Four Red Hats were inducted into the Laguna Greenbelt Hall of Fame
last week at the annual dinner in honor of Greenbelt founder Jim
Red Hats Eleanor Henry, Marv Johnson, Niko Theris and John
Wilkerson are members of the original Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
docents. Henry, Johnson and Theris were in the first Laguna Greenbelt
training session in 1992.
Wilkerson didn’t need the training, but on the opening day of the
park he and the others donned the red caps that identified docents
qualified to lead the public on tours.
Harry Huggins’ introductions included Laguna Canyon Conservancy
President Carolyn Wood, former mayor Phyllis Sweeney and City Council
candidate Melissa O’Neal. He also acknowledged Scott Thomas, who
assisted in the program.
Ed Merrilees was called to the podium to talk about Theris, while
slides of the honoree and the open space he loves lighted up the
“Did you know he plays the recorder? Did you know he volunteers at
KPFK? And who else writes all those letters to the editor -- the last
one was a masterpiece,” Merrilees said.
Other community services include co-founding the Friends of the
Library Bookshop and eight years of volunteering at the youth shelter
-- introducing youngsters to the park.
Park Ranger Barbara Norton said it was a pleasure for her to talk
about Wilkerson as a docent and as a teacher of her sons, Chris and
“They were a challenge, the very antithesis of my interest in the
wilderness,” Norton said. “That was 10 years ago. Now they are 20 and
25, and when I ask them who their favorite teacher was, they say John
“I find it comforting as a parent and as a ranger. He brings a
unique quality to the park that excites and enthuses children,” she
said. “He has been a tremendous force in explaining what the Laguna
Wilderness Park is.”
When Anne Johnson was called to the podium to talk about her
husband, Marv, he said, “Oh dear,” or words to that effect.
“If I don’t cry, I’ll be all right,” Anne Johnson said. “Marv and
I have known each other for 45 years. He is still water.”
They met in Boston and married there. He used to talk about
California, about coming back to the hills and the orange groves.
Finally, one day after shoveling snow for a couple of hours, he said,
“That’s it.” Marv Johnson came out first, and Anne found one
despondent husband when she arrived.
“They have raped my land,” he told Anne, who describes herself as
an armchair environmentalist.
“He turned my head around, and I am so glad he is being honored
tonight, because sometimes the quiet ones get ignored,” she said.
It takes a pretty dynamic character to call the forceful Eleanor
Henry, Ellie. But Jeannie Bernstein is the just that kind of
character, in addition to being a long-standing admirer of the feisty
environmentalist, with whom she shares the same values and many of
the same experiences.
“She and I lay down together in front of trucks in Nevada to stop
nuclear testing,” Bernstein said. “We tried to stop the toll road.
Ellie and I are fellow jailbirds.”
And Henry is a good friend, helping Bernstein climb fences.
“I don’t know if that is required of a docent, but it qualifies
her in my mind,” Bernstein said.
Henry is uncompromising when it comes to the environment,
according to Bernstein, and so knowledgeable.
“She knows more about plants and flowers than anyone I know,”
Bernstein said. “She is an expert on the indigenous plants of
California. And I understand she is responsible for landscaping the
Henry was the first person Phyllis Sweeney met when she and her
family moved to Laguna Beach in 1961. Their daughters were the same
age. Henry was involved in Girl Scouts, as Sweeney was in her
Wood presented a bouquet to Henry.
“I am up here because LCC Treasurer Max Brown couldn’t be and he
wanted me to give these to her.” Wood said. “And Eva Hodjera also
wanted to extend her congratulations. Also, I extend my
congratulations on behalf of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy.”
Henry spoke briefly.
“I had fun going into the [Transportation Corridor Agency] with
mud on my boots,” Eleanor Henry said.
Steven Stewart didn’t get arrested protesting the toll road, but
he does have the distinction of having gotten one of the equipment
drivers arrested. The driver swung open his vehicle door, knowing
full well that Stewart was standing there. A police officer observed
the whole thing.
“The driver pleaded not to be arrested, but no way,” said Stewart,
who attended the dinner with his wife, Liza, daughter of the late
Phil Interlandi and Phoebe Whipple.
Perennial Greenbelt President Elisabeth Brown and Ed Frye put
together the first docent training sessions in 1992. Those trainees
became the Red Hat docents.
“Docents are independent and they don’t all wear the hats, but
they are all special,” Brown said.
She presented Wilkerson, Henry, Johnson and Theris with engraved
“Mine says, if found return to Anne Johnson,” Johnson said.
The four honorees were given a standing ovation.
Jeremy Logan Leeds is still a little young to applaud. He didn’t
even make a peep. He is the son of Clay and Kimberly Bixler Leeds and
grandson of Beth Leeds. The young parents take Jeremy everywhere with
them, even to City Council meetings, which some people claim is the
reason he sleeps so well in his stroller.
Also on the Dilley Dinner guest list: Gene and Johanna Felder,
Greg Benford, Vicky Theris, and Gigi and Ben Blount.
Mary and Clark Fegraus drove to town from the high desert to
attend the dinner. Jeanette Dilley, Jim’s widow, is always a guest of
“Usually everyone sits around and reminisces about Jim at the
dinner,” Brown said. “In the past, recognition for meritorious
service has been board centered. This was the first time rank and
file volunteers were honored.”
* Our Laguna is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline
Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box
248, Laguna Beach, 92652, hand-deliver to 384 Forest Ave., Suite 22;
call 494-4321 or fax 494-8979.