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Glori Fickling: The woman behind (and inside) the 

1950s private detective series Honey West 

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

This year, Gloria (Glori) Fickling again turns the age she’s always turned…29. Now, she says, you only have to hold that number up to the mirror. 

If ever a woman could convince you age is only a number, it’s Glori. She still exudes the same sense of fun adventure and daring flair for fashion she had 70 years ago when she met her late husband, Skip, while crawling backwards out of a hotel window wearing nothing more than a bikini. (Stay tuned for more on that story later.)

Best known for their collaboration on the first female private detective series, Honey West, that debuted in the 1950s, Glori and Skip celebrated a storied career.

We sit for a few hours – outside the home she and Skip built together in 1953, overlooking Laguna’s village with the church bells ringing below and the sun setting across the Pacific – and hold up that magical mirror on all the “29” glorious years of Glori’s life. 

Fashion first, fashion always

Fashion and a sense of style may be woven into Glori’s DNA. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, fashion had been on her brain since she could remember. “Ever since I was a little kid, in my head I would be designing clothes,” Glori says. Before meeting Skip, Glori’s early career revolved around apparel. She worked for Women’s Wear Daily, the bible of the industry at that time. 

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The always-glamorous Glori in her library

Glori also became a fashion consultant for May Company, choosing all the clothing for their photo shoots. “In fact, I designed the first line of maternity clothes,” she says. Glori’s boss at the time grew jealous of her early and swift success, giving her only a small line in the magazine for her progressive designs.

Fashion became a theme of Glori’s life, influencing not only the concept and character of Honey West, but defining Glori’s sense of presence in everyday life. She’s known for her big-brimmed hats and trendy outfits, vogue jewelry and enviable shoes. Glori will never be caught looking anything less than the best dressed.

Except that one time…

Seventy years ago, still single and on a Catalina Island adventure with friends, Glori got locked inside her hotel room. With no other means of escape, and wearing only a rainbow-striped bikini, she took matters into her own hands. The window was low to the ground, but navigating it in a bathing suit made an entertaining scene. 

Skip Fickling sat on a railing outside her room, watching her progress. “Well, aren’t you cute,” Glori said once she made it to the ground. Skip asked her out on the spot, but Glori already had a date. 

Fortunately for Skip, Glori’s date turned into a disaster. Like a scene straight out of their later Honey West novels, Glori had to physically fight the man off. “The guy tried to nail me on the table,” Glori recalls. “I took my two feet, threw him across the room, and ran like hell back to the inn.” 

Skip was there waiting.

They spent a sweet weekend together. And, on Sunday, Skip accompanied Glori to church. He held her hand throughout the service. In a later 1959 appearance on the show “You Bet Your Life,” calling up this story, Groucho Marx asked Glori, “Why was that? Didn’t he trust you when the collection plate came around?”

The two eventually eloped to Las Vegas, getting married at one of those little chapels on the Strip. “The lady who stood up for us…she was only wearing a bathrobe, for crying out loud,” says Glori. “I asked her name. Skip thought that was so funny I wanted to know her name. But it was very sentimental to me. For god’s sake, I was getting married.”

A peach of a pair

Glori and Skip may have modeled their marriage after Glori’s parents. Glori talks about her father, Frank Gautraud, with some of the same reverence she has for Skip. “He was God’s gift to mankind,” Glori says about her father. “He had such a sense of humor. Mom and Dad were always laughing.” 

Her own marriage felt full of that same fun love. Skip and Glori loved travel, they loved Las Vegas, they loved working together. “A peach of a pair.” That’s what she called them.

“When you have parents who love each other all the time, you know you’ve got a chosen life,” says Glori. And Glori’s life has felt chosen.

How Honey was born

Twenty-first century women know the strength of being both smart and sensual. But in the 1950s, women who survived on bravery and wits, with more than a little sex appeal on the side, were a new breed. Skip and Glori were the perfect couple to usher that woman into the mainstream.

Honey West was based on Glori’s vivacious personality, Marilyn Monroe’s classic looks, and a Mike Hammer style hardboiled detective. A blue-eyed blonde bombshell with curves that wouldn’t quit, not to mention wit and wiles, Honey West was the first female private eye in American crime fiction. Named after the common and relatable pet name “Honey,” and “West” because, well, she lived in southern California. Out to avenge her father’s death, Honey was known to be “the sexiest private eye ever to pull a trigger.”

Writing under the gender-ambiguous penname G.G. Fickling (a nod to Glori’s maiden name Gloria Gautraud), the couple wrote 11 novels. Titles like “A Kiss for a Killer,” “Girl on the Prowl” and “Honey in the Flesh” all were born before the feminist movement took off across the country. 

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Honey West: “the sexiest private eye ever to pull the trigger”

This led to the eventual launch of a 1960s television show directed by Aaron Spelling and starring Anne Francis, who sported a tight black jumpsuit and sleek sunglasses, and kept company with a pet ocelot named Bruce. While the program only lasted one season, it became the precursor to later shows like Charlie’s Angels, Cagney & Lacey and Police Woman. 

Glori’s office is a shrine to Honey. Bookcases are crammed with copies in several foreign languages. Posters, dolls, memorabilia, and a long line of hotel room keys collected from their book tours line the shelves and walls.

“Her bravado, her great spirit, that’s what Skip saw in making me the role model,” Glori said in an interview last year with the Orange County Register

Glori’s great spirit

I ask Glori about her great spirit, and what she believes sets her apart. “I’ve always been so outgoing,” she says. “If I ever see anyone sitting alone, I always ask them to join me.” 

But, she tells me, there was one time she did not, and this led to one of her greatest life regrets. Once, Glori and Skip were having lunch and happened to see Marilyn Monroe sitting alone. “Almost any other time, I would have invited her to join us, but I was so humbled. She was gorgeous, like a glass doll.” Monroe felt untouchable and intimidating. It seemed too much of a stretch to ask.

Glori feels if she would have reached out to Monroe, told her that Honey West was based on her image, it might have made her day. As she recounts the story, it’s as though Glori feels the weight of responsibility in not alleviating some of Marilyn Monroe’s pain. “If I’d done that,” she says. “It would have been so cheering. What a foolish thing. Every other time, I would always ask.”

Not everything is easy

Glori forever looks on the bright side. But life doesn’t always offer its brightest sides, no matter how lucky you are. And in the mirror of her 29 years, there were some rough times.

At 14, Glori contracted a virulent case of rheumatic fever, forcing her to leave her home in New York, move away from her parents, and live with family in California. “The doctor said I had to get to some warm climate. I had relatives who lived here, and my mother sent me out.” 

It was a childhood illness that took her away from friends and family, but it led her west, to the great state where she’d meet her husband and make Laguna Beach her final happy home.

The hardships didn’t end there. Glori and Skip lost their first child shortly after his birth. The hospital made a mistake, sending Glori home when they shouldn’t have, resulting in complications they couldn’t control. This sunk her into a deep depression, one she wasn’t certain she’d crawl out from. But, she says, this heartbreak prevented Skip from having to fight in the Korean War. He knew Glori might not make it without him home. The couple went on to have three sons, three grandsons, and now a great-granddaughter. 

Years later, they would have lost their home in the 1993 Laguna fire, but for Skip’s training in World War II. He knew the roads, how to drive at night with the lights off, how to crawl through the brush and sneak back to the house when it was surrounded by police presence. That decision saved their home. Skip saw a hot-spot building next door and was able to contact the fire department in time to squelch it. Another lucky break, Glori tells me.

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Glori displays some foreign editions of the Honey West series

But Glori’s greatest loss was Skip, who passed in 1998. Skip had prostate cancer that he opted not to treat and, ultimately, it spread to his brain. “Meeting Skip was the great blessing,” she says. 

This is Glori’s way – turning every misfortune on its head to see the happy sides. Even as she tells me she doesn’t know why she’s lived this long, feeling like she should “give others their turn,” she recognizes she still has more life to live, and more to give the world.

Laguna’s latest grand marshal

At five o’clock, when the bells ring again and I think I should go home, Glori goes in the house to fetch us white wine, and we talk some more. Because with a life lived like Glori’s, there’s a lot to say. 

Glori is Laguna’s latest grand marshal. She’ll march at the head of the annual Patriot’s Day parade. This seems like an ideal choice. Forever the fashionista, the eternal life of the party, still dressed to kill, it’s little wonder Glori is Laguna’s darling. “This is my biggest honor,” she tells me. 

The road ahead

Always ahead of her time, Glori keeps facing forward, looking toward the future – to the possibility of bringing Honey West to the big screen and excited about her role as grand marshal. She’s still writing, anxious to contribute her talents wherever she can, still attending Thursday art walks and local events.

Like Honey, Glori is unstoppable. She’s a force of beauty and brains, style and ability. Her nails are perfectly painted, her makeup impeccably applied, her words carefully chosen. Nothing about Glori is left to chance. 

But what strikes me most is Glori’s warm acceptance, her willingness to say “yes” to life, to take in the stranger at the next table, and to turn every tragedy into an optimistic opportunity. Maybe that’s the secret to eternally turning “29.”


Captain Jeff Calvert: Happy to serve Laguna Beach

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Many young boys say they want to become police officers when they grow up. Laguna Beach Police Captain Jeff Calvert is one of the few who actually followed through with his boyhood dream. “I still have a report from when I was in fourth or fifth grade when I interviewed a police officer,” explains Captain Calvert. That first interview may have planted the seed, but a career day encounter with a law enforcement officer during his senior year at Laguna Hills High School, grew the seed into an emphatic career decision. “After that I knew what I wanted to do,” he says.

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Captain Jeff Calvert, a 22-year veteran on the Laguna Beach Police Department

When an enthusiastic Calvert went home that day to share his career of choice with his father, his father wasn’t nearly as excited. “He said, ‘You’re not doing that,’ remembers Calvert. His father was a businessman and he assumed his son would follow suit. But fate intervened.

A well-timed ride along

“When I was 20 my friend got a job with the Sheriff. He asked me if I wanted to go on a ride-along. Well, he got called on a Code Three and we got to drive with the sirens on, on the opposite side of the road…when it was all over I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do,” remembers Calvert. He broke the news to his dad and enrolled in the Police Academy. His dad eventually came around. “When I graduated, I had never seen my dad so proud,” he says.

An “eye-opener” for a first job

Calvert’s first job was with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He worked in Norwalk. “That was an eye opener for a kid from south Orange County,” he says. Eventually, he came to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and worked at the Intake Release Center (IRC) for three years. The IRC is a maximum-security custody facility. “I learned all there is to learn about running a custody facility,” he says. And then fate intervened again.

Making his way to Laguna

“My heart was always in Laguna,” he explains. He even applied for a job with the LBPD right out of the Academy, even though there weren’t any openings. Finally, in 1996 he had his chance – a position became available at the LBPD. Taking that job has led to a 22-year career in a myriad of positions from patrol officer to undercover narcotics to sergeant to lieutenant and now captain. And Captain Calvert couldn’t be more pleased. 

An unusual partnership with the community

“I’ve always had a strong desire to help people,” he says. Helping them in Laguna is particularly rewarding. “Generally, the relationship between the police and the community ebbs and flows,” he explains. “I haven’t seen that here. The community here has always supported the police department.” And that support isn’t something Calvert, or the department, takes for granted, as witnessed by the department’s commitment to community outreach, in addition to trying to provide the best service possible.

Innovation is encouraged

Calvert leads the Investigations and Support Services Divisions. Field Services, led by Captain Jason Kravetz, and Civilian Services, led by Jim Beres, are the other divisions within the department. Under Captain Calvert’s leadership a Homeland Security Maritime Team, an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program, K-9 program, a Know-Your-Limits program and many other innovative programs have been implemented. Listening to Captain Calvert explain each of these programs, it is clear how much he relishes his job. “Everyday I’m energized to come to work,” he says earnestly.

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Captain Calvert in the Dispatch Room at the Laguna Beach Police Department

An appreciation for learning – and Trojan football

Captain Calvert is also motivated to expanding his skill set. He received his Masters in Executive Leadership from USC Price School of Public Policy. “I drank the Kool-Aid,” he says with a laugh about his passion for USC – and its football team. Calvert is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy. “That was an unbelievable experience,” he says enthusiastically. “I was never one to really love school, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to really love learning and being part of something that is bigger than myself.”

A small town with a relatively sizable police force

Now, I, probably like many Laguna Beach residents, wrongly assumed the LBPD was a small organization (small town = small police department). Captain Calvert helped disabuse me of that idea. Despite a residential population of 24,000 people, Laguna’s police force of 52 sworn officers is considered relatively robust. The average force nationwide is made up of 10 sworn officers or less. 

A “well-rounded” crew

The reason for Laguna’s sizable force is the six million annual visitors we host. However, despite its size, Captain Calvert insists that the force is “well-rounded.” He uses the dispatch center as an example, “They do police, fire and marine safety,” he says. “They are a very talented crew down there…their skills are unique.”

New ways to keep unsafe drivers off the road

Additionally, the 133 drinking establishments within the city’s nine-mile limits can keep the officers busy on any given night. “Laguna Beach has more DUI arrests per capita than any other agency in the state of California,” explains Calvert. So programs like Know-Your-Limits, where officers enter bars and gently and unobtrusively ask people if they want to test their blood alcohol level, are a proactive way to help prevent a tragedy (or at least a DUI). “Thirty three percent of people who think they’re not at a DUI (level) are,” says Calvert. The participants in the “test” are given a $20 Uber credit to help make sure they get home safely.

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Captain Calvert in the driver’s seat with Chief Farinella in the Patriot’s Day Parade

Facebook as a crime fighter

Another thing Captain Calvert oversees is the department’s social media team. Its purpose is two-fold. Most obviously, it serves to humanize the department. “We use humor and the community has really responded,” says Calvert. “The Instagram account is more ‘life behind the badge,’” he explains. Their Facebook page communicates about crimes and things going on in the community. “We have solved three to four crimes with our Facebook page,” says Calvert with a chuckle. “It’s a terrific investigative tool for us.”

A deep appreciation for the community he serves

He again credits the community for stepping in and making a difference, as well as the people he works with. “It’s a team effort. It’s the amazing people I work with who care about their profession and the community. As for the community he serves? “I’ve had an amazing career here,” he says. “I have friends all over the country who just don’t have the community support that we do (in Laguna).”


Lenny Vincent: Laguna’s Spiderman and much more

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Entomologist, tango enthusiast, professor, photographer, archivist; which word doesn’t fit? Sounds like a question on a test. But for Lenny Vincent, they all fit. These are just a few fascinating facets of his life, and to those who read Creature Features, he’s Spiderman, the expert source of endless information on insects. 

“Perhaps you may be interested in writing a story on the, unfortunately, maligned yet beneficial spiders of either Orange County or Laguna Beach,” Lenny wrote in an email last summer. And I was. Now, because of him, residents know about several local species of spiders, where to find them (if one so desires), their various webs, and their titillating and complicated courtships. 

A debunker of insect myths

Graciously, upon request, he continues to debunk the myths and mysteries of the insect world.

A resident of Laguna Beach for over 30 years, he knows his spiders and he knows Laguna, especially the wilderness areas. Lenny has been teaching entomology and biology for 36 years; at University of California, Berkeley from 1974-81 (part time), Georgia Southern University from 1981-86, and at Fullerton College from 1986-2015. He is now a Professor Emeritus at Fullerton College, and teaches part time, although not this term.

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Lenny with Silas and Charlie

With a stunning view of Catalina and San Clemente Islands, Lenny has lived in his South Laguna home for 21 years. Curiously, it’s absent of the expected framed insect collections. Instead, it houses two other species; two dogs, a Beagle named Charlie and a Shar-pei mix (Lenny thinks), the handsome Silas, and two desert tortoises currently in hibernation under the house, Ompahpah and Bristowe, gifts from a student in 1993. 

“Tortoises live to be 100 to 150 years old,” Lenny says, “so I’ve had to find someone to take them over.”

No gallery of insects to be seen

Out of sight, but not out of mind (mine anyway), his spiders are confined to another room that serves as the lab. And in place of those anticipated assemblages on his walls, is a display of his beautiful photographs of insects and plant life. 

Surprisingly, one area is filled with black and white pictures (not taken by him) of tango dancers from a tango tour he went on. But that will come later in the story.

Lenny’s stepson, Matthew Haim, a student at San Diego State, walks through the living room on his way to school for exams. No, he’s not studying entomology, but something of the spider world must have rubbed off on him, because he did write an article on the brown widow spider that was published. Matt’s a business major (and writer) and has a local connection. He works at the Front Desk at Hotel La Casa de Camino.

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Collection of spiders in Lenny’s lab

As we wait for the dogs to howl at a passing fire engine, which Lenny says is quite a spectacular show, but sadly doesn’t materialize, the question of how and when Lenny decided to devote his life to insects and make it a career, comes up. “While I was in high school in Cleveland, Ohio, I would collect and curate insects and sell them to other students for biology. I did that for a couple of years.

Interest in spiders peaks at graduate school

“Then I majored in biology at California State University at Northridge and took courses in entomology and liked it. When I went to grad school at University of California, Davis, I was interested in Medical Entomology, but when people would ask about spiders, I was drawn to that, so I switched to arachnology,” he says.

He then went on to get his Ph.D. in Entomology at UC Berkeley.

And his enchantment with insects never waned. Just last summer, he and a former student made quite a find. He frequently hikes in Laguna Wilderness Park to search out and photograph spiders, and during one of these treks, they found an undescribed species of jumping spider. 

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In-house lab

“It will take a specialist in jumping spiders to describe a new species, and that could be a long process,” says Lenny.

A longtime wilderness supporter, he’s been on the Board of Directors of Laguna Greenbelt since 1995. He is also the President of the Board of Directors of the Schlinger Foundation, and has been on the board since 1998. A non-profit founded by a former Entomology Professor at UC Berkeley, the Schlinger Foundation just recently provided a grant to aid construction of the new Laguna Canyon Foundation headquarters. 

Hopes children will reconnect with nature

Lenny says, “By bringing children into the wilderness, I hope they’ll gain a connection with nature that’s been lost.”

If all that isn’t enough to keep him busy, for the last 10 years, he’s served as archivist for the American Arachnology Society, which entails, as he explains, “Archiving letters from retiring arachnologists for the Smithsonian Institute.”

During Lenny’s unrelenting study of spiders, he has compiled a remarkable and extensive OC Spider website, and it’s in the process of becoming a pictorial guide through a grant (for printing costs) from the Schlinger Foundation. Although it won’t be finished for a year, the guides could be a resource in places like Nix Center.

One imagines an entomologist to be sequestered in his lab all hours of the day and night cataloging insects and who knows what else (and I don’t mean the activities of the scientist in The Fly). Yet seldom does one picture “a man of the insects” out tangoing. But Lenny’s not your average entomologist (if there is such a thing). 

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Does that smile mean Lenny is dreaming of the next night out tangoing?

When he turned 50, he started taking West Coast Swing lessons, which led to ballroom, and then the tango. Every few days, he goes to Avant Garde Ball Room or Atomic Ballroom to dance. About 10 years ago, he went to Buenos Aires on a tour of tango clubs, which he says, “Aren’t too flamboyant.” Although in the pictures on his wall, the women do have roses in their mouths.

As if all this weren’t enough, Lenny finds the time to lecture a few times a year at The Audubon Society, the Environmental and Nature Center, and other organizations on subjects such as the biology of spiders or insects.

It’s endlessly intriguing why someone devotes an entire life to the study of one thing. When asked what other profession he might have wanted to take up, without hesitation, Lenny says, “If I had the skill, a cellist, but I have zero musical talent. I know, I took voice lessons for two years.”

Well, it might have been impressive to add that to his list of accomplishments, but right now, the “unfortunately maligned” spiders of Laguna, and the supporters of the Laguna Wilderness are glad he didn’t become a cellist.

For all you ever wanted to know about spiders, go to Lenny’s spider guide website, ocspiderguide.com.


Dr. Gregg DeNicola of Caduceus takes great care of patients, including many gallery owners and artists

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Gregg DeNicola looks at his overall medical career like a basketball game. For the first half of his career he practiced in Yorba Linda. After 19 years there, he says he wanted to change things up for his second half. As a kid growing up in Covina, for Gregg, Laguna was a regular destination. 

“The first year we came down was 1969; it was the first year we had cars. We stumbled onto the Sawdust Festival, it was much more hippie-ish back then, more our age people. We loved it,” remembers DeNicola. So when it came time to decide where to begin his second half, he found an office near Three Arch Bay and rented it month to month, until 2007 when he found the place where he practices now: Caduceus on Thalia. 

Finding Caduceus on Thalia

Caduceus is a family practice. Originally, Dr. DeNicola says he thought he was going to be a pediatrician, but when it came time to put that choice on paper during the “match” process (where med students select their field and top choices for residency) he balked, feeling it was too limiting. He was an obstetrician for his first 19 years in practice. Now, as a family practitioner, he gets to see the whole family.

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Dr. Gregg DeNicola at his medical practice, Caduceus on Thalia

“Why would you want to retire?”

“Back when we were in our mid-40’s my friends were always saying, ‘We’re going to retire by the time we’re 55.’ I never really got that. Why would you want to retire?” he asks. Even now he says people ask him almost daily when he’s going to leave the hustle and bustle of his medical practice behind. “I say, ‘Why? That’s silly! I’m a block from the beach. I have the best patients. Why would I want to retire?”

Fundamental changes in health care that are not for the better

That’s not to say that there aren’t some things about practicing medicine that he wouldn’t like to alter. In a change he calls “disturbing,” DeNicola laments the turn away from the idea that the patient comes first to that of the payer coming first. 

“Whether it’s a PPO, an HMO, or a concierge service, with every patient the first question is ‘How are you paying for this?’ When I started out, five, ten, even 20 years ago we didn’t worry so much about getting paid. Now, if you have a 15-minute office visit, half of that time is committed to satisfying the paperwork. It used to be all the time went into the patient.”

Another example DeNicola gives regarding these changes is that his office now has three full time certified “coders” who assist in ensuring the charting the insurance companies demand is done correctly. “This is just one example of how money that used to be spent on patient care is now going towards the business end of things.”

Finding Laguna to be a special place to practice medicine

And that’s just one more reason, perhaps the biggest reason, DeNicola loves to practice medicine in Laguna Beach. “My practice works out really well in Laguna Beach,” explains DeNicola. “We take (all forms of insurance and payment), even Medicaid. We see gallery owners and artists gratis and are grateful to be able to do that.” Yes, you read that correctly. Dr. DeNicola sees artists and gallery owners for free.

Part of the reason is because DeNicola is a huge art fan. “I love art. I can’t draw at all, but I love art. I always have,” he says enthusiastically. He got into the local art scene by going downtown and walking through the galleries, the fairs and festivals.

“Then it evolved into artists bringing their work in. All of it is for my patients. I love having them come in here so we can talk about art,” he says. Which is how he came up with the idea to treat artists and gallery owners for free.

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Paintings by local artists are prominently displayed at Caduceus

Giving back to artists and gallery owners with free medical care

“I realized by talking to the artists that if they had a cold they couldn’t afford to see a doctor. I thought it would be an easy thing to do to help them out. I have never bartered for art,” he adds definitively. “But, I am a business man as well as a doctor.

“And by doing right it has also paid off in other ways when the artists’ families and friends come in. We only ask that they be a local artist or gallery owner. I couldn’t afford to help every artist in Orange County,” he says. 

As for why gallery owners, he says they struggle, too. “They can go weeks and weeks without a sale. I’ve lost a lot of gallery owners who have had to move out of town. Of course, they’re in it to make money but they all love art. That’s a tough field,” he says appreciatively.

A resident of Orange, but a life made in Laguna

Appreciation is something DeNicola has a lot of for Laguna Beach. Although he lives in Orange, he says he spends more time here than many people who live here. “My life is here”, he says. He’s so entrenched, he is the president of the Laguna Beach Historical Society. He came to become involved in the organization when he stopped in to see the Murphy Bungalow, which serves as the Historical Society’s headquarters.  “They had a form and it asked ‘Are you willing to help us out?’” DeNicola remembers. He marked “yes” and they promptly called him and asked him to sit on the Board. That was 12 years ago. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same

DeNicola says that the thing that surprises him most about how Laguna has changed over the years is how much things have stayed the same. “I’m shocked by how much it hasn’t changed. Laguna is so united. It’s a very traditional community,” except, he adds with a laugh, “Not its politics.” 

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Dr. DeNicola’s examination room is quintessentially “Laguna”

A true appreciation of Laguna Beach and its history

By learning the town’s history, DeNicola says he has a deeper appreciation of what makes Laguna special. “It’s really a unique place. I don’t know another community like it…maybe back east?” 

That’s the reason why, if you come to see Dr. DeNicola, you will find his waiting room chairs set in a circle. “I did it that way so people could talk to each other. You can hear people strike up a conversation, ‘Are you going to the Patriots Day Parade this year?’ Things like that. It just doesn’t happen in most other cities.”

Of course, DeNicola acknowledges that even in this special place, things aren’t perfect. “Even though we have our trials, I know as a community people are trying to get things fixed,” he says. 

DeNicola says it bothers him to see the empty theater and Hotel Laguna, among others. “It’s very disconcerting,” he says. But not enough to diminish his appreciation for his (almost) hometown. 

“We have a gem here,” he says. “It’s such a special place, and has such a special feeling. It’s a wonderful place to work, live, shop.” Dr. DeNicola’s enthusiasm for Laguna is only matched by his enthusiasm for practicing medicine…in Laguna.


The Honorable Paul W. Egly 

Story by MARRIE STONE

“Honorable” was the word conferred on Paul W. Egly in 1963 by Governor Ronald Reagan when he was appointed to the Superior Court of Los Angeles. But being declared honorable by judicial appointment is one thing. Being an honorable man is quite another. It comes from within. The decisions Judge Egly has made throughout his life, both on the bench and off, are consistently one thing…honorable.

Born in 1921 in Covina, a small town then ripe with oranges and discrimination, Judge Egly remembered the days of segregated swimming pools – no Latinos or African Americans allowed. The town had an ordinance making it illegal for black people to stay over night. 

Growing up steeped in racial intolerance and well-versed in history (he obtained a bachelor’s degree in history from UCLA), Judge Egly had strong opinions about discrimination. Those opinions would become the subject of excruciating controversy later in his career. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The sacrifices required of war

Judge Egly was drafted into WWII and sent to Germany during the war’s climax, though he rarely speaks of his time there. “A few days ago I asked Paul, ‘Don’t you want to tell me more about it?’” his wife of 34 years, and former Mayor of Laguna Beach, Jane Egly, tells me as we all sit together in their north Laguna home. “He was sitting in his chair. He bent way over, faced the floor, and said, No.” Jane pats her husband’s arm. “You can stick with that, dear.”

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Photo courtesy of Jane Egly

Paul Egly – a handsome young man in uniform

There was, however, one war story that stood out. Judge Egly was tasked with evacuating all the Americans from an East German hospital shortly after the war ended. A Russian general in charge of the operation ordered that no American would leave the hospital until everyone else had been evacuated. “He didn’t even raise his head when he said it,” Jane says. It took Paul nearly four weeks, working alone, to get everyone out. By the time he finished his job, Russians were outside, hanging people from the lampposts. He told Jane there was nothing to do but walk away.

Judge Egly listens to his wife tell this story before saying, “It’s more fun when we get back to California.”

But it took Judge Egly a while to return to California. First, there was law school at George Washington University (GW). Then he returned to Europe after the war, working in the US Occupation Courts in Germany, before opening a practice in Covina.  

A heart for justice, a mind for law

Judge Egly’s superior reputation on the Superior Court was no surprise. He took to the law instantly, knowing within two days of arriving at GW he’d landed on the right career. Jane says Judge Egly was known for his ability to distill massive amounts of material, absorb all the arguments made by opposing sides, and quickly hone in on the central issue. He applied his legal mind to a variety of cases, as he was willing and able to tackle anything that came through his door.

In a 2013 interview for La Verne Magazine, Judge Egly recounts a story from his early years practicing law. “In those days, people expected you to know what you were doing regardless of the kind of case. It was fun. There was a case that came in at four in the afternoon,” he said. “A woman wanted a will, and I had no gas for the car ride home. She asked me how much I would charge her, and I said $2. In that time, gas was 17 cents a gallon, so that $2 got me far.” Judge Egly even took criminal cases on a pro bono basis. “I didn’t make any money, but I enjoyed every minute of it.”

After a decade practicing law, Paul Egly was appointed by Governor Pat Brown to the Municipal Court in 1963 and, later that year, by Governor Ronald Reagan to the Superior Court of Los Angeles. He would serve on the bench until 1981.

The bus stopped here:

Crawford v. Los Angeles Unified School District

 Arguably the most seminal, and tragic, case of Judge Egly’s career came nearly a quarter of a century after Brown v. Board of Education. He was about to embark on a painful life lesson: doing the right thing would not always be rewarded. 

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Photo courtesy of UCLA/Photo by Joe Kennedy

Paul Egly seen through a school bus window

In the early 1970s, Egly successfully ordered the San Bernardino school district to align itself with the Brown decision and desegregate its schools. Several aspects of Judge Egly’s desegregation ruling in that case still stand: magnet schools, incentive pay for bilingual teachers, and year-round instruction were all part of that order. 

But a decade later, and 60 miles away, things wouldn’t go so smoothly. White Angelinos were loath to put their children on buses. As Patt Morrison wrote in an LA Times article in 1997 reflecting on the case: “It was an unlovely time in this lovely place, the shrieking suburbs vs. the shouting city, aggrieved white vs. angry black vs. out-of-the-loop Latino, armed school guards put on patrol the first day that thousands of kids stepped aboard buses, death threats and recall threats, the tragicomic effort to halt busing as a pollution risk.”

Judge Egly recounts the hundreds of threatening letters he received over the four years he worked on the case. He remembers a man who sat in the front row of his courtroom each day, wearing a sign saying, “Recall Egly.” His name, it was said, became the most popular four-letter word in Los Angeles. The turmoil claimed the health, and life, of his second wife. It took a dramatic toll on his psyche, if not his career. And the whole matter ended in a whimper, instead of a bang, as busing ceased when Proposition 1 passed, declaring his ruling unconstitutional. Segregation seeped back in. “Like some sort of embarrassing love affair: it ends—pfft—and nobody wants to talk about it,” Morrison’s LA Times article reported.

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Photo courtesy of Jane Egly

Paul Egly – Superior Court Judge

Egly came to think about the Crawford case as a kind of death, requiring post-mortems and autopsies, trying to diagnose precisely what happened. Doing what he felt was right, and being demonized for it, was difficult to accept. In its aftermath, he left the bench. “All that stuff about noble decisions. It’s BS. It’s the law of the land that changed me. Black is beautiful to me now. It’s that simple,” Egly said in a 1981 interview with the Claremont Courier

Egly sensed discomfort even among his colleagues who disagreed with him, as though their moral compasses may have covertly pointed in directions different from their stated opinions. “What does it mean, I’ve sacrificed my career? My career is in my head. Right?” 

That statement strikes me as the very definition of honor.

Making a case for service

Judge Egly’s career didn’t end with Crawford. He continued teaching, which was arguably his first passion. The U.S. Constitution, he said, had become his religion. Egly founded the University of La Verne College of Law in 1970 while still serving on the bench. He acted as its dean and taught constitutional law for 34 years. He loved nothing more than watching students’ eyes light up when they hit on some understanding. “It’s like a blossom blooming into a flower, seeing them begin to understand the cases,” he said in his La Verne Magazine interview. “You enjoy it with them; you learn with them and try to make it more interesting.”

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Photo courtesy of L. Gilbert Lopez

Judge Paul Egly with L. Gilbert Lopez

Egly also co-founded Judicial Dispute Resolution, Inc. in 1990, an independent, neutral panel of private judges hired to hear cases outside the court system. He took a wide variety of civil cases over the years. He also worked tirelessly in Laguna alongside James Dilley and others to preserve the city’s greenbelts.

Never losing sight of what’s important: 

The judge’s battle with macular degeneration

Judge Egly began his battle with macular degeneration just after retiring from the bench in the early 1980s. He lost his sight over the course of years, the world slipping away slowly over time. And, with it, his freedom. By the late 80s, he could neither read nor write, but he moved with Jane to Barcelona for a year, enjoying his final time with vision. “I know no one who adapted to that problem the way Paul did,” says Jane. “It was just remarkable.” Judge Egly sought out Braille and books on tape. “He still reads more than most of us,” says Jane. She shows me his tape recorder, saying he’s always got a book going.

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Photo courtesy of Jane Egly

Paul Egly at play

After 34 years together, their marriage still feels playful. “I think he married me because I could drive,” Jane laughs. Given that her husband has said she “was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me,” I’m guessing it’s more than Jane’s driving that kept them together. She remains in awe of his many accomplishments and proud of the legacy he’s leaving both on the bench and in Laguna’s greenbelts. 

Hard lessons learned from the bench

More than once during our interview, I reflected on the many battles Judge Egly fought over his storied career, and wondered aloud whether we’d made as much headway as I’d once hoped for. But Jane was quick to remind me of our country’s progress, particularly for women.

I returned home and sat with an article Judge Egly wrote nearly a decade ago, after being asked by the late Donald Dunn, dean of La Verne’s College of Law, to pen a post-mortem piece about the Crawford case. “The following pages will help with the understanding of the rocky marriage between politics and the court in public policy matters,” Egly wrote. What followed were 55 pages of long lament by an honorable man still – 26 years later – struggling to make sense of what had happened. 

He concluded the piece by saying, “It has taken me a while to understand that the best of legal principles can never become public policy unless embraced by a substantial segment of public opinion.”

I reflected on a few of the best legal principles our courts have upheld in the last decades – reproductive rights, marriage equality, immigration laws –often without the full support of public opinion. Honorable roads aren’t easy ones, but they’re unquestionably worth the fight. 

It’s unclear to me whether Judge Egly ultimately found solace in his decision. Maybe solace is less important than the legacy left behind. Progress, after all, is rarely a straight line, but more often a string of circuitous paths blazed by brave men like the Honorable Paul Egly.


Thea Walsh: Water polo dreams

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

Laguna Beach High School senior Thea Walsh is, like many of her fellow seniors, filled with mixed emotions. There is reluctance to close the chapter on her high school years along with excitement and anticipation for what is to come next. For Walsh, her next chapter officially begins when she realizes her dream and starts as a freshman at Stanford in the fall. “I’m so excited. It was a dream of mine to go to Stanford,” she says. “I didn’t realize I could actually get there until about 11th grade,” she says, still seeming a bit surprised at her good fortune.

A goal of many, realized by very few

As one of the best water polo players in the country, Walsh will play for the Cardinals and be reunited with her fellow Breakers Aria Fischer and Bella Baldridge. Walsh says she has wanted to attend Stanford ever since she played her first Junior Olympics there when she was 12. In that, she is not alone.

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LBHS senior Thea Walsh will take her water polo skills to Stanford in the fall

In age group water polo, the Junior Olympics alternate every other year between southern California and northern California. When they are held in northern California some of the games are held at Stanford’s pool. This experience translates into almost every young polo player declaring at some point, “I want to go to Stanford.” Alas, with a less than five percent acceptance rate, the dream becomes reality for only a very few.

An academic interest in science

Walsh says she hopes to study bio-medical engineering or human biology at Stanford. Clearly, her abilities aren’t just limited to the pool. “I’m excited to get to Stanford because I know I will get the best education and the best treatment (as an athlete),” enthuses Walsh. And her excitement is well-deserved. Her road to get there, and the schedule she has endured to make it a reality, have not been easy.

Surviving the grind

“With water polo you’re always grinding,” she says good-naturedly. “For the high school we have morning practice three times a week so I get up around 5 a.m. Then there’s school from 7:30 to usually around 1:30. Then practice after school every day for two to three hours. Then you have you find time to eat, sleep and do homework.” 

Finding time wherever possible

During club water polo season, the times may be different but the hours put in are the same, even more when you factor in the driving to and from practice. “Those days it’s like a four-hour practice,” she says. “I realized that those were four hours I could have been doing homework,” she says. “So I tried to find the one or two classes where I could do my homework when I didn’t have to do anything,” she admits. 

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The LBHS pool is practically a home away from home for Thea Walsh

The Junior National Team is another commitment

Walsh’s water polo is not confined to just high school and club. She plays on the Junior National Team, as well. Luckily, LBHS girls coach Ethan Damato just so happens to be one of her national team coaches. “If he had to miss something, I had to miss something,” she says of her overlapping commitments to her many teams. “Last year we missed three weeks in December, but other than that I haven’t missed too much of high school (polo).” During those three weeks she competed in the FINA Youth World Championships in New Zealand where the team finished fifth.

Rising to the competition

It is clear Walsh relishes the competition of the national team. “I love the national team because it takes me to the next level. They elevate my play. Every person there is the best from their high school or club,” she says enthusiastically. Plus it has broadened her horizons with trips like the one to New Zealand as well as the chance to play against college teams like UCLA and UCSB. This summer she says her goal is to again make the national team and go to the Youth World Championships in Serbia.

A band of sisters on the LBHS team

That being said, Walsh is equally devoted to her high school team. “Socially, I love the girls on the high school team.” She has played with most of the seniors on her team since she began playing when she was 12 years old. 

Trying just about every other sport before finding water polo

Walsh says she came to polo after playing almost every other sport there was. She was at the pool as part of the swim team when Laguna Beach parent Scott Baldridge began his recruiting. Baldridge, a former collegiate water polo player, along with Erich Fischer, a former Olympic water polo player, can be credited for helping build Laguna Beach into a girls’ water polo powerhouse.

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The encouragement of her community and peers means a lot

A persuasive parent gets credit

“I was on swim team and Scott Baldridge kept pushing (me to try water polo),” she remembers with a laugh.  Back then, Baldridge and Fischer encouraged, cajoled and occasionally begged their daughters’ friends to give the sport, which they coached through the city, a try. 

Two persuasive parents help create a dynasty

The two dads proved to be good coaches and excellent recruiters as many of the girls they coached have gone on to play collegiate water polo, including their own daughters who all went on to play at Stanford. Makenzie and Aria Fischer took it one step further by not only playing in the Olympics, but winning gold medals.  

Finding her place in the goal

For Walsh, once she found polo, she found her sport. “I started out as a field player and I was really bad,” she recalls. “On our 12 and under team we took turns being the goalie. I was pretty good at it and I just stayed there,” recalls Walsh. “I hated swim. I begged not to go. When I started polo I actually wanted to go to practice. That’s why I made the decision to play polo.”

Blocking penalties becomes her “thing”

Saying there was “no question” she was going to play in high school, Walsh got her first taste of big time success when her 14 and under team won the Junior Olympics. “I got MVP of the tournament. We went into a shoot out and I blocked some shots. I realized I liked that. Goalies aren’t really expected to do that and so that kind of became my thing,” she remembers. She adds, “A bunch of other girls could have gotten MVP at that tournament.”

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Walsh hopes to hang another banner, of the Olympic Gold Medal kind, at the LBHS pool someday

Knowing the value of waiting – and learning

Walsh is quick to credit her teammates, both past and present. Her freshman and sophomore years she played behind LBHS goalie Holly Parker. Some girls with Walsh’s pedigree and talent might have complained or transferred to a school where they could get immediate varsity experience. Walsh saw the wait as a positive thing. “I was able to get a handle on things. Holly is really good and she pushed me to compete. She is a big role model for me.” Parker currently plays for USC. 

Looking on the bright side

This year the team didn’t have the season they expected. Admitting that the pressure to keep their undefeated streak alive and win every game “sometimes sucked,” Walsh still sees the her final high school season’s glass as half full. “We overcame obstacles and ended on a positive note,” she says. When asked what she will miss most about leaving LBHS she doesn’t hesitate. “The girls,” she answers emphatically. “They’re like a second family to me now.”

Not afraid to go for her dreams

With her high school days winding down, Walsh can look ahead to a summer filled with “a bunch of different trainings.” And while getting to Stanford checked the box for one of her dreams, there is another one, an even bigger one, out there waiting. “Making the Olympic team is one of my biggest goals right now,” she says. Currently, there are three banners hanging at the LBHS pool in honor of the three LBHS water polo players who became Olympians. Here’s hoping Walsh can make it four.


Corwin Allard (10), calm and confident kid extraordinaire, is a TV and baseball star

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

There’s never been a more dauntless and collected kid than Corwin Allard in my view. During our conversation, I was tempted to ask his mother if she’s certain that he’s not really a small adult masquerading as a ten-year-old. Corwin juggles two demanding pursuits, as a TV actor and as an award-winning pitcher on Big West BPA Travel Baseball Team, while at the same time maintaining straight As in his fourth-grade subjects at Top of the World Elementary. 

All these responsibilities would put even an adult into a tizzy, but Corwin handles them as if it’s life as usual. And for him, it is. Nothing ruffles him, it seems. Just the weekend before, his Travel Baseball Team won the Big West 10U Elite DI Triple Crown Spring Championship Arizona Tournament (a three-day national tournament). 

But he had no time to rest on his laurels.

On the road again

After the tournament ended on Sunday at 6:30 p.m., he and his parents, Chris and Diane Allard, packed up and rushed back to Laguna, arriving after 12:30 a.m. With only time for a quick bit of shuteye, he and his mom then got back on the road at 6:30 a.m. for an 8:30 a.m. call for a guest shot on the finale of the long-running (nine seasons) ABC sitcom, The Middle.Whew!

How he got started on this-fast paced acting track began with a much younger Corwin sitting in front of the television watching live action shows on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, and deciding, “I can do that.” It appears that once he sets his mind to something, it happens.

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With the support of his parents, Chris and Diane, Corwin does it all

Soon after, he got an agent (he still has the same agent and manager). He then appeared in the 2014 movie, All I Want for Christmas, in 2017 as Decker Jr in the Cartoon Network series Decker, and then as Peter Gardiner, neighbor to the Huang family in the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat.

“What television series would you most like to be on?” I ask.

“Stranger Things,” he says. “It never gets old. I’ve watched it over and over again.”

Even though Stranger Things is obviously not a comedy, Corwin admits that, as an actor, comedy is his favorite genre. And some funny unscripted things have happened on set.

“What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened during filming?” I ask.

“During a Firestone Tire commercial, my fake mom was in the car, and she was supposed to pop out of the sunroof with a cake and a piñata, but she spilled the cake all over the windshield and ruined the piñata.” Retake!

Fun on the set

Recently, Corwin finished filming his role as Ben Rogers in The Adventures of Thomasina Sawyer, the story of Tom Sawyer told from a female perspective. The movie was made by USC film grad students and is currently in post-production. 

When you get a bunch of kids together, interesting things occur, it seems.  “Anything weird ever happen during filming?” I ask.

“During a break in filming The Adventures of Thomasina, my friend Jaden was eating a donut, and we were called back on set, and he said his line while chewing the donut.” Another retake?

Jaden has turned out to be a friend Corwin sees outside of acting, though sometimes, as Diane says, “They might be up for the same part.”

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A ring on every finger, Corwin sports his many baseball rings

“Are you ever nervous or get stage fright?” I ask him.

“No,” he says. 

Diane adds, “He doesn’t when he pitches and plays baseball either.”

Without a doubt, “unflappable” is a good quality for both acting and baseball.

Although there are no actors in his family, there must be a sprinkling of performance and athletic genes in Corwin’s makeup. Dad Chris played volleyball on scholarship for USC and went on to play on the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) and MPVA (Midwest Professional Volleyball Association) tours for over 10 years before settling into a management role within the corporate world.

From fitness/figure competitions, Diane segued into a UFC sponsored infomercial and marketing program promoting a set of instructional workout DVDs featured in Shape magazine. A few years back, she also appeared on The Price is Right with Corwin’s older brother, Blake, 22, who is a guitarist with the band Joyous Wolf. 

It’s a big age difference, but brothers still fight, don’t they? 

“There’s not that much to fight about,” Corwin says.

Diane adds. “And they’re both very mature.”

Corwin recalls memories of playing chess, Banjo 1996, and video games on his first Xbox with his brother.

Now Corwin plays the interactive baseball video game “MLB The Show 18” with his baseball coach, Pac Gutierrez, which apparently is helping Corwin with his game. Not only is he a star pitcher, he plays third base as well.

Baseball treasures

Although Corwin’s room is filled with baseball memorabilia, there are two things (or rather 38 things) he’s especially proud of; his 10 baseball championship rings —awarded for being either tournament champions or finalists (second place) — and his 28 bats. “None of the bats are wood,” Corwin says. “You can’t use those until college.”

With all that’s going on, one wonders if there is anything typical about his life. Well, his fourth-grade class studied Missions (haven’t fourth graders been doing this forever), and his San Pedro Mission was made of colored beans. But, what’s not typical, is that to maintain his grades, when he’s filming, he works with a teacher for three hours a day between takes. His favorite subjects are math and history. 

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A roomful of baseball memorabilia

Along with school, either of his pursuits would keep any kid and his parents hopping. Yet the family appears to seamlessly interweave these two demanding activities. 

If there is a baseball tournament, “We book-out with the agent, so he won’t schedule any auditions for him,” Diane says. “Sometimes he does have to miss baseball practice because of auditions and call backs, but then on weekends, he puts in the work.”

The logistics of two demanding pursuits

Of course, none of this could be accomplished without the support of his parents. The logistics of keeping all these tops spinning requires a substantial amount of planning and driving. Traveling to auditions (which can involve multiple auditions with directors, producers, and writers for one part), and then back again for callbacks isn’t unusual. 

(And that’s not even factoring in the anxiety of waiting for callbacks and “an avail,” which is the step after a callback to determine the actor’s availability.)

Further, by the very nature of being on a Travel Baseball Team, there’s a lot of traveling involved with that too. Sometimes acting and baseball very nearly conflict, but the Allards seem to work that out. On one occasion, they had to leave a baseball tournament in Hacienda Heights to go for an acting call back, but returned for the next game, picking right up where they left off.

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Ready to swing

On March 31, Corwin and his parents were off to the USSSA (the national governing body for elite level players) All-American Showcase in Santee. It was the national tryouts for the Far West Region, in which 25 top elite players are chosen to compete in Florida during the summer. 

Diane reports, “The showcase for the USSSA All-American went very well, we think Corwin definitely has a good chance of making the team! We will not know for sure until June 21. We do know that Corwin had the highest corner infield velocity (60 mph) out of the entire Far West region (which included kids from the Mesa district, the Mira Loma district and the San Diego district) for his work at third base. He also had the second highest fastball pitch speed (58 mph) out of the district that he tried out in (San Diego).”

As competitive as Corwin is, it’s apparent there’s no competition between acting and baseball in his mind. He says, “I want to be a professional baseball player.” His favorite baseball player is José Altuve.

No limits in the future

Whatever he decides, the sky is the limit for Corwin, whether it be acting or baseball (or maybe there will be a third or fourth endeavor). Undaunted, this multi-talented kid extraordinaire can handle it all. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he one day appears on his favorite television series, since once Corwin sets his mind to something, it materializes. 

Stranger things have happened.


A Life Rewritten: How a devastating diagnosis has put 

Summer Tarango’s future into sharper focus

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photography by Mary Hurlbut

Last July, Summer Tarango’s life looked fulfilling, at least from the outside. She was the operations manager at zpizza, a satisfying job she’d held for 14 years. She owned her own catering company. Her relationship with longtime boyfriend, Ed Benrock (a drummer for Jamestown Revival), stood on solid ground. Summer had a posse of good friends, two close sisters, and a strong bond with her mother. “I was happy,” Summer says, looking back. “But nothing was exciting. I was going through the motions.” 

Summer and Ed celebrated the Fourth of July weekend with a bike ride in Austin, Texas. She admits to some trepidation, but – true to her nature – Summer seemed up for anything, and didn’t want to put a damper on the day by confessing any fears. 

The ride ended with a bad fall. Summer suffered a significant laceration on her forehead and a banged-up knee, though nothing that time and stitches shouldn’t resolve. As the months wore on, however, the knee didn’t heal. Doctors suspected an infection. 

When Summer discovered a lump in her armpit, they feared the infection had spread. Afraid to pierce the lump and risk spreading it further, they waited…and waited, treating her with antibiotics. Nothing improved. Finally, before sending Summer off to an infectious disease specialist, her doctor performed a biopsy to rule out anything significant. They weren’t worried, they said, but they wanted to cover their bases.

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Smiling Summer presents a pretty picture worthy of her name

As Summer sat alone in a parking lot on her way to work the Friday before Thanksgiving, the call came. Summer, at 42 years of age, had stage 3C triple-negative breast cancer – and it was aggressive. Further testing revealed she also had the BRCA mutation. Treatment, she was told, could not wait. Within two weeks, Summer had begun her first round of chemotherapy.

A triple-negative diagnosis and the BRCA gene mutation

Triple-negative breast cancer is more common in younger patients, and more common still in women with the BRCA gene. The three typical receptors that fuel breast cancer – estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2 gene – are not present in these types of tumors. The result is that common treatment methods – hormone therapy and other drugs – that target those receptors can’t be used. This cancer tends to be more aggressive, though still responsive to chemotherapy.

A BRCA mutation is a change in either of two genes – BRCA1 or BRCA2 – that prevents that gene from working properly. Both BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes. Summer is the only woman in her family with the mutation.

All this adds up to a complicated diagnosis, and a long and grueling treatment plan utilizing a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. That would be difficult for any patient to hear. For Summer, coming from a background rooted in holistic medicine, her choice was made even harder.

Mother of all healing

Summer’s mother, Vijaya Stern, teaches and practices Ayurvedic medicine in Laguna Beach. Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, developed approximately 5,000 years ago in India. It’s based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. 

“When the soul is hindered by the divisive nature of the ego, ‘dis-ease’ begins to manifest,” says Vijaya Stern on her website, www.livingrasa.com. 

Vijaya has studied this ancient healing practice since the late 1970s, when Summer was a toddler. At her Living Rasa studio, she offers healing, yoga, classes, and retreats. Vijaya’s patients are treated with herbs, not pharmaceutical drugs. Health is managed with diet, meditation, yoga, and other natural practices. 

Western medicine – particularly aggressive and invasive treatments like chemotherapy – is obviously in direct opposition to Ayurveda’s philosophy. Even the antibiotics Summer took for that initial knee infection were her first experience with Western medicine. Vijaya’s beliefs are clear: “Ayurveda sees all of creation as the Mother herself.” 

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Summer finds meditation calming, and combines Western and holistic/ayurvedic approaches to help her heal

“Going through chemo is not what she would have wanted [for me],” Summer says. “I told her, This is what I’m doing, and you have to accept my choice. She does, but she struggles with it.”

Summer’s diagnosis has been an amazing teacher for both mother and daughter, she says. “I thought we were so close, and we are, but we’re getting challenged. I don’t invite her to chemo. I can’t expect her to watch that happen. But I’ve found the places where she can be of assistance: dietary help, or just giving me attention and love.”

East meets west

Summer is embracing both ends of the medical spectrum on her journey to recovery. Perhaps that’s not uncommon. But, in Summer’s case, it feels a bit more urgent and necessary. She draws strength from her mother’s practice, following a strict diet as best she can, incorporating yoga and other spiritual practices. 

Summer works with an integrative medicine specialist, receiving Vitamin C infusions, weekly B12 shots, and other alternative supplements and strategies. She uses an app called “Insight Timer” for guided meditations and relaxing music, which I went home to download and now use myself. 

But she’s also enduring the debilitating rounds of chemotherapy (including a particularly aggressive regimen of a drug called “The Red Devil,” which is even worse than it sounds). And she’s planning ahead for a future full of more chemo, radiation, and surgery. 

“When I was diagnosed my first thought was, I’m going to be so inspirational to people. I’m going to show everyone how to cook. I’m going to stick to the Keto diet my doctor wants me on. I was going to show everyone how you can be so amazing during cancer. But chemo kicked my ass. Most days, I’m just trying to get any food in,” Summer says.

“Now I’m giving myself some grace. That plan didn’t happen, and it’s okay. I’m getting out of bed, getting dressed, and saying ‘yes’ to things. Just getting through is a victory.”

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Summer finds comfort in the natural beauty surrounding her mother’s home

As Summer tells this story, I find her authenticity far more inspirational than her original plan. Strength in the face of crisis takes many different forms, and “success” has shifting definitions. Discovering our limitations, accepting them with grace, and finding new ways to accommodate them…that strikes me as success.

A healing circle: the defining moment

About a month back, Vijaya held a healing circle for Summer. Thirty two women spanning several generations (from their 30s to their 70s), some close to Summer and some close to her mother, gathered in Vijaya’s home. They shared their hopes for her, as well as their observations of how Summer impacts their lives.

One friend told Summer she was the chain in their friendship necklace, gathering beads of women and stringing them together to create something unique and beautiful. “It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced,” Summer says.

A friend of Vijaya’s performed Reiki, a Japanese practice that promotes physical wellbeing through the laying on of hands, using touch to activate the body’s natural healing process. “Because of the Reiki, I was so incredibly present,” says Summer. She describes the music, the incense, the whipping of an eagle feather over her head, transporting herself back to the moment as she’s describing it.

“I’d never been that present in my life,” she says. “Six months ago, I don’t know if I could have taken that in. Now I was able to look in every woman’s eyes and listen. Before, I would have been self-deprecating. Now I need it. I need the love and energy. How else will I get through this?”

It’s clear, in our time together, that this moment marked a defining change in Summer’s life. “I didn’t know an experience like this existed,” she said. “And now I want more. I want to live in that moment.” 

Meaningful conversations: A Soulful Project

Summer also wants more meaningful conversations. Before her diagnosis, she’d been working with Summer Meek from Soul Project on ways to forge deeper connections with women. Summer is part of what she laughingly calls a coven – 13 girlfriends whom she’s carefully strung on her friendship chain. 

The dinners are intended to gather women together for meaningful discussions about soulful topics. In other words, not your typical ladies-night-out-wine-and-gossip. It’s a chance to be real with each other – vulnerable, authentic, and honest.

Summer looks forward to the day when she’s strong enough to make those dinners happen. In the meantime, she stays close to her coven. The women all show up for her in different and important ways. I ask how her diagnosis has changed her relationships with friends. “It’s just exaggerated things that were already there,” she says. For the good and the bad.

Summer’s Backyard Barbecue

In the meantime, before the Soul Project dinners and intense conversations, Summer is celebrating life with a Backyard Barbecue intended to raise money for her treatments. On Sunday, May 20 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., friends, family and anyone interested can join in at the Blinking Owl Distillery in Santa Ana. Ed’s band, Jamestown Revival, will play. Nirvana Grille will support the event (Summer’s sister, Lindsay, is the chef and co-owner of Nirvana). 

To learn more about how to attend or participate, visit www.youcaring.com/summertarango-1171518.

A life being lived, a story being rewritten

Not every narrative has an easy ending, and Summer’s story is still in progress, a new page written each day. There are a lot of unknowns. But there are also a few beautiful certainties. 

“I don’t see the point of working my way through this just to go back to a mundane life. What’s the point?” she says. “This is really hard. Chemo is hard. Here’s the chance to work through relationships, create the life I want, and explore my wildest dreams. What brings me deep joy? How can I bring these experiences that I’ve had to other women? I won’t finish this and go back to life as it was. I’m already seeing glimpses of it. It already looks totally different.”

Now and again, life forces us into a wormhole. Challenges arise that push us through some painful portal that changes us forever. Looking back from the other side – 

with the perspective gained from an intense experience, instead of the inevitable slow roll of time – our old lives can almost seem unrecognizable. Call it wisdom, call it personal growth, call it a gift. Not everyone gets it. 

It’s not easy to learn vicariously through others’ obstacles. But it’s worth reminding ourselves to pay attention, and to stop accepting the status quo if it’s no longer serving us. Other ways of living are within reach, if only we’re willing to stretch ourselves, take risks, and seize opportunities. That seemed to be the lesson embedded in Summer’s story. 

As Summer faces life’s biggest question – What’s the point? – I’m certain she won’t stop until she finds her answer. In many ways, maybe she already has.


Larry Ricci: Embedded in Laguna’s LGBTQ culture, then and now

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

During the time Larry Ricci owned his interior design firm, he was known as the “Spaceman,” because when he walked into a space, he knew, “It’s my canvas, I see what it’s going to be, and I execute it.”

Odd, and yet an apt nickname. In 1972, when he came to Laguna Beach, it’s as if he decided this would be the space, the canvas upon which he was going to design and build his life; one that included being an artist, musician, singer, songwriter, producer, original member of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Chapterof ISID, original board member of The Heritage and Culture Committee, and founder of Club Q. (And more endeavors that he didn’t get around to talking about during our interview.)

Creation of Club Q

We meet at Susi Q, where almost five years ago, he presented the idea of a club for LGBTQ seniors, a now thriving group, Club Q, whose slogan is, “A social club for the LGBTQ community and friends.” 

When I first interviewed Larry, a year ago, a monumental event had just taken place, one that affected him deeply. On May 9, 2017, the Laguna Beach City Council proclaimed June as LGBT Heritage and Culture Month. Larry says that as the last sentence of the proclamation was read, “Forever the month of June is recognized as LGBT month…” it was very emotional. The forever did it for him. “It was the first time I felt respected for who I am instead of being discriminated against for who I am.” 

And it’s apparent the words still resonate with him. He’s been waiting to hear them for a long time.

Arriving in Laguna Beach in 1972

Larry landed in Laguna after moving from his birthplace, Seattle, WA, to Huntington Beach in 1971, arriving here a year later. “This is where I came out in my adult gay life,” he says. “I met all these wonderful people and a huge community and within it, magnificent art and artists.” During the 1970s and 1980s, he was very involved in the art world and knew most of the LGBTQ artists. 

Recently, he found a way to celebrate them, with the first exhibition to feature art provided by LGBTQ artisans, “Harmony Art Exhibit.” 

Larry says, “I approached Susi Q when I knew the exhibit’s theme would be harmony, peace and unity. A lot of LGBTQ artists certainly helped shape the art culture in Laguna Beach. The idea was extremely well accepted by Susi Q and Gallery Q. The exhibit will feature current pieces, as well as historical works, from LGBTQ artists in the community. I was able to acquire many pieces from the 1960s forward to honor those decades in which the LGBTQ artists really did help shape the art colony as it exists today.” 

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Larry gets snacks ready for Club Q’s Movie Day

Scheduled in conjunction with Laguna’s Pride Month, “Harmony Art Exhibit” will be presented by Gallery Q at Susi Q (in the multi-purpose room) from May 7 - June 29, with the official reception on Friday, May 11 from 5 - 6:30 p.m. 

Three pieces from Larry’s own collection – by artists Pegi Wear, Barbara Brown, and Orlando Botero – will be included in the exhibit. His close friends, Wear and Brown (who are both now deceased), owned Contemporary Arts Gallery on the corner of Myrtle and PCH (the A-frame building) in the 1970s. Larry admits he drove by there not long ago, and thought, “Well, girls, we have one more show to do.”

Time now measured in decades

“I talk of time now in decades,” Larry says. And admittedly, he’s done quite a lot in over four of them.

During the ‘80s, he painted abstract mixed-media pieces that were shown in two galleries. As if that’s not enough, every Friday and Saturday for four years in the mid-‘80s, Larry and Jim Harding performed at Main Street Café, which was a piano bar at the time, sporting a grand piano, no less. Larry played the piano and sang, and Jim played the bass guitar and sang. “We did cover music from the ‘80s and some of my original songs,” Larry says. “I can still picture the crowd around the piano.”

In the ‘90s, he was a production designer on a short film and a feature film (for which he wrote the title song). 

For 25 years, he owned an interior design firm in Corona del Mar, and traveled all around the country designing: shopping malls, gourmet markets, funeral homes, retirement homes, yachts, and corporate buses. He freelanced for another 10 years after that, and while on a lengthy assignment in Alabama, he owned a 26,000 square foot Antique Mall and Consignment store. He now consults, proving true the adage he relates, “Designers never quit, they die.”

Stepping away as facilitator of Club Q

Now he’s embarking on yet another chapter. As of June 1, the fifth anniversary of Club Q, Larry has decided to “step away” from his position as full time facilitator. “Due to new commitments with work responsibilities,” he says. “It was an extremely difficult decision to make, because I’ve had this up and running for five years. And having been its founder, it’s hard to let go.”

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Club Q Movie Day, the third Friday of each month

Larry explains the plan for Club Q after he steps aside, “There have been multiple conversations and networking with other LGBTQ organizations. Three other groups, Shanti OC, LGBTQ Center OC, and the LGBTQ Heritage and Culture Committee, will be involved in upcoming gatherings of the Club. In co-partnering with these other organizations and services, each will take over one of the designated time periods a month. We have the first and third Friday afternoons of the month, and these groups will be woven in at these times to bring in more people. They will rotate in on the first Friday, and the third Friday will still be Club Q movie day. Susi Q will facilitate until a new steering committee is created.” 

He says of the new format, “It’s the arms and fingers of five years of networking, bringing these organizations in to Susi Q to be with LGBTQ family and friends.”

The Club Q members look forward to new and exciting adventures with Club Q, but, of course, they will miss the leadership they had with Larry. 

And, yes, he will still be part of Club Q, but as a member.

A time of celebration, a time of sorrow

The more one learns about Laguna’s rich gay culture of the past 40 plus years, the more it appears to embody periods of absolute joy or absolute grief. As described by Larry, it was a dizzying and dazzling life in Laguna in the ‘70s, a mecca of energy and artistry, and then came the impenetrable sorrow of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Larry recalls those times, “In 1984, along with Ed Smith, Jim Reed, and Rick Hernandez, we put on a musical review in Jim Reed’s house from 11 p.m. to midnight and raised $26,000 as seed money for AIDS Services Foundation (ASF). The next year, we held it at the Woman’s Club and raised $100,000 for ASF. We skipped a year, and then in 1987, we raised $150,000 for them.”

An unforgettable walk

On December 1, 2017, I had the privilege of going on an unforgettable walk with Larry and members of Club Q to the police station to deliver toys for Spark of Love, and then to Main Beach for the commemoration of World AIDS Day. The day and evening, (which also included Hospitality Night), involved a strange juxtaposition of emotions. In the amount of time it took to reach the cobblestones at the beach, joy melded into sadness, as Larry and Ric Uggs related the stories of what it was like back then. 

Larry said, “I’ll never forget that 10-15 years of constant loss. In the early 1980s, we worried when someone said they weren’t feeling well. Because it seemed to happen quickly after that. They’d be gone in 30, 60 or 90 days. I was in the interior design business and many of design shops closed because the proprietors died. We’re here to celebrate those lives and grieve their deaths.”

Attendees at the ceremony were asked to write the names of friends and family members who died from AIDS on small pink hearts. 

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On June 1, Larry steps away as Club Q facilitator

Visibly shaken, Larry told me, “I started writing down the names of my friends, and I got to six, and I couldn’t go on. Back when they started dying, and the number got to 30, I said I don’t know what to do. A friend gave me some good advice. ‘Larry, stop counting.’”

Then a group of four people read the names of those who died, and a small bell rang after each name. And then the moderator asked for people to call out the names of those they knew who hadn’t been mentioned. Between Larry and Ric, they called out another 30 or more names. 

“These were sons, children, husbands, and wives. It’s not just a gay disease and never was,” Larry said.

Since 1972, Larry has both lived as part of and been witness to the LGBTQ culture in Laguna, a historian of the times. And his achievements – the founding of Club Q and now the co-partnering with other LGBTQ organizations, the first exhibition of LGBTQ art, and his role as one of the original board members of the Heritage Culture Committee – speak to the multifaceted life he’s led, the joy and grief of it all. 

In every case, he saw what could be, and he made it happen.


Pastor Rod Echols: Raised in Memphis, he loves Laguna and the Neighborhood Congregational Church

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Just when Pastor Rod Echols decided he was ready to become a full time pastor, Laguna’s Neighborhood Congregational Church reached out to him. “I was approached by this church right when I started my search,” recounts Pastor Rod. Not intimately familiar with Laguna Beach, Pastor Rod says it did check one of his non-negotiable boxes: it was in southern California. So he did some research. “I started looking into the community. It was so strong, so progressive...It was evolving onto everything I wanted to be as a pastor. I was honored to be hired.” 

Finding the right place to make a big change

Now, with almost a year of full-time ministry behind him, Pastor Rod is nothing if not enthusiastic about the future. “I feel, especially being so new in my role, like a kid in a candy store.” He has embraced the city’s quirks, and is delighted to be in a community that is so close-knit. “I’ve never served in a town like Laguna. It’s a town that values conservation, healthy living; it has strong connections and values. You can feel it here; it’s so strong. I really love that.”

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Pastor Rod Echols of the Neighborhood Congregational Church

Finding it easy to honor his mother’s wishes

Pastor Rod is a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC). The UCC is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination. It is known for being socially progressive with an emphasis on interfaith efforts. As for how he came to be a pastor, he says with a laugh, “I was toldI was going to be a pastor.” Raised in Memphis, Echols says his mother had plans for her son. Those plans included him being part of the church, albeit a different church than the one he represents now, and not just as member of the congregation. It didn’t take long for his mother’s wishes to take root. “I had the desire very early,” he recalls. 

Leaving Memphis for Brown University

Another one of his mother’s wishes was that he seize his opportunities. This meant leaving Memphis to attend Brown University in Rhode Island. Echols originally planned on becoming a doctor. However, once there he says his eyes were opened to a wider world-view. All of this newness profoundly affected him. “There were so many different people and beliefs. I found myself going back to where I started.” He became an informal, in-house pastor to his fellow classmates, and this planted the seed. 

Seeing religion through a new lens

What helped the seed flourish were some of Echols’ professors at Brown. “They blew my mind,” he remembers. “They exploded the categories. Christ, salvation, love, grace…they made them more inclusive, more colorful.” This inspired him to go to Boston University for graduate school where he received a Master of Divinity. “Without them, without their persistence – and it was very strong persistence – I would not be here now,” he says with a laugh.

Despite his faith and the calling to serve, Echols’ paying job was that of a professional fundraiser. He has worked for universities and non-profits, like the United Way. A job with the University of California San Diego brought him west. 

Seeking counsel to take a very big step

Then he had an epiphany, of sorts. “In 2010 I shared my heart with the pastor at Fairview Church in Costa Mesa,” he says. He had been a volunteer pastor there for many years. “I opened up to her and expressed my feelings and my story to her. I started as a conservative, fundamentalist, black preacher and had become an open, affirming man of faith.” And he wanted to preach. “I knew my calling was to make this step.”

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Inside the lovely Neighborhood Congregational Church at 340 St. Ann’s Drive

A love for something greater, kindness and social justice

He believes he is well-suited to make an impact as a church leader because of his focus on three things: one is a “proactive” commitment to loving and worshipping something greater than one’s self; the second is a focus on kindness; and the third is a fierce belief in social justice. “I feel strongly for people who don’t have the built-in advantages that other people have. People of color, the homeless, the LGBQT community…I want to help people searching for wholeness. These are the things that drew me into being a pastor as opposed to staying where I was.”

These tenets of his belief fuel his ambitions for the Neighborhood Congregational Church. “I want this church to be an indispensable part of the community. I want our kids to have a safe place for nurturing. Here, we are seeking wisdom together.”

The World Peace and Justice Weekend, June 9-10

To that end, the weekend of June 9 and 10, the church is hosting its first World Peace and Justice weekend. Pastor Rod describes the weekend as “an embodiment of seeking wisdom. It’s active. You are embodying peace in action.” There will be interfaith dialogue and meditation, a hands-on justice initiative and a concert benefitting world causes, as well as a presentation on compassionate parenting.

A deep gratitude for his parents

Pastor Rod speaks devotedly about his own parents. “My mom is so proud of me. Her strong faith is now my strong faith. Her passion for helping others is my passion, Her kind soul is what I’m trying to be for the church,” he says. He is equally grateful to his father. “He has been a real rock for me. He is my practical guide. He has been so tremendous.” Pastor Rod hopes to pass on their example to his own family someday, but first he needs to find the right woman. And it would be a plus if she loved IMAX movies and comic books, as he does, though it’s certainly not a requirement.

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Historic plaque welcomes congregants to the Neighborhood Congregational Church

Making the NCC a vibrant part of the community

In the meantime, Pastor Rod will put his considerable energy into growing the Neighborhood Congregational Church and making it a vibrant part of the community.

When I ask him to describe the United Church of Christ he says this, “An old pastor friend of mine used to tell this joke: UCC stands for Unitarians Considering Christ.’” Pastor Rod insists that it’s funny (my religious ignorance made glaringly obvious by the fact that he had to assure me of its humor). But he went on to explain that while we could debate the joke’s humor, it was a fairly accurate description of the UCC. 

“It’s not rigid or closed off. It speaks to the idea that Christ is a unifying force. Some call it Buddha, some call it a spirit, some call it light. We call it Christ.” 

This is what Pastor Rod believes. He also believes in the power of his church to be a unifying voice in these fractured times. “What we are seeking to do, our goal, is to orient ourselves as the sacred gathering space for seeking wisdom in Laguna Beach and the wider community,” he explains. An ambitious goal, to be sure, but one to which Pastor Rod is committed.

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