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Ed Gillow proves it’s never too late for a second act

By DIANNE RUSSELL

The phrase, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” is often attributed to the English novelist George Eliot. As living proof of that statement, Ed Gillow started a new career at age 52 and never looked back. “I’m finally doing what I love, what I was meant to do,” said Gillow of his entry into the world of acting – but it took him a long time to get there.

Gillow was bitten by the acting bug early in childhood. “Growing up in Arkansas (he was born in Detroit), I didn’t have a clue how to get into acting, but that’s when the dream started,” he said. “I used to watch Route 66 and Millionaire, on television, and I fantasized about getting a Corvette and driving up and down Route 66 with a friend. But my mother always wanted me to be an engineer.”

Ed Gillow closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

In 1996, Gillow finally realized his dream

In high school, Gillow excelled in track and field and as a result, received a college scholarship. “It was a blessing. I thank God that I was given enough talent to get a scholarship, so when I transferred to Arkansas for my engineering degree, I didn’t have to pay for it. Because we were so poor, I was able to get work grants (and things like that). I worked part time at a hamburger place, which was fine because that was dinner – it was a great deal.”

Acting wasn’t part of the agenda back then and making a living became paramount. As it does sometimes, life has a funny way of delaying things, and then before you know it, decades have passed. During that time, Gillow had an extremely successful career as an engineer, including a year spent in Indonesia looking for oil when he was working for Texas Instruments – and he also spent three years in Europe.

Eventually, through one of his positions, he was reassigned to Carpenteria, Calif. “I slowly worked my way South, and that job ended,” he said. “I took another one, then they laid me off. I had a string of engineering jobs until finally in 1996 – I got married. Gillow met his wife, artist Joan Gladstone, cycling with the BBCI Club in Irvine, a sport they continue to enjoy.

It wasn’t until Gladstone found an article about an old couple doing background acting work that Gillow’s long-buried dream resurfaced. “So, I thought I’d just check it out and I went to Central Casting and signed up,” he said.

Ed Gillow with Joan

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Gillow with his wife, Joan

“What surprised Joan was how quickly it happened,” Gillow said. “I was out of the corporate world and into the world of acting the next day.”

Gladstone is clearly in awe of his determination.

“I started doing extra work, which led to principal extra work,” Gillow said. “At that point, I quit doing extra work, took acting lessons and began auditioning for roles. As my skills improved, I built a good body of work. I have been divinely led in this business and owe my body of work to God’s inspiration and guidance.”

A long-buried dream resurfaces

“Soon after we were married more than 27 years ago, my husband knocked my socks off by announcing that he wanted to be an actor,” Gladstone said. “At 52, Ed had a career as an electrical engineering manager. He had never stepped foot on a stage. That changed soon after he made up his mind to pursue acting. He began taking acting lessons and started appearing in OC theater productions including Laguna Playhouse Youth Theater plays.” He was cast in the play Homecoming, based on The Waltons.

“It was a musical, and I don’t sing, but I did the best I could harmonizing,” Gillow said. “It was my first play, and Donna Inglima [former director of youth theater, education and outreach for The Laguna Playhouse] gave me a chance.”

Unfortunately, he was kicked out of acting class because he was doing theater. “It was okay. We’ve all been in situations when something happens out of our control. It was the impetus I needed to move on.”

Now 75, Gillow is enjoying new success as an older actor. He’s in his first national TV ad, a USAA commercial with Rob “The Gronk” Gronkowski, that’s been airing during football games all season. This month he’ll play a grandfather in a pharmaceutical print ad geared to doctors.

In a strange twist, his youthful appearance sometimes backfires. “I look too young for some parts,” he said. “On occasion when there are multi-generational cast members, I’ve tried out for the grandfather role and the casting directors mistake me for the father.”

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Jorg Dubin: Unfiltered in his approach to life and art

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

No one would call Laguna artist Jorg Dubin conservative in his approach to art. His work is provocative and, at times, disturbing. He readily admits that it’s not for everyone – there’s no denying it evokes strong emotions, both favorable and unfavorable.

Jorg Dubin: Paintings from the 2000s, the solo inaugural exhibition at the Honarkar Foundation Gallery, proves that assessment to be true.

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Jorg Dubin in front of the Honarkar Foundation Gallery

Dubin – a painter, sculptor, ceramist and production designer – arrived in Laguna in 1976 and has since, consistently produced controversial work. Uncensored for mass public consumption, his paintings combine beguiling portraiture with the urgency of current social and political times.

Jorg Dubin: Paintings from the 2000s chronicles Dubin’s engagement with portraiture over a 20-year period and is the most comprehensive showing of his work to date. The 38-piece exhibition was curated by Genevieve Williams and supported by The Honarkar Foundation.

As described; the artwork is a collection of unfiltered renderings of contemporary subject matter. Through his collection of portraits, Dubin explores the complexities of the human condition, addressing themes such as race, gender, sexuality, politics and power dynamics.

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Stunning space for Dubin’s exhibition

“Historically, when there are big social changes or ideological clashes in the world, writers, poets and visual artists are the ones who created manifestos or visual imagery of the times,” Dubin said. “I’ve always liked that kind of work. It resonates with me because I’ve felt that as an artist, you should say something about the times you live in.”

At its most profound level, art takes us from the everyday to a place of introspection and contemplation, to see the bigger picture of the human condition, and Dubin’s work, in whatever emotionally charged form it takes, is always thought-provoking. In a previous interview with Stu News, he said, “I don’t understand what people are afraid of. I’m angry because of what’s going on in the country, and cities like Laguna Beach should be at the forefront of the conversation. We’re a privileged community and as such we can’t ignore social, racial and economic issues.”

In September 2023, his luminous sculpture Mercury Falling was installed on the corner of Main and Jamboree in Irvine. It carries a powerful message on climate change – that we (humans) will do something about global warming and bring the earth’s temperature down. It’s the latest in the many public art installations Dubin has created, many of them visible throughout Laguna – Semper Memento (Always Remember), Trio, Viking Studio, Wavepoint, Quintet, The Castle Gate and Aliso.

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In the background “Distressed” (left) and “The Orange Stand”

“Not many galleries – or the museum – in Laguna would show my work,” Dubin said. “Content driven work isn’t a very commercial endeavor. Most people who buy art are decorating their homes and not collecting art. Commercial galleries don’t have the client base for this kind of work. I don’t have an art dealer in my own hometown, I don’t have one anywhere. Galleries don’t want to tie up their space for 30 days with a show they can’t sell.”

Enter the Honarkar Foundation. “MHAC created a nonprofit foundation to support our culture and the gallery is going to be open at least a few days a week for the show. It’s the first time a lot of people who have lived in Laguna have ever seen the inside.”

Gerald Buck, the previous owner, amassed a huge collection of contemporary artwork and bought the building to house it. When he passed away and the collection went to UCI, the building came on the market.

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“Bride” (left) and “Mr. Pink, Reflected”

The gallery is a stunning setting for Dubin’s artwork. “They were talking about it being a group show and then they decided to do a one-person exhibition,” he said.

However, Dubin didn’t select the paintings that appear in the exhibition. “The curator, Genevieve, looked at all the work in my studio (and storage) and chose the pieces. I trusted her and Peter [Blake]. It was fun to walk into the gallery and see what was selected for the showing,” he said.

Looking Back

Due to the explicit nature of many of his paintings (of women), who does he use as models? Dubin explained, “They’re friends and people I know. I’ve used professional models over the years, but I like people who aren’t professional models because they bring their own personality. They are in their own comfort zone, and it contributes something interesting to the painting.”

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Ed Steinfeld, the original voice of Laguna, launches “Voice of Laguna” in its new location

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Ed Steinfeld calls the “Voice of Laguna” – which launched in its new location two weeks ago – the most unique radio station in the world, and he knows whereof he speaks. Steinfeld spent more than 30 years in radio, including major market, national network radio and for five years, he served as the moderator of the “Mornings with Ed” radio show on Laguna’s local radio station KX FM. Although Voice of Laguna debuted in June, it just moved into its current location.

An all-consuming endeavor, Steinfeld admitted, “‘Voice of Laguna’ is seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I’m here 14-15 hours a day.”

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The “Voice of Laguna” reaches listeners all over the world

Although physically located in the old newsstand on Ocean Avenue near PCH, the “Voice of Laguna,” via streaming, can be heard all over the world.

“On any given morning, I could be talking to 140,000 to 160,000 people and they’re just listening on their phones – they don’t have to have that FM signal in order to listen.” (Steinfeld is in line for the auction for an FCC FM license.)

After a few months of renovating, the one-of-a-kind space now housing “Voice of Laguna” opens out onto the sidewalk and beckons passersby to stop and look.

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“Voice of Laguna” is located at PCH and Ocean Avenue

What makes “Voice of Laguna” singular is its programming and unusual format which is a mixture of great music (of all genres) and important subject matter. Steinfeld explained, “We literally play every song ever recorded. I’ll go right from Miles Davis to Jimi Hendrix, from Count Basie to The Rolling Stones and the beautiful Billie Holiday to Adele – one following the other. There are no specialty shows or anything like that. It’s in the same form that I digest my music at home. I like to listen to a little of this and a little of that, and the audience seems to have caught on too.”

Hence, Steinfeld spends a lot of time putting together the playlists. “There are so many ways to listen to music. This is a real radio station. Even though we don’t have an FM signal, we have 10 times the number of listeners online streaming.” Reception distances for FM stations are typically limited to a 30-40-mile range. “My competition is Spotify and Pandora.”

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Grab your own “Voice of Laguna” sweatshirt

The flip side of the music is also one that Steinfeld takes very seriously.

“The morning show hours from 7-10 a.m. are spent on important subject matter,” he said. “I interview Mayor Bob Whalen every Thursday at 8 a.m. I had Mike Peters on, the LBPD officer in charge of the recent murder case. I’ve had Adam Schiff on the show. During the next city election, a lot of the candidates who are running for office will come in and sit down. I’m very proud of the interviews. The hardest work I’ve put in is studying for interviews.” To add to the list, he has Liz Cheney coming on in January.

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In the heart of Downtown Laguna

Steinfeld described himself as a serious fact checker with an entrepreneurial spirit. “I was the kid who always did my homework,” he said. “My parents taught me the value of hard work.” As a result, Steinfeld is a deep and meticulous researcher when it comes to interviewing. “I grew up admiring broadcasters such as Tim Russert, and I try to channel him. He didn’t let interviewees sidestep a question. I’m laser-focused on who I’m talking to and never contemplate the next question [I’ll be asking] while the interviewee is responding to the previous one. I also admired Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings.”

All interviews are on podcast and can be found on the website, by clicking here.

However, broadcaster isn’t the only role Steinfeld – who moved to Laguna in 1986 – plays in Laguna. He also serves as announcer for many of our nonprofit events, as moderator for the City Council debates, and what might be a surprise to many, he performs as a stand-up comedian at Mozambique in the Durban room on the last Wednesday of every month. “I’ve been doing it in town for about 20 years; Chip and Chuck gave me my first break at the Sandpiper,” he said.

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Michael Miller: Dedicated to the success of FOA, the arts and the community of Laguna

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Peel an onion and what do you get? Director of Safety and Security at the Festival of Arts of Laguna Beach, home to the Festival of Arts (FOA) and Pageant of the Masters (POM), Michael Miller, compares the process of discovering what he brings to his role – to that of peeling an onion. In this case, each layer reveals an unexpected aspect of his experience in the world of law enforcement, business acumen and emergency management.

There’s no doubt Miller brings a wealth of knowledge to his title, which he assumed in the spring of 2022. He held several management positions within a Southern California Tier 1 Law Enforcement Agency. Miller managed a budget of more than $15 million. He served as Bureau Commander for a category X airport, and co-managed one of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces. In fact, one of the four teams he oversaw was responsible for placing a terrorist on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Cal State University, Fullerton (Criminal Justice), a master’s degree from Cal State University, Dominguez Hills (Negotiation & Conflict Management) and has done graduate work at both Harvard and USC.

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FOA Director of Safety and Security, Michael Miller

Miller was born in Newport Beach and raised in South Orange County, along with his sister, Mary Blanton, who is a popular teacher at El Morro Elementary School.

“I’ve lived here my whole life” he said. “I always knew I wanted to go into law enforcement. I started my career as a Military Police Officer and then Investigator with the U.S. Army stationed in Europe. It was a natural transition to work in civilian law enforcement.”

Prior to coming to FOA, Miller was a successful business executive and the Director of Security at a large performing arts center. He admits the move involved a learning curve. “Because of my background, I’ve been responsible for large event management, strategic planning, fiscal governance, complex investigations, etc., but not within the art world. The biggest learning curve was educating myself about the artists and Pageant volunteers, and their way of life – learning ‘who is who’ in these ecosystems. You have volunteer cast members for Pageant of the Masters, accomplished artists who have been juried into Festival of Arts, patrons who have been coming for years, and yet others who are here for the first time.”

Miller liaisons with each of these groups and others.

This common thread runs through Miller’s entire career – his ability (and passion for) developing relationships.

“It’s all about relationships,” Miller said. “In the very beginning, in the Army, and on patrol, I had to establish relationships to act as my eyes and ears. Going forward, in every assignment I’ve had during my career, I’ve always made sure that I have great relationships with the people I encounter.”

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Miller wants visitors to FOA to have the best possible experience

Certainly, Miller translated that skill to this assignment. “My mantra is that an emergency event is the wrong time to meet somebody for the first time and exchange business cards,” he said. “When I assumed the new role at FOA, I met with Police Chief Jeff Calvert, Fire Chief Niko King, Director of Transit and Community Services Michael Litschi, (then) City Manager Shohreh Dupuis and many of the City Councilmembers. I introduced myself to them. If a problem arises, I know who to call and they know me. I have also made it a priority to meet with our art neighbors at the Sawdust Festival, Laguna Playhouse and others.”

Protecting the patrons

Miller and his staff’s top priority is maintaining a safe environment in which visitors can enjoy the Festival and Pageant. Even though thousands of people visit each year, Miller said, “We are fortunate to have very few incidents.”

In addition to the fine art show and Pageant, other elements that draw visitors to FOA are the great music, dancing, and the fact that they can bring their own food and drinks. In another venue, this might present a problem, however, Miller has procedures in place for possible scenarios.

As for over-beveraging, Miller said, “If a person can’t care for themselves, I have empowered my staff to intervene. We will assess the situation and ensure they are not disrupting the experience for others. If needed, they will be asked to leave the property.”

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Richie Schley: Life is about taking chances and having adventures

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Inductee of the Hall of Fame and a pioneer of freeride mountain biking and free skiing, Richie Schley said mountain biking in the 1980s was, “all racing, racing, racing, we were just kind of radical crazy guys.”

Schley is one of the originators of the whole free ride concept.

“I started biking during the early 1980s, but I was bouncing back and forth between BMX racing and mountain biking, so I didn’t really sink my teeth into mountain biking until about 1985,” he said. Schley was Canadian BMX Champion in 1993.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Richie Schley on one of his bikes

From passion to career

According to Schley, The Red Bull rampage is one of the most radical contests in the world. “Eventually the brands who sponsor you want to see who’s the best rider, so they want you to do contests. It supported the scene, so it goes in that direction. Because of my BMX experience, I was asked to go do a promotional video for Specialized by a ski filmmaker and he asked me if I could do a 360 on a bike and I said, ‘yes.’ So, they took us to my hometown of Kamloops, British Columbia, and I did the 360. When that was done, we went to these crazy steep hills – like we have here in Laguna – and the guy shooting the video said, ‘this is crazy’ and they sent the film to California magazine.

Schley explained that the whole thing blew up because there was nothing like it in mountain biking at the time. “That’s where they also built the trails with wood at North Shore for riding – it was a few hours from where I lived. That was another little scene that was working, and we all were kind of crossing over. Where I grew up was higher desert and the North Shore is on the coast of Vancouver, however, it’s all part of the same explosion of a movement.

“I first started mountain biking with no suspension, but when this movement started, we had front suspension. It changed everything.”

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Richie with his wife Crystal

Riding down the unthinkable

The film The Moment (on Red Bull TV), directed by former pro mountain biker-turned-filmmaker Darcy Hennessey Turenne, explains the impetus of this entire movement. “It’s quite a good little documentary,” Schley said. As described, “In the backwoods of British Columbia, Canada, three small but dedicated crews of adventure seekers were quietly changing the course of a sport and carving their paths in history. And it was all happening unbeknownst to each other, the cycling world, and ultimately themselves. This film is the origin story of a small movement of mountain bikers and filmmakers who rose up, challenged the status quo, and turned the sport of cycling on its head. All they wanted was to feel free. No rules, no sponsors, no claim. Just the raw freedom of riding their bicycles down the unthinkable. This is a story that has never been told, told by the people who lived it firsthand. A moment, this moment, can only ever happen once.”

Another acclaimed film Nothing’s for Free, by Derek Westerlund and featuring Schley, will screen at the Coast Film Festival on the closing day of the Festival on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 9 a.m. Nothing’s for Free is the real story of the birth and legacy of freeride mountain biking. It chronicles the blue-collar story and rise of a cult sport to a global phenomenon that put the race-driven sport of mountain biking on the map in the world of action sports and the mainstream. Schley will also be on a panel that evening.

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Courtesy of Richie Schley

Heart-stopping trail riding

Why Laguna?

An injury was the catalyst for Schley’s move to Laguna.

“I was coming here in the winters to ride, and then I tore my Achilles tendon at the beginning of the winter, and I wasn’t going to be on crutches in the snow.

I came directly here from Whistler, BC. I was a former professional free skier and then I became a mountain biker and the skiing part of my career kind of ended,” Schley said. “I felt that to be a proper professional mountain biker and keep the business going, I needed to be somewhere I could ride my bike year-round. Because Brian Lopes and Hans Rey lived here, and I knew them, there was a place to stay. When I came here, all the arrows seemed to be pointing me to the beach, so I decided to make it home.”

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Astrid of European Optical carries on the legacy of her late father Udo Stoeckmann

By DIANNE RUSSELL

“Up until two weeks before he died, my 93-year-old dad carried on daily activities, as though he was a contemporary with his 80-year-old riding buddies, cycling 14 miles at a time,” said Astrid Chitamun of her late father Udo Stoeckmann, who founded European Opticals in 1974.

Even at 93, he still had 20/20 vision, took no medication and without fail completed those bi-weekly rides with his friends.

Astrid Chitamun with sign

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Astrid with the Celebration of Life poster of her dad, Udo

A Robert Redford look-alike, Udo charmed everyone he met, and all who knew him attest to his vitality and adventurous spirit. After hearing countless stories of memories imprinted in the minds and hearts of those who knew him, their sentiments came through very strong – and consistent.

According to Chitamun, his passion and genuine zeal for life was evident in all that he took on. Anyone who was fortunate to know him was instantly captivated by his charm and German accent, wit and ability to make all in his presence feel special. It was never about him – he took interest in everyone he met, and had a thirst for new experiences and learning from and connecting with people on a deeper level than most. He was a rare force, irreplaceable, excellent and spectacular human. To know Udo was to love him. You would be hard pressed to live a day and not have a snippet of him pass through your consciousness.

Astrid Chitamun Udo in front

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Courtesy of Astrid Chitamun

Udo Stoeckmann in front of European Optical

In addition to his unwavering love for people of all ages and walks of life, he was a true car, sports and animal enthusiast.

He skied, played tennis, windsurfed, paddle boarded, outrigged – and golfed every Monday with his wife, Annie.

As a member of the Rotary Club for 35 years, the 2023 Classic Car Show was dedicated to him. Whenever someone got a special automobile one of the first stops was the optical shop to see Udo’s reaction and, of course, get his stamp of approval on their selection.

Astrid Chitamun new store

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

New store location on Cress and PCH since 2020

Udo’s number one fan, Astrid traveled extensively with her father to many of car shows with the Mercedes-Benz Gullwing Group. Looking back, some of her fondest memories were during those trips they shared together. “He and his classic 1959 300SL Roadster were well known. I’m so fortunate I got to spend so much quality time with my dad, we were best friends, we did everything together and we were always giggling.”

Astrid Chitamun cars

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Courtesy of Astrid Chitamun

Udo Stoeckmann and his cars

Born April 24,1930, in Stettin, Germany, Udo’s young life was marked by the state of the world at the time – the depression and poverty.

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Pat Kollenda: A self-proclaimed “professional” volunteer who gets back more than she gives

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Anyone who knows Pat Kollenda isn’t surprised to hear that whatever she’s involved in needs to be 51% fun. “And I like to be in charge,” she readily admitted. Kollenda lights up a room with her passion for life and love for Laguna – a community in which she’s been deeply embedded since she arrived here 45 years ago.

Pat Kollenda Vietnam

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Pat Kollenda in her lovely hilltop home

Pat and her husband Jim moved to Laguna from Huntington Beach, and their three sons went through the LBUSD system, which led to her introduction into community service as a member of the first board of SchoolPower.

“I loved being involved in SchoolPower at the inception, because Ken Boyer, who started SchoolPower, taught me a valuable lesson,” Kollenda said. “When you’re on the board, you must contribute money. He said it doesn’t matter how much, but you cannot ask other people for money if you’re not giving.”

After all these years, she couldn’t be more experienced in how things work as a self-described “professional” volunteer. Kollenda has been either director, president or founder of too many organizations to even count – and has been recognized for her dedication. She was honored as the 2011 Patriots Day Parade Citizen of the Year, is a past chair of the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance and won the 2010 Alliance for The Arts “Innovation and Arts Leadership” award. Kollenda is a past president of CHOC and USC Alumni (B.A., broadcast journalism) guilds, a past president of Laguna Playhouse, on the first board of Boys & Girls Club and is a current member of the Laguna Beach Arts Commission (for an amazing 31 years). She co-founded Laguna Tunes, was founding president of No Square Theatre and co-founder and executive committee vice president of the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Association. For the Festival of Arts, she serves as the liaison for the Pageant production department, chairs the scholarship committee and is a member of the exhibits, venue management and Irvine Bowl policy committees.

Pat Kollenda Vietnam

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Kollendas moved to Laguna in the late ‘70s. The view from their backyard.

“I was involved in the beginning of the Arts Alliance, and I’ve been chair of that – I was just chair last year,” she said. The Art Alliance is the umbrella organization for 26 nonprofit arts groups. “I was president of the Arts Alliance last year because no one else wanted it. I’ll step in when nobody else wants to. I’m very good at delegating.”

Kollenda has a reason dear to her heart for becoming involved in the Festival of the Arts.

“I ran for the Festival board because when we first moved here all three of my sons were in the Pageant,” Kollenda said. “They loved it, and it gave them an interest in art that they didn’t have before. It’s so beautifully run. It was such a lovely experience, and so I ran for the board (more than 15 years ago). I’m the scholarship chair and I love that we award scholarships to deserving kids. It’s so gratifying because we have substantial money to award.”

Kollenda credits the Business Improvement District tax for helping the arts. “It’s been a boon to our arts community, and that’s why you’re seeing so much public art and murals now. The fund allows us to give grants to art groups, it’s enabled every art group to grow. It’s also contributed to the quality of the performers we’re seeing at the Sunset Serenades.”

Pat Kollenda Vietnam

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Their home features art from local artists. One of the limited prints is a Picasso that Kollenda won on one of the many game shows she’s been on. 

In addition to supporting No Square Theatre, Kollenda has been featured in various productions. Who can forget her sultry rendition of “I’m Tired” (from the movie Blazing Saddles), which she performed in My Ridiculous Valentine in February 2020.

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Luke Johnson brings a unique talent to his custom sneaker and art apparel designs

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna resident and artist Luke Johnson incorporates two of his passions – art and cats – into his creations for Luke Johnson Designs (LJD). Unfortunately, his cat Sammie is unaware that a similar likeness appears on several of Johnson’s shoe designs – LJD Art Jam Sneakers.

“I like the cat image,” Johnson said. “It’s not exactly my cat Sammie. Sammie’s eyes are golden, but it’s a good black cat – and I like the black and white Sammie Cat sneakers. I also like the colorful ones based on my 3D sculpture. A couple of people asked me to autograph those shoes when they bought them.”

Johnson’s mother and partner in LJD, Stacy Collins Johnson, said, “We’re a family business dedicated to celebrating neurodiversity by creating original and outstanding custom sneakers and art apparel for original and outstanding people.

Luke, who happens to have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, is a Laguna Beach artist with an atypical eye who provides the inspiration and original art behind each LJD product in the designer collection. I’m a Neurodiversity Family Life Coach and artist with experience in retail, education, marketing, tech, design and, most importantly, motherhood.”

Luke Johnson 5

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“Why fit in when you were born to stand out” is LJD’s motto and Johnson’s designs are a singular reflection of that message

Collins Johnson’s daughter, Eva, inspired by her brother, majored in psychology and is now working with autistic children for Flagstaff, Ariz. schools and pursuing graduate studies.

LJD supports the ASD community by providing young neurodiverse adults opportunities to build self-esteem and gain independence. “It’s my hope that others will become part of this creativity in a collective environment.”

Collins Johnson was born in Laguna, and her mother still lives here. Sadly, her family lost their home in the 1993 fire. Collins Johnson lived in San Francisco for many years before coming back to Laguna in 2012.

“When I lived in San Francisco, I did a lot of art,” she said. “I was a volunteer art teacher at my kids’ art-based school and was in some figurative drawing and painting groups. I have also had a few pop-up shows at Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art.”

So, how did the family end up back here in Laguna?

“When you have a special needs kid (Luke was diagnosed when he was 2 years old), you have these meetings called IEP (individual educational program) planning meetings,” Collins Johnson said. “Because we couldn’t find the right fit, at one of these meetings, the vice principal said, ‘I’m not supposed to say this, but I know you’re from Laguna Beach, and they have an excellent program.’ Then I called a friend I went to high school with who happens to have two autistic twin boys who are now in their mid-20s – and she had moved back here. She said, ‘Come here, the schools are great, and Irene White, who is the head of the special education department for the district, is absolutely phenomenal.’”

Luke Johnson 5

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Design Collection

It turned out to be exactly the right move for the family.

“Just the bare minimum, things that I had to just fight for in San Francisco, were offered here in Laguna schools,” she said. “The schools and the community were just so wonderful with Luke and kids like him. They teach empathy, and I’m very appreciative and glad we made the move – all that’s great – plus the beach!”

Johnson’s talents were recognized early. “In middle school art class, the teachers noticed his work and he won some awards. Mr. Dressler at Thurston took Luke under his wing.”

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Brooks Atwood: Engineering meets art with hair-raising results for local visionary artist

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. –Maya Angelou

Laguna resident Brooks Atwood certainly proves that statement to be true. To label him “innovator” doesn’t fully describe the scope of his past and present roles as artist, architect, design consultant, actor, television host, educator, provocateur and co-founder of Berries Design.

“I’ve done a million things as I think many people have,” Atwood said. “I’m definitely one who has had multiple professions and multiple past lives.”

In his current life, Atwood has gained fame as the lead innovator on the “dream team” on Netflix’s new show Hack My Home, which debuted on July 7. Filmed in Atlanta, in each of the eight half-hour episodes, the squad “hacks” a home. The other “dream team” members are Mikel Welch (head of design), Ati Williams (head of construction) and Jessica Banks (head of engineering). According to Atwood, the reality show offers a rare look into what goes into a home renovation – all through the lens of innovation.

Picture computer monitors rising out of a dining room table to transform it into an office desk, a loft stairway that folds against the wall like a sculpture, small appliance storage that drops down from the ceiling, and a bevy of hidden drawers and secret doors.

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With his unique style, Atwood, seated in the lobby of the Hotel Laguna, is immediately recognizable. He credits his wife Gianna for his fashions and “look.”

Atwood’s work as a designer and educator earned him the distinction of being named one of the “world’s innovative creators” by Eyes In Magazine and one of six “Emerging US Designers” by the Museum of Arts & Design in New York City. Brooklyn Magazine named him “One of the Most Important Names in Brooklyn Design.” He has received numerous awards and co-founded two companies – Berries Design and Pod Design.

Television

“I’ve had multiple experiences as far as television goes,” said Atwood. “I was on HGTV’s design competition show Design Star, season eight. I made it to the finale, which was very exciting – being on a reality competition show is kind of like being kidnapped, it’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.”

Atwood’s stint on Design Star resonated with the audience. “I think it was the authenticity or uniqueness, something people had never seen before on that scale, and so a lot of people watched the show,” he said. After the first episode, a management company contacted him, and, as a result, he got an agent.

Official trailer for “Hack My Home,” now on Netflix, #5 in the U.S. at the time of this publication

“I was talking to the company 51 Minds about developing shows around me, and it just took a while to find a show to fit with my talents,” Atwood said. “When this show came to them three years ago, they immediately thought of me. Then we spent a year doing chemistry tests to find other castmates, which involved Zoom calls almost every week with four different people to see what the chemistry was with the other castmates. I knew Mikel from HGTV, but I didn’t know the two women, Ati and Jessica. We did a test filming in person in Los Angeles, and the chemistry was definitely there. It’s great to work with three people who have totally different backgrounds, opinions and experiences.”

The show was filmed entirely in Atlanta, Ga. “Everyone is filming in Atlanta because of the tax incentive,” Atwood said. “I had breakfast with Susan Sarandon at a local restaurant.”

While on location, he picked up another design job just by happenstance. “I was living in an apartment building and one day, a woman in the elevator said, ‘I loved you on HGTV. My fiancé and I just bought this house, we want to get married there, would you do our house?’ So, they hired Berries. The house is very cool, and we did some imaginative things such as a secret door to their master suite hidden in a giant wall of bookcases.” The whole project took 8-12 months.

brooks atwood 2

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Atwood attracted audience attention on “Design Star”

“I was working at night and during breaks in filming Hack My Home, doing sketches and presentations on my iPad,” Atwood explained.

“During filming, each day was different and jam-packed. We’d start early and end late. It took a year to develop the show, a year to do the chemistry tests to find the cast, and then a year to film and edit.”

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Aviva Schmidt: personal trainer, yoga instructor and wellness coach publishes first book

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Although the focus here is on Laguna native Aviva Schmidt’s book, You Got This, just published in July, to understand Schmidt – and the path she took – it helps to know her background. It played a significant role in who she is today. “Helping my clients succeed is everything to me,” she said. “Fitness and nutrition have always been my passion, and I have worked as a personal trainer, yoga instructor and fitness coach for over 20 years.”

Although she was born in Laguna and went all through the Laguna Beach Unified School District system, Schmidt left after high school, and her journey back to Laguna involved many stops along the way.

“I’ve moved several times – Laguna Beach to San Francisco, to Israel, then NYC, back to Israel, Australia, back to Israel, Boston, then to Laguna Beach again,” she said. “But during COVID, because I could teach online from anywhere, I moved to Kauai, but returned after eight months. People were ready to get back to in-person training, so I came back to Laguna.”

Aviva Schmidt closeup

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Aviva Schmidt added author to her resume as of July when her first book, “You Got This” was published

It all started in Venice, Calif. Schmidt’s parents, David and Shoshana, were married on Venice Beach in 1970 – hippies, by all standards, Schmidt admits. “He was a struggling artist. After graduating from the UCLA Department of Fine Art, he acquired studio space in Venice.” Soon after, they became transcendental meditation teachers.

However, to support the family, he eventually took a job as a recruiter and started his own business.

“They moved to Laguna and I was born at home on Magnolia Street, then we moved to Aster Street and later lived in Canyon Acres for 10 years, until the house burned down in the 1993 fire,” Schmidt said. “When I was young, my parents had a garage where they would hold transcendental meditation sessions.”

At age 3, Schmidt developed a love for dancing. “A woman on my street organized dance recitals, and I also went to Kyne’s Dance Academy in town. Growing up, I studied dance and fitness.”

Aviva Schmidt yoga pose

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Aviva Schmidt has been a yoga instructor for 24 years

“I fantasized about being a dancer,” Schmidt said. “I went to Orange County School for the Arts when I was a freshman at Laguna Beach High School, but it was then in Los Alamitos, and the commuting time didn’t work out, so I went back to LBHS. After high school graduation, I studied dance in France.”

Family moves to Israel

Prior to that, her parents had left transcendental meditation and became Orthodox Jews. “My father was invited to a service at Chabad Jewish Center of Laguna Beach by the Rabbi and when my father came back, he said, ‘This is what I want in my life.’ My mother attended a service and she agreed.”

To Schmidt’s surprise, the summer after she graduated from high school, her parents told her they were moving to Israel. “At first they lived in the oldest city in Jerusalem but now live in the city. They have five kids and 20 grandkids.” They also have a great-grandchild on the way from Schmidt’s youngest brother.

“My whole family is there – my parents, sister, sisters-in-law, three brothers, brother-in-law and 20 nieces and nephews. My oldest brother is a rabbi. My youngest brother, who was born in Israel, is a personal trainer and MMA fighter and coach, and my sister-in-law is a personal trainer.”

Aviva Schmidt with paintings

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Schmidt sits next to two paintings by her father. The one on the left is of her brother Ari holding her brother Yosef when he was a baby. Her father’s subjects, for the most part, are “Our Boys” the Jewish soldier. Now at 81 years of age, her father creates every day.

“When I came back from France, I moved to San Francisco with my sister,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t know anyone and had no place to live and no plans. I stayed there for six months, then went to Israel for a year.

“After that, while I was in Australia, I took advanced courses in fitness, yoga and nutrition.” During her second visit to Israel, which lasted 13 years, Schmidt taught dancing and aerobics and body sculpting at the local gym. “I got interested in learning anatomy.”

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Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

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