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Ron Pringle: Of service to the music and his community

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Ron Pringle says he was “never not making it happen,” at least in regards to his music. As the lead singer for reggae band World Anthem, Pringle, perhaps better known as Ron I, says he knew from an early age where his future lay. “I was always singing. At three years old I made the declaration that I would be a singer,” he says. 

While attending El Morro Elementary he met his best friend Nick Hernandez who, remarkably, is also a lead singer (for the band Common Sense). Both bands are Laguna Beach fixtures, but they have audiences well beyond Laguna Beach.

A progression from rock to reggae

Pringle started his first band Albatross in seventh grade. It was a rock band. As he got older, Pringle says his musical tastes widened. “I started getting into (bands like) Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse. It was a natural progression, coming from this area, living where I lived.” What he mentions, but does not detail, is a period of time where he exercised his wilder impulses. But those days are behind him.

A champion of sobriety

“I haven’t had a drink in 29 years,” he says matter-of-factly. As a devoted member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Pringle says, “My primary purpose is to stay sober.”  On the day he decided enough was enough, he remembers, “I had a moment of clarity. Nothing good happened until I gave up drinking.” 

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Ron Pringle, aka Ron I, singing with his band World Anthem

Now, he sees his life with a purpose beyond making music. “I work a lot in the community to help young men live the life they want to live without using drugs or alcohol.” He cherishes the “victories of people choosing life” and he truly mourns those who were unable to attain them.

Reggae is more than just music, it is a philosophy

It is clear Pringle is a man of deep thought and feelings. His immersion into reggae music is more than just an appreciation of its rhythms. He has whole-heartedly embraced its philosophies. “Reggae became one with my soul and spirit,” he explains passionately. “It became part of my DNA.” 

He credits the late Eric “Redz” Morton as having a big influence on him. Morton was one of the co-founders of the iconic Laguna band, the Rebel Rockers in the late 70’s. He died in 2013. “I honor him,” he says solemnly. For Pringle, reggae’s sense of community is particularly powerful. “The positive vibrations…there is no separation. That’s why it is ‘I’ and ‘I,’ not ‘me’ and ‘you’.”

Seeking information in a quest for freedom

When we met, Pringle joked that he was going to enjoy the interview process because it gave him a chance to talk about his favorite subject: himself.  However, that declaration could not have been further from the truth. 

Pringle, while not reluctant to talk about himself, was much more interested in discussing his thoughts on the Federal Reserve. It was not a direction I’d imagined our conversation going, but Pringle spoke eloquently about his distrust of that institution, its history and his version of its impact on the world.

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Ron Pringle and his cherry Skylark 

He is a student of a book titled “The Creature From Jekyll Island” by G. Edward Griffin. While some label this book a conspiracy theory others, like libertarian idealist Ron Paul, see it as “a superb analysis.” Pringle clearly agrees with the latter. “I encourage people to seek information. I want the truth and rights. It all comes down to freedom,” he says. 

Devoted to his message: love and unity

Despite his somewhat dark vision of geo-politics, Pringle says for him it’s all about love. “My message is one of love and unity. There is no problem in the world that more love on top of love and more love can’t overcome. It truly is the magic. And music is love. Togetherness and unity is love. Kindness is my religion.”

A passion for the waves and water

Pringle also holds a soulful connection with the ocean. “I will be in the water until my dying day, when I’m 140,” he says with a smile. “I spent my life skim boarding.” Listing off the giants of the sport who he would try and emulate when he was younger: Tex Haines, Chris Henderson, Kyle Treadway, Pringle says admiringly, “We learned from them.”  And getting older hasn’t dimmed his enthusiasm. “I’ve always been pushing the limits. The summer of my 50th birthday I tried to get the biggest waves I could,” he says proudly.

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Ron Pringle takes a moment at Blue Lagoon beach

Laguna is a good place to call home

With his love of music and the ocean Laguna is a pretty good place for Pringle to live with his family, something he is very much aware of.  “I love my life. I love Laguna. I love music. I’m so grateful. I’m grateful to be placed in this time and space in Laguna Beach. I’m just here to be of service. If anyone needs anything they can count on me to be of help.” 

And if anyone just wants to listen to some great music, World Anthem is here to service that need, as well. The Sandpiper, The Cliff, the Sawdust…on a given night you’re likely to find them someplace in our town, and Ron I will be there embracing the community that comes to hear the music.


Jason Allemann, new principal of LBHS, can’t wait for the 2017/18 school year to kick off 

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

New principal of Laguna Beach High School Jason Allemann plans to participate in classroom and athletic activities, roam the campus at recess, and generally be a visible presence during as well as before and after the school day. 

Yes, he’s dedicated to developing long-term strategies to improve communications between and among school staff, teachers and parents and the Laguna Beach community. 

Yes, he wants to encourage a positive and non-discriminatory attitude on campus and to celebrate academic and athletic achievements. 

Yes, he knows that time spent on administrative tasks is vital in the smooth running of an educational institution. 

But Allemann is not going to be confined to his office while working on those aspects of his job.

“Does a football coach leave the field when the game begins?” he asked rhetorically as we sit in his office discussing the challenges inherent in heading up a high school in these turbulent, social-media-dominated and sometimes, sadly, drug-addled times. 

“No. He’s on the field, encouraging players, cheering them on, checking for problem areas, devising solutions, seeing what’s going on in real time,” he said. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

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Jason Allemann in his element on the LBHS school campus

Sports analogies come naturally to Allemann, who grew up in Dana Point and most recently was principal of Dana Hills High. He and his family have always been active in athletics, and he counts himself lucky that his three kids are each interested in different sports: daughter Avery, 15, loves volleyball; Caroline 12, enjoys tennis; and son James, also 12, is an avid footballer – Allemann coaches his team – and the entire family, including wife Kristin, a special-ed teacher, enjoy a range of ocean sports.

But it is education that is Allemann’s true passion, though he admits he didn’t spend his youth dreaming about becoming a high school principal.

“Kids don’t, do they?” he said. “It’s not exactly a glamorous job. They dream about becoming police officers or fire fighters or maybe rock stars. But no, it was a winding road that brought me to this place.”

Before I followed up on Allemann’s winding path, I asked him if, as a kid, he had indeed nurtured a passion for a particular career.

Allemann, who has a breezy charm, and whose optimism about the world – not to mention his new job – is quite contagious, turned serious.

“For a while as a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. But people said to me, why would you want to do that? That takes so much work. It takes forever to finish your education. And partly for those reasons I didn’t pursue that.” 

Allemann rolled his Fidget Cube – a gag gift meant to acknowledge his restless desire to be on top of every aspect of his job – between his finger and thumb. “It’s my hope that every student in this high school is encouraged to pursue whatever his or her dreams are, no matter how challenging.”

Yet, he assured me, his enthusiasm palpable, “Doesn’t mean that I wish I had become a doctor. I love what I’m doing now. I’m thrilled with this job and I’m especially excited to be in Laguna. I’m looking forward to understanding the culture here more deeply and becoming involved with the community on every level.”

Jason Allemann

Allemann graduated with a major in Psychology from San Diego State University. Later he would go on to earn his Masters in Social Work at Cal State Long Beach, then a PhD in Educational Leadership at USC.

So, the winding road: “My senior year project at San Diego State addressed issues related to after-school care in the Mira Mesa area. I saw how parents arrived to pick up their elementary school kids, worn out after an exhausting day at work. 

“I talked to a few dads and they told me how much they would love to be able to just spend time kicking a ball around with their kids once they got home, but instead they had to oversee homework,” he said. “They had to take on the role of taskmaster instead of being able to just have fun with their family.”

In response, Allemann devised an afterschool program that incorporated supervised homework and other seemingly minor but important changes that came about after discussing issues particular to working parents. He then approached other afterschool programs and helped them introduce similar programs.

“The parents were super happy,” he says. “That project, this job – it’s all about talking, and mostly listening, and being willing to try something new. Communicating with everyone involved.” 

Which is exactly the approach he plans to bring to his new role at LBHS. “I love the intimacy of this community,” he added. “I can’t wait to get to know more about Laguna and get involved.”

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Jason Allemann is Southern California born and bred

After graduating from SDSU, Allemann worked to help developmentally disabled adults with living skills. 

“We’d teach them how to handle basic but important tasks such as creating a grocery list, shopping at a store – what goes in the refrigerator and what doesn’t, for example, as simple as that,” he explained. “Our goal was to help them live independent lives. It was very rewarding to feel we were making a difference. It reinforced that small changes can have a huge impact.”

Later in his career, Allemann was employed as a school counselor helping kids with severe emotional diagnoses. Then counseling evolved into a job with administration and from there to becoming an assistant principal. 

Allemann served as principal at Katella High School in Anaheim for four years and most recently spent six years as the principal of Dana Hills High.

How transparent does he plan to be about the challenges that LBHS, like all high schools, face?

Allemann shrugged, clearly unfazed. “I see problems as learning opportunities,” he said. “I’m not going to be shy about addressing issues publicly and engaging the community in finding solutions, whether it’s racism or unintended discrimination or any other matter. There are problems in every industry. I’m lucky to have a range of resources at my fingertips.”

He paused a moment and then said, “You know, it’s a luxury to have this job, to work with kids. You never stop learning.”

At this point in the interview, the Fidget Cube was getting a workout. I could tell that Jason Allemann was ready to return to his computer to check his emails and get going on projects much more rewarding than talking about himself. 

Clearly, for him it was nearly game time and his inner coach was raring to get going.

I have a feeling that his energy, enthusiasm and insights are going to bring a whole new dimension to a high school that is already one of the finest in the country.

Tuesday September 5 the school year kicks off, and Jason Allemann is ready to roll.


CNN selected Ryan Hickman, featured in August 15 edition, as one of their five Young Wonders—“youth making a positive impact on their communities.” Congratulations from all of us at Stu News Laguna, Ryan!

Kid Crusader:

Eight-year-old Ryan Hickman’s Trash for Cash campaign benefits PMMC to the tune of thousands

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Eight-year old Ryan Hickman entered the world wanting to make it better. From the time he was tiny, he was obsessed with trash – collecting it, sorting it, recycling it, and using large portions of his proceeds to give back. His cause of choice is the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC). In just over a year, he’s donated nearly $5,000 for the care and treatment of the seals, sea lions and elephant seals rescued by the PMMC.

“Ryan’s enthusiasm and commitment to recycling is remarkable,” says Michele Hunter, the Director of Animal Care at PMMC. “He’s like a star. Every time he comes in, we all start shouting, ‘Ryan’s here! Ryan’s here!’”

At age three, Ryan accompanied his dad to the local recycling center to cash in some bottles and cans. That trip transformed his short life. The next day, he announced his plan to distribute bags to friends, family and neighbors, encouraging them to save their recyclables for him. Little did he know where it would lead.

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Ryan is passionate about recycling – and sea lions – luckily for PMMC

Ryan’s passion became infectious. He soon had everyone he knew – and many he didn’t yet know – contributing to his cause. Neighbors told their co-workers, teachers told their friends. Now Ryan has clients all over Orange County. He makes the rounds each week, collecting cans and bottles from businesses. He sorts, cleans, crushes, and packs them to make those regular trips to the recycling center. 

“There’s never a day when he doesn’t want to recycle,” says his mother, Andrea Hickman. “Even in the pouring rain.”

“Except holidays,” Ryan says. “I need to take holidays off.”

All that collecting has translated to more than 251,000 cans and bottles, or 56,000 pounds of recycling. Recently he broke his own record for a single trip to the center, earning a whopping $542. It pays to recycle.

Student as teacher

“Before I met Ryan,” says Andrea, “I didn’t know anything about recycling. Now we just installed solar panels in our home. That’s all because of what Ryan has taught me.” 

Ryan recognized all that trash was ending up in our ocean, threatening the environment and endangering the marine life. And if there’s one thing Ryan loves next to garbage trucks and recycling, it’s animals. So he’s taken his message across the globe, encouraging kids just like him to protect the planet, letting them know – no matter how young or how small – they can make a difference.

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“Whenever he comes in, we all start chanting “Ryan’s here! Ryan’s here!’”

Ryan receives letters, messages and phone calls from around the world. He recently Skyped with students in Bali. They asked him all kinds of questions about recycling—how and where and why—curious about his passion. 

When Ryan and his family visited Belize earlier this year, he was recognized by the locals. A celebrity was in their midst. He was struck by how far Belize has to go in their trash collecting efforts. “If we spent a month there, just cleaning their streets,” says Andrea, “We could have made a real difference.”

So in addition to the money he makes from recycling, he began offering “Ryan’s Recycling” t-shirts for $13. All profits go straight to the PMMC, which he visits every chance he gets (and takes care of his bins, collecting their recycling while he’s there).

“Ryan’s story shows that a little kindness goes a long way,” says Hunter. “You can make a real difference in the world at a very young age.”

We are the world

Above Ryan’s bed hangs a map of the world, filled with colorful pushpins. Every pin represents a place in the world that’s contacted Ryan for a t-shirt. There’s a special breakout map of the United States in the upper corner because there are too many pins for the size of the map. “We’re big in Asia,” says Andrea. “And Europe.” The map bears that out. Europe and Asia are indeed running out of room. 

Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Australia, Pakistan – they’ve all heard about Ryan and his recycling crusade. There’s even one pin stuck in the center of the Pacific Ocean. It’s from a ship stationed out there, whose crew found Ryan and ordered his t-shirts, so he packed them up and shipped them off to the middle of the ocean. 

The map is not only a great lesson in world geography, it’s also a wonderful way to connect Ryan to the planet he’s trying – bottle by bottle – to save. 

As we talk in the living room, Andrea tells me they just got a video from Dubai.

“Where’s Dubai?” asks Ryan.

“In the middle east,” she tells him. “Near Saudi Arabia.”

Not content with his mother’s lack of specificity, Ryan runs to his room to look at his map. “I gotta know,” he says. “How do you spell it?” He returns to announce that Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates, and confirms there’s a pushpin to mark the spot.

Every pin means more money for the marine mammals at the PMMC. Ryan’s t-shirts translate to food, electricity, medicine and water. “All the things it takes to run the center and care for the animals,” says Hunter. To put it in perspective, he’s donated more than 10,000 pounds of fish to feed the mammals.

Ryan’s recycling goes viral

Sometime in 2016, Ryan’s story went viral. Ellen DeGeneres heard about Ryan and invited him on her show, donating $10,000 to his cause, along with a Ryan-sized trash truck he drives around his cul-de-sac collecting cans. (He’s a remarkably adept driver, and can parallel park better than most adults I know.)

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No job is too big or too small for Ryan’s recycling

He also received a new Dell laptop from Adrian Grenier, which happened to coincide with his birthday in July. Now he can keep track of his business.

Ryan has been profiled by hundreds of web sites, newspapers, and television and radio shows around the world, including CNN, Ryan Seacrest, Bill Handel, PBS, Good Morning America, and ABC World News. He’s had shout outs from Chelsea Clinton, George Takei, and Fabien Cousteau. Congressman Darrell Issa recently visited Ryan in his home. And the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Mayor and City Council of San Juan Capistrano all presented him with awards. 

Next month, the PMMC is honoring Ryan at a gala event for his contributions. “I bought a special shirt with whales on it,” he tells me.

Saving for the future

“Ryan is a saver,” says Andrea. “He doesn’t want to spend a single penny when it can be saved.” Every aluminum can earns him a nickel. Bottles are more. But, he warns, be careful about wine bottles. The recycling centers have too many and they take up too much room, so you’re not going to get as much for them.

How much has he managed to save in his short life? More than $25,000. That’s quite a college fund. “No,” he tells me. “I’m saving to buy a trash truck.” The one he covets is $120,000. Save he must. But he’s well on his way. 

“We’ll talk about that,” says Andrea, winking over at me. “I don’t know what the HOA will say.” 

A head for trash

Even without the real thing, Ryan has a good start with an impressive collection of 18 toy trash trucks around the house. They’re stacked in his closet. He rolls them across the living room floor. “He was just born loving trash trucks,” Andrea says. “All the local drivers know Ryan. They’ll pretend to pick up the wrong can and Ryan goes wild, yelling at them to stop. It’s really cute.”

Ryan also supervises Mr. Jose, the custodian at his school. “He calls me his boss,” says Ryan. “I help him clean the campus, and I get to ride in his golf cart.”

His business has earned him entry into the CarbonLITE and RePlanet Processing facilities tours. There he’s learned how recycling really happens, from start to finish. The process is overwhelming and impressive. His website tells the tale through photos and videos.

What else does he love? SpongeBob, fidget spinners, math (“I like counting money!”), and frogs. Ryan’s room is filled with frogs. Stuffed, plastic, figurines, rugs, sheets, pictures and pajamas. None of them living pets, at least that I noticed. But they represent his favorite color—green.

Planning ahead

I ask Ryan what he wants to do when he’s older. 

“Run your own company?” offers his mom. 

“Drive a trash truck,” he tells her. 

“How about owning the trash company?” she says. 

He looks at her. Apparently there’s more to talk about. But they have time.

In the meantime, Ryan’s entrepreneurial spirit is saving the lives of countless marine mammals here in Laguna Beach. The little man has a plan, and it’s paying big dividends for both our town and our planet.

Kermit the Frog used to lament, “It’s not easy being green.” Not only is it easy it’s fun – and profitable.

To read more about Ryan’s story, purchase a t-shirt, or donate your recyclables to his cause, visit Ryan’s website at www.ryansrecycling.com.


Victoria McGinnis: Living a life of symmetry

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

There is a symmetry to Victoria McGinnis’ life. With two homes and two careers, she seems to like things in pairs. But it goes even further than that. Her two careers, though seemingly different, are actually quite similar, at least the way McGinnis approaches them. She has found her place both on center stage as a performer and behind the scenes as an editor/director/producer. The performing part seems to have been pre-ordained; the other speaks to her resourcefulness.

A performer from the start

As a native New Yorker, McGinnis began performing with her father, a big band drummer and orchestra leader, at the age of three. “It was at the Riverboat Room, a posh supper club in the Empire State Building. He had given me the direction, ‘After you finish singing the song, I will gently squeeze your hand and that is your cue to leave the stage.’  Well, I finished the song, he squeezed my hand, but I made like I didn’t notice. He kept squeezing my hand. I looked up at him and he saw in my eyes the way I felt, how much I loved being there. He then turned to the audience and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a bit of a problem, my daughter doesn’t want to get off stage!’ The audience roared! I loved it!” she recalls. The two began regularly performing as a duo when she was 16. 

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Victoria McGinnis, singer, editor, producer, director and Laguna Beach resident

A graduate of Fordham University, McGinnis studied theater. “I was always in front,” she explains. Center stage is someplace she feels very comfortable. Her introduction to the behind-the-scenes world arrived after she graduated.

Being nice wins her a ticket to the mailroom

 McGinnis says she took a job at a production company doing voice-overs. One day she got a strange request. “They asked me, ‘Can you sit in our mailroom and handle the mail?’ The mailroom person had quit.” Not jumping at the chance to sit in the mailroom, McGinnis says she reminded them she was their voice-over person. “Why did you ask me?” she remembers questioning. “They said, ‘Because you’re nice,’” she recalls with a hint of exasperation.

A poor candy selection is a motivator

Once in the mailroom, McGinnis says, “I was bored. They had a bad vending machine, bad candy. So I started researching vending machines.” She says she found machines that were better and cheaper. The office manager was all for it. 

In her enthusiasm for securing better snack food for herself and co-workers, McGinnis says she decided to take charge. “I sent out a global voice mail asking what kind of candy and stuff people wanted in the vending machines. It went to everyone, the head of the company…everyone. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed do that,” she says ruefully. The office manager was stricken. “She was telling me, ‘You can’t do that! You might get fired.’ I was scared to death!” remembers McGinnis. 

Her quest for better candy pays off

 Later that day, just like in the movies, she saw the head of the company heading her way. This, she assumed, was not going to be good. He approached her, “Are you Victoria in the mailroom?” She says she remembers feeling pretty confident that she was going to be fired on the spot. Instead, she recalls, “He shakes my hand and passes me a slip of paper with a big smile on his face and says, ‘I’ll take M&M’s.’“ After that people started hiring me as a production coordinator,” she says with a laugh.

Editing is an “aha moment”

She didn’t stay a production coordinator for long. An editor at the production company she worked for invited her to watch him edit one of his projects. “It was an ‘aha’ moment. Editing images together is so much like putting two notes together. I couldn’t get enough of it,” she says. In six months after watching and learning, she was hired as an editor. “I was with that company for four years,” she says. She has since added producer and director to her resume, in addition to editor.

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Victoria McGinnis in her element at GG’s Bistro

Victoria’s bicoastal aspirations began in 1997 when McGinnis came to Laguna Beach for the first time after her father passed away. Not only had she lost her father, she had lost the other half of her act. Obviously, it was a very emotional time. A friend, sensing McGinnis’ need to get out of New York, invited her to Laguna Beach.  “New Yorkers think southern California is all just LA,” laughs McGinnis. Her friend convinced her, “’It’s better than LA!’” 

Finding Laguna at the right time

On the drive home from John Wayne Airport, McGinnis says it was nighttime. They drove through the canyon, down Broadway where, ahead of her in the distance, she saw nothing but blackness. Questioning her friend about this strange phenomenon, she was told it was the ocean. “What?!” McGinnis says, recounting her surprise. “I didn’t realize it was right next to the ocean!” If timing is everything, then the timing was right for McGinnis to find Laguna. “It was an amazing week for me to find this town – so lovely, liberal and open.” So she started to seriously consider living here, as well as NYC.

In 2003 she made that a reality and got an apartment in town. She maintained that same apartment until she bought a home here two and a half years ago. She explains she used to divide her time seven months in New York and five months in Laguna. Since the home purchase, however, that ratio has shifted to favor more time in Laguna.  Her partner, Tori Johnston, is a 20-year Laguna resident originally from Scotland. “She had four daughters when I met her so now together we have four daughters. All Laguna Beach girls,” says McGinnis proudly.  

Putting down roots in Laguna inspires a desire to get involved

Since becoming a homeowner, McGinnis says a newfound desire to get more involved in the community promoted her and Johnston to become Board members of Chhahari, a local non-profit that runs an orphanage in Nepal. To hear McGinnis talk about the kids who reside there, whom she hasn’t met personally and only knows through the videos she edits from other people’s footage, is to hear a woman passionate about this cause. “I feel like I need to meet them,” she says emphatically. She and Johnston are looking to do just that in 2019. McGinnis proudly tells me their eldest daughter has already been there.

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Victoria McGinnis is an exceptional multi-tasker, singing and playing percussion

Laguna is becoming her own personal musical

For now, McGinnis is more than content to perform her standing Wednesday night gig at GG’s Bistro in addition to performing regularly at the Sawdust Festival, and other gigs around the southland. “I’ve been at the Sawdust a lot and I love it! There is such anonymity in New York. It can be very lonely. Here, in Laguna, it’s amazing for me. So many people walk by and wave. And at GG’s, with the great locals…There are nights where everybody’s singing ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’…It’s how I’ve wanted to live my life. You walk down the street and everybody’s singing.”

A father’s words ring true

Apparently, her father, who never visited the west coast, was right when he told her, “Dolly, (he called her Dolly) you belong in southern California. You love the sunshine. That’s where you should be.” And while she is by no means relinquishing her New York ties, she says now home is where her house and family are. “I feel like I’m finally a local. I feel like I’m really settling, really enjoying things.”


Kelly Boyd: Part of a remarkable Laguna legacy

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Boyd is a third generation Lagunan. Not many people can claim that. He has been here his whole life, minus a stint in Vietnam. “I was there in ’66 for a year and then came back.” Leaving Laguna was never something he contemplated. “Our family has been here since 1871,” he says simply. “It’s home.”

A commitment to “Laguna Beach of Early Days”

To honor his family’s history, Boyd recently re-published a book that his grandfather, J.S. Thurston, wrote back in 1947, “Laguna Beach of Early Days.” It took Boyd two and a half years to get this labor of love back out in circulation, but he did it. 

“He (J.S. Thurston) was a farmer in his 70’s when he wrote that. Ben Brown’s was his first settlement.” The book, according to a blurb from The History Press, tells of Thurston’s  “personal account of growing up in Laguna and presents an intimate look at the settler’s hardships, relationships and perseverance.” Boyd’s connection to this town is long, and it is also deep.

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City council member Kelly Boyd relaxes at his home in Laguna Beach

Making sure the Marine Room stayed in good hands

He is on the final year of his fourth term serving on the city council (the first term was back in 1978-82) the other three have been consecutive. During his third term in office Boyd was diagnosed with bone cancer. “My oncologist told me, ‘Right now, you don’t really need to worry about things.’” In other words, eliminate what stress you can.

So Boyd, who had owned the Marine Room in downtown Laguna since 1987, decided to sell it in 2012. “I decided it’s time; it’s time to sell. I approached Chris Keller because he’s a local guy. He has had it ever since, and he’s a great guy.” 

As for his city council duties, Boyd stayed on. “I’m sure there were some people who were hoping I’d resign,” he says with a laugh. But Boyd fought through his treatment and is now feeling strong (his cancer is in remission).  

All good things must come to an end, even public service

Nevertheless, when his term ends, he says he’s not running again. “I’ve enjoyed being on the council. Eleven years…it’s at the point of burnout.” He and his wife, Michelle, bought a second home in the desert. Boyd says he’s looking forward to spending more time there, without the need to rush back for a meeting or other city business. 

In 70 years, Laguna has changed…a lot

And while he may seek some well-deserved down time in the desert, rest assured he will come back, even if the Laguna he comes back to is vastly different from the one of his youth. With 70+ years under his belt living in the same place, one can forgive Boyd if he looks back fondly on the good old days and a bit skeptically at the present ones. “I think it (Laguna) has changed a lot and not necessarily in a good way, in my opinion,” he says. 

Changes outside the city greatly impact things inside the city 

The things that irk Boyd are pretty much the things that irk all of us: traffic, high housing prices, empty storefronts. It’s just that while some of us may remember when there was less traffic, Boyd can remember a time when there was no real traffic to speak of. 

Back in the day, Boyd says when he and his brothers needed school clothes, it meant driving all the way to Santa Ana. “There was nothing out there but orange groves.” Over time, the orange groves gave way to tract homes. “What’s really affected the city is everything that’s been built up behind us.” And there is just nothing anyone can do about that.

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Some Boyd/Thurston family history (Boyd as a child, lower, far right)

Longevity can provide a different perspective on the City Council

Sometimes his long history with Laguna puts him at odds with his fellow council members. Take the Marine Life Protection Act, for example. A lifelong waterman (Boyd was the Jr. Surfing Champion 1957), Boyd is not a fan of the city’s fishing ban. 

“My brothers and I were fishermen. They’re taking the little guys like us and hurting us,” he says. The problem, as Boyd sees it, is with the boats hauling the big nets. He was the lone dissenting vote in opposition to the ban. “I’m the only one (on the council) who grew up here and knows the ocean. My problem is once the government takes control of something they never let it go. They’re probably never going to reopen these areas and to me that’s wrong.”

Laguna’s one middle school honors Boyd’s family legacy

But one can forgive Boyd if he at times can sound a bit cranky about the state of things. In his lifetime Laguna has grown from a sleepy art and beach community into a global vacation destination. He remembers when the elementary, middle and high school were all on Park Ave. It’s also worth noting his grandfather donated the land for Thurston Middle School and it was named in honor of his grandmother.

Some of the best parts of Laguna never change

And yet some of his favorite things remain the same. “I love the community. I love what it has stood for: the arts community, the Pageant, the Festival. I was in the Pageant when I was a kid – we all were. That was fun! Everybody was into it.” 

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Boyd and his wife Michelle will celebrate 35 years of marriage this month

A big thumbs up for the city’s management

He is also enthusiastic about how the city is being run. “In my opinion, John (Pietig, City Manager) has put together a great management team; the best I’ve seen in 11 years.” He credits Laura Farinella, Laguna’s Police Chief, for her handling of the protest two weeks ago. Apparently, another one is in the works for September. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says about the animus between groups today. “To me, it’s really scary. I don’t think it’s healthy. To quote Rodney King, ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’” he says with a shrug.

Boyd pleased that he’ll be the Mayor when his final term in office ends. “That’s how I want to go out,” he says. “I just hope that in 2018, an election year, Laguna remains civil. The turmoil in Washington DC is drifting to a local level. It’s not good.”

A year to celebrate impressive milestones

Why can’t we all get along, indeed. This a question Boyd will leave for others to solve. “It’s time to let other people, younger people be heard,” he says, As for him,  “I think I’m going to be glad to get out of here,” he says with a smile. He is celebrating 35 years of marriage to his wife, Michelle, this month, yet another thing for which he is grateful.

And that’s not the only celebration he has planned. He’s hosting a 55th class reunion at his house, “For those who can come. There aren’t a lot of us left,” he says with a laugh. 

Boyd’s longevity as a public servant puts him in a very elite group. Laguna is the better for his loyalty and service.


Catherine Hall – Her model for retirement is service

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Just after sitting down with me, Catherine Hall, who is a past president of the Laguna Beach Garden Club, confesses she plants fake succulents to fill in the blank areas in her front yard planter box. A startling revelation from a prior recipient of The Club’s Gardener of the Year. I immediately like her. 

(She later admits, “I’m nothing if not pragmatic and it is the truth. They are mixed in with live plants where real ones simply would not thrive!”)

 “I am not sure what you are interested in, as my ‘life’ is not that interesting!” says Catherine. “I’m a serial volunteer and a ‘Nana.’” But after two and a half hours talking with her, I beg to differ. 

Catherine relocates to Laguna

No need to explain how she ended up in her role as “Nana” to two grandsons, her daughter took care of that. But how Catherine ended up in Laguna in 1996 to begin her life as a “serial volunteer,” was a result of her husband’s work. For two decades, they lived in Leucadia in North San Diego County in what she describes as her “dream house,” and she thought they’d never leave. She made the move on a five-year plan, determined they would go back to Leucadia.

But plans don’t always work out and here they are, twenty-one years later. And now her daughter and two grandsons live close, in Dana Point.

The relocation to Laguna presented an opportunity for a big change. Although at that point in her career, she wasn’t working full time, Catherine gave up consulting. She was in Engineering, and her last project was designing a three-dimensional graphic display system. 

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Catherine Hall, serial volunteer and Nana

So, Catherine and her husband came to Laguna and purchased a fixer-upper here in town. Yet after investing the time and energy into the remodel (which was her job for a while), she discovered, “Not having a work identity didn’t suit me.” 

She started joining things. “I just threw myself at it,” she says. One of her early dips into the volunteering pool was with the Garden Club. “It was the first organization I was committed to, and I decided that was it. I took a master gardening class and became a master gardener, but once I found the Assistance League, I was fully committed to them.” 

Catherine is still a member of the Garden Club. “I never miss the opportunity to volunteer as a docent at our spring garden tour. We meet monthly and our next garden tour is May 4, 2018. A very friendly group (gardeners are just the nicest people) that meets monthly and has lots of activities whether your thumb is green ornot.”

Finding her passion at The Assistance League 

In 1998,she joined the Assistance League, and that again evolved into more thanvolunteering. Although Catherine is no longer in a leadership position, until recently she served as vice-president of philanthropic programs and chair of their Early Intervention Program(EIP), and she is still a member. She was on the board until this past June.

The current president is Carrie Joyce and the current director of the Early Intervention Program is Marilyn Coll, both local ladies. Living in Laguna is not a membership requirement, however.

“I was fully committed to their service programs,” Catherine says. “I especially love the EIP.”

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Volunteer working with mom and twins at Early Intervention Program

In existence since 1976, the EIP of Laguna Beach is a collaborative program with Assistance League of Laguna Beach and the Intervention Center for Early Childhood. It is designed to provide group-based therapy for developmentally delayed infants from birth to one year. 

Catherine says, “We received the Community Partner Spotlight Award in 2017 from the Down Syndrome Association of Orange County. This was an acknowledgment of our long-term commitment to serving the Down Syndrome community through our Early Intervention Program.” 

EIP is just one of the AL’s many programs, as I find out. 

“If there is a need that someone is not addressing, they try to fill that need,” Catherine says. “They do a lot, but quietly.” 

A busy and rewarding time

Since 1975, the Assistance League has been donating funds for Laguna Beach High School scholarships.  Catherine says, “Last year we gave $35K to graduating seniors at LBHS. In 2016 we gave $25K and we gave an additional $10K in 2017.” 

At the LBHS Scholarship Foundation reception for donors in June, Assistance League received the Outstanding Service Award, which Catherine was on hand to help accept the award for.

“Last year was busy,” Catherine says, “and I’m embracing the breaks.” During August, the EIP closes, so it’s given her a breather.

During this lull, she and her husband went to Pebble Beach for the Concours d’Elegance (a gathering of prestigious cars). They go every couple of years. And apparently, you can take the woman away from the “service,” but you can’t take the “service” out of the woman. Catherine volunteered to work at the event to help a friend who is involved in a charity that benefits from the Concours. 

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Catherine designed her beautiful backyard

“The Carmel-By-The-Sea Youth Center provides volunteers for the Pro-Am Golf Tournament and for the Concours. In return, these events donate to the CYC,” Catherine says. “It is a wonderful way to donate some time and enjoy the events. Check out their website for more information. It is also a great model for hosting big events with volunteers. From shuttle drivers to concessions to planning support, many talents are needed.”

Even with so much of her time devoted to service, Catherine manages to have some fun and relax. She and her husband (who is not fully retired) enjoy going to their cabin in Lake Arrowhead, where she likes to kayak on the lake in the early morning hours. In June, they were there to celebrate the end of high school with two nieces and a nephew, who will soon be leaving for college.

Time for summer fun

She especially loves spending time with her daughter and two grandsons, who are four and eleven. The summer included a trip to Disneyland, Legoland, and a visit to Universal Studios (mostly for the Harry Potter attraction, her older grandson just read two of the books, and the trip was his reward), and then to City Walk, where she watched them skydive indoors at I FLY. 

Aside from all the fun she’s having with her grandsons, Catherine says, “My model for retirement is service. I want to make the world a little better in every way I can. We need a lot of that now.” 

Between the volunteering, which doesn’t at all appear to be “serial,” and her role as “Nana” (which requires a substantial amount of service), Catherine’s life doesn’t sound anything like retirement. And it is an impressive model, to say the least.


Leif Hanson and Steve Blue: Friends with a shared cause create the annual Night at The Ranch

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER 

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

It was volleyball that brought friends Leif Hanson and Steve Blue together, way back when they were kids at Thurston Middle School. Hanson arrived from El Morro Elementary, Blue from the since-closed Aliso Elementary. When their paths converged at Thurston, a friendship formed. “When we got to Thurston…well, we’ve just been friends ever since,” says Hanson.

Volleyball sparks a lifelong friendship

The two were teammates at Laguna Beach Volleyball Club and Laguna Beach High School, but as with most high school friendships, upon graduation the time came for them to part ways. Hanson headed off to the University of Hawaii and Blue to Stanford where their volleyball careers continued. 

 

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Leif Hanson, circa 1977 Laguna Beach (submitted photo) and Leif now (this photo by Mary Hurlbut)

Hanson’s volleyball career continued post-college as he played on the pro beach volleyball tour. Blue went a different direction, earning a Master’s degree from Northwestern that had him in Chicago for five years, then the Bay area, before eventually returning to Laguna 12 years ago, where they renewed their friendship. 

Looking for a cause

Surprisingly, that renewal turned out to be a boon for a local non-profit.  Around the time of Blue’s return to Laguna, Hanson says he was feeling compelled to get more connected with his hometown. “I had been looking around to do something. I wanted to get involved and give back,” explains Hanson. With so many great causes, Hanson nevertheless says it wasn’t hard for him to decide where to put his efforts.

Lengthy ties to Laguna and The Boys and Girls Club

“The Boys and Girls Club seemed a natural place. I went there a lot as a kid. It helped keep me off the streets, “ he adds with a laugh. The youngest of five to a single working mother, Hanson says when he was younger the Boys and Girls Club (The Club) provided supervision for him while his mom worked. When he got older, the Club became the place to hone his basketball skills. 

Blue also played basketball at the Club as a kid. Fortuitously, he was also interested in “doing something.” Having put on a large charity event for his company, Blue says he was looking for something more personal.  So when Hanson approached him, it was an easy sell. “I thought it was a great place to give back,” says Blue. “Until I went back and visited I didn’t realize how much the Club does for the kids it serves. It’s amazing,” he says.

Finding inspiration for a very “Laguna” event in Malibu

But what to do? Hanson says the idea for the event came to him when he saw a poster for a Boys and Girls Club event in Malibu. Ziggy Marley was playing at a fundraiser and Hanson thought the casual yet fun vibe would translate well to his hometown. “There they have a lot of celebrities. But in Laguna we know a lot of athletes and people just from growing up here,” he says. Blue jumped on board.

Dinner, music and a totally different vibe from other events

The Boys and Girls Club was enthusiastic about his idea, says Hanson. By the time he approached them it was pretty fleshed out: there would be dinner, “Something a lot more casual than (the Club’s biggest fundraiser held at) the Montage. I’d already discussed doing it with Mark Christy (of The Ranch). I thought we could do something – make it fun, have it be casual and at that beautiful location…all with the live music.”

Thus, Night at the Ranch benefitting the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach was born.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Leif Hanson and Steve Blue prep for their Night at The Ranch event

While totally on board, The Club cautioned they couldn’t really support Hanson and Blue’s event financially. “They told us ‘We will back you but we can’t give you any money.’” Undeterred, Blue says, “We just felt that a lot of locals would like it, the way we liked it.”

The first Night at the Ranch is deemed a success

Pulling from their volleyball roots, the first year of the event they chose to honor Rolf Engen, founder of the Laguna Beach Volleyball Club. “It was very athlete/volleyball centric,” says Hanson. Pato Banton provided the music. “It was a huge success,” says Hanson. The night brought in $70,000.

On year four, the commitment and enthusiasm is still strong

While undertaking such an event once is a big commitment, “once” was never an option for Hansen and Blue. “I did some research before I started this,” explains Hanson. “I talked to some friends who are really knowledgeable about this kind of thing. They counseled me that if I was going to get involved I needed to keep it going.” And he and Blue have. 

This is the event’s fourth year. Hanson says he figured he and Blue would run it for three to five years and then turn it over to someone else to chair. Surprisingly, “We haven’t thought about letting it go,” says Hanson. “It has been really enjoyable.” And beneficial for the Club. Blue says the event is now factored into the Boys and Girls Club annual budget. “We’re second in terms of their fundraising,” he adds proudly.

From $70,000 to $200,000: every year just more success

Through the years the two have incorporated what they’ve learned, streamlining the “business” of the event (it is, after all a fundraiser) to maximize the fun with the idea that people will want to come back. The strategy seems to be working. The event, deemed a huge success when it grossed $70,000, brought in $200,000 last year.  This year’s event, scheduled for Friday, September 22 at The Ranch, could sell out. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A group of kids enjoy the freedom at The Ranch at Laguna Beach

This year a potential milestone: a sell out

 “Our cap is 400 people,” explains Hanson. “We could be selling out which would be very exciting for us.” The English Beat is headlining. Beyond the dinner and the music, there is also a golf tournament (open to the first 36 players who sign up) for $75 and a post-party with local deejay Laura Buckle. The last day to buy tickets is Wednesday, September 20.

More meaningful than just writing a check, and a lot harder

Both men say they have relied on friends to help make this event the success it is. However, the bulk of the work still definitely falls on them. “The month before it gets difficult,” admits Hanson. “We’re both juggling a lot but we’ve gotten it figured out.” However, both men agree it’s much more rewarding than simply writing a check.

Inspired by gestures, large and small

“The best moment I have had doing this,” remembers Hanson, “is when (Laguna Beach resident) Peter Barker bid on (Laguna Beach local) Dain Blanton’s Olympic jersey. He bought it with the highest bid and then turned around and gave it to Dain’s mom who was in the audience.”

 “The idea is to have an unusual experience that you can’t find anywhere else,” explains Blue about the Night at the Ranch event. But as Hanson’s “best moment” shows, it’s really about people stepping up for other people – something Leif Hanson and Steve Blue have done in a very big way.

(For more information about the event and to purchase tickets, visit www.bgclagunabeach.org.)


Anneliese Schimmelpfennig, founder of Anneliese Schools: A belief, hard-earned, in things that endure

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photographs by Mary Hurlbut

There are few long-time Laguna residents who haven’t heard of Anneliese Schimmelpfennig. Or, at the very least, heard of her magical Anneliese Schools, which will celebrate their 50th anniversary next year. But her backstory is something most people may not know. She grew up in Germany, under the fog of war, enduring hardships even the strongest adults would find difficult to bear. Her childhood – both heartbreaking and heartwarming – motivates every aspect of her teaching and the philosophy behind her schools.

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Anneliese Schimmelpfennig, a woman with a kind heart after a difficult childhood

Born into a world at war

Anneliese knows what it means to suffer. Two weeks after her birth in 1939, the world went to war. Her father, a German officer in the military, was sent to a Russian gulag in Siberia. He would be gone for twelve years. Some of those years, no one knew if he was dead or alive. 

Her mother in Tussling (Tüßling), a small village in Bavaria near the Austrian border, began taking in refugees. Eleven people moved into their modest home, sharing what little food and space they could find. 

Then, in 1943, Anneliese’s mother made the brave and dangerous decision to harbor three Jewish people (and a cat) in their attic. They stayed for 18 months. “The cat couldn’t even say ‘meow,’” Anneliese says. 

Anneliese brought them whatever food she could – blueberries, oak nuts, apples, potatoes – still not old enough to fully appreciate the risk. When the Americans arrived in 1945, their guests began screaming. “Just screaming,” Anneliese says. “I didn’t understand. But now I know they thought they were caught.”

Growing up in the shadow of the camps

A concentration camp stood nearby in Mühldorf, less than five miles from Anneliese’s small village of Tussling. Mühldorf was a satellite camp of Dachau. As a young girl, Anneliese would steal apples and sneak them under the fence for the prisoners. When caught by the guards, she would act deaf or disoriented. “You had to be very smart,” she says. “It doesn’t help to be an intellectual if you don’t know life.”

 Reading people, and situations, is something she came to rely on very early.

“I saw the people going into the camp. I still remember the sound of the trains that brought them in, all those people looking out at me.” 

Liberated at last

In 1945, the war ended. Anneliese recalls Americans arriving in helicopters, bringing her bubblegum and white bread, delicacies she’d never known. “The Americans were really nice to children,” she says. “Some were only 19 years old, children themselves, and cried when they saw us.” They brought milk powder, and opened the restaurants to give out things to eat. 

“I thought then,” Anneliese says, “I will go to America and teach children to be peaceful. Always talk things out. I’ll teach them not to be nasty and crying and wimpy.”

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Anneliese creates magical and inspiring spaces, a contrast to her own upbringing

Her father’s own fight

At some point, Anneliese’s father escaped and walked his way to the Volga River. He made it, inexplicably, from Siberia to the Black Sea before he was caught, returned to the gulag, and given an additional five-year sentence for his crime. 

Anneliese speculates that the reason he wasn’t shot on the spot was because he had taught himself Russian, and the Russians took note. He would sing and dance for the officers, keeping them entertained. And so, against all odds, they let him live.

“This is why I teach the children so many languages,” Anneliese says. “Even if you only know the basics, and how to say a few things without an accent, it can save your life.” 

Her father’s happiest nights in captivity, he said, were spent in the pigpens. The guards would sometimes throw him in, forcing him to eat with the pigs. Little did they realize he considered this a treat. Pigs were fed potatoes and bits of meat, far better fare than his usual diet of stale bread. 

At night, the Russians drank vodka, ate bread spread with pig fat, got drunk and decided which German they would shoot that night. But he confused them by speaking Russian, and they liked him enough to keep him alive.

Anneliese was twelve the first time she met her father. By the time he came home, he was emotionally and physically spent. He didn’t speak for three days. His feet wrapped only in newspaper, his body starving and skinny. “He taught me to always have hope,” she says. “Even if he had such a sad life, he was never grouchy.”

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Anneliese’s father taught her optimism in the face of adversity

Battle of the books

As a child, Anneliese wasn’t allowed to read. Her mother burned books. She also didn’t allow Anneliese to attend high school, reasoning that school brought no money to the family. Worse yet, imagination and mental escape were dangerous. “Books opened a different world to you, and she didn’t want that,” Anneliese says. The same was true for toys, which also evoked ideas. Practical skills, like mathematics, were the only things of value in a country that had to build itself anew. “I made math problems in the dirt with a stick.”

This austere upbringing shaped the way Anneliese approached teaching, in both the elements she chose to retain and in those she adamantly rejected. “I don’t baby them,” she says. “It’s not good for them.”

 Anneliese considers herself strict with the children. Love, combined with self-discipline, is her governing philosophy. “It’s very hard on me to see children so spoiled here, and not appreciating what they have. They should be happy for every single thing.”

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Anneliese creates the childhood she never had for the children.

An enchanting education

The atmosphere of the Anneliese Schools is magical. And that magic is intentional. Antique furniture and Persian rugs, plenty of plants, art objects and paintings – the spaces look more museum than school. It’s a place out of time, more European than American, free from technology and full of natural beauty. Each campus is nestled in a magical environ around Laguna – the beauty of the beach, the serenity of the canyon, the history of Manzanita Drive.

Anneliese insists on a certain rigor and, within that rigor, she gives the children a lot of room for self-expression. Wooden toys, organic foods, eco-gardening, mud play, an emphasis on multilingualism are all non-negotiable elements of her philosophy. Children are given a wide range of responsibilities, and a deep sense of trust and love.

She also emphasizes etiquette, stressing respect for elders, animals, and each other. And she tries to protect the children from a culture of consumption. “It’s difficult for me here because things get wasted. At restaurants, things get wasted. It’s very hard to see.” This is the reason for the wooden toys. Anneliese believes in things that endure, and rejects buying the latest, greatest gadgets. Simple, basic wooden toys that stimulate a child’s imagination, this is something she believes in.

Around all her properties, you’ll encounter a lot of animals: goats, llamas, pigs, swans, chickens, rabbits, peacocks and a dog named Odie. The animals are both therapeutic and stimulating, and they provide children with another way to communicate with the natural world.

“People always ask when they come from a different school, ‘Is this a hippy school?’” Anneliese laughs. “It’s not. It’s a little freer. Children can make some decisions.” But as you can see, she tells me, she’s not a hippy.

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Anneliese in her Manzanita property with her dog, Odie.

A love (and need) for language

Language is, indeed, an integral part of the Anneliese School’s curriculum. Five native speakers teach Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese one day a week. Mathematics is taught primarily in German, as it makes more sense to the students. 

Anneliese speaks three or four languages herself. “English is my worst language,” she says. “It was forbidden in school, the language of the enemy.” It was a language she wouldn’t acquire until she came to the United States at 27 years old.

An optimistic outlook

Anneliese wants to leave her students with a sense of optimism and endurance. Her advice: be independent and take a little risk. “Always be kind and optimistic,” she says. “Negativity destroys you. Don’t ever give up.”

Never has a woman had to practice so much of what she preaches. Anneliese embodies that spirit of optimism and determination. And she will leave that legacy to generations of lucky children.


Keanu & Zen Mir-Scaer: Writing about riding waves

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If you want to find Keanu and Zen Mir-Scaer, a good place to look is at the beach. These 10 year-old twins are all about the water: skimboarding, surfing, stand up paddling -- you name it. If it’s in the water, they like doing it. In this way, they’re pretty typical Laguna kids.

A picture book about boarding

What sets them apart from their peers, at least at the ripe old age of ten, is their ambitious undertaking to write and self-publish a book about the sport they love the most: skimboarding.  Titled “Skim Stories: Riding Waves,” this children’s picture book details just what skimboarding is – in rhyme, no less. 

Zen explains that he and his brother were motivated by the questions they got repeatedly from bystanders while skimboarding. “People would always say, ‘Wow! That looks like so much fun. What is it? Surfing…?’ We’d tell them it was skimboarding. This happened so much we decided to write a book about it.” That was two years ago.

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Keanu and Zen Mir-Scaer, ten-year old competitive skimboarders and authors

Tenacity leads to a communal effort

Two years is practically an eternity for kids this age and yet they stuck with it. Their mom, Naz, is clearly a very important factor in this. A guiding force both in and out of the water, she seems to have struck a nice balance between prodding the boys forward and letting them step away from it when they needed a break. The project has grown beyond just the boys and their work, evolving into a truly communal project.

They have a graphic designer (Gabriella Kohr), a videographer (Skyler Wilson), and a photographer (Tyler Brooks) all committed to the project. Laguna residents Blair Conklin, world number one ranked skimboarder, and Paulo Prietto, former world champion skimboarder, have also gotten involved, offering their support and encouragement. Naz says, “To have the number one people in your sport take an interest truly drives a person to do their best.” 

Additionally, Rip Curl in Laguna will be hosting an Art Walk event for the project and the boys’ skimboard sponsor, Exile, has also been supportive of the boys’ efforts. “It became real,” explains Naz. “We didn’t want to let other people down.” 

A successful Kickstarter campaign

As the project became more “real”, Naz and the boys found they needed some extra resources so they started a Kickstarter campaign. Coincidentally, during our interview, they discovered they’d reached their fundraising goal of $2,000. The smiles on Naz and her sons’ faces spoke volumes about how much has gone into this project. 

The money means a lot, says Naz, because even though everyone involved agreed to give their time for free, now they can be paid. She says she and the boys feel really good about being able to compensate them. “It’s just right,” she says. 

Two years of writing and sketching, over and over

No one could have guessed the scope of the project when Zen and Keanu first sat down with this labor of love. It clearly helped that the project became a school project (both boys are home schooled). Nevertheless, it would have been so easy and, frankly, quite understandable if the book ended up being nothing more than a few pages sitting unfinished in a drawer. 

“Our first version was really, really different,” explains Keanu. They would work on it and put it away and then pick it up again when the mood struck. “As they became stronger writers, they’d look at what they did before and go, ‘What?! I wrote this!’” says Naz, while the boys nod in agreement. When asked what was the hardest part of the project both boys unanimously agree that it was both writing and now illustrating the same thing “over and over” until they were satisfied.

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Keanu catches a wave down at Oak St. on the first day of fall

The launch date looms

In the spring of this year, Naz says the writing portion was finally completed.

“Enough is enough. They’re only ten!” she says with a laugh. “We felt we could do the illustrations, but the form was the hardest part. Again, they’re ten so getting things like the shoulder blades and the dimensions right was really a challenge. But the feedback we got was that people liked the way they did it.” 

They’re under the gun to get it all finished so the book can launch before Thanksgiving. Then they can say it’s finally done.

With such looming deadlines, it’s important to note that neither Zen nor Keanu is tied to their chairs furiously fine-tuning their illustrations. The boys are still getting plenty of beach time. They have two skimboard competitions coming up so skim time is essential. 

Skimboarding is not only fun, it’s a good metaphor for life

The boys have been skimboarding for five years. They both remember their first competition well. “I got last in my first heat,” remembers Keanu with a laugh. Naz says she has preached the philosophy of tennis player Rafael Nadal. “He says he doesn’t worry so much about beating the other person, but just trying to be better than himself.” These kinds of lessons are good for all competitors, but especially twins who compete against one another. “I just want them to understand their unique style and focus on being their best as opposed to beating (their) brother.”

“One last good ride” is the family motto

These lessons are paying off. Keanu says after their first competition, “I just wanted to make it to the (medal) stand once.” Both boys have more than succeeded in that goal. More importantly, skimboarding, according to Naz, has taught the boys a very valuable lesson. “It’s not about how many times you fall, because you always fall when you skim. It’s about getting back up and continuing to try. When it’s time to go (home from the beach) we always say ‘One last good ride.’”

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Zen shows his stuff on his first ride of the day

Circumventing “no” is just another lesson learned

The same philosophy of keeping at it not only extends to the creating of the book, but to the publishing of it as well. Publishers and agents, while receptive, were not convinced of the book’s marketability. The boys remained undeterred and self-publishing became the way to get it done. The boys started an Instagram account titled “Skim Stories” to help market their efforts and then, later, their Kickstarter campaign. “Now they’re learning about the whole process,” says Naz enthusiastically.

Shining a light on an “underappreciated sport”

And readers of the book will get a full understanding of what skimboarding really is. “We wanted people to see it’s really people riding waves. It’s an underappreciated sport,” says Naz. The hope is that Keanu and Zen’s book will help change that. If nothing else, Keanu and Zen will have created and shared a lasting work of art they can be proud of. 

“I liked writing the book,” says Zen. “And doing the art was fun.” Keanu adds, summing up the creative process quite succinctly, “I think how easy it is and then also how hard it is to get it right.” The boys are already talking about their next project. “It’s a controversial subject right now,” laughs Naz. 

Whatever the boys decide to do next, one thing is certain: “Skim Stories: Riding Waves” is already a huge success, regardless of how many copies are sold. “This project is such a cool symbol of Laguna Beach. It brings together art and skimming, two things Laguna is really known for. It has all played out so beautifully,” says Naz.


Gail Duncan: She took a long and winding road to get to The Art Hotel

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Although it was a long journey in both time and distance, the road Gail Duncan took eventually brought her to Laguna Beach. It’s not a path she would have chosen to take, but she is happy because it led her to The Art Hotel. 

Apparently, it wasn’t the trajectory Gail envisioned for herself as a young woman. She was born and raised in Detroit, MI, and once she graduated from college, imagined her career would be in the field of counseling. She’s passionate about bringing out the best in people and helping them identify what their gifts are (and aren’t). 

But her father, owner of one of the 104 largest Ford dealerships in the country, had different ideas. He wanted her to head the company. And she did, for over 30 years, starting in 1974. Back then, it was a male dominated culture, a difficult one to navigate, says Gail, “Women couldn’t even be members of the Lions Club or Rotary Club.” 

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Gail Duncan, from president of a car dealership to hotel proprietor

As president of the car dealership, she traveled extensively. “My favorite places are Sydney, the South of France, and Laguna,” she says. While staying at the Ritz Carlton during a Ford junket 17 years ago, she discovered Laguna. On a subsequent trip, and with no hotel experience (and having no idea that she would ever be in the business), she acquired the hotel, which at the time was called America’s Best Inn.

For the next eight years, Gail traveled back and forth from Detroit to Laguna. Then in January of 2009, she dropped the hotel franchise and renamed it, “The Art Hotel.”  Gail says, “Being in Laguna, I was surprised no one had chosen that name. The name draws a lot of artists.” And it attracts more than just artists. During the last Playhouse season when King of the Road was playing, the widow and children of Roger Miller stayed at the property. And she has artists from all over the world check in.

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Murals adorn exterior of The Art Hotel

Once on site (Gail lives on the property), she threw herself into redoing the hotel and being of service to the artist community and the city. From her travels, she knew what she wanted in a hotel experience, and she translated that into The Art Hotel. There are no extra fees, guests pay when they check-in and then turn in the keys when they leave. The prices are affordable and there is no charge for pets.  She reserves rooms 101-107 (out of the 28) for furry creatures. Gail says, “I don’t charge for children or pets.” 

Art exhibited in rooms

To assist in the exposure of artists, Gail transformed the sleeping rooms into what could only be described as private galleries, each featuring six pieces of work from an artist, and the artist’s information. “The artists receive 100 percent of the revenue from their work,” she says.

Both inside and out, the atmosphere of the hotel morphed into what it is today. On the hotel’s exterior, individual murals decorate the upstairs balconies (the first one is of Marilyn Monroe), and a long mural is painted on the left and above when entering the parking lot.

However, the most spectacular murals surround the pool. In September of 2014, award winning local artist Randy Morgan (it’s his mural on the Waterman’s Wall on the side of Hobie’s Surf Shop) came to repair one of the existing murals and suggested that was the pool area was the perfect place for another mural, one honoring Laguna’s history. 

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Main Beach Panorama mural by Randy Morgan (Seal Rock on right)

The bronzed stucco mural took more than a year to complete. Main Beach Panorama, which was dedicated in May 2016, depicts the Hotel Laguna, Main Beach lifeguard stand, Greeter Eiler Larsen, and as an homage to Gail’s father, replicas of cars from his collection (one being an Edsel). On the adjoining wall, Morgan later created Seal Rock, which honors the founders of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. These two murals combine to make Laguna Panorama.

Gail gives back to the community

In her service to others, Gail has devoted no less time and effort to the City of Laguna Beach than to the artistic community. Giving back isn’t new to Gail. She was active in the United Way and the Chamber of Commerce while living in Detroit. 

Shortly after arriving in Laguna, Gail started going to City Council meetings, and eventually became a member of the Housing and Human Services Committee and is now in her third term. She is also on the Development Committee for the Laguna Playhouse. Gail says, “We need people and a village to make us more powerful. You can’t do anything by yourself. Get your mind off yourself and be a blessing to others.”

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The Art Hotel, established in January 2009

In this vein, she’d like to mentor the next generation. “It’s all about legacy. I’d like to teach what I’ve learned at my age to 20-year-olds.”

Currently Gail’s passion is 211 OC, a one-call referral source for free and low cost services county-wide. As a proponent of this resource, she has succeeded in having it added to the Laguna Beach City website under Housing and Human Services.

Evolving atmosphere of The Art Hotel

It’s clear that Gail has changed the atmosphere of The Art Hotel, but in her service to the City of Laguna Beach, she has contributed to its quality as well. And she has more plans for the hotel next year. She’ll be hosting Art Walks and bringing in guest artists.  

When asked if she still travels, Gail says, “I love it here.” But during lulls in business, she travels to visit her two daughters and two grandchildren. 

Gail claims that her passion is finding and encouraging other people’s gifts, but in making the journey from president of a Ford dealership to self-taught proprietor of The Art Hotel, and dedicated servant to the community, it’s evident she has discovered her own gift. 

Gail says, “If you’re going to be here, be of use.” And she is living evidence of her mantra.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

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

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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