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


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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All in the family

Kollenda’s penchant for performing started at a young age. She was raised in Pacific Palisades and started singing and playing piano early on. “I took acrobatics, tap and ballet,” she said. “My mother played piano and performed in the USO during World War II, so I must have inherited that musical ability from her.

“When I was 16, I had this vision of myself as a chanteuse in a piano bar, so I sang ‘My Funny Valentine’ into an old tape recorder. Then I listened to myself and realized that ‘low voice’ may not be good. I have a good ear, so I’m better in a quartet and if I have solos, it usually involves humor and acting. I don’t have a big voice, but I have an accurate voice. Singing and dance were a big part of my life for a while, which I loved, and I played tennis for a long time as in a tennis group here.”

While in high school, Kollenda discovered that she liked contributing. “It was fun, and I met great people. Since I like to be in charge, if they needed someone, they knew I could run an efficient meeting.”

Along the lines of performing, she tried her hand at making commercials – one for milk and one for Proctor and Gamble. “It was fun, but kind of scary,” she said. Kollenda also did a little modeling.

“I met my husband Jim when I was in high school (he was older and in the Air Force). He was stationed in Florida, and he got serious, but I wasn’t. I was going to go to USC, so we just corresponded. While at USC, I dated and did all the things I needed to do, and then he got out of the service in my junior year, and we reconnected. We got married right after graduation. We came from very different backgrounds, he’s from Chicago, which was very ethnic, and I grew up in Southern California.”

Her role as director began while she was at USC and later as president of USC Alumni guild and alumni scholarship interviews. “I’m a big USC fan, and my three sons all went there on scholarships. At the time, the scholarships were only given to women.” Guess who got that policy changed?

Currently, one of her sons is in New York and one lives in Hollywood, but neither is married. “I have a married son who lives in Carlsbad, and so I have three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren,” said Kollenda. “The most shocking thing to me is not that I became a great-grandmother, but that I have a son who is a grandfather.”

Pat Kollenda Vietnam

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The chair is a one-of-a-kind design from a late local artist in the Canyon. Kollenda said it’s one of the best pieces she’s bought. Much like her, it’s fun and one-of-a-kind.

Her musical directorial debut was at USC.

“When I was at USC, we had song fest which was a big thing and the gal who was the director ran away and got married,” Kollenda said. “Although I have a music background, I’d never had any directing experience, but I thought I could do it by just waving my arms and keeping the beat right, so I started directing. Then when I graduated and we moved to Orange County, I was very involved with USC and the alumni scholarship interviews. I was in several support groups, and I heard about a woman who had a singing group and provided babysitting. I could take the boys and go sing, so I joined it.”

Kollenda eventually became director of that group (again, no surprise), and they formed a quartet. “We did a lot of entertaining all over – Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.”

And then we auditioned for the USO and were chosen. “They never tell you where you’re going when you make the cut,” Kollenda said. “The first year I felt I couldn’t leave because we had three little boys, and so they got a substitute for me.”

However, the second year her mother took care of the boys, but Kollenda still didn’t know where she would be going. “We had to get about 12 vaccinations,” she said.

Pat Kollenda Vietnam

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Courtesy of Pat Kollenda 

Kollenda is at the top of the photo

It may be news to some readers to find out that Kollenda performed in a USO Tour of Vietnam, spending 18 days there, playing for non-commissioned officers. “That changed the way I view politics,” she said. “My second night there, we were under rocket attack, and I spent the night in the bunker in my nightgown and curlers. When we flew back to Travis Air Force Base in Northern California, I got off that plane, and I literally got down and kissed the ground.”

Yet Kollenda recalled some humorous incidents while traveling with them.

“I loved performing with the quartet because we did some great gigs. We went on one that was a dinner dance for some aerospace corporation at Christmas, and we had an hour to sing with the musicians and a little choreography. Suddenly, the audience all got up and started dancing while we’re performing, like it’s a nightclub. Another time, I was directing my chorus at the l Los Alamos Naval Station. It was a very foggy night and two of the ladies drove onto the tarmac. Oh my God, they had to be turned around. Then we couldn’t get into the officers’ club to perform and when we did, the piano had a bunch of keys that didn’t work, so I had to assign one of the singers to pull up the keys, because once they were hit, they stayed down.”

Pat Kollenda Vietnam

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Courtesy of Pat Kollenda

Kollenda is second from the left

After 20 years, and countless performances, Kollenda has just recently retired from LagunaTunes.

“I directed The Harbor Singers and then I sang with Sweet Adelines for 10 years, and then I directed Hooked on a Harmony which was a barbershop group for 10 years. So now I’m at a point that I want to do things that feed me a lot and I can give back to them.

“I’m a very ecumenical girl, but I do have faith and sing in the choir at Saint Mary’s. I’ve been blessed because I didn’t have to earn a living. I contributed when there were bleak times and I had to work because Jim changed careers from an engineer to a stockbroker, so there were big ups and downs. That’s when I would go get a part-time job, but it was fine, and the boys all had scholarships.”

As much as her past in Laguna has meant to Kollenda, she feels we need to look to the future, and that future is in the young people we need to get involved in the city and the culture.

“All the different things that I’ve done in town have been nothing but a blessing, and I’ve met the most interesting people here,” Kollenda said. “In all of my community endeavors, I get back so much more than I give.”

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In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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