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Notable Passings: Losing some of the greats

It is said that no one is irreplaceable, but some folks come close, leaving a hole in the fabric of our community and the hearts of their loved ones that only fond memories can assuage, if not mend.

Ben Blount

1922-2009

The soft spoken, 6-foot, 3 ½ -inch Benjamin Blount III stood tall in stature and in deed.

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“Ben was one of Tom Brokow’s ‘Greatest Generation,’” said Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman. “He always cared about this community and the people who live here. He had great warmth and presence, and he never had to raise his voice.”

The retired U.S. Army colonel died four days shy of the 65th anniversary of the day he landed in Normandy with allied troops. He was 87.

His death was mourned by a broad spectrum of the community, from veterans to environmentalists, but his life deserved celebrating. A memorial service was at Monument Point in Heisler Park, the site of Memorial Day ceremonies, in which he participated for decades as an officer of the Laguna Beach Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5868. Blount joined the army in 1943 as a buck private. He was a corporal when he was sent to Charleroi, Belgium, where the army established a large logistics base.

The base became the focus of a desperate Nazi offensive during the Battle of the Bulge when German paratroopers landed there in an attempt to cut off the Allies’ fuel supply line. Rounding them up was the last combat action in which Blount participated, but the beginning of one of Laguna’s great love stories.

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It was in Charleroi that he met Gigi Sebille, a young member of the Belgian Resistance, whom he married in 1947, the same year he was released from active duty.

Blount continued his military career as a logistician with the Army reserve until he retired with the rank of colonel in 1982 with 39 years of service to his credit and several personal decorations.

The couple were honored in 1998 by the Patriots Day Parade as the Patriots of the Year.

The Blounts moved to Laguna in 1976 and became active on behalf of the North Laguna neighborhood and environmental causes.

He was a longtime director of Laguna Greenbelt Inc. and a supporter of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy and the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

The Blounts were among the participants in The Walk, which led to the city’s acquisitions in Laguna Canyon that had been slated for development.

“How could I ever forget that?” Gigi Blount said. “It’s a walk down memory lane.”

David Young

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1913-2009

The life of arts activist David Young was celebrated July 27 at Tivoli Terrace on the grounds of the Festival of Arts, to which he gave his heart, his intellect and his time for more than five decades.

Young died July 13 of natural causes. He was 96.

A soft-spoken, courtly gentleman, who never lost the gentle accent of his Tennessee birthplace, Young spent more than 50 years promoting the Festival of Arts and its funding of art scholarships and grants. He served as board president five times.

Young was instrumental in creating the festival’s scholarship program for graduating Laguna Beach High School seniors in 1957.

In 1989, Young helped form the Festival of Arts Foundation, a separate entity, to ensure the financial stability of the scholarship program and grants to other arts organizations in the area.

“He could be stubborn, but he was usually stubborn about the right things,” said artist Scott Moore, who served on the festival board with Young. “He could give you pause, but when the smoke cleared, he was usually right.”

Besides the scholarship program, Young was dedicated to the Pageant of the Masters production team and served as chairman of the committee for decades, lending his support to the show director and staff.

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“It was a friendship I will always treasure,” said pageant Director Dee Challis Davy.

The friendship trumped some of the most dramatic events in the festival history, including a board’s attempt in 2000 to move the festival out of town, which Young vehemently opposed, and he quit in protest.

“While he was off the board, he continued to work behind the scenes to protect the festival,” Challis Davy said.

That board was subsequently recalled, and Young was restored to the board in 2001.

Young spearheaded the festival’s founding of the Laguna Beach School of Art, now the Laguna College of Art & Design in 1962.

The festival donated $5,000 to start the school, and Young rounded up 20 friends who each kicked in $1,000 to build the first studios on the festival grounds.

Young served on the school’s board for 25 years until he was ousted by a president in retaliation for his successful objections to her plan to paint the buildings pink.

“The college was built on his original vision,” LCAD President Dennis Power said.

Known for his leadership in promoting the arts, Young was also a pillar of the business community. David Young Builder Inc. opened in 1945 in Laguna Beach, the year he and his wife, Mary, moved here. The company name was changed in 1984 to Young Building Corp. and is still in operation, known for the construction of such well-known Laguna landmarks as the Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America and Royal Hawaiian.

Young also had a brief fling in politics. His career ended when he resisted pressure to fire a school principal who allegedly had been a member of the Communist Party in her youth. He thought she was a good teacher, but this was during the Red Scare.

Opponents of his position found a candidate who campaigned in a flag-draped car and characterized Young as a communist dupe.

He lost the election and turned his attention to the arts, for which he was honored numerous times.

The Patriots Day Parade Committee chose him as Laguna’s Citizen of the Year in 2001. In 2004, Young received two prestigious awards: the Orange County Arts Cultural Legacy Award for Community Visionary presented by Arts Orange County and a Spirit of Volunteerism Award from the Volunteer Center of Orange County. LCAD also honored him at its 45th anniversary gala.

Mary Young, who had carved her own niche in the Laguna arts community as a painter and sculptor, died in 2007, with her husband of 70 years at her side

David Young retired from the festival board in February 2006 and was named director emeritus of the Festival Foundation.

Jerry Burchfield

1947-2009

Artist, curator, author and educator Jerry Burchfield, who partnered with Mark Chamberlain to create the celebrated Laguna Canyon art installation known as “The Tell,” died Sept. 11 after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 62.

“Jerry was prepared to die — he was always organized — and he did it with grace and dignity,” Chamberlain said.

Barbara Burchfield was at the bedside of her husband of 41 years when he died. The Burchfields have one child, Brian, 24.

Burchfield was Chamberlain’s partner from 1973 to 1987 in BC Space Gallery on Forest Avenue, dedicated to showing contemporary photography.

Cal State Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center is mounting an exhibition recognizing the influence of the gallery on the Southern California art community.

The retrospective is scheduled to run at the Santa Ana center from February through April with an accompanying book.

Burchfield became a professor of photography and photography gallery director at Cypress College in 1987, but he and Chamberlain continued to collaborate on the Laguna Canyon Project, of which “The Tell” was a part.

“The Tell,” an archaeological term for an unnatural mound of artifacts and evidence of prior civilization, was a monumental tribute to the natural beauty and history of Laguna Canyon.

“The Tell” is considered instrumental in the preservation of Laguna Canyon, which was approved by the county for massive development in the 1980s. A photograph of Burchfield and Chamberlain is exhibited at the Nix Nature Center in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, honoring their contribution to the preservation of a large chunk of the canyon,

Chamberlain will begin the 16th phase of the Laguna Canyon Project this year. It will be difficult. The two photographers had worked together since the late 1960s.

“Everything is harder without Jerry,” Chamberlain said “He was an extraordinary catalyst. Everyone wanted to do whatever he was doing.”

The pair also collaborated on Legacy Project, which records the transition of El Toro Marine Air Base to the Great Park and includes the world’s largest functioning pinhole camera obscura and the world’s largest photograph. Burchfield’s individual work has received numerous awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and has been exhibited throughout the United States, Europe and Japan.

“Jerry was 21 when I first met him, and I wasn’t much older,” Chamberlain said. “We were just a couple of kids with big ideas.”

Burchfield’s life and accomplishments were celebrated in a memorial service Oct. 4 at Laguna Presbyterian Church, followed by a reception at BC Space Gallery.

Death took its toll on the festival in 2009.

Eleven members of the Festival of Arts “family” were saluted at a memorial gathering July 22 on the festival gounds.

More than 100 folks gathered for a candlelight ceremony in remembrance of Young, staffers Lyle Brooks, Lowell E. Harris and Mary Post; and artists Brian Day, Mia Krantz, James Nussbaum, Tat Shinno, Robert McDowell Gentry (not the former mayor) and Vincent Farrell who died in November 2008.

“These are people who made a difference,” festival board member Anita Mangels said.

Speakers also included festival Board member Tom Lamb.

“Let us remember the good times,” Lamb said.

Surely the best of all epitaphs.



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