An overflow crowd paid homage to multitasking, tireless, octogenarian community volunteer Jean Raun on Friday at the Laguna Beach Woman’s Club.
Representatives of groups in which Raun is active celebrated her selection by the club as the 2007 Woman of the Year and praised her contributions to the community. It was the largest turnout in the 13-year history of the award.
“The other evening I sat with friends on my patio around a little fire built in my portable fireplace"¦. I looked out across the darkening skies to the lights on Mystic Hills and down into the village and pinched myself "” how did a little girl from Kansas come to live in such a wonderful place?” Raun said.
It must have been a hell of a tornado that brought such a whirlwind of energy to Laguna.
Raun’s services to Laguna include leadership in the local unit of the League of Women Voters of Orange Coast, the Cross Cultural Council, the Woman’s Club, the Interfaith Council, Great Decisions discussion group, 3020 Visioning Committee Governance, candidates forums, the Campaign Finance Reform Committee, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and the Laguna Relief and Resource Center.
“She has been an awesome leader in four decades of community service,” said mistress of ceremonies Pat Kollenda. “I met her for the first time today, so I read up on her "” and I have to tell you, it took a long time.”
Nominees for the award must be women whose activities support the club’s values of assisting all women in seeking empowerment, education and access to community resources.
“Jean lives by the courage of her convictions, working tirelessly to demonstrate the power of good government and to better the lives of the less fortunate,” said Peggy Ford, outgoing club president.
Ford and incoming President Lee Winocur Field presented the Woman of the Year Award to Raun. Accolades to Raun included a county proclamation, presented by Fifth District Supervisor Pat Bates.
Bates said Raun brought to mind a speech Bates used to give in her early days as a volunteer, which included the statement that if there was a picture in the dictionary next to the words “can do,” it would be a picture of women.
“After reading about Jean, the picture should be of her,” Bates said. "[The proclamation] commends her for being a wonderful mentor to all with whom she comes in contact.”
Mayor Toni Iseman presented the city’s proclamation.
“She is our moral compass,” Iseman said.
The Orange County League of Women Voters also made a presentation honoring Raun, and Linda Frost from the Unitarian Universalist fellowship praised her.
“Jean Raun is a street-smart activist,” Frost said. “Always has been, always will be. And she does it with passion, grace, high energy, tenacity and an unwavering belief in the UU principal that embraces the inherent good and dignity of all people, regardless of their circumstances.
“Jean not only walks the walk "” she grabs you by the ear and hauls you along. Many of us, thanks to Jean, have one ear much longer than the other.”
Past club award recipient Marsha Bode has worked with Raun since the Laguna Relief and Resource Center was organized after the 1993 firestorm.
“She has a really nice manner at the desk,” said Bode, not one to gush. “It is harder than you might think to talk to people who come to the center "” many of them mentally ill. And she is not reluctant to do some of the less glamorous jobs.”
Following the 1995 floods, donated clothing was collected in a defunct bank building.
“Jean was folding clothing for hours,” Bode said. “Another woman came and asked what she could do. I pointed to the piles of dirty clothes and said, help fold. She took a look and said, ‘I’m management, not labor.’ ”
Raun has no problem getting her hands dirty in a good cause.
“She is a doer,” said Bobbi Cox, who participates in Great Discussions with Raun.
Raun began “doing” in 1960, when she began teaching, a career she continued until she retired in 1986.
She moved to Laguna Beach in 1966 after her second marriage to the late Dick Raun. They bought a home in Top of the World, where she still lives.
“I want to thank her for everything she has done,” said past club award recipient Sande St. John, no slouch herself as a volunteer. “I know so many who have lived in that ‘hotel’ she has on the hill. She always has a houseful. Next year we will welcome her to our table.”
A table at the annual luncheon is reserved for previously honored Women of the Year: starting in 1995 with St. John, followed by Sandy Thornton, Kathleen Blackburn, Cheryl Post, Lois Soloman and Anne Campbell, who could not be pried apart, Doris Shields, Violet Lansdell, Pauline Walpin, Carolyn Wood, Marsha Bode, Ann Christoph and Elizabeth Schneider.
More than 185 reservations were submitted for the 2007 luncheon "” an indication of the regard in which Raun is held by a broad cross section of the community.
Unitarian co-minister Sarah Moldenhaur-Salazar called Raun a community blessing.
“Our blessing on this gathering today is this: May our feasting and fellowship, this communion celebration of Jean, nourish our bodies and our spirits so that we may be better people, people more like Jean, who acts justly, cherishes mercy and walks humbly with love,” co-minister Stefanie Etsback-Dale said.
Tables were sponsored by the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library, the Woman’s Club Board of Directors, the voters league, Learning.net and the fellowship. Guests included Raun’s son, two daughters, two granddaughters and their husbands and three great grandchildren.
“I am overwhelmed,” Raun said.
In her turn at the podium, Raun rebounded the praise heaped on her.
“Our citizens care about each other,” Raun said. “Wealth or the lack of it doesn’t seem to matter much. Those with money share it generously to support activities they endorse.
“Many give volunteer hours to help wherever it is needed, giving particular attention to those less fortunate in our community.”
She noted the statues and photographs of Laguna’s homeless greeter, Eiler Larsen, who was housed by the community and fed by local restaurants, and cited Walt Elterman, former owner of the Marine Room, who used to let the homeless sleep in the back room.
“Admittedly, their homelessness was partly due to being such good customers,” Raun said.
“More than 15 years ago, the Episcopal Service Alliance, headed by Marsha Bode, had a center in South Laguna where the needs of the poor and the homeless were met. Sande St. John, Alice Graves, Lois Solomon, Ann Campbell and Colin Henderson were leaders in providing food and assistance to the needy.
“Years ago, Roma Rose and Evelyn Munro were taking hot food to the beach in the evening to feed those who would otherwise go to bed hungry.
“Led by, but not limited to people in our faith community, the Laguna Beach Relief and Resource Center continues to serve the most vulnerable of our citizens.
“The Cross Cultural Council recognized years ago the needs of people new to our nation and living in Laguna to have ways of gaining access to a strange culture. They continue to serve.
“With the support of our City Council, they provide us with a hiring center in the canyon, which provides us ways to obtain needed part-time help. It gives an opportunity for those who are willing to work hard a chance to get work.
“You would think this would be enough good work for the people of any city of our size, but we need to add: the Community Clinic, the Youth Shelter, Friendship Shelter, Even Start, the initiation of Laura’s House for battered women, the Boys and Girls Club, the Friends of the Library, this woman’s club, the Interfaith Council, support for our own hospital, and I have probably left out the one most important to someone here.
“It is a dream that a village of this size would have so many willing volunteers, so many who strive to make our world a better place. But we are not dreaming.
“This is Laguna.”