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Remembering Laguna legend Al Roberts

By DIANNE RUSSELL

According to Ken Jillson, Al Robert’s partner for 50 years, Al’s favorite song was “Happy Trails to You” by Dale Evans. There’s one line that seems to be the perfect description of Al’s life, “Some trails are happy ones.” From all accounts, his life was filled with love, family, friends, travel, philanthropic endeavors, building houses and businesses – and lots of fun.

Ken met Al on Main Beach in 1971, and it was the beginning of a partnership rich with adventure, accomplishments – and an abundance of friends and family.

Enlisting at eighteen, Al proudly served two years in the U.S. Army,  and was stationed in Japan for six months during the Korean War.

Remembering Laguna boat

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Submitted photo

Al Roberts in his boat Sevenfold

Al learned important money and life management skills at a young age from his cherished father. Stretching his wings, he moved from Michigan to Los Angeles to begin a new life. At age 21, he started acquiring and developing rental income properties in the Los Angeles area using skills his father instilled in him. 

At 34, he hired well-known Los Angeles Architect Allyn E.  Morris, protégé of famed architect Rudolph Shindler and employee of Frank Lloyd Wright, and built a stunning terraced nine-unit apartment complex on Griffith Park Blvd In Silver Lake. The building was recently deemed “architecturally significant “ by the City of Los Angeles and officially named “The Roberts Building,” thrilling Al and its new owners.

Remembering Laguna Corvette

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Al with his fourth Corvette (2015 Stingray) at 2020 Patriots Day Parade, wearing his U.S. Army jacket and cap 

In 1974, Jillson & Roberts Gift Wrap was founded by Ken, Bill Wallen, and Al. They were instrumental in creating a premiere nationwide brand of high-end gift wrap and bags with over 5,000 retail accounts across the U.S. Although the company sold in 1994, the prominent brand remains intact today and is still stocked across the country in upscale pharmacies, gift shops, and grocers.

In 1975, Ken and Al’s interests turned to the home front, and they began the foundation for 1179 Katella St, their Laguna Beach home, a forty-two-year chapter in their lives.

Not yet finished with the construction process, in 1980, they purchased land from the Irvine Company and built a contemporary high-tech warehouse in the spectrum area of Irvine. 

Remembering Laguna house

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Building house on Katella 

In July of 1985, Al founded, along with a group of community leaders, what was to be his proudest achievement, the Aids Services Foundation Orange County – ASF. He served as president of the board for 20 years and raised millions of dollars to help men, women, and children in Orange County whose lives were affected by HIV/AIDS. 

Together with Ken, the Big Splash was a backyard fundraiser/show like no other and ran for twenty-nine years, raising over ten million dollars. It was celebrity-filled, and voice-over volunteers included Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Dolly Parton, Lauren Bacall, Bea Arthur, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Whoopi Goldberg, Penny Marshall, Carrie Fisher, Merv Griffin, and many others.

Remembering Laguna Splash

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The first Big Splash, September 1985

His philanthropic deeds expanded far and wide. Al was taught by his father as a small child to give back, and he continued to give his entire life. He made  numerous generous gifts to: ASF, Laguna Beach Community Clinic, Susi Q Senior Center, Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, The Center OC, MenAlive, Laguna Playhouse, and the Laguna Beach Art Museum. 

With Dwight Spiers, Jim Loomis, and Pauline Wolpin, Al spearheaded the Hagen project with HUD and the City of Laguna Beach to rehab the Old General Telephone Co. building on Third and Mermaid Streets to turn it into a thriving 27-unit apartment complex for low-income residents with HIV/AIDS.

Remembering Laguna Al Sande Ken

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Al and Ken with Sande St. John at a pancake breakfast

Art for Aids was a joint project of the Aids Services Foundation of Orange County and the Laguna Art Museum, an idea inspired by close friend and dermatologist Dr. Arnie Klein. Art for Aids drew hundreds of guests and raised several million dollars over a four-year period and included high-profile A-listers such as Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Penny Marshall, Merv Griffin, Tom Petty, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, and Cybil Shepherd.

Al and Ken loved to travel, spending time in Africa, India, Italy, Egypt, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, England, South Africa, East Africa, Croatia, China, Greece, French Polynesia, Peru, and their beautiful home in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.

Ken says, “One of our favorite trips was on safari.”

Remembering Laguna Botswana

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Ken and Al at the Okavonga Delta, Botswana in 2011

Another line in “Happy Trails to You” says, “It’s the way you ride the trails that counts.” In all aspects of his life, it appears that Al proved that to be true.

Al is survived by: Ken Jillson – Partner, 50 Years; Brothers: Ed (Margie) and Father Darrin; Sisters: Margaret (Al), Paulette, Kathleen (Jim), Kathryn, and youngest sister Mary (Jeff); and many adored nieces and nephews including Michelle (Jon) and Michael (Meg).

Memorial Service: Private – With Military Honors.

Final Resting Place: Pacific View Memorial Park – Newport Beach.

Family Reunion Memorial Celebration: In Canton, Michigan at a future date. Father Darrin Robert – Celebrant.

Memorial Donations: May be made in his honor to any of his favorite charities, including:

Laguna Beach Community Clinic

362 Third Street

Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Attn: Dr. Jorge Rubal