Teams Build Castles in Sand to Launch United Way Campaign

Times Staff Writer

It was supposed to be a sand castle, and by God, it would be a sand castle. Except that the dry, powdery stuff kept crumbling back onto the beach when it was supposed to be fashioned into shapely turrets and curving staircases.

Not to worry. This was the Fluor Corp., one of the major engineering companies of the world. The Fluor team quickly shoveled several dozen cubic yards of golden Seal Beach sand into an enormous hulk and, already half an hour into the United Way campaign’s annual sand-castle contest, began looking about nervously.

“What is it?” inquired one observer.

“It’s a VW bug,” offered Jane Dooseff, Fluor’s United Way coordinator. A makeshift turret was eventually fashioned onto the roof of the sand-mobile. That way, Dooseff reasoned, it still qualified as a sand castle.

“We’re going with the idea, every man’s home is his castle,” she explained. “You know how a lot of people live in their Volkswagens?”

A Day for Improvisation

It was definitely a day for improvisation, as some of the great creative minds of Orange County’s largest business firms, social service agencies and just plain beachgoers turned out to do battle with the shifting sands alongside the Seal Beach pier--all to launch the United Way’s $18.4 million fund-raising campaign for 1985.


Disneyland, the place that practically invented artificial castles, saw its sandy Cinderella turrets crumble only seconds after the forms were removed. Hastily, plans were laid to replace it with a moat and a smaller castle. “I guess we have to use our Disney imagination now,” sighed team leader Carolyn Pelcak.

Farther down the line, Thomas Nielsen, president of the Irvine Co. and vice chairman of the fund-raising campaign, was in khakis and short sleeves, watching as company employees constructed a sculpture that would eventually resemble two embracing bears with the slogan: “Bearing It Together.”

Nielsen said that he was leaving the dirty work up to lobbyist Sam Couch, who, with trowel and delicate fingertips, was molding the sand sculpture exactly the way he might approach a county government official preparing to vote on a land development plan.

“It takes a master touch, I’ll tell you,” Nielsen beamed, nodding at Couch. Why wasn’t the company president in there shoveling? “I had some other commitments,” he said, then paused. “I’ve been convinced the sun is bad for my skin--oh, I have all kinds of excuses.”

The sculptures ranged from the elaborate (an incredibly detailed Imperial palace built by employees of Chevron Oil in La Habra) to the amusing (Carl Karcher Enterprises’ giant cheeseburger, french fries and Coke). And because there were categories for everyone from amateurs to sand-castle professionals, everyone had a chance.

The Chevron U.S.A. team won the grand prize for the second year in a row. The 12 members of the winning team were awarded trophies with miniature sand castles, said Jan Crow, a United Way volunteer. There were 25 other winners in separate categories.

Originality and Creativity

In all, there were 73 entries--well above the level of past United Way campaigns. The contest was the beginning of a fund-raising effort that United Way officials hope will raise $2 million more than last year for health and social service agencies.

Jeff Poland, one of a team of judges scanning the sand sculptures for winners--and a participant in the team that broke the world’s record over the Labor Day weekend with a 41-foot-high sculpture--said that judges look for originality and creativity, not just technical prowess.

“Execution is last, but it’s important,” he said. “You know, just how far you can push the sand before it. . . . " His voice trailed off into an ominous silence.