Our Laguna: Chamber hands out Spirit Awards

Waste Management's Michelle Clark may not be ready to quit her daytime job for a gig as a stand-up comic, but she sure knows how to get laughs.

Clark served as mistress of ceremonies at the Chamber of Commerce Spirit Awards and 96th annual board installation, held Jan. 25 at Tivoli Too, and she had the audience in snickers, if not stitches. Ganahl Lumber Sales Manager Jerry Perez played straight man for Clark's off-the-cuff commentary about the nominees and anyone else who came into the line of sight.

"All the nominees are winners," Clark said, in one of her few serious moments at the podium.

Gregg Abel's construction and design company was honored as the Building Industry of Year.

Abel's company has been in operation since 1986. The Abel family has made its mark on the town since 1935, with many buildings designed by the late architect Chris Abel.

The Laguna Beach Community Foundation was named Nonprofit of the Year. The foundation provides expertise and resources to help local nonprofits connect with donors — not to mention distributing more than $94,000 in grants in 2012.

Board President Laura Tarbox accepted the award on behalf of the foundation.

Chamber worker bee Luciano Stefanini won the Volunteer of the Year Award, recognized for his myriad services to Chamber Executive Director Kristine Thalman.

Former Mayor Jane Egly and retired Judge Paul Egly were voted the Harry Lawrence Citizens of the Year Award, named for the late Harry Lawrence, whose contributions to the city included the renaissance of a near-moribund chamber after World War II.

Laguna Beach County Water District General Manager Renae Hinchey and Commissioner Debbie Neev accepted the award for the Green Industry of the Year. The district was honored for its successful campaign to reduce water use in town, and its innovative moves to ensure an adequate supply of water in the future.

Nick's of Laguna Beach was named Restaurant of the Year.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson, a force behind the Business Assistance Task Force, was voted Government Official of the Year. Pearson and Councilwoman Toni Iseman sponsored a bill that resulted in a much-appreciated grant to the chamber.

Monica Tuchscher was honored as the City Professional of the Year. But nominee Fire Chief Jeff La Tendresse received a special mention from Clark.

She told how concerned she was when a fire broke out near Pepperdine University, where her daughter was going to school. Clark decided to bring her daughter home from school.

"I didn't want to pay for it anyway," but was talked out of the trip by La Tendresse — a service beyond the call of duty to the university fire service.

Retail Store of the Year honors went to Laguna Beach Books, owned by Jane Hanauer. The only bookstore in town is in the Hip District between Thalia and Diamond streets. Appearances by guest authors add luster to the store.

Peter Blake earned kudos as the owner of the Art Gallery of the Year. Blake opened that gallery in 1993 on Gallery Row, later moving it to Ocean Avenue. The austere gallery reflects Blake's focus on minimalist and abstract contemporary art, but he supports all Laguna galleries. He was a founder of the First Thursday Art Walk.

Mission Hospital's Emergency Room was named 2013's top Professional Service.

The Board Member of Year award was presented to Debbie MacDonald.

The final presentation of the event was the award for Business of the Year, with three top contenders: [Seven Degrees], which Mark Orgill and Doris Wexel have developed into a multi-purpose venue for art exhibits and events; Laguna Beach.com, chamber board member Kate Buckley's blog that Clark said covers every Laguna Beach icon except her; and the Marine Room.

"Well, we all read the newspapers and know what happened here," Clark said. "Kelly Boyd decided to retire and sell this establishment to our buddy Chris Keller. And Kelly is saying, 'So now you decide to nominate the Marine Room after all these years!'"

Not only was the Mar Bar nominated, it won.

Boyd accepted the award, applauded by Keller.

The awards presentation was followed by the installation of the 2013 chamber board of directors.

"The mayor will do the swearing in of the folks that he was swearing at last week," Clark said. When a couple of the board members jumped the gun to take the oath, Boyd shushed them — no easy task with Clark.

"You say 'I do,' when I tell you to say 'I do,'" Boyd admonished.

President Michael Kinsman, President elect Larry Nokes, Vice President MacDonald, Secretary Buckley, Treasurer Todd Orlich, Past President Keller and directors Abel, Blake, Julie Cimpko, Clark and Perez swore to perform their duties to the best of their abilities, uphold chamber bylaws and mission to support, represent and promote the business and community interests of Laguna.

Kinsman was pleased to announce that the turnout for the dinner, more than 190, was the largest ever.

"We have done a lot of work in the past year and it has paid off," Kinsman said before introducing some of the dignitaries at the event.

He led off with State Assemblyman Don Wagner, who could have been Laguna's representative if redistricting had not taken effect; Assemblyman Alan Mansoor, Sergio Prince, aide to Supervisor Pat Bates, Howard Hills, representing Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and Martin Paine, district director for State Senator Mimi Walters.

Kinsman also introduced city officials Boyd and Pearson, council members Iseman, Bob Whalen and Steve Dicterow, City Clerk Lisette Chel, City Treasurer Laura Parisi, City Manager John Pietig, Police Chief Paul Workman and La Tendresse.

And he gave a special nod to retiring board member Michael Beck, of Mission Hospital Laguna Beach.

Among the award nominees honored at the event were retired City Clerk Martha Anderson, Billy Fried, Chris Prelitz, Morris Skenderian,Wendy Potter, Justin Int'veld, Chip McDermott, Jon Madison, Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda and Martha Lydick on behalf of the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4618 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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