Six individuals, including two high school students, and the tireless volunteers of USC Verdugo Hills Hospital will be honored in a special April 16 ceremony at La Cañada's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as recipients of this year's Les Tupper Community Service Awards.
Presented by the La Cañada Flintridge Coordinating Council and named for the late Leslie C. Tupper, a former president of both the Coordinating Council and the La Cañada school board, the awards recognize La Cañada residents who have demonstrated long-term and broad-based volunteer service to the local community outside of their job duties.
Recipients this year include: La Cañada Flintridge City Councilman and former Mayor Mike Davitt; La Cañada Unified school board member Ellen Multari; longtime educational supporter Soo Kim Choi; Miss La Cañada Flintridge Royal Court adviser Katherine Markgraf; La Cañada High School senior Naomi Stephen; and Flintridge Preparatory School junior Courtney Johnson.
Tom Hoffman — a JPL project manager for the InSight mission, which will launch a rocket to Mars from the California coast on May 5 — will be the featured keynote speaker at this year's ceremony at JPL's von Karman Auditorium.
Before his 2011 arrival to the La Cañada City Council, where he served two terms as mayor, Davitt served on the Planning Commission for eight years. He is president of the California Contract Cities Assn., which represents 7 million residents in 70 member cities, and serves on the boards of the Glendale Community College Foundation and the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Support Group.
"A good part of the fabric of a community is giving back," he said Tuesday. "My folks were always willing to give back to their community and their church, so we learned from them."
Davitt was recently named president of the LCF Tournament of Roses Assn. The father of four has also coached football and basketball and was a Boy Scout leader for two years.
Multari immediately got involved serving La Cañada schools after moving to the city with her husband and three children in 2007, becoming financial secretary for Palm Crest Elementary School's PTA and serving on the school's site council. As her children grew, she became publicity chairman for the La Cañada High School 7/8 PTA Spring Home Tour and a PTA auditor. Multari has also been director of the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation and served as its publicity chair.
In her seven years on La Cañada's school board, including a stint as president in 2014, she's helped steer the district through passage of a parcel tax and a school bond and has overseen issues related to student safety, well-being and adoption of districtwide Common Core standards.
Choi moved to La Cañada as a high school freshman, graduating in La Cañada High's Class of 1989. In 2010, she moved back with her husband and two sons and jumped into volunteerism, serving as a Paradise Canyon Elementary School art docent and coordinating the LCHS Alumni Assn.'s inaugural alumni breakfast. She also helped organize the "Challenge Success: Building Your Path" conference for high school students and has been a member of the Flintridge Guild of Children's Hospital since 2014, serving as sponsorship chair for two years.
Choi was gala chair for the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation and started a Korean-American Parents mixer which raised $50,000. She rallied local Korean American parents in support of the district's Measure LC parcel tax, ensuring Korean language ballots were available. She was also fundraising chair for the "Yes on LCF" bond campaign.
"Once you get involved, it just goes deeper and deeper," she said of her service. "When you go outside of yourself and your family for a bigger cause, I think that makes a person happy."
Markgraf grew up in La Cañada, volunteering as a Sunday school teacher at La Cañada Congregational Church while in high school and playing in the church's bell choir. Today, the mother of a 10-year-old son, she's an active member of Palm Crest Elementary School's PTA and volunteers at school and scouting events. The daughter of LCF Chamber president and executive Pat Anderson, Markgraf has been a judge of the Miss La Cañada Flintridge Royal Court since 2011 and is currently court adviser and the chamber's recording secretary.
Though she also moderated her church's Finance and Property board, and is active with the Paradise Valley Homeowners Assn., Markgraf said she was surprised to learn she'd been selected for a Les Tupper award and is pleased when others suggest she's following in her mother's footsteps.
"I'm happy to follow her anywhere," she said.
An LCHS senior, Stephen has spent four years on the Speech and Debate team, where she's served as speech captain, secretary and president. She's been actively involved in several clubs and committees, including the campus' Green Club. A regular tutor across many grade levels, Stephen helped create a tutoring program for fifth- and seventh-graders.
She earned her Girl Scout Gold Award working at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, where she raised $500 to make baby blankets and set up iPads for the pediatrics department. Stephen also created a video to help kids understand the hospital experience. A member of the National Youth Advisory Council for the nonprofit HOPE worldwide, she worked with youth and rehabilitation programs in Chicago and Philadelphia.
Stephen is also a member of the Assistance League of Flintridge, where she's worked with Assisteens, planned Medallion dinners and worked at the Bargain Box.
Flintridge Prep junior Johnson is involved in her school's Athletic Council on Leadership, tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club of Pasadena, organizing campus Special Olympics tournaments and other events. She is president of the Fashion Club, is on the Club Council and the Prom Committee, and prepares lunches every week for Pasadena's Union Station Homeless Services.
A member of the National Charity League of Glendale, Johnson has dedicated more than 650 hours to local philanthropy and was chosen in 2016 to serve on the group's National Ticktocker Advisory Council. She recently earned her Girl Scout Gold Award by making a therapy room for families served by the YMCA's domestic violence programs. Johnson is also a founding member of the LCF Sister Cities Assn. and represented La Cañada in a Youth Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., in 2016. She encourages others to consider volunteering in their communities.
"If they could just find something they're interested in, it could be very fun," she said. "And it's very rewarding."
This year, for their ongoing service to members of the La Cañada community, volunteers with USC Verdugo Hills Hospital will be awarded a Special Service Award. Founded in 1972, the group now comprises more than 250 active volunteers from ages 16 to 95, who provide an average of 450 volunteer service hours each week.
Among them is 87-year-old Lee Sealander, who helps organize coffee supplies for the hospital's many departments for the past 27 years. He started volunteering after retiring from his automotive shop business and still goes to the hospital three times a week.
"What I like about it is the people," Sealander said of his service. "I've met so many nice people and they've been so good to me."
FYI: The 50th annual Les Tupper Community Service Awards takes place Monday, April 16, at 7 p.m. at JPL's von Karman Auditorium. For more information, visit lcfcc.info or call (818) 790-2686.