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Cottie Petrie-Norris is making changes


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Cottie Petrie-Norris is already running for California State Assembly – again. She ran in 2018 as a Democrat and defeated Republican incumbent Matthew Harper by a margin of 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent, impressive results for a first-time candidate who was given no chance to win at the start. Her victory is a testament to the power of grassroots campaigning, which I see as something to celebrate, regardless of one’s political affiliation.

The 2016 election was a motivating factor

She was motivated to run for office because, as she says, “After the 2016 election I took a step back. I wasn’t happy about who was representing me at every level.” So, unlike so many of us who just like to complain, Petrie-Norris decided to do something about it. It was not a decision entered into lightly.

Cottie Petrie Norris close up

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Cottie Petrie-Norris, State Assembly member for District 74 and Laguna Beach resident

“Running for office was not part of my life plan,” she says. But, there was a “singular moment,” as she calls it, where someone she admired gave her the confidence to move forward in her ambitions. Connie Layva, a California senator was the mentor who convinced Petrie-Norris she could do it. “Having someone nudge you along is so helpful – and interesting. Women need to be asked so many more times to run than men.” However, after much urging Petrie-Norris decided, “I think I can do a good job – a better job – and get results.”

Crediting a motivated grassroots campaign for her win

Her campaign consisted largely of “friends sitting around my kitchen table.” Her volunteers put in full-time hours. “That’s why I won,” she says matter of factly. “The way people showed up to support me was unprecedented.” Those “people” helped Petrie-Norris turn what was predicted at the start to be a 7 percent Republican advantage to a decisive win in her favor. And now she gets to think about doing it all over again.

While she says the grassroots support is still important for her “and all of us,” campaigning the second time around is not as intimidating as it was before. “It’s less daunting. I know what we need to do and how to execute. That’s a good feeling,” she says. Plus she has had such an active start, she is motivated to see her work continue.

The State Assembly is “California’s congress”

The State Assembly can be described as “California’s congress.” A member of the State Assembly represents their district at the state level. Petrie-Norris represents District 74. By contrast, Rep. Harley Rouda represents the 48th District of California at the federal level. “When I first started running my friends would say, ‘I’m so excited! Wait…what’s the State Assembly?’” she says laughing.

With her role clearly outlined, Petrie-Norris’ passions reside in environmental policy, the student debt crisis, and the opioid epidemic. She is also on the Accountability Committee, which was not something she expected, but now that she’s on it, she is finding it “Right up my alley.” 

A very active freshman year

The first bill she authored was to invest in infrastructure to combat sea level rise. She was equally proud to say she worked on a bill with Planned Parenthood to expand access to birth control via a smart phone app. There is also the committee she is on regarding student debt. “My goal is to use my position to bring experts in so we can find solutions. There are real opportunities to do that,” she says. And she is working on The Future of Work Commission. Though in its early stages, the goal is to be proactive about the ways automation and artificial intelligence will change the workforce. “We should be thoughtful and plan for the future, rather than get left behind.”

Away from home and family for much of the year

Her work means she’s away from home Monday-Thursday roughly eight months a year. Her two boys are in school in Laguna so her new responsibilities aren’t without personal sacrifice – sacrifices born by everyone in her family. Nevertheless, it is something she is glad she has taken on, hence her campaign for 2020.

Cottie Petrie Norris kids

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Cottie Petrie-Norris with her two sons during some much appreciated time at home. Her husband was away on a business trip.

Finding inspiration from others

When she is in Sacramento, there are meetings with different groups, press conferences, the business that goes along with getting bills passed. When she’s home, her days are filled with constituent outreach and meetings with local officials to make sure everyone is working on the same (or similar) pages. “I connect with so many people pouring their hearts and souls into their parts of the world. I find that so inspiring,” she says…

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Chuck Harrell and the Sandpiper: Two Laguna institutions


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The Sandpiper Lounge is a family business that also happens to be a Laguna Beach institution. Chuck Harrell, his brother Chip, and their mother Jeana officially took ownership of the bar on December 6, 1969. Part of its longevity can be attributed to the fact that it hasn’t really changed since – but only part. The rest must be attributed to the Harrell family and the way they have chosen to run their business. They are as much a part of the fabric of Laguna as their establishment.

The Sandpiper opened in 1942

Chip and Chuck’s uncle opened the Sandpiper in 1942 as a fine dining establishment. Their dad moved his young family from New York to Laguna join their uncle in his business.  After a few years, Chip and Chuck’s dad decided to get a different, better paying job. Tragically, in 1952, their dad was killed in a car accident.

“A really bad ‘50s”

“We had a really bad ‘50s,” says Chuck. “We lost my dad, my uncle, another aunt, and uncle in another car accident.” All of this loss meant the uncle who owned the Sandpiper had to sell it so he could help the family deal with all of the upheaval. However, while he sold the Sandpiper, he did not sell the building that housed the Sandpiper. “In 1959, he called my mom and asked if she’d manage the property and live in the apartment upstairs with us boys,” says Chuck. The quarters were tight but, he says, “We managed to survive.”

Chuck Harrell close up

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Chuck Harrell, owner of Laguna’s iconic Sandpiper Lounge (a.k.a the Dirty Bird)

They survived by working odd jobs. Chuck says he worked in restaurants as a kid, dutifully handing his paycheck over to his mom. “Being a single mom, every penny counted. But I kept the tips,” he says mischievously. 

The Boys Club of Laguna Beach deserves a lot of credit

The other thing he credits with aiding their survival was The Boys Club (now the Boys & Girls Club). “It was a saving grace,” he says. It’s worth mentioning that another well-known Laguna local, Donnie Crevier, also credits the Boys Club with no small degree of salvation. And, coincidentally, according to Chuck, Crevier and Chip were best friends growing up. As to how that friendship started? It’s not my story to tell, but I can say that it sounds like the Boys Club had its hands full. Not too full, however, to recognize the Harrell brothers with the Crevier Legacy Award in 2019.

In middle school, Chuck says he was placed in the “7-5” class. Back then, students were apparently organized by grade (e.g. 7 for 7th grade) with a one through five denoting A-F (A=1, B=2 and so on). Whether Chuck is being truthful as to his academic standing or not, he eventually graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 1963, his brother in 1962. Both were drafted and spent two years in the military. Chuck got out in March 1969. 

Why not try the bar business?

“We found out the guy who owned the bar was going to sell it. My mom asked us, ‘Do you want to try the bar business?’” With Jeana later telling her sons she was “rolling quarters to close the deal,” the Sandpiper became a Harrell family business venture.

Chuck Harrell Chip

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A painting to memorialize Chip Harrell, Chuck’s older brother and partner, who sadly passed away last year

When they took over, the brothers were 23 and 24. Luckily, Jeana had a lot of experience as a waitress. She had her spot at the end of the bar where, according to Chuck, she would sip on her “vodka seven.” “She came in every night. No matter how crowded we were she’d sit at the end of the bar and I could tell if something was bothering her just by the way she looked. She was very wise.” 

Jeana was “mom” to a lot of people

Jeana’s photo hangs at the end of the bar. Underneath it just says “Mom.” “A lot of kids in high school called her ‘mom.’ People here called her ‘mom,’” explains Chuck. The photo is a fitting tribute. There are a lot of photos hanging at the Sandpiper. There is an old, smudged photo of Chip, Chuck, and Donnie Crevier in their LBHS football uniforms. There is a painting hanging in tribute to Chip. There is a huge painting on the ceiling that Chuck says is him, but it’s really Jerry Garcia (the similarities are striking). There is 56 years worth of memorabilia on the walls that, frankly, most likely get overlooked when the bar is packed, and the live music is going. But in the light and quiet of day, it’s like a museum of days gone by.

Live music seven days a week

This is not to say the Sandpiper hasn’t progressed. Its progress is just very…subtle. “We have tried to stay with the times,” says Chuck. “But we do keep it old school. We like rock-n-roll. We tell the bands, ‘You gotta play some oldies but goodies. Our age range is 21 to god-only-knows, so…that’s how it is.” 

Chip and Chuck started the live music when they took over the Sandpiper. Chuck says he had friends who were in bands, so it seemed like a good idea. Slowly but surely the nights with live music grew to seven. 

The next generation, as well as the current generation, joins in

Now, Chuck’s son Spencer chooses the bands, in addition to working the door. For him, the Sandpiper is a part-time gig. He works at El Morro Elementary as a PE Coach and is going to get his master’s degree so he can “maybe become a teacher,” says his dad. 

For Chuck’s other son Grant, the Sandpiper is “more of his life,” says Chuck. For now, Grant orders the alcohol and helps with the bartending. And just to make sure everyone is represented, Chuck says he asked his wife Jeannie to come join them when his brother died. Jeannie has been involved with the Laguna Beach High School Scholarship Foundation for many years and has served as a director since 2014, according to the group’s website. “She’s been golden,” he says emphatically. “She changed things that needed changing. She has brought me up to the 19th century,” he says smiling. 

Chuck Harrell bar

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Chuck, behind the bar at the Sandpiper, his home away from home since 1969

“It has been quite an experience,” says Chuck. When asked if the idea of selling has ever been entertained, he says in mock outrage, “I’d have to get a job! I wouldn’t know what to do if I had to get a job!” This is after he confesses that coming home at 3:30 a.m. is not unusual. “It’s a tough business,” he admits. But it also never gets old. “If you keep your ears and eyes open all the time, you’re going to learn something new,” he says thoughtfully. “Like people may not be as bad as they think they are.”

What really makes the Sandpiper special

And this is, I think, the foundation from which the Sandpiper’s success is built. Yes, the live music is great. Yes, the bar’s frozen-in-time décor gives it a unique ambience, but there are other bars that offer some versions of those things. What truly makes the Sandpiper special is the way the Harrells have regarded – and continue to regard – their customers.

Because, let’s face it, lots of people in a small space drinking alcohol is a recipe for the occasional unruly behavior. “You talk to people, instead of arguing with them,” says Chuck. “Don’t take their dignity away from them. We tell them, ‘You can come back tomorrow, but tonight you gotta go.’” Of course, over the years, this strategy has gotten harder to execute. “Nowadays you don’t know everybody,” he admits.

“Everyone blends right in”

But whether you know everyone in the Sandpiper or not, most of the time you’re amongst friends. “It’s such a unique vibe. There isn’t one type of people that come in here. There are artists, surfers, business men and women, restaurant people…you put the whole thing in a barrel, mix it all up and everyone blends right into the crowd so easily,” muses Chuck. And there’s your recipe for success. Local or not. Wealthy or not. Young or not. Whatever you are (or are not), you are welcome at the Sandpiper. And it’s not changing anytime soon. 

Chuck Harrell mom

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A photo of Jeana Harrell, Chip and Chuck’s mother and partner, hangs in a place of honor over the bar

“The best thing of the whole deal is Grant and Spencer love this place,” says their dad proudly. They are the third generation of Harrells and eventually they will put their stamp on the Sandpiper. But for now, the second generation of the Harrells is still coming in every Tuesday and Thursday. Chuck says when they first took over ownership of the bar, “We had a good name for being good guys.” He credits that for their initial success. Some things never change.

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LBFD Captain Crissy Teichmann: Passionate about her profession


Photos  by Mary Hurlbut

Captain Crissy Teichmann has been with the Laguna Beach Fire Department (LBFD) for 18 and a half years. Laguna was the first department that offered her a position and she was happy to take it. “I didn’t pick Laguna, they picked me,” she says. New firefighters have a bit of a fatalistic attitude when it comes to getting a job. It’s so highly competitive, if a department makes an offer, a new recruit generally accepts, no matter where it is. In Teichmann’s case, Laguna was a great place to start. 

However, starting and staying are different matters. Once you’re in and you’ve completed your “grueling” probation, it’s not out of the question to transfer to different departments – larger departments, for example, but even that isn’t seamless or without risk. And while Teichmann said she contemplated making a change after her first five years in Laguna, she ultimately decided to stay. Almost four years ago, she was promoted to captain, so the decision seems to have paid off.

Knowing what she wanted at the start

Promotions aside, when you talk with Teichmann about her job, it becomes very clear, very quickly that she loves what she does. “I knew in high school I wanted to be a firefighter,” she says. So she got to it. She worked for the Fire Service as a seasonal firefighter. She became a paramedic. She went to the fire academy. “I didn’t have to sit around and ponder life. I knew what I wanted to do,” she says. 

LBFD Captain close up

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Captain Crissy Teichmann has been with the Laguna Beach Fire Department for over 18 years

Doing what is necessary to stand out 

Sitting around is definitely not recommended if you want to become a firefighter. “You have to find ways to make yourself marketable,” she says. It’s a theme that comes up a few times during our conversation. Articles on the topic say it can take anywhere from two to seven years to become a firefighter, and that’s for the ones who get selected, many people don’t ever get the chance. So making yourself “marketable” is a surprisingly important part of the process.

To be a mom, or not is a serious question

Another important part of the process, for Teichmann at least, was deciding whether or not she wanted to have children as a firefighter. She says she really gave the subject a lot of consideration. “It’s not unrealistic to take time to ponder what type of parent you want to be,” she says. “I can be gone for 21 days at a time. How does that work? Women definitely do it and make it work.” But, she adds, “I was passionate about getting into the fire service. You have to be really dedicated to this profession. I decided I didn’t want to give up what I’d worked so hard for.” Fortunately, her husband, a policeman, was in agreement. 

And while Teichmann is at peace with her decision not to have a family, it’s a topic we spend a fair amount of time discussing, mostly because I am interested in what it’s like to be the only female in an entire department.

Laguna’s only female firefighter

Teichmann is not unaware that as the only female firefighter in Laguna Beach, it’s a point of interest. And, like many women in male dominated fields, she is happy to acknowledge her unique status but is determined not to make it the central part of her story. “The guys judge you, making sure you can carry your own weight,” she says. Everyone must meet the same physical requirements, for example. However, while everyone is accountable, there is a team aspect to all of it. “We help each other out. We’re doing it all together,” she says. 

LBFD Captain fire engine

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Capt. Teichmann with Engine One at the downtown fire station

Taking physical fitness very seriously

The physical aspect of firefighting is something Teichmann and the rest of the LBFD takes seriously. The LBFD provides its firefighters the time to stay in shape. Teichmann says that she and her current crew meet at 1,000 Steps at 5:30 a.m. to get their workout in, for example. 

The fact that they all do their workout together is one of the things Teichmann says she loves about her job. “I love the camaraderie. It’s a forced relationship. Everybody has a personality, but that bond we form here is what makes us so successful,” she explains.

Committed to fitting in

Being the only woman has not hampered her ability to fit in, even in the beginning when it really could have. Teichmann was hired just as the city was being sued by one of its female firefighters. “The guys were a little standoffish at first,” she recalls. “But I’ve always been part of the group. There’s never been that feeling of being different.”

“Goofing around a lot” is one of the ways Teichmann says the group bonds. “We’re lighthearted. You get to know people’s strengths and weaknesses. I love the guys I work with,” she says emphatically. And, in case you’re wondering, as I did, cooking at the station is a “thing.” “There can be some elaborate meals. But it is not OK to try out a recipe on the crew for the first time,” she says. “Guys who cook one bad meal are banished for life,” she adds only half in jest.

The job checks all of her boxes

In addition to the camaraderie, Teichmann says she was drawn to the job because it’s different every day. Plus, ”It’s cool to be able to help people. Every day is different. I’m an active, outdoorsy person and I like making decisions.” The only thing she doesn’t like about the job? “Getting a call when I’m in the shower, in the middle of shampooing my hair. That’s the worst part of my job. I’m serious!” she laughs.

LBFD Captain kitchen

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The fire station kitchen is an integral and important part of station life

The shampoo issue aside, Teichmann loves her job, the people she works with, and she has embraced the challenges Laguna provides. “I’d love it either way,” she says. “Small town or big agency. The plus side is I’m working with crews I know. And nothing is easy here,” she says. “We train harder.” 

Laguna may be small, but it’s never boring

The LBFD must contend with the open space and its dangers, both in terms of fire and injuries sustained on trails; they must execute a lot of water rescues which entail landing the helicopter “all the time,” she says. The houses and the access routes to them can be tough to navigate and lacking uniformity. There are even radio issues due to the terrain. “You just don’t have that in LA,” she says. “We see it when outside people (firefighters) come in. There is a huge learning curve.” In short, while Laguna may lack size, it doesn’t lack for action. “That’s part of the appeal,” she says.

Of course, Teichmann doesn’t mean disasters are appealing. But for someone who likes to do something different every day, Laguna provides ample opportunities. In the event there is a disaster, something that is on everyone’s mind with the knowledge that our very lush hillsides will eventually turn to fire fuel in the months ahead, Teichmann would like Laguna’s citizens to take the time to make a plan. 

Make a plan and stick to the plan

“People need to be able to stand on their own for awhile,” she says. “The city is doing a lot, but you can’t prevent it (fire),” says Teichmann. That means stock up on supplies, check and maintain landscaping to mitigate the threat to your residence, stay off the phone lines, and sign up for the city’s NIXLE alert system. Also, in case of evacuation, Teichmann says it’s incredibly helpful for people to put a sign in their window when they leave letting emergency responders know that no one is home. It saves time as they check the neighborhoods.

LBFD Captain gym

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The station gym, like the kitchen, sees a lot of action due to the importance of physical fitness 

Laguna is beautiful, but vulnerable. The LBFD never forgets that fact, and neither should we. Captain Teichmann is extremely serious when she says the best thing residents can do is “Be prepared. Have a plan and stick to the plan.” She’s talking about disaster preparedness, but she could just as easily be talking about her career path.

“I’m surprised by how many girls aren’t interested in (becoming a firefighter),” she says. “I wish we could get more women interested, but I want them to be realistic about the job and whether they want to do it.” Because, not to sound cliché, being a firefighter is more than a job. As Teichmann describes it, “It’s an intense profession. It’s also your second family.” And Captain Teichmann embraces both parts equally.

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Laguna’s Crown Jewel: David Rubel, co-owner of Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers, celebrates 90 years in the
celebration business 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

David Rubel, co-owner of Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers on Forest Avenue, has spent his life in the celebration business. From engagements and marriages to births and anniversaries, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers has been a trusted resource for helping clients mark significant milestones. This year, they’re celebrating a major milestone of their own. The store has been in business for 90 years, stretching across three generations, with the hope of adding a fourth in the near future. 

LLP David Rubel Trio

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Gary, Fredric and David at Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers

“When our grandparents started their jewelry business in October 1928, they probably were not thinking of building a legacy of three generations that would survive the Great Depression and World War II and witness the lunar landing and countless other memorable events,” the Rubels wrote in the opening to the Fredric H. Rubel Magazine last winter.

David and his brother Gary now operate two stores – one in the heart of Laguna’s village and the other in the Mission Viejo Mall. They both know the business well, having learned it from their dad, who learned it from his own father. The story of how it all came to pass is an interesting one, as is the not-so-hidden secret of their enduring success. 

Whether you’ve known David for a long time, or you’re just getting acquainted, there are several things about his family’s unique history that are bound to make you smile. And perhaps tempt you into treating yourself, or someone you love, to a timeless treasure from their store.

In the beginning

David’s grandparents met in the mid-1920s. His grandfather, Bernard, grew up in North Dakota, working in a pawnshop that specialized in jewelry. Rose, his grandmother, came from Minneapolis. She was a fiery woman, in every sense of the word. Rose stood no more than five feet tall with brilliant red hair and lived well into her 90s. “She was quite a character,” David recalls. The couple met and married in Los Angeles and honeymooned in Big Bear Lake. 

On the long car ride up, they happened upon new storefronts being built in San Bernardino, immediately realizing this would make the ideal location for a jewelry store of their own. Soon after, Crescent Jewelers was born. 

Typical of the day, the shop sold more than jewelry. “They stocked silverware and flatware, movie projectors, razors, all these sorts of things,” David says. “They sold on credit. Clients could put down $1 a week to buy an engagement ring for $35.”

Location, location, location

By 1940, the shop grew successful enough to open a second location. Frederic – Bernard and Rose’s son – was a teen. He had little interest in following in his father’s footsteps, studying at Berkeley, and meeting and marrying his wife Joan in the late ‘50s. 

But, in the mid-1960s, Frederic’s father suffered some medical issues and Frederic returned to assist his mother with the business. “My father has always made strong decisions,” says David. “He brought the stores into the modern era, figuring out how he could build the business and make it his own. He’s very adaptable and a great visionary.”

Frederic studied market trends and similarly structured businesses. He sought out the latest jewelry designers, bringing his clients interesting, yet classic, pieces ahead of what other jewelers offered. He focused the business on watches and high-end gems, dispensing with the “other stuff” his father sold.

By 1971, Fredric was ready to open a third location in San Bernardino, its first inside a mall and by far the most stylish, utilizing black glass and chrome highlights. This is also the time the business adopted the name change from Crescent Jewelers to Frederic H. Rubel Jewelers.

LLP David Rubel Fredric

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Fredric Rubel changed the course of his father’s business, setting the stage for the stores to become known for luxury brands and classic, hand-fabricated designer jewelry

From San Bernardino, the business soon grew and relocated from Riverside to Santa Ana in 1987 and, eventually, Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo. “When my brother and I came into the business, we were in one tiny store, bursting at the seams. We needed to branch out, but also needed the right place that fit what we were doing.”

Frederic and Joan still live in Laguna Beach and are celebrating 61 years of marriage this year. 

A relationship of trust

For over 50 years, the shops have offered some of the finest luxury brands available. They’re known for classic hand-fabricated designer jewelry in platinum or gold, ideal cut diamonds, and fine timepieces. They assist clients with custom jewelry design. They also offer watch services for Rolex. Both David and Gary are members of the American Gem Society, and five of their associates hold the coveted title of Certified Gemologist Appraiser. 

“Ultimately, we’re in the trust business,” David says. “Our designs are very classic. We see ourselves as advisors [as opposed to jewelry-makers or designers]. Our clients require good advice, and we’ve built strong relationships over time. We’re fortunate to have this longevity, allowing clients to get comfortable with us across generations. We’ve helped grandparents, their children, and their grandkids.”

LLP David Rubel David

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David Rubel believes in building relationships of trust and longevity with his clients

Multigenerational businesses aren’t wholly uncommon in the jewelry industry. “We were at a tradeshow in Switzerland five years ago, sitting with three other family-owned businesses,” David recalls, “and – at nearly 90 years old – we were still the youngest one.” In the digital age of the Internet, online shopping, and big box stores, the jewel industry is still one built on confidence and strong relationships.

He laughs, thinking about clients who have come in for special anniversary surprises for their spouses. “We’ll secretly help them both, neither one knowing the other has come in.”

The family has also sustained a state of trust among their staff and associates, many of whom have been with them for decades. Valerie Wilshire, the company’s trusted buyer, has worked with them since 1987. She was only 23 years old and, even then, interested in someday becoming a buyer. The opportunity arose in 2012. “She’s the best buyer we’ve ever had,” says David. “Obviously better late than never.”

But the award for longevity goes to Elsa Carlton, who’s been in the business with the Rubels for 50 years. “She was in high school when she was hired by my dad, around the time Bobby Kennedy was assassinated,” David says. Elsa drives over an hour and a half to work every day. “It’s worth it,” she says. “Watching the evolution of the store over the decades, moving from various locations and watching it grow…it’s been an amazing experience.”

Integrated into the Community

Much of this confidence has been earned through David and Gary’s deep and extensive ties to our community. David and his wife, Kerry, raised their two sons in Laguna. David coached Little League. Kerry was the quintessential team mom. “The whole world opened up to us with Top of the World Elementary. We met all sorts of wonderful families and got involved,” he says. David and his sons – Michael (27) and Evan (25) – participated in Indian Guides. They played basketball and soccer. 

The convenient location of the store allowed David to attend his sons’ games and events. “I could be working in the store and get down to Riddle Field or up to the high school in minutes. Then back to the shop afterwards.” 

LLP David Rubel store

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Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers is located on Forest Ave 

David is also heavily active in the local business community, serving as Vice President of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. He has strong relationships with other busainess owners, the City Council, and the Design Review Board. “We all work really well together,” he says, referring to recent remodels of his store.

A tight-knit family

For the Rubels, the family business isn’t all about business. Those close ties across generations, and between siblings, aren’t by accident. The sons of all generations came home to help out when their parents needed them. The parents were actively involved in their children’s lives. Fathers and sons talk almost every day. Brothers too. 

“We’re a huge sports family,” David says. “I played Little League as a kid. My brother, my dad, my boys – we all still text at night about the games. The families all get together.”

David’s son Mike, now living in New York, works for a diamond wholesaler. “We’re hoping he’ll come back,” David says. Adding a fourth generation to the family business would mean much to him. 

The business of giving back

“Because we live and work in the communities where our stores are located, it’s important for Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers to assist local causes,” they say. Outside of Laguna, the company supports Mission Hospital Foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and Camino Health Center (affiliated with Mission Hospital and St. Joseph Health), to name just a few.

But David’s passion lies in Laguna. In 2013, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers received SchoolPower’s Hall of Fame Award, recognizing 10 years of commitment to the Laguna Beach Education Foundation and Laguna Beach public schools. “Supporting SchoolPower is a no-brainer for us because we feel so lucky to be part of this community,” David said upon receiving the award. Gary, David’s brother, is on the SchoolPower Board, along with his wife Belinda. “It is such an easy relationship with SchoolPower,” he said. “Everyone is invested in the same thing. Everyone is pulling in the same direction.”

SchoolPower is not the brothers’ only local cause. The Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach has also been an organization they’ve committed to throughout their time in Laguna. David coached basketball when his boys were small.

To show their continued support, throughout May and June, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers will be donating $100 for each purchase of $1,500 or more to the Club.

In many ways, Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers exemplifies what’s best about our town. What matters most is family and community, what’s valued highest is trust. The bonds they’ve built over the past century are as strong and enduring as the timeless pieces they sell. And they recognize the importance of giving back wherever and whenever they can. Along with the Rolex watches and Lazare Diamonds, these are the qualities that make Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers – and David Rubel in particular – the true gems in our little town.

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Stu Jones: Family comes first, then baseball


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Stu Jones and his family first moved to Laguna in 2011, Jones says he had little choice but to embrace being “the other Stu.” Back then there was only one really well known “Stu” in Laguna Beach – Stu Saffer, the legendary founder of Stu News. So, Jones didn’t take it personally. 

Sharing a name and a passion

The confusion stemmed from both men sharing the same name in a small town. However, it’s somewhat fitting to find out that in addition to sharing a name, the two men share something else equally personal: a love of baseball, even more specifically, Angels baseball. And while Saffer, sadly, died in 2017, Jones is doing his best to keep Laguna’s baseball traditions alive and vibrant.

Happy to be proven wrong

Stu Jones played a lot of different sports when he was young, but going to baseball games was a special thing he did with his dad. “I was the only son. My dad had season tickets to the Angels. That was our thing. I have always had a love for it. Then I had four daughters and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a lot of baseball.’”

Stu Jones close up

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Stu Jones, “the other Stu,” is a dedicated LBLL coach, Board member, and State Farm agent

And, while it’s true that Jones’ girls are busy with art classes, dance recitals, gymnastics, and water polo, his assumption that having daughters would mean no baseball has been happily proven incorrect. 

When his oldest child Presley was three Jones says he got out a wiffle ball and showed her how to hit it. She took to it. She took to it so much she eventually started watching games by herself and relaying the Angels’ stats to her family over breakfast. 

The Black Ninjas started it all

More than just watching and studying the game, Presley wanted to play. So Jones volunteered to coach her T-ball team, the Black Ninjas, and says proudly, “I’ve coached her every year since.” Presley is now in Laguna Beach Little League’s Intermediate Division for 12 and 13-year-olds.

“Riddle Field is a special place,” says Jones reverently. For those lucky enough to have experienced either playing or watching games (or just eating burgers) at Laguna’s intimate baseball diamond nestled behind Boat Canyon, there is no disputing that sentiment. Riddle Field is, indeed, a special place (so special, in fact, that it is where Stu Saffer’s memorial service was held; it could not have been more fitting.) 

The last girl standing

Presley, at this point in her baseball career, is the last girl standing. She wasn’t the only girl on her T-ball team but she is now the only one left from that team still playing baseball. Jones says he and his wife Jenny ask Presley the same question every year: “Do you want to play?” And every year she has answered with an enthusiastic “yes!”

Stu Jones and family

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Stu Jones with his family: from left, Presley, 12, Sailor, 9, Everly, 4, Jamison, 6, and wife Jenny

And that’s a good thing, in a lot of ways, according to Jones. He believes that having Presley on the team is a positive all the way around. “It’s been a good thing for everybody to have a girl play,” he says. “She’s not a ‘girl’ in the dugout. She’s Presley, sharing sunflower seeds, talking about what pitch they’re going to throw.” 

“Stu Saffer Love of the Game Award”

Fittingly, last year Presley was awarded the “Stu Saffer Love of the Game Award.” It is voted on by the coaches and board members of LBLL. “That was something I had nothing to do with,” says Jones proudly. “It was such a great honor as a dad and a coach. It makes you proud to see her recognized for all she’s putting into it.” As for how long her career will continue, Jones is clear on one thing, “She’ll know when it’s time.” Until then, father and daughter, coach and player, are making memories. 

Choosing a career that let him choose family first

For Jones, a State Farm insurance agent, being there for his kids is what it’s all about. It’s so much about that, in fact, it’s the reason he chose the career he did. “Growing up, my best friend’s dad was our State Farm agent. He was at every practice, every game. I thought that he was retired,” laughs Jones. “They had a nice home, nice cars so I asked him, ‘What do you do for a living?’” When Jones found out, he decided that that was the path he wanted to follow. “It has been an amazing career for me to be able to do what’s important.” 

Happy to help out where others can’t

Besides coaching LBLL, something he says becomes a second job during the season, Jones has served on the LBLL Board for four years. He sings the praises of his fellow board members, acknowledging their commitment and dedication. “It’s a small community. We’re challenged with people who have the time to commit. I have a career that allows me that flexibility,” he explains. The group is committed to the kids; every meeting centers around how to make LBLL better. Jones feels like they’re having success. “Riddle is like a mini-Fenway Park,” he says. “The kids who play here all year long have a great time.”

Teaching kids how to do things the right way

Jones seems to be having a pretty good time, too, especially when he recounts his team’s big win the night before we met. “They scratched and clawed and fought,” he says of the battle. “At the end, to see them all with their arms around each other, they were a real team. To stand back and watch as coaches, to give them that moment, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Of course, winning is great. However, with Jones one gets the sense that winning is secondary to how one plays the game. Jones takes this part of his coaching duties seriously. “It’s literally like my business,” he says. “Coaching and being a State Farm agent, I get to share my knowledge and help people I care about. Some of the most influential people in my life have been my coaches. It’s a great honor for me to pass that down to these kids.”

Stu Jones coaching

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Stu Jones gets his team ready before a game at Riddle Field

A personal loss highlights the importance of his profession

Jones talks a lot about doing things the right way. It’s undoubtedly related in some ways to his business which is all about helping people prepare for the future. This lesson was made extremely personal when his best friend died at 32 years old, leaving behind a wife and three children under five. “We were building our businesses together. He’d go right and I’d go left and we’d knock on doors and then meet up for a beer after,” remembers Jones of their early years. Fortunately, his friend was prepared for the worst, even at such a young age. “The greatest thing he did was take care of his family,” says Jones. 

When your daughter thinks you’re a superhero

That legacy is one Jones takes very seriously. For him, it is all about family. When Presley wrote an essay for a KX 93.5 Father of the Year contest, her letter secured Jones’ victory. Even if it hadn’t, for him, reading his daughter’s perception of him was more special than any win. “She believes I can do anything,” he says, visibly moved. “That means the world to me.”

Presley may think her dad has super powers, but Jones is convinced his wife Jenny does. “My wife is an absolute godsend,” he says. “She’s my magnetic north. She does it all humbly, quietly, wants to keep it in the background, but she makes it go, every bit of it.” He says this with the conviction of a man who knows his good fortune.

An ask for Brayden Belden who still needs help

He knows how lucky he is for a lot of reasons. Seeing others, dear friends, who have been dealt much different hands can only highlight that fact. That was clearly on his mind when he and I met. There was one thing he really wanted to make sure I included in this story, and it is something that has nothing to do with him directly. He really wants people to know that Brayden Belden, the young Laguna boy who suffered a horrific head and neck injury while snowboarding last year, is still fighting for his recovery, and the family is still in need of help. “He is defying the odds,” says Jones. “They’re doing anything they can, but that takes money.” There is a GoFundMe page still open to help. (

Stu Jones Stu and Presley

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Stu Jones and his oldest daughter Presley, winner of the Stu Saffer Love of the Game Award, whom he has coached every year since T-ball

There is no way to seamlessly work that into this story, but it does speak to the kind of person Jones is. He coached Brayden in baseball and Presley and Brayden are friends. Strangely, on the day of Brayden’s accident, Presley also had a skiing mishap. She broke her arm. Of course, to Presley and her family breaking her arm seemed like a really big deal until they were soberly reminded of what real tragedy looks like. The contrast clearly weighs on Jones, hence the request that we all keep Brayden’s fight in our thoughts.

Embracing what’s important

Jones’ profession is to help people plan for the worst. He is faced with the precarious nature of life on a daily basis. This seems to have inspired him to make the most of what some people call the simple things in life, but what Jones would certainly call the most important. Having four daughters, Presley, 12, Sailor, 9, Jamison, 6, and Everly, 4, means the Jones household is an extremely busy one. Clearly, that’s how they like it. And while a family of girls (even the dog is a girl) hasn’t meant all baseball, all the time, for Jones it has meant just enough baseball for as long as it lasts.  After that, he will enthusiastically embrace whatever comes next.

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Zeda Stone: RYOT’s CEO works to inspire action through creative content


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Zeda Stone was obediently tracking lizards in his backyard the day we met. The RYOT CEO was gamely helping his two-and-a-half-year-old son Sterling find and count the bountiful supply of lizards that darted around the family’s bucolic Laguna Beach compound. It wasn’t exactly “Dadderday” (Sterling’s word for the time on Saturdays he gets Dad all to himself), but because of Stone’s intensive work and travel schedule, father and son time is clearly a cherished event – regardless of what day it is.

There’s no place like home

Lizard hunting with an adorable toddler is special enough. However, hunting lizards with an adorable toddler at the house Stone and wife Lea Abel-Stone share is nothing short of magical. On a truly majestic property in the heart of Laguna, three generations live together in a charming, eclectic house built in 1928. It is a special arrangement that Stone greatly appreciates.

As RYOT CEO a lot of time is spent on the road, literally

His work life, however, presents a more intense arrangement. Stone took over as CEO in October of last year. The company’s offices are in Los Angeles which means when he’s home, he has the pleasure of navigating the 405 on a daily basis. When he’s not home, he’s either visiting the company’s home office in New York or the satellite offices all around the world in places like France, Taiwan, and Brazil, to name just a few. It makes lizard hunting seem particularly well-earned. 

Zeda Stone close up

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Zeda Stone, RYOT CEO and Laguna Beach local

“As much as it’s a hassle to commute, when I’m here, it’s paradise,” he says of home. “When I’m home, I’m home.” Stone explains that finding that ever-challenging life/work balance was not easy. “I’m a bit of a workaholic,” he admits.

Work trumped college

His commitment to work started young. Stone says he “did a little bit of college,” but decided he wanted to start his career instead. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he explains. “Higher education wasn’t a priority in my household. By the time I realized college may have been good for me, I’d already moved on.”

And he did move on. He started with a greeting card company then went into investment banking and then biofuels and video overlay technology. “I had to feel it out,” he explains. “I was always really jealous of people who knew exactly what they wanted to do from a young age. That just wasn’t me. But, it’s a double-edged sword. It allowed me to transition and grow, but I never had that drive for that one thing.”

It all started with a website

Stone first became involved with RYOT when he and his partner at the time created the company’s website. RYOT was founded by Bryn Mooser and David Darg who are, as Stone describes them, “humanitarians by trade.” 

Mooser and Darg met in Haiti while working for different aid groups. They developed a friendship over shared interests in helping others and making films. The company refined their mission when, after being given GoPros in a 3D printed case, they made a four-and-a-half minute video about the devastating earthquake in Nepal. The transformative effect that took place when people put on the virtual reality headsets and were then promptly plunged into the disaster in Nepal convinced Mooser to set the company’s course firmly in that direction. “Bryn decided to go all in on these immersive formats (after that),” says Stone. 

Small yet innovative and inspirational

The company, founded in 2012, was purchased by Verizon’s AOL Huffington Post in 2016. They make both immersive and traditional documentaries, winning a number or prestigious awards. Their film Body Team 12 about the Red Cross workers in Liberia was nominated for an Academy Award in 2016.

Before joining the company full time in 2015, Stone acted as an advisor for a year and a half. However, the headset also had a transformative effect on him. “I went to visit them and put the (VR) headset on and said, ‘I’ll see you on Monday,’” he says with a laugh. “I started as CTO (Chief Technology Officer).”

Zeda Stone family

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Zeda with son Sterling and wife Lea Abel-Stone at the family’s magical home in Laguna Beach

Now that he’s CEO, Stone is obviously less involved in the day-to-day creative aspects of the company. However, he has great faith in his team. “I have an amazing team,” says Stone. “Everyone checks their egos at the door.”   

Lil Dicky’s “Earth” makes an impact

A recent project is a Lil Dicky video titled “Earth.” It started out simply as a music video where celebrities are animated animals. It still is that (there are 30 special guests like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber who make appearances as animals), but “Lil Dicky realized he had a voice for a generation that was basically ignoring climate change,” explains Stone. This video became a call to action – with animated animals. 

Since its launch on April 18, “Earth” has amassed over 66 million views, has motivated 200,000 people to sign its petition, and registered 2,000 new voters. It has also spawned a partnership with the DiCaprio Foundation, a group “dedicated to the protection and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants,” according to its website. In one project, “Earth” kind of sums up what RYOT does: creative content that inspires action.

5G presents a bounty of creative opportunities

“It has been a fun journey. It’s an amazing place. I have an amazing team. We are the tip of the spear for creative content on this 5G network,” says Stone. It is at this point in our conversation where I have to expose my technological limitations. “What is 5G, exactly?” I have to ask. Stone (patiently) does his best to explain it to me. 

Zeda Stone lizard hunting

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Sterling leads his dad, Zeda Stone, on a lizard hunting expedition in their backyard

He mentions dedicated channels and gigs and device density. Then he says, undoubtedly sensing it was all going over my head, “It will allow for us to create a real time animated character. Picture an  ‘Ask me anything’ with Shrek where kids can talk to Shrek and he would answer back. That’s only possible with a 5G network.” Got it.

Another future project that is, perhaps, more RYOT-esque involves making an audience feel they are actually next to a historical figure during that historical figure’s seminal moment. Rather than just watch an historic clip of footage of an event, you can actually feel like you’re part of that historic event. “You get to take a piece of history and really experience that moment. It’s a very different outcome that we hope inspires the next generation of leaders,” says Stone.

Media is such a powerful force. For Stone, if that power can be used to inspire action as opposed to ambivalence, RYOT is doing their job. “There are a lot of ways to do this wrong, but if you do it right, it’s very powerful.” Almost as powerful as hunting lizards.

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“24 Hours” with Michael Tanaka may change your thoughts about time, friendship, and making the most out of life


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Life moves pretty fast,” Ferris Bueller, the iconic 1980s screen-teen, once said. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 

Bueller’s advice resonated with 18-year-old local filmmaker Michael Tanaka. Despite the movie coming out more than three decades ago – and 15 years before Michael’s birth – it still inspired him. 

“Everyone wastes so much time not doing the things they want to do,” Michael says. “You only have so much time. I don’t want to look back and regret the things I didn’t do.” That’s some wise insight for someone who hasn’t yet turned 20. 

LLP 24 hours Michael

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Michael Tanaka, standing at his second home on the ocean

Last November, Michael challenged himself and his friends to find out exactly how much could be accomplished in a day. Turns out, it’s a lot more than any of them imagined.

The results were captured in the movie, 24 Hours, which won a spot in this year’s annual Newport Beach Film Festival under the category OCC Shorts. The five-minute film will screen on Sunday, April 28 at 1 p.m. at the Lido Theater.

Finding film

Michael was only eight when he discovered his first video camera. Because he was homeschooled, he had the time and space to deeply focus on his interests. “I found a VHS camcorder around the house and wondered what it could do,” he says. “I started messing around making home videos, acting, having fun, filming people skating, going to the beach, whatever I could think of.” 

Five years later, Michael got his first GoPro and delved into surf photography and videography. He became obsessed with Clark Little, a renowned Hawaiian shorebreak photographer, studying his skills and techniques. 

“Film has been a passion for Michael from a young age,” says his mother, Kathy Tanaka. “He always spends any extra time he has working on edits, thinking of script ideas, learning new tricks, and filming around Laguna. He loves the ocean. He loves people. And he loves to capture them on film.”

Inspired by Iron Man, and the vast world of action films, Michael soon discovered there are many ways to achieve action on camera. “You can do a lot more to show action than just blowing stuff up,” he says. 

When he invested in his first action camera – a JVC camcorder – four years ago, he returned online, looking for better ways to edit, and watched various YouTube tutorials. “It was a lot of self-learning,” he says. Homeschool prepared him well for that skill. Over time, he taught himself sophisticated video editing. And he took various odd jobs to save up to buy a decent camera – a Sony Alpha A650 – and a MacBook Pro to edit his films.

 “Michael is one of the most creative guys I know,” says James Ferrell, cast member and friend. “He always makes insane edits on his Instagram. I’m so proud of how far his work has come.”

24 Hours: Setting his dream to film

Michael had the idea for the film 24 Hours for a long time, but didn’t have the proper equipment or experience to execute it. He also needed to find just the right cast. “I met some amazing people,” he says. They included Travis Booth, John Hrynkiewicz, Rylan Breneman, Makayla Gidley, and James Ferrell, to name just a few.

LLP 24 hours group

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Crewmembers Rylan Breneman, John Hrynkiewicz, and Travis Booth with Michael Tanaka

“There’s never a bad time with Michael,” says John Hrynkiewicz, friend and cast member. “Being a part of his films, and watching everything come together, is always an extraordinary experience.”

“I met John at Bluebird Beach,” Michael tells me. “John is a legend, a full-sender.” Wait, a what? Full-senders, I learn, are guys who aren’t afraid to go for the gusto and charge the waves. 

As Michael stops to think about it, everyone he’s met has been from the beach, either body boarding, surfing, or just hanging out. That’s where the momentum for the film started to gather. “John and I talked about making a movie for the past few years every summer at the beach. We finally worked ourselves up to the actual execution of it,” he says.

Michael worked through a plan sheet of the schedule, mapping out times, activities and locations. He had to coordinate schedules for everyone who wanted to be in it – a hefty-sized cast. “It was an incredible experience being a part of this film because I got to see the logistics that go into filming a movie like this,” says Travis Booth. “We also had a lot of amazing adventures around Laguna.”

Before dawn, a bunch of guys gathered on the fire roads above the town, skateboards in tow, and the filming began. Together, the cast and crew (technically, Michael is the only crewmember) traversed the fire roads and beaches. They hopped trolleys to move from beach to beach, and crammed in skateboarding, surfing, and – wait for it – cliff diving. 

“The first time I jumped off a cliff, I was 13 years old,” Michael says. It happened at Woods Cove and, according to Michael, the drop wasn’t that far (easy for him to say). Michael still gets excited and animated when talking about it. “It feels like you’re flying for a while,” he says. “It’s just incredible!”

But there was no way for Michael – who directed, filmed, and edited the movie – to also play an on-camera role. He left the action shots to his friends, and they loved every minute of it. “My friends are way more energetic than any paid actor,” Michael says. “Their attitude was, ‘We’ll get the shot, no matter what.’ John was my action guy. He’d say, ‘I’m gonna jump, and you make it look like I’m levitating.’” 

“We got there super early,” Rylan Breneman recalls. “We crammed as much stuff as we could do in one day. I didn’t think it was possible, but one thing led to the next.”

James Ferrell agrees. The 24 hours we had filming the movie was one of the best days I can remember. I’ll never forget how much fun we all had that day.” 

“Michael comes up with the best stuff to do on the spot,” says castmember Rylan Breneman. “He’ll say, ‘Let’s go jump off this cliff.’ Or, ‘Let’s go do some crazy stuff.’ He’s always there with his camera, but he doesn’t do it for his vlog. He does it for fun.”

“We have always had the best times while exploring Laguna, taking videos and photos,” says Makayla Gidley, who also appears in the film. “Michael is so talented. I feel like he has improved a lot with all of his edits and photos. I’m really proud of him for getting to show off his amazing work in the film festival.” 

Dreams of big screens

While enrolled in an Introduction to Video workshop at Orange Coast College, Michael studied with Professor Kristina Haton. “I was only planning to post the movie on YouTube,” Michael says. “But at the end of the class, I submitted it as my final project. Professor Haton said, ‘This is literally the best film I’ve seen. I don’t say this often, but you’ve got to submit this to the [Newport Beach] Film Festival.’” The rest, as they say, is history.

LLP 24 hours two

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Travis Booth stays ready for action while Michael gets to work

Michael plan to finish his studies at Orange Coast College and transfer to a film program at USC or UCLA in a few years. 

Editing to the beat of his own drum

Though his passion lies in moviemaking, Michael has another important hobby that’s proved critical to his success. Like his dad, who’s an avid guitarist, Michael loves music. Specifically the drums. He’s found that film editing isn’t that different from music. You have to find the right beats in order to cut the scenes in satisfying ways. “I have an ear for music,” he says. “Because I played the drums, I know exactly where the beats go, and I can tell where to edit.” 

“Drumming helped Michael make perfect cuts and have his edits flow with the music,” says his mom. “We can see that. Music and design are in his blood and it’s coming out on film.” 

Michael chose Odesza’s song “Meridian” for the movie, which required him to contact the band to secure the rights. They couldn’t have been more encouraging of Michael and his project. “They told me they’d love to have their music in the film, saying they encourage students and upcoming filmmakers, and told me it was an honor to be included.” The two-man band even said they’d try making it to the screening.

Making the most of time

Michael is a man always seeking out new adventures. Laguna is his playground. Whether it’s hiking the hills or surfing the beaches, he doesn’t let many moments get away.

He loves discovering secret spots with his friends. He could tell you where they are but, like Vegas, what happens in Laguna…Suffice to say that our town is full of hidden treasures – concealed caves and clandestine cliffs, secret pools and hidden waterfalls. There’s Suicide Rock and Shell Beach, to name a couple better-known spots. “I really hope it rains again,” Michael says. “There are waterfalls around here people will never know about. Parts of it look like Hawaii when it rains.”

That’s the point Michael wants to make: you think you have all the time in the world to discover these things, but you don’t. “I want to inspire people to get off their phones,” he says. 

Twenty-four hours. That’s 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. Every day. How will you spend them?

To find out more about Michael and track his adventures, follow him on Instagram at Michael.Tanaka. 24 Hours will air on Sunday, April 28 at 1 p.m. at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach. For more information on tickets and other events at the Newport Beach Film Festival, visit

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Clark Collins: Committed to creating second acts


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

After working in his family’s finance business post-college, Clark Collins decided his passions resided elsewhere. He went back to school, enrolled in UCLA’s design program and found a mentor in famed interior designer Michael Smith.

Learning from one of the best

Among his many famous clients, Smith went on to design the Obama’s living quarters in the White House. William Seale, author of The President’s House: A History, believed Smith was a good choice because, “What works best in the White House is someone who is immersed in the past and can design in a modern way.” Seale’s description of Smith is relevant because it could just as easily be applied to Smith’s former protege who has made a career of giving old beach cottages “a second act.”

The penultimate West Coaster goes east

After several years of working with Smith, Clark Collins went off on his own as an interior designer. He also started a lighting company. After a few years, the Pasadena-born, Newport Beach-raised designer packed up and moved to western Massachusetts when his husband took a teaching job at Williams College. 

Coming back to California for some family business

“The family business needed some help,” explains Collins. He sold his lighting business and the couple returned to the West Coast, settling in Laguna. Eventually the family business got sorted out. “After working with my dad, we decided we were better as just father and son than working together,” says Collins with a smile. 

A new direction both personally and professionally

This decision coincided with Collins and his husband deciding they wanted children. “I tried to figure out a middle ground between design and finance.” That “middle ground” became Collins Design and Development. He began buying houses, restoring them, and reselling them in 2008 and, in the full ten years since, Collins says he has done 77 homes. “I have focused on historic houses close to home,” he says. 

Clark Collins close up

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Clark Collins of Collins Design and Development and chair of Laguna’s Heritage Committee

Why these particular homes? “The early beach houses just have a simplicity about them that’s so unique. In redoing them, it’s not only modernizing them, but taking what’s special and embracing it,” he explains.

A commitment to preserving Laguna’s past

Collins’ passion for restoring old homes has made him a dedicated member of Laguna’s Heritage Committee where he is in his third term and currently the chair. “Laguna has embraced historic preservation. Corona Del Mar, Newport Beach, Dana Point – they have not embraced it, and they’ve lost the charm of their towns,” laments Collins. 

To Collins’ point, May is Preservation Month in Laguna Beach. The Heritage Committee is celebrating with a trolley driven tour to the still existing early artists’ studios in town on May 5th. The tour will be led by local historian Eric Jessen.

And while celebrating Laguna’s past is very important to Collins, he is definitely not stuck in a time warp. He himself lives in home built in 1942 for plein air painter and Laguna Beach outdoor festival originator Isaac Jenkinson Frazee. And while it exudes the character and charm that makes older homes so special, Collins, like most homeowners, certainly wants to live with every modern convenience. “These homes have to evolve and be made practical,” he says. 

Clark Collins family

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Clark Collins at home with his husband Greg and sons Sawyer (left) and Jackson

His home, for example, had the kitchen in the back of the house, too removed from the central hub of the home. So Collins moved it. It’s now central to the home’s flow. 

As it was a completely new addition, great care was taken to add design elements to seamlessly merge this brand new part of the house with the older, vintage part of the house. It is warm, inviting, and oozes understated character. In short, it embodies all the reasons Collins is committed to restoring these homes as opposed to bulldozing them and starting from scratch. “It’s very difficult to recreate the warmth of these houses in a new house,” he says.

A labor of love that is also good business

“In order to do this kind of construction, it’s always going to be more time consuming and more expensive,” explains Collins. “But if you do it right, they get the highest dollar amounts per square foot. I’ve never had a hard time selling.” This is the business side of things. However, while that is a critical component, it does not seem to be the driving factor in Collins’ choice of projects.

“I just get early California houses,” says Collins. “I get the period specific details right.” In addition to his own projects, Collins will also work with others on their projects. “Having done it so many times, I’m not fazed by things that might faze other people,” he says.

The fun is in the unknown

Sometimes these houses are “pretty quirky.” Many were built as vacation homes and were, therefore, built with small budgets. Small kitchens, non-existent closets, and ancient plumbing are all things Collins is well-versed in. And for him, that’s the fun. “How do you take it apart and put it back together to make it better?” he asks. He likens the process to unwrapping a present. You don’t know what you’re going to get until the wrapping has been removed. Whatever you find underneath, Collins believes it’s worth saving and enhancing.

Hoping incentives will be enough to motivate preservation

That’s why he has committed so much time to the Heritage Committee. The Heritage Committee advises Laguna’s Design Review Board and the City Council on historical structures. 

Clark Collins home

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The exterior of Collins’ 1942 restored home in Laguna. He and his family previously lived next door in a 1930s Collins-renovated cottage on the historic register.

The City Council is currently crafting a new historic ordinance. “The Council voted in favor of making the historic program voluntary,” he says. And if Collins finds this at all dismaying, he doesn’t say so. Rather, he sounds optimistic. “With the right incentives, you can encourage people to preserve their houses,” he says confidently.

Thoughtful development is a mantra

So while Collins clearly has his aesthetic preference, his overriding concern is responsible development. “Change is okay,” he says. “Just be thoughtful about it.” Collins says other cities like Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Carmel have managed to keep their charm. He hopes Laguna follows suit. “It really makes Laguna different. I know people are under pressure to maximize their investment, but you can sense it’s a little different in Laguna. And by different, I mean good,” he says.

And different does not mean only beach cottages. “I love Mark Singer houses,” he says enthusiastically of the well-known contemporary architect’s homes. “I think you can have both. The look and feel of the town allows for change and modernization. It’s thoughtful development versus blatant greedy development. I hope we embrace thoughtful development. It’s why we live here.” 

Fighting to maintain Laguna’s character

As far as Collins is concerned, every old home he (or anyone) restores is a victory not just for that home, but for the city as a whole. The way he sees it, these homes are a critical part of what makes Laguna “Laguna.” 

“It’s not cookie cutter,” says Collins. “It is definitely something worth fighting for because once it’s gone, you can never get it back.”

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Sarah Durand: SchoolPower’s new executive director hits the ground running


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

SchoolPower, the Laguna Beach Education Foundation, is Orange County’s oldest education foundation. The group is responsible for raising money for all four of Laguna’s public schools. 

With such a long history, it may be surprising to learn that the organization has had only two executive directors. The first, Robin Rounaghi, retired last year after five years in that position and at least another decade of service to the group in a host of other positions. Rounaghi had, to those who had been around the organization for awhile, become an almost ubiquitous part of SchoolPower. 

Getting off to a great start

SchoolPower’s second executive director, Sarah Durand, is just finishing up her first year on the job. And while it may seem discourteous to highlight someone’s predecessor before introducing them in their new role, in this case it serves as high praise. To highlight the imposing shoes Durand was asked to fill only enhances the success she has had in her first year. The transition seems to have been seamless and the organization actually exceeded their fundraising goals thus far.

SchoolPower president Mike Houlahan says, “The Director role is truly the linchpin to everything we do at SchoolPower from fundraising to community outreach to District relations. In her first year, Sarah has done just an extraordinary job. We have accomplished everything we set out to do and more. But most importantly, Sarah cares deeply about the quality of education for our kids. Her commitment, optimism, and ‘can do’ attitude will benefit the organization well for many years to come.”

Sarah Durand close up

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SchoolPower executive director Sarah Durand is just about to complete her first year on the job

Starting off “fast and furious”

Durand’s role became official in May. That means she had to learn the ropes of her new job, in particular, and the workings of the organization, in general, over the summer. With her first year almost under her belt, Durand says, “The biggest thing I’ve learned is the rhythm and cadence of the job.” The majority of the organization’s fundraising is done September through mid-February. Those are five “fast and furious months,” according to Durand, which means there was no easing into her new role. She had to hit the ground running. 

Spring offers a welcome respite

The spring offers a bit of respite. There are still things going on, the Lumberyard Chef Challenge and the 3 Clubs Barefoot Classic Golf Tourney, to name two events, but the tempo has mellowed just enough so she can spend a bit of quiet time in front of her computer planning for next year. It also has given her time to “really enjoy the job.” Like most stories, how she came to get this job is not something she could have predicted. Now that it’s hers, it seems almost pre-ordained, so nicely has it melded into her personal and professional life.

Embracing life behind the “Orange Curtain,” albeit somewhat reluctantly

Durand and her husband came, somewhat reluctantly, to Orange County 15 years ago when her L.A.-raised husband’s company relocated their offices to Fashion Island. So dismayed was her husband at moving behind the “Orange Curtain,” he entertained keeping his own office in Los Angeles.

They figured they’d make Newport Beach home. However, Durand says once they “rounded that curve” on Coast Highway, there was no doubt where the young family would live. “It has to be Laguna,” she remembers thinking. It also helped that the public schools were good. So the couple and their one-year-old son bought a “rat-infested teardown” and set about the always enjoyable task of renovating their home while living in it. A year and a half later, the house was completed, and a new baby boy was added to the family.

At that time Durand was not working. She didn’t know anyone in Orange County but her husband’s cousin in Ladera Ranch. She joined the cousin’s playgroup and met several women who became dear friends. Her other outlet: Bluebird Park. “I spent a lot of time at Bluebird Park,” laughs Durand. “I met a lot of people at Bluebird Park.”

An offer she could not refuse

Her stay-at-home mom life was upended when her youngest was two. Durand got a call from a former colleague who wasn’t aware Durand had left L.A. She had a tempting offer. She thought Durand would be perfect for a job at Disney Online (then Disney Interactive). 

Sarah Durand with sign

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Sarah Durand at the SchoolPower office which is conveniently across the street from one of her kids’ schools

A part-time job with a full-time commute

Durand accepted the part-time job and began commuting (via train and the Red Line) to North Hollywood a few days a week. A year later she went full time but managed to work from home several days a week. “I worked out of my master bedroom and locked the door,” she says. “It was tough, but I loved my career. We figured out that balance. I loved it. I loved working. I loved being a mom. I don’t think I would have gotten pregnant again if I’d been a full-time mom,” she says laughing. 

Three kids, a full-time job and things are just fine

When her third child, a daughter, was born, Durand continued to work. “It was great because I worked from home. I could breast feed while I was working.” Working from home also allowed her to volunteer in her son’s second grade class. It was a “busy, busy time,” says Durand, but things were good.

And then things are shockingly no longer fine

Then the family’s life took an unexpected turn. When Durand’s oldest son Peter was nine, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. “We missed every sign. He had them all,” she says ruefully. It was a morning the family was going to Disneyland with out of town guests. Peter woke up quite ill, so they took him to a walk-in clinic. The doctor diagnosed the situation quickly and sent mother and son directly to the hospital. Her son was visibly in decline.

Making the unthinkable part of daily life

“It was pretty scary,” recalls Durand. “It was so shocking.” Next thing she knew, she and her husband were at CHOC learning how to administer insulin shots to their son. “I never wanted a career in medicine,” she says wryly. But as devastating as the news was, Durand says, “Soon it becomes part of your daily life.” Her son is now a high school freshman, but, says Durand, “It was a lot to put on a nine-year-old. He has been amazing.”

Sarah Durand family red door

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Sarah Durand with her husband Rob and children Peter, Lucas and Tessa

A time to re-evaluate everything

With such a monumental event, it’s not surprising that Durand decided to re-evaluate. “For me, I looked at my life and decided to take a step back. I left my job. I just couldn’t imagine anyone else giving my kid a shot.” Eventually, as time went on, Durand relented and allowed the TOW school nurse to administer her son’s shots. But her time up at TOW got her involved in their PTA. “I’d only been to one meeting when they asked me to be PTA vice-president,” she says with a laugh. “I dove in. The biggest need was updating the website and communication – both things in my professional wheelhouse. It was a great way to get really entrenched in the schools and use my professional skills.”

Durand also started consulting. She did work for Stanford Health and MacGillivray Freeman Films. “I redesigned MacGillivray’s corporate website and stayed on to do some of their film websites.” One of her favorites was Dream Big. “It’s so timely. It’s about getting kids (girls) excited about engineering. I was raised knowing women could do anything...I hope to raise my daughter in that way. It’s very exciting.”

A family history of valuing education

Durand’s respect for science undoubtedly comes from her parents, both English immigrants. Her mother is a chemist and her father is an engineer. Durand insists a better subject for this article is her mother, a woman who was in a wheelchair for 13 years as a result of MS only to rebound so effectively that now she’s skiing and hiking and traveling. “She’s unbelievable!” says Durand.

Even though neither Durand nor her sister went into science, they were both raised with a very healthy regard for the importance of education in Cupertino, CA. It was an area full of first-generation Americans. “We grew up with kids who were all very driven. Going to college was very important. I went to Monta Vista High School, it’s one of the top high schools. Education is very important to me. It’s one of the things that attracted us to Laguna, the schools.”

Seizing the opportunity at SchoolPower

With that background, the job at SchoolPower seemed like a natural fit. “I saw it as such an opportunity with Robin (Rounaghi) stepping down,” she says. Her professional experience managing teams and content, her volunteer experience with PTA and as a SchoolPower trustee, and her personal life as a mom with kids at three of Laguna’s four public schools all converged into a job right down the street from her house (no train required in this commute!).

Sarah Durand family BW

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The Durand family with their two dogs

And while she admits her life can be “very chaotic,” Durand remarkably still manages to aspire to things beyond her job and family duties. “I really want to write a novel,” she says. She has taken some creative writing classes and is part of the Third Street Writers Group. “It is a really fun way to dive into writing. I still try to submit pieces, although my current job is a little busy,” she says with a grin.

Cherishing family time on the slopes

So while the novel may have to wait, Durand is not putting off spending as much time with her family as she can. Her oldest is in 9th grade and she knows how quickly the time will come for him to head off to college. It’s great motivation for the family to indulge in their group passion: skiing. In fact, Durand and her crew were heading out to their condo in Park City for spring break. ‘We do a lot of skiing together as a family,” she says. “My kids are phenomenal skiers. Tess (her daughter) can ski anything,” she says proudly. “And she’s nine.”

Like mother, like daughter, it would seem. Fearless and unflappable: characteristics that lend themselves well both to skiing and running a nonprofit organization. Becoming SchoolPower’s executive director may not have been part of a grand master plan, but it certainly has worked out well so far. “It’s such a great opportunity for me to do something I love for the schools that I love. It feels really good to work every day knowing you’re having such an impact on so many kids in Laguna.”

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The Story Maker: Samantha Washer brings Laguna’s legends to life


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Readers familiar with Stu News writer Samantha Washer know she’s got that rare gift for drawing her subjects out by putting them at ease, and an unquenchable curiosity for stories. She profiles our town’s great philanthropists, community leaders, politicians, and business owners. She’s the woman who tells the story behind the story, bringing our local treasures – some of them hidden and some well known – into the spotlight.

Today we get a rare glimpse behind the byline. And we’re lucky to have it, as Samantha describes herself as a “textbook introvert” and visibly flinches at the idea of having that spotlight shine on her. “There’s an excessive cringe factor in all of this,” she says more than once.

The Story at home

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Samantha Washer in her Emerald Bay home

But the story maker has a unique story all her own, one that stretches across four generations in coastal Orange County. Samantha’s many years working with Laguna’s SchoolPower paved the way for countless Laguna youth. And her distinctive style on the page led her to our Stu News family, and the well-deserved place she’s captured in our readers’ hearts.

Maybe storytelling is written in her genes?

Samantha’s Orange County roots reach back to the early 1900s, when her maternal grandfather’s family first came to Newport Beach. Born in 1911, her grandfather, Judge Robert Gardner, moved briefly as a baby to Newport Beach, and permanently returned in 1921. 

Judge Gardner brought a lot of wit and whimsy to the bench. He was described in 2005 by the Los Angeles Times as the “colorful, bodysurfing judge who became as known for his witty writing as for the no-nonsense justice he dispensed for more than half a century on court benches from Newport Beach to American Samoa.”

So famous were his sharp remarks that the University of Santa Clara Law Review would publish them under the dedicated title, “The Gallery of Gardner.” Here’s one from a 1973 opinion: “A juror is not some kind of dithering nincompoop, brought in from never-never land and exposed to the harsh realities of life for the first time in a jury box.” He’s got a million of these. 

But what Judge Gardner may have loved more than the law was body surfing, board surfing, and skin diving. He was known to keep a board in the seldom-used ladies’ section of the city jail, sneaking out to ride waves between cases. He once returned from an afternoon excursion, wearing only a bathing suit beneath his robe. Unbeknownst to him, the bench didn’t hide his bare legs, which sent a woman screaming out of his courtroom, assuming he sat without trousers before her. 

Judge Gardner passed his love of the ocean down to his daughter, Nancy, Samantha’s mom. And though he tried his damnedest to pass it down to Samantha, who indulged him for years, she never quite shared his enthusiasm.

What Samantha did inherit, though, was her grandfather’s love of the written word and his passion for telling stories. Judge Gardner penned three books whose titles speak for themselves about his humor and passions: The Art of Body Surfing (1972); Bawdy Balboa (1993); and, posthumously, Naughty Newport (2015). They’re funny and irreverent, full of dry humor and local lore. “Others have written scholarly, comprehensive, accurate, precise and definitive histories of the City of Newport Beach. That which follows will be neither comprehensive, precise, definitive, scholarly nor necessarily accurate. Rather, it will be an effort to portray the flavor of the town, ‘warts, wrinkles and all,’” he wrote in Naughty Newport’s introduction.

While Samantha’s writings may not be quite as bawdy nor nearly as naughty as her grandfather’s, she adopted his desire to do our town and its people justice, sharing their stories and authentic voices – with maybe fewer warts and wrinkles. 

A rich history in Orange County

Samantha’s parents, and both sets of grandparents, lived in Orange County. Both grandfathers were judges, living in the same Corona del Mar community of Shore Cliffs, which allowed her to walk between them on Christmas mornings. 

Samantha recalls the story of Grandma Gardner threatening divorce if her husband brought any more abalone home from the beach. “Apparently it was a big mess,” she says. “My grandmother had to pound it out. She got sick of it. Can you imagine?” Those were the days before abalone soared to $125 a pound. 

“The years my mom and dad grew up here, the 1940s and 50s, were the golden years. My mom had her horses down on Crystal Cove. There was no Irvine. You’d ride your horse wherever you wanted.” 

Samantha’s mother, Nancy Gardner, is the former mayor of Newport Beach and sat on their city council for many years. Following in her father’s passionate footsteps, she started the Newport Beach chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and actively advocates for the ocean, beaches, and general water quality. She’s currently a columnist for Stu News Newport.

Samantha’s Orange County roots give her an appreciation for the history of our community. Although, she laughs, Laguna and Newport sometimes seem worlds apart. It took some time for her to make the mental shift from Corona del Mar and Newport to Laguna. But having three children and deep ties to Laguna’s schools allowed her to fully assimilate. 

The self-sufficiency of the 1970s

Samantha is a product of her generation – independent and self-sufficient. The 1970s saw divorce rates rise and latchkey kids become the norm. Samantha was no exception. She was an only child. Her parents split when she was four years old. She and her mother returned from a stint in New York (where her father worked as a stockbroker), to Irvine where Samantha grew up. Her mother worked long hours outside the home, leaving Samantha to largely fend for herself. 

“When I was in kindergarten, I couldn’t tell time but I had to get myself off to school,” Samantha says. “My mom drew a clock, showing me where the hands should be when it was time to leave. I’d wait for my clock to match up to the drawing.” 

Armed with a bike and the many safe streets of Irvine’s planned community, Samantha had the run of the town. Irvine’s bike trails were safer than Newport’s beaches. Samantha played tennis and the local tennis club provided a great social space for her to meet up with friends.

Making a study of stories – USC film school

It was the Terry Gilliam film Brazil that changed everything. Samantha saw it and immediately knew. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make movies, write movies, or write about movies,” she says. “But I wanted to be around people who created things like that.” Although she spent her first two years at UCI, she transferred to USC Film School and double majored in Cinema-Television and English Literature and Creative Writing. “It was a dream,” she says.

Samantha’s family has a long history at USC – both parents, her grandfather, her ex-husband (Greg), and now one son (Zack). But she and her mom are not ones to give in to USC’s exuberance, both “textbook introverts.” 

“It’s very social. I love USC, but I had a different experience than the usual. Everyone’s a little surprised when I tell them I went because I’m not the typical USC alum.” 

But film and creative writing unlocked something in Samantha. “That’s the part of my brain that functions really well,” she says. After graduation, she went to work for a production company specializing in made-for-TV movies and telling real-life stories. But the business of buying the rights to people’s tragedies neither appealed to her nor aligned with her ethics, so Samantha returned to Orange County in 1993 to open a retail perfume, bath, and body store for a brief time. “We were ahead of the curve on creating all-natural perfumes,” she says.

Samantha’s big life surprise – twins!

Mothering, it might be said, is the greatest story maker of all. Creating life, nurturing it, and passing down our generational history while paving a person’s (or, in Samantha’s case, three people’s) future might be the strongest example of our ability to write new stories. “It’s been my favorite job of all,” Samantha says.

The Story Sam and Cleo

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Samantha and Cleo, 14, at home

Twenty-one weeks into her first pregnancy, Samantha learned she was having twins. With no twins in the family and wholly unprepared for the news, she had to quickly adjust to life’s new reality. “We only had one boy name and one girl name,” she says. “Judge” would be the boy, an homage to both her grandfathers who sat on the bench. Baby Boy B became Zack. Five years later, Samantha and Greg welcomed Cleo.

How has the experience changed her? “I’m more careful with how I go through the world as a mother. I feel the responsibility to model good behavior, because I want to show them what being a good person looks like,” Samantha says. “Things feel more consequential. I try to behave in a manner that won’t mortify them.” 

Clearly, her role modeling is working. Zack followed in his family’s footsteps and is a business major at USC. Judge is a water polo player for Santa Clara University, and also plans on majoring in business. Cleo, 14, followed older brother Judge into the pool and also plays water polo.

Empowered by SchoolPower

For her kids, Samantha willingly overcame her “textbook introvert” status and became actively involved in Laguna’s SchoolPower, even serving as President. Given the amount of public speaking the position required, and Samantha’s innate dislike of the spotlight, it was a lot to overcome. “SchoolPower got me involved in Laguna. It tied me to the city and made me feel like I’m part of the town,” she says.

For six years, she worked as the VP of Marketing. The year she was President, 2013, the annual phone-a-thon raised over $510,000 – exceeding all records in its 30-plus year history.

“All the years at SchoolPower served me well professionally. I learned things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise,” she says. 

Those lessons are about to pay dividends as she embarks on her new career as a copy editor and copywriter, a business she’s planning to start with a friend now that her children are nearly grown.

Getting to know Laguna’s many lives and fascinating people

For our readers, though, it’s Samantha’s empathy and gift of storytelling that pay the true dividends for our town. “Samantha’s stories add so much richness to Stu News’ pages and are a real service to our community. She helps bring us all closer together,” says Stu News owner and editor Shaena Stabler. 

“Samantha has a wonderful turn of phrase,” adds former editor Lynette Brasfield. “Her stories really sing.”

The Story home office

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Samantha applying her craft in her home office

She’s been profiling our town’s entrepreneurs, community service leaders, activists, politicians, artists, educators, and more for six years. While she remains fond of them all, a few still stand out. In 2015, she interviewed Christine Casey, the founder of Chhahari, a Nepalese orphanage that cares for roughly 25 children. Casey took a vow of poverty, funneling all her money and assets into the orphanage. The experience moved Samantha. “Christine was so inspiring,” she says. “She’s a woman who walks the walk. She’s not somebody who has millions, and doing this makes her feel good. She’s sacrificed and given up everything for this. I haven’t crossed over to be like her, but I think about her a lot.”

Even when Samantha had opportunities to interview the big names, like Rick Springfield, she says she still prefers profiling the quiet heroes who live in the shadows and largely go unnoticed. “You never know people’s stories until you ask,” she says.

I couldn’t agree more. Samantha is one of those quiet local heroes who happily live in the shadows. But the storyteller’s story needed to be told. 

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO -

Lana Johnson, Editor -

Tom Johnson, Publisher -

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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