Community service award winners named

Four La Cañada residents and two local organizations will receive Les Tupper awards at a ceremony in the von Karman Auditorium at Jet Propulsion Laboratory on May 9.

Each year people and organizations are nominated for the annual award, sponsored by the La Cañada Flintridge Coordinating Council and selected from nominations made by community members.

The Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge, the Volunteers on Patrol Unit with the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, La Cañada High student Kelly Gregg, and residents Nick Berkuta, Joel Smith and Joyce Ruygrok are each 2011 Les Tupper Award recipients.

The Volunteers on Patrol Unit is being recognized for helping make La Cañada a safer, better place to live. Last year, the group logged 2,493 volunteer hours while patrolling neighborhoods and residences, assisting patrol units with traffic control 51 times and making 931 patrol checks of shopping centers, homes and parking lots.

“We are the watchdog, a high-tech community watch dog for the department,” said Archie D’Arezzo, an eight-year member and one of three instructors with the unit. D’Arezzo will be accepting the award on behalf of the department at the awards ceremony. “We go around looking for any problems that are occurring or have occurred and we notify the station.”

The Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge is being honored for 60 years of service to the city and its residents. The Community Center provides unique resources and arranges enrichment programs and positive social activities for people of all ages, whether or not they live in La Cañada. Each week the Center serves 2,000 community members.

“I was so excited when I heard we’d won the award,” said Megan Nordvedt, the Community Center’s executive director who will be accepted the award on the Center’s behalf. “It’s an award that’s been around so long, is so prestigious in this community and recognizes volunteering — it’s what the community center was founded on and what’s still so important to us.”

When the awards are officially presented to the winners on May 9, it will be the second straight year Berkuta has attended the event to accept the award.

Last year, he accepted the award on behalf of the Kiwanis Club of La Cañada as the organization’s president. This year he’s personally receiving the award for his work with Kiwanis, the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce, the Public Safety Commission, LCF Tournament of Roses Association, Boy Scouts of America and other organizations.

Berkuta has worked a lot with youth over the years, volunteering to visit classes at Paradise Canyon Elementary School as a uniformed deputy sheriff, participating in the YMCA’s Indian Guides and Princess’ program and serving as a Boy Scout Troop 507 committee member, scoutmaster and merit badge counselor.

His desire to volunteer goes a lot deeper than just working with children, though.

“It’s not so much just the kids — it’s everything, [volunteering] is ingrained in my being,” Berkuta said. “It bleeds over onto everything. You have to give back and make the community and world a better of place than when you started out.”

Berkuta served as a public safety commissioner in the city for 14 years, as director of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce and Community Association and volunteered with the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association for 10 years.

Smith also has ties to the Kiwanis Club of La Cañada, previously serving as the club’s president. He’s also been president of the La Cañada Tournament of Roses Association and served two terms as a La Cañada Unified Governing Board member.

“I was pleased [when I heard I was chosen for the award],” Smith said. “This is a town where it’s fun to volunteer and it’s nice to know it’s appreciated.”

In 1992, Smith was selected as the La Cañadan of the Year by Kiwanis. He currently is in his second year as the chairman of the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge’s board of directors.

“It just seems to me that it’s not a community unless you have volunteers,” Smith said. “You need people to take on these things and you get a richer quality of education and community by having people participate in these things. Everyone who volunteers makes a difference, even in a well-to-do community like La Cañada.”

Gregg, a senior at La Cañada High, is the youngest Les Tupper award winner this year. She’s currently one of six student representatives on the California State PTA Board of Managers and has been a member of LCHS’ PTSA since her freshman year, a member of the La Cañada Youth Council, the La Cañada Trails Council and National Charity League of Glendale.

She’s also a Gold Award Girl Scout, earning the Scouts’ highest honor for serving as president of DREAMS (Discussing Rights for Woman, Education, AIDS, Malaria, and Safe water) for Africa Club at LCHS, which led to a local World Water Day event at Memorial Park and much more.

Gregg also volunteers her talents as an Irish dancer — she’s currently in Ireland competing in the Irish Dance World Championships — performing at retirement homes, cultural festivities, weddings and fundraisers.

“It’s a great feeling (volunteering),” Gregg said. “A lot of the volunteer work is actually things I like to do anyway, and it’s great that I can give back while doing it. It’s so nice to give back to a community that’s given me so much.”

Ruygrok is being honored for her 30-plus years of work in the community. She’s no longer a La Cañada resident, having moved in recent years to Glendale, but it’s always her answer when people ask where she lives.

“I lived there for years and I love it there,” said Ruygrok, explaining the reason for the white lie.

Several organizations have benefitted from Ruygrok’s dedication to volunteering, including the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club of La Cañada AM, Hillside Learning Center and the La Cañada Flintridge Coordinating Council. She’s also spent 20 years of her life working for the Cañada Auxiliary of Professionals–Assistance League of Flintridge and Tournament of Roses.

“I’ve been very fortunate, very lucky and very healthy, and when you have that, you need to share,” said Ruygrok, adding that community service is just a part of what makes La Cañada great. “It’s part of the whole community — you’re community-minded when you live up here.”

Still, she thought there was no chance she’d be chosen for the award, even after seeing her name on the list of those nominated for the award, as a member of the Coordinating Council.

“I am really honored because it’s a very distinguished award and I hold it in high regard,” Ruygrok said. “Although you don’t volunteer or do these things for the credit, it’s nice when you are recognized.”

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World