If you live in Laguna Beach, you've probably said hello to Parking Services Officer Mary Spease. She makes an effort to greet every person she sees while combing the streets.
A cheery demeanor might seem odd for a person who gives out parking citations and handles car accidents, but Spease was named Civilian of the Year by the Laguna Beach Police Department and Laguna Beach Exchange Club at the March 30 police banquet.
A former Disneyland employee, Spease, 51, grew up in Santa Ana and graduated from Saddleback High School in 1978.
She started out with a part-time position at the department 11 years ago.
A resident of Laguna Beach for the last decade, she couldn't be happier with her job.
"People pay to come here, and they pay me, so I don't complain," she said with a laugh. "I enjoy the job because I enjoy the people I work with and enjoy the community."
As she walks around town, Spease runs into neighbors and people she knows. She sometimes has to remind herself that she's working.
The Police Department is "one big family," she said. "Everybody takes care of everybody else. It's just a small town and a small department."
At the banquet, Spease was also recognized for saving a child's life.
On the Fourth of July, Spease was patrolling Aliso Creek Beach when she saved a girl from drowning.
"I went down to annoy people and give out tickets," she said with a chuckle.
While looking out at the waves, she noticed two children in the water who looked like they were in distress. She saw a man on the beach jump in after one and she followed suit, going after a girl that was struggling to swim.
"Big waves and high surf made for a nasty combination for those two kids," she said.
No one would have noticed that it was Spease who made the rescue if it hadn't been for another officer who saw her carrying the girl over rocks.
During the banquet, she was honored with the Lifesaving Award for her fearlessness.
"I was grateful. I was surprised," she said. "There were some other people that did wonderful things throughout the year also. I work with great people, I really do."