, but in 2008 he lost that job. It was both a curse and a blessing. He went back to his interest in videos and moved to Los Angeles to see what would come of it. 

The most important thing that came of it was Crawford’s realization that he needed to get sober, and that where he lived was “so important” to his mental state.  

So back to Laguna he came.

Stu News Laguna photographer

One evening Crawford took at picture of the sun setting at Oak Street. He remembers thinking, “This looks like a decent shot.” So he sent it to his dad for a second opinion. His dad agreed. “I’d been reading Stu News Laguna so I sent the picture to Stu, saying ‘I thought you’d like this photo’.” He did, and Crawford eventually began working for StuNews as a photographer.  

He was also working at Gina’s delivering pizzas, and says that on his deliveries, “I would drive a pizza up to Top of the World. It would be sunset, and I’d see an image while on this delivery. I’d post it to Stu and it was so awesome to get recognized for what I was doing.”

Adding a human element to his photos

Four years ago, with his creative eye working, Crawford happened to spy Liz Campbell at The Stand. Liz is a yoga instructor at Ritual Yoga.  “I love nature photography, but I’d never done people with it. But Liz has these beautiful tattoos and I thought it would be cool to shoot her at the Top of the World caves,” explains Crawford. 

“She was a little freaked out, a little hesitant, but she came, and we went to the caves. We had such a rad experience. It was just like creating a landscape photo, but adding the dimension of a human adds a whole other level…it’s harder and more beautiful. These yoga poses are so beautiful. Yoga is one of the most beautiful things!”

From these modest beginnings, Crawford has built a name for himself as a well-respected yoga photographer. 

Ritual Yoga leads to Instagram – and a career

“Liz’s shoot was really successful. I approached Ritual Yoga. When they saw the photos they were like, ‘This is so rad. We like your photographs! You’re doing our website.’ 

“So I shot a lot of images.  And I got paid!” he says with a laugh.  “I thought this might work for me. I may not be working at Gina’s for the rest of my life.”

Things really picked up when he finally acquiesced to his friend’s advice and went on Instagram.  

“I was always against it, but I thought, ‘All right, I’ll give it a shot.’ So I put some photos on Instagram and I got totally inspired,” he says. “There was this great feedback from the yoga community. I enjoyed making people feel inspired and happy.”

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Photos by Brian Crawford photography

Crawford’s photos combine the beauty of nature and yoga

Crawford’s niche has allowed him to travel all over the world.  

“I started to gain a following. I found a passion for yoga photography. I fell in love with it,” he says. “I love meditation – and yoga is based around meditation. As I got deeper into it I thought, I need to get involved with these people. This is my path. So I started marketing myself as a yoga photographer. 

“In two years, I have 20,000 Instagram followers. I have followers who have a million followers, who have reached out to me. Yoga is a small world, but it’s not too small. I’ve been able to make a name for myself.”

An idol becomes a friend

When we met, Crawford had just returned from Hawaii a week ago.  It marked a pinnacle of his career thus far. “I have this musician…my favorite musician ever. I listen to him every day!” He said. “Then we connected on Instagram, and he started following me. I was so honored! 

“I was working on Kauai and he lives on Maui. I reached out to him. I came to his house and I took photos of him and his daughter. He trusted me. He let me into his home. We became friends.  

“Everything I wanted to do – I accomplished last week. I joked with my parents that I was retiring,” says Crawford who seemed genuinely surprised and humbled by his good fortune. 

The musician, whose name he mentioned much later in our interview, is known as “The Grouch.”  

Since he still needs to make a living, Crawford will not be retiring, despite his recent accomplishments, anytime soon. 

Motivated to share the beauty of yoga  

His next goal is to cultivate a celebrity clientele to elevate his exposure as well as attract a larger audience to the beauty of yoga.

 “I want to inspire people who don’t know yoga to try it,” he says. 

Crawford practices yoga every day. As a testament, he cites his personal experience. “I blew my back out a year ago. I went to the hospital; I could not move,” he said.  “I thought my career was over. Once I focused on my physical therapy, I realized it’s side by side with yoga. I just needed to hit my yoga program twice as hard.”  

Doing so has helped Crawford reach healthy, spiritual, and artistic heights.  

“That’s what life is about.  You have to get rid of these things that stand in your way. Living a healthy, conscious lifestyle inspired me to be my better self.”  

It has also helped launch a career. 

 

Brian Crawford’s work can be followed on Facebook at www.faceook.com/Briancrawfordphotography, on his website, www.briancrawfordphotography.com, or on Instagram at @Briancrawfordphotography.


Laguna’s Nicole Anderson on family, community and what work/life balance means to her 

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

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Nicole Anderson

We’re sitting in Nicole’s pristine, beautifully decorated North Laguna office—which is as warm and inviting as the attorney herself—when I ask her about the photographs that will accompany this piece. I suggest that they be portraits taken at Anderson Law Group Inc., the thriving law firm she founded and runs today. But Nicole has a different idea.

 “Can we take them at my home, with my family?” she asks. “It wouldn’t feel right to have photos done without them present. They are a better reflection of who I am.”

The sentiment is quintessential Nicole, a bright and successful self-starter who, at the end of the day, is all about her family; Nicole is married to Laguna native Peter Anderson, and they have two young sons, William and Barrett. 

But Nicole, in addition to working as a practicing attorney and spending quality time with her family, is active in the Laguna Beach community, and a devoted volunteer. I sat down with her to learn exactly what it is that motivates her, and how she balances it all.

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Nicole and Peter Anderson with their sons, William (5) and Barrett (3)

Colorado—Where It All Began 

Nicole graduated in 2004 from Colorado College (CC), where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in International Political Economy and had the opportunity to study economics and international law abroad for a year at the London School of Economics.

During her freshman year at CC, she met Peter Anderson, who was studying geology and who happened to be a third-generation Lagunan. Though the two dated throughout college, they parted ways briefly to pursue graduate school opportunities. For Nicole, that meant returning to her home state of Michigan, where she earned her J.D. from Wayne State University Law School.

Nicole’s father works in estate planning and business law, and one of her first jobs growing up was making copies in her dad’s office. 

“He’s always been a mentor to me,” says Nicole.  

Following law school, Nicole clerked for the United States Attorney in Detroit, Michigan, and then served as a law clerk for the Honorable Judge Gadola, Federal Judge of the Sixth Circuit, as well as for Cline, Cline & Griffin in Michigan. 

Ultimately, Nicole relocated to Laguna Beach, married Peter Anderson, and earned her Masters of Law from Chapman University School of Law in 2011. As for adjusting to life in Laguna? “I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she says.

Anderson Law Group, Inc.

In 2008, Nicole was working as a partner at the Law Offices of Anderson and Le in Orange County when she made an important realization: the intense hours required of her as partner were not conducive to a healthy work/life balance.

“At that point, I thought to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I wanted to become a mom, and I wanted more flexibility in my life,” says Nicole.  

She made the decision to start Laguna Beach-based Anderson Law Group Inc. in 2009, which presented to Nicole an incredible opportunity for growth, as well as a new standard for work/life balance. 

“The firm grew slowly, but it was just me. And it’s not just about practicing law—it’s learning how to run a business. After doing it all myself, I truly respect self-starters, and as a business law attorney, I’m better able to help people navigate the process of starting their own businesses,” says Nicole.

Today, it’s a highly specialized firm that’s dedicated to estate and business planning law. Roughly 90% of Nicole’s clients are based in Laguna Beach, and she’s found success largely through word-of-mouth referral. 

Founding Anderson Law Group has enabled Nicole to keep her family at the forefront, to take vacations, and to inspire her all-female staff of four to seek a similar balance. 

 For Nicole, it also means entirely free weekends with her boys. She loves to bike down to the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, practice yoga, hit the beach, and explore the trails behind her family’s Canyon Acres home during her downtime.

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The Anderson Family

And, of course, regular date nights are a must, too. She and Peter, an engineering geologist who recently founded his own company, can be found dining at local eateries such as La Sirena, Broadway, and 230 Forest. 

“Peter is very involved, and he keeps the family running!” says Nicole. 

Bettering Laguna for The Next Generation

 A flexible schedule also frees up space for Nicole to volunteer her time to multiple community organizations. Giving back has always been a part of her life, and it was her parents who instilled that value in her, having led by example. Her father was president of their hometown’s community foundation for ten years, and her mother is a nurse who has volunteered her time at a community clinic.  

Community service is essential to Nicole, and she simply can’t imagine seeing it any other way. 

“I love Laguna. Without this town and this community I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s so important to give back, and in the end you get way more than you give,” says Nicole. 

She has dedicated her time to the Laguna College of Art and Design, where she served on the Board of Trustees from 2009-2014. And today she works with the Laguna Beach Community Foundation as a three-year member of the Board of Trustees. 

With two children who will go through the Laguna Beach school system, Nicole has also taken an interest in supporting education-based non-profits. She serves on the endowment committee for both the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach and SchoolPower’s Endowment. 

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Nicole and Peter’s eldest son William with Oscar, the family’s Black Lab

Nicole is particularly excited about her volunteer work with an organization called NextGen, of which she’s been a part for several years. NextGen is aimed at engaging the ‘next generation’ of Laguna Beach locals, and inspiring them to give back to and get involved with their community, especially as it pertains to playing a role in shaping Laguna’s future. 

“If we don’t use our voices, they’ll never be heard,” she says. 

Nicole helps run and host fundraisers and events for the organization, and she works to motivate younger residents to attend City Council meetings and get involved with Laguna’s multitude of non-profit organizations. 

Ultimately, the family-focused and hardworking Nicole wants to ensure that Laguna remains the wonderful place it is both for her own children, and for generations to come. 

“I’m usually the youngest person on the boards I serve, so I’m working to engage younger generations to become a part of the decision-making in Laguna Beach that will affect all of us and our kids,” says Nicole.



Stu Saffer: A grudging subject, honored Citizen of the Year, and Laguna’s number one newsman

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Stu Saffer is being honored as Citizen of the Year by the Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade Association this year. That is the only reason he agreed, begrudgingly, to be featured in this week’s “Laguna Life and People.”  It’s hard to tell the man whose name is on the masthead what to do. Of course, he has a deep sense of community spirit that prompted his acquiescence (plus Shaena can be very persuasive).

Stu Saffer

A father’s short-lived, but powerful influence

Born in Washington DC in 1942, but raised in rural Middleburg, Virginia, Saffer has lived many lives. He is the youngest of four children who lost their father, the town doctor, when Saffer was only 11 years old. 

Before his father’s untimely death, Saffer says, “I got a lot of one on one time with him because I was the only one still at home. He was a country doctor. Our phone would ring at 2 a.m. and I’d hear his car start. He believed in treating all people the same, and giving back. Sometimes he got paid in produce, or a nickel a month from people who couldn’t afford to pay him.” 

His father’s dedication to those he served made a lasting impression on Saffer who also believes strongly in giving back.  

“Those aren’t just words to me; I’m not just saying that,” he explains emphatically.  It’s real.” 

That commitment to community is what fuels Saffer to deliver two editions of StuNews a week, tirelessly and without respite.  Well, that and his absolute love for what he does.

Family loyalty takes precedence over a dream job

Determined to become a reporter when he graduated from college, Saffer had his new career with the Houston Chronicle all mapped out.  

“That was exciting,” he remembers.  “It was my dream job.” 

Unfortunately, he got a call from his oldest brother who needed him in California to help him with his business selling semiconductors. “My brother said, ‘Writers don’t make any money!’ So a year later I’m in LA (selling semiconductors), and I’m miserable. My brother and I were entirely different personalities. He measured everything by net worth.”  

Saffer adds, “He was a very unhappy person.” 

Just to add insult to injury, a year later, while watching the Academy Awards, Saffer sees his brother, the one who warned against the vagaries of writing for a living, sitting next to Larry McMurtry who had just won the Best Screenplay Oscar for “The Last Picture Show.”  

“He was the ‘poor’ writer my brother knew!” Saffer said indignantly. “I called him and said, ‘You SOB!’ He just said, ‘Well, sometimes a writer can get lucky…’”

The Vietnam War, Great Books and other jobs

After he quit working with his brother, Saffer took a job with Teledyne. 

“They were building helicopters for the Vietnam War. I was against the war so I was in kind of a funky position. I decided I couldn’t do that anymore, so I quit,” he says. “Then I started having fun.”  

The “fun” ranged from selling swimming pools to “The Great Books of the Western World.”  That was pretty lucrative. “Those books were great!” he said. “I sold the leather-bound books for $1,600 a set. I wouldn’t sell the ones that weren’t leather.”

Saffer says he was still “trying to write”, but he also wanted to get into the real estate business.  

“I got into the mortgage business in the 1970s. I had a very successful company, Churchill Financial Group,” he said. “We sold it in the early ‘80s [which is about when Saffer permanently moved to Laguna]. We had over one hundred employees. After we sold it I went to work for a savings and loan. I didn’t care as much about money. I’d been divorced two times by then. I’d made money; I’d lost money. It was something that was important to me at one time, but then it just became less important.”

The importance of children

Something that was always important was his relationship with his adopted daughter, Jackie.  Saffer was married to Jackie’s mother and had adopted her children.  Jackie was a toddler at the time, and the two developed a strong relationship that lasts to this day, even if the marriage to Jackie’s mother didn’t.  

“We were really close and had a lot of fun,” he says about those days. 

They lived in north Tustin at the time.  Saffer coached Jackie’s softball team, and the two went on long bike rides every Sunday. “We’d always end up at IHOP. I think that’s the only reason she went with me,” he says with a laugh.  

Jackie now lives in Naples (Long Beach) and has four teenaged sons. “No one could give me a better gift than that,” he says earnestly. 

Another gift is his relationship with his “surrogate son,” Brandon.  

“I wouldn’t be doing this [meaning StuNews] without him,” says Saffer. 

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Brandon joined Stu for one of the Stu News community gatherings at zPizza 

Brandon was the son of a single working mom who happened to live upstairs from Saffer. “I met him when he was one and we bonded fast and quick,” Saffer said. “I didn’t go out anymore because I wanted to spend time with him. His mom worked at night so I became the baby sitter.” 

It changed Saffer’s life. “I got involved in Brandon’s life. I started paying attention to what was going on in town – something single people don’t necessarily do. He made me settle down. 

“He’s thirty-one now, and I expect him to ride with me in the [Patriot’s] parade.  I will always be grateful that his mom let us bond. It was good for both of us.” 

From printing press to online newspaper

Though Saffer’s personal life had settled down, his professional life was booming. He finally found the career in journalism that had been his dream from the start. 

He ran, and ultimately sold, both “The Laguna Coastline News” and “The Laguna Beach Independent” (that he launched from scratch). But Saffer still was not ready to abandon the newspaper business.

He says that he had an online version of ‘The Indy,’ but it wasn’t much and no one paid attention to it. “I found out that [generally] online papers are broke. They have a hard time selling ads. But I had this concept that is StuNews. 

“I don’t mind taking risks,” says Saffer, knowing profits were going to be hard to come by.   

“It took awhile to get it how I envisioned it,” he said. “I wanted it to read like a newspaper. I wanted it to have ads along the side and in the middle, like regular newspapers. I modeled it after ‘USA Today,’ without long stories since people don’t read long stories anymore. And it worked!” Yes it did.

“People liked it once they figured out how to read it,” he says. “Plus the ads are there as in a regular newspaper, subliminally.” 

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Stu with many of Stu News’ readers and friends at SNL event at GG’s

The community rallies in support of “StuNews”

Not long after Stu Saffer launched StuNews, he was diagnosed with cancer. He knew the newspaper had already made an impact on the community when the people of Laguna reached out with their hearts. 

“A wonderful bunch of women in this town decided to do a fundraiser,” he said. “They said, ‘We know you won’t accept it, but we’re not going to do it for you; we’re going to do it as a fundraiser for StuNews.’  

“They called it SOS (Save Our StuNews). Four hundred people came – and the business was only six months old!”  

This was the first time, Saffer says, he was “humbled” by his community. “They kept it afloat,” he said. “After something like that, you know you have to make it work. You have to give back.”

He has, and Stu News Laguna (SNL) flourishes.

The importance of Shaena

The “making it work” part was aided tremendously by the addition of Shaena Stabler in 2011.  

Saffer became acquainted with Stabler when she was working on a fundraiser to aid victims of the Haitian earthquake in 2010. “I told her I’d promote her event in every single issue,” he said. “That was it. Then she contacted me a year later and said she was thinking of making a change. She was at ‘The Indy’ selling ads for them. I was having trouble selling ads. So we met at Jean Paul’s and I had no idea what I was going to say to her. 

“Then it hit me as I sat down with her. I said, ‘I know how good you are. I don’t think anyone can do what you do better; I don’t think anyone can do what I do better than I do. Together we ought to be awesome. I will give you half of my business.’” Just like that, Stabler became Saffer’s business half.

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Stu with his business partner, Shaena Stabler 

“Shaena became my partner,” he said. “She understood what I wanted to do. She didn’t fight it. We set mutual goals and all that, but within ten days I knew she was the right person, and she knew she was the right person. It was fun! And we’ve had fun ever since. I want her to be the best she can be. The two of us have made this work, and it never would have worked without her.” 

Shaena writes the checks, Stu writes the news. 

Health issues are an uphill battle

And how he writes the news is no easy feat. Saffer survived cancer, but has had further health problems to deal with. 

“I have this thing called pulmonary arterial hypertension,” he said. “People didn’t used to survive from it. Still, there’s no cure, but I have a wonderful doctor, Dr. Michael Rovzar, who specializes in this.”  

Dr. Rovzar has a staff dedicated to dealing with the insurance companies and writing grants so that the very expensive medication needed to keep patients with this condition alive is possible. Talking to Saffer about this was a lesson in everything that is frustrating about our health care system. Suffice it to say, he is extremely grateful to his doctor and his staff. However, even with the medication, Saffer finds almost every activity incredibly strenuous. 

“The problem is I still can’t breathe well when I’ve had to exert myself,” he explains. “It’s hard for me to walk and distance; my breathing gets stressed and it takes time for my breathing to recover. That’s the biggest problem.” 

The daunting consistency of deadline days

And yet, the deadline days come twice a week regardless of how he is feeling.  “Every Monday and Thursday are deadline days,” says Saffer. “Maggi (Henrikson) and Elizabeth (Nutt) have their assignments. Allison (Rael) goes to the police department and goes through the log for me.” That starts the publication wheels moving. 

Saffer explains the online formula, “I formulate the questions and get answers back from the police department. That whole process takes a lot of time. 

“I decide where every article goes, and I send them to Michael Sterling, our web master, around 1 or 2 a.m. Then I do the final layout. That takes time, a lot of effort.” 

And keeps him up late! Many issues are not completed until the wee hours, but Saffer feels that sense of accomplishment twice a week, every week, with no time off. 

“I’m very proud of every issue. It seems daunting, but it’s just fun,” he says. “Especially now. I really can’t do anything else! That’s one reason I love it so much. It’s my lifeline; it keeps me alive.”

A natural hitter and happiness

Another thing that undoubtedly keeps Stu Saffer going is his love of sports, particularly baseball. He is an admitted sports nut.  

Baseball is a particular favorite because back in the day he was a gifted hitter. “I was a pure hitter,” he says. “I could hit like the best of them. You can’t learn to be a hitter; you just have it. 

“People said I could do whatever I wanted in baseball, and maybe I could have, but what they didn’t tell me was the second part of that, which is that you can do anything if you make sacrifices. I learned that with Brandon. If I’d learned that sooner, who knows? I do know that I wouldn’t be any happier than I am now.”

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This year, the Patriot’s Parade will celebrate 50 years – and Stu, as 

Citizen of the Year

Part of that happiness is due to his selection as this year’s Citizen of the Year.  “When Charlie Quilter [the president of the Patriots Day Parade Association] called me and said I’d been chosen, he asked, ‘Would I accept it?’ said Saffer. “I guess I have a reputation of not accepting tributes. But this really humbled me. It made me feel wonderful.  

“I love what I do. And I love it for all the right reasons. I consider myself to be the luckiest guy around. I get to write about the town that I love. I just feel lucky to be here.  And then to be Citizen of the Year…nothing could make me happier than that.” 

Finding a replacement…as if

Saffer says that he wanted StuNews to “make Laguna Beach a little smaller.” I think everyone would agree that he has achieved that goal. Next up is to find Stu II.  

“In my perfect world I will find my replacement,” he says rather hopefully. “I will find someone who has a passion for Laguna as I do.” 

And while he may entertain the idea of finding someone to fill his shoes, we all know there’s only one Stu – and he is more than StuNews, which is saying a lot.


Mark Lewis: Puts LBHS girls basketball on the map

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

As Orange County’s smallest public high school, LBHS posts some pretty impressive results in the world of high school athletics.  At around 1,000 total students Laguna Beach High School successfully competes with schools many times larger.  Certain sports garner a lot of attention (girls water polo, anyone?) while others seem to only generate enthusiasm for the players and their parents.  It’s understandable, but unfortunate because there are some great sports stories taking place in the gym, on the field, or wherever Breakers are competing.

Mark Lewis, LBHS’ girls basketball coach and 2012-13 Coach of the Year

One of the most compelling success stories that has quietly and consistently unfolded over the last five years at LBHS, is the girls basketball team.  Beach towns are not generally known for their prowess on the basketball court.  However, with a small yet dedicated squad, coach Mark Lewis has put LBHS girls basketball on the map.

A former basketball star moves to Laguna

A former star basketball player at Tustin High School who went on to play at CSULB, Lewis is now the Director of Public Works for the city of Fountain Valley.  He and his wife, Melanie, came to Laguna right after college and eventually started a family.  “My wife and I are both athletes so we wanted our kids to be active,” he says. As a result, he adds,  “I coached everything, even sports I didn’t know much about.” 

Not surprisingly, both Lewis’ kids, Brandon and Alexandra, eventually focused on basketball. Since this was a sport he obviously knew a lot about, he happily continued coaching them.

A determined daughter makes a request

However, when Brandon entered high school only Alexandra, four years younger than her brother, was still in need of his coaching services. He assumed when she got to high school, he’d hang up his whistle.  Alexandra had other ideas.  When she got to Thurston she told her father she wanted his role as her coach to continue once she started at LBHS. The problem was, as Lewis says he explained to his daughter, “It’s not that easy to become a high school coach.  You don’t just volunteer and get to do it. I figured she’d just get over it eventually, but she was relentless. Finally, I was just like, ‘Get over yourself!’” he says, laughing.

She didn’t.  And amazingly, between her 7th and 8th grade year, the LBHS girls basketball coach, Jon Hendrickson, resigned. Because of Brandon’s success as a LBHS player (he set a school record for most three pointers in a season), Lewis was familiar with then athletic director, Mike Churchill.  “No one wanted to coach the team so I went to see Mike Churchill and he said, ‘Are you serious?’ I knew [then principal] Dr. C and some of the school board members so there was some comfort there, I guess, and I got the job.  I inherited a team and a schedule.  

“They’d just graduated their top two players.  Four girls decided to quit two weeks before the season.  We lost every game.  It was a rough,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Winning begets winning.”

Lewis admits he is “probably more intense” than his predecessor was.  He lost girls to his new schedule (no more two weeks off over winter break) and demanding training regimen, but the ones who stayed saw their hard work rewarded with results.  

“I knew what I wanted to accomplish.  I thought it was fair to ask the girls to put their best effort on the floor.”  

In addition to having the girls play together, he also gained control of the schedule.  He admits he didn’t exactly schedule the toughest teams right off the bat, but they won two tournaments and broke the school record for number of wins (19) in a season his daughter’s freshman year.  

“Winning begets winning,” he says. The days of losing every game became a distant memory.

Coach Mark Lewis runs through drills with his team in the LBHS gym

The challenges of injuries and demographics

Still, the program hemorrhaged players: some to injury (torn ACLs are a problem), and some to pursue other interests.  When asked why so many girls seem to migrate away from the sport (or not try it at all), it’s clear it’s a subject he has pondered quite a bit. “Girls basketball in south Orange County…it’s a different demographic.  It’s really hard to get girls interested in basketball. It is a very physical, skilled game.  You need to have a certain skill level to play.  You can’t get lost on the court.  

“But I’m recruiting!  I go and talk to the girls volleyball team and tell them, ‘You don’t have to be a basketball player.  You can be a volleyball player who plays basketball,’” he says emphatically.  “We also do really fun things as a team.” 

A Coach of the Year pulls out all the stops

Coach Lewis knows that fun is a great recruiting tool and he’s not afraid to use it. “This year we played at Staples Center before a Clipper’s game; we went to Hawaii, Catalina…other coaches tell me ‘You’re doing all that in one year? How do you not have people wanting to play for you!?’”  Such is the life of a high school basketball coach in a beach community, even one who was voted Coach of the Year in 2013-14.  

“We have a lot of great athletes come through our high school,” he says.  “They just play other sports.”

There are collegiate opportunities for girls basketball

Maybe it’s the seeming abundance of collegiate opportunities in the other sports?  Lewis tells me that there are plenty of collegiate opportunities for girls who play basketball at a school like Laguna. “Is Laguna going to produce a lot of D1 [Division 1] players?  Probably not, but there are a lot of places for them to play at a D3 level. I have a player who is playing at Vassar. There are definitely opportunities.”  

Making the most of his opportunities is something Coach Lewis excels at.  When asked about his strengths as a coach he says, “I think I know the game really well and I can teach it to the talent level I have.  You have to know your personnel.  I’m able to tap into what makes them go.  I know what I can and what I can’t get out of the girls.” 

Walking the line between coach and father

And when “one of the girls” is your daughter, that’s a good skill to have. “We have an amazing relationship as player and coach and then as father and daughter off the court.  I probably am harder on her, but I’m harder on my better players and she’s one of them.  What’s harder for her is the scrutiny she’s under for being ‘the coach’s kid.’  Plus she hears stuff about the coach, which is different when the coach is your father.  But she knows how to walk that line.  She handles it all really well.” 

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LBHS girls basketball players practice before their CIF game

Four record-breaking seasons 

Fast forward through the last four seasons:  Alexandra is now a senior. This is her last season. The team has gone to CIF for four straight years. They have won 19 games every season except this one, where they won twenty. They won league this season for the first time in 11 years and for only the second time in school history. The team was going for win number 21 against St. Paul in the 2nd round of CIF on Saturday.  Coach Lewis was hopeful, but not optimistic.  “They are a really tough team,” he says simply.  

When a sister breaks her brother’s school record

For now, Lewis says, “When I’m on the floor coaching, I’m in the moment, but sometimes I do stop and look at what’s going on as a dad, and I can say, ‘Hey, that’s my kid out there.  That’s pretty cool.’” Like when Alexandra broke her brother’s three point record this year with him in the stands cheering her on?  For a coach, coaching his daughter, it probably doesn’t get much cooler than that.

A season of firsts and lasts

 With the tough CIF game looming, Lewis says that this season has been one of “lasts” for him and his daughter, as player and coach.  As in the “last home game” or the “last time they will play Estancia”…those kinds of “lasts.” And, depending on how their game on Saturday goes, it could possibly just be the “last” game, period.   

Regardless of the outcome, the LBHS girls basketball team has worked its way out of the basement to achieve an impressive lists of firsts in the school record book. This is in no small part to a coach who takes pride in the fact that his small team is recognized for playing basketball “the right way.”  

Of course, winning doesn’t hurt, either.  

The girls lost that game to St. Paul; the final “last” for Coach Lewis and his daughter, in a long list of firsts.


Raise a glass to Renae Hinchey: She’s keeping our water clear and flowing through the Water District

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Clean water direct from the tap is a standard Americans expect, and just one of the reasons we were collectively horrified at the news from Flint, Michigan. But available and clean drinking water is something we humans can no longer take for granted. It is our responsibility to life on earth that we practice ecological balance to ensure the sustainability of our water supplies. 

Of course, here in Laguna Beach we are constantly reminded of the state of our water, or lack thereof. We can thank Renae Hinchey, General Manager of Laguna Beach County Water District (LBCWD), for minding our taps – keeping them clean, safe, and flowing.

Renae Hinchey 

Hinchey will have been with the LBCWD for 16 years this June. She was in the public water industry in Riverside prior to that, for 26 years. You could say she’s been deep in water for many years.

“Water is interesting. That’s the reason I’m here,” she says. “I like the challenge. Something is always happening!”

Such as troubleshooting, and emergency planning: What if there was an earthquake up north, and the supply line to our Colorado River water was broken? 

“It could take days to fix a break,” Hinchey explained. “We used to have five days of storage supply. Now we have a three-month supply.” Phew. A broken supply line is one of those worries that keep a water district manager awake at night.

Of course, if the water is local, you can fix it a lot easier.

Back in the Day

In the Wild West days of Laguna’s ranch beginnings – in the early 1900’s, there were a few shallow wells in Laguna Canyon. Ranchers would transport the water in buckets by horse and cart. Those wells dried up, and by 1922 even the drilled wells there were unusable, as they had become too salty. So, a committee of five guys headed up to Huntington Beach and posed as a duck club to get some water down here to Laguna.

That worked, and by 1925 Laguna voters passed a bond to create its own County Water District. Despite Huntington Beach suing Laguna Beach for snagging some of its water (they lost), that well water, too, became unusably salty. In 1943, Metropolitan Water supplied the Colorado River water via aqueduct, for which residents paid dearly.

“Reliable water has always been difficult for Laguna,” says Hinchey. 

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The downtown office and gardens

And expensive. “In 1989 it was $356 an acre-foot,” said Hinchey. “Now it’s almost $1,000. We are a non-profit. We’ve had to raise the rates.”

A reliable, local supply is the answer.

Local Water – There is Such a Thing!

The most important thing on Hinchey’s agenda these days is local groundwater. 

“Metropolitan water prices keep going up for imported water. We want our groundwater back,” says Hinchey. “It’s been a fight since the 80’s.” 

Metropolitan countered that Laguna had “abandoned” its well rights, and could not enforce its use again. But Laguna had an adjudicated judgment from 1933 for groundwater. 

“We got that done. Then let’s get that groundwater again!” says Hinchey. “This is my fourth attempt.” 

She added that the political climate now is different now than in the past. “We don’t need a lot of water, so everyone finally agreed. It was worth all the energy and effort so we have a local source of water. It’s just extremely important.”

Water from the Santa Ana River Basin is all set to be flowing into our taps, and Hinchey is sure it will not only be reliable, but also that rates will be able to stabilize.

Best Person for The Job

 While Hinchey was working in the private sector, she was cognizant of fluctuating economic realities in Southern California. She sought out a good, stable job and landed herself in the public sector – working public administration, for a water district in Riverside County. She worked 11 years there while also earning here Master’s Degree in Public Administration as well as getting her teaching credentials.

“I’m very energetic, so I’d work at the [Western Municipal] Water District, and teach three nights a week,” said Hinchey. She taught business and publication writing. 

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General Manager of Laguna Beach County Water District, Renae Hinchey

Moving on from Assistant to General Manager at the Water District was not easy, and not because she isn’t talented and intelligent. She’s simply the first female.

“I had push-back as the first woman,” says Hinchey. “I’d be at a meeting with all the GM’s at the time, and I was the only woman in the room… I had one employee say, ‘I won’t work for a woman!’”

There are now three women General Managers in Orange County. “I’m the first, and longest standing,” Hinchey says proudly. “I speak when I have something important to contribute.” She is aware of setting a positive and competent example of female leadership in this male-dominated sector.

Learn History at the WD, Right Downtown

One of the noticeable examples of Hinchey’s influence at the Water District offices downtown is the display right up front. “I’m big on the District’s history,” she says. There hadn’t been enough information about it for the public, so she set up a big display wall with facts and historic photos. “How we got started and the progress the District’s made – all the unusual things this District has done.”

For example, the building itself is the oldest municipal building in Laguna. The Water District, established in 1925, shared the building with the City, established in 1927. They all cozied up with the prisoners, too, as the jail resided there as well.

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The District’s history wall

These days, people stop in at the relatively new front reception window. Or they tune in via social media. “We do a lot on Twitter and Facebook,” says Hinchey. “If you ‘like,’ you get [water conservancy] tips.”

And then people phone in. “We get a lot of people calling in on neighbors,” she says. “We have to take it seriously, and be diligent.” 

Water snitches will be heard.

Conservation Minded Above All

There are not so many different issues amongst Orange County cities, as all have been reliant upon imported water. “The projects may be different, but the goal is the same – clean, reliable, sustainable water,” says Hinchey. “But we don’t have a huge population here. Laguna is built out, so water can be conserved.”

Still, it was a little annoying that after so many successful years of conservation, Laguna was asked to further cut back by equal percentages to our less-than conservative neighbors. “We were buying 4800 acre-feet a year, and brought it down to 3300 acre-feet since 2000,” said Hinchey. “We took it seriously.

“We’d conserved 30% already, then needed another 24%.” We got to 22%. But Hinchey is motivated and energized in dealing with the current drought. 

“We have very conservation-minded people here. I can’t believe the things people do! I’m amazed.”

The next step will be toward alternative technologies, like water desalination. We can count on our head of the Laguna Beach County Water District to be progressive. 

“We need to be out there looking for other sources of water in the future,” she says hopefully. Being open-minded and learning about science and engineering breakthroughs will be part of the job. Hinchey is up for it.  

“I like a challenge. I love this job!”


James Pribram: ‘Eco-Warrior’, professional surfer, and compassionate Lagunan

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

James Pribram can still remember—with impressive clarity—the first time he tried surfing. He was a few weeks shy of seven years old, and he followed his older brother out to the arch off Pearl Street Beach. The first set came in, James got thrown around, and he was frightened and started to cry. When he finally caught a wave, he rode it all the way to shore, beached it, and ran home, tears still streaming down his face. 

“When I calmed down, I thought, ‘That was easy, I caught a wave and stood up!’ And I wanted to get back out there. From then on, my chosen path was always surfing,” says James. 

 

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James Pribram

Indeed his path—which took countless sharp turns in unknown directions, and brought him around the world—was formed by his passion for surfing. 

But it was also a path dotted with powerful experiences beside the ocean, which James has long viewed as far more than just a playground for his sport. He has an inherent passion for protecting beaches and surf breaks worldwide, which eventually granted him a different title: Eco-Warrior.

 “My earliest recollection was the ocean. It was my first love,” he says. 

Today, James runs the Laguna Beach-based Eco-Warrior Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at preserving oceans and beaches through education and activism. He is one of those rare, compassionate individuals who are determined to leave the world a better place than they found it. 

And though he’s seen much of the world, from exotic beaches to devastating environmental disasters, Laguna Beach will always be home to James. It’s a place that taught him many of the valuable lessons he’s learned—from how to navigate big waves and look after other people, to the importance of forging your own path and making a difference.  

An Education

 James was raised on Ocean Way, off of Pearl Street, and from the time he turned seven, he found immense joy—and success—on his surfboard. The first surfing contest he entered was the Brooks Street Classic; it was 1981, he was 10, he did well, and the exhilaration of the competition hooked him. 

He started competing locally, and by the time he entered high school, he had been invited to join the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA). He thought he had the world at his fingertips—that he’d make the NSSA national team that year—that surfing was everything.

And then he found out, during his freshman year, that his GPA was below NSSA’s required average. 

“That lesson changed my life. That was the first major crossroads in my life: quit and drop out of high school, or buckle down and do the work. It taught me that there is much more to being a champion than just your sport. You need also to be reliable, articulate, and responsible,” says James.  

He made the decision to stay in school, though it wasn’t an easy one. Not only did James prefer the ocean to the classroom, but he was also born with a speech impediment. 

He insists that no one made him feel different or made fun of him—it’s one of the best things that he remembers from the Laguna Beach he grew up in—and he’s still close friends with some of his classmates from Anneliese Schools. 

“But the classroom was just never my thing,” he says.

Nevertheless, he fought hard to get his grades up, with the help of his mother, who played an instrumental role in James’s eventual academic success. James recalls her sitting down with him every single day to help him throughout the remainder of his high school career.  

By the time he graduated from high school, he’d made the NSSA National Team, helped the LBHS surf team secure the national championship title, and he’d won the 1988 high school state championship. 

The day after high school graduation, he was on a flight heading to Australia to compete. 

“It was a huge deal for me. Nothing has ever come easily for me, but that’s the best possible lesson: no matter what it is, you have to work hard for what you want. That experience changed my mindset,” says James. 

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Making Waves

James became a professional surfer in 1990, competing in the U.S. Pro Tour, the Bud Tour, and the ASP Tour. 

And, in 1993, ESPN offered him the opportunity of a lifetime: to travel to Tahiti, where the network would film the surfing series “Hot Summer Nights”. The show was a huge success, and James found fame almost overnight. He traveled all over the world to film and do appearances, and he was featured in magazines and on the runway at various fashion shows. 

“I remember walking down the beach off Pearl, and people were coming up to me, stopping me. Up until that point I hadn’t really grasped what had happened, but in the blink of an eye my life was different. The show shifted my career from being a professional competitor, to being an ambassador of the sport,” he says. 

After 9/11, when the economy tanked and there were fewer professional events and opportunities for him, James eventually returned home to Laguna Beach to figure out the next step. 

In the fall of 2003, he founded the Aloha School of Surfing, and his timing couldn’t have been more perfect. That summer, MTV settled into Laguna to film “Laguna Beach”, and business was suddenly booming. James continues to run the surf school today.

The Eco-Warrior

Of course, along the way, James thought constantly about the state of our ocean and beaches. With the influx of tourists in Laguna, he couldn’t help but notice a subsequent influx of trash where it shouldn’t be: where he was getting in the water to surf. And he wanted to do something about it. 

James believes that, having been raised in Laguna Beach, the desire to make a positive change was instilled in him from a young age. 

When he looks back on the Laguna in which he grew up, he remembers there being an incredibly strong sense of community. He recalls the “older guys” who looked after him and taught him to be respectful and to take care of the things he loves.

“I grew up in an era where caring for the town and causes you believe in, that was part of our culture—I remember people like James Dilley, who were a big deal. I remember the March for Laguna Canyon. I feel like I’m just living up to the culture I was raised in,” he says. 

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A Walk Along The Beach

He took that spirit in 2005 to Dick Baker of Ocean Pacific, and said he wanted to get support for a major beach cleanup. 

James was handpicked by OP to serve as an ocean advocate for a three-year project that would take him to beaches around the world. His role? Serving as a spokesperson for environmental and ocean-related issues. 

His first trip brought him to Chile, where he marched with other activists to protest a paper mill that was dumping chlorine into a nearby river. On that trip, a photo was taken of him holding a cross wrapped in olive branches for good luck; though James insists that he was merely in the midst of thousands of fellow protesters, in the photograph he appears to be leading the charge. The photo became an iconic, powerful image; he was soon dubbed the ‘Eco-Warrior’. 

Bettering the Laguna of Today

After he fulfilled his end of the deal, James returned home to Laguna Beach, still thinking about what he could do to help make a change and advocate for the ocean. And, once again, his timing was perfect. 

In 2011, he famously saved Maira Kahn, of Irvine, from drowning just off Pearl Street Beach. He was eating lunch on his parents’ deck when he saw her get swept off a rock by a set wave and thrown into the ocean. 

“We still keep in touch. I went to her wedding recently,” says James. “Maira was the one who said to me, ‘Hey, you’ve done all of these incredible things, but what are you doing for your home?’ I made an important realization then,” he adds. 

In 2014, he founded the Eco-Warrior Foundation, which is different from other non-profits of its kind in that it doesn’t raise money; it’s run by volunteers who get their boots on the ground and their hands dirty. Its Upstream Initiatives and Adopt-a-Beach programs have made a significant impact locally, and they rely on participants—especially Laguna Beach residents—for help. 

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 “When people show up and pick up trash, they feel empowered, and those conversations that people have when they’re working toward this common goal, well, they bring the community together,” he says.

James hasn’t gotten in the water very much since August, due to a couple of injury- and skin cancer-related surgeries, so he’s focused on slowing down, building his foundation, and pursuing some other hobbies, such as yoga and meditation. And, of course, he spends as much time as he can back at his childhood home on Pearl Street, where he visits often with his parents. 

“It seems like I’ve been trying to get to this place for my entire life… where I’m healthy, happy, and back on the beach. If I could envision perfectly my life the way I want it to be, well, that’s exactly what it is today,” he says. 

Ever the compassionate champion for the ocean, he adds, “And, I’m where I need to be today to take my foundation to the next level.”

For more information, visit www.eco-warrior.org


Dr. Diana Kersten: local eye surgeon, global reach

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Diana H. Kersten, MD, a board certified ophthalmologist and partner at Harvard Eye Associates, went to the University of Iowa, College of Medicine, because it was close to her home in Iowa City. “They have this huge medical center. It really dominated everything.  Three quarters of our neighbors were doctors. It was just really prevalent. I think of my friends, seven or eight of us went to med school. 

“I remember one of my friends went to business school and I thought ‘Why would you do that?’” she says with a laugh. 

Discovering a more “delicate” surgery

Thinking she was going to be an orthopedist, she nevertheless took a summer internship in ophthalmology.  “I thought, ‘That’s so cool!’” It didn’t hurt that the University of Iowa had one of the top three ophthalmology programs in the country. 

“Lots of surgeries are pretty masculine. This (eye surgery) was like a tea party! It was so delicate.”  

It turns out, that “there’s a lot of hammering,” as she describes it, in orthopedics – the opposite of a tea party. After spending some time with Dr. Kersten on her comfortable couch in the lovely Laguna home she shares with her husband, Mike, and son, Lucas, it seems only natural she’d gravitate towards such an intricate practice. She is the definition of elegance, even with wet hair and bare feet. Her demeanor is both gentle and calm, two traits that I, for one, think would be tremendously useful for any type of surgeon, especially one who works on eyes.

Dr. Diana Kersten, partner of Harvard Eye Associates

Who forgets to mention Harvard?!

 Paired with this elegance is understatement.  Getting in to a program ranked in the top three in the nation is obviously no easy feat, yet Dr. Kersten talks more about how she had decided to go into ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) practice if she didn’t get accepted into Iowa’s ophthalmology program. She acts as though getting in was just something that happened, when clearly it wasn’t. 

I later find out (but only because I went on Harvard Eye’s website) that she trained in ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. With the name of her practice perhaps I should have realized, but who forgets to mention Harvard training? In my notes I found mention of a “residency in Boston,” but that was it.  I’m sure, actually I know I’d find all kinds of ways to work my time at Harvard into completely unrelated conversations, let alone an interview.  And yet, with Dr. Kersten it’s not that surprising.  

She is brilliant, hardworking, and formidable, yet like most truly accomplished people, she just doesn’t seem to feel the need to tell you she’s brilliant, hardworking and formidable. 

A passion for international ophthalmology

In addition to that whole Harvard thing, Dr. Kersten also completed a fellowship in International Ophthalmology.  She has worked extensively in underdeveloped countries, spending two months in Kenya during her last year of med school. “It was amazing. I fell in love with international ophthalmology,” she says.  Because she was a “little younger than (her) classmates” she took two jobs overseas: one in Nepal for three months and another with Project Orbis.  

She explains that with Project Orbis, doctors traveled on a DC8 aircraft. The back of the plane was equipped as a small operating room. The team of doctors flew in, stayed three weeks, performed cataract surgeries or conducted lectures. She did this for a year. “It was a great experience,” says Dr. Kersten. “We went to Eastern Europe, Sudan, northern Nigeria, Tunisia, Mali…It was a really great experience. I got to meet so many people. After I came here (to Laguna) I worked for them once a year for a week or two.”

New responsibilities but still committed to helping others

Still active in international ophthalmology, despite adding the extra responsibility of becoming president of Harvard Eye’s new surgery center (on top of her regular surgical responsibilities), Dr. Kersten is involved with Direct Connections.  

“[Laguna Beach local] Mary Ellen Carter started this non-profit called Direct Connections with Africa. She’s a retired social worker, a real dynamo,” said Kersten. “I went to Malawi last May and had an amazing experience. It’s one of the poorest parts of Africa. People can’t even get glaucoma drops. I brought 100 pounds of eye drops.  There are clinics that provide free surgery, but the people are so poor they can’t afford to get to the clinics so I paid for their transportation to the clinic. There is one cataract surgeon per one million people. It’s very humbling. There is nothing like it to make you feel grateful. We can be so quick to be critical here, but there they can’t even buy something as basic as glaucoma drops.”  

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A photo in Dr. Kersten’s home of a family waiting for a mother undergoing 

eye surgery

What are cataracts?

Dr. Kersten says that in terms of her practice, “I like being a generalist.”  However, she mostly does cataract surgery. She explains that a cataract is, “When the lens of your eye gets cloudy, usually when you’re 65 or older, but sometimes if you’ve had an injury or taken prednisone it can happen much younger.  UVA light and diabetes can be part of it, too. It’s very common.  In fact, it’s kind of rare to see a 90 year old without cataracts. You may not need surgery for them, but to some degree it’s just a natural occurrence,” she explains.  “To correct it you’re vacuuming out the old, cloudy lens and replacing it with a clear lens.  Now is such a great time to practice.  The innovations make it a little more fun.”

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Dr. Kersten with son, Lucas, and husband Mike Austin, Dir. of Finance at Friendship Shelter Laguna Beach, and their newest adopted member of the family

Staying with and helping grow Harvard Eye Associates

When Dr. Kersten came to Harvard Eye there were two doctors: she was the third.  Now there are 13, with five partners, of which she is one.  It’s an impressive resume and according to Dr. Kersten, somewhat unusual because Harvard Eye was her first real job – and she never left.  

“That’s not usually how it goes,” she says.  

And while she gave no indication of retiring anytime soon she does say, “When I’m ready to retire I’d like to slow down and do more international surgery. There are new procedures I’d like to become proficient at.”  

Trying to do it all

In the meantime, she will keep up her busy work schedule, try to find time to read, exercise and, most importantly, spend time with her family.  And just so you know she’s human, she mentions that she, like every other working parent, sometimes finds balancing the two a challenge, like when her son, Lucas, a water polo player at LBHS, tells her he wishes she could come to more of his games – something she would undoubtedly like, as well.  And while she, like every other working parent, does her best to do it all, I’m just guessing she makes it look a lot easier than it really is.


Cary Redfearn: Lumberyard’s heart and soul

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He’s kind of quiet, and admittedly a fairly private guy, yet Cary Redfearn occupies the most popular corner in Laguna Beach. There isn’t an elected official, a theatergoer, or even a Farmer’s Market visitor who can resist the siren call at one point or another. In they come by the sidewalk-full, into Lumberyard’s everyone-knows-your-name embrace, and there’s Redfearn at the helm, sure to stop by for a quick howdy-do and a chat. He knows everyone’s name after almost eight years on this lively corner.

Cary Redfearn

Private guy or no, Redfearn is the first to step up for an ever-rotating turn of community events, giving of his popular watering hole space wholeheartedly. Programs including SchoolPower, athletic boosters, the Community Clinic, and other local non-profits count on the Lumberyard largess like a long-sought oasis, where there’s room for everyone and you can be sure a good percentage goes toward what’s near and dear to the heart of the benefit charity.

“One reason we do so much with the schools [in Laguna Beach] is because of my kids,” Redfearn says. “They’ve gotten a private school education for public school prices. Now my kids are in great schools [Berkeley, and Cal Poly], and it’s because of the Laguna Beach schools.”

It’s intimately about family

The Redfearn family – Cary’s wife Suzanne, daughter Halle, and son Joseph have long understood the restaurant life. Cary and Suzanne have been married 23 years during which time the restaurant has always been like another family – six days, five nights a week. “She knows that, and understands that,” says Cary. Suzanne has been the brain-stormer behind the SchoolPower Chef’s Challenge concept, an event in which the various school principals face off in the kitchen for culinary bragging rights.

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Redfearn’s restaurant, The Lumberyard

The Redfearn kids have helped out with hostessing and bussing at the restaurant too. “Joseph’s first day - he was on his feet for five hours,” remembers Redfearn. “It gave him a new appreciation for the business.” With his self-deprecating sense of humor he gave his kids a bit of advice, “There are easier ways to make money!”

The life of a restaurateur is a mixed bag. One part, it’s a long-suffering lifestyle, “It’s tough to be away. It’s a very personal business.” One part, it’s a lot of fun, “It’s one of the things that keeps me young. It’s a social world – with good food and community.”

And then it’s also one part trying to keep it all in perspective.

“My wife said to me, ‘Every now and then, when the restaurant is full, take a look around and see people enjoying, celebrating – and realize that you’ve created that space.’ I generally try to do that. I feel lucky.”

I happen to know that Cary, Suzanne and the kids are busy enjoying a long-wished-for escape together to the land of milk and honey right now. Well, make that Buffalo mozzarella and other formaggi, plus pasta, and you get the idea. Yes, mecca for anyone, anywhere, interested in food and travel: Italy.

 “I love to travel. I love to cook,” says Redfearn. The family is celebrating Suzanne’s “big birthday” all together, with Italian panache. On the itinerary are culinary adventures like truffle hunting with a chef and cooking in the wine region. 

“I’m probably going to come back with all kinds of crazy ideas from Italy.” 

We look forward to that! 

Continually passionate about work

Laguna’s ocean started out coursing through his veins when Cary Redfearn was just a lad. His family would come down the coast from Los Angeles and visit often. 

“My dad loved to bodysurf,” he said. “One week turned to two, then to a month. My parents said, ‘When you graduate, we’re going to move to Laguna.’” Thankfully they owned up to those words in 1974, and Cary joined his dad in the love of bodysurfing at Oak and Victoria beaches. 

Meanwhile, he put himself through college working at restaurants. By the early 80’s, Redfearn found the way toward his ultimate goal.

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The Lumberyard’s handcrafted feature table

“I’d been dying to get my own restaurant. I found out Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach was available, and I made an offer,” said Redfearn. “I offered to rent it when the owner didn’t want to sell. I re-opened Walt’s in 1985 as GM, with Walt Babcock.”

He and Walt went on to launch Oysters, in Corona del Mar. They partnered together for 18 years, with Redfearn buying Babcock out in the last four.

“It was my first ownership,” says Redfearn. “I took a pay cut – no pay checks, no bonuses – suddenly you’re responsible for payroll, taxes, loans… it was scary.”

It worked out well though, with Redfearn attributing that to a good concept and a good chef. By 2004, the restaurant was recommended by an incognito reviewer, and invited to the prestigious James Beard House, in New York City, for a one-night culinary showstopper.

“I brought the chef and four other cooks, my wife, and all the demi-glaces,” said Redfearn. “You get one night, and present a multiple five-course menu.”

The night was a big success, and “showed where our restaurant was at the time.”

Redfearn and Oysters continued until the dream location presented itself, on the corner of Forest and Third, in Laguna Beach: the former Cedar Creek Inn.

“I always wanted a location in Laguna,” says Redfearn simply. 

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Redfearn at Lumberyard’s U-shaped bar, right up front

Now, being a business owner as well as Laguna resident, Redfearn brings a lot to the table. He’s newly on the board at the Chamber of Commerce. He says he’s “a rookie” among the good people who care about the town and make a difference, but he’s “in the thick of it.” He sees the city, for better and for worse, from multiple perspectives. 

And ultimately about sports

One of the joys of family life is sharing a common passion, and for the Redfearns that means baseball.

“I coached Little League, and always sponsored, first with Oysters and now Lumberyard every year,” says Redfearn. “Also slow-pitch softball league in the summer season.

“As a family, we love baseball. We do fantasy baseball. We’re huge Giants, and Angels fans.” His eyes light up when he mentions Lumberyard’s attraction, “[Angel’s manager] Mike Scioscia’s been in, Torii Hunter’s been in…”

Baseball boosters have hit a home run at Lumberyard too. One of the fun fundraisers they do every year is coming up on May 12. The LBHS varsity team will be out front, in uniform – and waiting on tables. (Make reservations mentioning the team in order to to be included on the fundraising).

Redfearn also manages to stay in shape with basketball. “I continue to do basketball at the Boys and Girls Club in San Juan Capistrano with a bunch of old guys like me,” he laughs. “If I didn’t do that, I’d be yelling at the staff more! It’s my release. It’s great camaraderie.”

So, when you don’t happen to see Cary Redfearn up front and center at Lumberyard, it’s probably because he’s playing sports or watching sports. 

If it’s Sunday, he’s making the family meal (“I love braising!”), with a glass of wine in hand, and sports on TV.


At home with Rona Gromet

Story by ELIZABETH NUTT

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Rona grew up in the Bronx in New York City, but followed a strong instinct to head west as an eighteen-year-old. And it was an intuition that, as it turns out, was spot-on.  

“I just looked at a map of California and picked the farthest school south on the beach,” she says. Rona attended San Diego State, and has called Southern California home ever since. And, though a mix of fate and brave determination brought her out to California, something much deeper has kept her here: a love for her community. 

In 1990, she moved to Laguna Beach, and it’s very clear when talking with Rona that she couldn’t picture herself living anywhere else. 

She and her husband, Stevan, raised their three children in Laguna, and have been active members of nearly every aspect of their community, from school sports to philanthropic endeavors. 

“I love this town, it is beautiful. I don’t ever leave Laguna if I don’t have to,” says Rona with a genuine smile. 

And her passion for Laguna explains Rona’s long history of giving back to the town, particularly by opening up her home to its residents, non-profit organizations and those in need, and for no other reason than the fact that Rona simply loves helping others.

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Rona Gromet

Park Avenue Parties

 Roughly ten years ago, Rona and her family moved from their house on Marilyn Drive in South Laguna, to their current home on Park Avenue. And, just like her move to California, Rona knew instantly that it was a fit. 

“When I first saw it, I thought, ‘I have to have this house!’ It was so warm, inviting and welcoming,” she says. Which, interestingly, are the very words that I’d use to describe Rona. 

When I visited her Tuscan villa-style home last week, she greeted me outside a stunning, oversized front door and led me inside with earnest conviviality. The home is gorgeous, impeccably decorated and large—in fact, it sits on a 150,000 square-foot lot. 

It offers sweeping views of the canyon, and a spacious, open outdoor area with a pool, hot tub, outdoor fireplace, and plenty of seating.

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The Stunning Outdoor Space at the Gromet Home

But it maintains a cozy, well-lived-in feel. And that’s thanks, in part, to the four family pets—two dogs and two cats—that also greeted me once I stepped inside, and to the beautiful photos of the Gromet family of five that decorate the most frequently used room in the house: the family room. 

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Kobe, the Gromets’ Golden Retriever 

Rona’s now adult children happened to be home for the weekend, and she was visibly happy to have a full house again. Rona loves when there’s a gathering of any kind at her home and she has the opportunity to entertain in a space that was made for celebratory get-togethers. 

 “I am a social animal, and I love having parties and entertaining,” she says. “I just have a soft space in my heart for people.” 

 This ‘soft space’ has led Rona and Stevan, over the last decade, to open up their home just as readily to visitors and guests, too. The Gromet home has hosted countless fundraisers that benefit local institutions such as the Laguna College of Art and Design. It has also seen Laguna Beach Live! and Pacific Symphony concerts, and smaller-scale parties such as an afternoon tea party to raise money for families in Nepal through the local R-STAR Foundation. 

And, in 2007, the Gromets welcomed Hillary Clinton to their home after being asked by close friends to host a fundraising event for the then presidential hopeful. 

More recently, the home has seen personal gatherings—such as a festive, joyous family party for Rona’s birthday. 

No Place Like Home 

One of the most memorable gatherings for Rona, however, was the 2014 fundraising event hosted at her home for Steven and Michelle Chapman, following the news that their then-25-year-old son, Stephan, had been diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma. 

“It felt really good that we could raise money and help,” Rona says. 

She recalls a band, the donation of an impressive amount of food, and a silent and live auction. But what she loved most about this particular fundraiser is also what she loves most about Laguna Beach. 

“It’s such a small town, and it feels like a small town. It’s tight-knit, and if something does go wrong, people come together and want to help each other out.” 

This mindset has motivated Rona to extend her impact far beyond Park Avenue; she’s been involved with and attended fundraising events for other local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, and SchoolPower. She also participates annually in the local Relay for Life event. 

And she’s encouraged her children to take her lead, too. For example, she and her daughter Danielle—who is currently a sophomore at CU Boulder—enjoyed volunteering their time together at the Friendship Shelter over the years. 

As a matter of fact, the Friendship Shelter may inspire the next big fundraising event at the Gromet home. Rona explains that she has a soft place in her heart, too, for the local organization. And, when she’s asked to help out and host an event, she’s almost always game. 

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Rona At Her Home on Park Avenue

“I feel that we’re very fortunate to have this kind of space, so if it’s needed, why not offer it up? That’s my general attitude—if I can help, then why not?” she says of her role as one of Laguna’s most kind-hearted hostesses.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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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.

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