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Love in every loaf: Jonnie LoFranco lives her father’s dream through BREAD Artisan Bakery

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

To most people, the idiom “bread is the staff of life,” couldn’t be truer. Bread is the ultimate comfort food, harkening back to family meals, the smell of a fresh-from-the-oven loaf and the ritual of sitting around the table. 

“We were a big foodie family. My father [Bob Peckham] loved cooking and always had a pot of something going on the stove,” said Laguna resident Jonnie LoFranco, founder of BREAD Artisan Baker. “He instilled that love in me, and he always wanted to own a bakery and bring authentic old-world artisan bread to Southern California. The three things that are important to me now are family, food and travel.” Inspired by her father, LoFranco adores the entire process of preparing meals – from the food shopping at farmers’ markets to the preparation and serving.

Founded in 2010, the authenticity of each bakery item can be credited to the meticulous nature of her business partner since 2011, Frenchman Yannick Guegan, a lifelong professional baker. How LoFranco and Guegan met is just one of the many coincidences that led LoFranco to her business and eventually, her baker. However, first she moved cross-country a few times before her family settled in Laguna.

love in close up

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Jonnie LoFranco 

Originally from Rhode Island, the family moved to Newport Beach due to Peckham’s job in the computer industry with Honeywell. LoFranco, who has three older sisters, Robin, Tori and Polly, was born in Hoag Hospital and attended pre-school in Newport Beach until the family relocated to New Jersey in another work-related move. 

“My parents loved the ocean and the beach, so when we moved back out here again when I was in first grade, my mom (Judy) wanted to live in Laguna. They used to visit here when they lived in Newport,” LoFranco said. “I went through the Laguna school system.”

After graduating from Laguna Beach High School, LoFranco attended University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), earned her degree in economics and lived in Los Angeles most of her life. “I had a career in advertising, music production,” she said. 

The business of baking

LoFranco’s father opened his bakery-cafe, Breads & Spreads, in Mission Viejo in 1995. When Peckham passed away in 2001, LoFranco ended her career in Los Angeles to carry on the family business. 

“I needed to establish a stable business to support myself,” she said. “I moved back here when I got divorced. I had two little kids to support [daughters Luisa and Estella] who were then 5 and 8 years old. I started to tend to the family business and I worked in that business for a while. Then in 2010, BREAD Artisan Bakery, Inc. was born.”

With no space or staff, LoFranco reached out to the Brown Bag Sandwich Company who had a large facility in San Juan Capistrano. “I sublet part of it, used their staff and supplied bread to a theme park and gathered more business,” she said. “Then they decided not to sublet.”

This was the first of many happenstances that led LoFranco to her bakery space and eventually to Guegan.

love in Focaccia

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Focaccia, one of the products at the Laguna Farmers’ Market

“So many things happen when doors are opened,” LoFranco said. “I then moved to my current space and a few months later, a Brown Bag baker introduced me to his baker, who had worked for him for 14-15 years. It was Yannick. This is only his second job in the U.S.”

In another twist of fate, LoFranco had recently eaten at Selanne Steak Tavern, and after sampling their bread, commented, “I need to find the person who made this bread.” Turned out that it was Guegan. 

In 2011 when LoFranco met Guegan, they recognized their shared passion for creating a unique and superior product – in other words, delicious, hand-made artisan bread. He is now her business partner. 

Guegan has spent decades baking. He found his true calling back in 1984, attending an after-school apprenticeship at a small bakery in Milizac, France. He then dedicated 10 years to learning every aspect of the bread business, from the art of the kitchen to challenges of wholesale and retail. By 1994, he was ready to bring his skill and irresistible French charm to Southern California. Today his enthusiasm for the art of bread making is as alive and inspired as it was 30 years ago.

BREAD Artisan Bakery is housed in 11,000 square feet, they have a staff of 70 people and use nine delivery vehicles. “We are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said LoFranco. “We service 150 customers a day and begin loading for deliveries between 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. We deliver as far away as Los Angeles and to Claremont campuses. Once the vehicles take off, we start the baking process all over again. I want to get bread to the public and ensure its quality, so we bake it fresh every day.”

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Cultural Arts Manager Siân Poeschl: an art-infused life by design 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The common thread in all of Siân Poeschl’s passions (both past and present) appears to be the element of design. From her dance and choreography background – to an art-filled life as a glass artist and Laguna’s Cultural Arts Manager – Poeschl’s career narrative could be “all things art, all the time.” And as if that wasn’t enough creativity for one person, to top it off, Poeschl’s husband Troy is an artist as well.

Even though the art of composition is inherent in Poeschl’s many interests, one might wonder if her life-long obsession with the Liverpool Football Club – which, until now, was a little-known fact – could be the exception. However, avid fans often exult the “rhythm of a brilliant combination play,” so evidently, soccer does involve a fair amount of choreography. 

Family matters

Poeschl’s dedication to the Liverpool Football Club became firmly rooted during her childhood. Born in the UK, she was raised in Wales – and Welsh is her first language. Poeschl comes from a long line of strong, socially aware and gifted ancestors, and as a result, the term “artistic” took many forms in her family. 

cultural arts close up

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Glass artist and Cultural Arts Manager Siân Poeschl

“My mother was in charge of the wards at the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool and went on to be an adviser for World Health,” said Poeschl. “My father had a business as a printer and graphic designer. But my family members were in the arts in different ways! My great-grandfather was a landscape designer for stately homes, my great-aunt a French-trained chef, and was also the head of household for Lord Caernarvon, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. She spoke of unpacking some of the artifacts and their glory. My uncle is a painter in the collection of the Arts Council of Wales, and my cousins are artists, with the eldest based in Milan who has created work for Maurizio Cattelan and John Baldessari.”

Poeschl’s introduction to the arts came at an early age. “My parents exposed me to art at the age of 4 with tap dancing classes above the Co-Op shop on Smithdown Road, Liverpool,” she said. “My best friend Rebecca and I both moved on to formal ballet and modern dance classes. That decision to take us to tap, was my career trajectory from ages 4-26. I trained and trained.”

Ultimately, the rigorous work paid off – and via a prestigious award – it led her to the U.S. where she earned her Master of Fine Arts from University of California, Irvine.

Prior to arriving in America, Poeschl received a Bachelor of Arts from Leicester University and a post-graduate degree in Education from Liverpool University. “My cousins and I were the first generation of our family to go to college,” Poeschl said. “Later I was awarded a Rotary International Scholarship to study at UC Irvine; at the time I was one of the first women to receive the scholarship and the first to study in the arts. I selected UC Irvine as I wanted to study with dancer and choreographer Donald McKayle who had worked with my icon Pina Bausch.”

Philippine “Pina” Bausch was a German dancer and choreographer who was a significant contributor to a neo-expressionist dance tradition now known as

Tanztheater.

cultural arts hanging glass

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Poeschl’s beautiful glass art

“My masters is in choreography, the creation, execution, staging, organization, taking the viewer on a journey, all which relate to the work I do today,” Poeschl continued. “Rebecca went on to represent Great Britain in ice skating, both from our humble tap-dancing beginnings. When we moved from Liverpool to Wales, every month my parents took me to exhibits, events or performances. We would catch the train to London for the day, or the ferry to Dublin and I absorbed everything.”

Life in Laguna

The road from Wales to Laguna is a long one – 5,264 miles to be exact – a figure which was chosen as the name (5,264) of one of Poeschl’s exhibits in 2008. In a twist of fate – or destiny perhaps – Poeschl eventually settled here.

“During a summer break at UCI, a lecturer asked if I could house sit his home in north Laguna and look after his dog Sherman,” said Poeschl. “I immediately felt at home in the community. I didn’t drive or have a car, so Laguna Beach was a walker’s haven. I don’t think Sherman had been walked so much, but having the dog also meant people stopped and talked and I made lifelong friendships. That was the summer of 1993 and by October I had an apartment on Cypress Drive and have lived in Laguna Beach since.” (One thing that might surprise readers is that Poeschl didn’t get her driver’s license until she was 27 years old.)

Poeschl has been in her position as Cultural Arts Manager since 1997. As such, she oversees all arts programming for the city and is the staff liaison to the arts commission. Programming responsibilities range from public art performances, grants and cultural planning to supporting Laguna Beach artists and arts organizations.

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Cultural Arts Manager Siân Poeschl: an art-infused life by design 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The common thread in all of Siân Poeschl’s passions (both past and present) appears to be the element of design. From her dance and choreography background – to an art-filled life as a glass artist and Laguna’s Cultural Arts Manager – Poeschl’s career narrative could be “all things art, all the time.” And as if that wasn’t enough creativity for one person, to top it off, Poeschl’s husband Troy is an artist as well.

Even though the art of composition is inherent in Poeschl’s many interests, one might wonder if her life-long obsession with the Liverpool Football Club – which, until now, was a little-known fact – could be the exception. However, avid fans often exult the “rhythm of a brilliant combination play,” so evidently, soccer does involve a fair amount of choreography. 

Family matters

Poeschl’s dedication to the Liverpool Football Club became firmly rooted during her childhood. Born in the UK, she was raised in Wales – and Welsh is her first language. Poeschl comes from a long line of strong, socially aware and gifted ancestors, and as a result, the term “artistic” took many forms in her family. 

cultural arts close up

Click on photo for a larger image

Glass artist and Cultural Arts Manager Siân Poeschl

“My mother was in charge of the wards at the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool and went on to be an adviser for World Health,” said Poeschl. “My father had a business as a printer and graphic designer. But my family members were in the arts in different ways! My great-grandfather was a landscape designer for stately homes, my great-aunt a French-trained chef, and was also the head of household for Lord Caernarvon, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. She spoke of unpacking some of the artifacts and their glory. My uncle is a painter in the collection of the Arts Council of Wales, and my cousins are artists, with the eldest based in Milan who has created work for Maurizio Cattelan and John Baldessari.”

Poeschl’s introduction to the arts came at an early age. “My parents exposed me to art at the age of 4 with tap dancing classes above the Co-Op shop on Smithdown Road, Liverpool,” she said. “My best friend Rebecca and I both moved on to formal ballet and modern dance classes. That decision to take us to tap, was my career trajectory from ages 4-26. I trained and trained.”

Ultimately, the rigorous work paid off – and via a prestigious award – it led her to the U.S. where she earned her Master of Fine Arts from University of California, Irvine.

Prior to arriving in America, Poeschl received a Bachelor of Arts from Leicester University and a post-graduate degree in Education from Liverpool University. “My cousins and I were the first generation of our family to go to college,” Poeschl said. “Later I was awarded a Rotary International Scholarship to study at UC Irvine; at the time I was one of the first women to receive the scholarship and the first to study in the arts. I selected UC Irvine as I wanted to study with dancer and choreographer Donald McKayle who had worked with my icon Pina Bausch.”

Philippine “Pina” Bausch was a German dancer and choreographer who was a significant contributor to a neo-expressionist dance tradition now known as

Tanztheater.

cultural arts hanging glass

Click on photo for a larger image

Poeschl’s beautiful glass art

“My masters is in choreography, the creation, execution, staging, organization, taking the viewer on a journey, all which relate to the work I do today,” Poeschl continued. “Rebecca went on to represent Great Britain in ice skating, both from our humble tap-dancing beginnings. When we moved from Liverpool to Wales, every month my parents took me to exhibits, events or performances. We would catch the train to London for the day, or the ferry to Dublin and I absorbed everything.”

Life in Laguna

The road from Wales to Laguna is a long one – 5,264 miles to be exact – a figure which was chosen as the name (5,264) of one of Poeschl’s exhibits in 2008. In a twist of fate – or destiny perhaps – Poeschl eventually settled here.

“During a summer break at UCI, a lecturer asked if I could house sit his home in north Laguna and look after his dog Sherman,” said Poeschl. “I immediately felt at home in the community. I didn’t drive or have a car, so Laguna Beach was a walker’s haven. I don’t think Sherman had been walked so much, but having the dog also meant people stopped and talked and I made lifelong friendships. That was the summer of 1993 and by October I had an apartment on Cypress Drive and have lived in Laguna Beach since.” (One thing that might surprise readers is that Poeschl didn’t get her driver’s license until she was 27 years old.)

Poeschl has been in her position as Cultural Arts Manager since 1997. As such, she oversees all arts programming for the city and is the staff liaison to the arts commission. Programming responsibilities range from public art performances, grants and cultural planning to supporting Laguna Beach artists and arts organizations.

Click open story button to continue reading…


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Rick Conkey reaches for the stars in coaching and the creation of LBCAC 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Rick Conkey’s motto is, “We’re only here for a short time anyway, so in this lifetime, reach for the stars. It’s a lot more fun.”

Faithful to his vision, Conkey doesn’t appear to let anything stop him. For him, “reaching for stars” manifests itself in the desire to change the world, “I always wanted to give back,” he said.

Conkey’s current game plan involves two of his passions – art and music –which led him to create the nonprofit Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center (LBCAC). Now, it is his hope that every function at LBCAC – whether it be a visual arts, music, video, photography, film, dance, prose, poetry, or arts education – will change the world, one event at a time. 

“I want to shine a light on all mediums of art,” Conkey said.

rick conkey close up

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Rick Conkey

Tennis

One of his first loves was tennis, and Conkey readily admits he’s spent 20-30 years on tennis courts. After six years coaching the Laguna Beach High School boys tennis team and bringing them to a successful CIF championship in 2018, Conkey is retiring this year. However, he will continue to teach tennis at Moss Point. 

Conkey was born in Orange, where he attended elementary school. After his parents divorced, his mother, a teacher in Tustin, moved to a Newport Beach complex that boasted two tennis courts. In a twist of fate, several members of the Australian Davis Cup Team were staying there. 

“I was practicing and a few of them took me under their wings,” Conkey said.

His mother took on tutoring jobs to fund his lessons, and Conkey managed to get good enough to attend the World Junior Tennis Academy in San Diego on scholarship. After he was injured, teaching became the way he could stay connected to the game he loved.

Coaching then took Conkey to Europe to work with top ranked juniors as well as stints at other prestigious programs, including the Jack Kramer Club where he remembers being asked to work with a young Pete Sampras. 

After his European coaching tour ended in 1996, Conkey came to Laguna. He opened a small tennis shop and tried to recreate the enthusiasm for tennis he remembered the town having when he was a boy. “When I moved here I could see that there was no passion, no community. The players didn’t even really know each other,” he recalled. 

rick conkey playing tennis

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Conkey playing tennis at Moss Point in 2018

So, (according to a previous interview with Stu News) he compiled an extensive 1,200-person database with names, abilities and genders, along with a 300-person tennis ladder. He started a tournament that grew to 350 entrants but, still, things didn’t feel quite right. “There was an interest. It just needed something to bring it all together,” he said.

That “something” was events for people to come to socialize…and listen to music. 

Moss Point connection

“My parents used to scuba dive at Divers Cove and Moss Point and I always said, ‘I wish I could play on that court.’” As luck would have it, one day Constance Morthland, the Grande Dame of Moss Point, was out painting her house number – her house is on the court. Morthland was once Citizen of the Year and a philanthropist who was instrumental in helping bring the Moulton Playhouse to fruition.

“That day, she said, ‘it’s lonely here.’ We became friends, and I helped her get the court resurfaced.” Conkey teaches there mornings and afternoons. Around 10 years ago, Morthland died at 100 years of age.

Tennis also played a part in his friendship with Mark Chamberlain. “I met him at the tennis courts at Alta Laguna. It was fate,” Conkey said. 

rick conkey holding door

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LBCAC 

Maintaining the legacy 

In 1973, with partner Jerry Burchfield, Chamberlain co-founded BC Space Gallery and Photographic Art Services. Solely operated by Chamberlain from 1987 onward, it was one of the longest continually running fine art photography galleries in the country. At BC Space, Chamberlain hosted community, political and solstice events, as well as theatrical and musical performances. 

Maintaining the legacy of Chamberlain and Burchfield, Conkey only brings in artwork to LBCAC that he feels very strongly about. “I want to get goosebumps,” Conkey said. “I want to highlight art that can inspire mindfulness, open hearts and inspire the viewer to see things through a different lens. Art that allows them to assimilate with a deeper sense.”

 Conkey believes that all countries throughout time have been judged by their art. “We’re uniquely positioned to demonstrate why,” he said. “We endeavor to showcase leading-edge, experiential and thought-provoking art that focuses on emotional connection and artistic progress.”

rick conkey jorg dubin

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“America the Beautiful” by local artist Jorg Dubin, 2018. An example of the controversial work Conkey brings into LBCAC. 

“At the LBCAC, we’re committed to the deep experience that comes from great storytelling and the ability for it to expand peoples’ minds…and maybe even inspire a few of them to change their own behavior,” Conkey said. “That’s powerful stuff. Mark would call it ‘artivism.’ I like that term because it inspires a lot of what we do around here and our mission to be ‘harnessing the power of the arts’ for the benefit of the community.” 

One entire gallery space in LBCAC is devoted to Chamberlain’s photos. “We have them here in honor of his life and spirit,” Conkey said. “He’ll always have a presence.”

When Chamberlain passed away in 2018, the fate of the space was up in the air. The owner wanted to turn it into offices, but Conkey somehow convinced him otherwise. 

A unique space 

“LBCAC is an intimate and acoustically great space,” Conkey said. “When an artist is playing, the audience is so quiet, you can hear a pin drop. Artists tend to open up and allow themselves to be more vulnerable when they’re being listened to. It’s an incredible exchange between audience members and the musician.”

rick conkey interior

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The space will soon be opened up to connect to the second floor, adding 1,200 feet and another exit

Conkey’s past musical events

A love for music came from Conkey’s childhood. His mother was a Spanish Flamenco guitar player and his brother is a professional Flamenco guitar player. “We listened to music at home, and I had an emotional response and developed an ear,” Conkey said. “I didn’t realize how much I loved it until later.”

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Marrie Stone the quirky and curious side of a quintessential writer, interviewer and idea seeker

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Of the many roles Marrie Stone has inhabited – lawyer, writer, radio interviewer, panel moderator, wife, mother – all somehow involve psychology. So it’s no surprise that “therapist” is the title Stone would have chosen had she not become a corporate lawyer.

The underlying thread in all of her many endeavors is curiosity. Her passion for wanting to understand the psyche of those she interviews is apparent. “I like to discover their inspirations and motivations, essentially what makes them tick,” said Stone. “I love ideas, the ideas behind the art, and the philosophy behind how people think and work.”

Focusing on emotional truths, Stone skillfully accomplishes her goal without judgments or preconceptions. 

“Years ago, I read a quote by Rumi, ‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there,”’ she said. “It’s become a guiding principle for how I think about interviewing. And life.” 

marrie stone close up

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Stone with an eerie sculpture, dated 2007, purchased at last year’s Festival of Arts’ Pageant’s Bizarre Bazaar. It was created by artist Lou Rankin who died in 2016. Rankin was inspired to create his dark art pieces after 9/11/2001.

Stone began honing her interviewing skills when she started co-hosting Writers on Writing at KUCI FM, which was broadcast from UCI. The weekly podcast, launched by author Barbara DeMarco-Barrett in 1998, featured interviews with writers, poets and literary agents. “In 2007, Barbara asked if I’d ever thought about doing radio,” said Stone. “Now I’ve been doing it [interviewing] for 15 years.” 

At KUCI, Stone guest hosted 36 shows of Real People of Orange County, which featured the lives of OC’s best and brightest. She also hosted The Chat Room, a show aimed at college students covering a broad range of taboo topics about sex, relationships and dating.

Last year, Stone and DeMarco-Barrett left the station and Writers on Writing is now a podcast on Apple, Amazon, Spotify, Stitcher and wherever listeners get their podcasts. They also created a Patreon page with extra perks for listeners.

“During the pandemic, I started interviewing – and still do – in my pajamas in my closet at home because it perfectly replicates a sound booth. The clothes act as acoustical panels like you’d have in a studio,” Stone said. 

To date, Stone has interviewed more than 600 authors of literary fiction, genre fiction, biography, poetry, memoir – including Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners, Booker Prize winners, NYT bestsellers, as well as poets and prose writers.

The art of interviewing

“People want to be seen and understood, it upholds the idea that their lives matter,” Stone said.

One of her favorite interviewees is author George Saunders, who she’s interviewed four times. “He’s accessible, very calming and he’s so present, as if you are the only person who has ever asked him a particular question.”

Stone admits that on occasion, the conversations have taken a strange and unexpected detour. “An interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Lucinda Franks turned into a discussion of whether or not children have a right to their parents’ stories, which had nothing to do with her book.”

marrie stone reading

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Stone has interviewed more than 600 authors

In answer to the question, “Who would you love to interview, living or dead?” Stone replied, “The literary icons I’d most love to interview would leave me tongue-tied, so probably best I can’t interview them. Alice Munro, Marilynne Robinson and Cormac McCarthy all come to mind. They all seem to see the truth about human nature and Marilynne is so spiritual. I’d just love to pick their brains on how they see the world, our future as a species and the meaning of it all. Is that too much to ask?”

One thing leads to another stint at Stu News

Before Stone became the arts columnist for Stu News, she penned 50 of their well-known series “Laguna! Life & People,” featuring many of Laguna’s legends – John Gardiner, Mark Chamberlain, Bob Mosier, Peter Ott, Judge Paul Egly and Arnie Silverman – to name just a few.

Sponsored by Laguna Beach Arts Alliance, for the past year, Stone has provided readers with exceptional insights into 150 of Laguna’s artists, performers and personalities. “I love the research and psychology behind how they create their art,” she said. “I’m drawn to anything artistic or intellectual and interviewing artists combines the two. For each week’s articles, I interview 5-10 people.” 

To honor her coverage of the town’s artists and organizations, last month Stone was named the keynote speaker at the 2022 Art Alliance Awards and received a “Louie” award statue for her work.

Fact or fiction

Although Stu News readers have only been exposed to Stone’s non-fiction, she is also an accomplished fiction and essay writer. Her fiction has appeared in Writing in Place (2020), The Write Launch, Issue 21 (2019), Coffin Bell, Vol. 1, Issue 3 (2018), Into the Void, Issue 8 (2018) (nominated for Best of 2019 in Small Fiction), Reed Magazine, No. 150 (2017), River Oak Review, Vol. 2, Issue 5 (Winter 2008), The Rambler (accepted for publication) (2007) and The Writer’s Journal (2004). 

marrie stone computer

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Hard at work 

Stone’s articles and essays have appeared in Pegasus, Harbor Day School, St. Mary’s School, Pelican Hill, Orange Coast, Tableau Magazine, Blue Door Magazine and she’s contributed essays or ghost writings for local photographers’ books (including Jacques Garnier, Robert Hansen and Mitch Ridder.) 

A panel moderator and host of “conversations with” events, Stone has appeared at Literary Orange, OC Public Libraries, Laguna Beach Books and the Miami Book Fair and will moderate a panel on public art at Laguna Art Museum tomorrow night (Saturday, June 4).

Innate curiosity 

Although Stone always possessed an inherent curiosity, its nature changed over the course of time.

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Local Rich German founds Project O and turns hobby into a passion to preserve the ocean 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

“If you think the ocean isn’t important, imagine Earth without it. Mars comes to mind. No ocean, no life support system,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue.

The ocean defines Laguna Beach as much as its art, and no one is more invested in ocean conservation than local Rich German, who has spent much of the last 12 years on his stand up paddle board (SUP) navigating its waters. 

“Except for a few days, I’ve been out on my SUP every day since 2010,” said German, the founder of Project O and president of strategic partnerships of OneWhale. 

local rich close up

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Our Epic Ocean is a podcast series Rich German started which brings experts from around the world into conversations to share their stories and solutions to the challenges the ocean is facing 

Of course, one can only fantasize about German’s many adventures. 

Picture being on an SUP off the Laguna coastline and spotting two 100-foot blue whales – the largest animals on the planet. “I paddled out 30 to 40 minutes to get to them. It was incredible that they were close enough to shore to reach,” said German.

“The next day I went back to the spot where I’d seen them at a line of buoys. There was a worker there at the buoys, and I asked him how far offshore we were and how deep the water was. He said that at two miles offshore, the depth drops from 200-300 feet to 600 feet. Then another 1/4 mile farther out, it drops to 1,500. The vision of 1,500 feet of water below me and my paddle board was daunting.” 

local rich blue whale

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Photo by Mark Girardeau

Blue whales, the largest animal on the planet 

When asked about the strangest thing he’s ever seen, German replied, “On December 21, 2021, I was out with my friend Matt Wheaton, and we spotted a massive (9-10 ft.) sunfish (Mola mola) around 200 yards offshore. I’ve seen many sunfish but never that close to shore.”

The ocean sunfish or common mola (Mola mola) is one of the two heaviest known bony fish in the world, the other being the southern sunfish. Adults typically weigh between 545 and 4,409 lbs. 

local rich sunfish

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Photo by Rich German

Matt Wheaton with giant sunfish 

German admits there have been funny occurrences as well. “I was paddling with a good friend and her best friend – we were right by Seal Rock and there was a blue shark in the water. My friend ran into her friend’s kayak with her board and knocked her into the water.” 

No doubt more fun for the observers than the person in the water.

A magical encounter with mammals

German has had his share of amazing moments – he sees dolphins and all kinds of sea creatures during his daily jaunts. However, there was one that changed the course of his life, an improbable incident others might describe as frightening but for German, it was life-changing. 

In 2015, it was his encounter with a pod of four orcas that was the impetus for turning German’s passion into a lifelong project. “They were inches away and swam under my board. I wasn’t afraid of them – they’re not harmful. It’s a lot scarier being out on the 405 freeway than being out in the ocean with marine animals. That story went global, and I saw it as a sign from the universe that my hobby needed to become my life’s work.” 

local rich SUP near

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

German moved to Laguna in 2006 

After the encounter garnered international media attention, German connected with some of the leading ocean conservationist organizations. When he learned firsthand about the peril our ocean and the marine life are facing, his obsession turned into a mission to protect them. “The ocean gave me so much, and I realized it was my job to spend the rest of my life preserving it,” he said.

Thus in 2017, Project O was born. Project O is a nonprofit, 501c3 organization dedicated to restoring, protecting and sustaining the ocean and the marine life in it.

Experts agree that the health of the ocean predicts the health of the planet. According to www.marinelife.com, a healthy ocean regulates climate and reduces climate change impacts. Ocean currents distribute heat across the globe, regulating temperature and weather. The ocean also absorbs more than 90% of the heat and approximately 30% of carbon dioxide emissions produced by human activities.

From Florida to California 

Originally from Chicago, German grew up in Florida and spent most of his time in Fort Lauderdale and three years in Key West. “No one paddle boarded in Florida,” he said.

German came out west in 2006. “I always thought I’d live here on the coast and first moved to Newport Beach, but I didn’t like it and only stayed there for five months,” he said. “Then a buddy suggested Laguna Beach.”

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Laguna Life

Laguna celebrates Dr. Alissa Deming of PMMC during Women in Marine Mammal Science month

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Although it is not widely known or commemorated, Women in Marine Mammal Science month (May) is nevertheless an important tribute, especially for Laguna Beach and Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC). For two years, Alissa C. Deming, DVM, MS, PhD, has served as vice president of Conservation Medicine and Science at PMMC. She brought a wealth of expertise to her position, which was created by the board of directors to strengthen PMMC’s impact by prioritizing research.

From its beginnings more than 50 years ago – with Co-founder Jim Stauffer’s rescue of one seal and the assistance of Co-founder John Cunningham in building the facility – PMMC has grown to include a vast array of research and educational programs, not only locally but in the U.S. and around the globe.

According to www.oceanconservancy.org, more than half of undergrad marine science degrees today are awarded to women, and women make up the majority of biology graduate students around the country. This is a remarkable accomplishment considering no women were even allowed on research vessels in the U.S. until the 1960s. However, women are still underrepresented in this field, especially in leadership positions (as reported on the Women in Marine Mammal Science website).

“It’s a very male-dominated field,” said Deming. “Until the early 2000s, it was a mix of male and female, but the males tended to be in positions of authority and women were more ‘boots on the ground.’”

laguna celebrates deming close up

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Dr. Alissa Deming

It appears Deming performs both these roles – she’s a VP with her “boots on the ground.”

To assume her position, she moved here right in the middle of the pandemic. When I came here two years ago, it was in the middle of COVID, so I didn’t have a lot of choices of where to live, so I moved to a place in Laguna Niguel sight unseen,” she said. “I just relocated to Laguna two months ago. I love it. I walk the beach (a block away) in the morning before I come to work to reconnect to the ocean. I also walk in the evening when work permits and I love the sunsets. I see a lot of harbor seals at the Montage and sea lions. I live in a great neighborhood and all the homes have individual characteristics. The neighborhood does potlucks and one of my neighbors used to volunteer at PMMC in the 1990s.”

Deming is responsible for the medical care of all in-hospital patients and provides medical care to live dolphins and pinnipeds that strand alive on Orange County beaches – all the way from San Onofre to Seal Beach. Deming’s research efforts are focused on a commonly diagnosed cancer in wild California sea lions. She is also the chair of the Sea Lion Cancer Consortium (SLiCC) and leads the sea lion cancer research at PMMC. Her principal research interest is to study disease patterns in marine mammal populations to better understand the impacts of human and environmental factors on ecosystem health.

laguna celebrates baby elephant seal

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Male northern elephant seal pup named “Rocket” who is approximately 2 months old, was presented to PMMC due to malnutrition (aka starvation) with sand in his stomach. He is well on his way to recovery and is enjoying his pool time, eating well and gaining weight.

Deming admits that she likes to fix things, and that’s one reason she got into marine mammal science. 

Born in South Florida (where there are no seals or sea lions), Deming fell in love with manatees and sea turtles. “Back then I didn’t know there was a field for this. During my undergraduate studies, I had my first experience working with sea turtles and immune suppression in sea turtles and dolphins.”

For Deming’s complete resume, click here.

Sea lions are a critical model for understanding how cancer develops

Deming received her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine and PhD in Comparative, Diagnostic and Population Medicine from the University of Florida. “While I was working on my PhD, I focused on viruses, in particular the herpesvirus and how it can cause cancer in animals and humans,” she said. “We were finding cancerous tumors caused from the herpesvirus, as a result of compromised environment and contaminants. For the 10 years we’ve been looking at sea lions, we’ve discovered that they have the highest rate of this single type of cancer of any species in the world. Herpes is a good barometer of the impact of environmental contaminants on the health of animals – and humans.”

Affected by the immune system, herpes is the same virus as chicken pox and stays latent in the nerves. It can lay dormant until the immune system is compromised by stress or contaminants. 

After more than three decades of research, scientists have proven that the cancer affecting up to one in four adult California sea lions that received a necropsy at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, is caused by a sexually transmitted herpesvirus. The cancer, known as sea lion urogenital carcinoma, has clear parallels to cervical cancer in humans and provides a helpful model for human cancer study. Dr. Deming was the lead author of this study while she was a research fellow at that marine mammal center.

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These four California sea lion pups (“Cactus,” “Meadow,” “Colcha” and “Trifecta”) are all suffering from malnutrition, pneumonia and one had two fish hooks embedded in her flipper on presentation. They are still in critical condition, being tube fed and on various medications to treat their pneumonia and wounds associated with the embedded fish hooks. 

 “One of the reasons I got a PhD was to pay homage to these animals,” Deming said. “We’ve done so much to the environment to cause this cancer, we need to do something to understand how the process works.”

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A life reimagined: Summer Tarango’s dream comes full circle in Mercado Laguna

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

For Summer Tarango, owner of Summer’s Table, the journey to the launch of Mercado Laguna on May 5 involved a high degree of serendipity or fate – or whatever you would like to call it. There’s no denying that more than a few uncanny coincidences occurred as things fell into place and her vision came to fruition. 

“It’s always been my dream to have a place like this,” Tarango said a few days before the grand opening of Mercado Laguna at 912 North Coast Highway. “What makes this a unique shop is the collaboration of several creative women, all with a passion for what they do.”

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Summer Tarango and her longtime boyfriend Ed Benrock (a drummer for Jamestown Revival)

With this concept in mind, everything appeared to come together as if “meant to be.”

As destiny would have it, the space on North Coast Hwy became available at the same time Tarango’s new kitchen for Summer’s Table – her meal kit delivery business – in the canyon was completed, which took from February of 2021 to April of this year. 

“It was difficult to find architects, engineers and contractors, and there were so many delays, but I couldn’t do the collaboration in the shop until the kitchen was up and running,” Tarango said. “I knew I’d have to supply the market myself.”

The sous-chef from Nirvana Grille (owned by her sister Lindsay Smith) came on board as the kitchen chef which allowed Tarango more time to devote to her new project. 

“It happened pretty organically,” Tarango said. 

Chris Hitchcock, who owns Coyote Custom Woodworking in the same center as Tarango’s kitchen, was a friend of Danielle Holland who co-owns The Ritual Refill next door (900 N. Coast Highway). Hitchcock told Tarango about the available space at 912 and “that was that.” Along with some minor alterations, she painted the floors and updated the electrical system to accommodate a freezer.

“I’m really excited to be their neighbors,” Tarango said of Holland and Shannon Hall of The Ritual Refill. “It’s the perfect synergy.”

a life interior

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Vintage letters from a liquor store in Mexico determined the name of the store

How the market got its name also involves another element of happenstance. Two years ago, Tarango saw the vintage letters MERCADO LAGUNA that now hang on the wall in the store. “My friend, who is obsessed with auctions, got two sets of the letters which were originally from a liquor store in Mexico. When I got this space, I asked if she still had them, and they were in Gayle’s garage. The name of the market came from seeing letters.” 

Cancer as a catalyst

Tarango’s journey to Mercado Laguna began four years ago. In a May of 2018, Stu News “Laguna Life & People” article, titled “A Life Rewritten,” Tarango explained that her devastating diagnosis of an aggressive form of breast cancer brought her future into sharper focus. 

As Tarango said in the 2018 interview, “I don’t see the point of working my way through this just to go back to a mundane life. What’s the point. This is really hard. Chemo is hard. Here’s the chance to work through relationships, create the life I want, and explore my wildest dreams. What brings me deep joy? How can I bring these experiences that I’ve had to other women? I won’t finish this and go back to life as it was. I’m already seeing glimpses of it. It already looks totally different.” 

Tarango admits that cancer was the impetus for a life reimagined. “I didn’t know what I wanted then, and if it hadn’t been for my diagnosis, my life might have not changed.” 

a life charcuterie

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Cinco de Mayo Grand Opening spread

A cherished collaboration

Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Tarango had been working with Summer Meek from Soul Project on ways to forge deeper connections with women. Now those connections have been realized in Mercado Laguna.

“I admire all of these women so much,” Tarango said. “We were always looking for excuses to get together, but we were all so busy, so I said, ‘Let’s do business together.’”

a life all ladies

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(L-R) Molly Rossettie, Embry Munsey, Summer Tarango, Gayle Jarrett, Rhianna Baker, Lan Zantil and Melissa Norton (missing from photo, Sussanna Davidson)

In partnering with the following women, Tarango brought in a variety of exceptional products and services for her customers:

For 12 years, Molly Rossettie has been the owner of Hi Sweetheart Gift Boutique in La Jolla. She has a knack for creating happy, bright spaces filled with unique gifts, greetings and party supplies. At Mercado, she shares her selection of fun and functional gifts. Rossettie also handles Mercado’s social media.

Embry Munsey, co-owner of Jedidiah Coffee, is on a mission to “Keep Laguna Caffeinated.” She’s an expert in coffee and in making people feel welcome and part of the community. She’ll be managing Mercado Laguna and sharing her experience.

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Where’s Wally? At the heart of the Playhouse, of course

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in Stu News Laguna on January 28, 2020. It was on our favorites of 2020, and we wish to run it again today in celebration of this. We also wish to honor Laguna Playhouse, whose 100th anniversary season was interrupted by the pandemic. We look forward to attending a show at the Playhouse again soon, when it safe to do so.

Ask most male actors what roles they’d love to play, and you’re likely to be told Lear, or Hamlet, or maybe even Hannibal Lecter.

But you won’t hear that from the mouth of Wally Ziegler, one of the Laguna Playhouse’s most recognizable and beloved staff members. 

No, in high school, Wally was thrilled to be chosen to play Elwood P Dowd, a character whose relationship with a large invisible rabbit named Harvey leads to a stay in a mental hospital, until he is set free and his eccentricities finally accepted.

Wally would have been excited to play Elwood again as an adult, but his acting career never really took off in the way he’d hoped.

Still, his love of the role makes perfect sense when you learn that he practiced as a psychiatrist back in the mid-eighties after earning his MD in Guadalajara, Mexico. 

Not that Wally stayed in that profession for long.

“The red tape, the politics, and the drama, it all drove me crazy,” he says, in the colloquial sense of the word, of course. 

But to this day, he’s fascinated by the workings of the human mind.

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Wally Ziegler, beloved of Playhouse staff and patrons

So Wally left the medical world and in 1986 took a job as a bartender at his brother Karl’s Laguna Village Café, located where The Cliff now stands, immediately reducing his stress levels. 

Then he began volunteering at the Playhouse.

Most patrons, even those who’ve known Wally for years as the amiable, pony-tailed guy milling around the front of house, making sure all is going well on show nights, have no idea quite how integral he is and has been to the functioning of the Playhouse in the past few decades.

But we’ll get to that a little later.

Growing up: A hippie at war

Wally grew up in Altadena and attended Pasadena High School, where he took part in many school plays. He was also a member of the Pasadena Boys Choir, and sang arias from operas including Carmen and Tosca.

“But I was never going to be a triple threat,” he says. “Can’t dance!”

He attended Washington State University. Then came Vietnam.

“I got drafted in 1967. I became a conscientious objector, but then I decided I wanted to serve our country in battle to help the wounded. After extensive training with Special Forces Medical Training, I was sent to Vietnam as a combat medic,” Wally recalls.

“During the war, my brother Karl was living in South Laguna with hippies and protesters, and he’d send me pictures of him and friends in marches or parades, and I would put them up in my hooches in ‘Nam,” he adds. “The guys would take a look at them and cheer, they’d say, yes, please, tell them, get us out of here!”

Once he got back to the States in 1970, Wally fully embraced hippie-dom.

“I decorated my field jacket from the Army with flowers, peace signs, and anti-war slogans. The ‘V’ for victory sign became the peace sign, and I’ve used it as a greeting and a goodbye sign ever since,” he says. 

“Hey, I’m still a hippie. I continue to let my Freak Flag wave, that’s my long hair.”

Wheres Wally memorabilia

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Theatre memorabilia 

“Wally’s World,” as his cubby backstage and down some stairs is known, is crammed with theatre memorabilia including half a rubber skeleton, an unopened bottle of Guinness gifted to him by an Irish director, Russian dolls, posters, flyers, and photos of the many actors he has known through the years – and, naturally, a large peace sign.

Ushering in a new era

In 1995, after two years as a paid staff member, Wally was appointed House Manager, with duties that included dealing with actors’ contracts, Equity requirements, housing, transportation, and rehearsals, to mention just a few of his responsibilities.

Later he added two more hats: he worked as the prop master and casting coordinator, helping director Andy Barnacle with logistics and decision-making.

“We’d get as many as 600 submissions, and we’d audition 60-120 people every day, choosing three to four actors for each role,” Wally says. “Over time you develop an instinct, you can tell who feels it, who is going to evoke emotion, and who is just mouthing things. Though there was one woman who aced the audition and she was terrible in the play. It happens.”

Although Wally has cast many, many stars, his most memorable was Julie Harris, the five-time Tony award-winning actress in her role as The Belle of Amherst.

Wally’s knowledge of psychiatry turned out to be extremely valuable in his new profession.

“Actors are a rare breed in their motivations, behavior, and personalities because of the roles that they portray, and the veteran actors become more and more adept on taking on so many different characteristics other than their own,” Wally explains. 

“Working with them, helping them with their challenges across the board, I’d use techniques similar to those I’d used as a therapist.

“Several times I was a technical advisor to war plays we produced, because of my experience in Vietnam, and many directors/actors would ask me about behaviors or motivations of a certain character in a play.”

Dealing with the bigwigs – and the little wigs…

“In those days and now, as Artist and Audience Services Manager, I deal with the bigwigs – and the little wigs,” he says. “I work with everyone, from the box office to the actors to the marketing department to the janitorial staff.”

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Wally backstage: He’s familiar with every aspect of Playhouse operations

Over time, Wally has become a resident doctor of sorts at the Playhouse, his medical degree coming in useful too.

“In my earlier years we had many patrons fall because we didn’t have handrails or good lighting,” Wally says. “It became the assumption that at least one person would fall at each show. So I would attend those patients, or call in the paramedics. We added more aisle lights and handrails, and then constructed new steps all the same height.

“That meant many fewer falls, but we still had medical emergencies. One time a box office member ran out to me a few minutes before our show started and said, ‘Wally, I think one of your ushers has just died!’ I ran to the office and she was slumped over and not breathing and no heartbeat. I initiated cardiac massage while the paramedics were called and I did get the heart started and had her breathing when they arrived.” 

Fun with props

As prop master also, Wally haunted consignment and antique stores for items as disparate as rotary phones and, once, a huge observatory-style telescope for the play Stella by Starlight borrowed from its owner in Anaheim. It was insured for a million dollars.

“One of the most fun and interesting props was from Main Beach for a scene involving the ocean. We brought in loads and loads of sand onto the stage. Another show we had a Venetian canal filled with water and a gondola paddling through,” he says.

Wally by the numbers

“Ask Wally, that’s what people say when they want to know any trivia about the Playhouse,” he’s proud to say, his passion for the place practically palpable.

At this point, he’s been involved in 180 Main Stage productions, 85 Youth Theatre productions, and 79 shorter engagements.

He owns 80 ties, which he wears with his suit every show night, theming them according to the current production. One favorite resembles a parrot, another a Gibson guitar. He brings out his piano-themed tie whenever Hershey Felder is on stage.

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Wally loves his ties – he chooses them depending on the shows

Wally loves driving. His “Yellow Baby” – a Volkswagen Beetle – reached 440,000 miles. His current car is clocking in at 160,000 miles. He bought a house in Lake Arrowhead last year and makes the 160-mile commute five days a week.

“I’ve been to 63 out of the last 64 Rose Bowl games,” he adds. “I missed 1970 because I was in Vietnam, but I watched it on Armed Forces TV.”

He’s still standing

While Wally’s role has changed over the years, the 71-year-old still sets up appointments for the Main Stage and Youth Theatre, acts as “middle man” for all departments, orders custodial and other supplies, is in charge of front of house, and mans the patio bar, among numerous other duties. 

Wally treasures Tamzen, his Border Collie, who comes to work with him every day (as do 11 other Playhouse dogs with their people). 

Tamzen is his surrogate Harvey, his comfort, the one he can talk to about his deepest thoughts, knowing he can rely on her loyalty, her love, and her ability to keep secrets. Skittish around kids, “she’s a one-man woman,” Wally says affectionately.

With that, a smile, and a peace sign, he ducks back into Wally’s World, blending into the background, one of the many irreplaceable treasures to be found at the very heart of the Playhouse.


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Humble, funny, and above all indomitable: Kathleen Fay is a local treasure

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Kathleen Fay, longtime PTA volunteer, winner of California PTA’s prestigious Golden Oak Service Award, and current legislative advocate for California State PTA, is well-known around town for her indefatigable spirit and tireless work on behalf of students and their parents. 

She’s known for creating and implementing a number of wonderfully innovative programs, including LBHS’s Student Grant Program, which gives students a voice in suggesting ways to improve their campus experience, and provides funds to ensure their ideas become reality. 

And she’s known for volunteering endless hours with Little League, Scouts, AYSO, and the Patriots Day Parade, to mention just a few organizations that have benefited from her energy and her expertise over the last 18 years. 

This is what you don’t know about Kathleen Fay

But what most people don’t know about Kathleen is this: she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s nearly two decades ago. Yet she has accomplished goals that would challenge even the healthiest among us. 

“I haven’t shared my diagnosis with many people – early on, I did tell some friends, but I couldn’t handle the pity in their voices every time they asked how I was,” Kathleen says, holding on firmly to her right hand, which shakes a little when she’s nervous. 

“Most of all, though, I didn’t want my young sons to find out. I didn’t want them growing up thinking that their mother was an invalid, that they must be careful not to rebel or challenge me. I wanted them to have a normal childhood.”

LLP Humble funny Kathleen

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Kathleen Fay

But when Robin Williams died six years ago, Kathleen began to think that at some point, it might be time to share her secret.

“I was shocked, stunned, when I heard a few people say, ‘oh, he had Parkinson’s, so no wonder,’” she says, becoming animated. “I realized that at some point, when my kids were older, I needed to spread the word that Parkinson’s is an obstacle, not a death sentence. The diagnosis doesn’t mean your life is over.”

And why go public now, at this juncture, with this interview?

Kathleen leans forward. “Because Stu is the person I would have asked for advice. He’d have helped me understand how the community might react to the news and how I should let people know. And if he trusted you and Shaena, then I knew I could trust the way you’d share my story.”

For a moment or two, both of us are silent, thinking how much Stu is missed, what a rare person he was, how he was the heart and soul of Laguna Beach for so long.

Kathleen sets out to retrain her brain

After four neurologists confirmed Kathleen’s diagnosis, none of whom knew what the others had concluded, she admits that she was upset at the confirmation and saw “a wheelchair in my future.”

But Kathleen isn’t one to feel sorry for herself for more than a few nanoseconds. Already fascinated by science, she began researching the concept of neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain can often adapt well after an illness or injury.

“You don’t irrevocably lose brain cells and abilities because of a ‘bad weekend in Mexico’ as it was once thought,” she smiles. “The brain is very capable of developing new pathways.”

So that’s what this determined, resourceful woman decided to do: retrain her brain. She set out to use both sides of her body alternately, occasionally “surprising” her weaker right side with a task it wasn’t expecting. 

“Now I’m close to ambidextrous. Doing these exercises, plus meds, have kept me pretty stable, though nowadays I have to think where to put my steps when I walk,” she admits.

Being Kathleen, she has found an inventive way to meet that challenge too. She conjures up songs inside her head, matching her pace to various tempos, depending on whether she’s strolling, striding, or just plain walking. 

“I sing beautifully inside my head, unlike in real life, where I can’t sing at all. I even have to lip-synch ‘happy birthday,’” she says, displaying her talent for one-liners (of which more later). 

Her sons are music to her ears

Interestingly, Kathleen’s sons are the opposite of tone-deaf. Both are terrific musicians, among other talents, so maybe there are musical genes buried deep in their mom’s DNA. And naturally, given her creativity, they have the most interesting of names.

“Thor’s full name is Thornton, a family name, but as it turns out, he does have a few things in common with the Norse god of thunder – he’s a drummer, and he has long thick blonde hair,” she explains. “I named Drake after the Drake Equation.”

Which, she tells me, is a mathematical formula for the probability of finding life or advanced civilizations in the universe. She’s a wonderfully wonky woman, I’m finding out, fond of delving deeply into science and policy issues.

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Kathleen is also the business manager at Laguna Presbyterian Church

Her sons are into sports in a big way, particularly Drake, who hasn’t met a downhill that he didn’t want to race down, on skis or anything that helps him move fast.

But, says Kathleen, “I’m not sporty. You can tell from the way I throw a ball that I’m great at reading.” 

See what I mean about being good at one-liners?

Passions of pre-PTA Kathleen: Finance and a fiancé

Passion one: “I loved economics in high school,” she says. “When I asked my teacher what careers that might lead to, he looked at me [quizzically] and said, ‘Hmm, I suppose you could teach.’ It stopped there. No other suggestions.” 

The teacher’s skepticism about a woman holding a job in finance didn’t hold Kathleen back. Before she left the corporate world to be a full-time mother and volunteer, she worked as a stockbroker and investment advisor.

“It was a man’s world in those days. There were just two women in the office. You had to have a thick skin, work hard – and know how to swear,” she says. “Which, I must say, I did rather well.”

Passion two, then and now: Her husband Tom.

Thirty-four years ago, during her lunch break, blonde, blue-eyed Kathleen, no doubt a knock-out, spotted Tom walking into a deli in LA.

“The minute he came in the door I felt the electricity,” she says. “I kept smiling at him, but he didn’t respond. Ordered my food, turned and smiled again. Nothing. In those days, it was unusual for me not to get some kind of response. I even gave a full ‘over the shoulder’ smile as I left…but nothing,” she says. 

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Tom and Kathleen

“When I got back to the office, I called the owner of the deli, asked her to be discreet and find out who he was and where he worked. Well, she wasn’t in the least discreet. She told Tom I was interested in him and he gave her his business card. 

“That Friday I headed to the deli again, got his number, called him, we went out to lunch, then dinner, and the rest is history. 

“He said when he saw me smile at him, he just kept muttering to himself, what do I do, what do I do…”

Kathleen’s “inner squirrel” is busier than any bunny

Being busy and productive is very important to Kathleen – that’s why she loves her job, since July 2019, as the business manager for Laguna Presbyterian Church, where she’s an ordained deacon, and yet still spends hours upon hours in her role as legislative advocate for California PTA. She’s visited Sacramento twice already this month. 

“Reading legislation is my idea of a good time…really!” she says, and I don’t doubt her for a minute.

Here’s another one of Kathleen’s great one-liners, spoken as we discuss how full her life is. 

“I meditate, but I find it hard sometimes to focus,” she says. “Even when I’m watering the garden, my inner squirrel runs fast and hard on the wheel.”

Inner squirrel! Awesome!

Long before her Parkinson’s diagnosis reignited her interest in brain science, Kathleen was fascinated by behavioral economics as espoused by Robert Sepolsky, a famous neuro-endocrinologist and author. 

(For the uninitiated, and that includes me, here is the definition: Behavioral economics studies the effects of psychological, cognitive, emotional, cultural, and social factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions.)

Kathleen explains: “For example, advertising that an item was 99c and is marked down to 53c suggests that the item is of a higher value than it actually is. Kids need to learn to look out for these kinds of tricks, which can have an exponentially greater impact when used in the political sphere.”

So it is that one of her goals as PTA advocate is to lobby for the kind of education that gives kids a real-life understanding of how the brain processes information, and why that’s important. 

Fascinated by science, Kathleen is also a lover of the arts.

“The arts make us more fully human,” she says. “They enable us to express our creativity. Every teen needs to find a social and emotional anchor that makes them want to come to school, doesn’t matter whether it’s band, sports, or academics, as long as they feel they have found ‘their’ people. Often that anchor is the arts in one form or another.”

Kathleen and Tom adore Laguna Beach. She points to the Patriots Day Parade as an example of a quintessentially Laguna event. 

“Everyone is so happy to see each other, hugging, chatting, laughing,” she says. “We’re like a small Midwestern town plunked down on the coast.”

While Kathleen’s profile is high, and her skills greatly appreciated by locals, she is not in the least interested in elective office. 

“For me, achieving brings rewards, not being the center of attention. If all the world’s a stage,” she says, “then I’m happy to be a stagehand.”

More like several stagehands rolled into one, I’d say.

Humble, funny, and above all indomitable: Kathleen Fay is a local treasure.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - [email protected]

Lana Johnson, Editor - [email protected]

Tom Johnson, Publisher - [email protected]

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

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Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

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

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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