A project several decades in the making came to fruition Saturday when the ribbon was cut to open the Community/Senior Center.
The 19,000-square-foot center fulfills the joint dream of Laguna’s residents and its government to provide everyone from “tots in tutus to tap-dancing seniors,” with life enhancing programs and activities under one roof.
“This touches my heart and I hope it touches yours,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, a supporter of a senior center when the proposal was still in its cradle.
Pearson was joined on the temporary platform constructed for the Opening Day ceremonies by members of the City Council, city staff, past Laguna Beach Seniors Inc. presidents and the Quilter Family, whose generous donation was the foundation for the seniors’ construction fund.
“I have to honor my family — they are some of the finest people I know,” said Chris Quilter, president of the seniors group and one of the four sons of Elizabeth Quilter, in whose name they made a $750,000 donation.
The seniors’ portion of the center was named the Susi Q, Quilter’s pen name.
Past Presidents Pauline Walpin, Louise Buckley Virginia Schott, Skipper Lynn and Lee Anderson were honored.
The three-hour afternoon celebration, under sunny skies on the grassy plaza in front of the main entrance, was organized by Community Services Director Susan Cannan.
“Based on the number of drinks we served, we estimate the crowd was about 800,” Cannan said.
Speeches met the criteria of the old comparison to a woman’s ideal skirt: “Long enough to cover the subject, short enough to be interesting.”
The seniors celebration continued later in the day with a reception to honor major donors to the capital campaign run by Ann Quilter, wife of the eldest Quilter son, Charles, and Darrcy Loveland Bickel.
“I look out at this crowd tonight and I am humbled by your generosity of spirit and support for helping us realize our dream,” Quilter said. “I have learned many things being involved in this campaign: One — never underestimate the heart of Laguna. And, two — when things get tough, Laguna feeds your spirit.”
Quilter said the task of raising $3 million was a daunting one, but grants from the Weingart Foundation and the State for Art — with the lion’s share contributed by Laguna’s residents, businesses and service organizations put the campaign over the top.
“Incredibly, not one pledge has faltered,” Quilter said. “And thanks to the operating grants from Hearts of Montage in 2005, which paid for our technological upgrade and administrative expenses for running the campaign, every penny of every donation went into the building fund.”
Quilter paid tribute to the contributors to the construction of the Susi Q.
“Our first and biggest thanks goes to our angel, Elizabeth Pearson, for her unflagging dedication, persistence and passion for Laguna’s seniors,” Quilter said. “She did more to rally this community behind this center than anybody we know.
“And she left a significant estate gift to name the Great Room in honor of her beloved grandmothers.
“In her words: ‘Supporting the Susi Q in this way means my life has meant something — and it will continue to mean something for years after I have left this earth.’ Way to go Elizabeth.”
Quilter also acknowledged the contributions of attorney Steve Gromet, Montage Resort & Spa executives James Birmingham, Bill Claypool and Carol Reynolds and all members of Hearts of Montage for a $350,000 matching grant in addition to the operating grand.
“In recognition of your significant gifts the Laguna Beach Seniors have named the grand plaza the Hearts Plaza in your honor,” Quilter said.
Quilter kudos also went to Carole Zavala, who organized the art exhibit on the walls for the opening; Tony Ciabattoni and the Laguna Legacy Fund, Quilter family friend Negly Flinn, local owners of Office Furniture and seniors advisors George Heed and Marty Conlon and the sons of Susi Q: Charlie, Chris, Pat and Matt.
Bickel said it was her privilege to acknowledge the room and bench donors.
“They say charity begins at home — you all proved that,” Bickel said.
Among the donors on the seniors’ side of the building: former Seniors President Marthann Newton, Jane and Joe Hanauer, Laguna Beach Rotary, Cheryl and Carl Post in honor of her mother Rose Conken, No Square Theater and Bree Burgess Rosen, Carol Reynold, Laguna Beach Assistance League, Esther E. Miller, Kent Russell, Daryl Kling and Lewis Guthrie from the Kling Family Foundation, Laura E. Holty, Kay Whitaker, Negly Flinn Foundation and Lee Winocur Field.
On the city’s side of the Third Street Center: Toby Earl in memory of his aunt Thelma E. Ward, Realtor Bobbi Cox, the Kling Family Foundation’s Donalyn Kling and her late husband Arllyn, “Uncle” Frank Ricchiazzi and Borden Moller, and Sabra Lande.
Jointly used areas were funded by donations from James and Lisa Mansour, Soroptomist International of Laguna Beach and Deborah and Cody Engle in honor of Pearson.
Funds for benches were donated by Ruth Stafford, Jim and Nancy Kreder, Judy and Frank Baker, Chuck and Birgitta Schoen, Mary Locatelli and South County Bank.
“Special thanks go to all our generous Founders Wall and Circle of Elders donors,” Bickel said. “And I would not be doing my job if I didn’t mention that naming opportunities are still available. Anyone who is interested can contact me or Ann Quilter.
The evening’s program concluded with entertainment by No Square Theater’s “Lagunatics” cast.
BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 380-4321 or email@example.com.