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Costa Mesa dinner honors community leaders and contributors

It was a night of laughs, cheers and, at times, tears Thursday as about 250 people gathered to honor some of Costa Mesa's most influential leaders and devoted community contributors during the Art of Leadership Mayor's Celebration.

This year's honorees were longtime local volunteer and arts advocate Charlene Ashendorf, former Costa Mesa police chief Dave Snowden and the Ursini family, owners of Newport Rib Co.

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"To me, art comes from the place where our heads and our hearts come together, and each of our honorees tonight really exemplifies this in their leadership and in their giving to the community," Mayor Sandy Genis told the crowd at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa hotel.

The Art of Leadership award went to Snowden, who was Costa Mesa's police chief for 17 years. He worked to develop community-oriented policing efforts and was deeply involved with local businesses and charities.

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"Dave was a true servant leader — he put the organization before himself," current Police Chief Rob Sharpnack said in a video message. "He had the wisdom and the understanding to allow people to move forward with projects on their own without micromanagement. … He was a good delegator."

Snowden, who also led the police departments in Baldwin Park and Beverly Hills, said he was "truly humbled" to receive the award.

Leadership, he said, is about finding ways to inspire people to work together for a common purpose.

"I trust people; I delegate to people; I'm not afraid to pick people that I think are a hell of a lot smarter than I am to get the job done," he said.

Fran and Karen Ursini and their children received the Lifetime Achievement Community Involvement award.

Since opening Newport Rib Co. in 1984, the restaurant and family have become fixtures in Costa Mesa because of their food, philanthropic involvement and support of youth sports.

"They have given back so much in so many ways for so many causes and organziations," said Peter Buffa, a former Costa Mesa mayor who emceed Thursday's event. "They really are a life force in this community."

Karen Ursini expressed the family's gratitude. "We are very honored to know that we are part of Costa Mesa and have made it a part of our lives and a part of your lives," she said.

Ashendorf was tabbed for the Art of Giving Back award. Her long history of community involvement continues with leadership positions on Costa Mesa's Cultural Arts Committee and Senior Commission, as well as the foundation committee for Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries.

"I'm sure we can agree that in the 'City of the Arts' our voices don't always sing in perfect harmony, nor do we dance to the same beat," Ashendorf said, referring to the city's official motto. "But in service, we build a community of hearts. Each of us believes, by giving back, the most rewarding investment is the relationships that we create."

The three honorees also received certificates of recognition from state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) and the offices of U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel.

Proceeds from Thursday's event — which was presented by the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the South Coast Metro Alliance in partnership with the city — will benefit arts and educational programs at Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools, Save Our Youth, Segerstrom Center for the Arts and South Coast Repertory.

The evening concluded with a tribute to Brad Long, a longtime Costa Mesa city employee who died last year.

Long worked for the city as a videographer and video production specialist, covering community meetings and events and filming other local segments for more than 20 years.

"He really was beloved by everyone who knew him and worked with him," Buffa said. "I've known a lot of people in my life; he was by far the most optimistic, upbeat person I've ever met."

Twitter @LukeMMoney

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