Our Laguna: A fete fit for the Woman of the Year

In a room filled with women who have left their mark on Laguna, none were more worthy of being honored by the Laguna Beach Woman's Club than Carol Reynolds.

Reynolds was named the club's 2010 Woman of the Year for her exceptional contributions to the arts, particularly music, the children of Laguna and the advancement of women.

As former club President Lee Winocur Field said, "Carol is in tune with the community."

Tributes were paid by representatives of the American Assn. of University Women, the Sister Cities Association of Laguna, Laguna Beach Live!, the Philharmonic Symphony Guild and the Youth Shelter — all of which Reynolds served on as a board member — the Laguna Beach Community Concert Band, the Arts Commission and the city.

But the most touching tributes were paid her daughter, Patti Jo Kiraly, and longtime friends.

Speaking for herself and her sister, Susie Bringhurst, Kiraly recalled a childhood filled with music by her single working mother.

"In 1962, my sister and I were the only children [in their acquaintance] of divorced parents, but we always had music," Kiraly said. "It healed us, entertained us and challenged us."

Music was central to the relationship between daughters and mother.

Reynolds taught choir for 35 years, seven classes a day, each with 50 students.

After school, the girls did their homework while Reynolds taught private piano lessons.

"She made it clear that we had to be musical," Kiraly said.

Both daughters played instruments — that would be plural. Bringhurst is a gifted pianist, but Kiraly prefers singing.

"She was not a stay-at-home Mom then," Kiraly said. "She is not a stay-at-home Mom now."

Besides her gift for music, Reynolds has the gift of friendship.

"I moved to Laguna Beach 13 years before my mother did," Kiraly said. "In one year, she had more friends than I did."

Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, who presented Reynolds with a city proclamation honoring her achievements, counts Reynolds as a friend she can call on.

"Whenever I get down in the dumps, she sits me down at the piano and I sing old Baptist hymns," Pearson said. "She has cheered me up many times."

Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman called Reynolds the Joan Rivers of Laguna.

"You never know what is going to come out of her mouth," Iseman said.

Reynolds not only makes friends, she keeps them.

Jean Paris met Reynolds in 1958 when their husbands were teaching together. They are still close, even though Paris once talked Reynolds into joining a gourmet club.

"It was not something she enjoyed," Paris said at the luncheon.

In fact, it was a cooking and sewing class, called Home Economics back in the day, that set Reynolds on a path she would happily travel the rest of her life.

Desperate to get out of the "Ec" class, she leaped at the chance to take band — provided her father could weld together the pieces of a French horn given to Reynolds by her principal.

Reynolds studied French horn at Julliard, then went to the University of Michigan.

She wanted to be a band director but didn't think she fit the profile. Tests affirmed that — she was better suited to sales.

While it's true that Reynolds could sell the proverbial ice cubes to Eskimos, music and teaching are her true métier.

"She has been my mentor since I started teaching at the middle and high schools," Roxanna Ward said. "She has always been right there for me and given me the best advice. She would come to Thurston [Middle School] and work with the kids. She has shown me how to do it."

Reynolds has led the way in many projects.

She worked with Pat Kollenda on the city's first Cultural Plan after they met on the Arts Commission. And the terrific twosome went to Menton, France, with Iseman and Visitor's Bureau President Karyn Philippsen to research the proposed sister city to Laguna Beach.

"I roomed with Carol," Kollenda said. "She gets up in the morning ready to go — no mascara, no makeup. That would be a no."

Then Kollenda made the mistake of accompanying Reynolds on a "little" errand — on foot.

"It was three miles," Kollenda said.

Following the tributes paid her, Reynolds took the microphone to tell in her own words some of her history, with Kollenda holding the stop watch.

"When she cut me off, the girls weren't even in kindergarten," Reynolds said.

Among her many accomplishments, Reynolds organized the first two Fetes de Musique in Laguna. She was among the six musicians who founded the Community Concert Band, now 60 strong, a subset of which entertained at the luncheon.

"Starting the band gave us the opportunity to share music," said Niko Theris.

Reynolds also founded the AAUW's Leadership Dinners, honoring local women of distinction, and helped start musical tutoring programs in the elementary schools.

"Kids in the third grade used to play recorders," said school board member Betsy Jenkins. "This year we have third-graders playing violins."

Reynolds was selected as Woman of the Year by a committee of former recipients.

Eight of them attended the luncheon: Cindy Prewitt, 2009; Bree Burgess Rosen, 2008; Pearson, 2006; Ann Christoph, 2005; Carolyn Wood, 2003; Pauline Walpin, 2002; Kathleen Blackburn, 1997; and Sande St John, who chaired the luncheon.

St. John was assisted by event committee members Connie Burlin, Peggie Thomas, Andrea Miller, Marion Jacobs, Winocur Field, Robin Pierson, Denise Ballester, Liz Malloy, Gayle Waite, Kollenda, Burgess Rosen and Walpin.

St. John introduced the recipients with her usual restraint.

"I have the distinct honor of presenting a unique group of distinguished woman who have graced us by contributing thousands of hours of volunteer time to improving the quality of life in our community," said St. John.

"All of these ladies with their wisdom and influence are still actively committed to making Laguna the best place to live."

God knows she is.

The Woman of the Year is emblematic of the mission of the club: to promote the community by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service.

In the words of Chris Quilter, sung to music by Neil Sedaka by Kollenda and Burgess Rosen, accompanied by Ward:

"Oh Carol…you are completely cool.

Thank you for bringing…

Music to our schools.

Don't cross her…

She'll give you the eye.

Oh let me tell you…

She's not shy.

Carol, there will never be another,

'Cause you are unique.

You are Laguna's ….fete de la musique.

We will always love you for your passion,

So let's all give a cheer

For Carol, our woman of the year

Oh Carol….you're nobody's fool.

That's why we love you ….and you are old school.

You're brassy…when you blow your horn

But you're so classy….we're glad you were born."

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 coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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