Our Laguna: Sande St. John is a true legacy

It must have been a chore for Sande St. John to sit by while others organized the Laguna Beach Seniors annual Legacy Ball. Usually she is running events that honor outstanding Lagunans.

This time she was the honoree. It would be hard to find a more worthy choice.

Laguna Beach Seniors President Tina Haines made the presentation.

"Okay, quick — who do you think of when you hear this description: She gets more things done than any person I've ever met?" Haines asked the guests in the ball room at Pelican Hill Resort.

St. John, of course.

The answer applied to the rest of Haines' rhetorical questions:

•"Who is always on of the first to be there when someone needs help?"

•"Was one of the first to understand the need and started working for the seniors to have a place of their own in the early '90s, organizing the capital campaign."

•"The ultimate do-er…rightfully tagged the Uber Volunteer."

St. John's making lives better for everyone, with an emphasis on making.

"Sande's work with the Laguna Club for Kids, Human Options, the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Patriots Day Parade, Fire Relief Coalition, the Resource and Relief Center, Soroptimists, Fire Relief Coalition, Chamber of Commerce, No Square Theatre, HIV Advisory Task Force, the Exchange Club, the Woman's Club and others has more than earned her title of Laguna Beach Seniors Legacy Award recipient of 2013," she said.

Among the guests were previous recipients, Pauline Walpin and Louise Buckley in 2008 and former City Manager Ken Frank in 2010.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson, the 2009 recipient, had intended to be at the ball, but the unexpected death of her beloved cocker spaniel, Sophie, kept her at home.

St. John said she was honored to be included in the group of recipients and grateful to the legion of volunteers with whom she has worked — some say commandeered — during the past decades.

"Thank YOU for giving so much for the betterment of Laguna," St. John said. "Thank YOU, my mentors, Louise, Pauline, Carol Reynolds, Jean Law, and Marthann Newton and Jenny Goodno.

An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported that Marthann Newtown had died. She is alive.

She thanked Sandy Thornton for the 25-year partnership that began with Thornton giving St. John her first "fun" volunteer job: a clown at the old senior center in the Veterans Memorial Building. The two continued as "The Sandies" and made their mark on Laguna.

St. John also thanked Marsha Bode, with whom St. John worked in the wake of fires, floods, mudslides and to help the needy.

Other recipients of St. John's accolades include Tom Bent and Korey Jorgeson, her No Square family that includes Bree Burgess Rosen, Connie Burlin, President Lloyd Charton, Chris Quilter and his entire family.

"The Quilters donated a bunch of money to the center and the family is still donating," St. John said. "I worry that they will run out of money."

She paid homage to the mother of the four Quilter brothers: the late Elizabeth Howe Quilter, known to family as "Grandma Wiz" and to the readers of the Coastline Pilot as "Susi Q," for whom the senior center was named.

"She knew how to teach a family to be honorable and useful and to make a difference," St. John said.

Kudos also included The White House, Las Brisas, the Laguna Coffee Co., the Orange Inn, all of whom make the Exchange Club community breakfasts possible, and Mayor Kelly Boyd, City Manager John Pietig (who did not attend because he was at Major League Baseball spring training in Arizona with his elder son), and the entire City Council.

"I am honored and humbled to be in this room with the nonprofit giants of Laguna and those special people who are fighting an illness or loss of a family member who bravely go on to support the Laguna that we all love," St. John said. "You are my inspiration, truly Laguna heroes."

The event included a champagne reception and silent auction, dinner, dancing and a live auction, conducted by the inimitable Patricia Kollenda, chair of the Arts Commission and a volunteer of note.

Terri Johnson and former Laguna Beach Seniors Executive Director Bea Fields chaired the event at the resort, which was recently awarded the coveted Forbes Five-Star rating, but still offers the group a better deal than Laguna Beach venues.

Event sponsors included Mission Hospital of Laguna Beach, Waste Management, Laurentina Detrick, Field, Cathy Fry, the Johnsons, Debbie and George Meeker, and the Butler Family, Kling Family and Pimco foundations.

Also: Jill and Steven Edwards, Peter Kote, Judith and Dennie Napier, Vivian Levin, 800 Rose Big Wholesale Florists, Edie Tonkin, Jean and Bob Arovas, the Haines, Karen and James Mc Bride, Soroptimist International of Laguna Beach and the Quilters: Chris, Pat, Charles and Ann Quilter sheathed in a gorgeous, floor-length, sparkling gold gown, a $4,000 second-hand gown she boasted cost her $100.

Emily Quilter, in town for the ball, wore one of her grandmother's dresses, accessorized with jewelry from grandmothers on both sides of her family.

St. John wore a brown floor-length gown with draped sleeves, her hair done at the Blow Bar at Nieman Marcus. She was thrilled to arrive in a town car, driven by Christopher Kling and accompanied by Bode, wearing a white sequined jacket and long black skirt.

Former Mayor Jane Egly was understatedly elegant in a golden-beige knee-length dress and sling pumps. Kathleen Abel wore vintage. Councilwoman Toni Iseman's cocktail outfit was black, as was the outfit worn by Nina Rietsch.

Rosen wore one of her iconic feather hats, which she offered for the auction and was bought by the head of the Pelican Hill catering staff.

Proceeds from the auction and sale of $200 tickets to the event will benefit the Susi Q, a work in progress, according to Haines.

"It is more than a building," Haines said. "It is an idea of how we want to live the rest of our lives."

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call 1 (714) 966-4608 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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