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Sue Kempf: Ready to get to work for Laguna


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

People move to Laguna Beach for all sorts of reasons. In Sue Kempf’s case, it started with traffic and volleyball. With her job in Irvine and her home in San Diego, the hour drive through traffic, back and forth each way, every day, was unsurprisingly taking a toll. It was during this time that Kempf also sat on the Board of the Women’s Professional Volleyball Association (WPVA). A former collegiate player from Indiana University, Kempf would stop and visit a friend who lived in Laguna when she had WPVA meetings. “I was tired of driving and I said ‘I’m moving to Laguna.’” In 1999 she did.

City committees lead the way to City Council

Kempf continued her work in systems and software engineering when, in 2010, the City launched the Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee. Kempf chaired the committee for three years. “It was just something I had an interest in,” she explains. “We’re a fire prone city, and we hadn’t really been doing anything like that.” Kempf’s interest in disaster preparedness was undoubtedly heightened by the Berkeley fires in 1991. “I was working in Berkeley during those fires. 25 people died in their cars. That got my attention,” she explains. The recent devastating fires in California have only helped highlight the committee’s important work.

Sue Kempf close up

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Sue Kempf, one of Laguna Beach City Council’s new members

From that committee, Kempf was asked to participate in the View Preservation Task Force, another City committee where passions can run high. “We visited a lot of people,” says Kempf. “It was a good experience and we put together an extremely good ordinance.” Little did she know that these experiences were the start of her political career.

A hard pass eventually becomes a yes

That became evident pretty quickly when Bob Whalen and Kelly Boyd invited her to breakfast. It was not a social call. They asked her if she would consider running for City Council. “I said, ‘Ooooh no,’” laughs Kempf. “Then more and more people started to ask me. I just decided to go with it.” She says she’s not a natural politician, but she threw her hat into the ring. “I was in it to win,” she says, spoken like the collegiate athlete she once was.

And win she did. When Kempf and I met, she’d known the results for several weeks. However, she said it took that long for her victory to sink in. “I was very tired. For three days, I didn’t go out of my house (after the election). You have a few days where you wait for the vote totals. This is the first week that it hit me that I won.”

It turns out campaigning is not all that fun

As for campaigning, it’s probably no surprise to learn that Kempf found it trying. “Self promotion is very difficult. You get pretty tired of talking about yourself,” she says. “It’s challenging.” Nevertheless, she managed to stay true to what she believes is a respectable – and effective – way to conduct a campaign. “Be yourself. Don’t engage in negative politics. Be prepared to defend your reasons. Don’t cast your fellow competitors in a bad light. Talk to as many people as you can, and be a good listener.”

Sue Kempf at Heisler

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Sue Kempf visits one of Laguna Beach’s true treasures, Heisler Park

With the victory clinched, I wondered if there were parts of the campaigning experience that were better than she’d thought they would be. “None of it was better than I thought,” she says wearily. “It was all worse. The last three weeks, it always seems to kind of devolve in every election. That happened here as well. I think, most unnecessarily.” 

A linear approach to work

Despite the bruising nature of the election, now that it is behind her, Kempf is excited to get to work. “I’m very linear about doing the work,” she explains. “What we want to work on and how we want to work on it is interesting to me. I have been successful in business, and I hope to be successful here as well.” And there are a lot of things to work on.

Open to changing the rules to encourage new business

However, identifying the issues is not the hard part, coming up with workable solutions is. Recognizing that, Kempf says she is open to making changes. “Our rules prevent us from getting new, interesting businesses. We’re going to have to change that,” she says. 

Sue Kempf sitting

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Sue Kempf taking a break at Heisler Park before she begins her first term on the City Council

The silent majority is alive and well

And while she didn’t really enjoy campaigning, she did find parts of it to be valuable. “You learn a lot about the community. There’s a large, silent majority that doesn’t come to the City Council meetings. But they’re paying attention. It was really good to talk to those people.”

Going forward as a new City Council member, Kemp says she’d like to continue hearing from as many people as possible. “I’m an objective and open-minded person. I’m also an open door kind of person. I hope we can have a Council that doesn’t listen to the same 10 people.”

The golf course will have to wait

Kempf retired from her software career in 2017. At the time she thought about just indulging in her favorite past time. “People said, ‘You can’t just play golf every day!’ and I thought, ‘Why can’t I?!’” she recounts laughing. But duty called, and now her full immersion on the fairways of El Niguel Country Club will have to wait for at least four more years.

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Sally’s Fund: A homegrown lifeline to seniors


“The bridge between isolation and community” is how Rachael Berger, Sally’s Fund managing director, describes the work her organization does for seniors in Laguna Beach. You’ve undoubtedly seen the cars with the Sally’s Fund logo driving around town. The group’s mission is to provide transportation and other essential services for Laguna Beach seniors to enhance the quality of their lives. Note the words “other essential services.” These words are what set Sally’s Fund apart from a transportation service like Uber or Lyft, and also what makes it a vital part of Laguna’s community fabric.

It only takes a few people to make a big difference

The group was founded in 1982 when several local community members realized how many seniors were being forced into institutional living because of a lack of transportation. Walter von Gremp, one of those founding members, was moved to take action after reading stories in the local paper detailing the struggle some of his neighbors had while trying to stay in their homes. 

Another key member of this new group was Liz Gapp. Gapp volunteered her time and her station wagon. However, it didn’t take long for the demand to exceed what she could do on her own. Realizing the need was even greater than initially thought, Walter von Gremp and his wife Ann provided “significant financial support” to the organization, which was able to hire some part-time employees as a result. This new, more formal organization became Sally’s Fund, named in honor of Walter von Gremp’s mother.

Sallys Fund von Gremps

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Ann and Walter von Gremp were instrumental in starting Sally’s Fund. Ann von Gremp is treasurer of the organization.

Amazingly, 36 years later, Liz Gapp is still a vital part of Sally’s Fund, as is Ann von Gremp. Sadly, Walter von Gremp’s health prevents him from being as active as he once was. Nevertheless, the group is as vibrant as ever.

A new hire helps modernize which helps outreach

A relatively recent reason for the group’s success is its new managing director Rachael Berger, who was hired in January of this year. Berger, who previously had a successful career with American Express, is a 27-year resident of Laguna and sought out this part-time position in order to be able to give back to the community. “I found out this is definitely not a part-time position,” she says good-naturedly. “They were still operating like they did 36 years ago – no dispatch!” she says in mock disbelief. So, one of the first things Berger did was put together a Google Docs scheduling system that expanded the group’s outreach from 37 people to 147 people. “It’s not rocket science,” she says modestly. “It’s just amazing how much of a need there is.”

More than just a transportation service

The premise is simple. If you are 55 years old or older, you can call Sally’s Fund and ask to arrange a ride within a 40-mile radius. Medical appointments take precedence, but drivers will take people to the store or even deliver food to their homes. 

The City of Laguna Beach, which covers roughly one third of Sally’s Fund’s expenses, was recently considering cutting that funding in favor of Uber or Lyft services.    

Berger explains, “Our drivers will sit in with a patient at a doctor’s appointment, so they can take good notes and talk to the Care Management Center. Uber or Lyft doesn’t do that.” 

The Care Management Center is run through the Susi Q where, according to their website, “care managers assess needs and create individualized action plans.” Sally’s Fund is also run out of the Susi Q, but it is a separate entity. However, Laguna Beach Seniors, the Care Management Team and Sally’s Fund all work symbiotically to help Laguna Beach seniors stay independent as long as possible.

Sallys Fund van

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Sally’s Fund van picks up seniors at the Susi Q

“Seventy-five percent of our people have no one else,” says Berger. “We are a bridge. We take people who can’t drive to see their loved ones. We will even take them to see different assisted living facilities. Additionally, we do home visitations. Some of our folks are so frail they’re home bound and need extra care. Liz (Gapp) will talk with them and find out their needs.”

Securing another vehicle is critical

According to Berger, Sally’s Fund is turning down two to three people a week because they are at maximum capacity. “We’re trying to secure another vehicle,” she says. The group’s Prius just died after 177,000 miles. And their Dodge Caravan is on its last legs with 144,000 miles. So, Berger is busily writing grant applications trying to secure funding. “I’ve got additional drivers who’d love the work if we got a new car,” she says.

Funded by donations

“We never ask for payment from our riders,” explains Berger. “We ask for a donation, if they can manage it. There are so many people in Laguna who don’t have access. They can’t walk the block or two to the bus stop and we’re an aging population.” The two thirds of the budget that the City doesn’t cover is made up by private donations, like the $25,000 local philanthropist Bill Gross recently donated. 

Ann von Gremp runs a tight ship

According to Berger, Sally’s Fund runs a tight ship. The group’s treasurer is Ann von Gremp. “She’s one tough cookie,” says Berger admiringly. “She’s a penny pincher.” Such thriftiness means the organization carries no debt while it provides over 6,000 one-way trips annually. But helping get their riders where they need to go is only part of the mission. “We help them navigate within their destination,” explains Berger.

Sallys Fund shopping trip

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Sally’s Fund van unloads at the Susi Q after a shopping trip to Trader Joe’s

And then there are the above and beyond things the group does because its people have developed relationships with their riders. Berger tells me she was able to secure a “new” (not really new, but a gently used) mattress for a rider who has cancer. “He was sleeping on springs,” she says ruefully. “I got the mattress for $50, and now I just need to find someone to help me get it to him. I encounter things like this every day. This is such an amazing place because you’re really making a difference.” 

Maintaining mobility is maintaining dignity

Berger has heard first hand, the countless times that seniors, once deprived of their mobility, feel they are robbed of their dignity. Sally’s Fund is a homegrown effort to prevent that loss of self-worth. For 36 years, the group has succeeded in helping seniors stay in their homes, as well as providing a connection to the outside world. And while they do a valiant job of trying to reach everyone, there are still seniors they simply can’t accommodate. So, seeing as this is the giving season, should you be looking to donate to a community-based group that is doing good work, remember Sally’s Fund. 

Donations can be sent to Sally’s Fund, PO Box 1626, LB, CA 92652 or made online at

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Mo Honarkar embodies the modern immigrant’s success story


Photographs by Mary Hurlbut

The self-made man is a distinctly American idea. Originally coined in 1832 by Senator Henry Clay, the phrase then referred to men in the manufacturing industry whose success stemmed from within – from “patient and diligent labor” – as opposed to external conditions. History dubbed Benjamin Franklin one of the first. Mohammad (Mo) Honarkar will undoubtedly not be the last. But he may be one of Laguna’s best examples. Now the president and CEO of 4G Ventures, which holds a diverse portfolio of real estate and businesses in Laguna Beach, Mo’s story began half a world, and more than half a century, away. Far from Laguna’s beaches, Mo grew up playing on rooftops in Iran. The United States was a distant dream.

Mo Honarkar grandson

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Mo Honarkar and grandson Truth

What the modern day self-made men (and women) have in common might be more than a determined work ethic. Beyond grit, success like Mo’s requires vision. An ability to look at something everyone else has seen countless times, and notice something new. Where others might imagine insurmountable problems, Mo sees solutions. He’s brought that vision to his hometown. 

Growing up Tehran

Mo was born and raised in Tehran. He shared an apartment with his parents and five siblings. Though he was one of the youngest children in the family, he was the first to come to America. Before that, though, Mo got a strong sense for the construction industry. 

“Somewhere in high school I started to work with my dad on a construction site,” he says. “They were building a hospital. I was like a superintendent, though I was very young. After I graduated, I worked with him on building some apartments.” Real estate was always something he enjoyed. “It’s part of my DNA,” he says. Mo’s mother owned a business teaching fashion design. From her, he gained his knowledge of business and retail. 

Even during Mo’s childhood and coming of age – in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s – Tehran was a thriving metropolis. Mo likens it to Los Angeles. “It was a very happening town,” he says. Maybe it was that early influence of a big city, but Mo is drawn to diversity. “I like mix,” he says. “Very old people, young people, they live together, they go to shows together. Age, race, everything is diverse. It’s good for a city to be diverse.” 

After working for a few years with his father, Mo decided to continue his education and fulfill his plan to study abroad. “I met with a school counselor in Tehran in 1978,” he says. “I applied for school at USIU (United States International University) in San Diego and got accepted to the international university.” 

From the Middle East to SoCal

Coming to southern California in the late 1970s may have felt like culture shock. “When I landed in San Diego, and I had a couple of high school friends here already. I said: This is what America looks like? It’s a village!

Mo started his studies at USIU and San Diego State. He transferred to UCI in the fall of 1980, studying applied physics and engineering. “I almost got lost in the orange fields,” he says. “Orange County was so small at the time. Not much here.”

As a foreign student, English was Mo’s second language. But math always came easy, as did art and design. “Even from an early age, every time I had an art class, I built some kind of structure. My professors said, ‘Someday, you’re going to be a builder.’ They were right.”

Mo worked his way through college, taking nearly any job he could find. He worked in the college cafeteria and became known as the “ice cream man.” He drove a school bus in the morning, before attending classes himself. “I got myself into college. I’m a self-motivated and self-build person.”

The Iranian Revolution happened just after Mo arrived in the US. For five years, he was prevented from returning home and his family couldn’t leave Iran. When he was able to return, he discovered the home he left was no longer there. “This is not the town I used to live in. It was completely destroyed. I decided to return to the US. Now I was here for good, not just to study. So my family decided to follow me. My parents came first, followed by my brothers and sisters. I was the pioneer.” Mo also met and married during his time in Tehran, and brought his wife to the US in 1984. 

Mo discovered Laguna Beach while attending UCI in 1980. “Discovering Laguna Beach at the time was feeling like I was back home,” he says. Laguna instantly felt like his new hometown, though he was more than two decades away from being able to afford to live here. Still, he spent every weekend and all his spare time in the town.

Building connections…wirelessly and beyond

Once Mo graduated from UCI, he used his degree to pursue a career in computers and programming. He worked for various computer companies as a software engineer. In Toshiba America’s R&D division, his job was to program – all day, every day – in a 9 x 12 foot cubicle. “I hated it,” he says. Mo is a people person. A solitary job in a lonely cubicle proved unbearable. He begged to be transferred to sales. The job simply didn’t exist at Toshiba at that time, so he asked to be laid off. “You just had a kid,” his boss reminded him. Despite the tricky timing, Mo wasn’t deterred. He left. 

While helping his mother operate a clothing boutique in Irvine, Mo noticed an AirTouch store next door. “I saw a line of people going in all the time,” he says. This was during the early days of wireless, when cell phones were still the size and shape of bricks. Mo grew interested and, in 1998, signed up to open stores for them.

Soon, Mo founded the company 4G Wireless, and remained in the wireless business for 18 years, managing 1,200 employees across five states. Carriers came and went, as did hundreds of stores and kiosks, but Mo’s enterprise endured. He fought with the City of Laguna Beach over opening a Verizon store in town, the only store of its kind in Laguna, and won. Over those years, between his experience in retail clothing and wireless, Mo opened and closed between 400 and 500 stores. “I learned a lot about real estate,” he says. 

He also learned a lot about Laguna. He raised his two daughters here – 

Hasty and Nikki – and recently welcomed his first grandchild, Truth. His family connections remain far more important than his business ones. Hasty confirmed this in our interview last year. She said the extended family stays tight. They see each other every week, either at The Royal Hawaiian or picnics in Heisler Park. “It always looks like a scene out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” said Hasty.

Mo Honarkar with daughters

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Mo with daughters Hasty and Nikki, and grandson Truth

Real estate adventures

In 2000, Mo bought the famed Heisler Building that housed the old Jolly Roger Restaurant and Laguna Beach Brewing Company. He designed and remodeled his own home in Mystic Hills in the early 2000s. And, eventually, he became the founder and CEO of 4G Ventures, which holds a diverse portfolio of real estate and businesses in Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, Irvine, Palm Springs, and beyond. The holdings include hotels, restaurants, event venues and community projects. So far, Mo and his team have revitalized Laguna’s historic Royal Hawaiian, as well as several properties in the Canyon including The Hive, Seven-Degrees, Kitchen on the Canyon, and Terra Restaurant on the Festival of Arts grounds. They’re also refreshing several of Laguna’s hotels and event spaces.

Mo Honarkar Cleo project

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4G Ventures scaled model for the Cleo hotel project

A shared love for Laguna

You have to ask yourself, Mo says, ‘What is Laguna?’ Everything is so completely different that it makes you wonder what defines the town. That, he says, is exactly the point – it’s not cookie cutter. That diversity of design is what makes it uniquely Laguna. “Every single unit is different,” he says. “You have modern, cottage, mid-century. When someone introduces a new building, don’t shut it down and say it isn’t ‘Laguna.’ Because that’s exactly what Laguna is – something completely different. That’s why we have character in this town.” Santa Barbara, Mo observes, has its own mission style. Newport Coast, everything looks like Tuscany. “But the character of Laguna requires every design to be different. That’s what we all love.” 

Growing up in a big city, Mo appreciates the mixture of businesses and restaurants available to locals and tourists alike. “I don’t see myself as a developer,” he says. “I see myself as a solutions provider. There’s so much character here. These buildings look old and tired. I don’t necessarily want to change them, but just fix them – redo the façade and make them look better. But I don’t want to force it. I want people here to want it too.”

Beyond the artists, designers and architects, Laguna draws people of passion. It’s not a town for the passive and uninterested. It’s a community that calls its citizens to action. While residents may not always agree, they do care. The occupants are as diverse, eccentric, quirky, quaint and unique as their homes. That character is not just what makes the town look different, but feel different. It’s a village of energy, with more than its share of self-made men and women, of which Mo is one of the leaders.

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Orin Neufeld: Master of Laguna’s batting cages


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Orin Neufeld describes himself as a “kid guy.” He also says he will do almost anything to avoid an office. So when the opportunity to buy the Laguna Beach Batting Cages literally walked into his dugout one afternoon, he jumped at the chance.

So this guy walks into a dugout…

“I’m very involved in Laguna Beach Little League,” recounts Neufeld who, despite being in Laguna for almost 25 years, still sounds very much like the New Yorker he once was. “I’m coaching my then seven-year-old son,” he continues, “and we’re in the middle of a game, and this guy walks into the dugout. My first thought is, ‘Dude, what are you doing? It’s the 4th inning!?’”

“The dude,” as it turns out, wanted information about the next Little League board meeting because he was interested in selling the batting cages located on Laguna Canyon Road. Neufeld says once he heard what the man wanted, he went from “take a hike” to “please come into my dugout.” A deal was reached and Neufeld has owned the batting cages for the past five years.

A job blending both of his passions

“I was pretty excited,” he remembers. “My passions are baseball and kids. I’ve always worked with kids.” When he was in New York, he ran a school for autistic children. Both his daughter, now a senior at LBHS, and his son, a seventh grader at TMS, played Laguna Beach Little League. His son, who seems to have inherited his dad’s passion for the game, is still at it. 

Orin Neufeld close up

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Orin Neufeld, owner of the Laguna Beach Batting Cages on Laguna Canyon Rd

Neufeld says his wife was very supportive of the purchase, even if it was a bit of a surprise. “We did a deal that was doable, and I did it,” explains Neufeld. “She was all for it.” Which is helpful, since it means Neufeld is away most evenings. The batting cages are open from 3 - 8 p.m. weekdays plus weekends (call for hours). His busy season coincides with the Little League season that runs February to June. “I have a lot of teams, Little League and club that come and use it,” he says.

Honing his fix it skills

As for any surprises about owning one’s own batting cages, Neufeld shrugs. “I used the cages, so I knew how they worked,” he says. However, he has had to brush up on his mechanical skills. “If anything surprises me, it’s the maintenance. It’s an outdoor facility, and there’s just stuff that needs to be fixed. And I wouldn’t say I was a Mr. Fix It kind of guy, but I’m getting better!” he says, laughing.

Orin Neufeld teaching

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Orin Neufeld gives Warren some pointers during a private lesson

When not maintaining the machines, Neufeld is giving private lessons. “For the most part, I teach kids 10 and under, but I have high school kids, too,” he says. “I start at the basics. I start at the ground up.” Neufeld says that since his playing days, he has seen the game get a lot more technical at a younger age. “I really notice it with my son,” he says. However, Neufeld’s son takes his lessons from someone else. “He’s done with me,” he laughs. “It’s the natural order of things.”

A little music on the side

While Neufeld managed to get both of his kids interested in baseball, at least for awhile, he was not as successful at getting them to take an interest in his other passion: music. A guitarist for the past 30 years, Neufeld plays in a local band “The Skeleton Crew” that covers Grateful Dead songs. He also teaches guitar lessons, just not to his kids. “Nope, “ he says with a shrug. “Neither kid plays.”

The Skeleton Crew pays tribute to The Grateful Dead

The Skeleton Crew is made up of Laguna locals, many of whom play in other bands as well. Lead singer Bob Campion, for example, plays in several local bands. “Bobby and I went down to the beach one night and just started playing Grateful Dead tunes. We both love the Grateful Dead. We did it a couple of times and said, ‘We should do this.’ And we did it.” 

“Actually, I’m not talented at all. I don’t know how to read music or anything,” he says, laughing. He must be able to fake it pretty well as the band has a standing gig at The Cliff (the second Friday of every month). Their next show is November 30. “It’s very difficult being an international rock legend,” he says, trying to maintain a straight face.

Orin Neufeld batting cages

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Jerry Rootlieb looks on while his grandson gets batting lessons from Neufeld

It may not be superstardom, but it is a lot of fun

I asked Neufeld if he ever had aspirations to be a pro baseball player or a rock star. “Of course,” he laughs. “What kid doesn’t?” The reality that he wasn’t going to achieve superstardom came relatively early. “I realized these two passions weren’t realistic in high school,” he says. But that’s not to say he isn’t living his dream. “I play guitar and teach kids baseball. I can’t complain. It really is fun.”

A baseball workout facility is more than enough

Neufeld has no plans to alter the fun. The batting cages are on Laguna Beach Unified School District property and to make any kind of big changes would be a massive bureaucratic undertaking. Besides, he likes it the way it is. “I wouldn’t mind doing more birthday parties,” he muses, but quickly adds, “We’re not Boomers.” 

“We are a baseball workout facility,” he says proudly. “It is what it is.” For kids in Laguna, San Clemente, Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel looking to improve their baseball skills, it’s plenty.

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Suzanne Redfearn uses her architectural mind to build fictional worlds and a thriving literary community 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Every good novel includes a few essential ingredients: strong characters, a compelling plot, some unfulfilled desires, and lots of obstacles. Done well, there are also difficult questions that lie at its core – sometimes philosophical or spiritual, sometimes ethical or practical, but always universal. What is the nature of good versus evil? What happens when evil is disguised to seem good? Where is the line between helping our children and hurting them? Will we recognize it when it arrives? How far will we go to save them?

Suzanne Redfearn’s life reads like a great novel. She’s a strong, purposeful, and driven central character with an intense desire to create new worlds from nothing. And she’s had some obstacles to overcome along the way. More important, she’s curious about life’s big questions – the meaning of marriage, the dangers of celebrity, the delicate balance between risk and reward. Curiosity, more than anything, motivates Suzanne’s love of fiction. One can always tell the writers driven by a desire for fame, or book sales, or (God forbid) money. Suzanne is in it to discover. That makes all the difference.

Suzanne Redfearn closeup

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Suzanne Redfearn, architect, novelist, and Literary Laureate

Starting from scratch

At age 15, Suzanne’s life looked a lot like that blank page every novelist faces for the first time. She grew up on the east coast, and alludes to a less-than-perfect childhood (always a good foundation for any future novelist). She moved, on her own, to Santa Barbara, putting herself through college beginning at age 16, and eventually earning a marketing degree.

While working as a server at Corona del Mar’s former Oyster’s Restaurant, she met owner Cary Redfearn. What began in friendship grew into a marriage that’s lasted a quarter of a century…and counting. Cary encouraged Suzanne to pursue a career in architecture, and supported her through school. “I always wanted to be an architect,” Suzanne says. “But it felt crazy. Like being a writer, it didn’t feel like a real job. It just felt out of reach.” Proving again that nothing is out of reach for Suzanne, she graduated summa cum laude from California Polytechnic University. 

When Cary closed Oyster’s and purchased the Lumberyard Restaurant ten years ago, Suzanne’s architectural talent paid dividends. Her vision transformed the space, retaining its historic foundation while updating the interior to lend a more contemporary feel. Nearly a decade later, she would go on to design the beer cap sculpture in Slice Pizza across the street, which she and Cary opened last year. 

Along the way, Suzanne also owned a cookie company, worked as a graphic designer and copywriter, and invented Wonder Laces (“the better shoelace – healthier for your feet, more comfortable, [with] six times the knot strength of normal shoelaces”). She’s the mother of two grown children, an avid surfer, golfer, skier, and Angels’ fan. Curiosity, ambition and creative energy have led her in a lot of directions, every one of them fulfilling and fun, most of them solitary, and all of them good fodder for fiction.

There are three things in life, Suzanne tells me, that determine happiness and satisfaction: your spouse, your hometown, and your career. “I feel like I hit the Triple Crown,” she says. Suzanne discovered Laguna because of Cary, and her career aspirations – both as architect and novelist – flowed from there. “It all came down to that first good decision of finding the right person. Without that,” she says, “the rest just wouldn’t have happened.” 

The architecture of a novel

Architecture and writing have always struck me as intellectual sisters. Beyond vision and creativity, they both demand careful construction. “I wouldn’t be a novelist if I hadn’t been an architect,” Suzanne says. “Both require you to start with nothing. It’s overwhelming, and it’s long-term.” Much of Suzanne’s life has required faithful leaps, from her move to the west coast to settling into an uncertain career in architecture to the terrifying decision to undertake the novel. But one leap begets another. Each one builds confidence and establishes trust. 

Suzanne approaches books the ways she approaches buildings. “I walk into an empty space and know it only works one way. That’s its true self.” 

Terroir is an oenological term referring to the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced. It includes factors such as soil, topography, and climate. Suzanne says, “I allow the terroir – the essence of the site – to dictate what the building is going to be. You can’t come in with a preconceived idea. It won’t work.” That principle applies equally well in writing. “The story wants to be what it wants to be. You have to allow it to grow organically. The characters dictate what’s going to happen.”

Suzanne sees herself more as a conduit or channeler of stories, rather than their creator. “The story is there – the characters are on their journey. I just have to keep reeling it in. It knows what it wants to be, so when I finally find it – it’s natural.” That might mean writing 800 pages to end up with 400. Suzanne likens it to a maze, with a lot of dead-ends. But, ultimately, there’s only one obvious solution. 

“Drive time is when it comes together. When I’m not actually thinking about the story, that’s when I come up with the solutions,” she says. “The unexpected is always where the beauty lies in the story.”

The magical moment when life leaps to fiction

When Suzanne published her first novel, Hush Little Baby, in 2013, Cary wore a shirt to her launch party that said: “It wasn’t me.” Superficially, Suzanne’s protagonist looked a little familiar – Jillian Kane had a successful career as an architect, a gorgeous home, a doting husband, and two perfect kids. But Jillian’s marriage was privately dark, decidedly abusive, and obviously nothing like Suzanne and Cary. Still, those surface similarities gave Suzanne the ability to access Jillian’s character. After that, like every great book, all bets were off.

Suzanne Redfearn books

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Suzanne holding Hush Little Baby and the anthology at Laguna Beach Books

No Ordinary Life came out just three years later. It explores the price of fame and the risks embedded into the lives of child celebrities. It also returns to one of Suzanne’s favorite themes – the lengths mothers will go to protect their children. The idea came to her while waiting in line at the grocery store, scanning the tabloid headlines. Zac Efron, who is roughly the same age as Suzanne’s son, had just reentered rehab for the second time. It made her curious about the dark side of celebrity. This is the recurring motif in any novelist’s life: I saw this thing, and it got me wondering…

In An Instant, her third novel, is due out in early 2020. Suzanne scored a two-book deal with Lake Union Publishing. I won’t spoil the surprise here, but for fans of The Lovely Bones, you’re in for a future treat. 

The limitations of talent and the need for persistence

Successful writers will tell you that talent – while necessary – is less essential than perseverance. For every novel Suzanne has on bookshelves, she has two or three more in her drawer. Slow and steady is the necessary recipe for achievement. Novelists sometimes look like overnight success stories, but they often have a decade (or more) of quiet toiling in their past.

Persistence is something Suzanne knows about. She doesn’t miss a day of work. She arrives at Starbucks early in the morning for a two to three hour stretch, and shows up again mid-afternoon for another session. Writing, like any job, requires the author to show up. Lawyers, plumbers, veterinarians – none of these professions tolerate waiting around for bouts of inspiration or the arrival of the muse. Writing is no different. Novelists, of course, only get paid for the books that sell. Writing a dozen manuscripts that never make it to bookstores is a thankless task, which is why it requires the love of the journey, and a near disregard for the destination.

It’s all about living outside your comfort zone, taking on terrifying things, uncertain about their outcome.

Laguna’s Literary Laureate

Speaking of taking on terrifying things…earlier this year, Suzanne was appointed Laguna’s Literary Laureate (along with co-Laureate Lojo Simon). Suzanne was less interested in the title and recognition, and more excited to serve as a cheerleader for the arts. She’s created and facilitated several events allowing local writers opportunities to gather and be heard. And she’s become an ambassador for the written – and spoken – word. 

Take, for example, poet and spoken word artist Phil Kaye. Suzanne brought Phil to Laguna last month for a one-night performance at the Forum Theatre at FOA. She invited five high school poets to share their own work as an opening act. “These kids had been harboring this inside. There’s no venue for this. There’s no reason for them to do this,” she says. “It was poetry. It was art. I was blown away.” 

Like architecture or writing, Suzanne feels her position as Literary Laureate is another experience that’s telling her what it wants to be, and she’s merely acting as its conduit. “I feel like I’m just along for the ride,” she says. “I’m always thinking, Wow…so that happened! It’s a position that tells you what it needs.” 

Like all her prior endeavors, the job also requires faith. “It’s believing. No matter how bad or scary or overwhelming – you have faith you’re going to get there. I can’t tell you the knot in my stomach over these events. But I show up, put it out there, see what happens, and have faith that it’s going to find its way.” 

Suzanne also initiated the citywide poetry and prose contest, inspired by a photograph taken by Jeff Rovner in a Burmese monastery last year. “Another project that took on a life of its own,” she says. Forty-three writers contributed their works, which Suzanne turned into the book, Laguna Beach Anthology of Poetry and Short Fiction.

“A lot of credit goes to Third Street Writers and Jane Hanauer (owner of Laguna Beach Books),” she says. “The people who are already doing this around our community.” 

The builder who builds community

Suzanne loves the collaborative environment Laguna inspires. “It’s not so competitive here,” she tells me. “We’re all creative in our own ways, and we’re invested in building each other up.” 

Suzanne Redfearn Shoreline

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Suzanne and Tami Cahill, building community at Laguna’s Shoreline Project last weekend

A city that encourages the arts makes each of its members better. Even those who aren’t artists benefit from being surrounded by beauty, inspired by creativity, and supported by women like Suzanne. She’s spent her career building both structures and fictional worlds. But perhaps Suzanne’s greatest gift to Laguna is building community, which also requires perseverance and faith. And, just like architecture and fiction, the unexpected is always where the beauty lies.

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Sgt. Jim Cota: 24 years with LBPD and counting


Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Sgt. Jim Cota’s first job after graduating from the Golden West Police Academy was with the Laguna Beach Police Department (LBPD). When he graduated there weren’t many options due to Orange County’s bankruptcy. “There were only a handful of cities that were hiring. I chose Laguna Beach which turned out to be the right choice for me because I never left,” he says. Sgt. Cota has been with LBPD for 24 years.

And he’s not planning on leaving, at least not yet. Rising through the ranks from a police officer to a narcotics detective to a field training officer to corporal and, now, as a sergeant, Sgt. Cota’s ambitions have not abated. He is planning on being involved in LBPD’s promotional process next year. However, there’s not a lot of rope left to climb. All that stands in front of him is lieutenant, then captain and, finally chief. “I want to promote to lieutenant,” he says. “We have some openings in the next year.”

Sgt Cota close up

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Sgt. Jim Cota is a 24-year veteran of the Laguna Beach Police Department

A heavy load requires his full attention

While he may have his eye on the future, Sgt. Cota’s present requires his full attention. As a sergeant of the investigations division, he oversees six detectives, the department’s administration training officer, the property and evidence officer, the community officer, the school resource officer as well as the social media team. And, if that’s not enough, he’s also the department’s press information officer. He acts as the department’s spokesperson. “This is a real honor for me,” he says earnestly. “I get to highlight and showcase all the wonderful events and the great jobs all the officers do, as well as communicate with local media sources.”

Committed to a graduate degree from USC

Sgt. Cota is investing a lot of energy in the communications part of his job. “I’m currently enrolled in a graduate program at USC – fight on! – in communications. And, yes, I drank the juice,” he says with a laugh. “But really, I’m most proud of being accepted to such a prestigious school.” Cota was interested in USC’s program because of their focus on social media. “They’re teaching new ways to conduct research into the next generation. It’s a very intensive program. A degree of this magnitude goes hand in hand with my PIO (public information officer) duties for the police department.”

Choosing the Nike way of getting things done

With all of this going on, Cota says he practices the Nike “Just do it” philosophy. “My life may look difficult to most people. I have to balance work, school and family life.” Luckily, he says both home and the members of the department are very supportive of his efforts. He says he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be, doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. However, it was a dark event that set him on this path.

Sgt. Cota is not someone who grew up wanting to be a police officer. After graduating from high school he went into real estate. “I enjoyed it, but something was missing in my life,” he says. The turning point came when he watched the 1992 Los Angeles riots on TV.

The 1992 Los Angeles riots make an impact

 “I remember watching the early stages of the riots and questioning why the LAPD was not helping Reginald Denny. (Reginald Denny was the truck driver who was pulled from his truck and beaten at the corner of Florence and Normandy in south central Los Angeles.) I realized I could really do that and make a difference, as opposed to what I was doing (in real estate).” Cota went on some ride-alongs with a friend who worked for an LA agency, and he was hooked. “I fell in love with the job,” he says.

Sgt Cota talking

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Sgt. Jim Cota conducts an interview in the LBPD conference room

Laguna’s Main Beach protest provides a great learning opportunity

Luckily, Cota has never had to deal with anything close to the events in LA that motivated him to become a police officer. The biggest event he has worked in recent times was the Main Beach protest in 2017. Sgt. Cota credits Laguna Beach Police Chief Farinella with managing the event “perfectly.” “I learned a lot observing her decision making which helps me make swift decisions in the investigations unit.” He saw her decision making up close as the two worked together in the command post that day. “I observed her make timely and critical decisions that made that operation so successful,” he recalls.

A high regard for those he works with

 Sgt. Cota goes on at length about the high regard he has for Chief Farinella. He is also a big believer in community policing, which she demands. The idea is that the police should interact with the community beyond their traditional police work. Cota believes this helps foster community support. 

Community policing is key

“We take time to get out of our cars and talk to the kids, stop at a lemonade stand. You don’t see that in other cities. This is the philosophy that the Chief expects from the officers in this police department. Police officers who work here have to be willing to do more than just write tickets and arrest people.” 

Community policing is something that is taught in depth at the Golden West Police Academy and the LBPD embraced the concept before Chief Farinella came on board. However, she has taken it to another level. “She gets it. She gets this community’s needs. Her personality is exactly what the City needs, and it has responded well to her,” he says.

A true, blue Dodger fan

Sgt. Cota responded well to his new Chief before he even had a chance to  become such a fan of her job performance. When Chief Farinella first started, Sgt. Cota recalls there being the usual anxiety about new leadership coming in. What broke the ice for the two of them is when they discovered they shared a love for the Dodgers. “We’re the only two who are die-hards,” he says smiling.

Sgt Cota Dodgers wall

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Sgt. Cota isn’t shy about where his baseball loyalties lie

Cota is equally effusive about his investigations team. “They are absolutely incredible,” he gushes. “They’re like a second family to me. Each of them works so hard, night and day, for this organization.”

LBPD is a source of great pride for Sgt. Cota

To have such faith in one’s coworkers is extremely beneficial in a job such as Sgt. Cota’s, especially as things have changed quite a bit in his 24 years on the force. “Society has changed,” he muses. More specifically, Laguna has gotten a lot busier as the visiting population has soared. This means more service calls. And while this obviously presents problems, it also means more opportunities for engagement. “The police department does a terrific job of minimizing crime in this town,” he says emphatically.

The pride Sgt. Cota has in the Laguna Beach Police Department has certainly been earned. It’s also an important factor in why he finds the job so rewarding. “I am so grateful my life went in this direction,” he says. “This is the career I was made for.” After 24 years, with no signs of slowing down, it would seem so.

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Bonnie Harper proves there are far more abilities than disabilities when living with Down syndrome


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Mention the name Bonnie Harper, and watch people’s faces light up. Bonnie is known by many, both at the Glennwood House and beyond, as “the most popular girl in town.” She’s always on the move. With two paid jobs, several volunteer positions, an active athletic schedule, and a full social life, Bonnie is busy. She barely had time to catch up with me one Thursday afternoon, between laundry day and Girls’ Night Out. Squeezing our interview into an already hectic schedule, her eyes were on the clock. But that didn’t stop her from greeting me with enthusiasm. “I’m Bonnie,” she told me, shaking my hand. “I’m 30.” 

Bonnie Harper closeup

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Bonnie Harper, at home at Glennwood House, an independent living community 

for adults with physical or developmental disabilities

In those 30 years, Bonnie has built a full and rich life, integrating herself into several local communities and proving – to herself and everyone around her – that her many abilities exceed her challenges, and her wide variety of talents are far more important than her limitations.

Glennwood House becomes home

Bonnie is one of the original residents at Glennwood House, celebrating her fifth year there and loving it. When she returns to her mother’s place in Laguna Niguel on the weekends, she can’t wait to get back to Glennwood. She appreciates the freedom and independence, she loves her friendly neighbors and staff, and she adores the structure of a scheduled environment. “Bonnie’s alarm clock is set for 7:30 a.m.,” Rachel Landers, Associate Director of Glennwood House, tells me. “If we go in at 7:29, Bonnie will know it. She’s very by-the-book.” 

Bonnie is Glennwood’s “Calendar Girl.” She’s in charge of the front office calendar, writing the date and keeping track of the resident sign-in and sign-out sheets. She also maintains a detailed personal calendar of everyone’s birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events, making sure cards are sent out on time.

In addition to the supportive staff, the beautiful grounds, and the opportunity for independent living, there’s never a dull moment at Glennwood House. There are art classes, bowling nights, special conditioning training, as well as computer and reading classes. But Bonnie’s favorites might be movie and karaoke nights. She keeps her own extensive movie collection in her room, peppered with plenty of Disney. But Glee, Bonnie tells me, is her favorite. Her older brother, Forrest, got her Glee for Christmas – 

and it was the perfect gift. “Bonnie also knows every song from Mamma Mia,” Rachel says. “She can even act out the parts. She’s the karaoke queen.”

Bonnie Harper group

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Hanging out in the common room at Glennwood, where there’s never a dull moment

She’s also motivated to pitch in and help when she can. “Every day, Bonnie sweeps the dining hall,” says Rachel. “She consistently does that every night. We don’t ask her, but she’s always thinking of others.” That concern for others extends to Faith Manners, Chief Operating Officer at Glennwood. If Faith isn’t in her office, Bonnie will begin asking Rachel her whereabouts. “She’s very intuitive about who’s there and who isn’t,” says Rachel. “Sometimes I have to just say she’s at the bank.”

On the job and on the move

Through Integrated Resources Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to fully assimilating people with disabilities into the community and securing paid employment opportunities for them, Bonnie has worked the past six years at Panera Bread. Recently, she added another day of employment at Del Taco. “She dumps the trash, cleans the tables and trays, keeps the salsa and salt and pepper in the right places,” says her mother, Kay Harper. “They’re happy with her and she loves it.”

Bonnie Harper Del Taco

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Bonnie showing off her new Del Taco uniform

Bonnie’s former job coach, Ann Boscardin, worked with her for three years. They went out every day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, allowing Bonnie to work in both paid and volunteer positions. “She’s a very conscientious and good worker,” says Ann. “She remembers things.” 

The restaurant industry is perfect for Bonnie, who has a passion for food. “She loves different kinds of foods and likes to try different things. She’ll never order the same thing from the same restaurant,” says Ann. “She’s very interested in the textures and tastes. The only time she didn’t like something was when she put five or six jalapenos on it. I told her she still liked jalapenos, just not so many at once.” Bonnie loves her lunch at Panera at the end of her shift. “She’d try something new every time, planning for it throughout the week,” says Ann.

In addition to her paid employment, Bonnie volunteers at the Florence Sylvester Senior Center in Laguna Woods, serving lunch to the residents, sitting with them and chatting. She also donates time at the Family Assistance Ministry and Crossline Church in Laguna Hills, stuffing bulletins into envelopes. She’s active in the church community, participating in the Lighthouse Group, a weekly youth group meeting for young adults with special needs. Lighthouse provides physical, emotional, educational and spiritual support for this community.

Bonnie also returns to her alma mater, Dana Hills High School, to work at the textbook collection center, meeting current students and making new friends.

“If the focus is on what Bonnie can do, it’s amazing,” says Kay. “There are so many abilities.”

Take her out to the ballgame…and the pool

Speaking of what else Bonnie can do – she’s adept at a wide variety of sports. She’s an incredible swimmer. She loves kayaking, paddleboarding, and almost everything else involving water (including Caribbean cruises). “She very steady, even if not very fast,” says Ann. “She finishes her workouts and is very methodical.” 

But baseball is Bonnie’s first love. She’s been active with the Challenger League since she was five. The Little League Challenger Program, and Senior League Challenger Division, is an adaptive baseball program giving individuals with physical or developmental disabilities the opportunity to play on a league. “The kids aren’t competitive or mean to each other,” says Kay. “They’re just there to support each other. If somebody falls, everyone stops to pick them up.” 

Although Bonnie is a Dodgers fan, she’s been able to play at Angels Stadium with the professional players over the years. 

Ann adds, “She’s also the biggest goofball. Bonnie loves a great joke.” 

A heart for others

When Bonnie lost her father last year, her concern wasn’t for herself. “Do you miss your husband?” she sometimes asks her mom. Bonnie’s empathy, her protective nature and kind disposition have touched countless lives around her. 

“If I hadn’t had Bonnie,” says Kay, “I wouldn’t be the person I am. She’s taught me so much more than I was prepared for – patience and love, tolerance and the acceptance of others who are different. All that makes me a different person.”

Bonnie Harper room

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Bonnie in her meticulously clean room at Glennwood

Kay offers some generally great parenting advice. “Try not to overreact. It’s easy to overreact in parenting. You need to take it slower. Let time pass. Become more understanding and tolerant.” Kay says it’s better to set the example, rather than preach the lesson. Using phrases like, “That’s not how we do it in this family” or “I wouldn’t do it that way” gives children more autonomy and control. It makes them the agents of their decisions.

Glennwood gives its residents that autonomy and independence. It empowers them to make their own choices, and provides a safety net – and some consequences – 

if they choose unwisely. 

Facts and statistics about Down syndrome

Down syndrome results from the presence of an extra (or partial extra copy) of chromosome 21. It’s become more common in recent years, and the life expectancy of individuals with Down syndrome is on the rise. As Ann told me, “If you’ve met one person with Down syndrome, you’ve only met one person with Down syndrome.” The only thing individuals have in common is an extra chromosome. Beyond that, individuals are as unique, distinctive and particular as anyone else.

Bonnie Harper desk

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Bonnie at her desk, showing off her many memories and memorabilia

In 2011, Brian Skotko, a Harvard-trained physician and researcher, published a groundbreaking survey “Self-perceptions from People with Down Syndrome.” The study reported: “Among those surveyed, nearly 99 percent of people with Down syndrome indicated that they were happy with their lives; 97 percent liked who they are; and 96 percent liked how they look. Nearly 99 percent of people with Down syndrome expressed love for their families, and 97 percent liked their brothers and sisters. While 86 percent of people with Down syndrome felt they could make friends easily, those with difficulties mostly had isolating living situations.” 

Even stereotypes that are positive and well intentioned can be hurtful. The assumption that all individuals with Down syndrome are happy, friendly, and loving is a generalization and, as with any generalization, fails to take each unique individual into account. It’s important to see people – and their personal qualities, talents, flaws and gifts – for the specific individuals they are.

Actor and Down syndrome advocate Chris Burke put it best: “Having Down syndrome is like being born normal. I am just like you and you are just like me. We are all born in different ways, that is the way I can describe it. I have a normal life.”

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Lynn Gregory: A force for Laguna schools is on to her next adventure


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach schools have benefited greatly from the efforts of countless people. From administrators to teachers to volunteers, in grand initiatives and small daily gestures, so many people have contributed to making Laguna schools a source of pride in the community. And while this is nothing if not a group effort, there are certain individuals who make a singular difference. Lynn Gregory, the Laguna Beach Scholarship Foundation (LBSF) coordinator, is such a person. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, she “has been” such a person, since Gregory is leaving the district she loves, not to mention the country she loves, for Budapest, Hungary. 

A fixture at three of Laguna’s four schools

Gregory has been a fixture at three of Laguna’s four schools for close to 20 years: El Morro, Thurston and LBHS. She and her husband Scott moved here as newlyweds in 1994. They looked at other places – Corona del Mar, Seal Beach – but chose Laguna, even though what they could buy needed some work. “We could afford tar paper and plywood,” she says with a laugh. But they remodeled and started their family. “It has been our home ever since. I’ve never lived in a place where a community becomes your family. Maybe because we didn’t have any family out here…” she muses.

A legacy at El Morro Elementary

When her oldest son started at El Morro Elementary, Gregory began volunteering at the school. “It was Melanie Lewis’ fault,” she laughs. Lewis was El Morro’s PTA president at the time, and she knew a good thing when she saw it. “I just jumped in,” says Gregory. “I loved the connection with the parents. I fell in love.” She began to take on more and more responsibility until she herself was PTA president for two years. And she left a legacy with programs and practices that are still being used today like Character Counts, Strike Team, Spirit Wear, as well as getting a teacher’s lounge, and helping make changes to Boo Blast so that it became a successful fundraiser.

Lynn Gregory closeup

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Lynn Gregory, Laguna Beach Scholarship Coordinator and volunteer extraordinaire, is stepping down. She and her husband will be moving to Budapest, Hungary in November.

Choosing to work for free

 “My husband tells me I have a problem with boundaries,” she says with a laugh. “He’d say, ‘Remember, you’re a volunteer.’” While his hints were acknowledged, they were also ignored. Gregory simply can’t do anything halfway. That’s why she finally retired from her job as a flight attendant when her oldest son was in fourth grade. “I had to choose a paying job or PTA president,” she says, laughing as if there was any other choice she could have made. 

 Leading all the way 

And she continued to make that same choice when her boys moved on to Thurston, again helping to implement PTA programs that are still going strong today like the Epic Challenge and the Sports Swap. And she still wasn’t done, dedicating even more time and energy to SchoolPower by chairing its Dinner Dance for several years and serving as president.

Volunteering is a manifestation of her faith

 Gregory is quick to pile the praise on others. If you talk to her you’d think she was merely a bystander to all of these things. She credits the many people she has worked with and, more importantly, her faith. “I believe that my desire to serve is a direct correlation to do what I am called to do,” she says. Luckily, I have seen Gregory’s effectiveness first hand so I can vouch for her efficacy. 

Beware the double handshake

One of the things that make Gregory so effective is that, not only is she willing to work extremely hard, she is good at getting others to join her. Those of us who have had the pleasure of working with her over the years joke about “the handshake.” 

Gregory is from the south. Despite her years in California, she has not lost her southern charms, and she’s not afraid to use them. If you should find yourself in Gregory’s very elegant, double-handed handshake, there is a very good chance you will find yourself agreeing to do something you had absolutely no intention of agreeing to. And she will make it seem like it’s all your idea.

Lynn Gregory sons

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Lynn Gregory proudly shows off a photo of her two favorite kids, sons Harrison and Thomas

Finding the Laguna Beach Scholarship Foundation

Gregory continued her volunteer efforts even after she got the job with the Scholarship Foundation, but the fact that she got the job to begin with was a bit of a surprise. First, she was made aware of the position on the last day of the job posting. “We were traveling,” she recalls. “I didn’t even have a resume.” But it sounded intriguing enough that while in the airport lounge, she dictated her work achievements to her husband who wrote them down on a napkin and then into a workable resume. 

“Lo and behold, I was hired,” she marvels. She did ask her boys for their blessing. “I didn’t want to encroach on my kids’ territory,” she says. They were unanimous in their support, although looking back Gregory thinks their support was more practical (easy access to lunch money) than selfless. 

Helping students, donors and LBUSD

Regardless, she took the job and has been the LBSF coordinator for the past six years. The LBSF acts as a liaison between scholarship donors, LBHS and its students. In addition, it develops funds, manages the scholarship application process for students and provides oversight of managed funds. It is governed by a Board of 30 volunteer trustees, and anyone is welcome to become a trustee. Gregory works for LBUSD and is tasked with coordinating with the donors and the students.

It’s about more than the money

 ”It’s a community, grass roots organization. They now give over $500,000 to our kids,” marvels Gregory. “But what I’ve noticed is it’s not just about the money. It’s the acknowledgement. The kids like to be recognized. They need to be validated. I’m not someone who thinks everyone should be given a trophy for just showing up, but these kids are working really hard and they need to feel seen.”

Lynn Gregory Lynn and Scott

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Lynn Gregory with her husband Scott at their home in Laguna Beach

That is a mantra, of sorts, for Gregory. She is dismayed at the pressure so many high school kids are under. “There’s so much undo pressure. They don’t deserve it,” she laments. She quotes her co-worker who likes to say, “College is more about the plan than the place. And there are so many plans!”

Sad to leave but happy to go

 However, as much as she loves her job, she is leaving – and soon. “You might as well pull my heart out,” she says. “The Scholarship Foundation has been the pinnacle for me. I think I was meant to be a cheerleader, an encourager for these kids. They strive and they work so hard. Sometimes they need to hear it from someone other than their parents. Being in this position has allowed me to take part in that. I will miss it.”

She will miss it, but she’s looking forward to this new phase in her life. “I’m excited for the adventure,” she tells me. “It’s a perfect time.” Her boys are out of the house and the former flight attendant is one who has always loved an adventure. “My mom used to say ‘Where the wind blew, Lynnie flew,’” she says.

 The wind has come up again, and is blowing the Gregorys halfway across the world. “I’m looking forward to spending time with my husband,” she says. And there is a city to master, cooking classes to take, and a very foreign language barrier to try and overcome. “I suppose I’ll give it a try,” she says gamely of learning Hungarian. “But the street signs are crazy!” And because she is who she is, Gregory has already reached out to several international schools to see if they need any assistance.

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Katie MacDonald: Young, but seasoned in the business of flowers


Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Katie MacDonald’s resume is quite robust, especially when one considers she’s just 23 years old. Over two years ago MacDonald purchased The Flower Stand at the Lumberyard. However, working with flowers was not her first love. “When I graduated from high school, I was really passionate about photography,” she says. She started taking photos for her family, then friends, then friends’ businesses. “I noticed that people always wanted flowers in their shots. I figured I was creative enough that I could do them myself.” 

A family connection leads to a new career

MacDonald’s mother was good friends with Beverly Walker who owned The Flower Stand at the time. “She and my mom were super tight. I ended up having a similar relationship with (Beverly),” explains MacDonald. 

Walker noticed MacDonald’s flair with the arrangements she created for her shoots and offered her a position. Eventually, MacDonald says, “I realized my love of photography was not as strong as my love of flowers.” It wasn’t too much later that Walker asked MacDonald if she would be interested in owning The Flower Stand. For a 21-year-old, this was a very big step. MacDonald consulted with her family and, after deliberating, they all decided to do it. “My family made it happen,” says MacDonald gratefully.

Katie MacDonald with offerings

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Katie MacDonald, owner of The Flower Stand, with some of her fall offerings

The flower business is not for the faint of heart

If her family helped make the purchase possible, it has been MacDonald’s blood, sweat and tears that has made it thrive. Walker stayed on for a year working with MacDonald. Their time together gave MacDonald a good idea of what she had gotten herself into. 

“I knew Bev worked brutal hours,” says MacDonald. So the up at 5 a.m. and to bed at 11 p.m. with the daily mad scramble in between wasn’t a surprise. The constant need to be “on” creatively was also not a surprise. MacDonald says that what posed a significant challenge in the beginning was the business side of things. “The creative aspect was never an issue. I’ve had to grow into the business end.”

Learning to prioritize has been key

Another aspect of the business she has had to learn to manage is her communication with clients. “Being in constant communication with people is a challenge,” she admits. “I’m learning how to prioritize.” MacDonald does a lot of weddings, for example. There are conversations with a client about things that are going to happen in three months and there are conversations with another client about things that need to happen that day. Every conversation is important, so organizing which is the most critical has been a learning process.

The good news is MacDonald learns fast. The first year she says she worked seven days a week without relief. Now, she manages to take a day (or even two!) away from The Flower Stand. This is not to say, however, that when she’s not there she’s not working.

Katie MacDonald working

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Katie MacDonald has a lot of options for her arrangements this time of year

Finding love at the flower market

With such a crazy schedule, it’s even better news to learn that MacDonald has managed to squeeze in some romance. “The first day I went to the flower market, I met my boyfriend,” she says with a smile. His family is one of the top wholesalers in the flower business. “His parents met the same way,” she says happily. “What started as a friendship grew into love.” The fact that he has an intimate understanding of her business is helpful. It’s also helpful that he has to get up even earlier than she does.

A creative endeavor in every aspect

MacDonald says the best thing about her job is that she has made great connections. ”I have made so many new friends. It has been great becoming part of the community. And I’ve done it myself. Plus I never have a boring day. Every day is different.” And it definitely fills her creative need. “It’s cool to be creative in every aspect of the business. There’s social media, finding and using new flowers…everything.” 

A vision for the future

But while she enjoys her shop, her long-term goal is to transition to a studio, and hire someone else to manage the shop. “I thought I wanted to open flower shops in high-end beach towns up and down the coast,” she says. Now, the idea of having a warehouse space that houses tables, rentals and, of course, flowers is the direction she’d like to move. It’s a more family friendly environment (for when the time comes) and as there are no walk-ins, it’s a much more focused business.

Katie MacDonald in front

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Katie MacDonald at The Lumberyard in front of her cheery flower shop

The Flower Stand opens other doors

Until then, however, MacDonald will continue running The Flower Stand. “Owning a storefront really sets you up for success,” she says enthusiastically. It opens the door for the other parts of her business, such as weddings and corporate events. “Corporate events are kind of my niche,” explains MacDonald. “I love them. They’re more creative than weddings.” 

A seasoned professional at the age of 23

She’s also partial to this time of year. “l love fall,” she says. “I love foliage. I try to find stuff no one else has, even a particular daisy variety that’s from Holland. Whatever I can find that’s unique.” She’s no longer bound by the constraints of tradition. “When you first learn you use the easiest flowers. You want everything to be ‘pretty’. Now I have confidence to use other things.” Spoken like a true professional. She may only be 23, but she has earned her status as a seasoned veteran, one arrangement at a time.

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Michelle Mercado: Celebrating five years at Sourced


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Michelle Mercado was in high school, she would pack her ’57 Chevy with friends, ditch school in Anaheim and head to Thalia Street beach for a day of fun. “I was drawn to Laguna,” remembers the owner of Sourced.collective, the business Mercado has helmed for the past five years. In a nod to the mysterious workings of the universe, her business is located on Glenneyre at Thalia.

A place for creative people to come to work

Sourced.collective is a place where “creatives come to work, create and play,” according to its website. It is Laguna’s only shared workspace. “It’s natural for us,” explains Mercado. “Real estate prices are high, people are working from home, and there is a craving for people to work together in a shared space.”

And have events, and do yoga and celebrate artisans

In addition to a shared work environment, the space, a charming, shingled beach cottage, is used for events, pop-up markets, artist residency and even yoga classes. If it seems an eclectic mix, it is, but Mercado’s approach to her business is anything but haphazard. However, it would also be incorrect to imply that this has all been part of Mercado’s master plan when she took over the space in 2013.

LLP Michelle closeup

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Michelle Mercado, owner of Sourced.collective, at 950 Glenneyre St

 When she started, “Things weren’t formal enough to create a five-year plan,” she says. Even now, when asked where she sees things going in the next five years Mercado hedges. The only thing she will commit to is to helping the people who are working in her space reach their potential. “At this point, the biggest opportunity is how do we showcase the work that people are doing here?” she says. 

A trip back to Orange County changes her direction

Mercado’s background is in hospitality and event planning. She had been working in San Francisco in what she thought was her “dream job” planning high-end weddings when a trip to Orange County for her grandfather’s funeral changed the course of her career.

Falling for a shingled beach cottage on Glenneyre

A close friend, Rachiel Macalistaire, had found this delightful space on Glenneyre and Thalia. Mercado and Macalistaire shared a love of vintage finds. At the time, Macallistaire already had a shop in south Laguna. “After talking to Rachel, I thought ‘ don’t know what it is, but I want in.’ I was just so drawn to the building,” remembers Mercado. The thought of partnering with Macallistaire was too tempting to pass up, so they embarked on their new venture.

At that time, Sourced offered a retail component in the front that Macallistaire handled and rented office space in the back. The office space sold out in a week’s time. Mercado formed her own event planning company, Sourced Events, and the people who rented the space were mostly involved in various aspects of the wedding business. It was a symbiotic group.

However, after two years, Mercado started to wonder what else she could do. “I dropped the events planning and clicked back into my hospitality days. We became just a ‘creative source.’ People thought we were people who made stuff, but that’s really never been true.”

Adapting and changing to find the right formula

Eventually, McAllistaire moved on to other things, leaving Mercado to take over the retail portion of the business herself. “I just went down another path and then thought ‘How did I get here?’” So she did what everyone should do when faced with life’s big questions, she went to Bali for a month. She closed the store and when she returned, she had a vision. She would create a business that offered office space, co-working memberships and events. “These things supplemented the absence of the retail,” she says. Sourced.collective was born.

LLP Michelle at table

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Mercado is thrilled to be helping creative businesses grow and reach their potential

“This formula totally works,” she says enthusiastically. “The most interesting thing is I get to peer into and support these different businesses. It allows them to go after bigger things. For example, a client comes in for web design, but then they realize they need a graphic designer, and then one person’s client becomes everyone’s client. It’s something you don’t get if you’re working at home by yourself,” she says.

She’s not interested in being the only game in town

Mercado is hopeful that the shared workspace idea will expand in Laguna. “I hope there is more. I’m tapped out. There is no ownership of co-working,” she explains. In the beginning she says the idea was “self-serving,” because she wanted to make her event planning business seem bigger. As the concept grew and developed, she saw the potential of where it could go. 

It may start out as self-serving, but it doesn’t stay that way

The same can be said for the donation-based yoga classes she offers at Sourced. Mercado says she was having trouble finding the time to get some exercise. The idea of bringing the exercise to her was, again, “self-serving,” but it has grown to be a communally beneficial experience that has exceeded her original intentions. And that kind of sums up Sourced.collective. 

LLP Michelle party

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Sourced.collective celebrates five years with an office party “for people who don’t have office parties”

The theme for Friday’s anniversary party was “Something in the Middle.” “It’s where the future meets the past,” explains Mercado. “Our building is a testament to time, but we’re doing something new here.” Using her party planning skills, Mercado blended spaceships and paper airplanes, and other past/present motifs, but the event was not her singular vision. True to the business being celebrated, Mercado says the party planning was collaborative in all aspects. Of course, Mercado could have done it all herself, but that is no longer the point.

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