Our Laguna: Honoring those for their skills, service

I read Monday in the L.A. Times that Gino Cimoli had died.

Gino was the first major league player to bat on the West Coast when the Dodgers and Giants moved to California from New York in 1958. He wasn't the Dodgers usual lead-off batter, but Manager Walter Alston gave him the nod because he grew up in San Francisco, where the game was played.

I was at the game. I sat in the stands watching the teams warm up in Seal Stadium, where minor league games had been played. Gino was standing in the outfield, twirling his hand over his head and someone asked what he was doing. I said, "I think he is explaining how the winds blow out there."

In my heart of hearts, I was rooting for the Dodgers that day because of Gino. I had gone to Galileo High School with him, where he played basketball as well, if not better, than he played baseball — good enough to be offered a scholarship to Stanford.

I will always remember him as a tall sandy-blond, blue-eyed boy who opted to sign with the Dodgers and married the girl I wanted to be when I grew up. They had two beautiful daughters, who used to babysit for me when we all lived in Tiburon.

I also remember his kindness to my baseball-loving eldest son, to whom he showed the uniforms of the teams on which played in his 10 years in the "Bigs."

Gino retired from baseball 46 years ago, but it was his first at-bat that got the headlines in the obituaries marking his death Feb. 12.


Honored Patriots

All this is to say "hats off" to the Patriots Day Parade Committee, which honors the contribution of folks who enrich the social fabric of our lives and our community before it becomes their obituary.

Past Patriot of the Year, retired U.S. Marine Corps pilot Charles Quilter, prepared the biographies of the parade honorees and presented them at the annual brunch, held at Tivoli Terrace

2011 Grand Marshals Al Roberts and Ken Jillson are being honored for the 25 years they have spent raising money to assist people living with HIV/AIDS.

They met on the beach in Laguna in 1970 and formed a personal and professional partnership.

In the mid-1980s, Laguna's gay community was savaged by a mysterious and fatal illness. It came out of the closet when actor Rock Hudson died in 1985 of AIDS. His death hit home for Jillson and Roberts — Hudson had been a shareholder in their company.

So Roberts was open to the pleas of Laguna Beach physician Don Hagan to use his business-honed skills to help cope with the epidemic.

The AIDS Services Foundation was born. It was called ASF to avoid the stigma of AIDS at the time, but Roberts was able to involve some people with money.

Roberts and Jillson themselves made a "Big Splash" with a campy production spoofing show business. It began as a skit to celebrate the couple's new swimming pool at their Katella Street home and grew into a money-maker so popular they had to move it to the Festival of Arts grounds.

Jillson directed and starred in the show, which also featured celebrity voiceovers.

The show ran for 25 years and raised more than $10 million.

But wait — there is more.

Roberts joined with Dwight Spiers, the late Richard Reinsch, Jim Loomis and Pauline Walpin to raise funds and support for the construction of Hagan Place, a 26-unit facility on the corner of Mermaid and Third streets for low-income renters with HIVAIDS.

It was named for Don Hagan, who died in 1992.

Roberts and Jillson were out of the country Feb. 6 and unable to attend the brunch at which the honorees were announced.

Retired South Laguna pharmacist Frank Keneley, who has been named 2011 Patriot of the Year, also was unable to attend. The 93-year-old World War II veteran was ailing.

As a young U. S. Army Air Force pilot, Keneley flew 22 combat missions over Nazi Germany before being shot down and captured in late 1944. He was taken to Stalag Luft III, site of the earlier "Great Escape" by 78 captives that was memorialized in a book and film, but later relocated.

Keneley lost 50 pounds as a prisoner of war until his liberation by Gen. Patton's Third Army in April 1945.

He returned to Hollywood and used his G.I. Bill benefits to go to USC and earn a pharmacy degree.

Citizen of the Year Pat Kollenda is also a USC graduate, with a degree in broadcast journalism.

San Francisco-born and Southern California-raised Patricia Gallaher was a college student when she met a lanky Air Force navigator Jim Kollenda, whom she married soon after she graduated.

After his discharge, he went to work in the aerospace industry at the height of its boom — Charlie's pun, not mine — in Orange County. The Kollendas have lived in Laguna since 1976.

She joined the Harbor Singers while raising her three sons. The choral group toured Vietnam and once found themselves under attack in Danang.

Back home, Kollenda directed women's choruses, including Hooked On Harmony, from 1997 to 2008.

Although a born performer, Kollenda considers herself a "professional" volunteer.

She has served on the board of the Laguna Playhouse, Queen of Hearts Guild, the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach Sister Cities Assn., the Queen of Hearts Guild of Children's Hospital of Orange County and has been an arts commissioner since 1993.

That doesn't mean she has forsaken performing in "Lagunatics" and other No Square productions. Even at an appearance before the City Council, on Arts Commission business, Kollenda is "on."

She was honored in 2000 as a Trailblazer in the Arts and in 2009 for arts innovation and leadership.

The Laguna Beach High School faculty and staff selected Caroline Rechter and Ben Hanson as Junior Citizens of the Year.

Rechter's passion is theater production. She is stage manager of the Park Avenue Players, while maintaining a 3.77 grade point average.

She also is a member of Peer Assistance, a student group that welcomes and counsels school newcomers.

Rechter is co-president of Avenue Cure, which raises funds to improve HIV/AIDS awareness, and is active in the youth group at St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

She hopes to study theater at Rutgers or the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Hanson is LBHS student body vice president, captain of the 2009 football team for which he played both ways, CIF finalist in shotput and discus and an Eagle Scout in Laguna's Troop 38.

He loves musical genres from classical to surf, plays the piano and collects old long-playing records.

Hanson is a member of the Circle of Friends and Super Sports clubs, which support special education programs, and the Laguna Beach Ward of the Mormon Church, for which he performed service at a leprosarium in India and built houses in Mexico.

After completion of a two-year church mission, Hanson hopes to attend Brigham Young University.

The parade committee expanded the honorees list this year to include the artist(s) and athlete of 2011.

Coastline Pilot columnist James Pribram was honored for his accomplishments as an amateur and professional surfer. He now uses his skills to teach students at the Aloha School of Surfing.

Pribram's love of the ocean has inspired him to become a guardian of the world's waters and an instructor of its importance to the younger generation.

The Laguna College of Arts & Design, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is celebrated by the parade committee for its contributions to Laguna's cultural heritage.

Thurston Middle School student Kaden Matheson won the parade program essay contest. LBHS student Madeleine Brian was the cover art winner.

The parades theme this year is "Welcome Home," selected by the committee: Michel Lyons, Charles Quilter, Sandi Werthe, Nina Rietsch, Don Black, Eugene D'Isabella, Police Sgt. John Falk, Jerry and Karen Ford, Ed Hanke II, Marv Johnson, Fire Department Division Chief Jeff LaTendresse, Jean Law, Howard Levin, Doug Miller, Jim Rue, Sande St. John, Hal Werthe and Anne Wood.

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.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World