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Laguna Logo 2022

Bill Atkins: Longtime local graphic artist embarks on new projects with nonprofits

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

For decades, graphic artist Bill Atkins has been part of Laguna’s art scene. He’s exhibited at the Sawdust Festival, for a decade served as freelance designer for the Festival of Arts (FOA) and taught digital imagery and art at Laguna College of Art + Design (LCAD). One can often see him walking around town in his signature straw hat.

It’s almost impossible to venture far without seeing one of Atkins’ creations – whether it be a banner, poster, logo or plaque. His designs are unique and as a result, highly identifiable. Not only can they be seen in Laguna, his work is scattered throughout California and in other states as well.

At this particular juncture in his career, Atkins has already produced an impressive portfolio of projects, however, just recently a slew of new work with nonprofits has come his way. It was serendipitous that Stu News contacted him at a time when he had exciting news to share. 

bill atkins closeup

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Bill Atkins

 “Within the past 14 days, there have been many projects in the works, some are already approved and others are waiting for approval,” Atkins said. “Just recently, I am pleased to be working on projects that honor some of the greatest visionaries we have seen in our City and County – James Dilley, father of the Laguna Greenbelt; Bill Rihn, founder of the South Laguna Community Garden and Larry “Flame” Moore, legendary surfing photographer.”

In addition, the City Manager’s Office of Laguna Beach commissioned him to design 16 vinyl street banners for the HIP District, and that project was completed in July. “It’s always rewarding to be asked by the city to do a project,” Atkins said. One of his banners is installed at City Hall.

Many of his clients are old connections, some are new. Currently he is working with Sally’s Fund, Connellsville, Pa.; the Botanical Garden at UH, Hilo; Laguna Beach Sister Cities, South Laguna Garden; Susi Q; Dana Point Sister Cities and The Time Capsule poster for Dana Point Harbor for their 50-year celebration. He has previously worked with Laguna Greenbelt, Friends of the Laguna Beach Library, the Garden Club, Blue Bell Cat Foundation and many more.

At FOA he designed graphics promoting the FOA Permanent Collection, as well as numerous bronze plaques to honor the Permanent Collection artists and a large bronze plaque, honoring the board of directors, the design firms and the Laguna Beach City Council on the collaboration on the remodeling of the grounds a few years ago.

bill atkins projects

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Some of Atkins’ current projects, several have already been approved 

“Give me type and I’m happy,” Atkins said. “There are wonderful choices now of specific fonts.”

Although he loves typography, in a previous interview with Stu News, he admitted, “Marrying images and typography for the kind of result I want, and that my clients want, can be tricky. Poster art is sometimes not given the same respect as other art forms, maybe because here in Laguna plein air has ruled for so long, but it has a rich history and demands a lot of focus. I love the challenge.” 

Atkins’ posters depict iconic local places and events, including Crystal Cove cottages and the FOA, as well as famous performing artists such as Cyndi Lauper.

Posters are unique, Atkins said, because they tend to carry explicit messages through images and typography, images that transcend international and cultural barriers. Think of travel posters and film posters, or of Atkins’ Sister Cities series, featuring scenes from Laguna’s sister cities: Menton, France; San Jose del Cabo, Mexico and St. Ives, England. The detailed graphics and colors reflect the commonality and shared appreciation of our ocean-side communities. 

He’s also donated his time and talent to graphic arts campaigns benefiting the Art Museum, AIDS Services Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign. In other capacities, in the 1980s, he was on the board of the Chamber of Commerce and at one time was a board member of Sister Cities.

bill atkins office

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Atkins’ office and gallery 

“Supervisor Lisa Bartlett has been so good to me. I’ve been issued a few awards,” Atkins said.

Atkins has also partnered with the City of Dana Point in the development of the new harbor. His time capsule poster for the harbor’s 50th anniversary has already been approved. 

Set on the right road

Atkins was born and raised in Philadelphia. “I come from a huge family. I’m the oldest of seven – I have three brothers and three sisters,” Atkins said. “One of my brothers is a cabinet maker, and I’ve worked with him on some of my plaque projects. He makes the solid wood frames.” 

Atkins credits a priest (his counselor) at his Catholic High School for pushing him into what would ultimately become his career. 

“The priest asked me what I liked to do,” Atkins said. “When I said art, he said, ‘I don’t know anything about art, call some art schools.’ So I did. There was one not far from where I lived and the president of the art school was a neighbor. I was blessed by that priest, his advice set me on a path. How many people get paid for what they love to do?”

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Alex Lintner: A passion for a credit system that unlocks opportunities for all people
By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Alex Lintner, Experian’s group president for Consumer Information Services in North America, has visited 78 countries and says he is certain there are very few spots in the world that can compare to Laguna Beach. That is why he has chosen to live here. Although Lintner and his wife Cassie, the City of Laguna Beach Communications Manager, also have a vacation spot in the Lake Tahoe area, their exquisite newly remodeled Laguna house is their sanctuary.

Among the many reasons Lintner loves Laguna – one that holds a special place in his heart – is that this is where he met Cassie, via an online dating site. At the time (he moved here in 2015 from Crystal Cove), he was living on Center Street, ironically just a few blocks from Cassie. But it took the internet for them to meet.

Alex Lintner closeup

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Alex Lintner

Cassie is a former television news anchor and fell in love with living in Orange County – only to find few TV news stations outside of LA and San Diego.  She had heard the City of Laguna Beach was a great place to work, so she set up a meeting with then City Manager John Pietig and then Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis to see if the city needed a communications person – a role that didn’t previously exist.

“John agreed to ‘give the position a try’ for a while, and that has turned into 4.5 years of the best work experience of my career,” Cassie said with a smile. “I love serving the Laguna Beach residents and our visitors. We have a work environment where colleagues and management are very supportive of each other and that makes it fun coming to work. The positive energy here is contagious.”

An online connection

“I had only been online two months before I met Cassie. While Cassie is a gem and I am so grateful I met her, the overall online dating experience wasn’t always positive,” Lintner said. “And even though I tried to chat her up online with all I had, she turned me down four times before she finally agreed to meet.” As they recollect, “the date” was brunch at the Montage.

The couple bought their house in 2018, then went through the permitting and remodeling process, which took four years. They were married on October 10, 2019, and as if one wedding celebration wouldn’t suffice, they decided to have two. The first event, a more official gathering, took place at City Hall. Former City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker, performed the ceremony. 

“The Fire Chief and Chief of Police were there in uniform, along with then Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, former City Manager John Pietig and other city staff. It was so kind of them to be there for Cassie, and the uniforms, their comments and the flow of the ceremony were all impressive, and totally exceeded our expectations. It showed how much heart Laguna Beach has,” Lintner said. “We rented a trolley and decorated it with flowers. Then we had the second ceremony at Crescent Bay Park, which was also decorated with flowers. Ever since the wedding, Cassie’s relatives and friends from South Dakota all want to come out and visit.”

In April 2020 during COVID, the family grew in size from two to four when Alex and Cassie acquired two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies, Atticus and Scout. Cassie’s dad was an English teacher, so it’s no surprise that their names are an homage to the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Alex Lintner with dogs

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Alex with Cassie and their dogs Scout (on the left) and Atticus
The path to Laguna

With several geographic detours, the road that eventually led Lintner to Laguna Beach began in Munich, Germany, where he was born and raised. Growing up, he didn’t aspire to go into the business world. However, he loved the U.S. “My father, who was in the insurance business, took me on a trip to New York City when I was 10 years old. When we came out of the Holland Tunnel, I looked up at glass and steel, and thought, ‘this is the land of opportunity. I want to live here.’”

Lintner admits that as a youngster, he had no specific direction.

“As an adolescent I did okay in school – I had no trouble with academics – but I didn’t know how I wanted to apply what I had learned nor what I wanted to do to earn a living. After high school, I ran a surfing school in Lesbos, Greece. But when I found it somewhat mundane, I decided to go to university. That’s where I discovered my interest in business. From that point on, I was always lucky to have wonderful mentors along the way to learn from.” 

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Ava Knepper: From water baby to winning gold at the Water Polo Youth World Championships 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

From the time Ava Knepper took her first swimming lessons at age 2, she was destined to “embrace the hard” – a motto that has served her well.

Yesterday she began her junior year at Laguna Beach High School after a summer of dazzling success at the FINA (Fédération Internationale De Natation) Youth World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. Knepper’s team, which included Laguna’s Genoa Rossi, claimed the youth women’s crown with a victory over Greece (10-8) to bring home gold. It’s the first time the Junior National Team has won the crown since 2014.

However, the path to victory wasn’t paved with gold – it’s been a long, grueling journey, including 5:45-7:50 a.m. workouts (and sometimes double and triple workouts), weight training, weekend trainings during the season, relentless traveling, simultaneously competing on three different teams, double ear infections, taking punches in the face and even suffering a bite wound from an opponent during a match. Clearly, water polo competition isn’t for the faint of heart, body or mind.

 “Embrace the hard” was a mantra introduced to Knepper by her coach, Ethan Damato and she made it her own. On top of their regular schedules and commitments, high school and club teams, the USA team members – some who Knepper has been playing against for the past eight years – have been training for these events all year. Knepper was the youngest on the team.

Ava Knepper closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Ava Knepper wearing her medals

The 17 teams competing in the women’s youth championships were divided into four groups. Before the final game against Greece, the USA had earlier wins over Uzbekistan, Japan, Kazakhstan, Spain and Italy. 

Although Knepper’s team came out on top, the Youth World Championships weren’t without its share of strange happenstances; one of the players sliced her hand when a shower door shattered, and the mother of one of the team members fell and broke her ankle. Although the injury required surgery in Belgrade, she was able to attend the finals in a wheelchair.

The girls of summer 

Prior to the championships, Knepper had just come off a standout season for the Breakers in which she scored 72 goals. 

 “On July 5, the team left to train in Bloomington, Indiana, for five days and scrimmaged against Canada’s junior team,” Ava said. “Then we went to Indianapolis for the Pan American games.” Knepper scored six goals in the final game against Canada, more than enough to help Team USA beat Canada. But they still had a long way to go.

Ava Knepper winning team

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Photo by Dawn Knepper

Junior World Champions    

“In Indiana, we were in the middle of the competitions, and realized we still had so much more to go,” Knepper said. “Then we left for Greece, stayed for four days, and afterwards we went to Budapest in Hungary for a scrimmage. That was my favorite place because of the monuments and the waterfront. Then we went on an eight-hour bus ride to Serbia to practice and prepare for the last event, the world games.” 

Knepper’s favorite memory of the Junior World Championships was a meeting of just the team. “We had just lost to Greece (in a third-day clash 15-14), and we went around the room and each shared a high and low of our careers. Mine was during the Lima, Peru tournament, there was a lot of pressure. I didn’t play all that much and had to sit out for a couple of the games. I lost a lot of self-confidence. Many of the girls had the same experience in Lima. We all had the same lows and loss of self-confidence playing, and sharing that experience, we really bonded.” 

Ava Knepper with mom and gramma

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Knepper with Diana Philippus, her grandmother (on left) and (in middle) Ava’s mother, Dawn Knepper

Adam Krikorian, head coach of the USA Water Polo Women’s National Team, shared an insight with the USA Junior team. “He explained how this team bond would last forever,” Knepper said. “It meant a lot to hear that from him. Our team had so much fierce passion. I was not sure the win was real until there were only seven seconds left against Greece, we were up by two points. He was right, now they all feel like my big sisters.” 

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Jenna Genovese-Mikula: The cat curator at Blue Bell Foundation for Cats finds her passion

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

–Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud 

For cat lovers, that statement is a given – they know that any time spent in the company of a cat is precious. No one knows that better than Jenna Genovese-Mikula, who has found her life’s passion as assistant director of Blue Bell Foundation for Cats. For those who are unfamiliar with Blue Bell, it is a nonprofit that offers loving and compassionate care to senior cats whose owners can no longer care for them. 

Jenna Genovese smiling

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Jenna Genovese-Mikula

“I wanted to be a zookeeper when I was a kid,” said Genovese-Mikula. Coincidentally, her responsibilities at Blue Bell are very similar to a zookeeper’s job – which is to keep the animals comfortable and safe – except that her menagerie is limited to domestic cats.

Curator is the perfect description of Genovese-Mikula’s role: She is administrator, guardian, manager, keeper and steward of the collection of Blue Bell residents. At the present time, there are 36 cats – 16 in lower house, where new arrivals go before being integrated into the main population, and 20 in the upper house, where they roam free in an assortment of rooms and play areas. 

“We usually have between 40-50 cats, and soon we’ll be getting two new ones,” said Genovese-Mikula, who no doubt relishes the idea of additional residents for her cat community, which includes its longest-term member, Laguna. She has been in residence for 10 years and just celebrated her 18th birthday. 

Jenna Genovese lower house

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Genovese-Mikula gives some TLC to a resident of the lower house 

Although Genovese-Mikula showed a penchant for animals early on, she went into finance as a career. Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised on Staten Island, Genovese-Mikula lived there 32 years before coming out West. Her parents and brothers still live there. “Staten Island isn’t as urbanized as New York, and I spent my childhood hiking and in nature. I immediately connected to the trails here in Orange County,” she said. “I always loved animals and had turtles, frogs and fish. I got my first kitten, Patches, when I was 10 years old. It was a stray and was walking through our backyard. I was afraid the German Shepherd next door would grab it. My parents weren’t too happy in the beginning, but later we got another cat.”

In 2008, Genovese-Mikula earned her MBA at St. John’s University on Staten Island, where she studied to be a CPA. After graduation, she worked at Quest Diagnostics for seven years and then three years ago, transferred to the Quest headquarters in San Juan Capistrano.

From finances to felines

“It was a big change,” she said. “I moved to an apartment in Aliso Viejo. I met my husband, Mario, at Quest, and we moved to Rancho Santa Margarita, and then bought a house in Laguna Niguel.” 

As one might expect, they have their own collection of animals at home – four cats, Athena, Smokey, Charlie, Tony and Mario’s two dogs, Bogie and Chongo. Her husband, who has been with Quest for 20 years, works from home, so he’s in charge of their pets while Genovese-Mikula is at work. 

“It took my husband a while to get into cats – he’s a dog person – but the right cat will change your mind about cats,” she said.

Jenna Genovese garden

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Genovese-Mikula in the Blue Bell garden, which has 14 pocket gardens

 “I had a successful career at Quest, but I wasn’t happy or fulfilled, so I quit in 2018 and started at Blue Bell as a volunteer in early 2019,” Genovese-Mikula said. “It really resonated with me. I thought, ‘Maybe this what I want to do with the rest of my life.’ I also felt that I could leverage my skills in the business world to help with the foundation’s management.

“There was an open cat caregiver position here starting part time,” she said. “I loved being with the cats. I thought it was such an interesting concept to have a place for senior cats to be well taken care of in their later years. I also had volunteered at Carma Pet Rescue which does rescue and adoption and spent six months at Canyon Animal Hospital as an intern.” 

However, working in a veterinary office wasn’t what she was looking for in a career. 

 “It wasn’t for me,” said Genovese-Mikula. “I only got to spend a short time with each animal. I wanted to get to know them on a deeper level. The energy was different, it was more fast paced, so I became a caregiver here but then COVID hit. By that time, I had almost a year of caregiving and was promoted to assistant director in 2021.” 

A day in the life 

For Genovese-Mikula, the role of assistant director is all-consuming. She puts in 10 hours each workday, starting at 10 a.m. Not only does she oversee the caretakers and volunteers, she attends to the daily needs of the cats and the facility. Thursdays she spends on administrative duties. In conjunction with Acting Executive Director and Founder of Blue Bell Susan Hamil and Chairman Emeritus Jeff Zakaryan, Genovese-Mikula works on strategic planning and ways in which Blue Bell will continue to be sustainable.

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The music goes on – Eric Henderson, the man behind the guitar

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

One would imagine that being considered the “golden boy” in the concert world of classical guitarists, Eric Henderson would have led a charmed life. Not only did he spend four years studying with the legendary Andres Segovia, at age 17 Henderson had already signed two contracts for concert tours in both the U.S. and Europe. 

In many respects, it was a charmed life. As described by Henderson, there were extraordinary highs during his career, but there were also some crashing lows. Nevertheless he has come out the other side and is scheduled to perform in his hometown of Laguna on Friday, August 12 at the Woman’s Club. That in itself is something of a miracle.

“A lot of people bet that I wouldn’t live past 30,” he said.

the music closeup

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Eric Henderson

Born in Pasadena, Calif., Henderson picked up a guitar when he was only six years old, and it wasn’t long until his extraordinary talent was recognized. In 1971, at the age of 13, he received the honor of being invited to study privately in Spain with Segovia. Introduced to Segovia by his teacher and mentor Antonia Morales, at the time, Henderson was one of only three people to be invited to study with Segovia. In the ensuing years, Henderson became part of the rarified culture of classical guitarists.

“I lived abroad off and on from 1971 through the 1980s,” Henderson said, “and I lived in Spain for four years. I practiced 12-14 hours a day and logged in 16,200 hours during those four years.”

He also studied guitar with Christopher Parkening, Angel Romero, Ernesto Bitetti, Emilio Pujol, and Antonia Morales. He studied Baroque interpretation with Ton Koopman and Henk Dekker, and guitar music theory and composition with Aureo Herrero. While in Spain he also worked with the composer Federico Moreno Torroba, perfecting the interpretation of Torroba’s “Sonatina in A” and “Madronos.” 

After eleven European and nine U.S. tours over the next ten years, Henderson returned to his hometown of Laguna where he dedicated himself to composing his own pieces, concentrating on enlarging the repertoire and education for the classical guitar.

the music living room

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Where Henderson composes and practices

The price of fame

“I was in Holland from 1975-76, and I just felt lost,” Henderson said. “I never really wanted to quit, but I missed surfing and my surfing buddies. Those were stressful times. I was conflicted because I wanted to live up to the image of the concert persona. I wanted to make good, but I didn’t have the capacity at that age, to say what I wanted. I wasn’t very worldly, and I didn’t have the social development that kids my age had. I was a man/child.”

From age 14-17 is a difficult time period for any adolescent, then compound it with the pressure of performing on concert tours, and there’s little doubt it must have been overwhelming. “When you come down from the intensity and adulation on stage, to being alone, it was very lonely and that was hard,” Henderson said.

“I went from the intense training in Spain to thinking now I’m done with this and I’ll be rewarded, have a normal life and get my childhood back. I didn’t go to high school, I had no social life. I wanted to surf and take a rest, but it was more traveling, more concerts, and more isolation. From age 17-26, I was under incredible pressure. I never felt ready for the performances.”

the music Scout

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Scout, a toy Aussie, rests at Henderson’s feet while he plays

Eventually, the stress took its toll. 

“At 26, I remember waking up in Chicago and I didn’t know where I was or what city I was I,” Henderson admitted. “I was done with the European concerts and was in the middle of four concerts in the U.S. and I thought, ‘I’ve had enough.’ It got more and more difficult to get ready, and I started hating it. I became crippled. It was a horrible feeling. I started questioning everything – and losing it. I went to the front desk of the hotel and just started sobbing. I decided, ‘no more I’m done’ and that I didn’t even like classical guitar. I quit the tour. 

“I went to Oahu and had an incredible life for a season surfing on the north shore. It was a period of delayed adolescence at 26. Then I started anesthetizing myself with drugs and began to unravel, and that added to the deterioration of my confidence. This went on for five years. I felt lost and almost became agoraphobic. I was heartbroken and feared I had lost my ability to play on the level I was used to. So I used more drugs to escape.” 

However, a strange and unexpected turn of events led the 31-year-old Henderson back to the stage.

the music playing

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Henderson has been playing the guitar for 58 years

“I had to make a living so I taught. I had a student, Griff Hamlin, who was incredible on the electric guitar,” said Henderson. “I was working with a virtuoso piece originally written for violin. I gave him the music and in one week he came back and played it on his electric guitar with the speed of a violinist. So I studied his left hand technique, then used a hybrid technique with my right hand and applied the speed of an electric guitar. In six months, I was back, better than ever. It was a different kind of technique, and it was transforming.”

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Keepers of the Fairy and Butterfly Garden carry on its enchanting legacy

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

For the past two years, an amazing band of garden keepers – Ellis Adams, Rebecca Maessen, Phina Torbensen, Wayne Lawrence, Allison Adams and Jenece Pritchard – led by Kim Shields and Simone Adams – have kept the legacy of the Laguna Beach Library fairy and butterfly garden alive. Dedicated to honoring Jessica deStefano, the founding fairy godmother, the group diligently works to keep her bewitching gift flourishing.

One day eight years ago, the librarian at Laguna Beach Library looked out the window to see a woman tending the unkempt garden in front of the library entrance. As was her way, deStefano didn’t announce herself as the garden rescuer, she merely saw a need and got busy. 

keepers of group

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(L-R) Back row: Wayne Lawrence, Rebecca Maessen, Jenece Pritchard, Kim Shields, Simone Adams, Allison Adams; Front row: Thor Torbensen, Phina Torbensen, Ellis Adams

That was just the beginning. In the ensuing years, deStefano transformed the space into a magical fairy garden, lush with plants and vibrant flowers and populated with a neighborhood of fairy houses and butterflies.

To use a gardening term, her “roots” to the community run deep. She is the granddaughter of Percy Wise Clarkson, who in the 1930s moved to Laguna and built the St. Francis by the Sea Catholic Church from tiles taken from the ruins left by the Long Beach earthquake of 1933.

Feeling an affinity for the scenic community where she had lived part of

her childhood, deStefano returned here to live in 2000. Her spirituality is part

and parcel of her art, reflected in some way in nearly everything she does.

An artist and creator of small sculptures and figurines, deStefano exhibits on the East Coast as well as Laguna and although she has retired from tending the garden, she is consulted about seeding and other planting matters. 

How does your garden grow?

During COVID, Shields came upon deStefano working in the garden and asked if she needed help. As a result, Shields started her own garden in 2020.

“I trained slowly with Jessica, especially on how to look at the garden from a kid’s perspective,” Shields said. 

keepers of Thor

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Thor Torbensen plays in the garden

Wayne Lawrence trims the plants and makes tunnels for the visitors.

Pritchard, who has been helping for a month, is the “rookie” volunteer. “I admired the garden and then saw Kim and Simone working in it and asked if I could help,” she said.

Quite possibility the only fairy and butterfly garden of its kind, it’s no surprise that the space attracts a great deal of attention. Shields calls it, “a slice of heaven.”

“Ellis has been into fairies on her own as a kid,” said her mom, Simone. “When we moved here, I read about the garden and we wanted to volunteer.” Ellis is a sophomore at JSerra Catholic High School, a singer and part of a rock band and a Laguna Beach Girl Scout.

Simone Adams and Shields, who schedule and manage the volunteers, share a passion for the garden, and they have steadily built a team that is devoted to keeping the garden thriving, although Shields said, “Simone pretty much does everything.”

The volunteers have been constructing and refurbishing the fairy houses (visitors also donate objects for the garden) and learning how to seed. “There’s a lot of criteria for what we choose to plant,” said Simone. “The majority of the plants are pollinators and drought tolerant. We don’t waste water.” 

keepers of insect hotel

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Insect hotel

Always with an eye on nature

“Jessica’s vision was to really focus on nature and that’s been very successful,” Simone continued.

The garden themes and educational programs are usually nature related: bees in June, caterpillars and butterflies in July and August and lady bugs in September.

On Thursday, July 28, the group hosted a summer reading program about butterflies and at the end of the program, the children came out to the garden and cleaned up the fallen leaves.

They also presented a program for Earth Day and on Saturday, July 30, a hundred children attended their event which included “make-your-own” magic wands and fairy wings, fairies, music and much more.

Favorite moments

Shields recalled her favorite moments: “I think one of my favorite moments in the garden, (other than every time I worked with Jessica) was seeing my first butterfly chrysalis. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! Nature is such a wonderful teacher.”

She admitted that there were some funny stories as well.

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Stephanie Chapel keeps the wheels spinning; Rhythm Ride moves to a new exciting location

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Last Thursday (July 21) was a bittersweet day for Stephanie and Andrew Chapel, owners of the spin class studio Rhythm Ride. Their excitement at opening their new studio was tempered with the sad realization that Another Kind Café – the site of their outdoor classes for the past two years – was closing at the end of the day. 

According to Stephanie, Thinh Nguyen and his wife Vy, who operated Another Kind Café at The Hive on Laguna Canyon Road, saved their business.

“When Rhythm Ride closed for the second time in June of 2020, Thinh gave us an option,” said Stephanie.

A chance to keep going

“Thinh messaged me and said, ‘How will you be able to operate? You guys should do it outside.’ It wasn’t our idea. It was divine intervention. None of it was part of our plan, but sometimes we need to realize that the plan is what you need, not what you want. They gave us the opportunity to say, ‘yes.’” 

As a result, on July 23, 2020, Rhythm Ride began operating their spin classes outside at Another Kind Cafe. “For the last two years, it has been home to us,” Stephanie said.

In addition to being outdoors, a few other things changed – the number of bikes went from 29 to 12, and they started using headphones for the music so as not to disturb surrounding businesses. 

However, being subject to the whims of the weather had its challenges. 

Stephanie remembers one such occurrence. “It was really windy one day, and a palm from one of the trees flew into class. Luckily it didn’t hit anyone, but we have survived all weather conditions. You name it! Rain, lightning, thunder, fires, wind, we even had a tsunami warning. But due to weather, we only had to cancel a couple of classes. Crazy. Class must go on!”

Steph Chapel closeup

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Stephanie Chapel

“In February 2022, when our lease was up at the old location, we started looking for a new space,” Stephanie said. (The Chapels bought Rhythm Ride in 2018.) “The new site will be opening very soon – August 1.” 

The Chapels’ Laguna ties run deep. Stephanie was born in Laguna and she and Andrew, who was raised here, were high school sweethearts at Laguna Beach High School (LBHS). They got married in 2010. There was another strong connection to LBHS. Stephanie’s father, Bill Darnall, taught ceramics at LBHS for several decades. He is a well-known ceramicist who has exhibited at the Sawdust Festival for many years, beginning in 1973, and her mom Patty was a teacher at El Morro Elementary School.

The Chapel family includes three daughters – Charley, who is 8, Noa, 6 and Isabella, 4.

Carry through

“People carry you through the tough times,” said Stephanie, and she can’t say enough about how the team worked together during the last two years to keep the business going. 

“Of course, this all doesn’t happen on its own,” she said. “Andrew, instructors Abbey Lam, who has been here since the beginning, and Julia Hanna, are the reasons we’re here. It was a team effort. I teach classes also, but I can’t do all of them. I had to surrender even my own expectations of how it was supposed to be.” 

During that time, Andrew rolled the bikes in and out of the trailer and sometimes others did as well. “Andrew helped out a lot,” Stephanie said. “He got to know the clients. He’s the kind of guy who gets you what you want before you need it.

“The business has given us the freedom and flexibility to be with the kids. It’s something we do together and Andrew has become more involved. It’s better when we’re doing it together.” 

Yet, there were still times when it seemed overwhelming. “Every time I put my head in my hands, something turned up,” she said. “People are what make it matter and there were many unsung heroes.”

Steph Chapel Steph and Andrew

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Stephanie and Andrew with the bike that Andrew built

As a prime example, when they lost the use of the trailer to store the bikes, again, fate stepped in. 

“A client had one that wasn’t being used,” Stephanie explained. “She and her husband bought it during COVID and her husband had an accident. So I went to Arizona to pick it up. I can’t even articulate the humanity during that time. The community was completely on board. One client just kept paying even when she couldn’t ride. The good definitely outweighed the bad.”

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Gea Meijering deciphers the dyslexia dilemma in her children’s book Hacking the Code, the Ziggety Zaggety Road of a D-Kid

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Before they changed the world, several well-known public figures struggled with dyslexia – award-winning journalist Anderson Cooper, comedian Robin Williams, artist Pablo Picasso and entrepreneur Richard Branson. Perhaps one of the most famous figures known to have dyslexia is Albert Einstein, a theoretical physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. Though as a child and teenager Einstein showed signs of brilliance and creativity in his interests in geometry, he also showed signs of weakness in speech and verbal development, as well as several school subjects. His teachers believed that “nothing would become” of him.

For children with a learning disability, school can be a frightening and isolating experience. There’s no doubt that it must be devastating for a parent to see his or her child dealing with such circumstances.

Gea Meijering closeup

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Author and artist Gea Meijering

No one knows that scenario better than Gea Meijering, author of Hacking the Code, The Ziggety Zaggety Road of a D-Kid, which came out in April 2021. 

Laguna resident Meijering came to the U.S. from the Netherlands in 2001 due to her husband’s job transfer. They did a “look and see” in April and then moved just after September 11. “Every car had a flag, I thought it was always that way,” she said. At the time, her older son Nils was 18 months old and she was expecting Tijn, who is now 20.

Although her husband’s office was in Irvine, Meijering wanted to live here. 

“We couldn’t find anything child appropriate in Laguna, so we rented a few places, starting in Laguna Niguel and then moved to Temple Hills and then found this place,” she said.

A necessary development

“This book came out of necessity,” Meijering continued. “When Nils, who is now 22, was in first grade at Top of the World (TOW), I went on an information frenzy. I was a worried mother, and I didn’t get any support from his teacher or the school. Although they know what dyslexia is, a lot of teachers don’t get information in training about how to recognize it – and what to do if they encounter it. During 2007, elementary school was quite an ordeal.” 

Sadly, 80% of children with dyslexia are undiagnosed. A startling fact is that one in five children is on the dyslexic spectrum (from mild to profound), which consists of several subsets of distinct neuropsychological dysfunctions. This means that two children with dyslexia may not have the same reading challenges. Some dyslexic children may not be able to match sounds with letters. Others find it hard to recognize words by sight. 

Gea Meijering dog

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Rescue dog Sjefke

“No two sets of symptoms are alike,” Meijering said. “There can be a combination of different signs, and even as young as kindergarten, professionals can test for it.” There can be problems with rhyming, tying shoelaces, or/and not being able to tell left from right.

“In elementary school, they wouldn’t have identified it in Nils,” Meijering said. “As parents, we had to push to get him diagnosed and got a private educational psychologist.”

Diving deep into dyslexia

Meijering’s reaction was to start researching. “I was diving deep,” she said. “The schools use ‘Balanced Literacy,’ a method of teaching English, which is scientifically proven to be inadequate for kids with dyslexia.” 

 “Balanced literacy” is a term that grew out of the “reading wars” of the 1980s between the “whole language” and “phonics-first” camps, with the idea that a combination of the two approaches would work best. 

“For kids with dyslexia, when schools start teaching reading, it’s called ‘the wall of third grade.’ Kids have to be able to read to learn,” Meijering said. “They can’t learn if they can’t read properly. They struggle to get by and figure out ways around it, as Nils did. He is very strong visually and creative. Since he couldn’t read the text, when he saw a picture, he read what he thought was going on in the picture.”

Meijering further explained that unfortunately, popularly employed reading approaches, such as Balanced Literacy, are not effective for struggling readers. These approaches are especially ineffective for students with dyslexia because they don’t focus on the decoding skills these students need to succeed in reading. 

“It works with kids who don’t have a problem,” she said, “but dyslexic students need to be taught to read because it doesn’t come naturally.”

Gea Meijering rose

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Meijering also paints and is known for her blue roses

Although she has written two books, Meijering said, “I’m not a naturally gifted writer. I have a lot of ideas and I saw the necessity for both books.”

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Dr. Bill Smith – a multifaceted man of medicine who is nuts about knots, Laguna and much more

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Bill Smith is passionate about many things; knots, sailing, scuba diving, horseback riding, mountain climbing, Rhythm Ride Studio, Susi Q, playing the ukulele and of course, his 48-year career as a radiologist. Eleven years ago, the Kansas City native added Laguna to that list.

“Bill has many interests,” said Teri Cronin, a Dana Point resident.

When Smith first saw Newport Sound, he fell in love with it. “I promised myself that after I retired, I’d move here and meet someone wonderful,” he said. With those intentions, in 2011, Smith decided to come out to Laguna alone. 

To call Smith an adventurer is an understatement, but there’s no other word to describe his quest for new experiences. However, on his recent return from a sailing trip on the Vesper out of Split, a city in Croatia, he appeared happy to be back home – a place with a breathtaking view of the ocean.

“I always dreamed of a house like this,” Smith said. “I think the hand of God provided me with this view.” 

Smith has lived there for 10 years, preceded by a singer/actress who was a long-time resident and as stories go, made three promises to herself when she moved in – to drink a bottle of Champagne every day, to never get married and to never leave. 

According to Smith, she succeeded in all three, “Sometimes I think I’m aware of her presence here.”

Dr. bill smith closeup

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From his shirt, it’s obvious that Dr. Bill Smith loves Catalina

“I’m on the water a lot,” Smith said. “Mother Ocean and I talk in seven languages.” To retain the magic and mystery that admission entails, he was reluctant to explain those seven languages.

“I was a big fan of the Conception, the dive boat off of the Channel Islands,” he said. “I learned to scuba dive on it. A few years ago, it caught fire and 34 died, including all the passengers and a crew member.”

In addition to Laguna, Smith is also a big fan of Catalina and the Channel Islands. “Most people don’t know what we have here once you go beneath the water.”

“Laguna has changed me,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself from this town. I’ll no longer sport fish for tuna.” In summary, he explained the impact of recreational fishing on marine debris, overfishing and fish mortality. 

“The town has also made me more aware of how much water I use. I’m very conscious of it, so I use a low flow shower,” Smith said. “We’re in danger, just look at the water levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell.”

There’s also another element of Smith’s life that was altered by his move to Laguna. “It taught me how wonderful sobriety is, and I didn’t have it until I got here. I’m very proud of my sobriety.”

Not in Kansas City anymore

Evidently, Smith was adventurous even as a kid. By then, he had already learned to ride horses and even swam with them, but as a teenager, he sought out a different kind of encounter.

“When I was 16, I went on a rafting trip for the entire summer with eight friends,” he said. “We took big oil drums, lashed them together, and put them (the raft) on the Mighty Mo. We got to North Kentucky and then train hopped.”

Dr. bill smith photos

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A photo wall featuring many of Smith’s adventures and portraits of his family. The poster of Kala Patthar is from his Mount Everest climb trip and one photo shows a sailboat backed into a cave in Santa Cruz. 

This misadventure included running along the tops of the trains, which the conductor – who was aware of the boys presence – forbade them to do. 

“We made a lot of friends on the trip,” Smith continued. “Two gentlemen were using dynamite to fish and gave us some of the dynamite. We went into a house that looked haunted with all its windows boarded up. On that trip, I felt a level of independence.”

The same group of boys (now men) – one named “horse nuts” – are still friends and get together on occasion.

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City Manager Shohreh Dupuis: A passion for transforming ideas into reality 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Over three decades ago, while working for the County of Orange, Shohreh Dupuis discovered her passion. Having just graduated from the University of California at Irvine (UCI) with a degree in Applied Mathematics and a minor in Engineering, her first project was mapping Toll Roads 73, 241 and 261. Using both traffic modeling and engineering, it was Dupuis’ responsibility to determine the location of the roads, how many ramps were needed, and the alignment of the exits and on-ramps. 

“I found that I really loved the area of public infrastructure – to provide services and amenities to the community,” she said. “There was great satisfaction in taking a good idea – a concept – and turning it into a reality for the community. It was always my dream to become a City Manager and after 30 plus years of working in municipal government, it finally happened.” 

Journey to Laguna

However, the journey to Dupuis’ fantasy job has not been without its share of struggles. 

Dupuis immigrated from Iran to the U.S. in 1984, just after she started her senior year of high school.

“I am Persian and was born and raised in Iran,” she said. “When the Iranian Revolution happened in the late 1970s (the borders closed in 1979) and the war between Iran and Iraq broke out, the conditions were harsh for us as a family. My dad was in private business in Iran and as a result of the revolution, all the private commerce was closed and made public. My father lost his livelihood.” 

Dupuis continued, “When the borders reopened in 1984, my dad said, ‘we are leaving.’ Of my three brothers (Sonny, Jean and Will), the two older ones had already come over here 10 years earlier for higher education.” At the time, one lived in Kansas City, one attended Georgia Tech and the other was in France.

city manager closeup REVISED

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City Manager Shohreh Dupuis

“My father decided he wanted to move his family to be closer to my brothers in California and to be able to provide for his family where we could be free, enjoy an education and free commerce,” Dupuis said. 

Dupuis and her mother and father left for America with only a suitcase, a dream and a small amount of cash in their pockets. On July 4th, the family arrived in Kansas City, where her second oldest brother lived. “I remember seeing the fireworks and wondering what is this, do they do it all the time?” she said. “I hadn’t seen my brother for 10 years and I hardly recognized him.”

After staying in Kansas City for two months, they came out West to visit her father’s sister in Huntington Beach. Dupuis said, “When we got here, my father quickly admitted, ‘this is better than Kansas City.’ We lived in Huntington Beach and my brother in Kansas City came out here as well. I’ll never forget the Don Henley song ‘Boys of Summer’ was popular at the time and now whenever I hear it, it takes me back to my first summer of freedom in Orange County. I fell in love with the area and I have never left.” 

Dupuis’ father opened a restaurant in Mission Viejo named La Ferme, where she worked 60 hours a week while also going to school full time, putting in the long hours on the condition he’d pay for college. 

Dupuis went to Saddleback JC for two years and then transferred to UCI. 

“My brother Sonny signed me up for the classes computer science and applied mathematics, which is really software modeling. He said, ‘You’re going to take one of these, pick one.’” 

Tragic times 

Although Dupuis loves Laguna and her life here, the city holds its share of sad memories.

“On Sundays my day off from the restaurant I’d come down here to Laguna with my brother Sonny, and we’d go to the beach and then to the Boom Boom Room. In 1987, Sonny was killed in an auto accident on the way home from the Boom Boom Room. The accident site was just a block from where I live now, so I go past it all the time.”

Her daughter Sunnyjoy is named after him. 

Dupuis’ first husband, who she met while working for the OC Transportation Authority, also died in Laguna. After suffering a cardiac fibrillation in Catalina, which resulted in a severe brain injury, he died in 2007 in a house they were renting on Circle Drive. He was the father of Sunnyjoy, who was only 12 years old at the time. 

“Laguna is a special place to me. I’m surrounded by memories of the men I lived my life with,” she said.

In 2009, Dupuis was still grieving when she met her current husband Farzad (Tino as most call him). “I was in the salon one day, and my hair stylist said, ‘last night I ran into a guy I went to high school with, and I’m going to fix you up.’ I was still very raw with grief and not ready and he was recently divorced. But we met for coffee. Farzad made me laugh for the first time in a long time. He was a huge part of my recovery.” 

They were married in 2010 in Seal Beach and Sunnyjoy served as her maid of honor. “He’s retired now,” Dupuis said. “When I decided to take this position, we knew he would need to do everything at home, so he does all the shopping, cooking and cleaning.” She added that he’s an excellent cook. 

city manager mariann tracy

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Administrative Assistant Mariann Tracy in Dupuis’ office

Lifelong professional dream 

Dupuis has worked her entire 32-year career in municipal government in Orange County. Prior to assuming her role as city manager, Dupuis served as Laguna Beach assistant city manager and director of public works for five years. Before that, she put in eight years as the deputy director of public works for the City of Irvine. In addition, she previously held management level positions at the City of Anaheim, the consulting firm of Parsons Brinckerhoff and the Orange County Transportation Authority and County of Orange. 

The recipient of several awards for her dedication to teamwork, customer service and outstanding performance, Dupuis has been recognized as the Woman of the Year for her contributions to the transportation industry in Orange County. She was further honored as a leader by the National Iranian American Women’s Foundation.

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

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