Our Laguna: Chamber honors Laguna’s spirit

A sense of renewed energy permeated the annual Chamber of Commerce Board Installation and Spirit of Laguna Awards dinner Jan. 29.

Hotelier and restaurateur Chris Keller was installed as the new president, injecting his own brand of entrepreneurial enthusiasm into the proceedings, echoed by new and returning board members.

“We are going to reinvent ourselves this year,” Keller said at the chamber’s Leadership Luncheon on Jan. 14. “I am looking forward to working with the city and the Visitors Bureau this year. 2009 was a rough year, but this year we will rebound stronger than ever.”

Supervisor Pat Bates conducted the installation for the second time since she was elected to represent what Tom Wilson dubbed the “Fabulous Fifth District.”

“This is a city with a big heart,” Bates said. “And your group is the bedrock of the quality of life here.”

Taking the oath with Keller: President-Elect John Campbell, Vice President David Hikok, Secretary William Buus, Treasurer Michael Kinsman; incumbents former Mayor Steven Dicterow, Dennis Junka, Chris Lange, Emanuel Patrascu of state Sen. Tom Harman’s staff, Laura Poochigian, Tom Simpson, Bucky Weeks, Catherine Wilkinson and immediate past President Jeff Redeker; and newcomers Gregg Abel, Alan Simon and Mission Hospital Laguna Beach Vice President of Operations Michael Beck.

“You have new energy and carry-over energy,” Bates said. “This is a serious commitment. You are going to swear to do the best job you can, including the best energy of which you are all capable.”

Following the installation Dicterow presented the Government Person of the Year to retiring Fire Chief Mike Macey.

“I’ve been set up,” Macey said.

Award winners were not pre-announced, giving them no time to prepare practiced acceptance speeches.

“To finish my career in Laguna Beach has been a godsend,” said a choked-up Macey. “The department tries to be here for you and you give back 10-fold. You mean so much to me and to my wife.

“On behalf of the Laguna Beach Fire Department, I thank you. I am honored.”

The award for the Small Business of the Year was a tie between El Ranchito and a la carte, which closed its South Coast Highway store at the end of 2009.

“We are still doing catering and delivering in Laguna, working out of Manzanita Cottages,” said Carmen Ciarlo, who accepted the award on behalf of owner Estrella Harrington.

Demetri Catsouras accepted the Business of the Year Award for his father, George, owner of the White House, Laguna’s oldest restaurant, which has been feeding folks for 92 years.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve the community — such a magical place,” Catsouras said.

El Ranchito was not represented at the dinner.

Merchant of the Year honors went to Tuvulo. Laurie Alter accepted the award on behalf of partners Mark Christie and Joe Gelber.

Alter, a Laguna Beach native, learned the retail trade working at the Stuart Avis men’s store on Forest Avenue and married Jeff Alter, son on surfboard legend Hobie Alter.

“I am all choked up,” Laurie Alter said. “I just want to thank all of you.”

Perhaps the most surprised award winner of the night was Councilman Kelly Boyd, recognized as the Harry Lawrence Person of the Year.

“Did you know about this?” Boyd asked his wife, Michelle, when the announcement was made to a standing ovation.

“It’s a great award,” said Lawrence, who made the presentation. “He’s been here as long as I have — a dynamic individual who was what was needed at the right time.”

Boyd’s family came to Laguna in 1871. They were homesteaders and farmers who have left an indelible mark on the city — Thurston Middle School and Thurston Trailer Park were named for them.

The family also donated the property to the school district on which Laguna Beach High School was built and established a scholarship now administered by the high school Scholarship Foundation.

Kelly Boyd was born in 1944. He attended school in Laguna. After graduating from the high school, he attended Orange Coast College and USC.

He served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and helped establish an orphanage in the war-torn country. Kelly Boyd has owned the Marine Room on Ocean Avenue for 20 years. Michelle Boyd is manager of the Laguna Beach County Water District Human Resources Department.

Boyd was elected to the City Council in 2006. He is up for reelection this year.

“When I was elected 3 ½ years ago, I said I would represent all of the people who live here,” Kelly Boyd said. “I am the first council member to own a business downtown in 20 years.”

Lawrence said, “It’s about time!”

In a private conversation, Kelly Boyd told Lawrence that the award meant even more being presented by him.

The final award of the evening went to Ambassador of the Year Ken Kenworthy.

Chamber Executive Director Rose Hancock said the evening would not be complete without recognition of the volunteers.

“We are so grateful,” Hancock said.

She called Beverly Holt and Hans Scharer, who had signed in dinner attendees, to the microphone for a round of applause. Nancy Perlman, who was also honored, could not attend the dinner.

“I am stunned,” Holt said. “It’s been a pleasure.”

Also given a hand: Rebecca Brady, a chamber volunteer for 20 years.

The Rev. Colin Henderson wrapped up the program with an anecdote of cheer and a presentation to Keller.

“A squall came up and along with it a rainbow,” Henderson said. “It came out right at La Casa [Keller’s hotel]. Here is the photograph.

“It is a good sign for the year, which I am sure will be a good one for the community.”

The evening also included a silent auction, titled “Sleeping Around Town,” Laguna Eco Inn, Manzanita Cottages, Surf & Sand, Arabella Laguna rental cottages, the Cliff, the Tides, Casa Laguna Inn, Inn at Laguna, Art Hotel, Casa del Camino, Capri Laguna, Laguna Magical Cottages and the Laguna Beach Inn.

Adding spice: a Bubbles of Laguna basket for men, Laguna Canyon Sap Massage for Couples, tickets for a performance at the Laguna Playehouse, a John Eagle oil painting and lest we forget our “best friends,” a Bark and Sniff basket.

The Coastline Pilot’s Shelli Klotz decorated the auction table.

Among the guests at the dinner: Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, former Mayor Cheryl Kinsman and son, Nicholas, Visitors Bureau President Karyn Philippsen and Executive Director Judy Bijlani, Sande St. John, Bob and Planning Commissioner Linda Dietrich, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore’s staff member David Taylor, and Waste Management’s not-so-secret weapon, Michelle Clark, Steve Dotorato and David Sanford.

“It’s the first time I have ever come with nothing to do,” said Sanford, a past president, now off the board.

But not forgotten.

Redeker credited Sanford for smoothing his way into the office of president.

“He was there every step of the way,” Redeker said. “He is one of those people who is instrumental in moving the chamber from where it was to where it is now.”

Also on the guest list: Laguna Beach Taxpayer and Friends of the Library President Martha Lydick, Laguna Beach Woman’s Club past President Peggy Ford, Playhouse General Manager Karen Wood, Ami Amaradio, Lu Campbell, Diane and American Legion Post 222 Commander Dave Connell, Kathleen Abel and the Abel’s guests Steve and Marisa Robbins, who are moving to Laguna.

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; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail