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The Alchemy of Mike Beanan: Transforming trauma into comfort for Vietnam Veterans


Mike Beanan may be one of Laguna’s great alchemists. For all his many talents, this could be his best – a gift for converting darkness into light, and suffering into solace. There are a lot of ugly truths about Vietnam, but one of them is this: you can take the soldier out of the war, but you’ll never take the war out of the soldier. 

What that soldier does in its aftermath is the challenge. 

The Alchemy two men

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Photo by Chip Maury

Navy SEAL Mike Beanan (left) with an M60 in Vietnam

When the opportunity to spend time with Mike arose, I embraced it. In fact, I stole the assignment away from one of my colleagues. My own father was a Vietnam vet who carried the demons of war particularly close his whole life. Since his death last year, I’ve sought out men like Mike who give me the chance to look down all those post-war roads not taken, imagining brighter outcomes. He represents a different and positive path – 

one of hope and strength and resilience.

Mike has spent most of his adult life finding ways to turn the brutal lessons he learned in Vietnam into forces for positive change at home by applying his many passions and talents to important causes. As an activist and environmentalist, Mike makes the ocean his second home. “The ocean,” he says “is my underwater church.” There, his alchemy isn’t just philosophical. Mike is working with the City on a water reclamation and treatment facility, turning dirty water into clean. With a degree in Biology from UCI, he’s also interested in the science behind converting human waste into energy.

The Alchemy Mike closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Mike Beanan standing beside his second home and his spiritual sanctuary

As a skilled carpenter, Mike not only builds beautiful homes from nothing (doing every part of the construction himself), he also teaches his trade to others – giving men a sense of purpose and pride. And, if he finds a man particularly down on his luck, Mike opens his home to him, sharing his experience and wisdom, meals and books, until he can get back on his feet. Mike calls it his “burnout bin.”

What, I wondered, pulls a man out of the psychological trenches? What alchemy allowed Mike to turn his own demons into angels? This is what I learned…

A military-style upbringing

Mike’s childhood might have been one long preparation for the military. His parents raised five kids, close in age, on a butcher’s salary. Survival was a skill taught early. Mike grew up siphoning gas out of cars, dumpster diving, and scavenging for the next meal. “It was all survival,” he says. “It wasn’t like we were wolf children,” he says, “but we were raised to be incredibly self reliant.” 

Brought up on the shores of the northern California coast, Mike was the oldest of four sons (his only sister is a year older). The boys lived in a converted garage behind the house and, though his father was the WWII veteran, his mother insisted on military cleanliness. “My mom was in the Women’s Army Corp (WAC). She came in for inspection every Saturday with a white glove. We learned to work hard and have fun.” 

He grew up surfing the frigid waters of the Pacific and camping in the rugged terrain of the California and Oregon wilderness. Using stars, maps and compasses, Mike quickly became adept at navigation, a skill that would soon serve him well. “I could look at a map and tell you where the hills are – the vegetation, the houses and water. I could tell you where we could slip through quietly. Growing up surfing, we had to trespass through farms to get to the water. The farmers carried shotguns and we were carrying nine-foot white surfboards. So we became very good at sneaking down arroyos. We learned Spanish to speak to the braceros so they wouldn’t turn us over to the farmers.”

At age 17, Mike struggled to survive on his own as an emancipated minor, spending time in jail because of it, and deciding, when the draft board came for him – however much he wanted to avoid the horrors of war – he couldn’t go to prison. When Mike got to the military, it was like his whole life had trained him for that experience.

Vietnam: innocence lost and disillusionment found

With Mike’s skillset, intelligence, and work ethic, he quickly moved through the ranks. He was navigating an aircraft carrier by the age of 18, and soon became a sergeant. Then he was scouted as a frogman, completing training, and loving his time back “home” – in the water. “I was so happy to be in the water again. I aced the training. I outswam everyone, outran everyone. I felt free.” To put this time in perspective, two men died during training. It was that dangerous.

From there, Mike was recruited into a secret organization led by the CIA – Navy SEAL Team I. “It was a clandestine, surreptitious operation to kidnap village chiefs. We’d sneak in and sneak out. No one saw us or heard us. Everything was done at night.” 

Mike soon understood these Vietnamese chiefs weren’t a threat to anyone. “It was wrong,” he says. “What we were doing was wrong.” The SEALS were forced into a terror campaign, gutting and dismembering villagers as an act of psychological warfare. In 1981, Mike contributed a chapter for the book Everything We Had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Al Santoli. He writes: “Not only had [these villagers] died very violently and horribly, but [they] wouldn’t even be able to enter nirvana intact, and that impact was just incredible.” 

Worse than the realization that the war was wrong came the awareness that the military was taking glorified photos of the SEALS to bolster their campaign. “It was all made up,” he says. 

The Alchemy Seals group

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Photo by Chip Maury

Mike Beanan – bottom row, second from the left – flashes a peace sign as a signal that the SEALS wanted out of this war

“They took a picture of us holding a Vietnam flag we’d captured. We hung the flag upside down, which means we’re in distress, then flashed the peace sign. We were trying to send the message back: This war is screwed up and we want peace. Instead, these pictures became the iconic photos of SEAL team because our nation loves war.”

Climbing out of the trenches

Mike returned from Vietnam in 1969, physically intact but psychologically damaged. He transferred to UC Irvine from community college in 1971 as a Biology and Psychology major and went on to graduate work in Social Ecology. 

He drove a school bus for handicapped kids. He helped lead several veterans’ initiatives and programs, including the Handicapped SCUBA Project at UCI, the countywide Veterans’ Split Job Program, the “Amnesty Psychodrama” program, and the Veterans’ Conspiracy model. He soon discovered universities were designed (with all their research and funding) to support the military – not the men who fought in the war, and certainly not the veterans who came home.

“I took all my training from the military and reversed it. How to you unassassinate somebody? We called it guerilla goodness.” Mike trained veterans to empower themselves. He used military tactics against a government trying to deny veterans their rights – payment, employment, treatment. He’d ambush administrators at their meetings. And, of course, he participated in plenty of protests.

Around this time, Mike found transcendental meditation. It’s a practice he’s kept for years. It allows him to get by on little sleep and still feel refreshed. 

Not only did Mike pull himself out of the trenches, but he stretched his hand back and lifted others up as well. For 30 years, he atoned for his time in the war. Then he decided to devote himself to the ocean.

From Navy SEAL to protecting Laguna’s sea life

Perhaps Mike’s most profound impact, and the one he’s most rightfully proud of, is his work with his first love – the Pacific Ocean. As co-founder of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, Mike and his colleagues have made significant strides in protecting Laguna’s most precious resource. Now our coastline is recognized as a marine protected area and no-take zone. Our water quality has improved. Our marine life and estuary wildlife are not only surviving, but thriving.

Fish and marine mammals are rebounding. Whales, particularly gray whales and their calves, are present in Laguna’s shallow coves. Surveys suggest abalone is also making a comeback. In simple terms, Mike’s many efforts are working wonders in our ocean.

Mike is a member of the Laguna Beach Environmental and Sustainability Committee, and co-founder of the KelpFest Laguna Beach regional Earth Day event. In 2012, he won the Orange County Cox Conserves Hero Award, given in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and Cox Enterprises.

The Alchemy on beach

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Mike Beanan sports his “business suit” while working at the office

“We are the only citywide marine protected area and the only city in the U.S. with a contiguous bluebelt and greenbelt,” he told the Orange County Register last May. “What’s important is that we have a rocky bottom. Because of that, you have tide pools and hundreds of caves that function as nurseries for fish and shellfish. Offshore we have kelp forests equivalent to underwater redwood forests. They can grow to 120 feet high and grow at a rate of two feet a day. Rather than a ‘no fish’ zone, we have a ‘grow fish’ zone.”

Mike’s enthusiasm for the environment, and ocean protection, is infectious. It’s hard not to be moved to action while listening to him talk. 

The Alchemy estuary

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Aliso Creek estuary and sand berm provide a habitat for protected species

 such as the tidewater goby and southern steelhead trout
Mike’s mysterious alchemy

Mike’s journey feels both miraculous and inevitable. A rugged childhood created a natural leader. A broken soldier became an instinctive healer. A former frogman evolved into the ocean’s biggest advocate. But all that could have gone a different way. 

Whether or not Agent Orange caused my father’s eventual brain tumor, I don’t know. But I’m certain the war fueled his lifelong addiction to alcohol. Mike, though, traded alcohol for meditation and medical marijuana. He prefers sea life over life as a Navy SEAL. He didn’t let his demons conquer him. Instead, he used his experiences to help others out of the dark.

Some of his old war stories sound familiar to me (enough to make me tear up while we talked). But Mike’s post-war life feels entirely foreign. What allows one man to thrive while another merely survives? Why did one guy make it home when his buddy didn’t? Impossible to know. Like alchemy, some things remain a mystery.

Mike tells me he didn’t have children in large part because of the war. “I knew I couldn’t protect a kid from the war machine in this country,” he says. “And I knew I’d been exposed to something really bad, and it would permeate everything.” Instead, Mike became a father figure to some and a role model to many. He’s lived his life as an example – an activist, a leader, and a steadfast steward of the environment. 

“You could be my niece,” he tells me as our time wraps up, inviting me out to swim sometime. 

I don’t tell him I’m afraid of the ocean and that, in my 20 years of living in Laguna, I’ve barely swum at all. Instead I say yes. Because Mike is the kind of man that makes people trust him. He makes people feel safe enough to take risks, brave enough to give it their all, and inspired to make a difference.

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Hans Laroche: Committed to kids


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If you have a child in Laguna Beach, there is a very good chance they know Hans Laroche. Laroche has been with the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach (The Club) since 2002. Through his work at the Boys and Girls Club and his subsequent visits to Laguna’s schools, LaRoche is known – and adored – by Club members and non-Club members alike.

With the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach since 2002

Hired as The Club’s Athletic Director in 2002, Laroche’s basketball leagues have become an almost ubiquitous part of growing up in Laguna. With a thoughtful commitment to balancing competition and fun, something Laroche has brought to all of his sporting ventures, the kids flock to The Club to participate in his sports programs. 

However, Laroche has had to leave the day to day running of his beloved gym to someone else. In April he was promoted to Canyon Branch Manager. Now, he gets to spread his influence to all areas of the Club. It is a change he welcomes, and one he sought out.

Working with kids is his calling

Laroche came to Orange County from Los Angeles where he worked at the YMCA, first as a camp counselor and then ultimately as its executive director. “When I was younger, in middle school, I volunteered to work in the cafeteria, play games with other kids…from day one I realized this was my calling, it was more rewarding for me. From that day on, it has always been about working with the youth,” he says.

LLP Hans close up

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Hans Laroche, formerly the Athletic Director, now the Branch Manager at the Boys and Girls Club

Laroche and his wife moved to Orange County because she got a job teaching at George White Elementary in the Capo Valley Unified School District where she still teaches today. Laroche took a job at the Capo Valley Boys and Girls Club, even though he says his first choice was Laguna. “I had an idea about the Boys and Girls Club. I saw kids were more free than at the YMCA. The Boys and Girls Club is more kid focused. It was different,” he explains.

Jumping at the chance to work in Laguna Beach

Laroche became friends with the Laguna Beach branch’s former athletic director. When he was ready to leave, he gave Laroche a call. “He knew I wanted to work in Laguna so he gave me the first opportunity.” Laroche made the most of it, becoming a beloved part of the club over the last 15 years.

Making a strong connection with “his” kids

I don’t use the word “beloved” lightly. When Laroche makes appearances at the local elementary schools, he is treated like a celebrity. The kids rush over to say “hi” and then just hang around him, happy to be in his presence. The kids can sense that when he says working with them is his calling, he means it.

From Haiti to Canada to the US

Born in Haiti, Laroche and his family emigrated to Canada where he stayed through high school. After that, he says his parents wanted him to go to college in the US. “Your future is brighter in the US than in Canada,” he says. So the family moved south. Laroche went to college, found the YMCA and then, eventually, The Boys and Girls Club.

Starting a culture shift at The Club

When he took over as athletic director, Laroche says he wanted to make some changes. “First thing I realized was that the atmosphere was a little cold. I wanted to make it fun. It didn’t take long. I saw smiles and joy. I started a culture shift with the kids,” he explains.

LLP Hans in gym

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Hans Laroche in Boys and Girls Club gym, his home away from home for 15 years

Making an impact in the gym was a natural fit for Laroche. “Sports was my first love,” he says. “It was always sports.” His enjoyment of sport was infectious. He added games like floor hockey, golf and roller hockey. He added all-star games and kept standings to make the basketball leagues more exciting. With 120 kids coming through The Club a day, there needs to be a lot of variety.

Making it fun for everyone, no matter their skill level

Something Laroche says he sees as an “opportunity” is how to create an environment where kids who aren’t superstars can feel comfortable participating with kids who are. “The kids want to have a good experience. You need to give them a secure feeling that they don’t have to excel.” For those who want more intense competition, there are plenty of places for them to play. It’s much harder to give the kids who just want to experience the enjoyment of sport in a competitive (but not too competitive) of an environment.

Embracing the idea of being a leader

For 15 years, LaRoche focused his attention on the sports programs at The Club. However, his insight into other areas was sought out. “Scott (the former branch manager) told me, ‘I wish you’d speak up more.” So when Scott announced he was leaving after three years, Laroche saw an opportunity. If he were to take Scott’s place, he would be in a position to not only speak, but be listened to. “I decided to try and be more of a leader. I thought if I were to be chosen (as manager) I could probably have an impact. That was my motivation.” After what he describes as a “rigorous” interview process, he was given the position.

His longevity has helped him know what families need

His longevity at The Club has served him well. “I got to work under a lot of different branch managers,” he says. “I got to see how they did things. I had an almost inside look at what the kids want and what the families need.” And changes have been made already.

Leading by example to highlight the importance of The Club’s work

“I started to lead by example,” he says. “We’re not doing the kids a favor by working here. It’s the other way around. Working here is important work. It is serious work. Whether it’s in the gym, the art room or playing games, it doesn’t matter. It needs to be taken seriously. I’ve definitely seen a shift in culture,” he says.

LLP Hans BGC Staff

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Hans Laroche and some of the committed staff at the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach

He and the staff at The Club have worked to create new and exciting programs for fall. And while there is always something The Club needs, when asked what he would do if he were presented with a blank check, he doesn’t think of buying more “stuff.” Instead, he says he’d just like to be able to reach more kids. 

The Club provides a unique experience

“We can handle more kids,” he says. “What has happened throughout the years is there are more groups providing more things. There are more choices. Here, kids can make up their own mind. They can make their own friendships in their own environment. It’s different from an AYSO practice.” And that is why he is so committed to The Club and its mission. If run well, it provides a unique experience for its members that he wholeheartedly believes in.

And while he has only been a manager for a short while, he wouldn’t be opposed to continuing to work his way up the ladder of command. “I would like to have an even bigger impact,” he says. 

Running The Club is a team sport

In the meantime, he is pleased with how things are going in his new position. “I’m pleasantly surprised to see how things are so easy,” he says. “The support I have from kids and families, I’ve earned respect throughout my years here so there has been no conflict.” Laroche mentions more than once that he is just part of a larger group committed to serving the kids. There is no room for anything that might diminish The Club’s mission. “This is a team effort. We all have to leave the politics behind and come here with the sole purpose to serve our kids,” he says. Despite his gentle manner and soothing accent, it is clear that nothing less than that will do.

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The Guitar Shoppe: A true Laguna Beach institution


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The Guitar Shoppe has stood on the corner of Fairview and PCH since 1972. Now expanded to four suites from its original one, it is an anomaly: an independent storefront that has managed to survive – even thrive – in a brutal retail climate. 

Finding an infinite “rabbit hole”

Owners Jim Matthews and Kirk Sand have owned The Guitar Shoppe since the beginning. Sand came to California from Illinois in 1972 to study classical guitar at the University of Redlands. Coincidentally, 1972 is the year Matthews opened the Guitar Shoppe (Sand joined as an owner in 1974). “I fell down that rabbit hole of guitar. Once you get the bug as a kid you pretty much don’t want to do anything else,” explains Sand.

He was a fixture at the local guitar shop in Illinois and learned much of the business there. When he first came to California he worked at the Fender Guitar Factory. Eventually, he found the Guitar Shoppe, and that was it.

Is that snow?

“I came to Laguna and walked down to Shaws Cove – remember, I’m from Illinois, everything is muddy bottoms and crawfish. When I saw that water I thought ‘I’m not going anywhere. This is my spot,’” remembers Sand. California was so delightfully foreign to him that he thought the “L” that sits in the hills above Laguna Beach High School, painted white at the time, was a patch of snow. 

Elvis and The Beatles are to blame

Matthews, on the other hand, was much more familiar with the ways of California. “I was an Air Force brat. I went to high school in Riverside and college in Long Beach,” he explains. 

We were on the path to finding out how he came to his involvement in The Guitar Shoppe when the conversation took a turn to Elvis. Sand is very gregarious. Matthews, on the other hand, is happy to let the conversation shift from him to another topic, especially if it’s music.

the guitar shoppe both

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Kirk Sand and Jim Matthews, owners of The Guitar Shoppe, work the counter

Elvis comes up quite a bit in our conversation. He and The Beatles feature prominently in the musical biographies of both men. “I wanted to be a Beatle. He wanted to be Elvis,” says Sand of his and Matthews’ early musical inspirations. ”You always want to be a rock star. I mean, let’s face it, most guitar players start because girls like it.” 

Matthews elaborates, “In the ‘50s it was Elvis. I got my first guitar. I didn’t know what I was doing. I got the knee moving, the sneer…” Sands interjects, “He has an incredible singing voice.” Matthews accepts the compliment, “Why, thank you.” It’s a brief exchange but it shows a little of how these two men have survived such a lengthy partnership: a deep amount of respect for one another mixed with a good sense of humor.

Rock star dreams give way to an incredible legacy

It is fortunate for guitar aficionados everywhere that the rock star thing ultimately didn’t pan out for these two. From their once small, now greatly expanded storefront, they have touched the lives of countless musicians, both known and unknown. 

A true School of Guitar, in all ways

“We have a “School of Guitar,” says Sand. “Not to brag, but we have some pretty incredible guitar players coming in here: Sting, Richie Sambora, Jose Feliciano.” Adds Matthews, “Some of our students have won Grammys.” 

Of course, the majority of students are not guitar gods. But whatever their level, the instructors at The Guitar Shoppe are total pros with a long history of teaching. “Two of our teachers, Randy and Peter, have been here for 40 years. We select our teachers. They have to be good teachers, not just good players. Randy has had students for 20 years!” says Sand proudly.

the guitar shoppe guitars

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There is something for everyone at The Guitar Shoppe, including custom guitars

The six studios were all full with students when we met. The shop was bustling with activity and there are guitars everywhere. The shop sells $10,000 guitars and $100 guitars. They even have private label guitars. This is how they have adapted to what has become the latest scourge. 

According to the partners there have been two big “storms” to hit their business. The first was the emergence of the big guitar stores like Guitar Center. The second, and latest, is a problem all retail stores, not just guitar shops, are having to contend with: e-commerce.

Adapting to the times to stay relevant

So, Sand and Matthews had to adapt. “Now, everybody is selling guitars,” laments Sand. However, one of the reasons The Guitar Shoppe survived the big store inundation is the same reason it is making a formidable stand against cheap guitars on the internet: service. 

It may sound cliché but, as Matthews explains, “Guitars aren’t like a VCR. They’re individual. Even guitars that are the same make and model can be different.” For that reason, everyone who works at The Guitar Shoppe must know their way around guitars. In fact, they all know how to build them. Because an important part of making guitars sound good is the set up, it’s something The Guitar Shoppe prides itself on. However, not every place that sells guitars offers that service. The big super stores would, for example, send their customers to The Guitar Shoppe for that service. Once their customer came in, they would almost never go back to the big store, and The Guitar Shoppe would gain another customer.

The importance – and enjoyment – of repairs

“I’ve always been heavy on repairs,” says Sand. “They’re paramount.” Matthews agrees, adding, “It’s a diversion. It’s enjoyable, for certain people, to work on guitars. They get the satisfaction of working with their hands. It makes some people happy.” Clearly, Matthews and Sands are those people. “There are always three to four guys working on guitars here,” says Sand.

Making a name in custom guitars

Taking the business of repairing guitars a step further, Sands began making custom guitars years ago. To date he has made 780, developing such a reputation he is back-ordered two years. He made guitars for Chet Atkins (“Mr. Guitar”) and that really jump-started his business. “When you make something for someone like Chet Atkins, everyone takes notice,” he says. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be rich and famous to order a custom guitar. “Just rich,” laughs Sand.

Making the most out of inexpensive guitars

And you don’t even need to be rich to buy a regularly manufactured guitar at The Guitar Shoppe. They sell their privately labeled guitars starting around $100. “We sell a lot more inexpensive guitars than expensive guitars,” says Matthews. “It’s kind of counterintuitive. We don’t recommend a beginner buy an expensive guitar. You have to become sophisticated to be able to know what you want.” 

And since Matthews and Sand know what they want, they say they “cherry pick” the inexpensive Chinese imported guitars they sell. Matthews says, “We make them better, and if you have a problem with it, we fix it.”

Not enough time for actual playing

All of this, the repairing, the custom making, the running of the store, means surprisingly little time for the thing that got them both in the business to start with. “I wish I had more time to play the guitar,” says Matthews. “I still love it. When I’m at home and I pick up the guitar I think, ‘Why don’t I do this constantly?’” Sand still manages to attend conferences like one for fingerstyle guitar, a la Chet Atkins. “It’s the rhythm and the melody at the same time. It’s like a mini-orchestra,” explains Matthews.

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The Guitar Shoppe manager and luthier Ben Wagner shows how it’s done

That is a very apt description. I can say that because during our interview Sand and Matthews called Ben Wagner, one of the managers, over, and asked him to play. He grabbed a guitar, sat down and played a lively yet extremely complicated song so effortlessly that even to my uneducated ears it sounded ridiculously impressive. This spawned a conversation about music from country (they are impressed with many of country’s new musicians) to rap (“How can you hum to that?!” wonders Matthews.).

Survival depends on creating an experience

In their 46 years, they have seen a lot of music trends, but people’s love for guitars has, thankfully, not wavered. “If we could have gone out of business, we would have,” laughs Sands. Matthews adds, “When we started we never looked that far into the future. Back then, five, six years is a long time when you’re young.” 

Now, they may not be quite so young, and 46 years through the lens of hindsight undoubtedly seems like the blink of an eye, but they’re still here. “If we can get through this current internet-thing…” sighs Matthews, “Stores like ours that create an experience will survive.” Judging by the number of people I saw coming and going through The Guitar Shoppe doors, he looks to be right.

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From Novelist to Ghostwriter to Stu News Editor:
Lynette Brasfield Prepares to

Take Another Leap of Faith


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Lynette Brasfield embraces the great unknown. Mysteries intrigue her, change excites her, and uncertainty inspires her. That kind of curiosity – coupled with a writer’s eye for detail, an editor’s ear for language, and an immigrant’s taste for adventure – make for rich writing. It also makes for a fascinating life. Lynette sees the world through a unique lens and has been sharing her perspective with Stu News readers for the past two and a half years. But, as with all good things, her time with the paper is coming to a close. 

From Novelist stained glass

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Decades before making her home here, 

Lynette fell in love with Laguna and now happily calls it home

Writers rarely relish the spotlight. They tend to be introspective. They observe and listen, scouting out stories and tracking down leads. Then they spend a lot of solitary time behind the screen, distilling all they’ve learned. Lynette is no exception. But today we have the chance to crawl behind Lynette’s computer and sit beside her for a while, hearing her own childhood tales, early influences, life’s surprises and hardships.

A South African diamond in the rough

Heat, pressure and time – the three necessary elements for producing South African diamonds. They’re also a potent combination for creating an artful writer. Born in Durban, South Africa in 1955, Lynette grew up under the heat of apartheid. “Blacks were not allowed to live in the same areas as whites,” she says. “It’s not like they sat at the back of the bus. They had an entirely separate bus.” It was like that for everything –

beaches, schools, even language. 

It wasn’t until the year before Lynette left for university that the government permitted televisions inside people’s homes. “As a teenager, I knew apartheid was a terrible, inhumane policy. But the government allowed no television and censored all news, realizing that the truth would whip up a bloody revolution. We knew by osmosis that bad things were going on. We didn’t know specifics. No excuse really. And I was caught up in my own dramas.” 

Apartheid wasn’t the only the silent, and somewhat benign, at least for white people, backdrop behind Lynette’s early life. The real war raged inside her home. Three months after her parents divorced, her father died of an unexpected heart attack at age 39, leaving behind little money and an ex-wife who suffered from mental illness, including paranoid delusions. Lynette was only nine. She and her sister found themselves trapped inside their mother’s escalating nightmare. 

From Novelist by gate

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Living now in the place of her dreams

“Most of my childhood was about survival,” she says. “All I ever did was go to school, lapping up the praise, the one area of my life I could control, and I read a lot. Escaping into books was my way of saving myself from home life.” 

While institutionalized for a short period of time, Lynette’s mother received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), an experience that only intensified her paranoia. “Every time she got a new job (she was a shorthand typist), she thought her bosses were taping her or putting drugs in her tea,” Lynette says. “There was a painting on the wall that she decided was causing hallucinations. So she would confront her boss and of course be fired.” 

Her mother believed the government was conspiring with family members against her, so her family members were banished from her life. She believed her light fixtures were bugged and Lynette’s friends were brainwashed. 

As a result, her mother was unable to hold a job and ran up mountains of debt. “I still remember the horror of waking up in the morning and realizing she wasn’t getting ready for work, which meant she’d been fired again.”

Lynette flourished once she escaped her childhood home with its poverty and paranoia. She attended Rhodes University in the Cape, emerging with a first-class Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History, and earned a graduate degree in English Literature from Natal University.

What came of those dark years was a love of reading and an appreciation for logic. “I kept trying to reason with my mother,” she says. “To this day, when something’s illogical, I feel this physical reaction and a need to fight against it.”

Life lessons, writing lessons, and “Nature Lessons”

Difficult childhoods are good fodder for fiction. Sometimes, the best way to process an impossible experience is to invent new characters, modify events, and find emotional truths in fiction. Thirty-five years after her father’s death, after a zig-zag career in fields including sales, teaching, and finally public relations, Lynette found her voice and began telling the story only she could tell.

Nature Lessons was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2003, astonishing readers with its emotional depth, complexity and honesty. The novel evolved from a short story, “Suits, Spines and Spikes.” “Nature Lessons refers to the way this little girl protected herself from her mother’s barrage, much like animals do. You either run away or put out your spikes.” Those instincts, Lynette says, stay with you for a lifetime. 

From Novelist Nature Lessons

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“Nature Lessons” was published in 2003 by St. Martin’s Press

Although Nature Lessons is her one published novel to date, Lynette never lost her love of the written word. “I’m naturally a writer who writes from experience,” she says. “Other novels I’ve worked on lack the authenticity of Nature Lessons, which was based on my life. It wasn’t easy to write, but there was a lot of great material there.” She pauses and laughs, “As a few would-be novelists have noted with some envy!”

After fiction, Lynette turned her experienced pen onto ghostwriting and, of course, journalism. 

Stu News: A chance to have her way with words

In 2016, Lynette brought all those lessons with her to Stu News. She began as an Associate Editor and, when editor and co-owner Stu Saffer was hospitalized in 2017, she moved to Managing Editor. By 2018, burned out from the demands of producing several original stories a week and editing many more, plus interviewing people and attending events, she scaled back to become Features Editor.

The job allows her to showcase her many passions – animals, nature, and travel to name only a few. An avid cat lover, Lynette highlighted the wonderful work of the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats. She’s profiled a pig, a therapy cat, and a feline movie star. She took readers with her on an Alaskan cruise, Utah’s Red Mountain resort, and to Chile, as well as countless local adventures and stay-cations. She meditates often on trees and hiking trails. She even gave of her face for the sake of a story, writing about her experience at Laguna Beach Aesthetics.

“Lynette is the epitome of grace and determination,” says staff writer Samantha Washer. “These qualities don’t always coexist, especially in an editor, but she’s that rare person that manages to make everything look easy.”

What readers may appreciate most is Lynette’s fantastic sense of humor. A lover of the pun, Lynette’s wit and intelligence elevate every story. “When she wrote her first stories for Stu News, I was laughing,” says Contributing Editor Maggi Henrikson. “I love her writing style and the sense of humor that works its way in.”

Tough topics ignite intrigue

For all of Lynette’s humor and whimsy, the deeper and more fraught themes seem to pique her interest – hidden pain, secret shame, and life outside the mainstream. When asked about her favorite projects over the past few years, some difficult topics appear as common threads: aging, homelessness, misunderstood religions and discrimination against sexual orientation. Sometimes several of these subjects can blend together at once. 

She toured two Orange County mosques with Hoffy Tours to gain a greater understanding of Islam. “What is it about Islam,” some participants wanted to know, “that breeds terrorism? How do women feel about wearing the hijab? How can women snorkel while maintaining their modesty?” Lynette never skims the surface in her work. She dives beneath, seeking answers to hard questions and accessing the hearts that lie below the stories. In other words, Lynette is a writer’s writer.

She’s sat down with homeless men to hear about their lives and look for concrete solutions to many of their common problems. She’s tackled discrimination issues against the aging LGBTQ community. In several of her stories, Lynette looked at the isolation that comes with aging, and wrote about how LifeLong Laguna, Laguna Seniors’ program, can help.

“There are no words to properly acknowledge or thank Lynette for her contributions to Stu News Laguna these past two and a half years,” says Shaena Stabler, Owner, Publisher, and Editor of Stu News. “It has been such a privilege to work side-by-side with her, in the trenches together, to put Stu News out and to honor Stu’s memory every day with what we do. Our readership has grown over 30 percent in the last year. Lynette has been critical to our growth.”

Global perspectives on local life

Lynette’s curiosity about the world also compels her love of travel, specifically travel that incorporates wildlife. During her time at the University of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), working as a library assistant, Lynette and a friend hitchhiked to Victoria Falls, a roughly 450-mile journey they took in the center of a civil war, not to mention a lot of lions. 

In the years that followed, she’s made her way through Turkey, Borneo, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Greece, Mexico, New Zealand and Patagonia. She’s spent time with family and friends in Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, Africa. She’s been to countless countries, and several U.S. States. 

It gives her perspective, an appreciation for other cultures, and leaves her in awe of all the hidden treasures tucked around the world. She’s swum in the Pastaza River, a tributary of the Amazon, along with pink dolphins and piranha. She’s seen the boiling mud pond in Rotorua that looked like a thousand brown frogs jumping. And she’s watched a mother hippo defend her son from an adult male in Ngorogoro Crater. The world, it turns out, is full of infinite wonders.

From Novelist books and boot

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Even a travel writer needs a few travel guides.

For all that travel, Lynette loves calling Laguna Beach home. She moved here from Irvine in 2013, and still celebrates the day every year. 

What lies ahead

What does life look like when ten more hours suddenly open up in your day? Lynette’s not worried. She has an exciting travel schedule planned – Death Valley this December, and Costa Rica next year. She looks forward to freelancing for a few publications, maybe doing some PR here and there, as well as teaching a fiction workshop this fall through the City of Laguna Beach’s Literary Laureate program. Her feet (usually clad in tennis shoes or hiking boots) rarely stop moving.

“For Lynette, nothing seems to be out of the realm of possibility,” says Associate Editor Dianne Russell. “She jumps into each new endeavor with enthusiasm, savvy, and an incredible amount of talent.”

Lynette also looks forward to more time with her husband, Bill. Married now for 22 years with four children between them (two sons who are both professors, for Lynette, and two daughters for Bill), family life keeps them both busy.

From Novelist and Bill

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Lynette and Bill Brasfield in their Laguna Beach home

The circuitous journey continues

Life’s road rarely runs straight. From her time in South Africa, it would have been impossible to predict the future – a lost girl trapped beneath a mentally ill mother’s thumb in a country full of oppression. Who would imagine she’d emerge so successful? Looking back, maybe it feels inevitable. 

Whatever treasures the future holds, they will be endlessly interesting and wholly authentic. We at Stu News, and the greater Laguna community, wish you well on your next leap, Lynette. We can’t wait to hear the stories!

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Kai Bond: Junior lifeguard grows up to be Captain of Marine Safety


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Captain Kai Bond says, “I started my career at eight.” 

And that’s not as much of an exaggeration as you might imagine. Even at such a young age, Bond had already developed a special attachment to the sea. That’s when he enrolled in Laguna’s Junior Lifeguard Program. Fast forward to 2018, and he’s now Captain of Marine Safety and has been employed by the City for 23 years. 

Although Bond wasn’t born in Laguna, he grew up here, and the ocean has always played a major role in his life, so the journey from Junior Lifeguard to Captain of Marine Safety isn’t unexpected, but it took a while. 

Love for the ocean started as a child

From the time he was a small child, Bond and his family spent a lot of time at the beach. He and his dad surfed at San Onofre and, of that time, he says, “I loved the ocean environment. Everything about it was exciting and fun. And the ocean is in a constant state of change.”

Bond participated in the Junior Lifeguard Program every year (from 8) until he was 15. I ask if there’s anyone from those days still around?

“Mike Guest,” he says. “He’s worked here for 40 years. He’s still out in the field making things happen.”

Logical step from Junior Lifeguard to Lifeguard

Not surprisingly, after the Junior Lifeguard Program, Bond tried out for lifeguard. “I was very excited about it. It was the natural next step. I found I had a passion for public service, I like to interact with the public, and I understand the beach is a place you’re supposed to have fun, but be safe.”

He was hired as a full-time lifeguard in 1995, and in June of 2006, he became an officer with Marine Safety. In November of 2017, he was appointed Captain of Marine Safety.

Kai Bond closeup

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Bond became Captain of Marine Safety in November of 2017

However, while growing up, he couldn’t spend all of his time in the water. 

Bond attended Top of the World Elementary, Thurston Middle School, and Laguna Beach High School. Then he continued on at Orange Coast College and Long Beach State, where he earned a degree in Film and Electronic Medium Management, which turned into being a production assistant on films. 

This work translated into long days in Los Angeles, but he was still deeply entrenched in Laguna. 

“I was commuting from Orange County to work. I always had a connection to both jobs. I would work a few days up in LA, then come back and lifeguard. There was never really a clear-cut separation. But I realized happiness was in location.” 

Happiness is in location

Currently, he lives in Laguna Hills with his wife Tonya, and daughters, six-year-old Ruby and five-year-old Penny. He met his wife through mutual friends, and although he excels in interacting with the public, he says, “It took four to five years to get up the courage to ask her out.”

With his new position as Captain of Marine Safety, comes a tremendous amount of responsibility – public service and education, overseeing lifeguards, interaction with City staff, contact with community members and visitors – there are many plates to keep in the air, and his training as a production manager serves him well. Because isn’t that exactly what production managers do, make sure everything is running correctly, and I mean everything? And the challenges are increasing.

Kai Bond inside tower

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View from the lifeguard tower

“The number of beachgoers is up, there has been a significant increase. We had 6,000,000 visitors last year,” Bond says.

That’s a substantial number of people to keep an eye on.

He continues, “There are a lot of factors that contribute to beach attendance. Laguna is a beautiful place to be, it’s a year-round resort. With the continuous building in Irvine, residents want to drive down the 133 and put their feet in the sand. It’s easy and fairly inexpensive. And social media is another big factor, people posting pictures and commenting, ‘come down to the beach, it’s beautiful.’”

Emphasis on safety

Of course, an increase in visitor attendance means an increased emphasis on safety, and that’s uppermost on his mind. As Watch Commander, Bond handles all the daily operations, critical rescues, and major medical situations. He oversees a minimum staff of 60 people, although he says, “We can bring on a few more depending on the conditions.”

Training is critical

“There is a huge emphasis on training. We are putting lifeguards out there without immediate direct supervision, and they have to perform at a very high level. They could be anywhere from Main Beach to an isolated area with rocks and reefs.”

Bond explains that they are on a continuous vigil without letup, constantly executing the “z scan.”

He expands, “Lifeguards scan the coastline by looking from the horizon to the beach in a “z” formation. This occurs in their area between their neighboring towers. I believe it gives beachgoers a sense of comfort to see that type of vigilance from a lifeguard.”

Additionally, they have rigorous criteria that must be met. Current lifeguards must requalify every year in order to return. They must be able to swim 1,000 meters in under 20 minutes and have recertification in CPR and first aid.

Kai Bond lifeguard

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Lifeguards scan coastline from the horizon to the beach in a “z” formation

Bond says, “My first day as a lifeguard was the longest day. I was nervous and hypervigilant. I’ll never forget it. Scanning for eight hours a day for a 16-year-old is difficult, but it gets better with more experience. We train to a very high standard.”

In addition to his operational duties, Bond also must attend a fair amount of administrative and City Council meetings, and he works closely with the Fire Department and the Police Department.

“I’m lucky to be able to interact with the Police and Firefighters and the City personnel. The people I work with make this job great. We have a lot of outstanding people here in the community,” he says. “I’m very fortunate to be a part of this community and to work with our city. Growing up during the time I did was definitely a privilege. My goal was to be in the Marine Safety Department. I’m honored and proud to be at this point in my life.”

Facing daily challenges 

It’s clear Bond loves his job.

“I get to work with great like-minded people in public service and safety. I’m fortunate to wake up every morning and want to go to work. I see every day as a new and exciting challenge.” 

What is his biggest challenge?

Bond says, ”We have more and more people every day, and the number is going to increase. This year has been different than in years past. People are coming at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. at night, which is the time they would usually be going home, and the crowds are staying a lot longer.”

The summer is now not the only busy time of year. “Spring breaks are at different times now, so the spring break is longer. It feels like summertime all year round.”

However, dealing with the public must be frustrating at times to lifeguards.

Bond says, “They learn to be very patient and direct if needed. Everything we do, and all of our actions, are based on public safety. And it’s difficult for a beachgoer to argue against the safety of the public. Hopefully, they understand that safety and the interest of the public are the lifeguard’s focus, and that they go hand-in-hand. Usually 99 percent of the time, beachgoers are compliant.”

Kai Bond with car

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Summer all year long now in Laguna 

Bond spends a considerable amount of time educating the public, and as result, he’s been to all the schools in town. He lectures on beach safety, and the kids are able to come to the lifeguard station as well for more interaction. 

His sister, Brett Dick, is a first grade teacher at Top of the World. Bond says, “One of the wonderful things I get to do in the education portion of my job is giving back. I got to read Dr. Seuss to her class. I sat in the same classroom that I had been in when I went there. It was a full circle moment.”

Other things have come full circle as well. Does Bond still surf? The answer is yes, and now he’s sharing his love for the ocean with his girls.

Viewing safety from a parent’s perspective

“Now, with my daughters, the big thing is family beach day. At their ages, they’re getting acclimated and in a comfort zone. They’re certainly enjoying the warm days and water. They’re starting to body board. It’s fun to see their first experiences in the water.”

Even though safety has always been prominent in his mind, he says, “It’s different now that I have little girls, it heightens the importance of preventing accidents. Being a parent gives me a different perspective.” 

When asked what’s the best part of his job, Bond says, “I’m always drawn back here, knowing that this was a community and organization where I wanted to work. I really love this career. It’s challenging mentally, and I love the physical aspects, especially making a critical rescue with a good outcome. And I get an opportunity to train staff and see them execute critical rescues as well. That’s why we’re here.”

Given the number of people flocking to our beaches, ensuring their safety appears to be a Herculean task, but if anyone can do it, it’s Captain Bond and his staff of lifeguards. 

Without a doubt, the journey from Junior Lifeguard to Captain of Marine Safety took some time, but it appears as if Bond was destined for this position from his very first swim in Laguna waters.

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Discovering What Lies Beneath: Festival of Arts Exhibitor Kathy Jones Trains Her Gaze on Hidden Delights


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

As a kid, Kathy Jones lived inside her imagination. Convinced that a secret button existed behind her bedroom wallpaper that could open a portal to another place, she peeled the paper off the wall. “My mother wasn’t happy about that,” she says. Neither was Kathy when she discovered nothing more than plaster and drywall.

Certain that tiny singers lived inside her family’s radio, Kathy stared at the back of the box and waited for them to come out.

You can write these anecdotes off as youthful fantasy and an active imagination. Or you can see them as early signs of an artist’s mind at work. A few tiles in the mosaic of one woman’s creative worldview – one that is complicated and concealed, the surface never what it seems. 

Discovering What closeup

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Kathy Jones, painter, has exhibited at the Festival of Arts since 2000

Seven decades later, Kathy’s curiosity hasn’t waned. She continues to be drawn to discovery and delighted by surprise. Compelled to keep pulling back life’s wallpaper, her work always attempts to discover something deeper and more fundamental to the human experience. “If a piece doesn’t surprise me in some way,” Kathy says, “you’ll never see it.”

An early appreciation for art

Kathy’s father was a newspaperman. His job took their family from the Bay area, where Kathy was born, to southern California while he worked first for Hearst and then for Norman Chandler at the LA Times

Newspapers gave Kathy access to some early tools of her trade. Her father brought home giant sheets of newsprint and Eagle drafting pencils. “I drew princesses and fantasy landscapes for my animals,” she says. She carried that love of art with her to Stanford University. 

“I’m a restless human being,” says Kathy. “When I had to declare a major my junior year [at Stanford], I thought ‘Why don’t you just handcuff me?’” While she studied drawing, printmaking and sculpture, she majored in French. Why? Because after studying abroad her sophomore year, she’d already taken the required courses. That freed her to explore every whim that interested her – from journalism to Middle Eastern history – any class was possible. 

That early curiosity across disciplines, and her willingness to take intellectual risks, still infuses everything Kathy does. It’s reflected in her art, in her eclectic Laguna Canyon home, in her career in academia, and in her rich friendships. While curiosity may have begun as an innate trait, she’s known how to feed it in various ways throughout her life. It continues to pay dividends.

The trips of the trade

Kathy credits her time abroad for informing much of her work today. Living in France and Germany played an important role in her development as artist and woman. But it was her two years in Egypt, in her early 20s, that transformed her thinking and influenced the lens through which she views the world. 

From 1964 to 1966, Kathy and her first husband lived in Cairo and spent time on the banks of the Red Sea. His work as research scientist and college professor took them to exotic locales. They trained around the perimeter of India, spent time in Saudi Arabia, but made their home in Egypt where Kathy taught art in the Cairo American College. “There was a sense of cultural adventure and cultural celebration,” says Kathy. That influence remains in her work today. “The textiles and the silver. The markets. Egyptian souqs had bags of spices and Turkish jewelry. It was all dazzling to me.”

Her work continues to be steeped in those vibrant colors. “Every painting is an unknown journey,” Kathy says. She’s carried that sense of adventure, those rich textures and tones, and that discovery of the unknown onto her canvases. 

An homage to women

Some years ago, Kathy became captivated by the work of Ernest J. Bellocq, who photographed New Orleans Storyville prostitutes in 1912. “His book always meant a lot to me. The respect and care Bellocq showed in these portraits always touched me. I wanted to pay homage to these girls.” So she created her own Storyville series.

Kathy came of age right before the feminist movement. “In college, only a couple of women went to medical school or law school.” Kathy says she was born between things – too late to be affected by WWII, too early to bear the full brunt of the Civil Rights movement and feminism. 

Her mother was a powerful influence, an Iris Apfel character, modeling Apfel’s fashion iconography and bold style. She owned a shop in Laguna, Townsend’s, specializing in gorgeous textiles and ornate beads. “She’d pair simple muslin pants and tops with incredibly beautiful jackets. Beads from all kinds of sources.” Kathy appreciated the ethnic celebrations in her mother’s work.

Kathy’s own two daughters carry on the legacy of strength. Hallie is the Executive Director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation. “Hallie is a reader and a writer,” Kathy says. “Meg is a maker. She’s always doing something cool. Tie-dying or making beads.” 

Discovering What girls

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Kathy with her daughters, Hallie and Meg

Kathy’s latest exhibit (on display now at the Festival of Arts) is called “In the Mood.” It reflects particular moments in her life and the feelings those moments evoke. Watching her daughters as women and mothers inspired some of this latest work. “One painting is the feeling I have when I watch my daughter and her adolescent girl begin to separate. Another is about watching the career choices my other daughter has to weed through.”

Women – whether strong and powerful, quiet and reflective, in positions of influence, or as steadfast mothers – are important to Kathy. She uses words like ‘homage’ and ‘respect’ more than once when speaking of the women in her life.

A room of her own

“You walk into an art studio and there’s this wonderful aroma,” she says. “And this sense of possibility.” 

Kathy keeps a space at the Laguna Canyon Artists’ Studios, which she’s had since the early 2000s. “The first time I wrote a check, it felt like an indulgence. I’m paying money for just a space to paint. Then I thought, ‘Wow!’ And I still have that feeling every time I walk in. This space means that these paintings are my paintings.”

Discovering What in studio

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An intimate look inside Kathy’s art studio in Laguna Canyon

Her space used to be a dance studio. It still has a giant mirror on one wall. Kathy uses the mirror as part of her process, looking ahead while painting and then, periodically, looking back at her work through the mirror to give herself a different perspective. “It’s an iterative process,” she tells me.

Kathy says the surfaces of her paintings need to be as important as the content. Texture is everything. “I like to see the artist’s hand in the work,” she says. “My paintings are about silence, solitude, space, and shadows – about the moments between actions. I paint people waiting, or gazing, or pausing, or moving from one place to another.” If a piece is working well, Kathy says her audience will feel inspired to bring their own history and stories to the work, making it a shared experience.

Business before art

Prior to devoting her time to painting, Kathy had a storied career in academia. She was the first female Vice Chancellor at UCI and a Vice President at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. After leaving Georgetown, she worked in management consulting and strategic planning consulting.

“To me, a well-run organization has structure, focus, and balance. That’s not different from a painting. There’s an organic whole to both of those.” Kathy says her experience as an artist influenced her management side, incorporating some sense of vitality and fun into the work. She was driven, and accomplished a great deal, but with a lot of joy, respect and civility that’s often absent in the business world.

The delights of aging

We talk about growing older, and the pressures time places on women. “I don’t mind getting older. It’s freeing,” she says. “I came to realize this life is finite. As a result, things matter more to me. You drop the petty stuff (not that I ever dwelled on the petty things anyway). But I recognize this is what it is, and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”

Kathy almost seems giddy talking about this time in her life, and the unexpected surprises that keep coming. “There was a period of time when I was younger and I looked at people my age. I thought they’d done everything. They had their kids, they had their career. There’s nothing new under the sun for them. And I was completely – 100 percent – wrong. That is so great!” 

The gifts of the Festival of Arts

Kathy has exhibited in the Festival of Arts since 2000. “Showing one’s work is hard,” she says. “Having to stand in front of it, talk about it, hear about it. It’s not where I wanted to go. But you have to put your foot in that puddle.”

Discovering What at FOA

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Kathy showing her work to a Festival visitor

From the Festival, Kathy has gotten clients and gallery connections. It’s given her authority to embrace the role of artist. “There’s also a sense of companionship and respect,” she says. “I’m touched by the support that artists give each other, and the joy they take in other people’s accomplishments.” 

I ask how she knows when a piece is finished. “Paintings talk to you like children. When you’re a mother, you’re always hearing, ‘Mom! Mom! Mom!’ When a painting stops yelling at you, you know it’s done.” 

Perfection is the enemy, Kathy tells me. You have to know when to let it go. “I never wanted to be one of those old women who was crushed by the weight of her paintings,” she says. Letting them out into the world seems a necessary part of her process.

Behind the next door…

Whenever people ask Kathy which piece is her favorite, she tells them it’s her next one. “The next one has infinite possibility. That gives me a sense of optimism.”

That seems to be Kathy’s best-kept secret: Never stop peeling back the wallpaper.

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Bella Nenadov: This young entrepreneur has things figured out


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Bella Nenadov is not afraid to take risks. She’s also not afraid of change. Both of these traits have served the 13-year-old Thurston Middle School student well since she arrived on the West Coast from Ohio three years ago. 

Immersing herself in foreign languages

Bella says her father’s job is the reason the family relocated. Originally, the family relocated to Laguna Niguel. But, Bella says, “My parents heard how good the schools were in Laguna Beach so we moved here the next year.” And Bella has taken advantage of Laguna’s schools, immersing herself in one of her passions: foreign languages. This September, when Bella starts 8th grade, she will take French and Spanish. Additionally, she says she is determined to teach herself Italian over the rest of her summer.

Embracing one of Laguna’s specialties: water polo

Another project Bella has taken on this summer is to become competent as a water polo goalie. She’d like to fill the position on the Laguna Beach 14 and under girls’ water polo team when the new season starts in September. “I want to be the B team goalie,” she says. She explains the current goalie moved on to high school so there is a position that needs to be filled. As a new recruit to the game (it’s not a big sport in Ohio), she has decided it’s her best chance to make a contribution. “We just got a pass to the pool so I will go and do drills. And my dad and brother will throw balls at me,” she says with a laugh. There is no mention of private lessons or clinics, instead she seems determined to master these skills on her own.

Known for her treats for both people and pooches

This self-determination doesn’t end at the pool. Bella came to our attention because she makes natural, homemade dog treats, in addition to baked goods for people, and sells them on the weekends at Moulton Meadows Park. Her schedule isn’t rigid, but she tries to set up her table at least every other weekend. Her treats, it seems, are quite a hit.

LLP Bella closeup

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Bella Nenadov is 13 with a reputation for baking exceptional treats

Her motivation for creating the dog treats was her own dog, a Yorkie-bichon. “They’re very picky,” she says. Her motivation for creating her human treats was herself. “I love cupcakes,” she says smiling. “My favorites are probably blueberry-lemon or raspberry-lemon. I go outside of the box, but not crazy.”

Besides selling to her neighbors, Bella has fans who work for the city, too. “There was this one city workman who bought some cupcakes ands granola. Then he got on his radio and said, “Guys! You’ve gotta come down here!” says Bella. Her mom Jessica adds, “It was a treat for everyone. They enjoyed it and they made Bella feel really good.”

An entrepreneur who keeps it in the family

While Bella has taken ownership of her baking, it has been a family affair. She says her mom is an “amazing” baker, but credits the idea for selling her treats to her dad. “He’s in business. He said, ‘Bella, you could be an entrepreneur.’” She took his words to heart. Her younger brother also has a key position. “He’s my little publicist,” she says.

LLP Bella working

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Bella in action, carefully creating her delicious dog treats

Using her profits for another Laguna specialty: surfing

The success of her venture allowed her to set a goal for her profits: surf camp. The Ohio native wanted to learn how to surf. “I told my mom and dad that I wanted to do surf camp and that I was going to pay for it.” So she did. And while learning to surf wasn’t easy, the idea of giving up was never entertained. “It’s always better when you work for it because you stick with it,” she explains.

A surprisingly sound business philosophy for a 13-year-old

Despite all she has going on, Bella has plans to grow her business. “I want it to be pretty big,” she says. “I want to spread it to our city.” She plans to continue her sales at least every other weekend (water polo schedule permitting) when school resumes. She has an email address for orders: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., but after that she plans on just seeing what happens next. Her business strategy is relatively simple. “Just keep working hard. Have that mindset and always be patient. And be willing to put yourself out there,” she explains.

LLP Bellas treats

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One of Bella’s finished products

She offers such wisdom in a very matter-of-fact way. She is only 13, after all, so she has no idea how unusual her commitment to her goals is. Of course, her mom knows. “She’s very courageous. It’s amazing to watch. She is very inspiring for others. And she has a good voice for being courageous.” 

She is also a great example of just doing it because you want to. When she set up her table at Moulton, she had no idea how many people, if any, would show up. “At first you think no one is going to come. And then, later, some people come, and then more people come. You just have to wait it out,” explains Bella. Hard work, faith and patience are key ingredients to success. For Bella, it’s just one more recipe she has managed to perfect in a very short amount of time.

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Brittany Charnley: Hometown girl and blogger carries on Laguna traditions in a cool hip mom way


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If readers recognize Brittany Charnley from her picture, it’s no surprise. From the moment she arrived here with her family as a two-year-old, she began a life-long (though she’s only 29) love affair with Laguna. It’s next to impossible to mention an activity offered in the city in which she hasn’t participated or a place at which she hasn’t worked or volunteered. The connections are as varied as they are endless, and as a result, Brittany is deeply embedded in Laguna’s culture, and it in her.

Her emotional ties to the City brought her back to Laguna after graduating from Pepperdine University in Malibu with a degree in Public Relations. But why return when so many young adults want to leave their hometowns, especially when the cost of living here is exorbitant? 

Love affair begins

Brittany says with obvious affection, “I love Laguna and the hometown feel.”

And it goes without saying, a big draw is that her parents are still nearby.

Although she wasn’t born here, she doesn’t remember living anywhere else. Her introduction to the City began after her parents, Michelle and Sam Clark, moved here from Denver with toddler Brittany and her older sister in tow. At that point, her dad’s career in the Navy had ended, and he went into equipment leasing. Her mother Michelle worked in Laguna’s Waste Management Department for 20 years and was also very involved with the Chamber of Commerce. 

Brittany Charney closeup

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This hometown girl loves her town

Brittany’s kinship to the town can be credited to her parents. Due to their busy careers, they put her in numerous programs and activities, and that’s when her relationship with Laguna began to form. She attended Anneliese Preschool, then went on to Top of the World and then Thurston, and graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 2007. 

During those years, she was a member of the Boys & Girls Club, winning the Member of the Year Award in 1999 (which means she’s always a member). She credits LBBGC with her love for sports. 

“That’s where I learned to play pool, and I’m a good player,” she says.

Also active in basketball at LBBGC, the high school basketball coach saw her playing and recruited her for the LBHS team. She ran track in high school as well, and participated in soccer, but it conflicted with basketball, so she had to make a choice, and basketball won. 

With the support of her parents, she excelled. Brittany says, “Although they worked, my parents attended all of my sporting events.”

No grass grew under her feet

Apparently, as a child, she was rarely idle. Her parents kept her busy, very busy, making sure she was jumping into all Laguna had to offer. Brittany joined Brownies and Girl Scouts, and also took dancing lessons at the community center (before it became Susi Q).

In 1996, when she was in first grade, she appeared in the painting “Sunday Morning” at Pageant of the Masters and made the cover of the program. Her mother was a volunteer backstage, working on headdresses. 

Brittany adds that Festival of Arts artist Michael Obermeyer appeared in the painting as her dad.

Although not during consecutive years, Brittany appeared five times in the Pageant, and then worked as an usher for a year. 

Brittany Charnley with family

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Kent, Blake, and Brittany enjoy a day in the park

The ties to the artistic community don’t stop there. From age 15-25, she worked summers at the Sawdust Festival at the Taco Bowl and Thasos restaurants. (Through the years, she’s also worked at other places around town: House of Big Fish, Nirvana Grille, and The Marine Room.) 

At the Sawdust, she came to know many of the exhibitors, and one in particular who played a pivotal role in Brittany’s important life events. A long-time Sawdust exhibitor, Mary Hurlbut, Stu News staff photographer, took Brittany and her husband Kent’s engagement and wedding pictures. And the ceremony was, where else, but at Hotel Laguna. 

For Brittany, it seems everything happens here in Laguna. She even met her husband Kent, who’s from Michigan, at Ocean Brewery. He’s worked all around town as well: Big Fish, zpizza, Banzai Bowl, and the Montage.

Creating a sense of community online with

In 2017, Brittany found a way to incorporate this hometown feel into a wonderful and beneficial enterprise. Last year, she launched her blog as a resource for parents and to create a sense of community among mothers and families in Orange County. Even before her two-year-old daughter Blake was born, Brittany had questions – What should I pack for the hospital? What about playgroups? How should I be feeling? – and nowhere to get answers from her peers.

In a sense, blogging is a way of alleviating isolation, and the response has been overwhelming. And although she wanted to be a television reporter when she was younger, she can now use this desire for reporting and storytelling in her blog posts.

“The response has been all positive,” says Brittany. “I’ve had no negative comments.”

Its focus is multi-faceted: Motherhood, Disneyland, Laguna Beach, and family fun. But it also includes social commentary and technology news. A few of the recent blogs topics have been: The Ultimate Kid Friendly City Guide to Laguna Beach, 12 Things You Must Do at the OC Fair with Your Toddler This Summer, LA Dance Project’s OC Debut, and One Hope and Global Genes’ New Wine Collaboration Helps to Support Rare Disease Patients. 

Brittany Charnley jumping

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Brittany jumps for joy in her new endeavor, OC Lifestyle and Mom Blog

The concept to initiate a blog came in a roundabout way. After Brittany became a mother, she met with a visiting college friend who mentioned, “You’re literally the same person. You haven’t changed.”

Brittany’s response was surprise, as if why wouldn’t I be? She admits, “There’s a misconception about how mothers are supposed to act. We can just be who we are, and I want to inspire and encourage moms to remain who they are.”

Much like her parents during her childhood, Brittany and Kent are now busy as well with their careers. She works full-time as the Director of Marketing for a private Christian school (with four campuses) in Yorba Linda. Kent is A/R Business Office Associate (in Finance) at Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa.

Passing on family traditions

Although Brittany’s blog is named “the cool hip mom,” she admits that’s not a self-proclaimed title, however, it seems a role she fits to a “T.” She’s already instilling in Blake a sense of community and tradition. Her daughter is attending the Anneliese Preschool just as Brittany did, and no doubt will go to the same elementary, middle, and high school, possibly even have the same teachers. 

Brittany says, “Many of the same teachers I had are still in the district, although they may have changed schools.”

Like Brittany, Blake also goes to Hospitality Night (Brittany holds fond memories of the karaoke at Hobie Surf Shop), park concerts, and the Patriots Day Parade in which Brittany rode on various floats during the years. 

Brittany Charnley walking

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Laguna will be home to old and new family traditions

The connections are endless.

Her parents are friends with Kelly Boyd, and she remembers spending the Fourth of July celebrations at the Boyds’ home. 

However, many young adults who were raised here and have good memories have moved away. (Her older sister now lives in Las Vegas.) So how many grads in Brittany’s high school class have stayed here or come back? 

After attending her 10-year LBHS reunion last year at the Hotel Laguna, Brittany says, “Many have stayed here, some are vendors at the Farmers’ Market or have other endeavors in town.” 

It’s not difficult to label Brittany a hometown girl; she knows this town inside and out. Yet even in her short 29 years, she’s witnessed changes. 

“I understand that the town must cater to tourists,” she says, “But the vibe still flourishes, and the City has stayed true to the heart of hometown, local feeling.”

She agrees that it’s a perfect place to raise her daughter, “The public schools are like private ones, and you can walk everywhere, and there are so many activities outside.”

A new generation grows up in Laguna

What wonderful traditions Brittany’s parents have passed on to her, and which she, in turn, will pass on to her daughter.

Her mother Michelle says, “We were super excited when Brittany decided to come back to Orange County and start her career and family. It brings us such joy and brings back the memories when we pick up our granddaughter from preschool.” 

Brittany says, “As my daughter grows up, I hope that the family atmosphere and spirit of community remains in Laguna and that she grows up to see how unique the
town truly is!”

Although Brittany may not claim to be a “cool hip mom,” from all accounts, she certainly appears to be. After all, she’s raising another hometown girl who, no doubt, will love Laguna just like her mom.

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Amy Eidt Jackson: Painter, teacher and tree hugger


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Amy Eidt Jackson says she did not know the alphabet when she entered first grade. This, despite her mother, a teacher, working diligently with her. “It was miserable for me,” she recalls. The thing that saved her was art. “I had an amazing art teacher. I excelled there. It was the only thing that gave me self-esteem as a child.” 

Finding confidence through art

Jackson managed to slog through elementary school to make it to a seventh interview with Harvard and an acceptance to Smith College. She decided to attend the University of Massachusetts for economic reasons. Clearly, whatever plagued her in her younger years she grew up to conquer. But it was art in those early years that gave her enough confidence to persevere.

10 years at the Sawdust Festival

Now in her 10th year of exhibiting her paintings at the Sawdust Festival, it is clear that the importance of art to her life has not diminished. In addition to exhibiting her paintings she also teaches art to children and adults, has a history of involvement with the Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, and other local arts organizations. 

LLP Jackson close up

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Amy Jackson, artist, educator and Laguna Beach resident

The fact that she is an exhibiting painter with her works in galleries in Los Angeles and Vence, France, where, Jackson tells me, Matisse retired, may seem like an obvious outcome for someone to whom art was such a salvation. However, her path to becoming an artist took some time.

Becoming an “artist” was not a goal out of college

Jackson studied art history, economics and fine art in college. She made a conscious choice not to become “an artist” because, she says, “I didn’t want to suffer.” After she graduated, the Massachusetts native spent time in Italy and England where she decided that being an art dealer would combine her talents and interests. Then her parents relocated from Massachusetts to Mission Viejo.

Mission Viejo is definitely not Laguna

Feeling like she was losing contact with her family, Jackson came west, too. Knowing that Mission Viejo was not going to win over their daughter’s heart, her parents took her to Laguna Beach and told her that it was Mission Viejo. That ruse didn’t last long, but blood is thicker than water and Jackson stayed anyway.

The Laguna Art Museum is the genesis of many lasting things

Eventually, Jackson moved to the real Laguna and got involved with the Laguna Art Museum. She met her husband on a blind date set up by friends she’d met at the museum. “It’s the genesis of a lot of great art programs as well as my marriage,” says Jackson of the museum with a laugh. 

Despite her involvement with the museum, Jackson’s career at the time was in interior design. By happy accident, Irene Updike, a well-known designer at the time and now a very well known author and speaker about the Holocaust, was her mentor. “It wasn’t my dream,” says Jackson of being a designer. “So I didn’t care about it. That made it really easy to succeed. As an artist I find it very difficult to sell my own work because it’s so important to me.”

Her children lead her to teaching art

When the third of her four children was born, Jackson stepped away from designing. This allowed her the time to begin painting in earnest. Her children got her involved in teaching art. She began working in their El Morro classrooms with a “Meet the Masters” program. When she moved her youngest child to the CLC program at Top of the World she began teaching there. Eventually, she says she was asked to step down. “I was too messy and unstructured,” she says with a shrug.

LLP Jackson studio

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Amy Jackson at work in her backyard studio

Surrounded by artists around her Laguna Beach home, Jackson credits them with motivating her to begin exhibiting at the Sawdust. “I have always loved the feel of the Sawdust and what it is about,” she says. She was painting on her own and very involved with LPAPA. “I was selling a lot of my work and I wanted a gallery space that was mine.” Taking a booth at the Sawdust checked all of those boxes.

Several years ago, Jackson began teaching art again, this time at St. Catherine’s in Laguna. “They wanted a more creative art program,” she says. Her program, called “Art Studio Education,” turns the classroom into an art studio. “I teach the kids the tools to express how they feel,” she says.

Teaching is a give and take

She takes her job as a teacher very seriously, even though it is very time consuming and cuts into her personal painting time. “It takes away,” she admits. “But it also gives back.”

Jackson will be teaching two classes at the Sawdust this summer. The first one, “The Language of Landscape Painting” is a color theory class that will be held this Wednesday. 

A love for Laguna’s trees leads to a stylistic shift in her painting

While Jackson is known as a plein air painter, her style has evolved over the last few years. She credits her newfound passion for saving Laguna’s trees with helping her transformation to a more abstract style. “It’s interesting that my interest in trees brought me to paint horizons and not trees,” she says laughing. 

She has an ambitious plan for helping save Laguna’s trees. Jackson wants to organize a “tree hugger” event. “One of my biggest passions is to have a paint-off of our beautiful trees. We can sell the paintings to buy plaques to present to people who have a heritage tree on their property. I’m hoping to do this next year,” she says enthusiastically.

LLP Sawdust booth

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Amy Jackson’s booth at the Sawdust holds a good representation of her work

More ambitious plans for art education

For now, Jackson has her hands full manning her booth at the Sawdust, teaching her classes and making plans to open an art school at her Back Bay studio. “I’m looking to create art studio education in Back Bay, but I’m also looking to foster more creative arts programs in schools.”

And, of course, she will continue to paint. Influenced by Matisse and Wolf Kahn, as well as street art, Jackson says, “I want my art to be something that speaks to people and gives them joy. I know that sounds trite, but I want everyone to recognize their own voice. A lot of people have started paining at my encouragement,” she says. And it’s easy to see why. 

While Jackson certainly knows the “rules” of painting, she is definitely not bound by them. Her methods may be “messy” and “unstructured,” but isn’t that the fun of it all?

“Art has that magic ability to turn places around,” she says. What it can do for places, it can also clearly do for people. 

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Master of the Pageant? That would be Diane Challis Davy, long-time director of the show


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Diane Challis Davy’s mind must work like a carefully curated museum. If we could wander around inside, I imagine we’d find vast halls filled with classic paintings, marble sculptures, antique clocks, and art deco furniture. Chamber music might swell at any moment – maybe a minuet or an occasional Beach Boys song. I picture long corridors of mental rooms where costume makers sew taffeta gowns, makeup artists apply their magic, and set designers paint every blade of grass with precision. Diane, known as “Dee Dee” or “Dee” amongst associates and friends, has not only been the director and producer of the Pageant of the Masters for 23 years, she’s been the visionary, the overseer, and its chief cheerleader.

The longest running director in the Pageant’s 85-year history, and one of only a small handful of women in that role, Dee imprinted both her vision and passion on the Pageant and made it utterly her own. “I can think of no one more perfect for the position,” says Dan Duling, the 38-year veteran scriptwriter for the Pageant. “She grew up in Laguna, studied theatre and art, volunteered in the Pageant, learned all she could about every aspect of theatre during her education at Laguna Beach High and later CalArts, and proved herself capable behind the scenes at the Pageant, mastering every facet of production.”

It takes a unique personality, and a complicated mixture of skills, to wear so many simultaneous hats and wear them all equally well. Dee has mastered the art.

LLP dee dee

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Diane Challis Davy, aka Dee Dee, aka Dee

The art of organizing art

The notion of orchestrating the Pageant around a chosen theme was Dee’s brainchild. Prior to her involvement, the show was simply an assemblage of random pieces of art produced by “masters.” The only exception was the 1976 Bicentennial show. That show, its theme and its organizational structure, inspired Dee. Now the theme is selected more than a full year in advance. In fact, “Time Machine” has already been announced as the 2019 theme.

“It’s been a godsend for writing and researching the show, as well as for marketing each year as being fresh and worth coming back to see what’s next,” says Duling. “I think of it as looking at art through different prisms, and sometimes being able to re-approach a piece we’ve done before but from such a different angle and storytelling perspective that it feels brand new.”

So when Malcolm Warner, Executive Director of the Laguna Beach Art Museum, approached Dee last year to suggest the Pageant commemorate the Laguna Beach Art Association’s 100th anniversary, the spark for this year’s theme ignited. “Dee was very interested in our 1930s model of the original LBAA art gallery, and worked hard to include it in the program,” says Janet Blake, Curator of Historical Art at the Laguna Art Museum. “It’s a great tribute to the LBAA, which we really appreciate.”

LLP lineup of scenes

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Dee surveys the lineup of scenes for the Pageant

In many ways, Dee’s role seems as much curator as director. “I see a curator as a catalyst, generator and motivator,” Hans-Ulrich Obrist, art historian and critic, once said. “A sparring partner…and a bridge builder, creating a bridge to the public.” I don’t know if Dee would agree, but decades of sold-out shows suggest she’s built innumerable bridges.

Making the magic happen

How does Dee do it, year after year? “You have to be aware and open to new ideas,” she says. “With Google, it’s easy to dream on different subjects, and easy to do research. In the 1980s and early ‘90s, it was a lot of trekking to the library.”

Once she settles on a theme, a group of volunteer research committee members begin their annual competition for selecting the pieces of work. They take the theme title and start making suggestions. “It’s a competitive game we play, the 80 to 100 people who sign up to make recommendations vie to get their work in the show.” Dee holds a “show and tell” meeting in September, allowing every member to argue their case for a piece of art. 

“Dee and I have the most fun…when we start kicking ideas around, daring each other to try things we’ve never tried before, looking for as fresh a variety of elements as we can,” says Duling. “We put things on the board, rearrange them endlessly, the reject pile gets bigger and bigger, and just when we think we’ve come up with a great show with a beginning, middle and end, we pick it apart and make it even better.” 

“Hundreds of images are emailed,” says Dee. “They have to be analyzed based on whether they will be presentable on the stage, whether they can be reproduced.” Then they must be sequenced. “We like to move the show from side stage to roof to garden. We make a program that has movement and good pacing.” 

Selections are made in late October, and the launch party occurs in November. By January, the cast is selected and rehearsals are underway every Thursday evening (rain, shine, wind or frigid air) until the Pageant debuts in June. “June is panic time,” Dee says. “We rehearse like mad. We bring in the professional orchestra and rehearse four times with them.”

The surrounding neighborhood always gets a sneak peak. “They heard music by the Beach Boys this year and got pretty excited,” she laughs.

The importance of surprise

The goal is to keep the show fresh, interesting and exciting. That might mean a gondola floating into the audience, an unexpected ambush by Native American Indians, or a horse galloping across the stage. The audience should expect something new, year after year.

And, because it’s live theater, anything can happen at anytime. Surprises aren’t always reserved for the audience. Once, a skunk wreaked havoc in the orchestra pit. More recently, a posse of raccoons fought so loud in the bushes, it became a significant distraction. Then there were those “privacy patches” that failed to adhere. And a marble sculpture who fell from his perch and was forced to crawl off stage. Of course there’s always the child actor who wiggles or giggles. 

“These are some of the audience’s favorite moments,” says Dee.  Of course, she’s right. Art is best when it’s fun, and even better when it’s unpredictably funny. When art is relatable and human, full of frailties, vulnerabilities and surprises, the audience feels as much participant as observer. They know they’re seeing something unique and special, just for them.

llp boat scene

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The audience loves to see the secrets behind the “living painting” – this one is "Catching Fish at the Beach" by Franz A Bischoff

And, of course, context is everything. “Dee and I share a deep fascination with the psychology of time and the paramount importance of context,” says Duling. “Context can make a tragic image funny, a comic motif painfully sad, a failed life a personal success, a simple gesture a life-changing moment.”

If you build it, they will volunteer

The Pageant of the Masters has operated under the philosophy, “If you build it, they will come” for 85 years. Not only does the amphitheater sell out night after night, but the volunteer staff grows year after year, swelling now to over 500 members. Of an original pool of 1,300 in the initial casting call, only 450 people are chosen. A full two-thirds are turned away. There are two rotating casts of roughly 150 people each, as well as substitutes and understudies.

“Volunteer sign-ups have continued to grow during Dee’s tenure,” says Duling. “The volunteer research committee was once a handful of folks looking to take part in the earliest stages of the creative process. Now it numbers over 100 members. This is all because Dee knows that the more involved people are, the more the show’s success will mean to all involved. She leads by enthusiasm, example and a superhuman work ethic. And she does it with grace, style and a wicked sense of humor.”

I ask Dee what contributes to this enthusiasm. “It’s the cachet of being at the beach in Laguna. It’s tradition. Plus people are fun backstage,” she says. “They love to meet lifelong friends. Generations of families participate – little kids and grandparents. It’s a generational mix and people just love to be there.” 

Dee met her own husband during the show. In the early 1980s, Steve Davy came as a guest of local photographer Rick Lang. He met Dee backstage and then, a second time, when Dee entered his antique shop to have a Chinese screen repaired. They began dating then, and went on to have their only son, Tommy Davy. 

How frequent are those marriages and connections at the Pageant? Dee laughs. Two years ago, Dan Duling did an entire article for the souvenir book on the many connections forged at the Pageant.

The enduring gifts of Dee and the masters

Dee has a ribbon of nostalgia that runs right through her core. She recently moved into the apartment over her father’s old art gallery. The Patriots Day Parade is her favorite annual event, along with the Pageant of the Monsters (held once every five years). “I’m really into the nostalgic local traditions,” she says. 

I suspect that streak plays a critical role in her success. Along with her love for theater, art and costume design, Dee’s passion for connecting the audience to the past, as well as fostering lifelong bonds within the community, is what makes the Pageant both emotional and beloved, whether one is spectator, cast or crew. 

“This is where we live,” says Duling. “In a theatre of art, telling stories abetted by surprising, original music, and using stage illusions to reveal what the Pageant has always been about at its core: a testimonial to art’s inclusiveness, the belief that it has something for all of us. Endlessly simple, mind-bogglingly complex.”

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, Lynette Brasfield, 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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